A Tree Grows In The Parking Lot


Not sure how I never noticed this tree before: I literally walk past it every day.

Maybe it was the angle of the morning sun cutting across the Pep Boys parking lot, or maybe it was my annoyance at having just watched my bus go by while still trapped on the wrong side of the street, but I found myself noticing, as if for the first time, a tree growing in the parking lot. I felt like I’d never seen it before. Surely, this wasn’t true: it was a well established tree and I walked past it every day and had done so for nearly a full year now. But still, it was new to me. 

It wasn’t a classically beautiful tree: the trunk was neither straight nor smooth. The canopy was sparse and thready. It looked like the kind of tree that would grow in a Grimm fairy tale on the border between wickedness and redemption: the kind of tree that would take place at the start of a story that involved being nice to some abject creature like a toad or a mouse which would later turn out to be some magnificent force of justice or goodness that was trapped under enchantment. 

I did not encounter any toads or mice. More’s the pity: we could stand to free up some forces of justice and goodness in this world. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Lore of modern America of late. In some recent writing, I introduced several new characters, intending them to be only human, only to find myself scraping across hints that they might be something more. One would think that I, as the writer, should have perfect control over the characters I create, but the evidence of all my experience tells me that it is the characters who are in control, and they either reveal themselves to me or they don’t. It’s much less like being a creator and much more like being a wildlife photographer lying in wait in the tall grasses, hoping for a fleeting glimpse of a rare, wild species. 

 The trouble with this is that there are often a lot of unanswerable questions about who these characters are and why they do what they do.  

“But you’re the writer! You need to know these things!” I hear people say when I have no answers. All I can do is go back into the tall grasses and hope for another glimpse of the creature. 

Which is what got me thinking about American Lore: being that I’m American, and my stories take place in America, I often find myself drawing on a wide pastiche of mythical traditions and finding ways to fit them into a contemporary world. Some would argue that there’s no place for the mythic in the tide of digital noise that we live in, but I suspect that the problem is not with the oversurgence of data but rather with the narrowness of our attention. The tree still grows in the Pep Boys parking lot, even if it takes me a year to notice it. 

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on October 5, 2017.

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