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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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**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.

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

Time to Wake Up

We had a 60-degree day last week, which was an abnormally warm day for March. So abnormal that piles of snow still loitered in parking lots and front yards while people walked their dogs without coats on.

There is a park not far from my office, and during the summer, I eat my lunch on a bench and then walk around the ball diamond for exercise. Since it seemed so warm, I drove to the park on my lunch, only the air was too cold to sit outside and my walking path was still blocked with residual snow.

I never used to like springtime. I prefer fall. I never feel more alive than when everything around me is dying. The voices of the world disappear and all I can hear is my own.

Springtime, to me, was just more winter–dark and gloomy and cold. There wasn’t any grand transition there.

It was T.S. Eliot who wrote “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land.” The lilacs are sleeping, Mother Earth, and so are we. Why must you disturb us? No one likes to be woken up before the sun comes out.

I have since been converted. I now stand with the rest of the Michiganders and welcome springtime with open arms. The winters are harsh and long, and they only seem to be getting harsher and longer as the years go by. So when it gets above freezing, we break out the flip-flops and go play outside.

Later on that warm day, I found myself near my college alma mater with a few minutes to spare, so I turned in the main drive and drove through the campus. I passed the soccer fields. The snow on the faux turf had been scraped to the side so the bright green “grass” was enclosed by an ice wall. Students in shorts kicked the ball to and fro.

I went by the golf course. The women’s team was out on the driving range in skirts, their uncovered legs disappearing behind snow banks, their golf balls forever lost among the leftover white. Through my rolled-down car window, I laughed out loud at the absurdity.

I realized that Michiganders aren’t like T.S. Eliot’s lilacs at all. We aren’t annoyed that we’ve been awakened from our hibernation. We embrace it. We don’t care that the time is not right–the calendar says it is yet winter–but we act as though it is the middle of July. We stand on the dead land as conscious and breathing beings. We want it to be summer, dammit, so we make it so.

As I sat in my car, the sun’s warmth tanning my left arm, and the dark shade cooling my face, I appreciated the transition that I was forcing on nature. The earth may not be ready to wake up, but I am.

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Writing Prompt Wednesday

They don’t tell you much when you start adjunct teaching. They don’t tell you how to write a syllabus or structure a class. They don’t tell you what methods work and what methods don’t.

Fortunately, no one had to tell me to start my class period off with a writing prompt. As a longtime student of literature, I simply know that the only way to start a class is with a writing prompt.

From a teacher’s perspective, it’s a device that works wonders. First, it kills time during your class—that’s a whole ten or fifteen minutes you don’t have to be teaching, which trust me, is always a relief. Teaching is a non-stop sport that doesn’t allow for many breathers, so you take them when you can get them.

Second, it warms up the students’ minds and fingers, gets them thinking about words and ideas, helps them focus their thoughts so they might become comfortable with their own opinions. It’s astounding how scared college freshman are of their own opinions.

But there’s another wonderful benefit to writing prompts that I enjoy not just as a teacher but as a writer: writing for the sake of stringing beautiful words together.

With a blog or an essay or a story, there always has to be a point. You must give the reader what we in the biz call “universal meaning.” If your reader can’t relate to your writing, you can’t get an A.

With a writing prompt, you have ten minutes to write and you’re not allowed to stop writing. You don’t have time to worry about universal meaning. You don’t have time to think about the reader. You don’t have time to be critical or editorial.

You simply write. You create. And you see what comes of it.

Allow me to demonstrate.

Pick a subject: the broader, the better. Let’s do “St. Patrick’s Day” since it was yesterday. Set the timer and begin.

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*The bagpipes whine mournfully over the bright green hills. The drums are soft and subdued and yet I can’t help tap my toe and bounce my knee to the rhythm. The screech of the violin strings. The fast moving feet of the step-dancers. Their skirts flap back and forth as they kick their feet high in front of them. I learned to step-dance in England when I visited with my high school band. The daughter of my host family showed me on the back patio. Step, step, step, step, kick, ball change. We hopped back and forth across the length of the in-laid bricks, our hands at our side, our hair swinging from side to side across our shoulders.*

DING! Time’s up.

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Is it great writing? Not yet it’s not. As soon as the timer dings, I can begin to craft it into great writing.

But what does it mean? Does it have to mean anything? To me, what’s important is: does it spark something in your memory? You’re probably now thinking about St. Patrick’s Day yourself—what you do, what you remember, what you think about it. You might be thinking about YOUR trip to England or the time you learned a dance move. Set the timer. Write it down.

This is such an important part of writing, in my opinion. It’s casual and relaxed. It helps you generate material. It helps you find ideas you may not have thought of otherwise. Is it publishable writing? Not usually. It’s writing for the sake of writing. It’s writing that leads to better writing. It’s the starting point for what may be a great blog, a great essay, a great novel.

It’s practice. And every writer needs practice, no matter how long they’ve been writing.

And so I hereby declare the instatement of Writing Prompt Wednesday.

If you are a writer, or if you like to write (one and the same, if you ask me), won’t you join me? Let’s take a little breather from teaching the world how to think, how to feel, how to love. Instead, let’s sit in the quiet, the *ticktickticktick* from the timer the only sound, and string beautiful words together.

**“He wanted to cry quietly but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music.” – James Joyce**

*What are some topics that would make good writing prompts? Leave me some suggestions below! Or write for ten minutes about St. Patrick’s Day and post your writing prompt results in the comments!*

Write it in ink

One of my all-time favorite movies is David Fincher’s 2010 “The Social Network,” the story of how Facebook started. It’s a brilliant film with exceptional acting and mesmerizing dialogue, among other attributes worthy of praise.

But it has a sentimental factor for me as well. It transports me immediately back to college. Mark Zuckerberg is the same age I am, was at Harvard the same time I was at my not-so-prestigious state school. And shortly after the film opens, we see Mark enter his dorm suite (one much more lavish and roomy than I ever had) and turn on his computer, where the familiar white-and-blue branding of the Livejournal homepage shines bright.

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I, too, sat at my desk, tapping the keyboard at all hours of the night, multiple times a day, chronicling my undergraduate life for the whole world to read. Really, it wasn’t the whole world—it was ten friends who went to the same school I did. I filled my entries with inside jokes and complaints about homework and whatever shenanigans we college kids engaged in.

I was able to enjoy life twice: first, actually experiencing it and second, afterwards, on the internet, reading my friend’s different versions of what happened. We wrote about our lives with exaggeration and extravagance and often without discretion. “As if every thought that tumbles through your head was so clever, it would be a crime for it not to be shared,” explains Fincher’s fictional Erica Albright.

We shared. We sometimes shared too much.

Now a decade later, it’s quite unnerving to know that my Livejournal rantings are still floating out there in cyberspace. It’s like a time capsule waiting for someone to stumble upon it, unearth it, and get a glimpse of what life was like in West Michigan for one strange college student. But it stays up there (for now) so I can live my life twice, no matter how novice the writing or how embarrassing the stories.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why I did that, why I bothered putting my life on the internet, why I continue to do so through social networking sites. Why does anyone? But Fincher is a sneaky bastard. The answer is in the title.

To network socially. To connect to each other.

“The internet isn’t written in pencil, Mark. It’s written in ink,” snarky Erica enlightens us.

I have published a portion of my life online. My interactions with others are written in the ink of the internet. Bodies are mortal but words live on forever. Words let us live again.

And so I keep writing. I get to live life twice, three times, twelve times—as many times as I care to read about it.

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About Me

>>”For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.” – Ernest Hemingway

Hello. Welcome to my blog. Pull up a chair, and I’ll make you some tea.

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My name is Jenny. I’m a writer of the common and the ordinary with the hopes to make them uncommon and extraordinary. I write truth, I write life. And now I do so for all to enjoy. I like to blog about my attempts to embrace my passions and bring more happiness to this 30-something American life.

I am a Michigander through and through. We’ve got cities, we’ve got nature, we’ve got beaches, and we’ve got beer. Who could ask for more?

Please feel free to look around. I hope you like what you see.

>>“One of the most terrifying aspects of publishing stories and books is the realization that they are going to be read, and read by strangers. I had never fully realized this before, although I had of course in my imagination dwelt lovingly upon the thought of the millions and millions of people who were going to be uplifted and enriched and delighted by the stories I wrote.” – Shirley Jackson