Don’t all roads eventually lead to Kalamazoo?

Kalamazoo, Michigan is known for many things, among them:
1.) The city was established by an “eccentric” man named Bronson who initially named the city Bronson. You know when you hear someone described as “eccentric” it means the person was a little off his rocker. One way to know he was off his rocker is because there was already a Bronson, Michigan just 50 miles away.

A way to know that a city is a little “eccentric” is when it renames itself Kalamazoo.

2.) Bell’s Brewery. Bell’s has some of the best beer in the world, but I learned that no two batches of the same beer are the same. For instance, you can drink an Oberon one day, and it’s fine – a regular beer. The next day, you can drink an Oberon, and find yourself swerving the bicycle home, unsure where home is. That makes the beer “interesting.”

3.) Lake effect snow. Because I’m not a meteorologist I won’t try to explain the causes of this weather. I can say it mean this: You can walk into a grocery store and the ground is starting to dust with snow; you walk out half an hour later, and sixteen feet have accumulated. In this same amount of time, everyone in the city will have forgotten how to drive, yourself included.

4.) The birthplace of Gibson guitars. Also the home of a great music scene, known to many. Luna wrote a song about the town. Many bands passed through recently, including Wilco, The New Pornographers, and Love as Laughter – one of the best bands on the planet. I once had a band here, called Wishek, that you can hear here. Now it is home to my current favorite band, the Minutes.

5.) Lots of good writers live here or have lived here recently. Among them, Adam Schuitema, Arnold and Debbie Johnston, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Brad Land, Darin Doyle, JD Dolan, Jaimy D’Agostino,  Jaimy Gordon, Jonathan Johnson, Kellie Link, Kelly Wells, Marcel Brouwers, Nancy Eimers, Peter Geye, Ricahrd Katrovas, Steve Feffer, Stuart Dybek, Thisbe Nissen, William Olsen.  And the amazing teacher and poet, Herbert Scott.

On November 29, I traveled out to Kalamazoo to do a reading with Melinda Moustakis and Elizabeth Knapp. I too have lived in this city. From 2001-2005 I did my doctorate here. I chose WMU because I wanted to study with Stuart Dybek after having studied with him at the Prague Summer Seminar in 2000 and learning he is hands down one of the best teachers on the planet. I can say the lake effect snow did not agree with this Texas boy. I once shoveled the driveway at the huge blue house where I lived with my partner Jen, and I piled three-foot hills on both sides of the entrance. This is a really stupid thing to do, because it freezes and makes obstacles for the entire winter. She never let me shovel again. Kalamazoo is also where I finished the first draft of Hustle, writing the four final chapters in Jaimy Gordon’s workshop. I took a practicum with Stuart Dybek, and so almost everything I know about teaching I learned from working directly with him, in this aspect. Now, who gets to say that?

So, after traveling with Melinda from Tacoma, we met with Jaimy Gordon in the Detroit airport, and the three of us ventured on to Kalamazoo, touching down in the evening to fields of scattered snow, and me remembering that I had not flown into Kalamazoo since February 2005, on a plane trip where I got the message from the chair of the department at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma – where I’d gone for a job interview the week before – offering me a position, which I would accept, and I still hold. On this evening in November, we were picked up by the current Assistant Coordinator of the Creative Writing Program, Dustin Hoffman, who drove me to the Holiday Inn, where they have a hot tub that sits in front of the glass windows of the hotel restaurant/bar.

The next day – December 1 – was packed. It began for me at 2 pm, when I went into the studios of WIDR radio to do an interview. There I was greeted by my former student and now the director at WIDR, Johanna Kelly. She guided me to the booth, where I sat down across from Emily Short. This was my third radio interview. There are reasons the first two are nowhere to be found. But I think I did a better job this time, except when I was playing a Centro-matic song (yes, I got to DJ for one song!) and I accidentally made the song go back to its start, halfway through. Still – it was a blast. This was mainly due to the amazingly relaxed atmosphere and Emily’s great questions. Thanks so much to Johanna and Emily!!!!

That evening, I went to dinner with my co-readers, WMU professors, and several alumni. I admittedly had not been so nervous about a reading in a while. Probably because this event was my last in this stint, and because the hometown crowd can be the strangest. As I say that, I think back to having read three months earlier in my actual hometown, in Arlington, Texas – what a strange passage of time this has been.

At the reading, I got to sit near my former teacher Jaimy Gordon. What Stuart didn’t teach me about teaching, Jaimy pretty much did. Not to mention all that I learned from her about writing: everything from how to nurture ideas to how to lay out a sentence. Thus it was amazing, after my good friend Melanie Crow gave me a phenomenal introduction (wherein I think she hinted to the possibility of me having participated in criminal activities at some point…), to get to see Jaimy up front. I dedicated the reading to Melanie’s and my former bandmate Ike’s daughter, Adeline, explained how certain chapters were written while in Stuart and Jaimy’s classes while at WMU, sang Dwight Yoakam, and ended by toasting the crowd, and saying, “Thanks, y’all.” Which felt surprisingly very Texas.

Now I am headed to Massachusetts to continue research for my new project.