A Listening Ear

by Beth Royston

I knew that I wanted to squeeze in some more volunteer work this term, in order to feel as prepared as possible for my application to my graduate program in the fall. However, I was almost out of the house 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. already, and wasn’t sure if I would be able to make time to add another commitment on. I heard from a couple of my psychology professors that crisis counseling was a great way to break into psychology volunteering, but to be honest, I was a little intimidated by thinking of going to a center, taking calls, and essentially getting empathy exhaustion. Then, I’d have to go home at night and probably go to sleep right after, which I knew wouldn’t help me feel cheery. 

With a bit of research, I found I could actually apply for a volunteer position with a text line and take conversations on my laptop. I’ve only been doing it for a little over a month, but to be honest, I wish I had started much sooner. I really appreciate the ability to choose my schedule, and change it week to week. There’s also the ability to debrief with other counselors when hard conversations happen, and you receive constant support from your supervisor. 

It is tough though, especially when you can tell someone doesn’t feel better after talking with you, and there’s not much more you can do for them. My hardest conversations are with younger people that text in, and may have a harder time understanding that we can’t say or do certain things for them when they’re clearly in need. But I’m glad that I’m giving some of my time each week to volunteering and offering my trained and compassionate ears to people that really, really need it. 

I currently put in about four or five hours each week, shifting back and forth between splitting that up into two days and doing it all on Saturday. However, over spring break, I’ll probably be putting in a lot more time. 

It’s great practice for my future as a therapist to learn to leave it behind when I close my laptop and to learn that you can’t fix everything for someone, only be there for them to provide support, resources, and validation of what they’re going through. But that’s still pretty special, in my opinion. It can weigh on me sometimes, and it’s not for everyone, but I think I’ll probably be volunteering for a long time.

Go Thorns!

by Beth Royston

It’s February, which means my fingers twitch toward the bookmark in my web browser, wanting to carry out the urge to check it one more time, despite knowing  I’ll get an email anyway. I have to smile at myself — years ago, if I knew I’d be frothing at the mouth to get my hands on good seats for a soccer match, I would have denied it. 

I played sports as a kid, but organized events were another thing entirely. I also hated growing up in my California hometown, so I never felt any real pride for local sports teams. My mom is an avid soccer fan, but I didn’t often watch with her, instead preferring to preserve my own life force. Sometimes she would get so excited I feared she would squeeze all the air out of my lungs (Love you, Mom). 

However, since coming to Portland, I knew I should eventually take part in a Portland rite of passage — seeing a soccer match at Providence Park. Needless to say, I was hooked. I’ve now been to both Timbers and Thorns games, but I prefer the Thorns. It’s a really wholesome atmosphere — you can’t look anywhere in the arena without seeing a giant pride flag being waved vigorously, and the energy of the cheering crowd is infectious. Our team is good, too, and a lot of fun to watch. I feel represented and welcomed in the crowd, where the atmosphere is never murderous even in the face of a loss. I feel represented in the team, too. 

I’d recommend going to a match this spring when the Thorns start playing again. Maybe you’ll too join the ranks of fans who give in for an overpriced beverage and a scarf. It’s worth it for the experience, I promise.

I imagine much of my joy comes from feeling like I’m part of something, feeling pride in my home team and getting to watch these amazing, diverse women excel. I’m sure it would be dangerous for my mom and I to both go to a soccer match, we’d probably be cutting off each other’s circulation out of excitement, but we’ll probably do it anyway. 

New Beginnings

by Beth Royston

I’ve blossomed into a self-disciplined person who is nearly unrecognizable from my high school self. For a while during high school, I suffered from severe depression and social anxiety; I was very unmotivated to pursue college and a career, and felt hopeless about my life. I wasn’t that much of an outsider and had a lot of friends, but simultaneously felt like I didn’t fit in or belong. 

I remember when I began to unenthusiastically research schools, Portland State caught my eye immediately. Having always lived in a suburban area, the idea of being directly in the city was appealing, and the lush, green, forested surroundings sounded like a dream. I had been half-interested in psychology, but once I sat down and really started to evaluate what I’d want to study, it seemed instinctually right. A fire was lit under me when I took AP Psychology, and plans formed to make my dream more realistic by the day. I remember I was so anxious about getting accepted to PSU because I wasn’t confident about the grades on my application. I think I submitted too many letters of recommendation and didn’t sleep right at all while I was waiting. The morning I found out I was accepted, I cried. It felt like my ticket out of how awful I was constantly feeling and how out of place I felt, and my first real dreams were forming.

Now I’m a college junior, majoring in Psychology and “flourishing” is the perfect word to describe my college experience. I have a high GPA and, more importantly, a new take on life. While my mental illness struggles never really went away entirely, they drastically improved. I look at things differently and really enjoy the flexibility of college. I get to choose what I study, especially in my upper level years, and make my own schedule. The stress of finding my own apartment and paying bills turned out to be the kind of struggle that turned into grit. The responsibilities of my own adult life made me take on discipline and genuine care for my own education and future. College isn’t for everyone, but I was really transformed by the lifestyle change when I was having the hardest of times, and that’s definitely something to be grateful for.

Winter Wonderland

by Beth Royston

I’ve slipped in snow and plummeted headfirst into an icy road with cars coming, but I still can’t quite bring myself to adopt the same dread regarding snow that a lot of my friends have.

Growing up in California, snow was always a special treat requiring a several-hour drive up the closest mountain. It was magical and also one of the few times I was permitted to eat instant ramen, clustered around steaming cups with my cousins, our cheeks red from chill. I was already looking forward to Portland’s actual seasons instead of 365 straight days of heat, but I was gently warned not to have high hopes of snow. I moved here in September 2016, and that winter was one of the biggest snowfalls Portland had experienced in a while. I was nothing short of elated being able to walk out my front door and jump into a snowbank.

Snow also meant stress: being stuck downtown during rush hour after a shift at the restaurant I worked at, realizing it would cost several hundred dollars and take several hours to get an Uber, because the buses had stopped running. I eventually went home with a coworker for the night and the next morning one of her saint-like roommates volunteered to drive me home from North Portland to West Linn, cheerfully chatting with me as we skidded on ice and I feared for my life. It can mean missing work, which seems fun until you remember you’re a self-supporting student and your paycheck is kind of important, but I don’t think I’ll ever truly gripe about it.

When the first few flakes start to drift down, even if they don’t stick, snow holds a timeless kind of magic for me. I secretly hope for another absolute coating, but we’ll have to see.

Turning Over a New Leaf

by Beth Royston

Last spring was the first time I’d had a backyard since moving to Portland. Packed away in my boxes from California, I found a large seed bundle that my mother had gifted me before I left, carefully protected from moisture in a plastic bag. She always enjoyed gardening and my fond memories of stuffing my cheeks like a squirrel with sun-warmed tomatoes as a child compelled me to try gardening myself. I also love to cook, which was another incentive to have fresh herbs and veggies at my disposal. 

My first plants were started on the windowsill in an egg carton, lovingly labelled with popsicle sticks. The soil wasn’t nearly as deep as it should have been, and they dried out quickly, the popsicle sticks becoming a little moldy when I overwatered. As a perfectionist that does not often start a new hobby, I was absolutely devastated. My maternal feelings that I’d poured into these little plants were severely hurt. 

My partner helped me research what I’d done wrong and gather more information like how much water I really should be giving them, how much space and light the seedlings need and that I should use plastic markers instead of wood. I invested in a grow light and proper seed trays with a good, organic starting mix. I was able to find about fifty pots of various sizes on the neighborhood app Nextdoor for free. 

My second attempt went incredibly well! I figured all of this out a bit late in the season, so my plants grew big but didn’t really produce anything. I still got some herbs out of it, though, and the knowledge about what to do this upcoming spring! As soon as it’s warm enough outside, I’ll be ready to go! 

It was an incredible feeling to watch the shoots poke through the soil, and like my tomato plant, grow into a massive thing that came from a little seed. I would often take my phone calls outside and pull up a chair next to the plant, rubbing a stem between my fingers to elicit that addictive smell. I may not be perfect at gardening, and I probably never will be. In that way, it’s a good hobby for someone like me to have.

A Novel Concept

by Beth Royston

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but I recall really starting to get into it as a hobby around the sixth grade. I keenly remember being confident that I’d have at least one novel done by the time I was eighteen, maybe twenty if I was busy as an adult. It definitely makes me laugh to look back on my perspective at that point! My dream career has always been to be a therapist, but I really want to pursue my writing on the side, and being a novelist in the future is an important part of my identity.

     I’ve entertained several different novel ideas, but the first one I settled to work on has been time-consuming, stressful, and tough. But I’m so in love with the process and project. Crafting a story that has strong female characters, a complex setting that tackles tough issues, and equally funny and heartbreaking moments is one of the best things in the world to work on.  I’m about fifty thousand words into what I’m aiming to be a hundred thousand word first draft. It feels really weird to be so far into a project, as I’ve written many short stories but never something this long and complex. The biggest challenge is finding the time and energy to work on it. Sometimes, I have unorthodox weeks where I write ten thousand words, and sometimes weeks go by with nothing new. Often, my time to write is after I get home and after a long day of classes, work, and sports, I’ve still got to do homework and make dinner. I’m usually drained. It’s tough, as I remember wanting to be done with my first novel at eighteen, and I’m twenty-one and only halfway through the first draft. But I’m persistent and trying to be more realistic about my time and energy. I’m passionate about it and know that I’ll get there eventually! I’ve got a couple other novel ideas now, and even tried competing in a writing competition again for the first time in years, and my success has been really encouraging. Hopefully you’ll see my books on the shelves one day!

Roof With a View

by Beth Royston

The fact that the city is filled with numerous food carts is one of my favorite things about Portland. Predictably, since starting at PSU, they’ve become slightly dangerous for my paycheck. The wealth of options for lunch and quick snacks around campus is really tempting. I find myself most often visiting the food cart pod on Fourth Avenue, hunting gyros or beef kebabs over saffron rice. It’s really amazing to be able to sample so many different cultures and try things that I ordinarily wouldn’t. Persian food was always in my rotation when I was younger but I hadn’t really found a good spot again when I moved away from my hometown. Luckily, there’s many Persian food carts around Portland — and they’re all mouthwatering. I was worried about having the same quality of Mexican food coming from California, but you guessed it, there’s multiple incredibly delicious food carts for that. Satisfying my desire to eat sushi as often and as on the go as possible? There’s a sushi burrito food cart for that! 

I still haven’t tried everything in the pod and around campus but it’s definitely on my to-do list by the end of the year. After an hour-long process to finally decide which cart to sample, the only decision left to make is where to enjoy my bounty. I am a proud and careful lunch-spot hunter. I like being somewhere semi-quiet and with a spectacular view. I haven’t been disappointed at all by PSU’s campus, and the downtown buildings have conjured a new option — a rooftop lunch. The best view I’ve found has to be on the fifth floor of the Academic Student Recreation Center. It’s nothing short of breathtaking to be able to see the changing fall colors and almost all of campus. I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t before! It may be getting pretty cold, but I’m excited to see the changing colors of all the trees as the year goes by.