Trish and Harold's Weblog

News, information, and random thoughts from the busy lives of Trish Egan and Harold Phillips.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

I Love A Good Story...

... but, that really shouldn't come as a surprise, given my chosen profession. There are a lot of things to love about acting - the "smell of the greasepaint and roar of the crowd," the chance to put on costumes and do things you might not otherwise do, the chance to work with interesting and creative people... the biggest joy I get out of doing what I do, though, is getting the chance to help tell stories. Storytelling is a vital part of what makes us human; the stories we read, watch, or hear help to put our daily toil into perspective; they help us think about the issues we face in new ways. They inspire us, the scare us, and they help us understand our own lives, and the world we find ourselves in.
I learned early on that history isn't about names, places, and dates; history is about stories, and about the people who made those stories happen. Sure, from an academic perspective it's good to know that Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his legions to take control of Rome in 49 BC (yawn...). Those events shaped western civilization, and got us to the place we are today. Ok, whatever.

The STORY about how Caesar was having an affair with Pompey's wife to gain information about when the Roman leader would be out of the city, the risks he took in taking control, his eventual betrayal by the people who put him power... that's the the story in the history. It makes those events live in our hearts and minds, paints a picture of the people behind the historical figures and, most importantly, it makes us think about what we might do if we were in the same situation.

That's what makes historical drama's like HBO's short-lived series ROME so fun to watch... or The Tudors...Deadwood... Once Upon A Time In America... the list goes on and on. The characters and dates those productions chronicle are known facts. The the people involved - the characters who make the story - well, they're what make the story inside the history live for us.

We're all historical figures... and we're all descended from historical figures. Each of us and our ancestors played a part in making the world the way it is today (for good or for ill). We can easily find out that our grandparents were descended from their parents and their parents before them, when they were born and when they died, etc. etc. etc... finding out who those people were, though, is the interesting part. Learning their stories and seeing how their stories intersect and help to shape our own story is what makes the process fun (yeah, really! Fun!)

That's why I've had such a good time watching Who Do You Think You Are on NBC... yes, it seems like yet another "celebrity reality series" that follows famous people around as they traipse about the globe. The true joy of the show, however, is that it captures the wonder, excitement (and, often heartache) that these people experience when they find out the stories behind the people they descended from. Each show tells a few stories about a few people... and all those stories come together to make the person tracing his or her family history.

If you've been following me on Twitter or Facebook, you know that I've been tracing my own family history for a while now (I frequently call it my "online video game," because just like World of Warcraft or City of Heroes, I pay a small subscription fee and have a whole lot of fun!) See, I finally clicked on one of those ubiquitous ads you see everywhere on the Internet and started plugging things into their system. It's free to set up an account and add what information you have - you can add people, upload photos, and do all sorts of stuff for nothing - and for a small subscription fee (about $19.95 a month) they give you access to hundreds of records: census forms, shipping manifests, photos and information from other people's family trees... through using the system, some of the people who made up my family's history started to take shape. The more I found out, however, the more questions kept developing. Why did my grandfather leave his family in Indiana and strike out on his own? How did my grandmother - then a nurse in Los Angeles - fall in love with him while he was at her hospital and decide to chuck her career and become a farm wife? Why did my other grandfather, who'd been a construction foreman and engineer, suddenly decide to become a county sheriff?

Those are the stories behind the histories, and piecing them together is, honestly, a blast. Sure, there's a little detective work, but if detective work weren't fun there would be nearly as many mysteries and police procedurals on TV! Finding out who these people were and why they did what they did is inspiring... informative... and tells tales just as exciting as Deadwood or Rome - because you get to know the people behind the history.

So, think about spending a Sunday afternoon some time and looking into the people who came before you. You might just be surprised at how interesting and exciting their stories are - and how their stories helped lead to creating the story you're living today.

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