Seattle: 20 Weeks of Gratitude, Week 19

Part 1: #WIP

I’ve been skirting around the topic of Seattle’s big, contradictory, & broken-open heart for a while now—pretty much since I moved here. The crisis has brought the different aspects of what I love and what I don’t love about this place in & out of focus, and an overall gestalt has gradually emerged: Seattle is a tender place—tender as in fragile, and sore, and almost too sensitive to touch, but also tender as in loving, and patient, and kind.

That second sense of tenderness has bled out into the open during this lockdown in many ways; one especially vivid manifestation has been the hundreds of uplifting murals painted over the anti-looting boards nailed to shuttered businesses across the city. In another timeline, I would have expected one or two voices of dissent decrying this artwashing of fears of unruly mobs, but that’s not our actual moment; right now, we appreciate this colorful labor of love.

I’m very curious about this thin line of separation. Seattle has a street art industry that I’ve not seen elsewhere. I follow dozens of professional artists who have carved out careers as muralists and installers of site-specific artworks. It’s hyper-contemporary and old-school classical at the same time, with Facebook and Amazon serving as today’s Borgias and Medicis. Old Seattle might cringe and call that selling out, but if I had to choose, I’d vote for the world where art is sustainable every time.

I’m grateful for the experience of seeing a piece come to life as a #WIP on social media, then coming across it in the wild on a random walk or commute. Isn’t that why people go to the Louvre or the MOMA? To see the works and read the signatures and feel a sense of connection with someone they’ve never met, but feel like they somehow know?

I hope this trend continues; I hope this extraordinary time teaches us to want and expect art to be this public and this prevalent every day. I hope more people will see themselves as patrons and producers of art, so that this city can continue to be creative with or without corporate tutelage, because one thing is for certain: it did not make one bit of positive difference to be living in this tech company town during COVID-19—we did not see rapid innovation, we did not receive futuristic care, we are not light years ahead of anyone in terms of policy or preparedness. When all is said and done, let there be a reckoning of how much this place has sacrificed to our neighborhood behemoths and of how little they’ve given back.

Against all odds, #art did make a difference, however small, and art will continue to make a difference, if we choose to allow it.

Part 2: #PNW

Today is Giving Tuesday, and I encourage you to keep thinking of Lebanon’s #BusMapHeroes, but to also consider giving more locally to @CascadiaNow, a tiny nonprofit that serves as a fiscal-sponsor for a bunch of diverse community-led projects like @CascadiaClimateAction & @OmThriveFoundation.

CN! was the org that gave me my first work opportunity when I immigrated here, joining as a comms intern in literally my first week. This volunteer position eventually became a paid position, for which I’m eternally grateful, especially in the darkest hours of my job search in this city.

With my full-time gig taking over more & more of my life, I’m not as involved as I used to be, and yet, CN! still treats me like a human being and compensates whatever number of hours I’m able to give per month. I find that remarkable in a sector that I’ve learned can be just as cutthroat as corporate America.

And that’s where they have an edge: CN!’s Cascadian identity is more than a subcultural statement of PNW pride or even an abstract notion of ecological sustainability—it’s a set of subtle but very real and heartfelt values. I used to use these as framing devices for writing our monthly newsletter, but even I have to pinch myself every time I realize that Cascadian love, Cascadian generosity, & yes, Cascadian gratitude, are more than just marketing ploys. They’re the markers of a genuine community.

Give to a faint glimmer of utopia today.

Part 3: #P2P

Seattle is tender from being jostled and bruised between its many contradictions; sometimes I think that people here don’t even speak the same language. Sometimes people give up on communication altogether and accept that not replying to a text, for example, is perfectly rational and healthy for a relationship. Sometimes they cluster in their vacuoles of insularity; other times they generate new ways of relating—and it’s not always easy to know the one from the other.

The biggest shock to my system since moving here is learning to rewire how I think about nonprofit work. It’s like that one time we went to have a ‘pay what you think is fair’ dining experience in Lebanon; we read those words and saw a message of inclusion, paying like payment was no burden, but the organizers meant those words differently—they meant pay what you think we deserve. It was awkward for everyone involved, and the nonprofit sector here will also leave you with egg on your face, if you’re not mentally prepared.

Nonprofit here means scarcity and extreme risk-aversion, which makes cruel sense for an industry scraped together in the shadow of corporate greed—resources are finite so only literal unicorns need apply. It took a while for me to get what I was losing in translation; Lebanon has its challenges, but I think I prefer a sector of true believers over infinitely-adaptable career-driven wonks.
But the flip-side of these splintered vernaculars & a do-good field with very little soul is a hunger for rank-and-file connection that I’ve not seen anywhere else. This is a city where breweries can be philanthropists and baristas organize without any help from the IWW; this is also a city where tech & finance professionals join volunteer organizations just to have a space for meaningful conversation. And it’s that constant flipping of the script that I appreciate the most.

That’s what I liked about @ypinseattle so much; I went to one of their mixers at Optimism Brewery just two weeks after moving here, expecting little more than a reason to get out of Kent for the afternoon. What I found instead was a motley crew of passionate and intelligent people that I would not have met or known or worked with otherwise. It’s kinda what you hope to find at church.

YPIN is another part of my life that I’ve not been able to give much time in recent months, but whenever I’m around these folks, I feel warmth.

Maybe being tender as in gentle is the necessary correlate of feeling tender as in bruised. Maybe that’s why Seattle is the way it is. That’s fine. I can live with that.

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