Monuments

I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve gotten to meet someone in person that I’ve previously only conversed with online. This weekend, I had a chance to meet a long-time fellow-blogger, Katherine, in Washington, D.C. This doesn’t happen very often, and it is a very cool experience to finally meet someone personally that you have known virtually for years. Bloggers, unite!

While we were there, we had a chance to visit, among other things, the International Spy Museum, and several monuments. I’m not going to lie: I wanted to visit the Spy Museum to see James Bond sorts of gadgets. I wasn’t disappointed. As with any museum, you learn a great deal. The experience was an education in history I’ve known and forgotten, history of which I knew little, and history that I’ve never known at all (I am, after all, a product of mostly public education, and we know how well they do history).

The Spy Museum begins by talking about how critical secrets are to governments, and moves to the premise that, in order to understand history, you have to know the history behind the history. Therein is the realm of the spies. The stories of deception and the knowledge that spies look like everyone next to us, as well as how events in history unfolded because of secrets that were leaked, smuggled, and otherwise divulged, moved me beyond my love of intrigue in espionage novels. There’s an exhibit on┬ápropaganda┬áthat will leave you shaking your head in stunning realization. There’s an exhibit on the formation of the KGB, by whom spying was turned inward for the first time, that will make you cringe.

The next day, Karen and I visited some monuments that she had never seen. I haven’t been to D.C. since I was an undergrad, so the visit was just as impactful for me as it had been the first time. Years ago, I walked the length of the Vietnam Memorial to gain some appreciation for the war into which my father was drafted. Monuments, of course are erected to commemorate a person or an event. For example, the Lincoln Memorial points not only to the President, but also to his positive contributions to American history…a sign, more than a symbol. Enormous crowds of people pressed in on all of the memorials on Monday, in commemoration of Memorial Day, and I imagine many of them being as I was for many years of my life…reading a thankful patriotism into the history with which the monuments connect us. And I’m not saying that’s wrong. I was just left to ponder man’s desire for power, a power gained by keeping secrets, secrets that cause perpetual violence and war. Perhaps those things will always be with us in our mortal lives. I still like the intrigue (The real life Aston Martin was incredible for those of us who are James Bond fans), but knowing that a harsh reality is the basis for the fiction causes me to see past the intrigue, into shadows of a humanity always poising itself for power over itself.

The fiction we can put away when we go to bed at night. The reality is something with which we must always live, and moreso the consequences of that reality. In doing so, perhaps we realize that our monuments portray, at once, both the dark and the light that walk together through history.

Strumming a Story

It’s sort of surprising what you end up listening to when you get free music.

A few months ago, Starbucks and iTunes were giving away these free sampler playlists. I’m always up for free music, so I downloaded away. A great deal of the music was folk-style music (in fact, a lot of it had political themes, but I suppose that’s another topic). I don’t normally listen to folk music…in fact, I’ve never really enjoyed it that I can recall.

Now, let me offer the disclaimer that I realize these selections qualify as more of a pop-folk fusion than true folk. Still, I was playing one of these playlists in the car Monday night, and I was drawn into the story that the lyrics were telling. Folk music tells a story.

I’ve never really been drawn so much to music that told narratives. I’ve always been more interested in the poetry of other sorts of music that leave interpretive space and lead to an introspection on the moment at hand, moreso than story-telling in song. I’ve always preferred to leave that work to fiction.

So, it’s likely no surprise that a great deal of my writing in college was non-fiction: a lot of op-ed and journalistic pieces, combined with occasional poetic ventures. Both permitted me to attempt introspection into the moment. Storytelling…in fiction, at least…was a later venture for me, not really coming into its own until late in my undergraduate days.

I find myself very much in love with fiction now, and passionate about the decline in the perceived importance of storytelling in all forms, fiction or non-fiction. I think introspection and contemplation are critical, yet I find I can communicate what’s in my head much more effectively by telling a story, be it fiction or non-fiction. I’ve just never really connected before how my inclinations have changed, and how the types of music to which I listen seem to be reflecting that. My reading preferences went through a heavy non-fiction phase just before grad school, after which I found myself starved for good stories, as I had nearly no time to read anything other than academic material for two years. Now, I force myself to make every third or fourth book on my reading list non-fiction, because the stories have become so much more important to me.

I’m not going to say that my music preferences have ultimately changed: I’m still extremely eclectic in the genres I frequent, just as I am with reading choices. I suppose I had just never before paused to connect the sorts of things that I take in with the sorts of things that I produce.

As far as the folk thing, however…I think it’s just a sort of accidental phase. I won’t be transitioning my iPod library exclusively into acoustic guitars and banjos any time soon. And that should be no great surprise.