Travel Log: Seattle

The strange thing about visiting Seattle for the first time is that I had dreamed that I already had. I dreamed that I visited an office there for my day job, and had been surprised by how sparse the surrounding neighborhood had appeared. In my dream, it was essentially a suburb of L.A. Obviously, that couldn’t have been more wrong.

I arrived in the wee hours of the morning after a grueling 13-hour travel day that was the result of my airline “accommodating” me for a cancelled flight. There, at 1:00 a.m. local time in SeaTac airport (while my body was convinced that it was actually 4:00 a.m.), came my first experience with Seattle’s peculiarities with Lyft: the drivers always call or text to confirm your location (they also never seem to arrive on the same side of the street as you).

Welcome to Seattle sign at SeaTac Airport

I was in Seattle for 4 days, and experienced about 5 hours of sunlight during my stay. The stereotype of the city being all rain all the time certainly seemed to hold true for my visit. I was also surprised by the fog. I awoke on two mornings (always insanely early as my body remained stubbornly on East coast time) to find myself barely able to see neighboring buildings to my downtown hotel’s window for the fog.

When there is sun, though, the waterfront and Pike Place market are busy and fun. I also saw Seattle Pacific University, which I knew from listening to the Kindlings Muse in its prime, and had always wanted to see in person.

During my explorations, I found a fantastic allergy-friendly restaurant for lunch. If you’re gluten-free or dairy free, I very much recommend that you stop by Niche Cafe and Bakery if you’re in the city. I found no need to pack my own coffee and travel press as I usually do on trips, because, being Seattle, you’re never far from a good cup of coffee. This doesn’t just include Starbucks, of course. VoxxCoffee was only a block from my hotel, and a perfect stop before my daily excursions.

Seattle seems to be in a perpetual state of construction, and cranes dot the skyline like dinosaurs stretching their long necks above the treetops. I’ve read that the construction is because of a tech boom in the city. It certainly causes its share of pedestrian headaches.

Construction in downtown Seattle
Construction in Seattle effects the skyline, and the sidewalks below

Of course, whenever I’m in a city with a Hard Rock Cafe, I have to visit. I suppose that I had high expectations for this Hard Rock, given that Seattle is the birthplace of grunge, but I was disappointed. This was one of the least interesting Hard Rocks that I’ve seen.

Hard Rock Cafe, Seattle
Hard Rock Cafe, Seattle

I often don’t go see big tourist attractions because I’d rather see the city (I’ve been to New York City and never seen the Statue of Liberty). True to form, I suppose, I skipped the Space Needle. I did visit the Seattle Public Library on a recommendation though — it’s a stunning architectural achievement in its own right.

Seattle was backward to me. The water felt as though I was facing East (I’ve heard that confusion is normal), and seductive: it’s a downhill walk to reach the water, but you’ll get a good workout on the uphill walk back to the hotel. Seattle struck me as a dirty city, which surprised me. I felt as though I needed the rain for cleansing after I had walked a few blocks. As is often the case, Seattle was very different than I had imagined (or dreamed). I had always entertained the idea that I might like to live there, given its reputation for intellectualism. While I definitely enjoyed my visit, I’ve also crossed that thought off of my list. Seattle was fun, but I just simply need more sunlight in my life.

Syncopation

Image of snare drum with sticks. Used under creative commons.

A week ago from the time that I write this, I was driving home after dropping Karen and our girls off for a week-long trip to see some family. I was in the sort of contemplative mindset that I often find just out of reach lately. I drove past a house with a truck parked in the driveway. The logo on the side of the truck indicated that it belonged to a fire safety business. Because of where the truck was parked, and the time – it was a Sunday night – my mind, crafting stories as always, began to fill in the details.

The person who owned the truck worked for, or perhaps owned, that business, according to this story. This was a local business, and he would go to work the next morning, driving to jobs around the area, into adjacent towns. He likely knows the area extremely well, and is accustomed to the rhythm and schedule. This person would get up and go to work the next morning after the alarm went off at the same time as always, beginning a new day and a new week.

I grew up around that type of work. I understand – if only by close proximity instead of by doing – that rhythm. That rhythm is such a counterpoint to my life now.

A few weeks ago, I sat in a small local restaurant in Seattle and, over lunch, coordinated a complex technical event that was happening in Boston from my phone. That sort of flexibility and capability is exciting, and fun. I still don’t grasp the rhythm of this work, though, perhaps because there isn’t any. Time bends in on itself, loses its meaning. Everything happens with immediacy. I long for a rhythm, for some local work.

A colleague joked a few years ago that she wanted to stop doing our profession and be a barista for a living. I laughed at this, and I also recalled a friend from my undergrad days. He said that, when he finished school, he didn’t care if he worked at a gas station all night for a living. He just wanted to write. I remember laughing at that too, but, honestly, sometimes I wish that I could just serve coffee during the day, read, and finish that novel, the draft of which has been collecting dust since our first daughter was born. I think that, when I want that, I want it not only because it would be simpler, but because the rhythm would be more….defined.

The rhythm of the life that I have now, filled with fast-paced technology and the controlled chaos of two children, is syncopated, wildly unpredictable. There’s a sense that it’s always delicately balanced, just on the edge of being out of control. There’s no real option but to embrace that syncopation at the moment. Like in jazz, those rhythms can have a purpose, even be playful at times. I long for the quiet, though, the purpose of knowing that your work is just your work, and that it is done when it is done.

Perhaps that is a thing of the past.

Image attribution: Vladimir Morozov under Creative Commons.

Travel Log: Nashville, Tennessee

I’m slightly late in getting around to writing this….okay, actually more than a year late. Something that Karen and I always try to do is visit a new place each year. That’s been curtailed for the last few years until both of our children reach an age at which we can travel more easily, but I’ve still managed to see some cool U.S. cities for work trips over the last three years. I had always sort of intended to write about the places we’ve visited (and have in some cases), so I wanted to begin chronicling these trips and what struck me about each place.

Nashville skyline

Nashville skyline

I’m not sure what I expected from Nashville, but it wasn’t what I experienced. The one type of music of which I’m not really a fan is country. I suppose that I expected to be buried in twang, but was pleasantly surprised. While a lot of local bars and restaurants are named for country music stars and honor the city’s heritage in that way, there’s music of all kinds everywhere.  Walk down the street and it greets you – one melody will fade out as another fades in, a sort of encompassing Doppler effect in Nashville’s streets.

Hard Rock Cafe, Nashville

Hard Rock Cafe, Nashville, looking toward the street

Music is the soul of Nashville, and its impossible to not be impacted by that. Everyone there seems to have a musical aspiration – you’ll pass someone carrying a guitar if you hang around long enough. I was sitting in my hotel restaurant one evening, and an old song from my high school days came over the speakers. In a rare moment of having my memory for music history trivia fail me, I downloaded and used Shazam to help me recall the title and artist. I’ve been using Shazam since, adding some of those old musical memories to my collection.

That, I think, is my biggest takeaway from Nashville: it re-ignited my love for music.

Guitars at Nashville International Airport

Guitars at Nashville International Airport

I had visited Tennessee before – a close friend lived in Chattanooga for a while – and thought that I knew what to expect. Certainly there are commonalities, but Nashville is very different, even in a different timezone. That confused me at first as I wasn’t aware of this fact, and one of my Lyft drivers confessed that its odd to have part of the state in one time zone and part in another. It’s true, though….plan on landing in CDT if you visit.

Being a rock history aficionado, I always visit the Hard Rock Cafe whenever I visit a city in which I can find one. Nashville’s Hard Rock is one of the better ones I’ve visited. One of Dave Matthew’s guitars was on display.

Dave Matthew's guitar, on display at the Hard Rock Cafe in Nashville

Dave Matthew’s guitar, on display at the Hard Rock Cafe in Nashville

Something else that stood out to me about Nashville was a sense of celebration, almost of pageantry. The music brings a life with it, a life that flows out into the streets on any night of the week and brings a feeling of euphoria with it. I’m not sure it’s possible to be in Nashville and not have a thoroughly fantastic time.

Carriages illuminated after dark in downtown Nashville

Carriages illuminated after dark in downtown Nashville

I had a great time visiting Nashville, and every time I fall in love with a good song again, I feel like it’s still a part of me somehow.

Information Shelf Life

Glasses laying on an open textbookWhen I was a student, I developed certain habits and ways of thinking. Most students do, and I imagine that these habits are remarkably similar from one to another. When Karen and I encounter a new and unfamiliar problem, for example, we find a book (or several) on the topic. We know which books to pull from our shelves should we need to reference them for some obscure detail.

Because of our academic careers, we instinctively know an important tenant of research: the oldest source is almost always the most valid. Newer research is, by nature, regarded with some scholarly skepticism because it hasn’t yet been subjected to rigorous debate by the academy. In fact, depending on the discipline, the date of the research can be the most important factor when citing it in other works.

Fast forward to today. Now I make my living on the web, and I am forced to change this habitual way of thinking. Research and relevant information in my field comes from blogs more than books, because books become out-dated too quickly. I can bookmark these posts that contain essential information, but these bookmarks are fleeting, just like the content to which they point. Research that is older is treated with disdain – newer is always seen as more relevant, because the technology moves so fast. A year old is often seen as worthless.

This has been a difficult mindset to which to adapt, because it seems to eschew the wisdom of what came before. Youthful enthusiasm and “disruption” is prized above experience in a way that academics…or many other professional disciplines…would not tolerate. I see the negative impact of this on my profession, as well: burnout, insane amounts of over-complication, pressure to learn and then leave behind. It’s interesting how we place so much emphasis, so much salvific hope, in our technology, while the exponential pace at which that very technology rushes ahead betrays us, leaves us behind, our perceptions now scattered…damaged goods, as it were.

New research is not a bad thing. We progress because of it. I would go so far as to say that we need it to thrive as a civilization. Forgetting its place, though…allowing it to push aside all that has come before it in the name of progress…counters all of the good that it might do. Critical thinking is important, and forgetting that when we’re caught up in the moment of what seems to be a revolutionary new perspective, is imprudent.

And we are the worse for it.