Category Archives: Writing The Past

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?

 

11/11

Yep. Veterans Day. Just the right day to talk about the election. This is not an explanation. Nor an excuse. It is not an apology. It is my thought process. What’s done is done.

I was talking to my sister the day after the election. She called because after her phone conversation with her daughter she was at a loss. Her daughter, my lovely and talented niece, was crying, obviously in abject pain over the election of Donald Trump. My sister was trying to figure out how winning or losing an election would put a person out of commission for a day or more. I can’t say I disagree.

I went to bed Tuesday night after a personal total ban on any election coverage, both TV and internet, so no knowledge of the winner. In the morning when Tom turned on the TV I asked him if that was a joke, a Dewey versus Truman moment? Although, I should have phrased it better, Truman was the underdog in that race. And he said, “No. Trump won.”  All right, I foolishly thought. This election is done, in the bag, over. We can get back to other stuff, but no.

As soon as I went I facebook I knew that my niece was no outlier. With posts #notmypresident, and ‘I am ashamed of my country’, and ‘How could this happen.’ With lots of posts about the ‘ignoramuses’ who voted for Trump, and ‘who could vote for a misogynistic , racist, homophobic’, my Facebook news feed was a train wreck of people who were so devastated by the loss of Hillary Clinton that the emoting posts were painful to read. There are others who can explain the vote  far better than I and I may or may not agree with the explanation, because anytime you speak in generalities or about blocs  you lose the meaning of the thing. However, I am a white, college educated [BA, MBA], middle class woman who worked in private corporations in HR as my career, working hard enough, along with my white, college educated middle class husband to put our kids through college without pilling up debt for them or for us, not using any federal assistance. Did it impact our retirement, yes. Tom retired at age 70. We are both Roman Catholic. And yes, that meant something to us.

We voted both for and against in this election. After reading both the party platforms we decided that we could not vote for a party that wanted to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which is about taxpayer dollars paying for abortions. To us, within our faith, abortion is a sin, an existential evil. While we would not force anyone to accept our belief system, we feel strongly that to pay for abortion with federal dollars goes against our rights as a citizen. Additionally, in looking at the democratic platform we do not agree with the policies that, while they are called progressive, to us are socialistic; i.e., forcing wage equality, forgiving of student debt at taxpayer expense, decreasing military effectiveness and the list goes on.

The republican platform, for us, centered more on individual rights, a sovereign nation, free markets and smaller government. These are values we believe in. And while there are parts of the RNC platform and Mr. Trump’s campaign that we disagreed with [so who agrees with everything?] we voted our conscience.

As for the candidates, well, yes, Mr. Trump’s language was less than desirable, which is putting it mildly, but frankly I worked in manufacturing and I have heard much worse, which, admittedly is no excuse. His appeal to the darker nature of humankind versus humankind was distasteful, soul cringing. While one daughter called it sexual assault,  I did not. It was words. I know what sexual assault is.  And as a writer and a life-long voracious reader, I know the power of words. But still it was words.  While, with Mrs. Clinton there was this feeling of ‘one more time’, ‘one more scandal’. One more, one more, one more. It was hard to shake the image of political aristocracy, entitlement, and arrogance from her campaign. And then when the emails were leaked? I am not going to debate criminal versus non, James Comey, or any other aspect, but we were tired of the Clintons, just plain tired.

In talking with my sister, we discussed our mom. A college educated woman, who could stand off against a classroom of forty fifth graders as easily as against a man twice her size who thought to mistreat her or her girls, all five foot one of her. Mom would have been appalled at the breast bashing, the weeping, the railing. “Suck it up and deal,” would have been her response. “You are adults, act like it. Think!” My parents were each registered to their party of choice, lol and not the same one. But I have real and clear memories of my parents sitting at the kitchen table with the League of Women Voters pamphlet going through each item, discussing what had been in the papers [no internet or social media then] what had been on the radio, what they had discussed with friends, any information they had, and then decided. Did they always agree? I have no idea. I do know that my parents voted while informed. 

They voted, not from an emotional point , or, if it would be good to have a democrat or a republican in office, a catholic or a protestant, a woman or a man in the oval office,  but on what that person would bring to the office and continue the hopes and ideals of all those who immigrated to this country. Legally, I should add.

That is exactly what we did. It was irrelevant if a glass ceiling was to be broken. It was irrelevant if  Trump was a cad or worse eleven years ago. What was relevant was we do not agree with rules and regulations in place today, the conduct of foreign policy, the use or misuse of branches of government and we do not agree with conflating rights established under the constitution with ideals listed under a social justice agenda.

Why is this under the category Writing in the Past? Because of history, this story. The voting is done. Our system worked. Our leaders on both sides have been gracious about the winning and the losing. It’s time we all, in honor of all those people who fought and died for the right for us to vote as our conscience dictates, are as gracious. We do this every four years. Don’t make 2016 the year the best of our American aspect and system fails us.

Focus

focusFocus. Wow, a tough word. A tough thing to do.

I am a student of history, always have been, always will be, and I am fortunate to have a good memory, about most things, especially those things which are important to me or which I feel are very, very cool. There is a lot that is important to me, and there is much more that I think is very very cool.

Writing this season I am distracted. For one, the election and I am very much a political junkie, a reader of all things political whether or not I believe in that ideology or system or line of thought. I do not understand not engaging others. I do not understand saying someone is wrong. I don’t understand the language used–yes, I do use it–and yes it can be very powerful–but don’t go all ballistic on a political candidate when you are throwing around swear words to denounce his swear words.  And, at this point I should probably apologize to my older sister who I told was wrong ALL the time. 🙂 But that is different, that is family and you can say things to family, can’t you?

Also I am distracted by the work I chose to do. It is volunteer work, but it seems more like I should be making money somewhere, and I am not. But that’s okay. I am living well, have a wonderful husband who loves me, children who talk to me regularly and baby grands. img_0209                  That is the prize at the end of the journey, if you make it that long…baby grands and mine are so very different and they are exactly like their mothers. God could not have waited longer to grant me this gift. But grant it He did and I will not waste it. If you feel unconditional love for you own children, it is amazing that it can be so multiplied for baby grands.

But I am distracted. The topic was focus. I think I was originally ADHD, or maybe just hyper active, an old fashioned term, or maybe I just had a great imagination and a huge desire to know everything. I think I still do. That I think is why writing this story nonfiction is difficult. I want to share it all. I have read so much. Probably should be reading more, but that is not always possible–I can’t read Swedish, for example–Sigh.

So here is my resolution for this week. A couple three hours a week on the volunteer- SCBWI stuff, more than a couple of hours on Thomas, sleep, of course, reading, of course, and a FOCUS on what it is that my story nonfiction must convey.

My theme is There is nothing so dear to the human spirit as freedom. In this world today, I think this is the most important thing to discuss-not FDR’s four freedoms: of speech, of worship, from want, from fear. The United Nations Freedoms  are not as succinct–after all they were written by committee. To me, the issues with both these listings is there is no distinction between that which is a Jeffersonian ‘inalienable right’ to a for, by and of the people government, and Dorothy Day social justice issues like education, health care and compensation. Aside from the ‘free will’ attribute, to me, we must enable and ensure the truth of the inalienable rights before we can tackle social justice. digress

Side bit: When I was working in Labor Relations, negotiating contracts, the one thing that you wanted to stay away from was a list. Four reasons you could be fired, six reasons you received a warning, twelve reasons you had to post to another job at at certain time.

More on lists: That may be the biggest problem with the bill of rights, or the amendments, because we look to them to be the final word. No, I take that back.  Some of us do. Some don’t, like when the Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that there is a constitutional right homogamy [same-sex marriage]  when there isn’t even a constitutional right to heterogamy [marriage of opposite sexes].  I guess we as society, or at least some of society admit that the list isn’t complete and we need to adjust.

The history I read in my journey to a story nonfiction is overlaid by life today, our values, our judgements, our understanding of the evils human have wrought and our perceptions of how we need to counter those.

I don’t think there should be any words after freedom. No ‘ofs’ or ‘froms’ I think freedom is pretty simple, to live in a society, to be cognizant of the needs of that society, to be able to make personal choices within that society as well as to remove part of yourself from that society. And, freedom is not being subjected to judgement over your choices and have your personal freedom impugned because of your choices. All the while admitting that there are limits based on morals–not unlike the ten commandments, which to me is the essence of limited government 🙂

Now that is focus!