Smoke Rises in Seattle
August 24, 2018 § 14 Comments
By Nancy Schatz Alton
Last night I walked through the smoke, face mask on. I walked through the smoke with my friend of 30 years. I walked through the smoke through a neighborhood transformed by money. I didn’t think about gentrification, that word I learned at college. Instead I thought about how I didn’t know where I was because the buildings reached so much higher than they did 18 years ago when I first moved to this neighborhood. The smoke from the fires surrounding our region disorient me. The new buildings disorient me. My friend is my compass, my remember when, my person who knows what it’s like to be pissed at the world yet she continues to walk through it with conviction and love.
Last night we were walking through the neighborhood to go to a book launch. At the book launch I realized my writerly jealously has lowered so much lately. Still I wondered what it would have been like to believe I could be a writer back when I was at college. It took so much effort to show up at my poetry writing class, to read my poems out loud. To hear my poetry professor tell me things I wasn’t ready to hear. I remember hanging on to my dislike of him because sometimes he didn’t show up to class. Still he is the reason I live in Seattle. He told us how all we need to remake our lives is a one-way train ticket. You can move where no one knows your name and remake yourself. He’s the voice I heard that propelled me to this city that has now been transformed by wealth. Back then, I moved with my $1500 and made a new life. I saved up that money working as an assistant manager at a bookstore. When I moved to my new city I applied at every writing job I could find until I had an office manager job at a city magazine. The same week I accepted that job I turned down an unpaid internship at a feminist press. I needed a paycheck.
I could spend my whole life wondering what if. What if I believed in my writing enough to apply to and go to grad school in my 20s? What if I had instead worked at the feminist press? What ifs are good for conversation, but at a certain age this conversation grows tiresome. And there is so much to love about where I am now. Where I am now is sitting at a reading where the author introduces me to someone who is in their late 20s. Because she is now freelancing full time thanks to a job lay-off. How do you freelance, she asks? She marvels that I have freelanced for 16 years and I downplay it, saying it fits my motherly life and the work just keeps showing up and I work part time. Ah, she is right though, I should marvel at myself. I encourage her to keep applying to jobs she wants even if she thinks she won’t get them. She is rising. Keep going, I say.
And then I am walking through the smoky neighborhood with a mask on next to my friend of 30 years. We are raging against the machine of society as we walk, our cadence familiar and practiced. I slip in the fact that my writerly envy is disappearing after much work. I’m on a path. I keep walking. Through the smoke. I am always arriving, and I write more words to keep me going.
Nancy Schatz Alton is the co-author of two holistic health care guides, The Healthy Back Book and The Healthy Knees Book. When she’s not meeting deadlines or teaching writing, she writes poetry and essays and works on her memoir about her daughter’s learning journey. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two teen daughters and one Havanese dogs. Read her blog.