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Sachem’s Head November 25, 2015

Posted by michaelnjohns in history.
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Yesterday I watched the Thanksgiving story as told by the animated cast of Peanuts. It was a harrowing tale of miraculous survival against all odds, a story of friendly Native Americans who shared their land in an effort at peaceful coexistence.  A lovely, sanitized story appropriate for children.

Today I learned about Sachem’s Head in a fascinating reading while surfing about the history of our own Thanksgiving feast.  Sachem’s Head is the name of streets, a yacht club, a region in Connecticut and a region of Massachusetts, etc. Connecticut, there’s an ironic state name in view of the history.  I used to re-read and mispronounce it re-read it as “Connect, I Cut.”  Sachem’s Head is not just a location, but a proud admission, a proclamation, a warning.  Sachem’s Head tells a cautionary tale about trusting others.

We are more progressive than we used to be, but not as progressive as we think we are.  In the history books Sachem’s Head was never taught to me.  But Sachem’s Head, depending on which state you find it in, either belonged to Pometacom, or to Canonchet, Native American chiefs.  And the tale confesses that English settlers, or at least their leaders, couldn’t be trusted.

Sachem was the title given to the Native American leaders.  And as for these two, Sachem’s Head wasn’t a territory but a body part.  Their heads were removed and set on pikes by the English settlers.  One of them, on public display, according to the story, stayed out for 20 years.  I’m certain this was a display of power, and a warning to any who might potentially have vengeful souls.  Such as the children, who were sold as slaves, or their children.  So who were the “savages” of the story here?

I also want to know why the name “Sachem’s Head” is still being used by the people of the northeast United States.  It’s a term of barbarism describing those who overpowered the barbarism of the locals who used to live there.  This story is a pretty well written, if one-sided, description of the events of those days.  It depicts men and women fighting for religious freedom, land, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  And I’m not talking about the English.  And the name “Sachem’s Head,” especially when applied to some rich people’s land or club, smacks of an elitism I’m not sure should be so proudly hailed.


I’m not sorry that I live in America.  I’m a patriot who loves this country, and our freedom to be and to do and to say and to believe. I believe our cultural progress is a thing to be proudly hailed, the ignominious “Sachem’s Head,” and other historical errors notwithstanding.  Could that conflict have been resolved peacefully?  I have no idea; I wasn’t there.

Could any of our conflicts be resolved more peacefully?  I have no idea.  It’s just possible that the history books, written by the winners, will skillfully omit those grim and gory details and leave us with names like Sachem’s Head, without the memory or the meaning behind them.  When I first looked for Sachem’s Head, I didn’t find the history.  I had to dig to find the meaning, because the name itself has been sanitized and now just refers to the locations, and the clubs.

I’m embarrassed that socially accepted slavery existed so long in this country.  I’m embarrassed that in American history, peaceful natives were forced to convert by the sword to a foreign religion, to foreign customs, to a foreign language.  I’m embarrassed that  other, some even highly promoted or encouraged, socially accepted aberrances continue to this day.  Cat-calling of women, for instance.  Bullying.  Child abuse.  Spouse abuse.  Greed.  Selfishness.  Simple theft, and a more complicated form of theft, also called “business acumen.”  And by the way, “business acumen” might very well have been used to describe our treatment of the native Americans back in the late 1600s, other slaves, minorities of all stripes, and anyone who is by wealth standards considered “poor,” or powerless.

I’m considered “poor.”  It’s because I don’t want to fight.  Like the peaceful Tisquantum I’ve worked for beans and tried my best to help others.  And here in America, there are people who have come along beside me to help me in my times of need.  I’m very grateful that help is available here because in other areas of the world, that help would not be given for the asking.

I keep seeing on the news, the petty squabbles and unnecessary death and the subsequent social unrest and grief.  I keep seeing the trouble caused by people with over-inflated concepts of their own self-entitlement.  None are as big as my newly discovered Sachem’s Head scandal, but I hope the contexts serve as cautionary tales to people.  I’m not going to mourn things that happened far in the distant past, but I’m going to learn from them.

I don’t want to take home these lessons:
1) you can’t trust anyone (alas, I already believe this in bitterness of heart)
2) lock your doors and consider purchasing a gun while you still can according to our rights under the Second Amendment.  I had a chance to shoot a .22 at a recent Boy Scout camp.  8 of 10 shots were in the bull’s eye, the other two, close enough to kill if I were shooting a live target.

Please, people, let’s be civilized.  We Americans are supposed to be “one nation, under God, indivisible,” but instead all I see is every man for himself.  Be like Tisquantum and bring something helpful to the table this Thanksgiving, to share with society.  And if you’re one of those people with “business acumen,” please realize we only win if we all win.  I realize it depends on your definition of “all,” so let me help you understand if you don’t:  I’m part of your “all.”  And your neighbors are.  And every other American citizen is.  So let’s help each other win.

I suppose I could be rich if I were a fighter, or if I were self-entitled.  I could have a respected position, or title, if I pushed for that as part of my own agenda.  Or, I could be a martyr to my cause and find my own “Sachem’s Head” on a proverbial pike.  But we’re too progressive to actually hang someone’s head on a pole to display our power.  At least I hope we are.


¢ritic$ July 3, 2014

Posted by michaelnjohns in Uncategorized.
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I have a love-hate relationship with critics. On the one hand, they aspire to make the world a better place, I hope. On the other they’re insufferable, irritating idiots.

Every year there are best dressed and worst dressed lists. Every year there are opinions about television shows and movies. Every year there are music and television and movie and Broadway and existence award ceremonies. And everyone has bought into the hype of it all. The critics may have paid their dues to get where they are, and they may have a valid point to make. They may want to make the world a better place with their recommendations, pans and suggestions. Or maybe they’re just blowhards.

I can be insufferable. Somewhere sitting behind a computer screen is a reader doing their best “Walter” impression. You know Walter, he’s one of the characters created by Jeff Dunham. Jeff is a genius. In the face of critics and oversensitive people everywhere, he gets away with saying some of the harshest things because his characters are characters, and they are funny. It’s a joke, so people go with it. My critics mimic Jeff’s “Walter,” saying, “Geez, Michael, just ‘shut the hell up!'” Sometimes they’re even in my family. They say it, and I shut up, and I still love them.

As a writer I want to tell my critics to shut the hell up even as, and especially when, they are telling me I suck and need to shut the hell up myself. As a critic, I am constructive, supportive, and loving. I always find exactly the right way to encourage people to keep on doing what they love and keep on improving their craft. Yeah, right. I’m insufferable, irritatingly opinionated about everything, convinced my opinion is the only right opinion, and I don’t always have a constructive reason. But I can express it and explain it, or I can write an elaborate work of fiction within a word-count, because I’m a writer.

I confess. Sometimes my opinion is like the restaurant critic in the movie Ratatouille, heavily influenced by my love of the product and by my childhood. And sometimes it’s based on my feeling about the direction of the world at large. If I feel something is a negative influence, further pushing the world in an already bad direction, I won’t like it. For instance, sometimes I don’t like music because like Walter, I don’t think the kids these days are growing up with any kind of proper respect for their elders. But in general I love music, even music that tells the elders to shut up sometimes. Because we need to listen and validate that audience. But it depends sometimes on how it’s being said. If I feel like something is a positive influence, or a new way of doing something that’s gone stale, I’m going to like that. If it’s just a catchy beat and the same old empty headed crap, not so much.

The most recent critic I read was someone commenting on actresses and how and why they were bad. But, “shut the hell up,” critic! If they were good enough to sweat through an audition, memorize their part, get on the movie set and work through hours of makeup and filming and whatever else they do in production, it means they were good enough according to the casting people to select them and the director not to fire them. Clothes? Unless that thing is custom made for the one person you’re putting it on, it’s not going to be perfect, and if it is, it costs too much for me to have one done. I wonder how much criticism is just fluffed up personal attacks against whomever the critic doesn’t like, and not about the actual product.

As a writer, I want my critics to fawn over my work lovingly and share it with the world if they like me. If they don’t like me, I want them to be constructive and supportive and suggestive of where and how I might improve my craft. If I said it somehow wrongly, or weakly, well, how should I have said it to say it more correctly? How might I say it in a way that appeals to my target audience, or perhaps even a broader audience than my targets? As a critic of writing, I know only how I would have said it and why I think my way of saying it is better. I look for the description to take me to whatever is written about, so I can sense it, or see it, through the authors words.

I think actors and politicians make silly spokesmen, and critics all seem to fall short on qualifications. We want actors and celebrities to sell us stuff because they look good and by association they make the product look good. But do they really use the product and do they really have to pay for repairs when the product wears out, or do they just do another commercial and get a different one for free? We want critics to tell us what to think and what’s fashionable and who looks good for their age and what restaurant is hot. But, what qualifies a critic? Sure, they can have years of experience in their field, and they may know if something is good or not. But can they say why the thing is “the thing,” or not, or are they just saying that they don’t like it so I’m supposed to take their word for it? They have an opinion and so do I.

I am a great critic of restaurants and food and drink and clothes and shoes and books and appliances and cars and houses and home decor and health and beauty products and sometimes movies and TV shows, and especially, desserts including ice cream and chocolate and coffee. Send me coupons for a lifetime supply of your product and service, and especially, a handful of cash, and I will tell you what I like and what I don’t, and on top of that, I’ll write a positive article about it, and how I’d improve it or why the customers should buy that instead of whatever they’ve been buying. And if your product is bad, I’ll suggest improvements and do a rewrite when the next one comes to my door. Why is my opinion more valid than the next persons? Try me and you’ll find out!