my review of The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper LeeThe Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I was interested in the book when it first came out late last summer. With the recent hubbub about the publication of Harper Lee’s rejected manuscript slated for publication this summer, I remembered Ms. Mills’ book – primarily because I now live in Madison WI where Ms. Mills grew up. Last week, I ordered her book from the library, anticipating a long wait. Surprisingly, it came swiftly – and had apparently never been read.

In an early chapter, Ms. Mills accuses Mayor Daly of exiting sentences he never entered. I was amused by this statement, and, as I continued reading, found it’s to be a self-describing mechanism for the author’s own writing – at the paragraph level. I also became increasing irritated with the non-movement in her story and having to parse the disjointed sentences and the appearances of non-referent characters.

Concerned that it was just me who found the book boring and simultaneously raising a profound dislike for Harper Lee, I went in search of reviews for the book.

The most helpful, and most vitriolic, came from the UK’s Telegraph. The Telegraph’s reviewer spoke what I was feeling.

To Kill A Mockingbird is a novel that speaks in language the soul hears. Americans of a certain age resonate with this book in the same way that we remember a dead parent. As a result, we tend to value anything about this book in the golden light of nostalgia. From that perspective, one can excuse the American reviewers’ praise for The Mockingbird Next Door.

Because the Telegraph’s review was not blinded by the historical heritage of Ms. Lee’s novel, the non-American reviewer brought into the conversation an actual critical review of Ms. Mills’ own writing and content.

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Late again, eh, Cratchit??

When Bob Cratchit attempts to steal into work the morning after Christmas, Scrooge accosts him with this welcome:  “Late again, eh, Cratchit!”  Of course, Bob is late, having spent Christmas Day devouring the prize goose with his family.  Unbeknownst to Bob, Mr. Scrooge has had a Damascian moment and has chosen to announce it in a novel way.

I say this by way of attempting, yet again, to re-enter the world of blogging – not for you necessarily, but for me.

I have recently watched a healing process occur because someone took the time to write extensively about an experience that troubled him.  The process gave him a new perspective and an ability to see on the page, a representation of what had happened to him from the position of an observer.  Whenever we can observe ourselves (and I mean observe without judgment), a wealth of wisdom about a situation is possible, and healing begins.

Writing is powerful – reading is powerful.  Shared words – even with oneself –  are powerful medicine.

Ever casting about for a new way to re-encounter the Holy and Wholeness, I am a sheep in need of a pen (and I mean that in both ways).**

So, late, again, I return to the fold.  I am likely to do so again, and again.



** the Goddess wishes to point out the knitting imagery in this sentence.  Yes, she’s still with me.

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Cure for the Emotional Hangover – a timely Repost

Why re-invent the wheel?  This post is as pertinent today as it was two years ago when I wrote it – no improvements required. As we move into the holiday season this week, here is a gentle reminder of ways to care for yourself in the midst of family gatherings  Happy Holidays!

Whether your are just past the family event, about to go participate, or are anticipating for next year, here are some things that may help you avoid, or at least lessen,                               the Emotional Hangover.

Before you go . . .

1.  Have hopes, not expectations.  Expectations and hopes may appear interchangeable in the dictionary, but they are not the same psychologically.  Expectations have the scent of “this is how it’s going to be”; hopes have the more ethereal quality of possibility.  There is space for hopes to become more; expectations have a more concrete anticipation with confidence of fulfillment*.  Expectations hold a greater chance of not being met and leaving us with disappointment.

. . .while you are there . . .

2.  Drink plenty of water – at least as much water as you are drinking other items (coffee and alcohol dehydrate you – 1 for 1 is highly recommended).  Sometimes the 2nd glass of wine is better sipped afterwards on your own couch in the silence of your own home.

3.  If you start feeling irritable, consider the HALT rule:  Hungry Angry Lonely Tired.  This mantra is an old rule of thumb from Alcoholics Anonymous, but has implications for most of us.  Self-awareness is key:  if you find yourself irritable and out of sorts, run the above mantra.  Is anything from this list contributing to your irritability?  If you can determine what’s feeding the crankiness, you may be able to fix or at least lessen it.  Knowing what’s driving the irritation can help defuse it.  While you can’t let Aunt Martha have it verbally (much as you would like to and as much as she probably deserves it),  you can recognize that her rudeness was just Aunt Martha being her loathsome self – it wasn’t personal.  And she isn’t going to change just because you told her to.

4.  Enlist a ‘rescue buddy’.  Safety in numbers is key – have your beloved (who is not related to this group except through you) run interference for you.  Frequently a sibling or a cousin can make an excellent confederate if you are single or without a beloved at this event.  As allies, each of you can watch the other’s back from afar, be poised to intervene and able to extract one another from conversations when you see the secret ‘help me’ sign.  You may also need  an ‘I’m fine’ sign.

5.  Limit your stay – sometimes difficult if you are attending a ‘scripted’ event.  Decide how long you can stay and stick to it.  Give yourself permission to change your mind and stay if things are going better than anticipated (see also #1).   Also remember that it can be helpful to be “seen leaving the party” before Uncle Julius slyly refills everyone’s wineglass “to get them talking”.

. . . after you leave.

6.  Recognize that you may be exhausted when the event is over.   Plan some down time. Hopefully you will be suffering in your own home, in your own room at the hotel, or in your childhood bedroom with the door closed. Remember that most of these events frequently cause many participants to suffer from the Emotional Hangover, too – so in this, you are not alone.

7.  Be gentle with yourself – and your family.  There was likely nothing you could have done to prevent whatever happened.  This is bigger than you – let yourself off the hook.  Whatever psychosis is indigenous to your family, you can’t fix it – but you can arm yourself beforehand to have the best chance of some enjoyment of the event next time.

. . .Before ‘next time’ . . .

As with most ‘events’, planning is key.  If your experience didn’t go so well this time, a little planning next time might eliminate some of the beforehand ‘dread’ and the ‘hangover’ afterwards.  This little mantra may be helpful:  If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.  Change, while challenging, may be worth the effort.

Oh, yes – about the cure?  Well, there is no cure – only prevention:  one part awareness and one part preparation, sprinkled liberally with lots and lots of understanding.


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