Carrie Fisher

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This year has taken a lot out of us as a culture. Many of our most beloved icons have been taken from us, the face of the world is changing drastically, and more and more we are faced with truths that are difficult to accept. It seems almost trivial to say that the death of one person represents the culmination of the whole year to me, but that is my burden to bear and my truth to share, and your choice if you wish to keep reading. My guess is if you do, you might feel the same way, or at least are able to understand where I am coming from. What follows may not be the article you wanted, but it’s the one I need to write.

You want a list of facts and dates? Go read the Wikipedia page []. Better yet, go watch her one woman documentary standup comedy THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE show, Wishful Drinking. If you want an honest and entertaining affirmation of Carrie Fisher’s life, keep reading.

Carrie Fisher was important to me. Not because she was Princess Leia (though that was how I discovered her) not because she was a feminist icon (though she entirely was) but because she was real… people do not talk much about mental health. The subject is bizarrely taboo in most “polite” circles but it is a very real thing. Anyone who tells you differently is lying or kidding themselves.

But, to quote the lady herself: “If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true, and that is completely unacceptable.” – Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking

Carrie did a lot of work in Hollywood. Actress, screenwriter, singer, wife of Paul Simon, lover of Harrison Ford and PRINCESS FRICKING LEIA. I’m sorry, ask any male with any kind of heterosexual tendency what their fantasies are and gold bikini Leia appears somewhere on that list. It wasn’t just that she was sexy and gorgeous and talented, it was that she was a strong, self-confident woman. She was a damn self-rescuing princess! She inspired little princesses to pick up swords (or blasters, whatevs) and slay their own dragons, and she inspired young princes to treat those little princesses with some damn respect.

When she got older and news of her various addiction and mental health issues came out, she owned it. She acknowledged it. She moved past it. She JOKED ABOUT IT. That takes style, class, and a sense of humor like you wouldn’t believe.

I cannot believe she is gone.

We love you Carrie Fisher.

But you knew that already.


White Christmas

My favorite holiday movie is now and has always been (after “Die Hard”) “White Christmas”. And as this is the case and it is 62 years old this Christmas season, I’m going to write about it.

“White Christmas” came out in 1954 and quickly became the highest grossing box office hit of the year, earning what today would be $102.7 million.
The film was also the first movie filed in VistaVision which allowed for a widescreen effect. It was supposed to be the third of a trio of movies starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire as a musical showcase for Irving Berlin. However, Mr. Astaire declined the role and asked to be released from his contract with Paramount. Mr. Crosby left not long after to spend time with his sons after the death of his wife.

When Mr. Crosby rejoined the project, the role of Phil Davis was to be filled by Donald O’Connor of “Singin’ In the Rain” fame, but he bowed out due to illness. The role eventually went to (and was immortalized by) Danny Kaye.

When the movie was filmed, Bing Crosby was 50, playing across from his love interest, Rosemary Clooney (and yes, she is George Clooney’s paternal aunt), who was 25. Ms. Clooney, who played Betty Haynes, portrayed Vera-Ellen’s older sister, despite being 7 years the dancer’s junior. The age difference between Vera-Ellen (Judy Haynes) and Danny Kaye was only ten years to Crosby and Clooney’s 25.

The song “White Christmas” actually debuted in the movie “Holiday Inn” (1942). Apparently even in the early part of the 20th Century, Irving Berlin believed in recycling.
All in all… I love this movie. I’ve watched it every Christmas season since 1984. I won’t tell you how old I was, but lets just say I’ve seen it a lot. I am fortunate to live in an area where having a White Christmas is pretty much a forgone conclusion. To this day it remains my favorite.

Whatever your holiday preference is, there 80+ holidays that occur between December 1st and January 15th, so I am truly covering my bases when I say…

Happy Holidays!


The Epic of Gilgamesh

14937193_365589317116490_370575850215520873_nIn the Epic of Gilgamesh, despite clear division between them, Humanity, the Wild, and the Divine are inextricably linked in a synergetic relationship. Throughout the text, a significant emphasis is made on the differences between this triad. However the events of the story itself only prove their strong inter-connectivity.

In the text, Humbaba was a monster tasked to guard the home of the gods, incidentally a massive Cedar Forest where Enkidu grew up. So the environment, or the Wild as it is often referred to in the text, houses and protects the Divine from the prying eyes of Humanity. Humbaba, implicitly the avatar of the gods and from a certain point of view, nature, is also there to protect the forest itself. Gilgamesh can only draw Humbaba to him by cutting down the largest, strongest cedar in the forest. This indicates that the forest, and by extension the Wild, is important to the gods, as Humbaba’s mandate is to protect both the gods and their home from destruction.

Later, when Enkidu is killed by the gods for Gilgamesh’s hubris in killing the Bull of Heaven, Gilgamesh enters the Wild to seek out the meaning of life and death. Specifically, he seeks a human, Utnapishtim, who survived the Flood, a work of both the Divine and the Wild. Utnapishtim fills Gilgamesh in, indicating that only by the grace of Enki did he survive. He was rewarded for his obeisance with immortality only AFTER he survived the Flood.

Earlier in the text, Humanity begs the gods to send a companion to Gilgamesh, who is two-thirds god and one-third human, to temper his cruelty. The gods in turn create Enkidu, who is raised in the Wild. It is not until he is tempted by a human woman, however, that he is able to complete the task set before him. So it came to Enkidu, partly of the Wild and partly human, to temper the baser nature of Gilgamesh, partly god and partly human.

Based on the text, “the Wild” seems to encompass almost everything that isn’t “the walled city of Uruk” which is not to say that it is a vast, barren wasteland. It is made clear that there is life, man and monster alike, that lives in the greater world, still under the purview of the gods. With this in mind, it is rather easy to see how the above arguments link the three concepts – man, nature, and the gods – all together. It is clear that all three are linked, or in the parlance of the text, destined to be one with the other. Perhaps more accurately: All three cannot have a balanced existence without the others: Without one to help temper, or rein in if you will, the other, no equilibrium can be reached. Without equilibrium there is chaos, and if history has taught us anything, chaos brings destruction, devastation, and additional distressing D-words.



13312789_280735892268500_8970855166531093834_nWhat is it with French women named Jeanne? Unlike Madamoiselle d’Arc, however, Jeanne de Clisson was born into privilege and only took to kicking butt and taking names after the French king Phillip VI “wrongfully” executed her husband. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For those of you who don’t like all the dates and details, there is a clever little summary below I invite you to skip to. For the rest of you:

Jeanne was born in the Gâtine Vendéenne in the year 1300 CE to nobleman Maurice IV of Belleville-Montaigu and Létice de Parthenay of Parthenay. She was married at the age of twelve and during the span of that marriage, bore two children. Her husband died fourteen years later. In 1330 she remarried, this time to a wealthy Breton named Olivier de Clisson IV. It was here our story really begins.

She bore Oliver five children, one of whom died in toddlerhood, but the rest, two boys (one of whom was destined to become a Constable of France) and two girls, would reach their maturity.

During the Breton War of Succession, Oliver sided with Charles de Bois and was captured at Vannes (after the English’s fourth attempt to take the city). He was released in a prisoner exchange, but a very small ransom was demanded, which caused Charles de Bois to suspect Oliver of treachery, but seemingly nothing came of it.

In 1343, the Truce of Malestroit was signed and aggressions ceased. Under the guise of safe passage, Oliver and fifteen other Breton lords were invited to a tournament wherein he was arrested, dragged to France, tried and summarily executed on April 2nd, 1343. His body was put publicly on display for his crimes.

This shocked the nobility, for his alleged guilt was not made publicly known, and to display a body in such a way was generally a disgrace reserved for lower-class criminals. Most shocked of all was Jeanne, Oliver’s now 43-year-old wife. She took her two young sons to see their father’s head mounted at the Sauvetout gate in Nantes and swore that she would have vengeance on King Phillip VI and Charles de Bois for what she considered a wrongful and cowardly act.

She sold all the lands at Clisson and raised a force of fighting men to attack French forces in Brittany. She is said to have attacked brutally and mercilessly, a fitting description for a woman bent on revenge. When things became too intense in Brittany, she escaped to England. Her eldest son died en route, but her younger son was raised in the English Court. The English happily outfitted her with three warships which she immediately ordered painted black and they were outfitted with blood red sails.

For 13 years, Jeanne raided the English Channel for French ships, earning her very own pirate (sorry “privateer”) name: The Lioness of Brittany.

In 1356, she married an English officer and retired from privateering to settle down at the Castle of Hennebont. She died in 1359.

In summary: Jeanne’s second husband, Oliver, attacked the French successor to the leadership of Brittany and was captured in a battle. Because the English asked very little to return him to his place, the French government suspected him of treason, but couldn’t do anything about it as shortly there after, a truce was signed. Under the banner of a white flag, he was lured onto French soil, arrested, tried, and executed. Jeanne swore revenge, sold all she had, raised an army to attack the French. When fighting on land got to be too much, she enlisted the help of the English and took to the English Channel, targeting French vessels for 13 years. Her ferocity and skill earned her the nickname the Lioness of Brittany. She remarried and retired in the same year, and died three years later on an estate in Britanny. THE END.

This just serves to remind me not to anger any French women who answer to the name Jeanne. They seem to do things like serve 13 years of revenge and murder the English. Yes, I am American, but I can trace my lineage back to London in the 1600’s so I might still qualify….


Why History is Sexy

13310403_279886969020059_1680152860480621085_nPhoebe owes me a proper date after this one. That means a full meal, in the evening, and a proper goodnight kiss. I promise only to press the advantage to 2nd base. I am a gentleman after all.

I had this conversation not too long ago with a “muggle” friend of mine. I was wittering on about some cave paintings recently discovered that are about 45,000 (okay, 42,000 but what is one or two millennium between friends?) years old and saw that her eyes were glazed over as she was holding her hands in front of her like she was trying NOT to grab her phone and play Candy Crush. I gave her my charmingest grin (and it is a very charming grin, believe you me) and asked if I was boring her.

She said no, that the SUBJECT was boring not the delivery. “I always just found history to be very dull,” she admitted. Now admittedly, I have a lot of younger friends and a lot of them share this sentiment. I don’t know nor do I claim that it is a millennial thing but when you see a trend…. Anyway.

I sat down and I asked her what she likes to do. I mean, I knew the answer, cuz she’s my friend, but I was making a point. She said going to movies. She is a huge fan of the recent run of Marvel superhero movies. I said… GREAT! Lots of good stuff coming out of Marvel. But then I asked her what she thought she might do if she didn’t have access to movies. Either through lack of technology or just lived so off the grid that it wasn’t an option. She considered and said she would probably read books or the comic books (don’t tell me they are graphic novels, they have only been graphic novels since the mid-90’s. COMIC. BOOKS.) assuming the level of technology was there to create them. You can probably see where this is going, but I am gonna spell it out anyway. I told her to take it a step further. What if there were no way to print books/comic books. She said handwritten manuscript. Okay, what if there were no ink and paper? She said chalk and slate. And I said BINGO. Cave paintings were our ancestors way of entertaining themselves or recording something they thought was important. She considered that a moment, for the first time in her life (so far as I know) considering the actual ramifications of what that ment.

“So,” she said, slowly looking more and more intrigued. “People have been writing down stories for 45 thousand years.”

“Give or take,” I replied.

“Are any of the cave paintings pornographic?” she asked.

I will let that alone – rule 34 is alive and well. (Google that, but with your safesearch on and with your children far away from the computer.)

Since the beginning of humanities self-awareness, men and women have felt that certain deeds and ideas were worth remembering. Be it lessons we learned, monsters we’ve slain, cave-women we’ve bedded… and we’ve written it down using whatever technology was available, be it on the walls of caves with blood or berry-juice; slate and chalk; chiseled into stone; recorded on papyrus; written on paper; printed on a printing press; word processed; or digitized; all history is recorded somewhere by someone at some point. OUR job as historians, professional or amateur is to sift through it all and paint the best picture of the truth as we can based on the evidence we gathered. Every mistake made today was probably made before (though in potentially drastically different circumstances) and the more we know about these previously made the mistakes, the better prepared we are to avoid them. HISTORY IS SEXY BECAUSE IT IS A DIY GUIDE TO HOW TO NOT LIVE YOUR LIFE! It’s all there. You just have to know how to interpret it, which is why a complete education is so important. But it is also important to keep an open mind. SO MANY staunch academics find themselves mired in the traditional ways of thinking, but science and our understanding of the universe is growing rapidly beyond the traditional way of thinking about time and the past. The idea that time might not be a straight line from point A to point B but a circle, or even happening all at once is rapidly gaining popularity in quantum physics circles and to look at history through that lens certainly changes how we view our past and, more importantly, how it will impact the future.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905.