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.
We are the ones with our holiday lights still on. The slim porch dangling beneath two large and dripping strings of lights, one white and simple, and one all the bright colors still there from Christmas. On the little ledge our foot tall tree fell over in a storm. We never took it out to the dumpster, just out to the patio.
Now the weather's warming up and I walk into the house, look up, and wonder what this says about us. Too busy to make house look nice? Too concerned with what's inside to be aware? Too much hopefullness enjoying the holiday light?
Of course my mind wants to go to the last one. We both work long hours and long weekends, pursuing our dreams to any extent and can't the tiny speckled light bottled up for a view let us have that whimsicle feeling again? It surely get's lost in the grind.
When I wanted the tree to be thrown out I characterized it. I wrote a little note from him:
"Please take me to tree heaven now. I am ready."
Marc thought it was strange the writer would characterize our dying little tree. But he smiled, tucked it outside to bring it to the dumpster. Now it lies on its side barely any branches, a body weeping in the spring rain.
It is this that is more fascinating to me than the lights. We almost didn't get one and I think back to that day. We were too busy, the apartment too small for a real tree. Marc immediately lost interest. He only had real trees growing up and that felt more like a real Christmas to him.
I snuck out just two weeks before the holiday, maybe even closer, and went to the market. I walked by stacks of them and this little guy stuck out before left stalling to his death. He was once on display. He was once let inside.
I think of myself how I am good at the big ideas, good at moving those big ideas forward. I am not so good at maintenance, the little tasks to be left at the end, to be buried with the past.
To be fair, the snow has just stopped with the weather lurching forward now, and I will write a new voice for the lights streaming outside: "The holidays end, then let us off again."
February 21st, 2016 in
Spring comes and I feel with it the awakening it is meant to encourage. I am pruning off what has died with me over the winter: anger, death of relationships, conclusions.
But even with a lighter spirit no longer confined to what was dying, I still feel the fear of lightness. The spring air sweeps in but where are we going next? Age old questions, as if seeing into the future provides any real answers. The answers are only with you today, present, shifting with your thoughts into what you make it, where you carry it yourself.
But spring is bringing new moments for togetherness, for me present again in this lightness. Marc and I realizing the need for more time together even just in our morning commute.
“It’s time to get going.”
“You did well waking early,” I say. Then the rhythm of caring for the dog, showering, dressing, packing, and walking out the door into the car for a quiet few minutes together in our morning ride. To begin together, to begin the day with love. He drops me off at the office, drives a few more blocks away, parks and we go off on our days, two different paths still entwined in our rhythm.
“I really need this. Can we do it monthly, bi-monthly?” A friend asks. Monthly we agree. How could we ever be so busy for months we don’t speak or see each other, stretching out the loneliness of a space for talking, listening? We talk about relationships, new dates, about family histories and family present. Now our moms treat us as sisters or friends, our jobs weighing down with new demands, and still our friendship after fifteen years later finding space to carry on.
I am realizing how much more I need people in my life. The writer needs both energy, excitement, life to draw inspiration from, and quiet time to reflect, digest, and create. We always need both. I ask for more meetings. I make more efforts to be there, but this is with limits too.
Weekends we work too much. I am drinking coffee alone in the home. Today, spending the day with family, but fighting my fear that I am not there enough for others, groups, meetings, customers, it must settle down or carry on. I have not felt this anxiety so much, as if there is much more on me to succeed, to be there together for everyone. It is of course just fear.
The spring temperature jumps this weekend, the sky stretching flat blue across all ways and all I can think about is feeling new. Somewhere in the mix on top of the tangled endings put to bed, reaching up like bare branches in the tree, ready to swing with spring.
When I think about holidays I think about tradition. I think about the deep and intimate moments, the light and funny quirks. We repeat these traditions each year because we are here.
It’s been a challenging couple of months where I’ve been thrown into a tumult of change. I have found myself able to best move forward with care. Self-care. Routines. Repetition.
There is sense of strength in the tiniest actions: to wake up, to write, to exercise, to sleep. To show yourself that even when mind and spirit might be caught up in an emotional flux, you are still here.
You are still here. Physically, you are still here. That is what the beautiful steady pulse of routine reminds us. That is where moments of forgiveness and fortitude in the self form; you will survive. You are still here.
In noticing these tiny actions we help to ground ourselves away from the anxiety of change. We ground ourselves in a sense of self, in a history and context that is only ours, in holiday traditions.
I find myself visiting my mother for a Saturday to make candies. I am reminded of the array of childhood Christmas’ where we spent time making these same candies. Peanut butter and sugar rolled together, dipped in a molten pool of thick chocolate. There was nothing more fun for me.
Rolling grape leaves. Finally, a woman, invited to join the Aunts at the table. Finally able to taste and appreciate the cumin and the lamb, the spices and the Lebanese in me.
Then, on Christmas Eve, always Oprakta, a giving of thanks and kisses to dozens of Polish relatives.
Christmas morning. Breakfast at dads, perogies and sausage. Next mom’s for presents then onto grandma’s house. No variations. No change. Steady the course again please.
Because I am here. My family is here. We are still here. The routine and the special traditions are actions that dig open channels, space for gratitude and grace, and when all are gone it is a special way to trigger us into the years of love and family when we are still here.