Is there a city you have always wanted to visit but somehow felt was just a tad too far out of reach? For me this has always been Seattle.
Rewinding back to the spring of my life. I am in Sofia, Bulgaria. It is 1991, the year after communism collapsed, the year I lose my mum and the year that the grunge music scene explodes out of Seattle. I fall in love with Pearl Jam’s Ten, Nirvana’s Nevermind and Temple of the Dog’s Temple of the Dog. 29 grunge albums are released this year, by artists mostly based in Seattle. Mozart’s Requiem that plays in my head following my mum’s passing slowly gives way to Pearl Jam’s Black and Temple of the Dog’s Hunger Strike. The tunes flood my mind with an inexplicable hope for future justice, with love for my solid friends and the world at large. Despite smoking a packet of cigarettes a day and some days just making one Milka bar of chocolate serve for every meal, I feel grounded in this music, and I dream of visiting Seattle. An unattainable dream, of course.
Fast-forwarding to the summer of my life. I am in London. It is 2006 and I have just become a mum, feeling anxious and inadequate, constantly second-guessing myself as a mother to this gorgeous human being whom I adore. Desperately missing my own mother. At first, I nurse my boy at night, unsure whether he’s feeding at all or just sleeping. Later on, I give up breastfeeding but keep expressing milk at night for some time. The only thing that keeps me connected to the outside world at night is watching series 3 of Grey’s Anatomy that my son’s dad has kindly downloaded for me. The series is set in …. Seattle. I immerse myself in the vulnerabilities and triumphs of all those surgeons and I dream of going to Seattle. An unattainable dream, of course.
Fast-forwarding further to 2023. The early autumn of my life and… I am in Seattle. I am here to present my work on the missing perspectives of women in news at the Gates Foundation, an organisation that I have worked with for about a decade and that has commissioned my writing since 2019. I am surrounded by inspiring people from all around the globe, who are driven by a desire to make the world a better place, to save lives and give voice to those who are silenced. I can’t quite believe that I am in the foundation’s head office and that I am in Seattle.
Seattle is everything I didn’t realise I had been hoping it would be and more. It is raw and real, without an ounce of pretence, grounding, handsome. It is anchored in the perspective that cities located by the ocean often have: that of knowing how insignificant one’s existence is relative to the vastness of the ocean. This implicit wisdom manifests in a slower pace that is in sharp contrast to the neurotic pace I am used to in London. Unusually, the sun shines for all five days I am there, as if Seattle has consciously decided to show itself in the best possible light for me. I feel enchanted, in love, irresistibly drawn to Seattle in a brand new way.
I visit the grunge exhibition at MoPOP and feel a part of a global community shaped by the grunge music scene. The young girl in Sofia is forever connected with millions of people around the globe who have been touched by the tunes, the lyrics, the innovation, the social rebellion, the hope, and the self-expression that grunge music has brought.
Visiting Seattle has made time magically bend both backwards and forwards for me. Quite extraordinarily so. I flew back to the spring of my life before returning to early autumn. I met the lost but hopeful teenager and told her that I loved her and that I was proud of her for pulling through the trauma. She told me she was proud of me too, for holding on to my determination to live fully despite at times still feeling lost and lacking confidence, seesawing between self-support and self-berating, and lately navigating the highs and lows of progesterone and oestrogen. We looked at one another, smiled and whispered: “We’re ok… the two of us” before I gently enveloped her fragile hand in mine.
Why do I share all this? I hope not so much out of a compulsion to write about myself, although there most certainly is an element of that; but more to offer this rare moment of magic to those who need it right now. My trip to Seattle was magical in many more ways than I could ever have imagined. Connecting with my younger self and her long-forgotten dreams was growth-inducing, rejuvenating, revitalising.
My advice? Connect with your younger self, remind yourself where you started and look at where you are now. If you are young - write down your dreams. Keep a journal. Trust me, you will find it riveting to revisit your thoughts in decades’ time. Believe in magic, no matter how old you are. Believe in life and love after loss, in the purpose of your life’s journey. Carve out some space to be a dreamer, take calculated risks, surround yourself with people you can confidently call “salt of the earth”, look up to the sky and keep on running, even when global and personal events in your world act as one gigantic hurdle on your life’s running track.