Tag Archives: history

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.

 

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.

search

Search and re-search. Or is it research? I’m working on a non-fiction project. It’s taken me years to get to it. No, literally years. Not because I was so busy, but because I had no idea how to write it, what was important, why I wanted it to be out there, other than the fact that it has stayed with me for years. I was first interested in the subject in 1961, so yes, really, years, a bunch of them.

I’ve diddled around the edges. Been interested and then forgot. When the subject came up I read. But I did not seek out information. I didn’t search or re-search or research. But then, out at SCBWI LA a couple of years back, I attended a bunch of the sessions on non-fiction. It was enlightening and exciting and I felt really really dumb. I couldn’t figure out what I knew that would be interesting in non-fiction.

I have a BA in History. I love history. When I was in fifth grade I told my parents that was what I would study in college. My problem was that history was fascinating, but the tests weren’t and so the grades didn’t really match up to the appeal of the subject. When I graduated from Pepperdine with a MBA, my Dad questioned me, I was so good at the business side, why didn’t I get my undergrad in business. Well, I thought college was supposed to be a time of exploring, thinking, learning what ever came my way. History gave me that. I could study anything, literature, science, math, business, and it was all legit. Everything has a history, right?

But the bottom line was I had veered from that path far into Fortune 500 companies. Seriously? What kid would want to know about those? So when pressed about writing a non-fiction, I was baffled. I thought I knew nothing. Both  Melissa Stewart and Alexis O’Neill told me to figure it out. And they were right. And, all the time it was right on the wall in front of my desk.

And the searching, which is just the looking for stuff, has to come before the re-searching, which is looking more closely at the stuff,  and researching, which is an orderly looking at the stuff that’s important. First I read about the part that had made me fascinated so many years ago. Then I read the really really dry academic part. Then I re-searched.

And, I’m finding that all those skills, talents and joy that I found in the fifth grade, that made me curious but not academic, are coming back. It’s really all in the search!