Thursday, February 24, 2011

History of the Public

I don't get it.  How can a 450-page book entitled America: A History of the United States (Volume 2: Since 1865) not even mention the Wright Brothers?  How can it spend just four pages discussing the space program, with only one of those pages related to the space program during the Kennedy administration?  How can it not mention Paul Laurence Dunbar, the first African-American to achieve world recognition and make a living by writing, and why does it not spend more than one paragraph discussing the Harlem Renaissance? 

Why are we so content to be fed only political and economic history, and yet accept it as the whole of history?

Despite this, I myself powered through, hoping that someday, in some undergraduate or graduate history class, I'd find those gems.  That is, what did politics and economics have to do with people like me, living their everyday lives, in the United States?  I think this is where the true treasures of history lie, and we cannot keep forcing students to learn nothing more than political ideologies, while forgetting about the stuff of real life.  I'm not saying that there isn't a place for political history.  There is.  But I think a more well-rounded approach to the study of history is absolutely necessary.

Because honestly, what the Wright Brothers did at Kitty Hawk in 1903, and at Huffman Prairie in 1905, affects my life much more profoundly than does some obscure political battle during an election year.  Not only that, read a novel by John Steinbeck, and I think you'll get a lot more useful information on what life was like for many people in the 1930s than you would if you read pages 248-279 in the textbook.

We probably need to be more well-rounded in general, anyway.  These days, everything is STEM, STEM, STEM...Science, Technology, Engineering, Math.  That's where we need to focus so that other industrialized countries don't continue to outpace us.  But where will we be left if we can no longer identify those other countries on a map?  If we can't express our feelings about where technology is taking us?  If we can't leave incredible, creative marks to define every era of our culture?  Leave one thing behind, and you open the door for a lot of mess.

History cannot be fully understood without a nod to everything that was happening: political, economic, cultural, right down to the simple, everyday actions of the American citizen.  And humanity cannot be fully understood without taking into account everything that makes us human.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

First Loves Never Die

If I hadn’t finished reading the book two weeks ago and had all that subsequent time to anticipate our discussion this evening, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so disappointed.  Last month, I hadn’t had time in four days even to skim the novel for my first book club meeting, though during the discussion, I desperately wished I had.  So I voraciously devoured this month’s selection, having been proverbially “hooked” after the first few pages.  How could I not be, when it was a death-defying, weather-related incident? 

But our discussion, I thought, left much to be desired.  When I wanted nothing more than to talk about the narrative voice, and the level of emotion conveyed, and the matter-of-factness of the work, it just turned out to be a series of questions like, “Remember when this happened?  What did you think of that?”  Or, “Do you think today’s generation would respond the same way?”  Or, “I thought that one part was so funny,” which isn’t even a question at all, or even a prompt. 

It reminded me of a Bible study I once attended, where the leader would read a passage, or even a single verse, and then lazily ask the participants, “So, what do you guys think about that?”  Nothing deep, nothing probing, no diving board into a multi-sided, thought-provoking exchange.

In any case, tonight, people seemed more interested in talking about a certain relative who was similar to the main character, rather than the characters themselves.  But, startlingly enough, it was during this part of the “discussion” that I made a great discovery.

I think I’m still a writer.

While everyone was talking about Grandma So-and-So, or Grandpa What’s-His-Name, my head starting spinning with novel ideas.  No, not new ideas.  Ideas for novels!  Stories!  Who knows, maybe even screenplays!  I once fancied myself an up-and-coming screenwriter, imagining the day when, dressed in vintage Gucci and with a magnificent, 1920s brooch bedazzling my upswept hair, I would accept my first Oscar for best adapted screenplay.  Yes, my first Oscar.

So these stories suddenly started coming alive to me, never mind the fact that these women had only spent a fleeting moment to mention them.  And the notebook I had brought to take notes of our discussion suddenly became my makeshift “idea book,” and tomorrow, when Shiloh wakes, I will go upstairs and get my real Idea Book, and I will copy these new novel ideas.  And someday, when I need material for my fifteenth novel, there they will be, ready, waiting.

And ready, waiting, right now, is a halfway-decent novel that I began to write about five years ago.  I shall consider it a great accomplishment if I add even one sentence tonight, for it shall be the first sentence of fiction I have composed in years.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lofty Goals and Realistic Expectations

I suppose writing a blog is a little bit of a selfish thing.  It's a few minutes of time set aside, where no housework will get done, no meals will be made, no projects will be completed.  It's also a few minutes where, egotistically, we can hope that someone else out there might find these written words at least nominally interesting.  Why do blogs exist anyway?  Why do people care what anyone else has to say?  Why should I care if they care?

I've hardly written a thing in four years.  I have files and files and files where journal entries, short stories, and attempted novels sit unused, unread.  I know it's a waste.  At one time I considered myself an actual writer.  At one time, I felt so confident that it was my "destiny" (whatever that is), or at least some type of calling, but whatever it was, it was my beckoning career.

Unfortunately, you can't have a career when you don't even dabble.

I was asked the other day, "Why don't you have a blog?"  Well, that was an interesting question.  Why don't I have a blog?  Probably because I don't write anymore, and even if I did...well, that doesn't matter.  I have one now.

Maybe the better question is, "Why don't you write anymore?"  And I could come up with a hundred answers to that very probing inquiry.  I don't know what the real answer is.  But whether I write or not, I have to remember that I can write.  It's doesn't have to be good.  It probably won't be good.  Someone once told me that you have to write a lot of crap in order to get something good.  So maybe the fact that my adoring fans are expecting a riveting blog entry every couple of days or so will force me to write at least something.  And maybe, just maybe, a tiny little gem will rise to the surface, somewhere in the midst of a thousand attempts.

I don't want this to be a chronicle of my life, my daily adventures (or lack thereof).  I suppose I could wish for something philosophical, posing deep, self-altering questions, but I've never been that intelligent.  This is just a place to write.  If you don't like it, I don't care.  I probably won't even like it.

But at least I'll be writing.  So there.