Tuesday News: life, history, storytelling, camels, and sex ed
Life’s Stories – A really, really fascinating article about the way people use narrative techniques to tell their life stories. I could have pulled at least a dozen paragraphs out to quote, there are so many layers to this phenomenon, not only in regard to how diverse and often complex these life narratives are, but also in terms of how important it can be to tell one’s story (to create coherence, gain insight into the self, and to heal from trauma), how some circumstances are beyond telling because of the person may not yet have the skills to cope with the details, and the question of whether accuracy is important (possibly not, because most narratives are a combination or truth and lies).
When people tell others about themselves, they kind of have to do it in a narrative way—that’s just how humans communicate. But when people think about their lives to themselves, is it always in a narrative way, with a plot that leads from one point to another? There’s an old adage that everyone has a book inside of them. (Christopher Hitchens once said that inside is “exactly where I think it should, in most cases, remain.”) Is there anyone out there with a life story that’s not a story at all, but some other kind of more disjointed, avant-garde representation of their existence?
“This is an almost impossible question to address from a scientific approach,” says Monisha Pasupathi, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Utah. Even if we are, as the writer Jonathan Gottschall put it, “storytelling animals,” what does that mean from one person to the next? Not only are there individual differences in how people think of their stories, there’s huge variation in the degree to which they engage in narrative storytelling in the first place.” –The Atlantic
Beverly Jenkins Wraps Bitter History In Sweet Romance – And now from the other direction, a nice piece on Beverly Jenkins and her use of history to create new narratives for historical Romance novels. I especially appreciate the focus on Jenkins as a writer who offered a different perspective on the history of African Americans. Jenkins also calls out the double standard that drives some readers to claim they cannot relate to black protagonists, but they have no problem reading Romances featuring, say, vampires.
She put out her first book — Night Song, about a Kansas schoolteacher and a cavalry officer — in 1994. She calls that the Summer of Black Love, because several other African American romance writers got their start that year. It wasn’t easy. Jenkins says publishers liked her work, but couldn’t get their heads around a black historical novel that wasn’t based on slavery.
“They didn’t have a box for it,” she says. “They didn’t know what to do about free black people in a black town in Kansas. Kansas? Free black people? You kidding me?” But Jenkins refused to be discouraged. She’s written dozens of books since Night Song and attracted an enthusiastic following, especially online — her fans refer to her Facebook page as Bevyville. –NPR
Whatever Happened to the Wild Camels of the American West? – And speaking of history that does not conform to common expectations and stereotypes, did you know that camels were imported to the American West for Army use? We hear about the disappearance of the buffalo, but not so much about the either the appearance or ultimate disappearance of the frontier camel, who could be seen roaming the desert through the turn of the 20th century.
In 1855, under the direction of then-Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, Congress appropriated $30,000 for “the purchase and importation of camels and dromedaries to be employed for military purposes.” Davis believed that camels were key to the country’s expansion westward; a transcontinental railroad was still decades away from being built, and he thought the animals could be well suited to haul supplies between remote military outposts. By 1857, after a pair of successful trips to the Mediterranean and the Middle East, the U.S. Army had purchased and imported 75 camels. Within a decade, though, each and every one would be sold at auction.
The camels were stationed in Camp Verde, in central Texas, where the Army used them as beasts of burden on short supply trips to San Antonio. In June 1857, under orders from Washington, the herd was split: more than two dozen were sent on an expedition to California, led by Edward Fitzgerald Beale. Five months later, Beale’s party arrived at Fort Tejon, an Army outpost a few miles north of Los Angeles. A California Historical Society Quarterly paper, written by A.A. Gray in 1930, noted the significance of that journey: “[Beale] had driven his camels more than 1,200 miles, in the heat of the summer, through a barren country where feed and water were scarce, and over high mountains where roads had to be made in the most dangerous places…He had accomplished what most of his closest associates said could not be done.”–Smithsonian Magazine
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Sex Education (HBO) – Remember those horrible Disney films about menstruation? This round up by John Oliver makes those look like Oscar-winning productions. No wonder USians are so screwed up when it comes to sex. –YouTube