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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Nothing New Under the Sun by Keena Kincaid

Someone recently commented that chaos would follow this election, regardless of who wins.

As an historian, I have to confess: the chaos has started.

For the most part, everyone likes history, but I think the one thing you get from studying history versus just reading history is the long-view of life on earth. You learn how to take an event and follow the ripples through the centuries and realizing that seemingly unconnected events are, in fact, so intertwined one would not happen without the other.

The best example of this is probably James Burke’s Connections series. He actually tells you what an event has to do with the price of tea in China, and the series gives you an idea of how the long-view will change how you see the world.

So what does all of this have to do with the current presidential elections? As we all know, this election is out of control. Pundits and extremists on both sides have predicted chaos on Nov. 9 if “their” candidate isn’t elected.

If you take the long-view, however, the chaos has started. It actually started decades ago, if not in the fall out of World War 1, which was itself a consequence of our on-going shift from agrarian to industrial and now to automation.

More importantly for this election, people are losing jobs and those jobs aren’t coming back regardless of campaign promises. The jobs of the future haven’t jelled yet, so we don’t know where to go for deliverance. It’s a normal part of the ebb and flow of society but it’s unsettling. Hence the anger, the preppers, the mass shootings, the rioters, the people quietly googling “where should I live after Nov. 8?"

One problem is it’s hard to see the long-view amidst chaos. A bigger problem is most people don’t even look for it.

Businesses focus on the next quarter.

Politicians focus on the next election.

People focus on the next weekend.

Few of us are looking beyond the immediate pain to see where we’re going and lay foundations to get there. Instead, we want a quick fix and assurances that we will be safe. This is why guns, bunker manufacturing, food preservation and training for the apocalypse have become multibillion-dollar industries.

Trump’s appeal lies in his outsider role and promises of quick fixes. He’s cast himself as the lone wolf hero (a very American literary archetype) and makes it OK to lay the blame for the chaos on whatever scapegoat you choose. And it’s very nice to have someone to blame…whether it’s Christians in Ancient Rome, Jews in Medieval Europe, Witches in colonial Salem or Communists in McCarthy’s America.

As a woman, the misogyny that’s erupted around this campaign reminds me that it’s easy to lose rights, even those pledged to us.

My area of study is the 12thcentury, the era of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Empress Matilda, and some men you might have heard about, Henry II (son of Matilda and husband to Eleanor), Thomas of Beckett (annoyance to Eleanor) and Richard the Lionhearted (son of Eleanor and husband to no woman).

Matilda was the only legitimate daughter of King Henry I, who had upward of 20 illegitimate children. His son and heir, William, drowned when the White Ship burned and sank in the English Channel in 1120, throwing the succession into chaos.

At the King’s urging, the barons vowed to support Matilda as “king,” but when the time came to crown her in 1140, her cousin Stephen of Blois raced to Winchester and had himself crowned before Matilda reached England. Enough of the nobility broke their vow and supported Stephen that civil war followed.

By the summer of 1141, she was winning the fight. Then the chatter started. Chroniclers tell us that Matilda:
  • Displayed “intolerable pride and willfulness”
  • Possessed an “extremely arrogant demeanor instead of the modest gait and bearing proper to the gentle sex”
  • Was “lifted up into an insufferable arrogance”
  • “Alienated the hearts of almost everyone”
  • Was “unfemininely willful and unnaturally domineering”

 Sound familiar?

For the record, Matilda never became queen. "Empress" is a nickname bestowed on her by her enemies because of her haughty nature. 

And for those keeping track, I have problems with Clinton. I think her vision is small, short-term and unprogressive. But I also think history will be kinder to her than her peers have been. History takes a long-view and knows when it’s seen this shit before.

Most importantly, though, history also tells us not to despair. Chaos ends, just as fat and happy times pass.

Even in the midst of The Black Death, people still married, still made wills, still sued their neighbor for diverting his sewer into their backyard. On the Camino, you’ll see all types of graffiti but one of the most common phrases is: LIVE YOUR LIFE.

So even as chaos rages, be kind, have faith, and live your life. 

My story Beyond All Else (set during the 12th century civil war) is part of PRP’s latest medieval anthology, One Winter Knight, which releases Thursday, Nov. 3. Here an excerpt:

The will-o-wisp flickered through the trees, a shimmering lure that her deep into the heart of the forest. Alais followed, focused solely on the light winking at her.

“Will you slow down. Not everyone is the size of a br├╣naidh.

Alais looked back at her friend, who struggled to free her clothes from a thorn bush. “I am not that small.”

“You are a good deal smaller than me.” Johanna yanked her mantle, then frowned in disgust at the torn fabric. “What is your hurry? We have nowhere to go to beat the storm and war already vexes the kingdom.”

War did more than trouble a kingdom. Half the world seemed drawn into the fight between King Stephen and Empress Matilda for the throne. But Alais had bigger worries than what might vex a kingdom. A death sentence hung over her head and at least one sheriff seemed determined to deliver it personally.

In the spirit of Live Your Life share with us the one thing you've always wanted to do but haven't yet?


  1. I love how you tie everything together and give us the historical perspective. Looking forward to your new release.

    1. Thanks, Maggie. I always hesitate to wade into political waters, but this election is so crazy and everyone is so stressed and tense that it felt necessary to provide that historical perspective. I hope it helps people rest easier.

  2. I agree completely, Keena. Historian here, also, Southern American history, Civil War and its beginnings and endings, and World War I. A lot of what we're seeing now came from the 1800s and have continued to this day. Good luck to us all.

    1. Thanks, Ann. Have you seen Connections? It really is a great show, and I think anyone with an interest in History will find it fascinating.

  3. I fell this way since 911 -- people seemed to have taken a nasty attitude that hasn't lessened but grown. I am hoping things calm down before chaos gets totally out of hand. Excellent article.

    1. Thanks, Deborah. It's become particularly hostile since 9/11. I often wonder what would have happened if we (the U.S.) had chosen a different course, maybe legal action in international courts against countries aiding and abetting terrorism.

  4. Keena, I always love your posts--you have such a way of looking at 'the big picture' and as Maggie says, tying it all together. Learning from the past is something that most nations can't seem to do. It's a real pity. I'm not sure what the future holds, but you're goes on, regardless, and it always has. And excellent post, as always!

  5. Keena, thanks for a big helping of food for thought. I thoroughly enjoyed your post, the now (like you say it's chaos) and the past. We all need to step back and look at that big picture. Your story sounds intriguing and I look forward to reading yours and all the rest. I'm so pleased to be included with all you Medieval writers this time around. It's been my long term dream to try my hand at a few Medievals and I can't think who I'd want to be in with more than a group of PRP authors for the first time around. Wishing you the best.

    1. Thanks, Beverly. Food for thought was my goal.

  6. Keena, Loved the show "Connections" and like you prefer to study history as opposed to reading it. I also am a fan of the Ellis Peters stories from the Maude/Stephen time frame. Life goes on, regardless of what is happening. I appreciate your post, and looking forward to the upcoming anthology. Doris

    1. Thanks Doris I loved Connections, too, and everyone once in a while just watch a random episode because it's hard to remember all the intricate details. I would have loved to have been a researcher on that show.

    2. p.s. Doris mentioned Maud/Stephen...I used Empress Matilda. Maud/Matilda are variations on the same name. Matilda is Latin. Maud is Saxon. So her friends probably called her Maud, but in written documents, she is Matilda.

  7. I highly recommend James Burke's "Connections" and "The Day the Universe Changed." Even though dated, they will apply and are extremely entertaining. Both are about 10 one-hour episodes and still available on DVD from Amazon. I strongly recommend them for teens who have an open mind and would be valuable to home-schoolers.

    1. Thanks, Gordo. I think both are on YouTube, too. Would be valuable to watch even if your teen doesn't have an open mind -- might put a crack in it. :-) I remember when I started college, one professor flat out said: my goal is to get you to question everything because I want you to learn how to analysis X from all sides. I think we need to be more analytical, as well as more historical. Now I'm going to go have a James Burke fest.

  8. A fascinating and informed post, Keena.
    I've lived through periods of chaos in our country, especially the 60's. Upheaval often comes before a great change, either for better or for worse. I'm an optimist. I feel the American spirit of courage and innovation will arise and make us even stronger. It is my hope and my prayer for our country.
    This was a marvelous post, Keena. I love the name Matilda. It was my paternal grandmother's name. I wish you the very best and success with your new release, BEYOND ALL ELSE.