It was 1999, and I’d just gone to Burning Man for the first time. I was in the midst of what I now refer to as my “burner blossom,” where my mind had been blown wide open and the possibilities were ENDLESS! A few weeks after I returned from Nevada, my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and I were at a potluck hosted by one of his coworkers. The coworker and his boyfriend lived in an amazing industrial loft in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, filled with amazing nooks and crannies, home-made berths and bunk beds made from 2x4s and oversized pillows. One corner was filled with part of an old stage set from some theater production. It was like Burning Man — but indoors!
“I love this,” I proclaimed. “I want to live somewhere like this!” Andreas and I were sharing our first apartment together, a studio-plus that was sweet but small. The coworker responded by informing me that the somewhat unattractive gentleman who’d had a threesome with my friend at Burning Man was actually a property manager who ran several lofts in Seattle.
“You could totally ask him about a place,” he informed me, and with glitter in our eyes, Andreas and I called the dude up. VOILA! There was indeed a loft space open in a building in one of the dude’s other buildings. This one was in an industrial non-neighborhood south of Seattle’s International District, just east of the doomed but then-still-standing Kingdome.
We went to go check it out.
The unit was 1500 wide-open square feet, shaped like an L. There was a 40″ bank of windows, with only a few panes missing. It looked out on a double-decker freeway offramp, and was surrounded by empty lots and cracked asphalt. There was no kitchen, and the only bathroom was shared with 10 other people on the floor. There was no sink, but there was an industrial tub outside the bathroom. There was no heat, but the manager told us that if we bought an industrial heater we could take it out of our first month’s rent. Rent was about the same as what we’d been paying for our studio, which is to say affordable considering the square footage… but less so when you factor in the lack of kitchen, bathroom, and heat.
It was cavernous, freezing, and filthy. WE WERE IN. We would live the dream!
Things were difficult right off the bat:
It took us a couple shivering months to get our heater, and then Andreas almost cut off two of his fingers fiddling with it one night. We learned not to touch the industrial heater.
We were broke and the furniture we’d had in our studio couldn’t come close to filling even half the space. It was like: enter loft, walk 20 feet. Couch. Go another 20 feet. Bed. Go another 20 feet. Bookshelf & armchair. While we had visions of all the cool shit we were going to build, the reality was that neither of us were handy at all, and our construction was limited to dividing the space with fabric hanging from the ceiling and dangling some twinkly lights.
I was a writer just starting out my career, and the amazing 40′ bank of windows mostly succeeded in creating a huge amount of glare on my computer screen. Andreas set up his turntables, but spent more time reading than spinning, as he was working at a bookstore full-time.
The walls between units, all of which had been built by the manager, were ridiculously thin. We could hear our neighbors’ blankets shuffling when they had sex six inches away. To be fair, all the neighbors were amazing — working artists, train engineers, performance art freaks, poets, gay DJs, storytellers. They were people who used their spaces to the fullest potentials — a fact that only rubbed it in even more that Dre mostly sat in his armchair reading, and I mostly squinted into my monitor. We were not artists. We just lived in a building with them.
We cooked tiny pathetic meals on our one hotplate, and kept tiny amounts of food in our little refrigerator. Our kitchen was essentially a bookshelf against one wall of our cavernous, cold, mostly empty loft.
And the neighborhood. We watched from the roof as gay crackheads traded blowjobs for drugs. Our decrepit Honda was broken into several times. The business that was on the ground floor of the building manufactured electrical products, and sometimes the fumes were so intense that we fled the building with our pet rats out of concern for our health.
Then there were the inspections. The building wasn’t zoned for residential living, so every six months or so, an inspector would come through to ensure that no one was living there. We always got a warning, but it meant packing up our bed and clothes and hiding them against a wall, behind a bunch of boxes. Not awesome.
It only took me about six months to realize I was not meant to live in an industrial loft. What had seemed so romantic to me when the Burning Man dust was still in my eyes, was revealed to be a terrible, terrible idea. I imagined myself an ARTEEST, and sure: maybe I am a creative. But even in my mid-20s, I was a creative who needed basic comforts like a small kitchen and a bathroom.
It was hard, in a way, admitting to myself that this dream life wasn’t actually at all what I wanted. I wanted to be a freewheeling artist living in my amazing industrial loft, but the reality was that I was an unhandy aspiring writer who just needed a desk and a bathroom to myself. The romanticized industrial artist loft dream was someone else’s vision that simply didn’t fit with my actual values. I’d bought into a dream that wasn’t actually mine.
We moved out in 2000, and a friend moved in and made the loft amazing, proving that the problem wasn’t the space — it was the me.
Have you ever realized you were living someone else’s dream?