See Review of The Crucible: by Arthur Miller in Review Section
Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible in 1952. World War II, had just ended in 1945 and it was during a time in which the United States was becoming increasingly concerned about the rising power of the Soviet Union. Parania was growing inside the government worries that the Soviet Union's communist ways would infiltrate the United States led to a significant amount of paranoia within the American government and Hollywood was becoming a target for Joe McCarthy. This article in The New Yorker, appeared on October 21, 1996 P. 158.
"LIFE AND LETTERS about the inspiration for and influence of Miller's play, "The Crucible," a reflection of the Communist witchhunts of its time. Miller recalled the source of his creation while watching the filming of the new movie of "The Crucible." When he wrote it, Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un- American Activities were prosecuting alleged Communists from the State Department to Hollywood; the Red hunt was becoming the dominant fixation of the American psyche. Miller did not know how to deal with the enormities of the situation in a play. "The Crucible" was an act of desperation; Miller was fearful of being identified as a covert Communist if he should protest too strongly. He could not find a point of moral reference in contemporary society. Miller found his subject while reading Charles W. Upham's 1867 two-volume study of the 1692 Salem witch trials, which shed light on the personal relationships behind the trials. Miller went to Salem in 1952 and read transcripts. He began to reconstruct the relationship between John and Elizabeth Proctor and Abigail Williams, who would become the central characters in "The Crucible." He related to John Proctor, who, in spite of an imperfect character, was able to fight the madness around him. The Salem court had moved to admit "spectral evidence" as proof of guilt; as in 1952, the question was not the acts of an accused but his thoughts and intentions."
Having more information on what Miller was thinking and what inspired him answers some questions as we look back over so many years at this play and try to answer the question, "why this play" at that time.
Does loving what you do, or what your working on, attract creativity? Does it feed your soul? Something has to happen, that adds to what you have, for creativity begin. Whatever it is that feeds your soul, opens the door to creativity, and when it is added, it becomes a "link in a chain' that the next artist will be able to build on .
What is it that we love is the key question? Another important question is why is it that we love it? What does that love feed within us?
The story of the good wolf and the bad wolf is a good beginning to find this out. There are two wolves in this story, one good and one bad. The good wolf is patient, kind, unselfish, loving, loyal, honest, and all those good things we know are good.
The bad wolf is just the opposite, not patient, hateful, jealous, dishonest, mean, and all those things we know are bad.
Each of us go through life influenced by one of these wolves. Whichever one we choose will live with us, and influence all we do. So the important question is, which one, and how is it that we are the one that makes the choice. The answer is that the wolf that stays with you is the one you feed.
The bad wolf wants hateful things, not good. This wolf isn't patient or kind. The bad wolf is not interested in new things and won't attract creativity and doesn't want you to succeed.
The good wolf wants to learn and is hungry for knowledge. He wants to see new things and to read and learn new things. He loves books and especially likes to read your daily journal and to do list. The good wolf attracts more good, and new ideas are attracted to what you already know.
In the book, "A Life You Love by Amy Tangerine", the book starts out discussing how to “craft a life and soul that you love”. Amy asks “what is it that we love?”
A writer may love the characters in a story. A painter may love the object being painted. When something new is added creativity happens. A non fiction story can be come fiction, when even just one of the characters becomes a product of the writers imagination. Then when that new character interacts with the others the writer will have to listen to find out what happens next in the plot, and creativity takes place.
Sometimes it is the writers emotions and feelings about the current characters that become the motivation to find a new character. The bad wolf doesn't want to let you look inside your subconscious for ideas, and instead teaches you to look instead for who to blame and hate.
The artist who only sees things as not good enough will never listen close enough to have the art inform of what may not be seen at first. The good wolf will teach you to look deeper than the surface and to listen
When we connect all that we have learned to our experiences, and then listen, the doors open.
"Nighthawks, a 1942 oil on canvas painting, was inspired by Hemingway's short story 'The Killers,' which Hopper read in Scribner's magazine. Edward Hopper is considered by some as the most important realist painter in the 20th century in America. Even so is vision was selective and reflected his temperament
The painting, Nighthawks, tells it's own story of lonliness.
The diner is a stand-alone building with long front windows with rounded corners on the glass itself that gives the glass a thicker and more confining look. It is late at night and the streets and other buildings look empty with their darkened windows, even more than just closed.
Silence seems to be part of the painting's message and is reflected inside and out of the diner. The diner has no visible doors and thick glass which suggest that those inside are trapped. Unsettling are the yellow, faded and peeling walls. The use of green outside on the reflected walk and around the window suggest unnatural light. Pale green fades to dark green near the buildings and confirms that the building is alone and that the people are isolated. The people inside the diner are not talking and they are not looking at each other.
Most of Hoppers paintings are about how loneliness feels. Loneliness connects to depression and anxiety, both things that Hopper suffered from. Just being alone is not loneliness but having no connection with others is.
Hopper, a tall lonely man, said that he declared himself in his paintings. In the diner tall men in suits bend over, but still look tall.
Being alone in a city is something we all can relate to. Those feelings are captured and used by the author of this book, "The Lonely City, Adventures in the Art of Being Alone, by Olivia Laing" (see review).
The book starts out saying: "Imagine standing by a window at night, on the sixth or seventeenth or forty-third floor of a building". The book also mentions this painting and author to explain the feeling.
I have experienced that feeling 30 floors up, at night in a hotel room. When I looked out the window I could see all the other tall buildings and the lights in their windows and could see people in the closer windows. You knew you were surrounded with people but you had no connection with any of them. You were alone.
I was asked recently if I had read all the books listed on the books reviewed and books read section on my blog? Yes, I have read them, some several times. I didn't include political books, many on religion, success books, and many that I had read prior to 1998. So yes, I have read a lot of books, but compared to a lot of people, maybe not so many.
What happened in 1998? Well a friend told me the best book he had read was Louis L amour's, "Education of a Wandering Man". Prior to that I had never read any of his books, and had sort of looked down on western novels. I read the book and was really surprised. It was his autobiography and told of his travels as a young man, and about all the books he had read during that time. Wow! He read the deepest books, and it just really surprised me. In fact it inspired me - I decided from that day forward I would keep closer tabs on what I was reading and I started a list. I should add here that I have read some of his western novels since then and really like them.
Einstein said that if you want your kids to be smart when they grow up read them fairy tales. Pondering that, opened another door in reading for me. I had not read a lot off fantasy or fiction.
I have to admit I now love reading Stephen King. He scares me at times but I keep going back. With all of the fiction he has written it is a little surprise that his book, "On Writing" is one of the best I have read on the subject. This book changed the way I saw his books. The writing skill of this author just jumps out at you in his books.
So can I remember what is in all of the books in that section? I find that they come back just looking at them, and thinking about one, brings several others back.
Some authors are so familiar that they become labels. Darwinian, Shakespearean, or Orwellian imply things that most understand. Harold Bloom is a literary critic that knows all the older authors that well and likely could imply labels of influence for them all. A goal I have is to be able to do the same and to in that way have them come alive and even talk to me.
C.S. Lewis said “The good of literature is that we want to become more than ourselves, we want to see with others eyes, to imagine with others imaginations, to feel with others hearts, as well as our own.” He sad we become a thousand men and yet remain ourselves. When it happens you will feel renewed and reinvented.
Street art has become common and the walls of buildings may be a new venue for modern art. The same photographers that capture street art often include in their pictures the street people. Art and photography can inform us and tell us what is being felt. If the homeless have blended into and become part of the art have they lost their humanness? Did the photographer take it from them?
Colette Brooks wrote the book, “In the City: Random Acts of Awareness”, She said, “that a city person is one who doesn't feel the need to finish a jigsaw puzzle, who relishes jagged edges and orphaned curves, stray bits of data, stories parsed from sentences half overheard on the streets”. She likely just meant those folks walking the sidewalks going and coming to work. Surrounded with people but no real connections.
Is this homeless man less important as a human now captured as part of the painting above? Is he still real and an individual? Was his presence just a way for the photographer to tell us what he saw? Did we take his "humanness" away from him by making him part of the picture? Do we see the homeless? Maybe this is the overall message?
I am not saying the answers are easy but the questions are important.
If you were, or are, a liberal arts major does that mean your politics have to be liberal? No, of course not.
Liberal arts refer to academic subjects such as literature, philosophy, and social and physical sciences, as distinct from professional and technical subjects. As far back as Ancient Greece liberal arts subjects were felt necessary to enable a person to take an active part in civic life.
J.Paul Getty, the billionaire from the mid 1900’s, said it well when he said that he could teach a new hire accounting but he couldn’t teach them how to talk to people.
This blog is liberal arts focused intended to help get away from looking at daily routine in only technical terms but to consider thoughts and connections to enable further pondering.
The Dean of the Business School at Wake Forest recently said. “We have become so myopic in solving business problems that we don’t think about those problems from the perspective of other disciplines”.
Boston University’s assistant dean at their school of business said, "businesses want workers who have the ability to think, the ability to write, the ability to understand the cultural or historical context of whatever business decision they’re making”.
Liberal arts can help you get out of where you are to somewhere new. C.S. Lewis said “The good of literature is that we want to become more than ourselves, we want to see with others eyes, to imagine with others imaginations, to feel with others hearts, as well as our own.”
So whether your personally conservative or liberal, the good news is that more liberal arts will help you renew and reinvent yourself.
What happens when the music runs out? Do musicians retire when that happens? Louis Armstrong said that musicians don't retire, they only stop when there is no more music left in them.
Music is a connection between our physical self and our very souls. We feel the music. It reflects our heart. Music with scriptures are hymns. We worship through hymns. The feelings of our heart are conveyed in verbal prayer. Our bodies and faces reflect the images of happiness and sadness, with music opening those feelings. Singing makes us better. Sometimes we sing for what we long for. We use music to help us get by without things wanted.
Louis Armstrong also said that “What we play is life”.
What is that music? How did that music get to be inside the musician, or others? Is it a song yearning for something, or is it a song celebrating something?
Did the music ever leave Louis Armstrong? Did it ever run out? He never retired, so that answers that. What would leave each of us, and then result in our retiring? Would what we have longed for have gone away, or would we have given up on our passion? It does seem very clear that Louis Armstrong loved the music and for him it never went away. He had a passion for it.
What do we have a passion for? Love, kindness, and passion are what focuses us. They drive us. We lose ourselves in those feelings. They fill our minds, and we have little place for worrying about ourselves.
In the play, Cat’s, which is being released again, the cats all audition for the opportunity to go back and have another life. They feel that it would be good to do that because, as one of the cats said so well in the song "Memory". They had the experience but missed the meaning. They had lived once and wanted another shot. Had the music for life run out in the cats?
Is there any chance that Louis Armstrong would want to come back and have another life. Would he have looked back and felt like he missed the meaning? Of course, not. That one is so easy to answer. We knew his passion. He told us that “what we play is our life”. His playing moved us. We felt it. For him the music was Jazz. For us, what we play can be just what we love. It can be anything we chose, but then we need to feel passionate about it. If your lucky enough to love knowledge and learning, then your indeed blessed. That, like the music for Louis, just never stops being an option.
If your passion is your family, then that too is a blessing. You will always be an example to them. You can always show love and concern.
Many of the liberal arts offer areas that you can find passion for. If you love art, then there is always more. If you love poetry, then you will not reach the end. If you love reading you will never finish.
To love, you need to be comfortable with yourself. You need to forgive yourself. Your life story needs to be well thought through.
What about Louis? Do you think he had a perfect personal life? Do you think he spent his time worrying about missing the meaning in his life? He dropped out of school at 11 and had rough years ahead of him. His mother didn’t have an inspiring occupation. Later he said of himself, that he hardly looked back at his youth as the worst of times, but drew inspiration from those times instead. He said that "Every time I close my eyes blowing that trumpet of mine—I look right in the heart of good old New Orleans... It has given me something to live for.”
What we have a passion for matters. Yes. musicians don’t retire, as long as they have music in them. Find the music.
Stephen King on Writing. George Orwell, Why I Write. Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir. Making A Literary Life, Carolyn See.
“Writing in the moment” is a term that seems to have several uses. I can be just a focus of attention on things happening right now. The idea of even trying to capture the details, like a slow-motion camera’s input, gives focus to the way you approach the moment. If not being a directive at the “here and now” it still can be a map to where to look.
The idea that some moments might stand out and that you can sort of sense them, almost breathing them in, and then using the senses to direct your thoughts at the details is just more of what the moment can be about.
A life story can be a reference to moments in our life, but those moments change. Seldom do you hear a person tell their own life story the same way over and over. As they look back and recall events, they see those events differently. The conclusions as to why things happened in the past change when the events are seen over again looking back.
Stephen King on Writing. George Orwell, Why I Write. Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir. Making A Literary Life, Carolyn See.
Four Good Books on Writing
Click the books to link to the Reviews
Social media can be harmful. I don't think as many people get addicted to blogs as social media. Real "face to face personal relationships" with people are hands down better than either blogs or social media. I don't think that would be disputed.
A University did a study last year on social media's effect on self esteem and anxiety and reported that 50% of the 298 participants said "that their use of social networks, like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, made their lives worse". Research shows that they had a false sense of belonging and connecting that wasn't real world based. One big reason for this is that all those "assumed connections" that people are checking in on out of habit, several times a day, look like they are having the perfect life. It just often isn't real and if your life isn't perfect it can be depressing. People can be whoever they want to be on those sites. Whatever they are doing, it can be a staged situation, not a shared life. Our lives can look boring in comparison. As said it can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety. Not good things. Other peoples passions can be polarizing.
Depression, in part, is a state of not caring. The world turns "black and cold" all around us when were depressed. Things just don't matter. Anxiety may be the other end of this same spectrum. On that side you care "far to much about everything" and there is no way to accomplish all that you care about.
Connecting with people can help for either problem. Getting "out of ourselves" helps. People, books, art, poetry, service, our ancestors, and music can all help us get out of ourselves. If it is people that are going to pull us out they need to be pulling us into the real world not a made up fantasy on line reality show.
Having said this I have to acknowledge the real world. I may wind up using these same social media sites as places to offer some very short encouragement and to try to pull people to this site. I don't think I originated any of this so I hope you don't want to hang the messenger
With the new year facing us, a question is what to read next? "Fiction is the gateway drug to reading” according to Neil Gaiman, a successful fiction and fantasy writer. He added that fiction drives us to want to know what happens next. It becomes exciting, and it satisfies the excitement, as we turn the pages.
When we read fiction, it increases our imagination and results in our finding something new of interest. The new things we find may lead us in a direction such as science, history or art? Maybe we look for a biography of a person with an area of similar interest to our own.
Often the path to the next book, or even choosing one to re read, is built on past choices. Years ago I watched the movie “Apocalypse Now”. That lead me to reread Joseph Conrad’s book, “Heart of Darkness” set in Africa with very much the same basic plot. The book was considered one of Conrad’s best.
Conrad's book was critised by some for have a white mans perspective of life in Africa. I wanted to find another perspective. I wondered if there were good African writers that I could read? At that point in my life I had never looked for African writers. I looked and found many good ones who were respected for their work. I found several authors of interest. Chinua Achebe, was at the time emerging as a well known African author for his book, “Things Fall Apart”.
It seemed to be the perfect “other point of view” I was looking for. This book is indeed something that should be read by anyone who reads “Heart of Darkness”, and wonder if they have seen Africa correctly.
SEE "PAST REVIEWS TAB" TO FIND
REVIEW OF "THINGS FALL APART, by CHINA ACHEBE
HEART OF DARKNESS BY JOSEPH CONRAD
Each time I think back over my own life story I see it differently. I re-think what happened and draw different conclusions. This story below seems to have stuck with me throughout my life.
When I was about 11 years old I had the unfortunate experience of being chased home each day after school by a kid who was much bigger than me. One day my mother met me as I was running into the yard. She probably had planned to do this and must have been aware of the fact that I was running hard on arrival at home each day. That day she asked why I was running so hard? I told her this big kid was chasing me. I guess I could have said "I was running to avoid getting pounded". That would have been an honest answer.
We lived by a river and crossing the bridge in front of our house meant that I was home. The next day she was out front waiting for my arrival as I came across the bridge. She stopped me there and when shortly the big kid came across she called him over and announced to us both that the next day we would meet right there in the park across the street from my house and fight. It surprised me? It surprised me, perhaps even more, that my mother was setting this up. In looking back it also surprises me that I didn’t try to get out of it, or worry a lot about it. I just figured that was what I had to do. I had to fight him.
The next day at school word got out. I was asked by some of the kids if I was really going to fight him? I said yes I was. The next day after school the big kid, and a lot of kids from the school, arrived at the park, some even before I arrived. My mother was there. She had all the kids form a big circle in the park. The big kid, his name was Alan, and I went into the circle with fists up ready to start swinging, and mom was the referee. We fought. I danced around with my fists up and tried to land some punches and avoid getting punched. I hit him as hard as I could and did land a few. He wasn't very good at boxing and preferred to just push and shove. He probably felt he had to try and box with the audience. Several times he just pushed me to the ground and then would beat on me. I would hit back even from laying on the ground. Each time this happened my mother had us get up and have us continue boxing. It wasn't a fight I had a chance of winning. Finally, my mother held up his hand and said there you go Alan, you won!
What has always surprised me most then, and ever since looking back, is that I wasn’t scared. I felt like I did the best I could and I didn’t hurt too bad. I lost my fear of failing. Life went on. I did get into a fight or two in later years at school but I'd lost my fear.
When I tell this story, as part of my life story it seems to connect with the future challenges I had in life. I have pondered and rethought a lot about this story. It does seem different with time, but it is still part of the narrative of my overall life story. I have not been afraid of failures and have worked through them. Somehow challenges and changes in my life connects for me in various ways with what happened that day in front of my house. When you get knocked down you get up. You keep fighting and when it is over life goes on.
By the way, a side note. I have always loved boxing. "Watching it", in particular. Muhammad Ali's my favorite. This quote of his has relevance for me.
"Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even."
I was not good at art and had never taken a class in it, until the 9th grade. Many in the class were talented and I wondered if I had made a mistake. Our teacher was Mr. Lampson. He was passionate about art. Early in the year he mentioned a phrase that just drove him crazy. He explained that when he heard someone say, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like”, that he just wanted to yell. It offended him and he took it very personally.
He said it wasn’t really our decision if “Art was art”, adding that, "We don't inform art, that art informs us". I am sure he had a lot more to say and I do recall that it often came up.
Even though this class did not set me on the path of greatness in art, it did get me thinking, and over the years many things I learned told me that Mr. Lampson was right. Art does have its own role and purpose, but the question of whether art is a reflection of the artist’s feelings, or if art created those feelings, is still unclear. Maybe it is both?
Oscar Wilde, in his 1889 essay, "The Decay of Lying" said that: “Life imitates Art, more than Art imitates Life, and what is found in life and nature is not what is really there, but is that which artists taught people to find there, through art”.
Do we really see what is there, or what an artist taught us to see? It has been found that people do see what they are conditioned to see. When people are hypnotized and asked about what they saw when they walked through a room they have very different answers than when not hypnotized. They can remember the number of tiles on the ceiling, or even the faces on the magazines on the tables and they can’t remember those things otherwise. Their conscious mind was not interested in them. Those who believe that the artists taught us to see will like this.
Mr. Lampson also showed us how a lump of clay, spinning on a pottery wheel, grasped by an artists hands worked. It seemed magical as he created some beautiful bowls and vases. He wanted us to understand that the clay could talk to us and that what we finished with would be different from what we intended when we started. Learning how to listen seemed exciting.
Writers and artists reveal much about themselves in what they do but they also find a great deal waiting to be expressed.
New Mexico holds a real mystic for writers and they mention their time there often in their stories. Tony Hillerman, a well known New Mexico author, wrote a great deal about the cultures reflected in the art of its people, especially the Navajo. The stories were told as he saw it or perhaps as other artists taught him to see it.
Art is a path to connections, that can help us see ourselves differently. We can become better than we are by re-looking at the connections.
Fiction is a way to explore the parts of being human that we would never otherwise experience. All your beliefs can be set aside and you can step inside a new reality. You will meet people who will inspire you and some who will terrify you. You will have experiences you would never have in your own life. Things will happen that you previously couldn’t have even imagined.
Will these fictional characters and experiences have an influence on your self-identity? I think they will. Do they have in role in the narrative of how you see your life story? Again, I think they do. Does fiction have any redeeming value? Will it’s influence raise or lower intelligence? There is plenty of evidence that it raises it.
There are lots of suggestions on how to increase intelligence, but one that is common is to associate with intelligent educated people. The reason for this is that you can talk to them about a broad range of subjects. New ideas can be discussed. Different perspectives can be found. It sounds a lot like opening up a book of fiction.
The first time I read Faulkner’s fictional story, “As I Lay Dying” it took me by surprise. I expected to step into a story line and learn about the people in a part of the country that I had never experienced. That did happen, but it was the language and the tone and sound of the conversations, that was the surprise. The way the characters talked to each other was so very different than anything I would ever have known. I knew I was in a different place, but the way the characters interacted let me see differently.
I read the book, “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova, because I wanted to learn more about what it was like to have Alzheimer’s disease. I hoped to never know for myself and saw this story as a way to have an experience with it. The story did much more than I expected. When Alice, a linguistics professor, began to lose words and thoughts I felt how hard it was for her.
Some fiction will just take you to a place you haven’t been with people that are different, like in Faulkner’s story. Some approaches let you feel things that just wouldn’t happen to you.
Einstein suggested, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
Neil Gaiman in his book "View from the Cheap Seats" talked about fiction. He is a writer of fiction for young readers and he went to a world-wide meeting for fiction writers held in China. He knew that over the prior years China didn't even allow fairy tales and fiction in their schools, so he was surprised that this event had been invited to China. He asked an official what had happened and was told, off the record, that they had toured all the big companies they did outsourcing work for in the United States and they asked those they met what they read and they all said science fiction. The saw the connection of fiction with creativity.
Even in fiction, fairy tales, and horror stories, good guys win and bad guys are bad. The force in the Star Wars, for some, might be the goodness in the universe, but then what about that goodness? Will it reaffirm our beliefs seeing it in a fictional plot? Hopefully it will.
Dr. Einstein also said that creative imagination is the essential element in the intellectual equipment of the true scientist, and that fairy tales are the childhood stimulus to this quality.
Fiction is a literary influence that helps us shape our lives. Of course the really good thing is that it lets us step out of our own world for a while.
John Muir said “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
This picture below is one I took a few years ago. The trail's name is the "Pipeline" and it offers clarity to Muir's statement. It runs from the top of Grandeur Peak, where you can look West and see the Salt Lake Valley below, and then on the East, to near the top of the Millcreek canyon where, if you know where to look, you can see Park City.
My own preferred way to enter this trail is at Rattlesnake Gulch. I drive up the canyon, not too far past the entrance booth, to a parking area where the Rattlesnake Gulch trail begins. It goes up the side of the mountain and gains about 600 feet in elevation and is about 0.8 miles up to when you can get on the Pipeline Trail. You can then head east off to the left to Grandeur or west off to the right to Church Fork.
For many years I tried to run that trail as often as I could. The trail is hardly a wilderness. It is however, a first step out of our day to day world, into a place where the natural order of nature does surround you. T
This trail was less than 4 miles from where I lived, and I was always in awe of how different I felt when I left the day to day world to this special place.
I often saw and heard snakes, even jumping over them stretched across the trail. I saw bobcats, deer and heard larger animals back in the brush.
I have been reading a book about wolves and their lives after being reintroduced into Yellowstone Park. It shows that the balance between the Elk and the Wolves is real, and changes in the balance has consequences.
The wilderness and it's balance point a way into understanding much more. Even more about the universe itself as Muir said.
I loved my years running on the Pipeline Trail. I have run it both winter and summer. I look forward to next and to at least walk it again.
Review of American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee See Past Review Section
In August 2015, the Atlantic Magazine published an article titled “Life’s Stories”. It was written by Julie Beck and the sub title of the article states: “How you arrange the plot points of your life into narrative shapes who you are and is a fundamental part of being human.” In that interesting article, Monisha Pasupathi, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Utah, offered a lot of insight on this subject. She stated, “In order to have relationships, we’ve all had to tell little pieces of our story”.
We share our life stores every day in a lot of ways, even in just our greetings with others. here are some examples of that. "Hi, where are you from?" "Where did you grow up?" "Which school did you attend?"
I watched a salesperson standing at the entrance door of a store in a local mall recently. She would make eye contact and smile as people passed by. A lady passing smiled and said hello back and then the two of them walked into the store together. I was near the door and overheard what happened next. The sales person had asked how the potential customer was doing and got a smile and a reply back. As they went into the store the sales person asked where the lady was from. She mentioned a town in California. The sales person replied with some enthusiasm. She knew the town well and they talked about the street where it turned out they had both spent time. The sales person had plenty of personal experiences in that town to talk about and share. They both relaxed and leaned back and just talked, enjoying each other. It was clear they both had made a connection by sharing part of their life story.
The event that connected these two people that day was something they had in common and shared. We see our own lives as a series of events but we connect the events with a narrative that becomes a story, as we look back. The resulting story that we to a large degree have constructed has a great deal to do with our self-identity.
In the last 20+ years I have had an opportunity to tell my own life story verbally in front of a church group at least 20 times. Each time I told the story it was always a little different. It was different because I had thought more about the story and it became different with the time that had passed. Yes, I was remembering it different, but because I had rethought it and it's implications I saw it different.
In that same time frame, I heard few hundred men present their life story and then often heard them tell their story again after a few years. The emphasis and substance of their stories changed as they re told them.
Life stories are like books. They have plots, themes, time lines and key characters. We choose which of these are important and we connect the events in order to be able to present them in a narrative.
Thinking about the thoughts that influences and shapes our self-identity shows some answers in why we seee it differently over time.
People come and go in our lives but some become important and key characters in our story plot as things happen. Events shape us. How we chose to look at those events changes and this happens as we look back filtering all we have been through with our memories.
Books and authors influence us. Art, music, poetry, service,our heritage and even food can influence us even to the point of being part of the life story.
A poem by a unknown author suggests that "Some people come into our lives for a reason, some for a season, and some for a lifetime". Some feel that God sends the people that are needed. Others who may come bring challenges and darkness.
I believe that we have a choice in putting together the narrative of who we are, and who we have become. We can pick which of the events we connect with, what we conclude about them, and then weave and reweave them into our story.
Not everyone will accept those conclusions. Some believe in free will and do accept that our choices effect our memories. Others are deterministic and believe that people are wired to be what they are. They say that we didn't choose our parents, or the time or place where we were born, or our genes, and that we are just are programmed by cause and effect causing our circumstances. to be what are.
Tell your story to your family and listen to how you see things this year and then again in a year.
Each Thanksgiving I get excited. Sometimes I think back to 1957 to a very special Thanksgiving day and dinner. My sister was born that year on Tuesday the 26th of November, two days before the holiday. My mother and new sister were, of course, still in the hospital and my father, brother, and I had to figure out what to do for a meal on Thanksgiving Day, and I was worried.
This story of that day is one that I have told, over and over again, for the last 60+ years. Looking back at the event this year seems different, and it occurs to me that I have been in a rut. For too long the story has just been focused our special a Thanksgiving day meal. I have been missing the bigger picture. I should have seen how repetitious my story had become.
Oral histories have been a common way families have past on their life stories. My father was one that past not only his own history, but much of his extended families stories this way. He really never could seem to remember that he had told us the stories before. Later in his life I just reached a point where I felt it was important that I listen to him and so I didn't say anything and just listened.
Looking back now I realize that his repetition served to imprint those stories into my memory. So why I have retold the Thanksgiving story of 1957 so many times to my sister is something I really can't explain?
It was Thanksgiving that year and I learned, after some concern on my part, that a neighbor had invited us guys over for dinner. Even then I wondered why our Aunts, and Uncles or even Grandparents didn't invite us? Maybe they did, and maybe my dad just thought it would be easier to just go almost next door, rather than across town. I remember worrying about the dinner. At 11 years old I thought having a sister was fine but I have always remembered how much I had looked forward to turkey day.
When the time for the big meal came I remember that we were at the neighbors all siting around the living room table. We waited at the table for what seemed like a long time. The table didn't seem like the Thanksgiving day dinners I was used to. I figured that when the turkey arrived it would make it all good. Our neighbor, Mrs Zelner, announced that it was ready and coming. She carried the main course in on a large silver tray with a silver dome cover. I had never seen a large silver serving tray with a cover like this and it seemed exciting She had left the center of the table open with a place to put the special silver tray, and she carefully set it down.
She stood up and I wondered if she would carve the turkey first but she just reached for the silver dome lid. It seemed like she was building up to the big moment, I know I was, and then she lifted the dome. The tray was stacked high and full of hamburgers.
Yes, I was disappointed, and a little shell shocked. The rest of the dinner seems like sort of a blur as I try to recall it. I know I was crushed. Obviously I was so enough to repeat this story over and over, mostly to my sister Trudy over a lot of years. I guess I figured I was passing on my own oral tradition memories to her. I knew I had told her the story before, so I wasn't just retelling it because I couldn't remember. Maybe I have always been trying to get over it.
Since then, every Thanksgiving dinner has been spent with family. In the case of my wife's parents those dinners were also spent with a day of football.
Last year we found ourselves alone in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Each of our now grown children and their spouses had other plans. A member of our church who knew we would be alone invited us over for dinner. What seemed to hit me at that time was how nice it was to have someone do that. Thinking of others is important and perhaps you notice it more when your on the receiving end.
I realized that so many years ago I had much to be thankful for. A new sister of course, and overlooked at the time was neighbors who wanted to help.
This is how we have always done that. That can apply to a lot of things. For example, did you know that it doesn’t work to put new wine in an old wineskin? I doubt that you did, and you may have never thought about it unless you happened to have read Mark 2:22 where that advice is given. Well I wondered about it, and in looking a little closer I found that the reason is that new wine has not fermented yet. When it is put in the wineskin and sealed it does ferment, and that means it expands. Old wineskins don’t do well expanding. The have become brittle and are set in place. The new wine fermenting creates pressure and rips open the old wineskins. Both the wineskins and the wine are lost.
That is a great story when you apply it to the people in our lives and to ourselves. We become brittle and set in our ways. New ideas can be challenging. If we want to be better tomorrow than yesterday, we need to keep some flexibility.This story and example has application to something that happened several years ago, and I remember it well.
Businesses with warehouses all seem to have similar functions. The warehouse physically manages the inventories. They record in and out movement, receiving, storing and shipping the products. Accounting is concerned that the numbers are correct. Sales and customers drive what goes out. Purchasing sets up what comes in. It is often the case that these departments have some disagreements. Often friction comes with the warehouse when the movement of product doesn’t seem logical. These things are managed with computers these days and it is easier, but it isn’t friction free.
The warehouse manager in place when this story happened had worked for the company for 35 years. He had never had another job. One thing he knew well was how they had always done things.
When the business was very small he was the one that ordered all the products and he also managed the inventory levels. The business had grown over the years and purchasing had changed. A purchasing department and buyers had been added. Even with these changes the warehouse manager still was the one that gave the buyers numbers on what to buy each week. A time came when the businesses growth made it necessary to find better ways to buy.
A new senior manager came into the business and the purchasing department became aware of a lot of new options. It changed how some of the products were being bought. A lot of discussions took place with the warehouse management and the purchasing management. Attempts to get everyone on board with what was being done seemed to have made some progress.
One day 100 cases of product came in. This product in the past had come in 50 cases at a time. With the extra cases the former inventory locations just wouldn’t work. The warehouse manager had missed the notifications and found himself surprised at the arrival. For him it was the last straw. He didn’t want to talk about it. He just resigned.
He was in his late 40’s. He went to trade school to see if he could change careers. After several years, he had not found a position as good as he had left.
The real reason the warehouse manager left was not because of the 100 cases of inventory. He left because he didn’t like his new manager. He didn’t like his new manager because he knew “how things had always been done” and he had not been successful in making his new manager see it that way.
The warehouse manager was inflexible. When he said that “he knew how it had always been done” he might as well have said, “hey guys, I am inflexible”.
If we are to become better tomorrow than yesterday, we need to change. We need to stay flexible so that we are able to change.
Our subconscious is busy telling our conscious brain what we want. It uses as criteria what we have always wanted. Our subconscious values how we have always done things.
We need to control what goes into our thoughts and find ways to inform our subconscious that we want to change.
Life stories are full of surprises and similarities. I remember a man who stood up in a group we were in and told us about his life. When he got to his time in WWII he mentioned being on a ship that was hit by a Japanese bomber in Pearl Harbor. The ship sank and turned over and he and hundreds of men, some alive and some dead, were trapped upside down in the ship, mostly under water, for over a week. We were all surprised by his story, but as often was the case when a man had been in WWII it often took a lot of the allocated time as he recalled his life.
Another time a friend stood in a similar group setting and told about his life and he mentioned that when he was a senior in high school both of his parents committed suicide. When he brought that up we were shocked. It really had an impact on us. I don't think any of us will forget his story and how we felt when he told it. He didn't spend much time on this part of his story.
My own life experiences include the times in the late 1960's when the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights protests were something that dominated the news every day. I lived in Southeastern Idaho and after finishing high school I went to Idaho State University. I had grown up right there in the small town of Pocatello.
There were not many Blacks in the town, or even at the University, when I went. I didn't really experience seeing a lot of discrimination. The town had one part where most of the Blacks lived, but I hadn't given a lot of thought to that. The high school had it's first Black Student Body President a couple of years before I graduated and he was very popular.
Many from our high school left for Vietnam after graduation. The protests for both the war and civil rights were what you read about in the newspaper and heard about on TV.
At the University a daily routine for me for the first couple of years was sitting in the Student Union between classes. This brought some experiences which I have always remembered. Young men who I had gone to high school with sometimes stopped by and sat with us as they returned from Vietnam. They would talk about drugs and sometimes about the fighting. Several were reenlisting or going back and just checking the Student Union's social situation out.
The war had changed them. They seemed lost and cold and it was hard to keep a conversation going with them. They came and visited but didn't stay long. I felt that they were uncomfortable sitting with us.
Classmates were the regulars in these Student Union sessions. The classes were hard and it really helped to become part of the out of class study groups. New friendships were found and one that I found was a young man who was in one of my classes. He was an African who had come from his homeland to an American University. I had never had a Black friend. I didn't feel that I had any prejudges.
My friend and I spent a few months studying together and talking. He seemed so very interesting and I was grateful to be able to hear his story each day. One day in the middle of a conversation he changed the subject and looked me in the face and told me that he just did not want to be friends with me anymore? I was really surprised and had never experienced something like that before. I asked him why, and what had changed. He told me that in America the Blacks were hated by the Whites. When he said that I was surprised and challenged it. His response was to tell me to just watch the TV news. He then told me that the only reason I had been a friend to him was because I looked at him as an African and not as a Negro? He said that had offended him a great deal. What he said I also found offensive to me. He got up and walked away and we never visited after that.
It has been 50 years since this happened. There is so much about the civil rights movement that impressed me. I look back and see myself so isolated from those events while they were happening.
Each time we retell and think again about our life stories we see it a little different. That difference changes us. We see the connections in different ways and try to remake ourselves over as we learn from what happened.
This particular event left me feeling stunned and betrayed. It seems important to me as I look back at my life, but I still look for reasons for why it is important.
I did make a contact a few years ago with the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello. I offered them a story written up to cover this time period at the local University. The story included the campus reaction to the war, the prior popularity of the High School President, and the event I reviewed here. They didn't have an interest in it and I don't think anyone that I had contact with could really relate to that time period?
So even though I am still learning I still can ask myself what this story taught me. Obviously this friend saw me very differently that I saw myself. I learned that I indeed was naive. I also learned that just being naive doesn't mean you don't care.
I just finished writing a review of Pat Conroy's book "A Lowcountry Heart, Reflections on a Writing Life". The book is a collection of stories that were intended as final words and heartfelt remembrances of his life.
I wanted to learn more about who Pat Conroy really was. It was very interesting to find a favorite quote of his that said "The most powerful words in the English language are Tell me a story".
I do love to tell stories and I love to hear them. I like to know about the author of the books I read as much, or even more, than the books.
There is no one whose story I am as familiar with as my own. The same is true for you. This seems so obvious, but then what surprises me a little is how I see that story differently almost every time I tell it.
Connections that seemed so important at the time that I told my own story seemed less important over time. Coincidences have become clearer over time. As the story changes as I retell it, I find that it changes me. I become different because of how I see the story. In someways it seems like we continually create who we are, but use the same events to shape our own conclusions.
I have witnessed how other people seem to change their own conclusions about themselves using the same facts from participating in an event at my local church.
Over a period of about 35 years a men's group I participated in met once a month and one person would take about 45 minutes and tell the group their life story.
The initial purpose in doing this was to help us get to know each other. We believed that men didn't bond all that easy and they normally were a little shy in a setting like this. We felt it was important to gain an appreciation, and even love, for each other.
People moved in and moved away over this time. Somehow we were able to keep this going. It did after a few years lead to recycling some of us. So we would hear the life stories again. I do have some memory issues but I usually can remember the details of these type of stories clearly. What was interesting is that sometimes the events of a story heard before clearly was viewed differently by the presenter when re told. I had my own occasions of retelling my life experiences that I felt important and it was clear to me that the same events looked different in retelling. There were times when I wondered if a person who seemed to see the same event differently when retold, was doing so because having told the story he then found different connections to the events. I sometimes wondered if the changes and emphasis was on purpose just reshaping an image?
People do come and go in our lives and it takes some time to see reasons. When a new person comes we take it for granted as coincidence. When we look back and see the full impact of the people we see destiny in action and feel changed by the events.
An article in the Atlantic Magazine back in 2015 had some interesting observations about life stories that listening to so many over the last 35 years seemed to clearly confirm.
The author, Julie Beck, subtitle of the story said “How you arrange the plot points of your life into narrative shapes who you are, and is a fundamental part of being human.” She said that “In order to have relationships, we’ve all had to tell little pieces of our story”. Of course we do. A big part of even a initial greeting often is telling each other where your from.
Reinventing our-self may be, in part, just telling our own story often and listening closely.