Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Danger of Holding onto the Past

I'm tired of listening to people who are mired in the past--as if everything about bygone times was idyllic and halcyon.  Nothing remains the same, and life is made for moving onward.  Years ago, scores of Americans who deemed themselves upwardly mobile abandoned their roots to live in cheap suburban tract houses.  They consequently condemned their children to fantasy lives of privacy fences and manufactured domesticity.  Many of them were quick to condemn those who wanted anything other than what they deemed a conventional, domestic life.  They lived their lives as they wanted, and that was fine for them if they wanted such a life.  However, no one should by judged or condemned for rejecting the white picket fence or suburban living.

We all should have lives that work for us, and sometimes that means abandoning the socially conservative ideas of the past.  Not all of us are comfortable living the lives of others or adopting their often judgmental values. Don't misunderstand.  I enjoy nostalgia. It often reminds me of the good times in my childhood.  I love old pictures as well, and I belong to Facebook groups like "Ain't Dere No More," but I'm not--and should not be--bound to some outmoded concept of what others think is "the good life." To one generation, that may have been a white picket fence in the burbs.  For another, that might mean living a Bohemian life Uptown, in the French Quarter, or in an artist's flat in Paris or New York.  No narrow-minded individual should have the right to judge other adults for their lifestyle choices or think that they even have the right to an opinion.  Of course, some misguided and narrow people think they have such a right.

I am first and foremost the bootlegger's daughter.  I do what I must to survive.  My father forged his own destiny, and I recently finished a manuscript based--somewhat loosely--on his life.  As a kid, my father delivered ice for the still existent Pelican Ice Company.  When the Depression claimed the life of his first wife, he bootlegged so that the family could survive.  The Depression killed his wife, so he wouldn't play by any governmental rules.  He later booked and trained racehorses.  In that way, he is very much like Jude Mooney, my protagonist.  My father didn't regret the past, but he didn't idealize it, either.  When people said to him, "I remember when an apple was a nickel," my dad would clip back, "Who the hell had the nickel?"  Both of my parents forged their own destinies.  My mother, my father's fourth wife, married him even though the neighbors told her he was a "racketeer."  My mother didn't care.  She knew what she wanted.  I'm not saying her life was always easy, but she told me she didn't regret anything.  She'd really liked "the old bugger."  Daddy was seventeen years older than she.  Like my parents, I respect the past, but I don't make a shrine to it.  Some people think doing so is the only way to honor the dead and feel that moving on is almost sinful.

As a writer, I've forged my own way as well.  My female characters often defy the conventional roles and stereotypes.  Nuala in LOVE AT WAR and Grainne in PIRATE WOMAN throw aside the roles ascribed to them by society,  Nuala becomes a covert operative during WWII to gain vengeance on those who killed her husband.  Grainne defies the traditional role of an Irish chieftain's daughter, running her husband's sea interests.  Of all my heroines, Harley in THE DOCTOR AND THE WAR WIDOW was in some ways the most tragic to write.  She is mired in grief for a past that is dead.  Only when she lets go of that past can she breathe again.

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