To paraphrase Clay Shirky, age plus paying attention equals knowing stuff. So I thought this post was going to be about stuff I know. I had some really profound thoughts while riding my scooter to a meeting and boy, they were awesome. I was like, that’s good, I’m totally gonna write that on the blog. But I’m not going to. Because I forgot them. Oops.
I also like how I wrote in my canary post about how I was going to make this a personal blog and then was like, HA, TOTAL BLOG SILENCE. Silence is very personal to me.
Today I was remembering a thing from a book about happiness, probably Stumbling on Happiness, that the pillars of English happiness (according to a British lady) are dogs and gardens. Does that mean Seattle is very British, with our tons of dogs and gardens? Or is Seattle just very European in general? Nah, that can’t be right. All our businesses are open on Sundays and we have rampant workaholics running around, or, rather, sitting at their desks forever. Well, besides that, Seattle is really quite European. Liberal and safe and very rule-abiding. Livable, as they say.
Seattle doesn’t toot its own horn much. Do you know what Seattle is like? What comes to mind? ……. Rain! You thought rain, right? Rainy rain raining Seattle. That’s actually a myth. That’s Seattle’s stealth identity. Lots of jokes here about how we pretend the weather’s really shitty so the tourists don’t visit. City identities are pervasive. And probably wrong. For instance, the sun is shining in Seattle right now until November. That’s right, we’re so far north we don’t have night. #fuckyeahseattle
The thing is, we watch TV and movies and read so much that it’s easy to forget we haven’t actually experienced something. We just have an idea of what it is. A really strong idea that will color all our thoughts and even actual experience of the thing.
Listening to a friend rant about New Orleans last year, when I was living there and hating it but trying not to, he said something really interesting. Bitter that original art was so hard to fund or sell, that the food was expensive and greasy and bad, that the government was corrupt and the people were racist, he said that New Orleans was not a city. New Orleans was a brand. And it totally is. New Orleans toots its horn so loud that you’ll find “New Orleans” music and food in cities all over the world. The sad part is that that food and music is probably a lot better than you’ll find in New Orleans itself. I’ll provide a translation. Whenever you hear someone say that New Orleans is “magical”, just insert “drunk”. Omigosh, I was there for a week and it was so magical. We saw a Jazz funeral, and all these beautiful ruined houses, and it made me feel so magical. Then I threw up on my dress.
I didn’t know it at the time but I moved to San Francisco in 2007 because of its brand. I didn’t want an artsy, rebellious, weird place. I wanted the artsy rebellious weird place. Joke was on me, because San Francisco is none of those things. San Francisco is currently the rich, frenetic, confident place with pressure to be even richer, expensive and less weird, with an artsy underground fueled almost entirely by its idea of itself as an artsy city (see: How Weird Street Fair, Folsom Fair, Bay to Breakers) and scrappy, tattooed, weird Oakland. …Oakland, my true love. I would live there again. After New Orleans it doesn’t seem nearly as dangerous! Ha ha ha.
There’s one thing I miss about San Francisco and it’s that confidence. I’ve been hunting freelance projects in Seattle for more than a year now and I’ve talked to a fair amount of designers. And designers and design firms in Seattle, bless their hearts, reveal their insecurities by being a bit too stiff, a bit too formal, a bit too focused on quantitative research. They’re saying, we are totally relevant! We can prove it with numbers! Please believe us. I also see this with design firms in, like, Louisville. Or Arizona. Why are these designers insecure? Do they have to be that way to prove themselves to companies still figuring out why design matters (an attitude I have no patience with, come on people, it’s 2012 and Apple is eating your lunch, dinner and late night snack). Do I just know more late-career designers in San Francisco? Does San Francisco have such a pervasive culture of design that designeres don’t have to prove their work is crucial, essential, and desirable? Probably. Does San Francisco have a brand of iron-hard California-cool, creative-city-suave? Definitely.
What’s that? What do I think of the culture in Silicon Valley? Mmm …… ehhhhh. That’s what.
Ok, ok. I think you can trace the San Francisco “frenetic” and “expensive” culture to a pipeline leaking a steady stream of navel-gazing ADD social buzzwords 38.9 miles south to the developers and venture cowboys of Mountain View. That’s what.
Anyways, I do think a lot about the essential spirits of cities. I think everyone has their city soulmate. You just have to find it.
That was a website idea I had a long time ago: a place to find your city soulmate. For all those people posting on CouchSurfing and city-data.com: “What’s it like to live in ___?” and poring through “Top 10 Cities for ___” lists like I have so many, many times. I still love the City Soulmate idea but it’s currently in a bucket I was forced to make for myself called Good Ideas I Don’t Actually Want to Devote Years of my Life To. So little time. So much ADD!
But actually, if you’re into City Soulmates too, hit me up. We’ll totally own it. See that confidence? I’m a designer.
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