Mon. February 18, 2019: Love of Country #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, February 18, 2019
Almost Full Moon
Presidents’ Day

We survived Valentine’s Day. We all deserve a prize.

On this President’s Day, on a month of essays about love, it’s appropriate to talk about love of country.

This is a contentious issue right now in the US, with two factions with opposite ideas of the definition of “love of country.”

I can’t think of any country whose history hasn’t been built on blood and pain. We keep hoping culture and society evolve into a better form of humanity. Sometimes it moves forward for a few years, and then back for a few hundred.

Too often, we don’t know actual history, just propagandized bits of history. Although it’s painfully obvious we don’t learn from it.

What inspires love of country?

For me, it is a set of ideals about humanity, justice, education, art, compassion, and inclusion that I see the country in which I currently live abandoning. Ideals that were set out by the Founding Fathers, and built on by our Founding Mothers and children, and all the rest of the anonymous people who actually did the work. There are always people devoted to their country who are willing to fight for it — be it joining the military or working on various fronts at home. But a country survives and thrives by its citizens holding a shared vision of what that country stands for, and everyone working to bring that vision into reality for ALL its members.

One can learn a great deal by re-reading documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution — and then reading diaries and letters of regular people who actually lived through those times.

One of my favorite experiences was a discovery I made in the Philadelphia Archives. I was there to research Betsy Ross, for a project for which I’m still trying to find the proper form.

By accident, I saw a diary by a Dr. James Allen. I’d gone to elementary school with a nice guy named Jamie Allen, and I thought it might be fun to read about this Dr. James Allen. So I asked for the diary, which arrived, written in absolutely gorgeous penmanship.

Dr. Allen was a medical doctor. Well educated, well read, with a strong sense of justice. He was there, at Independence Hall, listening to the original public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776. It shook him, transformed him. He ended up joining the Army and serving under General George Washington. He was part of that Delaware Crossing.

I read his diary, knowing how it all comes out in the end, but, of course, he didn’t as he wrote it. His concerns, the times his patience and his integrity were tested — I wish I could get a grant to transcribe the diary, research his history, and publish a book about him!

I learned more from reading this man’s diary than I did from any history book.

It also reminded me how much more complex actual history is than a line in a textbook or a tweet or a sound byte.

Skipping ahead in history a bit, Louisa May Alcott and Harriet Beecher Stowe are two of the reasons I became a writer. I admired both their work and their lives so much. As an aside, as much as I admire Emerson and Thoreau, I’m always reminded that there they were, talking and studying and writing and walking in the woods, while the practicalities of daily life were handled by the WOMEN around them. This frustration was reinforced by Susan Cheever’s terrific book, AMERICAN BLOOMSBURY (which I highly recommend).

I re-read Louisa’s diaries regularly when I get tired and discouraged.

Harriet is best known for UNCLE TOM’S CABIN. There’s plenty to discuss about that book on so many levels, both positive and negative, which could take up an entire college semester. But Harriet wrote plenty of other books, too, many of them domestic comedies. Some of her writing is very, very funny. She came from a large, lively, intellectual, daring, engaged, and flawed family. Her brother Henry Ward Beecher’s scandal when he led a church in Brooklyn, and, again, how the woman in the scandal was the one thrown under the bus, is detailed in Barbara Goldsmith’s wonderful social history, OTHER POWERS.

Both Harriet and Louisa were considered “difficult women” and
ahead of their time.” Reading their letters, their diaries, their books, one sees how they were both ahead of their time and PART of their time (and prejudices, although they were far more progressive than many of their contemporaries). We hope we’ve evolved in our understanding of humanity, although too often it feels like we’re going backwards.

History is made up of people and their messy, beautiful, terrifying lives. Societies are too often built on breaking the individuals that actually do the work to build the society. Where can you give someone room for individuality? Where does someone going too far become a threat to someone else’s basic human rights and dignity? What are basic social constructs that allow people with vastly different beliefs and points of view to co-exist in peace and dignity and prosperity for all? How does one teach people that having enough for all doesn’t necessarily mean taking away from anyone, but that everyone must contribute fairly? How can we craft laws that have more to do with justice, and less to do with religion, which, in my opinion, has been used as a tool of oppression ever since it was invented?

All of that feeds into our “love of country.”

It’s not an easy issue. Especially when competing factors have vastly different ideas of what the society that inhabits the defined “country” should believe, live, and build.

As a writer, of course, all this is fascinating. But living it (and we are all living history, every moment), can often be exhausting.

We supposedly live in a democracy (which is under serious threat), that is set up as a republic. Therefore, as part of our love of country, it is an obligation to keep up with the news (actual news, not propaganda feeds), to stay informed about upcoming legislation (you can read the text of past, present, and proposed bills on Congress.gov), and to interact with our elected officials, on local, state, and federal levels. It takes time, but the alternative is to lose our country. So it’s worth it. We need to vote. We need to serve on jury duty when called. We, as individuals and collectively, need to speak out when human rights are denied, and stop it.

This President’s Day, think about what you love about your country. Think about what you believe needs to be changed. And then take action. Because history is built by people.

Be a History Builder.

 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010
Waxing Moon
Neptune Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Sunny and hot
Festival of Salacia and Sulis

Yesterday was fun. Different than I expected, but fun. I was out of the apartment early, walked east on Chestnut Street to the historic district. Never made it to Ben Franklin’s grave, although it turns out I was always within a block of it. There are thousands of boy scouts on their way to a jamboree — thousands of ‘em, all over the place. I spent most of the day trying to dodge the large groups. A store proprietor said they’d be at mostly family-friendly places; I hoped to find a tavern to hide in.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re very nice and reasonably well-behaved, in spite of being older teenaged boys. But they ARE teen-aged boys, and there are thousands of them, and there’s only so much of that I can take.

Paid my respects to Betsy Ross, photographed the fountain in her courtyard with the cats. Swung by the Old Quaker Meeting House, and the store at the Visitor’s Center. I wanted to buy some silly gifts, but the store was overpriced, and there wasn’t anything appropriate. And why do the stores in the Bourne Center sell replicas of the Statue of Liberty and postcards of NYC? Doesn’t make sense to me.

Carpenter’s Hall (good bookshop there), swung back around on 2nd St. to the Clay Center. Although it states on the website that the gallery opens at 10, and I was there after 10:30, it was locked and dark. Typical Philadelphia.

Ducked down Elfreth’s Alley, full of tiny little row houses and window boxes, and pre-revolutionary lane that still has people living there. Poor things, the tourists must drive them nuts. And there’s Blanden’s something or other, another little alley leading of Elfreth’s Alley, which would be lovely and peaceful is so many people weren’t crawling around taking photos! I was one of them, but I tried to do it quietly! 😉

Took some lovely photos in the cemetery at Christ’s Church, dodged four troops of boy scouts (for a minute, I thought I’d have to hop over the wall, which, in a dress, would have been an adventure). Walked across to the Society Hill neighborhood, full of restored (expensive) row houses.

There’s an oddly designed red brick building, heading south, called the Center for Living History that “closed permanently” on June 18. That’s a shame. And I wonder what they’ll do with the monstrosity.

The plan was to eat at a pub I’d read about called The Artful Dodger that looked interesting. I thought I’d check it out and write a short article about it. There are plenty of publications who take that type of stuff. I got there about a half hour before they were scheduled to open. I was hot and tired, in spite of carrying water. I wandered around the neighborhood, which is lovely, and spent a good bit of time in the churchyard next to St. Peter’s. I took some interesting photographs — I like old graveyards, they have stories, and they tell them if you listen quietly enough. Also met a woman walking two Wheaton terriers who told me about some interesting graves in the graveyard next door, at cemetery beside Old Pine St. Church, and about some lovely little gardens tucked away between Society Hill and where I’m staying off Rittenhouse Square.

By the time we were done, it was a few minutes after noon. I walked back to the pub, and it was even a few more minutes after noon. Not only was it not yet open, the staff saw me waiting and turned their backs. Not a wave or holding up a hand to indicate five more minutes. Dismissal.

So I left. Not spending my money there.

The service in Philadelphia restaurants sucks more often than it doesn’t anyway, which is a shame, because Philadelphia has a lot of outstanding restaurants. It sucks more than in most other towns I’ve travelled to throughout the world. But the servers seem to think they’re doing you a favor by letting you come in and sit down and pay them to maybe come by your table if they feel like it and can get off their smart phones or be bothered to stop conversing with their colleagues. 98% of the wait staff in Philly couldn’t last a single shift in NY.

Exceptions that I’ve discovered (and to which I keep returning) are Smith’s, on S. 19th St., a few blocks from Rittenhouse Square, and The Black Sheep, on S. 17th St. Hopefully, the place we’re going for lunch to today will also fall into that category.

Walked west on Pine Street, which was lovely. Row houses, Antiques Row (a series of antique stores — if I’d been in shopping mode, I’d have stopped at a few, but I wasn’t). I hoped to find a little cafe to stop and have a bite, but didn’t see anything that particularly struck me.

So I wound up at The Black Sheep, which is close to where I’m staying. I already knew they had great burgers and a nice selection of beers. I sat in the bar. The only person working was the bartender, who was also serving, but she was great. Nice change. I had the fish tacos — a huge platter with delightful condiments including one of the best cilantro sauces I’ve ever had. And a couple of pints of Flying Fish beer, which was very good. All reasonably priced, served promptly and politely, in a good atmosphere. Because The Black Sheep is so close to where I stay, I tend to overlook it, but I won’t anymore.

After lunch, I returned to the apartment and collapsed in the air conditioning. I was pretty wiped out. Didn’t do much of anything for the rest of the day except some percolating and email. I overheated during the day, in spite of drinking a lot of water, so it took me awhile to cool down.

Contract negotiations are not going well. I hope I don’t have to walk away and start the submission process all over again on this project, but if it comes to that, I will. I like this company, but they’re not taking one of the non-negotiables for me seriously and they think I’ll blink. They are sadly mistaken.

I will tell them so politely and firmly, and we’ll see where that leaves us.

Back to the page for awhile this morning, and then it’s off to lunch with some writer pals at a Belgian restaurant only about two blocks away whose menu looks fantastic. Let’s hope the service is up to par.

Boy, am I spoiled with my Optimum internet service at home. Comcast sucks — it’s hard to get anything done efficiently. Pages take about 3-1/2 minutes to load — when they can be bothered to load at all. I hope they are not my only option when I relocate.

Today is the festival of the goddesses of mineral springs, salt water, and healing waters. I will honor them tonight by a good soak in the tub with salts!

Devon