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

Moby’s Not Complaining

Town Hall recently hosted Moby, the famed singer-songwriter, musician, DJ, and photographer. We invited local writer Katie Kalahan  to sit in the audience and share her thoughts…

 

“I’m not complaining,” Moby says. Even after everything he’s been through, Moby isn’t complaining. Even after the panic attacks, drinking, sleeplessness, meth, suicide attempts, fame, sobriety, emptiness, Moby is still not complaining. He’s giddy recounting the time that he and David Bowie played Bowie’s song “Heroes” together in Moby’s living room, as giddy as I imagine he was the first time he got to tell the story. He is irreverent, playful, and self-conscious.

Town Hall proper is nearly complete with its renovation [the Great Hall is opening soon], so the event is held in Seattle First Baptist Church, which does not go unnoticed by Moby. The very first thing he says when he walks onstage is, “Is this a piano?” and the second thing is, “I feel bad that I’m wearing this shirt inside a church.” His shirt has an upside down cross and the word “VOID” across it. Then he swears, wonders if it is okay to swear in a church, decides that God would be okay with words describing fecal matter, and concludes that God invented s*** and if we couldn’t s*** then we would all die. He doesn’t miss a beat and answers Ross Reynolds‘ question about touring. Moby speaks in great loops, explaining himself or defending strong opinions. Moby’s unique mixture of sincerity, insecurity, and hope for a reaction make him a great entertainer.

We all know someone like Moby. Someone whip-smart who had a rough start to life, who struggled with addiction, who made mistakes. His talk is a celebration of what happens when you hit rock bottom and live through it. His story is heartbreakingly familiar. When Moby was 33 (Jesus’ age at resurrection, as I’m sure Moby would be quick to point out) he made it big with the album Play. For Moby, it was as if someone swapped out his tough hand with a great hand. “It’s like the world decided to play a cruel joke and give me everything I ever wanted to see how I dealt with it,” Moby says, adding, “but I’m not complaining.” 

Ross Reynolds moves the event into Q&A. Moby answers questions and he strikes me as someone who would happily stay up all night talking philosophy. He also strikes me as someone who would do anything to get a laugh—at Town Hall, that thing is a mimed re-enactment of the time he brushed his flaccid penis up against then-civilian Donald Trump. As Seattle consumes more and more housing, so Seattleites consume podcasts. If you don’t listen to podcasts, I recommend them for when you’re doing the dishes or on a long drive. Heavyweight is a beautifully strange Jonathan Goldstein project in which he finds the answers to people’s decades-old personal questions. In one episode, Jonathan and his friend Gregor try to get back some CDs that Gregor lent Moby in the 90s, which Moby went on to sample to make his breakout album Play. Predictably, someone asked about this podcast episode. Moby says, “I think they cut it from the episode, but the truth is that I have no idea where the CDs are.”

Moby plays three songs. The first is a request from one of the youngest audience members, a child named Alexander, who asks for “We Are All Made of Stars”. The final song is the song that the book title Then It All Fell Apart comes from: “Extreme Ways“.

After the music, Moby says he’s eager to get to the book signing. And no one is complaining.

Photos taken by Rick Sood.

What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us

Acclaimed journalist Rachel Louise Snyder takes the Town Hall stage on May 21 to deliver a reckoning with the urgent and widespread problem of domestic violence with insight from her powerful new book No Visible Bruises (glowingly reviewed recently in the New York Times). She’s joined onstage by KUOW’s Sydney Brownstone, and together these two journalists reveal the scale of domestic violence in our country.

Katie Kurtz is a Seattle based freelance writer, currently working on a true crime memoir about three of her classmates whose murder remains unsolved 30 years later. She previews Snyder’s event here:

Why didn’t she leave? This question pointed toward victims illustrates why the culture surrounding domestic violence thrives: The onus is on the woman to escape, not on the abuser who makes her feel like she needs to run for her life.

With the National Domestic Violence Hotline reporting that nearly 1 in 3 women (35%) in the US have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime, everyone is touched by domestic violence. The numbers may never be fully known, though. Whether the victim is still in the relationship or has managed to leave, the fear instilled by the abuser effectively silences her forever.

In No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us, Rachel Louise Snyder unpacks the systemic reinforcement of domestic violence and the various inflection points where intervention is possible. The book opens with a case study of Michelle Monson of Montana and traces hers and her children’s eventual deaths at the hands of Michelle’s husband Rocky. Snyder’s investigation includes interviews with all surviving relatives, including Rocky’s who completed suicide immediately after killing his wife and their children. One among 1,200 possible cases (that’s how many women in the US are killed annually by a partner), Michelle Monson’s story shows how it isn’t one single factor that could have pointed toward a violent end to her life but a gradual accumulation of events.

Awareness is growing that abusiveness does not start out as physical and, as Snyder notes, 20% of these relationships don’t entail physical violence at all. Abusers use various tactics to maintain power over the victim through emotional, psychological, financial, and sexual control. These forms of coercive control can look a lot like the Hollywood version of a budding romance. Stopping by unannounced with a bouquet of flowers may look dreamy in the movies but it can also be an excuse for the suitor to confirm she is where she says she is. France and the UK have laws against coercive control; the United States does not.

Snyder’s book covers the persistent question about whether angry and controlling men can be rehabilitated. Men recognizing their own violent behavior is fundamental to dismantling the structures that support it. But the difficulty in how we get there can be illustrated by this conundrum: Joe Biden was the senator who introduced the Violence Against Women Act in Congress in 1990, shortly before his campaign to discredit Anita Hill. Now we know that gaslighting—named for the 1944 movie Gaslight starring Ingrid Bergman who was slowly being driven insane by her husband—is a form of psychological abuse.

Many of us were glued to Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony about the Supreme Court nominee who—despite our collective fervent invocations that maybe just this once the sexual predator doesn’t win—was approved. Her quote, “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” speaks to the long-term effects trauma has on survivors. Indelible.  

There will likely be a number of survivors in the audience for this event. We need our community there with us, too. If you or someone you know is experiencing intimate partner violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit The Hotline website.


Tickets are on sale now for this powerful event, happening on May 21 in Town Hall’s Forum.

Arts & Action To Better Our Community

Can arts change our communities like they change our lives? ArtsFund will share pivotal research from their first-ever Social Impact of the Arts Study in King County on May 17 at Town Hall’s newly renovated Forum. Town Hall asked Sarah Sidman, ArtsFund VP of Strategic Initiatives and Communications to interview KUOW’s Marcie Sillman about the study and the impact of the arts.

Marcie Sillman and Sarah Sidman

Sidman’s recent interview with Sillman is below:

It’s a pivotal moment for King County. We’re experiencing rapid economic and demographic growth while simultaneously grappling with pressing challenges around education, homelessness, healthcare and mental health, workforce development, and income inequality. On May 17th, Town Hall and ArtsFund are presenting “Arts & Action to Better Our Community”, a panel discussion and civic dialogue focused how arts advance positive and equitable outcomes in our community.  I’ll be sharing findings from our new Social Impact of the Arts Study, followed by a panel and discussion examining how we can harness the impact of the arts to address these challenges and advance community priorities. The panel will feature Randy Engstrom, James Miles, Vivian Phillips, and Jay Vogelsang, and will be moderated by Marcie Sillman, Arts & Culture reporter at KUOW who has been covering the sector in King County for more than 30 years.

I recently sat down with Marcie to talk about the program, arts’ social impact and the potential for making positive change in our community, and the urgency around having conversations like this one.

SS: What’s your passion around the topic of arts’ social impact? Why are you involved in this program?

MS: I’m involved because I respect ArtsFund. My passion goes beyond the social impact of arts. I have a passion for the arts and cultural realm of society in general. If you want to narrow it down to talk about social impact, I truly believe that ‘art outlives politics’. I think this is a realm where what can happen is changing lives. I think the way that you really make change is to touch somebody in the most ineffable of ways. An artistic experience can do that. And, more than that, there’s a whole lot of scientific study that talks about neural pathway development and creative problem-solving. So, scientists are on the side of what I always knew.

SS: You’ve said before, and just alluded to it now, that the ArtsFund study reinforces what you’ve seen to be true…can you elaborate?

MS: Over many years, I’ve done a lot of stories that talk about community engagement, or as I was just saying, creative problem-solving. Most of them have an educational focus, but also community-building. Participation in something as simple as singing together can create new kinds of communities, where maybe they didn’t exist before. The results of your impact study confirm all these stories. I’m like, ‘well, of course!’.

SS: You’ve been covering arts and culture in our region for over 30 years. Over the course of that time, what do you think is unique about the Central Puget Sound arts and cultural landscape and how it has evolved?

MS: I think we don’t really understand the breadth and the quantity of what we have. We have everything! I think the cultural community is so varied. We’re rich in areas like contemporary dance, we’re a center for literature, we’re clearly a center for theatre, visual arts as well. This is a center where people come. I think what’s unique about our community in all areas, is a willingness to collaborate and work together. So, what I’ve seen is both a growth in what’s offered, but also a community that has a lot of mutually supportive elements. A third strand of change that touches on social impact, is that when I first started reporting on the cultural community here, it was on individual productions or individual artists. I still do that, but what I see now is less of a divide between professional performances or professional artists and community-based arts and arts that come from growing immigrant communities for example.

SS: The scope of partnership was one element that we uncovered in the study—4 out 5 arts nonprofits are working together with partners outside the sector, with schools, city departments, refugee and immigrant organizations, hospitals and clinics, senior centers, and so much more. How do these trends that you just mentioned plug in to this conversation?

MS: Based on close observation over a long time, what I’ve seen is more intentional partnerships from big organizations, like the Seattle Symphony working with Mary’s Place on the Lullaby Project. The Seattle Art Museum is a great example as well, of really being much more strategic in the kind of partnerships that it’s building with intention to make social change. I think there’s a growing awareness across the city in all sectors that they don’t just exist on an island; that they’re part of an ecosystem—and for an ecosystem to remain healthy all parts of it have to be healthy. Arts organizations are doing what they can to really be intentional about building that health.

SS: What are some ways you’ve seen the arts and cultural sector take on community challenges?

MS: That has started in the Office of Arts and Culture. I think under Randy Engstrom’s leadership the Office of Arts and Cultures’ main mission is to use culture in all of its forms to foster social and racial justice and equity in this city. To have that city department setting the tone sends a message all the way down the line. They’re modeling what they think organizations can do and I see that reflected in the kinds of offerings at major professional organizations.

SS: Where do you see ArtsFund plugging in?

MS: Clearly ArtsFund has played a major role in the health of the city. Before we can even have the social impact conversation, there have to be organizations to have that conversation. So, I think what you do has been pivotal in really shining a spotlight on why arts and culture really matter to our region. If you were not developing board members, if you were not providing funding, if you were not holding organizations up to a certain level of health, the conversations that ensued could not exist.

I think that this study is the next step. I think one of your roles is to try reach beyond the community itself, and try to fold in community members who, as you found in your survey, have attended arts events but who may not think that arts are critical in any aspect of their life. I think your role, if you have the means to do the kinds of studies you have done, is to have hard numbers. Data seems to speak to a large portion of our citizenry in ways that maybe stories of the heart don’t. I may be able to touch 10 people who don’t need the statistics, but the statistics in our data driven society really seem to make an impact.

SS: Why do you think it’s important we be having these conversations now?

MS: Ever since 2008 with the great recession, arts organizations have been really struggling to rebuild their funding. I think that they’re also trying to figure out how to expand their audience base and provide programming that speaks to an increasingly diverse population. In doing so, to make these cultural entities and cultural activities something that is indispensable in our society. I think we need to talk about the social impacts. I think we need to talk about economic impacts. I think we need to talk about community ties. I think we need to talk about what the arts say about who we are. We have increasingly diverse populations that are coming from places and bringing their own cultural traditions with them and they’re important, they’re touchstones. I think every conversation about why arts and culture are intrinsic to who we are as human beings is important. We can’t have enough of those conversations!

SS: You’re the professional interviewer—what should we have asked you? Anything else you wanted to say?

MS: I’m glad that this event is happening, I expect it will be a really fruitful conversation because there are some great minds who are going to be on the panel. Arts and cultural activities not only make us richer and well-rounded human beings, but as you’ve shown, they really do change lives.

Join us at Town Hall on May 17th to continue the conversation. You can purchase your tickets now.

The artwork atop this blog post is entitled ‘Seattle Artist’s Magic’, created by Taylor Hammes.

Technology: An Amplification of the Human Force

Town Hall and KUOW collaborated for That’s Debatable: Technology Will Save Us at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute on March 24.  Huma Ali, a junior at Lake Washington High School and a TeenTix Press Corps editor, was in attendance:

When I first think of technology, I think of smartphones. But when I ponder it further, I realize that technology is infinitely more present and relevant than the entertainment device my smartphone largely serves as. Technology is in hospitals, roads, cars, and industrial machines. Technology is in my life, your life—even your dog’s life. It has enabled us, as humans, to advance our society.

And as such, when the statement “technology will save us,” is placed before me, I naturally agree. With access to the whole world at my fingertips, it’s confusing to think that it won’t save us. Because it will. Right?

It turns out that, prior to the debate, 52% of the attendees at KUOW and Town Hall’s event, That’s Debatable: Technology Will Save Us, thought so too.

In previous decades, it was widely believed that our means of transportation would, by now, be dominated by flying cars. While that isn’t the case, there is still a vast collection of innovative technologies that tinge our world—now, inventors can even construct impeccably life-like “people,” and are able to reproduce voices into customized “voice fonts”.

The evening’s main event took the form of a debate, which began with Elizabeth Scallon’s, head of WeWork Labs Northwest, opening statement arguing in favor of the assertion that technology will save us. Scallon laid out the drastic issues plaguing our communities: the need for 100,000 more doctors to accommodate increasing patients, lack of clean water, and broader, more controversial issues, like global warming. By highlighting these problems, Scallon introduced the idea that we could create solutions to them through technology. Alongside her, in agreement, was Vinay Narayan, Vice President of Product Management and Operations for HTC VIVE, who labeled technology as a “tool” and means of problem-solving.

After hearing the argument, it can be understood how technology will aid in saving us. But will it be the driving force, and the entirety, of what will save us?

Hanson Hosein, Director of UW’s Communication Leadership Program and President of HRH Media Group LLC, argued no, and subsequently pushed the question, “what do we need saving from?” Hosein asserted no matter what it is that we need saving from, technology isn’t going to do the saving for us, rather humans must save themselves. Hosein was not opposed to using technology as a tool—stating it was neither the problem not the solution, but an amplification of the existing human force.

Amy Webb, quantitative futurist and founder of the Future Today Institute, carried the conversation from such ideas, pointing out the lack of transparency of powerful tech companies in their work and intent. Webb focused on the fact that a minute few are making the decisions that affect the majority, and that this is the prominent issue within the technology industry—the lack of trust. How can technology save us if we are being left out of the discussion regarding it?

Before voting our final stance on whether technology is going to save us or not, audience members were prompted to discuss our thoughts with those sitting next to us. I spoke to a man working in the tech industry, who revealed some raw truths avoided by the debaters arguing yes: that no matter how rich one was, they would still lack the power, influence, and capabilities of major tech companies—so the idea that average individuals can create solutions to the world’s most prominent issues is a hoax.

The outcome: 72% of the audience members claim that technology will not save us.

Technology has enabled people to an extent in that they are able to use it in whatever way they’d like. As Hosein contended, technology amplifies the human force. So claiming that technology will save us as a blind absolute, may be the root of our downfall. In the end, only we can save ourselves.

Ignite Education Lab – A Storytelling Event Like No Other

Town Hall and the Seattle Times collaborated for the Ignite Education Lab 2019 at the Campion Ballroom at Seattle University on March 11.  Lily Williamson, a sophomore at Shorewood High School and a TeenTix Press Corps editor, was in attendance:

Ignite Education Lab is a storytelling event like no other—and exactly what the education community needs right now. Hosted by the Seattle Times, and in its fourth year, Ignite takes the broad and hotly debated topic of public education, and confines it. A group of eleven presenters get exactly five minutes and twenty slides (advancing every 15 seconds) to tell their story. This tight format restricts various views of the expansive topic into a succinct package that really packs a punch, and forces the storytellers to really be creative.

This year’s event was based around the theme of special and specialized education, and many of the presentations took this topic to new and seemingly antithetical places. Shannon Hitch, a former school psychologist, described how learning that her child has autism caused her to speak differently with the families of differently abled children—now, she focuses more on collaborating with parents and the child’s abilities, rather than the child’s restrictions. On the other hand, Victoria Mott, a science teacher at Washington’s Echo Glen, a juvenile-detention center, spoke about how teaching incarcerated teenagers can be difficult but is incredibly rewarding. She states that “the ‘why’ behind why I teach” is continuously reinforced. Hitch’s and Motts’ talks, while seemingly disparate in topic, combine to highlight the intersectionality and importance of special and specialized education.

The stories told are made even more enrapturing by the people who tell them: all are compelling and well-spoken. Sometimes presenters would forget what they were saying, or a slide would advance at an awkward time—one woman almost started to cry midway through her set. But these little inconsistencies only added to the presentations, making the stories and their orators seem all the more human, and all the more relatable.

The most revolutionary thing about Ignite Education Lab is how well it portrays public education as something that affects everyone. Even though education is often believed to be only an important facet of the lives of students, their parents, and teachers, Ignite Education Lab shows that the public schooling system is something that regards an entire community. The Lab brings together a group of presenters that are diverse in gender, age, and race, from all aspects of a community—this year’s presenters included teachers, parents, students, and even individuals with seemingly no involvement in traditional schools. Mohammed Kloub, one of the event’s organizers, explains why the event is so purposefully diverse: “Getting just one perspective doesn’t show you how the education system affects people very differently… and the education system affects everybody.”

Ignite Education Lab takes a fresh approach in demonstrating the importance of equitable public education for an entire community. It breaks the stereotypical idea that the education system and it’s future is only applicable and important to students, parents, and teachers. Instead, Ignite sheds light on how education is a cycle, that impacts all parts of a community. The capabilities of education will be confined without everyone in a community being invested it—and attending Ignite Education Lab is the perfect way get involved in the future of education.

Poets in the Pews

Welcome to the first installment of Poets in the Pews – where a poet attends a Town Hall event and writes a poem about the experience afterwards.

Maia Ruth Pody, an 11th grader at the Center School, is a Youth Poet Laureate as part of Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Writers in the Schools (WITS). She attended Town Hall’s recent Blair Imani event where Imani discussed her new book, Modern HERstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History. You can watch the event here.

Feminist Sapphics

How were green things torn from the frozen earth? The

ice around the dirt wasn’t merely melted

by a smiling sunlight; it split apart when

        thousands of hands tore

through the ground like ice picks. Behind these clawing

fingers are the fighters, the apoplectic

mothers, tired heroines. Sympathetic

        characters aren’t

working for our modern subconscious. We need

new intelligentsia, ready for the

stories grown from malnourished roots that elder

        women replanted

and their daughters nurtured. The expectation

wasn’t endless martyrdom, so when silence

greets those declarations of reparations

        owed, we speak louder.


There will be a Seattle Youth Poet Laureate & Writers in the Schools reading on 12/3 at Elliott Bay Book Company!

The Seattle Youth Poet Laureate is a program of Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Writers in the Schools (WITS). Founded in Seattle in 2015 by WITS writers Matt Gano and Aaron Counts, the YPL program aims to identify young writers and leaders who are committed to civic and community engagement through their poetry and performance. Each year, a cohort of students work together throughout the year to share their powerful voices, leadership, and love of community at events throughout the region, and the Youth Poet Laureate also gets a book deal with Poetry NW Books to publish a collection of their poems which is released in May. Learn more, here.

Photo by Rick Sood.
Photo by Rick Sood.

Octavio Solis: An Accidental Playwright of Unconstrained Imagination

This interview was conducted by Margaret O’Donnell, Artistic Director and Founder of the Seattle Playwrights Salon. Powered by Shunpike, the Seattle Playwrights Salon is a staged play-reading series founded in 2016. The Salon meets at Palace Theatre & Bar in Seattle from 7PM-9PM the second Friday of the month. It is one of the few regularly scheduled evenings in Seattle where playwrights and actors can bring new plays in development before an audience.

The interview below has been edited. You can read the full-length version here.


Octavio Solis will be on Town Hall’s stage on December 4 at the Rainier Arts Center discussing his new memoir Retablos: Stories From a Life Along the Border.


MO: You’ve been writing plays for nearly 30 years, and have had at least 25 of your plays produced. How have you changed as a playwright in these years?

OS: Oh, I have more unproduced plays in my folders. Theatres may commission works from a writer, but they’re under no obligation to produce them. Sometimes they don’t like the work. Sometimes the work is just not right for the time or their audiences. These works languish away in neglect, but sometimes they get cannibalized by other newer works.

I think my writing has changed quite a bit over time, but it’s because I’ve changed. We all must or else we become stagnant individuals stuck in some idealized time. Some things, however, still hold true. I still cling to the notions of theatricality—that is, the use of all the elements of live theatre to make the story vivid: lights, music and song, direct address, heightened language. I like works that dance across time and space, that bend these dimensions at will in the way Shakespeare did.

And yet at the same time, I think I’ve settled a bit. I like to focus more on people. I’m more inclined to slow the page down to let them talk. Too much effort is directed at moving the action forward, and not enough on moving the action inward. Each character is a kind of maze, and I am drawn to the language that acts as a kind of string that leads us into and out of the maze.

MO: Are the themes that interest you different than they were 30 years ago?

OS: Yes, I think I have absorbed some new themes into my oeuvre. For as long as I’ve been
a playwright of note, I have devoted myself to defining the American experience for Latinos in this country. The complexities, conflicts, and ironies of being an immigrant in America. The love for and struggle against the temptations of our consumer culture. The Mexican culture as it evolves into a new hybrid American society. What it means to live on the hyphen.

But now I am drawn to environmental issues. I think moving to the country, raising goats and chickens, living off our green garden; these new aspects of our rural life have awakened my environmental heart. Now as I see so much of our forests charred by wildfires, I am struck by how much of it is due to climate change. We’re at a tipping point. We have to respond to the dire
circumstances in our planet, even if we’re only the Cassandras and canaries in the coal mine.

MO: Has the way in which you get inspiration for your work changed over the years? How?

OS: Many companies have concerns they’d like me to address, so some commissions come with issues attached. Still, I have to find what matters to me. I have to be inspired to give them the play that they’re looking for. So often I ask, what is my way in? What about the issue or topic is personal to me? I have to care deeply or else I won’t care at all. What I look for is the element that will change me in the writing. I can’t be expected to change people’s perspective if I am not willing to be changed by the writing myself. So it’s always an education, always a discovery, which means there’s always a risk. By this, I mean that I have to be ready to have my beliefs upended by the work I do. I have to be ready to let the play talk to me directly and indirectly about things I have not considered about myself.

MO: Have your writing habits changed over the years? What works best for you now?

OS: I used to write with fervor every day, every chance I could. I used to stand by my writing with a ferocity that permitted no challenges. I was young. There was still so much room to grow. Over the years, especially since writing is all I do, or at least the only occupation I have full-time, I used to demand that I write every day, all day, and when I was wasn’t I punished myself grievously by not going out and enjoying myself. Now, I know that was wrong. I have learned
that when I’m not writing, I am still writing. I am thinking and processing and engaging with my stories in my sleep, in my idle moments, when I’m driving my car; even when I am doing a repetitive physical task, I am writing. It’s the process before applying fingertips to keys or pen to paper. The dreamtime. The digestion of the idea. Consequently, I have parsed out my energies more wisely. I don’t write every day, but when I finally do sit down to write, I sit for six to eight hours and hammer out what needs to be written. Raw and unvarnished, ugly and badly worded. That’s what a first draft should be anyway. This process has become harder to maintain as I get older.

MO: What are you working on now?

OS: I’m working on getting the word out on Retablos, my new collection of memoir stories by doing readings and book-signings. I am working on a screenplay. I am doing the final touches on the rehearsal script of “Mother Road” which goes in rehearsal at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this January for its premiere in March 2019. I am revising a work I had produced earlier this summer in Los Angeles. I am winterizing my farm in preparation for the first big freeze of the season.


Don’t miss Octavio’s event on December 4.

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