Once in college Dr. Steven Hollander wrote the following comment on my W230 paper, “For a while I thought you were heading toward disaster.”
I lived in Indianapolis for part of 1998. Absolutely and without question the best summer ever. Keep in mind I was there for four months on a paid internship with no real adult responsibility, living in a 3 bedroom town-house with the coolest women ever, working on the 5th floor of Pan Am Plaza with my own parking space in the garage below the building, getting a salary, travelling all expenses paid with enough per diem to last forever, and meeting everyone I’d ever wanted to meet in my whole life. And on August something of that year, it was over.
And I became that that person. I criticized every corner of Fort Wayne, every event, and admittedly every person who hadn’t ever lived anywhere else. I was that person who thought Fort Wayne had zero to offer, was behind the times, lacked in diversity, opportunities, creativity. Where going to Glenbrook and hanging out at TGIFridays was still a thing. And then I went back to school at IPFW because my parents said so and fell into that pretty basic and sad Fort Wayne trap. Hey, you already lived your dreams, now finish school and get a job.
In Fort Wayne, you’ll be criticized if you aren’t married by 25. You’ll be taking your kids to the mall on Friday nights. You’ll be questioned if you choose not to have kids. People will think you’re snob if you’ve gone to grad school and don’t have 80 years of student loans to pay. People will hate you if you’re successful and are proud of it. People will ask you how much you’ve been drinking if you don’t remember going to high school with them. Though you’ll feel really good about not knowing them and telling them so. People won’t care at all where you’ve been, who you’ve met and what you’ve done. What do you mean you walked to work? You’re from Fort Wayne, people here don’t do that. They don’t have big dreams.
(260), what do you mean Fort Wayne is a city with no room for dreams?
I work at an office downtown at a job I love. I see progress inside and outside of my window on a daily basis. I can walk down the hall and hear creative conversations. Humor in how busy we all are but couldn’t imagine or want it any other way. I’m now part of an organization with a plan and a vision, seeking to be better than the day before. I have friends creating art left and right. They’re not afraid to try new things, new collaborations, or talk about new ideas. They’re succeeding, they’re pretty happy. They’re not talking about leaving anymore.
Right now, I hear a lot about how great this city is becoming, yet there’s definitely a group of individuals who don’t think so, and are pushing the envelope to get others to examine why, and maybe those who still feel they need to go somewhere better, more open, more diverse or more progressive to be happy. They think it’s all just noise.
I’m told (260) didn’t originate the “room for dreams” tag and that it existed as part of a city-wide marketing plan at some point in 2007. But it was (260) who inspired me to write this, so it gets the credit. Why did I choose to pull that particular question out of context of a beautiful piece? Is it out of context? Was that the point? And why did I text someone immediately after reading it? Because it made me angry.
Don’t tell us not to celebrate. Don’t tell us it’s just noise. Don’t tell us we’re not great. We love it here. Really, (260), what makes you an expert on My City? Don’t tell us we can’t dream here.
The texting went on in my head because both of us were at work and because both of us knew that there was no way to settle this with a half a sentence and our own set of stupid emoticons every few minutes. Because it required a lot more thought and that I was very possibly just seeking attention because I was having a bad day. And very much that both of us knew we’d spent plenty of time at Henry’s (of course) having the exact same “what’s wrong with Fort Wayne conversation?” after going to see and supporting our friends in whatever show was happening that night. But we’re from here, so it was okay. Right?
That conversation goes something like this.
How do you defend a city where it feels like the most important thing in the world is to be seen, without actually doing anything?
What do you mean?
Where people go to the soft opening of a The Phoenix or Main Street Bistro or the latest art gallery or coffee shop, snap a photo of themselves and then never go again? Or, when the most important thing in someone’s life is whether or not brunch is being served at Fort Wayne Country Club? Or that criticizes those with a different opinion but are afraid to put their name in print or suggest an alternative? To use parking as an excuse (a review in Whatzup last summer actually used parking as an excuse to not see a show), when in any other city on the planet you’d celebrate a $3 spot in a lot adjacent to the theatre? Where Philharmonic patrons and sadly, some musicians ask if the TinCaps can alter their schedule so they’re not playing games on the same nights as concerts. Why does it feel like every show is precast? Why isn’t our show selling? How do you balance when you find so much wrong on a daily basis?
Well, you find what works for you and work hard at it. In 38 years, that’s the best solution I have. None of it is really rocket science. And you work to improve it and yourself. Don’t expect it to happen when you’re 21 or even 31. We’re the lucky ones who weathered all of the bullshit and who have what we want now. Right?
And why do I have to wait so long for my drink?
You may have a point, (260).
It’s More than Noise
Although the “I need to be anywhere else but here” thought surfaces every now and then, for the most part I’ve defeated it or at best learned to laugh about it this sometimes ridiculous fabulous city. Though I still maintain downtown Indianapolis streets make way more sense than whatever it is we have going on here (and nobody will ever figure out that diamond thing they’re constructing up near Dupont, so please stop wasting our tax payer dollars and maybe just fix the potholes) and that I really want to take this opportunity and put in a plug for some shopping downtown (stop talking about it and do it Fort Wayne) along with a sushi and a nail salon I can walk to over lunch.
Every Monday morning for eight years of elementary school we had to say whether we went to “church” or “Sunday School” or “both” in front of the entire class. And your attendance showed up on your report card each quarter. And holy shit if you answered “neither.”
Maybe I just needed to get on paper or maybe it’s the start of my next piece about being brainwashed by the Lutheran School System. Or maybe it somehow fits in here because it feels like SUCH A FORT WAYNE THING TO DO. Kind of like the Roller Dome.
I found a place I fit in this year and where I see great things happening daily (not that it isn’t hard), and where I’ve found a team and a spirit and a happiness like the one I had when I was 21. I can walk out of my office or across the street and see super-talented people every day. I have friends who have moved on to Chicago, LA, and New York and are succeeding but still call Fort Wayne home and many times relied on the opportunities here to get them where they are.
Seriously, how many cities our size offer so many opportunities to be on stage? So much affordable entertainment? I’ve seen my friends here thriving over the last year, achieving goals like crazy. And guess what, we’re mostly in our 30s and 40s and we’ve just now discovered what we want. Maybe that’s why I do love it here. Maybe it’s my inner circle I love or helps me love it. Maybe we feel, settled? If so, I’m okay with it and that’s good enough on most days. And on other days, I still look at job postings in Atlanta.
But still, why do some people who are born here, raised here, leave here, come back here, and work here feel entitled to criticize every corner, person and event, when people who move here in their twenties or thirties or forties are crucified when they voice an opinion that doesn’t mesh with the Love, Fort Wayne mentality? Because we do feel ownership of our city and at the end of the day, we’ll protect it. We have seen it change so much in even the past 5 years and we’re fiercely proud of that. We’re afraid of what the “outsiders” might think, might say. We’re afraid you’ll tell us things we don’t want to hear or see. Fort Wayne is still afraid of change. The cliques are still out there everywhere fighting for their positions and their notoriety. I see it every day. Myself included sometimes.
Love, Fort Wayne as far as I know was originated by my 2013 Leadership Fort Wayne group as our class project. Our goal was to get people to pick up a map, wear a button, seek out places they hadn’t yet been downtown. It was simple and it needed to be. Go downtown, learn something new. There’s a collective “we” that likes to think Fort Wayne and Loving Fort Wayne is ours really. And now the next Leadership Fort Wayne class is working on it, too. I guess it was that good or they couldn’t come up with anything better. Either way, I’m glad it’s still out there. And not like it’s a super original name or that we had it trademarked or anything. But I just needed to point out where it came from. Because I’m from Fort Wayne and that’s a thing we do here.
I’m a Forty Under Forty, I’ve served on boards, I went on the tour of the new Anthony Wayne condos on the rainiest stormiest day ever and stood at a reception catered by Club Soda while we all silently congratulated ourselves for simply being there and feeling a part of something big and progressive. I walk to Main Street Bistro and The Deck, all the way to the STAR Bank building and The Dash In. I saw Les Miserables at the Civic Theatre 87 times. I admittedly hate almost everything about the 3 Rivers Festival but love the Chalk Walk. I sit in the same booth at Henry’s and talk about life. Very Fort Wayne things to do.
I know Fort Wayne is on its own time. But I also think most people genuinely want to celebrate the good things but improve anything they can. That’s not a bad thing at all. It’s actually pretty great to be in place where so much is happening nobody knows what to focus on next. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. And it doesn’t mean we should be out there acting like whatever we’re doing is better than anyone else’s (but btw everybody should come see Fort Wayne Ballet in action). Asking to be better, not being afraid to be negative or ask the hard questions is a good thing.
It’s not the City. It’s You.
Someone once told me that Fort Wayne is the biggest small town. You’ve got to take your own journey through it and figure it out. It’s probably not going to happen in a day, a month, a year or even five but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give Fort Wayne a chance to become yours. So go see cool stuff, invent cool stuff, promote cool stuff, and don’t lose yourself in that process. Keep doing your own work and your own thing. Ignore the haters.
But don’t just expect somebody to hand you a ticket to something. Try actually buying one. If you really love art or music or sports or comedy or theater in Fort Wayne, stop just talking about it, writing about it, and spend some money to see it. People here are working too hard to be written about without actually having the research done and would appreciate the support.
Stop relying on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and podcasts and whatever else I don’t even know about yet for everything. Face to face is a pretty good thing when you make the time. Stop feeling like you’re entitled to anything and that you should have the job you want before you’re 30. Especially in Fort Wayne. You’ll find your place. Don’t let the city defeat you before you’ve created and embraced your chance to shine. Nobody here is going to hand you anything or applaud you for nothing. It’s not the City. It’s You.
Why am I so fiercely protective of My City? Am I?
Yes. I’m quite protective in a way I’ve only recently realized. I’m not afraid to say I love it here, but that I still don’t quite get “here.”
(260), you’ve got my attention. I’m listening now. Tell me more.
Here’s a note that you can totally throw away or whatever.
You bounce back and forth between what feels like two positions: Fort Wayne’s awesome and People should still be allowed to critique it. I like that you’re addressing both of those, but I wonder if it wouldn’t read a little more straightforward if you tackled those a little more linearly?
You’re exactly right – and you would totally believe the number of times I’ve switched paragraphs around…. It’s not yet settled for me, I just need to get it all down.