06 November, 2010

The Dying Plant

"Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
Sometimes you surprise yourself.

So Comrade Baker (aka Kit) works for a very interesting company called Aperture-- a nonprofit foundation dedicated to promoting photography. (Do, click on the link and read more about them).


Kit invited me to Aperture's annual benefit gala last Monday at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers in New York (complete with silent and live auctions, scrumptious dinner and mingling with people you've never met before. By the way, I've found recently that galas are somewhat like weddings in this way, only you feel depressed about your finances rather than your love life...)
At table 24 was sat many a stranger, arty types with black-rimmed glasses, snappy t-shirts beneath velvet jacket and brightly colo(u)red dresses cut on super chic angles (but unlike actor events, these people ate bread). Kit was to my right, and after a long and moving discussion during the impossible-to-talk-over live auction that began with "we're going to ignore everyone and have a long and moving discussion aren't we?" and the subsequent "Uh, yes," we moved beyond; Kit mingling to the right, I to the left.

Beside me was an Aperture board member-- an beautiful older woman beautifully dressed in blue cape who began with "I've never met a chocolate sauce I didn't like!" before introducing herself "Toni-- I've always liked being a girl with boy's name." I smiled and extended my hand "I'm Al," and she smiled back.

Beside Toni was a Photographer, enjoying red wine and laughing with abandon--a true artist spirit emanated from every part of him! Eventually, we all began to speak about who we were, what we did. "I'm an actress," I admit.
"And a singer (among other things)," added Kit.
"Oh how wonderful!" the Toni chimes,
"Oh yes. I'd love to come hear you sometime-- I enjoy live music!" adds the Photographer.

Eventually, we discuss where we were originally from: Toni from Chicago, the Photographer from Los Angeles.
"But there is no city in the world like New York," Toni concluded.
"Mmm..." agreed the Photographer.
"I've only been in this city about a year," I join in, "but it's been wonderful so far. I've been in the UK for the last 8 years and grew up in Detroit."
"Oh!" cried the Photographer, "I was born in Detroit!" he leaned in closer, "but I left when I was six and have never been back. I'd like to go."
There was a polite and slightly awkward silence, as there often is when Detroit gets mentioned. People don't know what to say, what to offer, how to feel. Do they believe what they've heard? What they've seen in the media?
"I hear it is on the up!" Toni said, trying to be bright.
"Yes, I've heard that too," added the Photographer.

I think of Howard Barker's quote:

At the fall of the cities:
Why did we inhabit them?
Suddenly I was filled with a feeling-- a wave of desire to give voice to those awkward silences, to speak on behalf of a place whose roar has been reduced to a whisper, but has soul nonetheless. 

"I love Detroit..." I said simply. I didn't know how else to say it.
"She does," insisted Kit. He has heard me speak of this love so often.

"Did you know that Detroit's downtown is larger than Boston, San Francisco and Manhattan combined? And between 1945 to 1972 there was simply no better place in America to be. A place that was once this Titan of industry and culture, a place where people with nothing more than hope and basic skills could come and make a life in a free and prospering place, have a car, a home, build a life. Isn't that the American dream? A city that used it's then controversial cultural makeup as an asset to build a music industry where one did not even commercially exist before Motown changed the face of music in this country and abroad forever. I don't want to sound to melodramatic or grand, but in all truth it almost seems like Rome or Troy-- a booming Middle-American Metropolis now abandoned with decay and disregard for reasons no one can pin down. But despite every adversity, the people in that place are still some of the most industrious, warm, and spiritually generous I've ever come across. In times like these it would be understandable that people would turn inward, think to protect only themselves and their assets-- this is my family, my home, my life. But what I've found is people turning toward one another, helping one another, joining together. Thousands of young people flock there because they have the ability to start small businesses, art warehouses, buy homes, start lives. There is beauty there: a city with resilient, hardworking people. It's unspeakable. I'm so proud to be from a place like that..." I come up for air and everyone is staring at me. "It is hard to talk about..." I add.

And everyone went very quiet.

"But how could any individual help to revive a city in such distress?" asked the Photographer, quietly.

And in that moment, something suddenly came to me.  "You know," I began, "a friend of mine was recently dog-sitting in Hells Kitchen and the plant-sitter that had been asked to show up and take the plants for the fortnight forgot, and the poor plant was practically murdered right there in the front room. By the end of my friend's 10 day stay there the plant was wilted beyond repair.

'I think I'm just going to throw it away,' he said, sighing, shrugging, his heart breaking slightly, 'besides, it is bad chi to have it around...'
'I'll take it,' I said, holding up the poor little floundering plant in the light. 'I'll revive it.'

'Are you sure?' he asked, 'it looks pretty far gone. Perhaps it is just better to let it go and start again. I think I'll just get them a whole new plant.'
I don't know what made me smart at this.
I don't know why I was so moved.
I looked down at the little plant, feeling it's pain twice-- for those who had neglected it and those who didn't believe in it's ability to flourish after so profound a demise.
'Haven't you ever felt like that?' I asked him.
'Yes,' he said, eyes curious.
'Well, when you did, would you have wanted someone to give up on you?'
He lowered his deep brown eyes filled with infinite heart, and nodded with acute understanding. Then he handed me the plant, his every gesture wishing me luck...
...That is how I feel about Detroit."

The photographer stared at me a moment then, reaching across the table, he gripped my hand.

"I think I'd like to go there with you..." he said.

And he smiled through the thin veil of mist in his eyes, "and I'd like to come hear you sing," he added, squeezing my hand a little harder.

You just did, I think to myself, but merely meet his gaze and squeeze his hand in response.


  1. Melissa FriedmannNovember 06, 2010

    Detriot is an amazing cultural hub, where my love for both theatre and history was born.

  2. Erin Wicker SagerNovember 06, 2010

    What a great post about your recent thoughts on Detroit Al! I constantly find myself thinking about Detroit now that I am living in DC. I always enjoy all your posts, especially the ones about Michigan and specifically Detroit. I miss it there.

  3. Hi girl, your piece was so beautiful. Made me think of something I wrote last spring. Cities, people, dreams, hearts, we're all plants aren't we? Detroit is definitely a plant. Glad there are people like you around to water it :)

    Post: The Fragile Plant
    Link: http://therandomthought-ks.blogspot.com/2010/05/fragile-plant.html

    Powered by Blogger

  4. This is why people LOVE you Al...because of the HEART you have and give over to everyone you meet. This brings tears to my eyes as I read it for the 2nd time and because the people you and I love MOST in this world are together today... and in between the tears are the smiles. XOXO



Related Posts with Thumbnails