I love the drive to Portland. Maybe it is because it is a trip I made hundreds of times when Bubba and I were dating and he lived in Seattle and then a hundred more when we both lived in Seattle and were planning our wedding in Oregon. I recognize the crazy names of some of the towns, the roadside diners and the landscape. I let my car sink into the ruts I probably had some part in creating and smile as Mt. St. Helens comes into view, its top shorn off from the eruption I still recall vividly from my youth.
I don’t often get to make the drive by myself so yesterday I reveled in listening to NPR as long as I could before the static caused me to squint as though it would help me discern Warren Olney’s voice a little better. After stopping to pee, I switched over to my iPod and set it to shuffle. Chick music. Brandi Carlile, Marie Digby, Ingrid Michaelson.
I was committed to this trip, regardless of the fact that every nerve ending in my body lit up like a strand of Christmas lights when I thought about it. That said, it wasn’t until I reached Battle Ground that it hit me why the book launch for Get Out of My Crotch had to be in Portland.
Portland is the city where I went to my first-ever pro-choice rally. My friend S, the woman responsible for introducing me to the concept of “feminism” and “women’s rights,” came up on a gloriously sunny Saturday, picked me up at my dorm, and drove me to the city to mingle with hundreds and hundreds of other women rallying in support of reproductive rights. I was stunned by the feeling of power and solidarity in that square. I had never experienced anything like it. And then, the Indigo Girls showed up. Seems they were playing a concert in town that night and decided to stop by and lend their support. They stood up on stage and sang their newest hit single, “Hammer and a Nail.” It was the beginning of an era for me. The notion that I could be considered an activist. That I could stand up publicly, loudly, for something I believed in.
It seemed to make sense. Especially since S had decided to attend the book launch and would be my “face in the crowd.” Her support of me over the years has been bedrock.
As I exited the freeway and headed toward the hotel I had chosen online for its proximity to Powell’s Books, I just barely missed the light. My bladder was bursting and I hit the steering wheel with the palm of my hand in frustration just as my iPod shuffled to the next song. (I’m guessing Carrie is a step or two ahead of everyone else and she probably knows that the song that came on was “Hammer and a Nail.” Yup. No lie. You can’t make this shit up.)
The reading was tremendous. I wasn’t officially on the program since I committed so late, but everyone was so welcoming and eager to find a way to fit me in. Especially when we noticed that the local Planned Parenthood buttons they were handing out in honor of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade read “I am not in your shoes.” The title of my essay in the book? “A Mile in Their Shoes.” They found a spot for me.
I read first.
I spent a few frantic moments marking sections to read before heading onstage and I was surprised to note that I wasn’t really nervous. Well, except for the 80-something lady who came in and refused to purchase a copy of the book because she didn’t want to support Planned Parenthood.
“They kill babies,” she announced to the editor and me as we stood there stunned. The young woman who brought her refused eye contact and did her best to look bored as she shrugged, “She’s pro-life.”
This odd couple then made their way over to the far side of the room and the elderly woman stated her intention to “just sit and listen.”
Before I began reading, I stole a quick look in their direction to see if she had her arm cocked back to chuck something at my head. A few times throughout my reading I did whatever the mental equivalent of wincing is as I wondered when she would start to heckle me. I sincerely hoped she had fallen asleep in the dark back room of the bar. She didn’t. And she didn’t make a peep the entire evening. I still wonder why she came.
The other writers were terrific. The range of topics and stories presented by the five of us who read last night was vast. There was Camille Hayes who talked about policy and the Violence Against Women Act that was NOT reauthorized by the Republican controlled House of Representatives this year. There was Lydia Yuknavitch who stood up and bared her soul and left us all breathless. Kevin Sampsell wrote about the rape of a friend, and Sarah Mirk recounted her undercover efforts in a local Crisis Pregnancy Center. I signed a few books (! – thrill of a lifetime), felt lifted up above the stars when a few people commented positively about my reading (and, thus, my writing), and fairly floated back to the hotel where I am certain I fell asleep with a smile on my face.