Dehumanization in A Tale of Two Cities

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” ~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

“It’s a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It’s a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.” ~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” ~ Brené Brown

I can’t stop thinking of that interview Marie Forleo did with Brené Brown about her book Braving the Wilderness. When Brené was talking about the process by which we dehumanize other human beings, I thought of A Tale of Two Cities. There are many examples of how this process happens both in literature and in history, but the thing that Dickens does in his book is to make the process personal and devastating.

This story is so timeless that there are four film versions of it. My favorite is the 1938 version with Ronald Coleman, but every version I’ve seen is compelling.

The story takes place during the French Revolution. At the beginning of the story, Dr. Manette has been in prison for many years. He was imprisoned by aristocrats because he wouldn’t pledge to keep a secret they wanted buried. Since much of his work was with the poor of Paris, the De Farges, who had worked for Dr. Manette, try to get him released. In fact, that’s how the book begins, with Dr. Manette’s release. His wife and daughter had fled to England when he was taken, and now his grown daughter meets her father for the first time in many years. He’s a broken man.

Meanwhile, back in Paris, the De Farge’s are prominent members of the festering discontent that leads to the revolution. A single incident shows the callousness of the French aristocrats and sets the stage for the blood bath that is to follow. The Marquis St. Evrémonde, orders his coachman to speed through the poor part of the city. A child is crushed under the wheels of his carriage and he doesn’t care. Meanwhile St. Evrémonde’s nephew is packing to leave his title and his uncle behind. He can’t stand to see the way the people in his class are so callous toward the poor. And that’s the crux of the story. First the aristocrats devalue the lives of the poor, then the poor, having gained power, do the same to the aristocrats and those who work for them. Many innocent people end up dying at the guillotine.

The thing that has stuck with me since I first read the book when I was in high school was how quickly noble causes can be changed to bloody rampages. The De Farge’s have a just cause, but as they gain power they are seduced by blood lust. Their desire to right the wrongs their class has suffered turns against Dr. Manette and his family. Lucy Manette has married Charles Darnay, St. Evrémond’s nephew and the De Farge’s want to kill every last member of the family as if that would bring back the child who got trampled so many years before. It’s shocking how blind the De Farge’s and their cohorts become to the suffering they are causing.

My father used to say that wounded people, wound other people thinking it will ease their own pain. Pain, of course, is never eased by harming someone else. The only way to ease our pain is to forgive ourselves and others.

Sometimes life throws curve balls at us. Directing this play has been one of those situations for me. I have at times been sucked into the drama of situations with students, but getting upset and angry doesn’t help anything. I’ve had to take a step back and look at why I’ve drawn this into my life. The answer is, I have more guck to clear out so that I can be free of anger and blame.

It seems to me that stories like A Tale of Two Cities are examples of how tragic things can become if we fail to heal our own wounds. Trying to control things on the outside never makes us feel better. All the work must be done on the inside, in our own minds and hearts.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I hope the rest of your week is lovely.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. I you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

My Wilderness

“People are hard to hate close up. Move in. Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil. Hold hands. With strangers. Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.” ~ Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness

“The paradox is one of our most valuable spiritual possessions … only the paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life.” ~ Carl Jung

I’m directing a play this semester in addition to teaching two other classes. It’s my first time directing a Shakespeare play, which was a scary prospect, but the message in Measure for Measure called to me and I couldn’t stop thinking about doing it. I told Divine Oneness that if things fell into place, I’d go forward with the project. There have been many hurdles to jump over which I will not bore you with here. Let’s just say everything seemed to be falling into place. Students were excited about the play, as were other college instructors. I met a professional actor who had done the play seven times and gave me a shortened script, and there were so many other positive signs that I decided to move forward with the production.

We’re a week from our first performance and during the last few rehearsals everything has begun to fall apart. Last night I was so discouraged I cried all the way home and cried while telling Barry about all the obstacles that have been cropping up, ranging from college events that have kicked us out of our performance space two nights during our last week of rehearsals, to students who have to work when we’re supposed to be polishing the play. I was so distraught that I didn’t sleep well.

This morning I’m still feeling discouraged, which is not like me at all. But, yesterday I watched an episode of MarieTV that popped up on my YouTube feed when I opened it to access my meditation video. Marie Forleo is one of my favorite young women leaders. She supports women entrepreneurs. The video was from a few months ago when she was interviewing Brené Brown about her new book Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. Brené Brown is another one of my favorite women authors and teachers. I’ve read almost all of her books and had recently finished Wilderness. She studies the effects of shame and how vulnerability can help us live an authentic life. Marie brought up something that also touched me when I read the book.

Brené writes that if we are going to be authentic, we have to be careful how we talk to and about other people. If we are going to respond to people calling us, or the people we support, names by engaging in name calling in return, then we are perpetuating negativity. We’re contributing to the dehumanization process. We are making our fellow human beings, something not worthy of respect. If we want a loving, peaceful world, we need to stop demonizing the people who have different political, religious, or moral views than we do. Often our first reaction to being attacked is to attack back, to give evil for evil. Doing that is not going to make the world a better place in which to live. Maybe, giving love, for evil is what Jesus meant when he said to turn the other cheek.

So what does this have to do with what’s happening in my life right now. Well, I certainly would like to, (and I have) yell and curse, when the latest bombshell goes off exploding my plans for the play. I haven’t done it in front of the students until last night’s rehearsal. One of my students said, “I can’t believe you haven’t done that before now.” I realized that I have been stuffing my feelings and trying to protect my students. That’s not good for me or them. So, I’ve decided that I’m going to tell them that I cried all the way home because I failed to convey to them how important it is to be there for each other. That each member of our production is important and that we owe ourselves and the audience the very best performance we can give.

And one other thing occurred to me. I’ve been living a kind of double life these last nine years. I’ve been trying to balance teaching, which includes directing, with my writing life. I’m taking this experience as a sign that maybe I should give up teaching theatre all together and concentrate on writing. I have very much regretted that I have had so little time to work on my novel this semester. I need to go spend some time with myself and Divine Oneness in the wilderness and see what my next steps should be.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I appreciate it very much.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. I you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

The Challenge of Change

Dr. Brene Brown Speaking at Texas Conference for Women

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” ~ Harriet Tubman

“Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” ~ Malala Yousafzai

This was going to be a very different post until I watched Brené Brown’s Live Facebook video from August 15th with her thoughts about what happened in Charlottesville. I’ve read a number of her books which are distillations of her research about shame and vulnerability. I think she’s a great teacher. In the video she said some things that were hard to acknowledge, but she was right. And I want to strip away some of the inner barriers I put up when writing these posts. I want to become as vulnerable as I can be about what I feel about events happening in this country and around the world.

Brené said that this country’s history is based on white supremacy. That was difficult to acknowledge, but she’s right. White men have been in power since our country’s inception. That’s starting to change now but it’s been a very slow process to get here. The fact is, we wouldn’t have a nation if it weren’t for a group of white men pushing for independence. And sometimes I think that we whites think that gives us extra privilege. I’m both grateful and ashamed that this is the case. I’m grateful to live in this country. On the other hand I feel ashamed to be part of the race that pushed the Original peoples off their lands. I’m ashamed that we almost annihilated them, took away their culture and languages. I feel shame that we built this country on the backs of slaves kidnapped from their homes to serve us, and I’m ashamed at how we have treated immigrants, from all over the world, with derision. We’ve even done this with some white groups. The illusion has been that this country was built on the principle that all men are created equal, but we’ve never lived that principle. We do have a class system. Thankfully it’s getting exposed.

So, here we are at this crossroads. What do we do now? Brené talked extensively about the need for those of us who are white to be willing to acknowledge the way things really are, and to be willing to enter into difficult discussions. Part of those discussions need to be about privilege, checking our perceptions, and power. Those of us who are white need to listen more than talk, and we need to believe that when anyone tells us their story, they are telling us their truth. It will be different than our truth, but it’s no less valid. Our discussions will be messy. We’ll make mistakes and wrong assumptions from time to time, but we need to be willing to enter into those discussions with as much respect as possible with our eye on coming to new understandings and forming new partnerships.

Brené always inspires me, which prompts me to tell you a story about the novel I’m about to publish in its print-on-demand version. In The Space Between Time, I attempted to create a multi-cultural community in the timeline in the past. When I had my book club group read one version of the manuscript, a woman who happens to be Jewish, was offended by my portrayal of the Jewish characters. Some of them travel on the same wagon train West with Morgan. She questioned whether Jews moved to Oregon in the late 1850s. She also resented the fact that late in the book I have a Jewish banker go to Jacksonville to put the bank back on a sound footing. She thought his character offensive. I’m sad to say I wasn’t very sympathetic to her objections. However, I did go home and do extra research about the Jews in Oregon before doing my revisions. I discovered that there were Jewish groups who traveled to the Oregon territory as early as the mid 1840s and that they were extremely instrumental in helping Oregon become a state and then in helping its growth. When I read that, I felt justified in keeping the Jewish characters, while making some adjustments to accommodate some of her objections.

Even though I made adjustments, it’s difficult to admit that I did not honor my friend’s objections, or point of view about my portrayal of the Jews in my book. Today, Brené Brown reminded me that I can’t possibly know what it’s like to be Jewish. I should have listened to my friend and considered her point of view more carefully. In my attempts to honor and include characters of other races in my book, I may have made similar faux pas with them as well. I won’t know until I have a chance to process the comments on my book. If I get lots of negative feedback, that’s okay. I intend to learn from my mistakes and grow as a writer. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, and I’m paraphrasing, “Finished is better than perfection.”

I think it’s true that we learn more from our mistakes and from the difficult situations in our lives than from the easy times. I want to become someone who is willing to be open to the perspectives of others even when they are sharing truths that I might not want to hear, or that I don’t fully understand.

Brené’s video helped me in another way. Today I begin a new semester teaching acting class. I always attempt to create a safe environment for my students to be vulnerable when creating and performing their characters. This semester I’m going to make an even greater effort in that regard. It’s impossible to have true and honest discussions if we don’t feel safe to share our particular point of view. I’m grateful for the work Brené does and her willingness to help us become more honest with ourselves and others.

To see Brené Brown’s video click here. The link is to her Facebook page. She recorded the video on August 15, 2017 at 7:50 a.m.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, a historical, time-travel, magical realism women’s novel. It’s available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and will soon be available in a print-on-demand version at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

The Terror of Winning

“Traveler, there is no path, the path must be forged as you walk.” -Poet Antonio Machado

“Awards are so unnecessary because I think we get so much out of our work just by doing it. The work is a reward in itself.” -Natalie Portman.

“Awards are wonderful. I’ve been nominated many times and won many awards. But my journey is not towards that. If it happens it will be a blast. If it doesn’t, it’s still been a blast.” -Tom Cruise

 2013 Mayor's Arts Award Pottery Studio

This past Sunday, my husband won one of the annual Mayor’s Arts Awards in our city. Well, the pottery studio he founded won the award for Art organization that has made a significant contribution to the city and the surrounding county. It was a lovely event with five arts awards, and two humanities awards given to individuals and organizations.

It was lovely, and it made me uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of my husband and his colleagues who make such a difference. I was proud of the way my husband, an introvert like I am, handled all the praise. He was gracious, humble and accepted the praise without deflecting it onto someone else. What made me uncomfortable is remembering how it feels to win an award, or even to receive praise.

I don’t do well with having huge amounts of praise heaped upon me, or having all the attention focused in my direction. If I’m teaching a class, or acting in a play, or some activity like that, I feel different about getting attention. In those instances, I’m encouraging learning, or I’m playing another person. So, the focus isn’t on me personally. But, when someone singles me out, especially in public to give me specific praise, I want to duck for cover.

I’ve just finished reading Daring Greatly by Dr. Brené Brown, and I have to acknowledge that I do the “foreboding joy” thing when I receive praise of any kind. Foreboding joy is when something wonderful happens to you, or you feel great love or joy, and immediately you feel that some disaster is going to befall you if you lean into the good feelings. Even in little things, like when a student tells me they like the way I teach the class, I feel a twinge of discomfort before thanking them. When the praise is about a big thing, I almost feel physical pain. Here’s an example. I directed The Wizard of Oz last spring at a local elementary school. Almost all the children in the school were in the play, over two-hundred students. I got lots of praise, and it was easier to accept because of the personal work I’ve been doing, but when the praise came, I still deflected it to all the people who worked hard on the production. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a good idea to give credit where credit is due. Nevertheless, I have trouble acknowledging my own talents. It was a huge undertaking, no one involved, except me, had ever directed such a large theatrical production. It could have bombed, but it was a success, because of my years of directing experience, and because I asked for, and got lots of help. I love that collaborative process of theatre, because I’m not out there doing the creating all on my own.

Writing is a completely different matter. The words on the page come from me, or my muse, and no one else. I can’t hide behind a collaborative group of people.

As I write this post, I’m in the process of revising my first novel. It’ll be published later this year. Yes, I have readers and editors helping me, but I’m the one who created the work. I hadn’t been thinking much about getting an award for it. Then just last week, I got an email from our POD representative about this years IPPY awards. He was letting us know about the awards for independently published books, and that just happened to coincide with the pottery studio award that my husband was going to accept. Of course, in my fanciful mind, I went off on a tangent thinking what I’d do if I ever won an award for my writing. How would I feel? I know I’d cry and not be cool, calm and collected. I’d probably be like Jennifer Lawrence and trip up the steps on my way to the podium. Somehow after reading both Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection, I’d be okay with that. Jennifer Lawrence, was cool, because she acknowledged how embarrassing it was to trip, and then she went on with accepting the award. She allowed herself to be imperfect. I liked that.

When Brené Brown was on Oprah’s Life Class, she said (I’m paraphrasing) “I’d mapped out a pretty small life for myself. Then my TED-X talk went viral, and I had to lean into vulnerability and acknowledge that I had to dare greatly and risk much so I could affect change and help people.”

Man can I relate to that. I’ve lived a pretty small and invisible life. And now I’m becoming a writer, and putting my work out into the world. I’ve had to embrace being vulnerable, risk failure, and criticism. My work may never go viral, but it’s still being read by people I don’t know, like many of you. That’s scary and exciting at the same time. And when people leave comments on my posts, I get a chance to examine my point of view. I get to expand my view of the world. Sure, I may get nasty comments too, but as my dad used to say, “People who hurt others are wounded themselves.” When I get those negative comments, I’ll allow myself to feel the pain, work through my process, and then move on.

Whether or not I win awards for my writing, I’m willing to come out of my shell, and offer my work to the people who will read it.  I hope that I can affect you and them in positive ways.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2014