Why I Write What I Write

History is such an interesting and vast subject. There is the overall history of “us”, the two legged creatures that scurry over the face of this planet. The span of recorded history is roughly 5,000 years, beginning with Sumerian Cuneiform script; the oldest discovered form of coherent writing from the protoliterate period around the 30th century BC.

The scope of that boggles my mind.

Then there is your history with people. Your own personal interactions with individuals around you, who you have come in contact with throughout your life.

I consider a “personal history”, a little more in depth than just our history with people. For me, that includes your ancestors, your physical path through your life, influences, choices: what makes up the person you are.

My physical path in life has been a long winding path through a handful of states over fifty-one years. My personal footprint has far flung ties to Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Ireland, Scotland and across Eastern Europe. My ancestors were miners, gypsies, farmers, moonshiners, orators, hillbillies. The languages spoken by all those who blazed the path to my existence are numerous. It is with the volume of their voices that I write my own words.

The last several months I have taken to writing blogs on the local histories of West Virginia and Appalachia. It was a social experiment of sorts for me. My feelings of disconnect from the state I grew up in (and currently live in) began to wear heavy on me. So much discord, arguing, demanding of agreement or falling in line with one particular train of thought or the other. I began to feel as if I was a foreigner in my own land with the views I carry in my pocket.

I felt the need to connect with as many people as possible who share a love of this beautiful area. I needed, as Paul Simon sung, to see the “angels in the architecture”. I did not want to limit myself to interactions with people who share the same beliefs, values, ideas as me. I wanted to talk to everyone possible from all facets of their own personal histories.

The roadblock to that: I am opinionated. I, many times, allow my ego of “rightness” to get in the way of having a true two-way conversation with strangers. My education and immense reading history sometimes makes me too embolden to hear the other person’s personal history reasons for their points of view. The feeling of being rushed through life made me felt as if it was a waste of time to stop, to get to know someone, and to understand my fellow man a little better. Especially if views conflicted.

My history of movie, book and genealogy blogs is fairly extensive. Personal stories that display my more proud moments of wit are prominent as well. The blogs were “me”: what I like, what I watched, where I come from. Those were not the kinds of blogs that would create a conversation in a wider audience.

I tried to think of the one thing that we all seem to share. Then it hit me.

Nostalgia and History

So, I went through Facebook to find several pages from my childhood home in Oak Hill, Fayette County, WV. I branched out to Appalachia as a whole, the neighboring county of Raleigh where I spent many a day of my childhood. And I wrapped it up with Mason county, where I live now, and a few on the other side of the river in Meigs. I gathered this collection together to read some of the posts and it was interesting. But the one common thread among them all: the love of nostalgia and their local history. So, the themes were picked for me. But, I did not know how to choose topics. Then I realized, there is a way to draw in beautiful art, signs (which I love to stop and read as I travel to and fro) and pop cultures of sorts.

I wrote about the local history of Pt Pleasant, WV. The battle that raged there as it was told through the murals at the Riverfront Park. Such beautiful, vivid colors played out the history of the are before my very eyes. on the murals created by the artists of Dafford Murals. I took pictures, went home and studied up on the backstory of the images. When I posted the blogs I created, using the art I found and the words I read, they were a hit. I had the fuel in my tank to go further. I wrote more extensively on the abbreviated history noted on a marker about Mark Twain’s family home, adjacent to my office. Then I wanted to reconnect to my childhood area and started writing additional Fayette County items, transcribing the local historian’s columns from the 1950s and 1960s.

The conversations I had through the interactions on my blog posts to Facebook brought a sense of joy, and mind-calm, that I have not felt in such a long time. It has become my therapy, of sorts. (I have an in-life therapist, so please don’t think I am trying to promote a hoakey-hoodoo of writing instead of talking to someone.)

In my 20s I worked for a personnel company who supplied staff to a wide array of businesses and factories in Kentucky. One of the tests I administered was the “Purdue Pegboard Test” to determine their dexterity skill level. Their task was to “assemble” a set of pieces to fit into each hole: 1 peg, 1 washer, 1 cover, 1 washer – stacked. I would give them a certain amount of time and hold a stopwatch as they worked. It frustrated many. For me, when I sat alone in the office and had something on my mind that worried me, I would pull out that board and those pieces and would do the test over and over. The motion of rod-washer-cover-washer-move-to-next… It was relaxing: the working of my hands in a fashion that implied order.

These local, history and nostalgia blogs feel the same for me, only in my mind. Idea-research-post-conversate-next. I know, it sounds methodical. It really isn’t as stringent as that, I promise. But it is a brain-soothe for me. And the interactions I have had with people on a wide array of topics has been wonderful. I have pulled back on my knee jerk reactions of wanting to be right to prove a point and I have listened to the conversations of people I normally would not find an opportunity to talk to in the real world.

Some of those conversations have ended abruptly, I will admit, when the conversation turns “wrong”. I have the men who want to chelle-splain my own blog to me not realizing I was the one who wrote or researched the details. I encounter the confederate sympathizers from time to time (revisionist history is both terrifying and fascinating). And sometimes people are just assholes, to me or others having conversations in the feeds. To those, I usually tell them “Good Day to your sir.” And when, confused, if they try to argue further, I will type “I SAID GOOD DAY!” I have made it to that second comment once. Usually I say “We will agree to disagree. Thank you for the conversation. Good Day to you sir.” Surprisingly, that has been enough to stop the conversation. But once, there was this professional historian who worked as an archeologist. He got the all clap back caps. But I digress.

I have written two blogs on religious topics (not religion per se) and some of the nicest people I will ever conversate with were met by me on those feeds. I have been offered different perspectives that have changed my view on topics. I have shared nostalgia for theaters in my childhood home. I have juggled a multitude of conversations all at once. And I have not felt so mentally stimulated in years. I may be a little too excited about it at times, I am sure. For those receivers of my animated talks – thank you and I apologize. ha

This new approach started out as more research than writing in my blogs. But the past few days it is as if a dam has been broken and I have refound (new word) my storytellers voice. My heart is happy.

I have had people who knew my Dad, my Pawpaw and who feel connected ancestrally to me reach out. I have received recipes and advice. And, more recently, I have received requests. My newspaper archive research has been the biggest hit of all. People now ask me to research a location or event. I will use the history in the newspapers to paint a picture of the event or location. To see it unfold on a “daily” basis from a historical perspective…. that has been my jam. To learn history would be one thing, to see it literally unfold to the masses AS it occurred – that is intoxicating and offers a perspective that many historians lack in their textbooks.

So, if there is a “conversation” you would like to have with me on a subject of historical, nostalgia or whatever nature – just let me know. Let’s see what we can find in the papers and talk!

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