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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Historical Amnesia: From the Author's Pen

Angel Moon
Angel Moon

I spend much time exploring dark places—places where we are typically unwelcome. There are no complaints here. I signed up for it. I made a clear and mindful choice to continue going into these forgotten wastelands so that those trapped in the confines of historical amnesia would find their way home. What is home? Home is not necessarily a dwelling. It is the sacred space that we maintain for ourselves, our loved ones, and others we have yet to meet. We all come and go into these spaces—in the physical, emotional, and spiritual sense.

As we continue to move through various stages of our human development, we comprehend the impact that life and death have in our family dynamics, communities, and to ourselves as individuals. In our linear time structure, we carefully follow the life cycle from birth to death. We are born, experience the birthing of others, travel in and out of learning, growing, pain, joy, love, death, and a vast array of life’s offerings. What we have in common is our very existence. What we do in that realm is vastly unique. When I open the door to a new world for exploration, it takes time for me to comprehend whether or not I will be entering or not. Once I am there, the ones I meet quietly lead me down pathways, opening more doors and waiting in the wings for how their stories will come into the light. No two characters are alike. Of course, we know this, just as we, in the flesh, are as unique as snowflakes.

In the first book in the series, most of the experiences unfold at the nineteenth-century Poor Farm. We also go back in time, about a century, following Nellie’s indigenous journey from northern Vermont to Ossipee, New Hampshire.

When immersed in the development of characters and stories, the intensity of their hardships become embedded in me. It is imperative to spend the necessary time sifting through what may have been and then let it go. This is precisely how the process transpires. The words set them free; hence, I am freed as well. In the second book, I was in the same time-frame but a completely different setting. My research included the history of the American Industrial Revolution at its inception through to the Reconstruction Era. I visited immigration, labor practices, and the social conditions of the tenements. In this book, the backstory went to the Great Famine in Ireland.

I will always remember how certain discoveries left me numb. When I would learn something new and unimaginable, I would often sit in my rocking chair to let it in. Sometimes, I would share these discoveries with my son. I needed to get it out. I had to be careful to not permit these traumas to settle in my own bones. There is a fine line between their pain and mine. I have mastered the art of expression without ownership. All of this is part of the process—my process— of authentic writing. After writing the first book, I would remind myself that when I reach the end, when the book is released to the world, the sadness and reality of what I learned could be released with it. It sounds easy. I can say now, after writing the third book, I do believe it to be true. In the beginning, when the characters are holding up their hands like eager children in the classroom, begging to be chosen, I must consider them all. It’s okay to include a narrator and then turn around and take them out. Not kill them off, but add their chapters to my “Darlings” folder and use them for reference. Their thoughts and actions are essential, or they would not have emerged. However, distinct voices come to the forefront. It isn’t always a straightforward decision for me. For example, in The Angels’ Lament, Bess provided a contrast for the reader. Still, she also opened up a world of possibilities. I needed relief from the horrific circumstances of the others. I also wanted to share a tragic, true story that came from my own family history. I cannot share it in this writing because it would be a spoiler. Writing in Bess’s voice was enjoyable. I loved going in the opposite direction, dabbling in the upper echelon of society. I discovered the eclectic details of fancy parties, luxurious gardens, servants, and more. I was able to take us from the top of the hill to the bottom—the underbelly of society—from one chapter to the next.

When I was an active Civil War musicologist and re-enactor, I was both Sarah and Bess. From wearing hoop skirts, dressing like a man, and playing a vintage Eb cornet, I was able to sample their worlds. Of course, it was much better for me. I could come and go between centuries as I pleased. Their world, to me, was literally for show.

Now, as an author, it has new meaning. I am driven to find these people out there and bring their experiences back to life. Maybe you had ancestors who shared similar fates. This will not be known if we continue to move along our timeline as if such people and events did not exist. My background in theology has also provided access to a deeper purpose. I am referring to feminine archetypes, which I am now able to perceive in Mary Magdalene, Mother Mary, and lately, Mary’s Mother, Anna. I have focused on their teachings in the Gnostic Gospels. It is a unique method of allowing the myths and truths of ancient times into the narrative. This is not limited to the feminine, but it has been illuminated in my work. It is vital to present a multi-faceted view that includes balancing the male voice and all socio-economic levels. The history that has been omitted or distorted is actually a vibrant tapestry of our collective foundation. Today I received an email from a humble woman whose family has been in Ossipee since the seventeenth-century. She wanted to know if her family name was on the list of the 268. I gave her the website link so that she could review it on her own. I did recognize her name, and I am confident that she will find some branches that may have fallen from her family tree. This is why I do this. It’s about acknowledgment, belonging, and coming home. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Crows' Path, Book Four - is in the making.

1 Comment

Nov 01, 2020

I love the way you have weaved all the facets of your life into your writing.

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