Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Scars on our city . . .

As you must know by now, I'm fascinated by the aesthetics of decay. These two images are close ups of the crumbling surfaces on the concrete walls on Mass Ave that bridge the four lanes of Commonwealth Avenue that pass underneath. These decomposing walls got me thinking about not only city scars, but human ones, too.

How does one live this life and escape scarring? Even if we've managed to survive without scars on the body, there are always some internal ones: scars on the mind, scars on the heart. How many of us have phrases that were said to us by parents or lovers, or children—phrases that we can never forget? Hopefully, we have a balance between the ones that cut deep and the ones that have built us back up. For some reason, it's those deep verbal slashes, often said thoughtlessly, that fester and stay with us our whole lives, often casting spells over us in some psychic way.

Sometimes, I'll ask my writing students to make a list of four or five of those phrases, then have them pass their list to another writer in the group, and that writer picks one and creates a scene in which that phrase is uttered by some fictional character. It amazes me how someone who does not know the details of our personal history—cannot possibly know the context in which that scarring phrase was uttered—can show the truth of that scarring quote. Other times, students pick one of their own phrases and write for twenty minutes without worrying about grammar, spelling, or whether or not the resulting piece makes any sense. One night during this summer's workshop, I asked them to write about the history of a scar.

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