Gentrify, gentrify, gentrify

In moving to the Pacific Northwest from New York City, my hope was to find a charming small town, settle in, settle down, get a dog, find a girl, buy a house, do lots of camping and hiking and exploring, and generally just enjoy life.

I may have overestimated the possibilities.

Small towns are lovely, but they generally lack strong economies, and thus, jobs.  If you have unique, highly-valued, specialized skills, that’s usually not a problem.  I am not so lucky.   Instead of a small town, I chose to land in Seattle.  However, to offset the big city* with the feel of a small town, I also chose to live in one of Seattle’s quieter, historic neighborhoods: Ballard.
Incorporated into Seattle about 100 years ago, Ballard has undergone several metamorphoses: railroad stop and way station, mill town (lumber, shingles), fishing village, Scandinavian center, retirement community, etc.  Over the last decade, the neighborhood has seen a revitalization and a building boom to accommodate the surge in transplants moving in from around the country, taking on tech jobs at Amazon, Microsoft, Expedia and other organizations.  The pace of housing development has hardly kept pace with the addition of population influx.  Real estate prices have increased by an average of 45% over the last nine years, pricing (or taxing) many long-time residents out of the market, or spurring them to sell to their properties to cash in on the boom.
And here’s where the trouble begins.  Never mind the seemingly haphazard development, or the under-planning on infrastructure improvements (parking, traffic, public transportation, bike trails, etc.); the central issue that glares out at the most casual observer is the changing nature of the community itself.
Single-family homes imply something specific: a long-term residence in which a single family grows together, lives together, builds lives and memories together.  The spate of modernist, boxy townhouses, condos, apartment buildings and “apodments” under construction imply transience.  These are not “homes” built for generational families, but (somewhat impersonal) dwellings for workers who have come to town for one reason: high-paying jobs.  Maybe as a fringe benefit: the beer and hipster beard culture.   But what happens when the 20-somethings become 30-somethings and 40-somethings?  Where do they live?  Will they be able to find a home large enough to accommodate a family as the supply diminishes?  Will they raise a family?  Will they be able to afford such a home if they do find one?
Seattle has transitioned many times, and it will likely transition in the future.  Perhaps it’s not any more unique than other cities.  For residents who hoped to establish roots, however, it may be transforming its culture beyond recognition, and past what had been a desirable state: a community of families, a sense of longevity and — as much as such a thing can exist — permanence, and a place to call home.
In moving here, I did manage to find a charming neighborhood…though one that’s changing rapidly.  I’ve only just begun to settle in, but with a constant worry that prices will go too high (and certainly don’t offer a strong prospect of home ownership), that the bubble will burst, that my lack of specialized skills will lead to not only the loss of a job, but the inability to get a new one.  Needless to say, this puts plans of getting a dog on hold.  Finding a girl has never been easy, and the confluence of factors make it ever more difficult.  Fair to say, camping, hiking, and exploring are still possibilities, and perhaps for now that’s enough.
Note: Seattle is more like a big town than a big city…but it’s getting there.

The next generation

Every next generation is the new generation.  They’re different.  Special.  Apart.  They want different things.  Have a different upbringing.  Hold different values.  Expect the world to be a certain way, other than it is now.

Or is it?  Are our values as a species that mutable?  How do we account for societies which experience significant generational dichotomies vs. those which remain steadfast and constant?  What matters to one and not the other?  What happens in one and not the other?

Undoubtedly, human evolution and “progress” have altered the nature of our nature.  Yes, we still tend towards violence, but we have curbed that urge and that nature in favor of a more collaborative, community-centric harmony, experimenting with various forms of governance until arriving at the Western model of representative democracy (you can argue about political models all day long; it’s hard to refute the impact and diaspora of this particular model, however).  The change in our outward behavior has certainly affected and altered our inner nature.

The pace of growth and transfiguration of human society suggests a need for faster, quicker, more open adaptability from future generations.  Or we’ll regress (arguably, some of that is in evidence today).

There is no destination in life, only the journey (thanks for that, Jewel).  Where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going are just threads in the story.  Humanity remains itself, merely flexing different muscles at different times to accommodate our “becoming.”  Up close, it appears like each generation embarks on a radical shift from their predecessors.   In truth, when viewed as a whole, the changes are minute, yet important, and reflect growth and discomfort with what has been, to what is now, and what is shaping up for the future.

The next generation doesn’t do this on its own.  Members of the current generation adapt and guide, having been through the process once themselves.  That’s important to realize: the child becomes the parent; the parent, the child.  Every generation was, for a time, the next generation.




Who are you?

Are you that guy who did those things?

Are you that kid who had that childhood?

Are you that person who is defined by your work or your family?

Are you doing all you can do?  Being all you can be?

Are you confident?  Insecure?  Alone?  Surrounded?

Are you loved?  Are you loving?

Have you been to enough places?  Spent enough time in one place?

Do you have it all figured out?

Are you completely confused?

Are you healthy?  A fitness nut?  A runner?

Are you ill?

Are you mentally stable?

Are you young?  Old?  In-between?

Are you capable?

Are you useless?

Are you learned?

Are you ignorant?

Are you Right?  Left?  Middle?  Indifferent?

Are you patriotic?

Are you a citizen of the world?

Are you happy?  Sad?  Content?

Who are you?

Top ain’t tops.

At a certain point in any hierarchy, it becomes less vital — and more dangerous — to say things explicitly.  Always, consideration must be given to how things will be perceived, (mis)construed, and believed.  Those at the top aren’t (usually) stupid, but they are narrowly driven.  Their world doesn’t have room for all of your world.  Pick and choose wisely.  But know that whim plays as much a role as logic, sound decision-making and facts.

The top needn’t apologize.  It’s all done in the best interest of the organization, after all.  But what is done?  To whom?  By whom?  Why?  And what did it accomplish?  Moving on to the Next Big Things alleviates their responsibility to respond.

The top is vague, speaks in platitudes and aphorisms, repeating inane institutional phrases thought up by other tops and promulgated as “the faith.”

The tops don’t have time to listen.  They have Very Important Meetings to attend with other tops.

The tops can appear brusque, rude, out-of-touch, and clueless.  Some are, some aren’t.  They behave the way they are expected to behave based on the demands placed on them by the higher tops.

It’s a mad world, and a long way to fall from the top.

Not enough tribe.

I like to eat but am not a foodie.

I like to read but don’t care for book clubs.

I like to motorcycle ride long-distances but generally prefer to do so solo.

Hard to build a tribe that way.

Not that it’s ever been easy to build or infiltrate a tribe.  School?  Not as much as you’d think.  Work?  Definitely not, and it’s getting worse.

When I moved here, I thought I’d have a starter tribe locked in based on a long time connection; didn’t work out that way.  I thought I’d find a tribe in the classes I took.  Not so.  I ventured into the Meetup world, which I generally have avoided due to a lack of positive experiences in the past.  Some interesting potential, but nothing solid, mostly fizzle.  Finally, a motorcycle group of like-minded wanderers seemed like just the thing.  But no.

The last real tribe I had was in the aviation community when I worked as a lowly flight instructor back East.  Before that, it was the friends I made at my first “real world” job.  That’s a little pathetic, if you think about it.  I think about it a lot.

The personal and professional holding pattern in which I find myself makes it seem difficult to root myself and find that cohort to which I belong.  Social media connects me to members of my distributed, past tribes.  That’s not the same thing, and frankly, is a poor substitute to interacting with a tribe in the here and now.

I’ll keep working at it.  More classes, more putting myself out there.  Maybe, slowly, I can find that tribe or build one.  Meanwhile, a solo motorcycle ride sounds enticing right about now.

Routine is…routine

Not every day can — or should — be an adventure.  Or can they?

Myriad intrepid souls past and present have embarked on round-the-world sojourns, by all manner of movement: bicycle, foot, motorcycle, small plane, boat.  You name it, it’s probably been tried.  Several times.  A few of these wanderers turn their peripatetic propensities into a way of life and of earning a living, meagerly or otherwise.  They write books, make movies, start organizations, invent specific gadgets, and build…something.  At the heart of what they do is the undeniable adventure of their travels, and the equally adventurous foray into entrepreneurship.  Making a go of it after having gone.  Or while still going.

But are all of their days adventure?  Or do they experience mundane, dreary, and banal days like the rest of us?  Do they ever get the “Sunday night blues,” or are they immune?

Two years ago, I moved across the country.  A “why not” move.  There was compromise: I settled in a city, when I wanted a small town.  Fear drove me to do that.  The fear of having no work, ergo no income.  And in the intervening  two years, I have succumbed to routine.  Up-ready-commute-work-eat-work-commute-home-cook-eat-t.v.-sleep.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  Overdosing on the internet (social media, you evil thing!), occasional books, but overall the routine is…routine.

When I moved, I had money in the bank and few obligations.  I have allowed my fortunes to reverse, and it’s disappointing.  The small taste of adventure has been overwhelmed by “must-dos” and unnecessary wants.

It’s okay, I think, to follow a routine.  Just be sure it’s a routine you can live with.

Things I remember.

Crawling into my dad’s lap.

Fishing trips to the creek.  And lake.

Throwing childhood fits.

Bicycle rides to the ice cream store.

Trips to the dairy to pick up milk.

Picking walnuts off the tree.

Cross-country skiing in the woods.

Meteor showers.

Bug zapper working overtime.

Summer camps and co-ed bathrooms.

Church services and Sunday school.

School choir concerts.

Playground drama.

My dog.

Target shooting.

Skiing downhill for the first time.

My first kiss.

My first heartache.

Postcards from my dad on his trips overseas.

Picking up lumber from the lumberyard (the smells!!).

Full-service gas stations.

Scary radio programs.

The wonders of the science museum.

The first IMAX film I ever saw (“Genesis”).

The Alamo.

So many books

If “cat lady” is a thing, then I must be “book guy.”  My house could have all the furniture replaced by books (okay, so my house isn’t that big).  A wondrous day is spent in a used bookstore, immersing myself in the atmosphere of words and ideas.  How did all those people start?  How did they get their ideas?  How much did their ideas change as they wrote?  Did they have a plan?  Did they know where the story would end?

How many books have never been read simply because they are positioned at the very top or very bottom shelf?  That’s why I like to take my time.  It’s important to browse the entire shelf, not just the center section.

One bookshop owner in particular back in California, she was wonderful.  I’d come into the store, she’d greet me, the store cat would greet me, and I’d begin my archaeological dig. Invariably, I’d have a stack of five or six in my arms, and the shop owner, glancing at the titles, would add to the pile, usually with an off-the-cuff, “well, if those are the ones you fancy, no doubt  these will fit in nicely.”  I’d sit in one of the plush chairs scattered throughout the shop and engross myself in other worlds for a few hours.

The shop closed down a short time after I moved away from that town.  It was inevitable. The owner gave me five books for every five I bought.  At fifty cents to a dollar per book, margins didn’t exist.

With all the books in my possession, I could probably open my own bookshop.  It wouldn’t last, of course.  Not in these times.  And that’s okay.   I browse my stacks (well, scattered piles, really) and re-discover volumes purchased but yet to be explored.

So many books.  Not too many.  There’s no such thing.

Responsibility is overrated.

“We’re out of water.”

“I know.”

“And food.”

“I know!”

“You don’t seem worried.”

“I KNOW!!”

“Okay.  Just as long as you know.”

“I know.”

Foothills.  The towering range of mountains in Yunnan Province near Lijiang on the way to the Tiger Leaping Gorge can be considered foothills when compared to the haughty heights of the Himalayas that lie to the west.

Seven of us travelers, strangers until a couple days prior, had spent a considerable amount of effort to walk these hills.  Two German girls, a young British couple from Leeds, and a Danish father and son working toward reconciliation.  And me.  A strange but complementary band.  A band short of food and water.

It was fantastic. The trail, though not formally marked, was readily apparent.  The company kept the mood light.  And I hadn’t read a newspaper, nor turned on a radio or t.v. in weeks (the internet was barely out of diapers back then, kids),  No demands were being made of me except those of the moment. And those demands weren’t taxing.  No school, no work, no obligations and enough money in the bank to care for the now and for the just-a-little-bit-later-than-now.

With the exceptions of the immediate concern about food and water, and the longer-term concern about the status of my relationship with my girlfriend <spoiler alert: doomed!>, I hadn’t a care in the world.  And I liked it.  I like these people.  I liked that I didn’t speak the local dialect or have a map.  In hindsight, that was as near to perfect a time as I could imagine.

We kept walking.  And talking.  Laughing.  Embracing the silence.  We made it, of course.  How we did that is quite another story.  One that I feel I’m under no obligation to reveal at this time.

And that feels fine.

Never turn around.

Remember those old text-based computer games (e.g. Zork) where sometimes you’d turn left, but you couldn’t turn right after that?  Frustrating, because you just turned left! I doubt those games are the reason even today I am loathe to double back, even if I’m lost.  No doubt they contributed at least something to my attitude of intransigence. Perhaps it was a grade school teacher’s admonition to “get it right the first time” that remains embedded in my psyche.

Is it a good idea to keep going, even when we have no idea what lies ahead?   Of course not. You could, say, die maintaining that mindset on a hike into a mountainous region.   There is pride at work here.  See “Into the Wild” for a modern-day example.

Thankfully, asking for directions has never been one of my shortcomings.  I’m not that kind of guy.  That’s been a blessing — stubborn persistence to remain true to course tempered by yielding acceptance of others’ assistance.  It’s certainly helped me meet fascinating people and discover out-of-the-way places I wouldn’t have known about had I not got lost in the first place.

Still, this inclination bleeds over into other aspects of my life.  Take writing.  This is likely a first draft you are reading, with only minor edits here and there.  (I apologize and completely understand if you want to leave now).   I have learned, especially as a motorcycle traveler with limited fuel, that turning around is sometimes the best (only) option.  Doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Anyway, let’s keep going and see where this leads.