Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Portland history and geography: Seventh and Magnolia.

It took me a long time to notice that the sidewalk on the corner in front of my house says MAGNOLIA. It took me about ten months, in fact. But then I noticed it and I got all excited, because that means that before this was Rosa Parks Way, and before it was Portland Boulevard, it was Magnolia. Magnolia something. (They used to stamp the street name into the sidewalk, and Portland preserves these stamps as historical artifact.) So I went to Google, but I couldn't find anything. Well, I found lots of stuff, but not what I was looking for. I found this awesome website all about the Alameda neighborhood, and I found out that there is a very short S.E. Magnolia Street way the hell out off SE Johnson Road, sort of in Portland, but more in Clackamas, past Milwaukie, off 205. But no Magnolia up near here anymore.

But the magic search terms for the information I wanted were "rosa parks way portland boulevard magnolia." Once we found that, we were in the money. It took me to this, which not only lists all the Portland street names, but has so much other random great information that I haven't hardly begun to explore it all. (Go here to explore it yourself--there's a lot of information on the site, and many great links!) But I have learned, so far, that before 1891, my street was just Magnolia, and after 1891 until 1931 it was NE Magnolia STREET. But only from 6th to Durham, which is the part that's my neighborhood that's off the grid. Which makes sense. And makes me so happy. In 1891, a bunch of streets got "annexed to Portland," so starting in 1891 Portland Boulevard went all the way from Willamette Boulevard to Union (now MLK), and from there it was Magnolia from Sixth to Durham, Leland from 13th to 22nd, and North from 29th to 38th. Which must've been about as far as it went. In 1915 they made it N. Portland Blvd, then in 1932 broke it up into N and NE Portland Boulevard, and it went at least as far east as 38th. This map from 1911 shows the city boundary to the north to be Fremont, which is 15-20 blocks south of me. To the east, the map only goes as far as 41st or 42nd Avenue. This fabulous map from 1890 barely shows the east side at all, and it appears that the city limits extend to about 7th and Hawthorne to the southeast, and maybe 14th and C Street to the northeast (C for Couch, perhaps?).

Speaking of maps, and homes, this site is excellent too. I looked up my house and the property taxes, and compared my property taxes for my half-size lot with the property taxes of the much larger houses all around me. Hmph. But I do love the internets. Nice to not only have this information public, but to actually have access to it!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

On Facebook and the lack of self-discipline.

Effective today, I am taking a one-week break from Facebook. I'd been contemplating this for a while, irritated with the amount of time that used to go to reading, to writing, to sitting and staring off into space, and which now is spent staring at a small glowing screen when I really don't need to be. Time spent staring at a small glowing screen often isn't time well used, and seeing as how I have a brain tumor, it might be time even less well used.*

As Edan Lepucki points out in her awesome and inspiring essay about quitting Facebook and Twitter, "Ceasing to Exist: Three Months in the Social Media Detox Ward", "The first week of my detox, I realized just how much I’d depended on those sites for community. Aside from the classes I teach a few nights a week, I work from home. Alone. Without my beloved internet family, the silence was frightening." Similarly, as a high school teacher, I am with people all the time, but my time with any kind of peer group is hugely limited. Many days, I have to make a concentrated effort to spend time with people my own age, or I will only interact with high school students. Some days, Facebook is my primary social interaction with people of my generation, with the same cultural interests and frames of reference.

I made zines for a thousand years, from high school until my late 20's, and in many ways, the pithiness of Facebook relates to a lot of what I loved about the zine communities I was part of: themed lists, the quotes from books and songs, snippets of people's days, brief observations, photos random and composed. The way you'd get pieces of other lives, personal and private and also giving you a way in through music and literature and film and art, allowing you to reframe, shift, broaden your own worldview in all kinds of ways. Of course, Facebook doesn't allow for any kind of sustained interaction, though I appreciate the links to articles and sometimes the conversations that come up in responses posted.

But as with zines, there's a lot of junk on Facebook, and it's often just a waste of time. Lepucki notes that while "visiting my favorite websites on a whim to see if there’s something new ... feels a little like Christmas, reaching into my stocking to see if there’s just one more piece of candy hidden in the toe," when it comes to Facebook, "the Christmas stocking is infinite, and infinitely full. There is always another piece of candy to claw at. One piece is delicious, but one begets two, and three, and four, and, okay, five…it’s not long before you’ve made yourself sick." And not long before you realize that all your writing time just got sucked away by looking through photos of the children of people you went to high school with and haven't seen in fifteen years. Granted, there have been discoveries and rediscoveries, friendships renewed and meaningful connections made, but yeah, there's also been a lot of time wasted.

I've also quit posting to my blog, instead composing status updates by the zillions, noticing things and reminding myself to post about them. (I thought this New York Times Magazine blog post about status updates was simultaneously accurate, interesting, and rather disturbing.) But 420 characters isn't always enough. Prose poems, epigrams, and the brief observation can be lovely, but when that turns into your primary medium--well, for one thing, the novel might never get finished.

But see? Day 1, and I've already composed a blog post of six paragraphs, more than the five paragraph minimum I require for student essays. So today the plan is to stay off Facebook for a week, and then perhaps limit myself to weekly visits. Hopefully Megan will be willing to keep changing the password for me. (Given the choice between having to concentrate on a sustained piece of my own writing, and being able to waste time looking at baby photos and playing Lexulous [a Scrabble knockoff] and Word Twist [a Boggle knockoff], I too often lack the self-control to close the browser window and get back to work.)

*Which as I initially wrote that, I meant in terms of waves and rays and that sort of thing, but of course there's also that asshole of a neurosurgeon who, when I asked about life expectancy, told me I was already living on borrowed time, already lucky, since according to him, at that point I'd outlived my life expectancy from the previous tumor (The Great Tumor of 2002, removed summer 2003--this one is The Great Tumor of 2009, ad infinitum [though shrinking thanks to the magic chemo pills!]). But that's another subject. Except it isn't, either.