Detroit is an urban version of Columbia College
Recently, an old college roommate of mine moved here from New York and was, as we all are when we first choose to move Detroit, thrilled. She felt the same flame as I had felt in the beginning. Not only are you liberated by the sense of space and land, the cheapness of everything, and lack of traffic and crowds of people but most importantly, the energy of the city. You can’t help but feel charged up by the excitement of being involved with people and projects that are communal and so purposeful.
Although her fresh match-striking flame was bursting with light, my enthusiasm of new had died off, the realities of living in a bankrupt and sparsely populated city had set in and my flame was flickering.
She tried to re-ignite it, “I mean, Meils, we can do anything here.”
I tried my best not to kill her buzz but couldn’t help it.
“No, we can’t and don’t be one of those people…”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s just that there’s a false sense of reality here. Remember Columbia?”
The college we had gone to was a private liberal arts school with an open admissions policy. When I had my “interview”, I had brought my photography portfolio which I was so proud but nervous to present. When I met with my department advisor, he didn’t even ask for it. Instead, he talked about himself and pitched Columbia to me. I was sold by the phrase “You get what you give.”
The first few years of Columbia were brutal. Girls who had never taken a dance class before were opting to be professional dancers. Students who had no idea what a setting on a camera meant, wanted to be photographers. And, then there were all the people who hadn’t had any interest in anything ever and were just kind of floating around. My problem was that I had too many interests and sadly, Columbia catered to all of them. I had stints in all the departments that appealed to me: photo, theatre, cultural studies, english, film. Ironically, I settled on Writing and Producing for Television. I say “ironically” because I hate TV. But, I had discovered it was a smaller version of the film department. I could focus on documentary and not have to feel bullied by the cinematographers in the film building.
I hated Columbia and loved to complain about it. Even when I left Chicago and moved to Los Angeles, I was so embarrassed of where I had graduated from that when people would ask where I had gone to school, I would whisper it or pretend like I couldn’t hear them.
It was that same annoyance and frustration that I was trying to explain to my friend, who had just moved to Detroit, about Detroit. I was feeling a bit suffocated by the subculture of Detroit – an incestuous cloud of suburban twenty-somethings who feel entitled to be “the next best (fill-in-the-blank)”. I was over alcohol infused “creative meetings” that led to nothing but people nonchalantly bragging about their new cheese churning endeavor or their ties to a local restaurateur.
Funny how life happens though because it took me explaining all this to her to make me realize the reality.
Sure, Columbia was annoying for those first two years, weeding out the people who were just naive dreamers from the people who really had the skill, talent and motivation to succeed. But, it was those last few years at Columbia where I was given the tools and experience that I still use to this day. The work that was demanded of me was different from any of my “normal-college-going-friends” but it was Not to mention, I and everyone I know from school are all working within our respected industries. How many people can say that?
So, if Detroit really is an urban version of Columbia then it might not be such a bad thing…