Book Spotlight: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Here there be spoilers.

When I told the librarian who was checking the book To Kill A Mockingbird (TKAMB) by Harper Lee out to me, I told him I was doing so in prelude to reading Go Set A Watchman (GSAW). The man begged me not to read it. He said that Atticus wsa made out to be a racist. Since he’d read TKAMB as a child who idolized Atticus, he refused to believe that his hero would end up racist. I don’t think I even read TKAMB in high school. I might have seen the movie. So his spiritied dissuasion did not affect me. I wanted to read TKAMB, and I was going to read GSAW. I figured that I could read it with less dislike for it since none of my heros were being dismantled. This time.

Harper Lee is a good writer. She really is. I like the way the story unfolds in GSAW just as I did with TKAMB. Unlike with TKAMB, I had no idea of the actual plot of the book. After a while, I wondered to myself where Harper Lee was going to this story. When Zeebo’s grandson gets into trouble while driving, I thought another court case was going to be central to the story. Turns out that it doesn’t really go anywhere. The plot was an excuse for Scout to visit Calpurnia who, by this time, is old and broken at her grandson’s troubles.

In this story, Scout returns to Maycomb for two weeks to visit her now aged father, Atticus. He’s crippled by rheumatoid arthritis. His sister Zandra takes care of him. Older brother Jem long since died from the same kind of heart troubles that killed their mother. Scout goes on some dates with Hank, but she’s really not too into him. But it’s when Scout reminisces about games that she, Jem, and Dill played when they were young that I feel it.

I felt the magic in Lee’s writing. That’s when I knew exactly why the publisher, who read GSAW first because it was written first, told Lee to go back and write about Scout’s young life. All the magic in her writing is there. Lee wrapped up all the loose ends in TKAMB, like she didn’t in GSAW. That’s what makes TKAMB such a darling book. It’s about Scout’s life as a child as seen through her eyes, allowing for more innocent and open-eyed approach to the topic of racism in the South. GSAW did not have the same magic throughout. Still a good read.

And it’s really not clear to me that Atticus is racist until the end when Scout confronts him about his participation at a men’s meeting with Hank, Scout’s Maycomb boyfriend. A speaker rails against the Negroes (the word in the book and not my nomenclature). By association, Scout assumes Atticus holds those same extreme views until we get to hear from Atticus what it is he exactly believes.

Yes, Atticus is racist, but in more of a paternalistic way than in an “I hate them” kind of way. According to Atticus’ explanation, the relationship between the whites and Negroes in Maycomb County changed after the NAACP came in to try and get judges to start getting Negros on juries. Negroes started (shock! horror! dismay!) having an attitude and getting uppity. Well, hell no! That was not gonna fly with those Southern whites. They thought the right and proper place for Negroes was in obeisance to whites. Since Negroes weren’t gonna stay in their place, the whites were not gonna have that. Hence, the whites were organizing.

Worse, Atticus goes on to explain that the Negroes are like children. If the NAACP was going to come to Maycomb County to rile up all the Negroes to vote, then they were gonna vote in themselves all in a bloc (just like whites already do, Atticus, hello!!), and they had no business in goverment cuz they didn’t know anything.

Well, Atticus, now who the hell’s fault do you think that is? You enslave a people for centuries. Then you only begrudgingly free them. You try to keep them separate so you don’t have to deal with them or work with them. You don’t educate them the way you educate your own children. You keep them in grinding poverty and beat them down and kill them for the slightest social infractions. You use the power of the state, the courts, and the cops to injure and maim and kill and keep them down with impunity.

I only have one question:


If Atticus thought Negroes needed to be educated before they could run for government, then EDUCATE THEM!! TAKE SOME DAMN RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE SITUATION YOU CREATED, WHITE MAN! THAT’S what you do. You do NOT do whatever you can to keep the status quo. That’s not a real solution. And look at us! It’s decades later and not much has changed. Some, yes. But not enough. Oh, not nearly enough!

In any case, I think Atticus racism is besides the point of the book. The point of Atticus being racist is so that Scout can have a major blowout with her father who she has idolized. Scout learns that even her father, her idol, is a human being who is flawed with flawed views. They had it out. Now they can move on together as two adults instead of father and daughter. Sometimes, we have to accept that someone we love has a view that we hold anathema. If we do not idolize them, then we are more likely to do that.

And here we are back at my librarian friend who did not like that Atticus, his self-professed idol, ended up having some views that flew in the face of his prior knowledge of him. I find it interesting that he and Scout were in the same position. Yet only one of them was able to change, accept Atticus as a flawed figure, and move on.


Managing Depression

Today is 89 days straight in which I have written at least one page of writing every day. The chain remains unbroken.

In the last week, however, I have noticed negative thoughts creeping in. The act of daily writing has largely staved off these thoughts for the past 3 months. The fact that I am doing what I want to do creatively gives my mood an enormous lift.

So why have the old thoughts been creeping in? Thoughts like, “What’s the point of writing? You’ll never be any good. You’ll never make any money from it. You’ll die alone and unknown and no one other than family and friends will ever know you lived. Just give up.” Deep inside, I considered it. I felt my resolve wavering along with the tree outside my window.

I used to want to find the answer. What was the trigger? Why am I feeling this way? Now, I say to myself, Who knows? I try to find ways to keep going. Maybe it was the anticipation of my hitting a milestone (90 days of writing). You can find out the exact reason all you want and, sometimes, it just doesn’t help.  You can’t go back and change the cause. All you’re left with is dealing with your mood and feelings in the present.

All my posts here get redirected to Twitter get redirected to my Facebook page. On that page, a friend suggested I read the memoir, “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression” by Andrew Solomon. His first chapter, entitled Depression, talks about what it is and, more importantly, how it felt to him.

As I read his descriptions, I felt myself becoming increasingly morose and unhappy. The painful feelings and sense of oppression made me feel as if I had a two-ton weight pressing down onto my shoulders that would not quit until it ground me into the ground. I felt more pain, too, and it made me wonder if all this fibromyalgia pain is depression pain instead.

After running an errand to find seed beads and coffee, I settled into my writing place at Argo Tea on 26th St. and 7th Ave. I opened my memoir file and began writing, but felt like it would be too hard. So I decided to start reading about memoir writing instead.

I found a great article “How to Write a Memoir” by Scott Berkun and ordered it from the library. Reading his article about how hard it is to write a memoir, that it takes a lot of times that only you can invest, and that you have to write for your own reasons – not to make money. I think that was the lift that I needed.

Then I wrote this post a day early. I have been trying to spread out my writing – Blog writing on Mondays and Thursdays; memoir writing on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. But today I knew I needed to write this today. Tomorrow couldn’t wait. This post is beyond blog writing.

Just for today, this post is about getting to writing again.

The Benefit of Writing Groups

Back in March, I decided I wanted to return to the commitment I made last year to write every day. My NaNoWriMo critique group started up again in February, and I put up an accountability calendar in March. I wanted to ensure that I would have a visual incentive and reminder at my desk. But I was feeling the urge to connect with other independent professionals more often.

Initially, I organized a weekly video meeting with a former coworker of mine. I envisioned that we would be a support for each other, since my former coworker runs her own business. The arrangement worked for about a month, and then became untenable. We were unable to continue, and I felt bummed.

Then I realized that what I needed was to get support and connect with other writers. While it was great to work with my former coworker again, I needed something more relevant to my work. Since I have had trouble doing work in my house, I thought it would be a good time to start getting out of the house once a week to do work in New York City. I’d just go in, find a cafe, write for the afternoon, and then go home.

April was Camp NaNoWriMo; it’s similar to NaNoWriMo, except you set your own writing goals. I decided to work on the memoir I started in March. I went into NYC three or four times to write for Camp NaNo write-ins. I decided to reach out to my NaNo writer’s critique group and find out if anyone wanted to join me. I knew that at least one person who might have time to meet, and others might be looking for the same thing.

I sent out an email to the group, and a few people answered. With the exception of this week, I have been going on Wednesdays. Two to three other writers join. We sit down, and write for a few hours. We chat about writing and non-writing topics. We get to see each other on a regular basis.

One of the other writers is a group facilitator who started her own business called WIP Squared: Women in Process with Works in Progress – a community for women writers. Since she was starting up a new group, I decided to join. In addition to weekly call-ins, we have a Facebook group where we can post to both give and get support. We’re already half-way done, but it’s added another level of support that I’ve needed.

By having several groups, I have more opportunities to meet writers who are on the same path. We are all trying to keep to to our work schedules, deal with personal and professional obstacles, and have someone (multiple someones) on our side, cheering us on. I’ve felt much less isolated, have met writers along varying points in their careers, and have already had opportunities to share what I’ve learned as well as learn from others. The benefits of writers groups flows both into and out of a writer, no matter who or where they are in their writing careers.

April is CampNaNoWriMo Month!

Do writers need an excuse to write? The answer seems to be yes.

Not satisfied with attempting to write 50,000 words every November for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), the NaNo creators responded to demand and created Camp NaNoWriMo.

The great part of Camp NaNoWriMo is that you set your own word goals. The minimum word count goal for April is 10,000. Just like in November, the regional NYC NaNoWriMo liaisons have regularly schedule write-ins. These are kind of like sit-ins, but we don’t protest except amongst ourselves about how slow and difficult (or not at all) the writing is going.

CampNaNo started off with a bang: our very first write-in at Argo Tea on 7th Avenue and 26th Street. Argo Tea is a fantastic spot for anyone who needs to do computer work. They have many outlets built into the bottom of the booths and along the edges of the tables. You can buy yummy food and tea that earns you a code for two hours of wireless service, or you buy access to the internet for hours or the day.

Five people showed up, and we wrote and talked writing shop. I had a great time and decided to stay after the event was over. I wrote 3,300 words for my first day of writing, bringing my total to just over 10,000 words. My goal was 10,000, but that was before I learned how many words go into the average memoir.

My plan is to write a memoir with the theme of my illnesses and how they have affected my life. Maybe I won’t end up doing anything with it, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to write something worthy of publication.

Surprisingly, memoirs contain around 65,000 words. When I wrote my six-part series of blog posts on my illnesses, I amassed around 6,600 words. When I found out I have to write 65,000, I felt overwhelmed. I somehow had hoped that it would be a lot less. Those zeros after the numbers sure look impossible at the beginning. I’m not sure how many words I’ll end up with, but I’m hoping I can get at least half of it written this month.

That’s how it felt when faced with getting my college degree, my IT certifications, and then my gradate degree after I was accepted but before I started. All the work, look at the time, and how hard it all must be! But I performed my work diligently, consistently, and with the intent of producing quailty work. If I’ve done it before, I’m kind sure and hoping that I can do it again.

Accountability and Writing*

I made it through the first 10 days of NaNoWriMo. The story is about a teen wizard who blows himself apart into 3 separate people, one of whom is insane and out to destroy the other two. Who will be victorious?

When writing in NaNoWriMo this year, I was a “pantser” – someone who wrote by the seat of their pants without regard to structure. The point is to start writing and keep writing. I made it to 10,057 words out of a 50,000 word goal this month. Then my auntie passed away on Monday, and I gave up.

I also “pantsed” it the first time I did NaNoWriMo in 2008. I put a lot of thoughts that were into my head onto paper. A lot of it I knew was terrible, but I just needed to keep going.

This year, I struggled writing every word. I wanted to give up, but kept pushing. And I probably would have kept going, maybe, if my auntie hadn’t passed away. My mind was elsewhere and not onto my writing. I considered reverting to my still unfinished 2008 NaNo story rewrite, but even that couldn’t get me going.

In the week before my aunt passed, I reconnected with a friend online and over the phone. Both of us work independently. In the course of our discussion, I suggested that we talk on a regular basis to support each other through our challenges. My friend A suggested once weekly, and we talked again this week as well.

One significant challenge I have had is keeping up the enthusiasm and commitments to myself. By committing to talking to a friend who, although she is in a different line of work, can both give and receive advice, we both benefit. A and I met at a mutual place of employment, so we are already know we work well together. We both work hard, try to give the best service we can, and want to spread our wings instead of working under someone else.

My friend has been far more successful than I, which is why it is extremely important for me to connect with someone that I respect and that I have a weekly meeting to discuss work. I feel accountable to both my friend and myself. I have to do some work so I have something to discuss.

Unfortunately, this week is shot. However, on Monday, I will restart my rewrite of my 2008 NaNo story that I had throw out about half of the words because they were rambling and did not fit the characters.

For now, I start the beginning of saying my final good-byes to my auntie.

* I apologize for not writing my post yesterday as my aunt’s death has occupied much of my thinking as of late. 

An Ordinary Life

American society places an enormous amount of pressure on children to be extraordinary. You know what I’m talking about.

Prodigies. Child business owners. Child actors. Self-possessed teens who quit school at 16 to go build an empire or play guitar. Toddler musicians. Anyone who followed their hearts desires, persevered, and became famous at the last second.

You know, those people who, by virtue of their birth and inborn talents or with the kind of family support that most people can only dream, somehow get catapulted into the public limelight as a paragon of ingenuity or talent or success. Or all three.

Then there are the rest of us.

I include myself in this category. I have not found my life’s work’s calling. I have not switched into that mode where I am utilizing all my strengths to put forth a confident version of myself in the public life we call employment, whether artistic or otherwise. In comparison with the rest of the American public, no one knows me because I do not stand out.

Truthfully, I am OK with that.

All my life, I have desired to find the one thing that I could do to bring myself into the realm of the extraordinary. I did not want it because I wanted to be better than anyone. But I deeply desired the kind of commitment and the experience of flow that people who know where their hearts lie experience.

Here are some things I truly enjoy: Being with my family, friends, husband, and cats. Working out at the gym. Being outside. Walks on the beach. Riding my bike with my husband.

I hate that this world asks us to look at the things and activities that we love the most and find ways to make money out of them. Being paid to do the things we love means we enjoy them less. It’s called the Over-justification Effect. External rewards reduce one’s internal enjoyment of a particular task.

If I am asked to spend 40 hours a week working, then I cannot think of a job as just a job. The need to truly enjoy the work increases, but the likelihood that the enjoyment will be as much as it can be is reduced. So I am stuck. I have tried a couple of different routes, but my heart wasn’t in it.

This year, I took on writing, and I am failing, by my own standards. However, I also wanted to get healthier, and I seem to be having success in that area by regularly committing to working out. But no one’s going to pay me to go to the gym and feel good.

Right now, I am not working outside the home. I am in a situation where it is not required so I can concentrate on getting healthier. I want to be able to give it my all, but my fibromyalgia pains suck so much energy out of me that doing is not possible. Without real health, I will chronically be exhausted as I work, and that’s no way to live, in my opinion.

I have not completely accepted that I am an ordinary person who will live this life only as ordinary. I grew up hearing about how smart I was. But being smart is not the sole answer to make it or living a happy life. Intelligence is not the only means by which goals can be achieved.

And thank goodness! Otherwise, the world would be quite the boring place.


Three Reasons I Blog

Approximately six months ago, I began writing in this blog for a few reasons. Those reasons have not changed much, but I thought it would be good six month post to remind myself exactly why it is I continue to do this. For those readers who have joined along the way, this will help you understand what you might find in this blog.

#1: To Experiment with a Variety of Writing Styles

A well-rounded writer is a better writer, and blogging is its own special kind of writing. I wanted to explore this medium and expand my repertoire. No more would I write only for technical or school-related reasons! Instead, I wrote and continue to write in order to become better at this craft called blogging, and, by extension, with writing itself.

#2: To Write on a Regular Basis

When I first began my blog, I was not doing any other kind of writing. Blogging daily would keep me writing on a regular basis. Writing in my blog would test my ability to write daily, as well as my ability to come up with different topics that both I and you would find interesting. I posted a little reminder in a frame at my desk, “Singers sing. Painters paint. Writers write.”

#3: To Share My Life as Authentically as Possible

I write about topics that personally interest me: cats and volunteering with animals, personal growth and development, meditation, family and relationships. Most importantly, I write to share and possibly connect with others.

Nothing is verboten from my blog. I do not keep secrets, nor do I believe in keeping any. I do not have any topic that I would consider off limits for discussion. Having grown up in a fear-, guilt-, and shame-based household, I have worked as hard as possible to let go of all those feelings in any form. I refuse to take on anyone else’s fear, shame, or guilt as my own. I am against censorship in all its forms, most of all, my own. When I fail, I try to forgive myself and move on.

When that fails, then I write. In my notebook. And in my blog.