Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Seattle Freeze

This is a touchy subject for a lot of folks and I can understand why. After living in Seattle for three years though, I feel I'm qualified to write about it. Before I get into my perspective on the Seattle Freeze, the perceived phenomena of a polite but chilly social atmosphere in the Emerald City, let me explain my own personal background briefly.

I grew up in Southern California moving around a lot. I have no siblings and was raised almost entirely by my mother with a dash of great help from my grandmother. When I say I moved around a lot, I attended four elementary schools, three junior highs and two high schools. After that I was in the military. I also lived in Minneapolis for two years and then New Orleans for 10. After hurricane Katrina I lived in L.A. for four years before coming to Seattle.

So, I've lived in a few places (I believe I once added up that I have had 38 mailing addresses in my life, going back to infancy.) and I've had to make new friends over and over again. It's old hat to me. While moving was often hard, as an adult, I've learned to be a bit of a social chameleon because of that moving around. I'm proud to say that I still have friends that date back to junior high and that I keep in touch with friends from all over the world.

When I heard about the Seattle Freeze, I instantly thought of Minneapolis which has a lot of similarities to Seattle. It was settled by a lot of Northern European types, it's about the same age, has a thriving LGBT population, has very progressive politics, etc. So, since I made quite a few good friends there once I broke through the proverbial ice, I thought that Seattle might be similar.

Right away I noticed that Seattle folks are very 'friendly' and polite. They're good people, smart, educated, progressive, with big hearts. But I put those marks around friendly for a reason. Friendly is not the same as being welcoming.

Upon moving here, I began to quickly make friends with my co-workers at my new job. I also had a couple of legacy friends, transplants from New Orleans, who helped me make adjustments to my new city. But it didn't take long to learn that Seattlites, while polite to strangers, have no interest in knowing them.

I'm sure right now, most Seattlites that are reading this are fuming and pounding their keyboards. But let me illustrate with an example. Shortly after I  moved to New Orleans in 1996, I went to a show at a great venue called Jimmy's. I went alone and didn't know anyone. I saw a girl, sitting by herself on some steps smoking a cigarette. I sat down beside her, struck up a conversation (her name was Sharon) and within a few minutes she said, 'I think I know a couple of guys you should meet'. She introduced me to Harry, Mark and Ryan at that same show. They in turn invited me to join them at a club after the show in a different part of the town, which I did. It snowballed. Within a month, I knew dozens of new people, had more phone numbers than I could keep track of, and had something to do almost every night of the week.

I'd been in New Orleans for *maybe* two months at that point. Today, most of those folks are still my friends and I continued to make new friends all the way up until Katrina.

I can't imagine anything like that here in Seattle. Where in other places, I've walked into a room and seen a sea of faces turn toward me as if to say 'who's the new person?', here in Seattle, I walk into a place and see circles of people all facing inward. They don't know you've walked in and they don't notice when you leave.

I believe in giving a place a chance. My general standard is a year. It's hard to know a place before a year. Sometimes you just haven't found your niche, your groove. Well, I've been here three years now and I know *fewer* people than I did two years ago. Once I was laid off, I quickly realized that many of my work friends were just co-workers and they just drifted away. Leaving my apartment behind to move in with my girlfriend has exacerbated the situation even further. I'm cognizant of the fact that being unemployed limits some of what I can do. I really do get that. I also realize that West Seattle is a trek for some people.

Nevertheless, I've never felt as alone and isolated as I have since I moved up here to the PNW. I don't blame any one person. Everyone has busy lives, doing their Seattle thing. They have kids and jobs and hobbies and classes and sports and clubs. But I guess that's kind of my point. In the other places I've lived, especially New Orleans, I've always gotten the vibe of 'Hey we're all doing this great thing, would you like to join us?' while here in Seattle I've gotten 'Hey, I'd love to get together with you but I'm busy with this group doing this great thing'. Instead of 'Hey, let's go grab a drink together and get to know each other a little more,' you get 'Hey, I'm having a party and you're welcome to come'. Which again, is all polite and friendly. But where making friends, to me, has always been a back and forth 50/50 proposition (Hey, I like Battlestar Galactica and you like Buffy, let's watch an episode of both), in Seattle, the lay of the land seems to be 'I'm very busy so if you want to do something with me, either join me in a group setting where I don't have to make additional plans or prove to me why I should fit you into my busy schedule.'

Again, I want to say that there is a lot to love here in Seattle. I also truly think the people here are nice. But they're very insular as well. The Seattle Freeze is a very real thing (and from what I've heard from some others, extends through much of the Pacific Northwest) and for me personally, it's won. I've tried for three years and I just don't have the energy to keep trying any longer. Seattle Freeze, you win.

Monday, May 20, 2013

News For Humans

Fighting has killed at least 28 people, people said Monday.
People said that more than 70 people have also been wounded in the fighting.
An ally of a person, some people are heavily invested in an organization and have sent people to aid people. People's growing role in the conflict also points to the deeply sectarian nature of the war, in which people seek to overthrow a government.
The increasingly overt involvement of people in the conflict is almost certain to threaten stability in the area, which is sharply split along sectarian lines, and between supporters and opponents of someone.
An organization which relies on a wide network of people, cited "sources close to [a] group" for the death toll but declined to reveal their identity. It said at least 50 people were also killed in the battle for an area on Sunday.

This was a sample test for an idea that I've had in my head for awhile now. This is a portion of an actual news article released on 5/20/2013.  Based on other news reports and past knowledge, it's easy for a follower of the news to guess what changes have been made to this article.
But for most people, this altered piece of news should be confusing. It will leave the reader wondering what the hell is going on. What I've done here is strip out any references to regionalism, culturalism, nationalism, religion, anything that could bias a reader. What I've left in is a focus on human beings. Because, to me, in the end, the only really important stuff in this article is still there: 28 people died Monday, 70 were injured, 50 people killed Sunday. By other people.
Everything else is window dressing. Some would say that the other information helps us get perspective, but I say that it helps obfuscate and minimize those deaths. Where did this happen? Oh, over there, so it's not as important. Why did it happen? Oh, that's why. That makes sense.
I'm not saying all news should be reported like this all the time. What am I saying is, it's harder to assign any kind of bigotry toward 'people', without having other labels to hang on to.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Shooting That America Will Forget

Today, on Mother's Day, there was a shooting in my beloved city of New Orleans.

Here's the link: http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2013/05/mothers_day_second-line_shooti.html#incart_big-photo

To me, this is the same as the Boston marathon bombing. No difference. I don't care if the attackers' weapon of choice is a gun or a bomb and I don't care what stupid religious beliefs these idiots have or don't have. I don't care if you call it an assault or a shooting or a bombing. It's just mean, hateful people hurting innocents and that's what matters.

But because this is New Orleans and it involves guns instead of bombs and no one was wearing a turban or shouting 'Allahu akbar', Americans will just bury their heads in the sand and chock it up to a statistic. Fucking wake up America.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

It Was A Bad Call Ripley, It Was A Bad Call...

It's really hard to watch other people make mistakes. Especially if you don't feel like you have the right or the place to speak up and say something to them before they make it (or even after).

There's this narrow place in any relationship where on one side you feel like if you *don't* say something to them about their impending mistake, you are failing them as a friend. On the other side, you are intruding and overstepping your bounds as a friend if you *do* say something.

So, for my own sake, since I'm only human and I know I make mistakes. I fully endorse and empower anyone who might call me friend to throw out any advice at me. I'll never be offended, I promise. I might say 'you don't have all the information' or 'thanks, I'll weigh that appropriately'. But I won't ever get mad at your two cents.

Thanks. That's all.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Eight Belles

I have a strange relationship with horse racing and the Kentucky Derby specifically. In short, horse racing horrifies me. Let me explain.

In 2008, I'd never seen any horse races, never been to one and, in fact, outside of some petting zoos had no experience with horses. Never ridden one or sat on one, although I did sit on a pony when I was three for a photo. I'd never really paid attention to horse racing as a sport. Growing up in Southern California, I'd sometimes see commercials for Santa Anita, but it always seemed like another universe.

That changed in 2008 with my then girlfriend, soon to be wife, Sonja. Her family had a big tradition of getting together for the Kentucky Derby and making a party of watching at her parents house. There was food, booze, and about 20 friends and relatives packed in around the TV. It wasn't my thing, but I'm always game for a party so I tried to get in the spirit.

Before the race began, we all began to discuss the horses and their backgrounds. Immediately my attention was caught by an underdog, a filly named Eight Belles. Apparently, fillies were a very rare occurrence in Kentucky Derby history and I loved the fact that she was an underdog. We all began to pick our horses in a friendly betting pool and I was the only one that picked Eight Belles.

The race was amazing to watch and we were all stunned at Eight Belles incredible performance. She took the lead and was seemingly going to win it. But in the last quarter lap or so, she began to slow. Something was wrong. In the end, she slowed enough that she lost first place to another horse and came in second.

Then things went horribly wrong. Right there on the track, they shot Eight Belles and killed her. Everyone around me was cheering the spectacular race. The person who had picked the winning horse was high fiving everyone. The announcers were very excited for the winner. Then they briefly mentioned that Eight Belles had broken both of her legs and had been euthanized on the spot.

Even as I write this now, I'm tearing up at the thought. It wasn't just that she had to be killed. It was that so many people seemed to hardly notice. This beautiful animal who had been set to pull off an amazing coup was forgotten and discarded in a matter of seconds. In less than a minute this horse went from winning the Kentucky Derby in an upset to being dead on the track.

The horror and sadness I felt that day for the horse, the incredulity I felt at the people around me and on the television at their lack of concern or compassion for Eight Belles all combined to make me upset to the point of being nauseous. I had to step outside and get away from everyone in that house.

I have no interest in watching horse racing ever again. Whenever I hear about the Kentucky Derby, I can only think of Eight Belles, the first and only horse I ever cheered for.