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The Hipsters of Portland, Oregon Have the Most Impressive Donuts (with apologies to J.W. Baz)

6 Jan

After a long, hard sleep (in the spare room, hooray!), Eirean and Charissa suggested we go for breakfast. The choices were a make-your-own pancakes joint or a Swedish place. I decided to be loyal to my blood for once in my life (nods to a motherland), and we went Swede for the morning. I’m not terribly fond of American-style breakfasts, with all their eggs and egg-based breadiness, so it was nice to have enticing entree options for a change. I ordered a breakfast board that included fruit, yogurt, meat, cheese, fish, and brown bread, and a mug of hot cider with a pleasant bite of ferment.


Wonderful! The variety delighted palate and stomach alike. The decor was also lovely, a nice reconceptualization of Swedish style, somewhat spare but warm, with rich stained wood and splashes of assertive pastel.

After breakfast, we headed to Hawthorne Avenue, which might be termed Hipster Boulevard. I suppose I don’t have a great overall impression of the species since the San Francisco strain can be so rude and pretentious, but the Portland hipsters seemed pretty nice. They were quiet, mellow, riding bikes around and moving gently through the world. We walked around the neighborhood for some time, passing cafes aplenty, fashionable secondhand shops, and stores featuring beautiful artisanal goods.

I'm a sucker for jewels.

The foremost point was the coffee, though. Eirean works in the coffee trade, which makes him the least intimidating drug dealer of all time, and also uniquely qualified to point out what is, in some respects, obvious: Portland is bonkers for coffee. Pretty much every time we paused for thought or breath, someone bought a cup. Eirean wowed me by comparing coffee in Portland to wine in California, and describing mystical cafes where sacred cups of joe are sold for $20 a pop. At this, I could only shake my head…

Being on the road is kind of the most sensible time for me to shop. I never have much money, and whatever I buy I have to physically haul around for the remainder of my tour, so many a frivolous calamity is averted. I like looking, though. Brilliant toys, jewelry, cards, clothes – seeing beautiful things pleases me.

Neat toys, yeah?

If people have made these lovely items, it means people are thinking lovely, creative thoughts, which feeds and inspires me to do the same. I saw an interview with Vivienne Westwood, punk rock fashionista, on the plane ride over. She said, quite well I thought, that we all ought to put energy into developing our personal styles, to dress up our beauty and play to our strengths and joys instead of trying so damn hard to blend in and look like everybody else (for the record, she’s the one who brought the Circle-A anarchy symbol into contemporary culture).


INTERLUDE: How to Develop Your Personal Style

I didn’t really begin to understand my image until I started to slam. Dating a rockabilly boy helped to spur that transition, of course: when the person you love and spend all your time with thinks a lot about his image, that tends to be contagious. Slam solidified that for me, though. When I worked with Ekabhumi, one of my coaches in the Bay, he stressed the importance of understanding how your audience reads you onstage. As I continued to grow, I had to get accustomed to the fact that people were going to photograph and videotape me, and that those images would be readily accessible to the world.

Having your own style is key to continued success in this game, I think. You want to make yourself into an icon in some ways. As a slammer, it’s obviously important to have your own voice as a writer and performer, but the clothes do make the woman in some respects. Here are a few very simple tips to get you started if you haven’t really thought about it before.

* Choose clothes that fit. In college, my friend Claudia (a self-proclaimed genius) gave me this tip, and it’s by far the most important. You can rock absolutely anything if it fits your body well. Don’t be a fool and blow your money on something unflattering just because it’s branded or supposedly fashionable. Same goes for color: learn which colors look good on you, and build your palette based on them. (I just used “palate” and “palette” in the same post. Thank you, I’ll be here all night.)

* Buy within your means. It can be worth investing in a few well-made, expensive pieces that you know you can work in a number of ways, but don’t knock the less expensive goods. Again, don’t bother with items that don’t fit – but dig around in your local secondhand stores (Sheba), maybe your neighborhood Ross (Sonya). What you find might surprise you.

* Learn to sew. Making your own clothes, or altering them, is by far the best way to get exactly what you want. Most of us don’t have off-the-rack bodies, so being able to tweak something or create it from scratch is the best way to accomplish the Prime Directive.

* Talent scout. If you’re really at a loss as to how to pair colors, fabrics, and patterns, don’t be afraid to look at what you like on other people. Look at fashion magazines if it won’t depress you (it depresses me). Keep your eyes open when you walk around the streets of your town or city and try to get a sense of what you think looks cool on other people. I’m a big fan of learning at least a little of what’s come before, the better to subvert with grace.


I suppose I should applaud hipsters for making an effort to bring style and art into everyday life. I mean, it took a hipster town to bring me my luxurious Swedish breakfast, didn’t it? And a do-it-yourself pancake house? That’s bonkers, and fun. I also meant what I said about the donuts.

Impressive, no?

But I’m a little uncomfortable, in any case. Leaving the obvious question of racial diversity to the side for a moment: having the luxury and resources to develop personal style, or to create baroque pastries, presupposes a certain level of economic comfort. Even Westwood, who made art using materials that were considered cheap and vulgar, had access to resources that most people in the world don’t. I guess I just don’t want to forget that having the freedom to explore the realm of style is a tremendous luxury in and of itself. Art for art’s sake as opposed to art forged out of political or practical necessity – the tension between the two remains.