Today is my Aunt Duck’s birthday. She is the oldest of Mama’s remaining siblings. She is the sweetest soul in the world.
Today is also my younger sister Debbie’s birthday. Haven’t seen or spoken to her in many years.
Bear with me now. Yesterday was my grandmother’s birthday. We called her GraMo or MoMo.
Yesterday, July 28, was also my youngest sister Teresa’s birthday. She was born when I was a senior in high school. When she came to visit me at the University of Alabama with my parents, some people thought she was my child!
Dog Days are here. There is not a person who grew up in the south who does not know what that means. Long, hot, sultry days, air thick as molasses, dogs hiding under the porch, everything moving only when necessary, and only at a crawling pace. Heat waves shimmer off road tops, car tops, tin roofs. You long and pray for rain that never comes. You watch clouds darken, even hear thunder, and hope rises for a breeze, for a downpour. Too hot to breathe. Shower in the morning, at noon, at night. Nothing seems to defeat the heat.
The only good thing about dog days is that football practice starts, and that means soon school will start, and the first game of the season, marked in red, inches closer. The other good thing about dog days is that you really appreciate the subtle change in autumn, the air is drier, less humid, if no less hot. The sky seems brighter somehow. The best thing about dog days is getting through them without mayhem, that could range from the petty to the murderous. For anyone caught committing a crime during dog days, the heat is considered a mitigating factor. It won’t help you get acquitted, but it sure will reduce your sentence. Nobody would lock up a person for long in that kind of mushy, can’t-breathe, wish-to-God-it-would-rain heat. Rest assured, the sheriff, the judge, the jury, all long for a break in the heat just as much as the accused. No one has the energy for true vindictive punishment, and for sure, no one wants a hanging. Too hot to dig graves makes it too hot to shoot anybody, even if they deserve it. So there’s that.
I got my print copy of Go Set a Watchman yesterday.
Most people who read To Kill a Mockingbird identify with Scout. The character I most identify with is Mayella Ewell. She famously said, “I got somethin’ to say,” I’m going to say what I have to say.
Yes, I read the New York Times review. So what? I have been writing book reviews for years. Here are my bona fides:
I was born and raised in south Alabama, less than forty miles from where Harper Lee grew up, a few decades before me. I attended and received a degree from the University of Alabama. I wrote my first published novel about love and racial tension in a small southern town, set a couple of decades later than To Kill a Mockingbird. My second novel continued the story, set in the same place, with the same characters, in time a decade or two after the civil rights movement of the sixties. I still loved those characters and that place. It’s where I am from.
I sent Harper Lee a copy of my first book, and received a lovely hand-written reply from Alice Lee. Nelle can’t see well enough to read fine print any more, she said, but wishes me well in my writing endeavors.
My mother was my Atticus, my hero, my touchstone. She was born the same year as Harper Lee, and so grew up, poor white but not trash, in the same time period, in the same place, south Alabama.
Mama occasionally used the n-word, but she meant no offense by it. Some black people are crazy, mean, and lazy, just like some white people, but some black people are good, Christian, decent people despite all the incentives to be otherwise. They are sometimes better than good, Christian, decent white people who know no better than to read their Bibles too literally and examine their own family history not closely enough.
Go Set a Watchman is what it is, a rough draft of a book submitted but not accepted for publication. Yes, there are sentences, some paragraphs, that are identical to To Kill a Mockingbird. No one should be surprised by that. This draft was set aside, and completely reworked, through an intense and prolonged editing process, and emerged as the finely crafted novel so many cherish today.
Nor should any fan of the classic work be surprised that the characters in Go Set a Watchman are different. The original Atticus was an old man, trying to stem the fast pace of change in his little town, and says some things that are racist. Scout is shocked and disillusioned to find out that her father is a member of the local Citizens’ Council, a more refined version of the KKK, with membership culled from civic leaders and businessmen. supposedly to curtail the violent excesses of the KKK and to promote a slower turn toward desegregation and enfranchisement, sort of a benevolent attempt to influence events without bombs, burning crosses, white robes, and lynching.
Jean Louise did not accept this camouflage any more than anyone would. Horrified to find that the father she idealized is an old man with fear in his heart, if not hatred, she must come to terms with the thought that her entire belief system, predicated on what she thought were her father’s beliefs, must stand on its own and not depend on the bolster of Atticus, who was not perfect, not a hero, just an old man with a crippling disease, and with a dis-ease about the changes that were happening too fast for the pace of life he lived.
I cried as I read the ending, bogged down in didactic pedantry, most especially in chapter fourteen, when Jean Louise turns to her Uncle Jack to explain and make everything better, just as he did when she was a child. This didacticism continues when Jean Louise faces Atticus in his office. It is hard to swallow, but underneath, and more to the point, there is Scout’s feeling of betrayal, the yearning of a child for reassurance that the father of her idyllic worship is not a coward, as she calls Atticus, among many other names. Jean Louise rants, nearly hysterical with the dissonance. Uncle Jack asks, “Jean Louise, have you ever met your father?”
Lest some of you who also worshiped Atticus and put him on a pedestal resort to the same hysteria, let me assure you that it is safe for you to read this book. While the racism of Atticus is not fully redeemed or reconciled, Uncle Jack does give us this hope: “The law is what he lives by. . .he’ll always do it by the letter and by the spirit of the law. That’s the way he lives.”
So this is what I have to say. If you look for another classic morality tale, if you look for heroes of perfection, you won’t find it here. Jean Louise, all grown up, is smart and smart-mouthed, and her mouth gets her in trouble. Jem is not present in Go Set a Watchman. Calpurnia is seen very little, Dill not at all, except in flashbacks to Scout’s childhood that are just as wonderful and funny as such scenes were in To Kill a Mockingbird. One thing this rough draft, now published for the world to criticize, proves is that Nelle Harper Lee could write. The editors at Lippincott saw that, back in 1957, and that’s why they took her on.
Miss Lee was asked if she wanted to go through the editing process with this manuscript, and she said no. She is too old to care what people think any more, not that she ever did, much. If people are crazy enough to pay to read an old dusty manuscript, let them. If they want to see her feet of clay, then it’s about damn time. She is eighty nine years old, deaf, nearly blind, and resides in an assisted living facility, but she is still sharp as a tack and just as smart-mouthed as Scout or grown-up Jean Louise ever thought of being. She lives, still, in Monroeville, Alabama, that place she once loved so passionately that she wrote an American classic, a paean to small town life, to fathers we once thought of as heroes, to children.
Miss Lee was asked to write an introduction to the fortieth anniversary edition of To Kill a Mockingbird. She refused, so the publishers instead posted a short note she wrote in 1993: :”Mockingbird still says what it has to say; it has managed to survive the years without preamble.”
Probably against what Miss Lee would advise, I have written here a long preamble to encourage those millions who read and loved To Kill a Mockingbird that it is okay. You can read this without shredding illusions you may have held about fictional characters.
To the grown-up and confused Jean Louise, I say this: If Nelle Harper Lee can go home again, so can you.
Go Set a Watchman, 2015, Harper Collins.
I posted all I had to say on the subject yesterday. Then I read this piece by Rachel Spangler, much more thoughtful than I was. Like her, I grew up in the south (Alabama), ran around barefoot, drank tea so sweet it hurt your teeth, loved (still) Crimson Tide football, ate fried okra, fried catfish, fried anything with gravy.
I love the south. That’s why I still live here. I love my heritage, but I am not blind to the great injustices that existed, and still exist in some ways. That’s why you won’t see me raise a rebel flag in honor of the past, the glory days of the antebellum South, or for any other reason. Doing so involves hurting other people. Showing the same flag that appears at Klan rallies, that misrepresents so much of our history, that is something I can’t do.
Yes, I love the south, and I love my roots. I always will. I don’t have to love a flag to prove my bona fides .
In response to:
I wrote a piece this morning posted on my blog. One response in particular called up just the right amount of picayune snark to compel a reply. To those who already know all this, you can skip to the next adorable kitty vid.
The flag shown above is not the Confederate flag. This square red flag with crossed blue band and white stars is the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Robert E. Lee, he of unsullied reputation, and surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. Also called the Virginia flag, Beauregard’s flag, even though it never historically represented the CSA as a country, was never officially recognized as one of the national flags, it is commonly referred to as “the Confederate Flag” and has become a widely recognized symbol. It is also called the rebel flag, Dixie flag, and Southern Cross.
The first flag flown informally representing the seceded states was “the Bonnie Blue flag” of Gone with the Wind fame.
The so called “Van Dorn” flag, a hideous red orange with a crescent moon and stars strewn about randomly, was used by General Van Dorn and others in the Trans-Mississippi theatre of battle.
In March 1861, the hastily assembled government of the Confederacy took time from fomenting rebellion, treason, anarchy and terrorism to designate an official flag. This flew over the hastily designated capitol in Montgomery, before the Confederate capital was hastily moved to Richmond.
So in 1863, presumably after more thought, a new official flag was adopted, called “the Stainless Banner.”
A white flag, decorated by a canton in the upper left replicating General Lee’s battle flag, many hated this flag because they thought it would appear as a flag of truce or surrender on the battlefield. This remained the official flag until March 1865. The designer, one William T. Thompson, a writer and editor from Savannah, claimed that the white field represented the purity of the white race as well as the purity of the Cause.
For some reason, in March 1865, with only a month left in the war, (though the stubborn willful blindness of the Southern gentlemen who ran the war refused to see how near the end they really were) yet another new design was designated as the official flag. Called the “Blood-Stained Banner” this one served until the end.
To summarize, the rebel flag some want to defend as an historical symbol of their forefathers’ valor and courage was only correctly revered by those whose ancestors actually served with the Army of Northern Virginia.
Now that all that is clear as mud, please stop. Stop talking so reverently about a flag that never flew as the official flag of a country that never really existed, symbolizing grand ideas and un-besmirched honor and courage.
This flag belongs in museums, of course. It belongs in the back windows of pick-up trucks splattered in mud driven by people who don’t really know what they are so proudly displaying. It belongs in private collections, may be displayed on private property, on your body as tattoo art, anywhere at all you want to wave it, raise it, wear it, anywhere you want it to display your undying love for a lost cause.
It does not belong on public government property. It is an historical artifact and should never be presented alongside state flags, the United States flag, or any other real entity.
If your great great great granddaddy fought in the Army of Northern Virginia, then I understand your desire to have and keep this flag.
Otherwise, I fail to see how you cannot make the connection from the rise in popularity of this flag in the 1960’s to the civil rights movement.
I am one of those proud, stubborn Southerners, born and raised in Alabama. I applauded the governor for simply ordering the flag removed from the state capitol grounds. He said he did not have time for discussing, debating, writing and wrangling with legislative bills or constitutional amendments or public referendums. He had a budget to wrangle, bills to pay. In other words, he had some real work to do.
Ya’ll have a nice day, now. Go do something.
Everyone has been celebrating for almost a week now. The Supreme Court decided to include LGBT people in the legal protections under the law as granted by the Fourteenth Amendment. People have changed their Facebook profiles into rainbow shades. This past weekend there was a huge celebration at the Gay Pride events all over the country. It has been especially gratifying to see so many straight people who joined in the celebration. Thank you all.
A woman climbed the flagpole and took down the Confederate flag on the state grounds in South Carolina. Then she was arrested. About a gazillion people offered to post her bail.
The families of the victims spoke at the white supremacist-terrorist’s court appearance and forgave him for his hate and ignorance. President Obama delivered a powerful, beautiful eulogy urging everyone to act as if they are graced by God. Then he sang a hymn about grace written by a slave trader who got converted. By grace we are led. By grace we are saved. By grace we are better, stronger, more loving, more forgiving. Through grace we come together. That white supremacist was welcomed into the Bible study group at the historic AME church, he was included in prayer, and then hate and ignorance of the grace of God made him stand up and start killing people who had just prayed for his soul. The families forgave him.
Then several black churches were burned to the ground.
One step forward, two steps back.
The Supreme Court upheld the right of LGBT couples to marry. Then the state of Alabama refused to issue marriage licenses. Then a federal judge ordered the county probate judges to stop acting silly and comply with the SCOTUS decision. http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/probate-judges-opposed-gay-marriage-stand-firm-32146429
It was posted on Facebook by someone close to me. Huh.
Herewith, my response:
So, this weekend I will be flying my American flag, not the rainbow flag, because the Supreme Court just validated me as a full citizen with access to equal protection under the law granted to every other citizen. This weekend, I fly the red, white, and blue, with more pride, honor, and celebration that ever. It’s nice to be included.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all.”
Thus endeth the lesson. And the people said.
Ya’ll stay safe and have fun.
I really have no words of my own to discuss this week.
So many things happened.
The Republican governor of Alabama ordered the Confederate flag unceremoniously removed from state Capitol grounds.
Rarely have I been so proud of news from my home state.
Then, on Thursday, this happened. In a 6-3 decision, the Affordable Care Act was upheld.
Then, on Friday, June 26, 2015, a bunch of things happened.
Then there was this.
Somehow, President Obama made all of these things mesh together with a eulogy about grace.
I admit I never quite grasped the concept of grace. I think I have a much clearer idea of it now.
The Stonewall Inn at 73 Christopher Street in New York seemed to draw people to it to celebrate.
And this also happened: http://msmagazine.com/blog/2015/06/26/stonewall-inn-designated-nyc-landmark/
So, so many of the posts on Twitter and Facebook yesterday began with, “I never thought I’d live to see the day.”
I know I didn’t expect it. As my partner and I looked at each other, stunned and thrilled, I knew I should sit down and write about what this week in history means, to me, to the LGBT community, to the country. I should write something sweeping in scope, something moving and profound.
INstead, we cried, and all I could really think about were the thousands and thousands of ordinary people with small and large acts of courage, made my life possible, and made this day possible.
I am so grateful for all those who forged their lives when it was very brave to do so, like my partner Sandy.
These three women helped shape my life, made this life I am living possible. Their writing saved me from another kind of life that would have been stifling and painful, and ultimately no life at all.
I keep thinking about what President Obama called “small acts of courage” by countless ordinary people, and I think of trail blazers like Harvey Milk.
I am also thinking of Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Diane Nash, Fanny Lou Hamer, Optima Clark, Amelia Boynton.
My partner Sandy got married right after high school, raised three boys, built a career in art for herself as she built her sculptures, waited until her sons were grown and living outside the home, she got divorced and came out. Just like that. It takes my breath away to imagine the courage that took. Not a small act at all. It was a life saving act, an act of unbelievable self validation.
For her, for all the many thousands like her and me, I am so grateful. Without them, there would be no appeal to the Supreme Court. Without their earlier footsteps, we would not yet be afforded equal protection under the law, as guaranteed to every citizen in the Fourteenth Amendment.
The last paragraph of the decision will be memorized and recited at weddings for years to come.
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
It is so ordered.
Not my words. But they are mine to claim now. I am protected under the Fourteenth amendment. The Constitution applies to me and mine.
I am not one of those people who think of writing as cathartic or therapeutic. However, my therapist disagrees. Write, she said. Write something every day, until it becomes a habit again, until it becomes a compulsion. Should therapists encourage compulsive behavior? Put a pin in that thought.
So Sandy, my partner, wakes up the other morning and tells me the dream she had. Who knows what makes us dream the things we dream? In this case, she said she heard me talking to the cat as she fell asleep. My conversations with Boo Boo are a bit one-sided, since she only listens to herself, and believes she is always right.
In the dream, we had two cats, identical, adorable, and completely enamored of each other to the exclusion of the rest of the world. They were scared of everything, and stayed close together, inseparable, wide-eyed, ready to run for cover at the least provocation.
Then there entered a dog, a big dog. For some unexplained reason, the cats fell in love, and competed to be this dog’s BFF.
This complete reversal of their shy natures caused us concern. Should we keep them away from the dog? Should we allow the cats to fight it out and establish a winner? Why did their behavior change from frightened and co-dependent to outright jealousy and competition?
We decided to go to a party. It was a lesbian party. Driving along, we still could not work out why the sudden change in temperament and personality f the cats. We were actually worried about it.
Then, as we got closer to the house where the party was to be, we got more and more anxious, both of us switching from worried about cat psychology to focus on our own introverted, stay-at-home, do not ever willingly attend social gatherings personalities. We drove slowly past the house, where couples were gathering, debarking, making their way inside like the red carpet at the Oscars. A few recognized Sandy and called out of her. (Sandy being a well-known artist and sculptor.) Sandy ducked down and begged me to keep driving. I had no choice, because the slow crawl of limos disgorging formally dressed lesbians kept us in line.
Sandy became aware, as it happens in dreams, that the theme or purpose of this party was actually a symposium about everyone’s pets suddenly exhibiting strange behaviors due to the introduction of an outside third party of some kind, just like our two cats.
Caught in a near panic attack, Sandy also sensed that I was to be on stage, presenting a humorous monologue about cats. She also realized that Ellen Degeneres and wife were supposed to attend, but couldn’t, so they sent a charming, breezy, wholesome, and entertaining video, the effect of which was calming, a gentle exhortation to accept our animals as they are. “Bye,” they said in unison. “Remember, love everybody regardless of orientation, and judge them by their pets’ neuroses,” except Ellen and Portia used the words “adorable eccentricities”, but we knew what they meant.
Which is much better than being judged for having dreams about cats, lesbians, and parties.
There, that’s about five hundred words of pure recitation, to the best of my memory, of someone else’s dream. That’s not weird. Maybe it is. I’ll talk about that at my next appointment with the irresolute therapist.
I get a little sad on Mother’s Day, since my mother passed away in 2008. I would like to start a tradition of honoring mothers that I know. This year, I choose to honor my partner, Sandy Moore. She is a proud mother of three boys, all grown men now, all talented.
Sandy has been reminiscing about her boys this week. She taught them how to fish, how to build a fire. From her, they each inherited a love of animals. She showed through her own life as an artist how to dedicate yourself to creativity. all three of her sons today are skilled and creative in everything they do. They are artists, whether they claim that label or not.
Sandy spent time with her children when they were young. She played with them, attended every one of their games and performances. She cooked three meals a day, a daunting task for three boys with enormous appetites.
As they became young men, Sandy took a job with the McFarland theatre in Dallas. Her middle son Cliff joined her there, and they worked together for ten years.
Today, Cliff is a general contractor, and manages large construction projects. He is also an artist in his own right.
The youngest son, Russell, graduated from art school, and today is still a working artist.
First born Brandon, raised two girls all on his own, until marrying and creating a blended family. Sandy is proud of Brandon as a father. He is also talented, sang in a boys; choir when young, played football, and today works as a landscaper whose creations are wonderful to see.
Sandy is a proud mother, grateful for her three children. Sandy said to me the other day, “I was a good mother.” yes, she was, and still is.
Saturday, April 18, 2015, at ten am, Cy Brinson ended her life. It was a rich, full life. Cy was a musician, a singer, a painter, a writer, She lived with manic depression, the terrific highs, the horrible lows.
Cy believed that we are all created from energy which cannot be destroyed or snuffed out, but is simply transformed at death and re-enters the universe. She was a sensitive, someone whose spirit, whose soul is open to to others’ energy.
Cy wanted to be in control of when and where she would transform to whatever comes after. It might be nothingness, she said, and that would be okay. Her energy, her spirit, might be reincarnated into energy for this world, for the earth, the air, for all living creatures. The transition might be a return to heaven, that place from which we came, the source of spirit and energy.
Wordsworth proposes in Ode: Intimations of Immortality that we come from heaven, or God, or some other place where we are pure, innocent, loving, where we understand our connection to Nature, that we are part of the earth, air, part of “the splendor in the grass, the glory of the flower.” Wordsworth surmised that when we are born and move from heaven, or God, or the Source of All Energy, we must forget the glory and majesty in which we were created. The innocence of childhood is but a faint reminder of our special connection, and as we grow and learn, the realization of that relationship to all living things, that knowledge of the glory of heaven, all of that awareness gradually diminishes until we are at last adult, and unknowing of those things. “The child is father to the man” Wordsworth states at the beginning of the ode.
This ode, in its entirety, (some 208 lines) is effusive in praising the lovely, wondrous descriptions of Nature. Reading this poem leaves one with a certain wistfulness, a longing for those “trails of glory.”
The child is father of the man;
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
And the poem concludes:
The Clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
Cy Brinson knew. She never lost the child’s innocent delight. She knew from whence she came. Cy was ready to return to the source of all energy, which can be created but never, ever destroyed. “I have a choice,” she said.
So Cy left us, trailing wisps of joy in every living thing, joy in creating art that moved us to remember faintly, briefly, the glory in the merest flower, the trails of glory that great art, great music, song, dance, painting, the written word, poetry convey to us. Cy was one of the great conveyors of joy. “Be joyful in sorrow,” she said.
So I am trying to be joyful in my sorrow. It is a good thing to try, even if we don’t achieve it. It is a choice we can make to be more open to the energy all around us, to remember our majesty, to share it with others.
I can feel Cy’s energy now, as I write this. It makes me smile. She is not gone. She is transformed.
Well, hey there. So much has happened in just this past week, I thought that it’s about time I catch you up.
First things first: the apocalypse. Anyone catch the season finale of the Walking Dead?
In other signs of impending doom, the Supreme Court on Monday decided not to hear another lame suit regarding the Affordable Care act.
Then there’s this. Indiana, Indiana. What in the (modern) world are you doing? Governor Mike Pence, just what did you think this “it’s okay to discriminate” law would accomplish?
I have nothing more to say about this. No, wait. Governor Pence, don’t you realize that people can discriminate just fine on their own, without the help and protection of the state?
I ate pancakes three times this week, the last week of March, a month with thirty one days. We stretched every dollar, counted loose change, and we made it to the end of the month without stealing or borrowing. We made it. I could tell you the final balance in our bank account, but suffice it to know it’s only three digits.. But the point is, we made it through, and we had a pretty good time this month. We got a ramp built, so we don’t have to climb stairs to get in and out of the house. We watched spring arrive, and gloried in the fresh new greenness of it. We dug in the yard and planted things and cut away dead growth, and watched the cows return. We (sort of) adopted a new cat named Wesley. Boo Boo found him first, and he is a real sweetheart.
In other good news, our dear sister friend Cy Brinson, a musician and artist, joined Facebook. Welcome, and we know this was a big step for her.. Check out her Facebook Page here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Creativity-of-Bipolar-Hermit/1404938723154818?fref=ts://. Keep up with the journey of her novel Effie as it comes into being: movie, stage play, musical, or book? maybe all of the above.
It’s difficult to remain stressed or depressed when spring is so in-your-face gorgeous. Remember that.
And just to send you out into the newly sprung spring, here’s an hilarious song by Miranda Lambert that I think beautifully describes Democrats and Republicans.
Ya’ll take care now.