I got an email the other day from a dear friend down in my second hometown of Athens, Georgia. This friend is a former roommate that I lived with for years, and he wanted to ask a question about life here in the big bad Dee-troit. It seems that the rest of the country has an interesting perspective on who we are and what life must be like in up here in the rust belt. And apparently, the fact that I seem pretty damn happy, healthy, and well, un-suicidal, is in direct contradiction with how HORRIBLE things supposedly are around here. His question gave me pause, and made me think about how much of our sense of well-being comes from internal versus external sources.
When I moved to Athens years ago, I found a magical town where people dressed in costume to go to the grocery store, wore tiaras and opera gloves while waiting on you at the Waffle House, built elaborate sculptures out of bicycle parts and driftwood in their front yards, and threw parties every day of the week, “just because”. Naturally, I loved it. When I came back to Detroit, I worried that I wouldn’t find that same sense of whimsy and magic that had become such a big part of my life. Boy, was I wrong.
For the most part, the yards around here are a little more manicured, and I haven’t spotted any tiaras on waitresses at the local Coney Island, but the spirit and the hearts of the locals around here are just as filled with optimism and a sense of magic as in that quirky southern town. No matter where we are, or what surrounds us, we all find ways to let our inner kids go out and play, even here in the big bad ole’ D.
Here’s part of our conversation:
You live in what is reputed to be one the dirtiest, most financially depressed, dilapidated, dangerous, crime ridden, cold, blustery, snowy, cities in the country…BUT SOMEHOW, contrary to all of this, you manage to beam happiness and positivity. In person it exudes from your very existence and presence.
How do you manage this when surrounded by that kind of adversity…? Doesn’t it get to you? If you could name one main source (internal or external) that creates that sort of resilience and positivity, what would it be?
One thing I learned living in and travelling around the gothic south, is that there is beauty in decay…..there is grace in the death of the old….and that a community that caves in on itself is ripe for evolution and re-creation.
That was true of the Athens I found in the late 80s, where a tumbleweed could’ve blown down Clayton street most days, but just look at Athens now. In some ways I miss the sleepiness of that time/place, and Detroit has a certain sleepy quality, as though the grownups have gone, and all us teenagers are just waking up and making it our playground. 20-somethings are buying property and opening weird and wonderful little business….artists and performers take over entire neighborhoods of empty houses and build stages for live impromptu shows, or a ferris wheel, or some other random act of whimsy.
The Detroit you see is not real, or at least not entirely. The city I live in pulses with a million heartbeats, and sometimes I think I can feel them all beating at once.
So to answer your question, my “one main source” would have to be connection. I try not to isolate, though I do like some alone time. Mostly, though, I am recharged by spending quality time with others, whether through sharing emotional intimacy or physical intimacy. Small talk doesn’t work, though it is sometimes crucial to laying the groundwork for deeper connections, and its part of my job. But the deeper I can communicate with someone whose company I truly enjoy, the happier I am.
Yes, I am ridiculously upbeat, which I know annoys some people, but I still have my moments of angst and sarcasm, and occasional schadenfreud. I’m no Pollyanna, but I do keep falling head over heels in love with life and many of the people in it. I have a huge appetite for that kind of thing. Don’t get me wrong, I miss the Neverland that is Athens, but there is also a kind of magic up here. After all, we each carry our magic with us………everything else is just geography, right?
And I’m going to make that my mantra: After all, we each carry our magic with us………everything else is just geography, right? I may even put that on a tshirt.