The name of the course doesn’t mean you can write a novel in eight weeks! Ms. Lakin just means the course lasts eight weeks. The course is intense. It covers a year’s worth of material. If I learn as much each of the next six weeks as I learned the last two, week, my head might explode.
The first week’s lesson about scenes and “high moments” was worth the price of the entire course. (No, I’m not getting any type of compensation for saying that!)
The structure of popular novels has changed in the last few years due to the influence TV and movies have had on our attention spans. The narrative-rich novels I loved so much by such authors as James Michener aren’t what readers want now. There are exceptions, of course, but this course is about the new norm. Scenes should just cover a capsule of time, yet every scene must serve a purpose and end with some type of change.
The second lesson was about microtension. I didn’t know what that was, so there was plenty to learn.
I’m still trying to grasp the many aspects of microtension. It seems to be just about anything that’s unexpected in a scene or even down to the sentence level. Ms. Lakin’s lecture about microtension was longer than an hour, so you would be correct to assume that I’ve over-simplified it here.
A bit of decluttering
In my recent struggle about what I was supposed to be doing or writing, I sought God’s guidance. One night I dreamed that I was going through a life’s accumulation of stuff and discarding or setting aside items to either donate or recycle. Most items were being discarded. When I woke up, I had clarity and felt like God was telling me to get rid of the clutter in my life. Sometimes you need to get rid of the old to make room for the new.
One bit of clutter I got rid of was a stack of Writer’s Digest magazines. I’d kept them because there were some good articles in them. Years passed and the magazines became a stack and there was no easy way to find a particular article when I needed it.
I’ve gone through 55 of the 58 issues of the magazine that were taking up space on a bookshelf and tore out the articles I wanted to keep. I’ve organized the articles by topic in three 3-ring binders. (You see, I’m old school and I like paper)
A few of the categories in those binders are Character, Setting, Plotting, Structure, Point-of-View, Scene, Author Brand, Author Website, Writing Business, Genre, Editing, Self-Publishing, Pacing, Theme, Publishing Options, and Queries. There are many more categories, but you get the point.
With that project done – except for some articles that haven’t found a home yet among my topics — I’m able to easily find my notes on a particular aspect of writing to reread helpful items. Many other articles are saved on my computer. (See, I’m not completely old school!)
Since my last blog post
I continue to delve more deeply into my chosen genre, historical fiction. The novel I’m writing now could qualify as the blended genre, historical mystery. I’m analyzing recent historical mystery bestsellers, looking for such things as how and when backstory is given, how much microtension I can identify, scene length, and chapter length. All the while, looking to see how each scene builds to a high moment.
However, the ideas I have for two or three additional novels are not mysteries, so I hesitate to label the first book (and myself) in the historical mystery genre. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed and then have readers disappointed (or angry) when my other books aren’t mysteries. I know I’m getting ahead of myself on this, but it’s something I need to be aware of. It’s all part of the process.
Update on Whitney Plantation
This is a follow-up to my August 16, 2021 blog post: How the Word is Passed – Part I.
The Whitney Plantation near Wallace, Louisiana was greatly damaged by Hurricane Ida and is closed indefinitely. If you are inclined to help with the repairs, you can do so by visiting https://www.whitneyplantation.org/.
Two days ago, we marked the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 major terrorist attacks on the United States.
It was on September 11, 2001 that we Americans lost our innocence. It was the day we learned that the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans could not protect us. We learned that we were naïve and vulnerable. Our lives changed forever.
There have been numerous shows on TV over the last week in remembrance of 9/11 as it is called in the U.S. It has been gut-wrenching to watch the sights and sounds of that day in New York City, the countryside in Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon in Washington, DC over and over again. Every photograph puts me right back in that day.
The days just before 9/11
We’d had a busy and beautiful weekend. We celebrated the 250th anniversary of the founding of our church with a play and Dinner in the Grove. Descendants of all our former pastors had been invited for the weekend of festivities and had come from several states. I had written the play that was performed on Saturday afternoon.
Our oldest living former pastor, who was in his 90s, came from Virginia to preach the sermon on Sunday morning. Several hundred people enjoyed Dinner in the Grove after the Sunday morning worship service.
Before leaving with his grandson that afternoon, that old pastor insisted on making the trek to the spring between the church and the manse to take one last drink of cool water from the spring he’d last visited more than 60 years before. I held my breath as his grandson held him by his belt as the old man bent down double to get his mouth to the water flowing out of the pipe coming from the springhouse.
It was a glorious weekend!
Our brother and sister-in-law were here from Georgia for the festivities and were staying for a few days. I was tired on Sunday night, so I didn’t set the alarm to get up at any certain time for the morning of 9/11. I planned to sleep until I woke up – whatever the time. I had no plans for that day.
I was sound asleep when my sister woke me up saying, “The World Trade Center is on fire!” I struggled out of bed and went to the family room where she and my brother and sister-in-law were watching the ABC TV network.
My brother and I stood in the middle of the room, watching in horror as the fire consumed the top floors of one of the twin towers when an airliner came out of nowhere and plunged into the other tower. My brother and I looked at each other, and I said, “That was no accident.”
I knew instantly that life had just changed forever, but I didn’t really know the depths of those changes for a long time.
Within a few minutes, we knew another plane had been hijacked and forced to crash in Pennsylvania. Yet another hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon.
My immediate reactions were digestive problems all that day. My stomach was in knots. What was going to happen next?
All air traffic over the United States was grounded as quickly as possible. Planes were ordered to land at the nearest airport. People ended up not where they had intended to go. Some of the people who had traveled more than 1,000 miles to participate in the celebration at our church had to rent cars and drive home because they didn’t know when they’d be able to get on a plane to fly home. Did they even want to get on another plane with such uncertainty about how and why the hijackings on 9/11 had taken place? I wouldn’t have wanted to.
It was reported on TV that 25,000 body bags had been ordered to recover the bodies of the people killed at the World Trade Center. It was a number I couldn’t get my head around. But what was even more difficult to comprehend as the day went by was that there weren’t going to be many bodies. Nothing remained except dust.
People posted photographs of their loved ones who had been in one of the towers that morning. We saw the pictures on TV. People frantically hoped their relatives and friends had escaped the buildings. Maybe they were injured and had amnesia. Maybe they were unconscious and unidentified in a hospital. People held out hope against all odds. But most of them had to accept that the person they loved so much had not survived.
The remains are still being analyzed 20 years later. In fact, the remains of one of the victims was identified just last week through DNA testing. Many families are still waiting for that official report.
I didn’t personally know anyone who was in the World Trade Center that day, but in the days and weeks after the tragedy we were told the stories of the special lives the victims had led. We learned of their small or unborn children who suddenly became orphans that morning. We learned of the young widows and widowers whose hearts had been torn out with the death of their spouses. Lives that held so much promise. So much intellect and talent wiped out in the blink of an eye.
For weeks after 9/11, we watched on TV as the rubble was removed. One thing I remember is that there was nothing to laugh about for months. The late-night TV talk shows that had depended on making fun of politicians or events in the news no longer had anything to poke fun at. And if they had dared, their disrespect would not have been gladly received by their audiences. It just didn’t seem appropriate to laugh about anything for months following 9/11. That made a lasting impression on me.
Peter Jennings stayed on the air for hours and what turned out to be days on end to inform us about what was happening.
For a long time after that, we knew if regular programming was interrupted for a special report, it probably wasn’t going to be good news. It was something that affected everyone, and it made me hold my breath in anticipation. It was before “breaking news” became something said on cable news every 15 minutes that usually turns out to be something you heard yesterday. And it wasn’t a high-speed chase 3,000 miles away involving a sports celebrity.
There were countless stories of heroism. Not just the first responders, but everyday people. For instance, the people on the plane headed for the White House or US Capitol. Passengers overtook the hijackers and forced the plane down in a field in Pennsylvania to save further devastation and death in Washington, DC. I was prompted to wonder what I would do in such a situation. Would I cower in fear or demonstrate bravery?
It seems quaint now, but in the months and possibly several years following 9/11, all Americans pulled together. All our little differences were forgotten. We were one country. We all rallied under our beautiful flag. We were kind to one another. The exception was that Americans of the Muslim faith were all suspect. They were vilified by some people. That was a sad result of the attack and it has persisted for 20 years.
The entire world came to our aid with moral support and tears. In our “hour of need,” other countries put their arms around us and held us up.
It was a time like no other I experienced before or since.
The mere mention of 9/11 brings to my mind images of those burning buildings, collapsed buildings, dazed survivors running for their lives, first responders rushing toward and into the towers, smoke settling over and shrouding Manhattan, the hole in the ground in Pennsylvania, the ugly hole gouged out of the Pentagon, employees fleeing the White House which was possibly the intended target of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. I can’t erase those images. Maybe I’m not supposed to be able to forget. I should never forget those who died that day – the sacrifices they made and the sacrifices their families made.
I now understand why my parents forever remembered Pearl Harbor on December 7 and why my great-grandfather always noted the anniversary of the Battle of Richmond in his daybooks.
Today’s blog post is the last in a three-part series about some of the things I learned by reading How the Word is Passed, by Clint Smith. At the end of today’s post, I’ll include links to the other two.
Today I share with you some of the things I learned about Galveston Island, Gorée Island, and the Epilogue in the book.
There was just too much information in this book to give it appropriate time in one or two blog posts. Needless to say, I highly recommend the book. I’m just hitting the high points in my blog posts.
I did a double take when I read the following words at the beginning of the chapter about Galveston Island: “The long-held myth goes that on June 19, 1865, Union general Gordon Granger stood on the balcony of Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas and read the order that announced the end of slavery.”
So soon after Juneteenth 2021, I couldn’t get past the word “myth.” What in the world could Mr. Smith mean by calling this a myth?
After rereading the opening sentence to make sure I hadn’t misread it, I had to keep reading. My curiosity had been piqued.
Mr. Smith continued with the following: “Though no contemporaneous evidence exists to specifically support the claim, the story of General Granger reading from the balcony embedded itself into local folklore…. It is an annual moment that has taken a myth and turned it into a tradition.”
I read on for several pages before I had a clue why Mr. Smith was calling any part of the Juneteenth celebration a myth. What I learned was something I’d never heard, and we’d do well to learn about the aftermath of June 19, 1865 in Texas.
Now that I have your attention, you’ll need to read Mr. Smith’s book to learn the rest of the story. I don’t want to steal all Mr. Smith’s thunder in my blog post.
Gorée Island is off the coast of Senegal on the west coast of Africa. The native translator who accompanied Clint Smith to the island admitted he felt guilty for never having visited the Slave House. He explained his confliction over realizing that if his ancestors had been captured and taken to the United States as slaves, he would be an American. His ancestors weren’t captured. It gave him a confused feeling.
Over the centuries, Gorée Island was colonized and renamed by a variety of European countries. It was important in the slave trade from the 1500s until 1848 when France abolished slavery in its colonies.
The author just wanted to see where the Slave House was. He didn’t want the full tour, but that’s what he got. He was shown two tiny rooms where African captives were held while waiting to be shipped to America. There was a room that was more like a dungeon where captives who were rebellious were supposedly kept. Mr. Smith was reminded of the Red Hat cell block he’d seen at Angola Prison.
The Slave House has become a symbol of slavery. Bonbarer Joseph Ndiaye, the curator of the facility from 1962 until 2009, came up with the concept of the Door of No Return. I remember seeing pictures of the Door of No Return, but I didn’t remember the name of the island where it was.
The Door of No Return is the focal point at the Slave House. It is presented as the door through which the captives being held inside the Slave House passed just before being loaded on slave ships bound for the United States.
Since Gorée Island is the only chapter in Mr. Smith’s book set in Africa, he addressed the African end of the slave trade. I learned more than I had known about that. Based on what Mr. Smith was told by Eloi Coly, the curator and site manager of the Slave House at the time of the author’s visit, I learned why some African tribal chiefs decided to capture other Africans and use them as currency for what they wanted from the Europeans and Americans. I invite you to read Mr. Smith’s book if you want to learn more about that.
I found it interesting that Mr. Smith found parallels between Senegal and the United States. Just as towns in the U.S. are struggling to change street names from Confederate generals’ names to more appropriate names, in Dakar, Senegal, there is a move afoot to replace the names of streets bearing French colonial names to the names of African heroes.
And just as there is conflict over the removal of Confederate statues in the U.S., in Senegal there is a statue in the ancient capital of Governor Louis Faidherbe, but being an independent country since 1960, perhaps it’s time to take down statues of people associated with colonialism.
Mr. Smith talked to the history teacher at a boarding school for girls on Gorée Island to get his perspective about teaching about slavery in a school in Africa. They also discussed reparations. The teacher has some interesting things to say on that topic.
In the Epilogue, Mr. Smith wrote about how talking to his grandparents born in 1930 (if memory serves me right) and 1939 and hearing their stories as an adult made racial injustice and segregation real to him in a way that textbooks and old black-and-white photographs could not. His grandfather’s grandfather was a slave.
Mr. Smith expressed how jolting it is to realize how recently, in the big scheme of things, slavery was and school segregation was. He is 33 years old. I’m 68 years old. I was in the seventh grade when the schools in my county in North Carolina were optionally desegregated. At the end of that school year, the Black school was closed.
When Mr. Smith wrote his grandmother’s memories of the white children riding by them as they waited for their bus to the Black school, I was right there in my memories. When she told him the white children would throw things at them and hurl racial insults at them through the school bus windows, I was right back on my school bus on Peach Orchard Road at present-day John Bostar Road in the early- to mid-1960s.
I didn’t throw anything and I didn’t yell out the bus window because I was raised better than that. But there were white students on my bus who did those things, and I remember being embarrassed at the time because I knew it was wrong. I can remember it clearly nearly 60 years later, and I wasn’t even one of the victims.
Like Mr. Smith said in his Epilogue of the people who shouted insults in Little Rock and the people who threw things at his grandmother who was born in 1939, some of them are still alive. Likewise, the people on my school bus back in the 1960s and the children they called “the N word” out the bus window are also still alive. It wasn’t that long ago.
Since my last blog post
I keep studying books about the art and craft of writing. I’m working my way through Breathing Life into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional & Psychological Depth, by Rachel Ballon, Ph.D.
This blog series about How the Word is Passed has created some good discussion. Every comment is appreciated. I hope you’ve gained some new insight into how we present our history in the United States. The book has reminded me that things aren’t always as they seem. Anything we read – even in history books – should prompt us to look deeper into the sources of information. Always search for the truth.
A case in point: The story from history that I originally based the ending of my historical novel on turned out to be a myth. Not wanting to perpetuate a lie, I had to drastically rewrite my book – and that process continues.
I hope you have a good book to read and a hobby to enjoy.
Note: September starts on Wednesday. It is Library Card Sign Up Month, Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month, National Literacy Month, and Read a New Book Month. Wow! Lots of literature-related things to celebrate in September!
You do know that library cards from your local public library in the United States are free, don’t you? That free library card can open up a whole new world to you. All you have to do is ask for it. Maybe the best things in life are free!
Last week’s blog post, Things I Learned from How the Word is Passed – Part I covered some of the things I learned about Monticello Plantation and the Whitney Plantation from How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith. Today I share with you some of the things I learned about Angola Prison, Blandford Cemetery, and New York City from the book.
There was just too much information in this book to give it appropriate time in one or two blog posts, so I’ll wrap this up next Monday. Needless to say, I highly recommend the book. I’m just hitting the high points in my blog posts.
The Louisiana State Penitentiary is known by many as Angola Prison. The author was accompanied to the prison by a Black man, Norris, who spent almost 30 years imprisoned there for a crime he didn’t commit. He wants to show people the connection between Whitney Plantation and Angola Prison.
Norris said if we want to end mass incarceration, we must get at the history of it, the reason it still exists, and what that looks like.
After the Civil War there was a change in policy in Louisiana not to require unanimous jury convictions. It was meant to funnel Blacks into the convict leasing system. Convict leasing partly replaced the labor force lost when slavery ended. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows involuntary servitude as a punishment for crimes committed. Under the convict leasing program, prisoners (mostly Black) could be rented out to individuals and companies. Railroads, plantations, and businesses took advantage of the program. Due to the program, most Angola inmates leased out lived no more than six years because the leasing assignments were often gruesome.
The book goes into more detail about how the laws governing juries changed over the decades, not always to the good.
The author (and I) found it interesting that the tour of Angola Prison begins in the gift shop. A gift shop at a state penitentiary. Such things as shot glasses, sunglasses, and T-shirts with the name of the prison on them are sold.
There is no mention in the prison museum that the place used to be a plantation.
I visited the prison’s website last week and was struck by how it is presented as a tourist destination. I don’t know about you, but when I go on a vacation it never occurs to me to work an operational prison tour or prison rodeo – I’m not making that up! – into my agenda.
Blandford Cemetery is in Petersburg, Virginia. It started as the cemetery for Blandford Anglican Church. It was deconsecrated in 1806 when the congregation decided to move to a more central location. After the Civil War a group of southern women were distressed over how their dead soldiers weren’t being honored like the Union soldiers. There was a 15-year effort to dig up Confederate dead and send them home for reburial, but 30,000 of the 32,200 could not be identified and they remain at Blandford.
The City of Petersburg gave the Ladies Memorial Association the abandoned church as a focal point for the cemetery. They commissioned Tiffany Studios to design stained-glass windows but couldn’t afford the usual $1,700 per window price. They couldn’t afford the $300 per window discounted price, so they went to the Confederate and border states and told them to raise the money. Saints are depicted in 11 of the 13 windows. There are state seals and inscriptions tying the Confederate dead to such things as “the Army of Heaven” in the case of South Carolina.
Before leaving Blandford, the author had an opportunity to talk to the woman in charge there. She seemed uncomfortable fielding his questions and appeared to be uncomfortable that a stack of flyers advertising a Memorial Day event hosted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans that was easily visible on the counter.
This chapter also included some facts and theories about Robert E. Lee.
The author closes the chapter by wondering if we’re all “just patchworks of the stories we’ve been told. What would it take – what does it take – for you to confront a false history even if it means shattering the stories you have been told throughout your life? Even if it means having to fundamentally reexamine who you are and who your family has been? Just because something is difficult to accept doesn’t mean you should refuse to accept it. Just because someone tells you a story doesn’t make that story true.”
To me, that is the unspoken theme of the book.
New York City
Like me, you might have wondered why there is a chapter about New York City in How the Word is Passed.
This chapter is a real eye-opener! As with all the other chapters, I learned more from this chapter than I can possibly include in this blog post.
The author went to the National Museum of the American Indian for a walking tour about slavery and the Underground Railroad. The guide began by telling participants that many things she was going to tell them would make them uncomfortable but that would be all right. We learn by having our beliefs and our misinformation questioned. (I loved this woman already and I wasn’t even there!)
The tour included lots of general facts about slavery. The guide explained that slavery in the United States was different from slavery throughout world history. Historically, people were enslaved after taken prisoners of war or in payment of a debt. These enslavements were usually for a limited time and rarely involved the descendants of the enslaved. Slavery in the U.S. was based on racism and the widely-held belief in Europe that Africans were genetically inferior or subhuman. Skin pigmentation was the defining factor
Owning land and things was a European concept. The Dutch brought the first African slaves to the U.S. (present-day New York City). Eventually, some of the slaves were freed and given land. They weren’t gifted land due to the benevolence of the Dutch, though. The Dutch wanted Blacks to serve as a buffer between them and the Indians.
The British took over New York City in 1664. “According to historian David Brion Davis, around 40 percent of households in British Manhattan owned enslaved people. The practice of keeping female slaves in town to care for homes and white children and sending male slaves outside the city for agricultural work resulted in the slaves not having many children. In turn, this made the transatlantic slave trade more necessary for economic purposes.
In 1712, there was a slave uprising in New York. In it, 25 to 50 slaves killed nine white people. The result? “More than seventy Black people were arrested, forty-three brought to trial, and twenty-three executed – some hanged and others burned at the stake.”
Just before the American Revolution, there were 3,000 slaves in New York City and another 20,000 within 50 miles of Manhattan.
The second largest slave market in the United States was on present-day Wall Street between Pearl and Water Streets in Manhattan, New York City. Did you know that? I certainly didn’t! (The largest slave market in the country was at Charleston, South Carolina.)
Thinking about the banks he could see from the site of the slave market, Mr. Smith delved a little deeper. He discovered the predecessors of several of the largest banks in the United States had accepted slaves as collateral for debts.
The author’s tour guide said, “ʻOne of the biggest lies we are still telling in this century – and I know because I’m trying to combat it – [is that] during the Civil War we were the good guys, right? New York City was good. Everybody else in the South, they were bad.’”
I think that’s a good place for me to stop sharing what Mr. Smith had to say about New York City, although I could go on about such things as the Underground Railroad, a huge slave and free Black cemetery that’s been built over, and the predominately Black village that was destroyed so Central Park could be built.
Since my last blog post
I continue to work on biographical sketches of the characters in my novel. I’ve taken a couple of days off from my writing project this week. I tend to get too serious about my self-inflicted to-do lists. I’m trying to lighten up on myself.
Friday night I worked on genealogy, one of my favorite hobbies. I found lots of interesting information on Ancestry.com. Now, all (Ha ha!) I have to do is make sure I can duplicate the research these other people have done before I add it to my family tree. The problem with genealogy is with every new generation you discover, you want to add another one. This hobby is never finished.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read.
My blog post next Monday with be about Galveston Island, Goree Island, and the Epilogue in How the Word is Passed, by Clint Smith.
My skill doesn’t lie in reviewing books. Most of the books I read, however, do make me think. Many of them prompt me to question the way I’ve seen the world all my life. To my mind, that’s a sign of a great book.
I promised myself to lighten up on my reading in July. In a way, I did. I didn’t read as many books as I usually do in a month’s time. I didn’t lighten up on the content of what I read. The books I read in July were all “heavy” in topic and were not the kind of books you want to read while on vacation at the beach or in the mountains. At least, I don’t. Since I wasn’t going anywhere in July, these books suited me just fine.
Three of the books I read in July had to do with race. I read a book about the caste system in America, and I read a book about the Confederate monuments and how they’ve brought out the worst in some of us. (See my August 2, 2021 blog post, _2 Books about Racial Injustice.)
I read a book about how various venues present either an honest or a skewed image of the history of Black Americans and how many white Americans treated or interacted with them. All three books were thought-provoking to say the least.
How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith
What a book! I found myself taking copious notes, which slowed down my reading considerably. There were so many little gems of insight in the book, I couldn’t stop taking notes.
The author allotted individual chapters to how the story of slavery is told at Monticello Plantation, the Whitney Plantation, Angola Prison, Blandford Cemetery, Galveston Island, New York City, and Gorée Island.
Before starting to read the book, I didn’t know how it was organized. The way each chapter was written about how the story of slavery is told at these various locations was powerful.
Today’s blog post will cover some of the things I learned about Monticello Plantation and the Whitney Plantation. I’ll save Angola Prison, Blandford Cemetery, and New York City for my next blog post. Galveston Island, Goree Island, and the Epilogue will highlighted in my August 29, 2021 blog post.
Tours available and displays at Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, have changed dramatically since the house and grounds were opened for tours in 1923. In the beginning, the tour guides were Black men dressed as house slaves. They had to play a role. Today, tour guides do their own research, plan their remarks, and shadow other guides. There are several tours. One is about slavery on the plantation.
The author was struck by the fact that his tour guide referred to Jefferson’s slaves as “human beings.” To say Jefferson gifted his children and grandchildren with human beings doesn’t sound as palatable to our ears as saying he gifted them with slaves. The tour guide went out of his way to impress upon visitors that the slaves were human beings.
Although Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal”), he owned 400 or so slaves over his lifetime and even until death. He wrote eloquently about equality but, as a politician, could not speak out against slavery. When it got down to it, Jefferson didn’t consider his slaves as being human beings.
That leads us to the matter of his relationship with Sally Hemings. There is now a Sally Hemings Exhibit at Monticello. It has received a range of reactions from visitors. I suppose I knew this at one time but I’d forgotten that Sally Hemings and Jefferson’s wife, Martha, were half-sisters.
The Whitney Plantation
I hadn’t heard of the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana, an hour west of New Orleans. It’s off the beaten path and not the kind of place one just happens upon and decides to visit. How is the story of slavery told (or, the word passed) at Whitney Plantation? In a rather shocking way.
There are 55 ceramic dark heads of black men on metal stakes.
In 1804, slaves in Haiti rebelled and defeated the French. They founded the first “Black-led republic in the world.” After this defeat, Napoleon Bonaparte sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States (while Thomas Jefferson was president) for $15 million (= four cents per acre.) If not for the success of the revolt in Haiti, Napoleon probably wouldn’t have sold Louisiana to the United States!
In 1811, there was a slave uprising in Louisiana. Within 48 hours the armed (knives, machetes, muskets) rebellion was put down. It had been led by a mixed-race slave driver, Charles Deslondes. He was captured and to say they made an example of him would be a gross understatement. To quote from the book, “His hands were chopped off, the bones of his legs were shattered with bullets, and he was burned over a bale of hay. Many of the rebels were slaughtered on-site, their heads cut off and posted on stakes that lined the levee, a warning to other enslaved people that this was the price to pay for rebellion.”
How is it that I’ve never heard or read about this?
John Cummings purchased Whitney Plantation in 1999 and invested almost $10 million in it over the next 20 years. He donated it in 2019. It is now a non-profit.
There is high poverty in the area, which is 90% Black. The area is known as “Cancer Alley” due to the high incidence of cancer caused by the petroleum plants nearby. As quoted in the book, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II said of the area, “ʻThe same land that held people captive through slavery is now holding people captive through this environmental injustice and devastation.”
At Whitney, they utilize the late-1930s Federal Writers’ Project to help them tell the stories of slaves using their own words. According to the book, “The voices and stories of enslaved people are the foundation of how visitors experience the Whitney.” The author’s point about this was that through the Federal Writers’ Project, former slaves got to tell their stories in their own words. The author theorizes that by allowing such former slaves as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman to tell their stories, they consciously not only denied most average or common slaves (the ones who did not escape) the chance to tell their stories but also thereby made sure those slaves who did not escape would be looked down upon as not trying “hard enough.”
This is part of the insidiousness of white supremacy – to shine a light on the exceptions and place “blame on those who cannot, in the most brutal circumstances, attain superhuman heights. It does this instead of blaming the system, the people who built it, the people who maintained it.”
There is a Wall of Honor at Whitney with the names, country of origin, and date or year of slaves at the plantation.
Sexual violence is also addressed at Whitney. The rape of female slaves by white owners was about power. The owners knew the female slaves were powerless to refuse their advances. To really understand slavery, the sexual violence against women must be included in the equation.
The trade in slaves’ bodies is also addressed in this chapter. Medical schools like Harvard, and the Universities of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia often bought Black corpses on the black market for research.
Did you know all this about Whitney Plantation? I didn’t. And to think, I considered skipping that chapter because I’d never heard of that plantation!
Since my last blog post
I had a rollercoaster week with my novel. In studying point-of-view, I wrestled with which one to use. In my draft of the novel, I was apparently head jumping as I changed the story’s point-of-view character occasionally at scene or chapter breaks. I thought that was acceptable, but not when you’re writing in third person intimate.
I considered rewriting the book in first-person, but that would be a real challenge for several reasons. I spent hours studying various points-of-view and the rules governing each. I find these rules maddening. I took a walk to clear my brain overload because I thought some fresh air and exercise would result in mental clarity. Then, I took a second walk. Sometimes this works, but sometimes it doesn’t. I went back through my manuscript scene-by-scene and determined how every scene could be changed into Sarah’s point-of-view or which parts could be modified to be part of the trial. I concluded third person intimate is still going to work best for this novel.
In the process of digging deeper into point-of-view, I stumbled upon several articles and YouTube videos about the Rashomon Effect. I realized I’m already using it in my trial scenes, and now I know what it’s called.
On Tuesday evening I watched and listened to an interview with author James Tate Hill. Mr. Hill lost his vision as a teen. In addition to his just-released memoir, Blind Man’s Bluff, Mr.Hill has written a novel, Academy Gothic, which was awarded the Nilsen Literary Prize for a First Novel. It always gives my writing a boost to hear an author speak or be interviewed. This interview was online and was hosted by Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, NC.
I’m slowly working my way through Breathing Life into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional and Psychological Depth, by Rachel Ballon. I purchased it years ago and should have read it and taken it to heart then. I’m glad I rediscovered it. It’s really putting me through the paces and will help my writing on many levels. It has a 4.5 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon. I don’t know why it doesn’t have a 5 out of 5.
Until my next blog post
If you can get your hands on a copy of How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith this week, please do so. I can’t imagine you will regret reading it.
I hope you have How the Word is Passed or another good book to read.
At first, I didn’t see any connection between Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest and Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America’s First Frontier. Aside from both being nonfiction books, having extraordinarily long titles, and having sub-titles, what could they possibly have in common?
The answer is the environment and American history.
My Thoughts While Reading Finding the Mother Tree
Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard, affected me in ways I didn’t anticipate. In today’s blog post, I’’’ share what the book is about and the thoughts reading it brought to my mind.
I consider myself somewhat an environmentalist, so I was intrigued by the title of this book. The author grew up in a British Columbian family with generations of history in the logging industry. Although her father chose a different career path than his ancestors, Ms. Simard was drawn to the forest from an early age.
This book had more the flavor of a memoir than I expected. Ms. Simard’s life story and the details of how she learned about and became fascinated by the intricacies of the forest flora was interesting, but at times became a little too into the minutiae for me. I was more interested in what she discovered than how she learned it. But that’s just me.
What we can’t see from above ground is a network of roots, rocks, soils, bugs, moisture, and fungi which all work together to produce and support the trees we see. There is an unseen highway system of sorts that is necessary for a healthy forest.
The crux of the book is about how the logging industry has changed so drastically over the decades and centuries that our ancestors would not recognize its policies and procedures today. In the name of progress and economics, we are now “cutting off our noses to spite our faces” so to speak.
In times past, people had the good sense to leave the oldest trees to produce, nourish, and nurture seedlings so those seedlings could grow up to someday be the oldest and best trees in the forest. Unfortunately, clear cutting has become the trend now. In the process, the oldest trees are removed along with the rich ecosystems they support and maintain. Often, a different species of seedlings are planted in nice even rows equidistance from each other so to better count and, theoretically, easier to harvest. Although most trees are valuable (I’m not convinced about sweet gum trees, although they do produce shade), the single species tree farms do not replace he forests that were destroyed to make them possible.
How my ancestors practiced tree cutting
I couldn’t help but think of my own Morrison great-grandfather and grandfather as I read this book. Logging and hand-tree felling were a dangerous undertaking. My great-grandfather survived the American Civil War, but was killed in 1886 when a limb fell out of a tree he was cutting down for lumber to finish building the kitchen in the house he had built for his wife and four children. My grandfather, who was just 14 years old at the time, witnessed the accident and had to run home to tell his mother what had happened. How do you recover from seeing something like that?
Among other things, though, my grandfather owned and operated a sawmill – another very dangerous occupation in the early decades of the 20th century. As I read Finding the Mother Tree, I could picture my grandfather sizing up trees individually before deciding which one(s) should be cut. No doubt, he had orders for lumber for particular purposes and that played an important part in dictating which trees were cut and planed.
Back to tree farms
The way the system is set up, one gets a sizeable property tax break on the acres he owns that are farmed. The problem with that policy is that there are no incentives to let acreage lie fallow or just continue as woodland. Unless a person is uncommonly wealthy, he or she can’t afford to pay property tax on land that’s not producing an income today or long-range.
The result is that woodlands, meadows, and old fields in our area are disappearing at an alarming rate. Old farmland is sold, bulldozers are brought it, and every tree and shrub are destroyed. Usually, most of the wood is hauled off to demolition landfills. Numerous dump trucks filled with what used to be a forest passed by my house last week, making way for yet another housing development. What a waste! Wildlife are killed or forced to look for new habitats. Their options for new habitats are shrinking by the day.
Back to those property tax breaks
The farming that qualifies land for the tax breaks mentioned above can take several different routes. One of them, if the owner doesn’t wish to raise usual crops or cattle, is to follow guidelines set by the government and turn it into a tree farm. In our area, that pretty much means the land is clear cut and pine seedlings are plugged into the ground at specific intervals in neat rows in order to make counting them and harvesting them easier (in other words, cheaper.)
When the day comes that the land no longer meets the requirements to be designated a farm – or the land is sold, the owner must pay back taxes for six years (I think I’m right) on the property as if it hadn’t been a farm. A tree farm is a 30-year or so commitment.
The system is a Catch-22 situation. The landowner can’t afford to pay property tax on his or her acreage, so they decide to turn it into a tree farm. In order to qualify as a tree farm, the landowner must follow the rules set down by the government. There are schedules that recommend when the trees should be thinned out and dictate when the trees must be harvested. In order to be harvested, the trees must be set in rows of a certain width to accommodate the heavy machinery that will harvest the trees. Once the decision is made to have a tree farm to make property taxes affordable, the die is cast. Goodbye, Mother Trees.
My takeaways from reading Blood and Treasure
Daniel Boone is one of those icons of the American frontier that carries a lot of myth. People of a certain age can remember the TV series, “Daniel Boone” from the 1960s. As I recall, the opening lines of the show’s theme song were, “Daniel Boone was a man. He was a big man.”
According to Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America’s First Frontier, by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, Daniel Boone stood five feet eight inches tall. That’s about an inch taller than I am. Hmmm.
One of the myths about Daniel Boone is that he always wore a coon skin cap. According to Blood and Treasure, he hunted raccoon and other wildlife and traded in peltry and hides, but he never wore a coon skin cap. Hmmm.
It makes one question everything broadcast on television.
You might be thinking that reading Blood and Treasure shattered my fascination with Daniel Boone, but that’s not the case. In many ways, the book increased my admiration of him while making him more of a human than a bigger than life TV character.
The book is beautifully written. I would describe it as being creative nonfiction. By that, I mean it’s not just a recitation of facts. The writing puts you right there with Boone and his family. I was amazed to realize how many hundreds of miles Boone traveled. He was rarely home, but he and Rebecca managed to have 10 children.
If memory serves me right, two of their children were killed by Indians. One daughter, Jemima, along with two of her young girl friends, were captured by Indians. Boone and a posse of his fellow Yadkin Valley, North Carolina residents tracked them for weeks and hundred of miles.
The book is extremely detailed in telling of Boone’s many long hunting trips and his efforts to lead other pioneers to settle in Kentucky. He was an easy-going man and he tried to live peacefully with the Indians. Of course, that isn’t an easy thing to do when you’re invading someone else’s hunting grounds. Boone was captured by the Indians twice but lived to tell about both events.
But how do Finding the Mother Tree and Blood and Treasure connect?
Both books give a glimpse of how the world used to be. They show how Native Americans held a spiritual reverence for nature. How different our planet would be today if every generation had respected trees and wildlife like some people did several centuries ago.
If economics had never trumped common sense, the “clear cutting” of our forests never would have happened. Once clear cutting is not just sanctioned but encouraged – and in some cases required – by the government (as in the case of tree farms), there’s not much one can do about it.
If you want to know what happens when the mother trees are all gone, just look around any area that used to be woodlands but is now an industrial park or housing development. At least that’s the case in the piedmont of North Carolina.
Progress on my writing journey since my last blog post
I reviewed my list of books I have about the art and craft of writing. I had already prioritized them by topic. Since blogging last Monday, I mapped out daily reading goals. I have 18 books and two workbooks to try to read and work through by mid-February. I hope I’m not putting too much pressure on myself with that self-imposed goal date. This leaves very little time for reading novels, but I’m sure I’ll work some of those in, too.
I’m in the process of writing biographical sketches (again) for each of the characters in my novel manuscript. I’m going into much more detail this time about their backstories. In fact, I’ve thought of so much backstory, I might turn it into a novel to precede the one I’ve been working on for years. It’s been fun. No, I mean it. I enjoy that.
On Thursday and Friday afternoons I got to watch six hours (total) of a free online webinar for writers. It was called “Writing from the Heart” and included 10 presenters who were writers, writing coaches, and one literary agent. I took copious notes which I’m sure to revisit along my journey to publication.
The sections of the webinar I got the most from were the ones about conflict, setting achievable goals, establishing a writing ritual and daily writing schedule that can’t be interrupted, using positive affirmations to squelch that voice in the back of my head that tells me I can’t write a novel, the four core elements of every scene, and 10 scenes that all novels need. It was a lot to take in in two days but time well-spent. The fact that it was free of charge was the icing on the cake.
Until my next blog post
I’ll continue writing biographical sketches for my characters and dreaming up backstory for them. A root canal is on my schedule for this week. I also hope to get to bring my dog home from the hospital. He has pneumonia again, but not as severe as in March.
I’ll continue studying the art and craft of writing fiction. I hope you have a good book to read, too.
I read a bunch of good books in June, so without any delay I’ll jump right in to tell you what I thought of three of them.
The Girls in the Stilt House, by Kelly Mustian
I hardly know what to say about this debut historical novel by Kelly Mustian, a native of Mississippi. Wow! What a great book!
I’ll be careful not to give away anything about the plot. Ada is a white teen. Matilda is a black teen just a little older than Ada. They both live along the Natchez Trace in Mississippi in the early 1920s. When the book begins, they don’t know each other.
A string of ill-fated events throw the girls together in the stilt shack Ada lives in on the swamp. Both of them have secrets, some of which they don’t learn about one another until near the end of the book.
This book will keep you turning pages and yearning for Ada and Matilda to get the opportunities they deserve to have better lives. Ms. Mustian is a true wordsmith. She writes beautifully and even weaves a touch of humor here and there in this book of tragedies. She carefully crafted every sentence. I can’t wait to see what she writes for us next!
The Elephant of Belfast, by S. Kirk Walsh
The Elephant of Belfast, by S. Kirk Walsh was inspired by true events in Belfast during the early days of World War II.
Denise Weston Austin was one of the first female zookeepers at the Belfast Zoo. Ms. Austin took a baby elephant named Sheila out of the zoo so she could escape being killed when the Ireland government ordered the zoo animals to be killed after Germany started bombing Belfast.
Government officials feared that if the zoo enclosures were damaged in future bombings, the animals could escape and pose a threat to local residents. Ms. Austin took the elephant to her home north of Belfast!
Author Sheila Kirk Walsh took that information and more historical facts and wove a fascinating novel about a fictional character – Hettie Quin — based on Denise Weston Austin and Violet – the name of the elephant in the book.
It was a frightening time with much death and destruction in Belfast. Ms. Walsh drew on her own experience in Manhattan on 9/11 to bring to this novel a feeling of insecurity and not knowing what might happen next.
There is depth to this novel, as Hettie Quin loses much that is near and dear to her. She not only saves Violet, Violet saves her.
Charlotte McCurry read the book for the CD edition. Her lovely Irish brogue added an air of authenticity to the story.
My apologies to Ms. Walsh. I was unable to capture a clear photograph of the book.
The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang
The premise of this novel enticed me to check it out. It’s based on a real event. In 1937, during the Second Sino-China War, university students and faculty members took 500-year-old Chinese writings (“the Library of Legends”) more than 1,000 miles on foot in an effort to save them from the bombings of the major cities by the Japanese. The premise intrigued me.
What I didn’t know, was that these ancient writings were just that: legends. Some of those legends are interwoven into the book. While that fantasy element appeals to some readers, it doesn’t especially appeal to me. I’m just not a fan of fantasy novels.
That said, I enjoyed the parts of the book that described the actual arduous journey taken by a group from one university, but I found myself skipping the pages about the legends. Halfway through the book, I stopped to read reviews of the novel. Some reviewers loved it because it is a combination historical novel/fantasy novel, while others disliked it for that very reason. I’m afraid I fall into that second camp.
It is said that China was fighting two wars at the same time. They were fighting Japan and they were fighting to keep communism out of their country. The communist influence is brought out in the book.
It was definitely worth my while to read as much of this book as I did. I learned something about Chinese history. It amazes me that university students and faculty members walked more than 1,000 miles in order to save some of the most treasured Chinese writings. I had no idea!
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. Remember – you don’t have to finish reading a book just because you started reading it. That’s been a difficult lesson for me to learn. I don’t know why. That lesson finally became real to me last month when I was able to walk away from The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang. I had learned what I was meant to learn from it.
I’m listening to Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, by Isabel Wilkerson. I highly recommend it!
I hope you enjoy your vocation or your retirement, and that you have time to enjoy a hobby.
Before I jump into today’s topic, I’ll tell you what I went through in preparing a blog post for today.
You can’t always trust the printed word. I read in a book (not on the much-maligned internet) that the 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified on May 31, 1913. In fact, I wrote a 702-word blog post about it for today.
It turns out that it was ratified on April 8, 1913, and Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan officially announced its ratification on May 31, 1913.
“#OnThisDay: 17th Amendment’s Ratification Announced” just doesn’t have the same blog title punch as “#OnThisDay: 17th Amendment Ratified, 1913.” Upon discovering my mistake last Monday night, I had to find a new topic for today’s post.
For those of you who are dying to know all about the 17th Amendment, don’t worry. I saved that blog post on my computer and will use it some other time – perhaps when I’m in a bind and can’t think of a blog post topic. It will pop up when you least expect it.
What about today’s blog topic?
When I learn something new about reading or writing, I like to dig a little deeper and then write a blog post about it. If it’s news to me, perhaps it’s news to you, too. Let’s look into bibliophobia, scriptophobia, and graphophobia.
A few minutes after I discovered that my blog topic for today shouldn’t be the ratification of the 17th Amendment, my sister made me aware that reading is stressful for some people. We are both avid readers and were gobsmacked to learn this.
This is a real thing. Bibliophobia is a fear of books – and can be extended to a fear of reading or a fear of reading aloud in public. It probably affects more people than I can imagine.
The cause of bibliophobia is not certain, but it is thought that some people develop it after having an embarrassing experience when reading aloud. That negative experience is remembered by the brain and can come back when asked or told to read out loud in public again.
A person who has bibliophobia usually knows it is irrational to be afraid of books or afraid to read in public but is hard-pressed to do anything about it. The reaction this phobia causes can be both physical and psychological and be as severe as to cause panic attacks.
Scriptophobia or Graphophobia
Scriptophobia or Graphophobia is a fear of writing in public. I didn’t know this was a thing until I stumbled upon the words while researching bibliophobia. Ironically, I think I have it, at least to a degree.
It makes me extremely uncomfortable for someone to watch me sign my name. This source of stress came to light in 2014 when my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina was published.
I had a book launch event and was thrilled when people lined up to buy my book and get me to autograph their copy. But as soon as the first person eagerly waited for me to sign their book, I nearly froze. I think that was the first time I realized I had a problem. I just didn’t know there was a name for it until last week.
When I have to sign a contract, application, or other such document, it is stressful because someone is usually watching me. I know this is irrational. Now that I know it has a name, I want to overcome it.
Treatment for Bibliophobia and Scriptophobia/Graphophobia
Recognizing you have such a phobia is Step One. Step Two is seeking treatment. According to what I’ve read this past week, cognitive behavior therapy and desensitization therapy are usually helpful in treating phobias like bibliophobia and scriptophobia.
I am not a psychologist or a medical doctor, so the information in my blog post today is based entirely on sources I’ve read in the last week. The terms bibliophobia, scriptophobia, and graphophobia were new to me as of last Monday, and I just thought I’d blog a little about them today in case some of my blog readers weren’t familiar with the terms. If you have either of these two phobias, just know that there is help available. Perhaps I can get help to overcome my fear of signing my name in public before I have another book signing.
Since my last blog post
One of my great-nieces graduated from high school in Georgia on Thursday. I couldn’t be there in person, so I was delighted to be able to watch it live online. Two of my other great-nieces graduated from high school in past years. I couldn’t attend their commencement ceremonies either. Thanks to the expanded use of technology due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many people are enjoying the opportunity to watch such family milestones online. I hope school districts will continue to offer this service even after the pandemic is over.
Writing today’s blog post made me realize that we all have phobias. I not only fear writing my signature in front of someone, I also have a phone phobia. Email and texting have been a blessing for me.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I finished listening to A Million Reasons Why, by Jessica Strawser on CD last night, and I’m reading The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang on my tablet.
I’ve admitted some very private things in this blog post. I don’t expect any of you to tell me about your phobias when you leave a reply, but it helps me to know and might help you to know that a lot of people have at least one irrational phobia. Stop being hard on yourself or other people about their phobias. Most people are trying hard in this life and are doing the best they can.
If you know someone with bibliophobia or scriptophobia/graphophobia to the point it disrupts their lives, please encourage them to seek treatment. It makes me sad to know that there are people so afraid to read in public that it causes them mental and physical distress.
Trust me — it was easier to write 700 words about the 17th Amendment to the US Constitution than it was to write what I’ve posted today.
Note: Get ready! June starts tonight at midnight. June is Audiobook Appreciation Month. As I’ve found it more and more difficult to read books in regular-sized print, I’ve come to appreciate audiobooks. I didn’t see that coming any more than I saw the topic of today’s blog post coming!
Allen Rizzi writes a blog that I follow. His post on March 30, 2021 (https://wordpress.com/post/janetswritingblog.com/17269) struck a chord with me and got me thinking. I made note of it so I could consider using the idea in one of my blog posts. I didn’t want to just duplicate the essence of Mr. Rizzi’s blog post, so I waited until I could put my own spin on it.
Mr. Rizzi asked his readers to share their earliest memories. The comments he received were surprising to me, for one woman remembered some details of a stay with her grandparents when she was nine months old. A man remembered his first ride in an airplane at the age of two.
I was amazed at both of those responses. I can’t remember anything from those early ages. I tried to think what my earliest memory was, but I was stumped for a few minutes.
My earliest memory
After pondering the question for a few minutes, I realized my earliest memory is of my Grandpa Morrison. He was the only one of my grandparents still living when I was born. He died when I was three years, five months, one week old.
Grandpa was unwell and pretty much bedridden by the time I was born. But he still had his cane. He spent his daytime hours in what is or was called a daybed. He kept his cane at easy reach. He didn’t shave every day.
My memories of him are specific: He delighted in taking the back of my tender little hand and rubbing it up his stubbled cheek to make me laugh. When I got within reach of his wooden cane, he delighted in tapping me lightly in the stomach to make me laugh.
Evaluating my earliest memory
I know what Grandpa looked like because I’ve seen photographs of him, but I have no recollection of what he looked like. Read that sentence again. Do you understand what I’m saying?
Taking it a step further, do you know why that sentence describes a distinct difference in memory? I didn’t understand the difference until I read Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting, by Lisa Genova last week.
Dr.Genova is a neuroscientist and an excellent writer. She has to be an excellent writer if someone like me can understand what she’s trying to get across. Seriously. Understanding the intricacies of science was never my forte.
In her book, Dr. Genova explains how our brains create memories and store memories. She explains various types of memories: episodic, semantic, working, and “muscle” memory. She explains how working memory is able to retain a small number of items and for only 15 to 30 seconds.
It was interesting for me to read in Dr. Genova’s book that the average age for one’s earliest episodic memory as an adult is three years old, so my memory of my grandfather was right on time.
Dr. Genova explains how we’re able to remember the details of an evening on the beach such as the smell of salt air, the name of the song playing, what we ate, and a child getting stung by a jellyfish. We remember that collection of details in an episodic memory; however, another person who was present on that same beach that same night might not remember what song was playing but they might remember there were mosquitoes. That’s because we each pay attention to different details.
The reason I remember my grandfather rubbing my tiny hand up he stubbled cheek and poking me gently in the stomach with his cane is probably because he did it repeatedly. It’s not that I remember “that time” he did it. I remember it because that’s the way in his bedridden state he was able to interact with me and the way it made me feel created a memory in my brain.
Grandpa couldn’t hold me on his lap. He couldn’t push me in a swing. He couldn’t play hide-and-seek with me. He did the two things he knew he could do that made me giggle. Once he did them once, he remembered they made me giggle. With that memory, he probably did those two things every time I visited him thereafter. In a fascinating way, his memory to do those things also prompted my brain to remember them. His memory of what made me laugh in turn made my brain create a memory.
One last word about my memories of my grandfather.
One of the last chapters in Dr. Genova’s book is about Alzheimer’s Disease. One point she makes about Alzheimer’s patients is that they might not remember for five minutes what you said to them, but they will remember how you made them feel. She refers to this as emotional memory.
I hope I’m not making an incorrect connection here – because my point has nothing to do with Alzheimer’s Disease — but this made me think about my memories of Grandpa Morrison. I don’t recollect what he looked like. I only know what he looked like from seeing photographs; however, I remember how he made me feel – even though I was only three years old when he died.
Back to Allen Rizzi’s blog post and my original question
Even after reading Dr. Genova’s book, I still marvel that a nine-month-old baby could years later remember her stay with her grandparents or that a two-year-old could remember an airplane ride, but I don’t doubt them because the brain is a complex and wondrous thing.
The more I learn about the brain, the more I’m in awe of it. To paraphrase something I heard Dr. Francis Collins, leader of the Human Genome Project and current Director of the National Institutes of Health, say in a speech at Queens University of Charlotte a few years ago: The more I learn about the human body, the more I’m convinced that there is a God who created it.
Since my last blog post
I have finished reading or continue to read a number of books. I’ll share with you more about Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting, by Lisa Genova, in my blog post on June 7 or June 14 when I tell you about all the books I read in May.
Thank you, Allen Rizzi for inspiring me to write today’s blog post.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have at least one good book to read. In her book, Dr. Genova says that one way we can try to avoid getting Alzheimer’s Disease (unless we’re predisposed due to our DNA) is to read books like hers that teach us new things.
Celebrate life and look for the positives. Look for the wildflowers! My yard and the open meadow across the road from my house are full of them!
Note: June is Audiobook Appreciation Month. If you’ve never listened to a book, try it. You might like it!
I read more books than usual last month. Today’s post is about the four books I read that were not historical fiction. If you missed my blog last Monday about the five historical novels I read in April, here’s the link to it: 5 Historical Novels I Read in April 2021.
Let’s jump right in!
Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,”by Zora Neale Hurston
I’m not sure how this 2018 book escaped my attention for three years. I’m just glad I stumbled upon it recently.
Edited by Deborah G. Plant with a foreword by Alice Walker, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” is author and cultural anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston’s account of her numerous conversations with a man who was on the last slave ship from Africa to the United States.
Bringing slaves into the United States was made illegal in 1808; however, the trade was not completely stopped just by making a law. In 1859, two brothers originally from Maine and their business partner originally from Nova Scotia, illegally transported 130 African slaves from the coast of Nigeria to Mobile, Alabama on board a ship named Clotilde. Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” is the story of a 19-year-old man who was on that last slave ship to come to the United States.
The man’s name was Kossola, but his American name was Cudgo Lewis. Zora Neale Hurston found out about him, and a benefactor made it financially possible for her to go to Alabama for an extended time in order to meet Kossola and form a relationship of trust with him in order to hear and record his life story.
Kossola’s story of life in Africa, his capture, and his Middle Passage transport to Alabama is bone chilling. The details of how he was captured by the army of the king of Dahomey aligns with the historical record of that ruthless African king and his blood thirsty army of women and men.
What an amazing gift Ms. Hurston left for us! We are fortunate that Kossola lived long enough that Ms. Hurston was able to visit him a number of times over a three-month period in 1927 and put his words on paper. Publishers wanted Ms. Hurston to “correct” Kossola’s words to proper English, but she stood her ground and insisted that his words by pronunciation be preserved in the book.
I couldn’t help but think about the blog post I wrote two weeks ago (Censorship and Reader Sensitivities) and how appropriate I think it was for history’s sake for Kossola’s words to be recorded exactly how he said them.
There is an extensive appendix in the book. Included in it are a couple of children’s games from Africa, parables that are original with Kossola (from his own life experience), and various Bible stories told in Kossola’s own words.
There is also an extensive Afterword in the book about Ms. Hurston’s research and some debate about her motives and accuracy. It seems that Kossola had become known as the last surviving slave from the last slave ship to America and there were others who wished to interview him. It was Zora Neale Hurston who was most successful in gaining his trust and recording his story. Ms. Hurston is remembered for his illustrious career as a social scientist, but she was just getting started in 1927.
Just As I Am, by Cicely Tyson
I got on the waitlist for Cicely Tyson’s memoir the minute I heard about it. The book was on order by the public library, so I had to wait a while for it. In the meantime, Ms. Tyson died at the age of 96. I’d been a fan of hers since her performance in the movie, Sounder, in 1972. I was blown away by her portrayal of Miss Janie Pittman in the TV film, The Autobiography of Miss Janie Pittman.
Just As I Am was an interesting read. I learned about Ms. Tyson’s childhood in East Harlem, New York, and how her parents doted on her. She was their middle child, but she was born with a heart murmur that caused the doctor to predict she wouldn’t live more than three months. No wonder they treated her like a princess.
But there was a dark side to Ms. Tyson’s childhood. Her father was a womanizer. Her mother was a strict disciplinarian. Her parents had violent fights and Ms. Tyson was often caught in the middle.
Ms. Tyson had a sixth sense. Even as a child, she knew some events that were going to happen in the future because she could smell it (as was the case of a fire) or sense it in another way. Her mother was also blessed with a sixth sense, so the fact that Cicely had the gift was no big deal.
Early in the book, Ms. Tyson wrote about racial discrimination and our common humanity. It really struck a chord with me because I was reading that chapter the morning after the Zoom meeting of a group I’m in during which we had discussed racial prejudice and our common humanity. I couldn’t wait to tell the others in the group about the first chapter in Just As I Am.
She writes about what a rude awakening it was for her one day when she witnessed her mother and a group of other Black women on the street in New York City being looked up and down and evaluated by white people seeking a domestic laborer. It hit her as being no different from the way slaves were treated on the auction block a century earlier, and it made an impact on her life that she never forgot.
The 1920s and 1930s were her childhood and youth decades. What an interesting era! Although the Roaring 20s became the Great Depression in the 1930s, most people of color in the United States didn’t enjoy the abundance of the Wall Street in the 20s. And they had always been at an economic disadvantage, so the Great Depression wasn’t too much worse than what they were already experiencing.
It was in 1934 that the Federal Housing Administration instituted the practice of redlining to prohibit people of color from purchasing homes in middle class and wealthy neighborhoods. On the other hand, that era produced Black writers like W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Langston Hughes. It was the age of jazz and the Harlem Renaissance.
On the flipside were the Scottsboro Boys in Alabama and the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment from which the United States is stilling feeling ramifications and probably always will. That horrible experiment on Blacks today makes many people of color afraid to take the Covid-19 vaccine.
As you see, I could go on and on with examples of the backdrop of Ms. Tyson’s childhood, but perhaps you’d rather read the book for yourself.
Throughout the book, Ms. Tyson gives God credit for leading her. She speaks of an unflinching faith in God that sustained her from childhood until her last days. Events that others might have called coincidences, Ms. Tyson recognized as the hand of God working out her life’s journey. That’s how her modeling career came about, and that’s how her acting career fell into place without her even knowing that’s what she was meant to do.
This was an entertaining and enlightening read about a woman I have long appreciated as an actress without knowing anything about her background.
The Endless Sunset, by Laleh Chini
This most recent novel by Laleh Chini is about war and one young woman’s experience in Poland during World War II. It is written in person from that woman’s point-of-view. Hanna Przybylski reminisces about the lovely and peaceful city squares and bustling marketplaces in Warsaw of her growing-up years in the 1920s. Her mother was an artist. When her mother has a second child, a girl named Lena, when Hanna is 11 years old, they think their family and their lives are complete. The Great War was over and life is good.
Everything starts to unravel when Lena is a toddler and their mother dies. When the father remarries just three months after the mother’s death, Hanna’s life spirals downward. When Hanna is 16 years old, Germany started bombing Warsaw. World War II is beginning and will further disrupt Hanna’s life. What I’ve shared just covers the first 17% of the book.
What will become of Hanna and Lena? Will Hanna become responsible for more children than Lena? Will they flee Poland for a safer place? Will there be people to help them along the way? Will their father care what his daughters do? Did he and his second wife have children? Will Hanna survive World War II?
You’ll have to read The Endless Sunset to find out. The book is enriched by illustrations by Nihuel Navarro, whose website can be found at nihu.artstation.com.
Dictionary of Americanisms (1848), by John Russell Bartlett
I was expecting this book to take the form of a dictionary; however, the majority of it is narrative.
Near the end of this book there is a short section about some words that were “charged upon us as Americanism” but they are actually derived from English provinces. Examples are expect for suspect, reckon for think, and guess for suppose. These “Americanisms” come from Kent and Derbyshire in England.
The book continues with some words that were apparently Americanisms when the book was written in 1848, but they don’t make sense to me today. Among them are clever for good natured; desk for pulpit; and improve for occupy, or employ.
The book pays its respects to the clergy for starting and continuing to use solemnize for to make serious. Other Americanisms the writer didn’t appreciate at all included transpire for happen, and temper in the sense of passion or irritation.
Jumping on “educated men, and particularly … the clergy,” the writer bemoans the evolution of some nouns into verbs such as to fellowship, to eventuate, to doxologize, to happify, and to donate.
The author would, no doubt, be horrified at the evolution of American English since 1848. This book is proof that American English is forever changing. The words in common usage in 1848 that grated on the nerves of the dictionary author, have for the most part fallen by the wayside today.
By far, my favorite “new” word after reading this dictionary is happify!
Since my last blog post
I continue to have good books to read – in fact, more than I have time to read. I’m also doing some scrapbooking.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have at least one good book to read. Try to get caught reading, since May is Get Caught Reading Month!
If you don’t have a hobby, find one. It will enrich your life.
Note: In addition to being “Get Caught Reading Month,” May is Short Story Month.