Regarding a visit to Seattle and the blessingcurse of having the means to choose your own fate
Impressions of Seattle:
- Lush. Moss everywhere. Happy plants. This struck me especially because I visited from the midst of a Philadelphia winter.
- Easy. I don’t know how to describe this one. It didn’t feel like most cities to me. Maybe this is just the point in my life that I’m at. Usually it seems like I have to work to make a city mine. But Seattle felt easy. It felt sort of like I was expoloring my own city.
- This made it seem cozy
- This made it seem not-novel (I would definitely not go so far as to call it boring, though)
- Sparse. The downtown part has tall buildings and all that, and feels like a city. But even in Capitol Hill, the super hip part, it seemed like the streets were empty, compared to Philly streets. It looked like a city, but a city with fewer people out walking around than my east coast sensibilities expect. I live in (South) West Philly, which often feels sort of suburban to me. Big houses, (little) front yards, wide streets. But compared to West Philly, neighborhoods like Ballard in Seattle feel even more suburban. The houses have lots of space between them! Big parts of the neighborhoods are designed for driving, not walking. And even those designed for walking advertise free parking. I never see parking advertised in East Coast cities.
- Remote. I keep my Living Earth Desktop centered on where I currently am. I’m used to seeing parts of Europe, Africa, and South America. Not to mention the whole Northeast Megalopolis. But with a globe centered on Seattle, the hubs of culture and human activity that interest me seem much farther away.
- Philly-centered view of Earth (note that clouds blur the shocking brightness of the east half of North America)
- Seattle-centered view of Earth
- Uncomplicated. Sort of homogenous. Lots of white people. Not a lot of visible poverty. At least in the areas I visited. Most big American cities have about five times the skilled laborers as they do unskilled, but I’m used to living in one with a 1:1 ratio. (I heard this in Donna Frisby-Greenwood’s talk at Ignite Philly, I think, but cannot find a source for it—do you know one?) I walk through the effects of systemic racism and generational poverty every day. I got the sense that, if I lived in Seattle, I’d more easily forget how most of the world lives. Being an upper middle class white gentrifier in a poor Southwest Philly neighborhood comes fraught with cognitive dissonance, but hiding from that dissonance doesn’t seem good for the world.
Lisa, my partner, guessed that I would move to Seattle next week if she agreed to it. And I’ve wondered about that all week. Would I?
I’ve got wanderlust bad. It’s true. I’ve wanted to go explore the globe for years. And now we’re debt-free, and we have the means to do so. But would I choose to uproot my life, just to go make this city mine for a while? If I could choose to make that decision right now?
Lately I’ve wondered what I want to get out of traveling around. I’ve wanted it for so long, but never really had an objective for it. To learn? Just to explore? To get inspired? – Inspired for writing stories? Inspired for writing songs?
Culture comes from people staying still. Nirvana and grunge music owe their origins to a bunch of kids, stuck in the Pacific Northwest, playing with punk music together. Ethnic foods come from people never leaving the place they grew up, for centuries.
I strive to live in a way that, if everyone chose to do so, the world would be better than it is now. We wouldn’t destroy our planet or each other.
A world made up entirely of travelers would be a bad world.
- Bad for the environment, at least until we find a completely renewable source of energy and infinitely recycleable components for batteries, transportation, and the machines that create energy. Maybe we’ll have those things in half a century.
- Bad for culture. The world would become more homogenous. Cultures would become more blended. In our mass desire to explore new cultures, we would dilute the cultures we leave behind and those we visit.
But extending my 20-something wanderlust to an entire world of wanderlusters seems sort of silly. I wouldn’t want to travel forever, and coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving, right?
But traveling for a long time seems bad for me, too.
- Bad for getting things done. Travel takes effort. With that same effort I could work on countless personal projects that I’ve dreamt up over my life.
- Bad for my emotions. A rotating cast of acquaintences and new friends seems lonely. Staying put results in deep friendships. Which seem more fulfilling than whatever nebulous goals I have for endless travel.
Here’s the rest of the “coming back to where you started” quote, which is by Terry Pratchett:
Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.
Which brings me to the root of my struggle, I suppose. I don’t feel like I have a place to come back to. Philly, yes, but Philly feels like a place I’m visiting. Not like home. The place I mostly grew up doesn’t quite feel like home, either, and I don’t really desire to settle there.
Would I move to Seattle? No, I don’t think so. Whatever I want out of living in new places, I think it has something to do with those places feeling novel. And Seattle doesn’t. It feels comfortable and normal. It would feel like I uprooted my nascent Philly communities for not much reason.
Would I move to Philly? Would I recommend doing so to other people? Would I settle there? I don’t know.
Where would you settle? Or where have you settled? Did you choose it? Why?