A Collection of Passion

My husband and I attended Founder’s Black Party last Saturday, where specialty limited-release dark beers are featured on tap. We bellied up to the bar for some delicious selections; I chose the Panther Cub with its sweetness of maple syrup and vanilla and my husband chose the Donkey Stout with its chocolatey smokiness. We ordered some blackberry barbecue rib tips from the deli and took all our loot outside to enjoy what was left of the day’s sunshine.

As we ate and drank and enjoyed, we heard a band inside the taproom start to run a sound check. The large garage doors to the taproom were open to let in the fresh spring breeze, but we had our back to the main building and instead stared out onto the city. We heard the expected instruments each try out their microphones—the drums thumped, the guitar strummed, the bass guitar grumbled.

Then we heard a woodwind. “Is that an oboe?” my husband asked me. We both turned around and peered inside. A tall young lady with blonde hair was chirping on a clarinet.

“Well, that’s unexpected,” I answered.

The next sound check came from a skinny man with a small ponytail. He practiced his trombone into the microphone. Over the next half hour, a collection of different instrument sounds wafted from the taproom and out onto the patio in endless succession: a mandolin, an accordion, a wooden flute. It was the longest and most interesting sound check I’ve ever heard.

Our curiosity eventually lured us inside just as their set was about to start. A banner with the name “The Collection” was draped in front of the keyboard. We turned our attention to the bar for a moment to order a second round, and when we looked back at the stage, we were met with a surprise—the entire band put on what looked like Venetian Carnival masks. I wasn’t sure what to expect next now with this eclectic masquerade unfolding before me. I leaned over to my husband and whispered in his ear with a chuckle, “I don’t know if I’m drunk enough for this yet.”


The band began to play, and the upbeat music had me instantly and uncontrollably tapping my foot. All the instruments blended together perfectly and their musicians switched between them fluidly and flawlessly. One minute I spotted the man in the back playing a banjo, and the next second he had moved onto the didgeridoo (a freakin’ didgeridoo, guys), and I never saw him switch the instruments out or noticed any note out of place.

It wasn’t just their skill or their melody that lured me in. It was the sheer enjoyment they got out of playing. They weren’t playing to impress the audience. They weren’t even playing to boast of their abilities. They were playing for the sake of playing, because that was what they loved to do and wanted to do in that very moment.


A man with a full beard tangoed with his bass guitar, taking nimble steps back and forth across the stage. The man with the ponytail closed his eyes and turned his face towards the heavens as if performing this song was a spiritual act for him. The ladies on the left side of the stage sang every word instinctively under their breath, though it wasn’t their turn to sing. They were fans of their own band. The songs they played were their favorite songs.

And it was infectious. I smiled a wide open smile throughout their performance. I didn’t want to blink because I didn’t want to miss a minute of their joy.

When they played “The Gown of Green” with its hypnotic beat, the audience nodded their heads together in sync. There were people of all ages, of all walks of life in the crowd, but it didn’t matter. The band had united us. We moved as one.

I think part of what surprised me and entertained me so much with this performance was the fact that, yes, they were so obviously passionate about their art. But I think it extends farther than that. They were passionate about life. They were excited to live; because they were living, they were able to play. And that may sound strange—of course they’re happy to be alive. Yet I think it’s so easy to forget how wonderful passion can be. The older I get, the more I can feel it draining from me and getting replaced with responsibility and routine. I hold onto it with white knuckles, refusing to let it go entirely. Because I believe that passion is the means to happiness. I’m most happy when I’m passionate about what I’m doing.

The Collection taught me a valuable lesson. I don’t want to write because I want to impress the audience or boast of my abilities. I want to make sure I write because it’s what I love to do and what I want to do in this moment, because it’s what I have passion for. I want to be my biggest fan. I want what I write to be my favorite story.

As we walked out of Founders, the sun long gone and the fires on the patio glowing bright, I still had a smile on my face, a melody in my head, and a passion burning in my heart, all put there by The Collection.

Writing Prompt: Storms

The swift air slaps me awake and I gasp, startled and afraid. The blinds blow into the room, floating in front of the window like a ghost. Rain is pounding the grass in my front yard and I get out of bed and feel the screen. Mist dampens the sill and the floor. I push the window down with effort until it slams shut. The blinds relax. The room is silent.

We watch storms come in across the bean field on the other side of the road. We sit protected under our covered porch on a wooden bench and feel the wind change against our face, breathe in the fresh smell of forthcoming dampness, and watch for bursts of light to flash in the clouds. One, one-thousand, two one-thousand—BOOM, the thunder crashes. And we remain on the porch. This is a spectator sport.


image from theenchantedhome.co

Sometimes we sit in lawn chairs in the open garage. As the wind brings the rain closer to our bare feet and legs, we push our chairs back to keep dry. I remember one evening when the sky turned an eerie and beautiful lime green. The wind calmed. We held our breath, waiting for funnel clouds to form in the infinite stillness.

When I was young, I had to be carried out to the school bus when it was raining. Our driveway was dirt and gravel and thousands of worms would writhe on the ground. I couldn’t walk around them, and I refused to walk on them. The neighbor girl offered me her back. I crushed her bookbag as I wrapped my legs around her small body. She carefully but hastily tip-toed down the driveway. I kept my eyes on the ground, my feet safely two feet above the slithering serpents.

*What was the scariest storm you lived through? Do you enjoy storms or do you hide under the bed? Set the timer and write it all down.*

In Defense of Literature

It was a beautiful spring day, bright and sunny, and students dotted the grassy knolls with open books in their laps, cramming for their final exams, as I hurried across my alma mater’s campus toward the English hall to watch a friend defend her Master’s thesis. I reached the conference room just in time and took the first empty plush chair inside the door. Her professors, who once were my professors, sat expectantly across the table, dressed up and sipping coffee from paper cups. In front of each of them laid a stack of paper filled with thousands of my friend’s thoughtful words which she wrote and re-wrote over the course of a year.

My friend sat at the head of the table, a stack of her own words in front of her as well. To the side was a fat paperback novel, obviously well-used; scotch tape could be seen holding the binding together. As she explained the premise behind her thesis (which was based on that novel), she lovingly (and most likely unknowingly) stroked the front cover as though it were the cherished family dog. That book was probably her best friend for the past year; they were rarely separated and now it was here to celebrate this milestone with her.

It seemed like just yesterday I was in her seat, uncontrollably stroking my copy of a collection of Shirley Jackson stories, exhiliarated to have accomplished so much and nervous to hear others’ opinions of my hard work.


The English hall at my college alma mater.

It may seem useless to spend a whole year dissecting and interpreting every single word in a book or a story. You may ask, what is the point? It’s just one book. It’s just one author.

But it’s more than that. It’s a passion. It’s a passion for the work and for the author, yes, but it’s also a passion for truth—for learning about this world or an older one and prophesying about a future one.

It’s like deciphering a puzzle, only the puzzle you’re deciphering is human nature. The author has encoded everything they’ve learned about life up to now in their work, and it’s your job to figure out what they are trying to say.

It’s a passion for thinking hot-burning thoughts, for seeing things no one has seen before, for telling the whole world about something you discovered.

It’s an adventure. It’s exhilarating. It’s so goddamn fun.

I remember sitting in her seat two years ago, declaring my discoveries in front of God and my professors. I had broken the code. I had uncovered the secrets of Shirley Jackson’s writing!

I walked out of that building feeling like I could change the world. I felt like the smartest person who had ever lived…because of one book, one author.

It’s a rare feeling. I’ve struggled with the jobs I’ve had up to now, because even on days when they’re most challenging, I get nowhere near feeling as accomplished as I did that spring day two years ago.

But writing helps. Writing puts me on the other side. I get to take everything I’ve learned about life up to now, put it into words, and post it online for you to decipher and interpret. It’s a different type of excitement to know that you’re out there, reading my words. I wonder how they affect you: if they touch your heart or motivate you to move. I wonder what messages you take away from my encoded words.

I only hope that you find reading my writing to be at least somewhat of an adventure, and hopefully more than somewhat fun, so that you may have a taste of what it is I’m most passionate about and begin to understand.

Writing Prompt: Favorite Food

My husband came home with a miniature food processor one day, which, to me, was way better than a bouquet of roses. We boiled apples in a big stockpot until they were tender, then threw them into the food processor and whizzed them around until they turned to mush.

My mother-in-law prefers a different method, which involves boiling the apples down to a thick sauce, constantly mashing and toiling over her bubbling pot, as though she were mixing a magical potion, only stopping to replenish the water as it evaporates away.

Though both methods make decent applesauce, neither make the right applesauce.


The only recipe I need is my grandfather’s, but he can’t teach it to me because he’s dead. I rummaged through his drawers and binders of recipes left behind in his empty kitchen and found none for applesauce. I know where his recipe is. It’s in his decaying brain and his quiet heart six feet under.

I find I can’t replicate the precise golden color–more yellow than bronze–with flecks of ground cinnamon and nutmeg. My attempts are too spicy or too sweet. I can’t re-create the cold taste that refreshes my hot mouth and hot breath, the taste that cools and warms all at once with love and comfort.

*What is your favorite food to make, to eat? What foods make you nostalgic? Get out your trusty timer and write about it!*

In the Driver’s Seat

I’ve owned two cars in my life, and I considered them both pieces of junk. I learned early on in my driving career how to fill coolant and check my oil not because I wanted to know but because I had to know. These tasks had to be done before I took any trip over 30 miles.

However, the extent of my car knowledge didn’t expand much past coolant and oil. I made plenty of emergency stops at roadside gas stations in the middle of nowhere to call a parent or a friend to come and rescue me.

And yet road trips were always a love of mine in my early driving years. I had friends throughout the state, and I wouldn’t think twice about visiting Lansing or Detroit on a whim, map in hand and with a vague idea of where I was going.

I used to drive the 2.5-hour-long trip back and forth from college to my mom’s house all the time. It was routine. It was easy. I’d pop in the soundtrack to *Rent, Aida, Ragtime,* belt out the lyrics and bounce up and down in my seat. The minutes, the hours would tick away and I wouldn’t even notice. By intermission, I’d be in Brighton. By the finale, I’d be home.

But college finished and I started dating the man I would eventually marry. And from then on, I had a travelling partner to accompany me on those long rides across the state or anywhere else we wanted to go. He’s always had the more reliable car, and his car maintenance knowledge extended far past coolant and oil.


Me with my crappy rusty Malibu

It was natural, then, that we got in the habit of taking his car when we went out. I was content allowing him to take the driver seat and for me to climb into the passenger seat. I enjoyed not having the responsibility of driving. I much preferred the freedom of my relaxing post the next seat over. From there, I could watch the world go by outside the window, only changing my glance to look over at my husband and smile. My hands, not needed on the steering wheel, could reach over and rub his shoulders. My feet, with no pedals to press, could be tucked up under my leg. I could make myself comfortable. There is nothing I have to do but ride.

But recently, I had to make a 2.5 hour-long trek up to Traverse City alone for work. I borrowed my husband’s 2010 SUV and let him take my rusty 2002 Malibu for the day. I climbed into the driver’s seat, his seat, and shut the door. I adjusted the mirrors and took a deep breath.

I wasn’t sure I could get myself there in one piece. I was inexplicably nervous. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t have any CDs. My phone wouldn’t get a signal up there. What would I do if I got lost, if I got in an accident? Who would be able to help me?

The driver’s seat wasn’t mine. The passenger seat was where I belonged.

I had grown afraid of the driver’s seat. I was used to depending on my husband to safely transport me places. I somewhere lost confidence in my ability to get myself anywhere on my own. When I had to drive somewhere, even if I had a good idea of where I was going, I still put the address into my GPS and followed it obediently thought it may take me a way I wouldn’t normally go. I had completely lost faith in myself.

The thing is, as much as I tell myself I can’t drive, I know that I can. I know that I must.

Of course I got myself to Traverse City and back, though there was snow and ice and darkness and deer jumping across the highway. My knuckles may have been white from grasping the wheel too hard, but my tight grip helped me stay on the road. I hadn’t forgotten how to drive. I just had to believe in my ability to do it.

Last weekend, I bought a new car. It’s reliable. It’s good on gas. It’s the car we’ll take across the state to visit family or up north for vacation or anywhere else we want to go. “I’ll drive,” I’ll say, and climb into the driver’s seat unafraid.

I know what I’m doing. I know where I’m going.

Writing Prompt: Childhood Vacation

My rich uncle owned a condo in Myrtle Beach, and he let my family stay there a few times. I don’t have a clear picture of it in my mind, but all vacation condos I’ve ever been in are the same. Light pink and light blue Polynesian floral patterns cover the soft surfaces: the walls, the cushions, the bedspreads. All hard surfaces are white: white cabinets, white wicker furniture, white tile on the floor. Condos are luxurious and cold at the same time. People are always coming and going, living and creating memories and then disappearing into oblivion. The decorations lack any sort of personality; they must fit everyone’s taste and also provide an easy way to quickly wipe away any sort of living that went on there. The condo waits, sterile and empty, for another family to come along.


It is the time we spent outside of the condo that made the trip memorable. This trip to Myrtle Beach will always stand out in my memory because of the amount of alligators we saw. We saw them on our bike ride sunning themselves, on the grass by the river, the river where we fished from a small wooden dock. My father, forever afraid of worms (he and I have that in common), used hot dogs as bait, which attracted all the alligators in a five mile radius. He hurried to take my fishing line out of the water as a large dark shadow paddled closer and closer. Hot dogs safely back in the cooler, we decided that was enough fishing for one day.

Bare It All

A tall English woman in a black track suit was assigned to show us around the health club. My husband and I followed her through the complex and nodded as she pointed out the different areas. When it came to the locker room entrance, my husband went left into the men’s alone and I went to the right with the staff person into the women’s. I was immediately confronted with bare boobs and bodies of all shapes and sizes.

The staff woman told me about the towel service and the sauna, but I couldn’t hear her over all the nakedness. No one seemed to notice that I was standing there completely dressed from head to toe. They moved around before me, talking and laughing and trying to get ready, not paying any mind to their own nudity or each other’s. I felt as if I were a spectator at a zoo, watching strange creatures behind glass. It’s as if they didn’t realize they were indeed naked.

And then I felt a little offended. I can understand if these women are comfortable exposing themselves to each other—they’re all part of the same gym and this is normal for them—but shouldn’t they cover up when “company” comes by? Shouldn’t they be a little embarrassed that they’ve been caught? Shouldn’t they feel a little ashamed?

Because that’s how I would feel if some stranger walked in on me naked.


Until then, I hadn’t seen a lot of naked women’s bodies. Even in college, when I lived with three women and shared a room with one of them, changing was always done in the bathroom. I might go to the gym with a friend, but we kept our backs to each other while changing into sports bras. It was the polite thing to do.

I suppose I learned these “manners” in my Catholic household, where talking about one’s body was never encouraged, not that I even bothered. I was embarrassed to talk about my body, probably because I was always a little embarrassed OF my body. It was never all that skinny or tight or shiny like the bodies I saw on the covers of magazines.

That might sound cliché, blaming magazines for poor body image, but when I didn’t have anything else to compare my body to, whom or what else could I blame?

Even with all the “rude” naked women in the locker room, we still signed up for a membership. And since then there’s been a gradual change in my locker room attitude and decorum. I started off changing in a bathroom stall. Eventually, I grew comfortable changing in the main area, but continued to turn my boobs towards the lockers when putting on my sports bra.

Now I whip all my clothes off without giving a damn who sees me.

They say that the best way to learn a language is to completely immerse yourself in it. Once I surrounded myself with naked female bodies, I actually started to understand that my body was nothing to be ashamed of. What I saw when I peeked sideways at ladies next to me or glanced in the mirror at ladies behind me is that the female body is practically the same on every woman.

There are shoulders and breasts and tummies and thighs, and yes, they may vary in size, but I never really think anyone’s anything is better than the others. In fact, I find them all equally beautiful. No body is shameful. They are all as they should be. And then I think that maybe my body is beautiful, too.

I see little girls and teenagers walk through the locker room, and sometimes I wait to undress or cover up until they walk by, because I don’t want to traumatize them or teach them something about the female body that perhaps their mother didn’t want them to know. But they never seem shocked to be surrounded by flesh. They barely even notice. And I wonder what their body image is like, if they are more comfortable with themselves because they see so many normal women comfortable with themselves, comfortable enough to walk through a crowded room with no clothes on. When I cover up, aren’t I just teaching them the shame and embarrassment I had to overcome?

Perhaps if I had been exposed to the female form more in my youth, maybe it wouldn’t have taken me so long to learn how to love my own body.

Now when I’m in the locker room and I see a clothed stranger getting a tour of the place, I let it all fly free. Because she might as well get used to it now. She’ll be happier for it in the long run.


Writing Prompt: Pet Memory

Frisky, our cat, had a thirst for open spaces, though he was always a house cat and had no claws (thanks to us) to climb trees or hunt mice. Confined to the limits of the brick walls, his only reprieve was the chance that someone heading out onto the deck took their time closing the screen door behind them, giving him the opportunity to slide past a leg and taste fresh air. Of course, once he was outside, he immediately regretted the decision, and chances are he slid out so fast that door opener didn’t notice and closed the door behind them. A domestic cat stranded outside. Panic insued. What to do? Where to go?


Alarmed by his fast-approaching owners, he galloped across the boards, his tiny paws thumping on the wood; he jumped past the steps and shimmied underneath the deck. There he sat, far out of our reach, probably to avoid retribution, or perhaps he worked so hard to get outside, he may as well buy himself a few minutes there. And we’d grow tired of calling his name gently and patting the ground, so we’d toss gravel in his direction or shoot him with a water gun until he moved close enough to the side that one of us could reach under and grab him. We’d pick him up and bring him back inside. We’d close the door securely. And by the door he remained for his next chance at escape.

*What’s a memory you have of a beloved pet? Leave your story in the comments.*

Detroit Native

My husband and I were lucky enough to find ourselves in Detroit on Sunday with tickets to a Red Wings game in our hands. It was still morning and the day was sunny and brisk. We stuffed our hands in our jeans pockets and kept our heads down against the wind as we rushed through Monroe Avenue. The smell of smoked meats from [Red Smoke](http://www.redsmoke.net/) mingled with the smell of sulfur wafting up through the sidewalk grates. The streets were empty except for a man sitting on the ground; he asked us for change, but we didn’t have any. The automatic doors at Greektown Casino opened before us, and we shook off the cold as we moved through the brick building and up the escalator to the [People Mover](http://www.thepeoplemover.com/WE-LL-TAKE-YOU-THERE!.id.2.htm). The rickety train thundered into the station within minutes, and we boarded with a few other people in Red Wings apparel. The train rocked us back and forth as it gave us a bird’s-eye view of this beautiful and wounded city.

I love Detroit. It’s a love that a lot of people in West Michigan don’t understand. Whenever I tell a friend I’m going to Detroit, I unfailingly get the advice: “Don’t get mugged!”

It’s a common enough response for people who live over two hours away from the city, who have probably never been to the city, or if they have, never been there longer than the length of a baseball game or a concert. Drive in, enjoy an event, and drive home like a bat out of hell. There’s been hardly any good news coming out of Detroit for the past two decades, so people who rely on the news for truth about this mysterious city assume that it’s better left alone.


I grew up on the east side, though, a mere 45 minutes south from “D-town,” as we affectionately call it. No one knows where Ida Township is. It doesn’t clear anything up when I say it’s in Monroe County. But Detroit—ahh, they know that name. Once, when I was in Italy, on a date with a waiter from our hotel who didn’t speak a lot of English, I told him I was from Michigan. He scrunched his brow at this, clearly not understanding. I held up my right hand to show the recognizable shape of my state—still nothing. I did not understand a lot that he said, but I did understand that he liked the rapper Eminem. “EMINEM!” I gasped with elation. Of course! Eminem is from Detroit! I am also from Detroit!

Only I’m not.


True, I’ve been to Detroit far more than my West Michigan counterparts. My family made the drive up I-75 multiple times a year for plays, musicals, and, yes, concerts and baseball games. A fond childhood memory of mine is spotting landmarks that prove we’re almost there—the fireball at the oil refinery in the industrial River Rouge, the haunting 21-story train station with all of its windows missing, the tall white walls of the old Tiger Stadium, and finally the iconic Renaissance Center, its glass towers sticking out like sore thumbs amongst the brick skyline of downtown. Many of my fondest childhood memories begin with this journey.

Yet I have no idea what it means to be a Detroiter. I don’t know the hardship or the fear. I don’t know what it’s like to see my city collapse from the inside out. And sometimes I feel like an imposter, the way I love the city so much.

But I do love the city, and it is my city, too. I have made a wish on the fountain in [Fishbones](http://www.fishbonesusa.com/). I have ridden the elevator in the [Ren Cen](http://www.gmrencen.com/home.axis) all the way to the top. I have walked the length of the [Riverwalk](http://www.detroitriverfront.org/). My husband swam in the Detroit River. We picnicked on [Belle Isle](http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10365_67024—,00.html).

I know where the fuck [Bob-Lo Island](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boblo_Island_Amusement_Park) is.


I have walked the streets at night and not been afraid.

Detroit is my home. And like my family home, it’s always been a little dysfunctional. It’s never been perfect. But it’s working on making things right. I believe in it and its ability to be whatever it wants to be. Most importantly, I am proud of it.

We emptied off the crowded train full of red-and-white dressed strangers high on adrenaline from an overtime victory. Back on Monroe Avenue, the streets were full of activity. Musicians were playing upbeat melodies. Friends were congratulating each other on an excellent win. We thought for a moment about staying in the city for a while and celebrating, but a sea of red jerseys was visible through the windows of [Astoria Pastry Shop](http://astoriapastryshop.com/) and [Pegasus Taverna](http://pegasustavernas.com/). Rather than battle the crowds of out-of-towners, we decided to just get to the car and go home. We’re no strangers to the city. We’ll be back soon.


**Photography by [Acronym Creative Studio](https://www.facebook.com/acronymcreativestudio).
Apparel by [Blonde.](http://theblondecollective.com/)
Please check out the work of these two great Detroit companies who are proud of their city.**

*Do you have a city that feels like home to you, even though you don’t live there? Or are you trying to make a new city your home? Share your story in the comments.*

Writing Prompt: Car Trip

I point my video camera at my cousin who’s driving, her eyes on the road but her smile seems to come from the side of her mouth for the benefit of my filming. She’s singing along to the mixed tape that plays over the car stereo and she moves her shoulders back and forth to the beat with three fingers on the bottom of the steering wheel. With a sudden jerk, I focus the camera on my best friend in the backseat who wears heart-shaped sunglasses and a t-shirt with a strawberry on it. She smiles an awkward smile and waves when I tell her to say something. I hit the red button with my thumb, believing that I’ve turned the camera off, but actually I turned it on. Later when I’m watching the video, this is where the television goes dark to varying degrees as the lens bops back and forth again the cotton seat. As we come into heavy traffic in an unfamiliar city, the volume changes from friendly voices and a humming engine to shrieks and swear words of scared little girls. “Watch out!” “Oh, shit!” “Turn here!” And then the traffic thins and I pick up the camera. You see my face for a moment, enough to catch me sighing some relief, and then just as I take a breath to talk, blackness.


*What’s a memorable car trip you’ve taken? Who were you with? Where did you go? Share your story in the comments.*