Take what you want and do what you will

It would be worthwhile, at this historical juncture, to pursue a biographical work pondering the myriad ways in which being a black, middle-class child growing up in the 1970s was remarkably similar to growing up white and middle-class in the 1970s (though the populations were far from integrated). The book would investigate what that sameness consisted of, how it was constituted, why it came then (and if it existed in a similar way before) and what aspects of our culture (the ascendance of consumer-culture plays a key role) had changed or were changing to make that leveling possible. Being both black and thirty-something, I am struck, in my conversations with my white friends, by the remarkable likeness of our day-to-day childhood experiences in so many central aspects of our lives (clothing, school life and politics, play, education, popular culture, family life and politics)—even though we hail from big cities, small towns or suburbs all across the country. It would seem useful to examine the black experience not from the position of its vast and varied differences with white experience (a very useful project that has been quite admirably pursued by countless voices), but from another (reversed?) perspective.

In the field of memory/history study, there should be a comprehensive study of “accidental” monuments: things which became symbols accidently, or even against the wishes of their creators, such as the Berlin Wall, or Tianenman Square. Was there a fight to control the meaning of the symbol? Do these incidents cohere in some way, or are they disparate events?

The field of alternative history has been created out of “what if” questions—(“What if the South had won the Civil War?” etc.) This practice should expand to other fields. Alternative Biology: “What if two intelligent species had developed at the same time?” Alternative Sociology: “What if the majority of people were born blind, and seeing was rare?” Sort of an academic sanctioning of science fiction. Someone should make a film about the first Viking encounter with native Americans. It will have to be written entirely in the authentic languages of both groups and presented without subtitles, so that the audience will be as lost as the participants. (In the DVD version, viewers could have the option of choosing one set of subtitles or the other, but not both.) The story goes on forever in grunts and silences. It could be the first truly interactive film, as inspired viewers struggle along with the characters to understand new language, new customs. How did this not get done in 1993?

Someone should invent a kind of food that is designed to be mixed and heated in an hour or two by the friction generated by your pants’ pockets.

It has been observed by public health researchers that people with similar mortality risks tend to live near each other or know one another, although it remains unclear whether this is a cause or an effect, or if other variables are involved. A good example of this is people who smoke cigarettes, who are probably the people most likely to converse with strangers on the street. People who are atheists, or those skeptical of the zodiac, astrology, or psychics, but who still feel an emotional need for something uncanny or ineffable to influence their affinities with their acquaintances, friends, and lovers, could research their mortality risk, and compare with the mortality risks of people they know.

There should be a historical novel written from the point of view of—or at least deeply investigating the life of—a court midget, such as those we see in the paintings of Diego Velásquez (e.g., Maids of Honor).


Please send your ideas to [email protected] We’re not looking for ideas that are funny jokes. The following readers contributed to this month’s assortment: David Givens, Ben Rubin, Vernon Legakis, Ragnar Carlson, Kip Donath, and John Leary.

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