Sunday, June 28, 2015

Motown Mission: Intentional Community

We watched the fireworks from a field next
to the Ambassador Bridge!
One of our goals as interns at Motown Mission is to live in intentional community.
Of course, there's no single idea of what intentional community means, or one strict set of rules. Instead, we made a covenant together. The covenant lists things that we will not do (drinking in the church) things that we will do (touching base every Wednesday evening when we're done with work) and methods for conflict resolution (listening to other's views, seeking mediation from a third party.)
I know that it sounds like we're just sitting in a circle, holding hands and singing kumbya all day, but we do actually get work done.
We've been living in intentional community for a month now, so I feel like I've had a decent amount of experience with it, enough to have some idea about how it's working. I think it's working well, and it's forcing me to be more thoughtful in understanding others.
It's funny, because I didn't choose these people. It's not that I dislike anyone, but based off first impressions, I don't think I would have gone out of my comfort zone to form relationships without being pushed.
So far, this process has changed the way I view communities and relationships. In the past, I've been a big believer in strong communities in the abstract. However, I found it very hard to build that in practice. I'm fairly achievement-oriented, and I find that I'm good at reaching measurable goals. For instance, I've set a goal this summer of saving a specific amount of money, and every time I think about going out for lunch or coffee, I'm considering how it will effect my savings goal. It's hard to set and reach measurable goals when it comes to community. I don't know what success or failure look like here, and that makes it hard for me to understand progress and growth.
This difference in mindsets is something that I've been working hard to mediate. I've ended up finding different experiences that I can analyze and count as successes or failures, and learning experiences either way. Last weekend, we had some weird, tense feelings going on throughout the group. Our roles as interns are fairly undefined, and that made work confusing and stressful for some of us. Myself and one of my co-workers ended up talking to a mentor about it, and she came to our Wednesday night covenant meeting. At the covenant meeting, I think we opened up about some of the difficulties we were having in working together. It seems to have worked well, and I think everyone has been a little more in touch with each other since that night. We also discussed the need for more shared leisure activities. Now, we have plans to go to the beach in a few weeks, and bake cakes and brownies together this weekend.
I've noticed in the past, that when I've lived and worked with people, everyone ends up becoming very close. There are people who I worked with at camp who I haven't seen in two years, and if they asked a favor of me, I would do it. At other jobs I held two years ago, there are people whose names I don't remember. It makes sense that the added proximity of living together would strengthen relationships, but it's surprising for me in practice. I look forward to building that kind of connection with my fellow Motown Mission interns this year, and keeping in touch for the future.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Motown Mission: Blended Memories

We went to Eastern Market.
My first Saturday staying in the city, we went to Eastern Market to get food for the weekend. It was the first time I've gone to Eastern Market without my family, and it was interesting.
As a kid, I remember coming to Eastern Market with my mom and grandmother. We would go on a Saturday, and we'd get spices from Rafel's and cheese from Hirt's, and we'd get fruits, vegetables and plants, too. Both of those buildings are filled with different businesses now.
It was different, when I went this time. I felt a little aimless, because I didn't go to market with a goal, it came from more of a curiosity.
I find it funny, how I'm building my memories of Detroit atop my family's memories. I'm living at Metropolitan United Methodist Church, and I know that the United Methodist Churches my mom and grandparents and great-grandparents attended are all closed now. My mom worked in the Fischer Building when I was little, and we go to see movies in the park across the street now. My grandmother was a nurse, and she worked in community mental health in southwest Detroit, and now I go to southwest for mango-chile ice cream.
I looked up the houses where my parents each grew up, and the house my great-grandparents owned. They're all abandoned now.
I have deluded daydreams of buying one of them, fixing it up, and living in this jumble of memories that aren't even mine. It's an awful idea, I know, but I can't help but wonder.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Motown Mission: Pregaming for a Midlife Crisis

This is Metropolitan United Methodist, the church where I'm living this summer.
It is gorgeous, inside and out.
"I'm pregaming for a midlife crisis" is what I tell people when I explain my interest in service work. "I'm worried that I'll turn 40 and realize that I haven't done anything meaningful in my life, and that it's all been about making money, and I'll hate myself."
I figure that if I devote some of my time now to helping other people and making the world a marginally better place, I won't hate myself later on. Right now, this means that I'm spending the summer at Motown Mission, working as a PR intern. I'm also taking a PR class online, and I'm excited to find ways that I can apply what I've learned in class to the work we're doing in Detroit.
Hopefully, I'll have the chance to do some development strategizing and grant writing. I've been thinking more and more lately that I might want to go into nonprofit work, so those are important skills for me to learn.
Motown Mission is a non-profit that brings groups of youth into Detroit for a week of service work, partnering with different organizations around the city that are focused on economic disaster recovery. The work that our youth vollenteers do is cleaning, greening, and demolition.
This is the sanctuary. Like the rest of the church, it is beautiful and gigantic.
I'm hoping that working at Motown Mission this summer will give me a better understanding of myself and the way I can make my skills useful to the world.
Almost a month ago, I found out that I was accepted into Teach For America. I didn't expect to get in, because they accept around 10% of applicants, and a lot of people from prestigous schools apply - they always publicize the number of people who apply from Ivy Leagues, so I assumed that my state-school-attending-self wouldn't measure up. I've thought about being a teacher occasionally over the years, so I filled out half an application in January or Feburary, and then a recruiter texted me, asking me to finish filling it out, so I did. I had a phone interview, an online activity, sent all my transcripts, and then a virtual interview where I taught a five-minute lesson. And then, on the day after my birthday, I got in.
I was in the Herald office when the email arrived on my phone. It didn't say that I'd gotten in, just that I should check the TFA website to find out. I went into my office, trying to log in and failing, the first time. Then, when I found out, I screamed. I walked into the main office, leaning against the door, and told Jax and Glen. I hadn't even clicked to the next page to find out which corps I was assigned to. I picked the "send me anywhere" option, because I didn't have any idea where I wanted to go. I've lived in Michigan for my whole life, and while I've visited other places, there was never one that stuck out to me as somewhere I would dream of living. I wanted to go somewhere new, but I didn't know what that new place looked like.
After ten minutes of freaking out about the fact that I got in, I clicked through to a second page on the TFA website and found out that I was in the Mississippi corps.
I've never been to Mississippi, but I want to learn more about it - what it's like, how it's different from Michigan, and what challenges educators face there. I've been reading everything I can get my hands on about Mississippi, about TFA itself, and how everything all fits together in the larger issue of educational inequity. I still haven't decided if I want to go or not, but I have until October to make that decision. In the meantime, I have a whole lot of research and soul-searching to do.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Deadly Nature of Life

My mother's cousin, Kathy, shared this article with me while we were sitting at my parent's kitchen table this weekend, discussing family and life and everything. 
It made me feel some feelings.
On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.
The above passage is not just how I hope I would spend my last days, but how I want to spend all my days prior to them. Deepening relationships. Writing more, traveling, delving deeper into life and finding what else there is.
I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.
This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.
My great-grandmother is dying, but not any more so than she has been dying for the past year, or the past five or ten years. She is 101, she was nearly 80 when I was born, and she has outlived almost everyone her age. The life expectancy for a woman in the United States in 1993 was 75.5, meaning that every day I've spent with her has been above average, has been more than I could have expected.
Seven years ago, she had a stroke. Twelve years ago, she had cancer. If you had asked me two years ago how much longer I thought she was going to live, I would have said that she had six more months.
It feels like I'm watching to see how close someone can come to death without actually being there.
When I was four or five, the idea of death was very new to me. I remember asking my mom why people died, and if my great-grandmother would die one day. She told me that yes, she would, and I accepted it after a while. I didn't expect her to outlive my grandmother, and I don't think I expected her to still be alive by the time I was in college, but she is. I have been profoundly lucky to have her support and perspective throughout that, and I'm so glad that I had the chance to grow up with such a strong intergenerational influence.
I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.
This part, at the end of the essay, was incredibly powerful for me. The idea that what makes us feel at peace when we're nearing the end of our lives is the accumulation of that exchange, the collection of bonds that we make. I love the idea of our mission, in part, being to have this intercourse with the world.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Michigan Press Association Convention

I love these nerds.
This weekend, I attended the Michigan Press Association Convention in Grand Rapids, and I learned so much about journalism in the state, and the future of print media.
The first session I attended was on social media selling, presented by Amie Stein. It was targeted toward ad salespeople, but I still found it to be very useful. They discussed the importance of tracking keywords, which I'll be implementing soon at the Western Herald. I already track hashtags there (#wmu and #kalamazoo, for instance) but I could be reaching out to more people by utilizing keyword tracking with a program like Sprout Social.
I was also pleased to find out that stalking people online is a useful skill for salespeople, since I do it often. Stein said that she uses Linkedin and Facebook to find things she has in common with prospective customers, and comes into meetings armed with that information. While I don't attend sales meetings, I will be interviewing in the future, and the idea is similar - if I can find something I have in common with an interviewer prior to meeting them, it might help.
"You're not going to get to the New York Times by showing them stories you wrote about the fire last night." said Ron French. Enterprising reporting in the 24-hour news cycle was the second session I attended, which was a panel discussion with editors from Bridge Magazine, Detroit Today, and MLive. They discussed the ways their organizations approach enterprise journalism, and how they find time to rise up from day to day news and work on bigger, feature stories. This was hugely useful for me - I love those bigger stories, but I can't let them take away from my work as an editor. My recent series on college affordability and accessibility (parts 1 and 3 are available here, I'll see if I can get someone to put part 2 online today.) was exciting to work on, and I hope that I'll have the chance to do more of those types of articles in the future.
They also discussed the collaborative nature that some of their work has taken on, specifically about the Detroit bankruptcy, and how Detroit Today on WDET has functioned as a center for in-depth information about the bankruptcy, and as an archive of the process.
Vaccination was another major article discussed, as MLive released their feature about low vaccination rates effect public health just before the measles outbreak hit.
"It's important to be different so you're noticed." Joe Grimm said. I found the last session of the day to be the most valuable. Grimm is a professor at Michigan State University, formerly of the Free Press. He spoke about personal branding, mashups, and love. His premise was this: there are a lot of journalists out there, so you've got to have something that sets you apart from the rest of them. Most of us have something else that we also love, and it's important to bring that out, make a mashup of them, and sell that unique combination. He suggested learning another language, or becoming good at math, and said that someone who spoke Arabic, or was fantastic at analyzing data, would stand out.
He said that as a recruiter at the Detroit Free Press, his brand was about being nice, in order to compete with a recruiter at the Chicago Tribune who was mean."You have to communicate your brand in the way you act."
He also pointed out that with the shift of newspapers to online content, "We're standing at the beginning of the biggest change in journalism in 700 years." For Grimm, the future is bright, and the possibilities of journalism in the internet age are endless.
One story that was mentioned over and over was the Free Press story about James Robertson, who walks 21 miles to work every day. I was slightly confused about this - yes, it was a great article, and it did inspire a lot of people to help Robertson, but I feel like this distracts from real social issues. Robertson works a full time job that pays significantly above minimum wage, yet he cannot afford a car, and lives in a city lacking in public transportation. Countless other people are in similar situations, but rather than starting a discussion about the public transportation cuts in Detroit, or the car-centrism of our cities, or the fact that it's very hard to live in America if you're working class, people have focused solely on this man. They raised a large sum of money for him, which is great, but it doesn't further the conversation on economic inequality or labor in America.
I didn't have the chance to ask this question at MPA, but I want to know what my fellow journalists think - do you believe that journalists have a responsibility to further the conversation on social issues? Do you think the story about Robertson diverted the focus of the public from real issues of economic inequality, or do you think attention was diverted only from the Kardashians?