i would mindfully gentrify. i would create a blueprint for how to fuse community and commodity.
(end of class one. do your homework.)
i would take a dilapidated sad storefront and completely gut and remodel. i would refurbish the 100-year-old hardwood floors. i would build gender neutral bathrooms, a gorgeous wrap-around coffee bar where i can hold court in the center — slinging espresso and pontificating on oscar wilde.
i would handpick everything.
i would have my own space. my own fucking space. a real big-boy shop.
coffee. art. books. antiques. music. community. theatre.
no cookie-cutter mush.
i would build it and my people would come. awake people. brave compelling people. people who have chosen not to file in and have paved a path for themselves.
i dreamed of steaming milk into ephemeral animals and hearts with the cappuccino foam.
i dreamed of having regulars. of them coming in and me having their drink ready and us bantering on about something — preferably philosophy or ideas or characters in our mutually-favorited books.
i dreamed of having an open stage with heaps of local talent — musicians and poets seducing us with their emoting.
i dreamed of performing in my own shop. reading my own poetry and spoken word. of finishing my magnum opus in this space. of launching my one-man show on the very stage i built.
i dreamed of being my own boss. setting my own hours.
i dreamed of selecting the coffee, the books, the art, the music, the vibe.
i dreamed of mopping floors to blaring music after closing.
and then it all became a reality. all of it. and it was a massive success.
i was on NPR all things considered. channel 4 news. articles were written in all the papers. bloggers had their frenzy.
we reached nearly 2,000 facebook likes in the first month.
we had over 500 people perform on the red wood stage i built.
pick your price was really working. some would pay $50 for a cup of coffee because they believed in the vision. they knew what i was trying to do.
i would pinch myself daily.
my mom was so proud. my family and friends were so proud. venky was beside himself. i did it.
life was good. i built this from nothing. i made this dream a reality.
i was addicted. i was open 9am-midnight seven nights a week without an employee. i did it all.
and it was so easy. i mean, it was so hard. but it was so easy. it all just worked. the sleeplessness. the buildout, the negotiating, the red tape, the bureaucracy, the plans and blueprints and vision slowly all snapped together. it was a reality. my realty.
& then the challenge shifted from build a gorgeous space previously held only in my dreams to keep your head in the game and grow it. mold it into what you want it to be.
work with people.
build the community you want.
& i couldn’t do it. i was drained.
and i grew to hate.
all of it.
the coffee, the customers, the live performances, the art, the lights, the stage, the coffee bar i built.
i hated going into the place. i was depressed. i had it all — gorgeous lofted apartment directly above my shop, good friends, a beautiful boyfriend.
my own dream business.
and i hated it.
i blamed it on the people. if only my people would come in.
i blamed it on the city. ypsilanti is great if you’re straight — but being a smart gay artist obsessed with Big Ideas . . . with politics and power and playing a higher level game. . . the city suddenly grew quite small.
where are the art galleries? the restaurants? the culture? the smart gay men? the philosophers who gazed past their own navel?
i was being strangled. trapped, isolated, angsty.
and i wasn’t in love with my boyfriend.
and i hated that the place didn’t get more natural sunlight.
and i hated the winter.
and i hated being cooped up. but i couldn’t bring myself to hire anybody.
i was desperately attached to the child that i knew i would eventually have to kill. or give away. or sell to the highest bidder.
i started hiding under the coffee bar counter when acts took to the stage. once the paying customers had their drink, i would hide. i would tuck underneath the counter and sob silently to myself.
half the patrons never bought anything. it was all pick your price. and i never turned anyone away. i would force myself to be cornered, listening to members of the community come in and sob or gloat about their life.
i became the town therapist.
mothers would corner me for an hour to wail and pine about their kids being bullied, their husbands not giving them affection, their lives passing them by. single old men would come in retelling the same recycled stories of their patriotic fighting in nam. or railing over how terrible a human “that bitch of a non-woman hillary clinton” is.
i was routinely robbed. i was threatened. i was praised.
eventually it all started sounding the same. wonderful people would come with tears in their eyes telling me how beautiful the space was, the idea was, my angelic face and heart were.
and i started to feel nothing. the sponge was full. i couldn’t take a compliment.
but i continued to dance. the monkey would strap on heels and keep everyone happy. i couldn’t help it. i am an addict. and it was all so addicted.
after months of this 100-hour workweek grind, i started tweaking out. i’d have a friend relieve me for a few hours. i felt so free then. i would cry in ridiculous joy at being let out of the cage. i would speed down the highway in the lexus that would eventually get repossessed. i would dance in the street. chain smoke several bowls of weed. down half a bottle of red wine.
but i had to go back.
i always had to go back.
the feedback upon return was always a somber recount of the time i was away.
“it’s just not the same without you here.”
“you make the place”
“lampshade is a feeling. and the feeling is gone when you aren’t here.”
so i just began closing. or rather, i just never opened. the hours in the window would say we were open and yet the place was dark. i was the owner. i paid the bills. i could do that.
people would take to social media to complain. they demanded their sanctuary. their safe space. their therapist barista. i would get such vitriolic hate mail. anonymous commenters took to trolling articles written about lampshade. they’d rail on about something or other.
this isn’t fucking starbucks. this is my life. this is my project. this isn’t about you.
but i was branded. lampshade cares. it became the place poor people went. homeless people went. young hippie entitled snots went. grungy artists on the dole went. conspiracy theorists. those who would normally stay in their apartments, walk the streets, hang in the parks or libraries — would now come to lampshade. without any pennies in their pocket.
and everything in the shop was pick your price. zero often became the going rate.
the intellectuals, the women with vision, the activists, the artists who do more than sing loudly into microphones and paint pretty pictures while high . . . were simply not coming around.
i had built the place. it was The Place. it was gorgeous. it was warm and romantic and a total step back in time. a bohemia of 20s paris.
but kerouac wasn’t coming. dali and plath and rand and miller and milk and mlk and paine and nietzsche and schopenhauer were not knocking down my door.
and they became my friends. i loved them. making space for them. filling their mugs with hot coffee and compassion. listening to their stories and honoring their dreams.
for a while.
then i hated them and their circular groan. their sad problems. their slurred conspiracy theory. their visions and promises and goals that would never come to fruition. some of them stunk. some of them stole. some of them fell asleep in the chair.
i wanted them out. but they wouldn’t leave. they kept coming back.
and i was branded.
the people i dreamed of never did arrive.
and i felt terrible for these feelings. for the nasty things i thought and said about these people i really did care for. they were captivating and generally good. until they weren’t anymore.
and i was mortified that the people i wanted to come just were not coming.
it wasn’t fucking happening. that’s the truth.
it wasn’t ann arbor. the crowd i attracted was not intellectual. ypsilanti is the city of delusions. of grandeur, peppered with a few gentrifiers who truly see a higher potential.
and i got more and more into drugs.
i would be miles away in my mind. a midday mushroom trip while serving coffee to old women at noon on a wednesday was the norm.
i kept wine and beer and whiskey in the milk fridge.
i had suicidal thoughts.
i had gotten what i wanted and i had never felt so dissatisfied.
and lost and confused and mad and sad.
i climbed the mountain and the wind just whip-smacked my cheek.
i wanted a cute smart boy to come in and ask me on a date. it didn’t happen.
i wanted a circle of friends who could build real collective energy and help me shoot lampshade into the cosmos. it didn’t happen.
i wanted to create a printing press and theatre and music venue and campaign headquarters and community center that really did stuff. it didn’t happen.
so many loud bands. so little improv and jazz.
so much mindless chatter. so little constructive, instructive, deductive thought.
and i never once performed in my own space.
i couldn’t, it wasn’t in me.
my soul was closed. my heart wrung dry.
plus, there wasn’t time.
i was too busy playing host for thousands of patrons — many of whom didn’t deserve the attention i paid them.
now i am a year removed. i’ve spent most of it overseas — from europe to asia to australia. mostly underwhelmed. i can no longer accept the beauty and culture presented to me.
i’ve spent most the past year numb, shaken and confused.
i am still shaken and confused.
utterly alone, even though i’ve had a marvelous travel partner i’m growing to hate, no fault of his own.
without credit enough to pass a background check on an apartment after our return to america, by way of denver.
where am i? what is this life i am leading?
why would 4 million michiganders vote for a senate candidate who purposely blew up his credit to prove the fraudulence of the banking system? a candidate who is so confused and confounded by his fellow man? a candidate who thinks such nasty thoughts about most of the human race?
i want to go back to sleep but i cannot. i am awake.
or i am in a dream.
either way, the walls have closed in on me.
i am 32.
i feel there’s so little high left.
i’ve burned myself out.
traveling over 50 countries. pleasantly drifted through dozens of viable careers. from high school teacher to wellness coach. ive opened successful businesses. became a competitive bowler and poker pro. done the drugs and the homelessness. done the gambling and prostitution. the meditation and silence. i’ve read the books. studied the philosophy. i’ve experienced wealth and poverty. tasted the good life. luxury has lounged in my bone.
and now i am lost. suspended in space. throwing wet noodles at the wall waiting for the next thing to stick. waiting to be compelled by something. waiting to fall in love again. waiting for a project. something to sink these teeth into.
i walk into gorgeous cafes and restaurants and feel nothing.
i tour luxury lofts and feel only sadness.
i see beautiful downtown landscapes and think man ill for his mindless expansion. when will it be enough?
i sign online and scroll newsfeed and am numb.
i don’t want an anti-depressant.
i don’t want to die.
i want to want.
and i don’t want.
the buddha says nirvana is the cessation of desire. ridding want.
well i want no longer.
only i am still alive.
and i cannot sit under a tree and meditate forever. i cannot join a monastery.
i don’t want to drink and drug and gamble and travel myself 6-feet under. not because i think it is wrong. not for any moral reasons. simply because it no longer compels me.
i have given over to it before. drink and drugs and gamble and travel have been my most loyal friends. friends who have continually stabbed me from behind then held a warm cloth to the gushing blood while kissing my forehead and stroking me while suggesting it’s all going to be alright.
and i don’t feel like a writer. i don’t feel like an artist. i say i only want a small room somewhere with time and space to think. to write. to create. to sit. and yet the prospect frightens me. i am not small. i cannot be small.
consumed with visions. with plans and regalia. empaths can’t help but notice everything. i want to be president of the united states.
but i cannot stand people. their mushy, inconsequential thoughts and fears and shitty small talk. their unwillingness to understand how conditioned and trained and stuck they are. how they are being fed what to think, to buy, to own, to vote for. how they will spend life wrapped in fear. fear of death. fear of debt. fear of terrorism. fear of abandonment. fear of not fitting in. fear of themselves because they don’t know who they are. fear of silence. fear of failure. fear of success. fear of being alone. fear of being poor. fear of not being enough. fear of not having enough. fear of god. fear of no god.
when i take an adderall i can engage in small talk. i can seduce a room. i can coo babies, twirl old ladies, talk to mothers about their knitting and fathers about their day job. i can listen intently as if i haven’t heard it all a thousand times before.
but is that the life i want? do i want to take the magic pill to fit in?
i’m anxious to not be anxious. to feel chill in the entrapment.
it feels like the options are running out.
i am confounded. and also currently homeless.
with $50,000 cash in my pocket.