The Ishaque and Maria Mehdi Reading Room

Town Hall’s newest performance space is the Ishaque and Maria Mehdi Reading Room. Located on the lobby level in the former staff offices, the room features sculptures made from Town Hall’s reclaimed organ pipes and ephemera from Ishaque and Maria’s life. The Reading Room hosts community gatherings and intimate performances of all sorts, and when not in use for an event, is also a quiet place to sit with your thoughts or a notebook. We learned more about Maria and Ishaque from Town Hall board member, Yazmin Mehdi.  

“For all of us, it made sense to name this space for Mom and Dad: to have a space to honor them and to be a legacy for their five grandchildren.”
– Yazmin Mehdi

For Liam Lavery and Yazmin, Yusuf and Stephanie Mehdi, Town Hall is a temple of lifelong learning, a place to hear interesting speakers, music from around the world, and more.  They were keen to contribute to Town Hall’s capital program to ensure another 100-year future for the building and this wonderful organization. Below, they share Ishaque’s and Maria’s history. 

Ishaque Mehdi emigrated to the United States from India at 18 to study. He already had a Bachelor of Science in Physics. He earned a second B.S. in Electrical Engineering at the University of Florida, and then got hired by Boeing.  He later earned both a Master’s of Science and an MBA from Seattle University while working full-time. Maria de Lourdes Sotomayor met Ishaque when he took a rare vacation to San Francisco. She was studying the American educational system with a group of teachers from Mexico, and happened to be there at the same time.  Ishaque asked Maria to marry him three days after they met. It took him six months more to get her to agree.

Ishaque was a great believer that a good education was the key to a good life.  And as a trained teacher, Maria agreed. Besides her own teaching – of preschoolers, of adults through The Language School, and of students in the Sunset Elementary immersion program in Bellevue – Maria spent time in schools volunteering in her children’s classrooms, making piñatas for parties and attending science fairs, recitals, soccer games, and all manner of school events.  Ishaque diligently took both of his children to the Renton Public Library every Monday night to exchange their stacks of books from the week before. By example and through story-telling, Maria and Ishaque instilled a deep love of stories and learning in their children. 

All of us at Town Hall Seattle are grateful for the Lavery/Mehdis’ ongoing support and advocacy on behalf of our organization and this place. We are honored to recognize their gift to the Campaign for Town Hall—as well as their family’s legacy—in this room.

Sow Queer: A Conversation Between HATLO and Fox Whitney

On the evening of September 12 Town Hall will open up for a public showcase of works-in-progress by queer performance makers, facilitated by HATLO, Town Hall’s Artist-in-Residence. HATLO’s new project, Sow Queer, brings a diverse group of performance-makers to Town Hall for a 6-week process-focused, co-working community residency to develop new works and ideas with the option to participate in a public sharing. The September 12th public showcase will have a soft start time between 5 – 5:30 with the audience invited in to join artists in a co-working practice space, followed by a few hours of performance experiments that are improvisational, durational, iterative, and installed throughout the space. The evening will culminate with some of the artists sharing work on the Great Hall stage at 8pm. Tickets are FREE. Audiences are invited into a soft relationship to time and curiosity-focused awareness as they witness the growing seeds of projects that have been cultivated at Sow Queer. 
Recently, HATLO sat down with artist Fox Whitney to discuss the project, the creative process, and more. Their interview, unedited and in full, is below:
HATLO: For me the most succinct way of summarizing what Sow Queer is about is queer centered-process space in community, and I’m wondering if that feels important to you and if so, why you think it’s important. And maybe what is curious for you about this specific project.

Fox Whitney: I guess what was interesting to me about this project was I actually haven’t been thinking of that experiment. I’ve been really committed to creating terrain for my own process that could be a rich and rigorous space for artists to work with me in a way that feels queer-centered, in that it would be our priorities, our care, in a very functional way being centered. As opposed to like thinking people would need to be adapting and changing their kind of way they function in artistic process. Which is my experience, I think on the QT (queer, & trans) side of things. Like, ‘oh I have to leave that.’ That being a kind of respect for adaptability or like identity nuance. So when you were talking to me about this, I thought it was very exciting and risky. 

I don’t often consider myself collaborative, or find that I get opportunities to even experiment with the idea of what a queer, collaborative, non-product focused space could or would be. With the exception of my experience with queer punks in living situations, which I’ve been quite fond of, specifically the transparency around what it is we, or a person who has a desire to, is trying to build. There’s a trust that can be assumed to engage in a deeper way pretty quickly – which is a thing I’m very much a fan of about queer culture. And so I’m excited to talk with you because it’s a few weeks in, and I’m not thinking all sunshine and roses, not that there’s not that, but that part of this experiment for me in the facilitation and wanting to collaborate with you, is wondering what’s possible or what happens when you open up that space? And in such a charged site that’s meant to be for the community, which is not anything I’ve ever dealt with beyond a kind of classroom space. 

H: Yeah. A whole community-focused building take over is an interesting proposition. That is a way so far where Sow Queer is aligning with my intention, especially on Sundays, because I feel a fair amount of ownership of the building by this group of artists. And I like wandering around and stumbling across people that are using the building in different ways, and in ways that are not maybe immediately clear to me and that’s exactly right. That it’s not about legibility or about anything product related, it’s not about anything that’s policing, ‘this is acceptable, this is unacceptable.’ That’s it’s just about people being and having freedom in the space for their process or anti-process, whatever that looks like on a given day. I think the community aspect of it is a curious thing that I am continually navigating. Trying to figure out how to set-up a container…I think I have a desire to make it really attractive, and I keep getting distracted by this idea of high attendance or retention across the 6 weeks, even though neither is actually part of my intention or how I’m interested in measuring success. But in the moment I’ll find myself thinking, ‘oh, how is it the best place anyone’s ever been and the right fit for everyone?’ Which is impossible and not very interesting to me really. 

What I actually want and intended, particularly from the outside, like if I wasn’t the leader, is to have somewhere that folks can go if that’s what feels right for them and for their process. This space is here and available to them, and there will always be other folks to share space with who are also endeavoring in this way. And Sow Queer has been able to function like that so far, which is anti-capitalist expression that feels new for me. Like when you talk about queer punks spaces or queer shared housing and things like that, I think, yes! This is like that, of course it is manifesting that way, even though it wasn’t set-up with that intention exactly. Perhaps that points to a larger need, or a root of my intention. So it’s more like, ‘oh this is an option.’ And some folks are using it a lot, cause that’s what they need. And some folks think they’re gonna use it a lot and then aren’t able to make it out here. And some folks are coming through maybe only once or twice. And this is here for all of that. Because we need spaces that can support all of that. 

FW: A challenge for you that I find interesting, as you were in the dreaming stages of this, you also had to contain this residency to 6 weeks, which is not a lot of time. I feel like that can generate almost just a microcosm of a plan. I wonder, if I was the person who could give this residency or this building for this kind of project, I’d almost just want to give you something like 2 years. Because this feels like maybe something that is only in a prototype stage. And I’ve had questions related to your own practice as an artist: do these ideas and themes and relationships and things live in a more creative zone for you, as opposed to the like leadership structural administrator zone? Because I didn’t really ask you when we were first starting. I just kind of made this assumption I guess because you were like, oh I have this residency opportunity. Because I am interested in the relational aesthetics tangent of contemporary art, so for me it’s super exciting even though I don’t do that as an author or maker, like I really like being an artist and performer as a part of those kinds of ideas. I don’t know because I haven’t yet had a chance to talk much to the other artists, but I think it’s very curious to have an array of perceptions happening and that they can co-exist. That’s inspiring to me in a creative way to have that coexistence and layering happening. 

H: I do think that is happening. I think the thing I have been struck by the most about how this process has rolled out, because once you unmoor the ship and let it free – it’s journey is its own thing. I went to Cauleen Smith’s talk at the Frye yesterday about her show Give It or Leave It, which is a really interesting piece that looks at ‘successful’ experiments with Utopia in this country and she talked a lot about ideas of radical generosity. And there’s a way that this residency feels both generous and very selfish to me. It’s selfish in that it is a creation of something I really want and long for all the time, which is more of that coexisting in space, everyone each on their own terms and opportunities to connect across layers of that without requiring that we have bearing on each other even though necessarily there’s an understanding that there’s an impact just from sharing space. And that to me is rich for community and for me community is rich for my process and my understanding of myself. The way that the invitation has manifested for folks; some folks know exactly what they wanna do, for other folks this proposition is scary – that much unstructured possibility in a building feels overwhelming for them in their process. And I’ve encouraged folks to just come try and see, but also, if that’s their first impulse, that they don’t want to come through, I also trust that. It does feel kind of open-ended. And once you get here it’s very self directed. It’s about what’s interesting to you and your agency, where you are and what you want to do. And for me that’s something I’m trying to pay attention to all the time. And here I’m often like, well I could send a bunch of emails, and I could check in with everybody and see how they’re doing, and I like helming the organization of the space as part of my process, so both of those things need to happen. But also, what am I doing? where am I tending to my own artistic process inside of this? And how am I carving out that time? What am I prioritizing? And I’ve been able to find some pockets to do my work. 

In the larger sense in terms of process I’ve been thinking a lot about what comes next in my what mountains end series, or I’m beginning to work out what comes next, and a few of the research layers look at the ecological factors that support an environment rebounding after natural disasters. You said 6 weeks is just enough time to build a prototype, but that feels right for where I’m at. Like, this is a good space to begin to ask my questions about queer survival strategies in community – and specific to Sow Queer how to create an artistically sustaining culture for folks that I see as needing more resources and opportunity. 

FW: Part of why I was excited to contribute more on the facilitation end when you were first talking about it with me is because it really reminded me of the most invaluable thing I got at graduate school in a studio program, maybe that’s why I think maybe 2 – 3 years for something like this. I think it’s specifically why I hold onto a lot of the tenets of a visual art studio practice, because when I talk with other artists with more of a background in writing or other very structured performance training, there’s none of that being pushed off the cliff. It was really different for everybody, but that first time you’re confronted with the space and the site and nobody telling you what it is you’re gonna fill it with is actually such an intense learning experience. When I first encountered it I realized, ‘you know what, a lot of this is queer community building’. But also my experience was very product-driven in Chicago – the idea that I’d go into this program and be a very product-driven artist. Where I was like, what I like about this I didn’t have to pay for at all. Just this idea that you are the captain of your own destiny as an artist and that’s actually not as intuitive as people think. I’ve had a lot of help and encouragement or problems or failures due to that kind of thinking of filling the blank space. Which has been more culturally encouraged, especially in conceptual or abstract zones, of being crazy or risky, or just assuming you’re gonna fuck it up, and that’s maybe what people are wanting to see. Which is a tension for me in that site of academia, but in this site it’s really different. Where its blurry for me in a way, which was my first panic. I was like, ‘oh it blurry, Fox, I don’t know? Is it a mentorship? Or is it like you’re an artist?’ When obviously if I’m asking myself these things or you’re saying these things, it’s because it’s a complex interrelationship of those things. And not just for us, but for everybody, wherever they’re coming from. Which I think is a super queer lens. As opposed to this very ivory tower, institutional idea that somewhere above me there are people knowing better how to do it. And that there’s some kind of hazing process. Which I don’t think is necessary. I feel that actually really kills the spark of the kind of art I love. Or that has no basis in the kind of training that creates the kind of art I love. 

I had another question for you. In your thinking, how does the idea of sharing live within the idea of wanting to make an artistic culture? Or, and I totally understand this, too, is it just about ‘I have this residency and I have this requirement for sharing? So I want it to feel as good for us as I can?’ 

H: For the sharing on the 12th? Y’know one of the phrases that I employed in the communication around this residency is “lifelines over deadlines.” 

FW: Which I love. 

H: Yeah, TM! I googled it and it didn’t come up really, though I’m sure I’m not the first person whose said it. Anyway, I was thinking about that and as I’ve had all these coffee conversations with artists about Sow Queer over the last month, one of the things that has come up a lot is that for many folks it’s helpful to have a deadline in their process. And the sharing is like a deadline and that’s helpful because they don’t make work without a deadline. So gradually I’ve been thinking what is the way to recontextualize that sharing as a lifeline instead of a deadline? Because I work similarly – I use that language all the time. So I’m wondering what would change if the way I’m talking about what the sharing is, or an invitation for folks of how they might use that date and what they’re going to share as a lifeline? And I absolutely want folks to define what that means for themselves, but as I’ve been thinking about it for me, how can sharing where I’m at with an audience in this moment breathe into what I’m working on in a way that allows it to continue? To continue the metaphor of the sower for this whole residency, how can I treat that like sunlight for a seed? And also, something that was important to me in the sort of non-hierarchical space inside of the culture building is to allow everything to be elective or optional. So I feel like that becomes its own lifeline. Like if it’s stressful for you or not helpful to you to think about this as something where you have to share, then you don’t have to do that part. Another thing that was interesting to me, was if you’re working without the pressure of a deadline, or pressure for output, as we get closer to when this is finished, does sharing where are you now – and in maybe a different relationship than you’ve had to sharing – become more interesting to you? Or does it change the thing you’d want to share? I think that’s ultimately more interesting to me than the people who day one, when invited to the residency, knew exactly what they were going to share on the Great Hall mainstage. But, honestly, that’s also great. 

FW: Right, but that’s not as related to the process. 

H: Right. Totally. And that’s gonna be a swath of what we share and all the folks I invited are people who, at the end of the day, I feel like them being in this city and making their work in this city makes it more possible for me to continue to be and make my work here. So, however they want to share I am interested in supporting and making space for. But also, for me and my own process, I don’t know if I’m going to know what or if I’m going to share until probably two weeks from now. Which is fine. And there’s space for that built into this for artists to be in that space, too. 

FW: When you were first talking about this I related it to our experience working together on Melted Riot for the Gender Tender project, and that is not actually an action for community building, but it’s a way I’ve found as an artist who has a practice that is quite purposefully either extremely for an audience or extremely not for any audience. In some ways my thinking in my practice is about the experience of the performance from the side of the performance and therefore maybe doesn’t need an audience, or the audience is there even if it’s just me. But I wonder about this idea of being neutral, because I actually favor the output of these kinds of processes in the end because of an interest I have in concept. 

Because already, even though I haven’t participated much yet, what I find curious in talking to you, is this idea of this thing I say in class a lot, ‘what if we just notice what happens before we think we need to do something/’ And I do it, too, that’s why I say it all the time. But, what if I notice what happens before I think there’s something I need to do about it. So in this mix of people, and we’re talking about the artistic culture of Seattle, you have some people who have reacted to the part of the call that’s about an opportunity to share which to me highlights a need in our city. We have so many amazing artists here and they’re responding to the call, notice that. They may not want so much the process time. And also there’s some of us who do, who are prioritizing that. 

I guess to me it shows waves of the city, which I wonder about, how will it play out over the next few weeks because there’s a lot of people coming through and it’s not like 30 different things coming up. That’s what I find very curious, like a kind of tuning of the needs of an artistic culture which is part of what I love about being an artist. Where you realize you’re not this individual voice, you’re this kind of ray in a sphere of awesomeness that is relating to itself. Which to me is a totally beautiful poetic concept – before the content of work to notice where people show up, what they show up for, what they say – to trust people right in this way I work with which is like, ‘Oh, you said you could come but obviously things came up, obviously, so what’s that mean though? I’m an artist but I’m also this person, I’m also in a relationship, I also have children’ . . . that it’s like actually these things are happening all at the same time. 

My question, and maybe it’s a thinly veiled suggestion, for when you’re talking about these different states of sharing and using the site in the kind of way it’s speaking to you, right because it spoke to you in this way to have these three different kinds of ideas happening? But like is it because in this improvisational terrain, which it seems like is maybe not the focus right now, but what happens with artists who are drawn to that who may actually feel like, even for me, it feels really restrictive, Hatlo, that you’re just like, ‘durational things happen here.’ And I’m like, ‘but can’t I just wait until the day?’ Or I think there’s that navigation for folks, maybe for people in this space currently who are more in that terrain of, ‘wait, I just gotta feel it out, I may change my mind, is that ok? And whose it for?’ But what I love actually is that being the final state – representative of a kind of non-binary state or questioning state as a super valid definitive state. I think I have a desire for that in art-making and artistic terrain, and not in a way that I’m saying I think people don’t want it. It’s more like the structures and the sites and the timelines don’t make space for that kind of process. 

H: Right and inside of this sharing, whatever ends up happening on the 12th, I think part of it is I’m interested in performance spaces where my questions about, you know it’s so inculcated to be like this is good or this is bad and I just think as I get older I’m just like . . . how useless. Of course this still comes up and I’m like – valid! Sometimes it’s really important to be able gush non-critically, or to free up the mental space of writing something off. And also, I think what really excites me about work-in-process, work-in-progress, which this will be, even with people who knew since day one 100% exactly what they were going to be sharing on the mainstage – that even inside of that, for me it’s still works in progress. Nothing is being built to be shared at Town Hall, everything is being built as part of larger artistic processes however that extends out. Because on the other side of that certainty, for some people this invitation is them kickstarting the conception of a process, like Emily piece is going through notebooks from the 90s and going through video and photo documentation that she hasn’t looked at it in years. 

FW: That’s cool. 

H: Yeah, you know, and has no idea what she’ll share. And it’s like great, awesome! You know, it’s not about anybody being invited in to have a qualitative judgment about what’s happening. It’s just an opportunity to come in and witness. And to trust, based on language that I put together, that you support, that I glean and gather from this whole group, that this is important. To be witnessing. Just to be available. 

FW: It makes me wonder too about a frustration I had, right cause these ideas really speak to visual art, visual culture ideas. Like I hate museums and in a way this site feels like a museum, right? Where you want to be like, but we’re alive! Like when I hear you talk like that it inspires me, cause I’m like, well can’t the way we go in and look at archived experiences of passed and exterminated existences, isn’t there a way to like be . . y’know I don’t think audience so much, I don’t know, I think more like living museum goer. Which to me is super exciting and what I always desire in those spaces, instead of a mausoleum. Cause there’s a bunch of living people around me – I want to know what’s alive. 

H: Right! And an invitation for an audience to show up and be like, and I can’t control this communication going out exactly, although maybe this helps, but just the idea of coming in and being like, ‘Oh, my presence is more about functioning like sunlight than it is about being a consumer.’ Which is a relationship I’m always interested in shaping and changing and challenging for myself, who ‘consumes’ a ton of art of all the time and that’s a perception shift I want to make and to be thinking about more. That’ll be a long process, I doubt it’ll ever be like, ‘100% I am sunlight! I am stardust!’ 

FW: You never know! I’m an Aquarian. I’m optimistic. 

H – Right, it is possible! But it is something I’m paying attention to. And if I’m having a particularly rageful response to something I’m watching and it’s not good for me to stay in the room then I can remember my own agency to take a walk. I can take care of myself and I can decide this art isn’t for me right now. Or also if I’m loving something, that I have the capacity to notice that inside of myself without making it about me or making the performance for me, that I just turn my focus on it and understand collectively that maybe my witness is growing the work and that’s productive for the artist. Anyway, that’s the way I’m interested in organizing and orienting this event for a Town Hall audience. 

Reserve your tickets for the Sow Queer event here. And for information about all of Town Hall’s Homecoming Festival, go here.

Meet the Otto

Located in the Forum, the Otto is a great spot to meet with friends before an event or keep the conversation going afterward! Here’s everything you need to know to make yourself at home at Town Hall’s newest bar:

When is the Otto open?

Throughout Homecoming (September 2 – 29, 2019), the Otto is open most event nights from 5:30pm – 10:30pm. Exceptions are below:

  • The Otto is closed Tuesday 9/3, Sunday 9/15, Tuesday, 9/17, and Friday 9/27.
  • The Otto has different hours Saturday 9/7 (1:30pm – 10:30pm), Sunday 9/8 (3pm – 7:30pm), Saturday 9/21 (3:30pm – 10:30pm), Sunday 9/22 (3pm – 7:30pm), and Sunday 9/29 (5:30pm – 7:30pm).

What does the Otto serve?

You can purchase beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages. You can also bring in your own snacks and non-alcoholic drinks.

Please note: Guests are not allowed to bring their own alcohol, and any alcohol purchased at Town Hall must be consumed on the premises in a safe and responsible manner. Town Hall staff will refuse sale to impaired or underage guests.

Is the Otto an all-ages space?

Yes! Everyone is welcome at the Otto. 

Is the Otto open while there’s an event in the Forum?

Service is usually paused during Forum events, but the space is still open. (You’re welcome to buy a ticket for the night’s program and stick around.) On evenings where there is a program in the Great Hall, but not the Forum, the Otto remains open for service throughout.

How did the Otto get its name?

The Otto is named after Otto Haas, the beloved grandfather of Duncan Haas of the Wyncote Foundation NW. Duncan is a visionary investor in Town Hall and gave a naming gift for the Forum during the renovation. It seemed fitting to honor his grandfather’s memory within the space!

What’s up with the wood on the bar?

The bar is made from reclaimed organ pipes from our old organ loft. (You can find even more of our former organ transformed into benches throughout the space and as a sculpture in the Reading Room.)

Pre-Shows, Post-Shows, Shows, Shows, Shows!

All through our Homecoming Festival, we’re hosting plenty of pre- and post-event meetups to bring our community together and keep the energy going beyond the stage. Stop by before an event or stick around after to take part in these meetups!

Thurs 9/5, 9PM and Tues 9/24, 9:15PM in the Otto
Crafter Hours

Craft in the name of love! Sketch, doodle, collage, stamp—or bring your own supplies to complete the craft project of your dreams after the Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Naomi Klein, and Hot Takes with Hot Dykes events.

Mon 9/9, 6:30PM-7:30PM in the Otto
Deep End Friends Podcast Live Pre-Event Meetup 

Young Women Empowered invite young folks to mingle and chat with Deep End Friends host Virgie Tovar before the Deep End Friends show.

Wed 9/11, 6PM and Sun 9/22, 3PM in the Otto
Game Nights with Zeno Math

Take part in larger-than-life math games and other fun and interactive activities that will challenge your brain—presented by local nonprofit Zeno Math before the Math Night and Clyde W. Ford events.

Sat 9/14, 9PM in the Reading Room
Conversation Circle with ChrisTiana ObeySumner

Follow up on ideas presented in Ibram X. Kendi’s talk of fostering antiracism and reshaping racial justice in America with facilitator ChrisTiana ObeySumner.

Thurs 9/19, 6:30PM in the Otto
Amitav Ghosh Pre-Event Writers Meetup Hosted by the Town Crier

Curious about opportunities to write for Town Hall’s blog? Enjoy drinks and conversation and learn how you can get involved in writing for the Town Crier before the Ghosh and Naomi Shihab Nye events.

Mon 9/23, 6:30PM in the Otto
Pre-Event Photography Meetup Hosted by the Town Crier

Interested in becoming a volunteer photographer? Meet up with fellow local photographers and learn about photography opportunities with Town Hall before Chase Jarvis’s event!

Wed 9/25, 9PM in the Otto
Sarah Galvin Poetry Reading

Students of Sarah Galvin’s Facing the Blank Page poetry workshop step up to read original works they’ve created.

Thurs 9/26, 6:30PM in the Otto
Black Farmers Collective Meetup

Learn more about local environmental initiatives with Black Farmers Collective before the Isabella Tree event, and learn about Town Hall’s Day of Service on 9/28.

Sun 9/29, 6PM in the Otto
Shout Your Abortion Meetup

Sit in for conversation and education with Shout Your Abortion (SYA), an organization working to normalize abortion through art, media, and community events all over the country, before Jenny Brown and SYA cofounder Amelia Bonow take the stage to discuss the abortion struggle now. SYA will be talking about creative ways to take back the narrative around abortion, crafting personalized cards for abortion providers, and making pro-abortion buttons.

Learn more about these events, and much more, on our events page. We’re looking forward to having you join us for our Homecoming!

What’s Your Curiosity Craving?

At Town Hall, we often invite folks to feed their curiosities, and for Homecoming Festival, we’re asking: what is your curiosity craving? In this series, Town Hall staffers will turn their own curiosity cravings into custom festival itineraries. Interested in sharing your own craving and the Homecoming lineup that satisfies it? Write us at communications@townhallseattle.org for the chance to be featured here. If selected, we’ll give you free tickets to your custom itinerary!

Donna Bellew, a Town Hall board member, shares her itinerary:

My curiosity craving is to explore Aristotle’s four cardinal virtues as a way of understanding what is important to being a just society and a just individual.  I know it sounds big and heavy but also super interesting and it turns out Town Hall has A LOT of programming that covers Aristotle’s four virtues: prudence, temperance, courage and justice.

Prudence

Prudence is not a word thrown used much lately.  Maybe it’s too formal or just old fashioned but it’s hard to not argue for the need for some common sense, wisdom and good judgment. On Tuesday, September 17, Marie Forleo takes Town Hall’s stage to delve into her book Everything is Figureoutable, exploring the idea that if you’re having trouble solving a problem or making a dream happen, the problem isn’t you. According to Marie, it’s not that you’re not hardworking, intelligent, or deserving, but that you haven’t yet installed the one key belief that will change everything—everything is figureoutable.

Temperance

Temperance is a word used even less frequently.  In our extreme culture moderation does not get a lot of playing time.   That’s why I’m looking forward to hearing, on September 13, Marilynne Robinson train her incisive mind on our modern political climate and the mysteries of faith. With perspectives from her new essay collection What Are We Doing Here? she investigates how the work of great thinkers about America like Emerson and Tocqueville inform our political consciousness, and discusses the way that beauty informs and disciplines daily life.

Justice  

Luckily justice is a word we hear a lot, mostly in the context of all the extreme injustices that are present in our lives and in the world. Seattle is very lucky that many of Town Hall’s civic programs take a close look at issues involving justice.  One of the many that I’m excited to see in September is Ibram X. Kendi’s talk on the concept of antiracism and how to reenergize and reshape the conversation about racial justice in America. It takes place on September 14.

Courage

Courage is a big, intoxicating word and one that I’m always curious to learn more about which is why I can’t wait to hear author Isabella Tree speak at Town Hall on September 26.  I’m looking forward to hearing the story of how when Tree and her husband (environmentalist Charlie Burrell) found themselves struggling to make a profit from the heavy clay soils of their West Sussex farm, they decided to try something new. They let it go wild. To enlighten us on the trials and outcomes of this bold plan, Tree joins us on Town Hall’s stage with excerpts from her new book Wilding – The Return of Nature to an English Farm. Tree recounts the questions she faced in the process of letting nature reclaim her 3,500 acre, centuries-tilled farmland. What form did the land have before human beings claimed it? What kinds of animals had been crucial to its ecology, and how could they be reintroduced? What would the neighbors think? Join Tree for a discussion of the challenges and successes of this bold mission to revive land and wildlife by letting nature take its course, reversing the cataclysmic declines in biodiversity that challenge Britain and the world.

Want to find more? Check out our full Homecoming Festival lineup!

Our 22 and Under Program has Officially Launched!

All Town Hall-produced events (everything listed as Science, Civics, or Arts & Culture, including Town Music and Global Rhythms) are now FREE for everyone age 22 and under!

Town Hall believes that everyone deserves access to fresh ideas, art, and conversations—and that access should begin early. Our community is made stronger when young people have a seat at the table, and we’re grateful to our partners at Seattle Office of Arts & Culture for funding the first five years of our 22 & Under initiative.

Claiming free 22 & Under tickets is easy. If you want to reserve your spot, just add a free 22 & Under ticket to your cart. Free youth tickets are also available at the door as long as seats are available (ID may be requested).

We’re celebrating the arrival of 22 & Under tickets with special opportunities throughout Homecoming, including Teen Night Receptions with TeenTix. Stop by teen receptions (everyone age 13 – 19 is invited) before some of the festival’s biggest events to meet other curious minds and snag complimentary snacks like Trophy Cupcakes and Primo’s pizza.

Teen Night Receptions

Thu 9/5, 6:30PM-7:30PM in the Otto 

Before Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Mon 9/9, 6:30PM-7:30PM in the Otto

Before Deep End Friends Podcast Live

Wed 9/11, 6PM-7PM in the Otto

Before the Math Night Double-Header

Sat 9/14, 6:30PM-8PM in the Otto

Before Youth Rising In The Town

Wed 9/25, 6:30PM-7:30PM in the Otto

Before Jonathan Safran Foer

Interested in learning more about our Homecoming Festival? Look no further.

Town Hall Seattle Reads the Mueller Report

Mere days before Robert Mueller testified before the House Judiciary Committee regarding his special council report, Town Hall hosted more than 100 local actors, journalists, and community activists for a 24-hour marathon reading of the 448-page report in its entirety, including redactions and footnotes. 

It was Town Hall at its best—a community-driven, highly collaborative program, an act of citizen self-education, and an immediate response to what’s happening in the world around us. It was also a wildly ambitious testament to the flexibility of both our new Forum space (formerly known as Downstairs) and our staff. Several hundred audience members joined us throughout the reading, with folks wandering in during the wee hours of the morning and 1,400 more joining throughout the livestream (even a few media outlets stopped by, including The Guardian).  

We’re so grateful to the event organizers (Brian Faker, Sarah Harlett, and Carl Sander), the 100 plus readers who volunteered their time, and to everyone who participated throughout the marathon event. 

You can still experience Town Hall reading the Mueller report for a non-dramatized and non-partisan presentation of this critical document. Watch the full event below (broken into Parts 1 and 2) or listen to the audio, released as a special In the Moment podcast miniseries

Do you want to support timely civics programs like this one? Support Town Hall by becoming a member today.

The Media is Actually Dying

Town Hall and Fuse Washington collaborated for a Media is Dying panel discussion on July 11. Anya Shukla, a rising 11th grader at Lakeside School and a TeenTix Press Corps editor, was in attendance:

I didn’t know that the media was deteriorating. According to Bloomberg, journalism is decaying all around the country, at organizations such as Buzzfeed, Vice Media, and CNN. Even in Seattle, what many would consider an artsy, media-oriented city, the number of journalistic opportunities have dropped by 40%. These are the kinds of cold, hard, scary facts that I learned last week at Town Hall’s The Media is Dying panel, featuring Adrienne Russell, Clifford Cawthon, and Peter Jackson.

I could tell that I was out of my depth as soon as I walked into the event space, which was filled with local political chatter and orange YES t-shirts. I’m not exactly cut off from politics–I keep up with the New York Times–but compared to my fellow audience members, I knew nothing. I don’t pay attention to the goings-on in Seattle; I don’t know who our senators or representatives are. Further proof of my ignorance: I thought journalism was a viable career

According to Jackson, the media’s slow and violent death is not because of a lack of interest–schools are overflowing with story-hunting, news-sniffing students. It’s not due to a lack of opportunity: the internet, with its ability to democratize the news system, has made it far easier for grassroots media organizations to thrive. So what’s the problem?

Unfortunately, the web is a double edged sword: although the internet opens doorways for smaller journalistic organizations, it is also responsible for many of the media’s current struggles. As a former newspaper editor in the audience told us, 65% of a newspaper’s revenue comes from advertisements, but only 15% of the paper’s income goes to the reporters. A decline in advertisers–perhaps because companies can now promote their content by paying Google or using strong search engine optimization–means a reduction in staff pay. As well, the internet makes it far easier for readers to stop subscribing to news: if you can find information anywhere, for free, why should you have to pay the Washington Post or the New York Times? Of course, less subscribers means less money for journalists. The world wide web, a once-brilliant beacon of hope and prosperity for newspapers, is now media’s downfall. 

Money can also affect papers in ways one wouldn’t expect. Jackson let us in on a sobering truth: the best health information comes from a website associated with Kaiser Permanente. Some of the greatest photojournalists in Seattle work for the Starbucks Newsroom. Journalists have to go where the money is, and often, that money is in the hands of corporations focused on promoting their brand. Especially when your article might hurt the billion-dollar company that owns your paper, it can be hard to tackle hard-hitting stories. Reporters can’t bite the hand that feeds them, even though that goes against the necessity of telling the truth in journalism, of not sitting on important information, of being objective. 

So the media is dying. But what can we do to slow its demise? Russell thought that, like in several Nordic countries, government should be required to pay for journalism. Newspapers are a public utility, after all. Jackson believed that we should foster a love for the news at an early age by having children share articles in school. This will pay off down the road, when those kids grow into adults with the power to subscribe–i.e. give their money–to whichever newspaper they choose. I think we need to get young people involved with their cities. Part of the reason I felt out of place at the panel was because I don’t keep up with local politics; I don’t know what I’m saying YES to. I don’t subscribe to the Seattle Times because I don’t think the goings-on of my town are as important as what’s happening in New York or Washington D.C.. If I felt that there was something Seattle could give me, something I could fight for or against, something I would want to read about in the paper, I’d be paying $3.99 a week for the rest of my life. Somehow, I need to become invested in Seattle at a local level, so that I can support our local newspapers. But hey–I’m young. I can change my mindset. I can still learn more about citywide politics, either in the classroom or through my own research. And I’m a quick learner: I now know that journalism is practically over; the presses have stopped. But, hopefully, one day, thanks to a shift in how we think about our towns and an increase in funding and subscribers, I’ll find out that they’ve started rolling again. 

 

What Orcas Can Teach Humans About Menopause and Matriarchs

Darcey Steinke will be discussing her new book, Flash Count Diary: Menopause and the Vindication of Natural Life, at the Forum at Town Hall on July 8. Tickets are on sale now, or buy your tickets at the door!

The following article, written by Brangien Davis, originally appeared on Crosscut:

Seattleites understand the draw of killer whales. Even a dorsal fin glimpsed from a ferry sparks awe. We want to be near their black-and-white bodies, their close family pods, their huge brains, their haunting songs.

But for writer Darcey Steinke, one quality above all others pulled her from her home in Brooklyn to the San Juan Islands in hopes of seeing a killer whale in the flesh: the fact that orcas and humans are two of only five species known to experience menopause.

In her new book, Flash Count Diary: Menopause and the Vindication of Natural Life, Steinke explains how this surprising cross-species connection led her on a cross-country quest to see the centenarian southern resident orca “Granny” (aka J2, who has since died). The trip was a kind of feminist version of Moby-Dick, but instead of hoping to harpoon a white whale, Steinke sought solace from a black-and-white elder.

When she was 50 and having frequent, intense hot flashes (not to mention insomnia, fatigue and anxiety), Steinke began looking around for something — anything — positive about menopause. She noted that in pop culture, menopause is referred to almost exclusively as a punchline, often via dismissive or self-deprecating jokes about hot flashes or mood swings. The self-help books she read couched menopause as a disease that should be fixed, usually with hormone replacement therapy (HRT, which has many risks and unknowns). From pioneering menopause writer Gail Sheehy (The Silent Passage, 1992) to 1970s television star Suzanne Somers (The Sexy Years, 2004), experts promoted HRT as the best shot at “keeping the veneer of femininity intact.” To Steinke, everything read like “boilerplate misogyny.”

Her research unearthed a long history of dubious “cures,” from transfusions of dog’s blood to vinegar sponge baths to putting a magnet in your underpants. All of which, she says, seem a little less strange once you realize that the most popular hormone replacement treatment, Premarin, is made from the urine of pregnant horses.

“Nobody wants to hear about menopause, not even menopausal women themselves,” she writes in Flash Count. It’s an unspoken secret that many women are embarrassed to discuss. Even among middle-aged women, the topic of menopause and perimenopause (the years-long, symptom-heavy suite of bodily changes that lead up to the final cessation of periods) has a hushed air of shame — something to be kept under wraps, because culturally it signifies “your usefulness is over.”

When she found an article in the journal Nature about how postmenopausal killer whales serve as leaders and knowledge bearers in their pods, Steinke felt a glimmer of hope. While menopausal humans are ridiculed or ignored, menopausal orcas are critical members of their society. Given the lack of nuanced human narratives about this significant life change, Steinke latched onto the cetacean story. She took a plane to Seattle, a van to Anacortes, a ferry to San Juan Island and a sea kayak out into the Salish Sea.

Part memoir, part widely researched treatise (with citations ranging from The Incredible Hulk to Simone de Beauvoir), Flash Count argues for a new view of menopause, one that openly acknowledges and embraces it as a phase of life that is confounding and physically nightmarish, but ultimately pregnant with possibility.

“I wanted to fight back, to resist how the culture denigrates and stigmatizes menopausal women,” Steinke writes. She goes on to quote renowned feminist Germaine Greer, author of The Change (1991): “The menopausal woman is a prisoner of a stereotype and will not be rescued from it until she has begun to tell her own story.” And so, Steinke does just that.

I spoke with Steinke in advance of her upcoming appearance at Town Hall Seattle, where she’ll be in conversation with Dr. Deborah Giles, scientist and lecturer at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Labs on San Juan Island.

BD: What was it about that article in Nature that clicked for you?

DS: I found out that not only do killer whales go through menopause, but the post-reproductive orcas go on to lead their pods. And in that same article they talked about how menopause is an evolutionary puzzle because most creatures breed until the end of their life cycles — it’s a principle of Darwinian fitness to have as many offspring as you can. The article said menopause probably evolved in human communities for the same reason as in whale communities: because around 50, women get so smart and knowledgeable that they’re more valuable to their communities as leaders than as breeders. This was an idea that I really, really liked.

BD: So you got obsessed. 

DS: I got completely obsessed. There’s a lot of YouTube footage of the southern resident killer whales in the Salish Sea, and the University of Washington’s Center for Whale Research has a live-linked hydrophone— so I could listen 24 hours a day for whale sounds. Sometimes I heard them calling to each other. I also got obsessed with Lolita, who was from L Pod, and was taken 48 years ago from the Salish Sea and is still held captive at Miami Seaquarium. So I went down to see her. And then I flew to Seattle, went straight to Friday Harbor, got in a kayak, and on my first day out, I saw Granny! She was such an iconic whale. It was unbelievable. I’m still not really over it. I’ll never get over it.

BD: But in the book you say the moment wasn’t like the movie Born Free. It was more mysterious. 

DS: Right. When I saw Granny it wasn’t like we had this big connection, like, “Ooh, we are one.” I actually felt like her look said, “What the frig are you doing? Why are you guys out here?” I think that’s related to menopause. The passage is mysterious — it’s not like it’s all powerful. I definitely suffered some. But there was also some fascination with what was happening to my body, my mind, my gender, my sexuality. You’re almost like molting. It didn’t seem completely negative; it seemed more like, human. And real in a way that was not sugar-coated, and not necessarily empowering, but a human experience that should be felt and honored.

BD: Flash Count Diary is currently Amazon’s No. 1 bestseller … in the menopause section. Most of the other books in that category are about “solving the menopause problem” with hormones or diets or essential oils.

DS: I know, I love it! It’s like, The Hormone CureThe Estrogen CureMenopause Is a DiseaseYou Need to Fix Yourself. I’m not totally against hormones, but I’m so happy to be beating all the hormone books! When I was going through menopause — I think I’m at the end now, but I’m not sure — I discovered there are so few books that talk about menopause as something that is nuanced. It was always about how to get rid of the symptoms. There was nothing that was really engaged and respectful. When I started to have hot flashes, they were really uncomfortable, but they were also fascinating as a bodily phenomenon. I found them exquisite in a weird way, too — just to be incandescent with heat.

BD: Alternately there are rah-rah, empowerment narratives, such as, “Hot flashes are power surges!”

DS: As annoying as the menopause books trying to push everyone onto hormones are, those other books that are like, You’ll rise like a phoenix through menopause! were really annoying to me, too. Those are equally unnuanced. … I’m not completely surprised that I’ve landed in the women’s health world, and I guess I’m kind of happy about it. But part of the conclusion of the book is that we don’t need to be ashamed, we don’t need to get rid of it, we should live our own truth. So I like to think that my book is somewhat more punk rock than the others.

BD: It seems like lately there have been a few more menopausal storylines on television. Do you watch Better Things? Pamela Adlon’s character is dealing with her changing body and new life stage in the current season.

DS: Oh yeah, that’s a great show. I think she has a hot flash in one of the first episodes. There is also that incredible scene in Season 2 of Fleabag when the older woman [Kristin Scott Thomas] talks about how wonderful life is postmenopause. But I’m very sensitive to menopause being made fun of on TV, like when hot flashes are laughed at, even if by women. That stuff makes me kind of crazy — do we make fun of people who are having seizures? I’m not saying menopause is an illness, but it is a kind of bodily suffering. I know humor can be a release but most of the jokes are just boilerplate misogyny.

BD: When I was reading Flash Count I found that I sometimes felt embarrassed to be carrying around a book with “menopause” on the cover. And then I’d get mad that I was embarrassed by this thing that happens to half the population. 

DS: Yes, other women have told me the same thing. They think, “Wow, I realized I’m a little ashamed of this, and then I realized how crazy that was.” I mean, if you were reading a book about pregnancy or birth you wouldn’t feel embarrassed. Or maybe even a book about menstruation, because now we have this “menstruation power” movement. That’s connected to the idea in the book that women are mostly valued for their sexuality and their motherhood, so after those days are over, there is some shame attached to menopause. That’s misogyny, too. It’s just not a phase when men find women interesting.

BD: As the author of many fiction titles, did you ever have qualms about writing a personal menopause book?

DS: At the very beginning I wondered, would this taint me as being “the menopause writer”? But pretty quickly I realized even thinking that shows how messed up the culture is around all this. And I started getting kind of angry. I decided, I’m gonna write the most honest book about my own experience, and say what I really think about the way the medical world treats this condition. I got buoyed up by my own fury, so that dealt with the shame I might’ve felt.

BD: “Storylessness has been women’s biggest problem,” you quote cultural critic Katha Pollitt as saying. Her (and your) point is that while we have countless books about women coming of age, embracing sexuality, falling in love and starting a family, the roster of stories by and about women experiencing menopause is measly.

DS: That’s why I wrote the book, right? And that’s kind of why I attached myself to whales, too. I couldn’t find any human stories about menopause, so I got attached to Granny. Two books I did like were The Change by Germain Greer, a philosophical feminist study of menopause and midlife, and Colette’s novel Break of Day, which is a story about Colette’s own menopause and her flirtation with a younger man, a meditation on her sexuality at this age. There is also Simone de Beauvoir’s Old Age — people forget she was one of the first writers who would go out and interview people for her books, to hear their experiences, which is something I did for my book too.

BD: Tell me about the subhead: Menopause and the Vindication of Natural Life.

DS: I love the word vindication — in part because of Mary Wollstonecraft, whose book A Vindication of the Rights of Women [1792] was one of the first feminist books and was very important to me as a young person. But also because menopause is not a disease, it doesn’t need to be cured, it needs to be vindicated! I really wanted the book to be engaging — a fun read — but also a treatise or call to arms. I know that writing it definitely saved me from menopause shame, so I hope that can be true for other women as well.

Darcey Steinke is joined by Dr. Deborah Giles at the Forum at Town Hall on July 8. Buy your tickets now or at the door

Announcing Our September Homecoming Festival Lineup

Town Hall Seattle’s soft-launch winds down as we prepare for our month-long grand reopening festival in September. The festival marks twin milestones: the successful completion of a $35 million renovation of our historic home and the kick-off for the organization’s 20th anniversary season.

Homecoming Festival is a community-wide invitation to explore the renovated Town Hall and experience its new features and capacities, including its newest performance space (The Reading Room) and transformed downstairs space (the Forum). Locals already familiar with Town Hall will appreciate the signature wide-range of topics and perspectives presented—as well as the price point. Nearly all festival tickets are just $5, and now, all events produced by Town Hall are free for everyone aged 22 and younger (made possible through support from the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture).

Homecoming opens on Labor Day (9/2) with former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and Rep. Pramila Jayapal. The two will hold court in the Great Hall to discuss the state of American politics and the labor movement as they unpack Reich’s call for our country to reinvest in the common good.

Town Hall will show off its upgraded acoustics with concerts ranging from world music stars like Garifuna Collective to kindie-rocker Caspar Babypants. Likewise, the building’s new A/V and technical capacities make it an ideal home for live podcast tapings (such as Vox Media’s The Weeds) and performance art (Seattle-based performer HATLO is the Homecoming Artist-in-Residence). Details for these events are still being finalized.

Highlighting Town Hall’s role as a shared community platform, Town Hall is augmenting their lineup of marquee thought-leaders and homegrown talents with pre- and post-show conversations, locally-curated programs, and artist takeovers (where artists and artist collectives take over Town Hall’s building and transform it through their work for the day). Notably, artist collective TUF will take over the building with concerts, panel discussions, and hands-on workshops, creating spaces to connect and collaborate with a focus on uplifting marginalized identities and challenges white-cis-male power structures within electronic music, art, and media.

More details, parties, and programs will be announced throughout the summer. Tickets go on sale to Town Hall members July 1; public sale begins July 3. More about the festival can be found here.

Select Homecoming Programs:

9/2 – Labor Day with Robert Reich and Representative Pramila Jayapal
Robert Reich joins Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal for a Labor Day exploration of American politics, vicious cycles, and the common good.

9/5 – Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
Taylor calls us together to reflect on the five years since Ferguson and the future of #BlackLivesMatter.

9/7 – Caspar Babypants: Back-to-back Saturday Family Concerts
Families are invited to launch of Babypants’ new children’s album with back-to-back concerts in the Great Hall.

9/7 – Suzan-Lori Parks: Town Hall Takeover (to be announced)
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright takes over the building with workshops, a concert, and a public performance of new work commissioned as a re-inauguration of the Great Hall

9/8 – Rick Steves: Guatemala, Ethiopia, Hunger, and Hope
Travel TV host Rick Steves expands on his passion for travel as a political act and shares the impact of aid helping people battle poverty around the globe.

9/10 – Vox: The Weeds Podcast Live
Vox voices and regular hosts Matthew Yglesias, Jane Coaston, and David Robert take the stage for a live recording of their podcast delving into the areas where politics becomes policy.

9/11 – Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the US for Young People 
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz examines the legacy of Indigenous peoples’ resistance, resilience, and steadfast fight against imperialism.

9/13 – Marilynne Robinson: What Are We Doing Here?
Author Marilynne Robinson investigates how great thinkers about America like Emerson and Tocqueville inform our political consciousness.

9/14 – Ibram X. Kendi: How to Be an Antiracist
Ibram X. Kendi energizes our conversations of racial justice, and examines what it means to be an antiracist.

9/15 – June Diane Raphael: The Woman’s Guide to Running for Office and Changing the World
Actor and activist June Diane Raphael presents a practical roadmap for women running for office.

9/16 – Samantha Power: The Education of an Idealist
Samantha Power traces her career as a war correspondent and offers an uplifting treatise for those dedicated to making a difference.

9/20 – Brad Smith: Promise and Peril in the Digital Age
Microsoft President Brad Smith confronts cybercrime, privacy problems, and big tech’s relationship to inequity.

9/21 – TUF Art Collective: Town Hall Takeover
TUF takes over Town Hall too challenge white-cis-male power structures within electronic music, art, and media. With workshops and showcase they create opportunities to connect and collaborate through new media.

9/24 – Naomi Klein: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal
Klein investigates the discussion of our modern climate crisis and presents an urgent case for a Green New Deal.

9/25 – Jonathan Safran Foer: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast
Author Jonathan Safran Foer offers us a new approach to saving the planet from climate change: breakfast.

9/28 – Town Green Service Day
Volunteer at Yesler Terrace’s Yes Farm to help cultivate the space with Black Farmers Collective.

Full calendar of currently announced programs available here.

We’re looking forward to having you join us for a month-long housewarming!

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