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When You Belong to a Small Town: Division and Polarization in America

Or, What Growing up in a Small Mountain Town Has Taught me About the Rural v. Urban Divide

Even as Joe Biden clinched the presidential nomination this past Saturday, the fact that this race was “close” at all (or perhaps “delayed” is a better term?) is a major harbinger of continuing division in our country and for what’s to come in the next four years. The United States is two very different United States. As the 2020 elections draws to a close one thing is for sure, people have not abandoned their support for Donald Trump. If anything, they have doubled down. It was mostly white people, including white women and white evangelicals, yet more Hispanics also voted for Trump in 2020 than in 2016. Many of them were rural (something that was talked about to death after 2016, i.e., the white rural voter and what it meant) but many Trump supporters were also from places like Orange County, Miami, Los Angeles, and even New York City. What does it all mean? Other than the fact that Black women quite literally saved our democracy?

It appears we occupy two very different identities inside this country called America. “It shouldn’t be this close,” was the common refrain I heard from this in my social stratosphere. Yet more people voted for the President this year than last year. The fact alone is confounding to many of us. The problem is not polarization, it’s schizophrenia (maybe we should split up now, amicably, before civil war and political violence are sure to ensure). But how would we become two different countries even if we wanted to? We are a country made up of dense populations dots of blue amidst a sea of vast, outstretched redlands.

One thing has also become clear in this election, the rural (mostly white) voting bloc still came out for Trump, though many courageous gains were made in states like Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada, (bolstered by black and native organizers). If we want to understand this division between liberal and conservative, if progressives truly want to sway voters in coming elections, the rural vs. urban divide is once again a place we need to continue to look.

This was made fresh in my brain after reading a Tweet by the writer Dean Bakopoulos, who started a thread as such:

“White liberals like to do a lot of their work in communities of color, but this elections has shown us that white progressives have the most work to do in rural white communities (Thread..)

      

Ouch, I thought. I don’t want to do that.

* * *

I grew up in the small mountain town of Bailey, Colorado you see. It was a strange mixture of rednecks, libertarians, conservative Christians, hippies, new age folk, and people who commuted to the suburbs of Denver for jobs in nondescript business centers. People who liked to keep to themselves. People who didn’t like the government. People who liked to disappear. People who wanted to be left alone. There was a meth house two houses away from mine. There were a lot of meth houses, if you got back into the hills far enough, the neighborhoods surrounded by aspens and ponderosa pines and dirt roads and herds of deer and elk munching their way through the hillsides and fields.

Bailey was spread out among hills and rocks and rivers. The actual town itself was no bigger than football field, located at the bottom of Crow Hill alongside highway 285 by the South Platte River. You could blink and never see it. You could yawn and miss it. It was a lower-middle-class, blue-collar bedroom community of Denver in Park County with sites of recreational activities like hunting, fishing, boating, mountain biking, and climbing. It was also a moderately alcoholic, economically challenged rural county. The least churched county in Colorado as my dad would say, even though my family went to church three times a week and both my parents were raised in Christian households. It wasn’t Colorado Springs I guess my dad was trying to say, where the conservative group Focus on the Family had headquarters. Park County and the nearby towns of Fairplay, Evergreen, Littleton, and Golden are basically where the satirical adult animation show South Park is set. Like the character Token, in South Park, there was only one black kid in my graduating class.

There was one stoplight in our town, at the top of Crow Hill. One year there were two, when they were doing construction and making on and off ramps. The one stoplight was by the Loaf N’ Jug, which was built when I was in the ninth grade and contained a Subway. Everyone went crazy when Subway came to town. Shit just got real.

We lived in a log house in Bailey, one my dad added on to and built out incessantly—adding a spare bedroom and wrap-around deck, a deck made from logs he felled and peeled himself. A new pellet stove and an older cast iron wood stove provided our only source of heat, which was plenty. Each morning in the winter my dad would rise early and light the kindling and faded newspapers until the smoke and heat began to rise, slowly warming up our wooden house. The aspen trees outside skeletal, the snow crystallized.  I am reminded now of that poem by Robert Hayden:

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

 Unlike the father in Hayden’s poem however, we never feared my dad’s anger; he was kind and affectionate.

My mom decorated our house in a rustic cabin aesthetic with bears and moose and antiques and various items of lodge and mountain cabin kitsch. Each morning she’d come downstairs thickly layered in sweatpants, a bathrobe, and a thick blanket, and pour herself a cup of coffee, coffee she’d then mix with Splenda and a dash of creamer. Coffee was first for both my parents. Coffee they’d reheat over and over in the microwave as the cold Colorado air cooled it almost instantaneously.

In Bailey I grew up playing ice hockey on ponds and making out with girls in yellow buses, where the bus driver, my friend Randy’s mom, knew both of our parents and threatened to tell them if we didn’t stop. I grew up small and Colorado. I climbed rocks. I hiked mountains.

We had two acres in Bailey and one horse named Shasta and I think my dad secretly wanted me to be cowboy—like he was for a period of time, riding broncos and breaking his nose—but I was more interested in skateboarding and going to hardcore shows. So, my sister took up riding horses while I spent my time hitting up what little pavement existed in our small town.

While I still love the outdoors, I think it’s funny that with all that country I was around, I only wanted concrete to shred. But my father never pushed me to do anything I didn’t want to do. Even if I didn’t like horses we both liked being outside and so we did that together. He even told me I didn’t have to go college, “I spent four years after high school training horses,” he said, “And then I went to school and met your mom and got a masters. It’s different for everyone.”

For many years my association with growing up in my hometown of Bailey was a positive one. That would all change in the years and culture wars to come.

* * *

I grew up rural but I now live urban and have since I left home at 18. I’m 32 now which means in four years I will have lived half my life in the country and half my life in the city. I can codeswitch between my rural, mountain upbringing and my now progressive city-dwelling life. It’s not an entirely unique point of view, but it does give one an interesting perspective. I can understand the disconnect on the many areas of disagreement between rural v. urban communities—on everything from the economy, to the second amendment, religion and each’s view of social institutions like the police.

For instance, most residents in Bailey knew the police, unlike cities, where the majority of the police force live in communities outside of where they work, On average, among the 75 U.S. cities with the largest police forces, 60 percent of police officers reside outside the city limits[i]” (in Portland, where I live now, only 17% of the police live here in Portland, which is perhaps why we see such brutality unleashed by the PPB against protestors. The police do not view protestors as members of their own community, because they are not[ii]). Yet the police were members of our small community. You saw them in the grocery store, at the post office, walking their dogs. You knew where they lived.

The school “resource officer” at my high school—Platte Canyon High—was a man named John Tighe. He was a quite tall, well-built man with nicely combed white hair and a thick grey mustache. Like most “school resource officers” he was also police officer. He was not just any cop though, John Tighe was also our high school’s driver’s ed teacher. I passed my driving test to get my license with the man. But he was not just a school resource office, policeman, and driver’s ed teacher. He was also a congregant at Platte Canyon Community church where my family went. The Tighe family was hard to miss. I would see him and all three of his extremely tall kids and tall wife each Sunday standing in the front middle rows of our sanctuary, towering over nearly everyone else as we worshipped together. I worked with his oldest daughter Lindsey, at Camp ID-RA-HA-JE as an outdoor adventure counselor the summer after I graduated high school.

* * *

In 2006, the same year I had left for college, a drifter walked into our high school and took six girl’s hostage. I was a freshman at Western University in Gunnison, Colorado walking to the student union across the freshly watered green campus lawn when I got the call from my mom.

“Have you heard the news?” she asked, clearly panicked.

“News?” I asked. “No.”

“There’s been a shooting,” she said.

I immediately thought of Columbine. We all know about Columbine of course now, but growing up in Colorado we had friend of friends or church parishioners who knew people who had actually gone to Columbine. The school was only a forty-five minutes away from Bailey in the suburbs of Denver. The Columbine shooting hit all of us Coloradans particularly hard. Back in time when mass shootings were rare and not an everyday occurence.

“It’s okay though,” she said, “Toby (my brother) is locked down in the middle school and Alyssa was on a field trip. Thank God.”

I didn’t know what to do. There was no Twitter. No live updates. I had to wait until later that night to hear the news.

Shortly after I hung with my mom that afternoon, SWAT showed up to the high school and began to negotiate with the white domestic terrorist. The man let some of the girls go. Then one girl, Emily Keyes, tried to escape and he shot her, fatally, before shooting himself.

In many ways, it turned out to be the singularly defining tragedy of our small town. To this day, when you look up “Bailey, Colorado,” online, it is one of the first items of news you see.

Some years later, a man shot three deputies while they tried to evict him, killing one of them. The officer who was shot, Cpl. Nate Carrigan, was also a beloved baseball and football coach at our high school.

It was because of events like these that we viewed the police as our protectors. We respected them. We admired their bravery and mourned their deaths. Also, it probably didn’t hurt that they were white and most of us were white, which was what the origins of the police in America were built for—to protect white and wealthy people from immigrants and labor-union organizers (the original police force in the South were slave catchers after all).[iii]

* * *

Most of the people in Bailey Colorado were also gun owners and libertarians. Many of them have served in the military. Every Sunday at church we would pray for those in the military and Israel:

“Lord, we pray for the nation of Israel and we pray for our troops,” an older gentleman named Doug would always pray each Sunday. “We pray for the President and our country,” others would say. “We pray for those persecuted Christians around the world. And one guy, a big bellied bearded jolly biker would say this prayer:

“Lord, we know it’s not that important, but we do want to lift up The Denver Broncos today as well.”

 Every Fourth of July we’d sing patriotic hymns like America the Beautiful and The Battle Hymn of the Republic. There were also a lot of stoner-hippie-New-Agey folks in our community, but I didn’t know many of them as I grew up in a bubble of American Conservative Evangelicalism. Thus, our communities support for the police was also tied up in theology and nationalism.

A vigil I recently attended for Kevin Peterson, Jr. A black man shot by white cops the week before Halloween in Vancouver, Wa for allegedly selling Xanax.

Yet, as polarization has come to dominate the American landscape, I find it harder and harder to empathize and care for the same people I grew up with, even as this might be the most important work to do in the next four years. For it seems they also find it harder and harder to empathize with many of the same people I now consider friends and family. People I met beyond my small mountain town. Muslim, black, Jewish, and queer people. On Facebook, many of the people I grew up with are now unashamed supporters of 45 who post slogans like “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter.” I’ve debated many of them in the comment sections of the internet on Facebook and Instagram (including my old youth pastor and his wife, whose daughter is now married to a police officer). Yet many of them think the organization Black Lives Matter is a radical leftist terrorist/Marxist organization. I find myself questioning how we are to bridge such wide gaps of cultural and ideological divides. My old Sunday school teacher, for instance, who recently praised the death of an Austin, Texas Antifa shooting on Instagram saying that Antifa members need to be shot down in the street because they are destroying our country. We cannot agree on what it even means to be “American” or what or who America is for. Perhaps it always been this way and we are just now coming to terms with the myth falling apart. Yet I don’t have to return to Bailey to see this dynamic at play. I only need to drive thirty minutes outside of Portland to find the same sort of people. And while I think it’s entirely possible for someone to vote for Trump and not be a racist, if you are part of the cult of Trumpism in any way, you have to know that you belong to a fascist, white nationalist ideology. Of course, the Trumpists do not see it this way, but that is because they are under a demonic spell.

My own naïve hope is that if people just got to know each other and took some time to understand the “other,” the world would be a better place. If an East Coast Liberal from New York City could meet someone from Bailey, Colorado, if our communities could merge somehow, if people in conservative bubbles from small white mountain towns could get to know a black or a gay or trans person in the big city, perhaps we could all get along, see that we are more alike than different. But maybe we have already created our own bubbles and divisions. Maybe it is already too late.

* * *

I now live in Portland, Oregon and have spent the last fifteen years of my life in Western cities like Portland, Denver, and Salt Lake. As white as these cities in the West are, they are still more diverse than the rural areas outside of them. Is race a factor? Undoubtedly.

 Here is my very simple point: If you live in a rural area, you do not meet the same type of people that you would by living in a city. That’s it. There is very little diversity in rural or western America. Likely because those places were considered (or are still) unsafe by minorities (just look up Sundown Towns if you don’t believe me. Towns where if you were black and caught after dark you could be killed).  

While many rural residents would deny any labels of racism, their failure to acknowledge any sort of past mistakes or systemic injustice makes them blind to the plight of black Americans today. Most of the people I grew up with, most people in rural areas, don’t know anyone who is Black or even Jewish, Muslim, Gay, Native, or Asian. Now, people in rural areas may rant all day about how “Washington” and the “Federal Government” don’t understand their small towns, but they also don’t understand the plights of their fellow citizens because they don’t know any people like them or choose to empathize with others outside of their community. The end result of this is that we belong to two different communities. White and rural. Diverse and urban (and yet still, the fact that many people even in urban areas voted for Trump is an indicator of his cult-like reach into conservative ideology).

Yet at this point, if you don’t understand the point of something like Black Lives Matter you are willfully ignorant of history and reality. Maybe the problem isn’t with rural communities with Trumpism and these types of voters: “Trump  won support in Florida from voters who do not believe climate change or racism are a problem.”

Don’t be like them.

I also think many liberals and democrats may discount how important something such as abortion is to a majority of conservative religious voters who make up rural and suburban communities. These people are willing to overlook the fascist antics of the president and the party’s animosity towards refugees, immigrants, women, the LGBTQ community, and people of color in favor of a strong “economy” and single-issue politics like abortion. I can understand it, even though it also drives me crazy. Yet, the depths of schizophrenia, duality, and disassociation in the mind of the “Christian” conservative who voted for Trump and is “Pro-Life,” and yet disregards Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in favor of war, capital punishment, and doesn’t mind if Trump has to teargas some protestors for a photo op in front a church, is unreal. As a someone who follows the way of Jesus myself, it boggles the mind. I try not to paint everyone with so broad of a brush, but at the end of the day, if you stood by the man, I don’t know what to tell you.

It’s clear that there was no blue wave this year. Democrats shunned the more progressive party platforms of people like AOC and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and tried to appeal to centrist Republicans and it did virtually nothing for them. They even lost many seats. I tell you now, I don’t care about the democrats. Even though I’ve been forced to vote democrat so our democracy doesn’t crumble the last four years, I pledge no allegiance to either party. The fact that so many “Christians” have fallen for Trump’s antics as someone who supports their “Christianity,” to think he cares about them, just shows they have built an idol out of a man rather than God.

If any type of healing is to come, it is to come by not just trying to understand why rural, white communities are voting for Trump, but to do outreach in these communities. As Bakpoulos noted in his thread:

“You’re not going to change red state culture campaigning for presidents. You need to do it by working with young people. Changing a culture. The few after school programs in rural white communities are often evangelical church-related, or focus on gun culture in some way.” (Read the whole thread for context).

So I think now of what outreach I can do in more rural communities, many of which are facing chronic economic and drug issues. To me it really all comes down to this. Where are people going to find belonging? They’re going to find it somewhere. And if it’s not somewhere healthy they’re going to join a white nationalist group or radical political organization. We humans in 2020 are hungry for community and yet also isolated and in our own echo chambers because of social media algorithms (which is why Qanon is a thing), pushed to the brink even further by a global pandemic and roiling protests. How do we begin to understand one another? Is there any hope?

* * *

Now that my parents and sister and even Grandpa have moved out to Oregon, I have no reason to ever return to my small mountain town. Strange for me, considering that even when I wasn’t living there I visited Bailey at least once a year for almost thirty-years. One day I would like to go back though, take my daughter, show her where I grew up, just for fun. But though I miss the Colorado mountains, to be honest, I don’t really miss Bailey. Though I am always interested to hear news and gossip and see what new developments alongside 285 and in the town itself are now taking place, (there’s a good micro-brewery now for instance) I think it’ll be some time before I return.

Even if you live in Bailey or Miami, one thing is clear: we are moving in a new direction as a country and that gives a lot of hope to people I know. For now, a breath. Tomorrow, we keep pushing to create a world where everyone belongs.


[i] Silver, Nate. Most Police Don’t Live In The Cities They Serve.” Five Thirty-Eight. August 20th, 2014. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/most-police-dont-live-in-the-cities-they-serve/

[ii] Zilinski, Alex, “Only 18 Percent of Portland’s Police Live Inside the City Limits. Does That Matter? Portland Mercury.

[iii] Waxman, Olivia B. “How the U.S. Got Its Police Force.” Time. May 18th, 2017.

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food Levi Rogers Non-Fiction Oregon

On Dating: Yourself, Your Partner, and The Place You Live In

It’s my day off, Friday, and my twenty-one-month-old daughter Evangeline and I are sitting at Lardo off Hawthorne in Portland, Oregon. Lardo is a sandwich shop serving delicious, but not exactly toddler-friendly-health-food. I order my daughter some mac salad but as we sit down to eat she decides to dump out half the bowl instead and starts going for my parmesan and rosemary dusted fries. Now she is dipping them in ketchup to lick them off. I let her dip a few small fries but soon she takes her ketchup-covered hand and wipes it across her face, a face that is already smeared with boogers and snot. Good god, she is a mess! My wife is going to be so pissed.

Yet, are you even a toddler if you don’t have a snotty nose? It makes me a terrible father, I know, giving French fries to a toddler and not fruits or veggies, but it’s not like I ONLY feed her French fries. Earlier this morning I fed her milk and eggs and one of those fruit pouches. I also tried to feed her some of my Bronx bomber sandwich with steak and onions and cheese and aioli but she wasn’t having any of it.

Taking a toddler out to eat is often more hassle than it’s worth, but I’m doing it for a reason. On my day off I like to visit a new restaurant or coffeeshop in Portland (of which there are many, too many possibly, to even go to all of them in one lifetime) and remind myself why I have chosen to live here.

You have to have things to give you hope here in the Pacific Northwest, things that will outweigh the rain and the traffic and the daily winter darkness that descends from October-February. Otherwise you forget why you have chosen to leave the sunny Rocky Mountains for such a gloomy place. So, you go out to eat and let your daughter dunk French fries.

* * *

Sometimes you get tired of the place you live in after all. Sometimes you get tired of your partner. Sometimes you get tired of yourself.

This is my dumb solution: Make dates. With yourself, your partner, even the place you live in. Remind yourself why you love them. It’s not very difficult of an idea, it’s maybe even an obvious or cliché one. It’s the execution and the follow through that makes this task of dating so challenging.

On the one hand, through apps like Tindr, Bumble, and Grindr, we are dating now more than ever before. It’s a whole new world out there (one I sadly, or perhaps luckily, missed). And yet I don’t think anyone would argue that while the quantity of our dates has gone up, the quality of said dates has gone down.

An article on Digital Trends called “More Americans Are Using Online Dating Than Ever Before, But it Still Sucks,” seems to back this up. As the article says:

“A new poll published Thursday by Pew Research Center found that three in ten Americans have used a dating app, more than ever before, even though many found the process disappointing. Pew surveyed nearly 5,000 U.S. adults, 45% of which who’ve used a dating app said their recent experience “left them feeling more frustrated than hopeful.” 

I think we need to get better at dating. Our partners, the place we live in, and ourselves.

After the French fries and the ketchup and snot-smeared face, my daughter and I drive up to Hood River where my sister and her kids and my parents live (my wife was working). Hood River is an hour drive east of Portland through the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge. It’s my happy place. The prettiest place on earth. As close to Rivendell and Elven immortality that us mortals will ever get to experience. And yet, even so, I get tired of the drive.

 I mean, I know that I’m a restless and slightly depressive person, but how in the world is it possible that one could get tired of this drive? There are literally dozens of waterfalls, bridges, majestic clouds, moss-covered rock faces, and Douglas Firs the size of skyscrapers as you drive alongside the Columbia. There are even bald eagles! Motherfreaking bald eagles! And yet, I still take it for granted, or forget that’s it there, and choose instead to make up stupid arguments in my head with my boss and wife while I drive.

Today I need a reminder of how beautiful this drive is and my daughter and I get one. It’s cloudy as we drive, but warm outside (miraculously warm and not even raining), and as we pass the world-famous Multnomah Falls I see a thin ray of sun light up the green trees of Washington across the Columbia. I’m listening to Wye Oak through the speakers and suddenly feel a huge surge of hope and am nearly crying.

For the past month I’d been depressed as hell for a whole slew of reasons—Seasonal affective disorder of course, but I was also recovering from a shoulder surgery (a torn labrum) and it was a long ass recovery process in the dark of winter and I hadn’t been doing much but going to work and drinking and smoking whole plates of cigarettes.

This brief glimpse of sun through the Gorge lit me up. I was full from the sandwich we ate earlier, properly caffeinated, and I’d even slept well the night before. Sometimes that’s what you need I guess—a little sun, a little sleep perhaps, a good ass sandwich, and coffee of course.

So those were my dates with the places I live in—a drive through a Columbia Gorge and a bomb sandwich—both of which technically count as double dates because as I did them with my daughter.

Yet, I also try to take my partner out. Last week my wife and I went on a date to Bamboo Sushi in downtown Portland and then out to a reading at Powell’s Books for Lidia Yuknavitch’s new release. This weekend we’re going to a house show. And yes, technically these also count as double dates—one for me, one for my partner—since these are things I would go to on my own anyways, and so, yes, I’m not exactly being totally selfless, but still, it’s something, right?! Right wife? *In my defense my wife only likes to go on dumb, stupid dates like go to Broadway shows or the ballet or symphony (gross) or have picnics in the park (unsanitary) so that’s why I plan most of our dates.

 When my daughter was born, my wife didn’t go on a date for over a year. It was just too much with the kid—everything, all of it—and for the first three months we didn’t live around family. Now we’re getting better. But it took some work and planning and time and that doesn’t come easy when you’re always have to clean up the Tupperware your toddler has tossed all about over the kitchen floor.

I don’t really date myself all that often—my dates are mostly with bottles of whiskey and packs of American Spirits and maybe a movie. When I actually do have time not dominated by raising a child or going to work, I’ll take myself to a coffee shop and try to get some writing done, (though I haven’t read it, I know the book, “The Artist’s Way,” says to take yourself on an artistic date every week). But mostly? Mostly I’ll just feel tired and will go home and put myself to bed.

Can a nap count as a date? Yes, I think a nap can count as a date, or at the very least, “Self-care” which is what we’re really talking about when we’re talking about dating yourself.

God, it’s so hard to go out and get anything done for yourself isn’t it? You practically have to summon your spirits as Captain Ahab does in pursuit of the while wale: “Awake! Rise! To the Boats! Move! Thar she blows! Pour another coffee down the hatch and get to art!”

Except the battle to care for yourself is working on an essay no one will ever read or care about and Captain Ahab is about to get his head snapped clean fucking off by the jaws of depression and lack of sleep.

I’m glad that I never had a chance to date online. I think I would like it a bit too much. I would just keep swiping, keep meeting, keep dating, thinking that with each next swipe I would find the perfect solution to all my problems. Perhaps that’s why people are dating and swiping more than ever, and yet still remain single. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing as an article in the Observer reports:

“Whether they’re waiting longer to settle down, choosing to enjoy monogamy outside the legal constraints of a marriage, or choosing to forgo the institution altogether, the numbers are startling, record-breaking, and for many, empowering. In a 2017 census report, 55 percent of Americans expressed the belief that getting married is not an important milestone in leading a happy adulthood. As the new year unfolds, single Americans will find themselves navigating a dating world transformed by technology, fraught with uncertainty, but luckily, still paved by genuine emotion.[i]

Not for me, for better or worse, I am stuck with a stupid baby and a wife (and there was a time when I really did begin to resent this). Yet I don’t want to live a bitter life and so I know that you either have to give up on a certain situation or try to make it right.

Hence, you got to date. Yourself, your partner, the place you live in.

As I finish editing this article at Prince Coffee on NE Fremont on this President’s day, February 17, 2020, I feel enormously grateful that I have a day off work and was able to sleep in while my beautiful wife took our beautiful daughter to daycare hence giving me my first full toddler-wife-work-free day in what feels like months, if not two years. I’m thinking of the many ways in which to take advantage of said off day, but in the end, I’ll probably finish editing and then go back to sleep. Sometimes your bed is the best date you can take yourself on.


[i] https://observer.com/2018/01/more-americans-are-single-than-ever-before-and-theyre-healthier-too/

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food Levi Rogers mental health Non-Fiction Oregon Portland Uncategorized

Oregon Chronicles: A PDX Christmas in the Year of Our Lord 2018.

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We moved to Oregon on August 25th 2018 and were met by one on the mildest and most beautiful falls I have ever seen. Fall as in the season, not the water that drops over cliffs—although those are quite splendid and abundant in Oregon as well. We moved into a house off 18th and Killingsworth in the NE neighborhood of Portland. The neighborhood is extremely walkable and within a five minute walk we can walk to Hat Yai (Thai Fried Chicken), Pine State Biscuits, Proud Mary (Aussie coffee shop), Podnah’s (bbq), Barista, Handsome Pizza, Salt n’ Straw (ice cream), The Bollywood Café (Indian)—a plethora of bars I will probably never visit based on my current Dad situation—and a dog store called The Filling Station. I think we ate out every night the first week we were there. The eating out couldn’t last forever though, and so we started ordering a few Blue Apron meals every week to lessen the load of cooking w/ child.

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For the first month Portland felt like an extended Airbnb vacay. We didn’t really feel like we “lived” there. But once I started working and Cat started her internship at Randall Children’s Hospital two days a week, a routine began to develop. I had trouble finding work at first and though I am busy now and working more than I’d like to, I have already forgotten that it took me over a month to find a job and have almost forgotten how endless the search once was—a futile time suck of days spent emailing resumes and developing a CV for jobs you may never have a shot with. All the coffee people were confused as to why I was the owner of a coffee roasting company in Utah applying for barista jobs in Portland. I also applied for jobs at Nike and PSU on the whim that they decided to hire a completely unqualified person to do the job. They had no such whims. We’d like to buy a house soon but will probably need to wait until Cat goes back to work as she has the type of jobs that look good to lending companies, my barista job …. not so much.

I finally found work with a coffee shop called Con Leche and Smalltime Roasters—a Mexican-American owned coffee shop in their second year of business that was started initially to raise funds for Dreamers. My main goal has been to help build their wholesale and roasting operation, but I also work barista shifts four days a week at Con Leche—which is a shared space with Frank Wine bar in the South Waterfront district of Portland. I have to work weekends, but this also gives me some flexibility to take Tuesdays off while Cat works at her internship at the hospital.

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However, just last week I accepted a position at Sustainable Harvest, a green coffee importing company. I will be working with a woman named Yimara from Colombia as her quality specialist assistant in the lab as we sample roast, cup, and evaluate coffee from around the world—along with helping with some minor logistics. It really is a dream job come true and sort of the next level for me in the coffee world. In February I plan to get my Q Grader, which is like a sommelier or cicero certificate for coffee. I will still be helping Smalltime out on the side but probably drop my barista shifts. The new job at Sustainable will also be good for me because I think I will finally have to quit smoking…but we’ll see.

The move to Oregon has been a combination of excitement and adjustment. Exploring a new city (more so for Cat, less for me) and starting a new job, living in a new neighborhood, new house, new neighbors, friends, and most importantly, family. Though not new, this is the first time in ten years that Cat and I are living in the same state as family. And while the opportunities are exciting, a new move also brings with it a bunch of SLE’s, or Stressful Life Experiences (as this new book I recently bought at the Portland Book Festival called This is Your Brain on Depression calls them) and I still find myself lapsing into similar vices and frustrations I wish I could have left behind in Utah. But as the saying goes, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

IMG_7650 Cat misses her friends from Utah and is excited to start work again in the summer, but she is cherishing this time with Evangeline so much. Overall, she is adjusting to life in PDX beautifully.

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Evangeline turned six months on November 23rd and now is almost seven months old! Everyday she seems to get more and more active and interactive. She started pulling at our face and nose and glasses and my beard. She pulses her legs, laughs and smiles, and she can practically sit up (though not roll over, not yet). She has been pure joy. Her rosy red cheeks shine bright, and her brown eyes seem to emanate with a purity and light that must be beamed from heaven straight into her little soul. She is 99th percentile in height and whatever is in that formula must be good because she’s growing fast.

On Thursdays my mom drives down to watch Evangeline as both her and my dad now live an hour away in Hood River. Also in Hood River are my sister Alyssa, her husband Eli, and our two little nephews Eero and Bodie (who were born three days before Evangeline). I chose this picture because they both move so fast you can barely capture it!

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My favorite part of the day (besides coming home to E of course) is when I bike to work downtown in the morning. The air crisp and cool. The sun slowly penetrating through the clouds. So far it has barely rained this fall and so I can bike most days. I bike from my house in Northeast down Going, a bike greenway, to Vancouver which is a mini-bike highway. I have found one of my favorite things is mobbing down Vancouver in the early morning with a pack of cyclists all commuting into work. Sometimes there are so many bikers there is even bike traffic and I am forced to weave around slower bikers as faster bikers simultaneously pass me. Often, as I cross the Steel Bridge in the morning, the Willamette River will be cloaked in fog and mist and it feels as if I am biking through the clouds. As I don’t have a gym membership yet, to either a climbing gym or regular old gym, and running with a dog and a six-month old in a stroller just doesn’t sound like fun, biking is my only form of exercise these days. It feels like too much to ask Cat to watch E while I hit the gym for an hour after work after already being gone for eight hours and so biking it is. And I need to do it. Biking = Happy Levi. Not biking= Angry and Depressed Levi.

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I write often but have still not had much luck getting anything published on the level I’d like to be at. I’ve been working on a novel for the last few years that is just not working for some reason (my friend Mike says it might be a movie, not a novel, but the idea of spending another few years turning it into a screenplay just sounds exhausting to me). I’ve also been working on various short stories, essays, and perhaps, who knows, a new novel, along with tweaking a memoir-in-the-works. So, lots of projects but right now they’re all iceberg status, as in, lurking large underneath the surface of anywhere public. While my craft is developing, I feel like I still haven’t found my niche, or my voice, or corner, of what to write about. I now know and am doing my best to accept however, that writing is a long journey. I am ten years in so far of seriously pursuing writing and it might be twenty or even thirty years before anything happens with it. I feel as if it’s best to look at writing (for one’s own sanity) not as a career choice or even art form, but as a form of meditation/asceticism/monkish pursuit. On my best days I can view it in this very zen way—as a practice I will work towards regardless of outcome. On my worst days I chainsmoke and drink myself to sleep because the world is a depressing place and rejections and false starts and wasted time in writing is also depressing. So, I am still the same old Levi, for better or worse (even know, I can sense a creeping melancholy in these words in what should be an otherwise happy and cheerful season/letter).

Perhaps the most interesting thing about our moves is that our cat, Waffles, has really gained a lot of ground with this move and transformed from a scared, timid cat into a bold and adventurous one. She used to be afraid of everything, but this move has strengthened her resolve and moral character. Now she is the one who spends all day outside exploring and our other cat, Chicken, prefers the dry indoors. Both of them no longer hide when guests come over and are much friendlier than they used to be. Amelie, our dog, requires more attention and though I never thought I would say this, I find myself becoming quite annoyed with her at times as it seems a dog is the last thing I want to think about taking care of at the end of the day. It probably doesn’t help that for the past couple months her paws have been very red and irritable, and I find myself spending a lot of time soaking them in Epsom salt and shampooing them and making trips to pet stores to try and change her diet so we can figure out what’s wrong with them—yeast infection perhaps?

Anyways, it’s been an exciting year. For the first time in some time, I am looking forward immensely to what the New Year brings as we continue to explore the many opportunities Portland offers Cat and I as well as watch Evangeline grow.

Wishing you all the best this Holiday Season as the New Year approaches.
Hoping that whatever physical or mental demons afflict you will flee into the night like the spell from a Patronus.

Love,
-Levi (And Cat and Evangeline and Amelie and Chicken and Waffles)

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Non-Fiction Uncategorized

Thoughts, re Church

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I’ve had a couple conversations with folks in the last two weeks that have made me think of something I haven’t thought about in some time. So here goes a couple things I’ve been thinking about re Church. This does not have to do with one specific church or denomination but with many American churches as a whole. For those who don’t I grew up conservative Evangelical and have had a tenuous and messy relationship with it for some time. It becomes exacerbated at times by nationalist politics and a bunch of other crap, but it’s still there, and as much as I’d like to toss it, I can’t.

I probably won’t respond to all your comments so feel free to make a voodoo doll out of me and stick pins it. Or just ignore this post and watch it drift away into the annals of Facebook algorithms.

1. The Veneer of Openness
While most churches claim to be open, accepting, and loving, there comes a time when you’ve been in it long enough that you realize this acceptance is superficial. Sure, many of those in power claim that you belong regardless of one’s doubts, sexual orientation, questions, interpretation of theology, etc., but when it comes to really belonging, participating in leadership, etc., many churches expect these people to have it dialed and lined up with church hierarchy/leadership. And while I believe many of those who claim openness exist are doing so honestly, it seems the funnel of belief always trends towards a certain dogma and black and white theology I cannot get behind anymore. I think churches have the right to define their own theology and set up whatever lines and boundaries they want. Just don’t claim to also be accepting of everyone. Often this acceptance is a veneer, acceptance in principle only, but if you believe that person’s lifestyle is wrong or that person’s theology is wrong then how much can you really accept them? One often finds that this openness is a closed system in which things are relegated to binaries–male/female/good/evil/conservative/liberal/pro-life/pro/choice/protestant/catholic.The world I interact with is too complex for such simple reductions (just my phenomenological experience though). This black and white theology or all-or-nothing thinking can also become a cognitive distortion leading to extremist beliefs.

2. Grace Covers All, (Except Your Theology)
This was recently pointed out to me by a friend who I’ve had numerous conversations with over the years who has also left church for the time being but who I think has the precise intellectual ability to put things in terms I’ve never thought about. So, while many evangelical/protestant Christian profess a theology of grace, this grace will cover one’s actions but not one’s doubts and/or “errors” in theology by those in power who claim to have a corner on the capital T truth. So, if you’re a married man who cheats on his wife but you’re also a neo-calvinist who is a an otherwise good guy and one who repents–grace covers you. But if you’re married man who doesn’t cheat on his wife but has a slightly more liberal view of scripture, well, then you’re an apostate. Grace does not cover you. I speak in reductionary terms merely to prove a point (and use neo-calvinist for a reason, because often these are the types of churches that seem “edgy” and cool with a bunch of tattoed dudes getting microbrews after church) but is really nothing more than some patriarchal conservatism. I already see your point coming about how churches have to have some structure and theology to function–whether it’s the Nicene Creed or some other catechism–so point taken, and I agree. But my questions is does grace cover errors in belief as much as errors in action? Because it seems, from a certain vantage point that one is more important than the other. Am I going to hell because I don’t have the “right” beliefs? It sure seems that way when you start bringing things like this up.

Anyways, I don’t read much Christian lit anymore but I guess you could say some of these ideas are inspired by Richard Rohr, Peter Rollins, and other contemporary (primarily women) authors who have existed outside the primarily male zeitgeist for many years. To say nothing of the racial disparity.

I feel dialogues on the internet never go well but if you have any thoughts lmk. As much as I hate the internet/social media if other avenues and venues remain closed to certain POV’s then people are going to take the dialogue elsewhere.

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frightened rabbit Levi Rogers mental health Non-Fiction

6/21/2018 0 COMMENTS And Fully Clothed I Float Away ELEGY TO SCOTT HUTCHISON OF FRIGHTENED RABBIT) ​BY LEVI ROGERS

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Non-Fiction Uncategorized

The Writer’s Hotel Conference Part II

 

 

Thursday and Friday were long full, days. I took the C train from the Kingston-Throop station to Bryant Park each morning, had workshop at the Casablanca Hotel from 8:30-11, quick break for lunch, then went on a tour at the New York Public Library on Thursday, followed by a seminar on Writing Performance, a lecture on Revision, followed by an open mic. Friday I went to a lecture on The Novel in the afternoon and then a reading at the Cornelia Street Café and KGB bar after a quick coffee and sushi stop in the West Village with my new writing friends Tom and Carolyn. After the readings Friday, I attempted to go to a show at the Comedy Cellar, but I had no reservations and didn’t want to waitlist so instead I went to The Grisly Pear, a B comedy club a couple doors down (pretty sure Pete Holmes filmed an episode of his HBO show Crashing here). The comics were still good.

After some two stiff drinks at each place I was feeling pretty toasted and so took the train back to Brooklyn, weaving down the sidewalk as I walked back to the Brownstone I was staying at.

Saturday I slept in till 9. Justine made coffee. I chatted for a bit with her then headed back to the City for lectures from Steven Salpeter from the Curtis Brown Literary Agency and Kevin Larimer, the editor in chief of Poets and Writers Magazine. I finally had an afternoon off so I walked uptown for a quick rest in Central Park, stopping for a late lunch at Rue 67, a French-inspired restaurant. Many people, thousands really, were all strewn on the lawns shirtless and in bikini tops in the middle of the Park, soaking up the Saturday June sun of one of the first hot days of summer. I tried to take a nap but just more or less just closed my eyes for a moment. After a quick stop at the horrendous Central Park public bathrooms, I took the R back downtown to Third Rail Coffee to prepare for my reading. The sun and humidity slowly wrapped me in a blanket of sweat and dizziness.

I read that night at the KGB bar and knocked it out of the park. Then I went out for drinks and food with everyone after. It was a great day. And, also my birthday.

Sunday was a bit more depressing. It was agent day so after a morning of workshop where I got some good feedback on a novel about Utah I was starting, we had a brief orientation on what the afternoon would look like. We’d all line up in a queue in front of a specific agent and then have four minutes to pitch them our book. Then we were told we’d either get a card or email, or simply a polite, “No thank you, this isn’t for me.” I felt nervous, but ready.

I pitched my book:

“It’s More Like Horror is a memoir about youth, faith, and depression,” I said. “It’s about depression in everyday life and follows me on a journey from Denver to Portland to Salt Lake City as the romantic ideals of my zealous evangelical youth are met with the realities of death, suicide, miscarriages, and a loss of faith.” But the first agent merely looked at me blankly and said, “Memoir’s are tough.”

There were ten agents in total and around half were only interested in genres I didn’t write in, so I skipped them completely. Pretty much all of the agents said the same thing: The idea was interesting but memoirs were tough to sell unless I had a crazy platform or insane writing credits. One gave me some good feedback to focus on the story of leaving my faith rather than depression, as depression was a subtext of the story. I thought this was good advice but at the same time, my story wasn’t some salacious tale of leaving a repressed religious community, although, who knows, maybe that would sell if I were to frame it like that. Suffice to say the afternoon was discouraging. Good feedback and learning experience I guess, but no one was all like, “OH my god, send me this book now!” So, now I am left once again to rethink my book, a book I’ve already spent nearly five years on. I may just be too young to write a memoir at this point. That’s how it goes I guess though. As Scott, one of the main faculty of the program told us in a good debriefing/motivational speech/boxing analogy, the next day: “You’ve put the gloves on, you’ve stepped into the ring, now you better expect to get hit. Then you keep punching back.”

 

Monday was our last day. One final workshop and lecture followed by a reading at The Half King, a bar in Chelsea underneath The Highline where we heard a hilarious piece by Rick Moody, some moving poetry by Tim Seibles and some excellent fiction from both Scott and Shanna.

I took the A train back to Brooklyn, packed, passed out on the couch, and woke up next morning to head back to SLC via JFK.

It was all in all, a fantastic trip, though I may need to hibernate for some time in a cave alone so I can sleep, process, and rethink my writing. I also may need a new liver transplant. But hey, it’s all-good, I’m one stop further down the tracks to becoming a professional, published writer. It all takes time.

 

 

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Levi Rogers Non-Fiction

A Coffee Triptych-Revolv Magazine

Words by Levi Rogers

Photos by Chad Kirkland

This is an article I wrote a little over two years ago for the wonderful Revolv Magazine. It no longer exists (for now) but it was great while it lasted and I owe a big thanks to them for letting me work on an article. Enjoy.

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A Brief history of Melancholy Chapbook Fiction Levi Rogers Non-Fiction

Chapbook Release! A Brief History of Melancholy

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Hello friends,

And by friends I mean the two people who read this blog. I don’t know why I even keep this around, online presence I guess? Though Twitter is probably better. I’ve decided I’m done “blogging,” but still want a website to some degree to share writings so I guess I’ll continue.

Anyways, I have exciting news. Next Saturday I will be releasing a chapbook. What is a chapbook? Well, it’s a short collection of writings (usually inexpensively produced and refers to poetry). Somewhere between a zine and a full on self-published book. It’s like a mix-tape. Like what Drake was going to put out but somehow became a #1 hits album.

As a writer I wanted to produce something you could hold in your hands and not just read online, scrolling down on your phone. I didn’t want to self-publish an entire book per se but I wanted to get something, anything, out there. So, voila. This should hold over my desire to create for a brief minute while I get an actually publishable book in place.

Thank you for reading. I will be doing an awesome release party next Saturday, May 2nd at The Rose Establishment with further readings by Jason Dickerson and music by The Circulars and Bat Manors.

If you are one of those Kindle people or out of state you can get an early release here:

http://www.amazon.com/Brief-History-Melancholy-Vignettes-Feel-Good-Life/dp/0692420568/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1429916947&sr=8-1&keywords=a+brief+history+of+melancholy

I think that’s all. Here’s a picture of my dog and run we did up City Creek Canyon the other day.

Also below: an excerpt.

Okay love you bye,

Levi

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Excerpt:

8.

Nostalgia had a tendency to ruin his life. He’d get caught up in thinking that this certain time or that certain time in his life was better than it probably, in all reality, was. He’d think about some moment in his childhood—the warm mug of hot chocolate after a day of sledding, the smoke of woodstoves in October from the year’s first cold day. The lips of the first girl he kissed, lips softer than satin. He’d think about these moments of his childhood and he’d think that it was better. Better or simpler in some way.

Or he’d think about college. The girls he dated. The afternoons spent snowboarding with friends when there was nothing to do afterwards but watch snowboard movies and eat pizza. Or he’d think about other eras. How much nicer it would be to be living as a cowboy or an Indian. A pirate or Viking. To live in a world without cars that sped everything up and computers that always tempted you with nude women. There were times when he would think he was not born for the era he lived in. That God messed up somehow and should have placed him in an earlier time. A time where you could shit in the woods and it wasn’t called camping. We’re too selfish now, he thought. Too easily overcome by the petty dissonance of modernity.

But he knew all this nostalgia got him nowhere. It was escapism. After all, he did not have many fond memories of elementary school. Or middle school, or high school, for that matter. He was confused and insecure the entire time. Riddled with pimples in the mirror and boners in math class. There was all the independence in college, which he now looked at with fondness, when in reality it was pure loneliness. He probably prayed late at night for a wife and kids to take him out of his misery. And now he prayed for just the opposite. He even had nostalgia for the future, if there was such a thing. Thinking of how much better things would be in the future. When he was in shape and famous and throwing dollar bills around like he was 2 Chainz. It was the present that sucked. The present had no rearview mirror. No distance. It was right there. No blurry future. No whitewashed past. No narrative structure. It just stared you in the face like a cold January day.

It was sort of like that saying, “The grass is always greener.” Whoever came up with that little phrase was a fucking genius. I wonder, did it happen as it sounds? As in two people (neighbors probably) leaning over each other’s fences and talking to one another. Did one say to the other, “Hey, how’d you get your grass so green? I wish mine was as green as yours!” And did the other say something like, “You’re kidding me! Your grass is way greener than mine!” (and really meaning it, too). Until one of them (the wiser one) said something like, “Welp, I guess the grass is always greener on the other side.” Or, did the saying come about from shepherds? Maybe watering their sheep one day and looking over at the other side of the stream to think, “Hey! The grass over there seems greener.” And so they move their entire herd over across the river only to realize that the grass on this side is, in fact, not greener. And then they look back across to where they came from and think “Never mind, the grass on the side we were on is way greener.” And so on and so forth until someone finally said, “The grass is always greener.”

Who knows. Regardless, trying to find green grass ruined him. He ended up in the looney bin one day, no joke. Always going on about how much better things were in the 1400s. And one day, whilst talking to another patient inside the loony bin, a patient who wished he was normal and on the outside and in the real world, he said to the patient that very thing, “I guess the grass is always greener.” And he laughed so hard he pissed himself.

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Non-Fiction

NPR

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In the mornings I like to listen to NPR. I drag my half-dead self out of bed (never as early as I want to, thinking foolishly that somehow I’ll have the energy to write or run before work) and stumble my way through making a Chemex. Coffee being one of the few things that has the ability to rouse me from the covers. My thoughts switching from: Who am I? What am I? Is there meaning to any of this? To: I would like some coffee. I then collect few Tupperware’s full of food from the fridge and throw it in my bag. I get in the car and turn on the radio.

Good morning. It’s 8:45. Today is Monday, October 27th. The temperature is a high of 75 with lows in the 40’s. Currently it’s 60 degrees in Salt Lake City. You’re listening to KUER. You’re listening to morning edition. You’re listening to NPR.

I like the sound, the comforting, though generally dismal topics of conversation. The radio grounds one in the present space-time continuum.

Ah, I think. It’s October. It’s Monday. I am in Salt Lake City. The weather still happens. And I’m not dead yet. It’s almost meditative. To stop the spinning in my head, the daily chores ahead of me, and the existential/theological thought experiments I torture myself with.

I drive to work and I think. How do people do it? Work more than eight hours in a day? Keep getting up and doing their jobs day in and day out? And if you do work eight hours a day, where do you get the energy for exercise, for art, for social activities?

I work a conservative fifty hours a week now. Some of that has to do with running a business. Some of it is just normal work stuff. And in America, I am the lazy one. We have many gods in America. One is work or specifically, the power and money work brings. We have other gods. Family and Sex. Which funny enough, are on the opposite sides of the spectrum.

Anyways, there’s a moment each morning when I’m sipping coffee and taking a bite out of an asiago bagel that I’m no longer thinking. I no longer worry. I am listening.

For five minutes, I just am.

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Film Non-Fiction

Untrusting Neighbors: Dawn of the Planet of The Apes and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

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In the near future, two neighboring groups struggle to co-exist in the land around them. Mistrust, betrayal, resentment, and fear plague both sides as certain members of the group try to find a way to co-existence and peace and others work to disrupt. One side has lived under the oppression of another. One side is all-too-aware of its previous frailty. Is this the plot to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes? Or the current conflict between Israeli and Palestinian forces? It’s both. And yet, not really. It is striking though how particularly resonant the plot of Dawn is to one of the worst modern day conflicts in our world.
Dawn picks up some years where Rise of the Planet of The Apes left off. A virus has spread across the globe killing off nearly every human civilization imaginable. A small remnant still exists in the city of San Francisco led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). They are nearly out of power though and so a group of scientists and engineers treks across the Golden Gate Bridge to try and restore hydroelectricity to an abandoned dam. The group is led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and a few others. A surprise run in with a talking ape in the Sequoias of Muir Woods however leaves the humans speechless and one ape dead. The apes, led by the terrific Cesar (Andy Serkis), warn the humans to never come back. Both sides retreat and the talk turns to what action each side should take. Some say war. Other co-existence. Cesar wants to exist with the humans, as does Malcolm with the apes. Is such a thing possible?
Cesar has experienced the kindness of humans while most of the other Apes, like the ferocious and gashed Koba, have only experienced torture and experimentation at the hands of humans. Likewise Malcolm sees the apes not only as a threat or as animal brutes, but as equally intelligent allies. Some of the other humans however take a less than favorable view of the apes, mocking them or wishing for their annihilation. Is there a path through such conflict? I won’t ruin it for you here but you could probably guess the answer.
Dawn is perfect in the way it pairs tense action sequences with an exploration of complicated (and close to home) relational themes of co-existence between species or groups. It is terrific science fiction with a plot that mirrors an array of relational and territorial disputes that have occurred in our homo sapien history. You could change out apes and humans with any number of former conflicts. The Israeli-Palestinian is undeniably the closest though and the movie portrays what is perhaps the biggest barrier to peace in any situation, forgiveness and an eventual willingness to let go of the past. As Cesar remarks towards the end of the film, “Apes start war. And humans will never forgive.”

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