Tuesday, October 27, 2015

International Students Find the American Dream — in Flint

In the summer of 2009, I met a group of Kettering and UM-Flint students from India playing cricket at Mama Calvo Field near Whittier and Central. It got me thinking about just who is coming to Flint during an era when many residents are leaving.

My recent story in the New York Times chronicles the international students from more than 40 countries who are coming to Flint in record numbers. Here's how it begins:
A few months after Abhishek Y. Utekar left Mumbai, India, to start an M.B.A. program at the University of Michigan campus in Flint, his landlord gave him a driving tour of his new home. Dennis Brownfield watched out for his tenants, and he wanted Mr. Utekar to understand the dynamics of a city often defined by deindustrialization and decay. His car provided the first lesson. It was a Honda Civic with a license plate that read “GM LEFT,” a commentary on the 70,000 automotive jobs that have disappeared over the years in this birthplace of General Motors.
They rolled to a stop in the empty parking lot between the main library and Central High School, an imposing brick building shuttered because of falling enrollment and budget cuts. “Now make sure you’ve got your seatbelt on because I’m going to show you an American custom,” Mr. Brownfield said. He shifted into reverse, cranked the steering wheel hard to the right, gunned the engine and popped the clutch. The result was a dizzying, deftly executed series of backward 360s. For a final flourish, Mr. Brownfield yanked the emergency brake to abruptly change directions.
“That’s called a doughnut,” he said when they had skidded to a stop. 
“It’s how we have fun in Michigan.” 
Rattled but impressed, Mr. Utekar realized: This was going to be a lot different than India.
Read the rest of the story here.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Ways of Going Home

"I watch the cars, I count the cars. It's overwhelming to think that in the backseats children are sleeping, and that every one of those children will remember, someday, the old car they rode in years before, with their parents."

Ways of Going Home, Alejandro Zambra

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Swiftness and Dispassion

"It wasn't that I felt sorry for these faceless national corporations; far from it. They had made their profits and their names by destroying smaller, earlier local businesses. But I was touched not only at the passage of these fixtures in my mental landscape, but also at the swiftness and dispassion with which the market swallowed even the most resilient enterprises. Businesses that had seemed unshakable a few years previously had disappeared in the span, seemingly, of few weeks. Whatever role they played passed on to other hands, hands that would feel briefly invincible and would, in their turn, be defeated by unforeseen changes. These survivors would also come to be forgotten."
—Teju Cole, Open City

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Nothing Works, Everyone Labors: An Interview with Poet Lacluster by Sarah Carson

Nothing Works, Everyone Labors: An Interview with poet Lacluster

By Sarah Carson

Flint Performance poet Lacluster’s debut full-length collection Nothing Works, Everyone Labors is an unsympathetic portrait of what it means to live in Flint, Michigan in the 21st century.

Published by NIC Publishing, an imprint Lacluster started himself to represent Rust Belt voices, the book is as honest as it is pleading. He writes of arson, desolation and love all with an eye toward what could be: “Sometimes / you have to sacrifice/ a house full of dreams/to find your real home even / if that means, / setting up camp on a / patch of new grass/ and re-imagining.”

I sat down with him at noon on a Sunday over Irish Breakfast shots at The Torch. As downtown church bells rang around us, we discussed the collection, what it meant to him to write it and what he thinks is next for the city he loves.

So what’s the name Lacluster about? Where did the name come from and why the choice to use a pseudonym?

A lot of people know my real name, so I’ve created this alter ego to separate myself from that – which a lot of poets, rappers, etc. do.

Although these poems are based around real issues, I use a pseudonym to separate myself as a real person from the persona who’s narrating the collection.
Lacluster relates to how people from Flint are viewed through the eyes of outsiders. If there is any association, it is typically negative — violence, no jobs, funky water, poverty. And young people live up to those negative stereotypes as underachievers partially to cope but also to carve out an identity.

What does Lacluster have in common with the real life author of these poems?

I would say that I have a sort of schizophrenic writing personality. You know, it’s me, and it’s not. What’s nice about having a kind of a pseudonym is that first and foremost people can’t judge you by your name. They have to read the book.

Let’s talk about the title. Where does Nothing Works, Everyone Labors come from and what does it mean in terms of what you want to communicate with this collection?

The title is a phrase from the poem “Most Dangerous Fame.” Part of living in Flint is constantly dealing with the disappointments and lack of opportunity. Either you settle for less, hustle harder and create those opportunities yourself, or you choose to move away. It speaks to the larger struggle to achieve a sense of progress in life while everything around you crumbles faster than you can repair it.

When you talk about “everything crumbling around you,” are you talking about Flint? Or are you talking about something more personal?

I think it’s scalable. I think the experience of living in this city — you have to just deal with the fact that every single day something horrible is going to be in the news. Everything we try to do in this town to move us forward always takes us two steps back.
Some people have this mentality that things are coming back: GM’s coming back. This town’s coming back. It’s going to be this big city, but any progress is actually a step backwards. Either it’s done lazily or it’s done incompetently.

It’s a constant flow of BS, you know?

So why write a book about that?

Why write a book about any time and place? To share it. To get it out there.  To show people that this is not just happening in Detroit, but that it’s something that could also come into their backyards.

We have problems that should be national news, but I don’t think they’re ever taken seriously because we live in the shadow of Detroit.

Fuck Detroit. Come to Flint. We have the same kind of problems, and we need the same solutions.

But the book doesn’t necessarily tell people come to Flint. Or do you think it does? What are you trying to do?

I’m just trying to paint a picture of what I feel as a citizen is how you experience daily life. I’m a huge booster for Flint. I always have been. But you can’t walk up and down the East Side or the North Side and say how pretty it is. It ain’t pretty.

The reality is, it's really challenging to live and do well here. And most people move away because there are other cities that have opportunities for advancement – including Detroit.

People come into Flint and see there’s nothing going on. But what is going on may be beyond their looking glass. So let’s take a peek at what really exists, at what I’d see if I was taking the bus all day.

I’m painting a place. I’m trying to say on a personal level, the city feels like this, and my own struggles feel like this, and they’re interrelated.

Why do you choose to write about Flint? What does it do for you? What do you hope people will take away from reading/hearing your work?

I write about Flint as a kind of exorcism because it can be a heavy burden to live here.

As an artist I want to bear some kind of witness even if my perspective is skewed. I hope people find something unexpected in this book or at least something that is true to its time and place.

Nothing Works, Everyone Labors can be purchased on Amazon

Saturday, September 12, 2015

St. Mary's School, R.I.P.

The planned demolition of St. Mary's on Franklin Avenue in Flint has been delayed, but the home of the wildcats will disappear soon, another lost monument to Flint during happier times. 

Sarah Schuch of MLive wrote: "The three-story, 12-classroom school now sits vacant. The gym and locker rooms aren't like they were a decade ago. Cerca Boxing has been using the space. And the inside is deteriorating.

"Alumni wrote messages on the chalkboards during a fundraiser in May. Many messages include 'RIP' and fond memories."

Here's a collection of photos related to St. Mary's that have appeared on Flint Expatriates over the years. Thanks to Kelly O' Connor for the Jet League basketball photos.