Seattle and a Sense of Place

I can’t do Seattle. Seattle is just L.A. with bad facial hair and a bad attitude left over from the 1990s.

A little shot from my Texan expatriate friend Mark E.

I like Seattle, so much that I even tried to buy a house in Shoreline some years back, only to wake up in a cold sweat the day after submitting the offer to realize that I had made a horrible mistake, and could not think of why. (The sellers let the offer expire, not even humoring us with a counter, essentially telling us to go jump in Lake Union.)

I now know why I broke out in that sweat, and it has nothing to do with whether Seattle is a nice place or not. It was the wrong place for me, and for my family, and somehow my subconscious knew it, in spite of the page-long single-spaced list we had composed of rational reasons why it was the right place for us to be. We stayed for weeks, loved every minute, but never felt at homecoming.

Those of us who are blessed with the wherewithal to choose from among two or more places to live are often tempted to try to rationalize the choice. But such choices should not be born of reason. They should be born of a voice that speaks to something more elemental in us, that calls to us and tells us that this is the place to be.

I live in California not because it is the wisest choice. It is certainly not the cheapest, least crowded, or least dangerous place to live in America. It does not have the best job prospects, the best transportation options, or the most stable economic foundations.

I live in California because no matter where I am in the state, from Chula Vista to Eureka to Tahoe to Death Valley, I feel at home. I am, as my wife would say, centered here like I am no place else in America or on Earth. Not everyone will feel that way, and I suspect that more than a few of the state’s  38.8 million inhabitants feel horribly out of place here and spend their days trying to convince themselves otherwise. But that is what keeps me here, droughts, economy, earthquakes, and brush fires be damned.

Next time I am in Seattle, I’ll stay a few extra days. I’ll spend a morning at Elliot Bay Books, I’ll linger long afternoons in independent coffee shops, listen to struggling poets and earnest bands, and I’ll take extended walks along the Puget Sound, savoring every minute. And then I’ll fly home to California, grateful for the gifts of the Pacific Northwest, but ever more convinced that the Golden State is home.

A Hard Rain

I am a longtime fan of noir pulps, and reading this is like a hardcore sci-fi fan picking up Hitchhikers Guide: a complete pisstake on the genre, but fun because of that.

Not to mention it was written by Dean Wesley Smith, who was kind enough to spend an hour last Spring in Boise coaching me on the finer points of the writing life.

The Noble-Minded Hoarder

“The committed bibliophile is cousin to the obsessive, an easily seduced accumulator frequently struck with frisson. Cram your home with books, and you’re lovingly called a collector; cram it with old newspapers, and you’re derisively called a hoarder. But be honest: The collector is a hoarder, too—a discriminating and noble-minded hoarder, perhaps, but a hoarder just the same.”

via A Bibliophile’s Defense of Physical Books | The New Republic.

Yep. That’s me.

Realistic Drought-Busting

Sod the sod: xeriscape!

5 Ways to Bust California’s Drought | TIME.

Bryan Walsh at TIME is probably getting as tired as we are of all of the finger-pointing taking place around California about water wasting. Enough of the mutually vilifying PR battles between almond growers, city water districts, and the oil industry. Finger pointing and calls for draconian measures (uprooting the state’s avocado trees, shutting down hydrofracking, and rationing drinking water) will not solve the water shortage.

Walsh suggests five sensible, intelligent, and sustainable ways to cut back water without turning the state into a lousy place for people to live. Longtime readers of this blog will recognize xeriscaping as a step very dear to the hearts of GWR editors.

SoCal’s wettest July on record and rumors of a Monster El Niño notwithstanding, we’re going to be in a drought for a while to come, and when we’re out, we need to give the State’s water resources a chance to recover. Each of these steps should be on your radar.

Let Not Art Be Irrelevant

And the American public—left with an impressionistic vision in which urine, bullwhips, and a naked but chocolate-streaked Karen Finley figured largely—drew the fatal conclusion that contemporary art had nothing to offer them. Fatal, because the moment the public disengages itself collectively from art, even to refrain from criticizing it, art becomes irrelevant.

via Article How Art Became Irrelevant.

Fascinating point. I would fight to the death for an artist’s right to express himself or herself. But when we reach the point where self-expression compels the audience to give up on art, what is achieved? At what point does art stop being art, and devolve into puerile outbursts of gratuitous provocation?

What separates art from mere aesthetic self-expression is that art communicates, it speaks to others, it makes a transcendental connection with the audience. When you lose that connection, whose fault is it, the audience, trying in good faith to reach for the connection? Or the artist?

And at what point do a myriad of failures to connect add up to a society that discards art, undermining our ability to sustain non-commercial expressive creativity?

Give me art, but first give me art that moves a multitude. For that is the art that forms the exoskeleton of a society that treasures all of its artists.