I don’t know about you, but I had myself a very nice, down-home, Norman Rockwellesque type of Easter back at my family’s home in Michigan. Ham, egg hunt, family members both embraced and avoided — the whole nine yards, really.
That was that, and then there were my forays into Detroit. In two days, I went all over town; I visited the DittoDitto digs where I talked to co-founder Maia Asshaq about the Detroit literary scene, how DittoDitto came to be, and whether or not she might benefit from an intern this summer. Between moving her shop from a gorgeous coworking space in Eastern Market to a brand new spot in Corktown, she said she could use all the help she can get. At the Salt & Cedar / UDP:D letterpress studio, I got to see how Matvei Yankelevich, co-founder of Brooklyn’s own Ugly Duckling Presse, helped transform what was a live-in printshop into a gorgeous studio and bookstore during his resident directorship these past few months. Turns out they could use an intern too, and the perks would be learning all about hand crafting gorgeous books, and the finer points of letterpressing. Music to my nerdy ears. One of the good folks at S & C pointed me in the direction of The Scarab Club, a 100+ year old piece of Detroit’s living history.
The signatures of famous artists such as Diego Rivera, the pertinently aforementioned Norman Rockwell, and Marcel Duchamp all grace the ceiling beams of the second floor lounge. The first floor is a more modern looking art gallery and a venue for poetry and fiction readings. They’re looking for volunteers as well – anybody else want to make the jump?
On my second trip, I stopped by the Heidelberg Project. This has become something of a tradition for me, and those who’ve known me for any length of time are probably sick of seeing pictures like this, but these are for the rest of you:
The Heidelberg Project is a gorgeous, open-air art environment that’s been continually remade and maintained over the past 28 years by local artist Tyree Guyton. He’s basically repurposed the whole block with a few cans of paint and a crazy collection of discarded everyday objects. Arson is a chronic issue in Detroit, and in the past few years even this block hasn’t been spared. But the project continues – change and transformation only add to the conversation. From there, I went to the John K King Bookstore – basically Detroit’s version of The Strand. In business since 1965, it’s Michigan’s largest bookstore. Five enormous warehouse floors, filled wall-to-wall with every imaginable book. I wanted to buy them out of all their vintage Purdy editions, but this writer had nothing but lint in his pockets at the time.
While I was there, I exchanged contact info with just about everyone I met, promising to stay in touch, and asking them to reach out if they’d heard of any job or housing opportunities for the summer. I was back in Brooklyn for about 48 hours when I got a call from Maia Asshaq’s former next door neighbor; he had some interesting information to share. First off, he has a room for sublet, for the entire length of my summer vacation. Second, it’s furnished – I’d have a bed, a desk, and a dresser (more than I can say at the moment, here in Fort Greene). Third, he has a bike he’s willing to let me use. Fourth – and here’s the real kicker – he’s going to be in New York City in late May, playing with his band, and he’d be willing to give me and my luggage a ride back to Detroit. I’m not one to believe in signs, but I do appreciate a freshly paved path; it wasn’t long before I was ready to pull the trigger, and commit to a summer in Michigan, getting stories down on paper, getting involved the local literary scene, and learning how to make books by hand.
As much as I want to lock down these opportunities, I still haven’t pulled the trigger. I’ve run it by a few friends here, and most can’t fathom why I would want to sacrifice a summer in the city for a 12-week sojourn in a “post-apocalyptic wasteland.” They say too that I’d be “giving up” on New York, that I’d surely be missing out on all kinds of opportunities here if I left, and that surely if I just try a little harder I can get myself a satisfying job or an internship that can get me somewhere. Though at 9 months in I’m certainly not immune to the charms of Brooklyn living, I still can’t palate the average New Yorker’s conceit that this place above all is where it happens – it’s just another place to eat, move, and talk, but people here pay a premium for the emotional strokes that come with repute by association. Half the people here can’t tell me which time zone Michigan is in; how could I expect them to understand what Detroit really is?
And who said anything about giving up, anyway? New York isn’t going anywhere – but I can, and I can come back too. With experiences in my pocket, and pages, and pages, and pages.