The Mockingbird

Harper Lee (Getty Image)

Harper Lee passed away in her sleep…I’m sad, but not too sad because she had a good life and was an inspiration to many—she was my inspiration. I am the writer I am today because she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. A book and the woman who wrote it. She’s gone, but the book lives on—

To Kill a Mockingbird(image from Goodreads)

You know how certain songs are part of your life soundtrack? Well, Mockingbird became meshed with the soundtrack of my life—it was in there, nudging me to think, to look, to be an observer, to be a writer—not much of what I do or have created had too much to do with what I learned in school—I did get exposed to things, some not so pleasant—I seemed to be forever swimming against the current of what was expected of me—I clearly had my way of doing things, and school, even college, never lived up to my expectations. I was looking for “immersion” and never truly found that, nor did I get much guidance—a few bits here and there, but not whole lot of encouragement that didn’t have tags of negativity about it being “hard” or something that implied I didn’t have a snowball’s chance to “make it.” Seriously, I’m more satisfied with creating the things I create than receiving prizes or praise—that’s the shit that makes me crawl under a rock and hide while shrieking “Don’t look at me!”—so if anyone understands Nelle dusting off her hands and saying “I’m done!” I do. I learn by doing things hands on, getting my hands dirty, breaking my fingernails, and absorbing or being so focused that nothing else gets in—and sure, making mistakes along the way. I don’t like being told what to do—or what I should be doing. It took a long time to achieve what I have envisioned for myself. A long, slow simmer in a pot of life experience—along the way, I have carried the essence of what I learned from reading To Kill a Mockingbird, it was a long time before I set down the first words for my first novel. In spite of my observations of Nelle, and stuff that I’ve read about her, I can’t pretend to know her at all, but the book I do know—I never felt compelled to meet her (meeting your heroes is rarely a good thing.) Mockingbird was magical, its vision precise and formidable—my various journeys through it over the course of my life—from a child to adult—I never faltered in my feeling for it—the wisdom, the quiet, thoughtful prose, the intensity of emotion, it was visual—partly because of the film, which I saw well before I read the book, but the book expanded the limited scope of the film, filled in those hungry places that I had gurgling in my brain’s belly—it’s always good to be a little bit hungry all the time. I’m always hungry.

To Kill a Mockingbird was the perfect book. Nelle didn’t need to write another, tho’ I selfishly wished she had because I sensed she had more to say—much more. Go Set a Watchman came along last year, as a surprise, and of course, the collective “they” made it into a literary scandal of sorts—to be honest, I didn’t see Atticus as the outrageous racist that they made him out to be in the headlines. He was a man of his time and place, he was mixing with them because he had to keep an eye on what they were up to, he saw them as dangerous—and he had his own personal concerns as well, perhaps selfish ones, and who isn’t? Especially, once you’ve become older and feeling vulnerable to the whims of others, it’s that time when the young are coming up behind you, tapping your shoulder, expecting you to step aside so they can take their place in society with their own vision of how things should be. Naturally, the elders feel threatened—(I catch myself saying to the twenty somethings—wait until you’re fifty, you’ll know then—I might still feel like I’m nine on the inside, but I’m not ignorant of the fact that I’m getting on in life, I’m flat out tired and cranky, and I have aches n’ pains that are annoying me to no end. It’s not a pretty sight.) I read Watchman and accepted it as it was—the firstborn. To Kill a Mockingbird grew from it, and it was well nurtured in comparison—it’s a big book—it was her gift to the world, and now it’s her memorial.

My sympathies go to her family and friends. May she rest in peace.

I will have to read it again.



Curses! The Bad Boy Four-Letter Words and Their Place in Literature—

Swearwords, dirty words, swears, cussing, profanity, salty language, foul language, slang, spicy talk, raw, naughty, shocking, rude, cheap, vulgar, racy, immature, ignorant, ugly, gratuitous, offensive, obscene, risqué, crude, objectionable…Some of these objections to “such language” are badges rightfully acquired. In my honest opinion, their relevance are at the discretion of the writer—therefore, readers beware—beyond this point, there be dragons—big motherfucking dragons…

Ooooo, you just swore, I’m going to tell your Mom!

Go ahead, I dare you—and I’ll tell your Mom what you said five minutes ago when you stepped in that big squishy pile of dog shit. (Wild giggling with hands firmly clamped over our mouths.)

Remember those days? Being nine and testing the waters with some bad words—I still smirk a little when I swear. I was quite young when I first let rip a few to try them out, and although I knew they were very naughty things to say, I found them hilarious. When George Carlin recorded his long list of words that couldn’t be said on television—the world of bad words changed forever. I still hear my mother’s voice chiding “Here-here, that’s not the way to talk.” It was impressed on me that a young lady, such as myself, shouldn’t say such things. Well, being the sort of girl who couldn’t resist the temptation to do something I was not supposed to do, swearing just tickled my fancy, it set me apart from the rest of the girls—I didn’t fit in anyway, so I let ‘em fly.

A side note, my mouth did get washed out with soap once. For the life of me I can’t remember what I said, I was so young at the time, I probably repeated something I heard, and didn’t know what I was saying was bad. Lot of good it did—

sweetheart soap

(It was Sweet Heart soap for those who care to know.)

I must confess—I have seen and heard enough in my lifetime that I’m likely to drop an F-bomb before 8 AM—

fuck comma

or as the image above implies, when I start using “fuck” like a comma, I can gauge how my day is going to be—it’ll be a real day.  As I work my way through editing my manuscript, Drinking from the Fishbowl, I have made a point to deliberate over the use of “such language”—just because I should—yes, I counted them, there is a lot of them sprinkled around. Have I taken any of them out? No. I haven’t found a reason to—I figure my readers are adults or maybe precocious teens—I’m confident that they can handle it. Tho’ I do realize some adult readers can be sensitive—that cannot be helped—I understand “there’s an app for that” so censorship is alive and well in the e-book world. I’ve heard good old white-out is an option if one is so inclined, it’ll take more than one bottle, I’m sure…

A few years ago, while attending my mother’s wake, one of her friends came up to me, shook my hand and said, “I loved your book (Dusty Waters), but it had so many bad words.” The lady scrunched herself up into a guilty cringe; she giggled and smiled in that coy little way of proper ladies who might’ve done something that made them feel guilty. I’m not sure, but I think she meant to scold me, but couldn’t quite pull it off. Of course, I was still feeling stunned by my mother’s unexpected death from a stroke, but I was gracious enough to thank her for reading my book and was glad she liked it in spite of my liberal use of bad words. Yes, my character, Dusty Waters, has quite a potty mouth—I’m up front from page one how things are going to be so anyone cracking it open for a test drive will know right away if it’s their cup of tea or not. (In this SJW climate less than ten years later, I’m sure it’s politically incorrect, some readers might expect trigger warnings, comfort stations, and safe spaces…)

All of my characters creatively express themselves with less than polite language—It doesn’t make my characters bad people when they drop an F-bomb because they’re upset, or express their surprise with an expletive—or just casually cussing away in regular conversation, it’s their personality—not a character flaw. People do talk this way—not all of ‘em, just some of ‘em. It might not be proper, it might not be professional, it might not be ideal to say such things in front of the “little pictures” learning how to talk because they repeat EVERYTHING Mommy and Daddy says. (Just hear it, don’t say it, and especially, don’t let Gramma hear you say that! Tho’ Grampy might laugh.) Profanity exists in our language—it’s a revealing element pertaining to the reality of the human condition, the anger, the amusement, the frustrations, and distress of people as they experience life—life is certainly generous with one thing after another. It’s always something.

My mother’s friend isn’t the first or the only one to comment on my use of such language. Her cringing posture made me feel a little bad that my book forced her out of her comfort zone. To be honest, my comfort zone is challenged whenever I step out my front door to witness the world for as long as I can remember, so I can sympathize as I cringe too—yet I push myself to go “there”—where ever, whatever “there” is because it’s what I do. It’s part of being an observer, being a writer. I’m amazed when I meet people who have allowed themselves to remain sheltered and have never looked the cruel world in the eye and said, “What the fuck!” But I guess, some folks don’t want to look at it too closely—it’s safer in the over-rated protection of the shelter—or the trendy “safe space.” That’s fine. I’ve always been too aware of the world, so I tell it like it is—it might not be pretty, and not too many people want to hear it, but it is what it is. So I reach for the default phrase—“What the fuck.” (This use is casual, like a shrug, “C’est la vie!” It works just as well when it comes to the five-second rule.) Then I could say, “What the fuck?” (An inquiry in regards to something unbelievable, like that asshole who just did a U-turn from the right lane in front of all oncoming traffic to get to the far right lane going the other direction, it was truly amazing that he didn’t cause an accident—give that guy a gold star along with the finger.) And finally, “What the fuck!” (Dude, you scared me, I think I peed a little—or a bad-ass case of frustration, because something just wormed its way under my skin just enough to trigger righteous indignation.)

Ooooo, you just swore—

Yup, I did.