Friday, October 9, 2009

What Themes Can You Never Forget?

Quick without putting alot of thought into it, list five, no make it three things that have stuck with you from your readings. Any readings. Readings from childhood or school or newspapers. Three things! What were they?

Now think about why they've stayed with you. What about them keeps coming back and making you feel something whenever you remember? Why aren't you writing things like that?

My three:

  1. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.
  2. Peggy Vincent's essay for Notre Dame Magazine about being part of a herd of deer
  3. The Diary of Ann Frank -- I had nightmares for years about that. Actually almost anything Holocaust related -- especially Leon Uris's early books Exodus and Armageddon  
I'll admit that I had to think a little to get to the third one. And then when it clicked I realized that it was a topic I cannot turn away from. I began reading about it as a kid -- the Holocaust, I mean. The question that haunted me then, still gives me shivers. Until I read about the atrocities, I thought humans were innately good. I was a kid; I expected people to behave and be nice and love one another or at least be courteous. Then I read of people stripping other people naked, taking their possessions, humiliating them, starving them, and then lying to them as they marched them into gas chambers and killed them en masse. My German heritage scared me -- were some of my relatives responsible? Was it in the genes? I still can't explain why anyone does what they did. I guess mob mentality is probably as close an explanation as any.

What scares me is seeing that same mentality at work in large organizations, companies, and political parties. Just because someone tells you to do something, shouldn't you call upon your morals and ethics to help you decide whether you should follow those orders? Which is more important -- your morality or your paycheck? "It's part of the job." "We must make a profit." "You must please the boss or get lost."

And I would say it is also that same mindset that brings me again and again to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 or thereabouts. More than 150 workers (mostly women) died in that fire -- either from the flames and smoke or from the fall from the upper story windows as they chose to jump rather than be burned up. And I thought alot about this fire during the 9-11 incidents. What a choice to be left with. Die by fire or a 20-story fall.

It seems like REALLY bad news. People screwing up and costing the lives of MANY fellow humans sticks with me. But then, when I look at number two on my all time stick-in-the-brain stories -- it is pastoral. I think of that Debussy song "Afternoon of the Faun." I think of a human's need to be part of nature and how there is nothing more enthralling when something wild trusts you or accepts you. I'm thrilled when my cat wants to sit by me. And the time of the night -- a rather magical midnight (or wee hours of the morning) and the silence. The mist. The moment, not trapped in time, but set apart or removed from the normal life flow.

So I am drawn to atrocities, human cruelties, overcoming the worst, suviving -- maybe those all fit the two choices. And I'm drawn to those moments when a person is jerked out of their normal life and they experience something mystical and life changing and take note of an epiphany, never to be quite the same ever again. That moment of grace. I'm fixated on the 'worst of times and the best of times.'

Now why in the world am I not writing these stories?

I'm fascinated to know what your list tells you. -- Dawn

No comments: