More of a podcast maven? Find the vocal version of today’s column at your favorite outlet.

Prefer it as a video? Here you go!

We now turn to Cincinnati’s own Cam Miller— a fine filmmaker and Reds devotee the current ownership has done absolutely nothing to deserve– to present today’s topic of discussion:

(Private to Cam: Dude I’m really sorry that your Twitter feed apparently shows me accidentally unfollowing you and then frantically refollowing you and then unfollowing again before I actually finally re-followed you properly. This happened because I am me.)

We writers love the phrase “show don’t tell” so much that it doesn’t mean anything anymore, which is probably why so few of the ladies and gentlemen of the arts actually follow its advice. Show don’t tell refers to a creator’s ability to indicate a truth about a character or a situation instead of stating it outright. That way, the recipient makes the connection for himself, thus feeling more involved in what is under communication, thus increasing interest and emotional and intellectual attachment to the endeavor, thus making him feel Very Proud of himself and more invested in the work.

This is why the two sports that result in the greatest sports writing, baseball and horseracing, yield so effortlessly to the art of the word. Both ease into a lulling rhythm of their own, that, when properly communicated, always makes sense. Horse in front, horse is winner. And the fiddly side-rules of baseball aside– the balk, the infield fly, the shift– fade until summoned under the symphony of the slap and the cheer and the crack.

Those of us who forfeited the ability to function as adults in normal society can spot–and are therefore wounded by– tell don’t show several times a day. It happens when a razor ad blares forth from the television, or terrible comedy appears in the YouTube feed, or when any editor of any artistic format has looked at a sentence containing pretty much any adverb and has decided “Yeah, that’s fine.”

Sometimes, as in news articles or documentaries, a certain element of telling, not showing, is necessary. But in 99.9% of entertainment cases, it is entirely avoidable. But this requires a great deal of effort and ingenuity, which is why we creatives– and I heartily include myself in this accusation–  often collapse into the likes of “‘The wise guy narrowed his eyes. ‘We’re going to make a chicken Caesar wrap!’ he said nastily.”

(It injures me greatly to see the above sentence in existence. I do hope you appreciate the massive intraphysic toll this cost me.)

The attitude of “Good Enough for the Magazine Rack at Kroger’s” unleashes any number of horrors upon an already bruised and damaged world. We’re out here simply trying to live our lives and avoid the bodies littering the sidewalk from the Tide Pod Challenge, and out of nowhere comes a sitcom destroying our souls one trope at a time– usually in the form of the villain sitting quietly as the hero explains in a five-minute monologue that we’re not so different, you and I.

The tweet from Cam here is a prime example of telling what’s necessary and showing what’s not. He provides the context of the side-by-side pictures, and then he points out what he wants us to notice. That’s all he’s asking. Just notice. There are zero offensive adverbs here.

He refuses to direct us how to frame this information or what to think about it.  He is an artist and therefore allows reality to speak for itself. This is an act of humility as well as a leap of trust in the basic intelligence of his fellow human beings. With his lack of commentary, Cam allows us space to approach the photos, hold our own experiences next to them, and examine the output.

What do you see, Cincinnatians? Baseball fans?

Well, since I was born after the advent of the Big Bowl, I feel a pang of regret, because I wish I could have seen Crosley Field, at least once, so that I could carry an accurate mental picture of this particular fix on the historical map. Then History Me and Political Science Me come rushing in with stern reminders that Crosley had outgrown its neighborhood placement, its surrounding neighborhood was disintegrating, and the architectural fashion was for antiseptic sharing with the local NFL 46– so it does little good to issue judgment on the wrecking ball or manufacture outrage for a nostalgia I never experienced.

The focus of these two photos is the left field pole– the actual one and its modern replica. These tell the story. One marks off an actual, active baseball game, and the other stands as a silent reminder to thousands of actual, active baseball games. But without knowing what the replica was or why it was there, it merely looks like another ill-begotten spasm of bad public art.

Cam’s clean context invites us to compare the ballpark’s past– the bustling, the active serviceman, the period cars, the banner, the hats— with its modern equivalent: A nondescript office building designed in Modern Horrid with flimsy asphalt laid down to obscure the bricks that serve as the bedrock. It does not, you will note, entirely succeed. Zooming affords a peek at the stubborn surviving bricks.

Then, the final, most painful moment of the show– the caption, “Crosely Field: game sold out.” Maybe this was Opening Day or some point in a playoff; we can’t tell beyond the mixed hint of some fans wearing coats. The important part is they were there. This is a living, kinetic photo. The people in it take interest and take action. It is life.

The other, more melancholy side of the show is the unspoken reminder that not only is this location and the moment it hosted is long gone– that the Reds’ current home requires a lot of parking spaces and WiFi boosters and security staff. But even this carries an encouraging message: Many people who wouldn’t have been at all welcome at a 1940s baseball game in any capacity are waved through gates in its successors.

It’s easy to compare these two photos and come away with a feeling of loss. But sitting in that ignores the modern replica. Someone cared enough to put it there. Someone maintains it and keeps it painted. At least one living, breathing human being understands its significance and passes it on to others. And despite the fact that the people within the building next to it are probably wearing pajama bottoms and dedicating 80% of their lives to a glowing rectangle, this is a living, kinetic photo. Another person took interest and took action.

It is life.

11 Responses

  1. LDS

    “Yeah, that’s fine” is a great indictment of modern writing, whether in the press, books, or magazines. Made up words, mangled grammar, and “yeah, it’s all fine”. It’s one thing for we commenters to be sloppy and careless. It’s yet another for someone to be published while writing that poorly. Where did the editors go? Word and autocorrect, what else could possibly be needed? (BTW, intrapsychic?). The Internet shrinks the world. Seeing that you’re writing a second book, I looked up the first. It’s not baseball! But, the funny part is that lived right down the road in Roseland for nearly a decade, albeit likely twenty years before you arrived. I hope you and the Pilot live somewhere now where the term “lake effect” no longer has meaning.

    • Doug Gray

      The editors were let go when corporate ghouls started buying every last piece of media that they could and stripping things down to the absolute bare minimum in order to make more money for investors.

      • LDS

        Sadly true. I “retired early” courtesy of those corporate ghouls.

  2. AMDG

    My one takeaway from the picture of the replica pole is, “wow, foul poles were really short back then.”

    My other takeaway is this Cam fellow must be old enough to spell correctly. Glad he showed a foul pole, and not a foul pool, or a fowl poll.

  3. Joe Shaw

    “or when any editor of any artistic format has looked at a sentence containing pretty much any adverb and has decided “Yeah, that’s fine.”

    Joe smiles big, throws his arms in the air, and cheers.

    (*a few moments later*)

    “It injures me GREATLY to see …” (emphasis mine)

    Joe narrows his eyes warily, questioningly wonders if this was all a joke, and quizzickly considers whether he missed the punchline.

  4. OLD Fart

    I grew up in South Fairmount and was luckily enough to be able to walk to an occasional game at Crosley Field. I remember the moon deck and the right field wall being low so you were almost at the level of the right fielder. And the smell of cigars… no matter where you sat you could smell cigars.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That’s where my mother mostly grew up. I never thought about including the smell of the original picture! Fantastic memory 🙂

  5. Mark Moore

    Perusing this article brought a few very different scenes to mind. The first time I saw “The Jake” as I wound through Cleveland on the interstate (pulling a trailer, no less) and observed that it looked as if somebody had scooped a space in the middle of downtown and plopped a baseball stadium back in its place.

    I also recalled a Sunday when my work team was in Boston and we took a trolley/walking tour. We walked silently through the Holocaust Memorial towers which are tall, plexiglass structures with names etched on them. All with a vapor rising through them to evoke memories of what happened during that time.

    I had the distinct privilege of seeing a touring Ansel Adams exhibit in our local art museum. Absolutely stunning and it didn’t need words either (though the explanation plaques were helpful).

    Great piece again, MBE. Keep at your craft. There are some of us to whom it matters greatly.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      1) I am so sorry you had to be in Cleveland for any period of time
      2) Writer are forever reminding each other that even if your work reaches one person, you’re a success. Sometimes, other than my husband, you are the one person. So thank you.