Self

How Moving Cross-Country (Alone!) Completely Saved My Life

Photo: Courtesy of Author, Hemera Technologies | Canva 
Author standing in front of a road and map

I was born a Northerner, acclimated to the Northeast, and always one with my environment. I loved it. I lived, thrived, pulsated, and exuded life force. That was me, and because of that, I always knew myself as some kind of unstoppable force of nature, a superpower in my mind. My city, suburbs, schools, theaters, stores, nightlife, world — they fed me the power I needed. New York City, Upstate, the Tri-State Area — this is what gave me my electric current and I was an electric vampire.

Got married in '96, had a baby in '98, and got cancer in '01. My husband wanted to move to Florida, so we did in '03, where we immediately got divorced upon hitting the ground. I survived the cancer and the divorce, and raised my kid alone in this new friendless, extremely dull, opportunity-free, uninspiring, boiling, muggy new world. I raised her until she was 18 in 2015, and by then, I couldn't afford her rent anymore, so we went our separate ways and I moved into a rathole in what felt like a death camp in some death-burb of South Florida, without her. No friends, nothing ever, ever to do. Way too alone. Way too terrible living without her. 

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But "without her" is what I had to work with, and I could no longer stay in a bad apartment, with my whole world revolving around the idea of "one day my kid will visit me." Ugh, how pathetic, how dead! To know my entire purpose had become about waiting for my death to come, just to end the unbearable nothingness of life in South Florida. Florida made me think I had Cotard Syndrome; I thought that maybe, instead of surviving cancer, what if I died, what if I was dead, and hovering like a wraith in some kind of horrible limbo where everything seemed like an extension of chemotherapy torture? Did I survive cancer to live in Florida? This had to be a cosmic joke of epic proportions.

With my kid completely secure and safe with her dad, I carpe diem'd and made the diagonal trek across the country to Portland, Oregon. I took my meager savings and worked my butt off to raise funds for the move. I sold my art; in fact, I sold 25 pieces in 24 hours. I did it. I worked and fought and manifested, and it all started coming together. Spent my last dime getting here, and it was worth it. Why not New York? Because I needed real change, completely stimulating courage-grappling change. I needed something I never had before. But more, I needed friends, and Portland seemed to ignite anyone who might ever want to befriend me, because wow, did I make good friends, and quick!

   

   

I'm so glad I was ushered into the magic of this place way before I heard the stereotype of what it's supposed to be like here, or how it's perceived by outsiders, but now that I'm an insider, all I'm experiencing here is... magic. And all the dogs. All the big, dumb, lovable, wonderful pit bulls and my friends who own them and help them. Big animal lover town. As soon as I decided Portland was going to be my destination, the universe practically tripped over itself to make it happen.

I'm sure there's a whole lot of downside to Portland that I have not experienced, and hopefully will not, but I'm only getting the good stuff right now... and it's very, very good. Portland is special. One thing is true; the supernatural element here — the one you've always heard about — is as strong here as it is standing in an ancient stone circle in England. And that is a thing I did earlier this year, too. I came back from England, checked out Portland, and hauled it over here to live.

   

   

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This is the land of the Grimm, and it feels like it in every breath. The Portland area, all of Oregon and Washington, we're living in Twin Peaks here, and it's every bit as kooky and bizarre; in fact, the entire experience is like one long David Lynch movie. If this area had a soundtrack, Badalamenti wrote it. This is Big Foot territory. If you're ever going to see a Rabbit Man in the middle of the road, it's here, in Oregon, on Halloween.

It's like Lord of the Rings meets The Witch meets Avatar meets "Hansel and Gretel" meets The X-Files meets Supernatural meets Ghostbusters AND Friday the 13th. This place isn't just open for the earthbound either; there's something here — it's old, it's planted and alien. And every single person here is a freaking conduit of some kind of energy. This is a land of devils and sprites, and things with rad Dutch names that scare you to hear them. Dutch spirits. Just think about that for a moment, okay? (Run away!) Not only is the veil thin here — the veil is thin on the people too. People here do not seem to have a protective shield, the force field of defense is taken over by just the opposite: they bare their souls.

For all of the stereotypes that spark off in a person's mind when they hear the words "Portland, Oregon," I was somehow summoned into the much darker, sub-level rabbit hole world, where I have bypassed the stereotypes and am only experiencing a place where people are open, and the land itself is profoundly haunted. The men are different here than my experience of men anywhere else. I can't say that I've met that many men here, but I've met several and there seems to be a different set of rules for masculine behavior and thinking. Every man I've spoken to is very friendly, sensitive, seemingly in touch with his intuitive feelings, and un-threatened by the idea of being perceived as less than a macho stereotype.

There's no race to be The Big Man here. It makes me understand that I've lived in and visited other places where men seemed less "in touch with their feminine side," as cliché as that sounds. That freedom gives them easy access to their creativity, and I have seen some very beautiful works created here by male friends. This excites me — I love creative people. The women I've met are compulsively creative, generous, and kind. While friendliness is found in almost every Oregonian I've met so far, the PDX women are totally into their thing, and all I've seen is this dedication to friendship, loyalty, creative expression, sharing, and support. I have made a few female friends here that will last with me for the rest of my life — I can feel it.

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There is nothing here that scares me, no place I fear not being welcomed, and with every woman I've met so far, I've only felt like I was in the presence of a true sister who would come through like a champ if I needed her. And the women are all magical. All of them. I've never seen this many powerful, mystical women in one area. All the females here are completely in touch with the sub-world beneath Oregon's fragile veil. The women here light up the night.

They say that people get depressed in the Pacific Northwest, and yes, I imagine that if you're sensitive to lack of sunlight or rain, you might not tolerate it well. But there's another side to that story. Some people thrive in that sparkling shadow and come alive in it, and I and 100 percent of the people I've met here seem to be those people. There is something in the air here that is constantly inspiring, and even when we hibernate, as we do in the colder months, we are still filled to the brim with creative, buzzing energy. And yes, I say "we" because this place asked for me to be a part of it. It wanted me here, and there is no other way for me to put it. Portland requested me, and I came. 

I took a chance, and did that scary thing: I tried. I went to a place I'd never lived in before, by myself, across the country, after years of spending every single day with my fantastic daughter, and I said goodbye to my former life. I'm an older person now — I see the span of my life and the trajectory that took me from a young hopeful in NYC to an artist living in the magical forest known as Portland, Oregon. And all that "weird" you hear about? That's a front for all the weird that is. And let me redefine "weird" for you: Mysterious, engaging, powerful, inspiring, and awesome. That is the "weird" that Portland is.

I escaped. I did it — probably because I'm metal. Oh yeah, that. Never forget what the cool ones can do. Oh, and my daughter has just arrived... well then, dreams come true. I say it every time: Life is short. I needed a real jolt, a supercharged change. Depending on your perception, change can either be scary or not. For me, it worked. Risk worked. Bravery worked. Fearlessness worked. Take the chance. Take the risk. Change your life if your life needs changing. Do it. I'm no longer living the life of the living dead. I'm thriving and alive and I feel like I'm a young person again, because Portland, Oregon is a very, very good place to be. Oh, did I mention that I've lost 35 pounds since I got here? Who knew fear weighed so much?

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Dori Hartley is primarily a portrait artist. As an essayist and a journalist, she can be read in The Huffington Post, ParentDish, YourTango, The Daily Beast, Psychology Today, More Magazine, XOJane, MyDaily, and The Stir.