Local History Matters

Tonight, I attended a lecture at my local community center by a local historian on the largely ignored Eastern half of the city of London, Ontario. My city, as I learned tonight, was originally two- London Proper (what I know as Downtown London) and East London (where the factories and working class people lived). These two halves, divided by Adelaide Street, would amalgamate at the dawn of the 20th century into a single city, but those lines still exist over a hundred years later in class and social divides.

In my city, we have the term East of Adelaide (EOA), which basically means “the bad side of town”, although it’s not technically completely accurate anymore. I grew up EOA, and although I never really felt the divide much at the time, now looking back I can see it in my own youthful experiences and how that shaped my attitudes towards class in some ways. I was one of the lucky ones, since my father was a doctor, as I still had a very middle class existence, but many I knew weren’t so lucky.

Regardless, what I found precious about tonight was the fact that for one of the first times in my life I actually learned about the history of the place where I grew up. It wasn’t that I avoided it, or that I didn’t want to know- it was that there simply wasn’t anyone available to teach it to me. My parents grew up in other cities, and moved here shortly after I was born, so they couldn’t teach me what they didn’t know. (A common situation in many highly mobile Canadian families.) So, how was I supposed to learn it?

The obvious answer should be school, but the sad truth is that school doesn’t teach local history either. They teach world history, national history and provincial history, but almost nothing about the history of the place where the school sits.

And that, is wrong.

Oh, I know why it happens. Here in Canada we’re a young country, and we have this odd Canadian provincial mentality that nothing Canadian really matters much in the greater scheme of things. We’re only three hundred years old, or so, and we haven’t had many wars, or political upheavals, and nothing really all that exciting happened, and Canadians history is boring, so why should we really bother teaching it? Especially local history, right? What good is that?

Except that’s all wrong- all of it. That’s the stupid mentality we’ve developed because of the way we’re taught history, and that creeping sense of inferiority we have to the UK and the United States who look so much cooler and bigger and cooler from where we sit. The truth is that Canadian history is filled with pirates, adventurers, explorers, entrepreneurs, political leaders, sports heroes, uprisings, cultural battles, wars, sex, violence, and everything else that makes history exciting.

We just don’t teach that stuff, because it’s somehow not proper. It’s like the stuff we’re embarrassed about, and we don’t want people having the wrong idea that we might be descended from THOSE people.

And that leaks down to the attitude about local history as well, which has this air of being nothing special or important. I mean, unless you live in Montreal or Quebec, that’s history, but the rest of Canada? Who cares, right?

Well, we should care.

It’s a little bit like not knowing your parents or your family history. The place we grow up shapes us and defines us in a thousand little ways, and unless we know and understand that place and where it came from, we will never truly understand ourselves. We need that knowledge as we go out into the world, because it lets us know who we are, and gives us a center to find our way.

Local history should be taught in schools, and it should be taught in a way which is no less important or detailed than the other “greater” types of history. If anything, it’s more important, exactly because it’s part of the lives of the students learning it.

Of course, I can already hear people sayings- “but local kids won’t want to learn that!”

To this, I reply with what the historian told me tonight. She told me about casually mentioning her area of study to a bunch of teenage boys she knew, and her being shocked when they actually wanted to sit there and learn everything she could tell them about where they grew up. They wanted to know where they came from, and were more than willing to pay attention if there was someone to teach it to them and answer their questions.

And why shouldn’t they? It was history that actually mattered to THEM.

It might not be important to anyone else, but it was their lives, their roots she was talking about, the place they lived in every day, and the questions that they’d always had but never thought to ask about their real world.

We talk all the time about disillusioned young people, voter turnout being down and people not being engaged in civic politics, but we need to ask the question- why should they be? If we don’t teach them to know and love the place where they grew up, how can they be anything but unattached and uncaring? Why should they care when they have no sense of connection to their homes, neighbourhoods and towns? A place is its people, but it’s also its history.

Even if the school boards just gave one semester of one year to local history, it could make a huge difference in the lives of many kids. Yes, not everyone will want to learn it or appreciate it, but don’t they deserve the chance to choose?

Shinobi: Heart Under Blade Review

I finally got around to seeing Shinobi: Heart Under Blade, after many years of almost seeing it but getting distracted by other things. I just re-joined Netflix, and am using it to catch up on movies that I haven’t seen for one reason or another but want to, such as this one.

In short, I found it pretty dissappointing.

The premise is interesting enough- the Warring States period has come to an end and the Tokugawa Shogunate decides that these superpowered ninja it’s been using as weapons are now a liability which could be used against the Shogun. Since there are two clans, Kouga and Iga, they tell each clan to have their best people try to kill each other as a “contest”, which is simply a way of getting rid of the strong so the Shogunate can then wipe out the rest of the clan members with minimal resistance.

All in all, a good premise to stage a bunch of ninja fights around, and this might be why the novel version called The Kouga Ninja Scrolls has been made into a manga and anime as well.

To add to the drama, the core story is about the second-in-commands of the two clans who have fallen in love with each other in a Romeo and Juliet situation and now have to lead the two ninja squads trying to kill each other.

Again, a well-used premise with built-in emotional conflict that should make for a strong story.

So, with this in mind, why didn’t I like it?

There are a couple reasons. First, this film version is actually pretty dull. The fights would be neat if I hadn’t actually watched Naruto, but having seen Naruto (which the film seems to be trying hard to present itself in the style of), I’m more interested in the story and characters. This is a problem, since the film is trying too hard to be deep and artsy and really skimps on the characters and keeps the story dead simple to the point of being actually dull. Most of the film is pretty images and our two lead moping around because they know they’ll have to kill each other eventually. (Oh, my life sucks…So sad….)

Second, the ending just kinda sucks. The leads do stupid things for stupid reasons, and then it sorta works out by chance although there is no logical reason it should have. The director also plays very fast and loose with the concept of simultaneous action in a way which I didn’t like and find slightly dishonest. (Or at least illogical.)

Third, and this is just a personal thing, it seemed to be trying to go out of its way to present several of my favorite historical characters Yagyu Munenori, Yagyu Jubei and Hattori Hanzo as complete dicks. I suspect this is on purpose, since these men are all presented in romanticised historical fiction as being heavily connected with the Ninja clans they’re trying to kill in this story. I think the author was trying to put a different spin on them, which is reasonable, but as these are some of my favorite historical people, I also have a right not to like it. (Imagine if someone did a pirate movie that had someone playing Captain Jack Sparrow in it, except now he’s a cruel drunken rapist who acts nothing like Captain Jack Sparrow from the other films. How you’d feel about that is about how I feel about this portrayal of those characters.)

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, I tried reading the manga adaptation called Basilisk a few years back and didn’t care for that much either. (It was a messy collection of weird sex and violence scenes.) Still, it’s another film off my list that I wanted to check out. Here’s hoping the next one’s better!

Rob

The Fox’s Tale- Now Available on Kindle!

A disgraced musketeer without hope. An orphaned native child. A new frontier.

This collection of interconnected short stories follows fugitive Musketeer of the Black Gerard la Russo and his daughter Renard as they navigate life in New France (Canada) at the dawn of the 18th century.

Come get them while they’re hot!

I’ve released a Kindle version of my “Fox Cycle” stories under the title The Fox’s Tale for 99 cents (but free for Amazon Select customers). Funny, tragic, heartwarming and thrilling, these ten stories of a father and daughter trying to navigate life between old worlds and new will bring a smile to your face and a make your heart skip a few beats.

I apologize to my readers on other platforms, I’m going to hold out on the other e-book platforms for now, as I’m trying out Amazon Select to see if it makes a difference. It requires that I be Amazon exclusive while I’m trying it out. Sorry.

Rob

Wow, that is just cool! Oldschool Stilt Walkers

Now I have to think of a Martial Art to go along with this! That would be awesome!

The practical workaround for this problem started with shepherds, but gradually spread to anyone, including postal carriers and law enforcers, who needed to move vast distances quickly. They wore stilts. And not small ones, either. Any stiltwalker perched about three and a half feet up, and some had stilts that were much higher. They carried a long cane that reached to the ground which they would lean on whenever they were still, or even sit on to rest. With practice they became agile – dancing, running, and even lowering themselves so close to the ground that they could pick flowers.

via An ancient mode of transportation that could work on other planets.

More detailed history can be found here.

CLANG! A Realistic Swordfighting Game Kickstarter Project

Author Neal Stevenson has put his name behind a new kickstarter project to produce Clang, a realistic swordfighting game for the PC. I’ll let him explain the details below.

Interesting. I’m not quite as excited about it as I was the space combat game, but it’s a neat idea and I hope he makes it happen. I do think a more realistic swordfighting game is needed, but I wonder how much detail you can pack into it before it becomes either a simulation or just a movie where you occasionally push buttons. Do they really expect gamers to pull off combos that take professionals years to master? I don’t think so. But, if you don’t, then it just turns into a movie of you initiating combos and letting the character/computer actually do them according to pre-scripted motion-captured patterns.

Creative Challenges: The Fox Cycle

I think it’s good for writers to challenge themselves, it helps them grow.

Back in January of this year, I picked up an amazing book for (script)writers called Save the Cat! by scriptwriting guru Blake Snyder. I’d heard about it online, tracked down a copy at the local bookstore, and poured through it to discover it wasn’t as good as advertised it was better. So much better. (So if you haven’t read it and you’re a writer of fiction, go buy a copy- NOW!)

Among Snyder’s revelations was his theory that all movies can be broken down into ten different types, and that when writing a story, a writer should have one of these types in mind to know what exactly it is they’re writing.  This makes a lot of sense when you consider that most movies are only about 110 minutes long, at a minute of film per page of script. 110 pages of script isn’t a lot of time to work with when you actually get into it, so stories of movies must be concise and focussed or you get an unfocussed mess.

When I started to think through his list, I both agreed with it, and found it quite liberating. What he’d done was not just condense standard types of movie stories, but also stories in general, and each of them caused ideas for stories to pop into my head. While they might be a little simplistic for novel plots (or maybe not), these seemed to work especially well for short stories.

So, having just finished The Inuyama Rebellion fiction serial over on my Kung Fu Action Theatre site, and looking for more content to keep the site active, I decided to set myself a little creative challenge. Of course, there had to be rules, which were:

1)      I would write 10 short stories, one for each of Snyder’s ten story types.

2)      I would make all the stories Flash Fiction: 1000 words or less in length, since I was at the start of what looked to be a very busy semester.  This was an added challenge to me because I had very rarely written such short fiction (most of my stories tend to be around 7,000-10,000 words long) and didn’t think I was very good at it.

3)      Each story had to be complete and stand-alone.

I also decided that I needed a unified theme, so I dusted off a character idea I’d had about a young First Nations girl in New France adopted and raised by a former Musketeer and decided to use that as the focus. Of course, this meant I was adding both historical research and language issues (Je ne parle pas francais!) to the challenge, but I decided since it was flash fiction it would be light on the details anyways so I could fudge it as needed. (HA!)

And then, on top of that, a few weeks after I started the project, I got into the DAZ Studio 3D art program, and decided that I should incorporate 3D art into the challenge as well as a way to teach myself DAZ. This required slowly buying up the elements I needed for different scenes, and then composing them into something that worked with the characters and stories. A whole huge challenge unto itself!

So, I got to add:

4)      Write in a new, unfamiliar historical setting about completely new characters.

5)      Generate 3D art to go with each story using a new art program I barely knew how to work.

As you can tell, I like my challenges easy.

I decided to call it The Fox Cycle (as in, a cycle of stories, not a fox on a motorcycle) and posted the first one at the end of January with the intent of posting a new one every Monday for ten weeks.

So, how’d it go?

Well, I didn’t quite pull off the one-a-week schedule for many reasons I won’t bother to go into, but this week I posted the tenth and final story in the cycle

You can judge for yourself how it all turned out. From my side, I think some of the stories came out really well, while others are just so-so. I consistently impressed myself with my own ability to both condense the stories down to 1000 words, and to keep each one interesting and different from the others.  I was also surprised how much humor leaked into the stories.

I learned a lot about the characters, which grew organically as I wrote each story, and the setting grew as well. I’d hoped to use this project to explore and develop this story and setting for other larger future projects, and it worked beyond my expectations. I now have a very firm idea of my characters and the world they live in, one which I couldn’t possibly fit into the small space of the cycle, but which I hope to explore in the near future with other, longer works.

My own writing skills have also improved as a result of being forced to write such short, tight prose. It was a challenge at first, but now that I’m used to it I wonder why my other stories tended to be so long! I’d say this challenge has really helped me in thinking through my own personal writing style by forcing me to keep words to a minimum, and it’s also made me rethink how I frame the stories I write.

On the art side, I’ve learned how to master the basics of both DAZ Studio 4.0 and GiMP because of this project, and I’m quite happy with how some of the art turned out. I’ve never considered myself a visual artist, and still don’t, but I have started to gain a deeper understanding of how a picture is composed, the importance of lighting, and how much work it takes to make a good picture.

 

Would I do it again?

I’m not sure.

It’s one of those artistic challenges that’s good to go through as a rite of passage, but I’m not sure I’m going to be interested in doing it again anytime soon. It was a great way to develop this new setting to write in, and force myself to learn, so I might give it another go at some point in the future. It’s definitely a challenge that I’d recommend to someone else to try, although you might want to drop the visual art element and just focus on the writing and characters.

 

Appendix:

For those familiar with Blake Snyder’s Ten Types and who wonder how my stories correspond to them, here’s the breakdown:

1)      The Musketeer (Dude With a Problem)

2)      The Eyes of a Warrior (Buddy Love)

3)      The Elders of Ville Marie (The Fool Triumphant)

4)      The Bodyguard (Out of the Bottle)

5)      The Beating (Whydunit)

6)      Identity (Institutionalized)

7)      Home (Golden Fleece)

8)      Rennie’s Wedding (Rite of Passage)

9)      The Troll (Monster in the House)

10)   Hero (Superhero)

I leave it you, my readers, to decide the degree to which I failed or succeeded in living up to each of the different types. I think I hit a few dead-on, and came close with a few others. My favorites of the set are Eyes of a Warrior, The Bodyguard, Rennie’s Wedding, and Hero. The ones I’m not quite as happy with are The Musketeer, Identity and Home.

‘Spider-Man’ flashback: Nicholas Hammond, reeling in the years

I never got to watch the live action American Spider-Man TV series when I was a kid because I didn’t know it was on when it aired, but I did watch the “movies” (2 part episodes) that aired endlessly on Channel 43 Cleveland on Saturday afternoons during my childhood. When I was ten I used to tie a string to a pen, stick both up my sleve, and then pretend it was a web shooter by swinging my arm around and letting the pen and string fly!

WOOSH! Take that bad guys!

I always found Nicholas Hammond to be a little bland as Peter Parker, and I regretted there not being more actual Spider-Man bad guys (read: any supervillians at all!), but if I remember he did get to fight ninjas, so that almost counted. Still, this interview with Nicholas looking back on his time as TV’s Spider-Man was a fun nostalgic read, and somewhat informative. I had no idea that Spider-Man was so popular among African Americans, or that the suit actor/stuntman thought that Spidy should move like an actual spider.

To see what he’s talking about, watch the clip below. One other interesting thing I noticed is that the bad guys are using Asian-style martial arts. While this might not seem odd to people now (everyone in TV seems to know Kung Fu nowadays) this was before Hollywood as a collective decided that martial arts were cooler than street/fist fighting. It wasn’t until Buffy in the 90’s that I noticed martial arts creeping into TV fights in a big way, because before then the fights were all two-fisted boxing matches and tackles. Watch movies and TV series pre-1990 to see what I mean.

Spidey was ahead of his day in many ways!

And for those with time to kill, here’s the whole pilot movie up on Youtube:

6 Ridiculous Lies You Believe About the Founding of America | Cracked.com

Great article from CRACKED that is definitely worth reading, and ties into my post from yesterday about America’s First Gay President. (Thanks for pointing that out, Don!)

There’s a pretty important detail our movies and textbooks left out of the handoff from Native Americans to white European settlers: It begins in the immediate aftermath of a full-blown apocalypse. In the decades between Columbus’ discovery of America and the Mayflower landing at Plymouth Rock, the most devastating plague in human history raced up the East Coast of America. Just two years before the pilgrims started the tape recorder on New England’s written history, the plague wiped out about 96 percent of the Indians in Massachusetts.

via 6 Ridiculous Lies You Believe About the Founding of America | Cracked.com.

Our real first gay president – American History – Salon.com

Salon.com has just published an amazing article about American’s first actually 100% real gay president, not one who is just pro-gay- James Buchanan. It’s a rebuttal of sorts to this week’s Newsweek cover on Obama as “America’s First Gay President” for his support of gay marriage.

But, what impressed me so much wasn’t that the article focussed on trying to prove Buchanan was gay, but the emphasis it placed on what it terms Chronological Ethnocentrism. (I’d probably just have called it Chronocentrism, but that’s just me.)

From the article:

Despite such evidence, one reason why Americans find it hard to believe Buchanan could have been gay is that we have a touching belief in progress. Our high school history textbooks’ overall story line is, “We started out great and have been getting better ever since,” more or less automatically. Thus we must be more tolerant now than we were way back in the middle of the 19th century! Buchanan could not have been gay then, else we would not seem more tolerant now.

This ideology of progress amounts to a chronological form of ethnocentrism. Thus chronological ethnocentrism is the belief that we now live in a better society, compared to past societies. Of course, ethnocentrism is the anthropological term for the attitude that our society is better than any other society now existing, and theirs are OK to the degree that they are like ours.

Chronological ethnocentrism plays a helpful role for history textbook authors: it lets them sequester bad things, from racism to the robber barons, in the distant past. Unfortunately for students, it also makes history impossibly dull, because we all “know” everything turned out for the best. It also makes history irrelevant, because it separates what we might learn about, say, racism or the robber barons in the past from issues of the here and now. Unfortunately for us all, just as ethnocentrism makes us less able to learn from other societies, chronological ethnocentrism makes us less able to learn from our past. It makes us stupider.

I’d never really considered this before, especially the part about it being what makes history seem so dull to most, or how it prevents us from learning from other societies and times. (We’re “better” than them, so why should we learn from them?) It’s an excellent point, and the article does a great job going into further detail about it, so give it a read!

via Our real first gay president – American History – Salon.com.

The Chopine

One of those odd bits of history that one comes across and finds interesting enough to note is the Chopine. I can just imagine what a scene in this period would have looked like with all these fashionable stilt-women wandering the marketplace.

“A chopine is a type of women’s platform shoe that was popular in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Chopines were originally used as a patten, clog, or overshoe to protect the shoes and dress from mud and street soil.

Chopines were popularly worn in Venice by both courtesans and patrician women from ca. 1400-1700. Besides their practical uses, the height of the chopine became a symbolic reference to the cultural and social standing of the wearer; the higher the chopine, the higher the status of the wearer. High chopines allowed a woman to literally and figuratively tower over others. During the Renaissance, chopines became an article of women’s fashion and were made increasingly taller; some extant examples are over 20 inches (50 cm) high. Shakespeare joked about the extreme height of the chopines in style in his day by using the word altitude (Hamlet 2.2, the prince greets one of the visiting players, – the adolescent boy who would have played the female parts in the all-male troupe – by noting how much “nearer to heaven” the lad had grown since he last saw him — “by the altitude of a chopine.”)”

From:

Chopine – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.