Michigan and Other Places

With all the news about the bankruptcy, I’ve been thinking about Detroit lately.  Actually, more accurately, I’m trying not to think about Detroit.

I’m not from Detroit, but since living overseas I find myself identifying with the city and claiming it as my own; to me, it has come to represent Michigan as a whole, and my home.  I used to be excited to read about Detroit on the rare occasion it popped up in the news, but these days I cringe when I see a headline and immediately turn elsewhere.  What Detroit is going through pains me.

The news is reporting what I’ve been aware of anecdotally — Michigan is dying, almost dead in fact, and on life-support.  I’m often nostalgic for my home, but what I miss doesn’t exist anymore.  I used to go home to visit a multitude of friends and family, but if I were to go back now I would have only one friend to visit, only one friend who hasn’t yet emigrated elsewhere to a better place.  On Facebook I saw pictures of my old group of friends “up north” for the fourth of July weekend.  But the group has changed a lot so that I only recognize a smattering of faces, and they’re of people I’m not in contact with anymore.  It makes me wonder if I did go back to this place I miss, Michigan, would I be accepted?

There’s a deep part of me that wants to return home, but alongside that desire is a fear that that home doesn’t exist anymore.  Michigan is dying, friends have moved, and I abandoned the state and those that remained.  I wonder if they could forgive me for that.  I wonder if I could fit in again, and find a home again.

I expressed these thoughts to my boyfriend of almost four years when in a flash I finally understood an infinitesimal part of what his life is like.  Anis is Palestinian, and for the first time I was able to feel genuine empathy for his situation.  I asked him how it felt to not have a recognized country, to have a land that is not technically his, to be homeless.  I finally began to understand.

Geography is important.  I have great respect for my father and his opinions, but one I don’t share is his thought that geography is irrelevant.  He travels a lot and he says that all places are the same and if you’re there long enough, you’ll like it just as well as anywhere else.

I disagree because in geography you have cultures, societies, languages, landmarks, people, and atmosphere.  Every city feels different.  When I visit a place I am able to learn about the people and culture based on how the city feels.  Switzerland is xenophobic and dull, Lithuania is depressing and defensive, China is ignorant, Paris is haughty, Marrakesh is traditional, Istanbul is modern and diverse, Jerusalem is mentally ill, and Detroit is struggling against itself.

I realize that I’m rambling; I apologize.  To sum up what I’m saying, geography matters to a person, and I think it matters a great deal more than we credit it.

Detroit’s problems are obviously affecting the people currently residing there, especially the senior citizens, but they also affect all of Michigan, and anybody who has a connection there.  I don’t think all of my friends wanted to move away, but they were literally out of options.  Ideally I would love to move to Dearborn, near Detroit, because there Anis and I could live in both Michigan and Palestine at the same time.  But that will never happen, because there’s nothing there for us.  There is no industry, no jobs, no life.  I wish I could say, “I’m going to move back to Michigan one day!”  But I won’t. Because that would be going backward.  I want to go home, but my home is dying.  And even though I’m far away, and possibly not even accepted by my home anymore, it still pains me to see it like this.



62 thoughts on “Michigan and Other Places

  1. I know it’s been years since Taylor, and the last time we’ve spoken, but I saw your blog post pop up on facebook, and considering the subject, felt the need to comment.

    The feelings you write about are all too familiar. I was born and raised in Michigan, and while I don’t live there currently, every time I hear about Detroit and its struggles, and how Michigan as a whole, I feel so much sadness that this is no longer a place I can really live and be able to survive. Like you most of my friends from growing up have moved away, and the ones still there I don’t as well. My family still lives there, and in some ways Michigan is always home to me. After my husband and I got married we moved to Ohio (which isn’t doing all that better than Michigan) and we have recently moved to Indiana. I’ve traveled a lot in my life, but the mid-west always seems the place that I want to live and stay, no matter how flat and boring most of my Taylor friends found it to be. I won’t deny that most of the mid-west is just sinking, Michigan leading the way, but something always pulls at me to stay. When it came time for my husband to leave his job in Ohio, we spent a lot of time and energy making sure he found a job that would allow us to stay in the mid-west. I know it’s not suitable for me to live there and be able to make a good living, but I try to hang on to Michigan as long as I can. Ironically, sometimes I have the same feelings about Taylor. Living in Indiana I drive by campus sometimes and I still don’t know how to feel about a home that isn’t a home anymore. I have great attachment to the place, and my memories there, but the people are new and strange, and being on campus makes me feel like a stranger myself.

    I like what you said about geography. That was my minor at Taylor and I have encountered many people who found that to be absolutely pointless. Geography is extremely important, and as I learned studying it hand in hand with my major (history) it’s crucial to understanding how our world works today, and how the people in it interact with each other. It saddens me that it’s not taught in every public school anymore, and that I often run in to people who can’t tell me where Israel or Iraq is on a map. Traveling is a wonderful, beautiful thing, and I love the different feels of every place I’ve ever been. It’s a little true, as your dad says, “if you’re there long enough, you’ll like it just as well as anywhere else.”, I have ended up liking most of the places of bend, but my liking them doesn’t make it any less important that they are totally different.

    What a rant. I hope life post Taylor is treating you well, and that you are having many wonderful adventures in Israel.

    Caitlin Downhour

    • Caitlin,
      It’s great to hear from you! The mid-west has a very special place in my heart and I’m glad it has people like you who are loyal to it! That’s one of the things that make it so special, the people are friendly, loyal, and proud. Thanks for reading and commenting, I hope that you’re well!

  2. I enjoyed reading your post. It was thought-provoking but not for reasons you might expect.

    I grew up in a Michigan far away from yours, out away from the sprawl of urban desolation you remember or you fear. A small town not so far from a middle-size city. Yes, things in that small town have suffered in the recent economic upheavals, but no one makes jokes about the last one leaving please turn the lights off.

    Think about those towns you passed on your way “up North.” There is life there still and goodness and jobs and people who love Michigan, a Michigan you seem to have missed out on.

    Go back and find the rest of the state. It is not what you thought it was then, or now. It might be what you seek.

    I wish you goodness.

    • I do love those towns on my way Up North! I’ve been out of the country for a long time and unfortunately you’re right, I have missed out on this part of Michigan for almost the last decade. I do hope to go back someday for more than just a couple of days, and go back to my all my favorite places in the state. Thank you for your good wishes and your comment.

  3. I spent a tiny amount of time in Detroit last year and have been wanting to go back ever since to explore more. How much is all talk I don’t know but I can’t dismiss the number of people I met who are so happy to count themselves as Detroit born and bred. To paraphrase that famous saying “ask not what Michigan/Detroit can do for you .. . . ” and as @jessiethoughts suggested, it might be what you seek! All best wishes!

    • Oh yeah, I understand that pride! Even over here in Jerusalem every time I see someone wear a hat with a Detroit logo, I shout “Deeetroit! They never know what I’m on about, they usually are just wearing it because they like Eminem. Thanks for commenting, and I hope we both have the opportunity to return and explore more.

    • Everyone in my hometown had the mentality of “getting out.” We grew up calling our town Saginaw, Sagnasty. People even got shirts with that printed on it. I got out fast, and far, and now I wonder if I should have slowed down. My advice is to take your time, and just take every opportunity given to you, regardless of geography. That’s how you’ll find where you belong. Thanks for commenting!

  4. I still live in Michigan and don’t care to leave. I’m older and retired now and don’t need to scramble for jobs. I even like the weather here especially the cool, breezy summer days that don’t go above 80 degrees. No humidity, that’s what it’s like here now. Here I have books to read, friends, relatives, and some great beauty to visit in the state. My son is temporarily working out of the country, but hopefully will be back in a few years. A young relative of mine actually has been recruited for employment by four companies in the last couple of months, all while still working full time. Two of them part of the big three, the other two major auto suppliers. I guess it is not all so bleak. And I’m not usually the optimist in the room!

  5. Hello, let me start by saying I live in Michigan and don’t want to go anywhere else. Sure Michigan has its issues, but I will say, NO, emphatically no, Michigan is not dying. The southwest corner where I live, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, is very strong. The suburbs around Detroit, still some of the wealthiest areas in the country. The tourism areas around the lakes are fabulous and beautiful. Has Michigan had its problems? Absolutely. Just like a lot of states have during this extended recession. Probably significantly worse due to the reliance on the auto industry (which is once again growing… whether we supported the auto bailout or not!) Detroit has serious, serious, serious problems. But maybe there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon with the bankruptcy. The downtown has had billions in investments in the last decade and is thriving. Hopefully that can become the seed that slowly grows outward to the rest of the city. Michigan does need a thriving Detroit… And the D is an amazingly cool city! A weak Detroit does affect the state as a whole, but Michigan is far from dying! I hope you can find the time to come back and visit. My wife and I just recently went to a concert in Detroit and stayed in Dearborn for the night. Very cool place. I don’t know if you could make it work if you moved back here, but don’t write Michigan off just yet. The press has a tendency to focus on the negative. There’s still LOTS of positive here too!

    • Thanks for the encouragement! My parents live in Marshall, in what I always refer to as “the good side of the state”. But I grew up in Saginaw and sometimes forget how wonderful the west and north are. I was off of Facebook for awhile and I just recently got back on. And when I got on I discovered the few friends I had left in Michigan, had moved out of state. That combined with the news I get overseas did probably make the situation seem bleaker than it is. Thanks for your hopeful comment!

  6. I’m from Michigan and live elsewhere nowadays. I moved away for school and then for a job. I still go home to visit my family several times a year, and always always always go Up North to our cottage for the 4th of July! I would like to move back one day.s I identify with your longing for home, and feeling like it isn’t attainable. But I disagree with you totally that Michigan is dying or almost dead. Detroit is not Michigan. Ann Arbor, K-zoo, Traverse City and Grand Rapids all have booming food, booze and hospitality scenes. In the DC area, Detroit it getting equal amounts of bad press with the good, highlighting the urban farming renaissance going on there and the social scene in Corktown. I don’t think it is helpful to perpetuate only negativity, especially if you haven’t been back in a while- which it sounds like you have not. Is Michigan perfect and blooming with fresh jobs to attract a new generation? No, not yet. But all things are cyclical, and MI is coming out of the bottom of the barrel and swinging upwards. Don’t lose faith!

    • Thanks for your encouragement! I do sometimes forget about the great life happening in the rest of the state: I’m from Saginaw and all I read about is Detroit, and the news from those places is so sad, and has been for a long time, that I get overwhelmed. You’re right about things being cyclical, and I hope that the upswing happens soon so that I can see and experience it! Thank you for commenting, I won’t lose faith!

  7. I am a Michigander born and raised in the Detroit area, and am now a student at Michigan State University. I think if any of my fellow Spartans saw this post, they would laugh in your face. Nobody said it better than Chrysler in the 2012 Superbowl…

    “It’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel… hard work and conviction and a know how that runs generations deep in every last detroiter. That’s who we are, that’s our story. It’s probably not the one you’ve been reading in the papers, the one being written by folks who have never even been here and don’t know what we are capable of…”

    There have been endless efforts to get young professionals, especially at MSU, to stick around Detroit to help rebuild what has been, what some think, forever lost of a once great city. Some see it as an opportunity to be a part of a great renovation to the city, others roll their eyes and pack their bags for Chicago, New York, or California.

    From an outsiders view, I suppose it would seem that Detroit is lost. To the many people who still live here, this is just an insult. Grand Rapids was recently rated one one of the top 10 states to find a job in, http://www.wzzm13.com/rss/article/253950/14/Forbes-GR-ranks-4th-for-best-cities-to-find-jobs, and The Big 3 are on the rise as well as other successful Michigan based companies like Quicken Loans. Not to mention Ann Arbor and East Lansing who are both thriving with young professionals trying to make their mark for the better of the state.

    The spirit of Detroit is a strong one. Just recently a massive movement was created to bring the X GAMES to Detroit in order to create more revenue for the city. Mostly lead by young professionals, the facebook page recieved almost 18,500 likes…not bad for a “dying” city. https://www.facebook.com/XGamesDetroit

    What you are reading in the papers is the breath before the storm. I’m constantly surrounded by people who are planning and implenting their own ways to make a difference in Detroit. To someone who is now an outsider and only reading press, I can see how you would think the state is dead. To the young professional who will one day be running it, this is just the beginning. We take defeat as an opportunity, not a chance to pack our bags and leave.

    • “I think if any of my fellow Spartans saw this post, they would laugh in your face.”

      This appears like an offensive statement, but I’m glad to hear it! Your comment and attitude is inspiring. It makes me proud to be from the same place as you.

  8. Both of my parents are from Detroit and ever since I can remember we have visited there as much as we could. I remember being in awe of the city, the bright lights, the beautiful statues. My favorite part of the city was the DIA. I could stare at the Diego Rivera mural for hours. Though I don’t live there, I do love Detroit. I always wished I lived there. Unfortunately, the city is going through some hard times and it’s not the city we want it to be. I have never really known the city as a citizen, I have only known it as an outsider, so I don’t know how bad it is, but I do have faith in it. I believe that it will be that city that I looked at so dreamily through the car window. I believe that it can be the powerful mecca it was when the auto industry took off or when the Jackson brothers and other stars chose it as the city to begin their careers. I understand it looks bad and defeat seems inevitable, but if there’s one thing that Detoiters know how to do, it’s to bounce back. I believe in this city and I believe that it will become the city that will be thought of as beautiful, not gone.

  9. It is always so sad to see a community dying… This worldwide economic downturn has wreaked havoc all over the world. I hope you are finding happiness in your new community!

    • Thank you! Unfortunately I think much of my despair is because my new community (Jerusalem) is so difficult. That’s why I’m nostalgic for my old home. I very much appreciate your well-wishes, they are needed and welcome :)

      • I would say that all 3 islands Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao in the Caribbean as well as Hawaii islands feel safe, relaxed and carefree. Can’t say the same about Jamaica because we lived with constant break ins on our property and were warned often not to be in town evenings. I can’t live like that!

        Dominican Republic felt touristic for sure. I LOVE the music, Merengue. It’s in our blood in the Caribbean.

        Costa Rica was the highlight of our years on the mission field. We’d return in a heart beat although the capital is a bit more dangerous now a days on foreigners. Very warm people.

        Netherlands felt way too free for me morally. I was determined at the time never to move there like all islanders who go there for college. Anything goes! Not for me.

        Belgium felt very different and Interesting, but we stayed only for one full day and it was so long ago I can’t remember much except the roads were of brick, not asphalt , at least where we were.

        Venezuela, Nicaragua, both felt great! I love Hispanic people any time!! Very friendly and warm people. Thievery is common though in third world nations. But I’d return to live in Nicaragua for sure! Venezuela now a days is a different place.

        Canada feels like here I thought, not very different then USA.

        Honduras did not feel good to me. It felt depressing somehow, I always wanted to leave and I don’t know why.

        South Africa felt the most different then all. I would return for sure. Very interesting. We stayed long though, but I’d stay longer if I could. Except it is weird that people see interracial couples as if they are from outer space!!

  10. You should think about coming back. There are bad things going on in Detroit, but honestly, it’s not nearly as bad as outsiders make it out to be. People outside Detroit want to have a place they can speak badly about.

    • I don’t mean to speak badly about Detroit, really. It’s more that I am nostalgic for a home that, as far as I can tell from over here, doesn’t exist anymore. But I should be moving back to the country in the near future, so I’m sure I’ll come back more often, and for longer periods of time. I really look forward to re-connecting

  11. This post was pretty powerful, and I think I can relate a little bit.

    I’ve moved around a lot, so I can’t really say I have a “home.” The closest place is Sacramento, but I and almost all my childhood friends left when I was a kid. Looking at my old neighborhood for several years through Google Maps, what was once practically countryside is now entirely paved over with housing developments. It’s not the home I remember either.

    But at least I have a home country. My father is Palestinian. Although he has been an American citizen for a long time now, it’s really hard to adopt a new country as your home forty years on. He lives in the Gulf now, but the UAE isn’t exactly a place to call home either, and Lebanon, where he spent his childhood and teenage years as a refugee, certainly isn’t. I get the feeling that he’s never felt settled anywhere he’s ever been, and I know at the same time that I can never truly understand that feeling.

    • I really have empathy for you and your father. I teach at an international school here in Jerusalem and my world consists of third culture kids and displaced people. Living here has made me very thankful to have had a stable childhood, even if the city has changed a lot since then. I hope you find a place to call home.

  12. Thoughtful post, but I’m curious about this statement:

    “Every city feels different. When I visit a place I am able to learn about the people and culture based on how the city feels. Switzerland is xenophobic and dull, Lithuania is depressing and defensive, China is ignorant”

    These are countries, not cities. How did you determine a country as vast and populated as China is ignorant? Surely not by visiting Lhasa. What cities did you visit in these countries?

    • Good point, I did mix countries and cities into one category. My generalizations are exactly that, generalizations based on my feelings. Of course these places are complex and layered and how I decide they “feel” doesn’t really mean anything, except that every place does have a unique feel to it.

      To answer the rest of your question:
      I spent one week in Swizterland in a small village on the French-speaking side. I’m sure the big cities and other areas have an entirely different feel.

      I spent one semester in Klaipeda, Lithuania, although it felt like a lifetime.

      I went to Beijing for a summer about 5 years ago and I went to Shanghai for a week last year.

      Thanks for commenting, I really appreciate your thoughtful questions! Also, the photos on your blog are beautiful.

  13. Just come to Grand Rapids! Our downtown is alive! Come in September for Art Prize. Come in June for The Festival of the Arts, otherwise known around here as “Festival.”

    You are right. Detroit is on life support. That is the result of the abandonment of the state by the auto industry, years and years of corruption in Detroit’s government, and the flight of the middle class from the city.

    Detroit needs to raze the blighted areas of the city, and become a smaller city. Return the dead parts of the city to nature. They need to rise from the ashes.

    • All of my friends who went to school in GR or live there, really love it. It seems like a great place that I never really spent any time in. Enjoy your festivals, maybe I’ll see you at one sometime soon!

  14. I am in Michigan and am in Detroit about three times a week. I moved here as an adult and didn’t like it at first. I grew up in Minneapolis and left it behind. The Minneapolis I knew is not there anymore. It is foreign to me. Detroit is now my home.

    I see the things the media doesn’t cover. I see the vibrant, energetic midtown area with art galleries and live music.I see the Corktown neighborhood reviving. I see hear amazing music downtown, midtown, Eastern Market and more. I hear music suburban coworkers planning on going to Eastern Market on Saturday. I know about three new trendy restaurants that have opened in the last couple of months.

    I know about the warts ….the dangerous neighborhoods, etc. I know that education has not been emphasized in many localities and the state is cutting aid. I know with the Emergency Financial Managers many citizens have been disenfranchised.

    And this is the place I get hugs and find joy when I go out for music.

  15. Having just moved from Michigan to Antwerp, this hits me dead center in the chest. When my husband proposed to me, we spent a good deal of time trying to decide where we were going to make our home. At the time, we were long distance and he was living in Antwerp and I was living in Michigan. I am glad to read from the comments that so many people are optimistic about Michigan, but I saw friends graduating college and only able to find jobs that are out of the state, and public education system that’s closing schools and jobs, so I left because Antwerp has more for me and my husband. I guess I am just trying to say I know what you mean that going back to Michigan would be going backwards. And it pains me too.

  16. I was born and raised in Dearborn when it was a beautiful and vibrant city. I went to Detroit to shop on the bus by myself as a child. I went to functions downtown alone. I was a volunteer at the Detroit Grand Prix and Montreux Detroit Jazz Festival. During that time, I felt safe and happy to be exploring a big city. It’s different now. But as an older adult, I have learned that things can change…life can make a complete turn-around…we just need to be patient with it. There are many people downtown that believe in the city and are really trying to hold on to their dreams. I wish them luck!!!

  17. Wonderfully written piece. We most certainly base our opinions of countries/cities on our own experiences and everyone’s experience is different.

    I don’t see that part of Michigan as dying, but rather going through a metamorphosis. The people there have a very strong spirit. I have no doubt that they will work with the incredible potential that exists in Detroit, Flint, Saginaw, and Bay City. Sometimes it’s good to just start over. I’ve been gone a lot longer than you have, but I know that I’d be accepted back as if I never left. I’m sure you will, too.

  18. “Perhaps this is our strange and haunting paradox here in America — that we are fixed and certain only when we are in movement. At any rate, that is how it seemed to young George Webber, who was never so assured of his purpose as when he was going somewhere on a train. And he never had the sense of home so much as when he felt that he was going there. It was only when he got there that his homelessness began….”
    ‘You can’t go home again’ – Thomas Wolfe

  19. I feel bad for Detroit also. Detroit gave us the industrial revolution. If it wasn’t for the automobile the industrial revolution wouldn’t have amounted to much. And what about Motown, the Temptations and Smokey Robinson. I grew up listening to Motown music. I have to believe that the City of Detroit will be back with all its nostalgia and history. Your home will always be here. It may take a few years to breathe some life into Detroit but your home will always be your home. Nice post……..John

  20. The tag line for Michigan’s marketing campaign is “Pure Michigan,” and for me, that sums it up far better than Detroit’s protracted meltdown. I’m “Up North” now and despite the cool, rainy weather, the natural beauty refreshes me to the core. It’s where I come each year to recharge and re-center. It’s where I am at peace. When my sister moved here, she wondered if she ever would grow tired of, stop seeing, become oblivious to nature’s majesty surrounding here. She hasn’t. Michigan is far more than Detroit.

  21. Detroit is definitely not dying. Is it making a beautiful comeback. There is so much to do, to see, places to visit, to eat, etc. I love this city and support it. It needs more positive press instead of all the blogs focusing on “dying Detroit” and showing pictures of old, run-down buildings. Sure, it has those things, but what city doesn’t?! I would recommend checking out this site for a sample of all the good going on: http://www.visitdetroit.com

  22. Many moons ago I had a friend whose Father was Mideastern (she was born there,before they moved to Detroit).One time her Father told her to plan on living her life in Michigan. We have four defined seasons,an abundance of fresh water,and no noticable military prescence.He told her that whatever ones religious beliefs, we are truly the promised land.
    Michigan will thrive once again because there is too much skill,ability,and talent to do otherwise.Detroit is washing away decades of political mismanagement.For those educated in disciplines not government related,the future will be bright.
    Just remember,journalism stories are only cheap filler between advertisements,designed to create tension/conflict,angst/animosity,driving future media sales.

  23. I lived in Kalamazoo for 2 years. I was stunned many times by the communities civility and sense of well being for themselves and for whom they meet. Now I am trying to keep away my tears knowing what is going on in Detroit and some parts of MI. I feel it is just a storm that will pass by without causing much distress. God bless MI, USA.

  24. Pingback: Michigan and Other Places | endlesswanderer1

  25. I think you are forgetting who you are getting your “news” from. Detroit, like many cities across the country and the world are wallowing in debt and losing community services that we all once took for granted. In no way is this city or state DEAD. My family is headed to Eastern Market for some city grown organic greens and live entertainment and to Greenfield Village this afternoon in Dearborn for their annual Old Car show. I’m quite sure we will be joined by at least another 100,000 of our neighbors and their families enjoying locally crafted beer and Better Made potato chips or a Kowalski coney dog with a side of McClures pickles. Tomorrow we are heading down to Wheelhouse Detroit for a tune-up of our bikes before we take a three mile ride along the Detroit riverfront with our almost three year old son. After, he will enjoy a carousel ride and a custard as we watch a sand volleyball tournament. There is something going on every day that interests young and old here in Metro Detroit. We go to story time every Friday through the winter at the Dearborn Public library (FANTASTIC librarian!). I have traveled and lived in seven countries throughout my life, my nostalgic geography is based somewhere else, but I am following my career (and my husband is following his) and I choose to follow the words “love the one you’re with”. I’d like to encourage you to take a longer first person look at your “home”, it’s not dead as far as I can see, unless I am too…

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