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Amazing! (Shaun)

April 12, 2014

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The ongoing blog series where I ask Justseeds members for five things that have been inspiring them lately. This one from Shaun Slifer from Pittsburgh:


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1.) The roll-off dumpster that’s been positioned outside the building behind my new house since last May. As crews renovate the adjacent building, the dumpster has become, as they often do, a hub for scrappers, scavengers, dumpers, and divers, as well as creating an unintentional bulwark behind which the punks from the venue at the end of the block can urinate when the line gets too long inside. From my vantage point on our elevated back porch, I’ve watched a lot of folks in my neighborhood make good use of the contents of this dumpster, and I’ve used it myself.
2.) My old mix tapes, which I’m randomly finding as I slowly unpack and organize my new studio. They summon old feelings and retell them to me like welcome ghosts, complicating and enlivening my days and getting songs stuck in my head that I haven’t heard in years. Yeah sure, I download and stream and make iTunes playlists like the next person, but it doesn’t mean these tapes are going anywhere!
3.) Amazing Librarians! Librarians are keyholders of knowledge access and tools, and when you’re doing research and a librarian goes out of their way to help you, it can be gold. Kind of like most public school teachers, they rarely hear about the good job they’ve done, rarely know what happens to the people they help along their way, and are probably so drastically underpaid as to border on criminal. Special thanks are recently due to Anita at the Westmoreland County Historical Society’s Pollins Memorial Library (Greensburg, PA) for extending generous and multifaceted help, advice, and resources. Thanks also to Irene in the Microfilm Department at Carnegie Main Library in Pittsburgh this past week. Next time a librarian lends a hand, let them know how amazing they are!
4.) Related to the librarians: I’m currently researching a now-obscure colony of Italian immigrant coal miners from the tiny Guffey Hollow area South of Pittsburgh. Some 25 families from this settlement were run out of town at gunpoint on the night of September 15, 1901. This was soon after Leon Czolgosz’s assassination of President William McKinley, and the country was boiling over with vigilante acts against anyone perceived as being “red” – specifically, this settlement was thought to be a hotbed of anarchist organizing. I found a couple of real gems in the last month, one of which was an obscure, self-published book by John J. Wilson from 1971, History of Sewickley Township. The typewritten book recounts local history in the area that included Guffey Hollow, and finding it was a major turning point in my project. Here’s a particularly amazing anecdote that I never would have otherwise discovered (copied including grammatical and punctuation mistakes):
“It was while we were living in the second place near the lower Italian Hall that an incident occurred which is as clear in my mind as if it just recently occurred. The background of this incident was the great number of anarchists who lived in Guffey. This cell of anarchists was very active in the work of the society. Emma Goldman, the international anarchist, visited Guffey frequently. (…) When President McKinley died after being shot, there was a great celebration on the hill immediately above our home. Three kegs of black powder exploded and in order to hold down the kegs to generate the highest explosion possible, a piece of railroad rail, five or six feet long, was placed on top of the powder kegs, and then a fuse or squib used to ignite the powder. There was a great explosion, of course, and it blew the railroad rail into the air with such force that it landed approximately 100 yards away and hit the roof of the house adjoining ours. It penetrated the roof, thru the attic ceiling, the second floor, the first floor, and then buried itself about three and one half feet into the ground under the house!” (transcribed account from Robert J. Brocker, January 14, 1963)
5.) “The Hour”. My reading list rarely includes fiction, so when I need a dose I get it from film and, occasionally, dramatic TV series. My partner and I stumbled upon this short, two season drama from BBC this winter, and totally devoured it. Centered around an edgy television news show and set in England in the mid-1950s, it’s got intrigue, mystery, politics, shady government agents, period costuming, excellent acting – and handles organized crime, racism, homophobia, and gendered power dynamics in the workplace with a deft, slow hand. Key to the show (and an unfortunate rarity in the 21st century WTF): multiple strong, multi-dimensional female characters! AND, it doesn’t lean solely on constant murder and sexual violence to advance a dramatic narrative like nearly every other show someone’s told me to watch in the last few years (although there’s a small amount by comparison). Since the show is English, it carries the added benefit for Americans that hardly anybody you know with will even be aware of it, so you won’t have to worry about anything being spoiled by co-workers. BBC canceled the show before it’s final season, unfortunately.

Inspiration

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