From 2012 to 2018, I participated in an annual prograqm called The Exquisite Project, hosted by the Bill Library in Ledyard, CT and organized by the brilliant and talented Andrea Hoshaw Buka. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the idea is based off the Victorian parlor game “Exquisite Corpse” in which one person draws part of a body on a piece of paper, folds the paper so the next person can’t see what they’ve drawn, and then the next person continues, doing the same until the last person is finished and the paper is unfolded to reveal the composite creature. (Think “The Telephone Game,” where one person whispers into the ear of another, and that person relays what’s been said to a third person and so on, until the end, where the last person reveals what they think has been said and it’s compared to the original statement.)
The project was a lot of fun and wonderfully creative, with Andrea providing the initial prompt to the first person in line, then alternating writers and artists in each track with the subsequent creators not knowing the prompt and only the piece that directly preceded theirs. We all were deeply saddened when she informed us that EP would not continue past 2018 due to budget constraints imposed by outside forces. (The library is located in a town where some of the people in power would dearly love to close it down. Can you imagine?!)
Fast forward to 2020 and the onset of Covid and all the other things we’ve endured. As I’ve addressed elsewhere, I found myself unable to write during much of the past two years, and was almost physically ill at the thought my ability might have deserted me. In an effort to be creative in some small way, I asked for, and received, Andrea’s blessing to exhume EP and try it on my own. I sent out invitations for five writers and five artists to volunteer, in order to form two tracks. Track 1 would run Artist/Writer/Artist/Writer/Artist, and Track 2 the opposite. Both would be initially generated by a prompt supplied by me to the first person in line, and unknown thereafter to all the others. I’m happy to say that those who signed up were deeply enthusiastic and gave it their all. And now we’re ready to reveal!
For the Track One Prompt I chose part of a quote from writer Arthur C. Clarke:
“Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts…”
And here is how the track played out:
In a chrysalis of our own making
We’re waiting to develop wings
While this moment’s for the taking
And we don’t know what tomorrow brings
Yet we exist in humble silence
Lest we dare to raise a voice
And the world is marked for violence
As if it (n)ever had a choice
Will today be the day that we emerge
From the buffer of our contentment
Or will these apathies converge
On a point of shared resentment
Our fellow man is beckoning
About time we joined the reckoning
It’s all for one and one for all
Learn when to stand and when to fall
Open your eyes, let in the light
Arm yourselves, prepare to fight
Bring your conscience, bring your reason
Bring your condemnation of this treason
Bring your goodness, bring your virtue
Brandish these, they can’t hurt you
In a cocoon of our own devising
We’re immune to the call of duty
While the temperature outside keeps rising
And hot spots threaten to obscure beauty
Yet we hesitate to disturb the peace
Lest we shock the reverie of complacence
And humanity is held under lock and key
As if we confused paralysis with patience
Will today be the day that we break out
From the comfort of our disillusion
Or will truth be seen in shades of doubt
Despite reality’s intrusion
Our fellow man is beckoning
About time we joined the reckoning
It’s one for all and all for one
Learn what to do, not what’s been done
Let in the light, open your eyes
Clarity comes when darkness dies
Bring your wisdom, bring your kindness
Bring your aversion to this blindness
Bring your love, bring your compassion
These are weapons without ration
Why bloody up the battlefield
When we can walk on common ground
There’s infinite room behind this shield
Under which we’re honor-bound
(Repeat Chorus A & B)
She had grown weary of the cycle. Its existence was immutable, though the circumstances changed constantly. There had been slews of clichés throughout the centuries which touched on its essence, but her favorite was the one about not learning from history and being doomed to repeat it. Humankind never did learn, and as such, was doomed to repeat the cycle, until they were finally no more.
The blissful periods of peace and prosperity sometimes lasted for decades. New life was created, new lives were forged, sometimes directly from the ashes of war. They sprouted, basked, and grew in the kind, gentle warmth of the sun, flowered, and brought forth even more life.
Those same rays of benevolence, however, had a hidden insidious effect. It also slowly faded the horrors of war from the collective consciousness, memories waning in the flow of time. Tales told by ever-aging survivors passed from hearing, echoes lost in the distance. Humankind forgets, but time does not.
Why had The First allowed them to get to this point, ensnared in this endless coda of tragedy? One of the many ‘mysteries of the First’, she supposed, though that too was cliché. It was largely an experiment, a release of control, which seemed to ‘amuse’ the First. Or, more likely than an amusement, a test of Their omniscience. They saw the inevitable, held out hope that Their creation would overcome itself and reach Them, knowing they would not.
The foundation for this tragic tale was laid when they were provided self-determination. Folly, the First had to have known, but They were eternally optimistic. When They designed life in this particular system, this ‘universe’, as the self-important humans named it, They hoped the spark of creation would imbue a sense of the Design. It did, in some, but only in large part, not in the whole. Hope was constantly reborn in every new soul drawn forth from the Well, but rarely survived childhood.
She surveyed her charges, now coming out of the horrors of War. The fabric of their souls was torn asunder by it; no, more frayed, damaged, rather than destroyed. With the impending peace and prosperity, however, the damage would be repaired, wounds healed with the scars of time. New life, new Hope would spring forth from the reminder War provided, as to what was good and important in the world. Children would be born, grow, and demand a change, a revocation of the cycle. They would, however, in time fail to heed the lessons, and return once more to the path of destruction.
There were many more worlds, many more experiments with which she could be tasked to oversee when this one finally ended. She found Hope within herself that one of them would prove wise enough to learn, wise enough to escape the cycle of the Well and the World, and return home. Then the First could move forward.
I can’t begin to express my gratitude to these, my friends, for their willingness to play and (for a time) set aside the world’s craziness. I so appreciate each of them sharing their talent with the world. Here, in order of appearance, I’m happy for you to meet:
A.E. Marlowe says of his piece “Clarke’s quote (and the lines that follow the fragment) speaks to me of the expectations and debts owed to the dead. Behind my figure are figures representing ghosts, scattered amongst them is detritus and the shattered remains of their failed goals symbolized by the broken lightbulbs. The main, haphazard figure is walking on a path of glass tile and reaching toward yet another goal. That goal is likewise imperfect, but holds a bit of promise (in the form of the small key). The ghosts influence the situation with their observation. They cannot speak, hear, or listen, but they can perceive somehow. They are there, watching the living as they try and interact with a new goal. Will the living succeed or will this be another shattered bulb scattered on the path forward? The larger figure knows it is being watched. It knows it owes a debt to the dead.” You can see more of Marlowe’s work at http://3houses.art
John B. Valeri is a book critic, author, and host of the well-regarded web series Central Booking. He’s written for CrimeReads, Crimespree Magazine, Criminal Element, Mystery Scene Magazine, The New York Journal of Books, The Strand Magazine, and Suspense Magazine. His popular online column, “Hartford Books Examiner,” ran from 2009 to 2016 and was praised by author James Patterson as “a haven for finding great new books.” You can explore more of John’s work, and watch past episodes of Central Booking at http://johnbvaleri.com
M.J. Allaire is best known as the author of middle-grade fantasy and mystery, including the celebrated Denicalis Dragon Chronicles series. She is the recipient of a Mom’s Choice award for her novella Into Thin Air. She lives in the middle of nowhere with her husband, Ryan, several semi-feral cats, and three rambunctious dogs. You can learn more about her at https://www.mjallaire.com/
Scott Buka is a Renaissance man of the first stripe, a punster, a lover of good food, drink, and music, utterly devoted to his family, and one of the nicer people on the planet. (And he’s fortunate enough to be married to Andrea Hoshaw Buka.)
Lorain Ohio Simister has this to say about her piece “This is created from found art supplies. My favorite piece is the tiny brown piece of pottery. I found it on a lawn chair and fell in love. Through researching, I discovered it is the nest of a potter wasp; harmless, non-aggressive, mosquito eater (I think aphids, too). And the pot is perfect. Hope to find another one some day.” In addition to being an accomplished artist, Lorain is a professional singer and culinary wizard. She lives with her best-beloved, artist Robert Farace, another of the world’s nicer people, and together they make up one-third of the band Post Traumatic Jazz Disorder. http://thewingagency.com/artists/PTJD/
Thank you! I’m very proud of both tracks of writers and artists. They did a wonderful job.
What a joy to follow these wonderful, inspired flights of fancy!!! Thank you all for doing this!
Thank you all for these wonderful, imaginative flights of fancy!! : )
Thank YOU for liking them! I’m very proud of the artists and writers that contributed their time and effort.