Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Childhood Amnesia: an Update from the Archives

Three years ago I wrote about the phenomenon of children I'd spent hours with in childcare settings forgetting who I was, and I wondered if there was a name for this - and there is! This evening I heard this story on NPR about childhood amnesia, or children's inability to remember events from the first three or four years of their lives. While this phenomenon doesn't entirely overlap with my experience - some of the kids whom I knew were older, eight year olds who forgot me by 13 - it does provide a satisfying piece to the puzzle.

We Won't All Be Welders

There's another story in The Seattle Times about the changing landscape of my former city: a 1912 apartment building downtown is slated to be demolished, an office tower erected in its place, its mostly middle and low-income inhabitants displaced into a city with increasingly exorbitant rents. Congrats to Sanjay Bhatt and news researcher Gene Balk for an interesting, if depressing, article, and for getting great quotations from one of the building's owners. This closes out the article:

           Stephanus, the building’s co-owner, said her business is owning places      for people to live. While what’s happening to Williamsburg Court is sad, she said, if people can’t afford downtown living, that’s for them to figure out.

          “If they find themselves in that position, there are a lot of jobs out there but they have to train themselves a little bit,” she said. “I’ve heard on TV they’re dying for people who can weld. I don’t see any of them going out to be welders.” 

My first reaction to this quotation, especially the last sentence, was anger. This feeling was tempered somewhat by reminding myself that this woman is in her 80s and is a landlord; those and possibly other factors make her less likely to have a sympathetic perspective.

But this idea that we all need to train ourselves for whatever the most lucrative hot new job is - it sidesteps questions like, Why can't the musicians and schoolteachers and others in her building get paid more for the jobs they already have? If we're all chasing the new, who will work at the old? It reminds me of when my favorite bowling and karaoke place closed six years ago. Who will live in Seattle after buildings like these are gone?


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What Creates a Culture of Graffiti?

In a bathroom stall today at the university where I teach, I found myself looking a bit sadly at four blank walls. In grad school, the library bathrooms were filled with graffiti - women's voices proclaiming, counseling, dissing, and querying. There was always something to ponder, scoff at, lament, admire. I wasn't in the library bathroom today, so to be more scientific I suppose I'd better venture over there, but I'd be surprised if I encountered any ink.

Maybe it's because this school is primarily a commuter campus? Maybe the range of students, including many who have full time jobs and/or families, include fewer who are going to turn to a random wall for advice about art, school, health or love?

Except I don't think of stalls as random walls. I think of them as communities of sorts, early versions of Internet message boards or comment threads.

Maybe this perspective and my love of bathroom graffiti comes from my experience at the University of Chicago in the late 90s. There, it wasn't just the library bathrooms that were filled with musings; in the basement of Ida Noyes Hall, which housed the campus bar, movie theater, and rooms used for everything from Social Dance classes (fulfilling a PE credit!) to annual events like Blues and Ribs, I found one of my favorite scribbles: "For a good time call Avogadro's number 6022141..." (etc.). That probably epitomizes U of C's self-congratulatory nerdiness, but there were other good ones too, including paeans to Ira Glass. I wish I'd taken better notes, frankly.

Over time I added my own words to those walls. In the Reynolds Club (the student center), I wrote down lines from a Lucille Clifton children's book: "And Everett Anderson knew/his father loved him through and through/And whatever happens when we die/Love doesn't stop/And neither will I." Why? I don't remember, except for some reason I'd read that book and loved it. I saved the Derek Walcott line "The classics can console, but not enough" for, of course, the Classics building bathroom. And on the eve of the 2000 election, I photocopied a New York Times editorial that argued why people should not vote for Nader but instead, Gore. I highlighted what I considered important sentences and taped the editorial inside stalls around campus.

I'm not that young woman anymore; for one thing, I'd be far more aligned with those Nader voters I feared and loathed. For another, I get that there are other ways to express oneself and to connect with a community. There are other ways to be vocal and anonymous (while, um, being more sanitary), now.

But I'm interested in why some women's rooms are so quiet. And I still love when I find one that's not.