Tag Archives: Twyla Tharp

Reading Your Own History

When do you think you read your own history? Or maybe it’s read history during your own time.

I think the first time it dawned on me was when I was reading a book about Twyla Tharp  and I realized that the days and dates she was discussing I had lived. And I could remember things I was doing.  Not anywhere near her circle, of course,  I was west coast, she was east, she’s about four/five years older than me. Then it happened again when I read Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters and I realized at a very visceral level that while those young men and women who were a scant one or two years older than me were sitting at the lunch counter in Greensboro North Carolina while I was maybe in class or eating lunch in the open Quad, or more likely, pranking one of the nuns at Bishop Alemany High.

Now I am reading Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly and I am struck by how much is not history to me, but memory. Not of the personal issues of the Kennedy’s [those came out only much much later after Jackie had solidified the ideal-falsely I think-of the administration as Camelot] as closely told in the book. Mine was the view of a teenager watching the entire presidency and then assassination take place. Even then I was something of a political history wonk. Somehow I remember being in school, it was my senior year at Alemany, but as it was the Friday after Thanksgiving that’s doubtful. I do remember Sister Roseanne, SJC, our principal announcing something over the loud speaker and all of us being shocked. But again, I don’t think we went to school the Friday after the holiday.

What I do clearly remember is the hours of television over the weekend devoted news in Dallas, in DC. The video or was it pictures? of Johnson taking the oath of office. I remember the reporting about the feuding between the two families, the play, the name I can’t remember, that intimated that  Johnson was complicit in the assassination. I remember the naming of the Warren Commission, mainly because Earl Warren was from California. I even read parts of the Commission Report.

The funeral was on Monday. Nobody had school. We all sat and watched. The country stopped.  I have picture of the funeral cortege made just for me. A friend, Pete, a couple of years older and in the Defense Language Institute outside of DC was able to attend the funeral as part of the people on the street and sent me copies of the pictures. They are color, little, maybe 4X4 inch. But it was a clear, sunny day, not warm, as you can see people in the crowd wearing coats. There are pictures of  the riderless horse,  and the horse drawn caissson. And the crowds. Sigh.

Why am I blogging about all of this? Two reasons. I am writing a creative narrative non-fiction about a person in the twentieth century and as Rosenstock-Hussy wrote, “Memory is Tyrannical” and I believe that to be true. I need to sort what I know from what I remember.

The second is about how we remember–even days that are not part  of our own personal history. More on that later.

But for now, I am deep in the throes of having lived history. Daunting.


Grown. Growing up. Some have it difficult, maybe not enough food, or not a stable home, maybe an insane parent or guardian, maybe there’s a war going on outside your door. I get that, and not for the first time think that if we have to be licensed for cars, and guns and maybe even to vote, we should be licensed to have kids. Maybe pass a test or take a course, or something so that when a child is brought into the world they are loved and cared for, treasured for the future they promise and to, somehow, make good on that promise. I’m also talking about the angst, the Catcher In The Rye angst, the disaffected, totally egocentric angst. Did I not have it, or, was I not allowed to have it, which seems all the more likely. Not that my parents were strict, they were and they weren’t, but I was brought up in a stiff upper lip and stand tall, be tall kind of world.

I’m writing about a girl, her brothers and a stranger. First off, I didn’t have brothers, just sisters, two very alike sisters, and I was the odd one out. Sometimes more odd. But, siblings are siblings. Are girls more wicked than boys? I have no idea, but I know that the stereotype is not what I want to write. I wonder how much I knew about my sisters. I look at them now, what they are as adults. It’s a strange world out there. I’ve said before, I was an unconscious person, more interested in plot, setting and voice than character. Strange when I write that, because in the history I studied, it was the main characters on stage; Elizabeth I, Charlemagne,  St. Thomas More, that fascinated me the most, that I couldn’t get enough of those characters that actually made a difference in the world.

Ha! An epiphany and maybe a help. It’s not the character that fascinates me, it’s the relationship the character had with the world. Elizabeth defining her age, much like her successor Victoria. Or Charlemagne defining what it meant to rule an empire. How a Twyla Tharp changed the world of dance, or Ayn Rand changed our view, maybe, of corporations and communism.

Hmm…I’m going to have to think about this. So, maybe it’s not that growing up is tough. It’s that growing up is a constant in the world.