I take a break from work to walk the uneven alleyway north, downtown. The walk, the street, the faces: they’ve all become a metaphor of the writing process. It’s always the same but a little different if you look carefully enough, no different than anything else.
I walk the alley to clear my head and make space to write. It’s a shit street and I’ve done it a thousand times now, 18 years at the same office in Seattle’s SODO district. I’ve memorized the bumper stickers, graffiti, the abandoned railway tracks jutting up from the asphalt they call “orphan tracks.”
I came here writing about the homeless, tracking the characters in frames day by day, season by season, wondering about their existence and mine. They take root in the spaces between cars by the fence and razor wire keeping people out of the ship yard, cropping up like weeds, wherever they can find purchase.
I wrote about the guy with the wolf tattoo on his chest making art out of scrap metal and broken bicycle frames, how the Health Department and cops made him remove all his stuff in a matter of minutes; he had been living there all summer, did anyone notice he was there, or gone?
And today, a kid who got beaten up, missing his shoes: blood on his lips, circling a small parking spot in his socks, with broken glass, unfolding a flannel shirt as a blanket. He looked at me and I looked on, then caught my reflection in a car and wondered if we felt the same in some way: who had I become, combing the alleyways looking for myself.
I wrote about them because I wanted a story, wanted to make people care, but I didn’t need to know them really, it’s better if you don’t, as a thief.