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My Turn

by Dmae Roberts

From The Asian Reporter, V29, #18 (September 16, 2019), page 6.


Certain words mesmerize me. Some sound intriguing when spoken aloud, while others describe meaning so thoroughly. I remember being drawn to the word "redolent," which describes both memory and fragrance, and the word "plethora," pointing out excess or abundance. All summer Iíve had the definition of "dysphoria" on my desktop because it perfectly describes what Iíve been feeling for a while.

Dysphoria, from the Greek word "dysphoros," means difficult to bear. Dysphoria is a profound state of unease or dissatisfaction ó a nagging, gnawing sense entrenched in your gut that things are not right and have never really been right. Perhaps you experience this.

This disquiet motivates me to create projects that address social and racial injustice or give voice to people who havenít been heard. During the last couple years, this feeling has become stronger. There are so many factors and events that contribute to dysphoria. Iím still trying to understand it.

Unease can happen when witnessing gender inequity playing out the same way it has for years: A male, young or old, commands greater attention than a female in the same room. Another situation is when a woman expresses an opinion and is labelled bitchy or the "D" word ó difficult.

Generational divides also exist. There are fewer people of my generation to work with these days because people choose to hire those who are younger and overall opportunities have declined for older people. There is definitely a double standard out there: Nobody taught us how to adapt to new technological devices, but when a young Generation Z man admits he had to ask someone to teach him how to make a cassette player work, there is no stigma.

Discomfort also stems from change in the city youíve lived in for nearly 30 years. Many young people who move to Portland want to make changes that would accommodate them with housing infill and affordable condos. What they donít realize is that these changes have been pushing out older people of color who are losing their leases to make way for the new development. Some of these longtime residents might end up houseless or forced to move outside the city limits because they are unable to afford to live in the city anymore.

Arguing with white acquaintances and sometimes my own husband about the reality of racial profiling here is another example. We are losing diversity in racial demographics in Portland because when it is proclaimed the whitest city in America, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Four-hour rush hours are now typical, as are more houseless people lining the sidewalks, freeway islands, and storefront doorways of nearly every neighborhood. It has created a new normal while walking by someone lying on the pavement to check if there is a rise and fall of the chest.

The disquiet has spread from local to national and global concerns. Hot days are hotter and cold days are colder while we diligently sort through recyclables that are shipped off to other countries or end up in the ocean. And the Amazon is burning. After watching news coverage of the Hong Kong protests, I wonder if Taiwan might be next.

Refugees are being rounded up and incarcerated while citizenship is questioned for those born here. Feeling almost numbed by a presidentís endless Twitter stream of nonfactual declarations and mandates for new laws creates more chaos. Then a flip-flop follows, minutes, days, or months later.

Hate, which has always been popular though more underground until late, is becoming normalized and more brazen. Domestic terrorists have shot up public places, schools, nightclubs, festivals, and stores with no end in sight while white supremacist and paramilitary groups protest in Portland and Oregon.

So how to deal with this dysphoria? I keep my circle of friends small but with depth. I work on meaningful projects to try to make small changes for the better in my corner of the world.

I try to be a friend. Or a mentor. I try to stand up against that which is unfair. I volunteer time and donate money to good causes. I lend a hand. I hold a hand.

Other ways of handling the anxiety include focusing on my family ó my husband, who likes working around the home and garden, and helping my brother try to spend less time on his hoarding addiction of collecting bottles and cans while dressing as a street person.

I look at my 15-year-old kitty, frail and underweight. When I pet her she purrs, so happy and at peace living in the moment, appreciative of simple pleasures. Iím still dysphoric, but I live in hope that we can appreciate the moments of living with each breath, with shared laughter and kinship, and in our own way, we can try to fix whatís not right with the world.

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