Monday morning through noon, Aug 6, Westlake Park, 4th and Pine, Seattle, come see a model Decay Preserve and sign the DP initiative! We’re installing a model Decay Preserve and (we hope) showing footage from a web cam we installed at an existing DP. Decay lovers, come out of the woodwork, check it out, and sign the petition!
Mr. Waxman, whose story my son tweeted and did an update about here, reveals a different meaning of decay preserves. This is worth exploring, but has some basic differences from the decay preserves that our movement proposes. The decay preserve that Newton Creek has become is a product of intention and continued use. By contrast, our Decay Preserves would set aside space for non-use, rather than continuing with use that decays the environment. Don't be fooled! Do not confuse decay preserves with Decay Preserves.
On the other hand, coming to one who is immersed in the vision of the Decay Preserves Initiative, this utterly different sense of a decay preserve is very exciting. In fact, Mr. Waxman's and the other studies and celebrations of decay that my son has been sniffing out suggest that our movement is part of a worldwide movement that is defined by new recognitions of all kinds of decay. I started this post with a feeling of certainty in what I thought, but there are clearly other ideas of decay and decay preserves. Is my idea decaying and giving birth to new life growing as it decays?
The Decay Preserves Initiative movement must continue to cleave to a single concept of Decay Preserves: the creation of a no-use zone for areas in which paragons of decay have effloresced. It has to do so, because the Decay Preserves Initiative is fixed as the petition which we submitted to Washington State's Office of the Secretary of State and which that Office locked in place with a crashing descent of the state' official seal—a preserve of sorts for the petition's idea, an attempt to make it proof against decay. Is that sort of ossification of an idea, decay of the idea?
I would say that Mr. Waxman's Newtown Creek; the home that Mr. Hurlbut and his partner have made in Selma, Alabama, from the Harmony Club; and the photographers of the Industrial Decay Network have thrown wide open the gates of what we conceive decay and decay preserves to be. Except that they were never closed. Decay is eternal. Decay's preservation and power to preserve takes more forms and has more meanings than any one conception. Decay is bigger than any individual. I am humbled before decay.
Decay preservers (not to be confused with plastic surgeons, other cosmetic medicine specialists, or people who refuse to go to the dentist), speak up! What do Decay Preserves and preservation of decay mean to you?
Note from Vita: A friend of mine told me that I should break up such a long post into parts. However, I see that WordPress puts the latest post on top, so that to read these in order, you have to be sure to start with #1, below. Just thought I’d warn you. This post picks up after I’d suggested that the old sheet-metal factory was like a museum, because it seemed to preserve the past.
Skid got a little passionate. “Decay preserves are most definitely not for showing the past. The past is gone! Decay preserves are about what’s happening now. Let’s try the old Rainier Brewery in Georgetown. Besides the Hot Tubs building, what’s left of the brewery may be one of the closest things we have to a real decay preserve.”
Skid couldn’t get out of the car and across the street fast enough, in his excitement. I don’t think he looked before jaywalking. “There’s the front, now check out the back. ”
“They’re propping up a wall with nothing behind it just because they think it’s great!”
“Aren’t they propping it up because it’s old?”
“The building is old but decay isn’t about age. Decay is a process that takes place in the present, but in time, so every decaying object is a portrait of time. But that’s just one way to look at it. Decay preserves are great not because they’re one thing or another, but because you have to keep finding new ways of looking at them.”
“Ah-hah!” I had him. “If the concept is that open, then you can’t tell me that what I see in them is wrong. That’s a contradiction.”
But he slipped away.
“Sure it’s a contradiction; I have no problem with that. This effort of mine is full of contradictions. If I go far enough down one path of thinking, I find myself biting not my tail, but my nose. It can make you cross-eyed.”
“Now there’s a goal to shoot for,” I said.
But—although I hate to admit it—that’s exactly what happened on this Tour. One moment at Amick Metal Works came back to me. It was before we started arguing about ghosts.
In the 1940s, the main work room of the company was new, a contributor to the winning of World War II. Today, the empty, ruined shell…
…suddenly looked different. It shook into a different focus.
This room got my whole attention for a reason—no, three reasons: its potential, its suggestions, and its existence exactly and only as it is. Call it a decay preserve or not, tell me I’m biting my own nose, but I think Skid has a point. I certainly don’t agree with making Decay Preserves the law, and I don’t think we should preserve these ruins. I don’t have a problem with usefulness like Skid does. But there is something we lose when we raze or build over an unused place, no matter how good the reason.
On the way down to Seattle’s old industrial heart, Skid showed me a picture from his phone: some kid at an empty building where graffiti is tolerated. A gallery where each piece only lasts a few days. Good or bad work is laid over good or bad work and then is covered by the next good or bad work.
“It’s that old hot-tub place at 50th and Roosevelt, ” he said. “I want to look around inside, but haven’t made it in yet—well, not since it closed. I had a date or two there back in the day— ”
“That is already way more than I want to know. Also, you don’t pronounce Roosevelt like ‘food’. It’s Roosevelt like a rose.”
“I say it like I say it. Anyway, I’m thinking that graffiti is a type of the new forms that decay produces. ”
“Decay? Cultural decay, I suppose.”
What can you do with a guy like that? Wasn’t it clear that I thought he was stretching his concept of decay pretty thin? “So what wouldn’t qualify as decay?“ I asked.
“If you’going to put it like that question, everything decays, after a while.”
Skid parked in front of a metal-fabrication shop that was opened just in time for World War II, but is no more…and from the look of it hasn’t been for quite some time.
Behind the screech of the door were still-fading hints of lives lived. Everywhere we wandered in the building, ghosts. Skid wouldn’t accept it.
But what do these pictures suggest to you?
I said again, “Ghosts. Can’t you see their work lives on this shop floor, and in the stairs and the chairs and the window upstairs that looks down on this floor?”
Skid kicked at bits of clinker.
‘This isn’t an episode of Ghosthunters. What else do you see?”
“A museum exhibit. The past is in this place. Look, that burnt coal that you’re kicking. What is that but the past?”
Part 2 of, well, I guess it’s 3
Welcome to the Greater Seattle Decay Tour. I am your Tour Guide, Vita. This tour came about because the idea of decay preserves seemed too unlikely and too vaguely conceptual to be real. So the initiative’s author, Skid Buckham, took me around to some of his favorite examples. Afterward, I wanted to blog about it. Skid asked me to write the blog here, and that made sense, because this sort of thing really doesn’t fit on my own blog.
Here we go, then, with a rousing start…at his backyard compost heap.
“I’m not going to need my Passport to Excitement for this tour, am I, Skid?”
“It depends on how you look at it,” Skid said. “Every microbe in that pile of lawn cuttings and leaves is a little avatar of decay’s preservation of things: Every one of those zillion little guys is product, destroyer, and creator—the Decay trinity, all in one.”
“Getting a little religious, aren’t we, Skid?”
“So,” I asked, “Is every backyard compost heap a decay preserve? If it is, why should we spend state funding during a recession on decay preserves?”
“Because it will never pass,” Skid said.
By the way, before our next stop on the tour, you might wonder why Skid completely absent from these pictures. I wanted to include him, but he refused. He was getting all purist and noble, and therefore, no pictures of him. Sorry, but I don’t buy it. Noble about decay? Please. He just didn’t think his bandage was flattering.
On we go, then, to the Thunderbird Motel, on Aurora.
Nice sign, but I couldn’t see any redeeming value at all in the hallway below. In fact, it was really depressing, not to mention icky.
Any avatars of decay that might be in there, I didn’t want to get too close to.
“This might be a pretty short tour, Skid.“
“We’re headed for some industrial decay. Much more charismatic.”
Check back tomorrow for parts 2, 3, and 4 of 4
One guy collecting one signature at a time will not get 160,000 signatures by July 1. I don’t know if it would be possible even if I never ate, slept, or went to the bathroom. This thing is hopeless, an exercise in futility. Which reminds me not to take it too seriously.
You wouldn’t believe the people I’ve met and the conversations I’ve had. Seriously, it should be a duty of citizenship to gather signatures for a petition. I am learning more about people in the last few months than I did in 10 years in software.
I met a gal who wears red cowboy boots and loved Dark Shadows (the old TV show). She signed, but couldn’t help gather signatures.
I met another gal whose hands were all loamy. Not really, but she was coming out of Molbak’s and looking like she was going straight to her garden. We had a really nice conversation about decay as part of the cycle of life. How decay creates dark, beautiful loam. Lovely it is to dig your hands into good, rich loam. She didn’t think she would sign my petition. It just didn’t seem right to her, somehow.
In Pike Place Market a busker waiting his turn at a spot (he plays organ, looks like he’s fresh off a Grateful Dead tour) signed, but not until after telling me the history of busking. Long history. It was lunchtime before I got his signature.
An Indian who was looking out over the Sound from Steinbrueck Park listened, then said, “That’s a good one. That’s what your government thought they were doing.”
That got my back up. “Were they right?”
“There’s lots of kinds of decay.”
No doubt; would he sign my petition? He signed “Kamiakin,” without an address.
An old guy who looked like he’s been out in the weather too long listened long enough to work Decay Preserves into his anti-semitic theories. Apparently the Jews invented decay preserves to further their enslavement of mankind. He had documents to prove it.
A stylishly dressed woman bustled out of an office tower and skidded to a stop. “Can you make it fast?” I said my piece, and she critiqued the pitch. But didn’t sign.
A guy who ran out of money here on his way to Alaska listened with a lot of interest. But he’s not a registered voter.
The symphony finished me off. Outside Kreielsheimer Hall, a woman hauling her cello into the musicians’ entrance waved me off like I was one of the street’s cadre of crazies. My very next guy was a street preacher in layers of coats and a plaid hunter’s cap. He tried to tell me about how severe God’s judgment will be on us all, really soon, while I tried to tell him about Decay Preserves. I shouldn’t have bothered, but I couldn’t resist. I felt like he should have to listen to another madman’s spiel. Two crazy kids…trying to convert each other.
So, after all that, I had 14 signatures and felt like, without being homeless, I’d descended from a nice office job to the street, with a crazy spiel. It’s been great, but….
Maybe there are better things to do.
Or maybe I crowdsource for ideas.
Okay, I’m putting out the call—starting here, starting now—for ideas on how I can gather great masses of signatures in a very short time. One of the ground rules is that I don’t hire signature gatherers. Also, any idea shouldn’t cost any more than, say, a grand. The ideas should be grand, but the cost can’t be. I need grand on the cheap. So: ideas, anyone?
I am told that I should introduce myself, in order to give a face to the Decay Preserves movement. That sounds uncomfortably like I should offer myself as the face of decay, but my adviser (my son, Devon) tells me this must be. Thus: I am Skid Buckham, and this is my story of decay. Preserves. How decay really does preserve, and why decay preserves deserve a place in the sun.
Thirty-two years ago yesterday, in less than a minute, part of Mt. St. Helens—which had been called America’s Mt. Fuji for the symmetrical beauty that suggested eternal calm—was transformed into a speeding river of superheated debris that flattened and buried 230 square miles of forest. The rest of the pulverized mountain became a vast cloud of ash and pumice, crackling with lightning, that covered thousands of square miles with ash. While survivors were still coming to terms with the devastation, forces were in play to leave untouched the great damaged heart of the forest around the mountain. Three decades along, and you can visit one of the largest decay preserves in the history of the world. The landscape of National Volcanic Monument is still dominated by ash, but life is spreading, taking its nourishment from death and decay.
This ravaged and recovering landscape is the very image of decay’s power to preserve the cycle of life, by enabling the creation of new life.
If such an immense area should be left untouched in order to preserve a state that started with the nearly total destruction of all life, maybe there’s something to be said for setting aside decay on a smaller scale, even if it hasn’t the grandeur—or, some are sure to object, the beauty—of a volcano’s blast area.
Decay preserves might change how we see things. My thinking here is shaped, too, by the software industry. Back in the day, we really believed in the revolutionary potential of PCs and Macs and their software. You may have heard the story of how Steve Jobs recruited one of the executives at Apple. The guy worked for a soft-drink company. Jobs asked him, “Do you want to sell sugared water, or do you want to change the world?”
How much did we really change the world? I have seen the best minds of my generation devote themselves to creating software that would make them a ton of money or dominate a niche. Only a few even thought of changing the world. Bill Gates’s vision was a PC in every home. Did that really make any fundamental changes in how people live? What else have we produced? Angry Birds and smart phones.
Software’s fall from the grace of ambition—you might call this fall a kind of decay—left me to look elsewhere for making a difference. What kind of change would really reach to the bottom of how we live? Asking such a question points one at changing how people see the world: how they value it, how they color it, how they scale it, what comparative weight they give it. Thus decay preserves: If people can look at decay differently, what other valuations might they reconsider?
Trying to change society, we are assured by a thousand voices, is foolish, futile, and grandiose. I don’t accept that. Rather than thrive within a fallen vision of possibilities, I choose to continue to shoot as high as the sun, higher even than Icarus flew. Why not?
So, when people ask, “Why decay preserves?”, my response is, “Why not?”
Join the Decay Preserves movement. Give decay a chance—give Washington a chance.