The Quietest Place: Suburban Detroit

This post is part of The Art Assignment #5, The Quietest Place.

I spent the first two decades of my life in very rural environments–I grew up in western Colorado, miles from anywhere, then attended college in Virginia on a campus with thousands of acres of woods, away from any major cities. In those environments, it was never very difficult to find quiet places.

Then there my small city in the Philippines, where quiet was practically nonexistent. You can’t cram so many people into such a small space without hearing your neighbors washing laundry, or having a busy street right outside your window.

And now? Suburban Michigan. Oh, how I resisted moving here. What could possibly be less glamorous?
I came around on the subject of Michigan, and I love living here now. But I hadn’t really confronted the idea of the suburbs until this assignment. The assignment was to take a walk from your home and find the quietest place, then absorb and document it. I actually began my walk at my inlaws’ house, because that was what worked for me. So here it is: the quietest place in my inlaws’ neighborhood.


Or is it? The first thing I discovered when I started walking is that noise is fairly homogenous in the suburbs. Once I moved away from the busy roads, it was a thin soup of dogs barking, robins chirping, cars passing, and always, somewhere, someone using a power tool.

It was really hard to find a quiet place. Every time I thought I had, a dog would start barking at me, or a car would pass, or standing still would cause me to hear the wind chimes I’d missed while I was walking.

I walked for an hour. It was Easter Sunday, and as I walked, I slowly began to become amazed by how much of people living I was observing. I heard a lot of radios, and because the weather was so lovely that windows were open, I caught a lot of snippets of people’s Easter celebrations–well wishes, arguments, complaining, and several parents stepping out onto the front porch to smoke and escape from their kids for a minute.

I’ve somehow always thought of suburban neighborhoods as faceless blocks of houses with no personality or distinguishing features; I had a lot of contempt for them, in fact. I’m actually ashamed to admit this, but it wasn’t until this walk that it clicked for me: Every house has people in it. All of those people have stories. Every single nearly identical house is absolutely filled up with the stories of people living their lives. They’re people who have buried parents, who worry about their children’s developmental milestones, who like yellow mustard but not brown.

There is no quietest place in a neighborhood like this. People’s lives are moving through it constantly, leaving ripples. I realized, I wasn’t looking for the quietest place: I was looking for the quietest moment.

So, after an hour of walking spanning a couple of miles, I finally stopped, just two blocks from where I started, and waited. And for a few moments, there were no dogs barking, no cars passing, no one mowing their lawn or calling to their kids.

So, here it is. Two photographs of a still moment between the waves of life on an Easter Sunday in Michigan.


Leaving a mark


I found this mug in a thrift shop, yesterday. It’s custom-printed and features an older man repairing or building a chair using Elmer’s wood glue.

I had to explain, both to the girl who bagged my purchase, and to Jon, that I suppose I felt sorry for him. Someone loved this man and respected his skill (as a carpenter? handyman? husband?) enough to both take this picture and immortalize it on a mug. Then, some time later, someone (someone else? the same person?) sent the mug to a thrift shop, for reasons unknown. (De-cluttering? Painful memories? Clearing out an estate?)

I felt that, whoever the man on the mug is or was, he deserved some respect. And as he was clearly a maker, I feel some kinship there.

(Jon: “So do we have to keep it forever?” He indulges my flights of fancy but doesn’t necessarily understand them.)

As it happens, I stumbled across this mug at a time when I had another dear craftsman on the mind.


I snapped this photo in the park, while watching the twins play. I recently took up spinning again, and have found it remarkably well-suited to child supervision. But that’s a subject for another post; right now, I want to talk about the spindle.

My mom was, for some years, married to a man who built fiddles. He was an artist and a craftsman, and as I was living with them at the time I took up spinning, I asked him to make me a spindle. I had visions of some hand-turned, polished object of beauty, so when he delivered this, a dowel fitted rather poorly into a plain disc of wood, I was a little disappointed. But on it, I learned to spin.

Over time, the unfinished wood has developed a smooth, glossy patina. The spindle is just the right size and weight for my purposes. It holds a great deal of yarn. Since it’s a bottom whorl spindle, I can let it rest on the ground while I draft out extra twist, without getting the yarn dirty. It has no notches or hooks, no frills. It’s useful and it’s been used, and it was a gift from one maker to another. All that makes it beautiful.

The man who made it died of depression while I was in the Philippines. I cried for days, and no one understood why. “So… he was not married to your mother any longer?” They wanted to comfort, but they were confused. I couldn’t quite articulate at the time, but I think it’s the unfairness of the whole thing–that someone who added so many good and useful things to the world would leave it the way he did.

I think about him often. As a craftsman, he’s best remembered for his fiddles, but I have this spindle. I’m going to use it to make more good and useful things. It’s the best tribute I can think of.

Rebirth: A Disclaimer

It has been a custom of mine, in each new phase of my development, to reinvent myself online. I talked a lot with friends in the Philippines about the way our online personas were just that–personas, masks, a marketing scheme. You present yourself the way you want to be considered.

That’s why, in the past, I’ve tended to create new blogs for each new persona, kicking the old back under a rug, slightly embarrassed by it, by the person I used to be. (When I started on the internet fourteen years ago, for example, I was a homeschooled fundamentalist Christian who loved books about talking animals.)

This time, though, I’ve decided not to do that.

Point 1: Anything I wrote on this blog 2-4 years ago (when this blog was most active) was and remains an accurate impression of at least part of the person I was at that time.

Point 2: The person who wrote those posts deserves to be honored even if she no longer entirely exists.

Point 3, the most salient: Most of my blogging attempts post-college have been abortive at best, and why go to all the effort of restarting if I’m only going to abandon it within a few weeks?

With that out of the way, I have an itch to blog. I’m creating things again, and I miss blogging about that. I miss working out my thoughts via text, too.

I decided long ago that it wasn’t worth “apologizing” for not blogging. But let me catch you up, nevertheless. Right now, I am:

  • Home from the Philippines (since November 2012, in fact)
  • Married (!)
  • (To someone I met in the Philippines)
  • (Deeply surprised, amazed, and awed by this fact almost daily)
  • Living in the suburbs of Detroit, the home region of the man (there’s another surprise, at least to me) I married
  • Studying speech and language pathology–for now taking prerequisite courses online before I apply for graduate programs
  • Meanwhile, working as a nanny for twin boys, age 3
  • The adoring owner of a rescued pet rabbit
  • Attempting to write fiction in the time not occupied by husband, work, and school
  • Crafting with intensity
  • Drinking perhaps more than I should

Should this latest attempt at blogging stick (and I hope it does), you can expect to see me talking about crafting, writing, my rabbit (lord, I love her), being a nanny, and the long path to becoming a speech and language pathologist (SLP).