Joe’s Post #122
History is People
The idea that history is people came as a shock to my oldest boy. Sort of like Soylent Green is people came as a shock to Charlton Heston. He (my boy, not CH) thought history was terrible. He hated it.
In part, this is because in school history is about facts. When did the beaver traders first invent beaver pelts? What year did the Romulans build Rome? Where did the Egyptians build the pyramids?
Interesting stuff if you like learning about facts. Certainly valuable in trivial pursuit-type games. But history can be inspiring, and inspiring because of the people in it.
Which leads me to my post this week.
I usually research people by reading about them. I have dozens and dozens of books in my library about historical figures, interesting comedians and odd whackadoodles. But this last week, I spent some time with real people who have actually LIVED history.
It was a transformative moment for me.
I’ll get to that in a minute.
So, yeah, here I am, writing a historical novel set in the Netherlands, circa 1940, and I’ve been gleeful to find old photos, gather up books written about the time (mostly during the German occupation), and find the odd link that reveals some amazing fact I didn’t know.
But the real fun has been talking (or emailing) people who’ve experienced it. Not being a journalist, I’m a little rusty at interviewing. It probably takes me a bit longer to get to the stories and details than someone more skilled or socially awesome.
And, I’ve been surprised that there are people who would rather not talk about what happened. Intellectually, I can understand, like I can understand why some people like cats more than dogs. But deep down, I don’t get it. Good or bad, it’s history. It’s part of their story. If you asked me to talk about my childhood, I would bore you to tears for hours. However, I didn’t see people beaten to death before my eyes or have my house bombed.
So I’m sensitive when someone says they’d rather not talk about something.
But what people have talked to me about has made me think about this story in a whole different way. It’s one thing to read Anne Frank. It’s another to talk to someone who’s actually hidden people from the Nazis.
Think about this for a moment. You risked everything. If you were caught, you could be shot, maybe tortured, and your entire family would be sent to a concentration camp (even your children) where they would probably die a very bad death. All it would take would be one wrong sound at the wrong time, a light left on when everyone should be asleep, a traitor speaking to the Germans.
How many of us would risk ourselves today?
For me, it’s that simple bravery that moves me. Not that any of the people I’ve spoken to would think of themselves as brave. In fact, they’d be embarrassed to be called that. But they are.
They risked everything to do something good. Everything.
And that’s transformed my thinking about this book.
Because history is not just about the famous people. Hitler. Churchill. Matt Damon. It’s about the lives of regular people as well.
Best show last week – Walking Dead wins again. Spoiler alert. Something bad happens. Wait, that happens every week.
Book that I’m reading at the moment – In The Shadow of the Cathedral, by Titia Bozuwa. A good book for researching the Netherlands.
Outlines done – 0
Pages written on new book – 0
# of new friends made on Twitter – 3 (but did manage to create a lively discussion on Linkedin about if research was even necessary – based on my blog of the same title.)
# books ordered for research – They’ve all come in. But I found a great site for finding more information. World History at KMLA
Health – Still hanging in there. Cold gone. Happy to breath again.
Best thing last week – Meet with the 5/5/5 Thursday. Set some serious goals. I’ll write more about that next week.
Worst thing – WordPress.org remains largely untouched and this site needs a bit of work. One more thing to do on a very long list of things to do.