Sunday, February 22, 2009

What's the "Real" Story?


Happy Birthday, George Washington! Yes, you, the guy who did not cut down a cherry tree, did not wear wooden dentures and who was a truly lousy general. Love to you, Reya

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Revisionist history is one of my favorite things, maybe because all history is made up anyway. When the "official" version of history changes, what that means to me is that the foundational myths that underlie my culture have expanded to include a broader view of the past. When history is revised, we have to open our eyes to a new picture, a new way of thinking about who we are. How could that ever be a bad thing?

The book, Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford is one of my recent favorite books of revisionist history. I also really loved 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann. And 1491: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies. I will not bore you with a long list but there are lots of these books in print.

I am also fascinated by the revisionists in all the sciences. Botanists, geologists, physicists, paleontologists, astronomers, geneticists (& etc.) are all discovering that the world isn't exactly as they imagined a generation ago, or in the case of the some of the sciences, even last year. The past is not set in stone, nor is "reality" for that matter. Everything in our world can shapeshift, really, everything.

Recent contact with a few of my dear ones from way back in my lifetime has forced me to revise my personal history rather drastically. All my sad stories about being miserable 100% of the time as a child and in high school have passed their expiration date and been relegated to the shredder. In fact, though miserable at times, I actually had lots of fun as a kid, even in high school. Who knew?

That it took me this long to revise my personal history is embarrassing. I wonder if all those official revisionist historians feel a pang of chagrin when they discover new truths? Do you think?

26 comments:

Celestite said...

very nice

John Hayes said...

Stories, like any perceptual thing, depend on where you're standing when you view them-- I've also had cause to look in different ways at some of my own history dating back 20 years & more over the last several months. Interesting how the stories change as we change.

Reya Mellicker said...

John, so what you're saying is, I'm happier? That is so cool!

mary said...

I love that your stories have "past their expiration date". I have a friend who wants to write a book called "That's Not the Way I remember It" and recap some classic family capers with each sibling giving their version.....a family of Southern YaYa's. Then there is OUR family motto: Never Let the Truth Ruin A Good Story.

Butternut Squash said...

Hi Reya,

A hot topic for me is the revisionist history of world religions and the hororific results of arguments over ever evolving minutia of faith.

If one was to view all religions equally, as 'mythical storytelling,' what you would be left with is genocide over a bedtime story. Pretty sick really!

Sadly, I am hopelessly in love with religions, devotees, charismatic seekers of truth, and all of that wacky story telling.

This post dredged up tons of muck... personal history revised... best history to teach my children...

Thanks, I will be chewing on this for a while.

Reya Mellicker said...

I think it depends on how deeply you get into religious mythical storytelling. At the base of all faiths I know about are myths of good triumphing over evil, kindness and compassion, love and connection.

It's fundamentalism that causes all the problems, at least I think so.

My favorite astrologer, Rob Breszny, likes to say that to live well we should take everything less personally and not as literally. I agree with him 100%

Mary? Here, here!!

analogman said...

When I knew you back in high school, I didn't know you were miserable. I just thought you were a beautiful young woman with high spirits.

I remember one conversation about "looking like a certain religion". I agreed with you and saw your fire as magnificent.

BTW, I am married to someone of that "religion", and our beliefs have evolved into something less religious and more spiritual.

When I was 18, I wanted my father dead. Now, even though we have very different belief systems, he is one of my best friends.

AH, how things always change. Change is the only constant in the multiverse.

History has always been written by the victors of it's battles. Human history will constantly be revised as long as humans seek the truth as we look back on events with honesty and humility.

Barry said...

Well that's a nice discovery to make.

Actually if I was to rethink my childhood and teenage years, they were mostly made up neither of the highs or the lows, but were pretty much boring the majority of the time.

But what fun is that as a memory?

Fire Byrd said...

You mean the world isn't flat,and the moon isn't made of cream cheese???
I think confronting our own myths about our childhoods is a very positive exerience, if we allow ourselves to not be victims of our history and perhaps accept that however lousy a job we think our parents did on us, actually they only did their best. And that actually got us to be the people we are today.

Rose said...

Time heals all. The further I get from an event the less i remember the emotions that went with it. I have a truly dreadful memory so all I have left of many of the events that shaped me is a grainy brain image and a memory of a memory of how I felt.

This has enabled me to let go of the bad things but has also distanced me from the good. I think of the good ones with nostalgia because it is long gone and like touching a dream. And as such I know I can subtly recreate them, I may have done so many times before and forgotten already...

Meri Arnett-Kremian said...

This post and the one before it are compelling. The Menzies book is fascinating; I hadn't seen the other. But "history," whether the kind taught in school or experiential history impressed in our minds by our own particular filters and biases, is flagrantly subjective and contextual. And we all find comfort in the familiarity of our stories, even though they keep us from encountering now with fresh eyes. How curious.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

wonderful....here's to rewriting (some) history....and also to telling the truth about some history (ode to howard zinn).....

Adrianne said...

I think of revisionist history as a kind of reweaving of that past-present-future tapestry about which you wrote so eloquently last Tuesday.

ArtSparker said...

The old idea about the thing and the thing itself trope...and makes me think of the Rubaiyat, "If we could grasp this sorry scheme of things entire". But all we get is a version.

No wooden teeth?

c james. said...

Your "shredder" context was enlightening. That name has given me a visual for revising my own history. I don't believe there is anything wrong with revising our personal histories; it makes us really understand our truth, and yet it makes us feel that the trivial is just a small part of the whole picture.

Meandu said...

This was very interesting and quite true. We do tend to view the past in one way. It is good to go back and revisit and change our views of the past from time to time. Have a great day.

willow said...

It's courageous to accept new truths!

runmotman said...

You ponder so deeply, i wonder where it comes from; of course nothing ever is as it seems or as it was, or ...what? And your readers are quite a smart bunch too...great comments. Toodles.

Lover of Life said...

It's terrific that you are revisiting your old "oral history of self", which is oftentimes just memories marinated in hormones. I realized our memories are not always what they seem after arguing with my father about "things I remember clearly", only to find myself at the other end of my daughter's memories that were not even close to the actual event. Memory is being studied much more these days. It is often nothing more than a thought that we once had, or that someone told us, that has been revisited over and over, and thus turned into a "memory".

Ronda Laveen said...

It is interesting to look at ourselves through another's eyes. Sometimes I percieve myself as I was in high school. Somehow part of me is stuck in that time and I see and feel from that vantage point. Wallowing in my self wallow. And then I see an old friend and she talks about how fun I was and how many friends I had...when I didn't recall it like that. Time to catch my high school self up to what I've been doing the last nearly 40 years.

I would like to see a revisionist history of the Gregorain calendar adaptation.

Reya Mellicker said...

just memories marinated in hormones.

Oh yeah! Well said.

Analog Man is someone I've known since grade-school, just recently we've been re-acquainted. He is a part of the historical cure I'm currently undergoing. So nice that he came here to visit!

Mouse thanks for the Ode to Mr. Zinn. That's the first book of revisionist history I ever read, A People's History of the U.S. that is.

Runotman? I am a piece of work! I wallow in self wallow, as Ronda says.

The world dances in shamanic alignment with my revisioning of history: when I came home from work today, I discovered that my landlord has replaced my front door with a truly schnazzy door. In a couple of weeks, I will be getting new windows ... doors opening, new windows on the world ... all I can say is WOW.

Reya Mellicker said...

Analog man: When I was 18 I wanted my father dead, too. He died a few years later. Now that he's gone, I have a wonderful relationship with him. I am not kidding.

Chris Wolf said...

Hey Reya, why do you think Washington was a lousy general? He did not have a lot to work with. His army was rag-tag, (not professionally trained), commissions were purchased by the wealthy. His job was much more administrative, political. The army he was fighting was the best in the world at its time, and went on to beat Napoleon. Just curious...

Reya Mellicker said...

Based on the biographies I've read of him. His Excellency is one of my favorites.

As a general he made terrible decisions over and over again, got into all those bizarre petty arguments with other officers while the troops were freezing to death - literally. If it wasn't so sad, it would be hilarious.

He was bullet proof, though. That's no myth. And tall and so regal that everyone wanted to bow down to him.

Delwyn said...

In studies of mock-up assaults with a dozen onlookers, researchers have found that each person relates the incident differently - often very differently. So thats facts that people see and recall differently.

But then there are the emotions that are linked to incidents of our past and laid down at the same time and can be recalled with the memory.

And then there are the emotional reactions we have when we replay the memory at any point in our lives since the event.

Perhaps it is the emotional tone of the past that colours and taints our memories.

And then perhaps it is our current emotional wellbeing that allows us to see things very differently.

Merle Sneed said...

History is what we choose to remember. We drag it behind us like a ball and chain.