All Rights Reserved by Wally Wabbit
Yesterday I started reminiscing about where I grew up, a low-income housing project, or for lack of a better word, “the hood”. When I was growing up, saying that you came from Brookside was, in a sense, imbued with a certain degree of pride. It meant you were tough. You were cool. Now, I certainly know better than to think that, but neither am I ashamed. Where we come from greatly influences who and what we are. We aren’t just what we eat. We are also where we’ve been. The 1 million dollar question is: Did said experiences have a positive or negative effect on the adult that I have become?
Recently someone close to me said that my origins made me a different kind of person. The implication was that my sense of morality was somehow tainted by the environment of my upbringing. Obviously, I took offense to this characterization. Despite the offense I do concede that our origins leave a mark on us, whether good or bad. I could have been anything from a crack head prostitute to an educated authorial oncology nurse (which I am) to a world leader (which in a sense, I am).
Think about the characters we write and love to read about. We relate to the characters that have something at stake, something they value, and that sense is influenced in great part by where they come from. Our character’s origins also influence our (the reader’s) expectations of them.
If you’re reading about a character…let’s call him Ahmad Mujahid from Afghanistan, certain images are bound to immediately pop into your head. Certain questions will chime in. Taliban? War torn? Rubble? Poverty? Violent? Devoutly religious Muslim? Opium farmer? Desperation? Hunger? Buddha statues at Bamiyan? Pashtun? Hamid Karzai?
This is a natural human reaction and something that we as writers should take advantage of when creating our characters. Unless the intention is to create a certain mystic by leaving the character’s past unknown, we should use the reader’s expectations to build a strong well-defined character. This is possible even when the origin is completely fictional. If we’ve taken the time to create a locale then certainly we’ve assigned it distinctive qualities. Those qualities will influence the characters that evolve from that place.
These pictures are of some of the buildings in the Brookside Avenue housing projects prior to their demolition a few years ago. This is much the way I remember the place, sans the boarded up windows and fencing. Brookside wasn’t a stellar neighborhood, but it had life and a cohesive community and everyone knew everyone else. It was home for a while. Everyone has to come from someplace, right? I wrote the follow 6 sentence story a couple of years ago.
Not So ‘Hood
All rights reserved by Wally_Wabbit
A brook ran through and around Brookside Avenue, fringed in pussy willows, surrounded by true woods that turned gold and fire-red in the fall and we’d stand on the bridge and watch happily quacking, fat bottomed ducks bob under the shallow muddy waters for meals.
In the summer we captured tadpoles and fireflies in old glass mayonnaise jars, chased rabbits and butterflies in the field between my home and the woods, and in the year of ’81 there was a memorable snow of gray gypsy moths.
Frankie lived across the street, and he seemed like a nice guy until he started breaking into people’s apartments and stealing their televisions and stereo sets; our apartment was hit twice.
His best friend was Darius, who had his lascivious eye on me since about the time I turned twelve and if you could have heard the things he’d whisper to me whenever he had the chance you’d cringe and I later learned he ended up in prison for rape.
This is what I recall of my childhood home, only ten minutes from Yale, two hours from the Big Apple, down the hill from the Regional Center that housed the mentally disabled, down the street from the corner store owned by Italians, around the corner from the city dump, and across the street from my best friend John who looked like a short not so buff Vin Diesel.
No one believes me when I say that I grew up in the ‘hood, because who’d have ever thought that there was ‘hood in Connecticut, or that a proper speaking woman could have ever come from there, but I explain that I was bussed to the suburbs to go to school with the rich kids…that’s another story altogether.