Monthly Archives: November 2016

Thinking History

When I was in the fifth grade I told my parents I was going to be a historian. My favorite period was World War II, because when I was in grammar school the original first person POV recounts of war heroes or of being in occupied France or working in the resistance were coming out. I remember reading the harrowing story of Douglas Bader , how he lost his legs in a training accident but it allowed him to turn a one eighty faster and not black out because his blood

my 1972 Spitfire Mark IV was golden saffron

my 1972 Spitfire Mark IV was golden saffron–and threw a rod at just over the warranty mileage.

didn’t go clear to his feet.  He was the whole reason I bought a Triumph Spitfire in the late 70s. But no, I did not have the intellectual rigor or the ambition toward high grades, I simply wanted to know history–all of it. When I was in college those were the only programs I was interested in, the history ones and anything ancillary to history, like urban geography–now that was a blast. But, I digress.

One of the requirements of a BA in history at CalState Northridge was to participate in a seminar class and write a thesis. Because of reading so much history up to this point I was less interested in a particular period than I was in the idea of history, the theory of writing history, what it meant, not only to me, but to anyone else. How they used it. How it came to be identified. Was it truly the victor who wrote the history? I was stymied until my professor–who later hated my paper–recommended Jacob Christoph Burckhardt and I started doing some research. I remember my professor talking about the fact that Burckhardt was the one who named the period Renaissance. How cool!

As I recall, Burckhardt was a terrible historian, but what fascinated me was his writing on history. He was distinctly Swiss, distinctly European, at a time when conservative could mean

my 1968 used copy

my 1968 used copy

culturally and not politically conservative. As I look back through  FORCE AND FREEDOM , Reflections on History by Jacob Burckhardt, I see my notes and what it was that drew me into his writing.  Though Protestant, his view of Roman Catholicism was that ‘Rome at least [able to] set other goals than those of power and comfort, steadily opposed the increasingly totalitarian claims of national states and maintained the intelligently realistic view of human nature which Burckhardt considered essential to political responsibility.’ He felt that liberals wanted people to think all things were possible and most people think possible means the material. Liberalism meant no sense of responsibility, no respect, no inner acceptance of the readiness to renounce for the good of the whole. He felt that democratic programs would eventually fall to ruthless military authority–that democracy eventually offered an over-developed state machine that would seize and exploit the state and thus the people, this was despotism built brick by brick, a paradigm exemplified by the straight line from the French Revolution to the Napoleonic Empire. Ah, history. How you look to repeat and repeat and repeat. Again, I digress.

Burckhardt felt that ‘historical consciousness is what distinguishes the civilized man from he barbarian, and that the race has a sacred duty to preserve the memory of it’s greatest trials and triumphs.’

Until I returned to Burckhardt’s book lately, life had run by and through me for so long I forgot why my love of history. It reminded me of what  Linda Sue Park said during a non-fiction session at SCBWI LA; she was only interested in truth’, and that each of us writing narrative nonfiction need to ‘be honest with self’ and ‘passionate for the topic.’

As I document my journey to, hopefully, publication of the narrative nonfiction I have optimistically entitled SACRED TRUST, The Congo from Leopold II to Dag Hammarskjöld I hope the best of it is in the nature of Burckhardt’s  ‘sacred duty to preserve the memory of it’s greatest trials and triumphs.

Needing Better Reasons

This is not something I normally do, but this past weekend, I watched all of Longmire on Netflix. I had been a fan of the show and with the Netflix pick up I went  back and watched from the pilot through to season five for two reasons: one, I wanted to make sure I had all my plot threads and character growth issues firmly in hand, and two, I was watching off the regular channels and there was no possibility of watching any political news–a decided plus. Yes, sigh. A win win.

So here’s the basic story: Longmire is a throw-back to the hard-bitten outside, well-educated inside, taciturn and nonjudgmental sheriff cowboy of myth.  Yes, myth because I was raised in the west. I have always been uneasy with this character because the west is hard and unforgiving. But to the series….

The series starts a year after the murder of Longmire’s wife who was dying of cancer. There is a lot of misdirection in the beginning about who actually murdered the murderer of Martha Longmire. While the show centers on Walt Longmire, there are ongoing side threads–Vic Morretti and her husband, Branch Connolly and his dad, Jacob Nighthorse and his casino and there is Henry and his native american spirituality to name just a few.

I liked the ongoing mysteries-although, damn, a lot of people are murdered in a small county in Wyoming–but that is the nature of a series, so…. And, in truth, the scenery is amazing. As I watched the series unfold, I was okay with the handling of Longmire’s supposed guilt in the death of the murderer and the fact that the suspicion rocked back and forth between Walt and Henry. Detective Failes was a red-herring leading us to another clue and so was [is] Jacob Nighthorse. I think.

A lot of the initial storyline centers on the death of Martha and the fact that only Walt and Henry know. And therein is my problem. I don’t think I have ever understood the idea of not telling someone something because it will protect them, but it seems to be a standard theme, especially on television. I think protecting is the absolute worse reason to lie or not tell. Lie because you can’t deal with the truth. Lie because you are ashamed of the truth. Lie because you don’t really know. But to tell yourself that you are lying to protect someone else, I’m going with just plain stupid. So when Walt doesn’t tell Cady about the murder to protect her I’m asking from what exactly is he protecting her?  And, really, how very banal of the writers! What a cheap trick. It reminds me of Avatar, the movie. James Cameron? Seriously, the guy spends seven years developing the technology and the story line is almost not there…unobtanium? That’s the metal that is on this far off planet? Ah, but I digress….

And, on the flip side, I don’t really get the idea of someone being totally indignant because they were protected. Someone loved them. Don’t we all want to be protected, kept from harm, why are we not grateful that we are saved from the bad stuff?

So there is the insipid reason for lying and then, there is a new thing for me, character growth. This has been coming slowly, very,  as I’ve been writing. It’s strange that I say that because that’s not what I think expected as a kid. My hero character was one who solved the mystery. Or went on  an adventure. I didn’t expect the character to be a better person or a changed person and I don’t really remember if they did or they didn’t–that wasn’t the point. The point was the plot.

So,  between the on-going stoic behavior, the lying issue and the lack of change, and while I liked Walt in the beginning of the series, by the end of season five I was getting very tired of how we saw Robert Taylor’s square jawed face in some kind of agony. Add to that,  I find I have little sympathy for a character who makes his own misery. And it seems we get a lot of that in television. Is that the only kind of drama writers can come up with? Seriously?

So, now we are done with season five. Walt has decided, finally, that he wants to resolve all his issues and just move on. He’s let go of Martha’s ashes, he’s in a new-sort of- relationship. Cady is doing her own thing and he recognizes he’s spun out of control and he needs to get balance. He wants to put the lawsuit behind him. So, what do the writers do? They give us the supposed reason for the lawsuit from Barlow Connolly’s estate–that Barlow wants to turn Walt’s spread into a premier golf course. Yep, that’s right…oh, the indignity.

The only problem is, at no time that I can find in the first five seasons, do we get any clue as to the reasons for Barlow’s loathing of Walt, nowhere. Which leaves me, with all of this emoting, asking do I really care enough to stay around and find out.