Saturday, November 2, 2013


Since July when I last blogged, ten of us have come together to create New Work Field Street Collective, in which we embody the principles of New Work/New Culture/New Economy. We strive to produce as much as what we need as possible under our own roof and eventually support ourselves and our communities through self-sustaining cottage industries,

That’s the plan, right? What this means in actuality is that in August, we moved into a huge, stunning turn-of-the-20th century house without water, electricity, or heat, with peeling paint and crumbling plaster. We have asbestos covered pipes, we have old lead paint, we have mold in the basement. Everything that could have been stripped from the house had been taken by plunderers during its vacancy: pipes, radiators, light fixtures and bulbs, wiring cut in every room. Even the doorknobs were stolen.

Over the course of months, we finally have electricity, running water, one working toilet, and a kitchen sink. Friends and friends of friends have donated a refrigerator (never mind that the door doesn’t quite seal), a stove (even though only one burner ignites, we can light 2 of the remaining 3 with a match), and we have raised money for a boiler and radiators to be installed soon.

In practically any other city, what I am doing would be considered outrageous. Exposed asbestos, lead paint, carrying buckets of water from the neighbor’s spigot, huddling by the space heater for warmth. But in Detroit, I have tons of company. Practically everyone I know has lived like this, if they’re not still. Some folks have chosen to live without central heat or running water. Some have absolutely no choice. I get no pity here, it’s just not that big a deal.

I have been in survival mode since August, and I have limited energy for yoga practice, Korean language study, blogging, songwriting, meditation, or any of my other self-sustaining practices. As long as I had to make appointments for bowel movements, showers, and internet, depending on the generosity of my neighbors, I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. I understand just a bit more what the experience of the marginalized in our society must be. At the same time I recognize that the way I am living is similar to how humans have lived for millenia, and still how much of the world lives now,

No matter. I still have wild greens growing in the alley for smoothies. We’ve discovered a slew of untended apple trees in our neighborhood, and one glorious Bartlett pear tree. We wake to the smell of apple crisp, and use the dehydrator as a heat source as it dries apple chips. We have several musicians in the house and more in the neighborhood, a living room full of musical instruments, and spontaneous drumming and jamming circles on any given day. We have poets and emcees and visual artists and chefs. We have former gang members and Black Panthers-cum-community organizers, connecting folks and groups. We have gallons of home-brewed kombucha: since our main oven doesn’t work, we use its pilot light for fermentation. We have beautful hand-craftedleather belts, soft reusable cloth menstrual pads, and our first Field Street Quilt. We have food for months, including dozens of quarts of jams, apple sauce, tomatoes, and much more.

Last night was a breakthrough: I took my first hot bath in my own house. Not because we have hot water and a tub! That would be so 20th century. No, it happened because I scrounged up a round plastic basin I found covered with basement grime, cleaned it up, and boiled up a kettle of water. Thanks to my years of yoga and supple hip flexors, I was able to squeeze myself, knees to chest, into the steaming water for the best bath ever in my entire life. Upstairs, Crystal, recovering from a death-defying car accident, lay in bed strumming ukulele. In the living room, Ty improvised on his accordion. Listening to strains of Beirut, “Let it Be” and “Here Comes the Sun,” as I scrubbed the callouses off my feet, it was once again, pure magic in the New Work House.