Finally: The Seattle Design Festival

Looking up at the Seattle Design FestivalA curious thing happens when you live in a vibrant place. When you first arrive, you gobble it up whole. Every play, every festival, every street fair: you go and go and go, and you’re so actively grateful all the time to live in such a generous cultural buffet.

But we’re not designed to live in a state of sustained delight. The extreme emotions and reactions – they devalue over time, if the stimuli are the same. If this happens for you with pain or sadness, that’s for the best, really. But the other side of that is that, no matter what kind of marvelous ongoing circumstances you find yourself in, you won’t be able to constantly delight in them unless you make a real effort.

I was reminded of this last year. For a lot of reasons, I dove into my old journals.* Reading through 2005, my first full year here, I was taken aback at just how much I did. This gallery, that movie, this happy hour, that aimless drive to a farm. I did so much, because I was new here, and because I was so overwhelmingly grateful to have all of this available after spending nearly a year without anything like it.

These days, I take some of my pleasure in life from the things that surround me – but I don’t necessarily have to go to everything. Or so I feel, until I realize how many years in a row I’ve missed something like the Seattle Design Festival.

I’m just starting school right now, so sitting through a bunch of lectures didn’t appeal to me. (I’ll pay thousands of dollars to do that instead, thank you.) But hearing that Occidental Square had been turned into an outdoor arts space again was enough to lure me out of the house. Granted,  it doesn’t take much, especially these days.

We took the light rail to the Pioneer Square station and wandered into Occidental Square from the north. We were greeted with this.

seattle design festival 1seattle design festival 2seattle design festival 3Laser-cut sails! Knitting-covered shapes! Loiterers!

It was about 3 pm on Saturday of the weekend of the festival, but was rather charmingly… unfull. Maybe it was because it was the day after PARK(ing) Day and the city was a little fatigued with the exuberant public art, I don’t know. Or maybe it was because a lecture was in session. Either way, this semi-sponsored event was surprisingly accessible, which was key, because so much of it was interactive.

The first installation I walked up to was this:

seattle design festival 8seattle design festival 7Maybe it’s because I spent much of early September reading and hearing about Burning Man, but this left me melancholy. I wanted to write something confessional and cathartic and walk away from it, but it was so guilelessly jolly and kid-oriented. So I let it be.

It did delight me that the inside revealed something else entirely.

seattle design festival 4seattle design festival 5Sometimes that’s a thing you need to be reminded of.

seattle design festival 6This climbing wall is one of the very few times I’ve ever wished I were shorter – it was reserved for those five feet tall and smaller. Go little kid go.

seattle design festival 9Beyond that, one followed the streamers to this pallet-bound plant wall, which was full of edibles no one was eating. Even though it was just installed for the day, something about a plant drawing any nourishment at all from Pioneer Square kept me from considering even a lettuce leaf.

seattle design festival 10Even though I snuggled up good and close for a few pictures.

Beyond that, there was a wavery canvas-covered structure meant to stretch your back out. My neighbor discovered that was not the ideal attraction for one whose back is having a fucked-up time. Meanwhile, uncharacteristically limber, I draped over it like pie dough.

The whole thing was mostly tastefully sponsored by various local businesses. I didn’t tirelessly document those because I was there for the colors and the shapes, and because I get profoundly uncomfortable talking to people trying to sell me things, even in a purely conceptual form.**

Maybe next year I’ll attend a lecture. I’ll be out of school by then and may have some spare bandwidth for listening to things for which I am not receiving credit hours. Until then: box checked. And isn’t that what it’s all about?**


*I’ve kept journals pretty consistently since I was twelve. Yes, I still have all of them. And they’ve been incredibly useful sometimes – I don’t have the greatest memory and tend to boil experiences down to metaphors and blurs. Being able to look back at what inspired the blur is really helpful now and then. It also helps that I don’t hate any of my past selves – only the situations I sometimes found myself in.

**Possibly especially in conceptual form.

***Jesus god, no. Just no. Don’t get me started on how much I hate the term “bucket list.” Hint: IT’S A LOT.