Thursday, January 15, 2015

Keeping a Journal

“People who keep journals have life twice.” Jessamyn West
Writer Jessamyn West, above, best known for the best-seller “The Friendly Persuasion” (1945), often incorporated tales her mother and grandmother told her about growing up in rural southern Indiana.  Once asked why she wrote about the Hoosier state, West, who lived all but six years of her life in California, replied: “I write about Indiana because, knowing little about it, I can create it.”  West believed that being totally faithful to the past can, in her words, “be a kind of death above ground” and that “fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.”   That may be true, but that is also why historians must be wary in how they make use of novels.

I attended Steve McShane’s to explain the journal assignment, in which students will write about their daily lives.  I pointed out that journals share elements in common with diaries and memoirs.  The former are often more intimate, even private; the latter look back on past occurrences from the vantage point of the present.  I urged students to be as intimate as they felt comfortable with and to examine family and community histories as well as organizations they may belong to or workplaces.  Journals are often most vivid when the authors are in a new surrounding, such as when my friend Joanell Bottorff first moved to Hong Kong or when Marla Gee became a legislative intern.  Marla’s journal is in the form of emails, something I suggested students could do.

To emphasize the point that journals are valuable primary sources, I read from French explorer Pierre-Charles de Liette’s journal about living with Miami Indians.  Showing them “Gary’s First Hundred Years,” I read from an entry by Kasey Duke about volunteering at a homeless shelter and how a man gave something.  She wrote:

  “One regular called to me as I turned to leave.  He said he had a small gift.  ‘Do you remember when you told me how much you liked peanuts?’ he asked.  I smiled and said yes.  ‘Well last night for dinner they gave us peanuts and I saved mine for you,’ he said.  I could feel tears well up in my eyes and a lump forming in my throat.  I smiled and said, ‘I’ll enjoy every one.’  I opened the door to leave and I heard him say, ‘You be careful now.  See you next time.’”

Joanell Bottorff told me that my great-great Aunt Harriet Lane, 27 year-old White House hostess White House hostess for James Buchanan, was the first to be called First Lady.  Initially people didn’t know what to call her.  A reporter for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper came up with a solution, dubbing her “First Lady of the Land.”  The title stuck.

Here’s Marla Gee’s latest dispatch from Indy:

  “Tonight is the Governor’s State of the State address.  This morning there were cops conducting stops on approaches to the Statehouse, security stuff.  Big deal.  The Republican interns are having a pizza party and will watch the Governor’s address in the Senate chambers, $5 a pop if you want to attend.  I think I’ll pass.

Still huffing and puffing my way around the Statehouse, but I am getting a little bit better, not as much back-tracking and going in circles.  This place is like an old mansion, with lots of secret passages and private rooms.  The place where we go to file Bills is in a third floor suite of offices; once inside you discover another set of stairs, carpeted, just like you would find in an old home, and these lead you to the clerk’s office.  Halls wind past beautiful old windows, and some spaces still have the original fireplaces -  though none of them are functional.  There is a private ladies’ bath, complete with shower (!) in case there is one of those marathon sessions and a legislator wants to freshen up.  (I am allowed to use it, too; there is a key!)  And of course, there is the mandatory ghost: common stories about elevators that open when they shouldn’t, etc.  I just eat this stuff up, I LOVE exploring old homes and buildings, but at my own pace and in comfortable shoes! 

My first paycheck is tomorrow, so I finally get to purchase a pair of comfortable dress shoes and not look so geeky.  I am not afraid of hard work, I take pride in a job well done, but I’m afraid I am having a VERY difficult time keeping up physically.  I fell and twisted my right knee, which was never 100% to begin with, and so now I have this old-lady limp to complete the picture.  You can’t make this stuff up.  The opportunities, the people I have met, the connections and networking, this is great, but the toll it is taking me.”

It turns out I did attend the Governor's address.  I loved the pomp and circumstance and the history aspects.  I was seated against the wall to the left of where the Governor was speaking, right down in front, next to one of the media outposts.

Governor Pence delivering State-of-the state address
Back after a Fall sabbatical, Jonathyne Briggs greeted me with a hug that almost took my breadth away.  He was talking to Dorothy Mokry, who promised to send me an obit on her father, 101 year-old Blagoje “Blazo” Dragic.  “He was a tough old bird,” she said.  Vickie Milenkovsky attended the wake and observed that the body in the casket looked great and Blazo’s face wore a slight smile as if he were thinking back on his eventful life as a Chetnik fighter and American immigrant.  Here is part of the obit:

  Blagoje "Blazo" Dragic, age 101 of Hobart, passed away peacefully with his family by his side on January 2, 2015. Born in former Yugoslavia, he came to America in 1952. He was a life long member of St Sava Serbian Orthodox Church, and a dedicated caretaker of the former Serbian Hall in Hobart, and Chapel Square Office Complex in Merrillville. He was a member of the Movement of Serbian Chetniks Organization. Known as a very dedicated employee, he retired from US Steel Company, Gary Works with many years of service. Blazo was a kind man to all and will be missed and fondly remembered.
 Blazo with loved ones.

Jerry Davich wrote a column sympathetic to former Lake County surveyor George Van Til, facing possible jail time for practices that, in Davich’s words, “have been commonplace in Lake County politics for decades.”  Among the many lawmakers who wrote letters on Van Til’s behalf is State Representative Vernon Smith.  They were freshmen classmates at IUN.  Van Til has suffered enough, Smith argued, and a jail sentence would be cruel and unusual punishment.  I made a similar plea for leniency in a letter to Judge Moody.

After getting slaughtered in game one, Engineers took the other two from Cressmoor Lounge despite a 670 series by Liney Neal. John and Frank each had 200 games.  I rolled a 470 and converted a 4-5-7 split.  Usually if one successfully picks up the 4-5, the pin on the left misses the 7-pin.  Several people mourned Mike Sebben’s passing.  Bob McCann sent flowers to Burns Funeral Home on behalf of Sheet and Tin League.
On Facebook Steve Spices posted a shot of Miller Beach until the caption “Not really bikini weather,” while Eve Wierzbicki shared a photo of daughter Alex with Becca Lane and announced, “Dance competition season has begun.”

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