Discussion

07/01/2015

Not about knitting

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:

Greece
Rome
Middle Ages
Renaissance
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.

Read my other journal entry about Harry Tubman and what happened.

Knitting, Old Blogs, Travel, Writing
12 Comments
  1. Thanks and yes. I am so glad social history has come to be more important. I love Laurel Thatcher Ulrich for example. I’ve read many good books outside of school and I never took any college level history courses. From what I’ve seen of my nieces’ high school homework however, it’s not much better than how I was taught although I surely hope some details are better!

  2. Even 20 years ago when I was just out of college and starting grad school having double-majored in English and history, social history had really taken over from the previously dominant political history paradigm– including (especially?) in American history. I think there should be a lot out there for you, and not necessarily what you expect. If anything, it had kind of gone the other direction, in my program anyway– white men were still free to study anything they wanted, but women were kind of expected to study women’s literature/history, and people of color were expected to study the literature/history of their own people. I remember a colleague, a fellow grad student who was Korean-American and an evangelical Christian, and he felt forced to study Asian literature when the Puritans were much more interesting to him because of his religious background. This kind of thing had become as dominant as the study of white male history (presented as the only kind of history) had been before. I remember wishing that there could be some kind of balance– who knows, maybe there is by now. Best of luck with it!

  3. History is a spiral!! There is just so much to learn once you begin! A few weeks ago, I saw something on The History channel about the Lithuanian partisan resistance to Soviet occupation after WW II and had to know more! I had no idea the struggle your people went through. I borrowed Forest Brothers from another part of Ohio, began reading last night..googled for Latvian knitting.which led me to you! I also have as you mentioned, the Latvian and Estonian knitting books. I know what I am doing today!! Enjoying perusing your designs and writings!

    • Yes around and around we go. The story of the Forest Brothers is even more complex that you may know. Many of these anti-soviet partisans had been Nazi sympathizers and even collaborators who helped kill Jews. Now the Forest Brothers are being honored in Lithuania with streets being named for them and so forth. Of course this is quite controversial. Who wants to honor Nazis?

      And yet here in the USA, we have statues to the confederate leaders here in the USA, those who were fighting specifically to keep slavery as an economic system and to spread slavery so they could fill their pockets with more profits. So how is that different?

      It hurts my head.

  4. Cynthia Martin 07/02/2015 at 7:40 am Reply

    I’d like to know about Harriett Tubman and knitting. Did she knit? If so, what? Under what circumstances? Did she ever talk about it?

  5. I’m not sure how you’ll write it, but I love the struggle. I mean I love your honesty and that you’re sharing your struggle with us. Maybe because this subject is messy, you don’t need to draw conclusions in your writing. The mess and the struggle are what make it beautiful.

    • Thank you. I may just end up writing about the mess and struggle. There are always questions. There are not usually answers. Sometimes we just make up answers to make ourselves feel better, and what’s the point of that? LOL.

  6. I love history–(but then i was never made to memories names and dates) I love the great sweeps of time, and the incredible individuals, who made their mark. I have come to see, i am both the slave and the slave owner. I am the child of immigrants, (who like so many others) came to america to escape oppression, or poverty, or both.

    I get to be an American by owning not only its greatness, but all of it. My post WW II parents didn’t own slaves, but as an american I must own that part of americas history is slave ownership.

    Every week, i pass by an old (1650’s!) wooden structure that was a stop on the underground railroad. I get to own that history too.

    I am ashamed of the slave holding history of my country (and my state, NY was the last northern state to abolish it) and at the same time, i am proud–Slavery was abolished. Knowing the facts about any one person, who helped change my country isn’t as important to me, as knowing, we have changes.

    And we continue to change. We are not perfect, but we try.

    • I love history just not American history. My current obsession, as you probably have noticed, is Lithuanian and Eastern European history. And there’s so much to know, it will probably take me the rest of my life to scratch the surface. The house next door to mine, built by the same family who built my house, was built in 1860 and it’s rumored that it may have been part of the URR. But I think the current owners just made that up. There’s no way to tell! I’m of course glad that slavery was abolished, and appalled at the way whites, primarily but not only, in the south re-instated such blatant racism after the Civil War and again after the civil rights movement. Frankly, I think political conservatism is built on being mean and hateful.

  7. You’ve started writing about it already – it’s here. And fascinating. I see exactly where you’re coming from. Just carry on from this, and worry about the editing when you get there.

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