Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Please, Do It for the Historians

I've had the idea for this entry in my head for quite awhile now. Only now, inspired to procrastinate away from starting the studying for my insurance continuing education, do I have the will to approach the subject. Yay!

(OK, OK. . .I just had to play with the kitties for a couple minutes first).

The current paper I'm working on for the last couple years has stretched on for quite some time. I ended up using a lot of time about a year ago having to sift through a lot of sources to figure out the central concept that the members of Brook Farm used as their theoretical goal. George Ripley and his fellow community members would talk around the topic by saying that Brook Farm was the best way to reconcile the individual with the community/society, but he never got that much deeper into how Brook Farm would accomplish that fact.

I ended up having to go to some old newspaper articles that really come off more as press releases than news articles that would sometimes talk around the topic, make assumptions, paint images of Brook Farm in ways that appealed to people's desires and wishes or just relate the history, the architectural design, the personalities, the financial situation and all types of pragmatic, everyday things. Only after digging deeper, deeper and ever so into the depths of the topic did I find a good basis for an explanation of how their method would work, how some theory of theirs would explain their method beyond appealing to the cause of utopian socialism. And no, I won't present the theory, as that could spoil a book that I might publish in the future.

Besides, getting into the theory goes beyond the scope of this entry. The search for this theory through historical documents just led to all types of frustration that could have easily been avoided if someone had written the "theory" in a letter, a journal or even a press release by George Ripley or some other Brook Farmer. Or about if it had become the topic of a debate in the papers or journals between George Ripley or Ralph Waldo Emerson. . .except for maybe the fact that they were either too polite to really get into it with each other or that Ripley thought Emerson was into utopian socialism, which kind of came out every time Ripley tried hitting up Emerson for investment capital for Brook Farm.

But no. . .they had to make my life difficult by not addressing the underlying theory but instead, painting pretty pictures with words, relating the practices of the community to religion and political causes and so on and so forth. They had to make me work months to figure out what was going on when a couple straight ahead paragraphs, an article, a chapter, what have you addressing the situation directly with a straight forward structured theory could have helped me A LOT.

Now I'll step away from this heated rant for a moment and tell a story from my own life.

I experienced defining moment a long time ago, 15 or more years ago but not more than 20 years. My parents, some friends of theirs and I had taken a weekend day to climb Mount Monadnock (which was apparently a favorite place of Emerson and Henry David Thoreau). Once past the tree line, I had either struck out on my own or had just moved a little ahead of my parents and their friends. Walking alone somewhere pretty like Mount Monadnock makes for great thinking time, whether conscious or automatic unconscious mulling over something.

There's this point near the top of the mountain, right before the rock becomes completely bare, where the trail dips down under some pine trees and the rocks form a wall that makes it impossible to take any other route. The ground there gets damp and muddy, and sometimes a big puddle waits in the middle of the trail, causing the hiker to slink around one side of the puddle, trying hard to balance and not get wet. It's a very short dip, but its isolation amongst mostly barren rock allows it to stand out as a unique feature. I don't know if it is so unique that everyone would remember it, though.

Walking through that dip, all those years ago, I came to a realization and came to a decision, which kind of depend on each other. I decided to start journaling and realized that I am a historical being. By journaling, I can create a historical and cultural artifact. No matter what I wrote, from the everyday to the lofty abstract world, I could communicate with the future and give them a glimpse into the past. And not only a simple glimpse, but an intimate one provided by someone who lived in the past and experienced it fully, immersed in it, having a certain perspective and not with the benefit of hindsight (which my journaling could help someone in the future develop).

I had a lot of thoughts of having my influence become immortal because I could affect people in the future by writing now, but I also got off on the imagining the wonder people in the future might have of reading a first hand account of the past, whether of experiences or of ideas. Communicating the power I felt at the moment has become difficult.

It feels powerful to me on a spiritual level. I think my first exposure to this type of thing came from first reading Thoreau's Walden. Honestly, I don't think I have the patience to read Walden nowadays. Back then, though, the book had somehow engaged me, even though I could barely understand what I was reading. Now, I feel like I'm not understanding what I'm reading, but I also realize Thoreau could have written a little clearer. At the same time, I think that abstruse unclear writing had a lot to do with enchanting me.

I had a lot more patience for reading things a long time ago that I couldn't immediately comprehend. Maybe something about being young, not having the constraints of time boxing you in, having a more malleable brain, not having anything else to compare the unclear writing to, not having a library of hang ups, concepts and facts in the brain to crowd in the interpretation of what you're reading. The brain at that time, if not stunted in the way, could be acting like a sponge for facts, knowledge, patterns and structure but not in an anxious, scary way, but in an exciting and passionate manner that just encouraged me to open book after book after book, absorbing what little I could understand and getting happily teased by the parts that I couldn't understand that had potential for vast amounts of understanding and wisdom if I just absorbed more and more.

But back to my defining moment and how Walden influenced me to have it. Walden showed me the thoughts of a man from around 140 or so years before the time I spent reading the book. It really just boggled my mind and inspired me that I could absorb the thoughts of this man who no longer lived. It touched me so much that I realized that I could do it, too. I could come up with my own thoughts, put them down on paper and someone 140 years later, probably around 70 to 100 years after my life and have the same experience. This experience could exist as a tradition, the passing on the experience and knowledge that you could affect people that come after you by writing your thoughts on paper, get it to still exist for that long and have it distributed enough that someone will more likely have a cause to read it than just a random incidence of finding a historical artifact in an archaeological dig or something.

So that's all good and everything. We can all exist, yes, even everyday Bob, Joe, Mary and Sara, as historical beings. We don't have to become just numbers counted in medical statistics, opinion polls, market research, incomes, bills, votes for politicians and your imagination can think up of plenty of other examples. We can all write down out thoughts in our blogs, in private journals and diaries, in articles, in articles of incorporation, in contracts, in wills and so on and so forth. I encourage all to do that. Grab a hold of your historical existence, write down your experience and thoughts and help the future get a more colorful idea of their past and our present. We all have that kind of power, as long as we have pen, paper, a computer, an Internet connection, whatever. . ..

But please, please, please, in all these ventures to becoming a historical being, please write clearly, please explore your thoughts, emotions, theories and impulses, please delve deeply into your inner conscious, into the trappings of society, into theories of why you did this, why your friend did that, why your enemy didn't do what they should have done, why you, your friend and enemy had the confrontation where all that doing and not doing just made a whole big mess. But above all, please explain your motivations, your actions, your reasons, your justifications, your theories, your causes, the things that get you to move, what you think makes other people tick and why the ticking in those people get you to do what you're doing. Explain your understanding of the patterns around you in ways that has a structure for you.

A lot of people probably don't think in this fashion regularly. It probably would take people some effort to start thinking this way then to continue thinking and acting on it. It's probably difficult and hard work. Frankly, I've got the misfortune of having developed a physiology that I believe depends on thinking this way and interacting with the world in this way.

Nonetheless, recording your existence in this way will definitely make the work of future historians that much easier. Please, for their sake, write about your interactions with the world and your acting on the world in this way. . .if you are to write about such things.

Thank you in advance for your charity. You will have done the future a great service.