Learn about Dame Gillian Lynne, who is recreating a dance she performed for soldiers during WWII (when she was 17).Read More
YouTube vlogger "The NerdWriter" makes a video about the concept of Kintsugi, a Japanese practice of mending broken items.Read More
Musician and writer Corey Claxton Blaustein is our newest Off Paper regular contributor. He originally hails from Los Angeles, and has lived in Seattle for the past six years. Here, he considers our current topic, "Transformation."Read More
I love playing book roulette. There’s something incredibly satisfying about walking into a library or bookstore and picking a new book entirely at random. Most of the time, I’m fairly disappointed by the quality of whatever I end up reading, but I’m on a hot streak right now.Read More
Editor’s Note: in an attempt to work through the implications of having gone half-feral up in Alaska, Tessa is currently using the Seen to explore stories about people who are remembered for disappearing.
“Tramping is too easy with all this money. My days were more exciting when I was penniless and had to forage around for my next meal… I’ve decided that I’m going to live this life for some time to come. The freedom and simple beauty of it is just too good to pass up.” –Chris McCandless
You’ve probably heard at least something about Chris McCandless, AKA Alexander Supertramp. Popularized by Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild (and later turned into a movie of the same name), the basic sketch of McCandless’s story is a familiar one: middle class white American male drops out of his mainstream life and, in a blurred amalgamation of spiritual inquiry and mental illness, eschews all material comforts to strike off into the wild. Eventually, he dies alone in the ruins of an abandoned bus in an isolated stretch of Alaskan wilderness, leaving behind an iconic self portrait:
Responses to McCandless’s story vary drastically depending on who you ask. Down here in the Lower 48, there’s a tendency to romanticize what he did: he is usually seen as an intelligent, competent individual whose death was the tragic result of a few turns of bad luck. But up in Alaska, he is mostly viewed as an idiot whose ill-advised pursuit of spiritual union with nature failed to show adequate respect for the land, and whose death perpetuates a dangerous romanticism untempered by the brutal pragmatism necessary for wilderness survival.
For better or for worse, McCandless is remembered as a polarizing archetype of The Man Who Disappeared. Ironically, McCandless’s story has been co-opted to support many of the values that he fought in life: first a successful book, and then a successful movie, his story made a lot of people a lot of money. And “his” bus? Well the original is still out there in the wilderness. But the one from the movie?
It’s in the beer garden of the 49th State Brewing Company. And you can go visit it (click on the image to view a version large enough to read the text: it’s worth it):
“We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there. I may never in my life go to Alaska, for example, but I am grateful that it is there. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope…” –Edward Abbey
Hello Seen readers. I have returned from Alaska. Sort of. Physically, I’m back. But I’m not entirely convinced that I returned in spirit. I spent the last month bicycling over mountain passes, hiking across the tundra, and drifting on the ocean while thinking about the human need for escapism.
American culture romanticizes the frontier. We fantasize about running away, about striking out for the horizon and sloughing off our layers of tame sophistication as we disappear into the vastness of the unknown. And for most people, it stops there: the siren song, for all its plaintive beseeching, doesn’t claim the physical self, only some echo of the spirit.
And maybe this is why we are so drawn to the stories of the ones that really DO escape, who drop off the map. My time up in Alaska made me want to revisit one of my favorite books from childhood: My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George. From the book jacket:
It’s a wonderful little book that is half instructional manual, complete with drawings of native plants, and advice on how to burn a hollow indentation into an oak stump in order to tan a deer hide. My ten year old self yearned to follow Sam’s path, to make my own tree-cave home and fulfill my need for friendship by training my own peregrine falcon. But for all my restlessness and the romance of the book’s feral austerity, I always knew that it was just a fantasy.
For the next few installments of the Seen, I’m going to be writing about people who took the leap and truly disappeared. In keeping with the Alaskan theme, I’ll be starting this series in the relatively near future with thoughts on Chris McCandless of Into the Wild fame. Unless, of course, I disappear before then…
Hello The Seen readers. This post is being written from a tent pitched somewhere near glacierview, Alaska. I meant to post this before I left, but that didn’t happen. And it seems somehow fitting to be doing this from on the road.
I’ll be taking a break from the seen this month as my bicycle and I are doing some wandering up in Alaska. So I wanted to do one last seen post that was about both the geographic location I am in, and the notion that rememberance usually focuses around beginnings and endings. Middles are often lost in the tumult, perhaps because they lack the dramatic punctuation that allows for specific memories to take on the quality of myth.
Take, for example, Grizzly Man. I know almost nothing about what his life living with bears was like; all I know is that he got eaten by them. And thus everything about the long period on which he actually managed to cohabitate with bears is reduced to static: his story is eclipsed by its own ending.
And with that, dear readers, I’m going back to radio silence. I’ll be back in August with very strong thighs and very funny tanlines. And hopefully a still-full canister of bear spray.
Changing Big Questions means changing our Off Paper image, and for our new question of How Are We Remembered?, we have selected an Off Paper image that is a little tongue in cheek: the warehouse scene from the ending of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Although we are half-kidding in our choice of image, there is some truth to the fact that every adventure, regardless of how epic it may have been, ends with the question of storage. All of Indiana’s over the top trials and tribulations– the submarines! the explosions! the Germans! the snakes!– are ultimately reduced to a forgotten artifact in a forgotten crate in a forgotten warehouse. And we don’t even have a decent image of that warehouse– just a grainy film still.
Isn’t this how remembrance ineluctably goes? It’s like TS Eliot said in Hollow Men: “This is the way the world ends: Not with a bang but a whimper.” Our experiences are only as enduring as our ability to document them, and the passions of our personal investments are reduced to piles of papers shoved in a box, to digital files on rapidly-obsolescing storage systems (floppy disks, anyone?). The themes of memory and documentation are nuanced and complex, and we look forward to sharing the questions that arise as we ask How Are We Remembered?
Your fearless leader (AKA Seen Moderator, AKA Yours Truly) is running around like a chicken with her head cut off this week, so this Seen post about transitions is gonna be short, literal, and absent of commentary. Watch this timelapse video of a three year process of gender transition from male to female.
This week’s failure is self referential. Discussions of the Seattle art scene invariably lead back to conversations about insularity, and whether or not you think that Seattle is a small town (let’s not open that can of worms, mmmkay?), there is undeniably a subset of Seattle’s creative ecosystem that is codified enough to be mocked. First Thursday Art Schlock, a Tumblr dedicated to lampooning the failures of Seattle’s art world with pop culture .gifs, arrived on the scene last spring and has been helping us laugh at ourselves ever since. Much like watching Portlandia and then staring uncertainly at the bird on your wallet, the humor makes you wince because it hits juuussssttttt a little too close to home.
Ostensibly, First Thursday Art Schlock is an anonymous endeavor. The project is clearly run by someone within the arts community, and if you don’t know who is behind it, it’s thrilling to look at your art world friends with delightful paranoia and rampant conspiracy theories, wondering if they’re secretly .giffing snarkily by night…
A personal request to First Thursday Art Schlock: can you please make a .gif about the joys of dating other artists and then having to go through inter-community breakups where you have to divide Seattle’s various cultural institutions to avoid each other?
Here’s a sample of posts for your enjoyment: