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Friday, May 2, 2008

What Tao Lin Can Tell You About Seattle Based on the People He’s Met Who Are from Here

posted by on May 2 at 8:30 AM


(He lives in Brooklyn.)

Here’s a paragraph from his piece chosen at random:


People in Seattle seem less obese. I felt little or no intimations of obesity while there and I don’t know anyone from there who is obese or even overweight. In Brooklyn, it is difficult for me to view anyone as “not obese or overweight.” In Brooklyn, people seem “beat down” and “made obese” by unseen forces, whereas in Seattle people seem “strengthened” by some kind of aura of well-being emanating maybe from the downtown library. People in New York City eat at Taco Bell a lot; people in Seattle are knowledgeable about not mixing food groups. On my book tour, I had dinner with someone who talked about fasting every six months. I can’t remember ever having dinner with someone in New York City who viewed “fasting” as a possibility.

Can’t resist—one more:


When I make myself think concretely about Seattle, I get an image of a 12-year-old Native American boy reading a Sherman Alexie story collection in a Starbucks and it’s raining outside, then I seriously think, “The harsh reality of growing up in Seattle. Seems bad. Hard.” But if I think abstractly about Seattle, I feel a strange emotion like I’m currently living in a clean, well-furnished house with expensive electronic equipment in Tennessee in May by a small river on a green hill with no other houses nearby and that I have a steady cash flow and am working on multiple projects each day with a lot of excitement and no obligations. It feels really good and the opposite of hard. So “Seattle” abstractly means to me something like “basking in the sunlight of overwhelming gratitude for life and art” but concretely means to me something like “feeling like there’s no possible routes for escaping a life of poverty and alcoholism while staring at sentences written by Sherman Alexie in an environment of people shouting things like ‘quadruple soy latte.’” I don’t know. I feel “tricked.”

Don’t miss it.

P.S. Here come the letters! The subject line of this one is “Worthless, really worthless”:

I grew up here and always find I want to know what the rest of the world thinks of our little green universe in the Upper Lefthand Corner. It’s kind of mossy and insecure, I know. But now I never want to know what Tao Lin thinks.

What was that cover writ you published by Lin supposed to be? A reflection? A portrait? It was terrible. It wasn’t impressionistic or surrealistic or clever or funny or well-written or worthwhile. He must have penned it in one setting after three beers. Why the heck did you run it? I just don’t get it.

Well, you made up for it with Paul Constant’s hearty recommendation for Island Soul, which I drive by but will now eat at. Thank you for that. But fire Tao Lin — he can’t write at all.

RSS icon Comments


"How did this get printed in the Stranger?" That's what I kept saying. After every paragraph.

Posted by Mr. Poe | May 2, 2008 8:49 AM

I really, really did not get what that piece was supposed to do.

Posted by Greg | May 2, 2008 8:49 AM

I got a "little tired" of "reading" things in "quotation marks".

Posted by tabletop_joe | May 2, 2008 8:51 AM

It kind of struck me as Mudede Light. And if you're going to go in that direction, it's best to get the original.

Posted by Robin Sparkles | May 2, 2008 8:52 AM

It's seriously the worst cover piece I've read in the Stranger. The worst. Not funny, not serious, no structure, no thought. Worst.

Posted by Mr. Poe | May 2, 2008 8:55 AM

"fire Tao Lin"

At least he'll always have shoplifting to fall back on.

Posted by Eric Grandy | May 2, 2008 8:56 AM

I can't tell if I think it's bad because it's poorly written or because I'm jealous I didn't get to be the (former) Brooklynite to write it... my "guess" is that it's because it's just "a little affected" and maybe "more descriptive" of other "places in the Northwest," like "Portland."

God. I know what it is. It's a Zagats review. Is that what he was going for?

Posted by Dawgson | May 2, 2008 8:58 AM

What a waste or space, money, trees, etc.

Posted by PJ | May 2, 2008 9:01 AM

I thought that this article was really really crappy and pointless. Reading it took several mintues away from my life I will never ever get back.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | May 2, 2008 9:02 AM

Incredibly congratulatory comments on the piece from readers on his blog:

Posted by Dawgson | May 2, 2008 9:04 AM

According to tao:

"they added commas to my prose."

based on his blog, he doesn't believe in commas or capitol letters... it's so poetic that way.

Posted by Dawgson | May 2, 2008 9:06 AM

Oh, come on. It was great. It's not about Seattle (of course). This is a guy who wrote a book called Eeeeee Eee Eeee, described on Wiki as:
"...the sound a dolphin makes when it is happy or depressed. This is a reference to a Vietnamese dish called Eeeee Eee Eeee which one is required to eat if they see a depressed dolphin. Lin has studied this phenomenon and cited it in other works."

I mean, freaking genius.

Posted by John At Work | May 2, 2008 9:08 AM

This guy has to be lying about living in Brooklyn; he is so unbelievably off the mark. What. a . knobend. Why doesnt the stranger just get a 'real change' peddling bum off the street to write the next cover story? Probably much more entertaining.

Posted by kanzleramt | May 2, 2008 9:10 AM

More on Tao from Gawker.

I think it's time to go be angry about other things and stop pondering whether he was talking about Christopher Frizzelle's enormous eeeeeeee eeeeeeeeee eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee when he was writing about choads.

Posted by Dawgson | May 2, 2008 9:15 AM

I demand that the next feature story be Charles writing about the history of Greek plays being performed in Seattle.

Posted by Greg | May 2, 2008 9:16 AM


As yet another Seattle native, I profoundly agree with Mossy And Insecure. Reading Tao Lin's piece gave me a dreadful flashback to the Stranger of the 1990s, when each week's paper was reliably chock full of similarly smug, self-congratulatory "hip" and appallingly irrelevant bullshit. The Stranger has made vast improvements in the past five years or so; please don't regress back to the Hipper-Than-Thou Stranger of the 1990s.

Here's how you can make it up to us: Christopher Frizzelle, known Jonathan Raban acolyte, could convince Mr. Raban to write an article entitled, "What I Can Tell You About Seattle Based on the People I've Met Who Are From There (I Used To Live In London)."

C'mon, Frizzelle, you know you wanna...

Posted by Jeff Stevens | May 2, 2008 9:18 AM

It was bad. There is so very much to write about Seattle in an ironic, witty put-down way and yet this is what we got. I want to write a rebuttal piece "This is what I can tell you about people from New York based on their ego driven, self absorbed writing."

Posted by PopTart | May 2, 2008 9:19 AM

ummm........yeah. that was really bad. you are all much better than this.

Posted by scrat | May 2, 2008 9:20 AM

It baffles me how the Stranger attracts such a humorless readership. I love Tao Lin. I think he should have a weekly column.

Posted by OLWest | May 2, 2008 9:23 AM

I enjoyed it and thought it was insightful. Except for the choad thing at the end. What was that all about? Just decided to be a jerk on the way out the door or something? I don't know. Cut out the choad thing and you've got a nice article.

Posted by elenchos | May 2, 2008 9:24 AM

What is going on over at the Stranger? It has sucked hard for months now. Hire some folks over 30, and get it together!!!

Posted by fluteprof | May 2, 2008 9:27 AM

"you" guys just don.t "get it "
and that.s how seattle " makes u dumb" from existential dispair.

"go back to seattle, 'you', if you want"

Posted by chops | May 2, 2008 9:29 AM

Wow you guys. At first I thought this piece was blah, then it grew on me. By the final several paragraphs I was laughing out loud at the absurdity of it. I've come to love it, it's a wonderful piece, totally silly. LOVE IT!

Posted by NaFun | May 2, 2008 9:30 AM

Elenchos: How can it be insightful when it was so contradictory?

Or was it supposed to be a statement of the complexity of Seattle? We are Legion, and contain multitudes?

Posted by Dawgson | May 2, 2008 9:31 AM

I have lived in Seattle. I currently live in Brooklyn. I see no difference in the ratio of obese to non-obese people. This post is BS.

Posted by strawberry julie | May 2, 2008 9:31 AM

I'm so tired of reading shitty experiments by people from the East Coast about the West Coast.

@17 - I want you to write your rebuttal. Or I want Adrian! to do it.

Posted by Soupytwist | May 2, 2008 9:31 AM

I don't get the bile; it was occasionally amusing, and certainly not some kind of affront to my existence. I think you've had worse cover stories.

Posted by tsm | May 2, 2008 9:33 AM

Reading this article yesterday wasted five minutes of my life I'll never get back, but that's my fault.

Posted by Catman | May 2, 2008 9:37 AM


Dawgson: Because the impressions you form of a place based on a variety of people from that place are bound to be contradictory. If you wrote an article saying every single person from Seattle was identical it wouldn't tell you anything except that the writer was tone deaf and addicted to lazy stereotypes.

Posted by elenchos | May 2, 2008 9:40 AM

@26, I've already started, but I'm not a writer from New York, so it won't be published:

Writers from New York feel like they are the first ones who have ever experienced anything, like child birth, or being a slacker or graduating from college, or not graduating from college, or working at a lame dead end job.

And yet, at the same time, writers from New York feel like everything good has already happened to everyone else, somewhere else.

Writers from New York donít use punctuation, or capital letters, or paragraphs, or write in sentences that make sense and they can do this because they are literary geniuses.

Writers from New York spend years in therapy and then spend years writing about their years in therapy and then spend years directing movies about their years in therapy.

Posted by PopTart | May 2, 2008 9:41 AM

What #4 said! Really, I thought as I read it: ďthis would be good if Mudede had written it. But he didnít.Ē

Posted by BB | May 2, 2008 9:45 AM

"staring at sentences written by Sherman Alexie" is a hardship? I must be missing something.

I'll grant you listening is easier than staring, but still ...

What do they stare at in Brooklyn, anyhow?

Posted by RonK, Seattle | May 2, 2008 9:46 AM

Moving to the Pacific Northwest area, I thought everyone in the Pacific Northwest out here would be more Seattle-esque. Holy crap was I wrong.

People do live for a lot more out here. It's hard to find people on the east coast that aren't TOTAL workaholics, or have interests outside of their job. The days pass, and many people can just get locked up into their own little universe.

West Coast cities, I was floored when I met people that were taking MONTHS of to go to Europe, or Africa. It's hard to get people to take a week off in New York for something that extravagant. I give west coast cities some credit, if people here are going to work, they are goign to work for something!

Posted by OR Matt | May 2, 2008 9:49 AM

It was a really good article. Thank you for continuing to support and spotlight great up-and-coming writers and artists! I learned about Tao Lin from the stranger and now I'm a huge fan.

#30 illustrates that most people who think "I could do that!" really can't.

Here's a really good 2007 stranger article by Tao Lin:

Posted by poppy | May 2, 2008 9:50 AM

@29: I mean, I get that, but I didn't feel like his post was particulrly insightful about any specific individuals or "Northwesterners" at large. He just sort of spat out statements, didn't back them up, and then contradicted them two paragraphs later.

@34: What PopTart was doing was making a joke, rather than being a pretentious twat, which is essentially what Tao is known (and oddly) loved for.

Posted by Dawgson | May 2, 2008 9:57 AM

There are comments about it on Tao Lin's blog too:

Posted by all purpose | May 2, 2008 9:57 AM

Tao Lin's comparisons are like a horse that can't shit - they dont mean anything - I cant relate to them. The existential part was correct but the others just left me shaking my head, thinking - What.

Posted by erin1980 | May 2, 2008 9:58 AM

Hint: It wasn't supposed to be a scientific documentation of the differences between Seattle and New York.

Posted by poppy | May 2, 2008 10:01 AM

I'm barely literate.

Tao Lin made me feel better about myself.

Posted by Rotten666 | May 2, 2008 10:01 AM

I don't understand what all of these people aren't liking about it-- did you want a blow job, telling you how fucking awesome Seattle is? How much he longs to be a Seattleite? We know Seattle is awesome, give it up.

I think it's a great piece-- irreverent, non-sensical. Most of what he writes is completely off-the-mark, but that's what makes it great. This piece isnít about Seattle so much as it is about how we develop ideas and images about a place, and its people, based on conversations we've had, movies we've seen, books we've read, people we've known...

We visit a place, for a day or a week, and our limited experiences there form our views of that place. We think about what it would be like to live there, who our friends would be, what we would do, where we would work, and what it would mean to be from that place.

Usually, what we're thinking is wrong. Or at least misinformed.

I've traveled extensively, all over the world, and I find myself doing the same thing.

"If I lived in Tokyo, I would be so much more productive. I would wake up every day at 5:00 am and go to Tsukiji and start the day with a big bowl of soba and then head off to work... I would let my hair down every night and get smashed with my coworkers and then wake up early the next morning to do it all over again. No more of this sleeping until 10:00 am crap-- if I lived in Tokyo, I would get up early every day!"

Does that have ANYTHING to do with what it's really like to live in Tokyo? God no. But in my mind, they will always be connected. In my mind, it had less to do with the jetlag and everything to do with something uniquely Japanese that made me wake up every morning, bright and early, and tackle the day.

I have misconceptions like that about places all over the world, and I thatís the point of this piece. Anyone who was offended by it, or didnít like it, completely missed the point.

Posted by Samantha | May 2, 2008 10:03 AM

@38: But if it's not particularly funny or particularly observant or even beautiful prose... what's the point?

Posted by Dawgson | May 2, 2008 10:04 AM

This was a silly, long-winded version of the whole "People in Seattle drive hybrids and drink lots of coffee! Hey, doesn't it rain a lot in Seattle? And, get this, the Space Needle *isn't* the tallest building in Seattle!" thing.

Didn't finish it.

Posted by w7ngman | May 2, 2008 10:13 AM

I "liked" the "article". It was written "well". Or well "written." In the universe I'm from this would not be so "annoying." "Seattle" is different. I "guess."

Posted by umvue | May 2, 2008 10:14 AM

Well, I for one loved it. I especially liked the part where he talked about college graduates working minumum-wage jobs. I do disagree with the whole no-fat-people-in-Seattle argument, however. Although, I suppose it is relative. There are probably less fat people here than anywhere else except maybe L.A. or San Francisco. I thought it was beautifully written and a refreshing addition to the Stranger. More please!

Posted by smp | May 2, 2008 10:19 AM

@40 well said

Posted by Non | May 2, 2008 10:20 AM

Pshew! Being your typical Seattleite, I was worried I was the only one who thought this was pretentious, overwritten, twaddle.

Sherman Alexie and Tao Lin in the same issue, is just waaaaaay too much crap for me to handle.

Posted by michael strangeways | May 2, 2008 10:26 AM

Every day I say a prayer for all the trees that died for Tao Lin to overuse "quotation" marks.

Alas, they're gone forever, but he isn't.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 2, 2008 10:30 AM

Loved it.

Posted by Paige | May 2, 2008 10:38 AM

The argument "Anyone who was offended by it, or didnít like it, completely missed the point" is lazy and dismissive.

I am saddened by the death of intelligent discourse in favor of the twee and the nonsensical. Sure it's "cute" or "totally stream of consciousness" but did it say anything smart, useful or insightful?

I will remind myself that art is subjective but still hope and pray that this was published from a commerce perspective, to create controversy, generate page views and spawn links to the article across the blogosphere.

Posted by Dawgson | May 2, 2008 10:41 AM

if I was "talking" to someone and they used "air quotes" as often as lin uses them, I would slap that person in the mouth.

Posted by brett | May 2, 2008 10:43 AM

Stranger incest-- promoting its own staff rather than conducting competitive job searches-- is making it inbred. Inbred hipsters produce self-referential crap.

Posted by Problem | May 2, 2008 10:50 AM

Made me laugh. A few times.

Posted by the moviegoer | May 2, 2008 10:51 AM

fuck you brooklyn, if you ever show up in seattle, i will personally headbutt you in the neck.

Posted by josh bomb | May 2, 2008 10:54 AM

Umm...I just thought it was kind of boring.

Posted by Hernandez | May 2, 2008 10:59 AM

i look forward to poe's response video on youtube.

Posted by j-zeezer | May 2, 2008 11:03 AM

i think woaej

Posted by anna palayla | May 2, 2008 11:12 AM

I enjoyed the article, it is witty introspective and a bit daring in style.

Posted by inkweary | May 2, 2008 11:12 AM

a super kawaii Finnegan's Wake

Posted by Dawgson | May 2, 2008 11:15 AM

I feel like that quote from the interview with Johnny Rotten blurbed on the back of Greil Marcus' book 'Lipstick Traces':

"It's mad, it's totally off the wall..."

"But isn't he wrong?"

"No, he's not wrong at all."

Except for the part about the serial killer thing, this article is DEAD ON. (Especially the sections titled, 'Seattle is Better Than Anywhere Else in America', 'Seattle is Immune to Real Despair', and best of all - they should put it on a plaque - 'Seattle Tricks People'.)

Sometimes you need a French guy to come sort out your country for you and see things insiders have forgotten to notice. (I mean De Tocqueville, I know Lin isn't French.)

And Seattle gave me a choad too, which is one of the reasons I had to leave.

Posted by Grant Cogswell | May 2, 2008 11:16 AM

It broke my link. I wrote about this.Please read me.

Posted by Dawgson | May 2, 2008 11:21 AM

if you already shit-talked here but don't feel satisfied

come to my blog for further shit-talking

thank you everyone

Posted by tao lin | May 2, 2008 11:24 AM

Is there a limit to links posted per IP per post? I'm pretty sure my HTML was right on those two.

Posted by Dawgson | May 2, 2008 11:25 AM

@34 Oh, well sorry I didn't do it right. Do I have to burn my fucking writing degrees now, stop working as a writer and go to work at Domino's so I can get it right?

Or can I just stop using punctuation and start bemoaning how meaningless my fucked up wasted life is and how nobody gets me and how things are hip until I say they are hip and then they are no longer hip and nobody gets it and those who say they do are pretending and I'm pretending too but it's OK because I live in my parent's basement and smoke weed and talk about marxism and how stoopid everybody else is.

WTF OMG LOL tl;dr kthxbi

Posted by PopTart | May 2, 2008 11:39 AM

i worked at domino's in 2001 or 2002

Posted by tao lin | May 2, 2008 11:44 AM

Denver is a pretty lean city as well. This piece was funny at times.

Posted by Deacon Seattle | May 2, 2008 11:45 AM

Loved it. #40 is on the money.

Posted by The General | May 2, 2008 11:47 AM

i want to dominate this comments section

i will post 40 consecutive comments, each one offering a fresh insight, endearingly self-deprecating revelation, or illuminating observation about another person's comment or the essay itself

if anyone 'interrupts' i will 'start over' until it can be seen that 40 consecutive comments have been made by me, that i have dominated the comments section

Posted by tao lin | May 2, 2008 11:51 AM

When poorly executed, minimalist writing is uninteresting.

Posted by petenice | May 2, 2008 11:52 AM

i agree with tao lin--that in 2001 or 2002 tao lin worked at dominos. well said, tao.

Posted by ryan | May 2, 2008 11:57 AM

... Wow. Look at all these comments no one is going to read ...

Posted by treacle | May 2, 2008 11:59 AM

i agree with ryan that [ryan] agree[s] with tao lin--that in 2001 or 2002 tao lin worked at dominos. well said, ryan.

Posted by ryan | May 2, 2008 12:01 PM

Well, Tao, I think it's safe to say there wont be 50 seattleites at your next reading.

Posted by erin1980 | May 2, 2008 12:12 PM

I wish I'd gotten here earlier. This article was so pointless and meandering I had to finish the whole thing, and I really wish I hadn't. What a stultifyingly stupid piece.

And yes, I know you'll publish anything, as you've published a few of my pieces, too.

Posted by Jason Josephes | May 2, 2008 12:12 PM

obviously! his next reading is in nyc

Posted by ryan | May 2, 2008 12:19 PM

I enjoyed it. So there. But I didn't grow up here, either. (I liked the one about people with degrees working minimum-wage jobs. As a recent graduate, with recent-graduate friends working retail and restaurant jobs and thinking that's entirely normal, it does ring true.)

Posted by Abby | May 2, 2008 12:28 PM

No. It was a vapid, nauseatingly poor excuse for a feature article. I'm sorry, you know I'm a Stranger fan, but this article was boring and annoying.

Posted by Katelyn | May 2, 2008 12:43 PM

Having now read the print version, I find it's better than it felt reading it online.

But too many trees had to die for that experience, nonetheless.

I think Abby had a good point @75, it reads better from that viewpoint.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 2, 2008 1:31 PM

You say tomato, I say stupid pointless crap.

Posted by Greg | May 2, 2008 1:32 PM

@67, i want you to start capitalizing "proper nouns" and beginnings of "sentences" and stop using "quotation marks" randomly. but it ain't gonna happen.

This article was one of the worst the Stranger has ever printed -- and that's saying a lot considering you have ECB on staff. Please, no more Brooklyn-based e.e. cummings wannabes.

Posted by joykiller | May 2, 2008 2:58 PM

@79, I was just going to request the exact same thing. Both points, actually. Except I like ECB every now and then.

Is it just me or the abridged version printed, but are his impressions of Seattle based on only three people (two of whom were online only)?

Whoever mentioned earlier that this looked like regression into the '90s Hipper-than-thou crap was right, too. This article smacked horribly of backsliding into that again.

Posted by Etherite | May 2, 2008 5:16 PM

I'll tell you what people have in enormous penls!!!

Posted by Christopher Frizzelle's Enormous Penls | May 2, 2008 5:52 PM

I think it is both funny and temporarily saddening that people are trying to portray this article as some kind of failed treatise about Seattle. I think commenter #40 is spot on. Seattle may have been the subject of this article, but the theme was more broad than that.

When you read books, are you more concerned that the writer gets every detail and fact correct, or are you more concerned with the deeper themes that can't be summarized in simple sentences? If you enjoy the former, then maybe you would like Tom Clancy.

- Paul

Posted by Paul | May 2, 2008 8:14 PM

This article is SO DEAD ON. hilarious. comedic gold.

Posted by Emily Paup | May 2, 2008 9:28 PM

eat a dick fagtron

Posted by zachary german | May 2, 2008 10:27 PM

I thought it was hilarious.

Posted by brandi | May 4, 2008 11:24 AM

Okay, some peeps are a little touchy, some did not get it. that's cool.

This was one of the funniest pieces of writing I have ever read. I think what people are missing is that this piece was mostly self-mocking. at least that's how i got it.

I'm glad the stranger saw fit to print it; it gives me hope for the state of literature and frankly west coast-ers developing a complex sense of humor.

Posted by Luke Dani | May 4, 2008 8:54 PM

I liked it.

Posted by Ryan | May 5, 2008 5:51 PM

His definition of a "choad" is one that I have never heard in Seattle, though I've heard at least three others. The part about the Mariners was funny until it started humping Marco Polo. Fuck Marco Polo. My biggest issue is that it doesn't really address the curiosity most of us have about this topic. I don't care what a couple of choads (alternate definition:the space between the nuts and the asshole) who are FROM Seattle have imparted to a poet over a group e-mail exchange. I would rather read Tao's thoughts on Tibet, or his favorite method for braiding the hair in the crack of his ass. Tao, you fail it.

Posted by esembee | May 6, 2008 2:51 PM

i thought it was entertaining and fun. haters should step off and stop taking themselves so seriously.

Posted by tiffany | May 7, 2008 8:49 AM

I liked it. I also don't understand how 'not getting something' = that thing not being good or worthwhile.

@ PopTart: Yes, I agree with you, I think you should "burn [your] writing degrees". It is a proven fact that this is the only way to be recognized as a good writer in today's society.

Posted by GabrielleSimpson | May 7, 2008 3:31 PM

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