Chance, Synchronicity &
Experiment: Write About an Environment
My roommate’s girlfriend gave me some sort of potted palm plant for my birthday/house warming gift. It’s sitting dejected in the still somewhat empty living room, a sickly yellow slowly replacing the vibrant green on its remaining leaves, a pile of dead brown ones accumulating on the rug below. I noticed it yesterday on my way to the kitchen. We moved in three months ago, my birthday was last month, the house warming gift bestowed on me somewhere in between. Like the good samaritan I am I gave it a drink from my glass of Pellegrino and ice. Read entire piece...
In a way, there's very little that distinguishes this hotel room. It needs paint, the ceiling's ugly and the drapes are worse. It's number is 107, numerologically an 8. I looked up the meaning of eight online, but the meaning didn't mean much to me when I read it. This room does have two things going for it, however: a door to the porch and white towels the maids fold on the bed in the form of leaves or flower petals. The maid's handiwork adds beauty and care to a room that is otherwise all perfunctory, a cheap television set and vase with a plastic rose. The folded towels are a small touch, but the open door is crucial. Because of it, room number 107 has been very good to me. I can leave the door open and stay inside for as long as I like without feeling I need to go outside. I've been staying in, redesigning my website and writing. Read entire piece..
Socks on the floor by the door. After the rain the sidewalk dries unevenly. Pyramid of cans in a corner of the yard, waiting to be crushed by a hammer, then piled into a plastic bag (bags of cans stacked high against the fence). Yellow thorny weed that rises between the cracks in the cement. Small grey dead bird, crushed, feathers matted, nearly unidentifiable in the rain beside the sturdy motorcycle chained to the phone pole, glistening. Little yogurt cup wedged into the catch basin at the corner -- shreds of old newspaper dissolve into pulp. Christmas tree discarded on the walk, still dressed in tinsel. Think of parked cars as gigantic litter. Little rectangle cut in the asphalt (layer of wet cement) guarded by a lone sawhorse, not a horse at all, while on the corner, bundled in plastic, papers await the paper boy (not a boy at all). Because the basement is paved, the cellar floor is cold and damp. A dumpster, full, forms a cornucopia. Cracks in the asphalt veined as the earth. Orange rinds scattered and flattened by the traffic, a pair of white plastic bags of trash, neatly tied shut, sit on the catchbasin. Exhaust from the auto warming up billows out over the walk (old wad of gum hardens into a kind of stone). The trashman’s can is special, larger, on wheels...
- Ron Silliman, from Jones, Homage to Bromage.
I. I went to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at an arena near Manassas. I’ve never been to a concert alone before and I was afraid. Concerts remind me of romance, of first dates, of the way music forms a circuitry over which memory can voyage from one person to another. I didn’t know where my reveries would travel. It was a hot, damp evening. Tom Petty came onto the stage dressed in a majestic blue velvet coat and the crowd received him with noisy adulation. He accepted it without humility – holding his arms wide, begging for more. As he began to play, I watched his expression magnified on the video monitor. He was playing with intensity and it seemed like he was having fun. It was a song from 1979. I wondered what it would be like to be that kind of artist – to write the same piece over every night. Every night writing the same words as if they were new -- writing the same lyric in the same sequence every night for twenty years. A lifetime, two life times, three, a succession of relentless nights with the same chord progressions, the same instruments, the same brittle tune. It seemed unbearable at first, until I remembered that’s exactly what we all do.
II. On the way home from the Tom Petty show, I got lost. I was going with the flow of traffic when all of the sudden I had to choose between three unfamiliar options. I kept going straight, following a black Mercedes that seemed destined to end up in the District of Columbia. It finally turned down a dark industrial lane and I kept going into black. I stopped at a 7-11 for directions. The lights were turned up bright and the door was propped slightly open. Inside, there was no one home. I roamed the deserted aisles, calling "hello" in a half assed whisper. I was afraid. I was afraid the clerk, a seventeen year old girl named Ashleigh, had been kidnapped or was being held at gunpoint face down in the store room. I was afraid the psycho killer was tracking me on the video monitor, aiming his handgun for a clear shot should I get a glimpse of his face. I was afraid of zombies and lizard-like aliens, of corpses maimed and brutalized, of being caught on tape fondling a Hershey bar. ! I was afraid of being rewound unnoticed. I could have taken anything. I could have walked out with the Sunday Post which was already sitting in its rack. I could have read the headlines prematurely, browsed the apartment rental ads and been the first to arrive. I could have called 911 and reported nothing happening at the 7-11. There is nothing happening at the 7-11, I would say. There is no one to sell things, nothing to buy. There are no shoppers. I’m lost. I’m lost and empty and full of fear. Please help.
III. I was out of the woods. Highway 66 was taking me toward the Roosevelt Bridge. I chose it because of the view it would provide, the reflection of light on marble creating illusions in the river. Sometimes it inspires me to call out "This is where live!" with the same conviction as someone returning to the Mission Mountains or standing on a cliff above Half Moon Bay or stepping onto familiar ground after a long plane ride. As I left the tunnel, I saw that the few cars ahead of me had slowed down and were navigating a debris field. A luxury car lay upside down in the center of the freeway. It was flattened, as if it had been released from a great height. Flames rose up from the chassis and turned to a plume of thick white smoke. I heard sirens behind me. There was nothing to do but gawk, so I drove on. As I crossed the bridge, I saw the Washington Monument replicated many times in the river, distorted into a row of squat white markers. This is where I live.
An always great experiment is to write about an environment, in particular one's own house or room. This gets one out of ones head, out of abstractions, theories and opinions and into something tangible and unique. Ones own environment might seem dull, but once you let the process unfold the "real story" might surprise you. Plus, the writing is invariably interesting to read. Check this out for yourself in these examples.