Looking At Today From Yesterday

Earlier today I was listening to the Songs to Sing in the Car Spotify Playlist when Hozier’s haunting ballad of the year, “Take Me To Church,” came on. In a bizarre Pavlovian moment, my eyes welled up with tears and my heart felt like it hit a brick wall. You see, the last time I had really listened to that song was on June 18th of this year as tears streamed down my face in the public bathroom of a swanky hotel in Richmond, Virginia; an unplanned destination on a family trip through the South after we all agreed that leaving Charleston would be the best course of action.

The Song
Resonant of Leonard Cohen’s haunting melodies and indicative of the very 21st century folk-blues style that dominates the airwaves today, Andrew Hozier-Byrne describes his hit single “Take Me To Church” as follows:

“The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love. Turning your back on the theoretical thing, something that’s not tangible, and choosing to worship or love something that is tangible and real.”

The Trip
Since reading Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil as a pre-teen, I’ve felt a magnetic draw to Savannah, Georgia. It’s the first “adult” book that I remember reading, and discussing, with my dad; and one of the first book-to-movie adaptations I experienced where I read the book first. With this deep, but unconsummated connection lingering, Savannah, and the South in general, seemed an obvious, and perhaps beautiful, choice for a family vacation.


Beyond making jokes about it being a sort of reverse Sherman’s March before the trip, I did not expect to find my passion for history matched by my surroundings. In truth, I had not fully realized how present the Civil War was in everything from the landscape to the conversation. 150 years feels like a long time to us today, but in the grand scheme of cultural evolutions, it’s merely a flash in the pan.

We kept our itinerary loose, knowing that we wanted to go to Savannah, see the Mercer-Williams house and Forsyth Cemetery, but I began pushing hard for a stopover in Charleston, the start of it all. And after not all too much work, I prevailed. Upon leaving Savannah, we piled into my parent’s car and headed northeast to Charleston.

Fort Sumter
We arrived at the National Park Boarding Station 5 minutes before the last boat of the day would head over to the Fort. We rushed through the ticket line and loped onto the ferry which would bring us to the island. The ride lasted about 45 minutes and built an ominous mood around the voyage. Upon arrival, I was struck by how barren it was. Living in Washington, I guess I’ve formulated an assumption that National Parks will always be lush; a memory frozen in time as the rest of world grows around it.


Fort Sumter was different. Time, and quite likely war, had worn its walls. It did not feel like living history, and yet the legacy of what it meant and what it stood for, felt very present. After listening to the Park Ranger tell his story, we had some time to rove free across the island, into the gift shop, and a small accompanying exhibit. It was in the exhibit – which had the added benefit of air-conditioning on a scorching day – that things began to crystallize in my mind.


History is very much a part of our present. As I walked through the exhibit, I was struck by one particular panel that paired a quote from Abraham Lincoln against a quote from Jefferson Davis:


In case you can’t read them in that not so great picture I took, here you go:

“The last ray of hope for preserving the Union peaceably expired at the assault upon Fort Sumter…” – Abraham Lincoln, President, United States of America

“…Fort Sumter, where was first given to the breeze the flag of the Confederacy…” – Jefferson Davis, President, Confederate States of America

As I stared at those quotes, I was already formulating a blog post that I wanted to write. I wanted to talk about the ways this event, this strange and heartbreaking moment in history, over 150 years ago, still shaped the experience of Americans today. I wanted to talk about Trayvon Martin, I wanted to talk about Freddie Gray, I wanted to say that #BlackLivesMatter and that on April 12, 1861 a behemoth that we still grapple with today was set in motion.

Already in that mindset; I could not have predicted or anticipated the horror that would beset Charleston a mere four hours later.

Charleston, South Carolina – June 17, 2015
I feel bad now that I was in a crappy mood. I was hungry and a little petulant as my parents and I walked down King Street to Old Towne Grill and Seafood, the first result that showed up in my Yelp search. When I think back on it now, so many things feel weird about that day. The sign that said “Remember the Charleston Nine” as we drove into town (it was referencing the horrific Charleston Sofa Super Store fire of June 18, 2007 which claimed the lives of nine firefighters), the creepy not-on-the-beach beach house rental, the fact that we just barely made it to Fort Sumter.

After dinner I was exhausted; and went to bed. At first just to read, but then to hopefully sleep, at 8:45pm. I woke up at 11pm; my father had nodded off while watching the local news which was already filled with reports of the attack. We weren’t that far away from Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that night. We had driven by it at least twice earlier in the day. We weren’t there, and the fact of the matter is, if by some strange incident we had been there, the color of our skin could very well have saved us.

All night, the sounds of helicopters and sirens permeated the air. As information, and confirmations, were released and announced on the television, I could feel myself numbing to it all. I went back into the bedroom, but laid awake, staring at the ceiling until I saw the first sunbeams of morning.

None of us slept very much, or at all, that evening; and we hit the road driving north much earlier than anticipated the next day. Arriving in Richmond with hours of contemplation weighing heavy on our minds, we stopped at the hotel bar for a drink.

When I used to hear the word terrorism, I conjured up images of earth shattering fear: Hiding under desks, conventional or modern warfare. And that’s it, to me the word “terrorism” used to feel like an act of war; an act designed to stimulate the actions and reactions between clear opponents. But when those 9 incredible people lost their lives in a brutal terrorist attack; it wasn’t so clear-cut. That horrible act was perpetrated by someone who sought to misappropriate and define divisions.

But the truth about terror, is that it is not inherently an act of war, it is an act of violence. And violence begets a slew of societal problems, not the least of which is a deep sadness. But out of sadness, we can grow. Human beings are complicated creatures; but we’re capable, we’re social, and most importantly we’re resilient.

As I excused myself from the table at the hotel bar, I snuck away to the bathroom. I called a loved one, just to hear his voice, and then heard that song. There were obvious reasons for it to strike me at that moment: the lyrics describe the challenges of servicing an institution that does not accept you. Lincoln once said that

“Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government, practically just so much.”

When I read what Hozier described the song’s core as a message about “reclaiming your humanity through an act of love,” I was struck, that’s the message we need more than anything today. We have the power to make a change. We have the power to take action, and that action can fight that violence. The words of a man who famously spoke on the steps of the memorial to our 16th President say it all:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Finding Love
The moral of all of this? History isn’t just a part of our past. It’s a part of our today, and it shapes so much of our world. This isn’t such a revolutionary idea, but it makes a difference. When we see an act of terrorism through the lens of an ongoing struggle, it can feel disheartening, it can feel like an insurmountable challenge. But this focus, this attention, the work of the thousands of people who seek to embrace the notion that a little bit of kindness can make the world a better place, they’re making a difference.

We’ve got a long way to go, but context helps. Drawing strength from the successes of our past can help us build a better future. Lincoln knew that. He wasn’t a perfect leader by any means, but he struggled and coped with so many challenges we face today. What’s past is prologue, and as good old Abraham said:

“The best way to predict the future, is to create it.”

Getting this out helps. It helps to state your purpose; and my purpose here is to use the framework of history to gather a better understanding of the world around us. It’s not that we are stuck in the balance of good and evil, it’s that we’re forging a path forward that leans more towards good. And that’s what matters.


I’m ABE-solutely Serious This Time

Across the country millions of students at various levels are embarking on the incredible journey that is a new school year. Although I won’t be entering a classroom this September, a few months ago I decided to use this month to reeducate my brain in a number of ways. One of those ways? Getting back on the blog train.

That’s why when I woke up and flipped to a new page in my calendar and saw this:image

I felt a strange pang of cosmic coherence. (If you can’t see what’s happening on there we’ve got an inexplicable image of a coy next to a quote from Abraham Lincoln: “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”)

One of the reasons I started this blog is because I was fascinated by the ways in which people appropriate images, ideas, and honestly, misconceptions about our 16th President. Although the whole inspiration-industry is something that I’ve got a lot of feelings about, I appreciated the serendipity of an oddly placed Lincoln quote to kick-off the month.

So, taking this day by day, step by step, I look forward to going back to school in a log-cabin school house with my fellow Lincoln nerds this September.

Have you seen something awesome and Lincoln related? Let me know, you can Linc up with me at honestabeblog at gmail dot com.

A Few of My Favorite Things

Tradition comes up a lot this time of year. From giving presents, to making resolutions, winter holds many rituals. For me, I try to set goals for myself. It’s a subtle difference, but I find that a goal is much easier for me to achieve than a “resolution.” Another advantage of goal-setting is that I’m less disappointed when my best laid plans go awry, and am more prone to pick them back up the following year. Enter 2015.

I’m banking on 2015 being the year of “follow through” for me. For this blog, the timing really could not be better. As the sesquicentennial commemorations of Lincoln’s life come to a close, I’m curious to see if there is any shift in the quality, or quantity, of cultural portrayals of our 16th President. While I will have to wait and see how it all plays out, for now, I will appreciate some good old fashioned TDIH:


150 years ago today, Lincoln was celebrating the new year a day late because another tradition (observing the sabbath) took precedent. Traditions may overlap, but they always maintain.

As I embark on yet another year of accomplishing goals and establishing traditions, I’ll conclude with one of my favorite Lincolnspirations attributed to the man himself:

“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

Happy New Year – and I hope to see much more of this world in 2015.

Advertising with Abe

When people ask me why I love Abraham Lincoln, I frequently have  a hard time giving a concise response. You can choose from a wide array of fascinating elements of the personality and character of the man, but honestly, I’m not sure any of those accurately represent the origins of my interest.

If anything could describe what kindles my intrigue, it may be how everyone else uses Abe. Things like this image are what really get me going:

What does it mean when we appropriate an image of a man who transformed our nation into an advertisement for a boat ride? Can we analyze that, or have we gotten to the point that it’s just an assumed feature of being an American icon? Is there a danger to trivializing history, or does that make it more accessible? I don’t think I have a good answer for any one of those questions – which keeps me going in my pursuit.

So, keep ’em coming, advertisers. I want to see Old Abe selling me anything and everything, because at least as long as that’s our MO, I’ll have something to chew on.

New Year Lincolnspiration

I’ve got some big plans for 2014 – a number of new projects, some new volunteer opportunities, and of course, more Lincoln stuff. While I’m taking the next two weeks to really get things up to speed and get my plans in order – I thought I’d take a bit of time to share my four new year’s resolutions as explained through (and inspired by) Lincoln quotes:

  • “If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.” I’ve been doing a lot of reading on productivity and time management, and this year I want to implement some of what I’ve learned. In order to get the kind of creative growth I want, I need to set aside time every week. The resolution: set aside time every Sunday night to plan the week’s projects (or “sharpen the axe”) and set aside 10 hours every week (outside of work hours) to pursue my projects!
  •  “I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.” Having recently cancelled my gym membership in favor of frugality, I still need to get in some exercise! Since walking is by far my favorite mode of transportation – I’m resolving to do the walk to/from work to my apartment (a little over two miles) four times a week.
  •  “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” While I have not yet reached notorious levels, I have not been the most punctual correspondent recently. This year, I am resolving to respond to all texts on the day I receive them and all emails within one day of receiving them!
  •  “Whatever you are, be a good one.” I’ve got a few friends who resolve every year to be the best version of themselves each year. I really like the simplicity of that resolution, and want to adapt it for myself. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to pigeon hole myself into a few different roles, but this year – I want to embrace the “whatever you are” of myself more fully. Mostly, I want to take all of my different roles and responsibilities and work at them the best I can and have a positive attitude while doing the whole thing!

I hope these Lincolnspirations (see what I did there?) help you as much as they do me, and I look forward to an awesomely Abraham Lincoln filled 2014 with you all!

The Scariest Photo That Never Happened

It’s Halloween — and so I figured it was as good a day as any to scare myself and actually make time for a spooky post!

As an amateur history aficionado with less time for extensive research, nothing is quite as scary as a nicely done fake photo like this one of Mr. Lincoln and the Raven-master himself, Edgar Allan Poe:


While the photo originates from one of my favorite Lincoln-related pieces of fiction out there (yes, I’ve come around to liking AL:VH quite a bit…) it also serves as a great reminder to do a little bit of Googling before you post something!

Got any other scary Lincoln things out there? Share them with me at honestabeblog@gmail.com!

Turning 204 Years Old

What kind of gift do you give to a friend who is turning 204? Well, a blog post seems like a good enough present to me!

I try and make it down to the memorial for Lincoln’s birthday every year since I’ve lived in the District – some year’s it’s been easier to accomplish than others – and it waits to be seen whether or not I’ll be able to make it over today but here is a picture of one of my favorite birthday visits back in 2009:


A lot of people ask me why Abraham Lincoln? Sometimes I come up with a quippy answer (“Because he’s such a babe!” or “He keeps me honest!” or “I’m just a nerd-girl!”) but in truth it’s deeper than that.

Lincoln wasn’t a perfect figure, and hagiography is never a good idea, but I think it’s important to recognize when a figure touches on so many facets of culture. It’s in the cultural connections we make as a society that we most clearly discover who we are – and in turn discover how we can improve. Lincoln has been appropriated (and maybe even misappropriated) by many different people representing many different opinions – but maybe if we look critically at his use – we’ll be able to find that middle ground that so many out there are seeking.

It was exactly that spirit of compromise with a guiding light that Lincoln brought to the position of Presidency – and so I think that’s what we should focus on as we celebrate his 204th birthday.

So happy birthday old friend – I look forward to your many, many, many returns.

A Sacred Effort

I try to visit the Lincoln memorial down on the National Mall once a month. While I don’t always have the time – every time I’m there I at least make an effort to go and read the text of one of my favorite Lincoln speeches engraved on the north side of the inner chamber of the memorial: the Second Inaugural.



In just a few days, President Barack Obama will be sworn in for his second term – using bibles from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.

Of course, prior to the 1933 passage of the Twentieth Amendment, inaugurations took place in early March, but still on the occasion of the Second Inauguration of our nation’s first African American president – it feels right to reflect on President Lincoln’s words. If it’s been a while since you’ve read it I recommend checking it out here.

Lincoln himself was purportedly concerned that the speech didn’t have the desired effect. In a letter to Seward friend Lincoln political advisor Thurlow Weed – Lincoln wrote of his speech:

“Everyone likes a compliment. Thank you for yours on my little notification speech and on the recent  Inaugeral Address. I expect the latter to wear as well as – perhaps better than – any thing I have produced; but I believe it is not immediately popular.”

From what we can tell though, Lincoln may not have been the best judge of his own popularity in this instance. The fantastic anecdote of a conversation between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass portray’s this most clearly:

“As I approached him, he reached out his hand, gave me a cordial shake, and said: ‘Douglass, I saw you in the crowd today listening to my inaugural address. There is no man’s opinion that I value more than yours; what do you think of it?’ I said ‘Mr. Lincoln, I cannot stop here to talk with you, as there are thousands waiting to shake you by the hand’; he said again: ‘What did you think of it?, I said ‘Mr.Lincoln, it was a sacred effort,’ and then I walked off.” (More on this quote here.)

A sacred effort. Of course with all of the religious overtones and references to God’s role the sacred is easily explicable. For me however, it is the effort of that speech that stirs me. The effort to objectively distinguish the moral truths and ambiguities of the Civil War. The effort to shape a narrative from within the waning moments of the conflict – these are the things that make this speech special for me.

I want to hear from you in the comments:  what are your thoughts and reflections on Lincoln’s Second Inaugural?

Whatever You Are, Be A Good One: A look at Spielberg’s Lincoln

Being an amateur film-lover, Lincoln pop-culture fan-girl, Daniel Day-Lewis enthusiast, and recognized Joseph Gordon-Levitt friendship daydreamer – the release of Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln was easily given the title “the Cinematic apex of my life.” With that combination, it is likely impossible for me to ever objectively review Lincoln – but in retrospect I think that is for the best.


NOTE: This post WILL contain spoilers for Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln.

I managed to see the film the week before it was released nationally, which means the same week as the Presidential election – which is just to say that going into – it partisanship was on the mind. In thinking about the film in the past months I realize how beautifully Spielberg was able to capture the transcendent power of Lincoln’s leadership.

Immediately after the film – I was somewhat disappointed. I felt as though the inclusion of humor was trite and that the writing was a tad too saccharine to ring true to the issues at hand. But now I wish to recant my initial feelings. It was a good film – and more than anything an excellent thought provoker. In writing this film as Tony Kushner did, he was able to capture a microcosm of sentiment not easily manifested – he transported the audience with ease to a world of political division where the means needed to achieve vital and fundamental changes to the fabric of our nation were dirty, manipulative and still downright patriotic.

For most people the scope of the film was the biggest challenge – why call it Lincoln when the main subject of the film is actually the 13th amendment?

While the 13th Amendment was a monumental change to our nation and cemented the inklings of equality laid out in Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – it was also a fascinating case study into the kind of politics that gets things done. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (which apparently Spielberg got the movie rights to long, long ago) outlines the deft maneuvering and really outside of the box politicking that defined Lincoln’s presidency.

The “team of rivals” philosophy of leadership is a popular one – but perhaps too simplistic to describe the universe you can create within a film. Instead this philosophy, this Lincoln-style Presidential-innovation that comes across so clearly in the telling of the passage of the amendment to end slavery – is, simply-put, defined by Lincoln himself.

Defining Lincoln is a monumental task (pun-intended) – but luckily, Spielberg wrangled in the one actor out there today who was without a doubt capable of bringing the persona and thoughtful creature of Lincoln to life: Daniel Day-Lewis. More than nuanced, his performance was raw. In his eyes you saw the lingering pain of losing a child and the turmoil of a challenged marriage. His slightest movements echoed the myth of Lincoln that we want to be true – while also mapping it gloriously on to the reality of an imperfect man.

It was in those challenged moments – a fight with Mary Todd, the disappointment of Robert, the doubt of his colleagues – that Spielberg managed to capture something we haven’t seen quite so frankly in most portrayals of leadership on film: vulnerability. Seeing that vulnerability made him that much more real. At no point was I in awe of the man, rather I felt for a moment I was able to step in his shoes – which seems to be the clear intent of the film in the opening sequence shot from that Presidential POV.

You have to ask yourself- what would you do were you in Lincoln’s position? What are the limits of the means you can use that would still be justified to achieve a noble end?

While the film gives you little time to ponder these issues – they sit with you, they linger and they resonate with the world around us today. As an audience, we becomes drawn into the tender exposure of the day to day life and political operations of the Presidency during war and we learn to steel ourselves with resolve – which waivers only with the one dubious decision to display Lincoln’s body in repose. (Which even Sam Jackson took issue with).

My list of complaints was initially lengthy: why include Robert Todd at all (despite my love of JGL), why show his body, why squander the fantastic opportunity to use two actors capable of great depth like John Hawkes and James Spader on roles written in the style of bumbling Disney villains. But ultimately my list of loves were stronger: a beautifully relatable portrayal of Mary Todd, a Congressional conversation worthy of the best minutes of C-SPAN and of course a once in a lifetime bringing to life of a long gone hero.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to take some friends to the Presidency exhibit at the National Museum of American History. While there I found a short spot discussing previous portrayals of the Presidency on film. In that film there was one line that stuck with me which said: “It’s not accuracy, but drama that drives most American films.” And while we cannot look at Lincoln as a historical text, it captures a flavor rarely seen on the big screen and nearly impossible to convey in text – a mélange of history, drama and emotion. Whatever we want to call Lincoln, a movie, a masterpiece, a poorly-titled film – it fulfilled its namesake’s declaration to be a good one.

(More thoughts may be coming — but wanted to at least get my initial feelings out there before the Golden Globes and in the wake of the Oscar noms,)

Presidential Peaks

While Abraham Lincoln is chief amongst my passions – I am also known by many as an avid appreciator of television and film. With this in mind, I make for a pretty easy Christmas gift recipient.

This year I received a number of wonderful presents (including a Lincoln iPhone case and  Sam Waterston’s Lincoln on DVD)  – but none of them combined my interests quite as uniquely as this one, courtesy of the ever-generous and wonderful Mr. Subtlety:


For the un-Lynch-initiated, this right here is a Lincoln Log Lady reference (more on the Log Lady here.) Having received this shortly after hearing the rumors of a third season of Twin Peaks, I’ve got to say I was pretty excited.

Maybe instead of Sheriff Harry Truman we’ll see a Sheriff Abraham Lincoln… what say you, David Lynch?