Maybe you were there, this past February (before the world ended and began again). We were at MOHAI, in a room which won't be that packed full for a long time again. I was giving a talk with a surprise perspective on my bus life– how younger generations choose (not) to communicate, and how that affects them.
So why did I suddenly interject the proceedings with the eulogy of the Alaskan Way Viaduct? A friend would tell me afterward, "I liked everything. I even liked the graphs. I loved the graphs. But I don't see how the Viaduct thing fit in at all!"
I was reminded of a reading I once did at the Phinney Neighborhood Center, for their annual Bookfest event. I went with a plan: this was the story I was going to read. The Death story. The thematic climax of my book, the heaviest story and for me and the most resonant. But I had misread the room. This was a holiday bookselling festival. You were supposed to have a good time, joking with Garth Stein and trying out the book-cover cookies. Watch me biff the situation here.
Can I help it if Loss moves me more than laughter? If my way of finding the light involves staring death down, wrestling with the heaviest of thoughts to get through them, rather than looking the other way?
I felt foolish afterwards at Phinney; I should've chosen a funny story. I've certainly written plenty, and love surfing the wave of joy with a crowd. But that's not what drives me.
As a generation– and I'm referring to all of us alive today– we are unique in being forced to contend with a level of change most epochs don't have to experience. The lion's share of human history doesn't involve moments where you can't recognize the world you lived in ten years ago, let alone thirty, let alone that of your parents. For ninety percent of human history, you couldn't tell the difference between your time and a century earlier or later. The human organism is accustomed to being outlasted by objects, ideas, and surroundings. The multitude of rug-pulling change underway these decades is not natural to our souls, and the older spirits among us don't need further explanation to agree.
The elimination of the Viaduct represents for me a symbol of all that, and more: it was the last mega-sized vestige of the city we called Seattle. That was the word we used for a century and change, and though we may live at the same addresses now, today's New Money feels nearly as dismissive and different from its predecessors as Seattle was from the natives it so unfairly wrested land from. Or, as a passenger recently told me: "I done seen Seattle. And this shooooowww' ain't it!"
The book I mentioned in my MOHAI lecture, a collection of paintings by my fellow friend and artist Laura Hamje, has finally come to fruition. I'm featured within it as part of a collection of writings about the Viaduct and what its absence means. But even if I wasn't in its pages I'd still be stumping for her book, because it's really about the paintings; don't go to her September 5th reception event because of me, but for the remarkable quality of her work. Do I need to mention every single painting she did for her 2019 show, 53 Views of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, upon which this book is based, sold? Every last one? Or that, more importantly, they contain a beauty of perspective we can all learn from: a melancholic acceptance and peace with the forward flow of existence, as spoken by her elegiac compositions and somehow strangely appropriate energy, richness, color and verve of her brushwork... with art comes the calmness of new insight.
Death is the motivating engine not of death, but of Life. It allows creation. It is all growth, it is all forward, upward, nearer to understanding. In the Viaduct is a fuller comprehension of who we are, who we'll always and ever be: Works in progress.
You've been wanting to get out of the house. Perhaps now's the time.
Book signing event for Laura's book on September 5, 2020 from 1pm - 4pm outside Arundel Books: 212 1st Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104. Prints of the paintings will also be available.
Linda Hodges Gallery will be showing the new paintings from the book in their upstairs space, Sept 3 - 26, 2020, just one block south of Arundel Books: 316 1st Ave S Seattle WA 98104 (Gallery Hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 10:30 am to 5:00 pm).
More on the book itself here. Further details on the event here.
Watch my February MOHAI lecture here.