Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, nerds!

Wherever you are I hope it is with people you want to be with doing things you love to do.

My day will be filled with food, football, reading (of course), and probably just a wee bit of scotch.

What? You came here for your history fix? Well, of course, I won’t let you down.

Don’t feel like reading? Saints & Strangers is an amazing miniseries which chronicles the first Thanksgiving. How good is it? Mama History Nerd and I re-watched it again yesterday.

Feel like reading (I mean, of course, you’re here aren’t you)? Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick.

Oh, and a nap. Definitely taking a nap today. Happy Thanksgiving!

Author Interview: Mike Dash (Part 2)

(Read Part 1 here.)

Brendan:              This is an interesting question for you, especially talking about your process and everything, and doing this for so many years, and your life’s work. As you talked about, you’ve done a lot of things, blog posts, journalism, being an author. How do you balance those things? Are you the type of person where it’s I’m writing a book now the blog posts go away? Or do you use blog posts as a break from writing a book?

Mike:                     Interesting. I’m not a typical author and I’m aware of that. I meet a lot of people who want to talk to me about being a writer who essentially they believe that they live to write, they couldn’t be the person they want to be if they’re not writing, I guess I’m not saying they’re not telling me the truth, I’m just not like that. I started off as a journalist, I take ultimately a journalist perspective on this in the sense that I think I ought to get paid for what I’m doing pretty well, if I’m doing it pretty well. And one of the reasons I’ve stopped publishing books is that I was essentially faced with a choice. The time of the last financial crisis all those advances went to the floor throughout the world, and literally to the point where you would probably be earning somewhere between 5% and 10% of what you were earning before. So I was faced with a choice of either churning stuff out incredibly quickly and sloppily to try and maintain my income, or stop writing books, and I chose to stop writing books because I didn’t want to write terrible books.

Mike:                     But I also didn’t want to spend two years of my life writing something that I would have to self-publish or get a … I could probably find some tiny publishing house and put it out and it would go down a large well with a small pop at the end and a few hundred people would read it. But ultimately I just perhaps in a sense I’ve been almost spoiled by my experiences in journalism because when you’re writing for a magazine, or more recently for the Smithsonian, which is putting the blogs I write up on its website, you get really quick and substantial response. You put something out, within a couple of weeks or a few months you’ve got people writing about it, sending you comments on it. In the case of the … I wrote this thing for the Smithsonian about a family of Siberian hermits who escaped into the Tiger before World War II, and were found in 1978 not knowing that World War II had happened, and that went viral, and over 20 million people read it.

Mike:                     And it was a really rewarding experience. People were commenting on this saying, “This has changed my life the spirituality of these people’s experience.” And stuff. And when you’ve had that it’s hard to go back to writing a book in two years and putting it out there at a time where now there are very few outlets that would even review it. And you know you’re going to get a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand sales unless you’re very lucky. And the reality is, especially when you’re me and you’re writing stuff about things that don’t catch people’s attention because they’re about really obscure topics, you need to have a bit of really good luck to be successful. It’s not a function of if you write a really good book it will be successful. I put a lot of effort, for example, into my Mafia and it, for whatever reason, I don’t know, it wasn’t commercially successful. So I just felt a bit like I wasted quite a large amount of time relative to what I could’ve got at spending those same two years writing a bunch of blog posts with the Smithsonian, for example.

Mike:                     I was lucky with the Batavia because at that time the biggest newspaper in the UK, it was a Sunday paper called the Sunday Times, which had a big book review section every week and for reasons that … It was nothing to do with me, they assigned this book to somebody who was very enthusiastic about it and wrote a two page review. So suddenly it was a big hit in the UK, which then encouraged my American publisher to put a lot more weight behind it. And that was just happenstance. If the Sunday Times had not published that one review then the Batavia, the book would’ve come out, but it would’ve been a much smaller book than it turned out to be and I’d probably be feeling even more jaundice about writing books. So I’m a bit … I don’t know how people are going to respond to me saying this. It makes me sound like a total mercenary I suppose, in a sense, but I honestly don’t really any longer see the point of spending a large portion of what’s left of my life writing for a few hundred people.

Mike:                     Maybe that makes me a bad author, but that’s the way I am. And I think it was journalism that did it.

Brendan:              I don’t think so at all. I think it, not to get too heavy or anything, but it highlights a lot of the way that more people read nowadays is that I started a blog about history books mainly because I knew it’s very niche society where you talk about stuff from history and most people just totally glaze over. And for me, my site is … I’ll probably never make money off of it because there will probably never be enough people on it for that, but my thought was if I find 10-15 like-minded people who start sharing, “I love this book. I didn’t love this book. I want to discuss this with somebody who actually cares.” I think what you’re talking about is just highlighting that you want to get the information out there and it’s hard to have a book right now. If you go on Amazon, you look under history, there is the 10 biographies of Churchill, and Napoleon, and things like that, but finding these little obscure things like Batavia’s Graveyard, which I only found because I was looking for shipwreck books, I love shipwrecks, saw this, and I’m like, “Oh yeah, definitely.”

Brendan:              But no one’s ever heard of it that I have talked with. You have to have that connection that’s society that says, “Here’s where we are, here’s what we like to talk about.” And that can sometimes be a pretty small group of people.

Mike:                     And I’m curious on this. Were you at all put off by the idea of the fact that it’s a Dutch shipwreck at that not particularly sexy time period, 1629. Did you hesitate at all before you decided to buy it?

Brendan:              Not at all just because I do love reaching back historically. I think the fact that you’re learning so much more the further back you go just about how things have changed and how things are still the same. And yet you can get strange crazy people into situations and they become mass murderers. It happens. And for me, I looked at it and it was … I don’t care what nationality, I like it a little bit the older the better in my perspective. For me it was there was just and amazing story here. Just actually crashing the ship, planning to crash a ship on the Western Coast of Australia, just how did anyone under ordinary circumstances think that was going to work out very well. And then just the short blurb on it says, “This is an amazing story.” And it definitely turned out to be. And especially the way you set it up where you really get a flavor for the culture that they came from before they hit the rock.

Brendan:              So it felt almost like two books to me, but first is that set up to understand the psychology of these people, and then when all of these crazy things start happening after the wreck you say, “Well, Mike explained to me where they’re coming from so now all of this absolute insanity makes sense and I believe it.”

Mike:                     Okay. You have responded to that book as I hoped readers would and I’m delighted to hear you say that. One of the things I think you very quickly realize whenever you publish a book is that you absolutely can’t satisfy everybody, and for every person who’s responded to any of my books the way you just have there’s another one who goes online and posts a review saying, “Why is the first off so boring? It’s full of …” It’s not full of bloodshed and murder, but it sets up. How could anybody want to read 150 pages about Dutch ship building or whatever. So there are a lot of people out there who just want something that I don’t particularly want to give them in terms of the writing and there are people who do appreciate it. And the way I look at it, as I said, one of the things that I do know is that if I don’t do a good job on this chances are that nobody’s going to do a good job on it because not many other people know the story or care enough to spend time writing about it.

Mike:                     And in the case of the Batavia in particular where 125 people were murdered one by one by a gang of cutthroat mutineers, most of them we don’t even know the names of. I actually thought it was very important to give these people back some of their human dignity by telling their story properly, by humanizing them. There are far too many books, and I don’t really enjoy for this reason actually reading most true crime books, although some of the stuff I’ve done could be labeled I guess true crime. In a sense it’s a true story about a crime, but a lot of books in that field I find are too much obsessed with the murderer and tend to glamorize that person as a result, and the murder victims are there as means to an end, means to make this murderer more interesting, more horrible, more glamorous sometimes. And they get very short shift in far too many books in my opinion.

Mike:                     There was a book actually that came out literally a month or two ago in the UK written by, very tellingly, by a female author about the victims of Jack the Ripper, making more of exactly this point. Of course, I can’t remember the name unfortunately.          

Mike: She starts the        book by saying essentially, “I want to write a book about who these women were because I’m not interested in Jack the Ripper.” Apart from being a deeply unpleasant person he’s probably not nearly as interesting as all these books assume he is. And when you read the corpus of literature on someone like Jack the Ripper one of the things you notice apart from the fact that every author seems to think that it’s their job to come up with a new suspect, which gets very boring after a while, the suspect themselves has to be usually somebody who is in themselves interesting. The most obvious case being fingering the eldest son of the future Edward the seventh. So remember the royal family was Jack the Ripper. That stuff happens all the time and have no idea that Jack the Ripper was probably a deeply uninteresting, boring, inadequate, absolutely almost certainly inadequate person runs very contrary to the whole tenet of this massive publishing industry that has erupted around this one rather unpleasant, seedy, and as I say, probably inadequate and rather boring in person murderer. And I find that pretty distressing actually as a human being.

Brendan:              And the book is actually called The Five. I just handed it to my mother last week and said this is just a complete 180 of what you’re saying most true crime books are. It’s going through and looking in all these women’s lives, which you wouldn’t think in just a very poor time in England that there would even be that much history to write down, and then the way she just completely cuts the narrative as soon as Jack the Ripper enters it. It would probably drive a lot of people nuts if they don’t read what the book’s about, but my mother and I, she’s a huge history reader too, she was a history teacher, she also thought just how fantastic it was because it was the focus on the women who were murdered, but also to put them in context of their time without, for lack of a better term, trying to make it sound too much like Oliver Twist and just keeping to the history and making sure you get that across.

Mike:                     Yeah. And I implore them, I implore anybody who puts that sort of effort into it because I know how hard it is. But ultimately as a historian I’m firmly in the camp for people who believe in writing what’s called history from below, in other words the social history that 95% of the people who very rarely get written about by historians who are obsessed by great men, and it usually is men as well, isn’t it? And the whole crux of the way in which history was researched and written up until the 1950s at least, was almost entirely that sort of history, and thank God I’m young enough to come along at a time when other sorts of history writing was possible because ultimately history is supposed to be the story of us and we’re not mostly Kings, and Generals, and Prime Ministers, and Presidents are we? So it should be about other things than that I think.

Brendan:              And you’ve given me a master class of just looking at being an author from a lot of different perspectives. And one of the questions I have, and it’s cliché and cheesy, but for a young Mike Dash, everything that you’ve learned, what would be that one lesson that you’d go back and tell him? Would it be the, “You’re not going to be able to make everyone happy with what you do.” Or is there other lessons that you wish you could’ve told yourself from day one?

Mike:                     Well I suppose there’s a philosophical take on that and there’s a practical take on that. The philosophical take on that would be to say, “You’re probably going to be happier writing more shorter stories because you will reach more people and ultimately you can do more history.” And I just love history. It’s pretty much all I read and it’s all I write about. And I guess one of the things I’ve learned is I would rather write 20 pieces at a shorter depth. As you very kindly pointed out my idea normally is not the same as writing 600 words because I’ve read one source on it, it does involve a fair bit of work. I personally find that more satisfying because the more history I do the wider I want to do it. And since I stopped publishing books I’ve discovered times and places in history that have completely compelled me.

Mike:                     Right now, my main obsessions are with the Swahili Coast, little merchant city states, although the East Coast of Africa that used to trade up and down the Indian Ocean before the Portuguese got there, and the Maritime Trade with Tang China in the ninth century. So things like that I’d never even really knew existed I’ve become completely obsessed with. And I enjoy finding a new obsession and throwing myself into it. And if I can only do that once every two years then I as a historian am being impoverished in my view. So that’s the philosophical take. And the more practical take, I guess is to say that, “I discovered it was worth waiting for technology to catch up.” I mentioned earlier, this project I’ve been working on for years and years. So this is a story about a … Let’s not … It’s a research project on that. A Victorian urban legend Spring Heeled Jack, he’s a demonic leaping boogey man figure who terrorized early Victorian London.

Mike:                     And it’s very hard to research, and I spent literally six to eight months of my life sitting reading old Victorian newspapers on micro film, which is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do because in that period newspapers didn’t have headlines, they didn’t have illustrations. Micro film’s a terrible way to read in this stuff. And it’s all in six-point print and there no way to do keyword searching it so you’re reading micro film after micro film hoping to find words, scanning pages, hoping to find words. And I spent, as I said, six to eight months reading that stuff and I ended up with 45 thousand words of transcribed original source material when I first published a paper on this back in 1996, and now with digital newspapers and the digitalization programs that are going on, I’ve got well over 350 thousand words in a very much less painful way of extracting information as well. So, in a sense I wasted my time back in 1996, a large amount of my time, when I could’ve done it really easily if I had waited 10 years. But I wasn’t to know that.

Mike:                     That’s what I would tell myself if I could go back, I would save myself that pain.

Brendan: It is      very interesting thing that I saw on your personal website, that you have about 3000 books in your place. Now I only have 600, but big question from me is how much of that is … Do you have a bunch of different genres? Because even though I’m not a snob in any sort of way, mine are only history books. I tell my wife, “Keep the fiction somewhere else.” Everything’s history where I am. Do you have different genres or is it all history?

Mike:                     We are exactly the same. I freely admit that probably my biggest weakness as a human being is I don’t really read literature. And I’m sure that impoverishes me all sorts of ways, I’m scarcely aware of, and almost everybody I know who reads seriously reads a bit more literature than anything else, but essentially there is so much history that I want to learn that I don’t have time for it. So all of my books are history books. My wife is keen on literature and we have a separate set exactly as you’re describing of books on poetry, the works of Dickens, Thomas Hardy, people like that, which don’t mix. And I had a conversation actually once about this with a friend of mine about what happens when you marry somebody? Do you combine your libraries or do you keep them the same, and most people I’ve met actually don’t like combining their libraries no matter how much they love their wife or husband, or partner of any sort, because libraries are so deeply personal. And I’m not saying whether it works, may I keep mine absolutely separate. And I need to extend my house actually, it’s more than 3000 now.

Mike:                     But I haven’t got room to display that many so actually the whole thing is double stacked. I’ve got shelves of books with other shelves of books arranged in front of them until I can build another story on my house.

Brendan:              Well this is very good because now when my wife rolls her eyes at me about how finicky I am about the books I can say there is a very good published author who said that I’m supposed to be this way. So that’s good.

Mike:                     Call me. I’ll drop her a line if you need me to.

Brendan:              I would appreciate it. So what I’d like to do, I’d like to ask one more question. It’s a bit more hard hitting than the other ones. Now when you’re not reading, and researching, and writing, do you watch trashy TV like the rest of us, and if so will you admit to what show’s your favorite?

Mike:                     Yeah. I suppose I should say there is another element to history I spend more time doing than watching trashy TV and that’s I teach history as well now. And I spend a lot more hours of the week day in that than I do … I normally watch maybe one hour of television a day on average. I’m not that surprising. I use it actually as a way of making up to my wife the fact that I spend far too much time sitting alone in a room reading or writing. So we share things. We just finished Stranger Things 3. Before that we just finished Killing Eve 2. So it’s mainstreamy and slightly shocky entertainment actually. What I remember when I first got cable TV I was very excited by the idea that I was going to get access to the History Channel because I might watch some history programs on it, and boy was that disappointing.

Mike:                     So the reality is that the stuff I do is fundamentally absolutely doesn’t make good television so I guess that’s where I part ways with history when it comes to television I just watch the same stuff as everybody else. And being a Brit I’ve actually just enjoyed watching the Cricket World Cup Final, which is one of the most amazing games there’s ever been. Ended in a tie, which is pretty rare in Cricket. And so that was my most recent TV session. But realistically I don’t watch a lot of television. Maybe as I said, five or six hours a week or something like that. Not a huge amount. And I’m glad because frankly I get a lot more out of reading original stuff than I do after watching the same television as everyone else. I’m sure that makes me a snob, it probably does.

Brendan:              No, not at all. It’s actually funny, especially Stranger Things is more paranormal. I want to prepare people in case they read this and they’re like, “Oh I got to look at Mike Dash’s books.” Are you also the Mike Dash who is apparently a paranormal investigator?

Mike:                     I am. Yeah. That sounds weird maybe at first glance, but it isn’t really because two things. Firstly, the stuff that interests me in both these fields is the really obscure oddities of human behavior. I’ve always thought as a historian that it’s the extreme stories that tell us most about what it is to be human, and fundamentally the stuff I do in what’s called the fortune area, which you call strange phenomena, is similar. The one thing I would stress to people out there is that although when I was maybe 10 or 11 I took a lot of this stuff a bit more seriously, now I’m fairly … Because I research this stuff and because I understand as a historian maybe a bit about humans as well, I’m interested in it more from the socio cultural point of view. In other words, why are people interested in, and tell, and claim these amazing things rather than literally believing stuff. And one of the curious things about this actually, and it’s something you can try on people, is that more than even most history this subject comes laden with a gigantic vast quantity of presumption.

Mike:                     So, someone will say to you, “Do you believe in UFO’S?” What they mean by that question is, “Do you believe we are being visited by aliens?” They say, “Do you believe in ghosts?” Well what they mean by that, “Do you believe that the spirit of the dead can survive death, and remain on the Earth, and be seen by us?” People report this stuff. They do see it. They do interact with it. That doesn’t have to mean that there are spirits of the dead or alien spacecrafts out there. Most of this stuff is coming from inside their own heads, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting to me.

Brendan:              And I think it’s probably easier when you’re in London, we’re Americans, we think that the entire island is just ghosts and graves because it sounds like every time you guys tear up a street or something you find out that there’s a King underneath it or something.

Mike:                     Pretty much, yes.

Brendan:              So, it’s very interesting to see how that would be. And then you also were just talking about Cricket. It’s very funny, I was thinking about my first fear for actually this interview was looking up and seeing you’re from Wales, is I met a few people from Wales and sometimes I can’t understand a word that they say.

Mike:                     My parents moved away from Wales before I was born so I have the very unthick Welsh accent that you can hear. I have a Southern English accent in fact, so probably more intelligible. I’m glad to see that point of view.

Brendan:              Yes, I definitely got a good 90% of the words you’ve said this entire time so I think we’re on solid ground here.

Mike:                     Excellent.

Brendan:              But it was very funny you saying the whole Cricket ending in a tie and I just, with my American brain, it just immediately broke it, I’m like, “Ties shouldn’t happen.” We don’t believe in ties over here.

Mike:                     Exactly. That’s one of the things about our two cultures. I guess you’re right. Yes.

Thanks so much to Mike for his time. Hope you enjoyed this, nerds!

Author Interview: Mike Dash (Part 1)

One of the great gifts of being the youngest of three boys is a total lack of shame. It was beaten out of me years ago. This allows me to do things without having that little voice in my head that says, “are you out of your mind?”

What does this have to do with a history blog? Well, one day after launching the blog, I decided to email published authors and see if I could interview them. Yes, the man with a one-day old blog decided to just email people who usually have 3-5 jobs and have much better things to do than spend their time answering inane questions.

I emailed 5. I got 3 responses. Amazingly, 2 of those responses were acceptances! (The third was a very nice rejection by the author’s publicist. She’s writing a new book and even if that’s a lie, the publicist was super nice about it.) Anyway, two interviews are already done! And the first one is Mike Dash!

Who is Mike Dash? This guy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Dash. You know when you have your own Wikipedia page, then you are officially legit. Not only is Mike a published author, blogger, and all around super smart PhD, Mike is also the first author to respond to me!

Mike actually got back to me the next day after I sent emails asking for interviews. For someone who didn’t even think he’d get one response, this was a huge surprise which also made me nervous as all hell. Apparently, my shame is not completely gone yet.

The most important things to know about Mike? It’s not that he wrote one of my favorite books of all time (and another book I had no idea I could possibly like). I reviewed them last week. Besides being an incredible author, it’s that he is a super nice guy, quite hilarious, and probably the easiest interview in the world. Before we even started recording, I asked him to forgive me if I sucked at interviewing. He said the only thing I needed to worry about was not letting him talk to much. He could not have been more wrong. He just let loose and gave amazing insight into being an author, how the process has changed, and how he loves blogging these days.

I think you’ll enjoy the hell out of it! And I can’t thank Mike enough for all he’s done for a complete stranger with a blog. Let’s get to it!

Brendan:             All right Mike, there’s a question that I have wanted to ask you specifically since I first put down Batavia’s Graveyard, which is how is this not a Hollywood movie yet?

Mike:                    Because it has a lot of Dutch people with unpronounceable names in it. I think if it had been an American ship it would’ve been filmed at least five times by now. I’ve often said that actually. It’s a shame because the story’s a very human one, it’s not particularly one of any particular nationality, and I think it indeed does deserve to be filmed. And the reality is that since the book was published in 2002 I sold the film rights at least five times. So it’s not like people haven’t tried to do it. Paul Verhoeven, the guy who filmed Total Recall for example, he was Dutch, had for several years and made the attempt to film it through channel four in the UK. So I think there’s that, it’s the fact that the names and the people are alien to the majority of the film going audience. But also, films that are made on water are just really expensive things to make and that’s also a disincentive. The other thing that’s part of this thing, I taught the screenwriter that Paul Verhoeven brought in, he was struggling because he didn’t think there were enough heroes.

Mike:                     Fundamentally most of the people in the book are villains. There is an obvious hero, Wiebbe Hayes, he’s the guy who escapes to a little island in the Archipelago after the Batavia’s been wrecked. And the screenwriter’s perspective on this was that he’s not heroic enough. In a Hollywood movie he would go and rescue the women and children on the mutiny’s island at risk of his own life, and that would be a great action sequence as well. The fact that they just sit on their own island and let the mutinies come to them and defeat them when they do is not really a Hollywood style of dealing with the fact that you’ve got 20 women who are being raped on a daily basis by a bunch of vicious mutineers. So there’s that as well I think.

Brendan:              And we all know Hollywood, they would just change the history so maybe we actually dodged a bullet that the story can just be the history that you gave us as opposed to what Hollywood does with various historical things and just changes it into something that is not even anywhere close to what the actual history was.

Mike:                     I struggle with all the historical films as a historian for that reason. I do understand similarly as someone who writes stories of sorts the necessity of making the story a good one, but the reality is the reason I chose to write the book about the Batavia is that it is by a very long way the greatest story I’ve ever read. Historically it’s really unusual to find a story that works as well as this in the sense that when you’re a writer of historical nonfiction you come up against publishers who essentially are pushing you to make your book as much like a novel as possible. And that includes having a beginning, and a middle, and an end, a good bit of pacing, and heroes and villains. And the Batavia story does in fact have all those things in more or less the likes of the proportions for an ordinary novel.

Mike:                     You can compare that to the book I wrote about the foundation of the American math here, for example, which is similarly thrilling in many ways, but the main villain gets captured by the Secret Service and locked up in prison for 10 years during which there’s a giant hole in the story. And from a purely pacing point of view, that book never worked nearly as well as Batavia’s Graveyard did for that reason and so I think of all the stories I’ve ever investigated and told, the Batavia story is the one that is least in need of Hollywood intervention.

Brendan:              I absolutely agree. And then you have something like Batavia that’s just perfectly encapsulates the story, but then you also write a book about tulips, which is just … I finished it this week, I read Tulipomania this week, and it’s almost you’re reading it and it’s very interesting, and it’s moving along, and then sometimes you snap back and you realize I’m reading an entire book about tulips and being interested in it. How did this happen? And my biggest question here is how do you even get to the point where you say, “Yeah, I can write about tulips. That can be a book.”?

Mike:                     Good question. The tulip book was by far the hardest to write in terms of the structure of it because I started off hoping I would find one or two people who had been involved in the story from the time that it started after the 1580s, and the tulip mania proper doesn’t really happen until the 1630s, and in fact there’s no such thing. There’s no one who can take the story through all those periods and so I ended effectively saying I’m just going to have to make the flower the hero in a narrative sense. I don’t know how well that worked. It was a slightly different form of book. When I wrote that book, which was in the 1990s, there was a big vogue small books on one small subject, micro history you might call it. Mark Kurlansky’s Cod or Dava Sobel’s Longitude are good examples of books in that area.

Mike:                     And so, in fact, in that particular case, that particular story came to me in the sense that my literary agent was looking for a historian capable of doing a book about the tulips and I said, “Okay, I’ll give it a go.” I slightly regretted it after. The reality was at that time I wasn’t a full-time writer, my profession was a magazine publisher, I ran a division of a medium size magazine publishing company in Britain, and one of the titles that I had in my portfolio was a magazine called Gardens Illustrated. And the main consultants, so this is a fantastic upmarket gardening magazine, we always used to joke it was written for the sort of woman who gets their butler to renew their subscription. And the consultant we had was a woman called Anna Pavord who was quite a well-known gardening writer in the UK. And so having landed the contract and signed it I immediately rushed off to the editor to find out who I could talk to about tulips, and she was aghast because she then told me that Anna has spent her entire life writing a book about the tulip, it was her life’s work, and she’s going to be very upset about this. And in fact she was because she tried to get me sacked. She was very annoyed.

Mike:                     So I posted back saying I shouldn’t be working on this because I couldn’t do this sort of thing to her and she was dying from cancer. Which in fact she hasn’t done, she’s still alive now, but so it was all a bit unpleasant and I ended up having to sign an agreement with my British publisher that I wouldn’t publish the book until after her book had come out in order to quiet things down, which meant it wasn’t very successful in the UK. It came out first in the US and it did very well there so I guess it wasn’t the fault of the book. So it was a really weird situation. I guess I wish I had a better story for you which shades me in a better light as a historian than just I was asked to do it and managed to find my way through attempts not to let me do it. But after that I became a bit more professional. That’s the long and the short of it, I did start writing books full time from the Batavia for a bit.

Brendan:              That’s actually a great story to this whole thing. I was very much afraid that the answer was going to be, “Well I got drunk one night and kept going on Wikipedia, and I just followed the path until I came to tulips, and I said hey, why not.”

Mike:                     Yeah interesting question. The point I think was that it turned out, it was lucky in a horrible sense, that the book actually was written at a time when there was quite a boom in the economy, and by the time I finished it and it was published there was a fairly major financial crash that happened almost immediately afterwards, and suddenly … And this has happened multiple times actually to me since then. 2008 obviously, in the sense that this becomes topical every time there’s a financial bubble happens and people start wanting to know about Tulipomania at that point. So it became more topical in a sense than it was. At the time I think it was just literally somebody casting around for another small book on a very odd subject having heard somewhere about the Tulipomania. The frustrating thing about it, to be honest with you, is I did do quite a large amount of research because it really wasn’t a very well told story at the time I was writing it in 1997. Virtually the only subject that had been published in English had been a tiny book that came out in 1950.

Mike:                     And most of the materials were in Dutch, which I don’t read or talk comfortably, had to get a Dutch research assistant to help me with some translations in fact. And of course what happens after the book comes out, and Anna Pavord’s book come out, is that people started writing reviews saying, “Oh this old story again. Haven’t we already heard it?” Because suddenly Anna’s book had made it fairly fashionable. And this book was about the tulip generally, but the most interesting thing about it the tulip is that tulip mania, so that everybody had reviewed her book ended up writing about her Tulip mania chapter although it’s only one chapter in a much longer book. So yeah, I had these responses saying, “What an old story.” Which is extremely frustrating. There are only so many good stories in fact out there, and in fact I think the Batavia is an example of the only book I’ve ever written where I didn’t discover half way through somebody else was working on the same idea. That seems to happen an awful lot when you’re writing history and there’s only so many interesting historical stories you can tell.

Brendan:              And that was actually a great spot for my next question. Which I’ve seen some interviews that you had done and one of the things you talk about is that you really don’t want to write a story that’s been told over, and over, and over again. So obviously then you’re going to look for the bit more obscure things. For every great idea that you get and you dig into, do you just have a ton of false starts? Like, “I think this story’s here.” And then you find out there’s not enough for it. “I can’t turn it into a book.” Or do you find that you have a pretty good sixth sense about something that has enough for you to write a book out?

Mike:                     Well there’re several things to say. The reason I’m no longer a full time author of books is that I have sacrificed my career effectively on that particular bridge that you described. Me fighting a battle in the sense that if I really wanted to be a professional author that badly I would be writing about Churchill, Napoleon, and Hitler like everybody else. I just literally couldn’t do it. One of the things you mentioned when we started talking was the question of how long it takes to do one of these things. In my case the answer is usually about two years, sometimes as many as three or four years. I just could not imagine wasting that much of my life on something that is essentially a rehash of somebody else’s work. So that’s why. And my natural psychological tendency has always, ever since I was first interested in history when I was in school, has always been to go for the most obscure least known bits.

Mike:                    So I have a massive pile of stories I find completely fascinating and a couple of them I usually end up writing them up for my blog or for the Smithsonian magazine I contribute to. Whereas you say, you realize that there’s just not enough in the story to make a whole book out of it. That’s true 95% of all the stories I’m interested, and there’s only a relatively small number which can be made into good stories. So the answer to your question I guess is that these things don’t go to waste because I do research them, I do write them up, and they’re just in a shorter form. They’re essays rather than whole books. And that has advantages in the sense that you can get in and out a bit more quickly and interest yourself in something massively for a few months rather than having to drag through it for several years.

Mike:                     And it’s an interesting problem I think a lot of authors struggle with, that having committed so much time to something and time distorting the way in which you first approached it, people who spend five or 10 years on the biography of somebody either end up loving their subject or loathing them. But as long as you’re very much neutral ground in between, and the same thing does tend to happen with histories. I think that ultimately in the case of the sorts of books that I have done the most thing I’ve struggled with most has not been the history or the research, but to do with satisfying publishers with regard to stories. And my impression is that has got a lot worse since I started doing it. Batavia’s Graveyard, which has been easily my most successful book in terms of critical response in terms of sales, would never be published today. It’s no question about that. You could not persuade a publisher today to publish a book about a bunch of Dutch people that no one’s ever heard of which is 1/3 footnotes.

Mike:                     I had the luxury of no one expecting to do very well at a time when publishing was still doing quite well. Now publishing isn’t doing as well and there’s a lot more pressure on authors to come up with the goods and definitely to the number of non-mainstream books that have been promoted heavily has fallen dramatically. So I think that publishing is not in such a receptive state for the things I do as it was when I was doing them 15 or 20 years ago either, sadly.

Brendan:              That’s really interesting. And it’s also very interesting hearing how long it takes even to do a blog post, which yours are, especially anybody reading this will think, “Oh, a blog post.” The ones that I’m throwing out there are 500-600 words. But yours are in depth. I really enjoyed the show Vikings and I saw that you did an article on the blood eagle and whether or not it’s historically accurate and things like that. And it’s very funny just watching, for the lack of a better term, trashy TV, and then seeing the history next to it and saying, “Dear God, that must have taken a really long time just to research all of that just to be able to write a blog post for it.”

Mike:                     Yeah. It varies. I went through a period where I was writing for the sake of the Smithsonian essentially, and the stuff on my blog for that period was restricted. They wouldn’t take anything from me that was more than 4000 words, and they were fairly reluctant to take 4000 words. And I had to do one in a fortnight so in fact I was researching really quickly. One of the great advantages of studying history at university in the way I did is it does teach you to get to grips with a subject really quickly. So, I guess I can do that. But my natural tendency is to write long, and I do often wonder if I’m just writing for myself in fact because when I’m not publishing in the Smithsonian. I’m writing blog posts that can be anything up to 15 thousand words long. And I kindly appreciate that probably not many people are getting through 15 thousand words on that obscure topic that they’re not sure they’re very interested in.

Mike:                     But I do think, my basic position on this is maybe because I am such an obsessive for really unusual stories ultimately nobody else is going to come along and write about this stuff so I better do a pretty good job of it. And I also like diving into things that have never been properly researched and actually coming to grips with a subject and trying to make sense of it. And in fact, now that my daughter’s finally graduated the university literally a couple of weeks ago after a two year hiatus I’m getting back to writing. And I have a pile of literally somewhere between 35 and 40 blog posts I have fully researched and haven’t got around to writing yet. So there will be a flood of material appearing all of which will be at least as obscure as anything you’ve read from me before, and probably twice as long.

Brendan:              Fantastic. I’m looking forward to it. And that’s interesting too, one of the things is I’ve been just getting ready for this interview and some others that I’m lining up, is when I see the process that authors are writing about it seems like you absolutely have to be in love with researching topics. What’s the proportion to the research time versus the actual writing time? It almost sounds like the writing is the easy part, it’s the getting all of your thoughts together first and having all of that historical back bone, so to speak, is the really hard part. And then all you have to do is just put it on the page.

Mike:                     Yeah. That’s a really interesting question. The answer is in the case of most of my books it’s been pretty much a 50/50 split. If i spend two years writing a book I would spend a year researching it and a year writing it. That’s a slightly misleading answer though. I’m sorry if I sound arrogant on this one. I’m a really good researcher, I’m a better researcher than most historians, and I’m a better researcher than I am a writer in my opinion. So although I say I can do the research in a year, that because I’m good at research. Most people would take longer than that. And some people would probably be able to write books more quickly than I do as well. I just enjoy the research a lot more than I enjoy the writing side. So it has been a largely 50/50 split. But it slightly depends. Some of the books I did, the tulip book is a good example, that ultimately is not a huge amount of prime research material available even if you wanted to use it.

Mike:                     Whereas with others the worst example is the book I wrote on the thugs, the strangling gangs of India, where I discovered there was something like 60 thousand pages, 60 thousand manuscript pages, in the Oriental archives office in the British library and that took me much longer than I had hoped to get through. The result was I nearly ended up having the book canceled because it ran so far past the actual dead line that had been assigned to it in my contract. So research can take over your life if you let it. And I often do that. Actually the worst case is a book I’m hoping to finish next year, which I started work on in 1983 and I’ve been researching ever since. And that will in fact be my life’s work and it has been something I wanted to research properly therefore. But even I wonder sometimes why I bother because I know that nobody else in fact cares that much about the massive work of it, actually done work.

Brendan:              I’ll read it Mike; I promise.

Mike:                     Okay. I’m not sure about that. We’ll see.

(Part II on Thursday)

Random Musing: On Dating

What’s this musing about: Dating used to be a lot less complicated.

I got separated recently (sad trombone music). It is a traumatic experience for a lot of reasons. The one I’m currently tackling which is a bit overwhelming is…. dating again.

What does this have to do with history? This is a history blog isn’t it? I will tell you how this ties in, dear reader! I want to go back in history and try dating because it is freaking ridiculous right now.

There are a million applications (“apps” for you youngins). They range from apps which are very broad like Tinder to apps which are very specific like Farmers Only, J Date, Christian Mingle, and one that caters to people who like books. Did I look into that one? You bet I did. It was weird and I refuse to discuss it any further.

Which brings me to my (history) point. Can we pleas rewind time? In my 20s, you had Match and eHarmony. That’s it! Not only that, the English language was not turned into a bunch of acronyms. I consider myself an intelligent person (stop laughing) and I have no idea what anyone is saying.

In fact, let’s just rewind a few hundred years. All I’d have to do is live into my early teens and someone else would tell me who to marry. We’d have 47 kids and get on with our lives. Which were usually pretty short and brutal.

Yeah, let’s only rewind to the 2000s. I think that’s the sweet spot.

My Personal History: The War At Home – Requiem

When I originally wrote, “The War at Home,” I was in a strange place. It began as a way of putting my thoughts on paper. I had many conversations where these three themes kept coming up. As anyone who sits in a therapist’s office will tell you, writing down your thoughts always comes up as a way of identifying and then working through those feelings. I didn’t have a therapist then but it turns out I really probably needed one. 

Once I wrote the original entry, I was given a lot of positive feedback. The final version I posted to this site was a third or fourth crack at it. What started as me writing down my thoughts then became an article ready to be printed in a publication if necessary. Rereading it today, I find I hate the preamble. It is trite, overly dramatic, and sounds like someone else’s voice. I wish I never wrote it. The rest of the piece is truly mine and truly eye opening looking back. 

The Time Machine Effect 

Time was the cure to most of the time machine effect it turns out. I love irony. The more I integrated back into life at home the more I started filling in the gaps of time and began to understand what 2005 was like for the people around me. There are not many songs or movies worth catching up on that I haven’t. Most importantly, seeing my Godson grow up to be an amazing young man made me forget I wasn’t there to see him when he first came home. We’ve had enough time to build our own traditions (drive-in movie night every summer vacation) that the other things seem inconsequential.  

But time can’t fix everything. I find missing Kay’s last days are still an open wound in me. I remember her so fondly and even talking about her now is still hard. This may be one thing which there is no cure. Losing a friend always leaves a hole. I have a lighthouse in my home which she made for me years ago. It always helps to have a reminder of her and I love talking about it. I feel like it keeps her memory going. 

The Pariah Conversation 

Well, this didn’t get any better! Ultimately, many of the aspects of the pariah conversation have not changed but how I view them has. My family still doesn’t ask and over the years I became more and more comfortable with it. In fact, I started to look at it fondly. My family doesn’t need to know what I did over there. I was a soldier who did his job. They don’t need to know more than that because it won’t ever change how they see me. I didn’t realize it then, but their silence is a solace. I never have to explain a thing. 

My friends have mostly kept to the same tact. Recently, during a whole different major life change, my friend Mike actually started asking questions. I asked him why he never brought any of this up before. His response fell along the same line of a lot of people when it finally comes up. Some people feel like they don’t have a right to ask. My experiences seem like something only I can let out. Some people are worried they may ask something to set me off. Which leads me to… 

The Letdown of the Middle 

This was a cry for help and I didn’t know it. This entire part of the piece is basically me screaming at the top of my lungs, “I have PTSD!” Luckily, I figured it out. This year. 2019. I never said I was punctual. (Want to know more? Go here where I wrote an article for a friend’s healthcare website about PTSD. Stay and read more because Claire’s stuff is amazing.) Rereading my words all those years ago make me feel like a complete fool for not realizing a lot of things. In fairness to myself, PTSD is still something mental health professionals are figuring out. However, when giving my personal history to a psychiatrist he did tell me I had very bad PTSD at this time in my life. Now, it’s better and I am dealing with it. But back then, hoo boy. 

A lot of big red markers are here. Self-medication? Check. Avoiding social situations? Check. Ruining relationships? Check. Depression? Do I need to continue? These years later it’s easy to spot someone like me who just cannot deal with all of the trauma themselves. And there are a lot of us. I wasn’t letdown in the middle. I was just plain lost.  

And thank God I am getting better. Having a mental health professional confirm a diagnosis of PTSD was a relief in a way. Those times where I don’t react the way a normal person would makes sense. Now when I get that tense feeling or end up way more agitated than appropriate, I know how to handle it. I don’t beat myself up. I face what is happening, own up to it, and plan for the next time. It makes the “Moving Forward,” section all the more poignant. I was in pain but not ready to admit it. 

I still have a very long road ahead. I described myself as “broken” for a while after my diagnosis. Someone has the temerity to correct me. I’m seeing she was right. I may be a bit beat up, earned a few scars, and have some healing to do but I’m not broken.  

Gigantic history nerd? Oh, you bet your ass that’s still true. 

My Personal History: The War at Home

I’m a combat veteran and one of the things I did when I got home was try to put the feelings of coming home to paper. It was strange rereading it and seeing how much has changed and how much hasn’t since 2008 when I wrote it. I reprinted the article below and will give updates in a subsequent post. Enjoy!

The War at Home

                The American appreciation of our wartime military is at an all-time high. Seldom can a military member go any length of time without a grateful citizen extending a heartfelt, “Thank you for what you do.” Often times, I find myself wondering whether that person thanks me for my wartime service or for my service as a whole. The question plagues me because I find that most people do not realize that sometimes the most difficult part of military service is not war, but the time after the violence ends.

                Combat provides enormous challenges. Any combat patrol can be your last and each citizen can be your best friend or worst enemy in a warzone. The mitigating factor is that all service members train for these situations. Drill after drill, intelligence report after intelligence report, the information is pounded into your consciousness. When the time comes for action your training surfaces and often times thinking through the situation is not an option until after the bullets stop flying. You learn your lessons and prepare yourself for the next fight.

                I thought on the flight home that the hard part was over. No bombs exploding under me on the way to the mall and no need to check rooftops for snipers. What I found when I came home was that the life I prayed for each night in the Iraqi desert was not the life to which I came home. I lost a whole year, could not find happiness in the simple things, and found that I never dealt with the losses of the past year. Operation Iraqi Freedom was over for me, but the war at home just began.

The Time Machine Effect

                When I left the United States in late March of 2005, there was still a winter chill in the air. I look back and realize I never did take it all in before I started my odyssey to the Middle East. My focus was clear. It was time to put my mind on survival, not which bar I would be frequenting that weekend. Tunnel vision took over and I got on the plane without thinking about what life would be like when I returned home. A few months later, I came home on my two-week furlough that is mandatory for all military members serving extended tours. I did not learn my lesson yet to take in all that changed since I left. Instead, I told everyone to meet me at the bar, and drinks were on them.

                When my tour was over and I flew back home, I anticipated much of the same as the two weeks I spent at home six months earlier. Let the drinking begin, all consequences be damned. After all, I just survived war and came back that much stronger. That is what I thought anyway. I stepped off the plane into a cold Georgia morning. I left in the cold air and returned in the cold air.

                Then the “Time Machine Effect” became apparent. Life did not stop when I left, but to me it did. I came home to friends and family that were a year older and, in many circumstances, found themselves weathered by their own trials and tribulations. More often than I care to remember, I would find a loved one say to me, “Brendan, you had bigger worries than us. There is no way we were going to let you be distracted by our problems.”

                The selfless action of keeping a loved one in the dark to let them do their job is a noble one. I could not fault anyone for caring about my mind’s well-being. Unfortunately, love can soothe and hurt at the same time. My mind was clear in Iraq, but now I was an alien in my own home. I had no knowledge of the pain those close to me felt for over 10 months. I began to look at my plane to Iraq as a time machine that robbed the year 2005 from me.

                Piecing together the year I missed is a challenge that still exists three years later. It is as simple as hearing a song on the radio and assuming it is new and finding out it was very popular….three years ago. Very often my friends will do their best to hide their confusion when I make such pronouncements. How do you explain to someone that an entire year does not exist in my head?

                The hardest part of losing a whole year was missing the things that did matter. Among a moment I can never have back is the birth of my Godson just two weeks before returning home. GIs often miss the birth of their own children, so my lament seems a bit silly in comparison.  I still wish I could at least say I was close enough to understand the event. Instead, I spent his birthday lying in a dirty tent and waiting for my plane to arrive.

Missing the good occasions did not hurt nearly as much as missing the bad ones. My friend Kay, decades my senior, died of lung cancer about 9 months into my deployment. Kay and her family owned a beach house my family and I frequented every summer for the formative years of my life. She was a gentle soul I lovingly referred to as my, “summer mom” when I sent an email home after her passing. While I can only hope the email provided some sort of menial comfort to her family, I know it did me no damn good. It was just another place I needed to be and was not.

The Pariah Conversation

                The compliment to the time machine effect is the way in which wartime memories remain largely untold. It is 2009 and I have yet to have a member of my family ask anything about my deployment other than to describe how hot it is one more time. Their reluctance to ask is understandable.  Everyone’s reluctance is understandable. The issue is that I often find people who tell me they did not want to burden me by reliving what I went through. The irony is that there is nothing I am ashamed of or afraid to engage in a discussion about. The uncomfortable feeling is always attributed to the questioner who is often left wondering if they can handle what may come out of my mouth.

Mom cannot even hear me discuss it with others without tearing up and asking me to stop.  She does not want to have to imagine her youngest in danger, or ever worse, accepting that I am have killed another human being. Like any parent, she knows the answer to that question, but she can keep lying to herself if she never hears it come from my mouth. I heard all the reports about her actions while I was deployed. She stopped watching the news and tried to keep herself in the tightest possible bubble. It leaves me to wonder if I could send my child to war one day if the situation calls for it. My hope is that I will never know.

                My two older brothers perform the same dance with me. They keep it light if they ask anything at all. They will ask about the food, the heat, what the people were like but they are sure to never dive anywhere too deep. They cling to the age-old adage, “If he needs to talk about it, he will.” The added issue is that my two big brothers clearly did not know how to approach me anymore with their advice. The longer I have been home the easier it became, but my first year I found that their two cents came much less frequently. It was as if I suddenly was infused with life experiences they would never know and felt that they no longer had the right to dispense their brotherly advice. Luckily, old habits die hard and in 2009 I find they are comfortable again with telling me that black is white.

                My friends use a powerful social lubricant to talk to me about Iraq: booze. Most conversations take place after a few drinks and a shot or two. The people who still venture far enough to ask about Iraq are still a minority, but once the ice breaks the conversations become more frequent but with a sense of sensitivity every time it gets too real. It always goes the same way, start telling the story, add in a few jokes to keep it just light enough, and then when the gore, death, and near misses appear the inquisitor always goes silent. Not many questions follow after that and I always sense that someone thought they could listen to anything but found out they passed their comfort zone.

                The hard part about the situation is not how everyone acts when the pariah conversation comes to the forefront. All veterans know that most things we deal with should stay away from the public view. We signed our names on the dotted line and accepted that fact that we needed to be the ones to shoulder these issues. The hard part is that the one person I want to have the longest conversation with is my father. A Vietnam veteran, and a victim of a fatal cancer in 1996, I will never know if he would divulge anything to me now that I can count myself among his short list of peers on the subject. Vietnam and Iraq are very different wars, but the one person I would like to test that theory with is the one I cannot. That fact stings more than anything else.

The Letdown of the Middle

                Life after war is something you cannot prepare yourself for mentally. I remember how vividly I imagined how home would look, feel, smell, and sound. I knew I would get a major rush every time I saw an old friend for the first time and had a drink at my favorite watering holes. The rush never happened. I did everything I wanted and saw everyone I wanted and the rush never came. I really wondered whether there was something wrong with me. Why was life at home not as great as I thought?

                The binge did not help either. I took part in a tradition that most people take part in after returning from Iraq. I drank for almost 30 days straight. My 30 days of leave consisted of waking up and deciding just where I would end up that night and what drink would take me where I want to go. I do not have a drinking problem and do not feel that I ever did. However, the argument could be made that for 30 days I was an alcoholic. The mindset is simple enough. I could not drink for months. It was now time to make up for it. People are also extremely generous with free drinks for recent combat soldiers. Why stop? I did earn the time to let loose. My friends say the same thing and before you know it you are drunk again and it is time to stumble home.

                Relationships as a whole became quite a challenge for me around this time. Dealing with strangers was easy enough. They thank me for my service, and I would do my best to come up with witty responses. “No problem, you are paying me for it,” was my personal favorite. The admiration of strangers is easy to accept because their connection with you ends when they walk away. The complications came with people closer to me. The part of the hero is tough to play. I never felt of myself as a hero and still do not. I was paid to do a job and did it. It is not that the compliments and gratitude were not heartfelt and appropriate. The problem is that I did not feel different, but everyone in my life saw a new me. A friend told me once they heard my brother say that he felt there is not much he can say to me anymore about life because I saw war. There is not much else to tell me now.

Complicating my mental state was the major surgery I had within 60 days of my return. Nothing helps improve personal psychology than a couple of heavy-duty painkillers. I found that I did not need the rush when I could take away my pain with two little white pills. The fact that I was in real physical pain helped ease my mind about taking a good dosage whenever I needed.

Months later, I looked in the mirror and realized that I gained significant weight, ruined a few very important relationships in my life, and did not like myself. My stubborn nature took over and soon I was working out again, taking Tylenol only when I needed it, and trying to save the relationships that I did not completely shatter. Unfortunately, some connections were too damaged to fix. I look back now and cannot help but regret losing one of my best friends because I could not accept that I was disappointed in myself, not her.

                It was not until months after I pulled myself out of my funk that I looked back and saw what happened. I realized I came back from Iraq with unrealistic expectations. My deployment consisted of daily rushes of adrenaline over months and months of combat operations. When I came home I expected my body to react to home like I reacted to a roadside bomb going off or a bullet shooting by my tank. I did get the rush, but my body could not register such a comparatively smaller feeling of comfort. I felt stuck in the middle but I was really just back to normal life.

Moving Forward

                This article is not about sympathy or blame or even lamenting at the changes a soldier goes through in readjusting to normal life. I never use the word pain when talking about these subjects because it is not pain. These are a series of challenges that someone returning from war needs to face. The point is that my story may bridge the gap for someone else in the same situation, whether it is a soldier returning home or the people waiting for their safe return. I do not speak for all veterans, but it is my belief that my story is not unique. A postwar life is not a shattered life. It just takes some getting used to.

Random Musing: Serial Killers

What’s this musing about: The cult of the serial killer.

When I interviewed one of my favorite authors, Mike Dash, he said something really profound. He mentioned he does not like true crime books and shows because they often obsess about the killer at the expense of the victims. The victims usually end up being a simple picture and name along with their date of death. Often, you get almost no biography at all.

It was an uncomfortable moment for me because I am definitely one of those people who loves Investigation Discovery (i.e. the Murder Channel) and can watch any one of its shows of varying quality. I also like true crime books which walk you through an entire crime spree. Guilty.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I remembered how conflicted I was already getting with the genre. As a former Army officer, my relationship with death is a bit strange. It’s unfortunately part of the job to deal with the specter and reality of death entirely too often. Once baby history nerd came along, though, it was much harder to watch a family deal with death.

Now I gravitate towards media which puts the focus on the victims or the people hunting them down. For a book, Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five is pretty amazing. It chronicles the lives of the victims of Jack the Ripper. Whenever their story gets to their murder, Rubenhold ends the chapter. It’s very effective, but I am also sure a lot of people would find it strange to cut (pun intended!) out Jack the Ripper.

I also enjoy the show Mindhunter and the book it is based on. Each of them focuses on the people trying to catch the killers and the families who want justice. When a killer gets air time and becomes too personable and charismatic, the show intentionally injects something to remind you this is a horrible person.

I guess it’s time to drop Investigation Discovery from the TV rotation.

Random Musing: On Drinking

What’s this musing about: Humans have been getting drunk for a really long time.

I’m writing this on a Sunday after a lot of football and maybe more than one Sam Adams Octoberfests (buzzed writing is pretty sweet). As is my wont, I began thinking about a history nugget I had read recently. It mentioned how during colonial times in America most people drank alcohol exclusively. You see, water was considered unsafe because straight water often contained a lot of bad things which they didn’t understand. Think about how many people died of diphtheria in Oregon Trail!

Think about it. Good old George Washington giving a world changing speech before an epic battle. He probably had rum on his breath. And yes, it was probably rum. The irony of course was that drinking constantly was condoned but don’t you dare get drunk! Then they would judge you. See, Americans have been sanctimonious for years.

But of course, drinking didn’t start with America (but we rock at it, HIGH FIVE). The first wine was probably made about 9,000 years ago in China. Alexander the Great was a huge drunk. Jesus was obviously a fan and knew weddings needed wine to be fun. The list goes on and on.

In conclusion, drink responsibly and know that you are carrying on a long standing human tradition. And for goodness sake get a damn Uber if you end up drunk.

Don’t believe what I am telling you? First off, that’s rude. Why would I lie? Second, why come to the site if you think I’m a liar. Finally, here’s where I get my facts from since you lack trust.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/02/alcohol-discovery-addiction-booze-human-culture/#close

https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/alcohol-history-drinking

Rant: People Who Need to Read a Damn Book

What’s this about: Here are the following groups of people who drive me nuts and need to go read a damn book about the subject they claim to understand:

  1. People who compare things to how Nazi Germany started. This is never an apt comparison.
  2. Conversely, racists. You suck.
  3. People who say the electoral college is an outdated model and we live in a democracy. No, it is not and no, we do not.
  4. People who proclaim something, “is the worst we have ever seen.” This is very rarely correct. This is why most newscasters have to add a litany of qualifications before using this phrase. Example: This is the worst thunderstorm we have seen on a Thursday with a high of 75 degrees in Akron, Ohio since the year 2015.
  5. Anti-vaxxers. To be clear, read a book that is scientifically accurate and not made up. Polio was not cool. Ask FDR.
  6. People who say this is the worst our American politics have ever been. We fought a Civil War!

End rant. Although, I reserve the right to add to this list.

Wolves at the Door

And now for something completely different. Yes, I wrote a poem. Skip this article if that bothers you. I was inspired by Stalingrad written by Antony Beevor. Towards the end, you start to feel the helplessness of the German soldiers as they know the inevitable red crush is coming. I turned that feeling into an acrostic poem (Stalingrad is spelled out with the first letter of each line). I hope you enjoy it.

Wolves at the Door

Sons of the Eagle down to their last morsel

Terrified and exhausted from the fight

Alive in nothing but frozen soul and spirit

Lying within their cold encrusted tombs

Iced to the ground, like trees long dead

No longer understanding why they came

Gone from their families, lost and alone

Round and round the circle has closed

And it all comes down to this, a final push

Die in the snow soldier, and know not why