real people in michigan

Our street, 7 am, last Sunday. We set out at pretty much the time we get out and going every morning, but this time we had a buzzy and exciting reason to be awake / alive. Going to Michigan to do something sad but happy. Going to where there are way more trees.

We love taking car trips. We do some of our best dreaming / talking in the car, and we listen to podcasts together, a thing that we most often do apart. We feel thrilled by the open hours, time uninterrupted, simple, with nothing to do but get there. When I was a child I’d feel very anxious about how I would fill the time on car trips, bringing enough books and activities to last me for hours and hours beyond the allotment of our trip. Now, I just bring myself, some stitching maybe. I know the hours will pass silkily, I know I’ll mostly watch the trees or joke with Isaiah or wonder about farms or dream about where we will go or what we will do. Isaiah drives most of the time, which I feel sort of bad about. I should drive more, but I don’t fight it too hard when he says that he doesn’t mind. I just like looking out the window so much. And stitching. And holding his hand. I brought us both iced coffee and croissants from the coffee shop the night before, so we were able to hit the road and go, with no need to stop for breakfast right away. I watched Chicago fade into trees, and I took deep breaths.

The trip was actually hardly about us at all, but rather about Ferdinand, the sweet English Springer Spaniel you see pictured above. Dear Ferdie was supposed to live with us for the whole time Isaiah’s parents were in Oxford. Till December, three months of dog love. But Ferdie developed some crippling separation anxiety that was not conducive to city life or being able to go to work properly.  So, although it broke our hearts, we all collectively decided it would be best for Ferdie to live with Isaiah’s Uncle Cornelius in Michigan, where he can run in fields and feel free and not be so lonesome in the big, frightening city. A sad errand, our trip. We were taking Ferdie to Michigan and would not bring him back home with us. This dog who very quickly made me feel very extra loved, who would wait for me when I lagged behind, who would listen attentively as I made up songs and sang them when alone. My short-lived but trusty companion. A sad errand indeed, but we tried to make the most of it.

We stopped first in South Haven, a place I’ve heard about but never been. We parked our car and joined all the other dog walkers heading down to the beach in the morning. It’s sort of a funny feeling to drive your car and then plant yourself somewhere temporarily, especially when you’re surrounded by people who either live there or are there for the week or something. For all anyone else knew, we were normal vacationers, there for more than only two hours. It’s fun to be incognito, to duck in and out of a place, to barely get the sand on your feet before you’re brushing it off again and heading somewhere new. Ambush vacationing may be one of my new favorite things.

Ferdie immediately headed for the water, as he always does. I hung back and watched my boys, thrilled to have made it to the coast, wanting to just sit and soak it, so glad to have few plans for the day other than just to be in Michigan and to eat well.

For me and Isaiah, though, it was a chance to run away together for a little minute, to feel very married, to hold hands and kiss on the beach while our dog played in the surf. A little family, just for a moment. So strange to be married, actually married. When I think about it, when I remember that I have a husband, I’m amazed at life, amazed that I’m old enough, amazed that my life is happening right this minute, that we are adults and we are making choices and we pay rent and we are doing it, all of it, taking weekend trips, looking like any couple. Any couple at all! Because we are! We are real people! The long, trudging days sort of take real-ness away from me sometimes, but I shouldn’t let it. We are real. We are real.

How truly wild when I really think about it.

Having a dog actively made us feel more real, too, I think. When you have a dog, especially one as cute and curly and approachable as Ferdie happens to be, people talk to you more. You walk by someone who normally wouldn’t look at you at all, and you see them smile, no grin, at you and your dog! It makes the world feel a little smaller, a little kinder, a little more connected. Ferdie had troubles while he was with us, oh yes he did, but he got us up in the morning to walk together in the cool air as the sun was rising. He helped us start conversations with neighbors. He gave me someone other than me to care about for a while. He made me feel more real. Even just for a little while in a little way.

Ferdie is Isaiah’s dog, really. He’s the one who trained him as a puppy. In high school, Isaiah would spend hours in the woods doing nothing much at all with Ferdie, and he says that it is one of the most important shaping things in his whole life. They are true pals, and I saw Ferdie cheering Isaiah up during his short stay. Ferdie kept Isaiah company while I worked closing shifts at the coffee shop. They’re tender with each other, Isaiah and Ferdie. I never grew up with a dog, only cats. Ferdie is my first pup, and he quickly nudged his way into my heart with his long looks and his sighs. I felt kinship with him, his anxiety and melancholy, his love for being home, his love for us all being home together. But he is Isaiah’s dog, really. And Isaiah will miss him most.

 

After South Haven, we went to Holland, which I have no pictures of. We drank soda and walked the dog around town, window shopping mostly. Then we made our way to Grand Rapids where something FANTASTIC HAPPENED!

Grand Rapids is home to Have Company, a small shop and art collective I’ve been internet-admiring for a long time now. They are closing in October, but I was able to sneak in this month to see the physical space and buy some very, very, very beautiful yarn for 30% off. Have Company is a sort of beacon to me of what artists can be together, so it was really important to me to have been there even just once. Maybe someday I’ll open up a little place like it, a place to people to gather and make things and see things other people have made and to think about what it is we are all trying to do, really, and to feel cozy and to buy beautiful yarn. Maybe someday. For now, I’m glad that place has existed while it has.

I briefly got to meet the shop’s owner/mastermind Marlee Grace, who is even cooler IRL than on the internet. Short interactions make me very nervous, so I think I acted sort of strange. But we talked, I petted her cat, she gave me a recommendation for which sweater to make with my yarn (, she even showed me the one she had knit herself. A tiny, tiny point of connection across the great wide internet. I’m finding it more and more wonderful and important to take chances to meet people I’ve admired on the internet in the actual world, even in tiny, not super meaningful ways. To see a person who I only imagined to be real as actually real. To remember that every word typed on the internet was typed by fingers, that some breathing person is behind it all, that we are all just doing our humble work and trying our best.

(Marlee, if somehow you read this because you see that I linked to you, it was very nice to meet you. Thanks for showing me your sweater, it made me feel like we were both very much real people.)

BTW, check out Marlee Grace’s kickstarter for an awesome and important project that she is working on. I’ve been following @personalpractice for a while now, and it’s really truly inspiring work. And I don’t throw that word around very often. But, especially as a dancer and a person who makes things and hopes to make things, it has been really special to follow along with Marlee Grace and her dances this year. Really pumped to be backing this project.

We walked around Grand Rapids, accidentally found a children’s art festival complete with free fruit and Irish dancers, and got really, really hungry. (So hungry that we pretty much skipped ArtPrize all together, OOPS. I can’t believe myself sometimes.) We found our way to Downtown Market where we got some truly delicious tacos and ate them on the sidewalk. Then the boys fell asleep, very conspicuously, in a very public walkway. A thing we would never do in Chicago, but for some reason in an unfamiliar city, camping out in the middle of the sidewalk felt like a just-right thing to do.

We found our way to our little airbnb cabin in the woods, (out of cell reception, so I was pretty terrified that we were going to get lost forever.) It was in the smallest town in Michigan, on a very small, quiet lake. We were all alone on the property (the owners were out of town). It was exactly what we needed. Unglamourous, cheap, dog-friendly, quiet, wonderful.

I dream of living out where it is quiet someday. In my life in Chicago there is never a moment that I can’t see a building or hear a car pass by. Madeleine L’Engle writes about needing “a circle of quiet,” a place to go to be alone in nature, and I don’t have that right now. I’m no pilgrim at Tinker Creek right now, I’m just trying not to trip on the cracks in the sidewalk. More and more, me and Isaiah feel that living in the city is a thing to do for a time, a season. Where we really belong is in the woods, in some sort of quiet, with room to run and stretch out, some sort of water, trees. Who knows where we will go or be or end up, but that’s what we dream when we let ourselves.

 

Maybe the classiest meal the cabin had ever seen? Digiorno pizza and diet ginger beer! Hooray!

Out of the small handful of far-flung games in the cabin, we chose the most compelling: The Game of Life: Despicable Me Themed. Isaiah won by one bunch of bananas. Isaiah often wins. Maddening.

In the morning, we found our way to the *only* bakery in rural Western Michigan, or so it felt, where there were FRESH HOMEMADE DONUTS, the sort that are so much simpler than Stans or Glazed and Infused, and we were the happiest campers the midwest ever did see.

We ate them as we drove, and the crumbs from the crumbcake donut found their way to every possible surface and crevice.

In our last few hours with Ferdie, we went to an orchard/zoo with our Michigan Bornman family and met a very special camel that fell in love with Ferdie and followed him around like he was all she needed to keep living. She also fell in love with us a little bit and we with her. Can one have a camel as a pet in Chicago? Those eyes!

And then we left Ferdie in Michigan, safe in the hands of other Bornmans, Isaiah and I crestfallen. We just drove away, back toward the coast, dogless and sad, but knowing that things would be better for him and for us.

Yarn and garden squash, peppers, and tomatoes from Cornelius and Cherri, safe in the backseat.

We ended our little trip in Saugatuck, maybe one of the prettiest places in America. We ate sandwiches as a little beachy bar and grille and found our way to the lake right as the sun was setting, with crazy wind whipping sand into our eyes, shrieking with delight and holding each other.

These days are strange and often jostling, and we hardly know what we are doing. Still, there are pockets of real sweetness, things I never want to forget, weekends in Michigan where we give the dog away and find donuts and get really windy, where we feel lucky to be married and free, where we find a moment’s circle of quiet, where we calm down.

I’m back in Chicago now, both of us crawling our ways through our work week. It’s exhausting and often disappointing. But I made some baked oatmeal this morning, though, and I’m reading this truly fantastic book, and Isaiah and I had a nearly perfect night last night, walking in the city in the rain and cozying on the couch with some fried rice. We are all going to be okay all across the midwest, in Michigan, in Chicago, in anywhere really. Across America, no matter how the debates turn out or how many times Trump interrupts Hillary, we will all be okay. I feel that now.

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