Friday, July 24, 2009

The Evolution of History -- Writer's Poke #253

A student of a colleague of mine recently got very upset with him because he used Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States as the class's textbook. She didn't appreciate what she saw as Zinn's liberal slant. Of course until very recently, the common person wasn't even worth historical investigation. History has typically been reserved for gods and generals.

"Does history change?" I ask my students. Of course it does, one responded. After all, historians dig into the archives, find out new information, and that new evidence changes the way we think about what has happened.

In truth, history is all about evidence, to be sure. But more than that, it's about focus and interpretation. And, that, my friends, is why history changes. There is no such thing as the past. It's all constructed. And as Winston Churchill himself once said, "History is written by the victors." That doesn't mean that all victors are liars, but it does indicate that history is slanted.

Maybe slanted history isn't a bad thing? After all, Emily Dickinson encouraged us to "Tell all the truth but tell it slant." Of course she was basically saying what Jack Nicholson would say a century later in A Few Good Men: "You want the truth? You can't handle the truth."

How does history evolve? Do you feel uneasy about the virtue of a truth told slant?

"History is the present. That's why every generation writes it anew. But what most people think of as history is its end product, myth." -- E. L. Doctorow

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Spiritual Lust -- Writer's Poke #252

Longing and lust are connected. I don't think there's any argument about that. And while I don't want to offend anyone, I really believe that the longing to believe in the existence of God can easily turn into lust.

The extreme examples of spiritual lust are people that speak in tongues, chant Jesus's name, or get lost in a wave of emotion. Some will say, "These are just folks wrapped up in the Holy Ghost." Call it what you want, but it doesn't seem very much different to me than people caught up in a lustful romp.

Don't get me wrong: there's nothing necessarily wrong with a good, lusty romp. But let's call it what it is.

On the show 30 Rock, Tina Fey's character, Liz Lemon, carries the torch for "Flower Guy." When she sees him walking into a church on a Tuesday, however, she views that as a major warning sign. Why do some guys, she wonders, seem so normal, and yet have weird obsessions and dark secrets? In Flower Guy's case, he was just attending an AA meeting, which is a far more appropriate explanation for a man to be visiting a church on Tuesday in Lemon's opinion.

Explore the concept of God lust.

"God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere." -- Voltaire

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Friendship's Orbit -- Writer's Poke #251

Earth, as we know, is the perfect distance from the Sun for human life. Venus is too hot and Mars is too cold, but the Earth is like Goldilocks's porridge: just right.

The gravitational pull of the Sun is pretty incredible, though, when you think about how far away a planet like Neptune is. In fact, scientists believe that there are celestial bodies farther out than the dwarf world of Pluto that still find themselves in orbit around the Sun.

Tonight I was just sitting around thinking about love, as I am wont to do, and I thought: people have orbits, too. Think about the friend that you don't see for a year, for example. Everyone seems to have someone like that, a Haley's comet friend that they can "pick right up with" as though no time has passed by. And then there are the people you interact with daily, much like the Moon interacts with the Earth, say.

Some people might be like the Sun, attracting a whole solar system of folks, whereas others might be more like one of the planets, a moon, or a meteor. Is all of this preordained? Are we stuck in orbit for good? Are we limited to the space we occupy and the people that occupy the orbits around us?

Describe your orbit of friendship. Who revolves around you? Do you revolve around others?

"All humans are interconnected, one with all other elements in creation." -- Henry Reed

Monday, July 20, 2009

Chinese Amazon -- Writer's Poke #250

Canadian professional wrestler and former World Champion Bret "Hitman" Hart released his autobiography a couple of years ago. The problem was, it was initially only released by his publisher, Random House, in Canada. Fans and readers in the United States would have to wait an additional year for the book to be published south of the border.

I didn't feel like waiting, so I jumped on to the Canadian version of Amazon and placed my international order. In addition to the main amazon.com site, amazon also has international sites for Canada, the UK, China, Japan, Germany, and France.

If you haven't looked at the international amazons, I'd encourage you to do so. It's interesting to see what pops up on the various home pages. Japan's, for example, promotes watches, shoes, and anime, whereas Germany is apparently more interested in DVD's, digital cameras, and electronics.

Although I only speak English, I think I could navigate my way through the non-English European sites. With a little luck, I might even be able to work the Japanese site. But the difference between even the Japanese site and the Chinese site is pretty noticeable. The Chinese site relies much more on characters and text.

Just for fun, I did a search on Chinese amazon for Michael Jackson, and I found 23 items. You can get the Chinese version of Thriller for a very reasonable 42 yuan ($6.15).

What can you learn about a country by looking at its most popular websites?

"China is a big country, inhabited by many Chinese." -- Charles de Gaulle