Saturday, November 21, 2009

Another week, another bunch of dang cool things about Detroit.

Three things reminded me this week, again, what a strange and wonderful place this can be. If I had longer to write right now, I would describe it all in greater, subtler, in-the-moment detail with metaphor and show-don't-tell delicacy, but I am zooming off to a something, so: I will summarize.

1) Last Sunday, I was invited by a friend to attend a vegan brunch hosted by Detroit Evolution - a venture run by a couple that teaches yoga, hosts movies, and cooks amazing vegan food, who had just moved their living and working space from Eastern Market to Corktown. The culinary highlight of the brunch was a vegan cinnamon roll that provoked superlatives from even this sworn enemy of the overrated breakfast standard. The cultural highlight of the brunch was the fact that it was hosted by a close friend of Detroit Evolution, Brother Nature Produce, an organic farm planted on 2 acres of city land in one of the most struggling parts of the city. Greg of Brother Nature uses land that would otherwise be sitting empty to grow high quality organic greens, herbs, squash blossoms, and tomatoes, which he sells to local restaurants and at Eastern Market. He is helping improve schools all over the city by running an "Ugliest Schoolyard" competition through which the Detroit Public School that makes the best improvements to its schoolyard - including planting vegetable & flower gardens - will get the best prize. SO - Support Detroit Evolution, Buy Brother Nature Produce! (Brother Nature is done selling for the season at Eastern Market, but you can friend/fan them on facebook - and they'll be starting up an affordable CSA soon! Detroit Evolution will soon be offering classes and sponsors lots of other cool events...check them out on fb too.)

2) On Wednesday, by that same friend's invitation (thank you Emily!), I attended a "virtual tour" of Southwest Detroit hosted by Southwest Solutions, a nonprofit that has been in operation (and growing and evolving) since 1972 - first as a counseling center for the homeless, and now as both a counseling center and a provider of affordable housing as well as other programs like the Go-Getters, a program run for and by homeless and formerly homeless Southwest Detroit residents with mental health concerns. (This past week was National Homelessness Awareness Week). It's not just what SW Solutions does - which is a lot ( - that impresses me so much. It's their groundedness in respect for the people they serve: their clarity that the people they work with are contributors, not clients or customers, but people who can and do give to each other in a positive way on a daily basis. This approach, to me, is as fundamental to ending the cycle of poverty and dependency as is the material assistance provided by organizations like SW Solutions. But it's vital that that assistance continues - and grows. Support SW Solutions!

3) And in a totally different, but also inspiring-in-its-own-way world: I trained at Biggby Coffee in Southfield, a northwestern suburb of Detroit, the same suburb where the school for which I am writing grants is located (a suburb that has gone from being predominantly Jewish to a predominantly Black community in the past 15 years or interesting study in and of itself). Biggby Coffee is a Michigan-born chain that started in East Lansing. I'll admit that when I first moved here, being primed by the subtler coffee shop aesthetics of Seattle, Portland, and Asheville NC, I was skeptical of a place that had day-glo bright colors, frogs as mascots, and sells Slo-Poke candies at the counter. But when a new Biggby opened in downtown/midtown Detroit around the corner from where I lived, my conversion to fandom began. It was completed this week. Biggby truly has some of the most intense training and best customer service policies I've ever encountered or heard of in food service. And some unbelievably tasty drinks - even though coffee purists would probably balk at their extensive menu of non-coffee items - but a I predict that a taste of a Chocolate Chip Cookie Creme Freeze would soften the hardest espresso-snobby heart. And a manager and staff with a very midwestern-in-the-best-sense work ethic and respect for customers and employees alike. So. Buy Biggby coffee, Michiganders! -

OK, off to a potentially dang cool party...which may or may not show up in a future blog post. We'll see. :)

Till later,

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mc Sesquiquadrate N. Node

I don't know exactly what a "Sesquiquadrate" is, and I'm too focused on about 15 other things to look it up now, but I do know that Mc is Mercury, and my mercury is in Libra. I also know that my North Node is in Pisces. And finally - most importantly, I am aware that Mc Sesquidrate N. Node has appeared as part of my daily horoscope, accompanied by the below description (from, repeatedly for the past 8-10 months:

Mc Sesquiquadrate N.node
Nov 16, 2009
Your career and overall direction in life reach a turning point. You no longer want to do just what is practical, secure and logically correct; instead you want to pursue the things that mean something to you. If your job does not express your deeper talents and interests, you may make a job change or you may become more involved with a hobby that is more personally rewarding and motivating than your job. This is a time of questioning your basic values. You must make any necessary changes to get your life to match up better with your inner feelings and instincts, even if some sacrifices must be made. For example, you may decide to accept a lower salary in order to pursue a career that is more meaningful and exciting to you. Try not to become fanatical about following your inner instincts if common sense tells you that your pursuit is impractical. Become aware of your inner purpose. Develop a realistic plan for achieving whatever is truly important to you. Avoid the tendency to become pushy or one-tracked in pursuit of your personal goals.

And so. While I will try not to become "pushy or one-tracked in pursuit of my personal goals," I am wholeheartedly investing in

1) Becoming aware of my inner purpose
2) Developing a realistic plan for achieving whatever is truly important to me.

Hooray for that.

Speaking of: I woke up no fewer than 3 times last week to the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys single, "Empire State of Mind," playing on my clock radio. On Friday night, my brain addled by 3 straight days of online job-applying, I turned on my free TV to dip into the balm of basic cable. What to my wondering eyes should appear but Mr. Z himself, belting out his paean to the city in black leather and shades at the European VMAs, accompanied by a gorgeous, and gorgeous-voiced backup singer who replaced Ms. Keys, who couldn't make the trip. With a look as iconic as Ms. Keys' - Asian features, jet-black shoulder-length hair with bangs, black & white minidress - she beamed her love for the city out with every syllable.

I beamed with her, belting out the lyrics while reminding myself that I currently live in Detroit, and resolved to heed the words of the psychic who told me a week before to "Be where my feet are". I left the cold comfort of MTV2 and solitude to bask in the fabulous chaos of drunken midwestern karaoke and late-night gay boy chatter at 2 Ferndale bars (Dino's and Como's), then the next day, to my old 'hood (midtown) for coffee at Avalon organic bakery, to check out the new City Bird shop, to converse with Claire at the Bureau of Urban Living, and a 2 hour amble with the dog on the gorgeous (and, like most spots in Detroit, blessedly not overdeveloped) downtown Riverwalk.

As I circled the dry "donut" fountain on the almost-empty plaza, was drawn into conversation by a tourist couple from Washington state who had come for the the hockey game (she's a Red Wings fan; he's for the Ducks; but they're still boyfriend and girlfriend, she assured me). They - or rather she, accompanied by the smiling boyfriend's silent nods - praised the beauty and history of the city and described the excitement of "watching them blow up a trailer" on a downtown street for the filming of Red Dawn.

I ended the conversation politely, eager to commune further with the sparkling river and ambling crowd. But before my eager dog and I could join the throng, a woman (tight jeans, sleeveless argyle sweater vest, black straw hipster cowboy hat, black sunglasses, black arm tattoo) called out to let me know that she'd Detroit native who said she'd gone away for 10 years to New Orleans but had to come back, she'd missed it so much. "People are real here," she said. "They check you out and then they're nice to you. In New Orleans, they're nice off the bat, but they don't mean it." "I hear you," I said. "I grew up in the South. It can be that way."

But I'm thrown back to my earlier stop at the Bureau: just before leaving, I stayed to meet & talk with Claire's friend J, a woman with rad burgundy hair, tribal earrings, and a vintage coat, one of those fabulous yet down-to-earth powerhouse detroit hipster jills-of-all-trades - currently editing a music & culture website and giving women's health education workshops - freshly back from a stint of working in New Orleans. "It's the Detroit of the South," she said, "But they're making things happen faster than we are. They're like Katrina? Whatever. They get small enterprise, they get that they have to move on - they're not waiting for handouts, or afraid to admit what's wrong - and they value their history - when I told them we'd torn down the birthplace of motown to put up a parking lot, they were appalled". It's true: this city has been, and still is, crippled sometimes by a deep lack of confidence, a resistance to change, an attachment to the mythology of the past coupled with a lack of care for, and preservation of, the places where that past took place. However: it should be noted that the aforementioned conversation about Detroiters' lack of initiative in entrepreneurship and moving forward took place in a locally-owned shop smack dab in the middle of midtown Detroit, that sells and showcases art, jewelry, and other items by local artisans - in a way that complements its very recent new shop neighbor, City Bird.
And in that moment, Saturday afternoon, I could feel the love on the Riverwalk - the tourists' fascination, the native's loyalty - and even the deep love that J expressed for the city in the midst of her frustrations. I could walk on, breathing in the November air and Detroit River blue, smiling at the people who smile at my dog's happy trottting, being where my feet are, right now, right here, ignoring and then smiling too at the involuntary soundtrack of my mind as it plays, unceasingly, the familiar siren's call: "These streets will make you feel brand new / These lights will inspire you / Let's hear it for New York, New York, New York..."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

(re)breaking the ice.

This post is the real first post of this blog, the one in which I commit not just to naming the blog but keeping it on a regular basis. It is meant to be a means of practicing writing and mindfulness as well as exploring the questions of community, identity, art, and culture that intrigue and confound and compel me on a daily basis - in general, but also as they affect and are affected by the ever-changing, complicated, mythically flawed and fabulous city known as Detroit.

And so. In the interest of breaking the aforementioned ice, here are some recent events that have been shaping the percolation of this blog's long-deferred real beginning:

1) 10 months minus 9 days ago, on January 24, 2009, I moved to Detroit from rural North Carolina. I have a great love of this place - for its deep and layered history and for the new life I see emerging here every day. As well as a deep frustration at times, knowing it could be so much more than it thinks it can be.

2) 3 months, 1 week and 1 day ago, I left the relationship and living situation I was in with sadness that it hadn't worked out but a stronger sense that I was doing what was right for both of us - even if it didn't feel right or easy in the moment. I am deeply grateful not only to be friends with the person in that relationship but also to be feeling even closer to, and more delighted by and for them, as we move further down our individual paths. I am also grateful that I was able to move from one neighborhood I love (midtown Detroit near Wayne State) to another neighborhood I love (south Ferndale) - even if it meant that, sadly, I had to move just outside the city limits. In both places, I have found very positive community spirit, down-to-earth people I truly value & love along with some excellent small local businesses. And who could ask for more than that?

3) 4 weeks plus 1 day ago, on October 16, 2009 - about 14 hours before I started this blog - I lost my job working as a development manager for a human services nonprofit. I had big plans for getting up the next morning and writing a blog post that began, "Yesterday I lost my job. It was the best thing that ever happened to me," and went on to enumerate the many positive and exciting things I would have the opportunity to create and accomplish and experience now that I wasn't working 45 to 50 hours a week researching and writing government grants about prisoner re-entry programs and dental care for low-income children. But, unsurprisingly for my Libra/Southern-raised overachiever only child self, my response has been more complicated than that. It hurt more than I wanted it to, to be let go of from a position that I so wanted to be good at, even if I knew that my boss saw room for improvements (improvements I had been making, but apparently not quickly enough) and even though I knew that it wasn't in my field of expertise (arts/theatre program management & development). More than the ego sting of being told I was "not the right fit" in a job and place where I so wanted to fit, it was painful to lose the sense of purpose I had from knowing I was helping support positive work, helping gain funding for an organization that empowers others in bettering their lives. But deep down I knew it was not my greatest passion, and I knew that I wasn't really thriving in the role or culture I was in. So, the change, while I wouldn't have chosen it, is pushing and allowing me to create a life that is even more closely aligned with my nature and my interests...

4) 1 month minus 1 week ago I turned 40 for the first time. I mean, I turned 40. :) It's not the biggest deal in the world, but it's not something I can exactly ignore. And honestly, so far, I really like it.

OK. I think that's enough to get the cubes melting...ching ching! Down the hatch.
I will write more, in a more interesting way, about more interesting things, very soon!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

in other words, creature

i knew i was being picky, and quite possibly just exaggerating, but i couldn't start the new blog without the right title. for a while it was "illuminating company," or "illuminating co," a reference to edison's early electric company in detroit and a play on "company"...illuminating company = shedding some light on relationships and the social. maybe i'll do that blog someday. but it didn't feel right now. here's what does. i was looking for lots of creative-ish words in the thesaurus when i ran across "creature". and low and behold, right after "quadruped," what a lovely trio of words. the perfect title for a blog. (see last sentence below). more on that tomorrow. but for now, hurrah, i've started, and that is that!

Main Entry:creature
Part of Speech:noun
Definition:being, beast


animal, body, brute, creation, critter, fellow,individual, living being, living thing, lower animal, man, mortal, party, person, personage, quadruped, soul, varmint, woman


abstract, inanimate