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.



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