Nine years ago today, I moved back to Seattle from Montreal. I haven’t been to Canada since (possible legal issue). I was filled with relief, comfort, and hope as I returned to a country where I was a citizen, spoke the language, was allowed to work, and wasn’t marginalized for being Anglophone; as well as a city I knew and liked and had a social group in. It was the second time I flew with Lucy (my cat), and she did fine from Trudeau to Dulles but woke up and got grumpy from there to Sea-Tac. I had a big one-bedroom apartment on Capitol Hill, then $875/month, and when the snotty Montreal airport people caused the litter box and other cat supplies not to reach me, I had the easy time I expected getting an empty box, cat food, and litter from the QFC across the street. The checker was a cute neighbor who became my coworker.
I’d dropped out of grad school primarily because I discovered I had sleep apnea. My plan was to work temporarily at a part-time at a job with health insurance to treat it, then get a professional urban planning job. I would use most of the profit/savings from my DC apartment to buy a home near the Capitol Hill Link station before it opened, and reap some profit from the opening of light rail. Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men aft gang aglay. The Great Recession made jobs very hard to get, and I was diagnosed with a raft of other health issues. Diabetes in 2008. Asperger’s Syndrome in 2010. ADD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder…finally PTSD. I did various random jobs, one of which cost me $4300 in unemployment over two dumb words. I paid my dues at two non-profits I really liked, hoping for real jobs with them, only to have one promise a job they gave someone else and the other hire me but bully me so badly it traumatized me out of seeking work in the US. From an upper middle class childhood, strong academic career, and working for my hero in the US Senate at 24; I ended up on Medicaid and food stamps.
Nine years living in one place at a time is by far the longest for me. With my time here in 1999, I’m at most a year away from living here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else total, including my hometown of Columbus, Ohio (which I’m long overdue to visit). After years of moving around and starting over, Seattle is my chosen home. I see its flaws and problems, but I still love it as much as ever. It’s progressive, secular, beautiful, clean, the people are pretty friendly and very creative and open-minded, and no city I’ve seen is as committed to aesthetic beauty and whimsical fun everywhere. No other city I’ve lived in (there are 7) would let me contemplate wearing a skirt or painting my nails, is as introverted or connected to its natural surroundings, has people who dress so much for comfort rather than show, or has a better sense that you should work to live, not live to work. Housing and transportation are the same major problems they were in 1999, we have intellectual dishonesty and a maddening passive-aggressiveness, and our police were among the earlier departments to show the epidemic of militarism, racism, and violence plaguing them in America.
But every city has problems, and one thing I love about Seattle is its openness to new ideas and solutions, its willingness to lead and do what no other place has done before, its lack of fealty to the older parts of the country, tradition, “the way it’s always been done”. Seattle gives you the sense that while it has problems, it also has the ability and willingness (usually) to solve them. The only other city I’ve liked living in as much, or would consider moving to in the US, is Washington, DC. But my one real, intractable issue with Seattle is that it’s in the wrong country. I remain serious about moving to Scandinavia, but until then I am proud to call Seattle home, for all the foreign and exotic reactions I get about it from friends and family back East who’ve never been here. Wherever I go on vacation, it’s only a few days before I start missing it, and I get a kind of childish impish glee as I return to the Space Needle, the Sound, Lakes Washington and Union, Mount Rainier, Pike Place Market, streets I can identify from the sky, even the City Light building in SODO that lights up at night.
For 9+ years, Seattle, cheers to you, warts and all.