Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Quick Visit to Grand Rapids

Downtown Market
Despite being born and raised in the Detroit area, I somehow never visited Grand Rapids before. I didn't have anything against Grand Rapids. Instead, I found it too easy to keep visiting the places in Michigan that I already knew.

I have been wanting to visit for some time, and my work luckily took me to Grand Rapids on Monday. Since I had a meeting at 1 p.m. downtown, I left my home early enough so I could have two meals and see as much of the city as possible during my visit.

Argos Book Shop
Besides tasting a new city's food and beer, I always try to visit its independent bookstores, so my first stop was Argos Book Shop in the Eastown neighborhood. Argos specializes in used books, and it has a comic book section that looked impressive to this non-collector. The store has two rooms full of used books covering many genres. I could have spent more than an hour searching the shelves, but I had to eat lunch before my meeting.

The bar at the Green Well
For lunch, I chose The Green Well Gastropub in the East Hills neighborhood. The neighborhood was quiet because it was 11 on Monday morning, but I'm guessing it is bustling later in the day since it features several shops and restaurants, and one of Grand Rapids' many breweries, Brewery Vivant.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

2017 Michigan Summer Reading List

A good book plus a lake equals Michigan summer
Summertime in Michigan should include relaxing with a good book on the beach, in the backyard hammock, or in the park. Last year, I shared a list of Five Michigan Books for Summer. This year, the list is longer, with a more diverse group of writers, genres, and forms of literature. Each work has a relationship with Michigan: Either the writer is a Michigander or the work is set in Michigan. It was a pleasure to read each of these works, and I hope others find something valuable through reading them.

The Many Faces of Motherhood

Former Detroit Free Press writer Desiree Cooper’s Know the Mother is a powerful collection of 31 very short stories (most are 750 words or less). The stories examine themes of womanhood, motherhood, and race. I cannot name a favorite story because each one emits emotions that put me squarely into the main characters' shoes. 

Know the Mother’s stories embody loneliness, fear, hope, love, shame, and sorrow. Cooper creates complex and real characters with few words because her writing is splendid, moving, and true. 

Finding a New Universe on Earth

In Detroit author Jack Cheng’s novel See in You in the Cosmos, Alex Petroski is an eleven-year-old boy infatuated with space exploration. The story is told through Alex’s recordings on his golden iPod, which he dreams of launching into space for intelligent alien life to discover. Alex leaves his troubled mom at home to attend a rocket-launching festival in New Mexico. Along the way, he discovers a complicated, but beautiful, new universe right here on earth. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Relaxing Weekend in Traverse City

A view of Grand Traverse Bay from the Shores
My family and I spent Memorial Day weekend in Traverse City because I had the crazy idea to run the Bayshore Marathon. We rented a great condo at the Shores condominiums in Acme, on the east side of East Grand Traverse Bay. The Shores's beach has a beautiful view of the bay and Old Mission Peninsula.

We stayed in on Friday night, since I had to wake up early for the marathon. On Saturday afternoon, after a few hours of post-marathon recovery, we drove up the eastern shore of the Old Mission Peninsula, so I could show my wife and kids the views I saw while running.

Driving the Old Mission Peninsula
The drive was so relaxing that we ended up driving to the northern tip of the peninsula and visited the Mission Point Lighthouse and beach. The tip of the Old Mission Peninsula is on the 45th parallel, meaning we were standing halfway between the equator and the North Pole. We would have explored the lighthouse and beach more, but there were a lot of bugs out, and my four-year-old daughter was not happy that bugs kept landing on her. I also was exhausted and wanted to eat, so we just took a few photos of the lighthouse and the beach. 


Mission Point Lighthouse
We drove back down the western shore of the peninsula toward downtown Traverse City. We went to Apache Trout Grill for dinner because several people recommended it. There was supposed to be an hour wait, but fortune intervened and a table in the bar area opened up after only about 5 minutes.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Snapshot of Traverse City's Bayshore Marathon

A view of East Grand Traverse Bay from the marathon course
Yesterday, I ran my fourth marathon, the Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City. I have run two Marine Corps Marathons in DC and the Capital City River Run in Lansing. The Bayshore is by far my favorite, and not just because I set a PR (more on that later).

From the volunteers to the spectators to the Moomers ice cream at the finish, everything was well run. But the highlight is the course itself. For almost the entire 26.2 miles, the course follows the roads along the eastern shore of the Old Mission Peninsula. The route gives runners sweeping views of the blue waters of East Grand Traverse Bay.

Cherry blossoms along the course
My description of the views cannot do them justice. My family and I drove along the course several hours after the race so I could show them what I saw, and so I could take a few photos.

If you have to run 26.2 miles, might as well enjoy the view.
The course is mostly flat, but there were a few small hills here and there (the only ones I really noticed were in the last 5 miles, when I was struggling to keep my legs moving). Many of the residents along the route sat in their front yards and cheered the runners on, and some even offered water (or beer. . . I passed on the beer). Olympic marathoner Desi Linden, one of the fastest women in the world, even stood on the sidelines encouraging people who run the marathon hours slower than her.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Five of Michigan's Great Independent Bookstores

Pages Bookshop in Detroit
My favorite indie bookstore from childhood died more than 20 years ago at the hands of Barnes & Noble (which moved in across the street), but that same Barnes & Noble perished recently, most likely because it couldn't keep up with Amazon. It's been a common trend over the last 30 years. Big bookseller moves into the neighborhood, forcing an independent store to close, and then the big guy shutters its store when it can't compete with online shopping.

Luckily for those who love independent bookstores, some indies have survived the decades-long assault from big booksellers and the internet, while others have recently opened up shop. Whether they opened in the last few years or more than a few decades ago, good independent bookstores realize that they are much more than stores that sell books. It doesn't matter whether they sell coffee and other merchandise or just books. The special ones are gathering places for readers and writers. They offer recommendations, spur conversation, preserve and promote knowledge, and elevate communities.

Although they may not be as common as they once were, Michigan still has many independent bookstores. Here are a few of my favorites:

Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore

Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore
Munising is a city of just more than 2,000 people on the western edge of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Most visitors know it as the place to hop on one of the Pictured Rocks cruises, but Munising also has a top-notch bookstore in Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore. The cafe serves custom-roasted coffee, breakfast, and sandwiches.

The bookstore has more than 30,000 new and used books, as well as locally made jewelry, pottery, and gifts. I was impressed by their section dedicated to local writers and found a couple of great books set in the U.P., South of Superior and Here. With its wide-open floor plan and numerous tables, Falling Rock is a great place to warm up with a good book and cup of coffee on a cold U.P. day.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Stars Still Shine at Detroit's Redford Theatre

The Redford Theatre
As a teenager, I saw a handful of movies at the Redford Theatre in Detroit--classics like The African Queen, On the Town, and Shane. Everything about the Redford felt historic, from the organ to the interior architecture to the way they showed Warner Brothers cartoons before the feature and always had an intermission when we could refill our pop and grab more snacks without missing any of the action. I remembered how, once the lights dimmed, the sky-blue ceiling shone with hundreds of tiny lights, giving the audience the feeling that it was watching a movie under the stars.

Until Saturday, it had been a couple of decades since I visited the theater, so my memory was a little fuzzy about the building's architecture. Regardless, I was excited to bring my wife and two girls to the theater. The Redford was showing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and my daughters were excited to see it for the first time in a movie theater.

A Japanese-themed painting in one of the staircases
The theater's yellow-trimmed marquee is not as imposing or ornate as those of other old movie houses in Michigan, which only makes the inside of the Redford Theatre more impressive. When the theater first opened in 1928, it had a larger marquee, but it was later replaced. Part of it was used for scrap metal during World War II, not the only change brought on by the war. The theater's original Japanese-themed interior was removed or painted over after Pearl Harbor, and much of it was still hidden when I last visited in the early 1990s.

Monday, February 27, 2017

An Afternoon of Poetry in Detroit

Three new collections of poetry by Michiganders
“Publishing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.” ―Don Marquis

On Saturday afternoon, I had the opportunity to attend a poetry reading in Detroit presented by Lynch and Sons Fund for the Arts and Wayne State University Press. The event featured three poets, Keith Taylor, Cindy Morgan Hunter, and Jim Daniels, reading from their newest collections of poetry. Each collection was published through Wayne State's Made in Michigan Writers Series, which publishes poetry, essays, creative nonfiction, and short fiction by Michigan writers.

Keith Taylor

Keith Taylor
Keith Taylor has published several poetry collections and teaches creative writing at the University of Michigan. He read from his newest collection of poetry, The Bird-While. Before reading his poems, he explained that he borrowed the title of his collection from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson described a "bird-while" as "the space most of the wild birds will allow you to make your observations on them when they alight near you in the woods." 

Each of the poems Taylor read is a brief, but thorough, view of both human nature and actual nature. He read about his daughter's narcolepsy, a hummingbird that stops its work to watch a jet fly overhead, young scientists talking about life as information, and the day the trees in his yard were uprooted by a storm. 

Cindy Hunter Morgan

Cindy Hunter Morgan
Cindy Hunter Morgan is a native Michigander who teaches creative writing at Michigan State University and has authored two award-winning chapbooks. Hunter Morgan read from Harborless, her collection of poems about Great Lakes shipwrecks. The Great Lakes are the resting grounds for more than 6,000 shipwrecks and 30,000 mariners, and Hunter Morgan gives a humanizing glimpse into what might have been the final moments of more than thirty of these wrecks.

Before reading each poem, Hunter Morgan gave a brief history of the shipwreck itself. One ship caught fire carrying a cargo of peaches, and Hunter Morgan captures the smells, sights, and sounds of a ship full of peaches going up in flames. Another ship carried Christmas trees from the Upper Peninsula to Chicago, where families waited at the docks to purchase trees that never arrived. Hunter Morgan used the pantoum poetic form for this Christmas tree ship poem, Rouse Simmons, 1912. A pantoum consists of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza serve as the first and third lines of the next stanza. In this case, it gives the poem the wave-like effect intended by Hunter Morgan, as if the debris from the ship were bobbing up and down in the rolling waves.

Jim Daniels

Jim Daniels
Jim Daniels is a Detroit native and professor of creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Daniels explained that, despite living in Pittsburgh for more than thirty years, he always returns inland to Detroit. So he titled his latest collection of poems Rowing Inland. The poems he read gave glimpses of the Metro Detroit of Daniels's youth and his relationships with his family then and today.

When he read about driving the gridded streets of Detroit and ending up in Canada, Daniels's personal words felt personal to me, for I know these streets and drove them aimlessly as a teenager. His poem Hard Candy is about a family secret and the hard candy his grandmother kept in a metal dish. I remembered how both my grandmothers kept dishes of hard candy, and I wondered what sorrows and secrets they kept locked away.

The Venue

The former Kresge estate
The reading was hosted at the former Kresge estate in Detroit's Arden Park neighborhood. Paddy Lynch, of the Lynch and Sons Fund for the Arts family, purchased the house in 2011 and has brought it back to its original glory. Besides the Kresges, who founded K-Mart, the house's street once was populated with famous Detroit families like the Dodges and Fishers. 

Despite the grandeur of the home, the event was intimate. My wife, Allison, and I were able to speak to all three poets, and we found each of them to be friendly and unpretentious, normal people with extraordinary voices. The reading itself was in a basement room adorned with artwork along the walls. The poets and speakers stood in front of a mural that Paddy said reminds him of Ezra Pound's poem The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter. Paddy read Pound's poem at the end of the night in honor of his parents, who will be celebrating their fortieth wedding anniversary this year.

Thomas Lynch, Paddy's uncle and a renowned writer in his own right, spoke before the readers. He depicted the struggle for poets to find audiences (and recited the Don Marquis quote above), and discussed the importance of poetry and the arts in our fractured society. His sense of humor shone as he joked that the poetry reading was a success because the attendees outnumbered the poets. 

The reading was a reminder of Michigan's natural beauty and the humanity of its residents. I look forward to seeing what other writers Lynch and Sons Fund for the Arts and the Made in Michigan Writers Series will uncover. 

At the end of the night, I walked out of the reading with a signed copy of each poetry collection, beautiful broadsides of the poets' works by three letterpress studios, and the echoes of rose petals.

The broadsides

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Silence Is Not an Option

This is not supposed to be a political blog.

This blog is supposed to be about the wonderful people of Michigan and our arts, culture, and food. I've written personal essays about my travels throughout the state and nostalgic posts about fond childhood memories. I often sit down at my computer with a smile on my face as I write about a writer I interviewed, film I saw, or a vacation I took. It brought me joy to share these stories with friends, family, and a few loyal readers.

But today, I sit here scowling with thousands of indignant thoughts clamoring in my mind yearning to breathe free. In his first week in office, our president has continued to play off irrational fears while ignoring or openly attacking facts. I wasn't surprised by this because the content of his character lacks basic rational thought and human empathy. I thought I could grin and bear it. I even laughed at his ridiculous wall.

But the tipping point was his executive order banning refugees from seven countries based on nothing but baseless fear of Muslim refugees. Not only did he impose this reckless ban, but he entered his order on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Putting into words my disgust with our president's executive order is difficult, but necessary.

Two months ago, I wrote about the United States as the "shining city upon a hill," and how I feared we might no longer be that shining city with the election of Donald Trump. Deep in my heart, I hoped that Trump wouldn't be that terrible and was naive enough to believe the Republicans who denounced Trump's bloviating about a Muslim ban would stand up to him when the time came. Then it only took one week for them to cave. One damn week. As I write this, only a small handful of GOP leaders have spoken against the ban. The rest either praise this un-American ban or sit in appalling silence.

Our country is consumed by irrational fear. And, yes, it is completely irrational. The Cato Institute, hardly a liberal organization, conducted a study that found that the chance of being killed in a terrorist attack by a refugee is a 1 in 3.64 billion per year. Not one of the 9/11 hijackers was from the countries on Trump's list. But we are supposed to cower under our covers worried about the Muslim Boogeyman because fearmongering politicians tell us to. A president once told us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Now, fear is our greatest weakness.

Lady Liberty's lamp is no longer lifted beside the golden door, but at her side, nearly extinguished by the storied, xenophobic pomp of Donald Trump. Thanks to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, there is one small, glowing ember left that one court decision cannot save. Instead, we must raise our voices and let the collective breath of a brave and free people act as a great bellows that ignites her torch anew. And we must rise up and roar every time Donald Trump tries to use his powers to incite fear and attempt to restrict liberty.

Silence is not an option.