In my odd moments of peace at the interim college position I took this semester, I have started cleaning up my computer files, going through truly ancient folders. Old history and theater papers, primarily. And I was wondering if any of you would be interesting in reading them if I posted them here? One of them, a final paper for a class called Voyages of Discovery, is on Mary Kingsley’s travel diaries, and the professor told me that she thought I could have a career as a research historian if the whole costume design thing didn’t work out. I have another on Deena Metzger’s The Woman Who Slept with Men to Take the War Out of Them that is really in depth. Then a bunch about art and imagination. Since I have been going chunks of time without posting here, I thought maybe I could post them when I don’t have much time for anything else, and it would be an opportunity for a little more discussion than has been happening of late here and maybe some more philosophical posts from me as I consider where I was 15 – 20 years ago to now and how society has advanced since then. Thoughts?
I recently finished a biography of Madame Roland, a woman who played a key part in the 18th century French Revolution. I was familiar with late 18th century French politics but it was never an area that I studied deeply before, mostly looking at the time from the Royals and from the Americans’ point of view, as well as the Jacobin side. Madame Roland was a part of the Girondists, a more moderate faction of the revolutionaries than the Jacobins. Her life is fascinating, and I’m planning on reading her memoirs that she penned while in prison in the future.
Reading about Madame Roland and the revolution reminded me of the horrors of the mob, and also how the mob can be roused and utilized by individuals or small groups of people against others. And it also got me thinking again about liberty and the rights of individuals and morals and principles both in general and personally.
The brutality of a portion of the poorest people whipped into a frenzy in France was horrifying. The streets literally did run red in blood. So me being me, I immediately tried to put myself into that situation. Do you ever do this? Ask yourself – what would it take for me to be so angry, to dehumanize or blame someone so much, that I would relish in witnessing their public murder and be gleeful at the blood? Or what would it take to be swept up in the tide of a mob and how far would you let that tide take you, if there were rioting? We mostly want to think of ourselves as too civilized, too intelligent, too above the common herd to fall sway, but what if we were chronically on the brink of starvation and freezing to death?
And the flip side – have you ever asked yourself if you have a cause or a principle that you would be willing to die for? Or to try to manipulate people to achieve the goals of that cause? The Girondists really believed in the Grecian ideals of liberty and freedom for France, but the general population at that point mistook licentiousness for liberty, something many still do today. And that’s a point I think everyone really needs to reflect on. I do firmly believe in liberty and self-governance, but I also know that not everyone is ready for self-governance, so the best thing we can be doing is to help others become more aware of their power and responsibility over themselves as individuals because without that, society is pretty much doomed to keep repeating the mistakes of the past.
While I’ve been having all this swirling in the background of my mind that past week, a quote of Alfred Adler’s came up on a podcast I was listening to – “It is always easier to fight for one’s principles than it is to live up to them”. And that just kind of turned everything around and made me consider things even more. It is an interesting and instructive exercise to reach into the dustiest, darkest corners of your inner self, even when it is uncomfortable.
Anyway, I hope we never have to repeat something like the French Revolution, and that the revolution, when it does come, can be a more enlightened and less messy one.
I haven’t posted very much about the new political and social climate here in the States. In part, I try to avoid saying our new president’s name as much as possible. But honestly, I am having a hard time getting angry.
See, I’ve been angry for years. Since a young teen really, so it’s been a couple of decades at this point. I have been spouting off about the dangers we were heading toward for a very long time. And now that we’re here, all I can do is feel sad. Sad that we allowed this to happen because of our complacency. Sad that so many people are suffering. Sad that so many still don’t understand that we are all culpable for the actions that those in power take and have taken because we fueled the beast with our sweat and our dollars, and in fact we still are doing it even as we fight it. We handed over our power and said “take care of it all for me” and then stuck our fingers in our ear and were surprised by the results of our actions. We are reaping what we sowed, and our parents sowed, and so on even back to the founders of this great experiment of a nation. Which is why I snicker when people want to go back to the “good ol’ days”. But that’s a tangent so never mind.Not that I am into saying “I told you so”. I just feel on the outside of a lot of what is going on because I’m not angry or grieving or surprised. I find myself in Observer mode, giving people room to feel anger and grief, trying to help others process when I can, to encourage others to take their feelings and turn them into actions, to take action myself in small ways that never feel like enough.
I still find myself feeling hopeful that we can build momentum and make a big leap forward as a society, even as a species, but I know it could go either way, and that every leap forward comes at a steep cost. I don’t worry so much for myself but for my children. What kind of opportunities will they have? Can we fix enough? Will more people in their age group understand basic truths about the way the Universe operates and that no one in this world has to suffer unnecessarily? And is our having to deal with the craziness that is happening right now the impetus necessary to get us to a brighter future? I have to believe that possibility exists so I can go about my day and be present for my children.
In the midst of everything going on, I want to remind all of you that sometimes the most revolutionary thing you can do is to take care of yourself body and mind. Keep yourself toned and sharp. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones not to be complacent, to be ready to fight and win in a war of words with Truth over opinion, with Love over fear. And you should be ready to defend yourself and others physically if it comes down to that and to even run if it really comes down to that as well. The times are uncertain, but the future is still not set in stone.
Oklahoma is the first of several states that are considering banning the Advanced Placement U.S. History class taught at the junior level in high schools across the country because of the supposed negative presentation of much of the material. Indeed, OK is even considering now banning all AP coursework under the same guidelines that they blocked the Common Core, which is so incredibly short-sighted even by normal ‘Murican standards that it makes my head hurt.
Americans should learn about the reality of their history, as much as possible, and the groundwork for that should be laid when they are teenagers – old enough to understand that the world can be awful, young enough to still question why. Candy-coating documented facts to stop your most intelligent students from questioning our way of life is totalitarianism. And it seems to me if you are a red-blooded, patriotic ‘Murican, you’d want your children to learn all the awful things that those in control in our country have done so that history doesn’t repeat itself. If you want to be a true “watchdog” for freedom, then you need to know how little of it has actually ever existed. And it’s not that our history as a nation is completely negative, but it is far easier to have a class discussion around a controversial topic, and, as I’ve said before on this blog, it is a whole lot easier to fix societal problems when you actually know that problems exist.
I took every AP course that interested me in high school, and where it differs from Common Core is that the exam is not mandatory for passing the course. It is merely the opportunity at the end of the class to score high enough for college credit. So teachers used past exams at the end of every chapter to get us used to the format, but it wasn’t the focus. Instead, the focus was on discussions and writing essays that involved drawing our own conclusions from the information learned. It was truly college level work at the high school level. And I hate the thought of states taking that away from their students.
As I’m still compiling my list of fascinating women, I decided to just start with the first one alphabetically, and that is Sarah Aaronsohn.
Sarah Aaronsohn was a spy during World War I, part of a spy ring called the Nili. Her life is fascinating! Born in Israel, she made a safe marriage to a wealthy man and moved to Instanbul, then left her husband to return home. On her way back, she witnessed part of the Armenian genocide, including seeing thousands of Armenians being bound together and burned on a pyramid of thorns. Seeing the genocide made her want to do something, which is what led to forming the Nili with her brother and some other friends. When finally caught, she reportedly survived four days of torture before convincing her captors to let her go back home to collect some personal items, and while in her house, shot herself in an attempt to not reveal any information. While lingering for a few days in the hospital, she kept begging the doctors to kill her. And then she finally died without revealing any information. In addition to all of this, she also seems to have had a lover in the spy ring and occasionally wore men’s clothing. But interestingly, there are two different stories about her – the one the more conservative Jewish groups developed in the middle of the 20th century downplay her role in the spy ring and make no mention of the lover or crossdressing, but instead praise her more as a maternal/supporting figure in the spy ring.
I am chagrined to admit that I don’t remember ever even hearing about the Armenian Genocide. I imagine it’s because the US wasn’t involved in any way, except for a few protest groups. The research I’ve done is appalling and heart-wrenching, though. And you’d think there’d be a brief mention at least, as the Turkish massacre of the Armenians was the inspiration for the Nazis. A sentence letting students know that in the high school history books would have been nice. But neither the Turks nor the Armenians were white, the US involvement was negligible, and I guess allowing high schoolers to think the Nazis invented the cruelties of the Holocaust is a stronger story than teaching that they merely adapted and improved upon the ideas of the Ottoman Empire (and by “improve” I mean make more efficient and kill many more people). So I get it, in a way, but it still annoys me that I was ignorant of such an important part of world history. I have the feeling that I’ll be feeling like this a lot as I continue creating these portraits.
So now I’m in the sketching phase for the portrait. I still don’t know how abstract or symbolic I’ll get, which is fun to try to work out. I hope to start putting paint down at the end of March.
So, I realized I never actually did a post on how Gettysburg was. In a word: hot. I took exactly three pictures, and none of them turned out very good because the sweat was pouring down my body and stinging my eyes. The humidity made it feel like we were swimming at times. But the visit was still worth it.
We drove through the country roads of Pennsylvania that morning, and it was a lovely drive. The forests mingling with the farmland, the mixture of very old and very new houses, the small towns, the beautiful waterways, lots of horses – it was lovely to see from our air-conditioned vehicle. 🙂 We drove through Hanover, PA and saw some amazing old architecture. Just really picaresque the whole trip.
When we arrived at the battlefield, we decided to just do a “small” loop of the trails because of how hot it was. You could do a car tour as well, but since it’s such a pain to get a two year old in and out of a carseat, we pulled out the stroller, went inside the visitor center to sunscreen in the air conditioning (Badger brand, if you’re wondering – works well and has completely safe ingredients but tends to show white against your skin once you start sweating no matter how much blending you do. Still, my eyes water and burn using normal commercial brands so we put up with the gentle and safe alternative. And it smells REALLY good.) Then we took off for the trails – through the woods, across a street where we noticed a construction crew, then to the battlefield proper.
It’s always nice to gain some historical perspective. To really reflect on the soldiers that fought and died where you are standing. I’ve studied the Civil War quite a bit and read a lot of literature from that time, so it was fascinating. And I did as much reflecting as I could while taking turns pushing the stroller in high heat and humidity. And somehow, we got turned around, went on a longer loop than anticipated, and had to try to figure out how to get back to our car. We came out much further down the road and crossed the street again only to find that the walkway was blocked with cones and rope. We went back and forth over whether we should just try to walk off-trail or go up the busy road towards the other trail entrance, when an incredibly helpful park ranger came across the street to us and told us that they were just a couple of days out from opening the trail back up so we could duck under the rope and go on our way because the road wasn’t safe with our stroller. Such a nice man.
See, they didn’t really advertise the fact that the trails were closed (where we noticed anyway) because we were the only idiots actually trying to hike in the heat! But we were saved! And made it safely back to our car.
We drove through the city of Gettysburg, got a little turned around so got a nice tour of campus, and at lunch at a decent family restaurant. Then we were on our way home!