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  • Danielle Hayden

Where the House Was


This weekend is the Portland International Film Festival (PIFF 2.0). While COVID has, of course, changed the look of the experience, participation is still possible. As I was browsing their virtual selections, I saw that they are showing the documentary "Where the House Was," a film I'd been wanting to see for about a year. It explores the formation and tearing down of the original Richard Hugo House, Seattle's premier writing center. I just finished it and it's about far more than an old edifice though; it talks about some of the people whose lives were touched at that place and the legacy it has left on the city's writing community. (Bonus: it's available to stream free of charge until tomorrow night!)


Although there is a new Hugo House building on the same street, just paces away from the old one, I've been inside and it is not the same. It is very nice and modern and clean. But it is also sterile and dare I say too sophisticated; it fosters nothing resembling the homey feel I got at the other spot. Change, though, is often hard for me in general and has been since I was little. I cling to things wishing they could stay the same instead of accepting the new look and reality. I have gotten better though at being a more "glass half full" kind of person instead of "the glass is broken and the water has spilt and the shards are cutting into me" kind of person. See? Growth and shit.



Old Hugo House, demolished in 2016


A few scenes they show in the documentary are of people writing on the walls in 2016 before the old house was torn down. I was one of these people and it brought back memories. I was not captured on film, but I did attend farewell event and I wrote on one of the walls. I agonized for quite a while, marker in hand, trying to find the right spot and the right thing to say. And what color marker? Should I write diagonally or keep it straight? How large? I usually write small by default....here, I want my message to be seen but I definitely don't want to be an asshole and take up too much real estate. Also I don't want people to notice the text *that* much because this message is personal...


A regret I have (minor, but still) is that I didn't copy down what I wrote, and I don't remember it. I usually have an excellent memory but I just made something up and scribbled it on the wall and walked away before any onlookers could attach my face to it (although no one was probably thinking about me anyway; we are often far more convinced of our own importance to strangers than they actually are.) I have no idea what I wrote. Subject wise I think I recall, fuzzily, but the actual words are just a blur. But if and when I leave Seattle, writing on that wall of that house will be a cherished memory of this city that I will take with me. I felt some sadness as I did it too though, knowing that it would be torn down soon after that year, hoping someone would miraculously intervene and decide that it was too precious a thing to rid ourselves of. I didn't care about the leaky roof or about it being structurally unsound in some parts.


And I know inanimate objects do not have feelings, but I considered how the old Hugo House might feel if it were capable of feeling, ripped apart and left behind as only a pile of rubble that we glanced back at with wistful longing as we enter this other portal. The one that is uncomfortable but that we accept because we have to.


New Hugo House, opened in 2018

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