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Spotlight - Writers 1

Maged Zaher

Time for airport coffee
Schedule 1 SeaTac/Airport Station

1) The philosophers Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri point at the network as the dominant paradigm in our era. Modes of dominance and resistance take the shape of a network. In computer science – at least – the grid is a form of a network. The airport in Seattle also is a major node in the networks our lives go through.

2) Someone is running fast to catch the bus. Meanwhile the unbalanced spectator walks out of the city and into his mind, where it keeps raining.

3) Coming in and out of Seattle, my sentences get shorter. The city has poets, engineers, investment bankers, and – of course – musicians. The city has its homeless. The ones who were sacrificed for all of us to continue on surviving and/or prospering, they also act as a reminder of a possible path of life. I think of the homeless as the reason why we all don’t deserve any form of love.

4) There should be a theory of airports, a theory that describes how airport elements interact with each other, including people.

5) Will you give your emotions a color? Yes, it is circular with few randomly placed corporate logos.

6) The airport has a massage chair, just by the escalator. During my first trip to the US I rode in four airplanes Cairo to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Zurich, Zurich to Chicago, and to catch the last one from Chicago to Cleveland I had to run as fast as I can. I am still proud that I made it and I wonder if I didn’t, would my life be any different now, this question intensified after I saw Run Lola Run, an urban movie par excellence.

7) I work with metadata; data that describe objects; in this case: images or music or video. The concept of metadata is urban.

8) Seattle airport was running an ad about how fun spending time, eating, shopping in the airport can be. They made it sound like a picnic destination. The idea is far fetched, yet I agree. The airport can be a place to learn to love oneself.

9) Airports being asexual entities is a testimony about the oppressive morality of productivity we live under.

10) In a networked world, there is a continuous need for status reports, we have to tell our bosses and our colleagues where we hang out, and whether we drink ourselves to death or just await a simple heart attack.

11) In airports we get to raise our hands while a glass door takes a half turn around us, and tell eagerly awaiting people the state of our innocence. We feel silly in this position, apparently a network node is where we can be accused of love.

About the writer:
Maged Zaher is the author of Thank You For the WIndow Office (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2012), The Revolution Happened and You Didn’t Call Me (Tinfish Press, 2012), and Portrait of the Poet as an Engineer (Pressed Wafer, 2009). Maged is the recipient of the 2013 Genius Award in Literature from the Seattle weekly The Stranger.

Deepa Bhandaru

The Gateway
Schedule 2 
Columbia City Station

Ahmed tilted his face toward the sun, mild and comfortable like his adopted city. A city whose name he still had trouble pronouncing. At school they taught him to emphasize the “a,” and he would repeat the city’s name to himself, searching for the right fit. See-AAAAAHHH-tul. See-AY-tal. See-HAT-ull.

His gaze followed the cars hurtling down MLK. Nothing back home could have prepared him for the speeds here. Everything happened so fast. Even the sun, if you weren’t quick, would slip away behind the clouds.

Last night he was playing basketball at Boys and Girls. It was him and his cousin Mustafa and their friend Ali. There were some black kids too. And that Liberian girl who acted like a boy. This morning he got the call. The white lady’s voice was cheerful and clear. They wanted him to come in right away. The other kids were still asleep. Two to a room in their four-bedroom house, one block from the station. Sometimes the little ones slept in the same bed, just like back home.

Their phone had been cut off, and he had listed their neighbor’s number on his applications. When the call came, his neighbor, an Ethiopian lady who braided women’s hair in her living room, rushed over and handed him her cell. In his halting English he gave the answer he was trained to give. He tried to call his caseworker, but she didn’t pick up. He was on his own. He scoured the closet for a nice pair of pants and a shirt. The only shirt he could find was his father’s. It hung too loosely on his thin frame, but it would have to do.

He stepped out into the sun. A sunny day. Only ninety of them a year. His father’s taxicab was parked on the street, and he slapped his palm on the hood. Inshallah, he whispered. He made his way to the platform, tall and lanky, his cheeks smooth, his shoulders slightly hunched. He leaned over the rail, squinting. Across the street, he saw two Asian girls from school. Nothing back home could have prepared him for their long, straight hair, glistening in the sunlight.

He closed his eyes and opened them again. This was the only place where time seemed to stop, where the world seemed endless. This stop, a gateway to “the most diverse zip code in the country.” But what could this diversity mean to him? His neighborhood wasn’t a demographic museum, and he wasn’t an exhibit. He just wanted to get paid so he could buy some of those puffy sneakers the other guys wore. The ones that were high, that reached over the ankle. Maybe get some for his little brothers, too. You had to dress nice to get noticed here. And right now, no one noticed Ahmed. Not the Asian girls across the street, not the black guys on the basketball court, not the teachers at school who told him he was too slow.

That was about to change. He could hear his future approaching. The doors closed behind him, and he began to pick up speed. The pedestrians and cars and rows of houses that looked just like his couldn’t keep up. He was fast, faster than the city. For once, it was chasing him.

About the writer:
Deepa Bhandaru is an educator and writer in Seattle. She holds a PhD in political theory from the University of Washington and works with refugee youth in the South End.

Lisa Sturdivant

Around the Corner
Dunlap, Brighton, Holly Park, 
New Holly, Othello

At the turn of the twentieth century this area had its first urban rail line, from downtown along Rainier Avenue. The privately owned, perennially mismanaged line eventually extended all the way to Renton and opened the Rainier Valley for settlement. In the late 30s the line was torn out and sold to Japan for scrap, but a neighborhood would arrive anyhow. Much of what you see now was built in war, it flourished in war and the period thereafter in the great American experiment of growth and prosperity. The new world was right around the corner. Workers, mostly poor, white, and from elsewhere, moved their families into little bungalows lining Empire Boulevard. They worked at the war factories, then at Boeing.

They complained in the 50s when Holly Park became public housing, and not just public but integrated public housing. This new experiment, with population quotas set: no more than 20% blacks, no more than 25% on welfare—did not please the locals. The next few decades saw civil rights, white flight, the Boeing bust and the slow evolution of an “unsafe” neighborhood while immigrants began their own American experiment.

Empire became MLK, looking a lot like the MLK in most American cities, maybe a bit run down, but functioning. While Seattle was busy becoming Seattle, this neighborhood has simply existed. A mash of Buddhist temples, halal delis, and tons and tons of gardens, where immigrants become homeowners, Africans become black, and old Asian ladies still stop shop by shop down the block that’s far too long to be “walkable” but nonetheless draws crowds. You could even say it’s flourished.

These feel like ghost stories, and Seattle is still right around the corner. In the 90s a new integration experiment begun with the recreation of New Holly. Mixed income, New Urbanism, townhouses, quaint but empty porches lining quiet residential streets. New rail and new experiments afoot. Expecting thousands of residents, 6-story mixed-use buildings were planned and plotted, promising a short commute to downtown and a new urban aesthetic: transit-oriented development. One project was even built before the economic downturn changed that tune. The Safeway was remodeled, but the parking lot is still crazy and you can buy better produce at little Vietnamese markets.

I always wonder what tourists coming from the airport think when they pass this place. I’m sure even bright new Seattleites are slightly confused on their way home from winter vacations.

Is this Seattle? Where are we? Wait, is this Renton?
Yes, yes. Don’t worry. Seattle’s just around the corner.

About the writer:
Lisa Sturdivant is a consultant in Seattle. She likes to think and write about cities and conducted Masters’ thesis research on social housing design in Brazil.

Ahamefule J. Oluo

Cheers of Beacon Hill

I am not from Beacon Hill. I don’t want to say exactly where I grew up, and I don’t mean to imply that the places I grew up aren’t full of amazing individuals (I mean, they’re where I came from, after all). But growing up, I didn’t know of one business that was owned by an individual human being. I couldn’t walk anywhere, because every street was a highway. Buildings were cheap, packed with people who had no other options. Those people filtered in and out of the “neighborhood” – there was no loyalty, because there was really nothing to be loyal to, and the families who lived around us had no stability anyway (assuming they even wanted to stay). I do not have to name this place precisely because it is no place.

Every place has its problems. But I just remember thinking, when I was still a little kid, that even if we stayed exactly as poor as we were, it’d be so much better to live in a place where someone cared about the food that they cooked me, where someone seemed to care that I existed, where I could feel connected to the geography around me.

There were people of all races in my neighborhood, but nobody owned anything. None of it felt like ours. How is that supposed to be your home? It’s hard to feel like you could be anything when you’re surrounded by nothing.

So when I grew up, I moved to South Seattle as soon as I could. I never feel like I just exist here – I always feel like I’m living. And my feeling, when I think about moving away, can best be described as panic.

Not everyone has a choice about where they live. I know what it’s like to feel trapped somewhere, and I’m sure that there are people who live on Beacon Hill – who live in any neighborhood – who feel that way right now. Of course there are. But to me, at least, the difference is that there’s the feeling of an engine here. There’s the feeling of power and momentum. Movement is life; stasis is death. And on Beacon Hill, you can feel the people around you working to make it a place where you’re not stuck.

A number of businesses on Beacon Hill make the premise of Cheers seem not so far-fetched – if Cheers was set in, say, a hip-hop coffee shop and the cast included musicians and artists and a Filipino drag queen (which would be a WAY better show, by the way). There’s more to being a “regular” someplace than just commerce or convenience – to be a regular is to say: “I choose to be here, again and again. Out of all the places, I choose this one.”

Out of all the places, I choose this one. I’m anchored but not stuck.

About the writer:
Ahamefule J. Oluo is a Texas-born, Seattle-raised musician, composer, writer, and stand-up comic. In his musical career, Oluo has collaborated with artists ranging from Brooklyn-based hip-hop trio Das Racist to orchestral indie-pop darlings Hey Marseilles and currently plays in Seattle jazz-punk quartet Industrial Revelation. As a writer and stand-up comic, Oluo was a semi-finalist in NBC´s Stand-up for Diversity Comedy competition and works in close creative partnerships with comic Hari Kondabolu and writer Lindy West.