Thursday, December 12, 2013

Reading and Memory


I wrote earlier this week about a project I'm very enthusiastic about, and if you are interested in seeing this documentary it is not to late to support this project!  Here's the link again:

Supporting literacy is more important than ever, because the requirements of navigating an increasing digital world are based on first being literate.  But what of memory?  How do we remember what we have read, and how do we know it will come back to us when we need that knowledge?

The qualities of my memory have been commented on by various acquaintances.  It's true, one must have a good memory to be a good librarian.  Of course, a love of office supplies and liberal use of them is an excellent supplement to memory.  But what of cultural memory, regional memory?

I write today because of a social media explosion happening over on a site called ValleyWag, demonstrating that one is free to write whatever one likes on the Internet, but you are also painting a huge target for responses.  Check it out for yourself

I gave up reading the comments after just a few minutes as one of the other aspects of social media is a toxic level of vitriol.  Instead, I decided to reflect on something that I read many years ago when I lived in South Carolina.  This was in the early 1990s, and the city of Columbia and the state was mired in a discussion about what to do with the Conferederate Flag on the Capitol building, which had not, as some claimed, "been there since the Civil War."  It had in fact, been put back up on the Capitol in the 1960s as an insult to the Civil Rights movement.

A long time civil rights activist, Mrs. Modjeska Simpkins was quoted as saying, ""Oh, let them wave their old rag. That way you know what's in peoples' hearts." I was struck then as I am now by the wisdom in this statement.  It isn't often you get people to admit their true hearts, so when they do it is a watershed moment that calls for reply.

The uproar about Mr.  Gopman's comments is justified, but that outrage needs to translate into support for the necessary infrastructure for a city to be a healthy and beautiful place.  Fortunately, we have an available wealth of knowledge.  The reading won't be easy.  The history of de-instituionalizing the mentally ill in the 1970s.  The criminalization/stigmatization of mental illness that has long been a hallmark of so many societies, including this one.   The number of U.S. Veterans that are currently homeless.

If you could pick two readings or narratives that everyone in your city could read or see that would provide historical context about homelessness and solutions, what would those titles be?  It can be a novel or non-fiction or a film or documentary. Perhaps you'd even like to make sure Jimmy Santiago Baca's story of survival in our cruel country is produced by contributing to the Kickstarter.   Give me your ideas in the comments.

Can reading and viewing be the shared cultural/regional memory that can, please, stop us from being careless and stupid?  If relentless advertising and cruelly shrewd marketing lure us into buying objects of status and convenience, can film and literature roar back in a whiplash of knowledge?

Meanwhile, I'm pleased to introduce you to Mrs. Modjeska Monteith Simkins

Oral History with Modjeska Simpkins:

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