#370: Making the Mountain

Moody red-lit stage with band, set decorated with groups of thin parallel rods running from stage to ceiling.
Sigur Rós at The Masonic Temple, Detroit, MI (Photo by Kate Frisbie)

If you haven’t read my new short story, here it is again: Field Test: Hiking with the Daedrīm D4 Up Mt. Detroit.

I had the first seed of an idea in 2016, when I came back to Detroit after trekking the Annapurna Circuit. It wasn’t that mountains were new to me – longtime Sunday readers might remember the months I spent in 2014 in South America, and my time in a yurt in the Catskills. But the Annapurnas worked differently on me. I kept seeing their afterimage as I was biking and driving around this mostly flat city. (That I printed a poster-size image of Annapurna II for my living room wall might have had something to do with this.)

I remember reading an interview, which I can no longer find, where an artist said that if money was no object, they would create an artificial moon. I knew what I’d do with the same resources: I’d build a mountain in Detroit. I mentioned it at the time to E, a new architect/urban planner friend. She said something along the lines of, “Oh, you could put it at the old Michigan State Fairgrounds site” – a neat proposition. Even so, “Mt. Detroit” was an idea with out a home, a conceit without a story.

Fast forward to these pandemic years. My basement flooded three times last spring and summer, Amazon began building a fulfillment center on the Fairgrounds site, and for stretches of weeks – sometimes months – I couldn’t concentrate for long enough to read full-length books.

About the only thing I could read were tech reviews. Gadget reviews, camera reviews … I devoured them. I digested and metabolized them, some on tech sites, others on YouTube channels – and mostly to my own detriment. There’s a sort of Reviewer Brain, I’ve noticed, that comes out of producing or consuming too much of this kind of content. Product comparisons turn into local hill climbing exercises – you get caught up in specs, worrying about corner cases and what-if scenarios. Most reviews are written for a prototypical user and you end up molding yourself that prototype. If you’re good about it, you take a step back when this happens and try to remember your own needs and values. Even then, it’s easy to get sucked into upgrade cycles, to distort the significance of incremental improvements.

This, too, disturbed me. Present tense: disturbs me. All the time. I think obsolescence is largely unplanned; it’s more locked in a dialectic with consumerism. Apple’s devices have been notoriously difficult to repair not to intentionally force upgrades – not out of malice or greed of its leadership – but because sleekness and fashion and convenience and newness and moreness as mass consumer values outweigh reuse and repairability. And honest creators and review sites reinforce the former not out of trying to swindle their viewers and readers, but because their livelihoods depend in part on the affiliate revenue system underpinning large swaths of the creator economy.

All this was kicking around in my head when, in January, I got an email from Nandi Comer and Clarence Young, the editors of this year’s Detroit Metro Times Fiction Issue, inviting me to contribute. Nandi was in my 2019 Kresge Fellowship cohort, and Clarence in the 2021 cohort (tours-de-force, both of them). The email included this year’s theme: “Conjuring Future Visions.”

I balked at first. Then I remembered the mountain. I’d like to say that I dusted off the ol’ mountain-in-Detroit conceit, considered where it would appear – in newsprint in our local alt-weekly – and brainstormed possible story ideas involving gadget reviews. But in reality it was messier than that. At some point I started writing, and it all poured out.

Looking back, the story may not be as impactful of a get if you don’t live here, and scope- and audience-wise that seems just about right. Though, I do hope that even if you don’t know that stretch of Woodward near Dutch Girl Donuts and aren’t familiar with the controversies around the new Amazon center; even if your neighborhood didn’t flood in last year’s storms and you haven’t seen a map of our region’s buried creeks; even if you don’t know that the blue heron is the mascot of the Boggs School … that you leave the story with a sense of its hyperlocality – its hyperspecificity.

Speaking of: Aaron Foley’s Boys Come First just released this month from Belt Publishing, and is a full-length novel written by (unlike me) a native Detroiter. It’s hilarious and touching, and exudes hyperlocality. Go read it!

Thanks to: Clarence and Nandi for the opportunity. Show & Tell friends for feedback on an early draft (and twice-monthly Zoom camraderie). Julia for everything.