bald new world

I am a hypocrite. I own thickening shampoo and I have no hair. I own prenatal vitamins and a stash of condoms. I looked like Jackie O all day and now, a bit more like an Antifa protestor or a Neonazi. I want love so much I might throw it all away. I never knew the true color of my hair until I saw it on my bathroom floor.

The first time I wanted to shave my head was in 2012. I was about to be divorced and I felt an intense urgency to overcome my endless battle with an eating disorder. Since I couldn’t seem to get directly at the internal problem, I wondered if I could provoke them into changing by altering something external. I was stuck in the cycle where every morning I hoped for change and, every day (or slightly later time that morning), I fucked it up. Shaving my head felt like a tangible way, a true way, to make the next tomorrow different from all the other worthless tomorrows I had so sincerely hoped would begin my new life. Maybe the jolt of shame, empowerment, or drama would by my chaperone through the days to come with a constant reminder of the New Me and that she want not that kind of girl. Shaving also appealed to me as a sure-fire way to quit the habit of picking my hair, which has stayed with me since High School. It drives people crazy when they see it, and I really can’t stop. I also wanted to be brave. I wanted to detach myself from attractiveness or conventional forms of beauty. I wanted to show up in the world for me, not for men to think I look cute. I wanted to take my life into my own hands and steer it in a new direction. But I didn’t go through with it. I was too afraid.

About 5 years later, around the same time of year, I watched myself return back in that stuck place and I was miserable about it. The idea of shaving my head came back. This time, I really planned to do it. I even let my sister cut my hair and give me experimental bangs since I thought it would all be gone anyway. I imagined again the rebirth of a new way of living, bald as I had been the first days of my life. After a week of build-up, I discovered that I didn’t actually want to shave my head. That doing so would require me to take more from myself than I was willing to give. That it would be best not to create a trauma that I would then have to recover from. I let the goofy bangs stay and they eventually grew out.

Fast-forward to November 2020. I haven’t thought about that particular daydream in quite awhile. Sometimes I remember it when I notice the piles of plucked hair on the floor below my desk. Add that to the list of things I still do that I wish I didn’t. And then came one more. I realized that I was stuck in my relationship, too.

This was a big one. Remember how I got divorced all those years ago? Well I have come to think of that as a gift that my life gave me. A second chance to find a love that didn’t require me to make myself smaller than I am and can be and want to be. A chance to have a life so much bigger and more honest than what I would have had otherwise. I am ten hundred thousand happy steps down the road of that life, and yet I know well my capacity for stuckness. And it is poison to me. I revolt against it. I rise up. I am a revolutionary against the complacent regime. As is so often the case, the revelation came in the form of an intriguing love interest who turned me almost instantly from a woman pining for her boyfriend to propose into a vixen scheming her escape.

The most potent aspect of this man’s appeal was the glaring fact that I was about to fuck it all up again. Why rush to make a vow when I was living a relationship steeped in fear? I was afraid to be myself. To live a big life. I was settling for the story of our past over the possibility of an amazing life to come. The terror of this realization shook my to my core. I thought about ending my relationship right then and there. I thought about leaving the man I love for the new person who so eloquently reminding me of those lessons I learned 8 years before. But I found that I couldn’t end it just like that. I have loved this man for so long, I have seen our future with such certainty. It wasn’t so easy.

In the absence of clarity, time can do wonders. I told both men that I needed to quarantine and I imposed upon myself a two-week period in which to figure out what I wanted and how to get un-stuck. The first day of this reprieve just happened to be November 3, election day. I worked the polls from 6am to 9:30pm dressed like a cute politician-lady, went home, played half a game of soccer, grabbed a beer with my fellow poll workers, and strolled the aisles of CVS until I had found myself a nice moisturizer, an electric toothbruth, and a men’s shaving kit with an electric razor. It was on.

Back home, I took out my new toy and wondered if I would actually go through with it. I sat myself on the floor of my bedroom and prayed to figure out just what was in my heart. Did I want to do it? Would it be a trauma or a triumph? Can I afford to give whatever this will take? I recorded a little video to myself to document what I learned in that prayer and it felt really good. I knew I would likely have moments of regret, but I also know that, overall, I would be glad in the long run that I did it. I loved the idea that even if it turns out to be a mistake, I am the only one who will suffer. I am the only one who has to accept the terms. I am afraid, but I want to be someone who does the things she’s scared of. “I can’t wait to get free” is the last thing I said.

I turned on some music. I turned on the buzzer. I looked at myself. I wonder if I’ll do it? No pressure. But I lifted the buzzer to the space just above my left ear and let it connect with my skin. Here we go.

My favorite moment was when I found I was grinning at myself. I like you. “You’re fun to hang out with.” That’s how it felt.

I discovered a scar, some moles I didn’t know about, and even a Stork’s bite birthmark. I learned the shape of my head. It looked so small, felt small, too. I discovered my hairline, the shape of my ears. I showered and went to bed with all the hair still lying on the floor of the bathroom. When I woke up hours later to pee, the light from the full moon was casting onto the tile floor, perfectly framing the locks of hair that I had just cut. I was waiting to feel ashamed or ugly or remorseful but it never came. I started to believe that was nothing tragic about this.

All that first week, the country waited for the election results to come in. I was not a nervous wreck. I had a weird sense of peace and empowerment. I was patient. I could not stop singing the song “I Can Change” by Lake Street Dive. I was willing change into whichever corners of my life needed it. There were so many. I cleaned my house, reorganized furniture, tackled renovation projects that I have ignored for years on end. I practiced greater and greater levels of patience in my work, sending kindness rather than anxiety through the phone lines. I reached a matter-of-fact stance with respect to my relationship. I did not wish for one outcome, or pray that I would get what I wanted, I focused on trying to listen to what was right rather than writing the script. I became fully ready to hurt feelings and take risks if my heart told me it was the right thing. I would not be beholden to the way things were just because. The trappings of my passive acquiescence to life were no more inherently good than the length of my hair, and I owed it nothing.

Many people don’t get to choose when they go bald. Hormones or cancer cells or genetics make that decision for them. It is not always an act of volition and self will. But on my head, hair grows. It grows and grows. Having hair is the baseline. Having none can only be the result of deliberate action. Its absence is the chaperone to my every moment these days, a reminder of the freedom, power, and knowledge that I have the power to change my life. So many things I cannot change. The outcome of the election. What the president will decide to do with the results of the election. The mistakes of yesterday. What my partner will decide to do with this time. But so many things I can. I can cut my hair. I can chose what color to paint on the walls that surround me. I can speak truth and build love and cultivate trust. Maybe I am not a hypocrite. Maybe, instead I am someone with some choices to make, who is learning what she wants, and how to make them. 

 

 

I can change

I can change

I can change

I can still change.

I can still change.

The Role of A Witness

Modern creatures, we must remember that we are essentially the products of a long and slow evolution. That, in the course of that time, everything we saw was both Here and Now. It was necessary to react to what we saw to maintain social order, to protect ourselves, to simply live.

Now, much of what we see on a daily basis is the product of a unilateral consumer relationship, it seems we’ve forgotten our own agency. We witness but we rarely bear witness. We just let the screen make us laugh or cry, but rarely do we let it rouse us to action. Technological achievements require us to calibrate our brains to react appropriately to what we see, which is often neither here, nor now, nor even real. When we learn to stifle the action impulse, we lose the power to act and react when we are called to do so. The dampening of consciousness acting in the police who watched their colleague kill George Floyd is the same as the one acting in the young adults who awkwardly awaited their brunch while a march for justice marched by. And despite our adeptness at looking the other way, we are still responsible for what we see, and, despite the diluted effect of distance, there is an added power in that we are now collective witnesses to so many of the crimes of humanity in our world. Continue reading

Post Moratium

Wayne County’s moratorium on tax foreclosures causes collateral damage to some of Detroit’s most vulnerable

Originally published in MetroTimes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last week, the Wayne County Treasurer announced a total moratorium on tax foreclosures for the year 2020 due to the state of emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Suddenly, the pressure was off for over 12,000 properties, including 8,000 occupied homes in Detroit that were likely to be foreclosed this year.

Most people’s first reaction to this news was a huge sigh of relief; a success years in the making, and long overdue. My job title at the United Community Housing Coalition is literally to prevent tax foreclosure, yet my first reaction (after the shock) was to mourn the collateral damage that this blunt tool will cause. Few recognize that this sweeping moratorium, while very beneficial to homeowners, perpetuates housing insecurity for many residents who live in but do not own their would-be foreclosed home, as well as delaying necessary interventions for vacant homes.

For years, there have been calls for a moratorium on tax foreclosure of owner-occupied homes. More than 1 in 4 Detroit properties have been foreclosed since 2010, causing many to lose their homes and spreading blight across neighborhoods. Past calls for moratoriums have been met with the same response: “We have to foreclose, it’s the law.” Yet Wayne County has decided to unilaterally defer foreclosures with no higher direction from the legislature.

Governor Whitmer has issued an extension for tax foreclosures across Michigan, and other counties will be using discretion to determine which properties will need additional leniency. In Ingham County, for example, it is likely that no occupied home will be foreclosed this year, while foreclosures continue for vacant structures or vacant land so that they can hopefully be restored to productive use. Other counties may suspend foreclosures for property owners directly affected by the coronavirus while proceeding for others.
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Until You Love Yourself

written February 17, 2016. Recovered March 1, 2020. Happy Eating Disorder Awareness week.

I used to hate the phrase “you can’t love somebody else until you love yourself.” Probably, because I was in a self-destructive relationship with myself and an “in love” relationship with someone else. So what did that mean? Maybe I loved myself, but I just treated myself terribly? Or maybe I didn’t love myself, and I didn’t really love him. Or maybe that phrase was bullshit. I hated it in the way that a child hates most about her parents the things that remind her of herself. I hated it in the way we all hate unflattering reflections of ourselves, especially when they imply the need for change, most especially when that change feels damn near impossible.

When bulimia came into my life, I immediately recognized it as a threat. I never liked it, never willingly made room for it. I confessed to friends and family and physicians. I tried to bleach it out of existence in the harsh light of truth. But there was some sort of cavity deep down inside of me that let the poison linger, and grow. Perhaps its because those other people could not fix me, they could only help. Perhaps it really was because I didn’t love myself, didn’t know myself enough to fully love myself, that I stayed sick.

For five years I was “getting worse.” Hardly a single day went by that I didn’t vomit. I accommodated my disease like an enabling parent to a spoiled child: “if I’m going to have to live with you, I’d rather you weren’t screaming all the time, so I’ll give you what you want.” It wanted food. All of it. All the time. At any cost.

Ah, but the memory does strange things to emotions. It’s easy to know for a fact that I was engaging in acts of self-hatred all those years, and to know that I didn’t love myself. But it’s harder to know if I was “really” in love with the man I got engaged to, and then married.

I really don’t believe in redacting past emotions. If I said I was in love and I meant what I said, than that’s good enough for me. I will not hold my memories up through the fuzzy prism of retrospection and say “but was I really in love? I mean really?” I was in love because I said so, and I have to trust my former self. But I do believe that I did not love myself and so, to reconcile the two, I’ll concede that I just didn’t love with my whole heart. I was an occupied nation, and the independent region still waved its flag, but whole swaths of the map were enemy territory. I imagine a report card of myself at the time might read “Michele loves at an 8th grade level.”

So many year later, when my husband and I split, I clung to the idea that really I couldn’t solve my bulimia if I was still married. It defied the order of operations. I thought I had to remove all the trappings of my grown-up life, relationship included, to isolate the problem and face off with it directly. Do you have to stop loving another in order to love yourself? I cannot say. But I remember the tragedy of realizing that the longest relationship of my life was with an illness rather than a person.

Isolating the problem helps, in a way, but it can also serve to remove the support structures that kept it at bay. As I wrestled alone with my eating disorder, it seemed to sense its mortality and gain a supercharged burst of energy. Before I knew it, I was pinned as ever, and alone. Every move, break-up, drastic thought or action that I’ve undertaken to CURE myself has a flip side, which is that it makes more room for the illness in the shuffle. It’s hard to discern whether my strong urges for change are based on what I want for myself, or it they are just my illness’ way of stealing more room.

I would like to build a home. I would like to have stability. I would like to distance myself from the days when I binged and purged and get used to the feeling of feeling my feelings. I would like to free my heart I would like to be alone enough to fall in love with myself. And then, I would like to fall stupidly, wholeheartedly, irrevocably in love with someone else too.

A Plea For Environmental Leadership in Hamtramck

In my kitchen there is a pile of clean milk cartons, collapsed cereal boxes, aluminum cans, an empty jug of laundry soap. This pile is there because it doesn’t belong in the garbage, yet I have nowhere else to put it. I used to utilize the monthly recycling pick-up station on Caniff (when I remembered and had time). More often, I drove to Recycle Here in Detroit to self-sort my recyclables. Inevitably, the outrageous generosity of our local recycling warriors has run out.
After the closure of the local drop-off, I went to Recycle Here only to learn they cannot accept products from outside of Detroit due to changes in the local and global economics of recycling. Hence, my pile grows. I could throw it out. I could sneak it into Recycle Here, or pay a free. I could drive west on Caniff across the Detroit border, find an alley with a blur recycling bin and dump my items in. I could drive to my hometown of Chelsea, where for over 30 years, reliable metal bins have stood ready to take sorted re-usables. What I cannot do, is recycle them here in Hamtramck.
It always been important to me to make sure I was minimizing my contribution to the landfills and incinerators of my community. I have lived in many states and countries, and always made sure to recycle. The only place I have had a harder time recycling was when I lived in South Africa.

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Opinion: GM’s Poletown closure proves we should treat corporations like people

Originally published in MetroTimes

There is something jarring about flipping between the news stories of General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant closing and Fiat-Chrysler’s new east side facility breaking ground. When a plant opens, public and private sectors invest together, with millions in tax subsidies, land deals, and other incentives from local government. When a plant closes, the company doesn’t pay back what they were given for one simple reason — they don’t have to. Government either needs to stay out of the “economic development” game or learn how to write some more fine print when they invest public funds. Continue reading

Lawn’s Lesson

The people I know say bad things about lawns.
They know about monoculture and monotony and suburbs.
They defend the dandelion and they weep for the weed
and dream blindly of how better times used to be.

But when I was ripping up grass in my back yard
to make room for a garden,
I put aches in every part of my back from the strain of unearthing the carpet
of earth-woven roots and green fibers. I pardoned the worms near the blade of my hoe, as they sprinkled the dark soil beneath me, and contemplated the sheer magnitude of life that I had to work so hard to eliminate.

I had to wonder if it was all a mistake- would my produce produce all the green it displaced?
Would I raze it into a barren blank space? And what is so wrong with my lawn?

If every plastic loving person in every sterile home in every cul de sac surrounded themselves with a moat of pure oxygen
they could do a lot worse. Even if they did it by accident, they could do a lot worse.

I will try valiantly to evolve beyond mere mowing to cultivate a space that nourishes my home and myself.
But if I started too late, or give up next year, if I learn that what I discarded was better than what I replaced it with,
then I’m the one who bad things should be said of.

Of all the problems with my culture, it is not lawns I am most worried about.
It is people like me who know so much about what is wrong and so little about what to do about it.

Called to Say- Marija’s Story

I met Marija twice. The first time when I was working as a property surveyor around Hamtramck. I took pictures of properties and recorded data from the sidewalk. I saw this eager woman with a strong accent standing on her porch and, before I knew it, she was dragging me by my upper arm into her front door so she could show me her water bill. Way too high, apparently. She asked me if I had a boyfriend and said I was “mental sick” when I said “no.” I loved her accent and her intimate aggressiveness. She was a funny stranger who made an impression, and that was it.

The same day that I met Marija, I met another memorable person the next street over. Strange story short- his house became my house when I moved in 18 months later. I’d forgotten all about Marija until I saw that stocky old-world frame standing at the fence of my new backyard one sunny day. Once I heard that incredible accent again, I knew she was the woman with the water bill! Continue reading

The Policy Path of Detroit’s Destruction

As published in Riverwise magazine

How state policy legalized the destruction of Detroit.

Detroit is a city with so much to lose and so little to spare. Popular narratives which attempt to describe Detroit’s struggles resort to abstract reasoning, such as the ‘invisible hand of market forces’. Other times, corporate submission to global market trends is blamed for the exodus of a once-thriving auto industry. However, when we trace the path of exploitative policy decisions at the state level in recent decades, we see that our own state laws have aided, if not forced, the hand of destruction. Detroit has suffered an inverted urban renewal process, through which homes are turned to blight, homeowners to renters, and neighborhoods to fields. This is the story of a predatory scheme that Michigan lawmakers, developers and special interests have devised during Detroit’s recent history.

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Gravity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What god or scientific force
would put the sun and moon on course
to grant us an eclipse?
What trick of serendipity
would let their size appear to be
a truly perfect fit?

On other days, they square with Mars,
or some assembly of stars
in geometric rhyme.
The triangle protracts through space
then flattens, and, with winking face,
to You they do align.

A lesser mind would lie prostrate
awaiting predetermined fate
for minor mortals, we!
Another might dismiss as chance
this rare celestial mating dance
and fail to truly see.

But you and I stared at the sun,
unblinded, and we did not run
from night that dawned in day.
The lightless moon, haloed in flame,
subdued the sun, a moment, tame
but we were unafraid.

They say a line’s the shortest path
between two points, but space is vast
and beauty’s in the arc.
And those who travel by ellipse
are grander for their scenic trips
slow twirling in the dark.

Clock hands anchor from one point
two passengers, a single joint
who intersect in time.
Coincidence is all life is
and love’s the greatest gift it gives
for those who let it shine.

What randomness or holy act
would put me back along your tract
in love’s sweet gravity?
I’ll travel round the sun again.
But this time, I’ll be hand in hand
with he who’s chosen me.