Last week, one of Cascadia’s finest authors passed away. I’ve read nearly all of Denis Johnson’s published books and it is no exaggeration to say that several of them (especially Tree of Smoke, Train Dreams, Nobody Move, and Already Dead) regularly haunt me even during waking hours. There are echoes in his prose and hard-luck characters of another Northwest writer, Raymond Carver, but I’ve never encountered anyone with Johnson’s art for telling stories that seem to travel between this world and the next one.
After a Thin Green Line speaking engagement in Sandpoint, Idaho, I had the pleasure of meeting the owner of a beloved bookshop in Bonners Ferry. He supplied me with a signed volume and a magazine feature Johnson wrote about why he chose to live secluded in rural north Idaho. I’d hoped to return someday and perhaps meet him.
Dear Seattle International Film Festival, I love you. You are amazing in so many ways, and we wouldn’t be the same without you. But I will never understand—and I can never forgive—your scheduling. As you well know, Seattle is “blessed” with month after month of prime movie-going weather: darkness and cold and rain, seemingly without end. So when at last the sun returns to our gloomy shores, when the flowers are blooming, how on earth can you expect us to retreat to the dark cave of a cinema?
There’s a dead gray whale on a beach on Washington’s outer coast. This not being Oregon, state officials did not blow it up with dynamite. But if they had, perhaps it would have been in keeping with ancient Northwest lore.
Mark Zuckerberg’s commencement address makes some really important points, like, maybe we should work together to stop climate change! Starting at 18:10, he talks for about 10 minutes about inequality and opportunity. We need to redefine our idea of equality to make sure that everyone has the freedom to find their purpose. Entrepreneurs can only succeed because they have the freedom to fail, which means having a cushion to fall back on when you fail. But while he (Zuckerberg) was able to try things, knowing he wouldn’t be homeless if it didn’t work out, and now he can make billions, historic inequality means that millions of young people can’t even pay off their student loans much less start a new business that might fail. He points out that he doesn’t know anybody who didn’t follow through on an entrepreneurial idea because they were afraid they wouldn’t make enough money if they succeeded, but he knows plenty of people who couldn’t try something because they wouldn’t be able to pay for rent and food if it failed. He goes on to say “it’s time for our generation to define a new social contract” that includes a universal basic income that gives everyone that cushion to try things and fail. We need affordable childcare, healthcare that’s not tied to one employer, and to give people the freedom to make mistakes instead of locking them up when they do. He acknowledges that this will not be free, and that people like him should pay. At 24:10 he talks about his experience teaching students and learning what it feels like to be targeted for your race and to have a parent in prison. He believes that everyone, not just him, but those students too, should have the opportunity to find their purpose in life.
Extra glad to have found a few points of hope this week, including this Resistbot app that faxes your political representatives for you with a simple text (please apply liberally), this list of awe-inspiring leaders working on innovative solutions to climate change, this statement from the six largest cities in the US committing to honor the Paris Accord, regardless of federal actions, and this article on a massive wind power project currently in the works in Wyoming (of all places). Also this picture of an abandoned synthetic silk factory in Rome that has become a nature preserve, which is currently serving as my own personal reminder that nature persists, no matter the hubris of humanity.
In the “unexpected developments” category, I frequently cringe at opinion pieces from the Seattle Times Editorial Board. But I find myself in agreement with their views that public funds should be spent for public purposes, and the Seattle City Council should protect the “public interest and transparency,” in negotiating with private parties over new sports facilities in the city.
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On the other hand, a year ago, Samatha Bee defended the City Council female members who voted to support jobs at the Port of Seattle, rather than enable a private investor to develop a new sports arena; and Ms. Bee expressed her opinion in a more direct, humorous, feminist, and (trigger alert!) ribald manner.
Lastly, did readers know the world is running out of construction-quality sand? Well, neither did I until I read this New Yorker article.
John Abbotts is a former Sightline research consultant who occasionally submits material for Weekend Reading and other posts.