I’ve been not writing. This is not good. I have so much to say and I forget that it only gets said if I put the words onto the page. I love writing in notebooks but that material so often doesn’t get into the computer. I wonder if I should just write on the keyboard. But it’s too easy to edit as you go that way. I must type up my notebooks from 2014 and 2015–lots of good material!
I haven’t been writing because I am afraid that I am not up to the task of writing about Harriet Tubman and the Civil War and racism in the United States. What, specifically, am I afraid of?
1. I am afraid I will just write a rant.
2. I am afraid I will acquiesce to racist potential readers so as not to offend them.
3. I am afraid I will offend southerners who aren’t–or who don’t think they are–racist.
4. I am afraid I will write about a subject that angers me so much that I will not write well.
There is editing. I have to keep reminding myself. Get the words on the page. Then you can figure it out later. I have not been acting like a professional writer lately. Keep the words coming. Write the topic at the top of the page then write the text on the rest of the page. It can all be fixed later. That is how I write because otherwise nothing ever gets written.
I am afraid to write about Harriet Tubman because I don’t know very much about her and, frankly, I don’t care very much about American history. American History was ruined for me by my school history classes and the endless memorization of famous men’s names, battles locations, and dates. History was the only high-school class I ever got a B in, the only class I hated with a passion. The only class where I didn’t pay attention at all. I hated history in school and I still find American History–besides some local history and a few series on HBO–boring. I love Lithuanian history, perhaps because I was not force fed the national myth year after year as a child.
George Washington and the Cherry Tree…
Betsy Ross and the American Flag…
Abraham Lincoln and the Log Cabin…
Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.
My view of history as a child and young adult was focused entirely on the path of white people and the “spread of civilization.” The timeline went something like this:
Discovery of the New World
America, the Greatest Nation on Earth
The usual story I was told was basically “Manifest Destiny.” God wanted “us” to build this great nation. Who was “us”–I didn’t realize at the time that it didn’t include me–from a recently immigrated family of Catholics and Jews from Eastern Europe. “We” were not part of “us.” But I didn’t realize that until I stood in the National Museum of Lithuania looking at the prehistoric exhibits and I understood that this is where “we” came from and “we” were still there–here, as I stood in the middle of the Vilnius museum–when “they” were building America.
This was the beginning of my new education in history. It didn’t strike home until it hit me in the gut and made an emotional impact on my soul–one that I would never be able to forget.
My friends Debbie and Jennifer made this realization in 1977 if they hadn’t already made it before, if they hadn’t been born knowing that “they” were not “us” because their skin was “black” and their hair was “nappy.” In 1977 we watched Roots. We were watching it together, Debbie and Jennifer, June and I, and our two mothers in what I never called a bi-racial household until this moment. I was naïve. History seemed so far away. Perhaps I still am. I want to believe the best, the good. But cynicism has taken over my heart and mind. Or maybe it’s just realism.
I was Kunta Kinte. I did not relate to the whites in Roots. I related to the protagonists–the Africans, the slaves, the oppressed. I had no idea that my family, my people–the Jews and the Lithuanians–had also been oppressed. But it didn’t matter. I was white. I looked “normal” in America. I had straight hair and light eyes. I was part of the majority, fully assimilated, a white New Yorker. If anyone would hate me, it wasn’t because of the color of my skin or the amount of curl in my hair.
History is my favorite subject now, but I still don’t like American History. Either I feel like I am reading the same drivel I was force fed in school, or I feel like I am reading a political brochure. What I want to know about is the stories. The stories about people. And yes, the politicians and leaders of the times shaped everyone’s lives to some extent, but I really only care about the names and dates as background to the stories of the regular people. The peasants, the merchants, the serves, the slaves.
So what does all of that mean? I don’t know? And I still am not sure how to write about the Civil War, Harriet Tubman and knitting, especially in the light of recent news. But I’ll keep writing and see what happens. Sometimes I have to write to figure out what I think.