Just out of pure dumb luck, I was born in a racial majority in a relatively free country. The vast majority of the privilege that I have enjoyed, and still enjoy, I did not earn. I’m very aware of it. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take advantage of it. (You’d be lying if you said you wouldn’t too, if you found yourself in this position.) Sorry. It’s an ugly, uncomfortable fact.
And then, too, out of pure dumb luck, I find myself living in one of the most financially vibrant places in the world. The cost of living in the Pacific Northwest is outrageous. It can be a struggle to keep your head above water here. But when you do… oh, when you do… it’s delicious. There, I said it.
I did nothing to deserve any of this. I know it. I admit it. I’m not proud of it. But there you have it. I haven’t actively stolen anything. I haven’t committed crimes or hurt anyone. I have worked hard all my life, yes, but things have been handed to me, and I’ve taken them. I’ve also had fewer hurdles to climb, which means I’ve had a lot more energy to carpe that diem.
The most uncomfortable thing about living in the Pacific Northwest is what I call the Great Unsaid. How did we come to be here, in this fruitful place, where the salmon run and the trees push ever skyward? How did no one else notice that it’s rainy, yes, but the summers and winters are mild, the food is abundant, and the land is beautiful? How did we manage to just move right on in and set up camp?
That’s the thing. People had noticed. For centuries, the indigenous people here had thrived, had cleared large swaths of land to live upon. They had hunted and fished and celebrated and established communities and waged war amongst themselves long before Europeans set foot on this land. I think it would have been a great deal harder for us to move right on in had our timing been a little different. We’d have sailed up to this place at its height.
But no. By the time George Vancouver cruised these shores in 1792, what he found was utter devastation. Whole villages wiped out. Bones stacked up in houses, bleached bodies scattered upon the beaches. Death. Misery. The few people left alive were poverty stricken, weak, refugees unable to defend their ancestral lands.
It seems that smallpox broke out during the American Revolutionary War, and it swept the country from east to west, and from Mexico to Canada, devastating entire communities as it ground on, finally arriving like a tsunami on this coast, only to be snuffed out by the Pacific Ocean.
This was the most significant event in North American history, and yet most of us know nothing about it. You can read more about it in this article in the National Post entitled “Everyone was dead: When Europeans first came to B.C., they stepped into the aftermath of a holocaust”. I’d venture to say that it’s more horrifying but less known about than the holocaust.
So there you have it. Luck again. Europeans cruised up to an area where as much as 95 percent of the population had been conveniently wiped out by a disease which, by the way, these same Europeans had visited upon their shores. They moved right in. They built upon the bones of those who had been here before.
We may not like to think about it, but everything here has been built upon bones. A very opportunistic phoenix rose from someone else’s ashes. And here we are.
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I am currently sporting a three inch gash on my right cheek. The worst part about it is that I have been so sick that I don’t have a clue where it came from. I just surfaced from my swirling pool of delirium at one point and there it was. And of course the minute I knew it was there it started to hurt.
I hope it doesn’t leave a scar. I guess it’s actually more like a scratch. A bright red, deep, angry scratch. Maybe it’s something my enthusiastic dog visited upon me, or else the result of a bad wrestling match with my CPAP mask. I have been known to sleep walk and wind up in strange places, and Nyquil does tend to keep its secrets. I only know it looks like I’ve been in a bar fight. As people stare at me, I’m tempted to say, “You should see the other guy.”
It’s embarrassing to go out in public looking like this, especially since I don’t have a funny story to go along with it. It’s a good thing that I’m feeling so weak and unmotivated that I’m naturally lying low anyway. But in retrospect I needn’t have worried, because I forgot that I am now living in the Pacific Northwest.
You see, in Florida, if I had gone out like this, strangers would be stopping me on the street. “Child, what happened to you?” If I had been walking with my husband they might even say, “Did HE do this to you?” All while giving him the hairy eyeball. In the South, people are all up in your business.
But here in the Pacific Northwest you could walk down a busy street with a sucking chest wound and no one would even bat an eyelash. Here, no one wants to intrude. Its as if everyone walks around wearing a cloak of invisibility. You could have a second head growing out of your chest and the most intrusive interaction you’d have with somebody would be their inquiry as to what floor you are going to when you get on the elevator and can’t reach the buttons because your second head is in the way.
This has its pros and its cons. Sometimes I genuinely don’t want to be bothered with people, and here people make that very easy. You do you, I’ll do me. But I do miss that sense of community, and that honesty. Because come on, if you see a gash on a woman’s face, you really do want to know what the hell happened. At least I do. I’d rather someone asked than that they make up a story. I’d rather think that someone gives a shit rather than feel like I’m all alone in the world. I like my privacy, but I’d also like to think that there’s help out there if I should ever need it. Yes, there’s a happy medium in there somewhere. I just always seem to live out in the lunatic fringe, where all the extremes of behavior come home to roost.
In the meantime, until this wound heals, I’m kind of liking the Pacific Northwest realm of things. Here, my gash doesn’t exist. No one but small children will even look at it directly. No one will ever inquire about its origins. Therefore no one will never know that in this instance, their guess is as good as mine.
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I saw the recent raise in my paycheck and I felt sick to my stomach. Not sick because I was disappointed at the amount of the raise. No. Sick with relief. For the first time in my life, I’m financially stable. The stress relief that accompanied that realization was leaving me a little nauseated.
You see, for most of my life, I lived in Florida, a “Right to Work” state. I can count the number of raises I have received in that state on one hand. And I had worked there for nearly 40 years. Benefits were paltry at best. I could be fired for any reason at all, or no reason whatsoever. I was unappreciated, unsupported, and I never felt safe. My pay never kept up with the cost of living. I often woke up in a cold sweat, wondering how I’d pay the bills, or what would happen if I became too sick to work. If they needed me to work a 16 hour double shift, I had no choice but to do so. I had no recourse when an injustice was visited upon me. When I was exposed to lead paint and the accompanying toxic fumes, my boss told me (I swear to God), “Just drink milk and you’ll be fine.” The future was very dark.
Now I’m working in the state of Washington, for the City of Seattle, and I’m protected by a union. I get raises. I have health insurance and disability and dental and vision and sick leave, and if the stuff hits the fan, the union will send a representative to sit in on any subsequent meetings. I cannot work more than 12 hours a day, and I am allowed to say no if I only want to work a regular 8 hour shift instead. Can you imagine? I can say no. Such a little word, but it means so much to me.
It’s the same exact bridgetending job that I had in Florida, but I make three times as much money. Do you have any idea how much that means to me and to my life? I eat better food. I don’t suffer from stress-related maladies. I don’t wake up in a cold sweat. I can relax and enjoy my loved ones. I have a reliable car. I don’t live in a ghetto. The future is bright.
Thanks to union-busting federal legislation, I’m no longer required to pay union dues. But I do, and I always will. My union has saved my bacon on multiple occasions.
If you honestly think that your employer will treat you decently without a union having your back, good luck with that. I’ve been on both sides of that situation, and I know for certain that unions, the institutions that gave us the 40 hour work week and did away with child labor, are the only ones who are truly on the side of the 99 percent. They need our support. They are a gift. That gift should never be taken for granted.
Thank you, PTE Local 17, and all the unions out there that still exist, for all that you do. You have given me quality of life. I’m told I’m good with words, but I find myself at a loss to adequately explain how much that means to me.
Union staff have stressful jobs, holding back the tide of inequity, but what they do really, truly matters and won’t be forgotten. Please join me in staying union strong.
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Every once in a while, I’ll drive past a pretty little park in downtown Seattle. I keep meaning to stop and check it out on foot, but that would require parking. And this is a city where parking is hard to find, and expensive when you do. So I’ve contented myself with merely admiring this place as I rush past. But now that I know more about it, I’m definitely going to have to change that.
It’s a park with four lovely old pillars, standing all alone, like soldiers. They prop up nothing but the sky. This park is a tiny respite from the urban sprawl while also presiding over some lovely views. In addition, apparently, it’s a dog park, and I’m all for those.
But recently I came across this post in Atlas Obscura. (It’s a fascinating website, by the way. Check it out. You’ll learn stuff.)
This particular post describes this park in more detail, in all its fascinating historical context. The pillars in the park used to grace the front of the Plymouth Congregational Church, whose congregation first started meeting in Seattle in 1869. The church was known for its stance on social justice issues.
At a time when Seattlites were expressing their hatred of Chinese immigrants, this church supported immigrants’ rights. They also supported women’s suffrage. Later, they hosted Martin Luther King Jr. during his only visit to Seattle.
Sadly, the church had to be demolished after the 1965 earthquake, but the congregation donated the 4 original pillars to the city, and they now stand in this lovely little park. The church is still going strong in a new location. That makes me happy.
Now, as I pass this park, I will think of it as part of Seattle’s liberal legacy. I’ll gaze on its elegant beauty, and smile even wider than I used to. When you think about it, history is everywhere you look. Sometimes you just have to do your homework.
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I had the opportunity to visit yet another small-town museum, this time in Burien, Washington. The Highline Heritage Museum highlights the Highline region, which comprises the cities of White Center, Burien, Normandy Park, SeaTac, and part of Des Moines, Washington.
I’m always delighted by what I learn in these earnest little museums, but this one was particularly impressive. First of all, the displays were extremely well crafted and kept my interest. They were fun, colorful, and interactive.
They had displays relating to the region’s archeology, indigenous history, war efforts, pioneers, aircraft industry, school histories, and the Highline Times newspaper. And that list barely scratches the surface. I learned so much there that it’s potentially going to generate 4 more blog posts.
Museums of this kind make a community more vibrant. They allow you to gain a deeper understanding of a region’s culture and history, and that provides you with a stronger sense of place as you walk the streets. I highly encourage you to visit your local museums and support them.
This museum, in particular, is even more remarkable when you consider that the vast majority of it is run by volunteers. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, stop by for a visit. Also purchase something from the gift shop and/or make a donation. Consider it an investment in the region.
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Five years ago today, I arrived in Seattle, knowing no one. I’d never been here before. I knew nothing about the place. I may as well have landed on the moon. The very first thing I did was sit in a public park with my dogs. I felt very overwhelmed. I remember thinking, “Now what?” But I was also excited about the possibilities. Hanging on to that feeling is what saw me through the more challenging times.
I had spent the bulk of my life in the conservative South, where I always felt like a liberal turd in a republican punchbowl, so to say that Seattle was a culture shock was putting it mildly. I didn’t know my way around. I hadn’t even heard of the Seattle Freeze yet, so I had no idea about all the extra hurdles I’d have to jump through to make friends. (I must confess that I struggle with that to this day. I find many people out here to be flakey, unreliable, standoffish, and confusing. It takes a lot of effort to find the gems amongst the unyielding rocks, but that tends to enhance their value.)
At one point, an obnoxious distant relative accused me of running away. I wrote a furious blog post about that. Starting fresh is not always a massive avoidance scenario. Sometimes you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. But on that first day, I had no idea what the gains, if any, would be.
Every time I pass that park where I first sat, I wish I could go back and hug that girl and tell her everything will turn out okay. My, my, how time does fly. I can now say with complete confidence that moving here was the best decision I ever made. For the first time in my life, I’m relatively financially stable. More often than not, I love my job. I purchased a house. I’ve had a lot of adventures, the greatest of which was finding love and getting married. I’m exactly where I should be.
Sometimes you have to take a leap and hope the net will appear. That’s what I did. Thank goodness it turned out well. I could have just as easily landed with a massive, irreparable splat. So three cheers for nets!
Incidentally, if you’d like to read about my epic journey across the continent, start here. And if you’d like to read other posts about my transition, do a search within my categories section for My Jacksonville to Seattle Do Over. (That category includes the epic journey, but contains many other posts as well.)