Sunday, July 19, 2015

Teachable, Watchman, Mockingbird-able Moments ...

photo circa 2011 ... the Little Girls/grandaughters, the youngest holding a, "Grandma, is this a manuscript, can I read it," and the older two reading ... Little Yellow House/Sheboygan 

… was it published without her full consent…good question…will we ever know the final answer on that…probably not.

But I do know this…the public loves books, movies and fairy tales with happy endings, which may be why Watchman never got published to begin with, tucked away instead, because the public likes their fairy tales and happy endings, inasmuch as they love their news to be full of violence, mystery and bad weather.

So why would any author torture themselves completing edits on something that was never going to see the light of day in this crazy world?  Off it goes, in a box, in a drawer, in the fire, or some far off forgotten place.

Instead, the writer who hopes to be published may or may not decide to work on something else, or to take their original idea and fashion it into something the publishers will want and the public will eat like candy.

If you were Ms. Lee, in that situation, Watchman had to sit in the corner, and Mockingbird traveled to the bookstore.

That sucks.

If you were Laura Ingalls Wilder, that was the Little House Books, wherein we don’t ever get to hear any un-magical parts of their leaving original home and family to trek West, or how HORRIFYING it must have been to be the only well one when your entire family went ill and your sister went blind, or how Ms. Wilder struggled with her marriage to a farmer (versus maybe a different life for her “self”), and the loss of her second child is one gasp and one little clean not-even paragraph in the happily-ever-after stories.

You don’t hear about the real-life struggles of a young girl on her journey to womanhood in a country that was still changing, and a climate where no one cared about this or that woman, let alone what might be going on under her bonnet!

Frankly, I think I’d cling to my solitude and go back to whatever my “sweet home Alabama” was after the publication of my first book/which was really my second book, and I’d count that as lesson learned.  I’d go on with the rest of my life, thank you very much, as did Ms. Lee.

It’s got to take an awful lot out of a person to have had something they really wanted to say, but having had to settle with what was palpable to and for the public. 

Ask any writer, poet, artist, fiction filmmaker or documentary maker.  So much gets left on the cutting room floor and never sees the light of day or the printed page.  This is, personally, why I love the work I do because there are times when I see everything, including the stuff that doesn’t make it to page or screen.  Truth gets told all the time, but we don't always get to see it.

In college, and in wine-laced book clubs this is why we take several works, read them all, compare and contrast, critique and then critical think ourselves into puddles of tears or fitful laughter.  Then, to save ourselves, we wander and wonder between the lines of what was said, looking for what was not said.

This is why when our kids are reading, and bring us this or that book, this or that thought, a question, a notion, we continue the dialogue, the thought, the notion, and then we have a good laugh or cry, whichever is appropriate (and sometimes inappropriate).  

Then we hand them another book, share with them what we might be reading, and we remind them that the clock is still ticking and the world spins on–and none of us have this figured out yet!

You may also see snippets of a “real story” later, after the author has died, and boxes and boxes of their “stuff” is archived, shared, studied, compiled and further published in its original form, as a montage, as the grist for a film or two, etc., with and without their permission, pre- or posthumous. 

Ms. Lee certainly lived and learned from her first publishing experience.  The story she wanted to tell was put in a box and forgotten.  That was Watchman.  The story that was published, loved far and wide, talked about through the ages, that was Mockingbird. 

The story we all need to read, glean what we can and learn from (both the story itself, and how it got to final print), that is Watchman. 

It’s a catch-22, with at the very least two lessons we can learn.

If there was elder abuse, coercion, etc., author or not, that’s an issue in this country we need to pay every-day mind to, not just today, and not just because one of our favorite authors may or may not have been duped.

This is an EVERY-DAY-OF-THE-WEEK issue because our elder population is not, in most cases, understood, cared for adequately and/or respected. 

And it’s a myriad-Pandora box-unfolded issue if we apply it to every oppressed, misunderstood, discriminated and abused population on our planet.

So that’s teachable moment, number one, and our full reminder to keep that population in the news, honor their continued accomplishments, provide them great compassion and care.  

Let’s make them newsworthy every day of the week, and not just on a big news day when a famous person is in peril, and the baby boomers are crying!

Teachable moment number two is the book, Watchman.  

It’s here now, let’s read it with an eye, an ear and a broken heart to the original story, the true, brutally honest story of an evolving generation where everyone wasn’t pitch-fine-perfect in their dealings with each other, their feelings on change, what compassion meant, what racism was or wasn’t, and that the fight was not over yet.

Love Mockingbird all you want.  Heck, love Ms. Lee all you want, though none of us “really” know her, and maybe she’s just as fed up with us now as she was then, just as fed up as she was when she tried to craft a story in the hopes of understanding it all–this thing, how people act and treat each other, evolve and then slip back into the dark ages. 

But read Watchman, and if you’re not going to read it, be mindful, FULLY MINDFUL that we live in a constantly evolving world.  For every two steps we take forward, we take nine or ten steps back (sometimes 20 if it’s an election year and no one is listening to anyone, just waiting for the other person to stop talking, so they can start talking again).

We don’t live in a fairy tale world, but we do live in a world where we clean up the fairy tales and turn them into animated happy-ending films, where we take our elderly and hide them in castles we call “assisted living facilities” with cute little names, like Sunny Acres and Golden Horizons, when really most of these places are a Giant Pain in the Ass!

In this whole publishing “he said/she said” fiasco, we likely will never know the truth.  That’s oftentimes the way things go, and we must choose our battles accordingly, or better yet, learn from this, move on and do better.  

Quit beating the dead horse, bury that horse, find a new horse, or walk on and make things better!

In a more perfect world, we would have read Watchman first and “stolen” Mockingbird for publishing later, instead of the other way around, though in a super-sonic perfect world, there would be no stealing of anything, from any such soul.

In our imperfect world–well, whether you read or don’t read the book, learn from this struggle, read what’s behind the lines, the shady back story.  Lee’s characters would have, by some twist or unpublished turn, tried to make some sense of this.

"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlyn, "is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you."  

...from T.H. White's classic novel, The Once and Future King