History: Playboys, Tough Gals, and American Firsts

I’ve written almost 90 entries for the Clio website now. Some of my favorites have been:

  • The James Gordon Bennett Memorial in NYC, in which the founder of the New York Herald and his owl-obsessed, public-indecency-causing playboy son are discussed.
  • The Engineer’s Club building in NYC, where Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison both hung out and, ironically, where Tesla received the Edison Medal in 1917.
  • El Polín Spring of San Francisco, where African American/Latina Juana Briones (1802-1889) gave medical aid to sailors and soldiers before leaving her abusive husband and going on to become one of the area’s most successful farmers and business owners.
  • Matthews Hall at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the first American Indian received a degree from an American university in 1665.
  • Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, the first hospital in America (founded by Dr. Thomas Bond and Benjamin Franklin) and home to the country’s first surgical amphitheatre, first hospital apothecary, and first medical library, as well as being the first hospital to treat psychological illness as a curable illness instead of as a spiritual affliction.
Photo

Elevation drawing of Pennsylvania Hospital by William Strickland, 1755 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

 

I’ve been working on Philadelphia entries quite a bit lately (did you know it was originally colonized by Swedes??), and having a grand old time with the yellow fever epidemic. Why a person like me, who hates any kind of squishy disease (in either living or dead people) and only likes skeletal remains, should be so interested in outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera, I don’t know. But I am. Yellow fever and cholera have a horrible morbid fascination for me, as do terrible medical ideas of the past (like bleeding patients who are dying of internal bleeding or treating opium addiction with morphine). It’s part of why my undergrad thesis centered on the medical use of mineral springs in Kentucky. Still, I’ll avoid going to the doctor for my own shots as long as is humanly possible. They had to give me Valium to give me my last Tetanus shot. Go figure.

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Adulting as a Writer, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Chaos

Most people I know, particularly most writers I know, don’t enjoy adulting. I hated adulting so much I told myself I was happy with part-time service industry jobs for 10 years before I finally went to college. At the time, I thought I was going back to college so that I could get on with conforming to adulthood. By the time I graduated last summer at the age of 32, I’d realized, thanks to friends and most of all professors, that being a responsible adult does not mean a soul-crushing 9-5 job, and that my skills as a person are, actually, valuable in the “real world,” no matter what anyone outside my fields of expertise might tell me to the contrary. It has been an inspiring and revealing year for me as a young-30’s writer.

I got a degree in anthropology because I wanted to do archaeology. I got a job with a local archaeology firm before I graduated. I still work for that firm, and people still tell me there are no jobs in archaeology. When people ask if it’s full time and I say, “Not at the moment,” they often look smug, and I look smug right back, because here’s the thing: I never wanted to devote all my time and energy to one thing. The best way for me to go from loving something to being soul-crushingly bored by it is to do it all the time. Granted, archaeology has enough variety in itself that 40 hour weeks would definitely not be a problem. But I get to work in my chosen field with people I get along with, getting exercise and spending time in nature frequently as part of my job. My favorite pastime as a child was playing in dirt and finding stuff to put in my “museum” (i.e. playhouse).

The rest of my work week consists of researching and writing articles for the history website Clio, and doing freelance editing for other writers. Which makes for a nice triad of activities to keep me (1) paid and (2) interested in everything I’m doing. Physical work and research/writing for reports at Corn Island Archaeology, historic research and article writing for the Clio, and reading fiction and working through edits for my own business…it’s a good mix for me. It keeps me a little busier than I’d ever intended to be, and I work more than 40 hours a week, but I enjoy it all and I make a living! I get paid to do things I grew up doing for fun! What better way to adult??? Funny thing is, I still didn’t think of myself as a successful adult until my mother pointed this perspective out to me. (This is one of many reasons I am lucky my mom is also a writer and is awesome.)

Perhaps because I’ve learned to live in chaos and a perpetual state of having something I should be working on, I’ve rePerBastet_tallcatcently added to my agenda the role of Marketing Director for Per Bastet Publications, the house through which my own novel, The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn, is now published. Strangely, taking on more in this case has made me feel more driven to work on my own fiction, something I’ve let slide far too much this year. The more I think of what the press offers (so far, a number of excellent speculative fiction novels and collections of short stories!) the more I find myself wanting to write more stuff, wanting to actively work to share more of the ideas that bounce around in my head all the time with readers.

So, you might be wondering, what am I writing these days? I’ve got two projects in the fire at the moment, both of which I’m actively working on (most days), as my schedule allows. 1. A sequel to Erica Flynn, which I have around 20,000 words on and no title for yet. 2. A series of interconnected steampunk/cyberpunk short stories featuring Penelope and Puddingfoot in post-apocalyptic (no zombies) adventures across America (the first of which was published in the Circuits & Steam anthology). I’m working on the second story now, with a four-story plot arc lined up.

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More History: Newspapers, Writers, Presidents, and Patriots

Eight new articles I’ve written for http://theclio.com. Did you know The New Yorker was started on winnings from a poker game? I didn’t, until I read up on The Algonquin Hotel!

Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park, Maryland

Weybosset Bridge, Providence, Rhode Island

Shakespeare’s Head (John Carter House), Providence, Rhode Island

Mary Lindley Murray Monument, NYC

Chester Alan Arthur Monument, NYC

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library (Main Branch), NYC

Bryant Park, NYC

Algonquin Hotel, NYC

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Historic and modern facade of the Algonquin (image from taringa.net)

Working for History

I’ve added to the mix of archaeology, editing, research, and writing I’m normally up to by getting a part-time job posting at The Clio, an online non-profit educational resource for historic research. (Read between the lines: it’s FREE to use). I’m writing about five entries a week, and having a blast finding out about historic places and cultural centers all over the country (so far I’ve mainly written about the DC, NYC, and Providence, RI areas). Here are links to some of my posts on The Clio:

New York City

Washington, D.C.

Providence, Rhode Island

Gone Diggin’

About a month ago, I was officially hired into the ranks of working archaeologists – as a field technician at a CRM (cultural resource management) firm. Love the job, love working with friends from school, love being active and outdoors (even when it’s 20 degrees) – I don’t even mind (too much) the achy muscles. Both in the context of telling people about my undergrad senior thesis research and, now, in the context of telling people what my job is, people are almost always surprised that there’s any archaeology to be done in Kentucky. Which, in turn, surprises me…I mean, there’s archaeology everywhere (except maybe Antarctica.)

And yes, as great as historical documents are (and I do loves me some history) there is a lot that written history doesn’t account for. How accurate and unbiased a perspective on Native American life do you think European settlers really had? Who sits down and writes about their slaves’ or servants’ lives for posterity? For that matter, how many struggling farmers had time to write out the nitty gritty details about their daily lives? And how many parts of your daily life do you take for granted – well, of course you use your cell phone for navigation, because that’s what we all do here and now…and of course most of your diet consists of fast food, because that’s how busy people live these days…etc. – ? Why would you bother to document things that are perfectly normal and mundane? (Oh, wait…Facebook…)

So, we dig stuff up. Trash pits and privies are the best – what people throw away says a lot about them, a lot about their culture. Building footprints. Projectile points. Animal bones left from meals. Broken dishes. Medicine bottles. Buttons. The scraps of the past that nobody thought were worth mentioning. And that’s precisely the stuff that can be used to learn the untold parts of history – which is what I love about historical archaeology.

Two more things worth mentioning:

  1. I don’t dig dinosaurs. That’s paleontology. But, yes, I love dinosaurs.
  2. I don’t dig with a bullwhip and a revolver, but, yes, I love Indiana Jones (even if he is a terrible archaeologist).

Weird Stuff I’ve Learned at School – #1

1.  There are carnivorous snails in the world (although I didn’t know they were also hermaphroditic until I found this article just now).  There are some species of carnivorous snails that annoy the crap out of archaeologists because they nibble on bone and leave weird marks all over it, sometimes obliterating important features or prior postmortem trauma.  http://www.nbcnews.com/id/43260441/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/return-giant-carnivorous-snails/#.UXKgk8riv00

2.  The incendiary pigs of Rome (which ought to be a death metal album title), a.k.a. war pigs (which Black Sabbath has dibs on already) – the Romans, in battle against the Persian army, couldn’t figure out a good way to go up against war elephants until they discovered that pig squeals freaked the elephants out.  So the logical Roman approach was to cover pigs with flammable liquids, set them  on fire, and release them onto the battlefield.  Elephants freak, chaos ensues, Romans win battles.  Personally, I feel bad for the piggies, but if I had to face down a pissed off elephant with a bunch of angry dudes on its back, I might find myself in a morally grey area, too.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_pig

3.  In order to become a coroner in Kentucky, you have to swear or affirm that you have never fought in a duel.  Sometimes, I love this state.

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As an aside, I’m restructuring the blog – I will still write about the process of writing and update about my own writing sometimes, but I’m going to branch out with my subject matter, because (a) I’m going to start repeating myself if I haven’t already, (b) I plan on having a pretty interesting life from now on, so I’ll have good things to update about, and (c) I’ll update more often that way.  Well, and (d) my publisher thinks it’s a good idea.  Haha!