One of the easiest ways to spot when a historian does not know something is to look for the language they use to try to hide that fact. For example, the sentence “Undoubtedly, George Washington was angry when he got the letter” actually means “I have no idea whatsoever how Washington felt, but I’m going with ‘mad.’” Undoubtedly is one of the most common ways historian admit ignorance, but they have many similar stock phrases, all of which basically boil down to “this is my guess.” The fact is, though, that it is hard to know stuff. Any historian worth his or her salt will be painfully aware of all the little (or not so little) gaps of knowledge in anything they write. Sometimes the line beyond the gaps goes pretty straight, so it is not too hard to leap the gap and still be on the right path. But sometimes you just fall into the gap.
I’ve always been interested in foreign words that have no equivalent in English—unless English decides to appropriate them, such as schadenfreude. If you think about it, without a word to express a concept, we don’t even really have that concept, do we? Our culture is the poorer for it, in most cases. Take the French concept of esprit de l’escalier—literally, “wit of the staircase.” Imagine leaving the apartment of your significant other after he or she has just cruelly broken up with you. As you trudge down the stairs, you suddenly begin to think of all the retorts and responses you should have made—only you didn’t think of them until just now. That is the wit of the staircase. It is a perfect concept—why is there no English word for it?
This is such a short blog entry that a long introduction would be misleading. Those who hate random binges of nostalgia can rejoice. During 2014, I had to make a number of work trips to Chicago and on August 11, I made one of them. During the Ohio portion of my drive, I managed to take a few photographs. Some of those I have included here. That’s all she wrote.
Artists, they say, can become fascinated with certain subjects, returning to them over and over again because the subjects are so compelling. Of course, the same is true for stalkers. I am no artist, but I do confess that certain sights I see on my excursions manage to exert a certain hold on me, sending out their siren call long after I have departed the premises. Though I always want to explore and see new things, in the time I have been engaging in this little hobby, a few places have so intrinsically interested me that I have returned to them, sometimes more than once.
Once upon a time, before thumb drives and smart phones, people actually had to remember things. Do you remember that? No? Look it up on your smart phone; I’ll wait. The ancient Greeks and Romans sometimes used a technique called the Method of Loci (i.e., places). It’s more commonly called a memory palace. The idea behind a memory palace—an idea stolen by the movie Inception—is that you create in your mind some sort of reality, like a house or museum or row of shops—or a palace. When you want to remember something, you “store” it in a particular place in this mindscape. For example, you may remember your locker combination by “storing” it inside the disgustingly pink vase on the mantel over the fireplace in the living room of your mind mansion. It is the combination of the item and its virtual surroundings that create a memory connection for you. It’s kind of like a mnemonic only in space rather than via words or sounds.
I have such an odd memory. I remember things that I read or write extremely well, and I have a historian’s command of the irrelevant detail. But when it comes to my personal life, my memory is such an odd jumble. I can’t really compare it with someone else’s memory, of course, having experienced only my own, but it is so fragmentary, so impressionistic. My oldest memories are all just a few seconds long, if that: my mother outside the house trying to use a broom to keep water from the basement, rolling a Hot Wheel down a table (I don’t know if our house was completely level), pedaling a Big-Wheel-like contraption around my grandmother’s store/house, seeing something weird (a bat?) flying around in my bedroom, being in the back seat of our car when my parents spelled the word “i-c-e-c-r-e-a-m.” Things like that. Concrete or sequential memories are much rarer. I do remember one, perhaps because I learned a lesson. I remember watching “I Love Lucy” on television, then us turning off the tv and going somewhere. When I got back, I turned the tv on to finish watching “I Love Lucy” only to discover some other program was on. That was when I discovered that when you turned the tv set off, tv programs kept going. Well, they used to, my young on-demand, streaming darlings, they used to.
That is what you might expect for memories of someone 3-4 years old, but the thing is, that is the way all my memories are. That is the way my high school memories are—momentary, fragmentary, mixed up. That is the way my college memories are. Oh, I remember more things, but what is amazing to me is how much I have not remembered—whereas I can tell you with certainly the most obscure details about World War II, something I never came close to experiencing. In some respects I know more about the world I did not live in than the world I lived in. That’s reality giving me an atomic wedgie, that is. Continue reading
I often think that being a child consists largely of being oblivious to the world around you. Children live in a world within a world, seeing all sorts of things, but comprehending or even noticing only a few. Children often have no idea why parents make certain decisions, for example, unless those decisions are explained to them. Things just happen, or don’t happen. My childhood was certainly this way. Many reasons and significances I only learned years later, or not at all. I’ll give one example. When I was around 12 or 13, my father, an inveterate hunter, took me deer hunting for the first time. Every year he went deer hunting near Caballo Lake in New Mexico with a family friend and relatives of that friend. This time he took me with him. It was very cold, up in the desert mountains in November, but I had a lot of fun (though I did not get to shoot at any deer). I kind of assumed that this was simply the first of what would be a long series of annual deer hunting trips I would now go on. But things did not work out that way. My father never took me again. Not once. To this day, I have no idea why. Had I somehow embarrassed him in front of his friends? Had I done something wrong? If I had, I never realized it. But that was the first and last time I went deer hunting.
Sadly, a large part of my life has consisted of impatiently lusting after some material object, driven by an ever increasing desire to have it, only to experience great disappointment and letdown upon finally obtaining—usually at great cost or effort—said object itself. Even when the item lived up to its allure, the wait—that damnable, endless wait—was torture. I remember as a kid in the early 1980s when I did my first mail order. I ordered the wargame Pearl Harbor from Wargames West in Albuquerque. UPS only took a few days to deliver from Albuquerque to El Paso, but it seemed like an eternity to me and every time I heard a vehicle coming down the street I would rush to the door to look for the UPS truck.
Sadly, decades later I have not changed a bit. So when camera lensmaker Tamron announced an upcoming new lens, I was hooked.
In mid-May 2014 I had to travel to Chicago for work. I brought my camera with me so that, on the way home, I might be able to take a few photographs once I crossed back into Ohio. As I actually did so, I found myself in front of a major spring storm heading east from Indiana into Ohio. I wasn’t storm-chasing—the storm was chasing me. As I drove home, this game me some nice opportunities to turn around and take some photographs of the oncoming storm. Which I now present to you.
In 2014, I had to travel to and from Chicago quite a bit, for work, and on those occasions I tried to squeeze some extra drive time so I could, for the Ohio portion of the trip, go on some back roads and take a few photographs. These photographs, from May 2014, were taken on one trip to Chicago. I did not have much extra time, so once I threw away the discards, there are only a few photographs here from this trip. But if you like western Ohio, these might be worthwhile for you.