Monday, November 18, 2013

But I Digress

So, who were the Luddites anyway? I ask myself thus all of you, having called myself one of them after my third and, as you can see, successful attempt to give Google the code it required (so I could get into Blogger so I could write this post, which I should have done yesterday.) to ascertain that I am, indeed, myself, the sleepy woman glowering over her 
General Ned Ludd of Sherwood Forest

mobile phone, a dumb one, needless to say. According to Merriam-Webster a Luddite is "one who is opposed to especially technological change," but that's not me ('I' is correct, but how dumb and stilted would that sound? she asks, having chosen the colloquial over the correct) I swear! 

Who was Ned Ludd? Richard Conniff, in his Smithsonian article, wrote that Ned was an apocryphal apprentice from Nottinghamshire, sort of a Kilroy around whom the "Luddites" engineered serious protests. "But they were also making fun, dispatching officious-sounding letters that began, 'Whereas by the Charter' and ended 'Ned Lud's Office, Sherwood Forest.'  Invoking the sly banditry of Nottinghamshire's own Robin Hood suited their sense of social justice. The taunting, world-turned-upside-down character of their protests also led them to march in women's clothes as 'General Ludd's wives.'"  Whoa!  It's like Jean Fritz said: "History isn't boring once you know the people." And get a load of what all they did, I might add, and how they did it.  Of course I am no textile worker residing in Jane Austen's England at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Nor will I getting together tonight with hundreds of cross-dressing buddies to go bust up the knitting machines at the local mill. Envision us all tramping along singing:

"And night by night when all is still, / And the moon is hid behind the hill, / We forward march to do our will / With hatchet, pike, and gun!"  (This from a Luddite song, quoted in another swell article I found.) Still, like them, we are living in uncertain times, in a difficult economy, rampant with technological advances, and we do desire respect and steady work with decent wages and better wages, don't we? But I digress. In fact, this entire post is a digression, a straying from the path, that being my intended subject, whatever that was.  So let it be. Here's the subject: Going off the rails, those unexpected investigations we nonfiction writers launch ourselves upon when our research leads us to a subject we'd never intended, one we'd never have known had we not been going along and got distracted.  'Let's see where this road goes!'  You start out reading about Abigail Adams and find yourself introduced to her friend, Mercy Warren.  You might well be watching one of the many documentaries this week about John F. Kennedy,
about his murder 50 - FIFTY? 50 years as in half a century ago? Even a cursory look into his short life and harrowing times will lead you to further reading about ballistics, JFK's desk with its splendid cubby and how the desk is linked to Queen Victoria and a doomed sailing vessel. Other presidents and the sad rogues who shot them,  Lee Harvey Oswald, for instance, that 'weak-chinned character' (so said Eric Sevareid), the White House's fascinating history, Richard Nixon's Cocker Spaniel, Checkers, LBJ's Beagles (especially the one with the sore ears, poor thing), t and  the Cold War, French couture/early 60s,  and Macaroni the Pony.
Should your curiosity be sparked and you dip into JFK's (and, to an extent, Ted Sorensen's) Profiles in Courage,  you'll learn more about Abigail's son, John Quincy Adams and you might be introduced to a stout-hearted Mississippian with a gloriously name and a most unfortunate beard. 

Sen. Lucius Quintus
Cincinnatus Lamar II

So it was when I was researching Clement Clarke Moore for a picture book [out of print now, the world being rotten] I was doing and I came across the fact that 'twas Washington Irving, who had originally come up with the notion of a stout, jolly St. Nick, who rode 'over the tops of the tress, in that self-same wagon wherein he brings his yearly presents to children.'  It wasn't long before I found myself doing another book. And now a couple of more, having to do with a couple of big fat anniversaries coming up next year, 2014. 
But I digress. I invite you to do the same! Oh the places you'll go, the people you'll meet, so somebody said or something like it. 


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