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Thursday
May162013

Seattle’s Creative Class and Why We Live in Such a Kick Ass City

            March 1st, 2013. After pre-funking at the Owl and Thistle on Basil Hayden’s and Bud lights, we made our way to Pioneer Square, the final bastion of the Wild West in Seattle proper. As we crossed Occidental Park, like Moses parting the Red Sea, we parted a sea of homeless men passing glass pipes and paper bags.

            “You see that disco ball and those lights?” said my friend Dave. “That’s where we’re going…

            “Hey – how do we get in?” he called up to two attractive girls in the second floor window.

            “Around front,” they replied in unison, limbs swaying to the sounds emanating from inside.

          As we rounded the corner of S. Washington St. onto 1st Ave. S, we found a large, official-looking man at a doorway. “Is this Karass Creative?” Dave asked.

            “Yup. Come on in.”

            We followed his directions and made our way up the stairs of the once industrial, now modern work lofts. As if honing in on a beacon, we were pulled toward the source from which the muted 70s funk pulsated. Opening the door labeled “Karass Creative,” we walked straight into a scene out of Seattle-topia, the soon to be Portlandia spin-off.

            Through a lingering haze of smoke, my small party made our way for the keg while glowing orbs and Christmas lights backlit an eclectic mix of artists, designers, filmmakers, video editors, creative directors, writers, musicians, UX specialists, and graphic designers.

            Standing tall outside the northeast corner of the loft—like an old sentry keeping watch over the south entrance of the city—Smith Tower loomed above us as it has since 1914, eyeing the happenings of the original city center that once housed saloons, whore houses, gold prospectors, and the dreams of those who sought a better life in the west. A century later it’s home to creative agencies, art galleries, stadiums, coffee shops, and construction projects.  

            On the south wall of the loft hung a dour image of the Godfather, Vito Corleone, but closer scrutiny revealed the impressionist piece to be hundreds, if not thousands, of bottle caps nailed to a piece of wood the size of a Pontiac hood. In the opposite corner, a spotlight lit the undercarriage of a large ficus tree, casting ficus shadows crawling on caterpillar’s feet across the ceiling.

            Beside the tree spread a table full of delectable, lightly infused marijuana treats ranging from Chex Mix, fudge, and cookies, to a savory and spicy Chimichurri dip that was so intoxicatingly delicious, it was no doubt the Achilles heel of several people’s evenings. This free cannabis cornucopia was the brainchild of “Sebastian,” aka “The Baker,” an talented epicure who’s other hobbies included brewing and distilling. Looking to improve his art and capitalize on the new soon-to-become marijuana economy, “Sebastian” is hoping to eventually open a private dinner club with a ganja lounge instead of a cigar den.

            The event was BakeFeast 3D, the third such gathering created and hosted by Karass Creative, a small creative agency that helps brands, arts organizations, and nonprofits tell better stories. “Karass,” a Vonnegut construct, roughly means “a group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial linkages are not evident.”

            When the evening’s band Haute f’Aurts took stage, “Bob” stepped behind an L-shaped stack of organs and keyboards, nodded at his rhythmic coconspirator “Jeff” on percussion, and spread his fingers across the Hammond B3. Like a puppet master he guided the peaking crowd on a roller coaster of up, down, and off-beat tempos, holding down the bass with one hand while laying melodies over the top with his other. Light particles spun and ricocheted off a disco ball while syncopated media projected on $20 art frames displayed real-time images of partygoers taken by a wandering GoPro camera. The crowd rode the wave of jams that ranged from suspended ethereal dazes to dirty, muddy grooves shaped by mind-melting synth.

            A wave. An awesome wave.

            We were all riding it to the best of our abilities and in proportion to the treats in which we had imbibed, all the while trusting Bob to chart our course like an air traffic controller trying to land a rocking and rolling 747 on a stormy night.

            As the music pulsed off the exposed brick wall to our backs, my friend and I looked out the windows at the enveloping 270-degree view of downtown Seattle. We were feeling the night coming on and didn’t need to speak anything; rather we shared a singular, unspoken moment of awareness—how the fuck did we get so lucky to live in such an amazing city, in such a beautiful corner of the world?

***

            After getting passed up for two jobs in the World Trade Center in May 2001, two month later I moved to Seattle. I’ve lived here for close to twelve years with the exception of April 2011 – July 2012, when I threw my life in storage and took off to travel India and Southeast Asia, eventually residing in Berlin for the final three months. The length of travel afforded me the opportunity to know cities more intimately than I otherwise would have as a tourist, as well as meet local people and fall in with different crowds and scenes.

            In Bangkok I was hanging out with French expats, which lead me to brush shoulders with artists, models, writers, rock stars, an heiress to a French champagne fortune, and an owner of one of Bangkok’s top clubs. In Ho Chi Minh City, Shanghai, and Beijing I hung out with expat educators who lived like kings and partied like royalty while teaching children of executives and diplomats at exclusive international schools. In Berlin I was in the heart of the start-up tech scene, clinking glasses with entrepreneurs, an executive of a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical company, a French actress, fashion designers, painters, an ex-professional soccer player who was a star on Denmark’s national team, and developers who were artists and rock stars in their own binary rights.

            When I got back to the states 15-months later on July 4th, 2012, while it was nice to be greeted with fireworks, I wondered if I was done with Seattle or if it had anything left to offer me. In the process I started exploring Portland and Boulder, looking for a quick and easy transition, but opportunity happened first in Seattle.

            It’s been a little more than six months since I returned to these emerald shores, and in addition to my life starting to feel familiar again, I am having a reinvigorated love affair with the city. Partly it’s because I keep finding myself at underground events like the one at Karass Creative; events that bring together an alchemical confluence of energies and an amalgam of creative individuals who are in the process of engendering something new—or at least a new take on something we thought we knew.

            While disconnecting from the work day by dancing late into the evening on Friday night, it occurred to me in a moment of insight that one of the reasons I wanted to leave Seattle was that I thought it was static, but I realized it wasn’t the city that was static, but me. Within that insight I realized as the city is evolving, expressing new things in the form of restaurants, bars, services, and housing—so too is my expression evolving through the interactions with the people I bounce off of at these modern day salons.

            Whether the patrons of BakeFest 3D realized it or not, we are all part of a cultural shift occurring in the zeitgeist. I’m not talking about the Mayan calendar or the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, but a different kind of shift. This statement beckons the question, what is a shift and how is it created?

            A shift is simply a change in thinking that occurs through individuals who possess a collective vision. Shifts occur through scenes and scenes are a collection of these thinkers and creators. What grounds a scene is a location—a place where like-minded people can gather, such as music venues, theaters, art galleries, or in this case, Karass Creative.

***

            One of the three greatest gifts that travel afforded me (the other being the power of gratitude and intention) was seeing the familiar in new light. In seeing Seattle with fresh eyes, I feel as if something new is being born in our great city—or perhaps rebirthed. The fog of the 2008 financial crash is starting to burn off and what is becoming clear is that there’s an unspoken recognition that inept politicians in the highest levels of government aren’t the ones that lift our spirits or lift us out of recessions; it’s the resourceful, entrepreneurial, subversive, Creative Class.

            The beauty about the Creative Class is that it’s not just limited to artists, but also the doctors who are pushing new discoveries in medicine, engineers who construct buildings that actually give back to the grid, developers who find new ways to help us communicate and work more efficiently, chefs that give us original culinary experiences and new places to converge, and entrepreneurs who create new jobs. 

            Entry to the creative class is not gained by financial resources (or lack thereof), but rather the quality of ones thoughts and actions. It’s that self-expression that brings together busking musicians, graffiti artists, creative directors, writers, video artists, painters, and all those who are called forth to share their insatiable curiosity and commitment to their vision. Maybe we in Seattle are also gaining an unconscious, creative lift by living in a state that is leading one of the greatest civil rights issues of our time—gay marriage. As a kicker, we also managed to roll back the absurd marijuana prohibition laws that have only served to fill our jails. In this light, Seattle is a litmus test for the rest of the nation.

            Should anyone should read this outside of Seattle, I’m proud to report that the lifting of restrictions on our freedoms has not in fact caused our society to collapse, rather quite the opposite. We are experiencing a veritable gold rush of creativity that’s attracting talent to our city from all over the globe to work at world-class brands such as Starbucks, Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon, The Gates Foundation, and PATH.

            Luckily, we in Seattle also have mountains, we have a coast, and we have moody, brooding weather. We have the Puget Sound where Orcas and salmon swim freely. We have a solid and evolving transportation system. We have stunning natural beauty, lush landscapes, and vast green cityscapes that give us a heightened environmental awareness. We have SubPop Records and have given the world Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam, to name but a few. The Seattle Sounders were one of the most successful sports franchise launches ever; the Seahawks made a brave run at the Super Bowl and will likely be contenders next year. We have the Mariners (OK—maybe they have some work to do), and next year we’ll likely have our beloved Sonics back. We’re leaders in technology, innovation, gaming, music, entrepreneurship, aviation, medicine, research, philanthropy, and retail.

            The question our success poses is: What is at the core of this boom? What is the fuel that powers the engine of Seattle’s success?

            I argue it’s a healthy and thriving Creative Class, for it’s the Creative Class which breathes life, character, personality, and prosperity into a city. Fortunately for us inhabitants, Seattle is a city full of naturally passionate and curious people who explore their passions at night while pushing the boundaries of storytelling, design, and innovation at their day jobs.

            An ancillary benefit of a healthy Creative Class is that it sets the vibe of a city, and this can in turn lead to an invigorated civic mind—which benefits us all—because only when we’re all participating in the creation of something better and positive do we move forward as individuals, a city, a culture, and a species.

            The confluence of creative energies that happens in underground scenes throughout Seattle such as the one at Karass Creative creates currents and tides that ripple and slosh about the city, casting out molecules of creative ideas that come together to form various compounds in music, film, restaurants, start-ups, and every mode of human expression.

            These artists I speak of and the shift they are helping steer, is ultimately subversive—it has to be if we’re going to successfully move forward as human beings. This shift we’re partaking in is one of human consciousness—one that is moving us away from a paradigm of fear, divisiveness, and individuality, to a paradigm of love, acceptance, compassion, and community.      

            We’ve got work to do though. I know I’m not the only one who’s tired of the bullshit. I’m not the only one who’s tired of unenlightened, ineffectual politicians who only look out for their own interests. This means we have to do it ourselves. The silver lining is that it only takes a ripple in one part of the world to create a tsunami.  

            That’s how we start a revolution in Seattle.

            That’s how we become leaders in a new age of enlightenment.

***

 

Sunday
Apr212013

Chapter 4. Fierce Grace

My sister Therese, the true hero of the story.And so began my own metamorphosis from homeless man with one day’s worth of clothes to the poster boy for J.Crew, Banana Republic, and Patagonia. It was through no brand loyalty the garb I wore, but rather my work had bought me Banana Republic, a friend I met in India sent me a 50%-off-everything gift certificate from Patagonia, and J.Crew…well just because I walked in there and their customer service was outstanding.

Over the course of the next several days Therese and I stayed incredibly busy shopping, making lists of people I needed to contact, supplies I needed to replenish, meetings I needed to take, spreadsheets what I lost and what its estimated value might be, and phone calls I needed to return.

There were detectives, there were fire investigators from both the Seattle Fire Department and other agencies, there were insurance agents, there were reporters, there was a restoration team in Hazmat suits sifting and sorting through my carcinogenic belongings. There were countless other companies loitering who specialized in tragedy and were hungry for business.

It seems strange to write, but while the loss was substantial, like a warm April rain, the blessings that were showering upon me were humbling. Within the first few days of the fire, I heard from friends from all over the world; Amsterdam, Ireland, Rotterdam, Berlin, Munich, and Cologne, Germany, England, Australia, Bangkok, Saudi Arabia, Bali, Santiago, Chile, and India. I heard from my childhood best friend whom I had lost touch with. A high school friend, who became a firefighter, called me to give me advice. A woman from Bellevue who saw my story on the news, who herself had been a diarist for most of her life, emailed me to say how upset she was about the loss of the journals and asked if she could buy me notebooks or pens.

“As a fellow writer, I know how picky we can be about our instruments,” she wrote in solidarity.

People from all walks of my life, as well as other continents, reached out to offer their home or be of assistance. I owned almost nothing in the world and yet there this was inexplicable feeling—an internal high—the substance of which was an expansive gratitude, the likes of which I had not felt in a year—not since I was wandering the streets of Berlin for days at a time while wondering where my life was going to take me next. It wasn’t a fearful wondering, however; it was tabula rasa, my life a blank slate upon which to create new experiences.

I had big plans for that garden. Next time.For a year I had been freely and aimlessly roaming Southeast Asia, my only true intention, to find the story. A year to the day I arrived in Asia, I left Asia for Berlin where a five day visit turned into three months. For more than a year I lived out of backpack. What was three months more? I had found a job in Berlin so I bought a few things at H&M to look presentable in a professional environment. I moved around quite a bit in those three months, from apartment to apartment, neighborhood to neighborhood, and back again.

Perhaps it was all some sort of astrological preparation for the present moment in which I was living.

***

As I said, everyone I knew wanted to help in one way or another, and yet I really had no idea what I needed beyond food, clothing, and shelter.

Sometimes, however, life shows you exactly what you need.

It happened one afternoon when my sister and I had to go to my bank to deposit the small advance my insurance company had given me to get by. Therese took a seat in the reception while I made my way to the teller. Beside me as I deposited a check, was an older woman who I couldn’t help but notice was struggling.

“I need $25 to keep this account open?” she inquired in desperation. “Is this a new policy? I’ve never heard of it. I’m sorry,” she kept apologizing. “I never heard of this. I just…I just don’t have it right now.”

In my vulnerable state I couldn’t help, even more so than normal, but absorb her distress.

“I’m sorry,” she kept apologizing while trying to hold it together. “I’m a single Mom and I’m just…I’m just having a really hard time right now.” She held her hand to her face in shame and embarrassment.

When my transaction was complete, I pardoned myself and said, “Excuse me, I didn’t mean to listen in, but do you need $25? Can I give it to you?” I pulled out my wallet, flush with cash from the generosity of my coworkers.

The weight of her shame crushed me with the mass of a tsunami coming to shore. I wanted to tell her it was going to be OK, to reassure her that everything was going to work out. I wanted to make whatever had gone awry in her life right. I wanted to hug her and protect her.

But instead she said no and I simply walked away.

When my sister and I stepped out of the bank, out of the shadow of the skyscraper and into the Emerald City mist, I was visibly shaken.

A little late for that sign, don't you think?“You have to go back in there,” Therese said when I recounted what happened. “You have to go back in there and make her take it. It will make you feel better. Just do it. You have to do this for yourself.”

I hesitated, myself ashamed from an unidentifiable source, and yet as if on autopilot I returned to the bank where I waited silently by her side. When she looked up from the transaction with the teller I said, “Pardon me. I’m sorry to bother you again, but something really bad just happened to me and people have been so kind and generous. It would really make me happy if you took this,” I said.

Without making eye contact, in an awkward series of movements she reached out, then pulled her hand back, and reached forward again, and pulled back again.

“Please,” I pleaded.

When she looked up from the floor and our eyes met, something deep within each of us connected and she took the money from me.

 “Thank you,” she said using a Kleenex to wipe her nose.

We both welled up with emotion and for the first time since the fire ripped through my house and being, tears began to roll down my cheek.

“Please take care of yourself,” I replied, not knowing what else to say while choking back tears.

As I write this looking back, in the seconds or “Blink” in which my mind scanned her, I either saw age spots on her hand that reminded me of my mother or my imagination again filled in that blank. Regardless, there was something familiar about her and for as long as I live, or as long as I have a functioning mind, I will never forget that woman’s face. My greatest regret, and perhaps even my own shame looking back on the situation, is that I didn’t give her more. It would have been so easy and I never would have missed the money.

Another thing I will never forget is the grace her vulnerability bestowed upon me—a grace that reminded and continues to remind me just how blessed and overflowing my cup is with the things that matter most in life; friends, family, and the love and memoires you create with them. I feel truly sorry for the people who aren’t aware of this, because that means they’re not focusing on the right things.

My interaction with this woman was just one of the many lessons in recollection that flood my mind from this experience…and will continue to fill my mind in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.

***

On one of the many walks through my neighborhood.Objects became things when we began defining the world in language, but before language there was thought. Thought is matter. Thoughts are very real things; electronic broadcasts and transmissions that move out into the universe on waves of which science had not yet figured out how exactly to measure. It may seem strange, but so did the Copernican Revolution. But unbeknownst to us or not, our thoughts are satellites, pushing information out into the universe, and are feelings are beacons and antennas, pulling the corresponding experiences in. Our thoughts are connected into a Field of information that surrounds us at all times. The field is interactive, listens to our thoughts, and brings ideas and the things which we are focusing on into being, whether we are focusing on love and abundance or scarcity and fear.

Example number one is that some time in the last few months to a year—and I can’t remember if I was traveling abroad or if I was wandering about Seattle, Portland, Hood River, or Boulder after my travels, trying to find my way—but at some point two words popped into my mind with authority.

Fierce Grace.

The idea fascinated me, resonated within me, and although I couldn’t fully bring the idea into being through language, something told me at some point, when the time was right, I would know what it meant.

I now know what fierce grace is; it’s when something that at first seems so devastating and Earth-shattering, could instead become one of life’s greatest blessings and soul-enriching experiences. The fire that had taken so much was a fierce grace, and it has been my experience in life that when you are blessed with fierce grace, what is taken from you is returned to you tenfold.  

The fire had taken my home and many of my contents and yet countless friends and families opened their homes to me. At the same time, my generous friends who I stayed with before and after I left to travel, were away and offered me their home. Despite the fact that I could never figure out how to work their electronics, their home was the closest thing to home and family I knew outside of my own, a place where I had been so fortunate to see kids growing up and to be welcomed into a family. In addition, they had a dog that felt like my own, and for almost two weeks Branston and I were inseparable. Branston offered just what I needed during that time; unconditional love and play.

One of the two best dogs in the world. A stranger recently said he looked like the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw.As a bit of a backstory, I had been writing down every day in a small journal since October 2010, five things I was grateful for and five things I wanted to create in my life. This is how I know thoughts and intentions become things. If I told you some of the happenings that came out of this exercise, you wouldn’t believe it. Most recently, however, one of the things I had written down was that I wanted my sister to visit. Just like that I got to spend six days with her and we had a huge house to ourselves.

I wanted inspiration and something to write about.

I got it.

I wanted new friendships and existing ones to deepen.

I got it.

I wanted to meet new people in my community.

I have met so many in such a short period of time.

I wanted to fall more deeply into the Mystery, to understand more fully the idea of Surrender and Trust.

I now do.

Looking back over the past few weeks, there were so many things on a soulful level that I was calling into my life. In a cosmic and metaphysical sort of way, the fire brought many of these experiences into my life.

I’m not saying there haven’t been hard times and that I’m moving through life like some sort of blissed out, enlightened monk, but I do perspective. It’s miraculous that almost everything of monetary value was taken from me, and yet the most important things—my journals, family photos, and a few items inherited from my family survived. My parents must be looking out for me. It’s funny, but when you have nothing left, all you can do is trust, not only in the sense of a purpose and divine order of things, but in your friends and family to help you and guide you. It’s so absurd thought that I can’t help myself from occasionally laughing about it. The Mystery consumes me like a fire, yet from the ashes arises the Phoenix. The Mystery supports me and continues to provide me with an abundance of what I need for my highest good.  

Maybe I am just surrounded and sheltered by like-minded people, but I would say it’s challenging to deny or dispute the fact that there is an organizing energy or principle to life. Whether you imagine it to be an almighty, all knowing, all loving, all benevolent Father, or the chemical interactions of molecules and atoms at the subatomic level, the intelligence of cells to carry out a specific mission in service to the whole, or the creative or physical forces that shape our universe, there is an underlying intelligence that keeps 50 trillion cells in form and function to the service of our mind, body, and spirit.

The dispute of this idea comes when people try to label it: God, Vishnu, Krishna, Christ, energy, creativity, physics, the universe. Whether you’re speaking at the subatomic level of neutrons and electrons, or again what language may otherwise be defined as “coincidence,” there is a knowing in the core of each of our beings that is only accessible through a posteriori knowledge.

Now granted this could all be in my imagination, but it makes sense to me in the spectrum of my life experiences and inner world. Maybe nothing will come of the fire in a scientific or measurable sense, but how can you measure the growth of inner expansiveness? How can you measure or quantify the level of freedom or liberation in one’s soul? For the time being I find liberation in knowing that nothing owns me, and I could wake up tomorrow, pack a bag, and choose a destination.

Moving day. How's that for being a minimalist?My other sister, Noel, pointed out to me one day, “You’re lucky. This is a time in your life to be conscious and intentional about everything you bring into your life, from your thoughts, to people, to the things you with which you fill your home.”

As a final thought, about a month or two back, a friend of mine passed away. He was one of those people you meet in your life that even though they have their struggles and demons, they shine like the sun. At his memorial service, as well as the after-party, we learned of new stories about his kindness and generosity, his sense of humor, his love and devotion to his family and friends, and his stalwart faith that inspired others who knew him best. I kept thinking, it such a shame that we’re honoring this great human being after his life. Did we do enough for him while he was alive to let him know how loved her was?

In yet another fierce grace, I feel as if I got to play a part in my own funeral party. I got to be embraced by my friends and family in a warm glow of love, support, concern, and gratitude at the fact that I didn’t get hurt and how it could have been much worse. How many people can lay claim to that gift? While I had insurance, which probably won’t cover all the loss but it certainly lessens the financial blow, there’s a knowing in me that even if I didn’t have insurance, I would have been provided for. My friends would have rallied to thrown a fundraiser, someone would have stepped out of the shadows with donations, or some other seemingly miraculous event would have happened. It’s just something I know.Survivor. Pulled from the wreckage.

Within this inner expansiveness, whether it be a feeling or experience, is an innate knowing that everything is going to work out even better than it had before, that anything is possible, and around every corner awaits new friends, ideas, and opportunities—if your eyes are open. I say this from experience and not science. The seed of this source of expansiveness is gratitude at a cellular level. I don’t think I could have known this if I didn’t set out to travel about the world for an undetermined amount of time. What I learned is that gratitude is a state of receivership, and in this state of openness, from experience I can say that thoughts that come from our hearts, souls, and individual truths, get accelerated into being.

Having this fierce grace bestowed upon me, and with the thought of my friend who has since passed on near to my heart, I began thinking that we should have parties to celebrate our favorite people and friendships. We should tell the people we love that we love them, while they are still here, because life is unpredictable and you never know how long that person next to you will be around. This is not intended to be morbid, but rather an awareness to participate and celebrate in the joy and love of each other, because when it comes down to it, life is unexpected.

I have come to expect the unexpected in life, and it has made all the difference. 

Saturday
Apr132013

Chapter 3. Family, Friends, and Bomba Estereo

The view from my temporary residence.When I awoke around 3am the night of the fire, I sent an email off to my three siblings. The subject line read: “I’m famous.” In the body of the email I attached the KOMO news story and added the line, “Don’t call me early. I need sleep.”

By the time I got out of bed around 7am Tuesday morning, my sister Therese had already booked a flight from Newark, NJ to Seattle/Tacoma. She was to arrive the following afternoon, leaving behind her husband and 5 and 8-year-old sons for five nights. 

***

During the previous few weeks, as spring began to burst forth from the sleeping earth with verdant fortitude, I kept thinking, I can’t wait to show my sister Therese my new, post-travel life in Seattle.

After traveling and living the life of a vagabond for 15 months, through no effort I landed a good job and found a house with a garden that was centrally located in Queen Anne, a beautiful waterfront neighborhood close to downtown. I wanted to show her my new life where, for the first time in my life, I was playing the game of being an adult.

Hidden stairways in Queen Anne.For the first time I had put an effort into building a home. I had new furniture from Pottery Barn and Crate&Barrel, I had an art collection from all over the world that I had been collecting since 2006, and everything in my house was how I intended it to be. For my epicurean dabblings, a block away I had Met Market. At one point I had Easy Street Records within two blocks, and within three blocks there was a bus hub where I never waited more than 8 minutes to go somewhere-bound in the city. Not to mention as an avid walker, who uses walking and music as a central component to my creative process, there were endless routes and hidden stairways to explore on Queen Anne hill. I loved my new neighborhood and my new life.

For weeks the plan was to go to The Tractor Tavern on Wednesday, April 3rd to see the band Bomba Estereo—an up-and-coming, shit-kicking, leave-no-one-in-the-audience-unrocked band from Bogotá, Columbia. Although I had never seen them, the band came highly touted from my friend circle of music aficionados, so I didn’t want to miss it. There was that and also the fact that, again—I wanted to show off my life in Seattle, and why out of the many places I could live, I chose to live in this great city.

If ever there was an integral part of my life for the past dozen years in the Emerald City, it was seeing bands at The Tractor, a place that had become an institution of musical study, fun, friendship, and drunken rebel rousing. It didn’t matter that I was still sick and felt weak. Having Therese around gave me enough energy to rally and muster, and it just so happened there was an extra ticket floating around for her.

***

“Welcome to my new home,” I said to her, as she walked through the front door of my friend’s generously portioned house mid-hill on Queen Anne. “I’ve been meaning to upgrade for a while anyway and I feel this suits me.”

After a beer and soaking up the view, we set off from my temporary housing on one of my normal walking routes; we cut through Kinnear Park, walked along along Elliot Ave W, crossed over the busy four lane street at the Terminal 91 bike path, walked along Centennial Park up through the Olympic Sculpture Garden, eventually making our way to the Space Needle and the fountain at Seattle Center. Being my normal walking route, it ended at the burned out ruins of my former, now boarded up residence.A quote I came upon on one of my walks recently.

I think Therese was at first underwhelmed at seeing the front of the house, but when we walked around the back of the house and she saw the scorched structures of the three homes involved in the fire, as well as the blackened outline of what was once the detached car port—which now looked like a charcoal drawing—all she could say was, “Holy shit.”

Through Queen Anne’s Cherry Blossom-lined streets, with tulips and daffodils serving as our guardrails, we made our way back to my friend’s house, called a taxi, and found ourselves drinking Rye Manhattans at Sexton in Ballard.Spring in Seattle. On our way from my former house to my temp housing. 

The Manhattans served some much-needed relief and began shepherding the evening towards greener pastures. I told my sister about the madness of the fire, filling in parts of the story with anecdotes from my life in Seattle, my home and the city which I was in the process of having a rekindled love affair.

Slowly some of my friends began to trickle in, and before we knew it we were a gang on our way to one of my favorite pastimes, seeing a show at the Tractor. There is just something invigorating and enlivening about the anticipation of going to see a band you’re really excited to see live.

The more people that trickled in from the sidewalks, the less space we could inhabit. We were packed in like King Crabs in the hull of an Alaskan fishing boat and so I tried to coach Therese back to her former self—before kids, before the days when she was in bed, lights out, at 9pm.

“Come on Therese! Stand your ground! You gotta be bigger than you are, like a frilled neck lizard.” I wasn’t sure where that useless piece of trivia originated from, or how I recalled it, but it was the best I could come up with in a moment that seemed to make sense. Despite the continuous loss of personal space, I was feeling elated, watching my sister and friends interact as she reunited with some of my friends she knew while meeting new ones.  

By the time Bomba Estero took the stage, Therese and I were feeling irie, and kickin’ it old-school Jersey style. As the lights went low and the band took the stage, they opened with a trippy melody and what was at times uncomfortably loud bass. The sound had not been dialed-in yet. I looked over at Therese and saw in her countenance a look I had seen so many other times in my life, a look that communicated, “I don’t know about this.”

Bomba Estero at the Tractor.The expression told me that we might not make it through the night. She looked tentative and weak, like a wounded gazelle on the Serengeti just waiting to be taken alive by a pack of starving, hipster hyenas in plaid shirts and peg-legged blue jeans. Although I knew nothing about the band, I held fast to the faith that the experience was about to go in a totally different direction. My instincts told me to shake her and say, Come on Therese! Engage! You were young once! You taught me almost everything I know about partying! You can do this!

Moments later singer and rapper Liliana "Li" Saumet took the stage and ignited the crowd, casting her energy across the audience. The surging wave of her soul and performance reached the back walls of the room and proceeded to bounce and ricochet off the containing structure for the following two hours. Therese turned to me once again, her countenance now expressing, “Wow! This is totally amazing!”

For the next two hours Bomba Estero played two sexy, clave-laden sets leaving no one on the premise unrocked. Saumet rapped over the top of brilliant beats, hypnotic bass lines, and melodic guitars. Like a lyrical high priestess, she cast incantations over the crowd at will, at times sending participants inward and at other times, through the cadence of her voice or the repetition of her words, pulling them out of themselves and into the amplification of her microphone. At all times, however, the sweaty crowd moved and swayed, sometimes hypnotically, but more often than not in tribal, Afro-Latin laden grooves as the rhythms sunk into each spectators being, bringing animation to what can often be a passive, navel gazing Seattle crowd. I couldn’t recall seeing a crowd dance so much at the Tractor. It felt as if we were churchgoers at a Baptist revival.The crowd getting their groove on.

Any time I see artistic mastery, in whatever form it inhabits, I am inspired. All night I watched Saumet orchestrate the crowd. Like the breath that inhabits life, the crowd contracted towards the stage when the drums and bass took the lead, and expanded when the melodies took the lead, pushing and pulling people about the room.

I looked around to see my friends and my sister, and for part of the night the nearly catastrophic fire from two days prior was nowhere around me. Instead I relished in a moment that I’d experienced so many other times in my life. My friends had formed a circle of love around me and I was at the center, being held up and supported on the shoulders of giants. It’s what the love of friendship is all about; we all take turns in life being in the center of that circle—being cared for and protected—and we all take turns on the outside, being a protector and standing up for those who matter most in their darkest times. It was the first of many times over the course of the next few days that I would feel inwardly free, expansively grateful, and bathed in the glow of grace. While my friends danced around me, unbeknownst to them they were energetically and lovingly washing me of the ash and soot that the trauma of fire and destruction had imprinted on my soul.The Space Needle at Seattle Center.

I didn’t understand it, and maybe it had to do with Whiskey, but despite the previous 48-hours I was feeling pretty good. My energy felt open and free. I held my arms aloft and danced as if it was late August/early September and I was in Black Rock Desert, Nevada. I looked over at my sister, who is generally not susceptible to the rhythmic spells of bass and drums, but she was dancing if she were 24-years-old again at the now defunct Tunnel Club in Boston, dancing endlessly, energetically, and freely in the joy and liberation of music.

 ***

There was a period in my life when the house I grew up in was party central. Once I turned the legal limit, or at least approached it, there would be parties in my basement that would host an alchemical mix of 18 – 33-year-olds. I think it was my mother’s thought that if we were going to be corrupting ourselves (and we were going to be corrupting ourselves one way or another), at least we would be doing it under her watchful eye, where no matter how late the party lasted into the early morning, she stayed awake to make sure no one drank and drove. It was a magical time of closeness in my family. 20-years later my siblings are parents, and like it or not when you’re a single guy doing single things surrounded by siblings' husbands, wives, and children, it tends to change the dynamics. But for the night of April 3rd, 2013 at The Tractor Tavern, with my sister being unexpectedly childless in Seattle, I was 18 again and she was 28.

We were having a hell of a time until the guy you don’t ever want to be next to at a show appeared in front of us. He was a drunken frat boy lacking any sense of self-awareness—hopping around, thrashing about as if it was 1992 and we were seeing Nirvana at the Crocodile Café. He was disrupting everyone around him and impeding on their experience of the music. But more than anyone else around me, it was pissing me off that it was disrupting Therese’s experience of the evening. With each song as the night wore on, Frat-boy-Johnny got more obnoxious.

The waterfront, only a few blocks from my house.Therese was almost certainly the oldest in the crowd and I wasn’t sure how she was going to react to the situation, but I was sure my patience for him was wearing thin.

Now I’m a pacifist through-and-through, and let me be clear (as Barack Obama would say)—thoughts like this never, ever cross my mind—but I did very proactively and viscerally think, if this guy fucks with my sister, I’m gonna kick the living shit out of him. Despite the fact that he was short, he was thick, but I felt as if between the fire and the good old-fashioned repressed Irish rage tightly coiled in the strands of me and my ancestor’s DNA, I had a pretty good shot at taking him with a quick in-and-out right hook and left upper cut…

But then I realized I wasn’t a pugilist and hadn’t been in a fistfight since I was about 22-years old in the controlled environment of a soccer field. When I regained my wits from my imagination I thought, I’m not gonna let this shithead bother me. I just lost almost everything in a house fire. I’m gonna enjoy myself.

The Frilled Neck Lizard, or my sister at the Tractor.Not long afterward I looked at my sister and she was beaming mischeviously like the Cheshire Cat, arms flailing about like Kermit the Frog having an epileptic seizure. Much to my grand pride she was being equally—if not surpassing—Frat-boy-Johnny in her obnoxiousness. In only a few hours of being in Seattle, she had completed a metamorphosis from the mother of two into the frilled neck lizard. Standing tall, acting larger than her slight frame, and turning the cards on Frat-boy-Johnny, she danced like a woman possessed, claimed her own space, and in the process I’m pretty sure she even went so far as to frighten him. She boxed him in and shut him down, and I was reminded of a lesson I learned on a small, crowded dance floor in Sayulita, Mexico; if you want space in a space that increasingly lacks space, you need to be a total and complete lunatic.

For the first of many times over the next five days, I was proud to say she was my sister.

In an old(er) person’s move, we snuck out during the encore in order to avoid the rush for a taxi. It was 1am, which meant it was 4am east coast time. When we arrived home, Therese passed out and I grabbed my computer and began scribbling some notes. Despite having about three boxes of possessions to my name, I went to bed feeling safe and secure, knowing my big sister was in the room next door, that she there to protect me, and that for the next five days she would be project managing my life.

 

Tuesday
Apr092013

2. The Aftermath

This fireman could not have been more gentle and compassionate. Again, hats off to the SFD.The following morning, with no more than three hours sleep, I ambled in a daze over to the charred remains of my former residence to see what, if anything, could be recovered. When I arrived, similar to myself I found my upstairs neighbor sitting on the front steps bleary and red-eyed. He was awaiting word from the fire department for the situation to be released from a crime scene investigation to a recovery operation. While we waited, a representative from Met Market, an amazing high-end neighborhood grocery store only a block away, sent Odwalla orange juice, pastries, two large jugs of coffee, bacon and egg sandwiches, yogurt parfaits, and more. The act of generosity brought tears to all of our eyes. Two hours later, another neighbor who was pushing her child in a stroller quietly dropped off more food.

The first thing I saw when my front door was opened was my BBQ’d kitchen. The walls and contents looked like scarred, pixelated logs in a campfire at sunrise. To my delight I rounded the corner to see my father’s rocks glasses sitting exactly where they had stood twelve hours before, with the exception of a heavy, dark, sticky film covering them – as well as the rest of the content in my bar – as well as the rest of content in my house. A few more steps revealed a surprisingly somewhat intact living room.

More investigation revealed my newly framed artwork from my travels, only darkened and lacking the colorful luster of Vietnam, Cambodia, Lao, and China, the countries of their origin. What was once a colorful, impressionistic, oil laden, rendering of a crowed market scene in Phnom Penh—a scene full of color, bicyclists, and movement—was now sullied by the ash and soot one would find in the Christmas hearth. Another painting from Hoi An, Vietnam, which had a Picasso-in-Asia feel, had a layer of oily smoke across the newly framed reflection proof glass. Porcelain-colored pottery from Beijing bore no resemblance to its former pearl-like purity.

When I turned yet another corner to see my bedroom, like Michelangelo’s Pieta on a stormy Good Friday, my childhood teddy bear lay splayed across two pillows that served as Mary’s lap. The ceiling was raining so I moved to my front closet to see how it’s content’s faired, but mostly to grab my OR Seattle Sombrero hat so as to keep the toxic rain in my bedroom from falling on my vulnerable fontanel.

Pieta and starbursts.The floor has a few centimeters of water on it and part of the ceiling hung down onto my bed. All across my new West Elm duvet cover, as well as the floor, were muddy starbursts. They were the result of part of the ceiling disintegrating under the thousands of pounds per square inch of water pressure from the fireman’s hoses. The browned and clay-colored starbursts looked like what I imagined a battlefield from World War II might look like from the air after an air campaign whose goal was saturation bombing. The clothes in my bedroom closet, most of which were brand new or made by skilled artisan tailors in Vietnam and India, were either black from the soot or incinerated from the heat. I think someone told me a house fire often burns at around 1500 degrees Fahrenheit.  In fact, if you walked into a room where an average couch is fully engulfed, it could instantly incinerate your lungs.

I wore a mask for a lot of the day but I was so sick and congested from the previous day and head cold, my olfactory couldn’t process what had occurred, and thus I really had no idea what a house fire smelled like. Turns out when I got my already-lame sense of smell back 3-4 days later, I was first horrified by two facts; one, how sick I must have been to not have been able to smell the ruin (and when I wasn’t wearing a mask in the house, how I was most certainly inhaling toxins), and two; a house fire smells nothing like a campfire. It is far more chemical, plastic, carcinogenic, and toxic. Somewhere in the spectrum of that cacophony of destructive scents was the masked scent of lathe, wood, and structure that had been baked in the house cum broiler.

My kitchen was barely recognizable and I spent almost no time surveying the damage. On my coat rack next to the basement door that led to my storage room, I grabbed the headlamp I always kept on it. I fastened it to my head and moved with caution into the basement, which was also raining with big, heavy droplets. Each droplet that fell onto my wide-brimmed, waterproof hat or my Easy Street Record’s sweatshirt contained specimens and particles of the lives and the more than 90 years of history and living lineage that passed through my front door.

I had only moved in December 1st, and in that time I was trying to minimize the possessions I had been carrying around for the decade I had been living in Seattle. It was a process of a constant withering away of the things that no longer served me, things that I had been carrying around for most of my life. In the course of the previous several months I had made nearly five full-carload trips to Good Will to get ride of clothes, books, furniture, and more. In the process I had repacked the remains in various boxes, so I wasn’t sure if my 45+ journals were in a box or a plastic bin.Hey Toby and Sue - hope you like Poppy's gift!

I eventually found the cardboard box that was big enough to house my journals and I noticed the bottom had water damage. What I forgot was that I had organized my journals in chronological order in five-inch, hard plastic binders. The journals rested binder down, which was strong enough to resist the damage that the water beckoned. Remarkably, the box happened to be in one of the only corners of the room where the ceiling wasn’t raining.  The journals were the first items on my front porch, which had become a makeshift loading, staging, and transporting zone.

Prior to traveling in April 2011, I had gotten rid of even more things, including couches and furniture. What remained of my life I could fit in a half a storage unit, so everything I had in my house at 718 Warren Ave N. was brand new. But it’s just stuff, after all.

***

If I may digress for a moment, I had an incident in Sri Lanka on April 12, 2012, where for a few hours I thought I might actually die in a tsunami. We were stuck in a bus on a road no more than 50 meters from the ocean, watching the clock tick as the state run radio told us we had two hours from when the earthquake hit in Sumatra to when the waves would reach the shores of Sri Lanka. It’s another story for another time, but you’d be surprised how fast you can process things and come to terms with your own life.

In minutes I moved through the stages of grief and eventually prepared for and accepted what could be my death. But almost as soon as that moment of surrender came, I knew I would be fine. The same thing happened with my journals while I was out on the street watching 38-years of my life burn to the ground. In a shorter time than I had ever imagined I came to terms with the fact that my journals could be gone. I told myself, it will be a good thing. I think I had heard Hemingway lost some of his early journals in a house fire and he said it was liberating.

How not to cook in your kitchen.And so I moved through those emotions very quickly, telling myself this is a chance to sever the past completely and to move into the new future that is pulling me forward. And with that surrender, I somehow knew my journals were going to be OK. There was another incident in my life where miraculously two journals that were in a bag were stolen at Philadelphia international airport. I had just returned from Italy and the journals chronicled the second half of my senior year of college and my experiences in Italy. I was devastated but my father, in his steely faith, swore on his life I would get them back.

It turned out that I had an old driver’s license in that stolen bag with a P.O. Box address on it that we still kept in the town where I grew. Sure enough, two weeks later the journals were returned C.O.D. A thief with a conscience. I’ll take it.

Regardless, someone is looking out for me.

***

My neighbors and I were given masks and rubber gloves to sift through our charred remains. We were told not to disturb the scene too much because the carcinogens floating about the room were so toxic that they can enter your pours and eyes, and charred remains weren’t worth cancer 20-years down the line. I probably spent too much time in the house but managed to grab a couple of boxfuls of things from the wreckage, one of which were my family photos. With the exception of a faint smoky smell, they were completely unharmed. They happened to be in a cupboard on the opposite side of the house from where the fire began.    

All morning my phone was buzzing with texts, phone calls, or emails. At some point mid-morning I received a text that said, “Don’t worry, help is on the way – Michele.”

“Michele who?” I responded, removing my rubber glove to type into my phone.

It was the CEO of BuzzBee, the company I had only begun working for on February 5th. She was sending Julianna and Amy, my two friends from work who had been in the house with me when it caught on fire, to be my assistants for the day.Scarred and pixelated.

About an hour or two later, Amy and Julianna showed up with a flatbed U-Haul truck to take what I had salvaged from the house to my friend’s place where I was temporarily staying. Two more work-friends showed up as well bearing gifts, support, and smiles. It was probably noon or 1pm and my company had come to my aid before even my insurance agent showed up. In addition to their moral support, they handed me an envelope full of cash and gift cards that the team had collected for me, and for the second time since the madness began, I was overwhelmed and humbled with tears of gratitude.Mini battlefield. I am happy to report I will still be going to Coachella. I feel like I could use a vacation.

The fibers of the clothes I was wearing held tightly the conflagration of the previous night and so Amy and Julianna told me they had the company credit card and they were going to buy me some new clothes to tide me over before insurance kicked in. For a moment I thought about denying their help, and then something inside of me told me, this is the time in your life to accept generosity and love, in whatever form people want to give it. I was too tired to deny the act of generosity anyway since my body ached as if I had the flu, and so I humbly accepted their gifts.

We transported my meager earthly possessions to my friend’s place a few blocks away. Amy and Julianna then took off to University Village to shop for me while I laid down, thinking and hoping I might get a long, hard nap in and that all of this might be over by the time I woke up. But destiny had other plans.

The phone was ringing nonstop; insurance, the press, property management, detectives, the fire department, friends from decades ago. The incessant dinging and ringing of texts and emails was keeping me awake, but I needed to hear from all of these people. I couldn’t shut my ringer off. Their messages became an emotional help line, an IV-line that was keeping me going. My friend Craig, a fellow audio-file from years past in New Jersey, kept texting all day, “What about the PHISH tapes!”

“It’s all digital,” I texted back. “One less thing to worry about.” He continued throughout the day with statements such as, “What about the Creedence collection?” or "What about the Dead, Cornell University, 1976." It was much-needed comic relief. My music collection would have been as tragic as losing my journals or my family photos.

Amidst the flurry of communications being cyberly hurled at me in binary transmissions, I realized there was just no way to shut down the machine. It wasn’t something that meditation or mindfulness could have shut off. It required drugs, and so I called my doctor to get some sleeping pills and Xanax.

The Staypuff Jack LaLane juicer. And some nice knives that will be missed next time I need to cut some poultry or vegetables.There was no time to rest because I had to be at the remains of the house at about 3:30pm to meet with my insurance agent. All the while throughout the afternoon I was receiving texts from Julianna and Amy asking, “What size shirt do you wear? What is your waist? What kind of MAC did you have?”

At some point later in the afternoon or early evening Julianna and Amy showed up with a bag of clothes from Banana Republic and The Gap, as well as a new power cord for my MAC and a charger for my iPhone. Like the three wise men offering gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they were two kick-ass women offering underwear, socks, t-shirts, comfortable clothing, and shirts and pants I could wear to look somewhat presentable if I had to. I would have wept if I weren’t so tired.

“You have to eat. What do you want to eat?” They asked. “Anything! You name it.”

I barely had an appetite but I knew I hadn’t eaten much in the last 30-hours and if I wanted to avoid getting sicker, I had to at least put something in my body. For comfort reasons, I elected for Ballard Pizza Company. Once a few bites of the New York medley of tomato sauce, crust, and mozzarella cheese coated the back of my throat and tongue, I regained a somewhat normal appetite. All the while, however, I was fighting utter fatigue, which felt like my organs were shutting down. I had been up for more or less 36 hours.

We went back to house where I was staying and the girls forced me to put on a fashion show of my new clothes. Well, forcing is a strong word. It was an unspoken plan to keep me awake for a bit longer so there would be no question I would sleep through the night.

When it was about 10pm I took a sleeping pill, and like the accidental guardians the situations called them to be, my friends stayed with me until I fell asleep. I can remember them asking me questions and laughing at the responses of gibberish I gave them as I slipped into REM sleep. For fun I used to do the same thing to my father. It’s pretty damn hilarious when the sub-conscious stars uttering non sequitur.

***

It’s been a week since the fire and tonight is first moment I’ve had to myself since it happened.Another image that was sent to me a few days later.

As I write this from the safety of my friend’s house, mid-hill in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle, somewhere below me I can hear sirens heading to a destination I hope is just a false alarm. I can’t help but think how a week ago I would be standing across the street from my house watching it burn to the ground as 40-foot flames leapt into the April Fool’s Day night sky.

A lot can change in a week. A lot can change in an hour. A lot can change in a second.  

In a weird way I wish I could experience it all again so my senses were more in tune with what was going on around me. Someone asked me what the fire sounded like. To be honest, I can’t really remember. I’m not sure if my memory is recalling it or my imagination is filling in the gaps. 

Wednesday
Apr032013

1. The April Fools Day Inferno

On the morning of April 1st, 2013, I had to be in the office at 8:30am for a meeting. I had only been at my new job for about two months and in an effort to keep everyone guessing, as an April Fools joke I had planned on buying an outfit that was over-the-top gay or metrosexual. I was just going to casually wear it into the office while bringing no attention to it. I felt so terrible that morning, however, I didn't have the stregnth to do it. I showed up at 8:30am and left immediately. It was the sickest I had felt in as long as I could remember and thus I spent the rest of the day in bed.

That evening two friends and coworkers came over to bring me some medicine. We were hanging out in my living room and from where I was laying on my couch, the view of my bedroom window was obstructed.

We were laughing and having fun until Julianna said, “Oh my God, I think there is a fire outside your window!”

This is moments after we got out on the street. Those are some of my bedroom windows on the left.Upon approaching my window, through my corrugated blinds I could see an intense orange glow. I was hoping it was just orange construction lights in the alley behind my house, but when I peered through the blinds the dilapidated detached carport, which was barely structural and should have been knocked down years ago, was an inferno and the fire was lapping at my window like a serpents tongue. In an act of consumption, huge flames were engulfing the roof of the garage like flames curling out from beneath a log in a campfire. It was as if all of my senses came to one acute point in that second and where as I couldn’t previously hear the fire, all I heard was the roar, crackling, and splintering of wood. The flames had already jumped from the carport to my house, as well as my neighbors to my right.

“Holy shit! Get the fuck out of the house!” I yelled to my two friends. We scrambled about as if in an Abbot and Costello skit and I ran into the kitchen to grab my iPhone, but first, for some unknown reason I grabbed my two guitars because they were the closest to the flames. Where as I used to play in a band and played guitar regularly, I hadn’t really played much in years so it doesn't really make sense. But you're not exactly thinking right in that moment.

I pushed the girls out of the house and put my guitars on the front porch where I had the wherewithal to realize I had no shoes on and that perhaps what I left the house with would be all I would have for a while. Racing back inside to grab my iPhone and shoes, I held the iPhone in my hand but couldn’t figure out how to use it. My confused fingers finally found their way to the phone app where I called 911 and yelled into the phone, “My house is on fire!”The view from the street once the flames started coming through the roof.

I ran back into the house and paused for a moment looking around at what I should grab. I found my computer bag and made sure my latest journal was in it, then grabbed my friend’s car keys and wallet. That’s when the glass started to crack and break and when the electricity started to flicker, hiss, pop, and shoot electric blue sparks about. That’s when I knew it was time to get out of Dante’s inferno.

All of the neighbors were out on the street at this point, several of them running frantically from house to house yelling to get out while pounding on doors and windows. Moments later the neighborhood was filled with flashing lights and screaming sirens. I watched my house as the lights went dark. Like future refugees, from the street we watched as flames rolled and somersaulted up the back of our house to more than 40-feet into the night sky.

The next few hours were a blur. It took me a while to remember who my insurance agency was. I talked to them for a while. I talked to the press but I barely remember that. The most poignant images I remember are seeing the firefighters flashlights in the darkened houses, the deep, purple plumes of smoke coming off the roof, and watching cascades of water shoot out of my roof like the Seattle Center fountain, raining down on the street with the weight of an Emerald City late November rain.

As time wore on and the flames got under control, the crowd of neighbors and onlookers slowly dissipated. I ran into some people I knew, and others, when they saw the glow of the fire in the distance said, “I think that’s where Tim lives,” and they walked down to find me on the street.

It’s hard to say exactly what I was feeling at that moment. I suppose numbing disbelief would be safe to say. When I think back to that moment, I can feel the face I was wearing, which was one of stoicism. As far as I knew, all I had left to my name was the clothes on my back, two guitars, a computer, and a notebook. “Guess it’s time to start busking,” I said to my friends.

The damage done. Firefighters in the upstairs window.I can’t speak highly enough of the professionalism, compassion, and courtesy of the Seattle Fire Department. Like an ant colony they moved in synchronicity, harmony, effectiveness, and purpose. Until you see these men go into a burning building, or climb a ladder with chain saws to cut holes into a roof while flames dance around them, you can’t fully appreciate the courage of these men. It took 78 firefighters to put out the three houses that caught on fire. 

Around 11:30pm I was back in my friend and coworker’s studio apartment sipping on tea in a chair I had given her a few weeks back. In laughing disbelief I kept saying, “I can’t believe that just happened.”

By midnight, I was in bed at another friend’s house. The adrenalin was gone leaving me feeling sick and achy again. I would have given anything for a Xanax or a sleeping pill, although I had planned on taking a sleeping pill the night of the fire. Had the fire happened a few hours later after I had taken a sleeping pill...well that’s not something I want to think about.  

I finally fell asleep at some point but at 3am I was wide awake, running through an inventory of what I had lost, from family photos, to art that I had been collecting from my travels over the last seven years, to the waterford crystal rocks glasses my father used to sip on, to more than 45 journals of my life that I kept since September 29th, 1991.