The moment we arrived to the Schoolhouse Cottage in Suttons Bay, I told everyone I was going for a walk. I wanted to see the little town that Melissa, the house owner, described over the phone. She talked about the little café’s and art galleries, the wine tasting tours, the hikes and the nearby beaches. We had driven for five hours and I was ready to explore. My niece said she would accompany me. We got to the main street, which resembled a picturesque street that belonged to a small European town with no fast food restaurants or chain stores.
One particular corner caught my eyes. The outside had several metal welded art pieces on its walls and the center of its courtyard: a bike, butterfly and the body of a women sleeping on her side. I took pictures of the area before I entered a store called Casey-Daniels. It had colorful handmade handbags and matching hats as well as handmade jewelry.
A man greeted us and when I told him we had just arrived for a weekend vacation, he immediately we dove into a long conversation about the town of Suttons Bay. His name was Will and he had been living in this area for 50 years. He made his own jewelry and pointed to a table where he sat all day to do the work. He told us about his neighborhood, the dozens of artists and writers who lived and worked there and the diners that served good food. I asked if I could write about him in my blog and he said, “You can do whatever you want. You’re a writer?”
“What do you write?”
I told him about my books, including the poetry book coming out in May. He went to a corner and returned with two magazines, handed me one and my niece the other. It was called Exposures 2014, a Leelanau County Student Journal and it had been around for 26 years. He said he was the publisher. I flipped through it and saw poems written by school students along with pictures, paintings and other art work.
“There are no ads in here,” I said. “How are you able to publish this?”
“It’s funded by the schools.”
I frowned and closely observed it. “How did you manage that?”
He opened his eye glasses from the center of the frame and removed them. “We submitted a proposal to the school and they accepted.”
I was impressed. Before we left, he emphasized that we return to his store if we needed anything. The next morning I woke up before everyone else. I made myself a cup of coffee and walked to Will’s store. He and I sat on a bench outside his store, under the sun.
He told me about traveling with his friend every year to countries like Egypt and Ecuador, regions where their wives were not interested to go. He asked me about my work, and after I explained that I write about the Iraqi American experience, he said, “There’s an attitude in this country about the Middle East that is very stereotyped and we refuse to acknowledge that region’s historical literature. We want to group it in simplistic mindset in what constitutes the Middle East.”
He pointed to a green building across from us. “This building is green, right? But I tell you it’s blue. That’s the audience you’re confronting it.”
We continued to talk about the business of unconventional writing, and in the end, he said, “It’s important to get your foot through the door. Is it relevant which door you get your foot into it? I make weird things. I’m not going to stick myself in art shows. You know why? Because I’m not looking for the approval of others. No, I’m going to authenticate me. You’re going to authenticate yourself. If I want to put them at a gallery, then I’m placing what I do at the throne of someone else. They stand and say, ‘Oh, that’s this and that.’ And I lose myself.”
With that, I returned home with a whole new perspective.