Top 8 Places to Write in Flint, Michigan (and Other Cities)
Since 1995, I have probably spent 20,000 hours writing my teen-noir serial novel Urbantasm. Most of that time has been spent in my house or various apartments, typically in front of a computer. But sometimes your brain stalls out, your imagination says “enough,” and you find yourself staring at a frustrating blank screen. That’s when I have to get up and go. Most of the time, a change of scenery is all my muse needs to get back on her feet!
I’m lucky to live in Flint, Michigan, a dynamic city full of honest and talented people. I have a lot of options for destinations. But don’t worry: even if you don’t live in Flint, Michigan, but have to settle for Chicago or San Francisco or some other city or unincorporated suburb, I’m sure there are some good places to write (and read). I’ll show you!
#8. The Flint Public Library. A fifteen-minute walk from my house, in summer sunshine or bracing winter wind, takes me to the Flint Public Library, founded in 1851, and wrapping up a heels to hat renovation as I type, the library is the longtime host of the Michigan Storytellers Festival and the Julia A. Moore poetry contest. The quiet calm of these spaces, and the presence of capacious shelves holding the accumulated written wisdom of centuries of writers from all around the world can be quite an inspiration. I like writing in the Main Reading Room looking over the lush lawn with its stately oak trees.
If you don’t live in Flint, don’t worry! Just an hour down the road, the Detroit Public Library has its own impressive library with spectacular Italian Renaissance architecture and one of the largest public collections in the United States. I’m sure your community also has a library good for writing!
#7. Spring Grove Park. One of Flint’s newest parks feels like one of its oldest. Created when a natural spring was uncapped, creating a pond full of lily pads and cattails among the remnants of industrial sprawl a minute from the city’s downtown, Spring Grove is nestled in a gully in the shadow of two looming silos. Pay the weather a mind, and don’t mess with the geese, and you can enjoy your thoughts and words in a serene and melancholy setting.
If you don’t live in Flint, we’ve got you covered. The crown of Holly Park in San Francisco is studded with trees to keep that Pacific wind from carrying you away. With the entire peninsula, bay, and ocean surrounding you, who knows what ideas will come into your head on the breeze? Surely your community has a peaceful, verdant park where you can write!
#6. The Golden Leaf Club. It’s dangerous playing favorites in a town with so many glorious drinking establishments (don’t sleep on the Torch or the Soggy Bottom) but if you time it right, writing at a bar really is a just a jolt of adrenaline. If you time it wrong, your thoughts will be drowned out by noise and spilled beer, but show up at a quieter time and you can have a corner to yourself to drink and draw inspirations from the regulars’ gossip. Of course, the Golden Leaf is at its best during Funk Night when jazz-funk outfit Eclipse occultates the space with deep reverb and psychedelic improvisation… but that challenge is part of the fun.
If you aren’t fortunate enough to call the Vehicle City your home, take heart. In the Mile High City, Dos Luces Brewery tops off cups with a potent array of corn-based chicha and pulque beers. You can write for yourself then join the party when you need to take a break. Meanwhile, the fermentation vessels do their work. Check out bars in your town, too.
#5. Glenwood Cemetery. Flint hosts many cemeteries, each with their own charms and history (check out #cemeteriesofflint). Few would disagree that Glenwood is our most dramatic and romantic burial ground. A true Victorian cemetery with many of Flint’s most recognizable names buried in gardens and mausolea overlooking the Flint River, and overshadowed by elms and hemlocks.
If Glenwood is too far for you to visit, I’d recommend Chicago’s St. Boniface cemetery as an alternative. Splayed out in accordance with that city’s grid, you’ll not only have the tombstones and the old tree crows to keep you company, but the glittering high-rises along Lake Michigan gleam in the east. Your community also has a cemetery in which you can write.
#4. The Good Beans Café. As with its bars, Flint offers up many coffee shops, but one of the oldest and best is the Good Beans Café, an LGBTQ+-friendly, and decidedly Bohemian space in the heart of Flint’s oldest residential neighborhood, Carriage Town. Ask owner Ken VanWagoner for a map to the self-guided neighborhood tour before he turns on the blowtorch to glace your crème brulee.
There’s something inescapably nostalgic about most good coffee shops, and you might as well embrace it. Outside of Flint, you won’t do better than Caffé Reggio in New York City. Located just steps form Washington Square park in a humble brick building with verdant green trim, it is one of that’s city’s oldest coffee shops. I particularly recommend the Viennese. Or you can seek out a coffee shop where you live.
#3. The Flint Jazz Festival. Now I’ll be honest here and tell you that not all of Flint’s famous festivals are ideal for writing. Some of these celebrations, like Alley Fest, Porch Fest, and Back to the Bricks, are far too raucous and motive to be able to practically write, unless you hide yourself away. But the Flint Jazz Fest, taking place at the first waning of summer among the polygonal lawns and concrete blocks of Riverbank Park, is perfect for writing. The vibe is consistently chill, people come and go, you’ll have a cooling breeze, all the shade you need, and a constant backdrop of jazz all day long.
If a Fli-Town Jazz Fest isn’t in the cards, you can make do. Also during the summertime, the Ojai Playwrights Festival, set among the scrubby hills and orangeries just north of Los Angeles is a cerebral feast of some of America’s most talented playwrights. Once you’ve stuffed your head with theater, you’ll have a surplus of ideas to write about.
#2. The Rutherford Parking Garage. Or really any of the downtown parking garage. What, parking garage doesn’t speak writing to you? If you go to the upper decks you’ll probably have the place to yourself. Bring along a beer or an iced coffee and a folding chair, and you can sit down to write with some of the best views in the city, from the river, to the Carriage Town Victorians, to the Weather Ball, and the lights and murals of Buckham Alley. You don’t need to be a car to enjoy a parking garage. Take that space back!
Or, if you live in Zanesville, Ohio, eschew the roads and parking lots, and climb up the winding way to Putnam Hill park, where you can look down on Second Empire-style Muskingum County Courthouse, and the infamous Y-bridge stretched out beneath you. Point being: there’s a solitary spot near you with an incredible view. Let that view do some of the creative work for you.
#1. Your home. This one might seem like cheating, since I started this listicle saying you needed to get away. But it works if you think of it not as getting away from home but from the expected. There are probably rooms in your house or apartment you seldom use. Maybe you have a garden or a balcony or even a windowsill with some potted succulents welcoming the bright sunshine.
Step away from the computer, yes, but you don’t even need to put your shoes on. Take yourself to an unexpected place in your home to write, and you might be surprise what a difference it makes. In Flint, or anywhere else in the world!
I borrowed a flashlight from Charles before I left rehearsal that night. I half-expected to hear some winos as I passed under the viaduct, but all was empty. I directed the flashlight beam away from the looming silos and made my way across the wet stepping stones with aching care. When I got to the other side, I saw Bill standing beside my tent, staring at me, his forehead hatchet rent.
That was when everything I had kept at a distance collapsed beneath its collected weight, and I knelt and vomited and cried. We will never be free, we will never be free, we will never be free of this, it will never go away. Then the food was gone, and I was dry heaving. I swallowed and slowly gathered my breath and looked up again.
Bill hadn’t moved. He still stared at me, the wound in his head like a third eye that didn’t watch me but looked instead at the silos hidden behind the concealing trees.
“Since you’re just staring at me, you won’t mind if I get something to drink,” I said.
I rummaged in the tent and got the water. I swirled it in my mouth and spat out the bile. Then I drank. Then I ate a Pop-Tart. Then I ate another. Then I reached into my backpack and took out some fishing line and silverware from the home ec room. Ignoring Bill, I tied the fishing line around the trunk of the willow tree and drew it in a broad loop around the clearing, wrapping it around trees as I went. When I had returned to the willow tree, I tied the line off and began hanging the silverware, in twos and threes, every meter or so. It probably took me an hour.
I plucked at the fishing line. The silverware clattered and banged.
“Now I can hear like a pigeon,” I said.
Bill started to walk away. He went a dozen paces up the trail, then looked back at me.
“What is it?” I said. “Why are you here? Why don’t you just go away? You’re an urbantasm. You can’t see me. You can’t hear me. What the fuck do you want?”
He watched and waited.
“You aren’t even there,” I said, but I picked up the flashlight and followed him along the path.
Bill led me slowly. In the utter dark – the sky was cloudy above the hundreds of branches – I had to step carefully over the cracked roots and desiccated vines. I followed Bill back to the main path, and he led me southward. We scrambled up and down a couple of hills, and I could hear the churning of the water far beneath me. I caught up with Bill at the edge of the stream. He was standing near a lightly submerged concrete pillar, which seemed to provide passage to the other side.
“What is it?” I asked.
Bill stepped onto the pillar, his footsteps not disturbing the water, and crossed to the opposite side.
I followed, my feet clumsily kicking up waves. At one point, I slipped, and my whole left leg went into the water. I almost fell off the pillar completely, but I held the flashlight overhead and hauled myself back up. I finally made it to the opposite side, dripping and freezing, and saw Bill moving away from the stream onto the bank.
Is this where she is? I wondered. Did she come back in the woods here and die, and I’m about to find her body, and then he’ll vanish, and I’ll be left alone with what’s left of Selby? Is that what happens now?
There were no paths here, and the growth was younger and denser than where I had made camp. Branches and nettles scratched my face, and the flashlight beam flew wildly. I finally emerged into a massive grassy clearing, where Bill stood waiting. He pointed. I followed his gesture.
We stood at the back of a broad lawn, looking up at a great, hulking, shuttered building made of brick and stone. It was only three stories high but close to a hundred feet tall, and the vast wings of the structure stretched off to the right and left. For a moment, I wondered how such a colossal building had gone unnoticed in the middle of the forest. Then I recognized it as the mental asylum. We’d come out of the Happy Hunting Grounds on its westward side and stood behind the massive complex. I could hear the quiet hum of traffic along South Street.
“Is Selby in there?” I asked.
Bill’s mouth moved.
“No,” he said, and there was a slight delay between his speaking and the sound that followed.
“So you can talk too. And I can hear you. And you can hear me.”
Bill stared at me.
“I’m not going in there,” I said. “No way.”
I returned the way I had come. Bill didn’t follow me. When I got back inside my tent, a blue glow rose around me.
“Is that you, Aunt Ellie?”
“Yes, my love,” came my aunt’s voice.
“Why is Bill following me? What does he want?”
“Yes, my love.”
“Why am I able to hear you now? I thought you were just images pulled back to me because of the O-Sugar. How are you able to talk? Is it a flashback? Are you just illusions? Or are you real ghosts?”
“Yes, my love.”
“Whatever you are, please protect me from nightmares again. Because the days are nightmares right now. I can’t do this if both days and nights are nightmares.”
“Yes, my love.”
I undressed and crawled into the sleeping bag. The blue glow wavered, and I knew Ellie was taking a seat outside. I closed my eyes and wondered if Bill was going to follow me for the rest of my life. I wondered if Selby died, if her urbantasm would appear to me as well. Would I give up my search at that moment? I thought about May. I wanted her. The warmth of her arms. She could protect me, but now it was up to me to protect the others. I started to say a rosary to myself. I thought it might help me calm down. It doesn’t matter if I don’t have the beads, as long as I say the prayer. I knew the number and order of the Our Fathers and Hail Marys, but I’d forgotten what came before and after. Was it the Nicene Creed at the beginning or another saying? And what were the right ruminations? The scourging and the crown, yes, but what else? When Pilate washed his hands? No, that’s not right. None of us can just wash our hands. I said prayers until the sleep finally closed in around me.