Indecision Over Michigan

Nick Meador
Wednesday, December 2, 2009


The task of writing an essay about Michigan, and why young adults would or would not want to live in the state, is one that seems littered with traps from the start. If I determine that “Generation Y” is better off leaving the state, I’ll be labeled a deserter. If I recommend that everyone stay and persevere, then they’ll say I’m in denial about the poor state of things. I always thought I would live and die in Michigan without even considering the other possibilities. In the late ‘90s some cousins who had long resided in Pinckney moved to southern Massachusetts, where my uncle was relocated for work. My family wasn’t just saddened by this – we were also a little mad. Of course most of the anger was the result of missing our cousins. Even though some family get-togethers aroused more pain than pleasure, we didn’t like the idea of them not being able to attend, or the idea of the local web of family becoming more sparse.

Our emotions were fed in part by a wellspring of Michigan pride, and that pride wasn’t simply based on ignorance of the lifestyle or culture in other places. By age 14 I had seen the states of Ohio, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, California, Oregon, and Colorado, as well as the District of Columbia. I was even lucky enough to leave the country, not just crossing the river into Ontario (though we did do that for camping at the Pinery and skiing at Blue Mountain), but also visiting the Bahamas (my aunt is from there) and Guatemala (my sister was adopted there). There was something to love in all those places, but I still remember wondering, “How could anyone ever leave Michigan?” Many from other states would respond, “Easy. It’s a s*** hole. Pick up and go immediately.” But many of them have never even visited the Great Lakes State. Their perception is shaped wholly by the news media and the film industry, which deal mostly in statistics like job numbers and crime rates. It’s impossible for the media to develop a nuanced sense of the pleasant life that so many enjoy in Michigan. Yes, the state is courting filmmakers today, but in decades past there was only Robocop (and that wasn’t even filmed in Detroit).

That bogus reputation didn’t seem to bother people in Michigan. Especially people with history in Michigan knew that there was more to the story. But families were more likely to leave if they didn’t have a network of relatives in the state. Parents in some families left right after their last student finished high school and headed off to college. If those students did go to college in Michigan, they tended to move where their parents had gone after graduating. For these students, being raised (or even born and raised) in Michigan didn’t seem to outweigh the desire to be close to their relatives. The majority followed their family to Illinois, Texas, Nevada, or another state experiencing a population boom at the start of the 2000s. On the other hand, I had relatives in states aside from Mass., and they had little intention of returning to Michigan. But most of my aunts and uncles had stayed in Michigan, and most of them seemed happy about it.

I was born in East Detroit in 1982, and except for a short stint in Illinois I have lived in Michigan my whole life. I grew up in Troy, a suburban bubble a dozen miles north of Detroit – and I say “bubble” with full intention. I didn’t really realize it until I got to college how special and self-sustaining that area used to feel, when in fact it was just an ordinary suburb. One could say the bubble was the lower half of Oakland County, but to me it was more specific. My bubble was the western half of Troy, or even Troy High School. The school was aligned to send the majority of its graduates as far away from Michigan as possible. It was an extremely diverse school, for one thing – or it felt more diverse than most parts of Michigan. I had friends with heritage from a variety of Asian and Middle Eastern countries, from Egypt to China, from Indonesia to South Korea. It was also a brilliant school (it won a National Blue Ribbon award when I arrived in 1997) that prepared students for a variety of exciting careers, many of which are sparse in Michigan. The whole state is oriented around the automobile industry in ways that a kid cannot even perceive. Troy was unique in that there were no factories or any kind of dense industrial zone, but our parents were still connected to cars (that is, unless they worked at the Kmart headquarters, which was right around the corner). It was a city of farms turned into subdivisions, but it didn’t feel like suburban sprawl. The neighborhoods (for the most part) were at least constructed with some charisma, not like the monotonous, Tim Burton-esue sprawl that has sprung up in surrounding areas during the past 15 years. Troy did change a lot in that recent stretch, and it seemed like every available lot was being filled with condominiums and churches. That’s not the Troy I remember though. As a kid I had Boulan Park, a giant expanse of jungle gyms, baseball fields, tennis courts, grass and forest. It offered the same magic to children that Hyde Park offers to London’s adults (for those who haven’t visited, it feels like a borderless, unkempt wilderness).

Between “Friends” and “Sex and the City,” urban living at the turn of the millennium was portrayed as the surest way to lead a worthwhile life –- not a meaningful life or even a unique life, but at least one to feel excited about.

In other words, the pains of the state went largely unnoticed by children in Troy, a city that seemed to be ideal. We were focused on Ray’s Ice Cream on Coolidge, the Detroit Zoo (which is actually just outside of Detroit), Metro Beach down Big Beaver (or 16 Mile, or Metro Pkwy, if you were from Macomb County), Skate World on Maple, the cidermill on Dequindre in Rochester Hills, C.J. Barrymore’s on M-59 in Clinton Township, and Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills. We played every sport imaginable, and depending on our age and the time of year, we were busy with either baseball, soccer, basketball, or hockey. We had northern Michigan, one of the most unknown and underappreciated natural realms in the country. Though we didn’t have a cabin when I was young, we had family with cabins, friends with cabins, family of friends with cabins – and we were invited to stay with all of them.

I grew up in the golden age of the family sitcom. Saved by the Bell provided the older siblings I never had. The Cosby Show and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air were comforting in their suggestion that surface appearance no longer meant anything to people. Home Improvement took place just next door (literally, in Birmingham, Michigan), and poked fun at the pressure we felt, living in the auto capital of the world, to be well versed in the ways of the mechanic (or at least to approve of the car culture). And perhaps most importantly, Full House had…well…it had “Full House moments,” when Danny Tanner would give us a tender lesson about family as a result of some silly mistake we made.

I’ve rambled, but you see that “the bubble” wasn’t just western Troy – it was the whole package. It was Michigan seen from a totally positive viewpoint, bolstered by just the right amount of fictional TV shows. That positive viewpoint didn’t fade when I got to MSU. Perhaps it was even reinforced, since I sometimes felt more at home in East Lansing, and more proud to be a Spartan, than I had ever felt in Troy or simply being a “Michigander.” What did start to crumble was the illusion of 20th century suburbia as the best possible scenario for life.

By the time I graduated in 2005, I had developed a vague feeling that I should try something new, no matter how fond of Michigan I had always been. After four unemployed months I ended up in Chicago, and I wasn’t the only one – especially not among MSU students. As Lauren Silverman pointed out in a recent news story, more Spartans head to Chicago than any other city in the nation. Although, Chicago isn’t the only hot destination. In April the Detroit News reported that roughly half of Michigan college grads now leave the state – and 36 percent of Spartans move to Illinois. At the time I had heard about numerous MSU grads moving there, but over one-third of all MSU grads?! I had no idea the number was that high.

This led me to wonder, why are we so set on moving around? Obviously the recession and shortage of jobs are huge factors. But I think part of it has to do with a generational shift. If nothing else, films taught my generation that the guy who stays put too long is inevitably a creep. Matthew McConaughey’s high school lingerer in Dazed and Confused liked his girls to “stay the same age.” But that film took place in the ‘70s, and with the more and more people choosing to attend college, this phenomenon was practically nonexistent when I finished high school in 2001. By that time the same judgment had shifted to the college level, and perhaps had become more severe. I remember the 1994 film Son in Law, in which the resident advisor played by Pauly Shore majored in two dozen college subjects and had little intention of graduating. It was funny then, but during my time at college, I remember people mocking those who stayed in the Lansing area even a few months after graduation. Yet many of us felt uncomfortable with the idea of returning home immediately. That seemed like the thing to do when you couldn’t come up with a better idea, or if you hadn’t lined up a job somewhere else before leaving college.

Our parents, on the other hand, had set their sights on Grosse Pointe or St. Clair Shores, only a few miles from where they grew up. Fewer of them went away to college; people were less migratory in general; expectations of the world were lower; a sense of satisfaction was closer at hand. Even I used to imagine that Troy (or the area surrounding it) would be a great place to raise a family, so it’s not simply the sunken reputation of the home town hold-out at work here. But I refuse to jump here either to some blanket statement about Generation Y (by which I’m referring to people born in the ‘80s) or a lament over our “shortened attention spans.” I will instead return to Full House. Naturally the type and amount of TV one watches changes with age and lifestyle, but two of the most popular TV shows during my lifetime seem to have had an enormous impact on the aforementioned statistics. We may have been kids in the golden age of the family sitcom, but we became young adults watching two programs about people entering their thirties in New York City: Friends and Sex in the City. Between the love advice and dating escapades of Carrie Bradshaw and the fantasy sextet of coffee shop patrons led by Ross and Monica Gellar, urban living at the turn of the millennium was portrayed as the surest way to lead a worthwhile life – not a meaningful life or even a unique life, but at least one to feel excited about.

There’s a flip side to that theory as well. I only know of a few people from Troy High School who either stayed in Troy or returned there immediately after college. All of them hoped to be elementary school teachers – within the Troy School District, if possible. I went through a phase where I made fun of these individuals for being immature or unadventurous – a little bit too much like all of our parents. It seemed to me that they were trying to hide from reality, that they were afraid of the world, or that they were pathetic for being satisfied with the same situation they had always been in. Now I’m not so disapproving, partly because they are all good people, and also, since teachers are needed now more than ever, I respect what they’re trying to do. But there’s a deeper, more painful admission that I had to make on the subject: I was jealous of them. They were leading the life I had at one time imagined for myself, back when it seemed that college was more of a hurdle than a spring board, and when a huge part of me wanted to achieve a modest sense of security and then focus on raising a family. For quite a while, when people asked about my career plans, I’d say I wanted to be a stay-at-home dad.

I won’t ever be a cheerleader for life in Chicago (or any major urban area, for that matter), but no matter how poor my opinion of the place, I couldn’t hate everything about living there. First of all, I’m a music addict, and the live music scene there is absolutely incredible. In the 14 months I lived in the Lakeview and Southport neighborhoods, I saw about 36 concerts at 11 different venues (by venue, I mean a place that hosts concerts on a regular basis), and attended four music festivals – including what has become one of the nation’s premier festivals, Lollapalooza (and I’ve returned for it three more times, along with 200,000 others each time). All of that is within about a 10 mile radius! The other aspect I enjoyed was not having to use a car. I knew many people who didn’t even own a car. Between city buses, the elevated train, and the expanded Metra train, the public transportation system is phenomenal. For what then cost $1.75, I could theoretically get home from any point in the city, at any hour of the day (though it took a few hours late at night). I rode my bicycle to work every day, all throughout the year, partly because I lived only a mile from my workplace. The reverse effect of these green transportation methods was that I felt guilty every time I did travel by car (but shouldn’t we all, instead of selectively forgetting the harm we’re doing to the world?).

One of Chicago’s bragging points didn’t take full effect until after I left. The entire city went smoke-free in January 2007, after testing it out by letting people smoke only in proximity to the actual bar where drinks were served. (This was followed by a statewide smoking ban in Illinois in January 2008.) While special interests in Michigan were spreading propaganda and suppressing what little public demand there seemed to be for a comprehensive smoking ban, the rest of the world was bridging beyond the lies and ridding itself of a completely unnecessary source of air pollution, human suffering and death. Entire countries have even started going smoke-free, including America’s two closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico (the first country was Ireland in 2004).

Experiencing these things in Chicago provided more clarification for what is – and what, for decades, has been – wrong with Michigan. It became devastatingly obvious to me that Michigan has no music scene. Yes, there are music venues, mostly in Detroit, Pontiac, Ann Arbor, and Grand Rapids – but there’s no scene. Even with noteworthy spots like the Majestic Theater complex (with one of my favorite venues anywhere, the Magic Stick – and now a new, smaller venue called The Café), it doesn’t feel connected at all. And when I was younger, most of the venues were invisible. I only saw shows at Clutch Cargos, the State Theater (recently renamed Fillmore Detroit by evil mega-corporation Live Nation), the Palace of Auburn Hills, or Cobo Hall. Why? Remember the bubble I talked about? Yeah, the smaller venues were definitely outside of it.

I want to be in a place that exudes art, where people live art instead of just talk about it. Of course, the type of art that I’m imagining might not yet exist in any place, so I may have to find some way to create it myself.

And it was surely a sign of Michigan’s poor cultural health that, during the last decade, ascending musicians almost always fled the state. The most notable instance of this – and the one that angers me the most – was Jack White’s 2006 move to Nashville, Tenn. But that’s not all! Sufjan Stevens and Pas/Cal went to Brooklyn, Anathallo to Chicago, J Dilla (one of the most highly regarded hip hop producers of all time, who has since passed away) to Los Angeles, Fred Thomas (of Saturday Looks Good to Me) to Portland…the list goes on. In the end we were left with Eminem and Kid Rock. Don’t get me wrong – I think Eminem is a talented writer. But 8 Mile was the most recent film to make Detroit look like Dante’s ninth layer of hell, and Em must be held accountable for that (regardless of how accurate the depiction was). Kid Rock is a buffoon who encourages the type of inbreeding and ignorance more commonly associated with the American South. (And of course we’ve always had Ted Nugent, a psychotic, bow-and-arrow-wielding arch-reactionary who presides over most of rural Michigan.)

The most complicated criticism I have for Michigan is that there’s no real art community. This relates to the nonexistent music scene, but takes a broader scope. What I mean to say is that art doesn’t often happen in Michigan, out in real life. It happens in classrooms, galleries, and museums, according to specific rules and guidelines, but not anywhere in public. And by “art” I’m not just referring to painting or sculpting, or really any specific activity. I’m talking about creativity, expression, experimentation, innovation, unorthodoxy, progress and courage. The way I now see it, art is less an activity or a product, but more of an effect of those things. True art provokes us to think differently, to see life in a novel way, and (hopefully) to change. I’ve hardly ever witnessed that kind of art in Michigan. Except for a few small blips in the ‘60s and ‘70s (i.e. – Lester Bangs, Creem Magazine, and the musicians covered therein), we’ve pretty much been left off the timeline of cultural and artistic developments in America. I want to be in a place that exudes art, where people live art instead of just talk about it. Of course, the type of art that I’m imagining might not yet exist in any place. Or the better way to say that is, if I want to see that kind of art, I may have to find some way to create it myself. As Willy Wonka put it, “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”

Part of Michigan’s disregard for real art is connected to its aging automobile culture, which led to oversized working and middle classes. Southeast Michigan in particular is home to many factory workers and office employees, whereas western and northern Michigan have a more diverse, albeit still middle class economy. I’m referring more to a mindset and lifestyle than a specific income range – a loose categorization of people who “emphasize sedentary consumerism and petty property ownership within capitalism” (as written on Wikipedia). This lifestyle is geared towards heavy consumption of pop culture, namely cable TV and FM radio. New ideas and practices are often introduced slowly and from the outside, if not rejected altogether. People are only as educated as they need to be in order to get a job. These folks have never been very likely to partake in edgy artistic endeavors. It’s not a result of the tough times we’re in, since the most captivating art often arises from dire human struggle. What’s more, the world of art has traditionally held a certain contempt for the middle class, those driven by little more than inertia and held back by close-minded conservatism. And most of the accused have no idea what else is out there…

This might be balanced out if even a portion of Detroit was a thriving urban environment – but there is no such place. In reality, the area known as “Metro Detroit” contains three sections: the downtown core (which is mostly empty and unused), the residential ring around that (which includes some of the most dangerous and poverty-stricken areas in the country), and the suburban ring outside Detroit’s city limits. Between these three areas, the only consistent crossover occurs on the daily commute of businessmen heading downtown from the suburbs. The fact that we’ve never had a mass transit system of any kind (no, the People Mover doesn’t count) makes the situation worse. And talks of light rail systems running to the suburbs, or even high speed trains to other states, seem like empty promises from politicians. Speaking of politicians, more and more of us are realizing just how backwards and corrupt the leadership has been in both Detroit and Lansing for… who know how long. Those exposed only to TV news in Metro Detroit wouldn’t know this, because the mainstream “journalistic” coverage consists to scaremongering over murders and car crashes. There are no big urban parks in Detroit like you would find in other cities, parts of the riverfront are abhorrent, and Belle Isle has the general feel of Jurassic Park after the dinosaurs rampage. Five hours north, the Mackinaw Bridge looks like the Golden Gate Bridge with blue paint, but just south of Detroit, the Ambassador Bridge seems constructed with leftover parts from one of the nearby oil refineries. (Notice how you never see it in pictures of the Detroit skyline?)

With the exception of some very classy restaurants, there’s not much to do in Detroit but sports events and gambling. Actually, the way our new casino hotels were built into a landscape of urban decay makes me think of one thing: Back to the Future, Part II. Late in the film, Marty McFly returns from 2015 to 1985 only to find an alternate reality run by his family’s nemesis, Biff Tannen. Tannen has destroyed the quaint clock tower and installed an enormous casino surrounded by biker gangs and run-down neighborhoods. Marty learns that, in this alt-reality, Biff has shot and killed George McFly, Marty’s father. When Marty confronts him, Biff growls, “They couldn’t trace the bullet that killed your old man.” He claims the reason is that he controls the police department.

In Detroit, this sounds far too familiar. I recently learned more about the murder of Tamara Greene, the exotic dancer who allegedly performed for Kwame Kilpatrick at the Manoogian Mansion in 2002, was rumored to be assaulted by Kilpatrick’s wife, and, the following year, was shot 18 times with a 0.40 caliber Glock (the same type of pistol used by Detroit police officers). Then in 2003, two former Detroit police officers won an $8.5 million settlement in a whistleblower case. The reason? They had been terminated from their positions for investigating the circumstances of Kilpatric’s party. How much influence did Kwame exert in order to cover up the events of that party in 2002? How willing was he to sacrifice what little credibility Detroit had left? (The Red Wings can only win so many Stanley Cup Championships!!!)

The concern of young urbanites is less about being a part of something big, and more about making themselves feel bigger and more important. People project themselves onto the giant structures and clockwork movement, and it gives them a sense of accomplishment just being there.

There’s a point to my digression. Detroit is stuck in the hellish depiction of what Marty’s hometown could have been if Biff Tannen – a dopey, insecure thug – had control of the city. Kwame is not the only one to blame. He was more of a punch in the gut when the city already had food poisoning. Instead of hoverboards (possibly the coolest concept toy ever) and flying cars, we’ve got an urban area that many suburbanites won’t visit, and auto companies saved from failure only by government assistance. The future we had hoped for, the one that my generation was promised, is not only very distant – it might be an impossibility. Michigan is the worst case scenario, but it’s not the only place in America to which that theory applies. Our entire market-based system of capitalism is on a downward spiral, and we’re all in denial. In a capitalist system, someone has to be poor – and that “someone” is currently the State of Michigan. The old adage about being more successful than your parents – that’s over! It wasn’t a sustainable goal anyways! It’s time for America to surrender its ego and look inward at our own neurotic sickness. Michigan’s recession and Detroit’s deterioration are merely sings that we cannot follow this path any further. We have to take a few steps back and get a clear view of the green light again.

It’s easier to deny what’s happening in a bustling city like Chicago, and the passage there from Michigan is unique in itself. Driving in on I-90 (more commonly referred to as the Chicago Skyway), one passes through Gary, Indiana, the veritable anchor of the Rust Belt. It’s a stinky, revolting eyesore, where more steel is produced than anywhere in the country. But when you finally catch sight of the Sears Tower (sorry…Willis Tower) looming in the distance, it’s both relieving and enthralling. You start to envision all the people and bars and taxis and movement. The moment is not unlike the one Nick Carraway describes in that enduring American novel The Great Gatsby, while driving through the “valley of ashes” and across the bridge into Manhattan. “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.”

I know the reasons why most young people would say they move to a big city. “I want to live in an exciting place,” “where things are always happening,” and “where I’ll always have stuff to do.” Furthermore, “I want to feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself.” This last one is the most curious, since it’s often expressed in relation to religion as well. In Chicago, practically everything is bigger than the self. I think the concern of young urbanites is less about being a part of something big, and more about making themselves feel bigger and more important. People project themselves onto the giant structures and clockwork movement, and it gives them a sense of accomplishment just being there. In reality, the city exists in total contradiction to nature, and so do its citizens. These young adults don’t want to face their painful memories, personal failings, worries about the future, or lack of meaningful accomplishments. They’re seeking distractions, lights, and cacophony, all to drown out the chaos inside of them. The city calls out, “Don’t think about the pain back home! High school was rough, your family is f***** up, and — ugh, Michigan is so boring! You’re in the city now! Here are a million other white people in the exact same situation. Go out, watch sports, drink martinis, take taxis everywhere (hey, it’s easier than riding your bike, and the train is icky). Live the life you’ve always… seen on screen!”

The obvious response: “Oh my god, we’re, like, totally gonna be like Carrie Bradshaw. It’ll be sooo awesome.”

Well, clearly I can’t hide my true feelings, and it would take a novel (it will take a novel, I should say) to properly expound them. But please don’t think I’m attacking a single gender or social group. What I’m trying to say is that most of the young professionals I met in Chicago seemed to have very little direction or purpose to their lives. Most of them had few priorities: to live in a trendy neighborhood, spend their spare time in popular bars, and, in the warmer months, play in a casual sports league (or at least rollerblade down the paved path between Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan from time to time). The only time I saw kids in Chicago was when was passing an elementary school during recess, which might actually be a draw for twenty-somethings. After all, they hadn’t moved to a place or community, so much as they had run from the place where they grew up. The original Home had lost its illusion of perfection, and it pained them too much to face the truth of that realization. Staying in Michigan is often harder than the alternative, not just for lack of jobs. You have to face the pain of your past, your mistakes (and maybe regrets), the places that used to feel warm but are now cold, the ghosts of close friends who vanished from your life. In Michigan, you have to acknowledge your own obscurity. In Chicago, it’s easier to live a life of fiction, instead of just watching it on TV back home. Of course not everyone in Michigan has an elaborate sense of purpose – but when people here do feel a purpose, it’s usually based on something real, like connections to family or a community.

There are exceptions when someone gets an amazing job offer out of state that just can’t be passed up, or when he or she truly spent time job searching in Michigan to no avail. But I have a feeling not enough of these movers understand the common saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Are they aware that our psychological ghosts and demons follow us wherever we go? And there’s no ignoring the role that perception plays here – perception of what one’s life can be like in a place like Chicago compared with what it can be like… anywhere else. The result is a different kind of brain drain that may be far worse than anything experienced in Michigan. What good is attracting young adults if the people are shells of human beings with not an iota of individuality (or perceptible intelligence) in them? What if, in today’s media-saturated world, it’s only possible to become a “magnet state” through an amalgam of fictional portrayals, public relations, and advertising? I mean, 36 percent of MSU grads – and, I’m willing to guess, a sizeable number of all young adults leaving Michigan – move to this vacuous city, where rows and rows of identical brick buildings stand smashed up against the coast of Lake Michigan. I know that we as a country (or as a species, depending on your perspective) have always idolized the concept of the city as a grand accomplishment. But Chicago, a city still run by organized crime, and one of the most racially segregated places I’ve ever been, is neither the melting pot nor the land of opportunity we were taught to expect in America.

Then again, part of this mass migration might not even have anything to do with the places in question. In a recent New York Times Book Review essay, Arlie Hochschild argues that, “more than we realize, we’ve become accustomed to a move-along life-go-round world.” Thanks to various free thinkers from the past 50 years, we’re at least aware that we are living in a consumer-driven society. Hochschild says that capitalism takes advantage of the American will to improve our lives, since a consumer’s answer to bettering one’s life is to acquire material possessions – in other words, to buy stuff. She continues by stating that the problem worsens in the consumer realm as complexity increases. Whether it’s the quickened pace of gadget development (which, I would say, has been propagated the most by Apple), or the increasing number of cable channels, or new flavors of Frosted Mini Wheats – it’s all an attempt by marketers and advertisers to trigger the consumer impulse in us.

Hochschild is more concerned that this phenomenon has permeated our entire lives. She writes that America outranks every country in divorce rates, and that unwed parents (that is, couples raising kids) in Sweden stay together more often than married parents in the U.S. “The culprit is not the absence of family values…but a continual state of unconscious immersion in a market turnover culture. It is this that sets us apart from a more stable Europe.” And this makes perfect sense, seeing how people behave whether or not they are moving around the country. Our common reaction to challenge and conflict seems to have become one of instant abandonment. “We buy. We discard. We buy again,” says Hochschild. Why wouldn’t we start to view interpersonal relationships, personal aspirations, and geographic placement in the same manner. We lived in Michigan for a while. It wasn’t perfect, and despite our good memories there are many bad ones as well. So naturally we should head on to the next place, to start over with a “clean slate.” That seems easier, doesn’t it?

Before you all pounce on me for some “return to old times” argument that I’m not trying to make, you should know that I am just as guilty. After all, I fled to Chicago four months after college graduation. Granted, I had a degree in Zoology, which left me the options of seeking employment in research, substitute teaching, or with the DNR. I chose research, with the overarching goal of veterinary school still in mind (a goal that’s now been dead for three strange years). What I’m getting at is that my reasons for moving to Chicago weren’t very convincing, even to me. The half-assed explanation I provided to family was that I (1) wanted to try living somewhere else for a while, (2) I thought I should work in research, and (3) I was pulled there by a broken heart. Never mind that all my skier friends from college were moving straight to Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, and that I had rapturous dreams of living at the foot of a mountain with instant access to skiing (one of my all-time favorite and most liberating activities). I was moving to Chicago, the third most populated city in the United States, against all logic.

I later found Fyodor Dostoevsky’s comments on this phenomenon, expressed through the protagonist in his first novel, Notes From Underground. “…Man, whoever he might be, has always and everywhere preferred to act according to his own wishes rather than according to the dictates of reason and advantage. And his wishes may well be contrary to his advantage; indeed, sometimes they positively should be… […] What man needs is only his own independent wishing, whatever independence may cost and wherever it may lead.” Obviously I shouldn’t imply that a Dostoevsky quote could hold only one meaning, but it’s still a valid suggestion. This is based wholly on personal experience, but if I hadn’t moved to Chicago, a handful of very positive things wouldn’t have happened in my life. And through that course of events, I ended up back in Michigan within 14 months! It was a very specific reason: my professional goals had shifted, and I wanted to attend grad school for journalism. Not only did the Communication Arts School at Michigan State have a stellar reputation, but the School of Journalism claimed that they were viewed in even higher regard. Although, the selling point was that I could start my program in January, instead of waiting until the following August to attend one of the other schools in consideration. (Yes, I was in a hurry.)

But then school ended, and in August 2008 – a month before the economy collapsed – I moved to Ann Arbor. I couldn’t get a job, not even at a coffee shop (they’d rather hire undergrads than pay a Masters grad a few bucks more per hour). If my girlfriend hadn’t already begun a successful career as a biomedical engineer, we would have moved out of state instantly – even though my extended family is still in southeast Michigan; even though I have deep emotional ties to the state; even though I had just moved back in January 2007. Instead, we fantasized about some point in the future when we could move to a progressive coastal city like Boston or San Francisco, or an unspoiled mountain town such as Jackson, Wyoming.

Maybe I haven’t clearly stated it yet, but I’m a really restless person – not in the “grass is always greener” sense though. I just understand the current widespread inclination towards motion. I joke that this is a remnant of my Native American heritage, which somehow instilled me with the spirit of a nomad. The benefit of restlessness is that I absolutely love to travel. Part of that comes from my parents, who drove my brothers and I around the eastern United States as often as possible. But part of it is a thrust I feel at my very core – not just that I tend to feel claustrophobic and tied-down, but also that I yearn to see the world. Travel is unrivaled in its ability to provide a sense of adventure and experience. It allows you to see yourself through a totally different prism of reality. I came of age wanting to insert myself into unknown cultures (domestic and foreign) and uncomfortable situations, knowing I would come out a better, more worldly person. Yet only recently I did I find Whitman’s reflection: “We say to ourselves, Remember, fear not, be candid, promulge the body and the soul, Dwell a while a pass on, be copious, temperate, chaste, magnetic, And what you effuse may then return as the seasons return, And may be just as much as the seasons.”

For better or worse, this celebration of traveling and changing is often reduced to a suggestion that we Americans are simply a restless people. From that point of view, it’s not just me – it’s all who live amongst the waving stars and stripes, and all who subscribe to the ideas they represent. But “restless” in this context more often means “perpetually unhappy” – and that’s a much bigger concern than never tiring of new experience. Alexis de Tocqueville seems to be the authority on the subject, if only for identifying it before anyone else in his 1835 book Democracy in America. I haven’t read that though, and while I’m no expert on the author, it seems clear that the label of restlessness as a national characteristic has stuck. That might explain why Jack Kerouac (an author I know much more about) is still so widely read among young people today. He devoted his life mainly to two things: wandering and writing. He saw Americans becoming more standardized, less adventurous, and open to fewer ideas and experiences – so he embodied the very opposite. He flowed endlessly around the continent (and sometimes beyond), and from one perspective, he sacrificed himself for the benefit of society.

“To let the mountains slide, — live at home like a traveler. Is not each withered leaf that I see in my walks something which I have traveled to find? — traveled, who can tell how far? What a fool he must be who thinks that his El Dorado is anywhere but where he lives!” – Thoreau

Many forces infuse today’s young adults with similar desires – at least, those of us who grew up in ‘90s suburbia. We saw so many parents live astonishingly normal lives, content with the status quo, seemingly indifferent to their immobilization. We also grew up with myriad stories – in movies, on TV, and, in the rarer case, in books – about characters living in extraordinary ways or embarking on grand adventures. These first two could also have been claimed, albeit flimsily, by previous generations. But a third point – one more unique to those who reached adulthood in the past decade – is that, with every passing day, our world feels smaller. And it’s finally starting to feel authentically possible, not just an unrealistic fantasy based on a ride at Walt Disney World. Unlike the more paranoid generations before us, we generally seem to like this transition. To take the most recent example, this year masses of American people expressed a concern over election fraud in Iran, in hopes of seeing the citizens enjoy the promise of democracy that we often take for granted. This was made possible by the website Twitter. On a single social networking service, Iranian citizens disseminated information for concerned World Citizens, who then expressed their thoughts in return. Not only was this a major step towards grassroots reporting from an omnipresent audience, but it was a landmark instance of Americans paying attention to foreign affairs other than war or poverty. Perhaps more importantly, because of the nature of the Internet, This may not be new for citizens in other countries, but America is a pretty insular place. We don’t get out much, physically or mentally. (That was another reason I was proud to be a Spartan: the university’s stellar study abroad program. I participated twice, spending three weeks in central Mexico and six in the British Isles.) Our national isolation must change, and with the help of the Internet, it will, regardless of how many international flights we take. Just look at the Iran election example. Perhaps more important than the increased involvement was the fact that it happened regardless of where people lived. The Internet reaches everyone the same way, whether they live in a big city on the California coast, in a small Oklahoma town, in the mountains of Tennessee, or in the flat expanses of Michigan.

While international travel isn’t yet as common as it should be, we are moving more within our own borders, often permanently. But recently I’ve been less mobile than I’d prefer. When I can’t travel, it has a detrimental effect on my overall well-being. Luckily, my girlfriend and I managed to take a two-week cross-country road trip this fall. We camped whenever possible, brought groceries with us to limit food purchases, and drove a vehicle that gets about 28 mpg on the highway (that number is more like 31 when the car isn’t packed full). We saw graceful, towering windmills spread over the hills of Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. These Great Plains regions with dull reputations (at least, with reputations no better than Michigan’s) had started to harness the Earth’s inherent energy with devices that look surprisingly futuristic. We stayed a night in San Francisco, a city that currently sees an enormous influx of young adults from across the country. Residents there have long enjoyed moderate weather, abundant coastlines, and the captivating sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. But now they have a mandatory recycling and composting program, and by 2010 they hope to divert 75 percent of waste away from landfills or incinerators (they’re currently at 72 percent, according to the Environment Report).

Meanwhile in Ypsilanti, Michigan, my apartment complex doesn’t even offer a recycling service. I have to take my recyclables to a station in Ann Arbor, which is fine for me – but it pretty much guarantees that over 90 percent of people in the complex will send all waste to a landfill. Yet even in Ann Arbor, I shared a duplex with a couple who didn’t once use the free curbside recycling service provided to us. I wanted to find a way to educate them, without snobbishly demanding that they consider the effect their actions had on the earth. Unless we attempt the mandatory way, people have to make the decision on their own (and with most matters of civic responsibility, that’s how it should be). I used to think that Michigan’s 10 cent deposit on beer and pop containers was training us to be automatic recyclers. Now I’m not so confident.

On our trip we also visited smoke-free bars in San Francisco, L.A., and Colorado, and thought about how much more often we would go out in Michigan if conditions were the same. This is a topic that makes me viciously angry. Michigan is one of only 13 American states that haven’t passed statewide public smoking bans. And thanks to a 2001 court decision, cities and counties in Michigan cannot make that decision for themselves. In December 2007 I celebrated as the Michigan House of Reps passed a comprehensive ban, only to watch it shot down in the Senate. Republican lawmakers now resort to childlike tactics in accordance with the lobbying of the tobacco industry, and constituents are left with heaps of propaganda and charred lungs. Without exception, the “facts” used to argue against a ban are generated either by tobacco companies or groups on their payroll. The end result: a perfect example of how Michigan is one of the least progressive states in the country, and one of the least attractive to young adults. Instead of moving forward, we stagnate, we rot, we decompose. The smoking ban has been pushed from the legislative calendar to prioritize the economic hardship we continue to face, but these politicians aren’t connecting the dots or thinking long-term. Or even worse, they don’t care at all about the state’s condition, so long as they are profiting.

All of this boils my brain and makes me want to escape again. It wouldn’t be an act of escapism, just a move to a place not quite so imperfect. Every time I visit a mountain town like Steamboat Springs, I have a heated internal debate and come close to staying indefinitely. That was the kind of place I fantasized about while drowning in the urban bog of Chicago. There you’re not just far from mountains; you’re also far from forests, open spaces, and quiet places. I pictured a small cabin in the foothills surrounded by snow banks and tall pines, where I could revel in the solitude and concentrate on creative endeavors. But then I start to wonder if it would even dampen my restlessness to live in a place like that. Would I be happy there, in a town that seems more attractive in my mind? Can I be completely content with any place? I’m sure the desire is based on my own specific needs, not rooted in fiction or reputation. But are my reasons more legitimate than the ones that send people exuberantly to Chicago or New York?

The road trip was a grand success, especially for proving that it’s possible to see so many places in a two-week span, all on a reasonable budget. As usual, the trip left me hungry for more. There are still so many European countries to experience, let alone American states I haven’t seen, and I can’t wait to visit South America and Australia. But while some do get hooked on traveling or relocating, there’s something to be said as well for commitment to a single place. In a letter dated January 1, 1859, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “To let the mountains slide, — live at home like a traveler. It should not be in vain that these things are shown us from day to day. Is not each withered leaf that I see in my walks something which I have traveled to find? — traveled, who can tell how far? What a fool he must be who thinks that his El Dorado is anywhere but where he lives!”

That realization is, for many in southeast Michigan, a difficult one to achieve. But I can’t ignore that traveling abroad has consistently made me more appreciative of what we have in the U.S., or even right here in Michigan. Particularly in northern Michigan, there are towns and natural wonders unlike anywhere else. This is the area, after all, where Ernest Hemingway spent his childhood summers fishing and exploring, and began forging his “man of action” persona. My favorite area of the state is the stretch along Lake Michigan from the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes up to Mackinac Island. And while bigger cities like Traverse City, Petoskey and Charlevoix draw tourists on a regular basis, one can also find hidden gems like Bellaire and Harbor Springs. Michigan often takes its “up north” realm for granted, but it’s one of the things that ties us all together. Part of the draw there is our boating culture, whether you prefer sailing, fishing, wakeboarding, or simply trolling around at sunset in a pontoon boat. Aside from recreation, the lakes represent an immense stock of fresh water, which is becoming an increasingly rare commodity in the world. I think we also take for granted that we experience all four seasons – but that seems to be a big reason many move away, since not everyone feels that winter’s charm can outrank its challenges. No matter what the season, Michigan is host to some of the most breathtaking sunsets I’ve ever seen. The evening twilight holds a romantic melancholy that’s unique to the state (though that heart-wrenching sky may also send some people packing).

Michigan also has a surprising number of skilled microbreweries practicing a craft akin to the regional production of scotch whisky in Scotland or tequila in Mexico. And in recent years, two major events in music culture have sprouted in Michigan. On Memorial Day weekend, Movement: Detroit (formerly DEMF) both celebrates the city’s pioneers in techno music and invites the best electronic artists from around the world. Then over Fourth of July weekend, the Rothbury Festival gathers world-class performers, live music fans, and camping enthusiasts from across the country. This is only a slice of what the state has to offer – only some of the reasons why Michigan natives incessantly brag about the state when they travel or move to other places. And even if there aren’t exciting urban areas here, we are situated right between Toronto and Chicago. If they ever do install a high-speed train system, people could easily take weekend trips to these hubs of civilization. That would make it more likely that young people would consider living in Michigan, especially those who don’t want an urban life all the time.

With all these points considered in relation to one another, I’m still left with the feeling that Michigan should take on a new slogan: The “Okay Is Good Enough” State. I just can’t shake the feeling that we, as a state, have nothing to work towards. We’ve let the automobile industry guide us for almost a century now! And cars are what enable so many of us to enjoy northern Michigan on such a frequent basis. While we do have an affection for outdoor activities, many of the traditional activities – like snowmobiling and hunting – range from questionable to embarrassing. Back in more developed parts of the state, it’s frightening how many outings consist of a trip to Target or a shopping mall.

I know change is good and necessary, and “variety is the spice of life”…but shouldn’t we have a broader goal, or other aims in addition to change, sensory stimulation, and movement?

Michigan has a subdued nature about it, and people here are unique in their refusal to get caught up in hype or pretense. People have always seemed primarily focused on raising families. For the majority of adults I’ve met in the state, no other priority outranks it; for some, no other priority exists. And that’s not to say that family is the top priority, since I’m sure divorce rates and other such indicators are on par with national levels. I just mean that people don’t seem very concerned with whether or not we’re moving forward as a group.

Michigan is very ingrained in its ways, and a lot of the behavioral patterns seem very boring to young people. In fact our inclination towards boredom is arguably the main defining attribute of the generation in question. We’ve had more audio and visual input coming at us on a daily basis than any generation before us. It’s not just on TV or radio; we grew up with video games, computers, cell phones (don’t forget about text messages), and the Internet. When choosing what media to consume or interact with, we have millions of options. And more of that stuff is free and ready on demand, so we can choose active media consumption in favor of older, passive methods. I’d argue that our attention span isn’t shorter today – we just don’t waste time on content that fails to captivate. This is related to the “market turnover culture” that Hochschild describes, and I think it helps explain why young people are leaving Michigan. We have a voracious appetite for sensory input, because those senses have been constantly overwhelmed throughout our lives. Maybe young adults are trying to find something in the real world based on their favorite media, but others are probably just looking for a change of input. And I know change is good and necessary, and “variety is the spice of life”… but shouldn’t we have a broader goal, or other aims in addition to change, sensory stimulation, and movement? Furthermore, what if we can find a way to fulfill those drives while living in Michigan?

Some would argue that there are places in Michigan that attract young adults, like Royal Oak, Ann Arbor, or Grand Rapids. Yet these cities aren’t going to save Michigan. There are positive aspects to each of them, but, at least in my search for a new grand idea of Home, they don’t seem to fit the bill. Aside from my complicated case, it appears that job availability is the primary determinant for where young adults choose to live. While these few cities might have more jobs than other parts of Michigan, it’s questionable whether they’re the type of jobs these people are looking for. And given the overall state of the job market, we need a better sense of what young adults seek outside of employment, in order to attract enough to compensate for those who leave.

So…what does Generation Y want? It seems to me that the members of this generation have no idea what they want. They only know that they feel dissatisfied. And that isn’t unique when compared to the coming-of-age process of generations past, but our surrounding culture is vastly different, and that affects us. I think the main difference is that the American Dream as we’ve commonly known it is crumbling. Even if the crash of 2008 hadn’t happened, many of us could see that prosperity alone didn’t bring adults happiness. It was also obvious that materialistic pursuits created very little joy in anyone’s life. In that light, it seems like a good cultural development that young adults today are prioritizing the accrual of experience instead of belongings. But unless there’s some meaning behind it, or some specific long-term goal, we may not be much better off than the materialists. Personally, I think a large-scale psychological revolution is needed, but I may spend the rest of my life working towards it. People need a better view of the hidden drives at work in their unconscious mind, and a deeper knowledge of the intertwined forces of mind, body and spirit. I think that would lessen the grip that fear and loathing have on humanity today. I realize we might not yet be ready for a peaceful world, since we’re still more interested in seeking a prosperous world. But peace lies in the direction of our evolution, and we will have peace when we so choose.

Michigan is certainly due for some peace and prosperity. If the main reasons for leaving Michigan are finding employment, improving sensory stimulation, and repressing past sorrows, then those are the things that have to change for people to stay in Michigan. The other reason to leave is that improving Michigan will take a lot of work, time and money. Having a “successful” life in a place like Chicago is (for many career fields, anyways) like reaching a peak by helicopter, when originally you had set out to scale a mountain by foot. Whereas in Detroit, you would not only have to climb – you’d have to carry extra weight on your back. You’d be forced to resolve your own destiny and the destiny of the city. On top of that, I can’t get the words of Henry Miller out of my mind: “Things happen or they don’t happen, that’s all. Nothing is accomplished by sweat and struggle. Nearly everything which we call life is just insomnia, an agony because we’ve lost the habit of falling asleep. We don’t know how to let go. We’re like a Jack-in-the-box perched on top of a spring and the more we struggle the harder it is to get back in the box” (quoted from Tropic of Capricorn). I’m hesitant to even mention that, because it’s a complicated statement that has caused misinterpretations of Miller’s general worldview – but it’s an important idea to consider. We can never really predict the true outcome of our actions, no matter how noble our intentions. Diversification is a key to Michigan’s future, but in seeking to create a diverse economy, we could very well end up with a state that is equally problematic.

Knowing this, many will simply decide to move to a place that’s already “cool.” They’ll follow the tiny voice saying that we deserve to enjoy our individual lives instead of striving toward a common goal. I’ve outlined the reasons why I would leave, if only temporarily. I do want to have fun, build a deep pool of experience, and be a part of something bigger than myself. I know that staying in Michigan is against my advantage, or at least there won’t be a guarantee of payback. On one hand, Detroit (or all of Michigan) seems beyond salvation. But on the other hand, one can only see potential in a place so run down and rotted out. I’ve said multiple times that Detroit could be a cool little city – maybe an Austin of the Midwest (from what I’ve gathered about that Texas town). And they say Chicago wouldn’t be the thriving city it is today if not for the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Well, Detroit’s been smoldering for a while now. It’s time to reconstruct.

There’s even a hint of Tyler Durden’s philosophy in there somewhere. “It’s only after you’ve lost everything…that you’re free to do anything.” Detroit has hit bottom in ways that no other American city ever has or will, and now the only place to go is up. Although, a greater psychological awareness would help here as well. We can start by ending our collective denial of the situation, and then we must consider two more of Tyler’s sayings. First, it’s not a weekend retreat. This is going to be a long, grueling process. Second, it’s not about you, the people who lead this revitalization; it’s about the revitalization itself. It’s about reinventing the American Dream into something that acknowledges the bumper sticker slogan I saw recently: “We all do better when we all do better.” That is not a call to socialism (that’s a different topic altogether); it’s a statement of fact. A society defined by greed and selfishness begets the current state of Detroit. And I’d argue that the American Dream as we know it today was really a 20th Century invention, specific to the immigrants (mostly Irish) who came over at the end of the 1800s. We have to develop an American Dream for this new century, one with different goals and promises, one that serves the needs of our modern world instead of sagging like hand-me-down clothes.

We could turn here to another of Dostoevsky’s observations in Notes From Underground. The narrator suggests that the human being is creative in nature, but once man feels obligated to create, he will intentionally destroy the creation. We do this, he claims, partly because we also enjoy destruction, and partly because we’re terrified of actually attaining our goal. So we waver back and forth, envisioning a goal, being compelled to work towards the goal, feeling trapped in the process, fretting over the unknown to come after the objective is met, tearing the whole mess to pieces in despair (or watching complacently as it falls apart), and starting over again. Or we just turn on TV and forget about the whole mess.

In other words, we have quite a lot to handle here, and young adults are not going to be able to do it on their own. It’ll be a concerted effort, for sure, and it has already begun. The first place I noticed a change was the Midtown area of Detroit around Wayne State University, where many new apartments and condos went up in the last decade. In the last few years, we’ve heard plenty about the tax exemptions for the film industry. If not cut from the state budget, that will lead to more creative jobs in the state. (Personally I think there should an added incentive for films that take place in Michigan, not just ones that are filmed here. That would boost the reputation of our state currently fed by the media.) Another promising development may still be too taboo to discuss openly. Michigan voters passed a 2008 amendment allowing medical marijuana use, and earlier this year the federal government announced that it will defer to state law on the issue. California has permitted such use for over a decade, and they’re now edging closer to total legalization – which would mean more than $1 billion in annual tax revenue for the state. Michigan could certainly use that kind of money, especially if it’s coming from a natural substance that is less harmful than both alcohol and cigarettes.

Jennifer Guerra’s recent series on Michigan Radio mentioned some exciting developments among groups trying to revive Detroit. Some are creating artist residencies out of foreclosed homes, while others are turning dilapidated buildings into community centers. It’s a small start, but a start nonetheless – in spite of Miller’s conjecture that “things happen or they don’t happen.” Perhaps with enough stubborn artists, entrepreneurs, and free-thinkers, something spontaneous will happen in Michigan, starting in Detroit and rippling out through the rest of the state. If we can turn Detroit around, it could be one of the great success stories of the century, and a new model for the redevelopment of urban America.

It’s not simply a matter of policy and finance, and there’s plenty more to do than construct and renovate buildings. For example, I’m hoping that my website (an online magazine with no traditional editors) will develop into a creative network for Michigan. The primary goal is to encourage and celebrate personal expression in a constructive environment. I’m convinced that inefficient communication and expression (they aren’t quite the same, after all) result in a vast number of problems at every level of human interaction, from romantic relationships to foreign diplomacy. If I’m right, a city like Detroit is in need of some major venting. I said Chicago suffers from racial segregation, but in Detroit it might be even worse. Instead of being divided by north and south like Chicago, Detroit is divided into “outer” and “inner.” We need to address this if Detroit is going to move forward. We have to mend long-infected wounds, and more than anything else, that means eliminating correlations between skin color and socioeconomic class.

There are other kinds of venting that should be promoted as well. Those of us who do feel frustrated with our place of residence should take this opportunity to build our powers of imagination. With the help of the Internet and technology, we have more ways to express ourselves and cross traditional boundaries (such as cost and geography) than at any time in human history. We can create our own diverse array of sensory stimulants to rival the more public arts and culture happenings in healthier communities. That would serve a second purpose: to wean ourselves off of the fiction addiction we developed back in the age of the sitcom. That’s not to say that fiction isn’t valuable, but it must contain some element of reality, and real human experience, for it to be worthwhile. And I’m not referring to the heinous invention that is reality TV. Those shows have no writers or actors, so theoretically, the worst writer in the world could create something more worthwhile.

Additionally, we need to coax other age groups to move to (or back to) Michigan, not just try to keep college grads here. People in their twenties may have ideas and enthusiasm, but we need people with experience. We also need to better educate students and adults on the history of Michigan, so that we have a proper understanding of how things ended up this way. We only get the glossed-over version on display at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. To be completely honest, I didn’t even learn about the Detroit race riots until earlier this year (and I’m 26). You could say that’s my fault, or a result of that suburban bubble. But my history classes ended in the ‘60s, and most of that coverage was about Vietnam.

Given even the slight possibility that things will turn around, it makes me want to be in Michigan to experience it. As a child of the ‘80s, I was properly trained to “stand up and tell ‘em you’re from Detroit” – and I always have (okay, so usually I say a suburb just north of Detroit – but at least I don’t say “southeast Michigan”). I’m a product of this place; maybe now the place could be a product of me – and many others, of course. As we begin, we have to recognize that pride is a very dangerous thing. The only time pride is acceptable is when it arises from positive decisions and actions – but even then it’s not flawless. Pride is a disease, as far as I’m concerned. It has more to do with perception than reality, and it’s usually a guarded, internal experience. It’s more often a cover-up for a sensitivity or subconscious pain than the result of something inherently good. It is found in relation to sports teams, paychecks, religion, and sexuality; it breeds righteousness, hatred, and violence. Places like Chicago and San Francisco are oversaturated with pride; most of the people living there had nothing to do whatsoever with the condition of the place, and they willfully ignore the shortcomings. Being proud of a person or group for a specific effort is a much more profound experience. In trying to improve Detroit, and all of Michigan, we should act in ways that would make our friends and family in other states proud. That would justify the love we already feel for the state, and disprove anyone who ignorantly puts it down. Additionally, we’d be creating a statewide community that is worthy of the ideals behind the very foundation of this country.

I won’t be in Michigan every day for the rest of my life, and I’m totally undecided on the topic of where I want to “settle down.” I may move to Colorado, I may visit Sweden and simply not come back… or I may end up living inside the city limits of Detroit. Regardless, my history is here in Michigan, and I have not a single doubt that it’s a place worth saving. Not too long ago my dad showed me a recent photo of the house where my great-grandmother grew up in a German neighborhood of Detroit. The porch steps were fragmented, the windows were smashed in or boarded up, and there was no sign of life. In the translucent depths of my memory, I can still smell the oil in my grandpa’s lawnmower shop in East Detroit – the smell of Michigan in the automobile era – two decades after he and my uncle closed the small business. My parents met at East Detroit High School, my dad worked at Chrysler for over 10 years, and as a child I wore clothes adorned with Jeep slogans and Pentastars. Dispersed throughout Michigan’s history, we all have a personal history to be proud of. I’ll always be devoted to Michigan, no matter where I reside. I hope that when I’m older, I’ll be able to look back on this time and be proud of the role I played in Michigan’s history, at a time when the state needed unconditional devotion more than ever. Up until now in this state, it has seemed that things simply happened or didn’t happen – but right now would be the best possible time for that to change.

This essay was published simultaneously here and on

Nick Meador is the Web Content Administrator at Michigan Radio. He received an MA in Journalism from Michigan State University in 2008. Nick created the website, an online magazine where people can self-publish any type of creative work. You can reach Nick on Twitter @ndmeador or by email at His personal website is

Similar Posts:

Recommend Recommend (0)
Loading ... Loading ...
Email This Post Email This Post
  • Melanie_K

    I love Michigan, no matter what Michigan is beautiful, affordable, and allot of memories. we need generation y to stay and give us their ideas.the door is open for you, you can go to school and work at the same time. economy is bad every where and it will get better with your help.

  • cjfunone

    I understand the loyality to one's State, however the bottom line is that you must do what is the best for you and your family. Michigan is a great place to live and raise a family, however you must be able to support them. with the highest rate of unemployment in the country, and being labled as one of the worst places to live, and lets not forget the great city government that the city of Detroit has to offer.
    It is no supprise that generation Y is leaving the state to find greaner pastures. your first priorty is to be able to make a living and have a safe place to raise your family.

  • Michael

    Nick: I did read it all and dude I have to say, that was very long! High five to you also, I am Native American too! Although I thought there were many things that you noted and then contradicted yourself on I get your point overall. I have lived 27 of my 31 years in Michigan and since I have moved I can say without a doubt it was the best move I had ever made, not running from anything in my life but instead fed up with the mediocrity of the state. I will try to address my opinion on your talking points now.

    First off I would say that a sense of pride in what we do and who we are is something that we all should have in life, I agree; a sense of pride in working hard to accomplish goals is a good thing and something is a foundation for this country. I have lived in San Francisco for three years and I do understand what you are talking about, people here do think they live in the best city in the world even though they have nothing to do with the condition of the city. I will say people in LA are way worse than here though! The mood of the people that live in San Francisco is part of the city though, so they are part of the town and because after all the people do make up the city, the city is just a place, the people make it. I think that is where their mood comes from, they are the people that make up the city and shape it as it continues to change, right? The current mayor is born and raised in San Francisco who has been working to shape and grow the city more, should he have pride in his city? I understand that some people have a shallow sense of pride, but what you are suggesting is kind of the same thing, how can the people have pride in the decay and disgusting city that is Detroit? The reason Detroit is a national joke is because it is such a dump, it is not a misconception. Suggesting that people have pride in it is not enough, there has be some serious attention paid to make things better, Detroit has been decaying ever since the race riots for many reasons, the biggest is neglect. It has taken over 40 years for it to get in the state that it is in, how long is it going to take to undo it? Continual government ineptness has made me very pessimistic any change can happen even if people want to change things. Pride in the area has to be built up as the city is built up, words cannot change the nations perspective, work has to be done to do so, something that the city has been very poor at. Kilpatrick was collecting millions of dollars from a bankrupt city and still the people within the city of Detroit endorsed him while multiple scandals were going on. How can you spark change in people that don’t think they need it? If you look through the history Detroit it has over forty years of deep corruption, corruption where the public good was not being met and people accepted it. Save Detroit? I am of the opinion, you made you bed now lay in it, why should anyone feel an obligation to save something at the lowest point when markers were clear over generations that change needed to happen?

    When talking about the difference between larger cities and smaller cities in Michigan, I never understand why anyone with any ambition ever stays in this state. You are right in your compare/contrast of Detroit to Chicago, Detroit has very little for arts and culture and that is true for most of the state. You also compare larger cities with offering more distractions and things that keep you busy but offer little meaning overall to your life, I agree with you completely but I think you misrepresent things some. I hope you also admit that these same people if they lived somewhere else would fill their life with something just as meaningless such as TV and video games. As far as capitalism goes weak minded people will always exist and always be influenced no matter where they live, you do realize there is no stopping that right? Living in a small city does not give you a better perspective on life or a better sense of value. Does living in a big city give you a more worldly view of things? Not necessarily. Personally I never left Michigan to try to escape anything, I was searching for areas where people wanted to do something with their lives besides have kids and work on their lawns over the weekend then maybe when the summer comes take a week off and spend it on the lake. Take that plan repeat for 35 years retire and call it a life. Forget it! The way I see it in larger cities it is much easier to find people like you, find people who want to take a “like” of music and turn it into a passion, start a band try to do something new. You learn and grow from the people around you, why limit yourself? I ask you: do you think Dylan would have been where he is if he would have stayed in small town Minnesota? Moving to New York with no money was integral to his success and made him who he is. I think more people should leave this state ASAP! And I am one of the people that thinks others who grow up here and never leave are afraid of change and the world. I understand and completely agree with people who move away and move back; at least they tried something else and got a taste for what they like and don't like. I am constantly amazed when I hear: "I like Michigan" and I ask "have you lived anywhere else?" "no".... "Then how do you know? At least have the intelligence to make an informed decision!" There is something exciting and you DO find something new about yourself when you move somewhere where you know anyone, where you are completely on your own in a big world. That something I think is much more important that having those "small town values."

    "You are where is you are." I agree with this and there is a reason that saying has stood the test of time, I know people that move all the time because a place does not live up to their expectations, I can tell they are the kind of people that are never going to be happy anywhere they live. Why? Because they expect the world to change for them, they expect a place to transform to the perfect place for them instead of working to change and appreciate what there is around them. But you do realize that most major cities have much more to offer than Detroit? I can completely understand why people would want to move away from Detroit as well as most of Michigan. Because there is so little to offer and there is so much you have to pay for living here. How is that? Because I honestly think Michigan takes its citizens and young people for granted. Look at the roads in the state, look at government policy like smoking and recycling. Stuff that is no brainer we can’t even do. Four years ago a majority of people polled said they wanted to ban smoking, did the government change it? Nope! (If you want I will find the actual numbers for you and the case) Who is government working for? Not the people, is this democracy? I like the fact that in California I can go out have a drink and not come back with lung cancer. Another example: Michigan ranks as the second highest state for auto insurance premiums and one of the highest for traffic tickets. More tickets means higher insurance rates AND considering there are no alternatives for transportation because GM bought out and destroyed an efficient light rail alternative many years ago now you HAVE to drive and you HAVE to pay. Who should I thank for that? Personally I would rather leave and move to a place that respects the people who work and pay taxes. As you indicated before about capitalism, throw out and move on, I don’t see young people’s lack of commitment to their home state of Michigan as throwing things out, I see it as them being fed up with the situation. The only way for the state to take you seriously is to hurt their revenue, hurt their pocket books by not giving them your taxes from your earnings. If young people continue to stick around, I think, it only continues to allow them to neglect you and take you for granted. If you want something to be taken seriously, money is the first place you should look. If the state is serious about change it should prove it.

    For people that want to do nothing but buy a house, start a family and go to their medial jobs for the next 35 years with the hope of retiring at the end of that time then this is a great place for them. But for people like myself that want to challenge themselves, grow and learn from people and appreciate the dynamic and vibrant people within some of America’s great cities then yes, move! You only have one shot at life, why waste your time getting up that mountain with pack of bricks in your backpack? At the end here I will contradict myself some, I will say that even though I am not wild about Michigan there are many great people with a genuine hearts here, there is something to be said for the Midwestern “do it yourself” attitude that has made me who I am. I just think that Michigan can do better and there is no good reason we are not.

  • hollydc

    You said: "For people that want to do nothing but buy a house, start a family and go to their medial jobs for the next 35 years with the hope of retiring at the end of that time then this is a great place for them." The thing is, this isn't even true. My husband and I got married in our early 20s and moved away to Dallas for nearly a decade. It was pretty good and I will never regret having done it. We had kids 8 years later and decided it would be nice to move back near our families in Michigan - we were okay with the idea of buying a house, raising some kids and going to our menial jobs. And instead we bought a house and my husband lost his job less than a year later, now making about 40% less than he was then. There are just no jobs around here, even if - especially if - you have a college degree. We'd love to move out of state again to find work, but our house is now worth almost 20% less than we owe on it. We are absolutely screwed all because we wanted to come back here. We'll probably still get out someday but we'll damage our credit even worse in ditching the house.

    Michigan is a beautiful state and once you've lived somewhere else, you especially come to realize that there is a unique character to the people here. But the only way you can really make it here is if you're over 45 in a good industry (like chemical engineering or medical) or if you resign yourself to working crappy part-time fast food jobs and living in a $400 apartment forever. Trying to get ahead is nearly impossible for anyone younger, no matter how much you want to be here. Michigan's structural problems run so deep I don't see what we'll fix it. It's been this way since I was a kid in the 80s and if anything, it's just getting worse.

  • Michael

    HollyDC: You do illustrate my point, the reason you moved back is because you wanted to buy a house, go to work and pretty much just raise your kids. The overall point that I was making that Michigan is not a dynamic place, attitudes and the people (although really nice and genuine people) are not dynamic forward thinkers looking to grow and make drastic changes to achieve progress. I think that is a big part of why young people don't want to live here and prefer to live in areas like New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

    I am sorry to hear about your situation, the market is really bad here, economy is terrible and I really don't see things picking up for quiet some time. I hope it does though.It is hard to get ahead in an area where people stick to the status quo through thick and thin. Wake up Michigan!!!!

  • See, it's hard not to contradict yourself on this topic! (Though some would argue that any search for absolute truth ends in contradictions.) I love Michigan, but it's not enough to profess it -- I have to point out the negative aspects so that we can improve them. At the same time, Detroit is so much more than just a "dump" -- and there has never been a time when I didn't get a warm feeling upon visiting the injured city. I wasn't trying to bash places like San Francisco; it has always been one of my favorite American cities. I'm just very interested in the underlying psychological factors in all these topics. I'm convinced that most people are unaware of their inner drives, or the true reasons why they do the things they do. With that in mind, my essay was first and foremost an individual exploration -- an attempt to understand myself better.

    I'd like to think that it's justifiable to forego a more positive experience (like you have had in San Francisco), if it means that I can contribute to long-term improvement in Michigan. But obviously even with extensive education, activism, and patience -- there's a chance that Michigan will be the way it is no matter what anyone does. Furthermore, many seem to like how it is. Or maybe it's just that the collective hibernation mentality prevents anyone from seeing the truth of the situation or doing anything about it.

    I'll try to be brief in my response, since I'm still recovering from the task of writing this beast, and I'm still letting all these ideas rattle around in my brain. I do like your idea that moving out of Michigan means depriving those in charge of your tax money -- like moving is an act of protest in itself. Part of what I was hoping to express is that I'm not completely satisfied with the life offered by the existing model for a big city, suburb, or small town. None of them are sustainable, they all contradict nature, and they hinder individual freedom. I realize those are statements that each require further essays, since I barely even addressed them above.

    I discuss some of these topics in various posts on my Refractor Blog:

  • Michael

    Nick: I know what you mean about the inner drives of people, I think that if you are not doing something for a purpose then you are wasting your time. Moving just for the sake of moving because you think someplace new will complete your life is crazy. To an extent you are where you are, as you stated and I completely agree with you!

    About the long term improvement of Michigan, I am VERY skeptical about that. The reason is, when you look at the people who live here and the kinds of changes that Michigan makes, it is a very slow process even for things people agree on. Smoking for example: when Michigan goes smokeless we will be 38th state to do it, how progressive! When people talk about the opportunity to transform Detroit I think they are insane, I tell them to take a drive down Michigan Avenue from Dowtown Detroit and look at the buildings and the decay and then re-think how realistic idea it is to turn the city around. It is easy to sit in an office and come up with plans but when you are walking around Highland Park how can you now feel overwhelmed and that the idea is hopeless. The way I see it, Michigan got to where it is now over the course of about 40 years, anyone who thinks they can turn this around in ten years in insane. Most people who live here are not active and they are not progressive thinkers. If they were the labor market would have grown with diversification years ago.

    I honestly believe that Michigan does not respect and appreciate the people who live there and they do take it's citizens for granted. I look at taxes like spending money, you work for your money and the state government takes it from your check, if you don't like how it is spent change it! You are in charge not them, you are not the powerless, they are the powerless, without your money they would not exist. The state should realize that, if they don't they soon will if people quit putting up with their garbage and take action! Bottom line, no place is a perfect place to live, there are problems everywhere but I honestly believe that living in Michigan is more stressful and has more obstacles to life than other cities in America. I like walkable cities, easy public transportation, better weather, more active and health conscience people around me and healthier food options more easily available.

  • Back_in_the_D

    Wow. There is a lot of good content in here, and while I don't share your views about Chicago (I once used to but having lived there, had a different experience and then moved back here and am adjusting) -- you do expose some complicating ideas. My brain is spinning because you've now confused me. :)

  • Thanks for reading the whole thing. I welcome different views. Glad it got you thinking.

blog comments powered by Disqus