Checkmate

By Claire Golden

As we enter Wave 2 of Lockdown, we are also entering a new wave of boredom. Animal Crossings: New Horizons isn’t new and exciting anymore, cooking has grown dull, and the shorter days are making it harder to get outside for exercise. I found myself in need of a new hobby, and discovered it through a Netflix show that lots of people have been binge watching: The Queen’s Gambit.

Perhaps you’re a fan of this Netflix original series too – the story of a young girl who becomes one of the greatest chess players in the world while struggling with substance abuse. It drew me in from the first episode and stuck with me after the end. It also inspired me to start playing chess again. 

Not to sound too cool or anything, but I was part of the homeschool chess club in middle school. So I already knew how to play, as did my roommates, who were also inspired by the show to rediscover chess. I ordered a magnetic chess board for the princely sum of $13 and we all waited eagerly for it to arrive. When it did, we tore open the package, set up the pieces…and I proceeded to be absolutely decimated in my first game.

I’m not particularly good at chess. But it doesn’t matter. I just enjoy the process of planning out my next move, looking for counterattacks, and attempting to protect my own pieces. After learning that the middlegame is my weak point, I read some articles on middlegame theory and won the next game. Then I told my boyfriend what I learned and he won the next one. And so on. It’s fun playing against him and we have chess matches while we’re cooking dinner and waiting for the oven to preheat.

Chess has a surprising benefit for me: While I’m playing, I can’t think about anything else. I have severe anxiety and am pretty much constantly worrying, but there isn’t time for that when you’re trying to plan out your next moves. A game of chess takes us about 30 minutes to an hour, and for that length of time, my mind is occupied. And after the game, I’m mentally tired, which means my brain doesn’t have as much energy to worry. 

I certainly didn’t expect a Netflix show to be so beneficial for me and my roommates, but it has been. COVID-19 might be winning right now, but we just have to tough it out a while longer, and I’m confident that we will come out on top. And for right now? Chess is helping keep my anxiety at bay. Unexpected, but I’ll take it.

Graduating With Imposter Syndrome

By: Adair Bingham

I don’t know what I’m doing with my degree. Short and simple. I don’t have a clue. I haven’t really had a solid grasp on what I’d like to do with my bachelor’s degree in psychology for a while now. I am on track to graduate this spring and that sentence alone scares me. But whether I like it or not, it’s happening and fast. One of the most jarring things for me is the fact that I’m actually graduating. Back in my senior year of high school when I was applying for universities, I struggled with feeling adequate for any kind of school, no matter what kind it was. Imposter syndrome ran deep in my bones, and even now, despite my academic standing and honors, I still sometimes feel like I never quite belonged at Portland State in the first place.

Imposter syndrome is an annoying and tiresome hodgepodge of feelings that causes chronic self-doubt and a sense of inadequacy. At any second, I feel that I’ll be exposed as some kind of fraud, that I was never truly supposed to be here to begin with. I often feel that everything I’ve accomplished was by chance or by accident. Its tormenting thoughts are persistent and unbelievably exhausting, and often result in what can only be equated to a guilty conscience. I often feel bad or unworthy when receiving accolades, especially from my school, even if I know that they were well-earned.

While these kinds of feelings are unfortunately a normal and expected part of life, that doesn’t make them any easier to deal with, especially if you find yourself pestered by them on a daily basis. It’s unbelievably taxing on both body and mind, especially if they’ve made themselves at home in your brain. I’m not unique in feeling this way, it’s commonplace for many without a doubt. I came to be familiar with imposter syndrome at a relatively young age because I was an artist. Much like my struggles with my major, I was unfairly comparing my work to others and harshly evaluating myself, even if I possessed the same artistic merit. Since then, it has wormed its way into my brain in just about every aspect of my life, especially my studies. Things seemed to escalate in high school, particularly in my senior year, and have only persisted as I made my way into university. 

I’ve gotten better about keeping these kinds of feelings in check and I’ve made it a point to remind myself of all that I’ve accomplished is not because of some fluke in the system, but because of my dedication to working hard. It may sound like a simple truth, but, for me, it’s been one that’s hard to swallow. My hard work has paid off and I need to remind myself of that as often as I can. These days, I’ve made it a point to try and end these feelings. The only way to stop feeling like an imposter is to stop thinking like one and I do my best to separate feelings from facts whenever I can, as I realize that, in the end, they are nothing more than burdensome feelings.

Notwithstanding, I am unbelievably proud of my achievements and just how far I have come in the four years I’ve dedicated to my studies at Portland State University. Every now and again, I make an effort to reflect on my achievements and actually take pride in them. It’s been a long journey to this point and I know that I’m not an imposter and that I belong here, and that I deserve the degree that’s just within arm’s reach. In spite of everything, I’ve made it and I know that it’s certainly not by accident or by chance, I’ve, without a doubt, earned that degree.

Learning New Technology

By: Ragan Love

One word my friends use to describe me is “Grandma.” I don’t know Gen Z terms, I bake cookies, and I am not good with technology. I know how to work the Microsoft programs and can get by, but when the Pandemic started I had a huge learning curve to conquer. 

One thing that I and other music majors started using is Soundtrap. This is a recording platform that allows multiple people to record on the same piece. Because of this platform, PSU’s large ensembles are able to perform with our peers in the safety of our home. 

This term I am in a woodwind quintet and we have been working on three pieces of music. When I first went to complete a recording, I hit start and played with the metronome and our clarinetist and when I finished and listened back, I was out of time. I didn’t know why, I was playing it just like my quintet members but this is when I learned about latency. When we record anything, there is a slight delay, and it is different on every device. I recorded using my Macbook microphone which has a slower latency. Luckily my roommate has a studio microphone and let me record off of that, helping me to solve the latency problem.I will have to eventually get my own microphone because I will be doing recordings for the rest of my schooling, but I am grateful my roommate is helping me with this.

I also decided that it was time to start going paperless and I bought an iPad. As a music major I have a lot of sheet music that I end up printing out and now I can save some of those to the iPad. I can write and it’s been very useful for reading music. It is also really nice for homework in general. I use Microsoft Onenote and they actually have pages that have music staff, not just lined paper! I can also do a split screen between my Macbook and iPad so its like I have two monitors. I have used this feature while writing my papers because I can have my draft on one screen and my notes on the other.

A Juggling Act

by Beth Royston

It’s important to have a good work-life balance. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, many people’s lives are crossing over into one another, the lines and boundaries blurring together. For myself and other students, it’s a constant struggle to stay on top of everything and maintain those boundaries. I work remotely right now, so many parts of my day take place in the same room. I work at my desk, log onto my classes at my desk and relax at my desk. It can also be a struggle to define your day with online classes. Since you can do the work at any time of day, everything bleeds into each other.

However, I’ve had some success keeping my day defined with Google Calendar. I used to rely on a physical planner because I liked having something to hold and write in, but I have permanently switched over to an online one! You can’t beat how portable an online calendar is, as well as mess-free to edit. My favorite feature is definitely the ability to have your task list right next to you when using Google Calendar on the computer. I also appreciate that you can create different calendars for different aspects of your life (and color-code them). For instance, I have a work calendar, a homework calendar and a personal calendar. I can toggle my homework calendar on and off to see due dates for assignments and remove it if it’s causing too much clutter. It’s also helped me to schedule my day, if I know I have a bunch of things to get done but no particular time to do it. This has helped me feel like there’s some semblance of normal during this time, and I’d absolutely recommend it for anyone wanting to get organized. You can also use Google Calendar on your phone if you need to check things on the go. 

It’s also helped me to make some clearer boundaries for my work-life balance. Obviously, it will never be back to normal until I’m commuting again, but I’ve tried to create boundaries where I can. If I’m done with work and classes for the day, I try not to allow myself to drift into homework mode when I have some time to myself. Focusing on homework during a specific time helps me stay productive. Obviously, something different works for everyone, and doing homework here and there throughout the day might work better for you. However you’re getting through trying to live a normal life when things are decidedly not-normal, I wish you the best.

Winter is Coming.

Wash your hands. Wear a mask. We’re in this together.

By Erika Nelson

Governor Kate Brown recently announced new social-distancing requirements across Oregon. Most counties will have to follow the new guidelines for at least two weeks, but Multnomah County and other COVID hotspots will stay shut down even longer. Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee recently announced similar restrictions. I’m willing to bet that it’s only a matter of time before Governor Gavin Newsom follows suit in California, making shutdowns in the West Coast states three-for-three.

Needless to say, this is unwelcome news. Everyone is fatigued from the months of isolation, and it’s easy to fall into a false sense of security from the warmer months’ improvement. But the pandemic is nowhere near over, and as we move into the colder months, our collective situation is likely to become even more dire. It’s more important than ever to continue practicing social distancing, wearing masks, sanitizing, and taking the basic precautions to slow the virus’ spread.

Yes, these measures are inconvenient. Like everyone else, I’ve been irritated and upset by the shutdowns and restrictions. Earlier this year, I had to postpone medical procedures that weren’t deemed essential. A large part of why I chose PSU was Portland’s vibrant social and cultural scene, and I haven’t been able to experience most of the places and businesses that Portland is known for. In fact, I might very well finish out my time in college without seeing the inside of another classroom. The lower half of my face is constantly breaking out in “maskne.” None of these inconveniences are life-and-death situations, though.

What I’m saying shouldn’t be controversial: People need to face facts and follow the safety measures that save lives. I am sick of the head-in-the-sand science denial, the conspiracy theories, the people endlessly complaining on social media about the basic measures meant to keep themselves and others safe. It’s disheartening. It’s disheartening to know that millions upon millions of people complain about masks: Masks causing people to inhale carbon dioxide (they don’t), masks being uncomfortable (fair enough, but not important), masks somehow violate constitutional freedoms (not true), or any number of excuses. Some people flaunt going maskless and give performative, self-righteous rants in private businesses or record themselves marching through public in some kind of virtue-signaling display, extending America’s hyper-partisan us-vs-them narrative into public health.

Masks are not political. Public health is not political.

There are some things you just can’t argue about. There are facts, and then there are opinions. “That’s just my opinion, and you need to respect it!” Well, your opinion doesn’t mean much when America’s premier health advisor says the country “could not be positioned more poorly” with regards to the virus’ spread. Your opinion doesn’t mean much when cases are surging almost everywhere. Your opinion doesn’t mean much when hospitals are overwhelmed and record numbers of people are dying. Dr. Anthony Fauci and others have long warned that the cooler weather will bring more cases, and that if we don’t collectively change our habits, the pandemic will become even worse. 

The only way to prevent future lockdowns and stricter requirements is to follow the rules now. Everyone needs to take this pandemic seriously. Please. If you go out, wear a mask. Wash your hands. Sanitize. This isn’t hard. This isn’t forever. The more we adopt these lifestyle changes, the closer we are to going back to normal.

An Aspirational Autumn

by Beth Royston

I may have a slight problem with how much I enjoy autumn. It’s my favorite season of the year, and I always gripe that it never feels like it lasts as long as I want it to — whereas seasons like summer, that I’m not a fan of, seem to go on forever. A large part of my autumn (and winter) enjoyment comes from an upbringing in sunny, desert California. The kind of fall color (and snow) that we get up here is not something I’m used to. I’ve been in Portland for four years now, but it still takes my breath away every time. One of my favorite things about living in the Pacific NW is that we have four distinct seasons, and I really enjoy doing activities I can only do in that season. It helps me enjoy the seasons I’m kind of iffy on. But if you’re new in Portland, or been here for a while but never soaked up the autumn joy like a sponge, I’ve got some recommendations and tips to how I try to spend those precious months.

The stunning colors of fall life at a restaurant near my house!

Visit a pumpkin patch!

Portland has a lot of pumpkin patches. You’ll definitely have your pick. My partner and I usually visit Sauvie Island, as one of the patches there really has it all — a barn with animals, hay rides, a corn maze, a little market, a gift shop, hot food and drink, and of course the pumpkins. We always find their pumpkin prices reasonable, and there are always delicious things to pick up at the market.

Carve your pumpkin!

Although Halloween this year was a little quiet, my partner and I had fun carving our pumpkins and setting them out on the porch. Roasting the pumpkin seeds creates a wonderful snack!

Enjoy seasonal food!

Hot tip: one of my favorite snack spots, Waffle Window, has seasonal apple pie waffles and pumpkin pie waffles that are to die for.

View the gorgeous fall colors before they’re gone!

My favorite thing to do, hands down, is simply take in the changing colors around me. I’m lucky to live right across the street from a gorgeous park, and my street has a lot of trees that change color. This year, my partner and I had a picnic in the fall leaves, and it was truly wonderful. I always make sure to take a lot of pictures! I would recommend visiting some famous spots, like Multnomah Falls or the Japanese Garden, in autumn. We didn’t go this year, but the sights are spectacular with a shift in the color spectrum. Insider tip: the best time to see the leaves, in my opinion, is the last week of October or first week of November.

Pictures from a very pretty hike!
The vivid colors never cease to amaze!

However you spend your autumn, I encourage you to take advantage of the stunning Oregon colors. Throwing myself into special seasonal activities really helps me enjoy the little things in life and get as much as I can out of the year. Are there any favorite fall activities of yours that I missed?

Too Much Love to Give

by Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell 

Love has always come easily to me. I’ve never struggled to adore humanity, to put the utmost effort into my friendships, to forge meaningful romantic relationships. But what happens when you have too much love? Or at least … you think you do?

I’ve joked for many years that I’m in love with everyone I know. All kinds of love! Deep platonic connections, strong familial bonds, and of course endless crushes. In high school, I had a few long-term boyfriends. Each relationship lasted at least a year, and each meant the world to me. Through all of these relationships, I constantly found myself falling for other people. I loathed this about myself. I tried so, so hard to not catch feelings for anyone else. But it didn’t matter — boy, girl, nonbinary person, my heart was just fickle. Or was it? My dedication and love for my actual partners never faded. It just sort of … coexisted. I’d never dare so much as flirt with someone when I was in a monogamous relationship, but  … why did I want to? I respected my boyfriends. I cherished them. I valued their feelings and felt like a horrible partner. Was I just a flighty teenager or was I something else? Was I forcing myself into long-term dating too young, or was there another term for what I felt? 

When I discovered polyamory, it felt like a breath of fresh air. It felt like I wasn’t broken, or a bad person, or not in control of my emotions. I was just … me. A person whose heart was too big to love just one person. And one day, I’d find other people who thought like me. 

Polyamory is complicated and there’s no rulebook. Each person has their own boundaries and needs. Each relationship is different and interesting and a whole new adventure. Sometimes there is jealousy — it is honored, appreciated, and worked through. Sometimes there is confusion. Sometimes there is joy. In many ways, being in a polyamorous relationship is exactly like being in a monogamous relationship; you just share your love with more than one person.

It’s not for everyone, and I absolutely respect that. Polyamory is trial and error, especially as a young person making my way in the world. In many ways, the way I live is fairly unprecedented in my own family, so making finding my own way in life is something I’m familiar with. I’m the only queer, trans, and disabled person in my family. The second person in my entire family (extended and immediate) to ever go to college. Polyamory is just another facet of my life in which I make my own roadmap.

I’m proud of how much love I have, for the world and for my partners. I’m proud of the attentive and compassionate person I am to those I love. And I’m proud to love in the way I do.  

You Will Always Be My Friend

By Claire Golden

On Nov. 3 last year I said goodbye to my pet chicken Harriet, whom I’ve written about here before. It wasn’t easy, but  what I’ve learned is that life goes on — even when you think it won’t. Even when you think it will hurt forever, it gets better. So, if you’re dealing with the loss of a pet, I want to share my experience as encouragement that you can get through this, too.

Viking pride with Harriet

One of the hardest things about losing Harriet was the complete disruption of my daily routine. I always started my day by letting her out of her run, cleaning the coop, and checking for eggs. Then, when I got home from college (I was a commuter student), I would sit in the backyard with her and tell her about my day. Sometimes I did my homework with her perched on my foot. 

When she died, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Now when I came home from school, there was no stripey chicken running out to greet me, no birds help me with my homework, no feathery cuddles. I had maintained an Instagram account for Harriet for a few years, and now I had lost this creative outlet. I missed her beady orange eyes and her high-pitched whine.

Climbing on me to reach the best berries

I had to find new routines. Fortunately, my boyfriend came into my life at the same time that Harriet passed away. Harriet had been sick for months, but pets hold on to life because they know we need them. I think Harriet knew, in her little chicken brain, that I would be OK without her because I wouldn’t be lonely. As you try to figure out what your new routines will be after the loss of a pet, reach out to your support system when you need them. I formed a close bond with his cat Bubba, who filled some of the void that Harriet had left, and taking care of Bubba became part of my new daily routine. Cow Pigeon actually helped me a lot while I was grieving because he was another bird I could photograph and coo over. Now after dinner, instead of chicken cuddles, I read books with my boyfriend. And thanks to him, I am never lacking for hugs.

Summertime hammock cuddles

The great thing about pets is that they love you unconditionally and without judgment. Harriet was the first creature I told about so many things. She let me cry into her feathers; she came running to see me when I came home from a hard day at college. There’s just no replacement for that. After she died, I wrote her letters when I really missed her and it was almost like talking to her. Perhaps this is morbid, but I put her ashes on the shelf next to my bed so it was like she was roosting next to me at night. I have a plush chicken that looks like her which I hug when I wish I could hug her. All of these things help me feel like she’s still around. (As I write this, in fact, a little plush chicken sits next to my computer.)

Got your nose!

And I do believe she’s still around in some way, because love doesn’t die. I see her in every striped chicken, in a particularly beautiful sunset, in the ladybugs that started popping up everywhere after she died. There’s a quote from my favorite book that always gets me right in the feels:

“In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars will be laughing when you look at the sky at night…. And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me… You will always be my friend.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Harriet will always be with me in the ways that matter. When you love a pet, they change your life for the better. No matter what, she will always be my friend. And I will always be hers. So I look up at the stars, and I imagine her living.

Hair-Don’t

by Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell

I was scrolling through my Snapchat memories today and came across a picture of myself that gave me pause. In it, I’m smiling, a finger poked into my cheek. My tongue is stuck out and my eyes are closed. A goofy filter adds devil horns and oversized glasses to my face. It’s a pretty normal selfie of a happy 20-year-old.

That said, a few words in the caption reveal it wasn’t just a picture. “So, I’m bald now! Here’s the cut!”

My head is shaved down close to the skin in the photo. It was the first picture I took of myself after that drastic haircut. I still remember the mindframe I was in at the time: straight-up panic and self-loathing.

I’d had a floppy bleach-blonde mohawk that I loved. I’d shaved it all off in a moment of what I fondly refer to as “crazy manic idiocy.” It was a snap decision. I’d wanted to do something new with my hair for a while, and it seemed like the best thing in the moment. 

Now, I’d pulled off a mohawk very well. The sides and back of my head were shaved, I thought, so it wouldn’t be that different, right? Oh, so wrong. Some people can pull off a shaved head. It looks fantastic on them! I cannot. I looked like an egg. And much more importantly, I felt crushed. 

I’ve never attached much of my self-worth to my looks, but that haircut began the most self-conscious year of my life. I never never without a hat. I had an arsenal of self-deprecating jokes at the ready. I literally stopped looking in the mirror. It shook me in a way I didn’t expect. I wish I had taken the time to truly think about my drastic haircut before going with it.

“Hair grows back, Julien,” my fiancee kept reminding me. “Just give it time.”

And eventually, my hair did grow back. It’s now a shaggy blonde mop — a little overgrown, a little wild, just how I like it. It took a few disastrous trims, a short-lived (and regrettable) mullet, and a lot of patience, but eventually, my hair grew out. And my friends didn’t stop being my friends because of a bad haircut. My fiancee wasn’t suddenly disgusted by me. My family didn’t shun me. That’s insane. In this year of regrowth, I think I’ve learned a lot about myself as a person:

— I do care about how I look. I lied to myself and said that I didn’t for years because I’m not conventionally attractive. But I do. I want to look good and love how I look. I want to feel confident when I walk down the street. And that’s okay! It didn’t make me (or anyone!) vain or shallow.

— On the other side of that coin, no one but me really cares about how I look. The haircut didn’t affect anything in my life except my own self-confidence. 

— Hair is impermanent and doesn’t define your entire look! 

— Beanies and baseball caps are a great accessory and shouldn’t be underestimated!

— And last but not least, it’s alright to have a bad haircut! And it’s alright to admit that it just doesn’t suit you! There is bravery in being honest.

3 Ways To Take Better Care Of Yourself

By: Adair Bingham

For many, this year has dwindled our best to a bare minimum. The least we can do is take care of ourselves. Mental health care has taken a back seat in the lives of many, with most deeming it as unnecessary or unneeded, perhaps even a waste of time. This, however, could not be further from the truth. Self-care is more important now than ever and it is imperative that we all do our part to take care of not only ourselves but each other, in what continues to be one of the most unrelenting years of our lives. Of all the tips, tricks and cheats for mental-health care, I’ve discovered that the following three  boost my spirits the most:

1. Indulge in creative endeavors, no matter how small 

Creativity can take many forms — journaling, scrapbooking, writing, cooking, anything works! It’s a world of possibilities in itself and, at least for me, a self-soothing escape from reality. Even something as simple as mindless doodling on scrap paper can be engaging, if not rewarding, and make space for you to foster new plans and ideas for your day-to-day life. One thing that’s gotten me through tough times has been character design and 3D character modeling. Even if I’m not especially well-versed in either of these things, they’re excellent ways to pass the time and highly rewarding to complete, even if they come out a bit wonky! 

2. Practice mindfulness and unplug from social media 

Social media, while an excellent tool for connectedness in a time when we exactly can’t meet face-to-face, can also be negativity central. The human mind is programmed to handle only so much misery and “doom-scrolling.” If you’re feeling overwhelmed, turn off social media for a bit. There are other, more productive ways to keep your hands busy. For example, try practical prep around your living space to clean up what may likely be transforming into a “depression den.” While browsing Twitter the other week, I found that my feed was cluttered with devastating news and it was seriously getting to my head. It got to the point where I was internalizing the problems and seeing them reflected in my own life in spite of them being non-existent. Rather than wallow in a hodgepodge of other people’s problems, I took the time to unplug and focus on other things, namely sprucing up my workspace.

3. Keep a crisis kit within arm’s reach

Crisis kits, or mental health kits, are also incredibly practical tools. These special boxes are akin to medical first aid kits and are often a collection of practices, behaviors, intentions and strategies intended to support both mental and emotional sobriety. A highly individualized concept, anything and everything is fair game to have on hand for your kit. After all, it’s meant for you and only you! Common items include cherished DVDs, novels, silencing headphones, and even stuffed animals famously known to mitigate anxiety. Anything immediately recognizable by the senses — sight, taste, smell, sound, and touch — work wonders for your box and help to fortify new and useful coping skills. I find that nostalgic items work best and really help to ground me when I feel that I’m losing myself. One of my go-to things is the first sketchbook that I finished cover to cover. It helps to remind me of how far I’ve come and how much further I’ll go as well as remind me of all the wonderful memories I’ve made along my journey.

Naturally, what works for me may not work for you, but I’ve found that these three things lessen my worries and have silenced my bustling pessimist brain in times when I needed it most. I encourage you to explore the hundreds of ideas readily available for self-care and find what works for you. Most importantly, though, have fun while doing it! Self-care isn’t and should never be a chore. Doing things we enjoy is good for our health. The bottom-line: There are many small, but impactful ways for you to improve your mental health every day, don’t be afraid to give something a shot if it interests you.