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Considering Potential, Adversity and Alice Childress

I came across a post the other day referencing the Biosphere 2 project and a surprising discovery scientists made during the experiment. Within the completely perfect and balanced contained world of the biosphere the trees appeared healthy and thriving but none would grow to maturity. Before they could reach maturity however, the trees would topple over.

The scientists realized that within the biosphere there was no wind, there was no pressure or adversity exerted in the trees. They grew without resistance, without hardship, without adversity. The easy explanation is that the wind forced the trees to grow stronger, deeper roots to fight the outward forces of nature and their surroundings, but the truth goes far deeper than that.

It was more than strong roots the trees needed to rely on and develop, it was a tougher skin. There is a layer of wood known as reaction wood, or stress wood, that the biosphere trees were not developing. This layer allows the trees to adapt and to branch out in directions and at angles that would otherwise not be structurally sound in order to find the sunlight and other resources they need. In a perfect world they didn’t need that stronger layer, that muscle and fortitude. They grew fast and straight and collapsed under their own weight, too weak to maintain themselves because they had never faced any adversity, had never had to fight. They could never reach their true potential because they had never been challenged to do so.

I was reminded of this a few days later when lookin through my materials on Alice Childress, an author, playwright, actress and woman of color who worked fiercely for four decades in theater and on Broadway addressing social issues through her work during a time when she was denied basic civil rights. She began her career in 1949, writing and starring in the one act play, ‘Florence’ which touched in many of the themes that would define her career and the social causes she would fight for; the empowerment of black women, interracial politics, working-class life.

“My writing attempts to interpret the ‘ordinary’,” she said, “because they are not ordinary. Each human is uniquely different. Like snowflakes, the human pattern is never cast twice. We are uncommonly and marvellously intricate in thought and action, our problems are most complex and, too often, silently borne.”

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Dearborn Street Sketch

Looking for something else entirely, I went down the rabbit hole of my external hard drive, which had been a labyrinthine dumping ground of folders and files and enough potential writing and design projects to keep me busy for years if I had the time to organize it all into something manageable and accessible.

While fishing around, I came across this Photoshop sketch that I’d worked up off a photo or Google maps shot three or four years ago in a similar onslaught of nostalgia.

I’d wanted to put together maybe a dozen or so sketches like this to breakup a story I was trying to figure out. I had a short story that I was working off of and wanted to make it into something else, something longer.

I had come up with this idea after reading Edouard Levé’s novel, “Suicide”. It was his last book, as shortly after turning in the completed manuscript to his editor, Levé took his own life. The novel is interesting as it’s narrated to the main character, essentially turning the reader into the victim of the title suicide. It’s haunting and puzzling, infectious and entirely successful in calling into question what it means to exist.

I didn’t suddenly want to write every book I had in my head in this style forever now, but there are two ideas that have followed me around for several years that lend themselves to the style. Oddly enough, both deal with death, just as Levé’s work did, although in my case, one is a violent death at another’s hand, and the other is a tragic accidental one.

I wonder what about this writing style, this voice, that lends itself to tragic subject material? The ability to so easily accuse and question within the unfolding of the narrative? The way in which it immediately makes the reader a character, and can borrow their own prejudices and experiences, their fears and doubts, without needing to put those words on the page? Both ideas are a collection of photographs and written scenes, but are barely more then bones and bullet points, and a few odd fragments. I’m not sure how the stories will work out yet, or whether they will at all. For now, at least for this story, this is all I have.

Party at the Plumbers Local No. 36

img_9735-1I came across this old advertisement, framed, saved, taken care of, in the basement of a house I was doing some work on, updating it before it would be sold. This basement was definitely a working man’s basement, an organized basement, one well maintained with a workbench and assortment of tools and saved parts and old metal coffee cans full of screws and more tools older then I am that still looked as good as the day they were purchased, collected odds and ends and useful bits that could be put together to tackle any type of household handyman task. This was a good basement.

Seeing this framed ad, this simple small poster, I was intrigued. It wasn’t just the awkward sizing of letters in some places that drew my attention; or the date or ticket price, or even the mention of the Harugari Temple, a “secret” society I’d never heard of before a week prior to finding this sign, when I’d driven past another sign for the Ancient Order of the Harugari, or my interest in local history and what might be at this location now. It was a little bit of each of those things sure, but I wondered if there was something more personal to it.

Here was an old framed advertisement in this meticulous basement. What did this mean to the man who kept an organized workbench and well maintained tools, a space that was functional and purpose driven, not cluttered by the accumulated detritus that seems to swallow up any spare space one in my generation might happen upon. What was significant about this event? I wondered what this event, this night may have meant, that the advertisement was saved, preserved, framed and held onto. Protected just as any work of art or family photograph would have been.

What kind of story does this prompt for you? Was there something historically significant that occurred on that date? Or was it something at that party to be personally commemorated?

Or maybe it was a cool looking old poster

 

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