Video of Ennis Carter: Artist and WPA Archivist

I just love it when an artist stumbles upon a historical subject and adopts it as his or her own passion. One great example, who will be the subject of a future post, is the Brooklyn artist Duke Riley, who takes homespun historical re-enactment to unprecedented, and sometimes illegal, levels of authenticity.

My friend the artist Ennis Carter also does this, in a more measured and congenial way. A graphic designer and community organizer, Ennis is the founder of Social Impact Studios in Philadelphia. An unapologetic creator of “propaganda,” she cites as her formative influences both the bauhaus movement and the government brochures she saw all over the U.S. Army bases as the child of an Army officer.

It might seem like an unlikely combination of influences, but the link between the two is arguably the posters of the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA’s) Poster Division during the New Deal. Ennis was so taken by the posters that she founded the online archive “Posters for the People” and authored a book about them, “Posters For the People: Art of the WPA.”

I talked with her earlier this summer while a traveling exhibit about the posters was in Rahway, New Jersey. Brooklyn’s Greg Reitman edited this video for me.

Artists For the People from Charles Bowe on Vimeo.

The exhibit has since moved back to Philadelphia. Philly people, you have till August 30th to check it out at the Healthcare Workers Union, District 1199C, 100 S. Broad Street, 10th Floor.

Firing, and Misfiring, as a Writer

Sunrise near the New York-Vermont border.

Over a month since I posted, and I flog myself for my fallow blog: “What the hell have I been doing?!”  (Well, I DID finish a fourth draft of a screenplay, while holding down a second job, but facts can’t stop an old-fashioned self-flagellator from finding an excuse to do his thing.)

The truth is, writing is usually hot and cold. On a productive day you look at the blank page and efficiently start stringing words together and crossing things off the neat list, in your mind’s eye, of what you want the story to accomplish at the present time. The ideas are moving at rush hour speeds, and the mental journeys in your head are blessed by good train connections. Better still, you’re figuring out how to accomplish two narrative needs at a single time, like a plot reversal and some exposition done succinctly, and so you’re paring down your to-do list even more. The mid-day bike ride or happy hour beer are especially tasty on days like this.

On a bad day, you entertain your doubts about the quality of the overall piece – about the big decisions you’ve already made, or at least thought you had put to rest for a while – and you look at the page in front of you and see nothing but a matrix of if-then scenarios. Nothing is good enough, so the pleasure is absent, and your brain is primed for distraction. In other words, your concentration is gone.

You curse the jackass in Palo Alto who made it necessary to have a TV screen, several newspapers, and up-to-the-minute gossip from your junior high school friends a single click away on your computer screen. Faulkner famously wrote “As I Lay Dying” using an upside-down wheelbarrow during his night shift job. Could he have ever written “Absalom, Absalom!” if there were a cinema on his typewriter?

I don’t begrudge my brain its need for days off. I do get frustrated, though, when I misfire and decide to “hunker down” and “plough through it” when I should have said “screw it” and gone to a movie or a museum. Sometimes you don’t realize till the day is half gone that you should have taken it off.

To celebrate the completion of the fourth draft, I went upstate to an old farmhouse near Salem, New York with some actors and poets last week. I was the first to wake up every morning, but forced myself to take walks during those prime writing hours before anyone else rises, and just breathe and daydream. That’s where I snapped the photo above with my phone.