“The battle has just begun. I will stand to protect the water, the land. I am asking each of you to come stand with us.” -LaDonna Brave Bull Allard
what it was like
I came to Standing Rock in answer to this call. I wanted to lend my energy to the beautiful movement that is being borne out of the glaring act of violence which is the Dakota Access Pipeline. I wanted to learn from those who were standing up to the environmental status quo. I wanted to spend my Thanksgiving in honor of native people rather than over a full plate of willful avoidance back home. The trip was less than a week, with two full days’ driving time, and yet it was a transformative experience. I have the tendency to romanticize and I don’t want to create the idea that it was some sort of fairy tale but in so many ways the place and the movement that is Standing Rock is entirely beautiful. The people, the attitude of work and service, the prayers, the songs, the hope, the solidarity, the reverence to the natural elements- it was all beautiful. I and many others came by choice but, at its heart, this movement is an obligatory act of self-preservation for the Dakota/Lacota/Natoka people. The camp and the movement that drives it is borne out of the very real threat that is the Dakota Access Pipeline. What follows are my observations from my short time at Oceti Sakowin camp. Continue reading “Reflections on Standing Rock”
As a multigenerational caucasian-American, I have lived my life in a position of privilege relative to many other Americans. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, most of mine have been met, and I enjoy the luxury of being able to quibble and complain about relatively minor offenses. It’s always been hard for me to really wrap my head and my heart around a positive notion of America. I usually hedge. I focus on our racist past towards native peoples, african-americans, non-christians and non-whites. I focus on our shortcomings in health care, environmentalism and education relative to other countries. I focus on our ego-driven militancy and subversion of other governments. It’s hard to feel the love.
But, since I moved to Hamtramck, I become unexpectedly and enthusiastically more patriotic than ever. I love that this community exists, I love that it exists in America, I love that I get to be a part of it.
Continue reading “A Patriot is Born- Hamtramck, USA”
Originally published by ModelD Media
In the early morning light, a line of people slowly builds at the front doors of the 36th District Court. A bail bondsman in parachute pants stands patiently beside the line, waiting for the grinding gears of justice inside the building to churn out some clients for him.
The 36th District Courthouse is near the hub of Gratiot’s spoke, in an area that hosts an unlikely mix of functions: large-scale entertainment and criminal justice. Comerica Park and Ford Field are blocks away, and so is the unfinished jail, which is the possible site of a possible arena for a possible MLS team. The court itself is the subject of rumors about being turned into a hotel. Perfect. The sports-and-justice district brings an interesting variety of people here at different times of week and day. Sprinkled throughout are parking lots and hotdog vendors that are surprisingly well suited to both client bases.
Continue reading “Small Claims: A Slow Journey to Justice in the 36th District Court”
I love to read. There are many books that have changed my life through inspiration or escapism or a new way of seeing the world.
I love to write. Poems and songs and essays and stories fill my computer and many journals.
And yet. I never take the time to write to my favorite authors. I ascribe some sort of Otherness to those special people. There is some perceived inaccessibility based on a unilateral relationship wherein they are the source and I am consumer. There is the buffer of the text that separates the author with the reader. A new book exists silently on a shelf and I pick it up. It’s true that many of my favorite authors are long passed- Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Earnest Hemingway, Jerzy Kosinski- but there are many others whose time on earth overlaps mine. my time on earth overlaps theirs.
It many ways it is totally normal not to write to a famous figurehead, but some part of me finds it practically immoral to coexist with someone who has literally changed my life and not tell them so.
So, this year, on Valentine’s Day, I offered back words to those who had moved me with theirs and wrote to some of my favorite authors. It felt heady and surreal to address these titans by name: Joan Didion, Barbera Kingsolver, Cheryl Strayed, Amy Leach, Davis Sedaris, Thomas Lynch, and, Jim Harrison. “Dear Joan” I wrote, with a grin.
The little exercise was immediately gratifying in the act of writing alone, but it became every more rewarding when I got a letter back from Barbera Kingsolver (a form letter, but nonetheless very nice) and a postcard from David Sedaris (hand-written, very very nice).
Then there was this: Jim Harrison died today. When I saw the news, my first reaction was sadness for his passing, quickly followed by a wave of relief that I didn’t let my words of gratitude go unspoken. I was so glad that I got the chance to tell him how his words kept me company on the trail while I hiked the most remote stretch of the Upper Peninsula, how the dead mosquito bodies decorated the pages of Dalva, how I read while walking along straightaways because I was so engrossed, how I began to imitate the writing in my own dairy because he was my sole external influence during those solitary days. I’ll never know if he read those words, but then I’m in the same position he was when I read his.
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
RIP Jim Harrison
There is an additional peace in writing this today because I have made the mistake before of procrastinating until death interrupted and I dearly want to be done learning that lesson.
one Three years ago, I lived in a gleaming sterile 42-story building in midtown Manhattan. Big as it was, it was dwarfed by the Empire State Building behind it– New York has a way of offering a ready reminder that you can always have more. I never wanted to live there in the first place but I’ll admit I came to enjoy the one-on-one yoga classes, the incredible views, and the perspective that comes from living in the middle of a very big something. It was fabulous but shallow. I resented my affection for it. When my marriage started failing, I left.
two The little brownstone in Brooklyn was the epitome of hope and innocence. I believed I would check the box of legitimate adulthood by living alone for once– one short month to be exact. In that time, I’d get out of my system, whatever it was that wasn’t working, move back with my husband, and everything would be back to normal. We’d laugh about it later.
When I made the arrangements with the renter, she said “I’ll be a nice girl from California and you be a nice girl from Michigan and lets just trust each other, ok?”
It was wonderful to insert myself in a space that someone else had made theirs, it didn’t require much imagination to consider that I could make a home like this too. To this day, the smell of Dr. Bronner’s dish soap reminds me of my nascent singlehood. But I had to be out before the end of the month and, with travel for Christmas and New Years, that meant I was moving again just three weeks after moving in and no, I wasn’t ready to go back to my former life.
three Feeling adventurous and pressed for time, I moved into a basement apartment before leaving New York for the holidays. It was farther from the subway, and the quarters were dingier and dirtier, but I was testing my boundaries and I thought it would be cool to live with artists. Moving sucks but this wasn’t so bad. I could fit everything but me and my bike into a single cab and so I cycled behind, unloaded, and poof! I was moved. Continue reading “a portrait of divorce”
Somewhere between the meetings and the writing and the car rides, I learn something that surprises me– I don’t actually want to shave my head. I want to want to do it, but I don’t actually want to. I know that if I do it, it won’t be free– it will take some sort of emotional toll. I think back to my little prayer the other night and I just don’t feel the need to take from myself more than I’m willing to give. I don’t want to have to recover from today if I can help it. If the means to the end of balance requires me to imbalance myself, I don’t trust it.
I especially don’t want to do it now, on new years, for the same reasons that I did want to before. To perform an act like this, on a day and in a way so steeped in symbolism and expectation would all but guarantee my failure.
In the miniscule space between the question and my decision, I’m already almost floored by how effectively I distracted my over-conscientious mind into obsessing about this question. What a ruse! What a joke! I spun an impulse into a thesis statement. All the reasons I told myself were true to a point, but the core of this desire was sheer and sharp, razor blade desperation. I guess I’m not desperate right now.
Three years ago I started the path that began with a divorce and has stirred my restless soul around almost a dozen different residences (you can hardly call them all homes). When I lost most of what I had, I gave up the rest. I had nothing and nothing to lose. But I’m not there anymore. I have a life, I have a lot to lose. It’s taken a lot of time and a lot of work to build the shaky foundation I’m navigating from now, and I know firsthand how much easier it is to destroy something than to create it. Let me be gentle with myself right now, let me not throw away what I have, even if it is just, you know, hair. Continue reading “Volunteer State- Part 5 “Suffrage””
I leave the solitude of my cabin and spend some time in Nashville for New Years Eve. I’m not quite sure how to properly honor the occasion but I do know that I want to see more of what this city has to offer.
I’m self-conscious with my haircut and half-wishing I had already shaved my head in order to practice dealing with its awkwardness in the company of strangers. I can’t tell what exactly it is that I want out of this night. To make friends? To flirt? To have some great epiphany? No way to guarantee any of them but my choices of how I spend my time will make some outcomes more likely than others.
I go to an OA meeting, I take myself out to lunch, I write and drink coffee at a downtown cafe and almost order a cookie. I know where that leads and that is one thing I definitely don’t want for myself today.
As it gets dark I walk around and into a trashy-yet-self-aware “boogey bar” with some of the best free live music I’ve ever heard. Now you’re talking. After awhile I float down the street and into a karaoke bar. To sing karaoke in Nashville was the one cultural goal of my trip and here’s my chance. The bar is pretty much empty and I get picked right away to sing “Bobbie McGee.” I love that song but its hard to sing and Janis is so weird and I as self conscious so I don’t make it through very many of the la la las. Why did I even pick that song? It’s so much longer than I remember, I wish they’d cut me off. At least I did what I came there to do. Continue reading “Volunteer State- Part 4 “Song””
I drive around a lot, partly to get groceries, partly to explore Nashville, and most especially to resume my “reading” of Eat Pray Love in the car. I left the windows down when I arrived in the dark that first night and the rain that so soothed me on my marathon nap also happened to soak the interior of my car, which now smells mildewy and suspicious. No one hurt but me and me hardly hurt, no big deal.
I drive to Nashville and am surprised by my lack of curiosity. Maybe it’s the grey day, or the good book, or the pedestrian-free sterility I see all around me, but I have no desire to leave my car. I finally park but wait to withdraw my keys until the end of a chapter. And there, as I gaze out the window listening, a large metal sign loosely nailed to its post swings in the breeze to face me and invites me to read it. “Parking By Permit Only” it says. I smile. I didn’t want to get out of the car anyway.
I drive all the way back to the small town near my little cabin, and I pass a few easy at a coffee shop. A woman– apparently a regular– enters to compliments about her hair. She announces that this was the first day she’d worn her hair “down” in 5 years. She’s had cancer. She lost it all, and now it’s back. Such talk to announce in public! My ears perk. Everything seems to be about hair. I see it everywhere. I am self-conscious of mine already– I can only imagine how I’ll feel if I actually shave it. I am so thin-skinned. Will this make me stronger or pierce me? Continue reading “Volunteer State- Part 3 “Spiral””
I sleep for 15 hours. Well, I wake up a few times along the way. But there was no phone or clock to check and my head was impossibly heavy on the pillow. Nothing to do, really. Why not let it happen? Just sleep.
Finally I get up at 3:00 pm still tired. I am sick and the sore throat that started with hearty gospels in the car yesterday has stuck around. I am proud that I have allowed myself this excess. I wonder how I would have accommodated this illness if I were back in my normal life. Would I even press snooze? Would I drink a cup of tea? Would I force myself through yoga and binge my way through the uncomfortable feelings my body was putting out? Whatever it would be, this is certainly gentler.
I walk around the woods awhile, I pick through my books, and I write. From the comfort of the Pepto-Bismol-pink soft-with-age sheets, I write out my lofty goals for my time in this distant place.
- I want to Get Clean: I want to get off sugar. I need a foundation of abstinence to get me through my “normal life.” A controlled environment, a peaceful environment, I believe this will help. I believe abstinence is possible here.
- I want to read: A pile of books sits next to me. I want to pass hours turning pages, get tired, close my eyes, and go back for more. It used to be that I never read a book without finishing it, now the exception has become the rule. Where did my persistence go? I want to indulge my love of learning and be patient with the time it takes to mosey through the countless lines of text. I want to reach the last line and smile.
- I want to write: Always so much to write about. I want to write by hand, in this journal. I want to finally finish my 3rd creation story. I want to write out my confessional to facilitate my recovery. I want to stain my left pinky in ink.
- I want silence.
- I want to shave my head. Well, I don’t really want to, I want to be willing to. I want to be brave enough to. I want the freedom to. The idea first occurred to me just over 3 years ago, when just about everything in my life was different but the aching desire to be free of my addiction to food. The desperation tugged at me then, it does now. A few days ago, my sister cut my hair to give me bangs (with my permission) but she did a very sloppy job (without my permission). Earlier today, feeling like the shave was inevitable, I cut my own hair with a pair of scissors in the mirror of my little rustic cabin. I didn’t like the ends, with their damaged dyed blonde scraggly ends, but now it is short and embarrassingly childish. Nothing is inevitable but I’ve certainly set myself up for a dramatic recoiffiture.
Continue reading “Volunteer State- Part 2 “Sleep””
I came to Nashville for the same reason that I’ve done a lot of things in the past 11 years– to get away, to make a clean break, to start over. This is one of the less dramatic iterations, seeing as I don’t want to fully wipe the Etch-a-sketch clear and start over altogether, I just want to get clean, I want to unmuddy the internal so I can resume the life I am and have been building back in Detroit. Thank god at least for that.
I found this place on Airbnb, I liked the idea of going South, a direction I’ve never traveled on my own before, maybe if I go north and back, south and back, it will be like a seamstress reinforcing a stitch, making it hold tight. This particular place seemed rather perfect– a “writer’s cabin,” a “spiritual retreat.” Done.
It was hard to get away. I spent the night before driving down here sleeping on the kitchen floor of my childhood home alongside the heavy-breathing body of poor sweet Tansy, the dignified elderly doggy now struggling through her 14th year. We didn’t expect her to survive the night. I fed her water by hand an watched as her large head, slow motion, sagged one millimeter per second until it got low enough to where she could drink it herself. Time was slowing for her.
My alarm went off at 4am, signaling my cue to hit the road, I re-set it for another hour. 5:00. 6:00. 7:00. Maybe I wouldn’t go at all. Dad came downstairs and promptly reported to me that my cell phone appeared to be sitting at the bottom of Tansy’s water bowl. Ouch. Maybe I really wouldn’t be leaving.
The phone was revived magically by a bag of rice and Tansy even stood and went outside to pee. I was morbidly upset that she hadn’t died in my presence these past few days, would I now miss it? Do I dare leave only to have her perish while I’m halfway down America’s rusty spine? Did I even want to go? I went. Continue reading “Volunteer State- Part 1- “South””