3.27.2014

Ypsilanti nights in Turkey

I went to college in Ypsilanti, Michigan. You've probably never heard of it.

Let me paint you a mental picture of what it was like 12 years ago:
Grey skies
Grey buildings
Graffiti
Blue collared workers
and
An industrial edge of creativity that surged throughout my community of peers.


Here is the most famous monument in Ypsi, the water tower. Can you guess what this icon's nickname is?

My friends from my Ypsi days are still some of the best people that I have ever had the privilege to know. The thing about Ypsilanti from my college years (it's a bit more "souped up" now) was that you needed to make it what you wanted it to be. Some people just took Ypsilanti at face value -- and for all intents and purposes it was a pretty slummy area. But other people had a very different perception. My friends created an Ypsilanti that was a wonderful place to be.


My people cared about music -- both creating and supporting it.
My people cared about politics and having a voice for the masses.
My people cared about the environment and promoting a green lifestyle.
My people cared about community in the most inclusive way -- everyone was always welcome and nurtured and loved.
And my people cared about art. Oh, the art.

College, what a dreamy time in life where everything felt possible and important and beautiful.

Naiveté. As I grew up and moved on in life, some of the virtues that I was so impassioned about from my youth fell away. I started looking at life through the lenses of a "grown up in the real world." While there was still a big piece of my heart that carried around my Ypsi values, I began to forget the feeling of how right everything could be. I became a teacher in a poor district in Appalachia. I had a job where I saw so much sadness in the lives of my students -- sadness that I couldn't fix no matter how much I tried. I worked as hard as I could at a profession that I loved (and then some more at my after work jobs) yet I couldn't get ahead of my bills. I knew I was doing some things right, and I loved many aspects of my social life, but I was tired. And nothing looked like it was going to change. Ever.

Though eventually something did change. I made a choice to move to Turkey. And being here in Turkey, in my new life, makes me feel like I'm my old self. I feel like I'm in college again.

When I say that I feel like I am in college again, I'm not referencing being out of control and capricious -- that's REALLY not the kind of person I am or ever was. I didn't stop being a grown up when I moved away from the United States. I still go to work five days a week, sometimes six. I work from 8 to 5. I direct the lives of 75 children each week on their educational paths. 

No, I'm not saying that I am reclaiming my young 20's and throwing responsibilities into the wind. What I'm referencing is a feeling -- the feeling of life being beautiful again. And things being possible. Anything being possible. My world keeps getting smaller in the best way -- I feel like I can access whatever I need to make the best impact that I can.

I didn't really mean for this to be a reflective blog post at all. I usually save this type of writing for my journal. What spawned all of this was where I found myself last Friday in Izmir. I randomly joined a couple of friends to check out a contemporary art exhibit. And what I found was nothing like what I expected.

While I was taking photos of the art to post later to my blog, I imagined myself writing short and snappy captions about each image and leaving it at that. But the evening ended up creating a much bigger impression on me than I was aware of at the time. I'm certainly not going to get deep with the meaning of each piece that spoke to me within this public forum -- but I've found myself talking about the ideas behind the art that I saw last week a lot in the past few days.

The venue of the show was an old concrete building. The art was a hodgepodge of photography, video, painting, found items, sculpture, textile, and writing - all embedded with a voice of social awareness. The outcome was beautiful and spooky and moving all at once. 

I won't get into the why behind these art displays, just my first impressions. It's more fun that way.

Felted dolls in a web. See what I'm talking about Ypsi people?

Anarchy. And potatoes. Anarchist potatoes.

Found sticks -- this was the only display that had no explanation. But really, the meaning is obvious.
(Just kidding, this shit makes no sense)

An entire series of photos of people who lacked faces.
There was nursery music playing in the background.

This yeti was about 7 feet tall. He was an imposing figure.

Also, I'm pretty sure that every hipster in the entire country was in attendance. Which was kind of hilarious. (In my mind I could hear the hiss of PBR tallboys being cracked open all around me. If you are from the US and have any contact with hipsters whatsoever, you know exactly what I'm talking about.)

Trying to blend with the hipsters. I look like I don't care, right?


Anyway, last weekend I was transported back to a time where this type of environment was my everyday norm. My Ypsi days. I honestly never considered it possible to compare Izmir and Ypsilanti in such a direct way because I always thought that they were eons apart. But they are not. I realize that a place is not simply a physical set of coordinates or anything you might find on a map -- it's more like a feeling that you carry around in your heart.

I am blessed to have so many sweet memories of the places I have traveled to during my limited time on this planet. 

And to Ypsilanti, my first home away from home, I salute you.