Category Archives: Writing The Past

Magic

I’ve been to the Magic Castle. Nope, have no clue how they do it. I don’t watch ‘behind the scenes’ shows. I don’t want to read blogs on the main characters. Or how the actors live. I grew up in Los Angeles. Went to school with children and grandchildren of ‘those Hollywood’ folk. There was no paparazzi. There was no stalking. They were just ordinary people with a job in the movies.

Hmmm…do I believe in Magic? Sort of. Yes, that wand would be cool. Yes, that spell book would come in handy. Who wouldn’t want all of that? Just a wave here, a snap of a fingers, a few words there and, bob’s your uncle, BAM! Done.

Some say magic is to some, what science is to others. Would I use magic? Probably no. It feels like it we don’t have it because it is too easy. But I do know magic.  I’ve been a reader since forever. I’ve been to places that no plane, train or ship could go. I’ve seen worlds that are too horrible to contemplate, or are too much fun to miss, or are just downright lovely to spend time in. Reading is magic! That is what I am looking to create.

I think of those ‘behind the scenes’ shows and wonder if anyone would be as excited to see a writer shaping a story? Creating a world?  You create a character. You give him/her life, foibles, obstacles. You provide family, homes, towns. You record their thoughts, ambitions, musings. So, yes, I do believe in magic, but not the kind with a wand or a spell book.

Because writing is hard. In nonfiction it is research, read, write, revise. Research, read, write, revise. Sigh.

I’m at that middle of a narrative nonfiction that is a slough. The writing is hard because the subject is hard. While it has been discussed in very academic circles, in MG/YA, not so much. I’ve got to get in some information. Yes, it’s important. Can it be boring? Can it difficult to translate for high school kid? Yes.

I’m sort of at that place where I know what comes after, I know how the narrative continues, but this one place! THIS. ONE. PLACE. Sigh!

Yes, it would be a miracle. And I’m letting it block me. And so, I think I will put in my draft ‘something happens here’ and move on.

Is that a good choice? I have no idea. My goal is to finish this narrative by the end of summer. So I have a couple of months. But time does fly. As if by Magic!

 

Love

Love can be wielded like a cudgel. There is the commercial Love has no Labels. Love is about diversity and inclusion. From the my Baltimore Catechism we learned of the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity; faith in our God, hope in the promise of heaven, and charity which is benevolent, disinterested, and generous, bringing forth friendship and communion. Most say Faith, Hope and Love. But no. Charity– ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ Open, sacrificial, giving, no strings, no tag lines.

Recently there was a TED talk by a Dr. Mary Donohue, a ‘preeminent keynote speaker on multigenerational workplace’.  Dr. Donohue’s TED talk is about the ways in which the other generations communicate enabling one generation to talk to the other so, in her words “work doesn’t suck!”  She uses a phrase like ‘conversation clever,’ describing the generations as builders, doers, adapters, brilliant and then neatly goes on to prove each point with very commercial examples. Sigh. Her talk is clever, practiced, polished and gives each generation something to like about itself and dislike about the others. Supposedly this will help communication but I don’t think it will advance love.

The way we use love  in a commercial campaign is about the same. Slick, practiced, polished and neatly pigeonholed to show it is all right for same sex love, to love a sibling who is disabled, to love one of another ethnicity. And I get it. I don’t think that is the love that will save the planet–politically or culturally.

In my faith Charity is the greatest of them all. In this world Truth is the greatest of them all.  There is the ideal that  love will solve our problems. I think of a banner my sister gave me while in college. We laughed about it because it is so real, so true. It is easy to say that love will conquer all. But no. Not really. It won’t conquer. It can’t even alleviate the distress. Just look at our national politics and all who say that they only want everyone to love one another. Do we see everyone as willing to be  ‘benevolent and open’?

I can say I love everyone. Love is so much easier. But truth, truth is the coin of love, it is what makes love potent, desirable, unshakable. Truth is harder than love because you may have to admit to a lie, one that may have protected you, that made you look good, that served your interest.

Why this interest in truth?

In the middle grade mysteries I write, while love is the emotion that drives the character, it is the truth that finds the killer. A character can grow in love, but it is in finding the truth that lets the main character understand and be ready to take responsibility, to grow up. Putting  together means, motive and opportunity and identifying the killer is to find the truth. Only truth breaks through.

In nonfiction it is the weeding out the propaganda, the bias, the self-interest, both in studying the historical figure and in assaying the author. In nonfiction, with a historical perspective, truth can be victim to the sham of love. It is the sham of love that  wrapped a whole people allowing them to  suffer totalitarianism, brutality and oppression for decades. Only truth will break through.

 

Roiled

Roiled. A state of mind-my mind. Hmm…I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wrote, well, gee, yesterday. About reality and wordsmithing, joy and raw history. I worry. I wasn’t always a worrier. I was mostly unconscious as a kid–and sometimes, no, lots of times, I miss that. But I’ve had kids, have a husband and a life, and possessions and so now I am a worrier. Sigh. Probably goes well with that Type A + personality that is high in Command.

And what I’ve been thinking about and worrying about is words more than anything else. I just reread Cheryl Klein’s MAGIC WORDS chapter POWER AND ATTENTION on writing across cultures…but I think this chapter also speaks to writing across time. She states six basic principles. And if I were to distill them, I’d say what she asks is that you write truthfully, in the moment, in the character and don’t let your own self get lost in the story.

Sometimes I think almost everything we write is across time; a different type of diversity than we usually consider. You may write it as contemporary, but by the time you sculpt that idea into a workable story, develop characters, write dialogue, craft settings and worlds, it is no longer contemporary, even if you are writing in the present tense. Even if you write about the future, it is already past, because the idea is now out there.

Between my middle grade mysteries I am writing non fiction. Not science. Not biography although it started out that way. Sort of like my one picture book story, I think I have one and only one nonfiction in me, I think. It started with my admiration and fascination with Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary General of the US, remembering as an adult the impact his death in 1961 when I was a kid. And while I was fascinated, his story is not really one for kids in that you can almost believe although he was small and grew into adult hood, in truth,  he was never a kid. So I needed a story around his story and I chose where his life ended. It ended not by him,  not on purpose, not willfully, though from the publication of his journal, when he took the job as S-G, he had made his own peace with God and with the future. It ended because of politics. Of national interests. Of personal gain. Of disrespect for another human being.

The story is of the Congo. Of all the nation state stories in the history of the world, Congo stands out among the most sad. From the moment Leopold II of Belgium decided he needed and wanted to rule something bigger and more prestigious than Belgium, Congo became not a home of a people, not a land graced with much of the earth’s wealth, not a nation, or even several nations, it became one person’s property. And, although Leopold II is gone, it is in many ways, still one person’s property.

Here we sit, I sit, in these United States, in a country that has a covenant of over two hundred years giving me, all of us, the right to rule ourselves. Yes, it is through others. Yes, we do not all agree. But we have that right.

I will not be writing the current history. Doubtless not even the next generation will, although many will try. Probably someone who was born in this decade will be writing this story, will have access to the news, the tweets, the posts, the blogs, the pundits, the instagram, and all manner of communication and will be able to distill the story, be far enough away from the story not to get lost in the story.

I am writing the history of a story that started more than a century ago. And I worry. I worry not about getting lost in the story, I worry about telling the story in current terms, not telling it in the time it happened, not telling it in the language of the people who lived it, not telling it truthfully.  I worry and  that roils my thoughts and disturbs my writing.

 

Reality 2017

In all the tweets, posts, punditry, reporting and news broadcast words, our most important, valuable and unlimited commodity, are woefully abused. My Mom, a self proclaimed wordsmith, a skilled user of words, always said it was not just understanding the definition and spelling [always my main drawback—thanking the gods for spellcheck] but the using the word appropriately in a thought or sentence.

I was amazed when a speaker on Sunday in DC said, “We are America.” Seriously? She is college educated, from an excellent school. Let’s be real, there are 318.9 million people in the US. At the event there are maybe half a million, maybe more, across the country one or two million. The important point could have been correctly stated as a cross-section of America, or a glance at America. But no. How presumptuous and how insulting to those not there and not in agreement?

The same goes for the election. Various sources state between 220 million and 200 million in the US are eligible to vote. Statistical Brain http://www.statisticbrain.com/voting-statistics/ states the total number of American eligible to vote 218,959,000, the total registered to vote 146,311,000 and the total who voted? 132,899, 423. Turnout rate of all voting age citizens? 55%.

We know that Mr. Trump did not receive a mandate. But then, in her loss neither did Mrs. Clinton, albeit a majority of those who voted. The cross section of that vote showed a preponderance in just a few states, not across the land, so again, not a mandate of popularity.

We are not a democracy. At the federal level we are a republic, a federation of states of varied population. Much like democracy according to Winston Churchill- “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”—the electoral college system is an imperfect system. Credibly though it protects the minority from the majority.

What we are missing in all this spin about mandates and popularity is the question, Why do so few exercise their obligation and their right to vote? Why does it seem that there are those who would be more likely to march? protest? than to vote? Why are there those who are discouraged from voting? And, please, do not offer the trope of I.D laws or voting restrictions by conservatives. The numbers of minority voters soared in 2008. “The voter turnout rate among eligible black female voters increased 5.1 percentage points, from 63.7% in 2004 to 68.8% in 2008. Overall, among all racial, ethnic and gender groups, black women had the highest voter turnout rate in November’s election—a first.” so apparently where there is a will, there is a way.

My own perspective is that there is a loss of joy in being American, of the accomplishment of those who came before us. How many of our population know American History? How many know the ideals of the revolution, our fight in 1814 when we almost lost Washington DC, of the courage of Dolly Madison, of the Federalist Papers, of the former presidents, of the McCarthy Era and the fight to remain a free and just county following rule of law? With each peaceful transfer of power from one leader to the next, from one party to the other, we show our success. There is so much to love about America in 2017.

I have stated before that news is raw history, some say the first draft, which makes it even more important that we are truthful in our words, that we are understanding of the import of those words, and that we appreciate the usage of those words. we have, in many ways done a disservice to the present, let us not compound that disservice for the future.

 

Historic

We have been doing a bunch of ‘historic’ lately, well in this century. Really it just means significant or important. I find the word historic to be used in a hyperbolic sense, exaggerated, over-the-top. And I wonder if we do that because we don’t really know what is significant  or what should be exaggerated. For example, it seems that if you like the current president you refer to him and his family in superlatives–the greatest, the grandest, the best of the best. And they may well be. Truly though, does everyone who says this know this personally?

I find this tendency to hyperbole sad. It is ruining the English language. We become inured to when the word is important.

Today we celebrate the historic while it is going on. Politicians write books before they are even in office. Celebrities write memoirs at the beginning of their career. An ad on the Tiffany website recently touted the classic styling and taste of Elle Fanning…the kid hasn’t’ even hit her twenties!

No wonder we are a bit over the top about the 2016 election. We have no perspective. We know today that what we wrote about World War II and Russia, about the McCarthy time and about J. Edgar Hoover during their lifetime and immediately thereafter was incomplete, in some cases wrong. We need the advantage of time; time for archives to be opened, time for people to understand the event in it’s time and place. Mostly for the time to see what that person’s action wrought. Yeah. I want a result before I give an A.

Maybe a test of historic would be how long a person or event is remembered. We all remember 9/11, but that was this century. Those of us old enough remember 11/22/63, or maybe 5/4/70 or  8/4/74 or 4/30/75.  Depending on your interests you remember clearly 2013 in relation to the Boston Red Sox.  All of us celebrate July 4, 1776 but that declaration was not signed until August 2, 1776. Yes, there were some firsts this year; first woman to run for president, first non-politician to win the presidency. They are significant, but how do they mesh with our understanding of our country, of the world. Are they historic? What have they wrought? And if you think that you know just because of campaign rhetoric, well, you really need to wait awhile. Will there be more women candidates? What will they be like? Where will they come from? Will politics now shift to those who have experience in one aspect and are able to apply it to politics?  Is that a good thing? A bad thing?

I personally am not a fan of the Camelot myth of JFK, and  I think, that like Martin Luther King, we may never know what Kennedy would have become had he aged, what he would have supported, how he would have used his talent and energy. We can speculate, even those who knew him well could, but that is all that it is, speculation.

You want historic? Think about the impact of one who died on 9/17/61. Why? Because of what he actually did, DID!  Consider that around the globe there are massive numbers of people engaged with a formidable furor working to maintain the legacy left by this one man. A man that President Kennedy referred to as ‘the greatest statesman of the twentieth century‘. Now he is a significant person everyone should know. Do you?