The story of what happened to me when I died: I Was Amelia Earhart, by Jane Mendelsohn

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. 

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Into the Wild… of a Beer Garden

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 CompanyAnd you can go visit it (click on the image to view a version large enough to read the text: it’s worth it):


The Possibility of Escape

“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…

The Seen: From Alaska

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.


Your Art Show Exhausts Me

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:

When an artist skips events to focus on work and, as a result, is soon forgotten about

When an artist skips events to focus on work and, as a result, is soon forgotten about

When no one bids on the piece I donated to your auction

When no one bids on the piece I donated to your auction

When the Painting Gallery Finally Tries Something Different

When the Painting Gallery Finally Tries Something Different