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Posts Tagged ‘history’

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. We’ve been watching classic war movies all weekend, Patton and The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far. I’m thinking of my stepmother’s father, who campaigned in North Africa and Italy. I’m thinking of one uncle who served and came home with his humor and wits intact, and another who did not.

One set of parents is hosting a party to celebrate the hope of returning summer, another set is at the family plot cleaning graves and laying flowers. Both sides of memory are necessary, in my mind.

Part of what writers do is build creative narratives that interpret life, remember the past, reframe the present, and project into the future. Art is interpretation. Memory is selective. What we remember depends on who we are, and who we hope to be. When we stop telling stories, we start forgetting.

Today’s free fiction is Pamela Sargent’s “Too many memories” from Nature’s Futures division.

You already know what Dorothea’s most important insight was — that the reason our client had so much trouble with her memories was that she possessed no narrative structure on which to locate them.

“There’s no framework there,” Dorothea Singh said to me, “nothing to hang the memories on.”

Today, we are that framework.
 

 

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For today’s sampling of free fiction we have a novelette by the great Connie Willis.

Fire Watch” is anchored in a future where time travel is a research tool, and features the same group of historians as in Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. (This novelette is #0.5 in the Oxford Time Travel series.)

Welcome to a world where your academic practicum might include saving a beloved church during the London Blitz. Heck, I wish my History degree had come with a side of time travel:)

Enjoy!

 

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It’s snowing! It’s pretty! All is right with the world.

The past few weeks of above-freezing temperatures and no snow have been, for lack of a better word, weird. It reminds me of the time I spent in Arizona, and my first warm Christmas. Seventy degrees on Christmas? In the Northern Hemisphere? Weird. I thought I’d be happy to get away from the cold and snow but I guess childhood imprinting isn’t so easy to escape.

I’ve also been thinking about the desert for a story I’m working on. Remembering the dry expanse stretching to the horizon, tenacious scrub clinging to the sides of dry riverbeds and the clarity of the air at dawn. Thinking about the challenges of crossing such a place in an era before the things Americans tend to take for granted, like functional highways, a network of gas stations and cars that didn’t blow a tire every 50 miles. And I stumbled across this fascinating article in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine, about a network of alien markings giant concrete arrows crisscrossing the continent.

giant arrow

 

Before satellites, real-time GPS or other modern navigation systems, pilots had to be able to see where they were going. They couldn’t fly at night or in bad weather, and figuring out where they were was a complicated affair involving tools like a compass, maps (on paper!) and a bit of guesswork.

Some towns painted their names in oversized block letters on rooftops to help pilots get their bearings. And sometimes—like when navigational delays slowed down transcontinental air mail delivery* after 1920**—the government saw the need for a more comprehensive solution to the problem and stepped in. In this case they built a system of 70-foot-long concrete arrows pointing the way:

The government built a path of 70-foot-long concrete arrows every few miles from coast to coast, each painted yellow and topped with a 51-foot steel tower that had a rotating beacon. Using the path, an airmail pilot needed only half the time to deliver a letter from New York to San Francisco.

Eventually technology caught up with our demands and the markers were abandoned. Where are these markers now? An intrepid couple named Brian and Charlotte Smith wanted to know the answer and embarked on A Quest (because let’s face it, it’s hard to get anything significant done without A Quest).

They go on road trips to investigate these remnants of a bygone era, and now you can too. With the help of drone lessons from their nine-year old grandson, they’ve assembled photos and a database of marker locations.

The core idea of this story resonates with me. It’s the same childhood fascination I had for the Pony Express or the challenges of nineteenth-century explorers. For me, it’s hard to read a piece like this and not conjure up a daring young Lady Adventurer winging her way across an untamed landscape on a new world, with nothing but a few isolated markers to keep her on track.***

Marvelous!

—–

* FYI, I love the USPS and public libraries and Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System. These and other basic infrastructure**** projects help make us a better connected, better educated country and have impacted everything from social mobility to what we eat for dinner.

** Before 1920, if you wanted to send a letter to your cool aunt in San Francisco, for example, it went via methods like stagecoach or boat or train. Slooooooow. Or you could send a telegram and tell the whole world your business… like Twitter, actually.

*** A lot like Beryl Markham, actually.

**** (A footnote within a footnote. Does that make it a toenote?) I just want to include the definition of infrastructure and ask lawmakers responsible for assigning project funds, how is this optional?

Infrastructure: The basic physical and organizational structures and facilities (e.g., buildings, roads, and power supplies) needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.

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Storytelling is a fundamentally human pursuit. (Not to say that we’re the only ones who do it, because it’s possible that ant and bee pheromones communicate the route to food in the form of a tale that resonates with those particular species, but…) In fundamental ways that touch on history to parenting to neuroscience and everything in between, we are our stories. The origins of some classic fairytales, for instance, go back thousands of years.

How our essential stories came to be, what they say to us, and about us, and how they continue to resonate, are all fundamental questions for writers. One way to think about the path of a story, where it goes and what it is meant to do, is through the Hero’s Journey. The TED Radio Hour on NPR did a nice series on this:

…why are we drawn to stories about heroes? And what do they tell us about ourselves?

There are other ways to tell a story, of course, but as the fundamental underpinnings of tales from The Odyssey to Star Wars, this framework provides a fascinating and concrete way to communicate through fiction.

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My new crush: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

What: Australian TV series set in the 1920s, featuring a murder-solving “Lady Detective”… which doesn’t really capture it at all:)

Where: Seasons 1 and 2 are available on Netflix (and elsewhere, including my public library, but Netflix works for me). Season 3 recently aired on Australia’s ABC TV.

Why? Because Reasons!

  • The series is based on the books by Kerry Greenwood, and because each episode (at least those I’ve seen to date) is based on its own book, the plot and character arcs tend to be layered and complex.
  • It features a woman (played by the fabulous Essie Davis, interviewed about the series on NPR) who is not afraid of action, bucking authority, family planning, sex, crossing racial or class boundaries, believes whole-heartedly in nonjudgmental good works, tolerance, and enjoying the hell out of life.
  • Great mix of characters and story lines, plus incisive social commentary incorporated in an interesting way.
  • I’ve seen the series described as “competence porn” and while I think the lead character could benefit from a few lessons on how to hang on to one’s pistol and the downsides of scaling buildings in heels, I’d have to agree. She always solves the case, rescues herself and everyone else, and gets the gun back. Also, her skills with a grappling hook are impressive.
  • The clothing gets talked up a lot in reviews of the show and while I’m not a fashion devotee, it’s true, the outfits provide a beautiful and fascinating glimpse into Jazz-age apparel. In this article at The Australian, designer Marion Boyce discusses the process of outfitting the series. Fun fact: Instead of using vintage items, most of the costumes were made for the show, in part because modern humans are differently proportioned than they were even a hundred years ago.
  • Insanely catchy theme song🙂

 

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We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
— Preamble to the United States Constitution

I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States will endure, that it will prevail, that the dream of our founders will live on in our time.

— Barack Obama

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When I’m in Canada, I feel this is what the world should be like.
— Jane Fonda

 

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