Dear Portland, or the time I almost made it on NPR.

2013, it’s summer. I am home from the end of another school year, another long summer of writing and taking care of the kids. I get an email. It’s from Melissa, Melissa published a piece of mine in her anthology, Our Portland Story.

From: Melissa Delzio
To: Adam Strong

Hello special Our Portland Story authors,

The NPR Show State of the Reunion has contacted me about a show they are working on about Portland. Your story (from Our Portland Story) was chosen as one they wanted to follow up on! She said they might want you to record the story in a studio, or just submit the text to be featured online.

I passed your email address on to Tina from the show, so she may be reaching out to you in the near future.

I hope good things come of this, I think it is a great opportunity!

Be in touch again soon,

The feeling I got from reading that email, was immense, I felt like it was so far away, that they would read my stuff and decide I wasn’t any good, not good enough. This was the one shot I would have and I would blow it, but I would at least try to blow it. A few days later I received this.

Hi Adam:

Melissa Delzio put me in touch with you… My name is ———– I’m a producer with a new(ish) NPR program called State of the Re:Union. Every episode of the show, we go to a different city, town or region of the country and bring listeners an hour of stories about what builds community there, what brings people together. You can listen to previous episodes– from places as diverse as Baltimore, rural Kansas and Sacramento– here.
We’re coming to Portland later this month, and, after I stumbled across Melissa’s “Our Portland Story” project, she provided me with a bunch of stories, including yours… And it immediately made me think of a recurring segment we include in each episode of State of the Re:Union. Everywhere we go, we we ask people if they’d be willing to write a letter TO their city or town… So, in this case, it’d be a “Dear Portland” letter. What would you like to say to Portland, if you could say anything? Whether you write from a place of love, anger, humor, to express your likes or dislikes or to break misconceptions– we’d welcome whatever you would like to say… The idea is that I’d record some of those who submit letters reading them while I’m in Portland in a couple of weeks… And then some of them would be nationally broadcast as part of our show, as well as posted on our website. The only requirements for the letter is that it be under 400 words, and written to Portland in the second person, so that it sounds like you’re addressing your home. I can send you official guidelines, and a couple of samples from previous episodes, if you might be interested. What do you think?
Thanks in advance!

The excitement in me, I can’t describe it, the old feeling, of wanting to please someone, to be a good boy, and do a good job. I wrote a draft, I re-wrote it, sent to my writer pal/editor extraordinaire, Christy George.

I wrote my dear Portland letter.

Dear Portland,

People see you on TV and they think they get you. But “Portlandia” is always shot in the sunshine. Portland, when you took me in, when no one else would, you gave me an eight-month wall-to-wall panorama of gray.

When I first arrived, I woke up in the middle of the night like you asked me to. I walked out to the street, looked up and saw clouds moving, changing, where back East they stayed the same. I wanted to be like your clouds.

Rain. You give us sixteen different words for rain: mostly sunny, partly cloudy, precip, cloudburst, sunbreaks, showers, sprinkle, drops,drizzle, mizzle, wet stuff, downpour, deluge.  But you give us sun breaks, too. You take in folks who want to do something, but who aren’t sure how to do it, or who will support them. You don’t care if the citizens who live within you are British, Ethiopian or Australian, or if they’re from Columbia, South Carolina like me. You touch all of us the same. You lay every one of us next to each other, in the rain.

Since 1859, you’ve done that, taken in people who don’t belong anywhere else. Made them suffer through eight months of rain and the off-again on-again click of the heater. You tested me with calamity. You sent minions to steal my stereo and lay me off when I finally got steady employment. You sent me on bad dates.

Portland, you realized that even after all the rain, and calamity, I was still willing to call you home. Then when I was bitter, when I was broken, you brought in light, you brought in hope, you rewarded my patience. You broke my heart with the way the sun looks here, with light and shadow on a sidewalk.

Somewhere in the middle of those eight months of gray I found it. That reason why, the spirit to remake what wasn’t made in my before. You showed me how to love another person. You gave me education. You offered me a teaching career. You found me a community of writers.You will never let me live where you are not.

It’s all because of you Portland. You tested me. You made me suffer. You made me whole.


Adam Strong

Then a few days later, the producer emails me back.

Hi Adam:

Thanks for this beautiful letter… I’ll be back in touch again soon about setting up a time record it when we’re in Portland in the next couple of weeks.
I’m up out of my seat, I’m high fiving my wife, I’m telling everyone I see, at barbecues, at social events, all I can talk about is this opportunity.
The day she comes to record me. The producer, she’s great, calm, professional. We record 4 takes. the 4th one is the best. She leaves and I am left feeling hopeful, but strange, distant, this sort of thing doesn’t really happen to me.
Then a few weeks later I get this.

Hi Adam:

Good to hear from you! Yes, we’ve finished production on the Portland episode (though it won’t start airing til we release our whole season in October)… Unfortunately, because one of our stories ran much longer than we’d originally planned for, it ended up squeezing out the letter from the episode. We will post your letter on our website after the episode begins airing, and, eventually, we may produce a podcast version of it (in which case I’ll certainly be in touch to let you know that!). Thanks again for taking the time to both write and record it with me, and my apologies that it hasn’t ended up in the broadcast…
Two and a half years later, and State of the Reunion is no longer. The letter I wrote, it didn’t end up on the site.  The feeling, there was a time when the hope I had was unreal, the whole thing felt strange, detached.
It’s funny looking back on it now, how bad I needed it, to be told that the work I was doing was worthy, I was going through a bit of a crisis of confidence. Looking back I am not the same person in need of praise to continue to do my work, my writing work. What the whole experience gave me was hope, an idea that someone out there thinks my stuff is good enough for the whole nation to hear, and that, I think, was enough.
Update: I emailed the producer, I asked her if she has a copy of the recording, fingers crossed. 

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