“Here is a classic creative writing prompt that can be found in almost every writing workshop. Describe a building from the point of view of a man who just lost his only son in war. Do it without mentioning death, war, his son, or himself. Describe that same building at the same time of day and weather conditions, from the point of view of a man who has just discovered he’s going to be a father. The same rules apply however, don’t mention birth, or babies. (If you feel more comfortable change it to a woman’s point of view.) The point of this is to challenge yourself to see through your characters eyes. What is ugly and brutal to one person, in one frame of mind, may not be to another.”
Bricks are loose and quietly shaking out of their mortar. The gray mortar is riddled with apertures, pinpricks for decay to breed. The building is peeling at the corners, bricks rubbed clean of their red, whites and grays left behind. Broken glass reflects mountainous silhouettes. Graffiti marks the building, cartoonish rants in purple and white careening across the broken bricks. Balconies are broken teeth, railings split into weapons. The building shakes out brick dust and mortar dust and glass dust all day. It is splitting at the seams. A day will come soon when a bus brakes hard at a streetlight. The street will vibrate, imperceptible to pedestrians, but the building will quietly lift its feet from its foundation, sigh one last time, and crumble onto itself, leaving behind a tidy pile of dust that stirs just a little as the taxis drive past.
The building has been here forever, long before I was born. It’s abandoned and has seen better days, but my God, they don’t make buildings like this anymore. It stands like a sentinel, waching over the city, its city, proud and stalwart. The bricks have weathered beautifully. People pay for this effect, but it never looks like this unless the wind and weather do it. Some things can only be accomplished with time. The windows are broken, but they reflect the morning sun and mirror the passing clouds. The woodwork along the roof is exquisite, carved beautifully. I forget how beautiful the world can be, and then I see woodwork like that. And someone did that before there were powertools. They did it by hand. The front doors are impressive, waiting for presidents and primeministers and popes to walk through. I could stand here and look at it forever. It needs a powerwash and some work, but structures like this just don’t exist anymore. The love and craftmanship and thoughtfulness of so many people. It’s extraordinary.
For Esme- With Love and Squalor, J.D. Salinger
Silver Water, Amy Bloom
What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, Laura van den Berg