By Marina Csomor
I am faced with a great internal struggle whenever I find a house show or pop-up restaurant or art opening to attend. The initial thrill of possibility of who I might meet or what I could discover at such an event is soon overtaken by a creeping anxiety. But who can I get to go with me?
Although I’ve been living in Detroit for six months, my circle of friends is sadly still limited. I have a few friends living in the suburbs, a few others busy with full-time jobs and boyfriends, a few friends of friends and college acquaintances I know are nearby — but he is rarely willing to make the long, congested drive to the city; she is probably doing something with her S.O.; and I just asked her to hang out a few days ago.
I’m not good at asking for company, and as an introverted only child, I am used to embracing independence and riding solo. But it’s amazing how solitude loses its sheen when it’s a ceaseless reality rather than a bold choice. Sometimes I just don’t want to face a crowd of strangers alone.
Walking into Detroit’s contemporary art museum one Saturday afternoon in April, however, I am excited to be unaccompanied. I’m heading to a panel called “The Art of Food Sovereignty,” which has combined just about all of my callings — art, community, whole foods and social justice — in one talk. I’m ready to absorb the wisdom of like-minded individuals, and alone, I know I will be more approachable. This is my chance to infiltrate a community I have been longing to find.
The talk is great, and I feel fine by myself in the audience. I enjoy looking at the faces around me, noting the abundance of oversized glasses, thrift store threads and carefree bed head.
During the discussion, one of the panelists, a combination artist/farmer, passes around a bowl of greens she picked fresh that morning. I laugh to myself as the bowl gets to me. With no plates and no condiments, I know many people would find this communal snack absurd — even pretentious — but to me, it’s perfect.
“Her joy, her ease, her light are apparent — and I find myself again wishing I could be more like her. I haven’t felt that happy in a long time.”
These are my people — those I imagine to be that rare breed of authentic hipster, who like art and recycling and DIY because of real interest in radical change, not because it feels profound to be “different.” I see the potential in this crowd to be the supportive and stimulating collective I haven’t yet found in Detroit.
After the talk, there is a reception in the next room where an accompanying exhibit is on display. Fresh salad and medicinal tea are served. The panelists are mingling.
I walk to the gallery, on a mission. One of the panelists — the one who brought the greens — is a woman I have admired for many months after stumbling on a magazine feature about her life as an artist and farmer in Detroit. She is someone I dream of working with — of being, really. I know I must talk to her.
I grab salad and walk around the room, one eye on the display of canned fruits and veggies artfully arranged by color, and the other on her. She is happily hugging the friends who came to hear her talk. Her joy, her ease, her light are apparent — and I find myself again wishing I could be more like her. I haven’t felt that happy in a long time.
The moment I see her alone, I pounce.“Hello, my name is Marina,” I say clumsily, “and I am really interested in your work with art and food and community. I was wondering, does your farm ever take volunteers?”
She smiles, unaware how much I need her to say “yes,” and instead tells me that they usually just work with people in their neighborhood. I think she senses my desperation and adds that sometimes they have volunteer days. “Why don’t you take my number,” she offers. Actually, her email address is on this information card, so “why don’t you just take this and send me a message.” One last smile, and with that, she’s moved on to her next admirer.
I take a final turn about the room, pretending that everything is fine, hoping maybe someone else will strike up even the smallest conversation with me. But they don’t, and I bolt.
“Above all, this year I have realized the importance of showing myself compassion when I feel like I’m falling apart.”
Walking back to my car, I feel awkward and hopeless. What am I doing? Why am I so lost? As I put the key in the ignition, I begin bawling.
I can’t seem to stop the tears, so I let them keep pouring. With the darkness of this last year, I have cried so many times in public that I don’t even care that the drivers of passing cars can probably see my red, raw face.
I cry in embarrassment at the regression of my social skills. I cry for my desperation to find someone, anyone, who will be my bridge to community in Detroit. I cry because her niceness is just not quite nice enough.
I consider calling my mom, but I’ve shared so many desperate moments with her over the last few months that I figure I might as well spare her from this breakdown.
When I get back to my apartment, I lie down on my bed and pull the covers up to my chin. I ignore my to-do list and the sun shining outside, and open my laptop to watch a movie.
Above all, this year I have realized the importance of showing myself compassion when I feel like I’m falling apart, even if it means being unproductive or antisocial. So, I let myself spend the rest of the day in bed.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll send her that email. But not today.
Marina Csomor is a designer and writer living in Detroit.