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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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History

So, one of my stories takes place in the 1940s….

…..and I’m pondering the idea of dressing as the main character in order to experience the world as she did.

Obviously, I won’t be subjected to ration books (because things like silk, food and other items were reserved primarily for those serving in World War II), nor will I be paying 1940s prices or rattling about in a 1935 roadster with rumble seat. [1]  On the bright side, however, I can still listen to music, view films and read novels of that era quite easily.  Also, there’s historical documents, non-fiction and documentaries to round all of that background out in a well-balanced way.

Still,  my goal in dressing in a similar manner as the main character is to get a sense of how she walks and how her clothes and shoes affect her.  This would greatly impact her thoughts, anyone she comes into contact with, how she feels about the day in general and her mood overall.  Since I prefer comfortable sneakers, jeans and a T-shirt whenever possible, this will greatly enhance my understanding of the character.

I hadn’t tried this before, since most of my characters are set in our current time frame, but I’m actually tickled to try this one out.  I have a dress that actually has that vintage look of the late 40s/early 50s and vintage shoes that have a thick and rather sensible heel (one that Miss Marple would approve of). [2]  When I go into town, I tend to park a few blocks from the downtown area and walk in.  This is the perfect amount of distance without overdoing things and defeating the whole purpose of this experiment.

There are a few things I’m going to have to go without, however.  Gloves were quite the fashion accessory back in the day, which is something I don’t own.  Neither do I have a proper hat to pin to my head (some with netting, some without).  I’ve also no idea how to do up my hair to fit the time period (and I imagine it would be time-consuming).  [3]

Still, I look forward to doing this – it’ll be fun, if not challenging.  In theater, this is one way to find the character from the inside out, developing their history and their Moments Before, prior to their entrance into the story.

I will keep you posted with updates and pictures, as I catch them.

 

[1] Not gonna lie, I’m kind of bummed about that last one.

[2] It’s been commented upon that it’s a good look for me.  I can work with that. 🙂

[3] There will be trips to thrift stores for the gloves and hat – hopefully, the luck of the Irish will be with me.

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So, history keeps repeating itself……

…….and the theory behind the repetition of events and actions is this – until you learn the lesson, you will continually find yourself inside it.  This is speaking directly to one’s personal life, of course – relationships that don’t work out, jobs that don’t suit, etc.  But until you identify and change one small thing, you will continue to find yourself in those very situations that you rail against and want to break free of.

And it’s not easy – it requires conscious decision making and discipline to carry it through.  This applies to your own life as well as to the collective world at large.  Change is hard, to begin with, but we are constantly changing from the time we are born.  Surely, conscious change can not only be incorporated into one’s life, but embraced as a positive.

I am thinking of bigger issues than relationships, of course, but they are so huge, I’m not sure I could fit it into one blog post.  It could take up several.  And there so many issues to tackle, that I’m even less sure of where to begin.  And change is frightening to a lot of people – so much so, that they’d rather stagnate than make any real positive efforts to experience something that is outside their comfort zone.

And there it is – comfort zones and change don’t mix.  In order to get out of the comfort zone, you have to open up and change – a perspective, a piece of knowledge, a diet.  Regardless of how concrete the action to change is, the end result is a relative unknown.  The unknown can be acceptance or rejection, whether it’s an idea, a person or a philosophy.  It’s not so much the end result that incites fear – it’s the unknown reaction to that result.

From personal decisions to global ones, the unknown result from an act of change (no matter how positive or good that change can be) is fear.  Where do we belong?  Do we belong?  Am I not a part of this world?  What can I do to be relevant to others?  How can I be a better human being in this world?  What can I bring to the table?

It’s questions like that which define us.  It’s how we answer them that will either elevate or condemn us.

Something to think about.

 

“Some people think the future means the end of history.  Well…We haven’t run out of history quite yet.  Your father called the future…the undiscovered country.  People can be very frightened of change.”
Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

The Declaration of Independence: 4 July 1776

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts:
John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut:
Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania:
Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware:
Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland:
Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia:
George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia:
Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

Photo Credit: Foundation for Economic Education.

Review: The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova (2017)

From Amazon’s book description:

A young American woman, Alexandra Boyd, has traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, hoping that life abroad will salve the wounds left by the loss of her beloved brother. Soon after arriving in this elegant East European city, however, she helps an elderly couple into a taxi—and realizes too late that she has accidentally kept one of their bags. Inside she finds an ornately carved wooden box engraved with a name: Stoyan Lazarov. Raising the hinged lid, she discovers that she is holding an urn filled with human ashes.

As Alexandra sets out to locate the family and return this precious item, she will first have to uncover the secrets of a talented musician who was shattered by political oppression—and she will find out all too quickly that this knowledge is fraught with its own danger.

I picked this book up about a week ago, primarily because I’d read Kostova’s The Historian years earlier and fell in love with the world she evoked.  Also, Vlad Tsepes (inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula and terrifying historical leader) was the driving focus of the story.  Kostova’s voice is rich, intelligent and literary, but she never talks down to her audience.  Rather, she invites us in with simple human concerns that we all share – letters, lost luggage, art. Upon accepting that invitation, we stumble into a world that is both familiar and alien.

The Shadow Land is another such invitation.  Set in Bulgaria, both during the aftermath of World War II and the (recent) present, I wasn’t sure what to expect, beyond the book description.  But I remembered The Historian and how much I loved that book, so I was more than willing to give this one a chance.

I.  Could.  Not.  Put.  It.  Down.

Every chance I could, when I wasn’t at work, or working on my own projects or learning French or being out with my horses or friends, I was curled up with this book.  I tuned out this world that I live in and poured myself into this story.  As a voracious reader with a habit of re-reading favorite titles, this one is definitely in for a re-read.  I’m sure there are details that I missed on the first go round.

That said, I do have a minor quibble – the romance between Alexandra Boyd and a character barely seen, but highly romanticized in daydreams by Alexandra, seems idealized.  It does not feel based on real feelings or real interactions – I actually found her relationship with Bobby, her taxi driver, to be far more interesting and intimate than what actually occurred.

Overall, however, it is a minor quibble, it is my quibble and I intend to push this book on anyone who will listen.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Shadow Land                        by Elizabeth Kostova

So, a year ago on this date, I was in Ireland…..

…….and I have to say, it’s hard to believe it’s been a year.

It feels like it just happened.  It also feels like it happened more than a year ago.

I plan to go back, there’s so much more to see than just taking a tour over the course of a week and cramming so much activity into a day.

Maybe not during high holy days, like Good Friday, but for sure I plan to take longer than eight days and seven nights to enjoy my stay.  I slept better in Ireland than I have at any other time in my life.  I ate breakfast at 7 AM.  I never eat breakfast until about 9 or 10.  Sometimes I just forget about it altogether.  Boy, did I eat while I was over there.  Once back in the states, I was back to my regular schedule.

But I never stopped thinking about Ireland.

I have to go back.  My soul belongs there.  So does my heart.  I have family there – I have no idea who they are and they have no idea of who I am.  But I want to know them.

Plus, you know, Guinness beer tastes better over there.

Irish countryside.

So, last night, I went to see and hear Gloria Steinem speak……

……..and it was thrilling. An icon for equal rights and the feminist movement for more than forty years, she has lost none of her passion. Her wit and gracious humor and sharp insights into the last few months brought cheers, applause, tears and laughs.

It was an honor to meet her over the book signing shortly afterwards. Her warmth and down-to-earth presence averted any awkwardness I might have felt in engaging with her. I even got to make her laugh over a comment I made, referring to my Ancient Greek comedy.

It was an evening that took root a few weeks ago, when I saw the event listed and it sparked my interest. It was enlightening, encouraging and hopeful. I ran into people that I knew and met others, of whom I hope to get to know better.

In the last few months, I’ve felt like history had been doubling back on itself, repeating the same patterns and events with new names and different faces. From the Dakota Access Pipeline to the attempt to undo civil rights for women and people of color, it is clear to me that we, as Americans, do not remember our history. As an amateur historian, it’s frustrating and surreal and makes me more determined than ever to keep learning history.

We can’t change the past. Going backwards gets us nowhere. As frightening and uncertain as the future is, we have to keep moving forward. If we remember the lessons of the past, we can affect and alter the future.

The goal is for the benefit of everyone, not a select few.

The theater marquee where I attended the lecture.
The theater marquee where I attended the lecture.

So, last fall, I took a history class…….

……about how California came to be a part of the United States. I signed up for it in part to improve my general GPA in order to pursue a Master’s degree. I also love history and I want to incorporate what I learn to improve and to enrich the settings of my fiction writing.

Using The Elusive Eden by Bullough and Orsi, the course traced the ‘discovery’ of the region until the latter decade of the 20th century. We covered a lot of material, ranging from the encounters and conflicts between the First Americans and the Spanish and European explorers of the 16th/17th centuries to the creation of the Spanish missions. We read about the Gold Rush and the Civil War, about the Prohibition era to the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 70s. There was so much history (and at the same time, not enough), that I’m breaking this up into more than one post.

You know that saying, and I may be paraphrasing a little, “those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it”? Every week, I was reading my text book about events that happened three hundred, fifty, twenty years ago. On the news, it was playing out all over again. The players were the same, the conflict was the same, but the year was different.

What I learned about California as a republic prior to its acceptance into the United States reflects the growth and change of America as a whole. Like the state itself, the history is vast and sweeping, detailed and epic. Because of that, I will be writing about California’s history over multiple posts.

Through the prism of California, I saw how America evolved, set itself back and emerged anew, only to start the cycle all over again.

It was a surreal five months, to say the least. And it hasn’t ended.

My text book.
My text book.

An American Tourist in Ireland (11)

Friday was my last full day in Ireland. Without really thinking about it, I had chosen to make this journey between St. Patrick’s Day and the centennial anniversary of the Easter Rising(1). Had I been a little more aware of the historical significance of the dates, I would have found a way to stay on awhile longer.

We left Galway that morning, after breakfast and headed back towards Dublin. On the way back, we made a scheduled stop at KIlbeggan Distillery. As we pulled into the parking lot, an official greeter arrived to meet the bus. He exchanged hellos as we disembarked, taking time to make each of us feel welcome.

Kilbeggen Distillery Official Greeter.
The Kilbeggen Distillery Official Greeter.

After his warm greeting, the very friendly feline made sure we found our way to the sign, which showed us how to get on with the tour. We made our way down a narrow passage way to the main street – another sign directed us through a gate and we soon found ourselves in a kind of courtyard, which featured a cafe-type space (closed) and gift shop.

The main entrance sign, directing us to the correct route.
The main entrance sign, directing us to the correct route for our tour.

Once inside the distillery, we were greeted by our tour guide, who showed us the intricacies of how Irish whiskey was made. We were even given a free shot. Because it was also Good Friday, they weren’t allowed to sell us any alcohol. After that free shot, I was mightily tempted to put in an order, so it was probably a good thing I couldn’t buy it right then. (The temptation has long since worn off.)

Fully functioning water-wheel.
This is a fully functioning water-wheel.

I have the shot glass – they let us keep that, if we so chose. I so chose, and it is one of my prized belongings that I brought back with me.

A Kilbeggan shot glass.
A Kilbeggan shot glass.

I am not a whiskey drinker, although I have had a shot or two. The shot I sampled at Kilbeggan was delicious and fiery and warmed me to my toes. I wish I could remember what, exactly, we were served, because I’d like to sample it again. Also, I am the kind of person that likes to share the knowledge.

Drinker of whiskey or not, I would encourage a visit to Kilbeggan Distillery, if only to see how it must have worked centuries ago. Something for the history buffs to enjoy.

*****
(1) The Easter Rising of 1916. For an abbreviated version of events, see the film Michael Collins (1996), starring Liam Neeson.

So, I finally finished watching American Horror Story: Hotel…..

…….completing the entire series. Yes, I’m aware that I’m playing catch-up with the show, but that’s okay – better late than never.. For whatever reason (timing, show schedule, my schedule), I wasn’t able to watch any season through its entire run while it was on television. The first episode was usually as far as I got. Also, I was uncomfortable with a lot of the violence and some of the sexual content presented.

The only season I managed to watch every week while it aired was American Horror Story: Roanoke, due to changes in my own schedule that allowed for it. However, thanks to DVDs, I decided to give the show another chance. Setting aside my own discomfort that I’d mentioned above, I bought the first season, Murder House, and worked my through that up to season five, Hotel.

My reaction? Wow.

I became so engrossed with the characters and the stories, that I couldn’t watch just one episode and walk away from it. I finished the first season in one day (each season is about 12 episodes long) and then proceeded to do the same for each succeeding season. What drew me in was the show’s complexity and willingness to examine the dark and light of each character presented.

This is shown in the incredible writing, characters that are flawed and fully-realized people, locations and time settings that were not only fascinating, but seemed to be characters of their own. Each season resets itself in a different setting and decade, with different themes. Many of the same actors return as new characters, which keeps the show fresh. I especially loved the quality of the female characters that were written.

The women of American Horror Story are strong, intelligent, make no apologies for who they are, have no fucks to give and, in some cases, can learn from their mistakes. It has delivered a wide range of powerful female performances, as well as delving into the dark side of American history.

Of all the seasons presented so far, Coven, for me, was the best.

Jessica Lange as the Supreme plays for keeps, even as finds herself in a time loop, refused to curl up and accept her fate. I loved Kathy Bates as Delphine Lalaurie, a 19th century psychopath in Coven, who, through voodoo magic, finds herself immortal and fallen from high society to house maid. Emma Roberts, Gabourey Sidibe, Frances Conroy and Sarah Paulson round out the primary cast.

But most of all, I loved Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau, the 19th century voodoo priestess of New Orleans in Coven. The first time I saw Ms. Bassett in an acting role was when she played Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It? Her presence has stayed with me ever since and I sought out more of her work. Her performances in Freak ShowHotel and Roanoke are powerful and human, but it was her role in Coven that resonated the most with me. She lived and breathed that role, making Marie Laveau a person not only to love, admire and respect, but to fear, as well.

So, if you haven’t watched American Horror Story, I suggest you try it out. As I mentioned earlier in this piece, it’s violent and pushes the boundaries in many respects. However, if you can put that aside, you are in for excellent story-telling, above par writing and some of the best actors ever assembled.

American Horror Story, seasons 1-5
American Horror Story, seasons 1-5

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