Hooked on History II

Roman Main Street

The rest of the story. Originally posted on my Long Ago & Far Away blog in August of 2013:

It happened in an instant. I’d read the last page of The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, closed the book and saw this kid running through ancient streets. Who was he?

The fact of real people living their lives through cataclysmic events overwhelmed me. How do they do it? How did they do it? Who were they?

It has long baffled me that, in the midst of upheaval, famine, war, and illness, people go on. They cope. They live their lives. Somehow. Whether the British during the Blitz or a nameless dancing boy escaped from a sinking ship, people adjust and do what life requires.

I was compelled to examine this resilience; to imagine their stories. My thoughts flashed to the times and places that fascinate me most – Late Antique Syria and points further east – and I knew I had tales to tell.

That was in 1993.

My life moved on. From time to time I thought about that kid who wouldn’t completely go away. I now knew who he was and what he was doing but I was busy. I left London for the US, got married, then left the US for Indonesia. While on a much needed vacation in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia, the plot spun out before me over the course of three days. But I still thought I’d never really write it. I was, though, compiling reference materials as I could. All that time the resources were few and expensive. I had to request an out-of-print Amazon search for the book The Early Islamic Conquests by Fred Donner. It was nearly 2 years before I received a notice that they had found it. I paid $80.00 for it in 2001. (It looks like it’s playing hard to get again.)

Life carried on. I returned to the US in 2002, ran a decorative painting/murals business for eight years and designed scenery and lighting for several professional theatre companies. In 2010, we moved to Florida and I started yet another career – this time in a cubical!

About eighteen months ago my work schedule became so crazy that my only possible creative time was the wee hours of the morning. I wasn’t going to make it to my downtown art studio at 5am, so I decided it was time to write. The story is finally under way.

What strikes me now is how difficult it would have been to write any of my planned stories back in the early 1990s. There was no WWW. And, few of my primary reference books were published in 1993, most were written much later. If I could have learned to read Arabic, Greek, Latin and Aramaic while camping out at SOAS, I might have had a chance. So, although I’ve taken the long way to it, it’s just as well.

I would love to hear the research methods of others writing about obscure times and places. Do you think you could have tackled your current projects in the pre-Internet world?

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Hooked on History

Two Men in Osh

This was originally posted to my Long Ago & Far Away blog in August 2013. I thought I should include it on this site since it explains how I came to this adventure:

Most people can testify to at least one teacher who made an otherwise dreaded subject come alive. I had several excellent English teachers but already enjoyed literature and drama. History required a master storyteller. I’ve forgotten his name but he made American History sound like it had happened to him. Last week. He knew all these tidbits and side stories that were not in the text book. He transformed a dull, irrelevant topic into entertainment for junior high students. This miracle might qualify him for sainthood.

But my true love of history occurred much later. Why are so many of us hooked on history only after we reach adulthood? I think it is then that we ask new life questions. It’s no longer, “Why can’t I borrow the car?” but rather, “Why do people behave this way?” Or, for me, “What happened here?”

I became interested in Christian history around 1987. I was back to church after several years of distraction (college) and wanted to understand the development of my own traditions and theology. I’d been taught the Bible since I was a child but wondered how we got from those stories to the present. At the time, I was a temp word processor for a major corporation. Work was slow so I brought in reading material. On my desk sat, Here I Stand (a bio of Martin Luther), and a stack of Puritan history books. People kept asking me if I was taking a course. They were mystified when I confessed I was reading for pleasure.

My next phase came when I moved to London. Try to walk around London for a day and not long to spend the rest of your life exploring every layer of the past hidden in each cubic inch of that soil. So, for the next few years, I devoured British history. I lived in the East End surrounded by Bengali, Pakistani and Somali immigrants and I built deep friendships with many of the women. Over time I became fascinated with early Islamic history. I asked the same questions of Islam that I’d asked of my own faith – where did this come from? How did what I saw in 1990s London come from what happened in the seventh century Near and Middle East?

Meanwhile, I had been a painter, a theatre designer, and an inner-city community worker. The accessibility of London gave me opportunities to travel: Africa, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and the newly dismantled USSR – every location steeped in stories. Can you stand in the open air markets of Fez, Morocco or Osh, Kyrgyzstan without feeling you’ve just experienced time travel? Without imagining the sights and sounds of a thousand years? I found a new love for old travel books – stories of The Great Game and intrepid Victorian women – but writing, of any sort, was not on my radar.

Not yet.

Running Battles

Copying a post from my catch-all blog:

Running Battles

As I mentioned here, I was tossed a great independent adjuster gig and so I’ve been at that for 25 days running. I leave the house at 8:15am and return around 8:30pm – seven days a week. It doesn’t leave much time for painting or writing. My hair is becoming an over-grown mop and the dust bunnies are staging a coup.

I am, however, working towards a plan in which I spend a few minutes in the wee hours of the morning painting some pieces for display and, hopefully, sale, at my booth in the Avonlea Antiques mall. So far the plan has been thwarted by electrical failures and dirty litter boxes but I am zeroing in on the target.

Last fall I spent an afternoon wandering around downtown Jacksonville taking pictures of architectural details. I have culled some decorative motifs that I will paint as trompe l’oeil panels and canvases. I can’t wait to get started. I will post the results once I am finally under way. I just have to convince the dust bunnies to let me down into the basement where I have set up a work table. Then I will paint from 5:30-6:30am while enjoying my tea and ignoring the siren call of the neglected laundry.

My 500 Words Challenge

Reblogging this post as it is a great example of what I just posted here.

Lightning Droplets

It’s amazing sometimes how the universe seems to be sending very distinct messages, as if it’s conspiring for goodness.  Pronoia.  After writing a post about forming writing habits and a post about writing word by word, my reading of Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life presents me with this food for thought, which she refers to as “comfort for friends discouraged by their writing pace:”

“It takes years to write a book, between two and ten years. Less is so rare as to be statistically insignificant… Thomas Mann was a prodigy of production. Working full time, he wrote a page a day. That is 365 pages a year… At a page a day, he was one of the most prolific writers who ever lived.  Flaubert wrote steadily…For twenty-five years he finished a big book every five to seven years.  If a full-time writer averages a book every five years, that…

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Getting Your Work Done

I am fascinated by the methods other people use to get their creative work done in the midst of life’s demands. I am especially amazed at people who can produce art while enduring the worst of this life’s burdens – their own or loved one’s illness, broken relationships, war and death. Not trying to be morbid, I’m just amazed at how some people manage to carry on.

Even the daily routine of better days fills life to the edges with activity – all urgent and consuming.

Most artists/writers advocate getting up in the wee morning hours to get the writing/painting done and I have found it to be true for myself. Once the regular day begins there seems no way to disengage.

So, up early. And what else? Creatives establish little rituals. For me, it’s a humongous mug of PG Tips (that’s English tea) with half & half.

And goals. Many writers have daily word count goals. I have been participating in an online group of writers whose only connection is a commitment to write 250 words per day, every day. When you’ve done your words, you enter your daily total into an online Google document. People with the longest unbroken stretches and highest word counts get to be in the leader board. That’s it. No prizes. But, we cheer and spur each other on. It works wonders.

Last Spring I managed 53 days in a row. Then I went into research mode and then was consumed by my resurrected painting business.

That’s 250.

Whew. Made it for the day.

How do you do it? How do you make the time, energy and emotional space to do the creative work only you can do?

New Year’s Revolutions – 2014

Yes. Revolutions. Time to bust through the status quo and it’s inertia. Time to start something, change something.

I’ll begin with this blog that has been sitting for 6 months with nary a post.

2013 – my writing goal was to finish my novel’s rough draft. Didn’t happen. Got bogged down in life. But the first third of the book is a solid draft, so the 2014 goal is to get the rest of the book to a similar state. It will be a challenge.

For the first half of 2013, I still had a normal day job as a staff, in-office, catastrophe adjuster for a major insurance company. I worked long hours with lots of overtime but at least I knew my general schedule. I was able to get up at 5am and know I could get a good 90 minutes of writing time.

In mid-June I quit that staff job to go independent. I had a gig lined up. It fell apart. I enjoyed the summer catching up on everything else and making strides on my novel. Then, in September, a prior manifestation of my life came rushing back at me. I was suddenly a decorative painter again. The novel was set aside so I could be 150% self-employed.

You can read about all of that on my other blogs: Lausanne’s Golden Road and Marsh Hawk Studio.

To be painting again is a wonder, but the novel has been on the shelf – so to speak (hah, couldn’t resist).

In just a few more days, I will complete the large painting project that started it all. And return to the novel. Knowing that, with Spring approaching, I could be called up for adjusting duty and be working 12 hours/7 days week for a while. Or, another mural client could come calling.

There’s much to be said for an ordered life. Mine will never be. So I must figure out how to write without a set schedule.