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Elements of a Story

 

saw a TV news program recently where a reporter spun a globe, dropped a finger at random, and found a story—a great story, about a bodybuilder in the former Soviet State of Latvia. The reporter didn’t pursue this particular angle; he simply went to the place, opened a local phonebook, and, once again, dropped a finger.

Without getting into details, the story involved cold war era Communist paranoia clashing with the Herculean fantasy of a scrawny child with Hepatitis, now a 50-year-old muscleman with “a back like a relief map of Switzerland. ” There was love and passion and conflict, even a happy ending.

Point is: great stories are out there. We know they are. And not just in obscure Latvian port towns. This area’s full of characters, many of whom you’re familiar with but we’re not. Sure, we keep our finger on the pulse of Ventura County, but a lot of great subjects slip past us. Here in the editorial department we compile an ever-growing list of potential articles, based on local knowledge, office chatter, and recommendations from readers. We’ve never tried the phonebook technique, but it might be fun. Still, please don’t hesitate to email me any tips.

Somis Nut House (p. 12) has been on our list since day one. An old-school store run by the same family for half a century, the place oozes local charm. I remember going there as a child, in the seventies, and it doesn’t feel much different now—with one notable exception. Sadly, founder Steve Resnik passed away as we were organizing this issue. He was a fixture at the Nut House and a lot of people worried about the loss of another iconic small business. To be sure, there’s more profit in condos and big-box stores than there is in “candies, nuts, dried fruits, and goodies.” Fortunately, Jeremy Resnik and his sister Rebecca Pecsok recognize the value of character and plan to continue their family’s legacy.

Local character was the main appeal of the Somis Nut House story, and it’s part of what attracted us to the home featured in our Nesting section (page 22). But the stronger draw was how Marc and Julia Whitman’s house effectively captures Ojai’s spirit of place: the unique, distinctive, and cherished aspects of this region. And not merely in the way the house wraps an ancient oak in its embrace, or vice versa; or how it flows with Santa Ana Creek. These tangible, physical aspects do play a role. But a weave of interpersonal relationships—Julia’s parents live across the creek, and local charities often use the 320-acre property for fundraising events—gives the home an extra kick, as does its Gaudi-esque architectural style.

As Lisa Snider points out in the story, Marc, an architect, found himself longing to express himself after so many years working to “manifest his clients’ artistic and creative expressions.” That internal burn of an artist, the urge to create, will be familiar to Renée Allem (cover and page 28). The work of this Oxnard-based South African artist is impressive—but that can be said for myriad artists living in Ventura County. What earned the story a green light was that Allem stepped away from the world of art, leaving the big city and the cocktail parties, the money and the accolades—and, yes, the creative expression—to move to Oxnard and help her fiancé care for his ailing mother and his two brothers, one of whom has Down Syndrome, the other, Cerebral Palsy.

One of the most appealing aspects of this story is that, although there is resolution, it remains open-ended. The best is yet to come. After years away from art, her passion simmering on low, and now with an entirely fresh perspective on life (thanks to Jeffry and Brian), Renée is ready to create a new body of work for a new decade.

We considered leaving this one on the list for another year or so. Let her complete that new body of work. But when it comes down to it, this isn’t a story about Renée Allem’s art. It’s the story of the human spirit—of love and passion and conflict. There’s even a happy ending.

02-01-2010

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