Everyone has dreams about falling and flying. My flying dreams are comical because I clumsily flap, flap, flap, gliiiide. Never going too high or too fast, my arms don’t tire. It’s the aerial equivalent of coasting on a kick-scooter. Icarus could have learned from me.
My falling dreams happen in the etherous greige between sleep and awake, I slowly roll over from one side to the other to find bed, wall, earth -- I never remember -- replaced by a sudden void reaching past me like a formless, sonic hug.
My falling dreams seem to be disconnected from my flying ones. I never flap, flap, flap, faaaaaallll. But I’ve learned there’s a connection. In those flying dreams excitement and risk hit just hard enough to make life interesting, but not so dangerous that I couldn’t survive their impact. It’s controlled and correlated to my actions: I flap and I fly, but never higher than street lamp height on nondescript streets edged by nondescript houses in a nondescript neighborhood. The low cruising altitude lets me see a manageable amount of the world from a distance that’s just as manageable and safe, albeit just a little bit dangerous.
What’s most frightening about my falling dreams isn’t that I’m falling, it’s that I can’t see what I’m falling into. There are no houses, no grass or asphalt rising up to meet me. It’s just a black flash into nothingness. Like my flying dreams, the action is still precipitated by my movement. I roll over and I fall, until my blinking eyes and fluttering heart beat me awake.
Instead of trying to find out what the dreams say about the dreamer, I’m learning how the dreamer builds the dreams; about how the child I was influences how I fly or fall tonight. As life during COVID edges into a monotony that matches the Monopoly houses in my flying dreams, I understand how my need for safety – now and then – has been shaped by a broken frame.
I was a kid who rebelled to, not against religion. My parents’ materialism and drug use drove me to church. My stepfather’s empty cocaine vials and my Sundays spent at worship became leverage when he would try to ground me for leaving the house with my bed unmade. When as a college freshman I fell out with the church, I didn’t cast myself as an Animal House extra, I got married at 19.
Flap, flap, flap.
Throwing myself into religion when other people my age were throwing footballs and standing up to say “I do” when I should’ve been doing keg-stands didn’t seem like falling at the time. I’ve told myself they were choices meant to give me anchors my childhood didn’t provide, but even that’s not right. I was a kid trying to build an identity out of a void I was afraid to fall into.
I’m starting to get to know my inner child. I’m trying to understand who he is so I can give him the love and guidance he may have lacked and needed that I still need today. I’m going to find out who I was then, before parents and pastors and my own choices as a young adult left him awkwardly hovering over monotonous suburban streets when he should have been dreaming of jetpacks.
This piece is a time-capsule from a time before COVID, and January 6th, and Putin's invasion. It's a sketch I wrote in August of 2018 and forgot about until I took a dive down the depths of my Google Drive. I will most likely work these thoughts into a larger piece (how can I not?). The metaphor is striking, given everything that came after August.
All but this MTG image were anchored in the original piece. She's a great example of what this piece is about.
A leader is the mask his or her followers wear.
A 1999 study conducted by Mick Cooper of the University of Sussex revealed that wearing a mask can lead to “disinhibition, transformation, facilitation of the expression of aspects of the wearer’s Self, and various psycho-somatic changes.” That’s why I’m more afraid of the people who accept and apologize for President Trump than I am of Trump.
Trump is the mask that gives “good people” who hold racist beliefs immunity. Their shouts spring from the shadows of the dark web and set places like Charlottesville and Portland alight with their hatred.
He is the mask that enables Evangelicals to excuse his moral indiscretions and outright lies because of the transformative potential they think his presidency provides them. They will make a proverbial deal with the devil because Trump’s words and policies align with their long-held beliefs about how Americans should behave. Pornstars? Pay offs? Lies? Sure, that’s bad; but, think of the babies.
Many in Congress who wear the mask follow similar logic. They are willing to overlook Trump’s many personal and moral failings, along with those of the people he surrounds himself with because they like his policies. Grab em by the pussy? Well, I wouldn’t do it; but, look at the tax cuts.
Red-State America wears the mask because:
Many white Middle-Americans erroneously feel they’ve been pushed to the economic edge by minorities. They seek to reassert their privilege by believing in the bogeymen of color Trump called out when he announced his bid for the presidency, as if building a wall will protect their prospects for a better future that will never come under Republican leaders (or motivate them to take one of the 368 thousand agricultural jobs currently held by illegal immigrants. Most experts, including Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development, don’t think so: "It appears that almost all U.S. workers prefer almost any labor-market outcome — including long periods of unemployment — to carrying out manual harvest and planting labor").
Fear of a deep state, to Pizzagate, faith in Q, and people who think that this is really something you should be doing because Alex Jones was banned from Facebook are all wearing masks that cover their mouths with the ridiculous words of people like this:
They are the people who think a space force is a great idea, like these ones:
While it’s easy to laugh at these people, or to believe that they are not representative of the nearly 63 million people who voted for President Trump in 2016, these faceless foot-soldiers of MAGA nation hold enough power to shape the trajectory of democracy in America; and, in some strange form of symbiosis, they are the mask for Trump.
writing is a swordfish desperate for catch and release
its rostrum dipped in ink not
mightier than but equal
to college drowning in small pools filled with shimmering fry
searching for open oceans from
which to speak and stand
on ecstasy at Coachella with thirsty holograms swimming
through smoke and sweat like Pac
twelve years dead and gone
and live on stage
waiting for the next universe
Note: This will be most effective if you are able to sleep through your alarm, but have an internal clock so synced to your fear of disapproval that it jars you awake at the last possible minute.
If that’s not you, I find it helpful to push the snooze button multiple times. If your alarm goes off at eight-minute intervals like mine, I’d suggest a minimum of four hits, so that the distance between your best intentions and your feet actually hitting the floor is as close to 30 minutes as possible. That’s not enough time to make you late, but your arrival will be a hair-raising experience since traffic is bound to be booming by then. Remember: to be cutting-edge you must be willing to handle sharp objects, even metaphorically.
Sleeping to the edge of late ensures that you won’t be able to exercise or meditate, but you can take comfort in your status as a pioneer in the practice of mindful driving. Assuming, of course, you can keep the radio away from the news and tuned to something relaxing, or off altogether. You’ll like being a trendsetter, and as time sharpens your practice you can consider live-streaming your efforts. Your viewers will be surprised by how soothing the sound of morning traffic can be. You can market pins or bumper stickers exclaiming “Life’s highway HATES an angry car.”
As your influence grows, consider a collab with the manufacturer of those organic granola bars you keep in your glove box. A few dollars goes a long way towards easing the guilt that comes from not having the healthy breakfast you meant to make. Envision sponsored tees reading “Two eyes on the road, one hand on the wheel!” with a line drawing of a smiling driver lifting a granola bar to her mouth. You’ll have another chance to make healthier choices come lunchtime, provided you don’t work through it. Those statins you’re taking keep the promise of another tomorrow free from heart problems just a snooze button’s push away. Remember: the future is fertile!
This is the second and final entry in a series inspired by a short road trip through Michigan my wife and I took this past summer. For Part 1 click here.
We arrived in Detroit the same way we arrived in Suttons Bay: tired, hungry, and in an SUV built in Indiana by a foreign-owned company. We were staying at the Siren Hotel just downtown, and after we dropped off our car and our bags, we drifted into the neighborhood in search of food. Detroit bore the weight of COVID, just like everyplace else we had been. There were a few closed and vacant stores, and the People Mover was shut down. Despite the pandemic and the economic crisis the city had endured prior to it, there was some vibrance about Detroit. Ford Field, Little Caesars Arena, and Comerica Park were all within view, bringing fans of the Lions, Red Wings, Pistons, and Tigers -- and their wallets -- to downtown Detroit year-round. Stevie Wonder watched over us from the side of the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts -- just one of the many pieces of public art we saw during our short stay.
That first night we wound up at a place reminiscent of Hop Lot in Suttons Bay. The Brakeman was an indoor beer garden with foosball, shuffleboard, and beer pong tables that served regional drafts along with cocktails. Hungry people like us could also get delicious chicken and biscuits from its adjoining neighbor, Penny Red’s. The Brakeman sold tokens at a converted ticket booth you would then use to pay for drinks, which was a little strange to me, and the inconvenience of it outweighed any novelty it initially offered. The tired, road-weary me would much rather have dealt with one point of purchase, but just like at Hop Lot, the good food and strong drinks would see me judging less and enjoying more as the evening wore on.
As we waited for our meal, we noticed a smart looking middle-aged couple at a nearby table wearing matching shirts: his reading “I have everything I need” and hers proclaiming “I am everything.” The music was a mix of 80s new wave and soul, but in my head I heard Marvin and Tammi singing “You’re All I Need to Get By” as I settled in next to Cecily. It was another sparkling pinnacle point sharpened by the time we spent without such moments during the pandemic’s peak.
We went back to the Siren, and finished things off with some perfect pie at Karl’s, a fifties-style restaurant housed within. The warm glow of these glittering bokeh scenes was too devoid of people for a Friday evening after a Tigers game. This was probably an indication of COVID’s lasting reach, but also of Detroit’s struggle to emerge from the chrysalis of what it once was. The automobile and the industry that spawned it transformed Detroit from 285,000 people in 1900 to over 2 million people at its peak in 1950. Since then, the city has lost 60% of its population and much of the auto industry.
Our hotel was symbolic of Detroit’s desire to invert its story arc. Before it was reborn as the Siren Hotel in 2018, 1509 Broadway was the mighty Wurlitzer Building. The musical instrument, jukebox, and radio manufacturer opened the building in 1926, and would remain its principal occupant for over 40 years. The building’s slow and steady decline at the hands of negligent, often absent owners started in the 70s, and by the time Ash Hotels got involved in 2015 the building was abandoned, falling down, and being gutted for parts. Ash did an amazing job of rescuing and restoring the building, while creating spaces that called people back to the city.
We were among those that heard the call. The Siren deftly mixes modern amenities in a building that has seen its former glory restored. Our room was comfortable, and well appointed, but one thing really stood out: this strange, faded painting of an old woman. Who was she? Why was her picture in our room? Would we manage to sleep (or to do anything else) with her eyes glaring from across the room?
When we woke up it was sleep - 1, anything else - 0. The old lady was a strict chaperone. I think both of us gave her dirty looks as we got ready for our day at the Detroit Institute of Art. This was the main reason for our visit. I had known nothing about this museum, but Cecily had wanted to see it for years as it was supposed to have a fairly formidable, world-class collection. Despite Detroit’s struggles, which must have impacted the museum, it still held many valuable pieces past the time when other museums were selling objects just to stay aloft. But first we needed coffee.
Ashe Supply Co. was a cafe and roastery just steps from the Siren, but it was closed during our visit as a result of COVID. We ended up at Madcap Coffee just around the corner. Madcap is based in Grand Rapids. It opened its Detroit location roughly a year before the pandemic hit, and it seems to be surviving, even though business was light when we stopped in on Friday morning. These dueling coffee roasters within easy walking distance of one another, and the many murals we passed moving between them says something about the level of gentrification in downtown Detroit. Indeed, a quick Google search shows at least seven coffee roasters (not just shops) within the Detroit metro area. Hipsters love coffee and street art! We took our coffee back to the hotel and texted the valet to bring our car about. The concierge at the Siren told us it would be easier to drive to the museum than it would be to try and catch a bus. As we waited for the car to come, we noticed an older couple trying to cram an awful lot of stuff into their Prius, including coolers, sleeping bags, and other camping gear. We got to chatting, and I learned that they were on a road trip, and that they didn’t want to leave things they obviously wouldn’t need at the hotel (like a camp stove) in their car at the garage because, “Well… You know…” Didn’t they get the memo? Detroit was hip and safe now. Couldn’t they smell the coffee?
We had a short window at the museum as hours were reduced due to COVID. Cecily was an art history major, and when we go to a museum, we GO to the museum, taking it all in, and there was a lot to see at the DIA. The museum features a broad range of work from highly influential artists, including Rodin, Rembrandt, Belini, Matisse, Van Gogh (including some iconic portraits), Warhol, Monet, Degas, Munch, Kandinsky, Cezanne, and Wiley. It literally has something for everyone. We started our visit by learning about Robert Blackburn and Modern American Printmaking. Blackburn was an artist and teacher whose presence served to bridge the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement, and it was fascinating to learn about and celebrate the evolution of the man and his work. We would eventually move through the rest of the building as if on roller skates, making sure to hit the proverbial highlights.
Because we didn’t know if or when we’d be back again, we took our time with Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals. Rivera considered these frescos to be his masterpiece. I think they rival -- or at least parallel -- the Sistine Chapel (yes, I said it). Like much of the museum's vast collection, Rivera was lured to the city by Ford money, having been commissioned by Edsel Ford at the behest of museum director William Valentiner. The avowed communist and Henry Ford, the founder of industrial capitalism, had one thing in common: the belief in the God-like ability of technology to transform and transcend. Spanning 27 panels across four massive walls in the museum's Garden Courtyard, Rivera crafted scenes that would marvel and confound. He created a condensed, yet technically accurate ode to the work performed by workers at Ford's massive River Rouge plant, even depicting tourists who would come to the plant to see vehicles snake through its two-mile long assembly line. He praised the promise of a brotherhood of man united around industry while craftily acknowledging the commodification and exploitation of this labor under the watchful eye of an engineer whose visage is said to be a combination of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Industry's, and therefore humanity's potential for good or bad is seen in opposing panels on the North Wall dedicated to chemistry. The left corner sees the industrial manufacture of chemical weapons, while a beatific (and controversial) baby receives life-saving vaccines on the wall's right side.
My words or the pictures I took can't do Rivera's work justice, and the following video flattens its grandeur while giving you a sense of what Rivera accomplished. It's included here just to tease you. For a more comprehensive study of the murals, the cosmology Rivera created with them, and the controversy they generated, get your hands on Linda Bank Downs' Diego Rivera: The Detroit Industry Murals . Then go to Detroit, stand in that courtyard, talk to a docent, and breath it all deeply down.
While Rivera's murals frame and fix Detroit's former glory in plaster, another exhibit at the museum unintentionally channels the city's demise. Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City, 1950-2020 showcases the auto industry's creativity and innovation, and highlights the interplay between making art and making automobiles. The show features 12 iconic concept and production models from various Detroit auto makers, 36 works on paper highlighting the design process, and 7 pieces of artwork inspired by cars. As Cecily and I moved through the exhibit, we noticed a turning point where the designers reached for past glory by creating newer versions of classic models, like Ford's 2002 GT concept and its 2017 GT. This "drawing from the past," while, "looking to the future" continues to celebrate an industry that essentially abandoned the city it helped build, and in that abandonment ensured Detroit's fall from the hilltop. Continued labor unrest at the River Rouge plant was one of the reasons Ford Motor Co. decentralized its production process; which, over time, saw factories move further west and farther south. What remains of the industry and the city as a whole is a culture that, like the hotel we stayed at, screams the past into the face of a tumultuous present and an uncertain future. It is urban planning propelled by irony. The fact that we ended our final full day in Detroit at Cliff Bell's, a jazz club first opened in 1935, listening to another Diego Rivera -- this one an award winning saxophonist and composer -- was both wonderful and sadly fitting.
Car culture was perfected in California but it was born in Detroit, just as soul music was born in the Delta but perfected at 2648 West Grand Boulevard a few miles away from the Siren. Everything that made America great in that red, MAGA hat wearing sense could be seen in Motor City. During World War II Detroit was “The Arsenal of Democracy,” serving as the armorer for the Greatest Generation in its battle against Fascism and Imperialism. It also produced racism and redlining; redistricting and riots. The brotherhood the mural-making Rivera hoped industry would birth never emerged when this city was young and formidable. A place with the potential to be eternal became a punchline -- a dangerous city marked by disarray, damage, and disrepair. Detroit was largest US city ever to file for bankruptcy, and is America's most segregated. It was rightfully accused of violating human rights by the United Nations. 40% of the streetlights don't work, there are over 70,000 abandoned homes, and 25,000 vacant lots. I doubt we would let this happen to a city that has given us so much if it wasn't nearly 80% black.
Stephen Henderson said in the documentary The United States of Detroit that the city “is a place for the brave or the foolish… and maybe a little bit of both.” I always feel a bit foolish, and if the absence of fear equals bravery, then I guess I was brave during my short time moving in and around Detroit. I wish I saw more. I wish we had made it to Keyworth Stadium, where Detroit City FC is building a team and a fanbase from the ground up. I wish we had stopped by the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative and bought vegetables raised by residents who cultivated crops on abandoned lots. It's clear that a new Detroit is coming. Whether it's one that accepts the wholeness of its past -- the rust with the chrome -- or simply continues to serve the part at the expense of the whole remains to be seen. This is true of America. Everything about this nation's past, present, and future is wrapped up in what I saw during my six days in Michigan, and what I learned about the places I visited after I returned home. It's all connected by the same gleaming alabaster thread that joins two Diegos through time and distance. I fell in love with Suttons Bay on a bike trail just as I embraced Detroit on two feet, and explored Michigan on four wheels. The thoroughfares of freedom carved out of the wilderness by our forebearers wind through places divided into shades of red and blue and black and white, They are cracks in our nation's foundation half-heartedly repaired with a three-fifths mixture of freedom, oppression, and denial. If Suttons Bay, Detroit, Michigan as a state, and America as a nation, can ever be truly great, we must own this foundation, tear it down, and start again.