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 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!

Jonathan Shipley, Town Hall’s Associate Communications Director, shares his itinerary:

The American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, mystic, poet, social activist, and scholar Thomas Merton once said, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” My life has been made better countless ways in countless times by the arts and those that make art. “The arts are not a way to make a living,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote. “They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow.” I practice art. I write. I take photographs. I collage. I don’t do these things well, but I don’t do them badly, either. Regardless, it makes my soul grow.

In September, during Town Hall’s Homecoming Festival, I’m looking forward to further growing my soul by watching others expand theirs.

9/7 Caspar Babypants

Caspar Babypants (AKA Chris Ballew of the Grammy-nominated band The Presidents of the United States of America) is a delight. He’s performing his first ever Saturday Family Concert in the Great Hall.

9/8 Short Stories Live: Emerald City Blues

Washington State Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna is curating readings by contemporary Seattle writers reflecting on identity and uncertainty in our changing city. 

9/14 Youth Rising in the Town

There’s nothing more inspiring to me than watching younger generations challenge and change the status quo. In a takeover of our Forum space, in collaboration with The Hydrant, there will be a celebration of music and more, put on by Seattle’s youth. Performances include Kid Roman, Kay C, Laureli, and Lexi Lalauni.

9/22 You Had Me at Cello

Town Music Artistic Director Joshua Roman brings celebrated cellists to the stage for the inaugural concert of Town Music’s 2019-20 season. To note: I played cello like a champ in 4th grade under the direction of Mr. Mill. I could play the theme to Ghostbusters quite well.

9/23 Chase Jarvis

Well known photographer Chase Jarvis comes to the stage to share the good news from his book Creative Calling that creativity isn’t a skill, it’s a habit available to everyone. There’s also a pre-event meetup for photographers!

9/27 Brian Blade

Earshot Jazz is bringing acclaimed jazz drummer Brian Blade to Town Hall’s stage. Blade is a Grammy Award-winner and is presenting his new project, Life Cycles. It is a tribute to the late vibraphonist and jazz legend Bobby Hutcherson.

Want to find out more? Check out Town Hall’s full Homecoming Festival lineup!

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Maurice Brown gave a delightful talk on ‘Poets and Poetry’ on Tuesday” and, “Miss Ellen Messer was the proud winner of the blue ribbon in the ladies saddle class last Sunday at Camp Lewis.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

There was high praise in the August 2nd, 1919 edition of the Town Crier for the Theo Karle Club concert that was held at the Armory in honor of the Eastern Star delegates. “The Moszkowksi Dance and ‘The Americans Come’ proved the favorite choral numbers. The unaccompanied numbers demonstrated the high grade of work done by this club.” The story singled some singers out. “The soloists were Miss Evelyn Dale, who sang Cadman’s ‘Thrush’ in a charming manner, and responded to an encore with ‘Old Virginny,’ accompanied by the club.” The Theo Karle Club, it was noted, was going to play at an Alki beach picnic the following weekend, joined by the Seattle Clef Club.

Theo Karle

This begs the question: Who was Theo Karle? Born in Iowa in 1893, Karle came went and lived most of his life in Olympia, Washington. It was there that he gained notoriety for his tenor vocal skills. He performed on various radio stations and made his way to New York City, where he made his first appearance with the Rubenstein Club in 1916. He toured with the New York Philharmonic for a time. He had some recordings made for Victor and Brunswick Records in the 1910s and 1920s. In the 1920s he toured Europe, singing with the Opera-Comique in Paris and the Opera of Monte Carlo. He worked for CBS in the 1930s and retired to Seattle in 1941 and taught voice lessons. He died in 1972.

His music lives on, however. You can listen to him sing here, here, and here.

Talent Show: The Tender Gritty Music of Amanda Winterhalter

On August 10, Town Hall’s stage will be graced by musician Amanda Winterhalter for a single release concert. Tickets are on sale now! Get to know her a bit more:

There was a record player in her house growing up in the rural hills of Stanwood, Washington. There were records, too. A Bread album. Cream. The Rolling Stones. Anne Murray. “My mom really enjoyed Anne Murray.” Amanda Winterhalter suddenly breaks into song as we talk. Tender, with a little grit beneath. There was a record player at her house but the needle broke and no one bothered to fix it. It sat, getting dusty.

The Winterhalter house wasn’t a musical house. There weren’t tunes playing in the living room. The radio was rarely on. In the car they played oldies and gospel (Amanda’s mom sang in the church choir, after all). There was contemporary sacred music that piped through the car’s dinky speakers. “Amy Grant was very influential to me.” Amanda breaks into song again—a short refrain.

The house she found music in was a house of worship, a church the Winterhalter family attended frequently. “I wanted to do musical things,” and so she joined the choir. Her mom was a soloist from time to time. Amanda thought that was pretty cool. Sometimes, they sang mother-daughter duets together. Amanda started soloing at church when she was around 10 years old. She picked up a guitar as a tween and started learning chords and learned how to pluck the strings. As a teenager she joined a church band. “The youth worship team played the cool Christian music—drums, electric guitar, and shit.” She laughs a warm bright brassy laugh. “I lead the youth band and it’s where I learned a lot of my foundational band skills. I was quite ambitious. I loved music.”

Music was sacred to her, and still is. But secular tunes began to catch her attention. She listened ardently to the first ladies of jazz, the honeyed voice of Ella Fitzgerald, the blackberry vines of Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington. Also, Lauryn Hill. “It was the Video Music Awards, or something, and Lauryn Hill began singing ‘To Zion’ and it blew my freaking mind.”

Shy by nature, Amanda didn’t join many music groups in high school and when she went to college (Northwest University in Kirkland) she majored in English, though her desire to pursue her art grew and then grew more.

“My senior year was an inflection point. It was my time to rediscover music.” She took voice classes, ear training. She was a member of the chamber choir (“It melted me away”). She took music theory classes. She was becoming versed in verses.

She decided, shyness be damned, to enter the school talent show. She sang and played the guitar. She wore all black and was decked out in leather boots. She played Mindy Smith’s ‘Come to Jesus.’ And what happened? “I fucking won that show head over heels.”

She discovered that she could call herself an artist. She started writing her own songs in earnest. She was working in Olympia as a teacher when she joined a band in Shelton, Lower Lights Burning. She sang backup vocals, played piano, banjo, accordion, mandolin, pump organ.

From there she started making connections with local and regional musicians. She wanted to become enmeshed in the music scene and she felt Shelton couldn’t hold her. She moved to Seattle and soon ran into Geoff Larson, a jazz bassist who ran, and continues to run, The Bushwick Book Club Seattle, a nonprofit where local artists write and perform original songs inspired by books. She started singing songs at Bushwick events. She opened for Elizabeth Gilbert and Geraldine Brooks before their readings that were put on by Seattle Arts and Lectures.

Winterhalter and Larson became friends and developed an artistic partnership. Through working with him she began finding her form, the shape of her style, and her voice. “He helped me find the sound that felt true to me.”

He also helped her record her first album, Olea (2016). She’s got a full band now with Larson on upright bass, Rick Weber on drums, Nick Drozdowicz on electric guitar, and Ed Brooks on pedal steel. Winterhalter says, “With our diverse backgrounds and our diverse influences, we’re really starting to swing.”

On August 10 at Town Hall Seattle they release in concert the title track of her forthcoming album, What’s This Death (2019). They’ll be joined by The Drifter Luke and Old Coast. The album has all the parts that have helped make Winterhalter feel whole—cathartic lyrics, warm tones, deep wails, and wrenching growls. “It’s my way to have a voice in this world.” She suddenly starts singing again and a record player, gathering dust in someone’s house, is aching to be played. Winterhalter’s album comes out  early October 2019.

Below is a recent song she wrote about the Mount Saint Helens explosion:

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.

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Miss Catherine Poe has invitations out for a dinner dance for the younger set,” and, “Chopin’s ‘Military Polonaise’ was played on the piano by Gladys Bezeau on Sunday afternoon.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

There was a small mention by Town Crier writers in the July 12, 1929 edition of the Seattle Garden Club.

“The Seattle Garden Club visited the gardens in The Highlands on Tuesday afternoon,” it noted. Among those in attendance was Mrs. C.D. Stimson, Mrs. Archibald Stewart Downey, Mrs. Scott Bullitt, Mrs. William E. Boeing, Mrs. John H. Ballinger, Mrs. D.E. Frederick, Mrs. M.A. Arnold, and Mrs. Thomas Stimson. The afternoon was brought to a close with a “delightful tea” at the home of Mrs. Ballinger.

What’s also delightful besides tea? The Seattle Garden Club continues to bloom to this day. The Seattle Garden Club was founded in 1917 by a group of women who shared a love of gardening. SGC became affiliated with The Garden Club of America in 1923, and continues to be so. SGC encourages interest in horticulture, conservation, floral design, and photography.

Duh: The Importance of Early Childhood Education

On July 17, in the Forum at Town Hall, there will be a screening of the documentary, No Small Matter, and a post-movie discussion about childcare access. Get your tickets now.

The film’s directors are Danny Alpert, Jon Siskel, and Greg Jacobs. Town Hall’s own Jonathan Shipley talked to Jacobs about early childhood education, brain works, and Cookie Monster.

Greg Jacobs

JS: What got you interested in the subject matter? Do you have children of your own?

GJ: So my co-directors—Danny Alpert, and Jon Siskel, and I—all have slightly different “origin stories” for how we got interested in this issue. For me, it started when we were asked to do a video for The Ounce of Prevention Fund, a big early childhood advocacy organization here in Chicago. The video was about their flagship Educare, an incredible early learning center for low-income kids and families on the city’s South Side. After a week of filming, I was like, ‘Why hasn’t anyone told me about this!?’  

I’d been interested in education issues for a while (I’d written a book about school desegregation in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio), but I’d pretty much given up on K-12—the battle lines were so entrenched that it seemed like nothing we tried would make things better. But seeing Educare made me think, ‘What if the best way to improve the K-12 system is actually to improve the raw material coming into it? What if instead of 5 out of 25 kids arriving at a kindergarten class ready to learn, 20 of 25 did? What impact would that have on, well, pretty much everything that follows?’ And that’s when I became a zealous convert to the cause!

And by the way, I do have two kids, but sadly, they’re now teenagers, so they’ve both aged out of No Small Matter.

JS: The director statement on your website says, “Duh!” of course early childhood education. What made you want to take this on as a project?

GJ: After that first video, we did a few more, and each one made us more convinced of the issue’s scope and importance.  Finally, we said, ‘We want to do ‘the big one’—the comprehensive, issue-defining, Inconvenient Truth-type feature documentary about the power and potential impact of early childhood education.’ But, to be honest, there was probably no way we could’ve done such an ambitious film and engagement campaign on our own. Fortunately, we discovered that our friend and fellow Chicago filmmaker Danny Alpert also happened to be interested in the issue, so we decided to join forces and tackle the project together. Best decision ever. 

JS: What are some of the most important facts you learned while making the film?

GJ: No Small Matter makes a brick-by-brick argument for why investing in the first five years is so crucial. Each step of the way, there are jaw-dropping facts or statistics—a baby’s brain is making a million neural connections every second; in over half the states in the U.S. putting an infant in childcare costs more than sending a kid to public college; just three percent of all educational expenditures in the U.S. go to 0-5, etc. But because early childhood is inescapably about big people taking care of little people, probably the most important facts involve the destructively inadequate pay and respect we give the early childhood workforce. On average, ECE teachers make less than dog-walkers and parking attendants; around 46% of them are on some form of public assistance; turnover is roughly 30% a year; and in a study of the expected lifetime earnings of undergraduate majors, early childhood education ranked 83rd —out of 83. That’s unsustainable. 

JS: What are some of the most surprising things you learned while making the film?

GJ: Suffice to say, we are not scientists. So it was fascinating to begin to wrap our heads around the surprising science of early childhood development, including the groundbreaking work being done at I-LABS in Seattle, which we feature in the film. Researchers know so much more now about how the developing brain works than they did even ten or twenty years ago that the science has outstripped the public’s understanding of what really matters during the 0-5 years. And it turns out that what truly helps build a healthy brain is not flashcards or fancy technology, but the environment of relationships within which a child is raised—the more back-and-forth interactions a baby has with loving, supportive adults, the better that child’s odds in life will be. Which is why the issue of early childhood education is never just about children—it’s always about families and communities, as well.

JS: What were some of the most emotionally affecting moments for you while making the film?

GJ: There were a lot. But probably the most powerful thing was seeing, over and over, the struggles of parents and caregivers who are doing their absolute best in the face of constant, unyielding economic stress. Since Americans tend to treat 0-5 as a purely private matter—one that is neither shaped by politics nor political in its consequences—these parents and these caregivers often think that the problem must be them. Which is why so many of them have such emotional responses to No Small Matter—it’s often the first time they’ve seen their own struggles set in a larger context: the abdication (or privatization) of our social responsibility to support families with babies and young children. Or, as Geoffrey Canada puts it in the film, ‘Here’s an enemy that most folks don’t even know we need to fight.’

JS: For someone without kids/family, why watch the movie?

GJ: As I always say, our target audience is anyone who has, knows, or was a child. Because No Small Matter isn’t just a movie about parenting (though parents will certainly learn stuff). And it’s not just a movie about kids (though there’s a lot of fascinating stuff about early childhood development). It’s a movie about how we as a nation support—or don’t support—families with babies and young children. And that, as it turns out, affects everyone, because so many things that so many people care about are impacted by that issue: health care, crime, economic opportunity, inequality, workforce development, even military readiness—the list goes on and on. So whether you have little kids or not, we can pretty much guarantee that if you go see No Small Matter, you’ll laugh, you’ll probably cry, and you’ll leave the theater viewing the world differently than you did when you came in. Plus cute babies and Cookie Monster!

JS: What can people do to ensure early childhood education is available in their neighborhood/city/state?

GJ: One of the things we love about early childhood as an issue is that it’s not just powerful, it’s possible—it’s one of the very few issues that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on. That said, building a high quality system of support for families with young children is going to take time, it’s going to take movement on multiple fronts (prenatal care, home visiting, family leave, childcare, pre-K) and it’s going to take public will. So the first step for people is understanding just how powerful an issue this truly can be—telling that story is the goal of No Small Matter. Once you get it you can’t go back, so the next step is acting on that understanding, making it a part of your everyday political filter, a litmus test for your candidates, a measure of your community’s health. Basically, treating it like the grown-up issue it really is. If enough people get to the point where they, too, view this as ‘duh’, then we might actually see what advocate Dana Suskind calls ‘population-level change.’

Watch the movie at Town Hall. Listen in on a panel discussion after. Ask questions. Take steps. Tickets are on sale now

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

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “In the Northwest the game of golf seems to have wrought havoc with tennis,” and, “Mrs. Thomas Bordeaux entertained with a dinner of sixteen covers on Saturday evening.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

On the cover of the May 24, 1919 edition of the Town Crier was Mme. Borgny Hammer. Mme. Hammer and her husband Rolf were coming to Seattle to perform at Norway Hall. They were going to perform Henrik Ibsen’s play, The Master Builder. Adele Ballard, a Town Crier regular, with her column “Various and Sundry,” said of the acclaimed actress, “I saw her the other day for a few minutes. She came into the office and it was a warm and rather enervating day, but in about one minute, or less, she re-vitalized the whole atmosphere with her vivid personality: she is like the breezes blown from the sea across the snow-capped mountains, or like the wild flowers of her own land, the hardy ones that force their way up through the rocks into the sunlight of Norway.” High praise, indeed!

Forcing its way today through the bustling busy blocks of Ballard has come the newly redesigned National Nordic Museum. The gleaming edifice opened in May of 2018. It is an internationally recognized museum and cultural center dedicated to collecting, preserving, and educating since its founding in 1980. The National Nordic Museum is the largest museum in the United States to honor the legacy of immigrants from the five Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Current exhibitions include “Studio 54 & Beyond: The Photography of Hasse Persson” and “Bamse: The World’s Strongest Bear.”

Also, Town Hall’s Capital Campaign Manager, Grant P.H. Barber, is doing a class there on June 8. You can learn how to brew a batch of Finnish Sahti in the traditional method of USING A HOLLOW LOG.

We wonder if the Nordic Museum has anything about Mme. Hammer in their permanent collections? We at the Town Crier will investigate. Stay tuned.

Music as a Bridge

With our Great Hall reopening, we’re excited to get back into our historic home and see what the space can do. To help put the Great Hall through its paces and show us a truly unique musical experience, composer and Fremont Bridge Resident Paurl Walsh is coming to Town Hall on May 23 to present his incredible concert Bascule. FREE tickets are available now. Town Hall’s Copywriter Alexander Eby sat down with Paurl to talk about Fremont fulcrums, and the ways music can help us connect to each other.

AE: What can you tell me about the concert?

PW: The concert is six movements—three long movements interspersed between which are three short movements from string quartets. The show features a pianist and four string players who send their music as signals to me directly, and I use electronic mixing equipment to process and shape their sounds in real time. There’s also a unique visual component to the piece which mirrors the electronic mixing, presenting everyday images that have been heavily abstracted. It’s the culmination of a year-long project that I did as the 2018 Fremont Bridge Composer in Residence.

AE: Can you tell me more about the Fremont Bridge Residency? What was it like to work creatively in that environment?

PW: It was such a cool opportunity to be able to write music in such a weird space. The northwest tower of the Fremont Bridge is a small office about twelve foot square, but with 360 degree windows all around. You can see out over the water and down to the ship canal. You can see Lake Union and the Aurora Bridge towering above, and Gas Works Park splayed out on the left. You can see over to Queen Anne Hill and down into Fremont proper. It’s a beautiful view. I was in there about 20 hours a week with my laptop, notebooks, and speakers working on music.

It’s noisy in there. Lots of it was from traffic. Whenever a bus would cross the bridge, the whole room would vibrate and shake. And then there were the actual movements of the bridge. Fremont Bridge is one of the busiest bridges in the country, with an average I think of 15 openings per day during the summer for everything from shipping traffic to sailboats. The operator in the south tower would have to call me on the intercom every time the bridge opened to make sure I was clear. So there were lots of distractions; you can imagine trying to write music in that context. It took me probably a good month or so to adapt, just to get to the point where I wasn’t hearing it anymore, and to be able to get back on my train of thought in between interruptions.

My hope was that the environment would sort of seep into my work through osmosis. If I had tried to write this piece while all isolated in my studio I think it would have come out entirely different, so I like to think that the environment has seeped into the thesis of the music.

AE: Was there a part of the bridge that you feel most influenced your work?

PW: One of the coolest parts was actually a safety orientation that I had to take. The Department of Transportation had to show me all the safety stuff related to the bridge, and part of that involved going on a full tour of all the inner workings. I got to go down into the bowels of the bridge and see all its mechanics, and while we were down there I got to stand in the middle of a pivot point while the bridge was opening.

There’s this fulcrum point that the whole half of the bridge tilts on. Behind that point, dug into the side of the hill, is a huge concrete counterweight. I stood on a gangplank between the two, totally open to the air with the water directly below me. The bridge started to open, and it felt like the whole planet had started to shift, and for a split second I had no real sense of up or down. It was a very disorienting and very interesting sensation. I wanted to recreate that feeling in my music—that intense feeling of disorientation followed by an adjustment that makes this strange and uncanny sensation suddenly feel normal.

AE: Where did the name Bascule come from?

PW: Bascule is a technical term for a drawbridge. Specifically, it’s what engineers call the type of bridge that the Fremont Bridge is—a Bascule bridge. But in my mind, this piece of music isn’t about all bridges or waterways but the Fremont Bridge specifically. I was inspired to apply for this Residency because I felt like I had something really unique to say that involved the Fremont Bridge.

The piece is my way of talking about a very difficult time in my life when I was living in that area. For me, there’s this really visceral connection between the Fremont Bridge and a period of my life when I was experiencing homelessness and dealing with severe depression and serious substance abuse issues. My hope is that this project sheds some light on these topics. The way we treat mental illness, substance abuse, and poverty is really unhealthy. A lot of people are affected really directly by them, but they’re issues we don’t really talk about directly. I want to help destigmatize these issues, to make people feel like they can talk about them and understand them.

As a result, this musical piece very intense. I’ve really tried to design an experience that presents an impression of how it felt to be in that place, and how lost and awful I felt. But I also think there’s moments of really extreme beauty and bittersweet moments in there. My hope is that by telling this story in such an abstract way, the audience can make their own connections and imbue their own sense of meaning with it.

AE: What do you hope that audiences can take away from this piece?

PW: The piece is certainly experimental, but in a lot of ways I think it’s also universal. We all experience periods where we go feel things similar to this. I feel like there’s a lot to identify with in this work, a basic sort of fundamental emotional understanding that we experience as humans. Everyone experiences their own version of the music. No two people’s take on this is going to be the same. But I hope that people respond to the intensity of what I’m making and come out of the concert with some feeling of solidarity, for the audience to feel supported by each other.

We can feel so isolated when we’re having these crises, these feelings of depression or even just all the difficult stuff that comes from being human. My goal with this concert is to create an experience that communicates what that’s like—to present something that everyone can identify with and show that no matter what you’re feeling or how strongly you feel it, you’re not alone.

Join us at Town Hall’s Great Hall on Thursday to hear Walsh’s piece. Tickets are free.

Sikh Captain America and Superhero Serendipity

It was on my birthday, October 1 of last year, that I first met Sikh Captain America—Vishavjit Singh. He made an appearance at Town Hall discussing battling stereotypes, fighting racism, and overcoming intolerance. We talked plenty before the event, prepping for it, becoming email chums. I profiled him before his appearance here.

Before Sikh Captain America came to town, we decided to put him on the cover of our October print calendar to help publicize the month’s events. I asked the photographer who shot it, Nate Gowdy, if we could use it for the calendar. He said, ‘No problem.’ Further, he said he was going to be there that night to shoot pictures on his own.

My former sister-in-law, Christie Skoorsmith, joined me for the night. Inspired by Singh’s talk, she asked during the Q&A, “You mentioned that anyone can be Captain America. Everyone IS Captain America. Have you ever thought about having a photo shoot where people from all walks of life are dressed up like Captain America like you? I have two transgender kids. They would love to be a part of something like that.”

Singh responded, “That’s a good idea.” Gowdy, in attendance, talked to Skoorsmith after the show. “That’s a good idea.” They all agreed—they should actually do it.

A week and some ago, they actually did it.

Now collaboratively called the “American Superhero Project,” they brought in superheroes of all races, ages, genders, and walks of life for photographic portraits and to share their stories with Singh about what it means to be American. There were over 40 participants. They did all this with a team of ten volunteers to help make the shoot run smoothly.

What’s next? They’re planning on connecting with national publications, such as the New York Times and Time magazine, to see if they are interested in giving the project a home. They’re also hoping on taking the photo shoot to other cities to get a broader swath of Americans in all their wondrous diversity.

Further, there were two videographers on site at what was once the United States Immigrant Station and Assay Office. The videographers recorded personal interviews done by the participants and Singh. They also captured behind-the-scenes footage of the shoot as a whole. The team thinks there’s enough inspiring footage for the makings of a Netflix documentary. All of this is still in its infancy, but there is much to be excited about as the project moves forward.

After the weekend photo shoot completed, Singh remarked that it was one of the most memorable days of his life, especially in uniform as Sikh Captain America. Gowdy, a professional photographer with years of experience under his belt, said he had never been prouder in making photos.

We at Town Hall are honored to play the small part in bringing these people together. It’s just another way in which we strive to fulfill our mission of giving everyone a voice.

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