As a journalist, it has been my pleasure to delve into the Port Townsend arts scene over the past year. Turns out there is a plethora of weird cerebral types in this town, and the art they create is …
As a journalist, it has been my pleasure to delve into the Port Townsend arts scene over the past year. Turns out there is a plethora of weird cerebral types in this town, and the art they create is quirky, magnificent and deeply thought provoking.
In the Arts Editor’s chair, I delved into traditional stuff from master organists, to painters and sculptors, gardeners and writers to rockers and folkies. It has been great to meet folks such as Dillon Porter who expertly channels Walt Whitman, or Andrew Shaw, founder of Port Townsend’s Silent Academy, who spent a year living with monks in a Buddhist temple in Ladakh near the Indian border with Tibet. Their wisdom, channelled through him, helped me look at life through a new lens.
But I also was unafraid to turn my camera on subjects whose work and art may not be the stuff for polite conversation at tea. While on the surface Port Townsend is a liberal town, it also has a prudish streak that, I assume, is a holdover from the buttoned-up Victorian era this beautiful little gem was born into. I have greatly enjoyed those elements of town where the ‘Old Maid’ shows her ankles. Damn. They are beautiful.
As journalists, we “go there,” focusing on what is interesting, whether it be glass butt plugs, half-naked musicians in stark black and white photos, a naughty burlesque goddess or sprint boats roaring gloriously around a narrow and winding water canal. To be sure, such topics weren’t your grandma’s ideal of “arts and entertainment.”
But they are in the mix, a reminder there has always been a seedier side to fun in this town.
Look no further than the Jefferson County Historical Society and Museum display about the many brothels once lining Water Street. There are literally dozens of synonyms listed for “sex worker.” And, let’s not forget the crimper Maxwell Levy, responsible for shanghaiing untold scores of naive seamen.
In this newspaper industry, of which I have been in the trenches for the past decade, there is an endless debate about the “do not cross this line” rule. On one side, snoozily safe. On the other, you upset “Becky,” a radio industry term for the demographic uncomfortable with hard news or potentially taboo subject matter.
I first learned about Becky in the mid-2000s when I was writing the scripts for a morning news broadcast at a Christian radio station in Arizona. At the time, there were constant Associated Press reports coming out of Baghdad about the debacle that was the occupation of Iraq during the ‘War on Terror.’ The script I wrote included a quote about pools of blood in the streets after a suicide bombing. Turns out Becky did not want that dose of reality while she was eating her Cheerios. “Don’t tell me the facts,” I imagined she was saying to me. The station owner wasn’t pleased. To hell with that. Going through life with a pair of horse blinders on just isn’t for me. After working for corporate dailies in three states over the years, the level of creative freedom I discovered working at an independent family-owned newspaper such as The Leader was profound. So, like any kid in a candy store, I intended to find out just how much sugar I could metabolize before getting thrown out by the candy man.
When I took over the arts section there was no guide or template. It was a blank slate. It took me about three months to start testing the local “Becky” boundaries: a direction that was most reflective of the Quimper Peninsula as interpreted with my personality.
With the April 17 edition, I hit my stride. On the B1 cover was a piece about Dusty Santamaria and Moira Ichiban, a husband and wife performance art duo visiting town with a risque stage persona. For the A1 cover, I wrote about the legal cannabis industry gearing up for 4/20, an unofficial weed-smoker’s holiday. And for B6, I wrote about fast-selling glass sex toys created right here in Port Townsend by Crystal Delights. All three drew the ire of some folks who voiced their opinions via letters to the editor and phone calls. Interestingly, it was the pot piece that was most controversial at the time. Really? OK.
I also got to achieve a first for my career, getting the word “sh**” printed on the front page. Oh, and a couple of f-bombs. Why do this? It was a litmus test, a fathometer to gauge where we are as a society. These innocuous words also drew letters to the editor and, as you see here, we’ve calibrated back to less-than-full spelling of curse-words.
Well, I admit it. I love getting letters to the editor about my work. The intention is to start a conversation. I have this need and desire to poke the bear as often as possible. Just ask poor balding Dean Miller, my esteemed jefe. Otherwise, what is the point? Boring text about plain jane milkshakes and run of the mill cookie cutter “arts” stories? Nah. Leave that to the Port Angeles paper.
What I hoped to accomplish was to share my journey through Port Townsend, a meandering and colorful look at the local fauna. Life is vibrant. Life is wild. Mostly, life is fun. And that, my dear reader, was my true intention during this joyride. I hope you had some fun, too.
If I have offended with my unique perspective, I make no apologies. That is what makes journalism and art so great. If y’all laughed, cried, cussed, got upset… well, I did my job.
Word to your mother,
The Roving Lens