So I’m Leaving Detroit.
I moved to Detroit in August of 2013. I’ve talked about some of my experiences here: my cautious optimism, a scary encounter with street harassment, and an extended metaphor attempting to convey the difficulties of the last year. Then there’s the million other Feelings I regularly cycle through that don’t get blogged about.
So here’s the big news, news that shouldn’t be too surprising if you’ve talked to me in the last year: I’m leaving Detroit. I’d rather not have to explain why a million times over, so here’s an email I wrote to my co-curator and collaborator for Motor Signal, the poetry reading series I had a hand in starting here. It explains enough, and is more straightforward than I could be if I was writing this post from scratch.
I don’t think I talk about my personal life much with either of you, but this past year has been a strain on me in many ways. There’s been quite a lot of street harassment, and additionally I don’t have the level of independence that feels integral to my person. It’s hard for me to feel okay or fully myself here, and I’ve been unhappy for awhile, so I’ve had to make the (very recent) decision to leave.
Getting Motor Signal started up has been one of the bright spots of my short time in Detroit. I’ve been honored to work closely with the two of you kickass ladies and the rest of the Literary Detroit crew. And I know this thing will easily live on after I leave, because we have amazing organizations and people like you backing it. Remember, I only moved here last August, knowing barely anybody, particularly in the literary world, so I’m positive you guys will be able to shepherd this thing as it grows.
I’m very sad to be leaving this behind, but have full faith that it will continue to flower under your guys’ and Literary Detroit’s hand. And thank you for trusting me, a stumbling young'un who doesn’t know much, but loves poetry a lot, with bringing this thing to life. It’s been a privilege and a pleasure.
Oftentimes, discourse about Detroit gets compressed into a few pat narratives: a tale of two cities, the startup renaissance downtown and the blighted neighborhoods outside the core. It’s a strange paradox when you consider a particular one of those narratives: the one where the very fabric of Detroit is in flux, where the city is being redefined. I remember a conversation in the fall with a few people where we discussed how, frustratingly, it seems like there’s this limited palette of narratives at the moment.
I repudiate these by-now familiar ways of framing the city. There’s so, so much more that those tired narratives don’t do justice to, and that’s why I’m not going to sit here and rip on Detroit, despite my having had a hard time of it in the last year. I’m a single person. Talk to any of the other 700,000 living here before you form an opinion on the place. Visit. Hear people’s stories.
It’s not my fault that I’ve gotten regularly hassled, harassed here; but my reasons for leaving also have a lot to do with the kind of person I am, the things I care about, as the email alludes to. What I’m saying is: don’t take this, me leaving, as a simple reflection of Detroit’s failings. Don’t you dare talk about Detroit as a ghost town or hellhole when you don’t know the half of lived experience here. There is good that exudes from this place, despite everything, and I say this as someone who has struggled mightily in my time here. Despite everything, optimism pervades. I think Detroiters will understand this.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting passionate, thoughtful people here who care deeply about the fate of this city. Their stories, their efforts, the rich history of the place, are what should be highlighted. For now I need to go back to a place that’s close to my heart, but that doesn’t nullify any of the good here.
Detroit, you’ve put me through hell this last year. At some point, I had to stop optimistically lying when people asked me how the city was. But I’m thankful for what you taught me: about myself and my capacities, about geography and a broken city that’s managing to limp along; and the invaluable people that inhabit that city. Borrowing, as ever, from an upcoming poem in Banango Street: the light in me honors the light in you. Such darkness, and such light in spite of it. Now on to the next adventure.