Eugene


I am moving away from Eugene after more than ten years, and that means saying a lot of goodbyes to close friends and family. Last night I had dinner with my experiential support group from my couples & family therapy grad school cohort, Ryan and Debra. In family therapy, “experiential” means very generally that you take a humanistic stance in your therapy and believe that emotions are as important as behavior and thinking. (I wrote a piece on it here if you want more details.) We called ourselves “Experiential Lunch” because we met every week for lunch for a year and a half, to discuss how our understanding and application of family theory was evolving throughout the program. It was super helpful and we came to feel quite close and supported each other through some difficult times. I am going to miss them.

Nathen, Ryan, Debra: Experiential Lunch, 10/27/2011

Debra is a Zen meditation teacher and a farmer as well as now a therapist in private practice, and I can highly recommend her in all capacities. If you need a therapist for individual, couple, or family work, you can reach her at (541) 844-4917.

Ryan is working with at-risk children and families at the Oregon Social Learning Center. When he starts a private practice, I will recommend him to you as well.

While Nathen is away at Not Back to School Camp in New Hampshire, I, his lonely fiancé, am trying to keep myself busy and in good company. To that end, I moved in with some friends of ours, Nick and Tilke, for a few days.

While I was staying there, Tilke and I talked a lot about colour (or “color,” as I might start spelling it after I get my green card). Colour is a lifelong passion of Tilke’s, and she is in the midst of revising a book she wrote and illustrated on the topic as well as writing the syllabus for a workshop called Experiencing Color.

Tilke's backyard studio

While talking to her about her workshop, I started to describe my own challenges with colour: Since I started making quilts a couple years ago, I’ve struggled with figuring out how I want to put colours together and have realized how little confidence I have about colour. When I do hit on something I like, I mostly don’t know why it works. I described how a few days earlier I’d been in a fabric store trying to choose a few solid colours to buy: when I went for my favourites, the ones that caught my eye –fuchsia, emerald green and bright blue– they looked terrible together. When I tried to narrow my choice down to two colours that I thought of as complementary, the connotations seemed all wrong. I ended up leaving without buying anything.

Plant-dyed fabrics, books about colour.

So here she was, someone trying to figure out how to teach people about colour, and here I was, a real, live colour novice with a hunger to learn. We went to look at her fabric stash and talk it out.

Tilke has a very distinctive colour palette that anyone who knows her would recognize, a family of colours she uses in her work and surrounds herself with. She described the way that certain colours in her family support or “bridge” other colours. I noticed as she moved fabric around that she mostly grouped her colours in sets of three or more. She agreed and showed me how adding a third colour can add a subtlety and depth that you can’t get with two colours.

I started to get a feel for what she was saying. I tried putting together my own set, choosing first a turquoise I liked and then adding another blue, a mushroom, a brown and an orange until – magic! – I had a group of colours that looked great together.

“What if you couldn’t have this one?” Tilke asked, and took out the orange. So I shuffled things around and brought in new colours until I had another set I liked. We talked about the importance of arrangement (which colours are beside each other) and proportion, looking at paintings and photos around her house for examples. Later we played a game with her new “colour library” of fabric samples, where we challenged each other to take the worst colours (eg: neon peach or drab burgundy) and make them beautiful by combining them with good supporting colours. Very fun!

I was so inspired that I started “editing” some patchwork pieces I’d sewn together a year ago that weren’t doing it for me: it suddenly seemed obvious which colours weren’t working, and taking them out made a big difference.

My quilt project, before and after colour editing.

We also had great talks and I got to try out throwing around medicine balls with them in the park (Ooof. My hands were too shaky to keyboard afterwards). It’s so fascinating to peer into – and join in on – other peoples’ lives like that. I’d like to do it again some time.

A month ago I participated in an event called Earth Hour, where I used no electricity between the hours of 8 and 9 at night. It took some doing to get everything off–there are so many little lights on my gadgets that let me know they are powered down! Then I remembered that this is only one kind of “phantom load,” or energy use by appliances that are supposed to be off. I unplugged my refrigerator, thinking that even though I had turned down its thermostat all the way, there may be part of the thermostat using electricity by monitoring the temperature in there. Then I decided to just shut off the breaker that supplies my part of the house.  In doing so accidentally shut down power to the rest of the house for a minute–sorry Katie!–but at least I could be pretty sure I wasn’t using any electricity.

I spent most of the hour, then, just enjoying the silence and dark. I realized that these various glows and hums that I live with are anxiety-inducing. I love silence. I really dislike that my refrigerator makes noise, whenever I notice it. I want cold food, but why am I also paying to move the air like that, producing annoying sound waves? It’s inefficient and irritating. I don’t always notice, thank goodness, but sitting there in the silence, I believed that part of me is aware of all of that stuff all the time, and it drains me.

I also liked how I was not subject to be contacted and that I had made a clear, conscious decision not to contact anyone. It reminded me of a lecturer I saw several years ago who preferred the term “tethered” to “connected.” Don’t get me wrong, and don’t stop calling me! I love talking to my friends and family. It’s just that the possibility of constant connection creates a conflict between my desire for connection and my need for time just being in my body, slow, internally focused. And there are always people who it’s been too long since we’ve caught up, and the emails keep pouring in…

My means of production were mostly off the table, too. No computer, so no Word, WordPress, Excel, or Protools. No electric or electronic musical instruments. I played a some acoustic guitar and sang a little, but mostly I just rested, calm.

Then I decided to take a walk, maybe see if there were any signs of others taking part in Earth Hour. This is Eugene, after all. I was disappointed. Outside it was brightly lit up, just like it always is, and it pissed me off. It wasn’t that my neighbors all had their lights (and TVs and everything else) on. They probably didn’t know and/or didn’t care about Earth Hour and maybe even energy issues in general. I can understand that. I’ve been there. The thing that got to me was that the whole town of Eugene is brightly lit. For example, there is a huge parking lot just north of my house and even though it is not used at night, every square inch of it is brightly lit up, all night. Who benefits from this and how? It’s an empty parking lot. It’s not just a waste of energy, it’s an eyesore. Who decides about lighting up this parking lot? Do they think I want it lit up–that they are doing me a favor, spending all that money? I’d rather it was dark.

And it’s not just the ground. At least with that parking lot there is a chance that someone might want to get across it, climb the fence, and stumble on an unseen pebble or something if it was dark. But because of the level of illumination and probably the design of the lights, the whole sky is lit up, too. The light of Eugene illuminates the underside of the clouds over Eugene. Who benefits from that?

I do not. It’s ugly and I hate it. I would rather have darkness at night. If there are no clouds, I’d like to be able to see the stars. Why should we waste energy obscuring our view of the stars? It makes me miss the desert, where it is dark at night, where the stars are bright, where people use their cars’ headlights to see where they are driving, and flashlights to see where they are walking, if they need to, if there is no moon out.

Even in the desert there is an occasional street light, which has always baffled me. If we can get along just fine in the hundreds of miles of dirt roads in Joshua Tree, why did it seem like we needed that one streetlight on Hacienda Road and Willow Lane? As far as I’m concerned, all it does is waste energy and hurt my eyes at night. Many times over the last 25 years I’ve fantasized about shooting it out. And then there are the people who insist on lighting up their yards as bright as day. I suppose it makes them feel as if they are safer. My dad says, “City people… always afraid the Indians are going to sneak up on them.” I want those folks to believe they are safe, but I want them to do it without shining a light onto my property.

It’s the middle of summer, in Eugene, Oregon, the place and time with the best weather I’ve ever seen, and that includes Maui, southern California, and the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s just really nice all the time. I’ve noticed, though, that people who live here don’t seem to appreciate it. We spend all winter griping about the cold and the rain and then most of the summer griping about the heat. The thing is, it never really gets cold or hot here. It only gets cold enough to snow a few times each winter. I lived with Max Orhai, who is from Montana, through my first winter here and he liked to say “You call this winter?” and walk around in T-shirts. And this week is projected to be blisteringly hot: in the mid 90s. (Canadians, 95F = 35C.) Where I grew up, in the Mojave desert, it doesn’t drop into the 90s until well after sundown, and it is a blessed relief.

I think part of it is that these moderately hot temperatures do not force us to learn to act appropriately during the heat of the day. 105F is like an oven if you’re trying to do yard work (without dousing yourself with the hose every fifteen minutes, at least), but it’s actually pretty pleasant sitting quietly under a tree, mostly unclad, with a cool drink. And each little breeze is a wonderful experience.

But we also acclimate. One summer in the Bay Area I remember hearing that people had died of heat stroke during a temperature spike that got into the low 90s. They weren’t just griping; their bodies got too hot. And I remember my first day on Maui: My friends and family took me on a wonderful, balmy, lightly clouded hike through the bamboo forest, complaining and apologizing the whole way about the weather. I had left Joshua Tree in February, with early mornings in the 20s (Canadians, 25F = -4C), and here it was in the low 60s and everyone was miserable but me. (Los Angeles is the same. When I visit my brother Ely, he will apologize about the weather if there is a wisp of cloud in the sky—this in the winter, when I probably haven’t seen the sun in weeks.) In six months, of course, I was the same way. I was embarrassed, but almost any variation in temperature was uncomfortable. 80F was oppressively hot and 60F had me shivering.

As for Eugenians, and maybe Pacific Northwesters, let’s get our act together. As I see it we have two options. 1) Admit that these 90+ degree days are perfectly normal around here, and are exactly what we were craving all winter and enjoy the heck out of them. 2) Admit that the only season we can actually enjoy in this region is spring, not because the weather is more pleasant, but because the ongoing dismal winter weather makes it easy to appreciate the occasional sun and relative warmth.