Part of History

I was speaking at a Writing History conference recently, in a panel with three others. The topic: writing history through personal experience. I was first to speak, and I talked about how I don’t do it very much because it would all be rather self-indulgent. The next speaker had a different perspective because, well, that’s exactly what she does: writes (recent) history through her own experiences.

Of course, I wasn’t talking about her, I was talking about me (one of my favourite topics). She was there because of an essay she had written, in which her personal experience was not only valid, but really added to the history. Ditto with the other two panellists. Someone really famous and clever said that there is no history, only biography. And if I ever have a new, individual take on the events that shape me – which happens quite regularly, thank you very much – I’ll write all about it.

Of course, recent history has been simplified into a list of memorable events, rather than a continuous flow. I was not one of the millions who joined in the shared experience of watching the moon landing. I didn't go to Woodstock or a Beatles concert, feel the shock when JFK and Martin Luther King were killed, or survive Vietnam. They all happened in a place called the 1960s. Some of us have never visited the place (and never will); others continually remind us that they were there and boy did we miss it! The closest I've been to the 1960s is listening to the music, watching the movies TV shows, and browsing through the books and magazines - which, I imagine, is to the real 1960s what those linoleum-floored Chinese restaurants in the suburbs of Sydney are to real Chinese dining. (Yes, I've been to China - and yes, it's completely different.) Nope, I've never been to the 1960s.

But I remember Live Aid, Glasnost and 9-11. I was there when the Berlin Wall fell (if "there" was an outdoor coffee shop in Canberra, where I friend of mine told me about it). I was even stranded in north-western Australia during the great air pilots' strike of 1989! (Hey look, that was a big event in Australia!) I danced the Moonwalk, attempted to breakdance (don't ask - no, really, don't!), and tried to avoid dancing the Macarena. I've used a Macintosh "tombstone" computer, a Sony Walkman cassette player, and a Rubik's Cube. I've already been through plenty of history... and there's plenty more to come.

You might have heard the ancient Chinese curse: "May you be cursed to live in interesting times." Brace yourselves, because for centuries now, everyone's been cursed.