Why we live here

By PORTLAND PHOENIX STAFF  |  April 22, 2009

090424_Sonya

I have lived in six states and visited 23. I have lived in cities as massive as Columbus, Ohio, and as quaint as Middlebury, Vermont. It only took me (five years and) two days after my graduation ceremony from UNC Greensboro to realize that the South was not for me. I packed up a U-Haul as fast as I could and headed back to my northeast roots.

My older sister had just gotten in on the ground floor of Portland's New Neighbors home-buying program. She and her accommodating husband offered me a room in their newly acquired apartment. At that point I had been to visit her in Portland a handful of times and liked it well enough, but it wasn't necessarily my hand-picked destination. It was, though, an offer I couldn't refuse: fresh out of college, no resume, no savings, no choice. I came for a trial.

It took no time for me to realize that destiny had planted me here. Arriving on June 1 to an unusually warm summer with picnics at Willard Beach, ice-cream runs to Kettle Cove, ferry rides to Peaks Island, walks along the rocky shore, and July Fourth on the Eastern Promenade made me question how I had previously survived in land-locked states. Portland and surrounding coastlines: Reason 1.

Not long after I moved here I was able to persuade a friend whom I had met in North Carolina to relocate here and share an apartment with me. It wasn't a hard sell. She too had family here and a strong history in the Downeast region of Maine that she would later introduce me to. Having been confined to the southernmost part of the state since my arrival, the eye-opening realization that I could get in a car and not hit the border in three hours vastly expanded my in-state travel opportunities. I have been to bean suppers in Eastbrook, hiked mountains in Acadia, and swum with seals in Northeast Harbor. Mount Desert Island, Baxter State Park, Monhegan, and the rest of the state: Reason 2.

My first winter here I saw an ad in the Portland Phoenix for a hip-hop open-mic night at the now defunct Stone Coast Brewery (funnily enough, those are now my employer and our office location). It was like a dream come true. I had been rapping since I was 16 and desperately missed my group that I left behind in North Carolina. There began my beyond-fruitful music career in Portland. Who would have thought? Portland's got a rap scene: Reason 3.

It was at hip-hop open-mic night that I first met my now-husband, a native of Sebago who introduced me to ice-fishing, snowmobiling, a sand bar with prime swimming, and wild blueberry picking. Husband material and Sebago Lake: Reason 4.

When I couldn't find immediate work I did as every Mainer does at one point or another, I took a job at L.L. Bean. I didn't mind selling Gore-tex and hemming men's pants, but I knew it wasn't a permanent career for me. Again it was the Portland Phoenix that guided my fate. I saw an open job opportunity in their classifieds section and here I am eight years later. I also got my foot in the door at my favorite venue, SPACE Gallery. You might have seen me bartending. Through several local non-profits I have been involved in music programs for young people and gotten to know an incredibly diverse and exciting group of local youth. I've managed to realize my dream of working within the arts in several different ways. Great jobs: Reason 5.

Like any other city, it has its drawbacks. The endless winter gets downright depressing. I had blood work done this year that showed a massive Vitamin D deficiency as a result of lack of sun. I feel saddened by the amount of people who live in poverty, are homeless, or chemically dependent. I long for more efficient public transportation. I want to see the vacancies caused by a struggling economy filled and sustained.

On the eve of my 10-year anniversary in Portland I am able to look back on all of these opportunities and accomplishments in comparison to other places I have lived. For me our little city is the perfect size and the perfect fit. We don't have the issues of larger urban areas where the competition for jobs, grant money, and landing a show is greater. I feel supported and encouraged by our city and its audience. I feel embraced by the arts community — like I'm doing my small part in an army of people attempting to strengthen and further it. It is the longest I have lived anywhere in my 33 years, and that right there is a testament in itself. From a trial period to a decade.
_Sonya Tomlinson

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