“Go Set A Watchman”

July 29, 2015

i have now finished reading ‘Go Set A Watchman’ by nelle harper lee.  did a few days ago, actually but those few days have been filled with fermentation and thought.  i’ve actively avoided reading reviews or other comments about the story since i bought my copy, but they’re hard to avoid!

i intend to set down my thoughts about the story, the book and its story however it would be disrespectful to the world of literary review and critique to call this missive either.  just my thoughts…

when i first heard that a subsequent book to ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ was in planned release i was ecstatic.  and who wouldn’t be?  the loved and lauded best book of the 20th century was going to have a partner!  trepidation set in after contemplating that ms lee hadn’t written anything else, not one single thing, in fifty years.  there had to be a good reason for that, surely?  could it be that nothing could compare?  was ms lee a one hit wonder?  is she still? but more on that later.

as the release date drew near i learnt something of the story behind the publication.  ms lee is now enfeebled with age.  it happens.  her affairs, during her lifetime, were looked after by her sister; a seemingly well-qualified lawyer.  one source says that ms lee will sign anything put before her if she feels she can trust the person asking.  her trust in her sister seems well-founded, but now that sister is dead.  what was the motivation and who was really behind the publishing of GSAW?  i don’t think i’ll ever know.

from another source i recall that ms lee wrote GSAW before TKAM but upon presenting it to her publisher she was advised that there was a better story to be told from just a small part of GSAW, hence the birth of To Kill A Mockingbird.  in GSAW the one partial line on page 248, “I remember that rape case you defended…” seems to have spawned our beloved Scout and her daddy Atticus.  how amazing!  i don’t know the word count of GSAW, tho i feel it’s safe to say it’s probably similar or above my first completed manuscript of 89 000 words (still awaiting publication hint, hint.)  if i was told to write another story from just seven words out of nearly 90 000 of them, i may very well pack it all in.  huge ‘thank you’ that ms lee did otherwise.

commentary on GSAW laments that the fine, upstanding, morally outstanding Atticus of TKAM becomes reduced to a racial, racist stereotype.  (see, i haven’t been able to avoid all the reviews/comments!)  i feel that the conclusion of that sentence from page 248 is important here “…but I missed the point.”  it is Scout, or the now adult Jean Louise, who is speaking and i’m sure those that lament the moral corruption of Atticus have missed the point, or at least one of the many made, of GSAW.  to me GSAW is not a story about race relations, nothing so broad; it is the story of one relationship, that between a single parent and a single child.  (it is also hugely interesting that the parent is a single parent, the other having died in the wee years of the children’s lives, and a single child; Scout’s brother Jem having perished prior to the start of GSAW too.)  the relationship between father and daughter progressed over years to become one between idol and worshipper.  when the sheen tarnishes on the idol the worshipper can either choose to polish it up again or to investigate what’s under the sheen and why it may be tarnishing in the first place.  i would posit that simply by aging Atticus as idol, is tarnishing.  his worshipper, his daughter Jean Louise, without realising she even fills that role prefers to polish.  all her polishing is for naught when on page 103 a very great crack appears in her idol, by page 111 her idol is dirty rubble, “She felt sick.  Her stomach shut, she began to tremble…  Every nerve in her body shrieked, then died.  She was numb. She pulled herself to her feet clumsily, and stumbled from the balcony down the covered staircase.  …  She walked down the steps and into the shade of a live oak.  She put her arm out and leaned against the trunk.  She looked at Maycomb, and her throat tightened.  Maycomb was looking back at her.  Go away, the old buildings said.  There is no place for you here.  You are not wanted.  We have secrets.”  (maycomb is her childhood home town.)

poor Jean Louise spends the second half of the story trying to reconcile her belief in the infallibility of her father with the oh-so-apparent travesty of his witnessed failure.

since TKAM was published in 1960 and ms lee was born in 1926 GSAW must have been written, coloured with personal observations from growing up in monroeville, alabama, in the 40s or 50s.  the story and its setting is a story for its time; about race relations and the superiority of white skin over black skin, about the inferiority of the black person’s mind, habits, abilities and ambitions.  and if you want to read what i imagine is one of the few books published in the 21st century, particularly by a white author, that uses the word nigger repeatedly, here’s your chance.

but i think you’ll be the lesser if you read it just to fashionable, or to feign horror because Atticus heads a citizen’s council that spouts racist shit, or to see what became of little Scout once she grew up.

because you see, little Scout, isn’t that much grown up yet.  she’s 24 in this story and either by design or manipulating circumstances as they happened (i can’t tell which) her father shows again he isn’t just the pre-eminent lawyer keeping things neat, ” -nothing to do with that black boy, you just like a neat brief.  His cause interfered with your orderly mind, and you had to work order out of disorder.”  he also shows his profound, abiding and patient love for his only living child.  thru his patience and gentle leading he lets his daughter wreck her own idol, rather than disabusing her of her false notions himself, so that she may grow and go out in the world without the weight of childhood bonds constantly upon her.  i think it would be a marvelous thing for all children to be prepared for their adulthood, to smash their idols, to find a truer love and a stronger mind in the way Atticus, with the help of his eccentric and amazing brother, did for Jean Louise.

to answer the question i asked above; ms lee is mostly certainly not a one hit wonder.  GSAW is brilliantly written encompassing humor; drama; the tale of a family and those that came within its fold and reach; a plea for equality that stands the test of fifty years passing since it was written when race relations were different to what they are now, but perhaps not so much changed as a cursory look would let us believe; wonderful dialogue and personal lessons should we look and want to learn them.  i also read somewhere that ms lee has not edited or re-worked GSAW since she first presented it to her publisher a life-time ago, if this is true, “bravo!” to an incomparable and inspiring, talented author.  i hope she enjoys the benefit of her work for many years to come.  i will benefit from her clarity.

writing sex

July 15, 2015

a reasonably well known author is credited with a quote about good writing coming from good reading, or something like that. can’t find it again…

anyhoo, in the interests of writing moving and believable sex scenes i figured i should read a few more first.  deciding on this course of action i realised i haven’t read that many previously, and that fingering thru the erotica section of my nearest, suburban chain book store doesn’t pique the slightest interest from anyone.  tho if i was expecting a hot stranger to be loitering nearby, notice my flagrant interest in stories about sex and lead me to a seduction in the storeroom at the back of the shop at around 11am on a weekday, i should tell my husband to get a new hair cut and ‘surprise’ me.

about the sex scenes i have read, i don’t recall any details particularly.  i do recall responses in me ranging from squeamish oh-god-really raised eyebrows and never-heard-it-called-that-before and a mild titillation and wetness.  perhaps i just haven’t been reading “the right stuff”! enter the solution- “The Mammoth Book of Urban Erotic Confessions. Over 50 Real-life Tales of Sex in the City”, edited by Barbara Cardy.  now it wasn’t until i was nearly 90% of the way thru this tome that i bothered to check what other “Mammoth Book of…” titles were out there.  i confess i may have been expecting too much upon reading i was in the good company of: Hollywood Scandals; Quick and Dirty Erotica (should i try this one instead?) Zombies; ER Romance (i’m assuming that means patients and health carers getting hot and heavy over gunshot wounds and heart attacks in the emergency room) Shark Attacks; More Dirty, Sick, X-Rated and Politically Incorrect Jokes and Erotic Photography, Vol 4.   ah well, live and learn, hey?

what have i learnt about writing sex scenes tho?  maybe a little.  what have i learnt about what people confess to? about 80% of the population wants to be humiliated by being spanked until they can’t sit down, and often with an audience.  and an equally startling amount of my fellow adventurers want to be trussed up, forced to commit acts they wouldn’t breathe about to their spouse and generally treated with complete contempt and degradation.  oh, and everyone wants it up the arse, preferably two at once, or at least another penis in a vagina or a mouth, whichever orifice the recipient is blessed with, whether they’ll admit it or not.

i didn’t read a word about compassion, mutual pleasure, love, long-term trust or relationships, respectful communication or enduring care.  i think i must be confusing love with sex.  sure, they don’t have to be mutually inclusive, but i thought there might be something…  or it could be that the nature of ‘confessions’ are bereft of those things we (i?) more normally associate with sex, or i’m just a prude with much to learn!

in my quest to learn more i did, that day in the bookstore when no-one smiled winningly or even smirked at me as i stood in my short skirt and heels* in the erotica section, buy two other books as well.  let my education continue!

*wardrobe choice that day was not dictated by intention to hook up while in erotica section of bookstore, wardrobe choice is nearly always dictated by what’s clean that day.

addiction or bonding

July 15, 2015

in johann hari’s TED talk (which i’ll try to link to but having not attempted such a feat of electronic wizardry before, and being largely electronically a luddite, i make no promises.  i’m sure you could look it up yourself, if you’re keen) he talks about the seeming failure of addiction being linked to chemical hooks.  he argues instead that addiction takes the place of humans bonding to the meaningful things in their life.  we are a species hard-wired to make connections.  we need to feel value in people, relationships and things like jobs and hobbies, we need to feel valued ourselves and we need to have a satisfying bond to our life.  if these things are missing or taken from us thru trauma, isolation or something of that ilk we replace our bonds to people with bonds to gambling, alcohol, cocaine, smart phones, shopping, pornography or a myriad of other ‘addictions’ that generally end up creating new or stronger, perhaps more insidious, isolating bonds in our brains.

our addictions spiral us ever inward to ourselves and away from the people that love us and the things that we would otherwise want to be present for.  except, at least in the case of drugs, in portugal, where in 2000, every drug; from cannabis to crack, was decriminalised.  yay, let’s all move to portugal!  portugal’s experiment (from the little i know of it) is running strong with 15 years of success measured in big reductions in the number of addicts, drug-related crime, recidivism and increases in employment and general well-being for the population.

if you are loved and remembered and thought of, if you enjoy your family and friends, have a job you at least don’t mind getting out of bed for every morning, if you find satisfaction in your past-times and pursuits and these things keep you present and engaged it seems you are likely to avoid damaging addictions.

at the end of march 2013 i was wondering where the cameraderie of the school gate had vanished to.  in 2012 and the first couple of months of 2013 walking percy to and from school introduced me to many families who became friends.  we were a happy little bunch of chatterers and strollers.  i bet those there still are, actually i know they are thru my addiction to facebook.  but in our change of location our, or at least my, circumstances and happiness changed too.  over two years later i am confirmed in my thinking that the ‘bored 50s housewife’ who hit the liquor cabinet a little too frequently was not so much a myth or a stereotype, but a real-life bonding response to a lack of connection to much anything that would keep their life interesting.

yes, the 50s housewife had her hubby and her kids, as do i, to keep her busy and connected.  i would strongly argue that these are not enough.  they are future-framing and present-enabling and sadly, not sufficient to render mute the need to bond and connect with people outside the family unit and the physical home.  i am isolated and lonely.  (i came with relish to our new country and our new adventures, easily i would do it again, even knowing what i know now.  of course with wonderful hindsight things would have been done differently.)  i am lonely because a partner and two young children cannot alone, fill the need i have for bonding and friends.

i can recall with precision the last and most recent time i stood in physical proximity with a friend and spoke with them while we looked into each other’s eyes.  you can too, probably… it was this morning, or yesterday, or at most last weekend.  for me it was october 2013.  for one week we were back in oz for my fathers demise and i spent a few hours with my addiction-stoppers, my bonded mates, my friends.  prior to that it was the 2nd of march 2013 when we said goodbye at the airport.  it seems i’m not such the loner, perfectly comfortable with my own company, in need of no-one person, i previously believed i was.  the history shared between us is the common ground i need to tread on to keep me upright and steady.  the shared experiences and the in-the-know jokes and the smiles and the touch and the promised future are things i haven’t experienced in over two years, and it’s driving me to addiction.  my near painful pragmatism wrapped around with manic optimism (believe it or not) keeps me from hunting down the local drug peddlers.  alternatively, i’d appreciate a call, a letter, even a postcard from you.  i miss you guys.