I’m sluggish and winter is not quite over. Today I got the last piece of furniture I needed to feel like my house was completely furnished—a dining room table. If you’ve seen photos of the brave new home, then you know there’s not really a dining room, but a bench that comes off of my kitchen counter. In the professional photos there is a prop table—it’s a real table, just not one I owned. I’m sitting at the table now, writing. I picked it out at Fred’s Unique Furniture on Livernois. There is something intensely comforting to me about having a table specifically for breaking bread with other people. It’s a kind of nostalgia for me. Growing up, my family ate dinner together every night. Most of the time my dad cooked, after coming home from work. No television, no phone calls, just the four of us sitting at the table and eating. It seems almost antiquated when I think about it now, considering how screen-centric our world has become. And of course, I live by myself, my table is already cluttered with folders, books and other detritus. As much as I enjoy having a solitary space to do whatever I want, it’s daunting too.
I’ve been chastising myself a lot lately for not getting out more. I’ve not be entirely sequestered, but for the most part, I feel like I’m finally processing not just what it means for me to be here in Detroit, but what it means for me to be and live in this next chapter of my life. This requires saying "no" often, to events I want to go to In order to do work of one sort or another. One of the things that has struck me this past week is that I haven’t thrown a house-warming party. I promised myself I would do it in February, and now it’s March and my schedule starts to clear up around mid-April. By the time I get around to actually planning it, it will likely be for my birthday, which is in June.
It’s easy to stay holed up when it’s below freezing and the ground seems hell-bent on throwing your knees out, but it’s a little more difficult when things begin to thaw. Part of me wishes for some sort of instantly cheerful Disney-style transformation of the world, where the birds are chirping and the sun is shining over the city, but it’s only a very small part. Instead I’m trying to move slowly during a time when everything I need to do feels pressing and urgent. I keep looking down and finding metaphors. The snow banks that have become miniature street ponds, the potholes that were actually better when they were filled with ice, the layers of dirt and garbage that have been hidden from view, the pooling water at the edges of my yard that haven’t found their way into the mud yet—I don’t know what they are metaphors for, all I know is that I look around and I feel like the world around me is a mirror.
The other night an ambulance appeared on my street in the middle of the night. No sirens, just flashing red lights. I’m not sure what happened, but I know I began to tremble violently when I saw it. It was like stepping on what I thought was solid ice to find a ten-inch deep hole of freezing, filthy sludge around my foot. It’s been over twelve years since my father passed away, but the one thing without fail that triggers those memories is seeing ambulance lights swirling in the middle of the night. I’m almost thirty. I find it obnoxious when people complain that they’re getting old when they turn thirty. For me, however, it is something that I think about because my dad died when he was 42. He was diagnosed with kidney disease when he was 35. I don’t tend to think about mortality in any typical sense of longevity, but significance. I have never considered the possibility of living to 100 years old. I can barely fathom the possibility of fifty. I take time in increments of enjoyment and impact. I want to be having fun and doing what I came here to do. I don’t always do the best job at balancing both. And sometimes I feel like I’m not doing the best at either, but overall it suits me to think about a moment or period of time in this way. It’s how I’m able to loosen the restraints that fear tries to place on me. If I lived like I was trying to run out a shot clock that expires at 42, I would run myself ragged, and I have and it cost me more than it was worth. It took a huge upheaval in my life to learn how to go a bit more slowly, to allow myself to breathe.
I feel like moving has been a kind of adrenaline kick to my life. Coming to Detroit happened in a delirious rush, unpacking and painting took a full two months, and getting the hang of what I’m doing…well, that’s still in process. For the most part, I’ve been able to keep fear at bay. It’s not easy in Detroit, honestly. I’m not saying this because I am easily spooked by statistics about crime or fires or anything of that sort, but because the reminders of fear are constant. It happens when I exit a car and run into a store quickly, invariable, the car doors are locked upon my return. It happens when I’m having a casual conversation with a funny Uber driver who reminds me of my dad, when he makes a joke about how I should have told him we were going to the east side, because he would have come strapped. It happens every time my phone buzzes, signaling a flare up on the neighborhood text chain. It happens when a reporter is interviewing me, but explains she’s a bit out of sorts because a close friend of hers was recently shot one minute after she left his home. It happens, and then it dissipates, for me. It doesn’t dissipate for the young people that I work with, the ones who write about not going outside in their neighborhoods, or the recently burgled, or the hungry or shelterless. All of those things can be compounded into a kind of trauma of place, and I don’t think they are specific to Detroit, but they are tied up in poverty and underground economies that exist everywhere.
Overall, I find the conversations that remind me of the fearful Detroit, the one you (I) have been warned about to inform me more about peoples’ interior lives than the external on the ground reality. This is to say, everyone is telling the truth, but it’s not nearly as bad as some people would have you believe. I’ve had my house broken into on the swanky East Side of Providence, RI. I have never been mugged anywhere, but the closest I came was a mile away from where my biological father grew up. I can’t count the number of times I was certain I was about to be kidnapped while living in Brooklyn, walking alone at any hour of the day as a car slowed down beside me. Fear is real, it is a powerful and potent drug, and it shouldn’t define a place or its inhabitants. Detroit is a wild and beautiful city filled with exceptional people that cannot be described by statistics or the actions of the violent and unstable. I’ve lived in cities that are consistently described as prestigious landmarks and felt far more threatened in my daily life than I have here. I know that summer often marks my perspective on a place, and we're still far off from its swelter.
In a most cities, the warm weather brings people out in public places, basking in the sun and joining together. The dark side of that is also peak season for violence. I've been thinking about this a great deal, particularly since I've moved not because Detroit has any monopoly on summertime bloodshed, but because since I've moved, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has been steadily protesting, and a number of Muslims in America have been attacked or killed. I think often about Zubair and Nabila Rehman who testified before congress in 2013, and talked about how clear skies made them fearful, because cloudy days prevented drone attacks from happening. I think this relates to poor/working class communities of color, the way we love the sun but fear the funerals summer may bring. And this year in particular, grief has been at the forefront of my mind. I've met a number of people in Detroit who are grieving the recent loss of someone they love, not all due to violence, but taken from this existence before their loved ones were ready to see them go. In my own life, I know this kind of grief can easily beget fear--fear of health, time, sudden violence, mortality. Every passing reminds us how temporal and temporary life can be. I think of winter as a season of death. I suppose that's a common trope, but true nonetheless--the plants and tree leaves die away, and we're left with skeleton trees and frost. I always hope to emerge in the spring, to move into the season with new insights, reinvigorated and anew, but some years it's a bit slower, a bit more complicated than others. I think this may be one of those years.
I’ve had a great deal of fortune come my way over the past year, and it is a blessing to be able to move about freely, to live as a writer, to have my health and wits about me. This scares me more than most things. I have said this before, but I think any good news has to be coupled with some travesty. It’s an old habit that hasn’t yet gone away. And yet, so far no anvils have fallen from the sky. It hasn’t been easy all the time, but I frequently find myself in the company of likeable, kind and warm strangers. At this stage in my journey here in Detroit, I've started to feel a bit like a crocus poking it's first tendril finger above soil. I’ve made new friends, and I feel like I’m thawing, getting acclimated, ready to see how many bodies I can fit around my new table.
Inaugural Write A House Recipient