Coming Alive Again in 2012 and 2021

In June 2012, I was coming to the end of the worst two-year span of my life outside of junior high and high school. I was slowly recovering from being broke, close to paying off more than $6,000 in medical debt (thx, endometriosis), starting to see a therapist who’d change my life, and a few months from freeing myself from a deeply shitty social existence. But I wasn’t at any of these things yet and didn’t know how close I was. On top of all of that, a couple weeks earlier, there’d been a mass murder in a cafe I spent a lot of time in. I didn’t know the people who died well, but I admired a couple of them very much and had seen them perform many times. They meant something. So it was broad horror and specific horror, and it’s the only time I’m aware of that I played the role of “crying girl hugging friend outside crime scene” on local news b-roll.

In July 2021, I was coming to the end of one of the worst years I’ve been alive (probably number three or four on the list, all told). Unlike June 2012, I wasn’t broke and had a fair amount of agency derived both from finances and from that good therapeutic work. However, also unlike June 2012… well, you know how 2020 into 2021 went. It was very, very bad. I found some beautiful things in all of it, but mostly I spent a lot of time figuring out what part of myself was compartmentalized into stasis this week. I had long periods of time where it felt like half my abdominal cavity was just this static, dense mass, unmoving where all the feelings used to swirl. I’m not typically given to numbness, but that and escaping into my imagination were the two ways I found to survive.

Fresh with so many layers of grief, which piled heavily on top of stinging disbelief around how I’d allowed my life to get to the state it was in, I agreed to go to Honkfest West. My general feeling about music is that I like just about anything live, and I especially like a big band with brass instruments (one of the reasons I’ve loved ska since high school). It was inexpensive and within city limits. Everyone I knew felt basically destroyed; why not be destroyed and listen to some music?

In the possession of a little more morally allowable movement and of money and a break between jobs, I went to New York for two weeks. I tried to figure out some extracurriculars ahead of time. I’d been wanting to go dancing at home and managed it once before delta variant feelings made us all need to reconsider our definition of freedom. So I knew I wouldn’t want a large club (I’m mostly too old and sober for that anyway), but I wanted some culture. I wanted to go out and feel the physical force of sound in my body. I wanted something bigger and broader than the sound from my beautiful shitty headphones. I found that a brass band I’d listened to online played in Brooklyn every week. Sold.

I’d gone to Honkfest before. Bands in Gasworks Park, bands in associated clubs, bands upon bands. I took the buffet approach: I knew I’d like enough of it so didn’t need to do much research. I’d show up, probably like what I heard, and be content. Good enough.

I look up the show again a few days out and find that the regular Tuesday night entertainment is canceled, and instead, a selection of bands through Honk! NYC is playing. You know what? Sure, that’ll do too.

I go to a venue in Georgetown. I’m wearing, in a way that feels incomprehensible in later, warmer times, a sweater dress with a thick cowl collar. I get a Large Can of Rainier, the drink of both happy times and sad, broke-as-fuck ones. I enter the performance space and get no further than the door, because it’s crammed.

I find my way to the bar from the subway. I show the bartender a picture of my vax card. I show the guy at the door in the back of the bar a picture of my vax card. I stand and listen to the DJ and drink my pilsner, texting with people back west. A couple people come in with drums. Then a couple more. Soon the number of people with drums outnumbers the spectators still filling in at the back of this small room. The drums are not small drums. The program promised samba-influenced drums as the second act. Excellent.

The band playing when I walk in, large can in hand, is a samba-influenced drum troupe. I have felt like something left in the sun lately, like all the softness has gone hard and all the flexible things crystalline in a hideous, sharp way. Everything feels vulnerable and terrible. Anything can happen anywhere, and it’ll probably be bad. Everything tastes like salt, even the sweet things. I stand there for a little while, a largely inert thing, drinking generously from my beer. I finish it and go get another. And when I come back, I feel something that’s taken its leave of me for a while: an urge to move.

After a bit, the audience finally outnumbers the band, but the band commands the space. One song blends into another, enough that they have to prompt us to applaud sometimes, too busy are we being mesmerized, being absorbed. I see stiff-spined white boys who I suspect aren’t all about dancing at shows start to move at the hips. I did immediately. It felt so good to feel percussion in my body again, to feel it at all angles and across frequencies, not a flat recording of something. It’s large, and I feel part of it. It’s so good to feel a part of anything with other people again.

After a bit, I end up with my half-full beer shoved into the top of my dress, cold against my sweaty skin, and I just move. I’m there with some similarly traumatized friends, and we all begin to dance, first like badly tended marionettes, then like people who might feel something good again someday. We get a little bit of it that night, that feeling of oh yes, I still have a heart, I’m still connected to something around me. I’m still alive and might even be glad of it again someday.

I find myself teary at odd moments. The synchronized movements of the drummers. The solos of the band that follows, the culmination of an untold amount of practice. All this effort just to make something transient and lovely. I missed that the most. I have plenty of days of being kinda over humanity, but all along, all throughout our shared isolation, I so badly missed the things we do when we come together: theater and music and that particular feeling of people coming out for a similar purpose. Dancing and conferences and all these gatherings toward a single goal. We do such fine things together, and I missed them terribly.

Life doesn’t get fixed on that night in 2012, but it was the first time in a long time that I felt like there might be something bigger and better yet to come, that putting effort into unfucking my life might yield something wonderful. That some things ended, sometimes terribly, but I wasn’t done yet. I was still capable of being surprised, and the world was still capable of surprising me with wonderful things.

And in late July 2021, we are still in the shit. In the 24 hours before this night in Brooklyn, I saw a lot of the bars in San Francisco switch to the model I see fairly often in New York, the “must be this vaxxed to ride” rule, and it gives me hope: both for going out and for incentive for people avoiding vaccinations for anything other than very specific medical reasons to reconsider. I just want us to have this together again: the call of brass, the impact of drums, and a bunch of happy nerds dancing in rooms again. I can hang in there for this. I feel something blossom again within me: to do things, to know that doing things is worthwhile, to know that taking this trip was the right thing for me.

And in the meantime? All we can do is keep dancing.

Going Places, in Spite of Taxidermy

four barrels smiling pig nooooo

“Hey y’all!”

Go to Four Barrel.

Ask for the affogato. It’s not on the menu, but they’ll probably have it. Pay closer attention than I did when the wizard behind the counter is making it. I don’t know what she did, but something about it made it one of the finest affogatos I’ve ever had. The texture, the ice cream, the just-right slight bitterness of the espresso, even the feeling of the cup against the saucer… yes.

And as you leave, look back at the taxidermy. Look back and up, look at the pig heads, and think… why.

I will be glad when this fad passes. I’m looking at you, Smith, Linda’s, and Assembly Hall. Especially the latter, where there’s this moose head that sits at eye level next to you, mouth open as if he’s just waiting, just waiting, for his chance to interject. Shudder.

Post-script: despite all this sincere icky-poo-pooing, I must tell you that I spent a couple parts of a fine afternoon at Loved to Death, which I found fascinating. I bought two postcards and a fossilized ammonite. For some reason, the context is ok, because they know this shit is fucked and are profiting off just that. Go figure.

Let’s Talk about This Hotel Art

In Reykjavik, I stayed at the Icelandair Reykjavik Hotel Natura. It is not conveniently located*, but it did the job, and they always had skyr in the hotel lobby fridge.**

On their site, they go on at length about art in the hotel and the room’s unique themes. The hotel art mostly succeeded in making me do double-takes as I walked through the lobby, thinking that some kind of pale angular tourist was staring at me.

My room was sky-themed. This didn’t really extend beyond the sign on the door. Instead, this was the lone piece of art in the room, hanging over the beds.

An Erro painting in room 322 at the Icelandair Reykjavik Hotel NaturaThe first night I was there, I saw an exhibit of the artist’s paintings. Tragically, this was not part of the collection.

Let’s take a closer look.

An Erro painting in room 322 at the Icelandair Reykjavik Hotel NaturaWell. Get it, girl.

This painting was directly over where I slept. Let’s check that out.

Two twin beds, like all good celibate types sleep inI didn’t deliberately book the celibacy special, and yet. It’s like they knew I was a socially awkward person traveling alone! Good service is when a hotel is able to predict your needs before you can. So… thanks.

One last thing:

Tommy fucking Wiseau“LISA, YOU’RE TEARING ME APART!”



*”Not conveniently located” is what happens when you frantically book a package to Iceland when you’re still mired in post-Paris travel hangover. Eh, it was a 25-minute walk to downtown, and I like walking. Whatevs.

**Skyr is fairly close to Greek yogurt. The R is said in a way close to French – in the back of the mouth, beautiful and nearly impossible for me to say.

Lost Mates in Reykjavik

single glove speed datingLaugavegur, the busiest shopping street of Reykjavik, is full-full-full of public art. Driveways lined with murals, walls splashed with painted patterns, mosaics and painted shop walls and clever knitting and just WOW. Like I said a couple days ago: 891 pictures. Only like a hundred of those are the Northern Lights, and then another couple hundred are of mountains and geysers and Thingvellir and things like that. But a majority of them? Art of Reykjavik, which really should be a sister city to Seattle.

So the delight above was captured about halfway down Laugavegur. I took this picture my first day there, after I took a magical late-morning nap that erased any would-be jet lag. I ate a lot of so-so veggie sandwiches there*, and I was on my way to my first one, which I would eat in a coffee shop atop a gift shop that overlooked the city’s busiest square. I was hungry and still a little sleepy and wondering if I was going to get into this whole traveling by yourself thing, which I’d done almost none of before this trip.

Then I saw this adorable thing, which clearly evolved over time – maybe a single glove on that fence, and then a couple, and then a few, and then that sign, and then even more. And I realized… this was going to work out just fine.

A couple days later, I saw the rural version of this.

single glove looking for loveThis is what happens when you try to find love in less populated places. This is at the edge of the parking lot in front of Sólheimajökull glacier. Your odds are just better when you go to the denser spots, good sir glove.

Or, you know, you could get the internet involved.

*But no hakarl, dammit, due to a badly timed sour belly.

Valentine’s Day in Two Pictures

Both from Pine, alongside the ballfield.

First, we have this lovely little bit of spontaneous art, created and displayed for us all to enjoy.

heartBaw. That’s lovely.

Further down the sidewalk, we have this masterpiece of forensic fodder.

tableauAt the top: that would be a deserted pair of women’s undies. Below: an empty bottle of Jack.

May whatever deities listen continue to bless Seattle. It is a magnificent, generous place full of wonder.

Maybe you celebrated Valentine’s Day with, as Dan Savage put it at his event at the Neptune that night, cynical jokes, box wine, and defiant masturbation. Or maybe you bought bullshit at CVS, or maybe you did something else entirely. My Valentine’s Day was unexpectedly lovely, and that was even before I went out to see this. With, I should mention, my splendid neighbor, who provided me with these pictures from his post-V-Day walk the next day. But whatever you did, I hope it was good. May your overly expensive dinners be tasty, may your masturbation be as defiant as you want it to be, and may you get what you want roughly when you want it.

[Insert Microhousing Joke Here]

Prime real estate a stone’s throw from the enviable Pine/Broadway intersection. Vibrant locals always nearby in this covetable neighborhood that’s just teeming with culture. Distinctive accommodations provide views of passersby. Convenient to multiple bus lines. Bonus: if you’re hungry, just eat your house.


microhousing capitol hillSeen on Monday morning. Tossed and broken in the SCCC courtyard by 5:30 pm the same day.

Standing Stones, with Waffles

1 waffle house signI went to Destin with a resolution to take a day trip somewhere with my family. It didn’t work out, but that’s ok – I’ll see Apalachicola or wherever else another time. Instead of running ourselves ragged trying to DO THINGS, we played Apples to Apples, went and saw The Hobbit, and went for dinner after. It’s the kind of thing I don’t get to do with them very often, so it made me as happy as anything could have.6 waffle house long view

In the nineteen or so collected months that I lived in Destin (2.5 summers between semesters; one last chunk of time as I saved money to come here), I burnt myself out on the Waffle House, especially once I started boycotting Walmart. If you don’t drink*, there’s not much else to do after 10 pm. So, rather than become even more familiar with the tile pattern of the living room floor and the early-2000s of HBO, I went to the Waffle House. In high school in Illinois, it was that or Denny’s. What I’m saying is that we go way back.

3 waffle house ceiling I have never seen the construction of a Waffle House. I imagine them sliding whole off the back of a truck, pictures, jukebox, staff, and thin napkins already in place. Or they may spring up fully formed from a spore, like a mushroom. All I know is that they were designed at one point, perfectly made, and that there has not yet been a perceived need to revisit that design.

4 waffle house noticesI’m inclined to agree. I think there’s a goodly amount of redesigning for the sake of appearing new that goes on right now. But why mess with perfection?

2 waffle house menuIt goes like this: two scrambled eggs, raisin toast, extra jelly, scattered and capped hashbrowns, and a chocolate milk. Salad with chicken for the rest of the family. It has been like this for YEARS.

(Our waitress, friendly but incredibly new, forgot the chicken on one of the salads and brought it over separately on a plate, once we were all done eating. The rest of my family, omnivorous in a way I’m not, partook of the pile of chicken bits like some kind of poultry communion.)

5 waffle house tablescapeIn the absence of meaning, we accept routine.

Destin is made of sand. I couldn’t dig roots deep there, for that and a hundred other indisputable reasons. We moved there when I was eighteen, though we’d gone there on vacation a couple of times when I was growing up. But most of older Destin is gone.

So this is where I revisit the past.

This, and their jukebox.

waffle jukebox 1 waffle jukebox 2 waffle jukebox 3It’s gone digital now, but the important stuff is still there.

I haven’t heard any of these songs. I don’t need to. And YouTube didn’t help; looking up Waffle House on there brings up only Jim Gaffigan and a shocking number of “EPIC FIGHT IN WAFFLE HOUSE” videos.

I’m glad we don’t have them up in Seattle. I wouldn’t go there, same as I don’t go to the IHOP. It’s unnecessary. But I like these oases, and I’m pulled to them in the same way I’m pulled toward truck stops and other shrines to convenience, denuded of any pretense, their grace found in function.

It is always about 60 degrees inside, and the windows are almost always opaque with what I will charitably maintain is fog. And inside, it is always, always the same.

*I didn’t really at the time, even when I was of age, and I still don’t drink anywhere that I don’t feel at least 90 percent safe and comfortable, feelings I do not associate with this town.