The Seattle Section

Rebecca Brown

I didn’t edit this Seattle section of Golden Handcuffs Review, Joe (Donahue) did. But he, in that time-honored Seattle way of doing things quietly, sort of Scandanavian-ly or Native American-ly, where parts of these parts (the Northwest) come from, of not taking credit for them, not being overt, but rather unobtrusive, stealthy, didn’t want to write an introduction so Lou (Rowan) asked me.
We’re all of us on a first name basis here. Not like they are back east where they all know who went to Harvard or Yale (though some of us did, though not me), or whose family owned what or who did whom (some of that we know too) but call each other “Mr.”. I mean, we know and care about some of that but try not to too much because we came here, to the last place where the land runs out, where our country can’t go further left than us, to get away from that. We don’t look back to Europe or New York, but instead out to the water, where nothing’s formed, where everything’s from, where everything’s going back to.

I asked the contributors to this Seattle section if they were born here or the came here (people were either “been heres” or “come heres” where I came from) and only one, count ‘em, O-N-E, out of the twenty or so contributors who got back to me had been born here. We are all, except that one guy, come heres. We came 7.5, 48, 46, 10, 27, 19 (two of us), 17, 30 (in time for the Mariners first season), 7, 45, 20, 21, l8 (3 of us), 32 and either 25 or 26 years ago from Schenectady, the other Washington, DC, Omaha, San Francisco via Norman, OK., Bronxville, 324 E. 13th St., NYC, Topeka, KS, Paterson, NJ, Cairo, Egypt, Stillwater, OK, Edmond, OK, Norwich, UK, Charlottesville, Va., NE Chicago and elsewhere. And the guy who was born here kept trying to get away to lots of other places including countries but kept coming back.

We know we’re provincials (New Yorkers don’t) because everyone is only ever one-where. No-one’s everywhere. We like, us bunch of transplants, that we aren’t wherever we came from.

We invented Skid Row and the smiley face. We invented Hendrix, coffee, flannel shirts. We did not invent granola.

We neither have hot tubs nor stilettos. We neither traipse nor flounce. We don’t eat pork and are embarrassed by our horrible daily newspapers. We abide.

Some of us went, for a while, to Alaska.

Some of us went, as above, and back, to hell.

But we all came to this place we call - uh - we call - uh - What do we call it?

I asked each contributor: What is one word that describes what you think of Seattle? They said:

wobbly (but steadfastly committed to collective action)
big-town-struggling-to-be-a-small-city (That’s not one word but we like to invent and fudge.)
green (x 2)
space(-y, full of?)

When I came here in the early 1980’s, right after graduate school, I found it verdant, etc., pretty, lovely, cheaper than back east, with bluer skies, like that TV show from the 70s’s with Bobby Sherman about all these loggers who wanted wives so they sent for girls from back east, which sounds creepy now but I guess was just “fun” back then, the theme song of which began “The bluest skies you’ve ever seen in Seattle!” Of course now the sky above Seattle is polluted, brown, horrible but doesn’t always look that way so we pretend. I also found Seattle in the early l980’s smug, snotty, self righteous, self-congratulatory and with all these unwritten codes that no one would tell you and you just kept beating your head up against them and hurt your head. I found it artistically conservative - monochromatic. OK, maybe not mono-chromatic, because there was more than one, but still. There were three ways to write:

1) writing about nature (dappled salmon and all that);

2) writing about piss smelling alleys. (The first reading I went to in Seattle, down near the Market, someone in the audience was throwing someone else a can of beer and it hit me in the head.); and

3) writing about The Power of Women and/in Solidarity With the Oppressed Peoples of the World (especially El Salvador).

I hated it. I hated both each of those ways of writing and I hated all of those ways of writing together. I hated that that was all I saw going on here. I hated, therefore, Seattle. (NB: I like nature and beer and am a feminist and a reasonably good lefty - it was just all the dreary writing about those things I hated.) So I moved away.

Then when I came back four years later, I liked Seattle. Seattle had changed. (I had changed too, of course, grown up a bit and hated things a little bit less). There was more in Seattle: more people, more music, more writing, which meant that you didn’t all have to be the same. There was the Subtext reading series and the Rendezvous reading series and Radio Free Leroy and others. Old Seattle wasn’t the only Seattle any more.

For many years now some of us out here have been doing, as the hippies used to say, our own thing, under as the indies used to say, the radar. Not just yammering on about it. Writing things, painting things, making photographs, making magazines, making sounds. Doing The Work. Doing all this with or without (more often without) “recognition,” whatever the fuck that is, or money, etc. We ignored yammering assholes but rather instead found one another and encouraged each other to make more work. We learned to both let one another alone so we can be quiet or loud as necessary to make the work. We learned to drop off casseroles.

We live in neighboring, with just the right distance between us, caves. We borrow sugar, divvy, we raise barns.

We read our work aloud and listen to one another read and we make magazines.

The writers in this section didn’t write this italicized portion below all together but I am going to pretend, steadfastly committed to collective action, they, I guess I mean, we, did.

The words below are collectively theirs, which you can find if you look for them in the following section, I mean ours, I mean Seattle’s.

* * *

There’s something medieval about the Pacific Northwest, the clouds moving swiftly south, strangely. The roots struggle. I remember it as a long project on rust in the place where earlier there was gunfire and the audience burst into flames.

Already having adjusted to the loss, I am confused about art and the making of it. Is it better to make the mediocre because it allows you to get up every day? Or is it better to stop?

Don’t follow the lay of the land. A new dynamism is at work in the world.
Climb trees and hide when sad.
In bonus fjord boots, walk up all over and listen.
Start in the middle someplace. Get to know all the others.
You can sell the house.
Be the symptoms.
Scratch like a dog.
Don’t look for it in this town.
Face up to a landscape (a region of continual delay).

(This is all in a book one day.)