Crucible

Welcome to another posting in my word meditation series. As is always the case so far, this is also another posting in series I’ve called The Crucible.

What’s most interesting is I’ve been using the word “crucible” to describe this period of massive, wholesale transformation these past three or so years. And I’ve been doing these word meditation postings. But, I’ve never done a word meditation posting on the term crucible.

What’s perhaps most inexcusable about this is the fact that I have training as a technical writer and I know that you should always define your terms on first use. To be fair, I did make an allusion to what a crucible is in the first post to mention it, “Who are you? What do you want?“. And in that post, I did link to the wikipedia page for crucible.

So as I do a proper word meditation posting, let’s use that as our starting point. A crucible is an object that can withstand high temperatures and is used in making metal and glass in particular.

A crucible is noteworthy for the fact that it’s able to hold and withstand the necessary destructive forces that operate within it to ultimately create something new. A crucible is thus a place where truly creative destruction occurs. And the forces within it are forces that typically can’t otherwise be controlled or contained. For instance, the temperatures involved in a crucible for making steel are thousands of degrees Fahrenheit. This is important because crucibles are used to create things that otherwise wouldn’t exist by combining elements together that don’t naturally combine. The incredible forces of destruction contained within are necessary to break down the components sufficiently so that they can become something wholly new.

This is part of the idea behind Arthur Miller’s use of the term as the title of his play about Salem Witch Trials.

This is why I picked this term, because I felt that this period of my life has taken elements of my old life and melted them down, combining them to create something wholly new. Ultimately this is a good and wonderful thing. But the process is violent, messy and, yes, destructive.

Beyond this, though, there’s other reasons for my choosing this term. One more grounded in my history.

You have to understand, as a boy, I grew up in steel and coal country. When I was a kid, the biggest employer was the local steel mill. Everyone worked there. This was before the bottom fell out from the US steel market in the 1980’s recession. I grew up in what is now known as the Rust Belt. But back then it wasn’t rusting, it was making steel.

Interestingly, the nickname for the city that the steel mill was in was “crucible”. So for me, growing up, that’s a term I heard often and in the context of classic blue collar life. Indeed, if you want to understand what it was for me growing up listen to Bruce Springsteen’s Youngstown (one hour or so from where I grew up):

as well as his song The River which describes the lives of so many people around me growing up and the life I managed to escape:

Interestingly, it was leaving that world that taught me the first painful lesson about how growth sometimes requires loss. My mother and I did succeed in getting out of the Rust Belt, and none too soon. A few months after we left, the steel mill had it’s first massive layoff, the start of a cycle that continues to this day. Last time I checked, the town I grew up in has lost about 1/2 it’s population since I was there. I knew I didn’t belong there and wanted to get out. So did my mother. But getting out came at a price for me: I couldn’t bring my dog with us because the apartment wouldn’t allow dogs. My mother found her a good home with a friend on a farm. So, she was happier I believe than she would’ve been cooped up in an apartment. But when you’re 12 and your dog is your best friend and companion it’s a steep price to pay. To this day, I keep a toy of hers with me. I think about her often. And yes, in a way, I regret that I had to lose her like that. In a way, that was my first crucible.