My city is known for something other than the Space Needle, Microsoft, and Grunge. Something pointed like the needle, something everywhere like the computing giant, and something dirty and unkempt like the music movement. It is the Seattle Chill.
I witnessed this the first time I visited the city in 1998. I went out to a dance club – not a live band venue but a bona fide high-octane canned music experience. There was a whole lot of posturing and a serious lack of actual dancing. People looked like they were nervously waiting for a gynecological exam, ignoring the music and their youth and the libations coursing through their veins. I could feel that palpable social vampirism that was slowly draining my will to get down and have a good time on the dance floor. I felt self-conscious and unwelcome.
I love Seattle. I really do. I appreciate the tolerance, the diversity, and the progressive nature of the collective but there is something insecure lurking beneath it all. It is running into a familiar face but walking on instead of stopping to say “Hey, don’t I know you…?” It is knowing an acquaintance for years and years before striking up a friendship. It is the less-than-stellar service I get from wait staff at just about any restaurant.
I bring up customer service because I have traveled to Portland for the weekend and wanted to move there after my server calls me “Hon”, or the customer at the next table comes over to bring my kids a sticker. Portlanders are weathering through the same grey skies as we are, but they seem to understand that at the end of the day we very well may be here to engage with one another in a positive way.
People have tried to peg its origins. It might be the long dark winter and a city-wide diagnoses of Seasonal Affected Disorder. Is it the awkward transportation routes and not-quite-seemless transit systems which drive many to drive in their own solitary cars. It could be the inclination for residents to be hyper-hobbiests who need to connect based on specific shared interests, or the isolating nature of living in a teched-up wired-in city. When you simmer in it for years you quite easily become part of the Chill itself.
Add to this the difficulty of interacting with others when you are a new parent. My husband and I were both incredibly cautious with our first newborn; for weeks we hardly left the couch with babe in arms. We had an incredible outpouring of love and support from neighbors on our street, but it was hard to know exactly where to connect with other parents when PEPS groups just weren’t our style.
But what is the use whining about it? I made a decision at the turn of the year to reach out to others, inspired by a friend who had resolved to “be more authentic”. I knew that at my core I was not a genuine loner who wanted to avoid others. It was pretty easy for my husband and I to list off the people that we really like bumping into, but had never had over for a meal. I started emailing and texting invites to nail down dinner dates. I broke certain routines to do things that had the kids and I interacting with others. My daughter is taking her first official dance class. The kids and I go to the library story times and are building a nice rapport with the Children’s Librarian.
I am realizing that I wasn’t as chilly as I thought, nor are my neighbors. Parents are open to play dates once I ask. Friends are excited to share a meal and connect, especially when they have children. And I start to see the connections I’ve been making all along – with our regular grocery store checker, our garbage man, and the UPS guy who is always bringing packages to our neighborhood. These are the links that make our lives sewn together and worthwhile…and these connections are what teach our children to embrace, love, and respect others.
In the words of Fred Rogers, “If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”