I Chose Flint

I chose Flint.

I was a late bloomer, as they like to say, but really I was just scared to death about moving out of my parent’s house. Moving out made me an adult in full and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that.

I am still not sure.

I moved out at 27 when I finally realized that yeah, I was ready to be an adult and needed the privacy and space to BE one. I decided to move on a Wednesday. I looked at one apartment in a small town about a half an hour away from where I grew up and I was moving in that Sunday.

It was time to grow up.

I spent five years in that small town, living in an apartment I could afford and which afforded me the luxury of privacy. It was a trashy complex, no doubt. I caught the guy across the hall from me chasing his girlfriend around in the middle of the night, drunk and throwing bottles at her. Scared me to pieces. Enough that I grabbed a knife and wondered if I needed to intervene. I called the cops instead.

There was the mother of several kids that would use a shopping cart to transport her groceries back to the apartment then abandon it in the yard of the complex. She was also great at letting her daughter run off and then stepping out to yell MARIIIIIIIIIAH at the top of her lungs.

It was really trashy.

I was lucky to get out before anything bad happened to me.

At leasy physically.

Ah, but a young guy out dating for the first time in his life finds a lot of emotional potholes along the way.

I was in Flint visiting a friend and heading to check out a large football field here in Flint where Malcolm X once spoke as well as John Kennedy as he ran for President. As we made our way to the field we were stopped by a local guy that I knew from his management of an all-ages alcohol free rock club. I had known the guy casually since I first started hanging out in Downtown Flint at age 20, when I would frequent the Capitol Theater. I was around 31 at this point though and still figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. Many of my friends lived in and around Flint, and the arts group I was a part of called Flint home. I was always there it seemed liked for one event or another. The guy I know stopped his truck and pulled up to us and asked me where I was living these days. I told him and he started laughing.

That was when he hit me with the punchline – he had an apartment coming open in the same building where the friend I was with lived. I should move in.

My initial feeling was to laugh it off.

I HAD a place.

But I didn’t love that first place. My relationship with the neighbors who I had called the cops on (PS – said cops carted him away to jail for a bit that morning) was icy and I had caught the fella espousing some loud tough guy talk regarding me so it was probably best to get while I could.

It took a couple months for the apartment to finally come open, the tenant dragging his feet despite not being up on rent. I rented it having just seen it once. I was made lots of promises of work that’d be done, of new carpet, and paint, and a washer and drier that took four years to get, and an outlet for the bathroom – which awkwardly had no ceiling.

Few of those things came to pass but it didn’t matter.

I had found a new home.

I was finally in Flint.

When I moved into the place the front door was boarded over and you entered from the back of the place.

Didn’t matter.

Flint was still a ghost town at the time but there were signs of life. I worked and kicked around the Downtown scene and there was a bunch of us that were starting to do things – music shows, art shows, festivals. A lot of that sprung from the arts group I was in but that group inspired others and suddenly there were a bunch of weirdos populating the downtown after work hours. Suddenly we were filling the bars until late. Suddenly the monthly art walk was about more than just three art venues.

Downtown was a blank canvas waiting to be painted.

We painted it.

Wild and loud and free.

Right and wrong.

I helped start a writer’s group and feel deeper into love for writing than I already was.

I met new people.

I dated.

I went out.

I explored.

I found myself as Flint found itself anew.

My friend who I shared much of my life with and I programmed a horror film festival at a mutual acquaintance’s high def television store. Those two years were two of the initial seeds that lead to what we would later create.

As our group brought in new people to the area the all-ages club re-opened and helped breathe new life into the local music scene. Then there was the opening of an alternative gallery which was courted from the West Coast and brought to Flint to open. This was when we knew things were changing. This ushered in an era of alternative art, of fashion as art, film as art, and on and on. It inspired and challenged all of us. The space didn’t last long but its legacy is part of the revival of Flint’s Downtown. It poured gasoline onto the fire we had been creating.

The arts group expanded to a point where a lot of the original members began branching out to spread their wings to see what they could do on their own and I was one of those. I had done all I could with the group and needed a change.

So I changed.

My apartment was my home base.

I wrote, wrote, wrote.

I began to paint.

I had friends over for nights of movies or ridiculousness on the roof.

My apartment was a loft style with lots of open space where the bedroom was part of the living room. There were no windows but there were stairs to the roof. It was weird, especially when I got a job downtown where I worked around no windows as well, but it was home.

I met my future wife in Flint when I was part of the local film festival for a year.

We met through a mutual friend over candy and booze.

I started to put together what I called Punk Rock Rummage Sales with friends at a local bar, inspired by the similar shows another friend did who had, it turned out, been inspired by our arts group to start her shows.

I helped put together author events.

I helped create a seismic shift in the art scene here when a few of us got together and put on alternative art shows in the building some of us lived in. Guerilla Art shows we called them because they were not at a gallery and were meant to be fun and free and open to all. Our art shows opened the door to others to invade the monthly art walks and suddenly what had been a stodgy event became more carefree and fun.

Suddenly people of all ages came out.

I discovered self-publishing and started putting new books out.

I painted more and more.

I collaborated with artists and other authors and photographers on art projects.

I worked, lived, loved, and played in Flint.

I met someone through a job that inspired me to want to help people.

I grew up, as much as I ever will.

I sat on the roof of the building where I lived and talked about the Zombie Apocalypse with friends for hours and hours at night under the stars.

In 2011 I started a horror convention with friends with the goal of bringing something like that to the city. Over the years we had conventions, art shows, music shows, movies under the stars, fundraisers, book and author events, mixers, and a film festival. We evolved as we needed and we have survived.

I found my friends in Flint.

I found myself in Flint.
I found my life in Flint.

It wasn’t a perfect city but it was ours.

I lived in a building right in the middle of Downtown so when the streets closed down for the huge classic car show, or the motorcycle show, or the road race, I was in the middle of it.

I’d work next door at the screen-printing place, sweating and tired but loving the atmosphere of tens of thousands of people in our city, having fun.

It was during one of the rummage sales that I heard about a house for sale from a friend.
It was for sale through their family member.

I should check it out.

It was a seed of the future, planted by my future wife who found out about the house first and asked our friend to tell me.

We still live in that little house.

Our home.

In Flint.

This new home is where I have written thirteen books.

Where I have made two short films.

Where I have painted and photographed.

Where I podcast with friends and by myself.

Where I have a life.

Where I love and am loved.

In Flint.

 

I found Flint at the dawn of its new rebirth, it’s re-awakening.

I found it just as I was finding myself.

I found Flint full of like-minded people who wanted to change the world and themselves.

People passionate about the arts and the city.

I found Flint full of love that broke and healed my heart.

I found Flint bursting with passion and life from artists and creators and event planners who wanted to be a part of reviving a great city once more.

I made some of the greatest friends of my life in Flint, lost some amazing friends, became loved and hated, and found that the world is bigger than the small town I grew up in.

I found myself in Flint.

In the end though, I didn’t choose Flint.

Flint chose me.

…c…

A Punk Rock Rummage Sale

For me, I never started out wanting to do events. Not in any sort of way. Shoot, go back to my life before I moved to downtown Flint and I would never have thought once about putting an event together. No, for me it was work, the freedom of my own place, and writing. I had done the ‘zine thing for a bit but I wanted nothing more than to write for a living. I lead the life of a guy who had just found out that the world was bigger than his parent’s house. When I moved into Flint it was a whole world shift.

My group of friends expanded.

My ambitions expanded.

My dreams got bigger.

It wasn’t Flint but the people that I met there, that I got to be around constantly, and the atmosphere of collaboration and friendship. I had had friends in the past, of course, but these were such different people, from far different backgrounds and with much different passions. We were a melting pot of creativity and it inspired me to want to do more than just be a spectator but to be involved and invested, in the myself, in the people around me, and in the city. That was when I started writing even more. Painting. Taking photos. I was surrounded by artists and became more artistic because of it.

Because of all of that I started to do shows, first connected to the group I was friends with and then beyond them, inspired by the conventions I would do to support my book and chapbooks. A friend in Detroit was doing funky events that she called Bar Bazaars (I think that was her spelling, it’s been years so I forget for sure). They were set up in a performance space with a bar and featured artists selling their stuff as music or bands would play. The shows could be either big or small, with a band or not, but were always fun. I remember doing several of them and wishing that something similar was near Flint.

That prompted a friend and I to start talking and from that we thought…What If?

What if WE did something like that in Flint?

We went to our friend to ask her opinion and for her blessing and the three of us spitballed how we could do it.

Flint doesn’t have the same sorts of venues that Detroit does but I approached a local bar that was dead on most Saturdays and I proposed our idea – a rummage sale on a Saturday night with bands playing.

They went for it.

No charge to us.

If we had bands play then we had to pay them but we could split door. We started having bands and that was fantastic but it got hard having to coordinate a show of vendors and bands, the bands not always sticking to a sort of schedule. The bands were fun though, and added an electricity to the events, which we called Punk Rock Rummage Sales, that were never quite there without them. People still came though, but it was different. We did one show where we did a day and night. We pared down the vendors. We honed what we did. We started a relationship with the occasional DJ at the bar and he became the sound of the show.

We were a Punk Rock Rummage Sale.

A, not THE.

There’s a lot of them around, something I didn’t realize when we started.

I called it that for the sheer fun of the alliteration and also because it WAS a ‘punk rock’ rummage sale. People came with art, with craft, with movies, books, music, toys, with everything and anything and it was a true rummage sale but it was in a bar. The DJ would play punk music and it all jelled. We were the punk rock rummage sale.

At first we did a couple a year but as I started doing other things and started having to put the rummage sales together by myself I would only do them once a year. I loved doing them but they were always another thing I would have to focus on when I should be focusing on my writing or just something else. I wavered between wanting to stop doing them and pushing onward.

I loved them too much to quit and people really dug them.

It was something for folks to do.

When the bar changed owners the mindset there changed.

We did a couple shows after the change and they liked having us but suddenly they didn’t need help on a Saturday night. They were pulling people in now and preferred to have a DJ or bands and not us there.

Flint is a hard place to book an event. Not many venues that are open to the ideas of events, especially something that needs space and doesn’t just give back. I tried to contact another bar to take the show on the road but they never bothered to respond. That’s something common to Flint too, though I bet it’s common a lot of places but it doesn’t make it any less aggravating.

I turned to a last-ditch effort, a local lunch place that we had done some events in before. They were open to the idea and we moved the show. The attendance went down, even during at ‘Art Walk’, the city’s monthly art night. The feeling was still there, the music, while now curated and not DJed, was still there, and the friends were still there. And that was it, in the end. The friends. The PRRS, at its heart, was about the friends. That was why I always tended to favor people I knew as vendors. People I trusted. If we could all make a few extra bucks and bring some business to an existing Flint business then that was awesome in my book because we got to spend the evening hanging out and being goofs all night. When I found out that the venue we had tabbed was going to change hands I saw the writing on the proverbial wall.

It was time to pull down the tents and to shut down the circus.

I could keep hunting down venues.

I could keep stressing about where next.

When next.

Who next.

Or I could let it go and let someone else do something like it another day.

The last one has come and gone.

It was filled with friends and familiar faces. Filled with music and laughter. It was the same but different. It was an animal that changed its stripes from show to show but whose face you always knew, our little Punk Rock Rummage Sale. This last one was another one with a smaller crowd but it was a crowd of friends and supporters and in the end,  we went out as we began – surrounded by the people we cared about and who cared about us and what we were doing.

It was a hell of a run.

Nine years of doing these weird little shows and bringing a little strangeness to the city.

I think it’s safe to say that I am about as far from punk rock as it can get but I think we did OK, by and by.

All night people were asking me if I’d miss doing the rummage sales once they were gone and it’s really too early to say.

It’s weird because it is a huge part of my past few years that is now in the past.

What comes next I can’t say but they were fun and it was better to bow when it was our choice and before it was someone else’s.

…c…

 

Picking the Bones Clean

When it comes to cities like Flint the phrase ‘ruin porn’ gets tossed around, the notion that people take delight in the ruination of people in cities. While I do think that there are people, a lot of people – too many people – that take pleasure in seeing some peole and places fail, I think that by dubbing anything as such ‘porn’ is honestly about as bad as the act of disdain. It changes the topic and discussion and charges a word with more power than the tragedy of the situation has itself.
Ah, but that’s our way, isn’t it?
To come up with a cute phrase or catch word that makes us feel good to say as we point at other people and tell them they are the ones creating the scene.
‘It’s because of people like YOU that ruin porn stories like Flint are so misunderstood!’
Or…

Continue reading “Picking the Bones Clean”

Comeback

The world loves a comeback, isn’t that what they say?

Well, they say it, but it doesn’t always make it so.

Right?

We love to see someone rise, the notion of someone almost willing their way upward.

More than that though we love the fall.
We love to watch people fall back to earth after they rose, some sick sort of jealousy and envy twisting in us and making us take glee in someone’s destruction.

Ah, but the comeback, we do still love that, don’t we?

Continue reading “Comeback”

Burning It Down

There are few things as satisfying as orchestrating a good takedown. I speak from experience. It isn’t pretty, it isn’t necessarily mature, but man alive does it feel good to take someone or something down that has done you wrong.

Even if the ‘you’ is bigger than just you alone but you are the one that is able to stand up and say ‘No’. There’s something profoundly righteous in that but righteous though it is it is also a hollow enterprise. You expend so much energy tearing someone down instead of building something that you don’t notice that you at the end you are among the ruins yourself.

But we need to destroy.

Sometimes.

Continue reading “Burning It Down”

The Edge of Truth

In this modern world we love stories, as we always have, but we love stories now told in real time more than in retrospect. We aren’t as tied to the necessity of truth so much as the novelty of emotion. We want the passion but not the impact. We want the comfort of loud voices but not the awareness of soft speech. Such is the case of Flint and the recent movie Lifetime has made about it. The fact is that no matter how accurately they want to portray things, how sincere their efforts are, and how heartfelt their wishes for the city, my city, the fact is that the film was begun over a year ago and as up to date as their information may have been, this is a tale that even we who live here won’t fully know the impact of everything for years to come. As I write this we are on the verge of an attempt to recall our mayor. A mayor that was largely elected because she was a new face not connected with the water crisis and because she promised to get us clean water and to fight for us. I can say firsthand that this is some who has earned a recall but that gets into issues that are not the point of this blog. But it’s hard to tell a full story when you’re only in the middle of it. This water crisis maybe have us looking at our third new mayor in three years. That’s insane. The story of Flint, the whole story, is not something you can put into a two hour movie. It’s not something that can be taken in in one gulp. No, this is a story that will be told over days and months and years. This isn’t something that you can look at from the ground. I can appreciate the desire for immediacy but that view is myopic, but maybe that’s why it’s so desired.

Flint is a buzzword. A flag to follow. Even if people don’t fully understand the politics, the economics, the social impact, the political impact, or a dozen other things. You could write a graduate thesis on any one of these topics so it’s hard to imagine that anything smaller could really do justice to the story but these tales will pop up. They will be told. As I said before people will get famous because of this. People will get rich. And we here in Flint will hope that this at least keeps people thinking about us, and about the issue of water in this nation, but truly, these are not getting deeper than the skin and that’s just the way it is. Such is life

That’s the way of Hollywood.
That’s the way of our culture.

We want the flash and not the picture.

The story of Flint continues to unfold just as the stories of its people. These stories are getting out, bit by bit, but the odds of anyone seeing the full tapestry are long, but if some of those stories can get out, and if a few more people can see the faces behind the headlines and the people behind the horror then that’s something. That’s a start.

The Flint Water Crisis happened. It’s happening. All we can hope now is that this helps a future tragedy and lays a foundation that stops them from happening some day.

…c…