Cumulus clouds on the horizon. Time in flight slows. I am watching out the window. I am watching the plain in space, blue space, clouds above and in the distance, puffy and thick, moving onwards in their own speed and direction.
Behind me a passenger interrupts my dreaming.
“It’s a magical place, just magical.”
But I am sleeping, half watching and half listening. The lake appears so flat and still as if an ice sheet of blue and grey below. The buildings on its horizon are shaded, small, and you see two sides, a top and a reflected bottom. Two sides to everything, looking from above or below.
I have no sense of location. No sense of what is passing when in flight.
“What do you mean magical?”
“It’s a special place. You see strange things happening there,” she said. The two women were directly behind me discussing a past visit. “Once I was driving and it was Thanksgiving day. I drove right through a double rainbow right on the road. It was so beautiful it almost brought me to tears.”
I feel sleep creeping in the slow haze, sleep like a clouds passing, puffy and closer now whispy at its ends, waking again to hear.
“Then another time I swear I saw this man. He was standing there in the rain. It was raining hard and he was perfectly dry.”
“My friend said to me - did you see that? I did. We both saw it. She asked if we should go back. I said to her, you know if we go back he won’t be there anymore.”
Strange things. Magical things. She is an attendant maybe, talking about the island she once lived on. It was Hawaii. Beautiful. Not like the crowded city of Chicago we were landing in soon. There no rainbow here but a heavy bodied grey mass, a sense of rain, a flight or two canceled, pending storms and their power to disrupt.
“It was tough living there. Couldn’t get along with the locals. Tough to make friends. They were alway skeptical of newcomers. Think we are always just passing through.”
California for days. Lots of tall palm trees on the boulevard to Stanford. Walking slowing in the heat. The leaves like fans, shadows of a hand on the ground, warm welcoming.
I like the way this college town is. I like the people I have met. I ventured to the city but it was large and confusing and I didn’t see much at all in the brief afternoon. I will go back. But there is something about smaller cities I like, the comfort, knowing a place aftering being there just a couple days. Big cities scare me, leave me in a haz.
Traveling along for days in California. Work brings me here, but creativity keeps me.
Alone I wonder who I really am to be. It’s an action: Being. It’s the woman along at the bar. Tasting. Not talking. Reading.
It is a process you see and when away from all who know me I am free but I am still. More quiet. Relaxed. Fine with not speaking for hours. Content with my words in my mind and page. The writer in me is social, craving the interaction and inspiration and also observant. Quiet. Enjoying the setting of ourselves alien.
Where there is lake there is sky wide. And a white house on the hill, long and shore-facing. There are flags every few steps of the way, American flags waving. And a calmness stretched in the air out from the great lake and around this tiny island, a piece of solitude, rest and detachment by it’s own form.
There are no cars here, few stores and resting places. One long main road leads from hotel to hotel. It is a track, a walk or a bike ride needed to get around. Horses clamp down on the pavement slowly taking people to and from the hotels in groups with their baggage. It is calm and busy now, but you don’t see it until you get closer to the house.
On the porch suits of all sizes, a porch of people sitting about or standing, drinking or talking. Mingling is that word that is so accurate, a mixing of back and forth efforts that is a buzz or spread out between the people. Back and forth they come together and break apart again. The porch. The people. The politics that define the color and shape and suite for us all. Comes together and then apart again. Like the water and the waves and the shoreline. Together and apart.
It is damp here in the Dominican Republic. So thick is the muggy heat it feels like an invisible smoke around you. The sun not yet awake with us so nothing to feel other than the damp, damp heat.
I imagine that this is where god said to relax. To breathe when you can, it is too lush to not do anything else but breathe. Lay down. Sleep. Rest your tired mind. This is where you are vacationing now. The fog is here to protect you. Life on the other side is far, far away and unclear, because you are removed from it. You are placed somewhere just for relaxation.
Day one went by quickly. Outside and day drinking and attempting to read at the pool. Dinner at a restaurant by the beach. Then, we finish a bottle and Marc is fast asleep. How quickly one day event slowed and fogged down can pass us by, the others days too pass in this same haze.
I will finish reading several books. Already finished Truth & Beauty, by Anne Patchett on the plane, a must read on friendships, writing, and living an artistic life. Finishing Eat the Document: A Novel. I read that Dana Spiotta was like a Don Delillo, but with more empathy in the postmodern world. Immediately drawn to this description and enjoyed her style very much. I read two others on the flight back: Department of Speculation an interesting form and read but not too moving, and Notes from No Man's Land a great series of essays on what it means to be anyone, aywhere, identity and whiteness and places and their meaning always in flux.
Next up will be to finish a sales book, we are always selling something, and Book 3 in My Struggle, which I have now began to lose enthusiasm, though the first two were mesmerizing, remarkable in style and feat.
Last day on the island. It’s raining, a slow rhythmic drizzle that comes down almost like a shower does, steady and cleansing. The sky is not dark but a thin grey to white color that gives the facade it will leave us any moment, party ways on its own time, swiftly, without your notice or need.
But for now I am sitting, thinking. Wondering about business and life back home, and then not wondering, knowing it is still there all of it still for us when we return. That this urge to know what is happening, what events for the dewey feeling of day to day transitions will part too on its own time.
My sister probably still sleeping. Most of us made it down to breakfast our bodies tired, so many adventures already that today will be more calm. You can feel it as the rain, a sureness, a steadiness that we are thinned out and relaxing today.
I sit and wonder about my time to share my work. So many projects are partially finished, so many stories needing that last polish and push out into the world. I know that I just need to finish. I just need to finish. New ideas. New stories will always arrive, but an idea must be entertained, it must fully live and be listened to before shipping it away. I see others finishing and want to join them on that side of the world too.
Read commentary on new books coming out about Detroit, accusations of others perhaps taking advantage of the time in the city to tell a story. I dislike these projections, such assumptions that because of one’s background they do not have art to share, that their work is easy, entitled, handed off to them. I know somewhere someone thinks this of me, and makes me feel angry, as if all struggles, all pain is unrecognized, immediately pushed aside and unseen. All anyone wants to feel in this world is seen. I think that is what is wanted most from those making accusations too.
Devisiveness is a decoy from love. It is not what divides us but what unites us that is the subject of art, of storytelling. Every story shared offers a glimpse into a human’s soul, no matter their background, and this is of the most important work: to build empathy and bridges of understanding. Whether it is a story of redemption and prison, violence and crack, home ownership, migration and tensions, or family stories long told here. Those who disregard such bridges shut themselves out before listening, learning, connecting on a human level.
Writing a book, making art does not lead to money and fame, not for the real artist, the real storyteller. It comes from a pain, an urge, a need to share and love and understand. The basic need to be seen and heard. The same need that sparks divisiveness and aggression. It is different ways of reaction.
My way to react now is to listen, to always listen. And when someone opens themselves up to share personal, deep and important matters to them, all they want is to be listened to, too.
Earlier this week at Bamboo we held an event that honed in on the shifting narratives of the city and the people in it, called Native <> Newcomer. The conversation was meant to engage those new to the city with those existing to foster more open discussion and collaboration. This is good. It’s what we need and hopefully those who attended saw Bamboo as a safe space to create and converse in.
When we broke out into groups one of the first question asked was: do you identify as a native or a newcomer? But there was no box to check that said both pease, or maybe neither. Maybe I am just visiting here. I find myself looking for my Detroit identity somewhere in my tangled family history sprawled out across race and geography. This is where I am, searching for something else.
But this “Detroit identity” tied to physical place is so strong, so prideful, and almost so absolute. As if you haven’t lived in one area long enough you can not claim it home. Perhaps in a city that’s lost so much and faced so much backlash from outside of it’s borders, the name, the place, the idea of what the place means is treasured and protected so much more. The discussion we had this week reminded me of something I wrote not too long ago:
But yet something has changed, shifted as most things do, from a decline to a potential rise again. More and more of these suburbanites or city newcomers began to carry with them an energy of exploration and sometimes a focused effort to understand and recreate the city. But understanding and recreating can be very different languages. One is observant, listening, finding a time and a line of sight that aims to accept the entirety of the matter. The entirety of the Detroit matter is difficult to grasp. This sort of patient understanding requires the making of time and space to create empathy and respect. The other does not always listen. It is sometimes a fire of creation on its own, for its own endeavors or motivations, whatever that may be. Creation without understanding can lead to a hollow or disconnected function of a greater identity, in this case, a segregated and intensified collected experience of the city that teeters on tension of “new detroit” versus “old detroit,” with fears of loss of identity in the mix.
For me the box of native or newcomer is just one of hundreds I struggle to check off so easily. Identity is dense and shifting. Choosing or rejecting a label can also be an escape, a way to find an excuse for what I fear that I want most from myself.
I struggle to see myself as many things. I am focused on being a creative writer and a business owner. I am a: woman, a writer, a business owner, a partner, a friend, a leader, a community builder, a sister, a daughter, a student of life, a person personified into all of these drawn out roles, seems scary.
When I list them out it feels like a lot to carry and address. What does the woman in me say about this issue? The business owner? The artist? What do others want me to say, or expect of me in this role, is the real question.
Because who said I could be anything at all? And certainly, who said I can fit in and live up to any of these expectations of the boxes someone else labeled and placed out for me? It is those expectations that live inside the fear that can pull down at our heart.
Who gives us permission to create our own identity, if not ourselves?
All of those identities are what I choose. They are who I want to be and it is who I am. Telling myself that I cannot be a multitude of things, or that being one has limits from the other, is an excuse. That I cannot be a native and a newcomer at once, is too absolute, too limiting of a certain truth inside of me. There doesn’t have to be absolutes. The soul does not have these limits unless you allow them. But it is certainly able to feel the shadow selves, the projections of what other expect your identity to mean for you, reflecting back at you inside the mirror of the place and community you want to fit into.