1. I got earwormed this morning with Sisters of Mercy’s “Lucretia My Reflection.” Here, let me share.
2. I’m listening to an audiobook of The Girls of Murder City, by Douglas Perry. It’s the story of the women who inspired the story/play/musical/movie “Chicago.” The woman who wrote the play, Maurine Watkins, was one of the crime reporters for the Chicago Tribune. She interviewed Belva and Beulah, the real-life women on whom Velma and Roxie, respectively, were based.
The book is a lot of fun, and I’m enjoying the story as it all unfolds. The narration, as written by Perry, is lush and lurid, though, and I find myself questioning how he knows what the women were thinking. I expect it’s from interviews in the various papers at the time, but I still have a couple quibbles with that. First, at no point has the author said where he’s getting the motivations and internal thoughts from. Second, even if it IS from the news accounts, the various women contradicted each themselves so many times and the newspapers themselves got the facts wrong so often that I am a little wary of the veracity of Perry’s narration.
It could very well be that he has conducted his research with the utmost rigor; I simply have no way of knowing that.
That said, I am liking the book a lot. The audiobook especially — the narrator is a hoot. He does different voices for all the female characters, when they are being quoted or are speaking in their own words. He adds tone and character and emotion to the text, a breathiness of nerves or an arch knowing humor. Again, I don’t know how historically accurate it all is, but it’s a lot of fun.
3. Netflix Streaming is removing a lot of things from my queue. In particular a number of documentaries are expiring on January 1st. So I have been watching a lot of documentaries this week.
It kinda drives me crazy that most accounts of the suffrage movement in the US don’t mention spiritualism or free love. They mention the ties of suffrage to abolition, and to temperance, and to Quakerism, but they leave out the spiritualism and free love. Why is that? Is it because spiritualism is embarrassing to modern sensibilities? Does it tarnish the gleaming historicity of the abolitionists to mention that many of them believed in free love?
It drives me crazy for a few reasons. First, bland-washing history like this gives each generation the erroneous impression that their rebellions are new, unique, and Special. Like hell, people. Sexting has got NOTHING on the letters people used to write. Think your hastily-sent email was a bad idea? Now imagine sending your best friend on horseback to race through the city at night to intercept the message-boy you dispatched, and said friend getting into a fist-fight on the doorstep of your ex-sometimes-beloved’s house with said messenger and his wife waking up and calling the police.
The means change, but the bad decisions people make are ETERNAL.
Second, these sorts of detail are what make history INTERESTING. I can’t recite the first eight presidents of the U.S., but I know why Hamilton and Burr got into a duel. It wasn’t over a woman, it was over honor and national fiscal policy. National fiscal policy. I bet pundits would pay a lot more attention to their words today if they thought they could be called to a field of honor at dawn. I am a little vague on the exact rise of the Roman Imperium, but I know that some historians are pretty sure that Julius Caesar had sex with his young nephew Octavius, aka Caesar Augustus. That certainly makes Octavius’s later rivalry with the other possible object of Caesar’s affections, Marc Antony, more interesting.
History is made by people. By screwed-up, neurotic, aggressive, afraid, impulsive, shining, intelligent, transcendent people. When we ignore their quirks, faults, and flaws we strip away their humanity. We change them from human to symbol, and I believe that this lessens their accomplishments. The amazing and glorious is made more so when it is done by the ordinary and small.
Frodo, Sam, and Gollum destroy the ring, not Gandalf.
Third, suffrage likely would not have occurred in the nineteenth century without spiritualism. Spiritualism gave women strength and power. Spiritualism was democratic — everyone, anyone, could touch the divine power. Many mediums, and especially the most famous of them, were women. And the mediums berated deadbeat husbands or abusive men, they told women to have strength. The mediums comforted everyone who had lost a child — and everyone in the 1800s had lost a child. Everyone. The mediums told of a benevolent god who loved all and planned to reunite all families in the hereafter. These statements, this faith, gave women strength. The suffragettes, berated and attacked daily for their words and beliefs, took comfort in the messages from the spirit world.
This is really no stupider than any other belief fad ever in the history of ever. And I wish more documentaries and histories explored the connections.
4. Christmas went lovely, there were presents at home and I had a nice dinner at work. All is well, and now we are moving back into the normal routines. The kids got Nintendo DS’s (NOT from us) and are playing them quite a bit. There may be DS-restrictions on the horizon if they do not find a natural balance of which we approve …