Month: September 2013

From Motown to Growtown

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We’re in the middle of watching another documentary in class; a film called Urban Roots documents the effects of the growth of urban agriculture in Detroit. The intro, a mini silent film (set to a classic rag on a honky-tonk piano), shows the city in its heyday. A switch to clips of modern (“modern” sounds too positive) Detroit shows just how sharp the contrast is between then and now.

The film details the importance of urban farming in the food-desert of Detroit. Not only do they supply fresh food for the city’s people, but they bring the community together as they work side-by-side in the dirt. And I think that unity sets the basis for change in Detroit. Even if they can’t change what’s happening in the city hall, at least they can boost their morale by seeing the literal fruits of their labor come up each harvest season.

An interesting narrator of the film was a man named Keith Love. (“Love. Keith Love. That’s my real name!”) He told about how he’d been in the ubiquitous “bad place” for a while in life. While I’d hate to gloss over the fact that he “cleaned up,” like it was some easy thing to do, unfortunately I don’t have enough notes to write about that. But, he did clean up, and began working with a community garden. You could see his interest in the business of the garden; in fact, if I’m not mistaken, he seemed to have some authority over at least part of the operation. Seeing Mr. Love so passionate about the delivering of fresh produce to the city of Detroit reminded me of the popular Howard Thurman quote:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

So that’s what I think the urban agriculture movement is doing. I think it’s the sign of new life in Detroit again, like tiny green sprouts popping up after the whole forest has been burned down.

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Charlie LeDuff and Detroit: An American Autopsy

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First off, oops. I’m a little late to the party posting this. Can we just call it fashionably late?

Anyway, earlier this week we started Charlie LeDuff’s book Detroit: An American Autopsy. After winning a Pulitzer, working for the New York Times, and having a daughter, LeDuff thought that it would be best to pack up and move back home to Detroit. I’m sure you can imagine his surprise (that’s not an understatement) when he realized what he came back to. He had so many feelings that he wrote this book about it.

Our assignment was to question the authority (Question the authorities?! Yeah! Stick it to the man!!) Charlie LeDuff has to analyze Detroit, as well as address his strengths and weaknesses in his analysis. I thought it was an interesting assignment because it made me question what authority anyone has to analyze anything (lookin’ at you, Fashion Police).

I got over my little moment and considered it. At first, I thought: well, he’s a reporter. Reporters have the power to, as he put it in his book, “parachute” to scenes, report, and fly away. His job writing for the Detroit News allowed him to extensively travel, inspect, and interview all parts of Detroit. Plus, he was raised in Livonia and spent much of his childhood experiencing Detroit directly, through his own experiences, and indirectly, in the ways it affected the people in his life. He knows what Detroit was, sees what is now, and I think that by taking the time to actually write about it, he’s indicating that he thinks there’s something left to be made of of it. One could conclude that LeDuff’s credibility comes from the fact that he’s no stranger to the city. Additionally, the fact that he is both an outsider and a native to Detroit allows him to offer more than one perspective on the city of Detroit.

So, I’ll let him write the book. He’s got some authority to.

But…can he write it…well?! A Pulitzer in his backpocket would like to say that he can. In class we pointed out a few potential weaknesses that should be noted, though. While his attachment to the city is beneficial in some ways, others may also view it as bias in his writing. Some may worry that he can’t be objective about writing. His writing can sometimes have that propaganda-y feel to it. A little online research brings up some sketchy allegations of plagiarism. But the worst weakness of them all? Sometimes he even seems to portray himself as a (wait for it) badass.

I don’t know, though. Pretty weak arguments. He writes with a relatively “realist” tone, so I don’t think he’s bias in any way. For what he’s going for, you don’t need to be objective. Considering Detroit’s state, it’s probably not propaganda. Regarding the plagiarism, he openly denied any dishonest actions and was backed by his boss. His language is entertaining, true or not. And maybe he does portray himself as a badass, but maybe he is.

Have you seen his goatee?

Form your own opinion of him. Use this video to help you out.

“We Are Not Ghosts”

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Today in class we watched the documentary We Are Not Ghosts (such a title!), which featured the voices of Detroiters who acknowledge Detroit’s decay but also, more importantly, it’s potential, due to the determined people who are still there (i.e. not “ghosts,” of the town they’re living in). The film begins with clips of Detroit: points of pride, like Comerica and The Spirit of Detroit, are almost undermined by the sudden clips of crumbling buildings and vacant lots. All of this is set to a poignant, almost haunting, poem-chant about “my city, my city, my city, my city.”

Also this week in class, we had some readings regarding the city; Rebecca Solnit’s flowery “Detroit Arcadia” and Thomas Sugrue’s scholarly first chapter, “‘Arsenal of Democracy'” of his book, The Origins of the Urban Crisis. While both complemented each other and created a detailed and vibrant (in shades of industrial gray, of course) picture of Detroit and its history, this film provided the pathos necessary to make Detroit’s crisis understandable. Anywhere on the news, on any given day, you can find stories about the decline (“decline” almost seems too many steps ago) of Detroit. But when the barrier of a screen or print or half a globe is set between the reader and the real thing, it’s hard to understand the reality of the situation. The movie directly connects you to the people of Detroit: how they feel and what they think should be done, rather than what the media, or the federal government, or city council (rather, what’s left of it) thinks should be done.

My favorite people to be interviewed in this documentary weren’t actually fully-grown people yet. Indeed, an interview of children at a bus stop was what really pulled at my heart (you win, Bullfrog Films, with the here’s-a-cute-kid emotion trick). The children, who have only been on this Earth for such a short time; who have only seen Detroit in its state of ruin; who have been exposed to crime and deceit and poverty and misfortune, know that what their city is experiencing is not right. And even more, they know that something can be done about it. (Seriously, how can a little boy wisely quip that, “It’s not the city that needs help, it’s the people who need help!” Ugh. Tears.) Their optimism, promise, and enthusiasm are what will bring the city back; perhaps not into the city it once was, but maybe into something different, and even better, than before.

Another favorite voice of mine was a teacher. The film showed her working with her kids; they were open, comfortable, and excited to learn, get the answers right, and help each other out with problems. The teacher’s passion for her job was obvious when she told the camera what she taught “her kids,” as she called them:

“Smart is something that you get. We’re all intelligent. But you get smart by working hard.”

She then went on to say she treated the kids like they were her own, as if they came from her womb (which reminded me of Gibran’s chapters from The Prophet on Work and Children).  I’d like to think that without people like her, these kids may not have found the interest in learning they now had, which could potentially mean the loss of important builders of Detroit’s future. Without her, a future mayor, activist, teacher like her, or just a successful adult could be lost. Her love is what will change their lives; what will change the city; what will change the world.

In conclusion, We Are Not Ghosts taught me that yes, Detroiters are a little down right now. But it’s Detroit; like the Fords it forged all of those years, it was built tough. It will come back; a completely new model of itself.

Where I’m From

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For our first assignment, we were to write prose about where we’re from. This included all the sensations you’d experience in From, as well as something a stranger wouldn’t understand upon visiting. I was pretty liberal with that last part; actually, you probably wouldn’t get it if you weren’t native to my From.

My From is Port Huron, Michigan, a small city right on the “knuckle” of your thumb, and home to the Blue Water Bridge.

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The BWB behind a statue of the child Thomas Edison; Port Huron was his boyhood home.

Where I’m From

If we’re being literal, it’s just a bridge to Canada;

a partition between river and lake;

a not-so-majestic structure of grey metal.

If we’re being figurative, it’s a painful failure to get off at the right exit

an inward flow of shoppers; bad drivers; “damn Canadians”

a side door out of the American drinking age.

If we’re being bitter, it’s a barrier between Northern yuppies and Southside trash.

If we’re being sweet, it’s our faithful boardwalk companion.

If it’s summer, it’s the starting line for a nautical Saturday on the lake.

If it’s winter, it’s an orifice for ice and freighters alike to squeeze through.

If you’re a stoner it’s what you fix your gaze on for who-knows-how-long.

If you’re a runner it’s what you fix your gaze on for who-knows-how-long.

If we’re being romantics, like we always can be, it’s the inspiration behind utterances of “I love this town,” while we stroll at dusk.

And if we’re being honest, it’s the uniting symbol

of where we’re from.

Baby’s First Blog Post

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I’m Rachael, and I have strange sense of sentimentalism that hold hands with what people like to mistakenly call “OCD”‘; in other words, I didn’t want my first blog post to be a not-so-serious “first blog post testing 123 is this thing on lol” mingling amongst my (what I like to think are) otherwise-relatively-thoughtful posts.

I’ll be blogging for my What You See Is What You Get course at the University of Michigan, as we, ahem:

“investigate and analyze the changing image and identity of Detroit, before turning the focus on ourselves and our own experiences of image and identity.”

I’m really looking forward to what this class is going to teach me!

And yes, the blog’s title is supposed to be a joke.

testing 1 2 3 is this thing on lol