Last week I was reveling in the joy of hearing my five-year old niece laugh at fart jokes in Portland Oregon. Right now I’m sitting at a sushi place in Tysons Corner mall. Guess which experience I find better…there’s nothing wrong with my food. It is fantastic despite the lack of laughter. And yet it wasn’t the innocent laughter that made last week so eye-opening – even if watching my niece learn about life is about the most rewarding experience.

The difference is the cities. And the games they make you play or not play as the case may be.

Walking out of the airport onto Portland public transportation I immediately saw the difference. Walking the streets and riding the streetcars I was overwhelmed with the difference and yet I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It seemed as if it was the city that didn’t give a fuck.

This city with poetry etched into the sidewalks and beautiful street art certainly cared about a lot of things. Recycling cans were more prevalent than trash cans and everywhere you turned there was some cause to wrap your heart around. My goodness there is even a cafe where you can play with adult cats to help them as they await to be adopted! Certainly this is a city of passion and caring.

So what do I mean when I say it doesn’t  give a fuck? Everywhere I looked people wore what they wanted. They dressed in clothes that expressed who they were. They dyed their hair a vast array of colors. It wasn’t unusual to see a sexy man in a suit with a glorious tattoo in bright colors peeking out of his collar. An exotic woman in her maxi skirt, tennis shoes and more earrings than I could count. Right next to them was the violet haired punk rocker…and they were all going into the same work building.

Men and women wear makeup or not, as to their preference. It’s a walking city so you see more tennis shoes than heels and nine times out of ten the dress shoes aren’t tucked in their bag – why bother? That space is taken up by an umbrella or rain jacket anyway. They go to the grocery store for the purpose of food shopping and the coffee shop for drinking or meeting up with friends. Everyone has a phone of some sort but it’s used to work on, read on or show you paid for your bus ticket.

Have you found the difference? In Tysons, as I sit at the sushi place I am pained at the difference. Here everyone is dressed up like they’re going on an interview. And they are. The one where everyone is judging you. Your hair is frizzy or your shoes are scuffed – this must mean you aren’t rich enough or good enough. That dress I saw that was a cute little hippie frock nearly broke my fingers picking up the price tag. $100. $100 for what? For the little tag that has the designers name on it?

Tysons is the city that cares. The one that follows the trends in magazines and touts the societal norms. Everyone must conform via their looks. Don’t visually stand out or they will judge you into the place they think you belong. This is the city that I have lived in for almost six years and only now can I see how I’ve struggled and caused myself so much pain just by playing the game.

I gave up dressing in what I liked and thought was comfy. I’ve been beaten down to feeling bad when I don’t put on makeup to go to the grocery store. I’ve struggled with my weight for the fact that the stores rarely have my size, at least not without an extra dollar sign instead of for my health. I’ve thought myself not good enough, unworthy, lacking the status symbols that are so rampant here. The iPhone, the designer handbag or the Apple laptop. I ached desperately to keep up with the Jones’, losing a part of myself in the process.

Going to Portland I gained that back. I’m done playing the game. I’ll dress how I want to, express my true self not who society thinks I should be. I am going back to not caring what people think. Judge me on my lack of makeup or my undyed gray hairs. I will be comfortable in my flats and strong enough to know who I am even if you can’t figure it out by how I look or what I am texting on.

The only ones who matter don’t care. My niece loves me with or without my glasses. She only noticed the makeup because she thought it was sparkly. My husband only notices when I’m limping not how fashionable the shoes are. He loves me in sweat pants and in a fancy suit…but he loves me best when I am confidant and comfortable. That is what I need to focus on.

So thank you Portland. For the great food, the amazing views and most especially for reminding me to stop playing the game. I salute Portland and all the residents within who don’t give a fuck and just live their lives.

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