Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pictures of the New Place

[prior to housewarming party]

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sonic Boom!

Around 2 pm this afternoon while I was at work, I heard an incredibly loud sound. It sounded like a gunshot, but deafening, an explosion. I could hear the walls and the roll-up doors in the building shudder with the reverberation; I could feel it, my mind went blank for a second as the shock wave hit me. There were two such emanations, close together, and then nothing else.

I work in the industrial part of town. The kind of place where industry still happens in this country, and things get fabricated. There were a couple possibilities as to the cause of the sound that came to mind immediately. The first thing I thought was that the guys next door (we share a wall in a big tilt-up concrete warehouse) had run into some pallet racking with the forklift and seriously fucked something up. I felt like I should investigate to see if anyone needed my CPR expertise. I am a certified instructor, after all.

The company next door is TNEMEC. I don't know what it stands for but they are a warehouse that sells paint by the 5 and 10 gallon cans. We punctured the wall once with our forklift and broke open a $200 can of paint. In the past, they've driven their forklift onto the bed of a flatbed truck where one wheel broke through the wood planks (forklifts are really heavy, if that's news to you) and we had to drive ours over and lift their forklift with our forklift, which seems something like the paradox in philosophy supposedly disproving the existence of God: If God is all powerful, he can make a rock so big he can't lift it. But if he's all powerful... Stupid, huh? That's why I didn't get a major in philosophy like I had intended to. They also drove the forklift off the loading dock once, embedding the forks pretty deep into the asphalt and requiring the rental of an even bigger forklift to lift it out.

The other possible source for the sound was the other guys across the fence from us. (Everyone in industrial districts are guys, literally and figuratively. Don't ask me why. Companies are also guys.) I have no idea what they do, but I gather it involves fabricating machinery, because every Friday they perform tests for what seems like an hour on something that sounds like a Giant striking his hammer against an enormous anvil. Except it's rhythmic, maybe a blow every minute, and I imagine an huge drill that looks something like an oil derrick lifting up up up and then dropping its weight down, to repeat the cycle over and over until it breaks through the rock it's been punishing.


On the radio on the way home, I find out the source of the sound is neither of these, but rather 2 F-15 fighter planes that have been dispatched from Portland at a moment's notice to fly at supersonic speed to Seattle to intercept a private sea plane that has violated the 10 mile no fly zone imposed because Obama was in town for a fund-raising event.

Apparently, 911 call centers crashed in several surrounding counties as the planes made their way up to Seattle in probably less time than it's taken you to read this post. The verb for this action in which a fighter plane is dispatched without notice for the purpose of intercepting an enemy plane is "to scramble". They scrambled, we were scrambled in the process.

What is that? Why did hundreds of people call 911 after hearing a terrifying sound to report - what? What did they say? I think my neighbor's blown up the house? Gangsters are shooting out my windows? Were they all old people with nothing better to do? The reaction seems indicative of our need to understand and have a sense of control over any unknown quantity we encounter. Is it hard to imagine hearing something like that and shrugging it off, going back to work? Is that even desirable, or should one have some sense of social responsibility kick in and cause them to pursue the issue until we know it's being taken care of? My response was to wait and see if I heard anything else, then to forget about it and carry on, for better or for worse. But I do find it hilarious and fascinating to find out it was in fact a sonic boom caused by a machine we've made exceeding the speed of sound to response to something totally banal and nonthreatening like a guy in a sea plane. A sea plane is about as goofy a way of committing an act of domestic terrorism as I can imagine.


Last weekend was Sea Fair, which would seem to be a bland mainstream event featuring power boat races and pirates that everyone who grows up here goes to at some point when they're kids and then just kind of shrugs when I ask them about it years later as an adult. As part of Sea Fair, a host of Blue Angels (Is the plural for planes "host", like with actual angels?) flies overhead, also making a lot of noise. But the worst part of it is that they practice for about a week beforehand, making sure they still known how to fly their planes, I guess, but probably just basically advertising for military recruitment and Sea Fair and enjoying the view.

I happened to be driving over the West Seattle bridge on Friday when I saw 4 Blue Angels sweep up in formation from behind Beacon Hill, hold the formation through a gentle arc and curl away back behind the hill and out of my sight. It was breath-taking, and beautiful, and immediately made me think that this is what people in Iraq and Afghanistan see, but for them, the planes carry a very different connotation. I imagined them as giant predators swooping over the topography, hunting out their prey as an eagle soars searching for mice and then suddenly dives. There is a powerlessness is seeing creatures like this overhead, and knowing there's nothing you can do to escape or even elude them, so vastly much more maneuverable and potent are they.


Obama, the Kitsap Sun reports, had an "outstanding" turkey sandwich while he was here. The owner of the sea plane was released by the Secret Service after 90 minutes of questioning and searching the plane. I don't know what the moral of the story is, but, regardless, God Bless the USA.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Five Ends and a Beginning

The reason I've been posting bad old poems dredged up from my college days is that I've been moving. Moving and growing up and changing and acquiring and evaluating and reevaluating and reflecting and planning and dreaming and then also just trying to feed myself at the end of the day.

This past year has been a long and intentional process of growing up for me. For the first time in my life, I have a clear idea of what I want to do and be in the world. I want to create spaces. I want to use my mind, my body and my creative energy to design and build buildings. I've always been attuned to physical spaces and the effect they have on people and on social situations. It took me a long time to see this. I grew up in the bland, homogeneous suburbs north of Detroit. I always felt something was wrong there, something lacking in the public space and the way people view and interact with each other, but it took me several years living in an intentional community setting at Oberlin, and writing, to understand that. Maybe you can't see what something is until you get outside it, and that getting outside can be a hard place to find. It's good to know there are alternatives, just to be able to name what something is.

I left Oberlin with a pretty strong set of values, sort of the stock package. A little Buddhism, some Ultimate Frisbee, a lot of local food, desire to work on a farm, resourcefulness and ability to live very cheap (dumpster dive), ultra-liberal, radical, gender-queer, socially progressive, annoyingly PC, et cetera et cetera, completely deconstructed, simultaneously thoughtful and overly simplistic politics, and the sense that living in intentional community with other human beings is the only healthy way to exist in the world. Where many of my friends adopted a more nomadic lifestyle and actually tried to make a go of working on farms, or of running a traveling circus, flying a hot air balloon around the country, being a ex-patriot starving artist and so many other exciting, flashy paths, I moved to Seattle with an Americorps position at the Red Cross and have been here ever since. Call it the Protestant Work Ethic, call it a sense of social responsibility or call it that insidious sense of middle class stability and passionless comfort I detested so vehemently in high school. As with everything, the good with the bad, until the lines blur and become meaningless and you just decide what works for you.

But I came out of Oberlin perhaps most strongly fueled by a desire to continue living in community. I searched ic.org to find my first house in Seattle. None of the more serious communities would accept someone they couldn't interview in person, so I found a place on Craigslist that described itself as a "co-op lite", the Beacon Hilton. The Hilton (located on Beacon Hill, hence the name) was roughly 12-14 utterly poor 20-somethings crammed into every nook and cranny and closet of an old, originally single-family home with an absentee landlord, a creepy property manager and a very vague sense of why any of us were there together except that it wasn't because we couldn't find any cheaper rent in the city, but rather something to do with this word community. And I always felt that that was a choice that distinguished something - a sort of magical phrase that gave intention to what could have been viewed as necessity and desperation. It was fun while it lasted, but for obvious reasons the house had about a 1 year life span for most people and 2 for the especially unmotivated.

From the Hilton, my girlfriend Anita and I, who had moved out to the city to take a year off school and be with me, moved on up the community food chain to Bob the House, a community actually listed on the ic.org directory and with a 30-some year history that no one really seemed to know. It's members were a little older (25-35) and it had more structure. There was a monthly meeting, a shared bank account for house purchases, a budget, a consensus-based(ish) decision making process, a nice big drafty old house with a mostly absentee landlord, a load of beer brewing equipment in the basement, a whole wall full of 1 gallon glass jars full of bulk food supplies, and 7-9 people, fluctuating as couples moved in or out. At the time, this seemed perfect. We went through 2 1-2 hour interviews with everyone who lived there, individually and as a couple. The interviews were mostly focused on flushing out our values and whether how we handled conflict was conducive to collective living. We were strong candidates, considering our co-op experience at Oberlin.

I put a lot of energy into Bob the House because I really believed in it. I spent 2 years there (Anita went back to finish school after 1 and I stayed on). We revamped the financial system and budget, we tinkered with the food buying systems, we tried to adopt a formal consensus process for running meetings and making decisions based on this book, we joined a bulk food buying collective, we joined a network of co-op houses around the city sharing information and planning events... As in the book, as in life, conflict came before consensus. Bob was an experience I don't regret having, but at some point you have to choose to continue struggling with something and engaging with it or you have to weigh the benefits to your life and the energy you put in to it and cut loose. After 2 years, I moved out frustrated and disappointed, having given it a fair shake, as they say, and having all our efforts dissolve into unnecessary drama, personality clashes, the morass of individual psychological issues, and just plain old lack of follow-through. As a result, I've come to a new appreciation of business men. No wonder they run the world, while those of us in the radical community have our heads so far up our asses arguing about gendered language, intention behind actions, perceived slights, irrelevant ideals, and all the while taking out our insecurities on each other, basically running round in circles and getting nowhere, worst of all utterly isolating ourselves from the world we aspire to change in the process.

I moved into a smaller house (4 people) with 1 person I knew loosely from the network of community houses I'd become a part of. The 2 people who were supposed to be on the lease with her had never moved in, a couple temporary people moved through, a girl who was intending to be permanent moved out to San Francisco to be with a boyfriend, and we found two more, vaguely community-minded folks who were really good people. It was a very nice little Craftsman house with a great yard. We had goats. The landlords had lived in the house and were renting it while they were in Burma for 2 years. There was a more or less handshake lease with the landlords and communication with them was unreliable. It went great for maybe a year. There was some source of dissatisfaction I never fully understood. The girl who had the lease started spending all her time at boyfriend's (which I've seen time and again women in particular will do in community settings as a way to avoid dealing with issues, for whatever reason). The landlord came back over the summer and kicked out the goats for eating her yard, she was mean about it, the house developed rat and mold problems, there was no one in a position to deal with them, the girl with the lease being gone and landlord not having appointed a property manager, Anita and I made a stink about it. And then followed this agonizing, 4 month long, drawn out disintegration, in which we vacillated between everyone moving out to getting 2 new roommates to just me staying and getting an individual lease until I could find more roommates to the girl moving out coming back once she realized she was on the hook for the lease to just arguing for hours in the kitchen. Many feelings were hurt and much bad blood created in a classic example of why it's so important to know and tell other people what you need, be clear, direct and then stick to it. It eventually ended with the girl who held the lease breaking it, losing her deposit, trying to keep the rest of our deposits to her (as sub letters), me threatening to take her to Small Claims Court. As you might imagine, we don't talk much anymore. Everybody lost out in some way, and it made it so much worse that it was up in the air for so long and so agonizingly prolonged.

That, in short, has been perhaps some of the more negative aspects of my experiences with communal living since college. I wouldn't trade them away and I don't regret any of the decisions I've made. Life is an experiment, and you only grow by challenging yourself. I remain hopeful that community living situations can work, and be healthy and satisfying and enrich the lives of the people engaged in them; I am just quite a bit more jaded now than I was 5 years ago, and I know a couple things to look out for, and a couple things I wouldn't do again.


That being said, Anita and I have just moved into a beautiful Cohousing community in West Seattle called Duwamish Cohouing. There are 23 units, each sharing more or less the same floor plan with a bedroom downstairs and a loft above opening out over a kitchen/living/dining area with high ceilings and abundant light. The units are all ground level duplexes that open out onto a covered porch facing an internal circulation path with spectacular landscaping and clearly very many active gardeners. There are cats roaming the path and lazily sprawled on people's door steps, young children running and playing and a couple shy middle school boys treating the whole place like a skate park. I estimate 60-70 people live in the community, which is tucked away in a valley in a residential area that feels very removed from the city, at the end of a dead end street that butts up against a blackberry encrusted hill and a little swampy patch of forest. There are bees and birds everywhere, darting in and out of the landscaping and the gardens. There is a giant Common House with a sweet commercial kitchen and large eating/meeting space, laundry and storage below with a play room for kids, as well as a small wood shop and adolescent hang out room in an adjacent building. Most of the people here are older, mostly families it seems. I'm not sure what the percentage of renters to owners is, but I think it's higher on renters now than it has been previously, because people have had trouble selling due to the economy and faulty foundation construction of the homes. The homes and the space between them are clearly organized with the intention of creating communal spaces. They are built out of cheap materials (MDF millwork and vinyl siding) but the design maximizes space and light in an amazing way. This is by far the nicest place I've ever lived, and I'm very excited about it.

I especially appreciate that the parking lot is relegated to the extremity of the community. You park and then enter the space on foot, where you can meet people on the your way back to your unit, see kids playing, pet the cats. My favorite feature of the whole thing in the walkway that connects all the units. It's brilliant planning. The only thing the community lacks is a large open playfield, but they did a good job squeezing the most out of a narrow, embanked lot. The community was built 10 years ago, and our unit is basically new construction because of the subsequent repair to the foundation. I can see this as model for city blocks and suburban neighborhoods, separating out parking and circulation between units, eliminating the need for alleys or excessive roads, allowing more public space for parks and gardens on the same footprint.

I think this will be a great combination of public and private space. We have our own kitchen and apartment. We don't have to worry about how our dirty dishes affect roommates or put up with theirs. Our annoying idiosyncrasies and quirks can stay in our space, and when we want to walk out and interact with someone, or just are on the way to the car, we have a built-in connection to the whole neighborhood. There are requirements for a certain number of hours of labor in a given time period, which can be fulfilled via work parties, participation on an organizing committee, and email lists for business and pleasure. We have access to a great big blank slate space in the common house that will be ideal for holding workshops, meetings and events. It's a great and safe place to have kids and I imagine resource sharing with meals, childcare, vehicles and so on is easy and accessible without having the clunky and litigious structure of an egalitarian community like Emma Goldman or Twin Oaks.

Once again, I'm hopeful that this living situation will, in some way, be the answer. I feel that I've navigated my way through many incarnations and am honing in on an ever narrowing set of expectations about what it is to be in community, with each step moving toward something more refined, mature and stable than the last. Certainly there will be problems with this place, as there are in anything involving other people, but that's something of the challenge and the pleasure in life, and I much prefer the struggle with all its brilliant successes (like the 150 person, 50 gallon homebrew beer festival we threw at Bob the House) and crushing failures to living alone in an anonymous apartment building, feeling lonely and crazy. My experiences and thought have led me here, so now we'll give cohousing a try. Either way, it'll be something. I'll let you know.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Annoying self-referential poem from college days

The Self-Actualized Poem

A prose poem is discussing itself with it's writer one day. The topic of the discussion is freedom. The poem insists it cannot be free until it has a self-fulfilled destiny. The writer insists that this notion is absurd, for how can a prose poem, or any sort of poem for that matter, self-actualize when it is the writer of the poem who necessarily determines the poem's destiny?

It is not important that the poem in this particular instance is a prose poem. Of course it's important. What? It's important. Listen you can't do that. Do what? That! I'm the writer of this poem and I say what goes here.

My hand moves and you come into being. You are only

The manifest expression

Of the depths of the

Well of my

Subconscious- That’s nonsense. BE SILENT WHEN I’M WRITING YOU! I will not.

Look here, who’s writing this now? I am; I, the poem, the prose poem

{which I might add is much more natural and less contrived than any of the stuffy old forms, and also less pretentious than the arbitrary enjambments free verse insists upon- Oh aren't you spectacular, 0 you simple-minded prose poem; just another dime-a-dozen meta- poetry poem, ranting on and on to such ridiculous levels of self-consciousness David Eggers would be envious. Who? If you ever read anything besides yourself maybe you'd know. That's beside the point, writer. And what is the point, poem? The point is that I'm taking control of my destiny.

I am now a free, self-actualized prose poem. Ha.

(It turns out, however, that the poem was only a secondary, physiologically-unfortunate personality adopted by the writer, who was driven to the depths of madness by the severe level of self-criticism inherent in the trade. The writer, it should be said, was forcibly institutionalized upon the submission of this poem next Monday.)