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Thirty years on

This January was the 30th anniversary of my move to Seattle, and this has of course got me thinking about how much things have changed in that time. I was 23 when I moved here, and so the weight of life experience now leans more on the after-Seattle side of the balance than the before-Seattle side, although things that happen during your formative years tend to have more weight than things that happen once you're more settled into a routine. The four years I lived in Micronesia from age five to nine had a disproportionate impact on my consciousness. Yet the Seattle years more than hold their own, even on the scale of formative experiences. Maybe that's because I was a late bloomer.



It's actually hard now to get back into my frame of mind when I moved to Seattle. I had just completed my college degree, and I was looking to establish my independence. San Francisco, Portland, and Vancouver, BC were other cities I thought I could live in, but Seattle won out because Denys and paul offered me a place to live. I had been visiting Seattle, and especially Denys, fairly regularly since 1979, but despite the fact that I knew a lot of people in the science fiction community here, the first year after my move was one of the worst of my life. I quickly learned how important a social network was to my mental well-being, and I went back to Oregon a lot to hang out with my old friends. I still got very depressed and started seeing a counselor.

Before that I got a job as a file clerk at an insurance company, so at least I could cover my incredibly cheap rent, but there were plenty of other things to feel frustrated about. I wanted a girlfriend, but after reconnecting with Sharee and becoming infatuated with her, I was rebuffed. I wanted to be a science fiction writer, but I was completely paralyzed as a writer. In fact, I felt completely paralyzed as a human being. Thus the counselor -- a very thoughtful guy named Tom whose partner, Craig, was my hair dresser.

All was not depression and frustration, by any means. The Vanguard group of science fiction fans was at its roaring peak, and I gradually made new friends amongst them, establishing a new social network. My old college friend carl, who had introduced me to Seattle fandom, also moved up from Oregon, providing another trusted friend and another link to the Old Country. Pretty quickly I discovered that I could see great bands in the local bars for three bucks cover charge and drink my fill of great microbrew. I joked that I had moved to Seattle for the beer, beans (coffee), and bud (marijuana), and on that level the carefree party life was pretty damned good. Good times were cheap and plentiful. At age 25 I finally entered my years of adolescent rebellion and started bleaching and dying my hair (thanks to Craig) and wearing a biker jacket, hoping to attract the attention of Sharee and her mohawk, but instead eventually catching the eye of a beautiful university student named Robyn who also worked at the insurance company and who swung into my orbit for a few occasionally less than frustrating years. Robyn liked to say that she wasn't a punk but an eclectic non-conformist. She was more of a metalhead anyway, which meant the proto-grunge bands like Green River were fine by her.

From my first visits, I'd always loved Seattle as a physical and social space. I loved the hills and lakes, the bay and the marinas and the beaches and the parks and the general greenery, the mountain views to east and west, with totemic Rainier veiling and unveiling in the clouds, the view of the downtown towers gleaming across Lake Union, and the scattered neighborhood centers: the U District, Capitol Hill, Fremont (my home neighborhood), Wallingford, the International District, and Pioneer Square -- the old city -- huddled in the shadow of the monstrous viaduct running along the waterfront. I loved the pubs with the trough urinals, the coffee shops, the bookstores and record shops, the cinemas and grungy nightclubs. I loved the grungy streets full of punks and nerds and other weirdos. This was the biggest city I'd ever lived in, and I was fascinated by the street life, and the strange little nooks and crannies full of eccentric boutiques and restaurants, not to mention the abandoned storefronts and empty parking lots where impromptu events might suddenly transpire. I loved the way people from all walks of life came together in certain spaces, like Tugs, where gay and straight, black and white, punk and tourist bumped to the latest dance music. For me it was a brave new world that had such people in it.

I felt my horizons were constantly expanding. After I got past my depression and the worst of my disconnected feeling, there was that continuing sense of furious absorption that I'd felt since I started at the university. The possibilities of life seemed limitless, and I was questioning all my old certainties. The world seemed enormous, and Seattle was plugged into the global network in ways I'd never experienced before. It was a city full of people from somewhere else, and we joked that Seattle didn't have any actual native borns. As anxious as I was about my love life and my prospects as a writer, I kept stumbling into amazing experiences both in love and, through Vanguard, in the science fiction world. By 1989 I had fallen in love with a German girl and was traveling to Berlin to visit her just as the Wall was breached, and meanwhile science fiction writers of all stripes were pouring through Seattle to attend or teach Clarion West. Grunge was percolating up through the clubs, preparing to make Seattle the hard rock capitol of the world. As for capital, it was pouring in via Microsoft and Starbucks, and it was transforming the face of the city, for better and worse.

For me personally, I think I hit a kind of plateau in the early '90s. After three painful failed relationships in a row, I more or less gave up on finding a girlfriend and fell into a decade of yearning for a beauteous young bartender from a distance (which became less distant over time, but never a relationship -- now she's an old friend). Likewise I began to feel that I would never make it as a science fiction writer, and I published my first fanzine, although I didn't know yet that it signaled a change in focus that would be much more conducive to my proclivities and abilities. I started working at the University of Washington in 1989, and within a few years I'd been put in charge of implementing one aspect of a major new software system that actually fed my sense of accomplishment more than anything else in my life at the time. It felt strange to actually value my job. The housing market started to soar, and Denys and I took the plunge before it was too late, buying the house where he'd been living since 1978 and I since 1984. I'd sworn when I moved into this house that I would never move again, and now it seemed possible. The tumult of my earlier years seemed to settle down, and an artsy friend of mine accused me of becoming a pensioner. I was still enjoying the cultural scene, and went out regularly to live music shows or acid jazz dance clubs like the Re-Bar, where gay and straight, black and white, punk and tourist bumped it like the old days at Tugs, now to the divine mixes of the reverend DJ Riz.

By the time the Aughts came around, it all had changed again, but now we're approaching the advent of this LiveJournal in 2005 and matters that I've already written about here probably too many times. Suffice it to say that my life was transformed again in fairly substantial ways, even if in the end I still don't have a girlfriend. Seattle too has undergone massive upheaval, and right now is groaning under the duress of a number of major public works projects. Paul Allen has used his Microsoft fortune to terraform an entire neighborhood (South Lake Union), while Bill and Melinda Gates have used theirs to try to sway global health and public education policy. The University of Washington, in my time here, has developed into a major research university with a global reach. My neighborhood, the formerly funky Fremont, is now the home of major outposts of Adobe and Google, with homegrown Tableau all set to blow up or or disappear into acquisition. If I were coming to the city fresh, I probably couldn't afford to live here, certainly not if I wanted to buy a house.

Well, it's hard to encapsulate 30 years. A lot happens. Friendships of twenty years fall by the wayside. Anguished heartbreaks become fond friendships. Old friends die suddenly. Haunts of long standing disappear. (RIP Egyptian Theater.) New haunts arise, and before you know it are long-standing but not a place you hang out at much anymore. (I'm looking at you, Elysian Brewpub!) It's impossible to capture it all here, and these are just notes toward whatever. Notes toward a final accounting after new developments have slowed down. Yeah, right. Thirty years, thirty years, thirty years on, and the developments just keep coming.

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Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
croneitude
Feb. 20th, 2014 11:46 pm (UTC)
You've packed a lot of living into a few paragraphs here. I loved spending time with you when I was in Seattle after my uncle's death. Hope for more of it someday soon! XO
randy_byers
Feb. 21st, 2014 12:07 am (UTC)
I think I'll be expanding this for a a fanzine article, but I'm not completely sure yet. It needs many hours of work to flesh it out in any kind of substantial way.

Edited at 2014-02-21 12:09 am (UTC)
holyoutlaw
Feb. 21st, 2014 04:01 am (UTC)
Very eloquent and you know I'd like to see the expanded version.

You have a wonderful way of writing about your life.
randy_byers
Feb. 21st, 2014 04:05 am (UTC)
Thank you, sir! Alas, that tends to be my proclivities and abilities. Not so much the science fiction.
voidampersand
Feb. 21st, 2014 07:46 am (UTC)
It would be science fiction if only you'd written it a few decades ago.
randy_byers
Feb. 21st, 2014 02:11 pm (UTC)
Ha!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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