What I Can Tell You About Seattle Based on the People I've Met Who Are From There
(I Live in Brooklyn)
Jessixa and Aaron Bagley
SEATTLE IS FUNNY
A few years ago, I worked in New York University's library and had friends in New York City who worked mostly as copywriters. We e-mailed each other in giant e-mail threads each day. Two of the people usually in the e-mail threads used to live in Seattle. One day, one of them e-mailed, "When I worked at an ISP in Seattle, I actually had access to all of our customers' e-mail accounts. One day, the guy who sat across from me read Jimmy Kimmel's e-mail."
SEATTLE CAUSES PEOPLE WITH COLLEGE DEGREES TO GET NEAR-MINIMUM-WAGE SERVICE JOBS
About a year ago, a person e-mailed me telling me to read a "story" he had published in an online magazine. The story was called "Clichés vs. Concrete Words." The first sentence was "Clichés are not as good as concrete words because clichés leave out information." The person was 22, his name was Brandon, and he lived in Seattle. Later, I went to Seattle on a book tour and Brandon came to my reading. He was working as a copywriter. We had dinner together. A few months later, I read on his blog that his contract as a copywriter was over. A few months after that, I read on his blog that he got a job at a cafe. "I steamed some milk and I shook the milk around and said look at that milk, look at that milk," said his blog. Brandon has a BA in psychology.
SEATTLE DOES NOT HAVE AN ABNORMAL INFLUENCE ON MY LIFE ON THE INTERNET
"Seattle" searched in my Gmail account has 260 results. "Chicago" has 264 results. "Orlando" has 175 results, and I grew up there. "Boston" has 217 results. "San Francisco" has 142 results. "Las Vegas" has 44 results. "Brooklyn" has 727 results, but I live there.
SEATTLE IS ACTUALLY "DIFFERENT" THAN OTHER PLACES
The other person from Seattle in the e-mail threads mentioned above often said things that didn't make sense. In one e-mail he said, "I asked someone from the Onion to write my bio, and then I was elected president by an army of red ants." I read his e-mail, clicked reply, without thinking typed "Go back to Seattle, Shya, if you want," and clicked send. If Shya was from anywhere else except maybe Iceland or Easter Island, I don't think I would have instinctually typed for him to "go back," and for sure would not have typed "if you want," which maybe only "works" for Seattle because Seattle seems inherently like a "choice" whereas other places seem like "condemnations" or "places impossible to permanently leave." I'm not sure what I mean by this.
SEATTLE IS ACTUALLY "BETTER" THAN ANYWHERE ELSE IN AMERICA
For some reason I never heard Shya—or anyone else I know from Seattle—say anything like "In Seattle I would never be attacked on public transportation" or "If we were in Seattle right now we would not be playing two-person poker on a Saturday night drunk." People from Alabama or Florida or anywhere else seem to always be talking about how Alabama and Florida are a lot better than wherever they currently are, I think because they are trying to convince themselves that they were not "cheated" out of something by growing up in Biflow, Florida. It isn't sarcastic at all when someone from Alabama says they wish they were back in Alabama. But people from Seattle when elsewhere somehow do not ever try to convince themselves of anything, I think because they feel like if they say something like "In Seattle my chicken fingers would never be served raw by accident" it would be like saying "A poodle is a kind of dog" in that it's "an accepted fact" to people from Seattle that Seattle is "better" in the same way that it is "an accepted fact" that poodles are dogs. Someone would never try to say that a poodle is a kind of cat.
SEATTLE IS "ADVANCED"
I know someone from the internet from Seattle and he likes the novel The Moviegoer by Walker Percy a lot. His name is Matthew. I argued with Matthew on the internet one time. I said The Moviegoer was melodramatic and did melodramatic things in regard to existential despair. I met him on my book tour last year. He works in a bookstore. I'm not sure exactly why, but when I was around him I felt strongly that he enjoys existential despair a lot. He seemed to be experiencing existential despair at a higher level than me and to be almost actually "having fun" with his experience of it. I can't think of any concrete details regarding why I felt this way. But it makes me think that Seattle is from the future, because I feel like in the future people will strive for existential despair, for more fulfilling and purer kinds of existential despair, in the same way people in Brooklyn strive for an apartment closer to the L train. This makes sense because existential despair is usually talked about in books and people in Seattle read books more than people in other places.
SEATTLE IS "DISTURBING"
One night on my two-day book tour in Seattle, I was walking with Brandon and we saw a man and a woman straddling a windowsill off the third floor of an apartment. Half their bodies were outside the building and they were "making out." This made me say something about how the only way the man and woman could "feel aroused" anymore was to have half their bodies in the air 30 feet above the ground. Which made Brandon say something about a Bret Easton Ellis novel. Which made me think about people secretly going around torturing and murdering people and tying people with rope in bedrooms and filming it. Which made me feel like that was what was happening all the time in Seattle.
SEATTLE IS HARD TO THINK DIRECTLY ABOUT AFTER YOU'VE BEEN THERE
On my book tour, I read in two stores in Seattle. People said that to get to the other store I needed to take a bus to "the other side" of Seattle. When I looked at a map, I saw two parts. I felt surprised. There were two main parts and I understood that I needed to take a bus across an "irrelevant" area in order to reach "the other part of Seattle." After that, I sometimes realized—while chewing food, staring at something, listening to a person speak to me, or whatever—that I was thinking things like "I wonder what the other part of Seattle is doing right now," as if "the other part of Seattle" were an interesting friend. It was distracting me from thinking about other things, things that could lead to actual results in concrete reality (rather than further alienating me from humanity), but I really felt curious somehow and so kept thinking about it. Now, when I think about Seattle, I start thinking about Nirvana or Tom Hanks or something, then my brain interrupts with "Which Seattle, the one part or the other part?" My brain does not distinguish or visualize either part, there are not even abstractions that I associate with either part, but somehow this still happens. And my thoughts about Seattle stop there. It seems very hard—too hard—at this point in my life (or maybe I just don't "want" to do it) to think beyond "which Seattle?"
PEOPLE IN SEATTLE ARE BORED RELATIVE TO NEW YORK CITY
I was the only reader at Elliott Bay Book Company and maybe 50 people came. I was confused, sort of. In New York City, usually 10 to 15 people come when there's two or three readers. One time I had a reading with Tony O'Neill in Manhattan at 2:00 p.m. on a Saturday and one person came. I was wearing a bear suit and Tony O'Neill and I stood on the sidewalk outside the bar and Tony said things like: "Poetry in here. Free event. Bear reads poetry. Bear reads great poetry. Suicidal bear on... on Viagra reading poetry. Poetry. Bears and poetry. It's free. Bears, poetry. Bear reads poetry. In here. It's free." No one came in the bar. No one even stopped walking on the sidewalk. I was wearing a full-body bear suit.
SEATTLE PUTS "READING" ABOVE ALL OTHER THINGS
I was walking near the downtown Seattle Public Library and felt strongly that it was the "center" of everything in Seattle. I went inside the library and my feelings were confirmed. I felt really intelligent and existentially superior while inside the library, talking on Gmail chat on a public computer, walking around taking cell-phone pictures of red walls. I had the feeling I could look out the window and see the rest of the city, from a "bird's-eye view," though this was not true, there was not an elevated area that I knew of where I could do that like I might from the Empire State Building. Still, walking on the street toward the library, I felt that I was "nearing" the "epicenter" of Seattle, and walking away from the library I felt like I was leaving behind the "main activity" of my day.
OBESITY ISN'T A PROBLEM IN SEATTLE
People in Seattle seem less obese. I felt little or no intimations of obesity while there and I don't know anyone from there who is obese or even overweight. In Brooklyn, it is difficult for me to view anyone as "not obese or overweight." In Brooklyn, people seem "beat down" and "made obese" by unseen forces, whereas in Seattle people seem "strengthened" by some kind of aura of well-being emanating maybe from the downtown library. People in New York City eat at Taco Bell a lot; people in Seattle are knowledgeable about not mixing food groups. On my book tour, I had dinner with someone who talked about fasting every six months. I can't remember ever having dinner with someone in New York City who viewed "fasting" as a possibility.
SEATTLE IS SARCASTIC ABOUT SPORTS
When I watched baseball as a child, I always felt strange when I saw the Seattle Mariners on TV. I wasn't sure then why I felt strange, but now I think I know. I think it's just that the blue uniforms they used to have made it seem like they were "merely screwing around." The blue uniforms, in combination with being called the Mariners, made me feel strongly that they actually wanted to be playing Marco Polo in a swimming pool but were forced into professional baseball and so wore blue uniforms to "continue the dream" of "screwing around" in a swimming pool for five hours every day with no responsibilities. Ken Griffey Jr. was a Mariner then and he seemed to be the perfect example of what I just typed about. He seemed to always be trying really hard at being good at baseball which to me only conveyed that he was distracting himself really hard from thoughts about wishing he lived in a special world where each day you woke up, played games in a swimming pool with other adults, ate dinner, played more games in a swimming pool, and went to sleep.
SEATTLE TRICKS PEOPLE
When I make myself think concretely about Seattle, I get an image of a 12-year-old Native American boy reading a Sherman Alexie story collection in a Starbucks and it's raining outside, then I seriously think, "The harsh reality of growing up in Seattle. Seems bad. Hard." But if I think abstractly about Seattle, I feel a strange emotion like I'm currently living in a clean, well-furnished house with expensive electronic equipment in Tennessee in May by a small river on a green hill with no other houses nearby and that I have a steady cash flow and am working on multiple projects each day with a lot of excitement and no obligations. It feels really good and the opposite of hard. So "Seattle" abstractly means to me something like "basking in the sunlight of overwhelming gratitude for life and art" but concretely means to me something like "feeling like there's no possible routes for escaping a life of poverty and alcoholism while staring at sentences written by Sherman Alexie in an environment of people shouting things like 'quadruple soy latte.'" I don't know. I feel "tricked."
LIVING IN SEATTLE HAS AN "INSANE" EFFECT ON SOME PEOPLE
I feel that if I moved to Seattle, I would stop writing completely, not use the internet, and do something "insane" like dedicate my life to looking at barnacles very closely but without microscopes or any other magnifying device. There would be no purpose to the activity. I would do it every day. I know I feel this sincerely because when I think about it I feel emotional. A barnacle would eat me and Werner Herzog would make a documentary probably called Barnacle and in interviews say, "The insane effects of the barnacles of Seattle are inexplicable, yet it is not necessary to probe into the ecstatic truths of Tao Lin's sudden attraction toward barnacles."
LIVING IN SEATTLE HAS A "REFRESHING" EFFECT ON WHAT BOOKS PEOPLE WRITE
Currently I write short books about depressed people experiencing problems with human relationships while "fighting" "various things" like "meaninglessness" and "despair." If I moved to Seattle, my next book would probably be 1,000 pages about "one seagull's journey from religious abstinence to occasional, discerning, and safe sex with close friends." I don't know, I think it would sell a lot of copies. I'm not just making a joke. I really feel I might create something like that if I lived in an "urbane" apartment in Seattle.
SEATTLE IS IMMUNE TO "REAL" DESPAIR
I feel like most people in Seattle have "given up on life" due to a comprehensive knowledge about existentialism but in a "good" way that doesn't feel bad at all. They wake up, go to work copywriting shampoo advertisements, go home, lie in fetal positions facing the back of their sofas, and feel beautiful and existentially awesome. I can successfully transpose existential despair onto any city, but when I do it to Seattle something happens and it becomes "really good" somehow. I think Kafka would have "thrived" in Seattle and written something like seven 800-page novels about the happiness of crippling loneliness with titles like Helvetica Font and The Seattle Public Library Is Beautiful and The Joy of Existential Non Well-Being. The passage from Ronald Hayman's biography of Kafka that reads, "One Saturday evening [Kafka's sister] came home from the shop to find [Kafka] sitting on the sofa, staring blankly in front of him. Aware he had been eating very little, she asked whether he was going to have supper, but he did not answer, and they just stared at each other," would instead read "One Saturday afternoon [Kafka's sister] came home from Elliott Bay Book Company to find [Kafka] standing on the sofa, smiling widely with his arms out in a kind of ecstasy. Aware he had just published his fifth 800-page novel, Freedom in Capital Letters with 19 Exclamation Points After It, she asked whether or not he had seen review copies yet, but he did not answer, and they just grinned at each other a lot." The passage, from the same book, that reads, "[Kafka] decided to write a frank letter to [his fiancée's father], and show it to [his fiancée] before sending it. It would explain how, for about 10 years, he had been increasingly aware of lacking the sense of well-being most people had. Her father might like to recommend a doctor who would examine him and report on his findings," would read, "[Kafka] decided to write an 800-page novel about how happy he felt that something like 'bagels' existed, and show it to [his editor at Knopf]. The novel would explain how, for his entire life, he had been very happy. [His editor at Knopf] might give him a $2,000,000 advance and let him design the cover himself."
PEOPLE IN SEATTLE HAVE CHOADS
When I think about Seattle, I think about people who are very professional and clean and intelligent going home to apartments where everything is in Helvetica font. When they take off their pants, they have choads. A choad is a penis whose width is the same as its length. Having choads makes them think less about sex and focus more on creating beautiful streets and buildings and drinking coffee and subscribing to literary journals. I think in environments of a lot of coffee, lower levels of poverty than average, and higher subscription rates to obscure literary journals people start having choads. It feels logical somehow.