HOME IS

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Everyone is from somewhere. Everyone comes from a place that they don’t choose and it’s that place that is their hometown. Some of us move from place to place and hometown doesn’t mean as much, it becomes more centralized to the family itself, they are your hometown. It isn’t until you are a little older and can choose where you go and where you will invest your time, energy, and heart where you find more of a meaning of Home. Yes, home is where the ones you love are, but that is a purely emotional connection and is not a choice of the mind but of the heart.

Home though, home is not a someplace. It is YOUR place.

I grew up in a small town in Southern Michigan called Linden. It’s a nice little place but is a small town in every way. It’s quaint but closed and is slow to change, which can be good and bad. I liked growing up where I did but I was never invested in the area. It was where I was from. And it was fine, but that was all. When I moved out, really late in life, I moved into the first apartment I looked at. Again, it wasn’t home. It was a place. It was my first place. It was an adventure and I loved it, as much as you can love a place like that, where you have to call the cops on the neighbor for abusing his girlfriend, where people leave shopping carts in the yard, where drama seems to hover like a storm, but for what it was I did sorta love it.

I didn’t find home until I made my way to Flint.

Flint is my home.

It’s my home because I chose it.

It’s my home because I invested myself here.

It’s my home because I found my art and heart here.

It’s my home because I found friends here – the family you can choose.

Flint is my home because I believe in the heart of this place.

By now everyone knows the struggles of Flint, the stories of the crime, the dirty politics, the abandoned properties, the arson, the poverty, the lack of jobs, and now the water. Flint’s history of malfeasance and trouble are well chronicled and I have time and again reminded people of how much beauty there is here but with every good story out there comes the same tropes of racist rants and hateful dreams of bulldozing our community.

They don’t see the families at dinner.

The children laughing.

The friends sitting on porches.

The artists transforming an area.
The people who hate our city without knowing it see the police blotters.

They see black people committing crimes.

They see burned out houses in burned out neighborhoods.

They see the grants our city gets and look at them as handouts, not hand ups.

They see the twisted carnival mirror that they need us to be in order to be right.

 

Flint is not perfect.

It has an alphabet of issues.

But it is home.

 

Flint is where I met my first girlfriend.

Flint’s where I met my wife.

Flint is where my friends and I put together strange, freeform art shows.

Flint is where I got to live out the dream of putting a convention on.

It is so easy for us to fall back to what we know, to the fear of the world beyond our doorstep that we start building barricades against anything that isn’t Us and isn’t part of our tribe. We put ourselves on pedestals, even if just in our imaginations, so that everything and everyone is below us. The fear of cities, of people of color, and of the poor is still deeply rooted within our culture. Those are things we must rise above.

Those are things we must conquer if we are to be great once more.

And it is easy to look at the poor as societal lepers, hands out, reaching out for help and expecting people to take care of them as they lazily float through life.

We don’t see the shame.

We don’t see the depression.

We don’t see the hopelessness.

We don’t see the despair you feel when you have use the foodstamps.

 

Flint is the perfect villain for people from the suburbs who have come to hate a liberal world they don’t necessarily feel a part of believe in.

But they don’t see the people.

They don’t see the stories.

They don’t see the hands held against a future you can’t dare to believe in.

Flint is about more than water. Is about more than grants and non-profits. Flint is about more than the downtown or the north side or the cultural are.

Flint is all of those places at once.

Flint is mobile barbecues set up in parking lots.

Flint is running clubs gearing up for a huge August race.

Flint is neighbors cutting one another’s grass, or clearing one another’s snow.

Flint is community baseball games in the summer.

Flint is laughing children and smiling familes.

Flint is more than the things that drag it down.

It is the heart that beats against all reason or rhyme.

Flint refuses to bow to anyone, standing tall and proud, battered and beautiful and better than all of the people who call her home.

She is scarred and broken but hopeful and resilient with a history that still fills one with.

Flint is many things but above them all she is home.

Flint is home.

…c…

http://www.meepsheep.com

WORK AND HOPE AND CHANGE

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In a perfect world there would be no homelessness, no war, no poverty, there would be none of the problems that we deal with in the world on a daily basis. In this perfect world we wouldn’t have to make the choice of whether we pay the bill or eat for a week. Life is rarely as simple as this or that. It’s usually – find a way to do part of all. So that you pay on the bill and get some inexpensive food. Such is the way it is with rebuilding a community. It’s easy to say – FIX THIS – when it’s something that clearly has to be fixed but you also have to keep in mind that reality is never simple and never straightforward.

Let’s use Flint as the easy example.

We have a water problem.

We need to have clean water for one and for all.

They have gone around and around the problem but there’s still an issue so the wisest move seems to be to put in new water pipes a VERY costly endeavor. So you decide you are going to replace pipes. GREAT! But who pays? The state, who is the last in line when it came to the decisions for the water? The federal government, whose own offices failed to catch issues as they arose? The city, who let things get so bad that we had to be taken over by the state? Or does some benefactor come in and take care of it. That last part would be swell, a rich uncle sliding in to fix things up for everyone. That’s a fantasy though. Life doesn’t work that way. And it shouldn’t. This issue was caused by people in power, most who still have their jobs. It is on them to figure this out, not for some entity to swing in and save the day. This is how politics is supposed to work – the governing body runs the system with local municipalities keeping things operating. When there is a large scale failure it’s for everyone to work together to find out why this all happened and to rectify the issue. Such is the case here. The problem is that no one will admit they were wrong and no one wants to cough up the money. They KNOW that pipes need to be replaced and that the city needs clean, safe water, but there’s more interest in politics, grandstanding, and job security than there is in making things right. That’s also politics.

Along with this issue of the water you have a city that still needs to prove to people that it is not dead and is not ‘the most dangerous city in the country’. Another difficult proposition. The fact is that we have crime, too much crime, but that is the case with most cities. It’s people getting into messes that have dire consequences. It’s inherited poverty and hopelessness. It’s a system that works against people in need and people of color. It’s about a hundred things at once and all of that is what Flint has to own because that’s who we are. We’re also amazingly talented artists, and gifted musicians, and passionate activists, and sports heroes, and authors, and more than people ever see and you cannot abandon the city to fix its problems. Which means – even when you have to work on the failures of the past you also have to work on the dreams of the future. The same person willing and able to set aside money for the dream may not be willing or able to be involved in the failures of the past. Those reasons are their own. If it’s someone else’s money, it’s not for us to tell them how to spend it. We can refuse it, sure, but we need to make this a place attractive to people to visit and live. And yeah, that means fixing the darn water but in this world we live in you have to work with both hands. One hand has to clean up the mess as the other builds something new.

This is not perfect.

It’s frankly messed up.

But that is life.

We can spend our time fighting the system or learning to work inside it OR we can learn to do both. A little fighting and a little working and a lot of hoping.

With Flint we have a lot of work to do but there are a lot of people already DOING that work and in doing that work we are building the future and addressing the past. Our problems aren’t going to go away. Ever. But that’s reality. That’s life. Some people work just to create problems and that’s also part of life. But you cannot abandon the future as you fix the past just as you cannot ignore the past as you build a future.

Both.

At the same time.

That’s how this works.

We work on fixing the water while we also fix our image and the city itself. You rebuild the heart and from there the blood pumps out to the rest of the body. None of these things may be ideal but life isn’t ideal but you work to make it better.

That’s what it’s all about.

And we can be better.

Everything can be better.

With work and hope and change.

…c…

www.meepsheep.com

 

RALLY

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I can’t say I am a political beast in the traditional sense. My interests are more with social politics and the politics of people than I am with the politics of running a town or world. Saying that, it’s hard not to be fascinated by the circus that has become American politics. Whatever your belief, whatever side of the tracks you feel you speaks to you, American politics has become its own reality show and in many ways is treated as such. It’s been a slow turn to this but it’s here, and it’s hard to avoid. Now, I have my leanings and beliefs but they’re neither here nor there. It’s not for me or anyone to tell you what to believe in or how to vote and people that do that are sorta jerks.

Just throwing that out there.

Yesterday I had an opportunity to hear Senator Bernie Sanders speak at a church here in Flint. When I first learned that the Senator would be in town I figured this would be a pretty neat opportunity to listen to someone who is running for the Democratic nomination for the Presidential election and thus be one of those opportunities that pops up from time to time for you to witness a small part of history.

Now, the appearance was scheduled right on the heels of a pretty substantial winter storm here in Flint – in the lower east part of the mitten that is Michigan – so it was dodgy whether or not the appearance would go through or not, let alone who might make it to see him. I registered for the event online, jumping through some silly political hoops where I SWORE that I would vote for the Senator, though I declined to make calls or campaign for him. The next day comes and my work was closed due to the weather and I learned from a friend that the registrations were being eschewed for a first come, first serve strategy – you know, in case people didn’t show up. And that sounds great but…well, give me a second. The doors were set to open at 1PM so I figured that’d give me plenty of time to get there if I left at noon to walk the almost-mile to the church where the event would be held. I have gotten stuck in massive snow drifts twice in my car and since then have developed a bit of a fear of driving in bad snow storms so I figured it was wiser to walk to the event than to risk getting stuck. I am a bad winter driver, OK, there, I said it. So the day dawned, I got up and ready for the world and headed out to shovel our walkway and part of the driveway before heading out. We got over a foot of snow but I had shoveled the night before, thus sparing my back and soul some ache. After I shoveled I psyched myself up and started on my merry way towards the church.

Oh the walk.

See, I guess I didn’t think about the fact that many of my neighbors wouldn’t have cleaned their drives or walkways so here I am tromping through over a foot of snow and halfway to my destination I had two thoughts- the first was that I needed to rest, the second was that I really wanted to drop down into someone’s yard and make a snow-whatever. I did neither. I soldiered on and made my way slowly to the church, even picking up my pace to race against a fellow neighbor as he made the same trek across the street from me. On arriving I found a line and it was in that line that I stood, in the cold, having just walked a mile, and having just shoveled snow, for an hour and forty minutes. BLECH! Lots of young people had shown up along with some of my more socially and politically active neighbors. It was nice to be in such passionate and charged company. It was a really long wait though. And it was super unimpressive to have a low on the pole Sanders volunteer pressure me into signing a form to volunteer for the campaign under the auspices that I HAD to sign in to get in – no I didn’t, and I knew I didn’t by that point – and that I HAD to have a Sanders sticker on so they knew I was OK to let in – again, no. I don’t want to volunteer. I won’t volunteer. Personally, I find that politics of this level permeates too much of our lives as it is. It is way too invasive and I was none too pleased to have this person insisting I had to sign something that explicitly said I would work on the campaign. There were other people walking the line with this petition or that but it was to be expected and these people were far less rude or invasive.

The entry was barred by a walk-through metal detector and a hand held unit and security was handled by the Secret Service, who were stoic but not rude or invasive in any way that I saw. It was funny though because I got about twenty feet from the door and was entering the main area of the church, whatever the heck it’s called, and was stopped by what I’d guess was a Sanders staffer admonishing me to remove my hat ‘because this IS a church’. I gave him a ‘gee, no crap’ look and removed my hat. Which, I had JUST GOTTEN IN and had literally spent an hour and forty outside so give me a minute, OK? PS – loads of people wore hats, which was rude but his militance on the hat seems not to have run too deeply. It was a crowded affair with the staffers and volunteers doing their best to wrangle us cats. Everyone seemed frazzled but polite as they tried to get everyone seated and tried to deal with the crush of press. Woodside is a very cute church, very modest, and was filled to the gills. We waited an hour and a half for things to really get going and while we waited I spied on the Secret Service, the press, and the people and listened to a really fun Sanders Soundtrack that they could probably post online and fire people up like mad. Very eclectic mix of music and very fun. There was a buzz in the crowd. People were excited. One young woman wore a handmade Sanders mask and a trio of young people in front of me had handmade signs that drew all manner of press to film them and take their pictures. I have a feeling that I am in a lot of those shots. I hope I don’t look to stupid. Or scary. Wait, maybe I do. ‘Who is that brooding stranger that looks like a political rebel that sets the tone for national discourse?’ Just me baby, just me.

The talk was fascinating. Lots of talk about how amazing Senator Sanders was. How different his campaign was and how energizing. Talk of how he could win the election. How he’d change the country. Talk of worst case scenarios. Talk of the Republican frontrunner. It’s interesting because I imagine these same conversations at every candidate’s event the changes only being in fervor and political slant. Eventually the music stopped and people tried to get a BERNIE! BERNIE chant going which didn’t quite take off. People kept yelling about ‘feeling the Bern’ and, after seeing the man, that just feels like something that someone made up and sorta taped to the campaign and he just rolls with it. These campaigns are animals that must be fed and which take on their own lives. All you can do is reign it in and ride it out.

The event began with an opening by Reverend Conrad and it was really wonderful. You can tell she has a passion for what she does and for the community and man, she brought it. Little did I know though that what I thought was a rally was in fact a public discussion of the water crisis here in Flint. What Mr. Sanders had done was to come to town with some people in tow to speak on their experiences with this issue and the issue of lead poisoning and they would help facilitate a discussion that focused on the public. The Senator was there to learn about the crisis from the people dealing with it and there was little, if any campaigning. He didn’t talk about other candidates. He didn’t speak ill of anyone – other than to double down on his feeling that it’s in the best interest of anyone that the governor step down. He was there to listen, to learn, and to share. That impressed the heck out of me. Beyond this election season I was impressed that he came here to hear what people had to say. And yes, of COURSE the election season has something to do with that. But so what? Flint is in trouble, and was ignored for two years as this issue became a problem and then a crisis. If celebrities and politicians want to come here and help in some way then GOOD. Where did our pride get us? We need to accept help when it’s offered.

The discussion was fascinating. A lot of information. A lot of mis-information. A lot of crying wolf. A lot of crying foul. This situation in Flint has been both overblown and under-covered. We are all affected. We are all harmed. Every person’s story is different though. I pay more for water than I should. Absolutely. Some people pay WAY more though. For two people who just use the water to bathe in and wash dishes and clothes we pay $100 a month. Nothing compared to others. And you can’t NOT pay because you can be dinged with penalties and eventually can land in some trouble. Not worth it if you ask me. But that’s me. I still bathe in the water but if I was a parent with kids would I want to bathe them in the water here? Hell. No. And you cannot live off of bottled water. It’s not reasonable. We’ve gotten donations of water and you can still go pick it up, like the filters, but door to door service has to be requested and all of it becomes a lot for busy people, poor people, and people who don’t fully understand what is going on. There has been efforts to help but there’s not a coordinated, concerted effort. It’s lots of agencies working separately. We need the governor here to coordinate and direct and to prove to us that he owns this and wants it fixed. That can’t be done from an office in Lansing. We need a plan. Our mayor has taken up the bully pulpit on this issue but is using it more to bully than to aid. Too many egos are in the way and too many people are in fear. The great shame in all of this is that the press will leave. The celebrities will move on. The politicians will move on. And the money and aid will dry up. Flint will be forgotten. Many wish it had been forgotten already. To read regional comments about what’s happening is a path to boundless rage. The anger people have at the people going through this is insane to me but again, welcome to our politicized America. It’s us against them all the time.

The forum was good though because it let people speak and gave people a chance to be heard. And the way Senator Sanders handled the event as a moderator, and presented himself was encouraging and impressive. Not because I want him or don’t him to be President but because he came here to learn and to listen and he did both. I have been to a lot of things where people wanted to speak and tell and not hear and learn. This wasn’t like that. When it was over we all stood, we all cheered, and to some small degree it felt good. The issues are not gone but the more people that hear about them, and the more attention this gets then the more the Truth will hopefully get out and the more will be done. I hope that’s how it is at least. So I bundled up, said my goodbyes to those I knew, and marched slowly for home, feeling, if nothing else, that I indeed did see history.

…c…

www.meepsheep.com

 

A Legacy of Mud

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I live in Flint. I have made neither a big deal of this nor have I acted as if it’s a blessing or a burden. I love Flint. I chose to live here and I choose to live here. I got involved with Flint at 20 when I first started coming down here for hall shows and to hang out with friends. That was a time when we would hang out at the mall then go downtown to sit out on cars and talk in the parking lot of the venue or just go in and watch bands and hang out inside. Some kids got into drugs, some got into sex, I was just into movies and hanging out. I got emotionally invested into Flint in 2005 when I got a job at a small bookstore downtown. I had been desperate for a job and had done a book signing there and from there I was lucky enough to get a job as a clerk. Suddenly I was in Flint all the time. I lived in a small town about fifteen minutes to the north called Mt. Morris but Flint was where I would hang out. It was where my friends hung out and where I was getting involved with the arts scene. Later that same year, 2005, the guy that ran the venue I used to go to saw my friend and I wandering around near a local football stadium where high school teams played and he asked me where I was living, I told him, and he proceeded to shame me for living out where I did. It was a ploy. It turns out this guy was looking to rent out a studio apartment in his building. Ahhhh… Flash forward a couple months and I was a resident of Downtown Flint. I moved into the studio which was bigger than my old place and, while I had very little light, and no ceiling to my bathroom, it was amazing. I lived in a building with a close friend and where another friend was living as well. There were only four apartments and it was down the same alley as my old stomping grounds, the Capitol Theater – an Italian styled theater desperate for new life. My adult life started in that apartment. My writing was reborn. My art was reborn. And many, many events were born in that place. I was active in the arts. I had new friends. I got a job next to where I lived and worked there on and off for five years. The apartment wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination but it was magical for those five years I lived there, where some summer nights I would sit on the roof with friends and my girlfriend and we’d talk about what we’d do if the zombie apocalypse happened – well before people bothered with such talk and there even was a Walking Dead. On the first floor of that building we held art shows and other events. It was amazing.

I say all of this as a preamble, as a way to say – while I am not native to Flint, this place is my home.

I moved into a house in 2012 and it became the home for myself, my wife, and our dog. It’s where we live now. We live in a nice neighborhood, near an elementary school and with people that are involved and care about the city. I tend to keep to myself but Flint is where I created the Flint Horror Convention and where we held it for four years and where we are holding a new con the fall of 2016. This is where my friends live. Where I work. And where I am emotionally invested. Saying all of that, a lot of that, you can perhaps start to appreciate why I wanted to tell my story, such as it is, about what is happening with Flint and its water, to look at this from my own eyes. That’s the story I can tell best.

When the word came down that Flint was going to switch its water source from Lake Huron water that was shipped through Detroit pipes I was skeptical. This was a money decision. Flint was under an Emergency Manager for years and years of poor leadership, poor spending, and an inability to adapt to the fact that we lost our biggest employer and tax payer. Maybe all of that is spreading blame, if so, then so be it. To me they are just facts as I see them. We were told though that the Flint River was cleaner than it had been in years. Efforts had been made to reclaim it and make it a resource and asset and it has become both. The problem wasn’t with the water, which may have posed no issues at all as a water source, no, the issue was that we switched sources without a dry-run. Or wet-run in this case. Detroit was talking about raising their rates again and the thought was that by switching to Flint water it would 1. Save the citizens and city money and 2. Would allow us to prepare for the switch to our own pipes using the same water source, which were being built. Great plan, only they never tested things to see if it’d work. They just figured it out on the fly. Not a great idea. Not when you’re dealing with a resource that people NEED to survive. They fixed our internal systems, they added this, they added that, they experimented like kids with a new chemistry set but the water wasn’t right. We noticed it when our dog kept getting sick in the yard. My wife had heard story after story of people claiming that the water was ‘bad’ and that pets had died because of the water and people were getting rashes so we got a filtered water bowl and suddenly the dog was OK again. Word came out that there were things in the water, chemicals in the water– we got a shower filter due to the over saturation of chlorine, which made the shower smell and feel like a pool – and even bacteria. We were using a filtered water jug but every week I had to clean it out because of the yellow particulate that was gathering in the container itself. Not near the filter but in the drinking water. My wife drinks bottled water. I never really drink much water. We did then and we still use the tap water to brush our teeth and bathe in. While we can afford to buy water, buying water in such quantities needed to bathe in and brush in and all that is too much.

We were lied to, again, and again, lied to by those that we looked to for guidance, who told us that the water was fine, the water was safe – drink up.

But it wasn’t fine.

It wasn’t safe.

What we noticed along with water that smelled like chlorine, and with occasionally yellow water, when they were cleaning the hydrants out, was that our water bill never went down. If anything it went up a little. We heard that bills would go down, eventually. Some day. But when? And if it was outrageous for us, what was it for people who had children, or who had lower paying jobs, or who were on some form of assistance? They were lost in all of it.

They weren’t silent though.

Slowly but surely voices began to rise in the city. From activists to ordinary families people were beginning to ask hard questions. They wanted to know why we were being told to boil water, or buy filters. Why we were being charged some of the highest rates in the state of Michigan for water that we were told may not be good for us. Why the state and its Emergency Manager weren’t acting quickly enough. And why people in the city, people that ran the city, weren’t doing more to address these questions and others. The chorus gained power when medical professionals and scientists became involved and started to find out how dangerous the water we were getting was. Not because of its source but because of the pipes that were getting that water too us now. There is much being made of how terrible the river is, making this our grand villain, our dangerous enemy, but not seeing that the river was poisoned by the machinations of consumerism and industry but that it had been reclaimed and had become an asset once more. Now, whether it should have been made the go-to source for a city’s water is a question that can be debated but to act as if the river was the culprit to what is happening here is to over-simplify things and to ignore the true villains. Villains elected, appointed, and entrusted.

As for my wife and I, we are lucky as I said before. We haven’t shown any outward signs of illness. We adapted to the water situation. But we should not have had to. We shouldn’t have to. We shouldn’t have to watch as the value of our house falls because who on earth wants to move to a city where you can’t even trust the water? We shouldn’t have to wonder if there is a shadow over us that we won’t fully understand for years. We shouldn’t be paying outrageous water rates for water that cannot be trusted. Oh, and if we don’t pay – we will get our water shut off and eventually lose our home. That’s where we’re at here. This is where the city is at. We shouldn’t need to be bailed out. We shouldn’t need to rely on the kindness of strangers from near and far. We are tired of having our hands out but unfortunately this is the position we’ve been put in.

And what of our city?

Yeah, what about Flint.

Let’s pan out, way out. Let’s not look at the children, the families, the elderly, or anyone. Let’s look at the city itself. A city that has never quite recovered from the loss of its main industry. We are a city trying to rebuild itself and just as inroads are being made that could change the future for this place we are hit with this. We are hit with a disaster that will live well beyond any of us today. People are afraid to come here. Businesses are reconsidering locating here. Events are turning their eyes elsewhere. We have to work here. We have to live here. This is where we love but we are a punchline and a head-shaking tragedy AGAIN. A symbol of the failure of the American dream. People are shown a city of black snow and sad faces. You don’t see our award winning farmer’s market. Or the vibrant arts culture. Or the people working with our youth. Or anything else good. You see the standard cardboard cutout of Flint, the ‘poor, black town with its hand out’. And that’s not what we are. This isn’t us crying wolf. This is us trying to survive. And that’s the thing. This catastrophe, made by foolish, short-sighted, arrogant people isn’t just harming one person, or a hundred people, or a thousand, no, it’s hurting generations, and beyond that it’s hurting a proud, strong city that has weathered storm after storm and now we are left to wonder what next? What do we do when in a week, a month, a year the world tires of hearing about Flint, poor Flint, and they move on to the next disaster, or tragedy, and we are forgotten? What happens when more people have moved away? When jobs have been lost? When thousands upon thousands of dollars from visitors and events is gone? Who is going to stand up and take the blame then? Who is going to make up for that shortfall? Who is going to repay the tens of thousands spent on bottled water we all have relied on just to survive? And who will help Flint five years from now? And what will any of this matter to the world at large? And even if YOUR water is fine…what of your home’s value? Your life’s value? Your future’s value? What is that worth?

The scope of what is happening here is greater than just ‘bad water’ but that is the best way to describe it. The most basic thing humans need and rely on, the thing we are made up of, the thing this world is made up of, and the thing that we all take for granted in this nation is the one thing that has been taken from us. And bottled water won’t cut it. And apologies won’t solve the problem. And that’s the hell of it. We are seeing ‘solutions’ but none of them deal with the problem beyond a handful of years when this is something that we will be living with potentially for decades. But we’re a strong city. A resilient city. And those of us that have been fighting will keep fighting. We have no choice. When the cameras leave, when the people lose interest, and when the government moves on we will still be here to pick up the pieces. People will get rich writing books and making documentaries about this. People will give talks and teach seminars on this. But what good does any of that do us, the people who are living through this? There are a lot of lies being told on both sides – that the water and it’s people are all poisoned – and that there’s nothing to see here. The truth lies in the middle. It always lies in the middle. We have filters. We have water being donated. People are here to help us. There is hope, but we have a long road ahead.

And I am mad, for myself, my family, my friends, for people I have never met, for children I’ll never see, and for a city that has been a punching bag time and again. But the anger will fade and in the end we’ll still have a city where there is a foundation of people who are willing to fight for it, to work for it, and who see not a city of crime, and poverty, and bad water but a city waiting to be reborn and desperate to shine once more. There will still be a city that will rise from the mud and rebuild because we have no choice.

…c…

http://www.meepsheep.com

Never Left

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On this Fourth of July, as we revel in the bombastic nature of patriotism, remember the many things we have to be thankful for, we Americans, and remember the things that must still be changed in this nation of ours, it is also a good time to remember and honor Those That Remain.

Hope. Re-Birth. Change.

These are things that Americans hold close to their hearts as silent but crucial parts of the dream we believe to be ours and ours alone. We believe that it is our manifested destiny that in all our nation has done that we have earned, that we deserve certain things which, though we say out loud that they are life, liberty, and the pursuit of freedom I think we all hold close as well to the notions of hope, re-birth, and change.

We hope that things will get better.

We believe that we can find re-birth.

We trust that we can change.

The We in question can be ascribed to the individual or the nation itself because on both ends it is true.

This is a good time to remember those that never left.

Not just those that chose not to leave but those who never had a choice.

Some choose to remain where they are. They choose to set their rooms firm and deep into the community and to become a part of it. Through good, through bad, they see it through and raise their families and make their friends in those places. In a place like Flint there are few it would seem that choose to stay here. And with good reason, the laundry list of ills is long enough – political ineptitude and indifference, cultural corruption, systematic failure, and a deep seated hatred of the self and the other that has sunk in so deeply with some that all they want to do is burn everything around them. But people do stay. They choose to stay because they can make a difference, or at least have faith that they can. They have built a world in a place, in the case of Flint in THIS place, and it is here they will stay. And if you look past the veil of bad press and plain old bad there is much to stay for – There IS culture, underground and above.

There are people, people who believe in this place and fight for it even against all reason and logic.

There is opportunity here, for change, for re-birth, and for hope.

There is that drive, that need, that obsession to re-make this place, all places into a thing of beauty. To save it from the abyss. Perhaps we vainly feel that to save the place is to save ourselves somehow. Maybe we just like a challenge.

But some remain by choice.

Some remain because they have no choice.

For any number of reasons these people are held here in a sort of purgatory, unable to leave and unable to change their station.

You can ask ten people why these people stay and you may get ten answers. Answers like poverty, addiction, laziness, breeding, any number things that take away the people and make them things, make them numbers, make them a color or race.

We look at those that remain, those that are trapped with a mixture of pity and anger, sorry that they are stuck with no way to un-stick themselves but frustrated at things we know in no depth but perceive as issues that are surmountable if one works hard enough.

Never seeing –

The legacy of poverty that begets itself, the hole you are born in getting deeper and deeper and deeper until all you can do is survive and hope that those that follow you can find a way out of that hole.

Never seeing that lack of options to get out of those holes, the jobs that lead only to minimum wage, the places that don’t want you because you are on assistance, and the people who judge you based on skin, on income, on past, and on perception.

There are those that stay because staying is all they can do.

It isn’t an inheritance based on race, on color, on creed, but on things that start small and add up. An inheritance sometimes begun two hundred years ago or begun with a poor decision, a greedy decision, a stupid decision that dropped like a noose around the neck.

And for both groups that never left, the ones that have chosen to remain and the ones that are trapped alike they are at the mercy of hands beyond their control.

A city like Flint is seeing change, it is seeing hope, and it is seeing re-birth. There are hands at work remaking the city in the image of new owners, new landlords, new masters. Much of the work is laudable, taking back the misused, abused, and abandoned and making something new and whole out of those spaces. Rebuilding the downtown to draw more people there and to make it a Place again and not just a collection of streets. There is great risk in the projects being undertaken, ah, but there too is great reward.

Never believe that the hands that re-build a city do it out of a sheer act of benevolence and altruism. No. There is always something behind the the work, a motive, a reason. And so be it. There is no great sin in benefiting from investment and work that does not subjugate or harm a people. Beyond that I will leave for others to debate. I have no issue with profiting from investment and work you have done. The concern I have, as someone here, as someone now, as someone that, for now, remains, is what image is being built, and to what end.

In a city like Flint private parties can indeed buy up much of a city and do with it as they please. All we, the populace can do is give our input and hang onto our hats. The fact is that for decades the city waited for someone to step in to do something, ANYTHING, and no one did, ergo you can’t have some sort of secret rage when people DO finally step in and DO put their minds to transforming the city. Ah, but there is an implied responsibility when you take on a project as such. You must not simply reflect your ideals, your goals, and your wishes but the needs and wishes of the CITY and ALL of its people. It isn’t enough to pander and say that it’s ‘all for the greater good’, you must MAKE it be for the greater good. And there MUST be a greater good. You that have the wealth and power to have closed door meetings to grease the wheels of progress, that have the wealth to target and buy and transform land, and you that has the means to keep away interests that are not conducive to your ideas.

A city is not merely a collection of streets, and buildings, and properties. A city is a collection of memories, of histories, of PEOPLE – those that chose to remain and those that had no choice.

If you are going to re-build a city, if you are going to re-make it it cannot be in your image but in an image that reflects that city itself. Not those of a certain social or economic strata but the people of the city itself. this doesn’t mean dollar stores and welfare markets on every corner but it also doesn’t mean expensive restaurants and high priced clubs either. It means that mixed with the higher end you need the things that the blue collar and working class need. Things that draw in strangers but keep the rest of us here as well. You can’t keep the arts, and commerce, and entertainment for the chosen few, you must make these things accessible to all of us, whether we choose to remain here or not.

In the end we are all waiting to see what happens next.

Hoping that the city, this city will reflect the many of us that remain here.

We will trust those hands that are re-shaping things and that these hands will be gentler than they are harsh and will take our collective history into consideration.

And we will believe that in the end this revision of the city will not just be about one place, one downtown, but the city as a whole and that the spark that began the change will become an inspiring blaze that will set other hands in motion elsewhere to change the rest of the area.

Whether we like it or not, in the end, we are all in the same place – here. Those that choose to be here and those that have no choice. There is a gulf between us but one thing that unites us – here. This place. We can burn together or we can change together, but it’s up to us. Those with means can change the city as much as they want but the real change comes from the people, and on a day like today, on a day that honors the freedoms hard fought for and hard won, it is good to remember that even in war there is hope, there is change, and there is re-birth.

And for those that remain, we are certainly in the middle of a war.

It’s up to us to win it.

Together.

c

www.meepsheep.com

Pulling Down The Tents

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Pulling Down The Tents

The thing you never think about when you do your little dreaming is – what happens if you get to live that dream? What then?

Good question.

Though first, let’s take a moment and appreciate the dreams when we can live them. It’s not all the time, unless you have very narrow focus and dream small, which is fine, but sometimes, SOMETIMES it’s the big dreams that really push you. Sometimes it’s the big dreams that make you stretch. If nothing else it’s the big dreams that keep our hope alive. Even if it’s a dim and distant hope. Hope’s what drives us through life, and without it things get awful bleak.

We recently decided to put an end to my baby, the Flint Horror Con. This was a decision made for many reasons but for now, and maybe for good, it seems that it’s an idea that has run its course.

I have had many dreams throughout my life but as an adult one of the ones I had was to see a horror convention in Downtown Flint. This is a story that anyone who knows me or has read my blog knows so I won’t go into it again. It was thanks to some amazing friends, the trust of some great folks, and a lot of hard work but we pulled it off and the Flint Horror Convention had four fantastic years. We had our bumps and bruises, we had our stress, but we did what very few manage to. We did it our way, and we did it following our rules.

For me, and for the group that did the show, we started things as fans and remained fans throughout. And as such, it was about the fans. Too many conventions focus on hanging out with the celebs or on everything but the fans. It’s the fans that are the reason to DO a show. It’s the fans that make horror so special. And in Flint, there are a lot of fans. The thing is, we were a one day show, with a limited budget, and we weren’t going to try to drain every last dime from those fans. I figured ten bucks was a good price to get in. It is low enough for casual attendees to try and leaves people money for celebrities and vendors. And the thing is that you can do as well as you want at the gate but if the celebs and vendors don’t do well you’re screwed and the show was a bust. It’s a hard line to walk. But if you don’t walk it you don’t do future shows. I am sure we could have charged more, but I am glad we didn’t. Same goes for vendor tables. I have vended shows for twenty years and the costs are outrageous. I get that most shows are huge these days and that you have to charge according to cost of the show and the size of the guest roster but for smaller folks like me there was just no way I could make the table cost back. I would love to say I could but two hundred and fifty to three hundred dollars for a small writer like me is a LOT of money. I still did the shows, so I am not complaining that loudly but I also was keen to that when we did our show. For many vendors this is their livelihood and they have to be able to make money. For us, by treating the vendors well we got a LOT of good will from them and in earning their trust and respect we earned a lot of allies. That’s worth much more than money. Each of the four years we had to turn vendors away, something you hate to do but which happens…if you are lucky.

We built a community, and I am happy about that.

Not everyone loved us. Not everyone was happy with us. But that’s the way of the world. We did things our way and we stuck to it.

We built a show that we hoped was family friendly and tried to stick to that because every monster kid has to get their inspiration from somewhere and from something and we hoped we’d be part of that inspiration for some kids.

I am really happy at the work we did in the community. From the start we wanted to partner with charities and people in need to help as much as we were able. I am not sure what kind of impact we made but for four years we did the best we were able to bring in some extra funds. We tried not to beat that drum too loudly because charity shouldn’t be about taking credit but about helping people in need. We tried our best.

Unfortunately in the kind of business like cons you have to beat the drum a little because you need the attention and the exposure. You need the help. We had a LOT of help from people. From fans, to celebrities, to vendors, to friends, and to some local sponsors we had a LOT of help. We were never able to bring in much sponsor money but that’s blame I’ll take because I am sure there’s more I could have done. What, I am not sure, but there had to be something. As it stands we had more support than I could ever have dreamed of having. This began as my dream and became a dream a lot of people began to share. That’s what’s so humbling to me – that so many people believed in what we were doing and supported it. We had never put anything on of that scale, I know I never had, and we did it. For four years.

For four years we put together shows large and small where were able to showcase artists, musicians, and movies many would never have seen. We had an outdoor movie night at a local park. We helped other events with their shows. More than anything we tried to create fun, inexpensive things for fans to do.

Doing the convention I learned a lot. We all did. Sometimes you can build it and ‘they’ don’t come. Just how it goes. Sometimes people don’t care, don’t have time, and don’t have the information they need to come out. Sometimes things don’t work. All you can do is learn, learn, learn and move forward.

I believe in conventions and more than that I believe in doing small shows like we did. Shows that can be intimate and affordable and fun and family friendly. I believe that you can do some amazing things with shows that size. I think the super shows have their place and have their importance but not everyone can make it to those, or afford them, and those fans still deserve to get the benefits of going to a show on a budget. Heck, small shows can build a love for conventions that makes them want to go to bigger shows. Sadly, I think the days of DIY shows like ours are coming to an end but if we can do it, anyone can do it. All it takes is a little money, a lot of heart, and a lot of trust.

I am honored that we got the opportunity to do our show for four years. I cannot believe we did it. It’s sad to let it go, but we’re not letting go completely.

We still plan to do locally produced shows focused on horror that will be smaller but just as fun and just as passionate. This will allow us to be more experimental and still remain active. We are no longer the Flint Horror Con but are the Flint Horror Collective and we aren’t done, not hardly.

If you supported our show, or me, or us, or even gave half of a damn about any of it we thank you. We truly couldn’t have done it without you.

Thanks.

Chris Arrr

www.flinthorrorcon.com

www.meepsheep.com

Building Change

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Cities like Flint are struggling. Cities built to support one or two industries which leave, cities built to support and reflect a moment, and cities built by individuals not groups. And when those industries left so did the people and so did the city and all that remained were ghosts, excuses, and blame.

Luckily, the human experience tends to be a wheel that keeps turn, turn, turning and opportunity has a way of coming back around. Enter the 21st Century and a chance to bring back Flint and some of the other cities of America that focused too much on one industry and lost it.

I think we humans forget the power of cities. We forget that a large city is the heart that pumps the blood outward into the community. It’s the engine that drives the economy. We don’t like to think that because so many of us have a country/suburb view of the world when we reach a certain age. We have learned to fear out cities because so many people abandoned them for the suburbs and while we turned our suburbs into small cities the opportunities disappeared with the interest and poverty rose and so did crime. When we abandoned the cities, some to greater degree than others, we abandoned the people there too.

The pendulum has swung back though and our interest in cities is back on the rise as we start to realize that those places are hubs for business and entertainment and they are not things to be abandoned. Neither are people.

The only way the system works is if it’s treated like a system.

Like a body.

You need balance to make it survive.

You can’t abandon the cities and run to the literal and figurative hills because you’re taking the baggage of the city and its many affectations with you. Malls. Traffic. People. Crime. All of it follows the exodus so that the city never really leaves, it just changes shape. What we forget is that we are the cities, the buildings are just the form that it takes but we’re the city, and wherever we go, it goes.

The problem is that the suburbs throw up their hands and shake their heads and say NO to the notion that if the city fails they will fail, not realizing that cities are what they are and were built where they are because they are hubs for business, travel, entertainment, commerce, and more. They are built near travel lanes to make all of that easier. And we have to work together. If cities fail then it’s only a matter of time until the towns fail. We humans cannot get past our ingrained tribalism and need to have enemies, even if they are implied. City people are still Americans, are still PEOPLE, and they are still part of the same system as the folks in the ‘burbs. And vice verse. People in the ‘burbs are just trying to do what they feel is best for their families by heading out to where there’s more land, less people, and more serenity. And both groups of people are fine. We are so silly. We let race, and religion, sexuality, and beliefs separate and do everything we can to build more and more walls around ourselves never seeing that we’re building prisons, not homes.

Ah, but cities.

The issue with places like Flint is that too few voices are forging the new cities. Too few ideas and too much money. The intentions are good, I believe that, but they are also full of politics, both personal and political. Business is targeted as are the owners so that you get an interpretation of a city, not a genuine city. A city is organic. A city is a patchwork quilt of people, ideas, and ages. No doubt, there will be a lot of failures and you have to be ready for that but with those failures will come unimagined successes. You have to trust that the right people, if given the chance, will create something wonderful. Flint has become a city of medicine with three hospitals within fifteen minutes of one another – two of those within five minutes of each other. We are a city of colleges with two satellite schools for major national universities, a nationally recognized community college, a globally recognized engineering school, and a handful of business schools. We have a LOT of students here with nothing to keep them here. In Downtown Flint there are a small handful of upscale restaurants, and bars that serve food. There are two, maybe three spots that are more laid back for food but there is a distinct lack of thought about the many students here. The bars are not clubs, they are bars. You don’t dance there so much as twirl drunkenly. The music venues skew to small rock clubs, bars, or spots that trend younger than most young adults want to frequent. There are no places for mid-range concerts outside of a large concert/events hall that programs for middle aged people. As for clothing, the options fall to a very small variety. The grocery store in town failed and was never replaced. There is one hotel and one convention space, which seems fine until you realize that it creates a monopoly on pricing at both. There are no music stores. No bookstores – a college bookstore isn’t the same. No downtown diner or spot for people to gather at odd hours. And there are no jobs.

Yet – we have a world class cultural center. We have an amazing farmer’s market. We have some fantastic free and inexpensive summer festivals. We have an arts community. We are close to major highways. We are an hour from Detroit, Lansing, and Ann Arbor. We are resilient. And the biggest thing is that in a city the size of Flint you can have a huge and immediate impact on this area if you have the right idea and right methods. But the opportunities have to be there. The space is there, but the opportunities to INHABIT the space need to be there as well. People need the chance to find and live their dreams.

Let the market decide who survives and who doesn’t.

Let the downtown reflect the people who inhabit and frequent it.

Business isn’t about charity, it’s about self-perpetuating. It’s about growth, expansion, and safety. A city is not a business though. People are not a business. The city of Flint, and cities like it need its leaders and funders and the people who hold the purse strings to let go, just a little, and let people have a chance to shape the city they want to see. We have a lot of space that’s unused in Downtown Flint. Space that could be rented. Space that could be used. Space that could become something. We talk a big game about fostering business and incubating it but let’s really do it. Let’s get rid of the vanity businesses that exist but are not open and are not part of the community. Let people who want to add to the city and the downtown have a chance. We have so many assets here, it’s a shame to let them all wither. The groundwork is laid, some very nice moves have been made but it’s time to let the people have a voice in how the downtown is re-built. And once the downtown is thriving we can finally, FINALLY, turn our attention outward to the other parts of the city that need attention, hope, and opportunity. Not money, but opportunity. People have thrown enough money at Flint’s problems, at the problems of cities like Flint, and it didn’t solve the problem, it just eased some consciences. Change comes from work and investment and it’s time for change to finally come.

…c…

www.meepsheep.com