And Still I’ll Rise: Detroit City Rocks

And Still I’ll Rise: Detroit City Rocks

i'll riseWhere can you find a vibrant and creative city, with glorious architecture, great music, terrific restaurants, inexpensive accommodations, plus an art museum that rivals the best that North America has to offer?

Detroit.

Yes, you heard me, Detroit. Last fall, when some of my friends heard that I was planning to visit the city, they said, “Be careful.” They’ve heard all the bad press: Detroit is purported to be a city in a death spiral, a grim urban hell hole, plagued with out-of-control crime and — if you listen to the scaremongers — a place to meet desperadoes who will steal your car at gunpoint and leave you for dead in a heap on the sidewalk.

First off, let’s get some perspective on the crime issue. There are bad guys in every major north American city. Detroit has high rates of crime, most notably a bad record for Violent Crime, but there are other cities that far outrank it in some of the other leading categories.  For example, if you want to get robbed or have your car stolen, your best bet would be Oakland, California.

For some good old Larceny-Theft, you might try San Antonio, Texas or St. Louis, Missouri or maybe even Anchorage, Alaska  because they all topped Detroit.

As expected, I saw lots of this:burnt house

And this: mess

But I didn’t expect to see this:  red bullOr this:  waterfront

Or this: churchOr this: another church

The word that kept coming to mind as I walked around town? Vibrant. Not grim as I had been told to expect. Not at all. On the contrary: Detroit is a fascinating and lively city, populated with friendly, resilient people.

Both my visits to Detroit were a blast. I say both because I went back for a second time to visit the Detroit Institute of the Arts (DIA),  which I missed on the first visit and absolutely had to go back to see it. DIA

The Diego Rivera murals are, of course, stunning as well as the collections of artworks by American artists Audubon, Cassatt, Church, O’Keeffe,  Rothko, Whistler, Wyeth, Wyatt and Warhol to name just a few plus important pieces by Van Gogh, Bruegel, Tintoretto, Picasso, Matisse, van Eyck, Rembrandt, Poussin, Cezanne, Degas, Rodin, Manet, Monet, Gauguin and much, much more.

As an aside: the DIA collection,valued at more than one billion dollars, is one of the best in on the continent, . Worth far more than the sum of its parts though, as a collection itself, it is a rich story of USA history and heritage, and as such, is a state and national treasure. If the collection were ever to be even partly sold off to satisfy creditors, it would be an incredible and everlasting shame. If the state of Michigan is smart, it will move mountains to prevent such a travesty from ever happening. To this pair of Canadian eyes, Michigan is incredibly lucky to have the beautiful jewel that is Detroit.

While in Detroit, I never once felt scared or threatened, although I locked my car and tucked my iPad under my sweater on the passenger seat. I do that in Toronto too. I drove all over the city, and while I admit there were a few spots I bypassed because they looked a bit sketchy, there were many more that felt normal and safe. I was fascinated to see, on so many streets, derelict shells of houses beside beautiful, well-maintained homes.

And some people have interesting approaches to creating curb appeal. odd house in detroitAbandoned buildings and factories abound beside examples of the finest architecture you will see anywhere in the beautiful ruinsMidwest. Detroit is incredibly beautiful even in it’s shabbier places:

dream is now

The graffiti is the finest in the world and I do not say that tongue-in-cheek. The street artists in Detroit have done the city a huge favour. The graffiti is abundant, vibrant, splendid, artful and a joy to look at. (I hope the city preserves this particular aspect of its urban heritage.)

The city and its denizens are proud. And for good reason.

eastern market jamsmichigan crisp applesThe Eastern Market is hands-down the best market I have ever visited, with over 250 vendors offering fresh local produce and wares.

 

There’s even a mushroom man who sells all kinds of truffles, Portobellomushroom man, oyster, porcini and more.

 

 

And did I mention Detroiters are friendly? I dropped a small handful of change while at the market and no fewer than three smiling strangers swooped down to help me pick it up.

library interiorBut wait! There’s more! There’s the flat-out gorgeous Detroit Public Library. Interesting museums The zoo. Belle Isle State Park, a free and lovely island green space connected to the mainland by a bridge. I could go on and on, and I do to anyone who asks. Detroit rocks, my friends.

 

work zone beginsEverywhere I looked, construction and repair was in progress. Workers in hard hats. Demolition companies clearing derelictoutdoor adventure houses and buildings. With so much newly freed-up space, there is plenty of development opportunity. Downtown parking is mostly free or downright cheap — unheard of in many other cities. More importantly, there is abundant space for young families to come and build a new home, on a sweet-sized lot, on a leafy tree-lined street. Existing fixer-upper homes are full of charm and good bones. And they are affordable.

No jobs, you say? Detroit is arms wide open for business. Anyone with a little roll-up-your sleeves grit and determination can make a go of it.  The city is a dream come true for a young entrepreneur who wants to start a business. There’s office space, warehouse space, land for sale. Taxes are relatively low. Infrastructure? All there. Yes, the old girl needs some shoring up but when this city roars back to life — not that I think it ever really died — in my humble opinion, it can’t miss given the tremendous spirit of the people who live there. Investors take heed.

Yes, one of Detroit’s biggest problems, I think, is bad PR. Let’s stop focusing on the bankruptcy issues and start looking at what Detroit has on the positive side of the balance sheet: first and foremost, it has a lot of great people — some newcomers and some settled in from generations back — filled with vibrancy and spirit and a willingness to work hard to rebuild their city.

I chatted with locals whenever I had a chance. Every person expressed the same refrain: I love Detroit. I love living in Detroit. This is my home and it is the best city in the USA.

I tend to agree. and still I'll rise

 

 

Is it Time for Writers to Stop Blogging?

Every time I turn to my blog, fired up with resolve to write a post, the negativity floods in: what’s the point? Everyone and their dog has a blog. Blogging is a waste of time. It’s more unpaid work for writer. Why would I expect anyone to read my blog? After all, popular bloggers like writer/publisher Jane Freedman are now blogging about the idea of giving up blogging. (see Jane’s guest blogger, author LL Barkat’s Its Time for (Many) Experienced Writers to Stop Blogging.

So last night, after posting my 2014 version of the annual Back to the Blog blog post, my mind tapped out its little resistance dance: why. bother. why. bother. why. bother. The quick answer? My amazing agent, Stephany Evans of Fine Print Literary Management, wants me to bother. Authors need a platform to promote their work. Social media: ignore it at your peril.

Since my task is to promote my soon-to-be-published book, The Perils of Pauline, her advice is well-taken. The thing to do look to the voices that say Yes to Blogging, words that will fan my fire. After all, I could use the warmth; it’s freaking cold up here in the middle of a polar vortex (the blog post I should be writing would be a passionate love note to my remote car starter. When it’s 17 below — this morning’s temperature! I know! — I have nothing but deep and abiding gratitude for that wonderful gadget installed on my car engine that makes it start so I can stay indoors, a total shivering wuss, while it warms up. Oh dearest little remote car starter, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways ….).(The other blog post I want to write would be a rant about stupid new terms like “polar vortex.” So much drama! As if an icicle tornado is coming and we are all going to be stabbed through the eyeballs and out the backs of our heads if we dare to take a step outside. As if, in Canada, in January, we never experienced plunging temperatures. The media needs to get a grip. And a remote car starter.)

That positive voice would be found in Dan Blank’s post 2 Strategic and Compelling Reasons to Keep Blogging Plus When to Kill a Blog.

He encourages writers to blog because of  “the long-term value of developing a body of work.” Point taken. Plus, writing begets more writing. For anyone who feels the pressure of writer’s block, what better way to handle it than write your way right out of that paper prison? Nothing to write about? Write about that. Write about your empty bag until you bore yourself to tears and start writing odes to your electric blanket. Electric blanket burning bright, keeping toes warm in the night

Blank also reminds bloggers that a blog is the best way to control your own message. I like that. I have a message! I can write whatever I like in a blog and my words will always belong to me, not Facebook or Pinterest or Google. No one gets to stick a dumb ad for the Ice Cream and Cookies Diet, yeast creams or dating websites beside my name.

Sometimes controlling your own message (MESS-age?) is risky: a blogger is at risk of paying a blog host good money only to utter stupid things online. But, what excites me most about blogging, and the Internet in general, is the extended freedom of speech. For the first time in history, the average person can have a voice, a voice that can travel well beyond the garden fence, well beyond a leaflet on the street — beyond all imagination less than 25 years ago — far out into the world. Speak out, let the words go.

As the song Let it Go, from Disney’s Frozen goes: Let it go, let it go, I can’t hold it back anymore.

See all the lyrics to Let it Go here.

 

 

I Am A Writer: Hear Me Roarrr!

I AM A WRITER.

There. I said it. Boldly. Out loud on this little blog of mine. Does this mean I have written much of anything lately? No. It means I have shown up at the page once or twice in the past (okay, quite a few times but who’s counting?). Past is the operative word in the context of my current writerly output.

Does it count if I show up to my journals often?

Or write emails? I write emails constantly (I can hear the protests oh come, shut up, that doesn’t count, you fakey faker). Uh. Well. I do try to sprinkle in creative turns of phrase, and I even use semi-colons and proper punctuation in my emails. (That’s how writers roll, baby.)

Plus, I managed to crank out a couple of short stories in the past few months. As for daily scraping and scribing like a real writer – the act of regularly writing creative fiction, or nonfiction – not so much.

Here I go. It’s time for me to revamp my blog, revitalize my practice, and put to paper the ideas I have for my novel-in-progress. But where to begin? By visiting a friend’s blog for a sip of good writing juice of course! Ergo, this post is a response to Kevin Craig’s blog post of today. Kevin’s name is one of the top ten that pop up in my mind when I think of writers I know who are consistently hard at it. So I thought to myself: What’s Kevin blogging about today? Maybe his words will trigger some bloggy ideas of my own?

After all, Kevin can churn out excellent blog posts like nobody’s business. He writes like a possessed demon. I know. I’ve seen him at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, head bent over the keyboard, pounding out his awesome stories and catching zzz’s in his sleeping bag in between sentences. None of this slipping away for comfy hotel mattresses and leisurely late breakfasts. Nope, he’s a man on a mission, breaking his back on the floor for a great cause: literacy. And he gets his characters on the page: they get out of bed early, walk around, accidentally set barns on fire and go on safari in Africa. Impressive.

So, here I roll into Kevin’s website only to learn that he thinks he is going through a dry spell. Even though it looks like he has posted daily since 2004. Rumour has it he gets up at 4 freaking a.m. every morning to write. In my dreams I could do that. Dry spell? Compared to him I am drifting in outer space, an arid chunk of chipped grey rock, uselessly hung up somewhere near Pluto, the planet that isn’t even a planet anymore, while Kev is Jupiter, with a bunch of shiny partial manuscripts and sparkling poems like the many moons of Jupiter orbiting his head, full of damp life forms waiting to emerge from steaming primordial alien swamps and … I digress. If Kevin has writer’s block, then what on earth do I call what I have?

A start.

Well, after I praise Kevin and tell him to calm down — hey, Kev, you are a GREAT writer FOREVER, a writer’s writer, the kind the rest of us look up to and try to copy like I did today — I must chill out on my own sorry self. After all, I’ve been out diligently tucking my tailbone under and lengthening my spine, balancing on one foot with palms in prayer position, learning to be a yoga teacher. True story. I am now registered with the Yoga Alliance as a 200-hour RYT. A good excuse? Perhaps. But it’s time for this yogini to step out of Tree Pose and get back to her other roots.

After all, apparently I have a book coming out!

Yes! Astor + Blue Editions, of New York, will be publishing my novel, The Perils of Pauline, this coming May.

Am I ever pumped.  More on this announcement coming soon!

P.S.  Hey, Kevin, how about I send one of my lost and drifting characters to Africa and tell your characters to board the damn plane already?