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Brown & Goodman – Baltimore Ekphrasis Project

William Brown and Eric D. Goodman traded art and words. William shared this painting, entitled “Pain & Wisdom,” with Eric:

Pain&Wisdom_WillBrownIn response, Eric wrote this short story:

Wisdom and Pain

Born in Baltimore, Jimmy’s veins flowed with Natty Boh and Old Bay. The neon Domino Sugars sign draped a red hue over the harbor that spread all the way to his cracked marble stoop. It seemed a crimson net he couldn’t escape. Misery dominated his side of the hill, an ache he bore like a blue crab’s shell. Opportunity seldom knocked, and when it did, it struck hard, like a mallet. Jimmy scavenged, a bottom dweller providing for himself and avoiding the red-tipped claws of Sooks who would drag him down. He watched his surroundings the way Boh Man did — with one eye closed to the injustices and his other eye pretending not to notice them. His pain brought wisdom. The wisdom grew and hardened, like a blue crab’s second shell. Pain paved a crumbling staircase that wisdom compelled him to climb. Jimmy found his way to the top of the hill, above the harbor’s net, above the bite of red-tipped claws. Charmed into opening both eyes, he beheld the bay and began to believe.

* * * * *

Eric shared this short story with William:


Walking on a train isn’t free and open, like walking on a sidewalk or in a building. Nor is it stiff and uncomfortable, like walking on an airplane. There’s a steady, rhythmic comfort to strolling leisurely down the aisle, balancing hands on the heads of seats as you go. Christi’s direction was clear, but her destination was not. She was in no hurry to get there, wherever “there” was.

In Baltimore, Christi walked all the time, along the Inner Harbor from Federal Hill to Fells Point and back again. When she got to Chicago, she looked forward to a stroll along Lake Shore Drive and a walk down the Magnificent Mile. But for now, the aisle of the passenger train would have to do. She’d already gone all the way to the caboose and was now headed back to her seat.

When her secretary, Jen, had offered to book her flight, Christi had quickly insisted on the train. She needed to ease slowly from one impressionistic place to another. Dashing from Baltimore to Chicago on a plane was like jumping into a too-hot bath. This was a big transition, even if it turned out to be temporary. She’d been submerged in Baltimore yet tethered to Chicago all her life. It took time to drift from one reality to another.

She found her seat and fell into it. Beyond her window, the autumn trees swept by. She watched a collection of leaves in the distance separate from a branch in a gust of wind. She considered the future. Winter would be here soon. She wondered where she’d be living when the first snowfall came. She wondered who would be with Craig.

The scenery outside the window didn’t distract her from her thinking, perhaps because the ever-changing view mimicked her thoughts as she imagined the infinite answers to her problem. The trees, the hills, the rolling farmland—it was like background music from a CD so familiar that she could hear it even when it wasn’t there; sometimes the tracks played and she didn’t even notice it. Right now, she was around track seven, around the middle of her journey, houses spotting the distant hillsides. She didn’t have to make a decision right now. Only consider it. Should she remain on course, living contently in Baltimore, and try to patch things up with Craig? Or should she take on the challenges of Chicago and a new career, letting the tracks ahead carry her into unknown places?

Baltimore was known as many things: The City That Reads, The City That Believes. Benches along the streets referred to Baltimore as Charm City and The Greatest City in America. But to Christi, who was born and raised due north of Baltimore in the tight-knit community of Rodgers Forge, Baltimore was simply her home and harbor.

Christi’s family lived only half an hour’s drive from the Inner Harbor, so they went often. As a child, she’d enjoyed the playground atop Federal Hill, and when she became too old for the swings, she enjoyed the view of the harbor from the same location, beneath the giant flag and beside the cannon, watching the people walk along the promenade from the same place Americans had watched for British ships in 1812.

In the humid days of summer, descending from the hill into the harbor was like sinking into a familiar hot tub. People flowed around her, currents in both directions. Children’s laughter accompanied the carousel’s cheerful music. Volleyball games took place in the same arena that saw ice-skating in the winters, not far from the giant mast that paid tribute to the goodwill ship lost at sea, the Pride of Baltimore. Street musicians played guitars and pan flutes, saxophones and drums, and entertainers rode unicycles, juggled flames and knives, told jokes, and performed magic. Artists painted and chalked the edges of the boardwalk. Water taxis blew their horns, leaving port only to be replaced by others within minutes, a steady cycle that took people from the Inner Harbor to Fort McHenry, Fells Point, and more than a dozen harbor-side destinations. The USS Constellation sounded its cannon, and the Clipper City and dinner cruise ships beckoned. The twin-pyramid points of the National Aquarium towered above. Then, on to Little Italy, home of Vaccaro’s, the best place for dessert. And from Little Italy it was just a skip to Fells Point with its many pubs.

Places touched Christi more than people. Places were reliable. They didn’t change overnight or move or die, as people did. Craig and her parents were important, but a warm comfort spilled over her when she thought of her favorite places. When she thought of her parents, she thought of her house, her neighborhood, the Maryland Zoo and the B&O Museum. When she thought of her grandmother, she thought of Chicago and all the places they’d visited together that windy summer. When she thought of Craig, she thought of their favorite restaurants and pubs.

Christi had never timed the walk from Federal Hill to Fells Point. That would be hard to do since she stopped to enjoy the sights, not the least of which was the Chesapeake Bay itself, filled with sailboats, tall ships, paddle boats, and dragon-shaped boats for the kids.

She was excited by the promise Chicago held, but wasn’t sure she wanted to pick up and move her entire life to a new city in the middle of the country. She longed to stroll along Lake Shore Drive and feel the lake’s cool breeze. But that would mean giving up the Inner Harbor. She imagined exhilarating Sundays spent in the Chicago Institute of Art, but that would mean giving up the American Visionary Arts Museum downtown and the Smithsonian in DC. She could see herself walking down the Magnificent Mile, but did the Magnificent Mile hold a candle to the National Mall and all of the capitol’s monuments? She longed for a fresh start, but her best memories were anchored in Baltimore. Many of them with Craig.

Christi looked out the window, the landscape progressing from eastern to mid-western. She wanted Baltimore and Chicago—Craig and a career—to fit neatly together like the cars through which she’d just walked. She needed to decide which future to take, and abandon one for the other, just as Craig had abandoned her—or she had abandoned him for her ambition.

Baltimore and Chicago were only places. But places made all the difference.

In response, William made this painting, entitled “Dwelling on the Past”:


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