An Interview with Rebecca Brown Seattle, WA · May 2015 · Interviewed by Alex Davis-Lawrence
Rebecca Brown is a writer based in Seattle. Astonishingly prolific and deeply talented, she has written novels, essays, short stories, articles, criticism, plays, a libretto for an opera, a one-woman show, and more. Her books include American Romances; The Terrible Girls; The Haunted House; Excerpts From A Family Medical Dictionary, which won the Washington State Book Award; and Gifts of the Body, which won the Lambda Literary Award. A winner of The Stranger’s Genius Award, she directed the Port Townsend Writers Conference for four years, co-founded the Jack Straw Writers Program, and was the first writer in residence at the Richard Hugo House. She’s taught in academic and community settings for more than 30 years.
I thought we could start by talking about how you ended up settling in the Northwest. The search for ‘home,’ as a place and an idea, is a huge theme that runs throughout your work, from The Haunted House, which opens with the narrator trying and failing to navigate her father home on unfamiliar streets, all the way up through American Romances, your latest book, where you tie that search to Westward Expansion, and really to America’s national identity on a whole. So I’m curious about how Seattle became ‘home,’ for you—if you would define it that way.
Seattle is definitely home now. I’ve been here pretty permanently since ’90. I first came here after graduate school, it was ’80 or ’81. I was living in the South, got my MFA, and at that time I was living with a woman, and we were like, “Where do we move? New York is too big. Boston is too cold. LA is too gross. San Francisco is like, too gay.” We didn’t want to go to a ghetto. Plus, one of my very best friends from undergraduate school and my high school boyfriend both lived in Seattle, so we had people to stay with, and we’d heard really good things about the place.
As you referenced from my first novel, The Haunted House, we moved around a lot when I was a kid, so I didn’t have a sense of belonging in any one particular place. When I came to Seattle in the early 80s, parts of the city I liked a lot, but culturally it just wasn’t happening for me. My work kept not getting published and kept being turned down for grants, but my work and then my first book was accepted in England, so I left for London and lived in Europe for about three or four years, and then came back to Seattle in ’90. And by ’90 there was more writing, more diverse writing, it wasn’t just the university and Red Sky Poetry. There was a really exciting independent music scene, and also an independent writing scene. Seattle’s been a really good place to be since then.
In an interview you gave with the Sixers Review, you talked about the challenges of being an out lesbian writing out work in the 80s—that mainstream America would have nothing to do with you, and that your writing style didn’t meet the expectations of mainstream or lesbian publishing. You also mentioned that it was a challenge to be working away from “the big centers of queer work, like New York City or California.” I was wondering if you could expand on that a bit more. How did that difficulty manifest itself in your career, and how have things changed since then?
Well, my first story came out in an anthology with Faber and Faber, then my first book of stories came out in England in 1984 with a gay and lesbian press. My first novel came out in the UK in 1986 and here in the US with Viking in ‘87. And I don’t know if I could name another out lesbian who was published in the US mainstream then. Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle had been out with a small press and then moved up to a big press, and Patricia Highsmith had published lesbian work with a lesbian press under a pseudonym, but the mainstream work under her own name was the mysteries with no lesbian content.
There was also a really big lesbian feminist writing scene going on in the 80s and 90s. Most of that work was realist stuff, it was very pro-woman, pro-lesbian, like “we’re healthy, we help each other, I’ve come out of the closet and everything is great.” Whereas my work was emotionally violent and disturbing, it was surreal, the women weren’t all heroes, and some of the nicest characters were straight guys. So my work didn’t quite fit in either place. Also I hadn’t come up through a community of writers the way, for example, some of my friends had, who were in the big centers like New York or LA or San Francisco, whether gay and lesbian or not. I didn’t actually know much about those scenes until I got back to the United States.
So partly it was not quite fitting in either place, but there is also something about the advocacy of a community, or the advocacy of an agent that I didn’t have that going at that point. I wasn’t formed in those communities, so it took me a while to find people who just wanted to talk about literature in general. Then here in Seattle in the 90s—The Stranger started then—were a lot of writers, queer and not, whose work I was excited by—non-realistic, surreal, noir stuff, that was very exciting to me.
What do you think the writing community is like in Seattle today?
Seattle has a tremendous range of literary opportunities and communities. Hugo House is this tremendous place where people want to study writing, they bring in writers from out of town, and they commission new work. There’s the Bent Writing Institute that’s worked with queer kids and writers for about 20 years now, and for a while there was a group called Los Norteños for Latino and Latina writers, the University of Washington has groups, SPLAB—and the Jack Straw Writers Program, which I co-created with Joan Rabinowitz, a bunch of different groups. There’s also a lot of very successful mainstream writers up here too, like Garth Stein, who started the Seattle7Writers. There’s tons of activity and a lot of really different kinds of groups… you can go to a reading any night of the week, right? You can find an open mic, or someone reading from a new book, there’s just tons of stuff going on here. It’s a pretty exciting time.
What we don’t have is the publishing scene Portland does. They have some amazing publishing houses down there. Sasquatch is fine, they do Northwesty books, and have not been a particularly literary press. Fantagraphics does the best graphic novels in the world, and they’re expanding out a little bit, but otherwise, we don’t have a Tin House or a Hawthorne Books or Publishing Studio or Future Tense. So Seattle is a little behind in that.
What do you think is the significance to a writer of having a sense of community, or a sense of place?
I think it’s hugely important for writers to feel loved, or to have at least one other person who wants to read their work. A community is people you share interests with, or who are excited about your work. Like the APRIL group—they’re really supportive, they do readings and events and book clubs, they hang out. The idea that you can share your endeavor, which most people aren’t going to pay anything for, with somebody else, that you share that interest with someone else, is hugely, hugely important. Writing itself is so often a private, solitary, lonely thing, but to be able to have friends to talk about it with, or even just one reader, like, if I write this thing, one person is going to say, “Rebecca, can I read that story,” or “Alex, you said you were going to work on that, are you still working on it?” It’s just hugely important to not be alone.
I think the downside is... somebody at one point said, “pity the writer who isn’t part of a community.” You hear about Paris in the 20s, or the Stein-Toklas Salon, or Bloomsbury, or the New York School or the Black Mountain School, and there are ways that the group identity can kind of lift all the individual boats. But I also think that sometimes people developing independently can end up doing something really different. I think, retrospectively, I wouldn’t have had my history any other way. Plus, you don’t want your whole life to be spent running around being a writer/social butterfly. You can’t be out all the time. When are you home being miserable and lonely and writing? You need them both.
Something that really jumped out at me when going through your various bios and resumes was your long-term commitment to teaching—things like workshops, residencies, academic programs, there’s just an enormous list. How do you see the role of teaching in the community? In your creative practice?
The last couple years I’ve been feeling like, “man, I’ve been teaching for more than 30 years”—part of me is getting tired. Like, if I have to correct another effing there/their/they’re spelling or noun-verb-number disagreement, I’m just going to flunk ‘em all. I don’t get to that point, but I do get tired more easily.
But I also love teaching. I love the engagement, and every semester, every class, I learn something from students, whether they are college students or kids or people who don’t really read. And some books I’ve taught, like, three times, but someone can still say something in class and I just go... “Whoa! That’s it. I never saw that.” And there is nothing like that. There’s also nothing like when someone who comes in who is kind of shy or quiet or not confident and then they write something and you go, “that’s really terrific,” and then you see them gain confidence—there’s nothing as great as that.
And of course it’s paid a lot of my bills. At different times in my writing, I’ve made nice money, but I have not supported myself entirely with writing. So, I don’t teach out of the good of my heart as much as the need of my pocketbook. [laughs] As far as the range of different places where I’ve taught—libraries, prisons, universities, colleges, workshops, Hugo House, living rooms, summer camps—when I first got out of graduate school, I looked for a full-time tenure-track teaching job and I got turned down a million times. But over the long haul, I’m glad I didn’t find one job and then just stick to it forever. I’ve had to kind of keep jumping, hustling, and you get to know different people if you’re out there. I think I have a broad sense of what’s out there, because I haven’t been full time secure in one location or job.
Now I see young friends who are getting full-time tenure jobs pretty early and I’m like, “watch out.” Like, don’t become someone who gets so secure in a job you kind of stop writing. I think sometimes if you lose the hunger, you kind of, I don’t know... lose the edge or urgency you need to make your work.
How does the teaching influence your work? Certainly in American Romances there’s an almost academic feel to the writing—they’re essays, you have these footnotes, there’s a real research element there.
I really geek out about a lot of stuff. I geek out about pop music, 60s music, and in that particular book there’s some late medieval European church history, which I also geek out about, and Gertrude Stein and Hawthorne and crappy classic horror movies and the Vietnam War. I think that by not being like, in a single job or department or even magazine, I’ve been able to follow my interests more obsessively. Maybe if I’d been an academic or a scholar I’d have written a book about one of them. But probably not... I don’t have that kind of discipline, I mean, I have discipline, but even my discipline is quirky.
My use of footnotes in that book is partly ironic, but it’s also partly serious. I’ll be 60 next year and I grew up in the vinyl era, and I was the kind of kid who read all of the liner notes on the back of an album cover. And so I have this interest in bizarre little details, like, “I didn’t realize he was playing bass on that third track,” which is sort of the same thing with church or medieval history, right? Footnotes allow you to really geek out. Plus the use of the footnotes suggests a kind of authority, and I’m playing with who has authority or authority about what.
I actually had some specific questions about “The Priests,” the story about that obscure religious history that you just mentioned. It just spoke to something that I found really incredible about American Romances, which is your ability to see connections in seemingly disparate things—or, to put it a little more politically, your refusal to allow things to be disconnected. Like in that essay, you bring this whole hidden history of sexuality and religion to bear on the Oreo, on this everyday thing—when a piece of writing gets you to look at something like that in a new way, it’s really powerful.
My mind does jump around a lot, and make ridiculous-seeming but somehow, at least to me, real connections. For that particular piece, I’ve always been fascinated by the Christian church and religious history. And I started reading Gertrude Stein in high school. Several years ago Jennifer Heath wanted to do an anthology about origin stories about food—and asked me to write something, and maybe you could do like matzo ball soup or falafel or southern greens, but I was like, “I’m a white kid from the suburbs,” so I was like, junk food? Crappy, processed, fake dessert? Oreos. And it was just one step in one direction from there to a communion wafer—one step in another direction to Alice B. Toklas’s pot brownies—there I had it—the Christian supper and Stein and Toklas, history and sex and sexual repression, and there I went.
I think one of my frustrations with academia is its separation from the world. It’s like, why not talk about Hawthorne, and notions of the American West and American masculinity, and Puritanism, alongside talking about monster movies? And why not talk in terms that are... not pompous academic jargon, not just dumb, but that are actually terms we use when we talk with one another. I guess it comes out of that.
I don’t know that I had any conscious political stance from whence I made that shape for an essay. When you describe it as political, I can go, “yeah, that fits,” but my process is much more amorphous and mysterious than it is concept-driven.
I’m curious about another aspect of your writing process. You’re working in so many different forms—novels, essays, short story collections, articles, criticism, libretto for an opera, visual and installation work, a one-woman show, plays. How do you come to find the right form for a particular work?
A lot of these things are just pretty happenstance. The play happened because John Kazanjian of New City Theater had seen me MC a couple of times, when I can be fun, and really lively, and he’d also read some of my theater reviews, and he asked me one time, “do you want to write a play?” And I was like “sure, I’ll try that.” Literally, it was that easy. An artist’s dream is to have someone ask you to just do something and pay you. “All right,” he said, and sent me a contract the next week. It was ideal. Whereas I apply for grants and get effing none of them. When someone says “describe exactly what you are going to do and how it will help develop audiences,” and I am like, I have no idea exactly how it will go, it’s creative for eff’s sake. Whereas when another artist says, “let’s try this,” I’m game.
It was the same thing working with dancers, and eventually writing a libretto for a dance opera. I used to go see a lot of dance. I met some dancers, Alex Martin and Freya Wormus of Better Biscuit Dance, and it turned out they had read my work in high school, and they’re like, “oh, you want to write something for us?” And I was like, “sure, love to.” So I did. A small piece, then later a libretto for the Onion Twins dance opera. Later I worked with Ricki Mason, who was in the Better Biscuit dance opera, and Jody Kuehner, before they were Cherdonna and Lou! Someone you like says, “let’s make something together,” and if you can, you say, “sure, let’s try to do something.”
I’m slowing down a little, but basically I still try to work a lot in a lot of different ways. And if you put a lot of work out there, some people see it. And maybe someone will say, “she seems like she might be interested in doing such-and-such... let’s ask Rebecca if she’s game.”
I wanted to talk a bit about your recent work on Denise Levertov. How did that come about?
I was received into the Catholic Church a few years ago, and one of the churches I go to is St. Joseph. Denise Levertov was a parishioner there in the 90s, and this May, Choral Arts, a vocal ensemble that is in residence there, was commissioning a local composer, John Muehleisen to set one of her poems to music. And our pastor there, Fr. John Whitney, S.J., said, “let’s do a whole festival about Levertov,” and asked if I would head up a parish committee to plan the festival and I said, “sure.” So about a year and a lot of hard work later, there was this three-week-long festival.
For the last year, to learn about her, I read her work, her biography, really studied her—I love being able to really chew on stuff. Studying her was great, and meeting people who knew her, and planning events in places where they’re not used to reading poetry, but reading poems there, and working with poets and non-poets too. I just love that stuff. “I don’t really understand poetry,” some people would say, like in a book group or somewhere I went, and I’d say, “well, why don’t you read this out loud to us,” and then they would, and would start to talk about what it said to them. People are smarter than they think they are. The festival events happened in the church and at the cathedral, but also at The Project Room, and Elliot Bay, and the Sorrento and Lake View Cemetery, so it was all these very different kinds of venues, sort of saying, “poetry can exist in all these places, and we can all talk to each other even if we seem like really different kinds of people at first.”
So that was really cool. If you give people a chance, and you kind of help people who might be intimidated by poetry all along, it’s like, “oh, art’s not so bad, I kind of like this.” And Levertov was a perfect figure for it. But I’m not a scholar of hers, it wasn’t even like she was one of my favorite poets before, as much me saying, “sure, I’ll pursue that.”
Something that I thought was really exciting about your work on her was the same thing that attracted me to the Robert Cantwell piece that we published in the previous issue. Just this idea of... I don’t want to say rediscovering, because obviously she’s not been “lost”—
But she’s not taught much in the academy any more. When I sent notices way back about planning the festival, the universities I contacted here did not express any interest.
Right. This idea that someone’s a part of our region, a part of our cultural history, but they sort of fell off the map for whatever reason. What do you think it gives a community to have these types of figures in their collective past?
I think it’s hugely important. But I also think it’s hugely important to—and I hate overusing this word—to note the diversity of it. For a while in the 90s, it was all Raymond Carver, Raymond Carver, Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolfe and Raymond Carver, dirty realism. I was on a panel once at some Northwest book festival thing, and the question was something like how do we get out of Raymond Carver’s shadow. But I looked around and it was like, “half the people on this panel aren’t under his shadow; open your eyes and read more widely!” Maybe two books I’ve done have that monosyllabic, bare realism, but the rest of them don’t. Too often there’s this idea that there’s one kind of writing, but actually there are many. Raymond Carver can be a patron saint for some Northwest writers, and Denise Levertov can be too, for others. August Wilson can be, Octavia Butler, Joanna Russ, Jesse Bernstein... the idea of someone that you can look up to, and not emulate them exactly, but the fact that they did the work, did their own kind of work, and if there’s a range of these people, you don’t have to be exactly like any of them; what you have to do is work really hard like all of them.
I went to visit a number of book groups for the Levertov Festival, and I always tried to choose a couple poems that were obviously about the Northwest’s physical landscape. Like, there’s one poem that’s clearly written in St. Joseph’s, about a specific ritual that happens there, and when I read the landscape poems to people they’re like, “oh, that’s about over there, I can see that, I’ve never thought of it that way”—and it’s like they own it. Or the St. Joseph’s poem, and people are like, “Wow! I was there that time.” And you can get that sense of art not being far from you, that artists use the material of their lives, which are our lives too. It’s really... I don’t want to say it’s humbling, but, you know, art does not come down from the sky. It comes from here, from us, from the world we live in. I’m a big believer in that.
As to the regional thing, I’m like, screw New York. We don’t exist to them? We don’t need to. There actually is nothing wrong with them—except for the fact that they can’t see beyond their noses—but you don’t have to look towards there to be a real artist, you can be one anywhere.
Absolutely. So, to get back to something you’ve touched on several times here, I wanted to ask a little about religion. There’s certainly a lot of spirituality in the Northwest, but it’s often pretty abstract. And obviously, Christianity and Catholicism’s relationship to the gay and lesbian community is historically—
[laughs] It’s troubling, to say the least. But, you know, I also notice that the quest to know God is a significant recurring theme in your work, and you don’t shy away from the Christian framework. How do you define your religion? How did you come to it? How does it manifest in your work?
So I was received into the Catholic Church in 2012. But, even very early on in my work, there’s a real sense of dark and light. There’s a real sense of someone dying, and then getting to live again. One of my books, The Dogs, which I started writing in the 80s, starts with quotations from St. Augustine and Francis Thompson, a Catholic poet most well known for his poem “The Hound of Heaven.” And at the end of my book, someone is buried into the ground, and someone goes and unburies them and lifts up those bones and the bones come back together then go into the river and into the water, and they stand up and they’re clothed in flesh, and move towards the light; it’s totally a story of death and redemption. And I suppose there are parts of me that are specifically Christian because as a white westerner from Europe, that’s part of my genealogical heritage. But really the great mysteries of life and death are part of many religions. Do I become one with the cosmos? Is a bodhisattva someone who’s here to help me? All that kind of stuff, about the longing to understand lightness and dark, and the need to believe in the light when you’re in darkness—the longing for something bigger, that’s part of me in a big way.
For many years, for all the obvious reasons, I thought Catholicism was just the worst. I mean, they don’t allow female priests. The sex scandal is just—the sex scandal itself is inexcusable, and the coverup is—I don’t want to say as inexcusable, because actually tons of children and adults were physically and spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally harmed by these priests—but they’re both crimes against humanity. And there’s the Pope who is meant to be a servant who leads the way to mercy, but has as often as not been more of a dictator, though I am very hopeful about Pope Francis... so there were tons of reasons not to be Catholic, but something drew me—and keeps me drawn to it. Some longing, hunger, draw, whatever, to the mystery of incarnation, redemption, mercy. I can’t explain or justify it.
But there’s so much I can’t justify. The story of the church is also a story of human darkness and desire for form. And when I think about it in an even bigger context, I could say the same negative things about being a westerner, a human. I mean, as a white person, as a type, I am, historically, an imperialist, and a slave owner, a Jew killer, a sexist. Or, a lot of feminists in the 70s were like, “men are the problem,” so like, “boom, let’s be separate from men.” Well—I suppose you could do that, but what human creation is not flawed? Humanity is flawed, institutions are more flawed, the Catholic Church is really flawed, the US is flawed. I haven’t emigrated from America, which is certainly financially the most complicit and heinous empire that’s ever been on the planet, but there’s also still good stuff in America too, and it’s where I belong. It’s all really complex. And the Church, it has this central mystery that is just profound to me, it’s a story that draws me. Like where I belong, or what I want. I can’t describe it.
And there’s also an extent to which it’s impossible to separate the history of academia, writing, and storytelling from religion. In many ways they have roots in religious practice.
It’s all really really complex, and the bottom line is I can’t reason my way into or out of any of it. People say, “I can’t believe you’re doing this. Convince me.” And I say, “sorry, I can’t.” You know, if you really put it down on paper, I should leave America. If you really put it down on paper, I should not believe in marriage, and I’m married to my wife. At some point, you just are where you’re drawn, and you’re trying to live with both the tension and the integrity of that.
Something I saw a lot in the way you approach the search for God in your work is sort of this search for ‘Truth,’ or for the idea of truth. Which is also incredibly complex, because you’re always sort of moving—as I see it, you have this really interesting relationship between fiction and non-fiction. Your fictional work has really deep connections to autobiography, non-fiction, and your essays, like in American Romances, have—
There are parts that are clearly fantasy, right.
So how do you see the relationship between fiction and non-fiction—as a writer?
On the one hand, I’m incredibly Puritanical and moralistic about it. If someone’s going to say, “this is a memoir,” it really should be, to my mind, for all intents and purposes, what they remember or believe to be true. Like the James Frey thing, him saying he spent three years in prison, when he knew and remembered he’d only spent three nights, he was lying and he knew it. Originally, he had tried to sell his book as a novel, but they wouldn’t take it, so he sold it as a memoir. And he is responsible for that, but the publishing industry is, too. It’s slimy to call that non-fiction. Whereas if someone reads “The Priests” from American Romances and takes me to task because I’m not specifically identifying that Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas are not actually the royal queens of a secret religious sect that has the Oreo as its sacred snack, I’m like, people, come on. Can’t you see that’s a joke? I think using the ridiculous, as well as the sublime, as fiction, next to non-fiction material, can be lively, interesting, useful, even fun.
Certainly in a lot of your work, like in The Haunted House and in The Terrible Girls, fantasy and autobiography are in very close proximity.
Those stories are so clearly fiction—people don’t really go around cutting off their arms, or really send body parts through the mail. But that’s what fiction can do, is to get at these extreme forms of truth. And when someone says, “oh, your work reads like a memoir,” or “it seems really true,” that’s because we’ve lost the sense that fiction can do exactly that. It’s not ‘this really happened,’ in history, but ‘this is about or aims to recreate an interior state that people really have.’
I want to loop back a bit, to the Northwest. You were born on the west coast, in California, and you talked in American Romances about how you really love what you call the West, which I would call the Old West, the Cowboy West. How do you see the Northwest in relation to all that? Is this region part of America’s ongoing Western momentum—the next step after California? Or is there something else going on here?
When people were talking about, “go West young person,” way back when, they were talking about like, Ohio, right? And then further west, when people thought about California, they thought about lettuce and oranges, the sunny orange groves. Whereas the Northwest is dark, and green, it’s kind of the furthest away corner, a place you go when you can’t go any further.
My sense is that Seattle, as a city, wasn’t really here until, like, the late 19th century. And pretty quickly, once white people were kind of established here, it became a jumping off point for Alaska, like with the gold rush of the 1890s, so there’s way it was kind of like—there’s no where else to go, then we jump to Alaska. It’s like when you sweep a room, and get all this dust trapped in the corner. It’s kind of the last place you can go and still be here.
So there’s a little bit of that—is it independence, or is it dregs? Mythically, it has a different draw than the sort of sunny California.
Is that atmosphere something that drew you here?
Not particularly. My brother went to Colorado in the 70s, that’s where young people went. In the 80s, people were coming to Portland or Seattle. These places were comparatively inexpensive then, and that’s not the case any more. Now people are like, going to Idaho or somewhere, because you just can’t afford it any more.
Do you think you would move here now, if you were at the equivalent stage in your life?
That’s really hard to imagine. When my girlfriend and I came here, we were like, “oh, it’s so cheap here,” compared to the East Coast. We could rent an apartment with one and a half bedrooms and a living room and a dining room and a water view for $375, and now what’s that? $1500? Whatever, it’s very, very expensive. It’s very hard for me to imagine being a young person here, with a ‘regular job,’ and finding my way.
The city’s just gotten really wealthy. It’s not going to be as conducive to the next art as long as it’s that expensive. Poor artists go to poor places.
It’s sort of the classic tradeoff. As you said, when you were moving here it was cheaper, but maybe there wasn’t as much of a cultural community, and now that’s developed, but it’s also harder to access in some ways. What do you see, moving forward, as some ways we can help preserve and improve what the Northwest is now—what it has the potential to be?
I think there really is something to the Northwest. I think there really is something to logging and fisheries, and airplanes and technology. Those are just so opposite, right? I think there’s really something about Pacific Rim-ness, and that we’re not from the black migration from the South, we’re not from the old old old school of old New York and old Boston going back to Europe. I think there’s something about what we are not.
And I think there’s something about size—it’s like, even when the gay community was much smaller, just by the nature of being small or even secretive, I would hang out with people who weren’t like me politically at all, or you know, if there were only ten of us, you hung out with all of them. Even if you didn’t dress or look alike... you were all gay, and now there’s so many gay people you can sort of balkanize yourselves. Like, the only gay people I know are progressive liberal democrats, or they’re all artists, so there’s something that, at one point, it seemed like there was more about the Northwest having to come together. And now we’re able to balkanize more, and become more cosmopolitan, and less ourselves.
It reminds me of your essay about the Invisible Woman, and the idea in that piece that when you become visible, you die. Which I hope is not quite what happens here, but it’s just this, you know—you can’t in good conscience dismiss certain gains and benefits of growth, but also there’s sometimes this feeling that—
Something’s lost. That there’s something, like... you inherited something, you didn’t work for or earn it.
And it’s happening so fast. I mean, I grew up right here, my Dad’s house is on 12th & Aloha, right over there. And I’m obviously a young person or whatever, I haven’t really seen that much time pass in the scale of the city’s life—
How old are you?
Huge change over 30 years. Yeah.
And even having been away for just a few years, coming back and living in the city again now... it’s just crazy.
Crazy. Capitol Hill especially. I mean, it used to be like, “let’s go to Seattle, let’s go to Seattle,” and when you’d come here, and you met someone from here, of course they’d never leave. No one would ever leave, and now people are just like “this is insane, I’ve gotta leave.” When I came in the 80s, it was an easier place, but now it’s kind of like, it’s getting hard in different ways. You wonder, is that success? When does success become failure? When does fullness decay, when does it become decadence?
You can’t buy, like, pliers or underwear on Capitol Hill any more, and you’re like, I need to buy some socks, and you think “thank God Walgreen’s is here,” and you’re like, what?
My wife bought our house here 20-plus years ago, before we were together, and I can’t imagine living on the hill otherwise. I have friends who are like, a tenure-track professor, spouse is a lawyer, and if they were to buy, they’ve got to like, move out to Renton—and this is a professor and a lawyer! What about people who work in a library, or a grocery store, or as a barber? What if you have kids? It’s just insane. I don’t know how young artists survive here.
Originally published in Moss: Volume One.