Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Researching those who don't care to be researched

Research for my book is a bit trickier than I anticipated: it's tough researching people who won't speak for themselves. Granted, you can find some collections of Amish people writing about sundry items like baking, quilting and barn-raising, but most of those collections are written for children and avoid the hard-hitting topics.

Do the Amish like being Amish, or do they stay for tradition's sake? Do any of the regret staying? Do they ever envy conventional dishwashers or the concept of salvation by grace?

Add to that the fact that there are 1,400 different ways to be Amish. One group may eschew regular bathing, while others are more fastidious. Finding out what's standard is like finding out what color is most common for cats.

Then you've got your points of view. People who came from an Amish background are either overly rosy or exceptionally bitter. True, I would have some hard feelings about a group that wouldn't let me shave my armpits. Some of the outsiders looking in have the same set of polarized reactions - I think America wants to believe in the possibility of the idealic agrarian society. It's kind of like the fascination with organic farming.

Before I started working on this project, I read anything I could get my hands on regarding the Amish (Note: anything non-fiction. The Quilter's Daughter isn't my idea of a hard source). Now, I'm going back to look for what I may have missed. It's tough writing about a world I've never experienced and likely never will, considering that what the Amish want most is to be left alone.

On top of all the Amish research I've also got a fairly strict writing schedule; some weeks are better than others. And I never really unpacked from the writers' conference, and my cold combined with my subsequent birthday weekend hasn't done a whole lot for the tidiness of my home. It's funny writing about the Amish, who will shame you with their cleanliness and work ethic, while sitting surrounded by piles of stuff.

However, I do have a load of laundry going.

Some things I have learned about the Amish:

1. They love ice cream. As in, love ice cream the way my husband loves ice cream - by the pint.

2. The children and teens will play volleyball. Violently. Kind of funny if you consider they're pacifists.

3. Amish couples honeymoon at the bride's parents' home until their home is completed. Often, they'll spend the weekends traveling to family member's homes and receiving gifts.

4. The Amish collect no social security, but they do pay taxes.

5. Many Amish are prefer chiropractors to doctors, and will travel great distances to see them. There's a joke that you can get an Amishman to the moon by telling him there's a chiropractor there.

6. Most Amish do use electricity through generators, solar panels, and wind power. Because of this, even the most conservative group (the Schwartzentrubers) use washing machines.

7. The only musical instrument allowed is the harmonica. All church singing is a cappella.

So many other things, but I'm done procrastinating. Will keep posting about progress...

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