I came across a very interesting blog today, posted by Blair Jenkins of the Yes Scotland campaign for Scottish Independence.
I want to quote a few lines here, but then I will direct you over to the site for the remainder of his thought-provoking post.
Earlier this week, I caught up over a beer with a friend and former colleague from BBC and STV days, Ron Abercrombie. Ron is an enthusiastic Yes supporter who raised the interesting question of what the anti-independence campaign would look like if Scotland had remained independent and the vote in 2014 was on whether we should now join the union.
Please read the rest of this article by Blair Jenkins here. (The remainder of this post is my own commentary. I am unaffiliated with the Yes Scotland campaign or Mr. Jenkins himself. My words and my views are my own. The above quote was written by Blair Jenkins on the Yes Scotland blog.)
So much of the focus of this debate has been directed at Scotland to prove why she should have autonomy. To prove that she could handle independence, and that her people are capable of governing and supporting themselves.
I personally find the subtext of that focus to be more than a little insulting.
It insinuates that Scotland’s people cannot be capable enough to run their own country, and that they ought to leave the governing of vital issues to Mumsy in London. Scotland is not a child, and her people are far from incompetent.
Jenkins brings up a very good point — what independent, sovereign nation would vote to:
have their government hundreds of miles away
have their people represented only as a tiny minority
allow a massive nuclear arsenal to be located a stone’s throw from their largest metropolis (when the majority of voters oppose nuclear weapons)
relinquish all control over immigration
hand over their citizens to fight in illegal wars the voters oppose
provide huge amounts of energy, oil, and natural gas from which they will see little profit or gain and render said profit and gain to another country
remand control of healthcare and education to a nation seeking privatisation
live under a government 85% of voters are diametrically opposed to
It sounds absurd.
It sounds like America in 2000 getting stuck with George W. Bush when the bumbling Electoral College plunked him in the Oval Office — if he’d lost by a margin of 85%-15% instead of the slimmer margin of popular votes he received.
It sounds like a joke.
It’s not a joke.
Most Scots oppose nuclear warfare and weaponry. Most Scots are much farther left on the political spectrum than their English counterparts. Scotland’s people deserve a government that reflects their values, their hopes for the future, and the dignity of their unique history. They deserve to be an equal partner on the world’s stage instead of having their interests brushed off as a fringe minority.
If there is a clearer example of why any nation on earth should be independent, point me toward it. The Kurds and the Palestinians are stuck in a much more violent version of this tale.
Scotland deserves the right to chart her own course.
As a voter, would you choose to live under a government so drastically differing from your own views and so oblivious and dismissive of your needs? Would you vote to have projects you find abhorrent sheltered on your doorstep? Would you vote your countrypeople into a war you find immoral and illegal? Would you sacrifice the social values you hold for someone else’s prerogative? Would you allow politicians to cut off programs that entice bright, educated people to migrate to your land when your cities are undergoing a brain drain?
If you answered yes to any of those questions at all, I would sincerely like to know why.
From immigration to nuclear development, energy to education, Scotland differs from its southern neighbour in many distinct ways. If Scotland were still an independent nation today and the question raised was whether she ought to join England, Wales, and Northern Ireland — would her people find that the best route? Or would they give a respectful shake of the head and raise the saltire to fly with pride?
We had a midnight tiebreaker last night, but just as I was about to conk out on my keyboard, some thoughtful soul voted and let me go to bed. Congratulations to the winner of the not-so-quick draw, J.B. Lacaden for “Hanging.” Also congrats to the lovely Lyra Selene, who will take on J.B. in the next round of matches!
Here are today’s matches for you to vote on!
Matt Sloan, “Final Thoughts” versus J. Whitworth Hazzard, “A Dark Path”
The first time I remember actively hunting around to find information about my ancestry, I was in sixth grade, and a school project demanded it.
When I asked my mom’s side of the family, the response was Scottish, German, and English. When I asked my dad’s, it was Scottish and Welsh.
I’ve spent the last month or so paging through the painstakingly researched information that two great aunts (one on either side of my family) sent me long ago. I got a two week free trial to Ancestry.com a couple months ago and forgot to cancel before it charged me, so now I have a year to use their resources to further that information. In some cases I have more than Ancestry does — for instance, that one of my ancestors, farmer called Oliver Mears, named his son George Washington Mears. This son was born just after the Revolutionary War. An act of pure pride? One of my ancestors fought with Washington at Valley Forge — could it have been Oliver Mears, inspiring him to beget our nation’s first president a namesake?
I spent a long while last night researching my mother’s side of the family, tracing back the Mears name as far as my great aunt Dottie had gone and then some. There have been some funny little discoveries, some almost creepy, others mystifying. Aunt Dottie traced the Mears line back to Caledonia County, Vermont in the early to mid eighteenth century, to the same Oliver Mears. She scribbled notes on the page indicating that the land had been deeded to him possibly by a Boston Mears.
My research on Ancestry.com confirmed that — imagine my surprise when I stumbled across not one or two, but ten family trees that share that common ancestor, and the name Robert Mears which repeated every other generation for about a hundred years. Several generations of my family lived in Boston as far back as the early 1600s, which is astonishing to me. Could they have taken part in the infamous tea party? Who were these people, and when did they arrive?
I nearly moved to Boston five years ago with a friend. I’ve always wanted to go there, and though I’ve never been, I’ve always been a Red Sox and a Patriots fan — finding out my family lived there for over a hundred years made prickles raise on my arms.
My family has always been quite adamant that we were Scottish. On both sides. The Mears name was supposedly the Scottish branch of our lineage, but the Mearses that extended backward from Boston came from London. Of course, it’s possible the family originally came from Scotland, but I don’t know how much farther back I’ll be able to follow them without an extended sojourn in the UK. Scotland in the 1500s and 1600s was very different from London.
Through this research, I wonder. The oral traditions of a family are strong. My German ancestors came over a mere two hundred years ago, but my purported Scottish and English ancestors arrived long, long before.
Some of them seem to have been among the very first settlers of America — Boston in the early 17th century wasn’t exactly a blazing metropolis. If the family has maintained their insistence on their Scottishness for that many centuries, they must have come from Scotland at some point — and that kind of dogged ethnic stubbornness hints that perhaps leaving wasn’t their idea. Any number of reasons could have pushed them from home. Famine, sickness, economics, even the Highland Clearances (though timing-wise, the latter is unlikely).
Even in this dark picture, if you look at the center-left, you can see her name.
Even more eerie is the ghosts of the women who cling to the branches of my family tree. One name stands out among the lines of Mears, Layton, Hurst, Bennett, Spanagel, and Schweinfurth, Unterwagner. Her name was Inez Viroqua Bennett, and all her siblings were called George, Ann, James, Robert, Thomas, and Frank. It’s likely that no one ever will know how a distinctly Spanish name wound up in a sea of Celts, Anglo-Saxons, and Germans. Her name draws my eye over and over when I look at the lists of my ancestors. There’s a direct line between us, and yet I know nothing about her or what caused Robert Bennett and Eleanor Milner to name their daughter so differently than the rest of their children.
When I search through the records in Ancestry’s databases, it’s harder to find women. It is a reminder that they were not as valued. Their names would not show up on deeds for land, and often not in wills. They are even less likely to appear on death records — the only death records I’ve found for my family’s women have been from the last hundred years. So Inez Viroqua Bennett will remain a mystery to me, her name a reminder of stories lost to time.
I’m not done searching yet, on either side of the family. The Taylors on my dad’s side who settled in the Scottish-populated mountains of North Carolina are a mystery as well — people who share my common ancestor Moses Taylor have said they were English, but a many times removed cousin I met several years ago at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games — a Taylor from the same region who is also descended from Pvt. Moses Taylor — has been raised knowing he was Scottish.
John Swilly Camp and his favorite horse — thankful to my Great Aunt Doris for this one.
It’s tough to track people into the past, to follow the footsteps of bloodlines and names and hope to strike family among thousands of faces. In many cases, you can never know for sure when you get back far enough that Social Security numbers were nonexistent and almost all countries had kings in lieu of prime ministers and president, parliaments and congresses.
And yet the drive to find them is still strong. On my father’s side, it’s the Powells I want to find the most. We know they came from Wales, but that’s all. They are, like the ghostly Scots, but ghosts in a murky and distant past who sought a new life in a new world. They say a Scot is a Scot even unto a hundred generations. I haven’t had to go back a hundred yet, and I know who I am.
Great Aunt Doris herself is in the top picture with Uncle Dickie, Uncle Rip and Bops, my grandfather who passed in 2001.
I want to know who they were. I want to know where they came from and why they came here. I’m an historian, after all. And history is all about the people and the why — it’s how the psychology of a human being becomes the psychology of nations. So I’ll keep reaching my fingers back into the folds of time before this country was a country. I’ll see if I can find the people who helped birth it, and who birthed me hundreds of years after their struggles.
Wish me luck.
Have you ever tried to track down your ancestry? What oral traditions have your families left you about your history?
I just finished The Hunger Games trilogy and loved it. Even the things that the critics have used to skewer pieces of it didn’t bother me. I thought that it wrapped things up in a way that, while perhaps not 100% thorough, were believable in the context of the story. And now I’m back to a book the Science Fiction Book Club sent me a while back, Robopacalypse.
I like the book a lot so far. It’s a classic sort of diorama for a story — humanity versus machine, and it’s told in a similar style to World War Z, as an oral history of sorts. I was reading along today, completely engrossed, when this blog post sneaked up behind me and goosed me.
Actually, it was more like it burst the bubble of story that had walled me off into that world. And it wasn’t so much the blog post as the reason I’m writing it. Some people call it suspension of disbelief, others building a world or staying in character.
I call it the Pyramid of Glasses.
When you write fiction, each sentence you write needs to reside, breathing and beating within the world of your story. Each word, each phrase, each sentence adds a glass, painstakingly constructing this shining pyramid.
Photo by javno192
With every word we write, we build. We lay the foundation, then add on the layers, the multi-faceted texturing and dimensionality of our stories. Today I was reading a vignette in Robopocalypse where a teenager in London was outsmarted by his own cleverness and discovered that his elaborate pranks had inadvertently led him into quicksand — quicksand inhabited by an entity of malicious artificial intelligence. His dialogue is convincing — I actually took note of how the nuances of speech reminded me so much of my time in London.
And then I saw the unstable glass that brought the entire pyramid crashing down a split second later into splinters of glittering jagged edges.
Not champagne glasses, but you get the point. Photo by Ken Tuvman
What was it, you ask? What burst the bubble and knocked the teetering glass over to start the avalanche and buried my suspension of disbelief? It went like this:
“I was f—g brilliant, Lurker. I called the headquarters of the Associated Press and spoofed my phone as the Bombay consulate. I posed as a bloody Indian reporter calling from –”
“That’s great, mate. Fantastic. You want a f—-g cookie?”
Pyramid gone. Pile of broken glass. Did you catch it? If you’re familiar with English speech patterns at all, you probably did.
British people don’t have cookies. They have biscuits. That one little word ruined my moment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite fond of cookies — but in all the time I’ve spent in Scotland and London, I’ve never heard one of the natives use the word in normal speech.
You see, some people might gloss over that sort of thing. The editor didn’t catch it. The author didn’t catch it. But it’s the author’s job to catch it. It’s the author’s job — that’s you — to make your Pyramid of Glasses shining, stunning, and flawless. No teetery bits that can send the lot of it crashing to the ground.
I can accept that perhaps the word is becoming more common, as language tends to fluctuate and transmogrify itself into a new beast when it comes in contact with media and outside influences, but it still strikes me as a very out of place word. And as a reader, you can’t really control when the world of the story you’re reading comes crashing down. Plot holes do it too — like if a character’s car is totaled and she has no time to get a rental, but somehow drives to a meeting the next day. It is a record scratch. It stops forward momentum, and while you can get it back, it’s far better to just weed that stuff out from the start of it.
The average little plot hole is just a bump in the road, but it can grow if you don’t pay attention to it. Writers have to be even more cognizant of subjects they are less than familiar with, and dialects of characters are a huge part of that. My stories have a few Scots in them. Before I ever let my book go to press, I am going to make it my mission to have a few Scots read it, just to make sure that the language is correct. The same goes for the Polish bits (except for the part about having Scots read over those bits). As we write, it’s our job to be as meticulous and painstaking as possible as we pile those glasses on top of one another. If we’re lazy, it will all come crashing down around our readers’ ankles. It’s a fickle thing, but carelessness with our pyramids can turn a potential bestseller into a C-list out of print mass market paperback.
It’s far from impossible to build a Pyramid of Glasses — you know your world the best, and you have the means to explore the glasses that have uneven stems or cracked bases. Repair them or replace them.