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The Blog of Nathan St. Pierre

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Accepting Criticism Wednesday, June 11, 2014

I can think of no better way to begin this post than to point out that there is a simple truth to being a creative person: you are not your preferences, your ideals or your philosophy. You are what you create. You are, in essence, defined by the things you bring into this world. With that thought in mind, let's visit a great quote:

The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism. --Norman Vincent Peale

What you create is special to you. It has to be, in some way, otherwise why did you create it? Ultimately, it is something with which you'll always have this kind of weird relationship.

You are a human. You create things, including other humans. But here's the thing: other people see what you create. And as the popular quote goes: "opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one. And they usually stink."

###Creating what is right... to you

It is impossible to please everybody. Please yourself first.

I know, the above fortune cookie quote can be taken out of context, or with the "... in bed" fortune. But bear with me for ten seconds and get your head out of the gutter, internet.

The truth is that no matter how much you may want to create something that everyone loves, you will ultimately find very smart, thoughtful people who hate what you do.

As an open-minded, creative person, you will find this difficult to deal with. Their criticism is somehow valid, no matter how remarkably bluntly they may have phrased it. So how do you deal with it? In the age of the internet, how do you accept your faults and grow beyond them, and yet not yield to the pressures of people who have never met you?

Very simple.

Be yourself: everything else comes naturally.

The obligatory explanation of an over-simplified truism

If you're like me, this thought is nice and inspiring but far from helpful. How the hell are you supposed to know when someone has found a legitimate critique of what you have created (indicating a weakness you need to address) and when someone is just spouting hatred (indicating a weakness they need to address, specifically jealousy, or perhaps their immediate need for therapy)? You're not going to like the answer any more than the question, but here it is:

Be completely honest, with yourself and with everyone around you

Chances are, some part of you immediately felt defensive when someone told you that your grasp of anatomy was (at best) tenuous when you drew something completely impossible for a human to do in your latest art project. There's a really good chance that when someone critiqued your grammar, they were doing so objectively because they couldn't understand what the hell you just wrote. But no matter how true you may know this to be, your first instinct (as a good, normal human) is to assume they are wrong.

This is gonna be remarkably painful, but you're going to need to go ahead and let that go. Truth is, they probably are wrong on some level, maybe every one. But that doesn't make you immune to the truth. Step back, forget who said it, and ask yourself honestly: are you right? Is this good? Did you create something great? You'll know the truth in about ten seconds, that's easy. The hard part is accepting "maybe this totally does come across as self-reflective and mindless. Maybe even writing a blog is an exercise in mental masturbation." Wow. Things just got a little meta here. Moving on...

You know the truth. Accept it.

One of the most beautiful parts of being someone who creates things is this knowledge that there is great beauty in truth. Sometimes there is also great chaos and ugliness in truth: but therein lies the beauty. What you've created is flawed, beautiful, and horrible, just like you. The trick isn't finding it. I know you have someone in your life who is better than you at what you do. You've probably asked them for input on what you've created. If they really love you, they've broken your heart and told you the horrible truth about what you've created. Now the question is: what do you do?

Make some lemonade, dude!

Alright, you've had some time. You've drunk copious amounts of alcohol (or whatever your preferred coping mechanism, we can't all be Hemmingway). Ideally, get out in the world. Consume whatever it is you create: find some live concerts. Read a ton of books. Hit up some open mics and find comics and musicians who haven't made it, and see how they handle failure. Now you need to get back to work. You've had some time, it's time to be honest: what do you think? It's okay to think you suck.

Dude, sucking at something is the first step to being kind of okay at something.

You're gonna suck for awhile. The only difference between people like you and Stephen King is that he learned how to deal with rejection at an early age and worked a part-time job for years while submitting his stuff to publishing houses. If what you have to create is truly great, it'll keep getting better as long as you're honest with yourself.

Are you being honest with yourself?

If you truly are an artist, then you are your worst critic. You have ripped up more sheets of paper than you've ever shared with other people. You've written more blog posts and then deleted the file than you've actually managed to publish. This is because your taste improves constantly, and your skill takes a lot longer to catch up. You know how much you suck long before you think you're good. And as soon as you think you're good, you find someone who makes you realize you still suck.

If you're seeing a lot of "haters" tell you that your work is terrible, you might just be a human being who has to deal with other jealous human beings, and that's something you need to learn how to deal with. But there's also a chance that some of those douchebags have a point.

But should I venture into the hellmouth that is the comments section?

I promise you: the second you read a critique that makes you cry, it's because there's something true there. Maybe the truth is that the person who wrote it is a horrible person, and if that's the case move on. But if you're crying because they made you realize your worst fear or doubt, you just got a great piece of advice. Now you know you're not the only one, and you have a call to action. Work harder! Get better! Make more things! Because in the end, the only thing that separates you and burnt out husks of human detritus who comment on things is that all they can create is hatred of things. You make things.

And as long as you live, you can keep creating them.

So keep doing it! You'll get better, I promise. And if you need feedback, I'm always one of the jerks who will give it. Just remember I love you, and I'm not trying to destroy you. I just want to help you get better, even if the path between horrible and awesome contains great pain.

One Man's thoughts about YesAllWomen Tuesday, May 27, 2014

So, I figured I could avoid controversy this time and just be clever with a snarky comment on the current state of affairs, and given the limitations of twitter, I thought this might work well:

My thoughts on #YesAllWomen : Don't be a dick, regardless of whether you have one or not. -natedsaint

But as things often do, the conversation has evolved since then, in a lot of directions all at the same time. Even at the time it was reductive and sarcastic. I genuinely feel the need to talk a little more about this.

I'm not going to comment on the general state of the world here, or pretend that as a sensitive male who writes stories about strong women, I know exactly what the struggle is all about.

The truth is I've always been a man who lives as a man, and I won't pretend otherwise. I'll never truly understand what it's like to be a woman in this world. And that's okay, because that's not what this is about. This is about being mindful of the state of our society and addressing problems with a little bit of perspective. That being said...

Hatred is not the answer

If you are calling for the lynching of people like Elliot Rodger the second they post a diatribe online, you are part of the problem. If you see this whole thing as a man who hated all women for no reason other than he was a part of our patriarchal system, the only solution possible from your point of view is the same exact type of narrow-minded thinking that led to this. And as I already said, I'll never understand what it's truly like to be a woman, so I can't criticize someone who's been through things I haven't. Rather than railing against what I think is a really negative viewpoint, I'm just going to provide some positive advice to the men. Men like me.

Some advice from a strange old man to strange young men

If you're a sensitive guy, buckle up. This society is not going to go easy on a guy who cries when he gets picked on. I know from personal experience how much it hurts to deal with bullies and people who think you're not worth anything. I know how it feels for a girl you hardly know to greet you with "hey, you fat freak!" as she walks down the hall. For those of you who haven't, it really sucks. It makes you feel like the game is rigged against you, and the harder you try to win, the more you lose.

But as I've already said, hatred is not the answer. The world may seem cruel, and mean, and unfair, and you may think it owes you something for your trouble. You're wrong.

The world is made up of individuals just like you. They have the same insecurities you do, even if they silence them by shouting down everyone they see. There are people who will like you for who you are, and even more people who will never like you no matter how much you pretend to be what they want. There are people who pick on you today, but in a few years they'll be too busy with their own lives to even remember it. Don't make them feel too bad about it. Buy them a beer. They might know someone who can get you a job.

When it comes to girls, if you end up in the friend-zone, that's a positive sign you're a good friend. It sucks to watch people you care about complain about the guys who hurt them. Especially when they keep going back to them all the while pleading "WHY CAN'T FIND SOMEONE NICE!" But that's their life. If they keep picking the wrong guy, that's their choice. If you truly like her, then you'll love the fact she's a human being with her own ability to make her own decisions. Here's the best part: you get a choice too: move the hell on. I know it's hard to see it from here, but the heartbreak you feel is going to be such a tiny piece of an awesome life one day that you'll hate yourself for dwelling on it. I know you can't choose who you fall in love with, but you can choose how you treat them. Find someone who hangs on your every word. She's out there, you're just not looking hard enough.

Speaking of choice, let's talk about choosing to fail. If you only want to hit on women who people consider a "7" or higher on a decimal scale, then you're just talking yourself out of any chance to meet someone who might actually teach you something about yourself. If you only want to date girls who like the same sports team or video games or music as you, you're missing out on an opportunity to learn something about someone else, and that means you're basically giving up on life. Like I said before, this world is made up of individuals! That guy who picked on you may turn out one day to love the music you do and you bump into each other at a concert. The "alpha" you see getting all the girls may one day have something really bad happen to him and all his friends abandon him. And you can be the one guy who knows exactly how that feels, and give him a hand. Maybe there's a guy you know who gets all the credit for being artistic and creative and you're jealous of him. But then one day he asks you for help, because it turns out he always thought you were the creative one. If you close your mind to these possibilities, you're choosing to live a life of chronic failure.

Be the man you want to be. Hold true to your ideals. Spend your life in service of those goals. Be strong when it hurts, and above all, remember that pain. Not for the obvious reason that it makes you stronger (which it does) or that it will teach you about yourself and the world around you (which it will). Remember the pain because if you truly understand it, you'd never want to inflict it on anyone else. If you do, you might need some help yourself. There's no shame in asking for help when you need it. There are people who genuinely want to help, and they're easy to find. They've probably already offered: say yes when others have said no to you. If you want to truly be the best you can be, you have to accept that you'll always be a work in progress. True pride in yourself comes from the realization you've humbly accepted your shortcomings and overcome them. But you'll always find more, so don't get cocky kid.

And while we're at it: learn to laugh at yourself. The fact is, the things you think are super important may one day seem stupid to you. The things that you think are stupid may be really important one day. So don't spend all your time getting offended. If you're not laughing, you might be missing a great chance to be in on the joke. And even if you're the butt of the jokes, you rob others of their momentum. Especially if your jokes are funnier, so get some practice.

"Fixing it"

So here's the thing. Since this tragedy, everyone has popped out of the woodwork with solutions. The pickup artist community say they could have helped this kid's game, avoiding the whole problem. I don't think they read his manifesto. The typical gun control and medical health support arguments pop up. I'm not going to go down the list, I'll just address them all at the same time: Every one of these solutions is coming from a good place from people who want to make things better. I'm not going to judge that. The most misogynist thinking in the world is there's a simple solution to problems like this, and they just need your genius idea to fix them. The first lesson in every Men are From Mars type of book you find is that women don't want you to fix their problem, they just want you to listen. And maybe that's the problem on both sides of this thing. Are we really listening to each other, and not just talking past each other? Have you ever gotten in a good-natured argument over a cup of coffee and really changed your mind at the end? Are you being honest with yourself about your choices, and realizing when you treated people unfairly?

One of my friends said he was afraid it was too late for our generation, and maybe the next one will get it right. I think there's as much hope as despair in that statement. But as long as I have a say in it, I want to help. I want to make the world a better place. I can't fix it, not by myself. But I think if enough of us work together, if enough of us actually listen instead of shouting in rage, we can make this place a little better tomorrow.

It's gonna be hard work, we're gonna have to deal with people we don't like. We're going to have to go out of our way to see things from their perspective. But like everyone is saying right now: they don't owe you anything.

Celebrity and awkwardness Thursday, May 22, 2014

If I had to guess, I'd say one of the weirdest conditions in a social interaction is when one of the parties is at the classic "disadvantage." This happens when you are stalking someone until they inevitably catch you in the bushes, or (similarly) when you go to a comic convention and meet a celebrity signing autographs. I've had this experience a few times, usually after music events when the band is sticking around to sign autographs or sell swag or potentially answer your inane questions about the industry.

Celebrity and Awkwardness

I was very fortunate to have pretty great experiences with this. I had the very awesome opportunity to meet Bela Fleck and Victor Wooten (if you don't know who they are, please Google Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Right now. I'm not even kidding. I'll wait. AWESOME, RIGHT? If you disagree, I hate you. But please keep reading). Walking up, I suddenly realized there was nothing I could say they hadn't heard before from an adoring fan. No possible way, unless I said something really embarrassing or personal. Even then, there was a good chance they'd heard that too (if you've ever hung out after a show, you'll meet at least one person who over-shares... it's awkward). I finally got to the front of the line. I kind of blacked out, but I think I said something like "I'm a huge fan and I love you and you're awesome and ohmygod you hear that all the time." Without even looking up from signing something I'd handed him, Bela just smiled and said "Yup, but I hadn't heard it from you yet, so thanks!" Then, he shook my hand and said "glad you enjoyed the show, hope to see you again!" So you can understand: I didn't know what to expect from a "normal" celebrity interaction. Thus, I was a little confused at my second brush with celebrity when Brent Spiner totally lost his shit at Dallas Comic Con.

Context

Let me take a step back and say I go to comic conventions all over the country for my second (and third?) job as a writer and half-owner of Odd19 Studios. The first time I ever went to Canada was to attend Fan Expo Vancouver. At every one of these, my boyhood heroes are available to sign autographs and pose for pictures for reasonable wads of cash, and I've always avoided the opportunity. Maybe it was just the fact I knew there was no way to NOT feel like a stalker, and waiting in line would cost me precious time I could be at the booth selling people my funny books and my wife's awesome art. But, as luck would have it, my parents are huge fans of Christopher Lloyd, who just happened to be at this con in Dallas where they live. Out of respect (and some guilt for them putting me up for the weekend and flying me down), I decide to go get in line.

Mistake number one.

Jiggawhat?

As soon as I get in line, Mr. Lloyd signs about three autographs and then gets up to take a break. The line helper shouts out to us all "He'll be back in about 30 minutes if you want to wait!" My wife had courageously volunteered to watch the booth for me, so I figure I'll make it worth our mutual while and wait it out. 45 minutes of listening to fans grouse about the celebrities taking too long to be pee or eat or whatever they do on those breaks (how dare they?!), I decide it's time to bail. On my way back to the booth, I notice Brent Spiner (beloved actor of film and stage most commonly known as Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation) signing autographs. My parents and I had grown up watching that show together across two different generations, and it was a great bonding experience for my family. Even my grandmother loved to watch it with us. I didn't get Christopher Lloyd, but I could at least walk home with a signed portrait of Data! Besides, there are only five people in his line.

Mistake number two.

To awkwardly go where others have gone before

As I'm walking up, I hear him yell across to Lavar Burton (also signing autographs) if he had any energy left, and admitted he was about out of it himself. This is usually a sign that human interaction is going to be awesome. I mean awesome in the most absolute sense: something that inspires awe. The guy behind me begins geeking out harder than anyone I've ever met, recounting all the Star Trek episodes he can that had great Data moments. He's in his late teens and brimming with all the enthusiasm that makes these conventions tick. We kill some time talking about our favorite episodes, and I realize how little I know about Star Trek having not seen an episode since I was about his age. Against all odds, I actually get to the front of the line this time, and from there I can overhear his interactions with the guy ahead of me. He talks with Paul, a nice chap from Nottingham who he jokingly calls "Pole" due to his accent. They discuss England, and how Patrick Stewart had shown Mr. Spiner around his place (which was apparently near there). He is charming and clever, and they joke back and forth. The usual wall of celebrity is vanishing, and I feel pretty good that I'm not about to say something stupid. I pay my $45 for a portrait and the opportunity to get it signed. As I step forward to hand it to him, someone walks up behind Mr. Spiner and hands him an envelope. They speak for about five minutes, and he turns back to the table. In the process, he turns past the jacket sitting on the chair next to him and marks it with his paint pen he's holding in his hand for signatures.

We all freeze, not knowing what's going to happen next. He looks down and realizes what he just did. Looking back now, the air changes, but I don't realize it yet. He just seems genuinely disappointed, not really angry. "I can't believe I just did that," he says. He begins trying to rub the paint out with his finger, using a little spit by licking it first (like we all do when we see a scratch on the car or something). The facilitator working at the con next to him leans in, asking what was wrong. "I just marked an Armani coat. I can't believe that." Everyone in line vocally agrees how much it sucks, and we all feel bad for the guy. It's the last day of a three day con, we're sure he's been run ragged by now. That's when things get weird, and I notice it this time. He keeps rubbing on the paint mark, and asks the facilitator what gets out paint pen. She shrugs and says "I've had good luck with hairspray." He then stares at her for about ten seconds and says "Do you have any hairspray?" She shakes her head. He then asks the entire line of people waiting for a signature "Do any of you have any hairspray?" We all shake our heads. Lick. Rub rub rub. "That guy just had to pick right then to give me that envelope!" Rub, rub rubrubrub. At this point, we realize this is not going to get better. "This is the only coat I brought, I have to wear it all week!" Silence from everyone else. I don't want to pressure him, but I've been waiting for awhile to get something I didn't want in the first place. I awkwardly shuffle my weight from foot to foot, suddenly very aware of how much they hurt. Lick. Rubrubrubrubrub. Finally, he gets up and says "I can't do this any more," and he grabs his jacket and takes off away from the table. The facilitator gets up to follow and he gestures for her to stay. "I'll be right back," he says to no one with a plastic smile. He vanishes into the huge crowd.

The kid behind me maintains his good mood, but I can tell he's pretty bummed out. He really wanted to meet the entire cast at the con that day, and now he just lost his shot. After about ten minutes of standing around, I awkwardly ask for my money back, giving the kid my spot. This late in the day, he's probably not coming back. The facilitator apologizes on his behalf, and just keeps shaking her head. "I'm supposed to stay with whoever I'm helping... I hate it when they do that." I just shrug and head back to the booth. I'm kind of dumbstruck. I was maybe two feet from this guy for something like twenty minutes. I specifically paid for the opportunity to speak with him for a few seconds, and he never even acknowledged my existence. I suddenly realize how weird this whole thing is in principle.

What does it all MEAN?

Look, the guy is human. I can't say I would have handled it the same way. If I ripped my pants I'd make a huge joke about it and take pictures with people flashing my ripped pants. But that's how I deal with my own social anxiety, I'm like Chandler from Friends. I overcompensate with humor. I then follow it up with going home and calling myself an idiot for a few hours. Or days.

The truth is that this really normal human dude had just reached his breaking point and he bailed. He didn't know I'd been waiting for over an hour to just get a gift for my folks at that point. Even if he did, why should he care? I knew what I was getting into: this is why I avoid this whole thing in the first place. If I try really hard to see these guys as human and normal, I feel creepy. They're not my friends, they're just people I know from TV, so I can't really ask the guy to go out for a beer like I would any other person I just met the first time who I thought was cool. Conversely, I can't elevate them to the status of some kind of weird unattainable perfection, or I'll just make things even weirder and be disappointed when he acts like a human.

I dunno if Brent Spiner has some form of OCD or he was just tired, but now I feel sorry for him, and that's even weirder. I'm sure if I told him that he'd think it was weird some stranger pitied him over a dumb event like that. He might even be offended by it.

In the end

I just found a booth selling pre-autographed photos, and found a Christopher Lloyd. My dad is also a huge Pink Floyd fan and I found some official "lithographs" from The Wall, which are pretty collectible so I figured what the heck. It all worked out. But I never saw either Christopher Lloyd or Brent Spiner again for the rest of the con, and I hoped they were both okay, but I kept trying not to think about it. It kinda sucked for me, in the stressful first world problem kind of way. But in a more realistic way, I realized it kind of impressed upon me how bizarre the actor/performer/athlete celebrity phenomenon is. I've met a lot of writers and artists, and it's always a little less surreal. You may know them for their work, but since you likely don't see them during the entire process of creating the work, you can relate to them on a level as a fellow creator of things. Even though they're obviously way better at it than you, they see themselves in you as much as you see yourself in them. This may be the case with someone who I grew up watching on TV, but somewhere, somehow, this huge inexplicable wall is formed. The only people who violate it are types who get tased by guards. One of my favorite celebrities (another Star Trek Actor) Wil Wheaton is going to be at Rose City con, one of the many cons I have planned this year. I've wanted to meet him for years since I started following his blog and seeing all the stuff he does for the Geek community at large... but after this I'm not sure I do any more. Best case scenario, I end up with a story about a nice guy who was gracious enough to speak to me after paying him for the privilege. Worst case, I end up with another story to put on my blog.

...

I think I just talked myself into getting tased by Wil Wheaton's guards.

Pursuing Happiness Saturday, April 12, 2014

I want to start by saying I know how self-centered blogs are in general, and I honestly cringe sometimes when I read the stupid navel-gazing crap I've written. But, this is something that I think has been a big part of my life for the past year, and I think it's something that other people can use as a lesson in their own lives.

It's amazing how hard it is for me to live in the moment. I don't know if it's an aspect of my personality, or if there's something about the way I've lead my life, but I find myself constantly worried about the past or the future. Actually enjoying things the way they are eludes me. Social anxiety is an amazing presence that makes you relive your previous embarrassments, and have a great deal of fear about the things you're going to do to embarrass yourself tomorrow.

But every now and again, a perfect moment of happiness strikes me. As someone who has always been more comfortable approaching the world from the stance of audio, it's no surprise it finally hit me in the form of sound.

The sound of the moment

It was a really comfortable afternoon in Seattle weather standards. The sun was out, the wind was cool, and the air felt clean. But as I walked down to the local barbecue place to pick up dinner (surprisingly good for Seattle, by the way, check out Cask & Trotter if you're ever in South Lake Union), the wind kept blowing my shirt around. I kept feeling like my fat gut was hanging out of the bottom of it, and I kept pulling my shirt down.

I squinted into the sun as I walked, because my sunglasses were lost during our move, and I kept worrying about where to cross the street most efficiently on my way down to the restaurant. I went into the restaurant and sighed, not looking forward to repeating the same everyday stressful moments on my way back. But as I was waiting there, the sound of the Mariner's game slowly faded into my awareness. I suddenly noticed the relaxed atmosphere of the room, a few families out for an evening meal. A guy on a macbook working on the menu for the site, and the waitress giving him crap. Laughter. Clinking glasses. I didn't realize it, but something was happening.

I thanked the waitress, who was very friendly and helpful, and headed out. The sun was behind me, and the wind had shifted. There was a slight breeze over the lake, and then it struck me all at once. The trolley emitted a gentle bell as it crossed the street. The sound of gulls and spring birds echoes above me. A vespa scooter rounded a corner in front of me, and a seaplane came around the lake for a landing. This was it.

The sound brings you home

It wasn't about a convenient set of coincidences that led to me being in a good mood. It wasn't about a few lucky incidents. It was about all of these things distracting me from all of my stupid internal voices shutting up for just long enough that I could realize where I was. I am home. After years of feeling like I didn't fit in, like everything was awkward and weird, I'm somewhere I like. It's not that I'm great friends with everyone I meet or that everyone agrees with my philosophy or ideas. As a matter of fact I meet way more people that I disagree with and are very vocal about it here. But I don't care, because I'm home.

I can't explain it at all, but all those things, the sounds, the light, the air, they combine to make something I haven't felt in a long time. To steal a quote from the film Garden State, I felt homesick for a place that never existed. In this case, it turns out I just hadn't found it yet.

So what does this have to do with me?

So how does this story in any way give you an idea of how to make your life better? It really doesn't, but I can tell you one thing: chasing the moment has only made it more elusive. Attempting to chase down the truth in some cases just exposes more lies. When I was in the grip of my very own worst behavior disorders, I randomly stumbled upon a revelation in the form of audio cues. I could have kept ignoring them, or staying in my own head, but I let myself be pulled into the moment. I let myself realize that I'm fighting myself, trying to find things to be self-conscious about. I'm fat, so what? I'm losing weight, and even if I weren't who cares? I'm healthy, and my wife loves me. I have to squint in the sun? Darn, god forbid I have to deal with the thing that keeps our planet from freezing over.

It's amazing how small your problems are when you let your mind be quiet. Try it if you get a chance, you might just like it.

Seattle as Seen by a Hayseed Part One -- Fremont Saturday, January 18, 2014

So, I've been living here for about three months, but to be honest I've been remarkably busy with taking care of selling our old house, getting our drivers' licenses and all sorts of logistical issues squared away. Not to mention a lot of overtime at work while I get trained and complete my first project. I haven't had much time to explore my new home. So, I made a resolution this year to at least get out and see some of it. These posts will catalog my adventures in Seattle.

Quick Explanation

The first thing I'll bring up is the title of this post: I didn't know a better term for someone who has lived in rural areas for a majority of their life. I'm not a redneck -- I don't really engage in a lot of Nascar, Tractor Pulls, or jumping the General Lee off a closed bridge. I'm also not a rancher kid: I don't even own a pair of cowboy boots or a cowboy hat. Full disclosure: I did spend at least fifteen years of my life riding and taking care of horses, but I was usually wearing jeans and a T-shirt. I spent one weekend a month from the age of 12 to 16 camping in a relatively "hardcore" fashion: only eating what you cooked on a campfire and sleeping in a two-person tent thanks to Boy Scouts. In most cases it was in heavily forested regions in Oklahoma or Midwest/West Texas, so it was pretty flat, usually fairly dry, and all kinds of crazy weather (below freezing or several days of consecutive hundred-degree weather).

So all things considered, living in a very dense urban environment is a huge change for me. The biggest change I had previously experienced was living in a town where I graduated 8th in my class of 42 (Prosper, TX) to one of the biggest colleges in one of the biggest states in the country (University of North Texas). But this move was significantly bigger of a deal: even in those times "going into town" was a concept, as even when I lived in an urban area it took a car ride of no less than 10 minutes through areas with little to no public transit to get to most stores. I just don't have a word for whatever that makes me, so hayseed will work for now.

Obervations about Seattle

This is the first in a multi-part series of observations about various places in the city, so in general it's going to paint pictures of the city one place at a time. But as I'm starting out, it occurs to me that I really need to establish some thoughts to give some more context on who I am in order to make sense of my observations.

There's a lot to say about Seattle in general from a variety of perspectives. I've heard it referred to as a "Big, Clean San Francisco," a "Small, Friendly New York" and "The Hippie Jewel of a Conservative State." The last one was always interesting to me, especially coming from Texas, which has Austin, Denton, and many other places I'd lived/visited that were contrary to the general cultural/ideological makeup of their surroundings. I'll be honest: it's actually been a little bit of all of those things.

In general, there's a lot of little things that are surprising to ME, but you have to understand it's coming from a very rural (suburban at the most) perspective. But being "different" from the region from whence it comes (the Pacific Northwest) is a pretty poor examination. I think it's safe to say it's got its own identity, and I'd like to explain some of that.

I heard people really liked to recycle, that the overall feel of the city was very "green." This is the understatement of the century. Words like "carbon footprint" are common knowledge to children, and I regularly see people in very expensive clothes picking up aluminum cans out of the top of the trash can and throwing them in the recycling. Almost every store, restaurant, apartment building, and public space have divided refuse bins. I did see this in Denver, but not nearly to this degree: I see them EVERYWHERE, and almost every single place has compost, recycling, and landfill. Sometimes the types of recycling are separated (at the apartment, glass has its own can, but everything else is the general recycling bin). Also, the fact that the trash specifically says "landfill" is a pretty good example of the general mental state here: they want you to be sure you know whatever you put in there is going to end up in a huge freaking pile.

The bus system is mostly a dual-power type, or what some people would call a "trolleybus" or "cable bus." Basically, it's electrically powered bus systems that connect to the power cables above the street. They also function on various forms of alternate fuels when they're not connected to the main grid: biodiesel, e85, etc. I know a lot of people might argue about the efficacy of that, if you're hooked up to the grid you're burning whatever the grid burns. In Texas, that means mostly coal and some nuclear (although increasingly wind and solar imported from West Texas). Up here, however, that mostly means hydroelectricity. Which also means that the power provided to our homes is mostly from that, so living in Seattle proper, our energy is actually remarkably inexpensive.

Another interesting aspect of living up here from an energy perspective is that the weather is much more convenient than anywhere I've ever lived. I've never had to turn on the AC, which is great, because there is none in my building. I can count on one hand the number of times that I've had to turn on the heater. Don't get me wrong, it's pretty often too hot or too cold in the apartment, but we have a great way to solve it: we open or close the window. Living in Texas, AKA the mosquito capital of the universe, that's a very refreshing experience for me.

Fremont

I've heard about Fremont a lot of times before even visiting up here. The Fremont bridge troll, that Fremont was the "center of the universe," and more. Once we came up here to interview and find places to live, we went on a tour. It was then that we learned about the term "Fremonsters" for residents of the area, and that there is an annual bike parade on the Summer Solstice in which all the riders ride naked. All of these things are facts. But opinion is more interesting so lemme get into that.

I freaking love Fremont. A colleague of mine from UNT pointed out it reminded him a lot of Denton. I've actually heard some other friends tell me that, which I think is interesting. It's "weird" in the way that Austin is, as a frame of reference on my part.

Awesome sun refraction

There is public art everywhere. It's pretty high concept stuff in most cases. There's a huge statue of Lenin, which I didn't bother to take a picture of because there are infinite pictures of them on the internet already. But there there are spheres and rockets and all sorts of weird public shapes all over the place.

Rocket ship

Not to mention all the cool stuff people actually do themselves and place in random places... possibly illegally.

Picture of the wizard

Speaking of illegal, this sign is obscured completely, I can only assume this is not normally allowable by law.

Crazyass Stickers

Although some are quirky little advertisements for things that people are selling (like carpets).

Carpet tiger

A cool cultural aspect is that there are a lot of co-working places and sort of shared spaces to get things done. You see this a lot in bigger cities but the big thing I'm seeing here is that they are increasingly affordable. The cost of rent or usage fees are a fraction of the ones in NYC, even scaled for cost of living. Might be because space is not at the premium it is there (yet).

dev/local sign

Going back to art, there are some cool art studios that crop up all over the place.

Paint Studio

There are a lot of little shops all over the place that I honestly haven't seen anywhere else... like a cobbler.

Cobbler Sign

The fact he chose "cobbler" is telling. Although cordwainer would have been cool to see too, though that usually indicates someone specializes in soft leather shoes, and this guy had a ton of things advertising his ability to repair running shoes.

And my personal favorite was Dusty's String shop, home of this very awesome harp.

Inlaid Harp

They have all manner of string instruments in there. I wanted to take pictures, but par for the course of the "weird" city, a fellow with very apparent psychological issues politely asked me not to take pictures anywhere near him as he spoke to himself in a variety of tones.

When it comes to individual businesses, you'll see what you might expect, there are a ton of little indie booksellers.

Ophelia's Bookstore

But another interesting aspect of the culture is that there are actually a good deal of public services, like libraries.

Freemont Library

These are definitely contrasted by a variety of businesses that you'll see which sell other forms of entertainment. I actually got pictures of about ten different bar signs but these were my favorites:

The Barrel Thief

The Dubliner

Norm's

So anyway, there's a lot of depth to go into regarding the feel and look of the place, but to be honest I don't know how to go into it, and each picture says way more than I could have explained anyway. I'll give a little more depth of observation about Seattle in general and Fremont's particular relevance to that in the next post.

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