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.

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.

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?

Staying Connected

by Beth Royston

Ordinarily, to catch up with a friend, I’d go get lunch or see them at one of our regular joint-activities. However, go-to plans have been obviously suspended with the pandemic, and I’ve had to find new ways to stay connected with friends both near and far. An unexpected silver lining of the pandemic for me was deepening friendships with friends far away, ones I’d met online originally or had moved apart from. I’ve included some activities we’ve done regularly to stay in touch here for your consideration:

Jackbox Games! If you aren’t familiar with Jackbox games, they’re party packs of games meant to be played with your phones. The easiest way to play with friends is one person sharing their screen and everyone logging into the room via phone (this can be accomplished easily through Discord, if you use it. It’s always hilarious and there’s many games to choose from! You can buy the entire pack or singular games. 

Buzzfeed Quiz Party! Buzzfeed recently added a way you can take their infamous quizzes with friends at the same time. It’s simple — one person starts a room and sends the link to their friends, and the quiz will show you yours and your friends’ results at the same time. It was really late at night and we had a desire to know what Teletubby character we were … you know how it goes.

Skribbl.io! I play this all the time with my pals. People take turns doodling something and others try to guess what it is they are drawing!

Presentation Parties! Everyone assembles a Powerpoint presentation on something they weirdly know a lot about, or are really passionate about, and takes turns presenting to the group. It’s an oddly wholesome way to get to know your friends’ specific interests.

Watching stuff together! There are several websites and browser extensions that will let you make a private room and stream something for everyone to watch together. We usually use Kosmi.io or the extension Netflix Party!

However it is you stay in touch, we live in the perfect day and age to find fun things to do online with your friends. What’s your favorite way to get together virtually?

Having an ESA

By: Ragan Love

One decision I have made in college that has been the best choice for me was getting an emotional support animal. I am currently seeking help from my doctors and trying to make sure that I am doing what I need to do. My emotional support animal — or ESA — has been an important piece of the puzzle. 

My freshman year of college, my roommate would go home quite often and I would be by myself. I would feel alone and my mental health would start depleting. I spent some weekends not leaving my bed because I didn’t see a point to. This is when I started looking into getting an ESA.

When looking at the information I found online, I knew that getting an ESA would be a good choice for my mental health. I talked to my freshman roommate about it, but unfortunately she did not want to have an animal in our room. I understood their decision and was going to wait until the next school year to continue the search. But, the pandemic hit and the school year was cut short.

I went back to Colorado with my family and I spent every day with my family cat. My brother spent all of his time drawing in his room and my dad was at work so I really was alone with my cat. I could tell how much having him around helped my mental health.

This led to a conversation with my dad, who is a bit sceptical about ESA’s. It took awhile to get him behind the idea but he saw how much it would help me. 

So, I went to my local shelter and searched for my new cat. This is where I found my ESA, Pinball. He is a four-year-old tabby cat who is the sweetest cat I have ever seen. He loves to cuddle and nap next to you while you do work. My current roommates love him too and play with him all the time. I have noticed that my mental health is better with him around, he has made me feel whole again. Even on my bad days, he helps me get out of bed and start the day. 

If you want more information on ESA’s or what you need to do to have one on campus look at the links below

https://www.pdx.edu/disability-resource-center/assistance-animal-housing

Being Under the National Spotlight

by Beth Royston

I can depend on them, those text messages, every time Portland is in the news. Of course, they are from friends and family outside the city who care about me and are concerned for my well being. But I think it isn’t often realized by people that live outside of the Portland area that life here is not really like it’s portrayed on the news — and we’ve had a lot of coverage lately. 

Recently, with the federal occupation of Portland, it felt like we were under a giant microscope. I was getting a lot of calls at my student position in the Admissions office from concerned parents and wary students about how really safe it was to be here. To be honest, sometimes things happen in Portland and I have no idea until someone texts me about it, and I think I do a decent job of checking the news! Of course, I can understand why people are frightened. Coming from an entirely suburban area while growing up, moving to a city with inner-city challenges was a culture shock for me. Something I think that is important for incoming students to know is that the Park Blocks, the big green space running through the middle of campus, is actually city property. That’s why there are wonderful things, like the farmer’s market that happens there every Saturday. But that also means that protests can gather there that aren’t PSU-related. It can be a lot to get used to, but I am happy to live somewhere where people are truly passionate about standing up for things they believe in. I still remember the shocked expression on my partner’s face when I brought him to his first loud, marching, flag-waving protest (he’s from a suburban neighborhood in Ohio).

It can be nerve-wracking to receive all of these queries, almost as if it’s forcing me to look inward when someone asks if I’ve been affected by any of the protesting, or the wildfires, or this, or that. Being under the national spotlight is tough. I can only ever give my own opinion, which is that I do feel safe at Portland State and in Portland. 

Hope Is The Thing With Black-and-White Feathers

By Claire Olivia Golden

It’s no secret that one of my favorite things about PSU is our unofficial mascot, Little Cow Pigeon. I have written about this delightful bird in the past and every once in a while, when someone hears my name, they ask: “Aren’t you the Cow Pigeon blogger?” I could not be more honored to have this designation, because LCP means a lot to me, just like he does to hundreds of other people. Which is why PSU freaked out when Cow Pigeon went missing.

It was just another bad thing in a year filled with bad things. Our celebrity bird hadn’t been spotted in months. Rumors circulated about a hawk outside Cramer. In all likelihood, the reason nobody had seen LCP is because nobody was on campus, but that didn’t stop everyone from worrying. The Cheerful Tortoise even put up a call to action.

I went to run an errand at PSU a few weeks ago and found myself with some time to wander around campus. Outfitted with my pigeon-themed mask, I walked through Cow Pigeon’s favorite haunts: the Park Blocks, between Cramer and Smith, and the Urban Plaza. There were no pigeons to be found, not even a non-cow pigeon.

Outside the Portland State Bookstore, I bent down to pick up a black-and-white striped feather. I have no way of knowing if this feather came from Cow Pigeon. Birds lose feathers all the time. But the classic black-and-white Cow Pigeon coloring made a strong feeling rise up inside me. 

It felt a little bit like hope.

Things might not feel good right now, or even okay, but better times are ahead. I believe that. Just like I believe Little Cow Pigeon is still out there, pecking at crumbs, delighting people with his speckled appearance. 

My Path to College

by Beth Royston

I’m in my senior year at PSU and looking back on my idea of the college experience as a senior in high school was very different than how it turned out. I learned a valuable lesson — as much as you can work towards your hopes and dreams, be flexible to the definition of those hopes and dreams changing. 

Initially, I wanted a traditional freshman college experience — going to university after I graduated high school, living in the dorms, the whole nine yards. But my reality began to shift for a few reasons, namely financial. It wouldn’t be possible for me to attend as an out-of-state student, even though PSU’s out-of-state tuition was less than residential schools in my area. I was crushed, but there did remain a thin beam of hope that I could still make things work. 

I knew that above it all, I wanted to live in Oregon — so I moved. I lived with extended family here for a while, and then found some roommates for a place of my own, working a variety of beloved jobs here and there. During this time period I realized that even though I didn’t want to be set back again, attending PCC would make my life a lot easier financially. I also would qualify for resident tuition at both schools due to my year working. 

I finally landed at PSU as a junior last fall, three years after graduating high school. My partner and I both had experience living in small apartments, and reverting to dorm life was a little hard for us to imagine. We like ample space to cook and enough room to fit two desktop computers — to say the least. So we decided to continue in off-campus route. We absolutely love our neighborhood in southwest Portland, it has many great restaurants and a gorgeous riverfront park across the street. There’s space to garden and it’s generally quiet. 

But I won’t pretend that I don’t think about what my life would be like if things were different. I didn’t live in the dorms, or have my four years at PSU. Did I miss out on something? The thing is, I can’t know that. I do know that I made great memories at PCC, live comfortably and happily, and am at PSU now. Hopefully for graduate school, too! I’m grateful for my choices in the past, because I was thinking of myself in the future. There are definitely pros and cons to any route to college, and I’ve faced unique struggles due to the path I took. At the end of the day, I’m just overjoyed to be here, even though the path to get here looked different than what I imagined. I learned instead of resisting change, to go with the flow, as long as I knew I would get there in the end. 

Moving Out and Moving On

By: Ragan Love

2020 has been the year of change; every time I blink something new happens. So why not say bye to my family and move to Portland.

I went home to Colorado because of COVID-19 in March and got to spend some quality time with my dad and brother. But, I learned that I am ready to live on my own. It was hard going home for so long after having my first taste of independence.

I was originally planning on staying in the dorms this year with my friend Stacey, but when we found out that we would be in individual rooms for the fall term, we decided to find an off-campus apartment. I am someone who needs human interaction and knew I would not do well living by myself.

We found a place in Southwest with another friend of ours and that prompted a plan to drive 1,200 miles. There were a couple of pieces of furniture that I had from my family home that would work well in our apartment so my dad and I drove up from Colorado to Portland together. 

So we packed up our cars! My dad decided to take his car too and enjoy the trip back with our family dog. We had the cars packed with my bedroom furniture, clothes, shoes (which there were a lot). There was a snowstorm the night we were planning to leave so we were delayed a few hours. But once we got on the road it was smooth sailing — for us and the pets!

The most stressful thing about the drive was my cat, Pinball. The couple times that I had him in the car he was not happy. I had to get some medication from the vet so he could be calm during our journey. I gave him some at 5 a.m., two hours before our trip and that helped him be sleepy for a few hours. He did not want to eat or drink on the road. But, once we got to Portland he ate and drank like normal! He really loves his life here and all of the attention he is getting. I can tell he misses my family cat and dog.

Now that I have spent over a month in my new place, it is safe to say that I made a good choice. I am happy with where I am at and happy that I got to create this little family with my roommates.

Author Dreams

IMG_7345 By Claire Golden

Two months ago, I woke up and checked my email to discover that a publishing company wanted to publish my book. After the squealing and happy tears had subsided, I signed the contract and got to work. I had to keep the news quiet for a few weeks, but I’m beyond delighted to share that my Young Adult fantasy novel, Unraveled, will release later this year from Gurt Dog Press. It’s a retelling of Sleeping Beauty where two girls fall in love while trying to break the curse on a crochet shawl, and it’s about faeries, OCD, and figuring out who you are.

Although it feels like everything is happening so quickly, the journey of writing a book started about seven years ago. I’ve been writing stories since I was in elementary school and dreaming of becoming an author since I realized that was a career, but I started seriously working toward that when I was 15. I wrote my first novel during NaNoWriMo, a worldwide program where people all over the world write 50,000 words (the length of a short novel) during the month of November, and I haven’t stopped writing since. I started writing Unraveled in 2016, which is also when I started college…and that’s when everything got more complicated.

IMG_8338

The thing is, I’m an English and French major…which means I’m writing stuff all the time for college. When I finished my homework, the last thing I wanted to do was write more. I grew discouraged because I wasn’t making progress on my book. I had to learn to be kind to myself and realize that college is essentially a full-time job. It was OK that most of my book-writing took place during breaks. There’s a balance between not working toward your goal at all, and working so hard that you burn yourself out. I’m still trying to find that balance.

The picture in this post is from my 2016 writing journal, where I recorded my daily word count. I participated in NaNoWriMo that year, too, and you can see that I hit a block pretty early on and didn’t think I would make the 50,000-word goal. But one day I plunked myself down in the armchair and decided not to get up until I was done. I wrote 20,000 words that day, a feat that I have never done before or since. It took me over six hours, but I finished Unraveled. It remains one of my proudest moments because I fought through my self-doubt and a myriad of health issues for the sake of this novel, which was important to me.    

Over the next several years I submitted Unraveled to about five different agents and publishers, but nobody was interested, so I started losing hope. It wasn’t until the COVID pandemic that I got the courage to try again, because I realized there’s no time like the present. I found Gurt Dog, a small press in Sweden that focuses on LGBTQ+ speculative fiction, and they were enthusiastic about my book…which will release just a few months after I graduate college.

I’ve met a lot of people who say, “I’ve always dreamed of writing a book.” Or, “I have a draft of a novel, but it’s not any good.” Well, I’m here as proof that any nerd can get a book published if you just put the work in and believe in yourself. Whatever your dream is, I encourage you to chase it down, because it will be worth it in the end.