OK, let me tell you a story…. I’ve spent the past 3 1/2 years studying the 1938 Reunion of the Civil War Veterans in Gettysburg, PA. It’s my own little niche, or as some would/have called it — my obsession. I’ve put the veterans, the town and its people, even the year itself under a microscope. I’ve probably examined over 1000 photographs — of the vets, the community, FDR, the parades. Yet every now and then I have a moment of pure and utter rapture!!
One of those occurred this past week. During the course of an interview with a local resident, he told me that the parade stretched from the McDonalds on Steinwehr Ave. all the way to the stadium at Gettysburg College. Who knew? I mean, I’ve seen pictures and pictures and pictures of the parade. I’ve read descriptions, listed participants — I must have known how totally huge this parade was — but that moment in the interview gave me a visual that completely rocked. Little whizz bangs like that littered the 2 1/2 hours I talked with this man. As I left, he kissed my hand in a delightfully courtly manner and hoped he’d been of some small help….
Wow!!!! — I was like a blue and green bottle rocket for hours afterwards — bubbling with almost incoherent glee at the incredible serendipity that led me to his door! I know I probably frightened at least 2 friends (sorry guys) and crossed the inviolate “talking about history” line with my brother — he feels it induces narcolepsy 🙂 but how utterly, wonderfully rich is it to find such great new material!!
Yet — I know I should be more blase and restrained about my research, professional and detached. It would befit my age, subject matter, and the gravitas owed to historical research. At least that’s what the cranky, critical voice in my head tells me. No, please don’t make me……….!!!!!!!!, I must beg.
A dear friend from my college years told me that I was never lukewarm and I’ve always considered it a compliment — of course, maybe he just meant I was bi-polar? Hmmm….. I do hope not! Is it madness to let the research and the writing move me? If I inhabited the land of tepid reasonableness, I would have never undertaken this project — I would never keep pushing myself to make the story deeper, truer and more resonating.
For me, ideas, facts, people’s stories are as fascinatingly complex as music and art — they paint generous swathes across my creativity. And I have to tell you some days it’s house painter strokes — with the big, fat brush dripping as it slaps against the page. And others, it’s the delicate wash of a Fragonard or the precise, yet saturated colors of Dufy. I allot the slappy days to “just the facts,” so I can use my Daddy’s painting by shares system — sharing with the wall, myself and the floor. Usually, I try not to inflict myself on people on those days — I tend to spout the leftover facts rather randomly. It’s quite disturbing for me to pop out that the hamburger we just ordered was $0.19 per lb. in 1938 — what do you do with that tidbit over dinner? How nice for me? Would you like fries with that?
The delicate organizational days remind me of rococo paintings — lots of convoluted patterns to achieve simplicity — those are the technical days, trying to disguise the machinery. But the days of sheer delight, oh those are the days when I either find something I didn’t know, that, when polished, will just sparkle the narrative or the days when everything I write is clear, bright and simple. The Fauvist painter, Raoul Dufy makes an excellent example. Fauvists were the “wild beasts” of the art world for their lush colors and the unabashed passion on canvas. Translating that passion without falling into a palette of sentimentality is the trick.
Thus far, the best technique I found is to bubble the exhilaration all over unsuspecting friends and relatives — and then settle to write with small pockets of fizz still coloring the edges. Some days it works better than others… the trowel days when it’s way too thick and the no matter what I can’t find the right shade/nuance days — they happen.
Music to Fizz: Ain’t What You Do (Lisa Stansfield); La Vie Boheme (from Rent, not for the kiddies); Birdland (Weather Report); Pride and Joy (Stevie Ray Vaughn); When the Red, Red Robin… (Carmen McRae); Suddenly I See (KT Tunstall) and Mary’s Place (Bruce Springsteen)
I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious. –> Albert Einstein