New year, new variant! While we’re riding out this latest virus surge, we’re bringing you our first issue of 2022 and rounding out nearly two years of publication. This year, we’re moving to a once-monthly schedule with goals about new content and expanding our readership—stay tuned!

In other news, the state legislature is now in session. For the next 60 days, lawmakers will have their plates full, addressing greenhouse gas emissions, tweaking the new long-term care program, addressing police accountability, increasing housing density in cities, and much more.

Also, be sure to check out the
Seattle MLK, Jr. Organizing Coalition’s events going on now through the weekend, plus information on Monday’s march and rally.

Lastly, we know the new year so far has been particularly difficult for parents and teachers, who, thanks to Omicron, are stuck between a rock and hard place. We see you, we hear you, and we know you all are doing your best in impossible circumstances.

In this issue, Nia talks to Mónica Guzmán about why she believes curiosity is key to helping bridge political divides and broaden our perspectives and Niki spotlights a few women makers who will help get your year started off right. 
Reminder, if you like our work and support our mission of valuing the work that women do, please consider contributing, if you're able. Every little bit boosts our efforts to provide original, quality journalism and helps us grow in order to bring you more voices and stories. Thanks to those who've already pitched in!
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A Curious Approach 

In her upcoming book, Seattle journalist Mónica Guzmán asks us to get curious in these divided times.

"We don't just see with our eyes, we see with our whole biographies," says Mónica Guzmán, seen here holding her upcoming book (BenBella Books), on why it’s important to ask curious questions and learn about each other’s lived experiences. Photo by Jason Preston. 

“I’m most curious about all the people who hugely disagree with me,” says journalist Mónica Guzmán, author of I Never Thought of it That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times, which releases March 8th. “I feel like I’m on this obsessive mission to unwrap that mystery for myself, and I continue to be extremely curious about it.”

Growing division is happening worldwide, but notably so in the United States where it’s not only palpable politically, but culturally, too. With 2022 midterm elections on the horizon, the ramifications of that polarization carry extra urgency. A year ago, we witnessed in real time the consequences of this growing division in the form of a violent insurrection on the Capitol. Though many stories and motives from that day continue to come to light, there has been little discussion on what, if anything, can help diffuse tensions before a similar episode recurs. But, for Guzmán, that’s where curiosity comes in. With her book, and in her role as director of digital and storytelling at Braver Angels—a nonprofit dedicated to bringing Americans together to bridge the divide of political partisanship through workshops, events, paired discussions, and more—she wants to encourage people to engage with each other by being curious and asking questions.

A seasoned Seattle-based journalist, Guzmán is no stranger to doing that herself; she also serves as a host for Crosscut’s live interview series and was one of the cofounders of The Evergrey newsletter. Born in Monterrey, Mexico, she came with her family to the U.S. at age six, studied sociology and film at Bowdoin College, and found herself in Seattle shortly after as part of a Hearst Newspapers Fellowship where she cut her teeth at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. People and storytelling have been a through line in her pursuits: “I mean, journalism is living life in the form of a question,” she says, and it’s a form of storytelling that relies on curiosity to help connect us to one another.

That connection to each other is particularly fraught right now. After all, politics affects people’s rights, how they’re treated, their livelihoods, their access to healthcare, their feelings of safety, and many other important facets of individual and community wellbeing. “What’s surprised me about the personal side of politics is just how personal it truly is,” says Guzmán. And it’s not just our own experiences that make it so—Guzmán’s observations have revealed just how much belonging plays a role. “Humans are not just social; we have evolved to be social as a means of survival. Belonging is way, way more important than we tend to admit to each other.”

While it’s easier to dismiss the notions of strangers you don’t agree with, like many Americans, Guzmán’s divisions can be found right in her own family: Her parents, who immigrated from Mexico, voted for Trump in 2016 and she did not. Reactions to her revealing this information in conversation is, in part, what sparked the book. For Guzmán, and many others, continuing to engage with family and friends is a necessity in order to preserve those relationships—and that includes navigating political stances you don’t share and the misinformation that further complicates those positions.

Wrestling with this kind of engagement is a contentious topic, for both liberals and conservatives, that has garnered plenty of think pieces from mainstream media—and yes, Guzmán has heard a lot of skepticism. But curiosity, for her, is a fundamental way of approaching the many things that divide us. “The way I see it, when you can’t get curious across divides in a polarized world, you can’t see the world at all,” she says. “So, what is naive is thinking that the slice of the world, and the pieces of perspectives that you’ve been exposed to in our extraordinarily divided world, gives you a good enough picture of the world to navigate it well, in your own life.”

Lest anyone confuse the issue, Guzmán’s perspective is about gathering information—and that’s vastly different from condoning it. But the connection between the personal and political is so strong that many people express to her that attempting to engage the other side with curiosity feels like a betrayal to themselves or the communities they care about. “If I could change one attitude, it would be that one. We have this idea now that just by bearing witness to someone else’s story, we are doing harm,” she says. “And as a journalist for almost 20 years, I can tell you that’s bullshit. We need to get over that; it’s almost like we’re afraid of ourselves.” She says her experience and research have shown that assumptions one side holds about the other are more exaggerated and unsavory when living in a more polarized world, and the news and social media we interact with can help deepen that ideological isolation from each other. “I think that we fail to see the skewing influences all around us. Or, if we do acknowledge them, we fail to act to counteract them.”

The news media can be a major player in how we receive information and judge what others might be thinking. “Everybody
s attention is the product,” says Guzmán, “the easiest way to get your attention is to scare you, to thrill you, to side with you.” It’s much harder, she explains, to get attention by presenting the complexities around issues in a nuanced manner. News media, like so many things, is driven by economics—and what sells are bites of information and commentary that reflect back the popular thoughts and feelings of their viewers. Additionally, we increasingly have the ability to customize our viewing and listening experiences to an extreme degree that funnels our perspective. Another huge factor? The decline of local news and journalism, which has taken a toll on civic engagement and governmental transparency, and larger, national media sources, on both sides of the political divide, fill the void by giving people what they want—but maybe not what they need.

“My biggest hope is that people start to see their own power and understand that asking one more question of curiosity in their own conversations, in their own lives, makes a difference.”

With the internet still relatively new in human history, Guzmán says it will take some trial and error to figure out the media models that better provide information that people want and need. But there are real reasons to worry that incurious ways of thinking are making serious inroads into policies that affect everyone. Whether it’s effectively banning abortions or removing Black-authored books from school districts or even a fear of elections collapsing into chaos, there are certain politicians, and their supporters, who are leaning into sewing further division. Guzmán argues that we still do live in a democracy that allows us to push back, express ourselves, and change things—even amidst polarization. “A lot of policy is driven by fear. And a lot of fear is driven by incuriosity. So, the medicine is curiosity when folks start to make policy that’s very reactionary,” she says. “Can we get past the anger and the rhetoric? And can we see the concerns and the values beneath them, and can we put them on the table? Can we get curious? I think once we can do that, we can make better policies.”

However, Guzmán’s belief in curiosity depends on action: real, open engagement—from both sides. It follows that both people in the discussion would need to be genuinely curious, honest, and vulnerable with a person who may not agree with them. Despite the cynicism she encounters, Guzmán thinks it’s still possible to have these types of interactions. “What I most fear is that we will continue to be so afraid of each other that we can’t turn to each other and hear the truth,” she says. “We are looking for truth everywhere except each other’s stories.”

So what does that engagement look like? “My biggest hope is that people start to see their own power and understand that asking one more question of curiosity in their own conversations, in their own lives, makes a difference,” says Guzmán. “You don’t need to go out and have a huge movement, although that would be nice, but in your own life, get curious about this stuff and you will make a difference.”

Perhaps you are interested in asking questions, but don’t know where to start, or, you’ve tried to engage, but things didn’t go well. “One of the big pieces of advice I give is to treat our opinions as snapshots. We often communicate our opinions as monuments to permanent conviction. But the truth is, we are changing our opinions all the time,” she says. “We just aren’t open about that; that happens inside our own heads. And it's a very natural and beautiful and very organic process.” After all, none of us entered this world perfect. It takes curiosity, learning, and listening to shape our opinions and look at things with a fuller, more informed scope.

If your goal is to get an honest opinion from someone who may be ready to throw up defenses, source misinformation, or build up emotional walls, then how you ask something can be just as important as what you ask. Guzmán says there are two kinds of questions to ask when engaging topics of disagreement in a curious way: “The first is questions about experiences that lead people to their opinions. So, ‘How did you come to believe X, Y, or Z?’ The second is questions about concerns,” she says. These can be framed as, What worries you about X? with X meaning anything from gun regulations to climate change. “And the other side of the question of concern can also be questions of hope,” says Guzmán: What would you hope to see happen with X?

Questions of concern and hope are important, she points out, because they center values, albeit, values that may be stacked in a different order than yours, depending on the person. “Our lives lead us to a different sort of rank ordering of values,” Guzmán explains, but the key, for both participants, is to listen and be open to changing their minds—or to at least look at the pieces of information they may not have had before, and see how that fits into a larger view of the issue. And you may not succeed in getting someone to drop their rhetoric and admit what’s at the heart of the issue for them. But, for Guzmán, there’s value in the attempt.

To be clear, Guzmán isn’t advocating that you start off by finding the nearest extremist and give them the floor to air violent views; but rather, to apply your curiosity in conversation with someone who may stack a particular value differently from yours. That can help create a more meaningful dialogue. Guzmán says to start by asking yourself what questions you genuinely have, and practice forming them in a way that can help fill the gaps between what you know and what you want to know. If it’s easier, choose someone familiar to you, ask questions of how they came to believe something and what their hopes and concerns around it are—and see where it leads.

“Question asking is an extraordinary thing.” says Guzmán. “When you go someplace that inspires new [knowledge] gaps inside you, and you then follow your curiosity where it leads—with courage—life becomes an adventure in a whole new way.” In other words: Start thinking like a journalist. By Nia Martin

Local Resources

The idea of engaging with people and ideas you don’t agree with can be intimidating, but there are many local resources that can help. Here are some that Guzmán recommends, in addition to her upcoming book and current newsletter

Attend virtual or in-person events on political topics with the following entities: 

Seattle CityClub
Seattle Arts and Lectures
Town Hall Seattle

Many local journalists and news outlets also have lectures, series, events, and more on the current political landscape, so check out calendars for: 

The Seattle Times 
South Seattle Emerald 


Another idea? Guzmán advises heading to a different neighborhood and hitting the pavement. “Place yourself somewhere different, a part of the city you don't know, and look around. What draws your attention? Go into those shops and businesses. Walk around those parks and read the inscriptions by the pieces of public art. The city is full of surprises.”

She Made It

This issue, we’re trying something a little different, shouting out a few women makers getting us through this month of slightly longer days and (maybe) in-progress resolutions.
Green Space
Live Long and Plant’s sweet terrarium kits and succulent gift boxes (plus other plant-based home goods) are giving us life this season. Ellise Uyema has a lifelong love of plants that started with her childhood in Hawai’i. Now in Seattle, she’s ditched the corporate world to follow her passion, sparked by transforming her many empty candle jars into terrariums.
Happy Sips 
Dry January-ers might consider
Jøyus, West Seattleite Jessica Selander’s line of non-alcoholic wines. She launched the biz last year for those who, like her, want the flavors minus the rest (she’s 15 years sober herself). The sparkling rosé and white are made in California, where the alcohol is removed while preserving other flavors.
Dark Lit 
Lean into these cozy months with Evergreen: Grim Tales & Verses from the Gloomy Northwest, an anthology of stories, essays, and poems from 56 PNW writers, compiled by editors Sharma Shields and Maya Jewell Zeller. Pieces dig into themes such as environmentalism, colonialism, toxic masculinity, loss of faith and more, and play with alternate futures and fantasies. It’s published by boutique Spokane-based publisher Scablands Books, get it here.


What to see or do this week/end

With Covid-19 variants still a substantial risk, outdoor large event and indoor masking is in effect in the state of Washington—even if you are vaccinated. Protect the health and lives of your community and get vaccinated and boosted if you haven’t already. Below, we’ve highlighted some ways to support and engage with the community.

Amplifier’s recent campaign, “Still Essential,” celebrates portraits of essential workers taken during the pandemic, which have been reimagined by Tacoma artist Paige PettibonDownload them for free.

Donation Only Temple Space is a 100% donation-based, all abilities practice helmed by Terilyn Wyre. She leads classes virtually from her Whidbey Island home and in-person and virtually from the Jet City Labs space in West Seattle. She’s currently fundraising to alleviate impacts of Omicron, among other things. Donate, and check out a class here.

For those getting their “veganuary” challenge on this month, consider purchasing vegan goods. Seattle bag company Sea and Pine just launched its latest collection of sleek clutches and totes with a new feature: Owner/designer Jenny Ho made them from cactus leather, one of the newest materials that mimic the look and feel of leather. Find them here.

Celebrate the upcoming launch of
Rain City Clay (Rat City Studios’ sister location coming to West Seattle this spring), with a reception on January 15th from 6–8 p.m. hosted at Brace Point Pottery. Meet RCS owner Deb Schwartzkopf and the team, plus take in the “Introductions” exhibition, showcasing 60+ ceramic artists. Proof of full vaccination and masks required.

Blk Sunflower founder Jazmin Richards recently kicked off a new venture, Blk Sunflower Academy, to help those wanting to start, or promote and market, their own business. Sign up for her Zoom class on January 22nd.

Gray days call for yummy bites—
and Bake Shop has you covered. Opened in Queen Anne at the end of 2021, the all-day cafe is headed up by Krista Nelson and Madeline McDonald. Try their chocolate tahini cake with an espresso, or a charcuterie board paired with a glass (or bottle) of wine.
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