...nothing here is promised, not one day... Lin-Manuel Miranda

826/Giving back
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There's a storefront in our neighborhood that has "doomed" written on its forehead. Oh, sorry, that's the red shirt guy in Star Trek. Well, this is the architectural equivalent; it dies. No matter what goes into this spacious location, it's goes toesies-up. Sometimes, I think, it's meant to be seasonal, but we've lived in the Greenwood neighborhood since moving to Seattle in 1990, and while we know it's still (ye gods) a "neighborhood in transition - can you BE permanently "in transition), we'd like things to just settle DOWN please. Then there's the "yet another coffee place" that was due to open on Greenwood Ave in mid-June. Work stopped on that one about 4 weeks ago and the sign still reads "mid-June." Oh sigh. Even Greenwood doesn't need (let's see) what, like eight coffee places in about a 5 block radius of Greenwood Avenue and 85th?

So it was with hesitant glee that Stu and I, while wandering the neighborhood recently noted that the newest tenant at this site, which has housed antique stores, a gift shop supporting AMFAR, and I think several incarnations of "ye olde junque shoppe", is the newest location for the 826 project. Which of course, yeah, yeah, I had never heard of but Stu knew about.

Go look, if you're interested at or the home page for 826 Valencia, the San Francisco home base that began all this. It' s an organization which focuses, in many different ways, on writing. For young people. Often taught/tutored and supported BY young people, but by young published talented writers like, oh David Eggers and Sarah Vowell. Seattle's founding writers include Sherman Alexie, Neal Stephenson and Elizabeth Kostova.

What's remarkable, I think, in cruising the websites of the 826 programs in LA, New York, SF, Chicago and Ann Arbor, is the imagination and the sense that "if it's needed, we'll find a way to do it." Now, that can get you into trouble, I think, since I was part of an organization that thought that, and wanted to do everything and got itself in way too deep because it didn't have the money or ability to DO it all, but that was 30 years ago and these are different times. And different people.

It's about helping kids with words. It's about tutoring. It's about everything from help with writing the dreaded college entrance essay, to homework help The major 826 Valencia program gives college scholarships, for crisake. They talk on the various sites, depending on the location about learning screenwriting and poetry, sports reporting and graphic novel/comic books, joke writing, playwriting (NY is . The idea seems to be that words are to be used, and that nothing is to be looked down on, whether you want to do a journal, or need help with punctuation. LA's started a chess club, for taking a break from writing. Some chapters DO offer adult seminars as well, but the focus appears to be on people aged 6 to 18.

It's not like this sort of thing is totally new to Seattle; I mean we've had Clarion West here for how many years. But that's only for adults and it's only for our specific genre and it's only for six weeks in the summer, not for kids and not ongoing. But the precedent is there; and this IS a town just chock full of authors.

There are round robin stories, complete with illustrations, there are panel discussions by "experts" and field trips. I've spent an immense amount of time looking at all the websites and being impressed at not only the dreaming, but the realities. And some of the stuff they're doing really looks like FUN (LA just hosted what sounded like a hysterical night of readings completely with visual aids.) The home base has been around since 2002, and with the Chicago, Ann Arbor and Seattle chapters opening this year, (Seattle hopes to be open late in September) they're again showing an amazing level of smarts and not over-extending; new chapters will NOT open in 2006, but will have to wait a year so they can see if the 6 existing chapters can work. It's something Stu and I tend to worry about when we see a successful X expanding; the number of restaurants we've watched, for example, that do well then simply MUST expand immediately only to disappear and never be seen again.

And OH, I SO love it; each project, or at least some of them, has a theme and a store to provide support. In Chicago, it's secret agents; San Francisco? Pirates. I mean WHO was the genius to come up with THAT? As I recall, 826 Seattle, we are SO happy to report, will be the home of the time travel store, which Stu really is looking forward to patronizing.

So they also happen to be like 7 minutes from my front door. Since I stopped volunteering at the hospital a couple years back, I've kept up with my volunteer work at New Beginnings, which is one of the things I love to do. The fact that they're in my neighborhood is not what made me want to volunteer initially, but not having to deal with transportation, and being able to a) go home if I need to and not wait around for the friggin' van) and b) drop in and do an hour's work on short notice adds to the attraction. NB is a Seattle's oldest program serving battered women and their kids and does tons of work in the field of domestic violence. The people there are MY kinds of people; we suit each other, political and socially (far more than the VERY nice folks at the hospital who were usually way way way more conservative than I am and hugely wealthy, which, well, can irk - when someone's telling you about the 10th trip to the islands, or skiing, or to Europe - oh, again, it's SO much fun - they took this year, or in one memorable moment, the time someone said that their stock portfolio loss after 9/11 was, well more than I make in a year on SSDI. So I'm more at home now. (It's sort of like back when I worked at Redwood Records; all female places DO have a different feel to them, and I'm not talking about hormones.)

I'm hoping that whatever I can do, if I end up doing, at 826 Seattle, is a pay back for all the joy I get from books. This is a sort of new generation creating this, and I suspect I'll stand out by far as the oldest person there. S'okay, I have it on good authority I can pass for much younger - why we're not sure.

So I just SO hope that I'm the kind of person they want and I can help out; the volunteer list is mostly, of course, for tutors and mentors and teachers, which I ain't, but I'm spiffy at phone answering and helping put packets together and fund-raising event registration. If not, I still hope it throws of the curse of the dreaded Greenwood Storefront location. Stay tuned.

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