This is the last installment of Culture Wars, which I began writing about a year and a half ago, in February of 1999. I meant it to have a longer run, but there's a problem: I'm leaving town for a fellowship in New York, and I doubt this column's Seattle-focused mix of gossip, news, and mouthing off would work very well with me living three time zones away. I'm going to attend the National Arts Journalism Program, a small fellowship program at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism devoted to letting arts writers not work for a year. I'll take courses in art and architecture, and generally attempt to better myself while also working on some long-term projects that I haven't been able to devote much attention to while under the constant yoke of weekly deadlines.
One of the requirements of the fellowship, perversely enough, is that fellows not write during the year, with very limited exceptions--so this is also the last time you'll see my byline in The Stranger for a while. I arrived here as an angry young man and leave as a bitter, youngish crank. I was hired as a proofreader in September of '93 during the editorial tenure of S. P. Miskowski, served in a variety of roles under Emily White, who supported my idea to start this column, and now leave the paper in a very healthy state--all my doing, of course--in the hands of Jennifer Vogel. Seven years! I somehow managed to stick around here longer than any editorial staffer except Dan Savage.
I'm, uh, not exactly sure what I did with all that time. There were a couple of features I wrote, a lot of reviews; near the end, this column. I think I talked on the phone a fair bit, sent and received some e-mail. It was generally very fun and educational and entertaining, except when it wasn't, and I doubt I'll ever work with as many swell, witty, nasty people again.
I've spent these years trying to learn on the job through copious reading, lots of looking, and grillions of interviews and conversations, but I've spent much more time talking and writing. It's time I shut up and listen for a while. I want to find out if, contrary to what modern educators say, it's possible to get smarter through entirely passive means. I don't know how I'll last a school year without having a built-in audience of some 80,000 people (or at least the 20 of them that Seattle Art Museum curator Trevor Fairbrother thinks read this particular column) to expose to whatever popped into my head every week. It'll be rough.
Why do people insist on writing these farewell letters? To prove they've learned something from the experience? I've learned that Seattle constantly changes, but remains essentially unaltered. It's all in the mind: Seattle's population has fluctuated around five or six hundred thousand for decades, but ask anyone on the street and they'll tell you it's growing like mad, destroying itself, losing its identity--a perpetual apocalypse. But Seattle's a frontier town: Its identity should be in flux. Its greatest trait is its dissatisfaction, its perpetual desire to reinvent itself. In the process, it kills its own rough-hewn, melancholy Scandinavian past, replaces it with some sleek prefab soul, and waits for the melancholia to reemerge in a new guise. From Morris Graves to Charles D'Ambrosio, from Chief Seattle to Kurt Cobain: so many winning losers. It was nice to be one of them.
I'm gone, but not forgetful: Please continue to send gossip and complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org.