I love Medford through and through and this is where my roots are going down, but last week, my wife and I decided to celebrate our six-year wedding anniversary by eating and drinking our way through Portland. It was a beautiful day. I had my Water Avenue coffee in one hand, a beautiful woman in the other. The streets were full of life.
We made a breakfast stop at Lauretta Jean’s, a favorite of ours. But halfway through my pie, my bliss was suddenly interrupted by a strange, intense feeling. It took about thirty minutes of discussion before we figured out what was really going on.
The perfect pairing of the marionberry pie with some of Portland’s best coffee was topping off an experience we could not get in Medford. That intense feeling was a realization of some discontent with the city we love. But I did not want to accept that, so our conversation continued as we tried to solve this burden.
The key takeaway came from our focus on the mantra, “Keep Portland Weird.” This pledge has allowed and encouraged residents to be themselves, to make portland Portland. This notion hit right in the center of what I had just studied the week prior.
In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield describes the inverse of the authentic; a hack. A hack is someone disingenuous. A hack may make money but will never make something significant, something from their own passion, something that changes the world. Portland is no hack.
Pressfield quotes his mentor, Robert McKee using a writer as an example to elaborate;
A hack is a writer who second-guesses his audience. When the hack sits down to work, he doesn't ask himself what's in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for.
The hack condescends to his audience. He thinks he's superior to them. The truth is, he's scared to death of them or, more accurately, scared of being authentic in front of them, scared of writing what he really feels or believes, what he himself thinks is interesting. He's afraid it won't sell. So he tries to anticipate what the market (a telling word) wants, then gives it to them.
In other words, the hack writes hierarchically. He writes what he imagines will play well in the eyes of others. He does not ask himself, What do I myself want to write? What do I think is important? Instead he asks, What's hot, what can I make a deal for?
It can pay off, being a hack. Given the depraved state of American culture, a slick dude can make millions being a hack. But even if you succeed, you lose, because you've sold out to your Muse, and your Muse is you, the best part of yourself, where your finest and only true work comes from…
With all of this in mind, I cannot help but recall the common narrative I have heard spoken over Medford, which is typically something like, "Hey, Bend is cool... Portland has great stuff, we should do that here." Those statements have never felt right...never quite made sense to me or sounded helpful, and not until that moment in the pie shop did I realize it is because these statements subtly tell people we have to be like others or "the market" to be good.
I am super grateful for these recent revelations, because as the founder of On The Rise Box, I have a renewed vigor for my original mission, which is to support and empower local businesses operated by Medford residents. I believe business is one of the best influencers of a city’s identity. OTRB helps businesses in Medford thrive by showcasing who they are and affirming their unique muse.
So, next time we want something cool, quality, or hip to start in Medford, let's stop and ask ourselves, "Is that who we are? Is that true of Medford?" Because we are not trying to build a great city. We are trying to build a great Medford.