Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s new memoir The Freezer Door, available November 24th, describes a search for belonging and connection in pre-COVID times — a story told through vignettes of desire, intimacy and social interaction in bars and public spaces on Capitol Hill. She wondered if it would still be relevant during its pandemic release.
“I was worried because I wrote the book very much in a present tense and it’s very much about what I consider now,” Sycamore said. “[But I’ve found] the themes of loneliness and alienation and the search for connection are actually even more accessible to people.”
Told in a mix of prose and poetry, Sycamore takes the reader through her daily life experiences visiting Capitol Hill landmarks from Volunteer Park to the Broadway Market, all the while reflecting on queerness, embodiment, trauma, loss, desire, belonging and the gentrification of the neighborhood and city at large.
A free online launch event for The Freezer Door takes place Thursday, November 19th at 7 PM. You can register at hugohouse.org.
“A lot of the book is about searching for connection in a world that refuses it,” she says, “looking for the places and spaces and the moments when people let down their guard.”
Much of Sycamore’s search for connection takes place in E Madison’s Pony gay bar — a space where she describes not necessarily fitting in as a queer person on the transfeminine spectrum.
“In the past, I’ve wanted to create or find spaces that reflected my values as a radical queer person: anti-consumerist, anti-capitalist, trying to build a flamboyant world not predicated on dominant norms and challenging both gay and straight normalcy,” she said. “Those are still the values I believe in, but I don’t believe necessarily that there are spaces that are not corrupt. So in some ways the book is about going into spaces that I already know are corrupt in order to try and find what isn’t.”
Sycamore moved to Seattle — to her Boylston and Republican apartment — in 2012 after having spent brief stints in the city throughout the ‘90s. She’s penned three novels and a previous 2013 memoir titled The End of San Francisco. Much of The Freezer Door was completed over 2014 to 2017, beginning in its earliest stages as part of Hollow Earth Radio’s Furnace Reading Series and the Hugo Literary Series.
It’s clear Sycamore loves living on Capitol Hill, from the neighborhood’s walkability and natural surroundings to the “density of queerness.” But her latest memoir gives perspective on the challenges of forming connections in cities more broadly, recalling her experiences in San Francisco and New York City and what is known here as the “Seattle Freeze.”
“In a way the saddest thing to me about Seattle is how closed off people are to that interaction in public,” she said. “I feel like maybe this pandemic offers us the opportunity to rethink that.”
She’s noticed a shift in the ways people interact with one another and in public spaces since the start of the pandemic, particularly with the sustained wave of protests over structural racism and police brutality as well as the citywide “joyful noise” each night in support of front line workers.
“In that moment we’re all together and we’re united against the pandemic and against structural racism and just against alienation,” she said. “I’m keeping that going as long as possible, it’s still my favorite moment of most days.”
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