How Did You Build This Place?

A few months ago I went to a film screening at the wonderful Sidewalk Cinema in Birmingham. The filmmakers were on hand, and a Q&A followed.

From the back row of the theatre, a small hand reached up and a young kid shouted his question:

How did you build this place? There was obvious awe in his voice.

Confusion and amusement worked through the room. Audience members whispered or giggled among themselves. The filmmakers, visiting from Europe, conferred for a moment in French, then asked the kid to repeat the question — How did you build this place? he shouted again, emphatically, maybe a little frustrated and finally they had to explain: oh, no, we didn’t build this place, we just made the movie — but it really is a wonderful theater, isn’t it? (It is.)  Someone who works here, they said, may be able to tell you about …

No — this time it was a parent or grandparent calling out from the back — he’s asking how you made the movie.

The kid agreed, nodding, his frustration relieved by the adult translation. So the filmmakers offered a brief description of how to conceive and write and fund and shoot a movie.

A few months have passed since that exchange, but I keep thinking about that kid’s great question: How did you build this place? Despite the grown-up giggles, the kid knew what he was asking. Because a movie is a kind of place, and it’s not just “made,” it’s built. A good movie — any movie that’s good to or for you — is one you can step into, move around inside, even live in for a while.

The same might be said for any piece of art — music, writing, theater, whatever — that does its job well. And then to know that someone somehow built that place, created that space, that somehow someone spun out this whole universe for you to inhabit, inviting you to disappear into its insides — it really does inspire awe.

So I’m hanging onto this question for any Q&A with any artist whose work I’ve entered, explored, and perhaps not wanted to leave, and I pass it on also to you. If you ever find yourself emerging from some work of art and on the way out you’re lucky enough to meet its creator, don’t be afraid to stretch high your hand and shout:


How did you build this place?  


P. S. If you’re a subscriber to this blog, you’re probably surprised to see a new post in your inbox today: I haven’t written anything here since January of 2020, and even by then the posts had become fewer and further between. I guess there’s been a lot going on. Most of my writing energies have gone into finally finishing my book (more about that soon) or into the Patreon series of monthly mailings I created for subscribers last year. Then, too, I got a case of long COVID which slowed me down, hard, on all fronts. (I’m glad to say it’s much better now.)

And there’s this: a few months ago, I said goodbye to my teaching job of seventeen years, to pursue more creative endeavors full-time. I’ve had a good run in the classroom but am enormously excited about the next thing — and I promise to tell you more about that soon, too. For now, just know that I’m working on building a place. And I hope you’ll want to spend some time in it.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned.

P. S. 2. If you’re in the area, I’ve got an art show up right now at Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment in Huntsville, Alabama. Lost Child Radio Visions: Pioneers in American Music includes numerous drawings created, over the last decade, for my radio show. Check it out if you can.  

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