July 15th, 2015

Thinking About Harper Lee – Processing what’s Under Your Writer’s Bed

Kimberly Brock

Kimberly Brock

Kimberly Brock

Well, there’s Harper Lee and Atticus and just somebody tell me what does it all mean? I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.

I guess I can’t help myself because I’m a writer and a southerner and I always liked saying Harper Lee only had the one book and it gave me relief. Like I didn’t have to accomplish much more. Except now I have to figure something out to leave under my bed, damn it.

I’m also thinking how she was really young when she wrote this new, old book that’s turned up. I can conjure up how it makes so much sense that she was going home from life in New York to life in Alabama and what on earth that must have been like to try to process. Here’s your swanky new life up north with people who talk good and act big and you go home to an old daddy who’s probably embarrassing with his corny jokes and prayer before meals. Which also makes him the Daddy you love. Which means you have to overlook his issues. Like drinking. Or gambling. Or women. Or bigotry. Or just being lazy. You can be a town hero and feel sorry for Boo and stand up for Tom, and still do all that other stuff at home and ya’ll know it. I mean, I get it. She wasn’t much more than a kid when she wrote that stuff she hid under her bed, when she was trying to love imperfect people in an imperfect world and learning that it’s hard to have it both ways. I don’t know if she found the answer.

I haven’t even read the book, only a chapter. I say this goes to show the power of story and a fictional character, that we’re all so worked up about it. It’s just that everybody keeps turning up a disappointment and I’m kind of sick of that. I want the old Atticus like I want Santa Claus. I want somebody to just be good in all the mess. I want a good husband. I want a good Daddy. I want a good president. I want to trust the whole wide world and sing on top of a hill with Don Draper, who regrets how bad he’s been to women, and share a Coca-Cola with a bunch of happy, hippie teenagers. I want Boo Radley to come out! (Even if I know it’s only Robert Duvall behind the door, made up real sweet.)

I am so distracted by this. But I’m also thinking about things like Bill Cosby. (He put his hand on my belly when I was pregnant with my daughter. I am sad. I am horrified. I am angry.) And I’m dreaming about all the little white boys with mental problems, the ones I used to teach, hopped up on meds, maybe going in places any day now and shooting people they’ve never even laid eyes on. And flags. And cops. And riots. And war in places that have been warring since the dawn of man. And also, vaccines. And all the pharmaceutical commercials that promise me a better quality of life, if I don’t die from side effects. (Which, let’s face it, really wouldn’t be a side effect.)

And that makes me think how, in general, my whole thought process is made up of side effects. All the stuff that’s filtering through my head every day – and night, if we’re honest – can be summed up as side effects. I am worried about Harper, I really am. And Malala, too. Did you ever think what it’s like to be her? And I’m worried that my Keurig coffee maker might be silently poisoning me since I seriously can’t ever empty all the water out of that reservoir. What is in there, lurking? You know it’s not clean. But I just pushed the button, anyway. It doesn’t TASTE like cancer.

Cancer is another thing. Did you ever hear of so much cancer as you hear about today? Is it because I’m getting older? I keep telling people that it’s because I’m getting older, it’s just a different stage of life. This is the stage where there is cancer eating everybody up. When I was twelve, I didn’t hear about cancer because cancer wasn’t eating up enough kids, only the ones on the TV commercials. Now I’m old enough for cancer to be a daily conversation. And divorce. And parents dying. Or pets dying. It’s all very traumatic. I am not being facetious. I mean this. I am sad a lot more than ever before. Because of all of the losing stuff and people. There is a lot of losing going on.

On the other hand, there’s a lot going on in general that is piling Life up around me. So it’s not just the losing. It’s the gaining. Sometimes it’s more like hoarding. My schedules look like those houses of hoarders on cable. Kids going places, growing up and teeth coming out or growing crooked or being allergic to everything because, apparently, I’m feeding them chicken and milk hopped up on God knows what. And banquets. I’m hanging awards on their walls and probably they’re collecting anecdotes for future therapy sessions. It seems like they ought to paint my name in a space at the pediatrician’s parking lot. That’s the award I want. A shorter walk. But they’re all busy and I’m busy with them. And I am just so proud. And grateful. And distracted.

Because I’m also busy without them. I’m busy with the big people, too. The people who need things from me and fill me up when my tank is low. The daily exchange of encouragement, support, wisdom, humor or just a good shoulder rub. Meet me for coffee. Sweet Communion. And Brainpickers, Lord. Heartbreakers, too. The ones having breakdowns or dealing with addictions or climbing ladders or moving out or moving on or needing me to show my face in support of one thing or another. Funerals or celebrations. And I love every one of them so I’m there and I’m participating and I’m just trying to process it all. Maybe I’ll put that in the book under my bed. Maybe one day they’ll say I was just senile when I agreed to let it be published because, obviously. Sheesh.

Did I mention I’m writing a book? Yeah. And there’s room in my head for it, just like there’s room in my life for the writing of it. But I go to the beach with all of this other stuff going on in my head, Harper and all. And I wonder how on earth I’m ever going to focus on a bunch of made-up people, dealing with whatever? How will I ever get the formula right so the characters are compelling? So they’re sympathetic, but not cliché? So the story is identifiable? So there are great odds and every page is infused with relationships and conflict to the gills? How do I come up with material that takes readers on a journey, where they come out of it alive or dead, but hand in hand and forever changed? And the thing is, don’t you just know when it’s done, some editor is going to say I ought to consider writing the whole thing from a child’s perspective and clean everything up a little bit, so black is black and white is white and it’s easy to tell the good from the bad? I bet Harper can tell me how easy that is.

I don’t know. Inside, I guess I’m still little Scout, trying to see what the hell’s going on through the too-small eyeholes of my ham suit. I’m told what I’m really doing as a writer, is processing all of this stuff. Sitting here at my desk waiting for something to strike me, I wonder if my trouble most days, was Harper’s trouble, too. You can’t just let Boo out and forget the rest. Maybe it should seem obvious to me that in order to get to the source of my truest, most transparent work, I’m going to have to work up the courage to look under my Writer’s Bed at the mean old Atticus I’ve stuffed back in there. Maybe the only way to make sense of who we are, what we love, what we fear, what we dream and what we dare, is to pull the terrible out with the tender. To be true so we can be transformed. Is that what we’re all really trying to do with this writing business?

Like I said, I’ll have to think about it.

Have you found the courage to look under your Writer’s Bed? What might happen to the work you’re producing, if you dared?

About Kimberly

13502935Kimberly Brock is the award winning author of the #1 Amazon bestseller, THE RIVER WITCH (Bell Bridge Books, 2012). A former actor and special needs educator, Kimberly is the recipient of the Georgia Author of the Year 2013 Award. A literary work reminiscent of celebrated southern author Carson McCullers, THE RIVER WITCH has been chosen by two national book clubs.

Kimberly’s writing has appeared in anthologies, blogs and magazines, including Writer Unboxed and Psychology Today. Kimberly served as the Blog Network Coordinator for She Reads, a national online book club from 2012 to 2014, actively spearheading several women’s literacy efforts. She lectures and leads workshops on the inherent power in telling our stories and is founder of Tinderbox Writer’s Workshop. She is also owner of Kimberly Brock Pilates.

She lives in the foothills of north Atlanta with her husband and three children, where she is at work on her next novel. Visit her website at kimberlybrockbooks.com for more information and to find her blog.


48 comments to Thinking About Harper Lee – Processing what’s Under Your Writer’s Bed

  • I can always count on you to provide food for deep thought at just the right moment, Kimberly. As usual, thank you for the insights, and kudos again for your fabulous writing.

  • Whew, girl! Enjoyed that. 🙂

  • S. A. Young

    That was a terrific read. I found myself nodding mt head in agreement through most of it. Thank you for the terrific start to my day and the food for thought to go with my coffee.

    • I wondered how it would translate for others, since I chose to post such organic thought. I did revise it several times, for fear I’d inadvertently offend someone. (I have a great talent for that!)

  • Wow! What a great ramble through your mind! Wonderful!

  • Wow, that was powerful, and so spot on.

    I just got my copy of GO SET A WATCHMAN yesterday (pre-ordered weeks ago) and now with all the controversy, I’m sort of shaking my head. I mean, hey, she wrote it first – this WAS the MOCKINGBIRD book before an editor said…well, what you said above. This is what happens when authors and editors collaborate, right? I think a lot of us already have that book under our beds. When I think about my first book, and the first version of it, it’s completely different from the one I have today – different enough it could be like a WATCHMAN vs a MOCKINGBIRD.

    In a way, all this hulabaloo makes me want to say, “Will the real Atticus Finch please stand up?”

    • Thank you for addressing what’s under your writer’s bed! I wonder, will more of us consider that after the release of GSAW and will we have the courage to address the value that might be lurking there?

  • I just gotta say – touche!

  • Oh, Kimberly, you don’t have to worry about things to write about – choose ANY one of the zillions of orts of everyday life, a few of which you touched on above. Really any of them.

    Such a brilliant writer – you just spilled what’s in all our heads, every day, right there on the page.

    I’ll add one more — The Atticus I’ve heard about in the new book, and everyone’s reaction to him, tells us more about ourselves, than Atticus. I’m going to think about THAT.

    • Well, OKAY. I WAS being a little facetious about the whole, “Oh, dear me. What shall I ever find to right about” part. 😉
      As for Atticus being a reflection of US, I said the same yesterday.
      Be the Atticus you hope to see in the world, ya’ll. xo

  • […] “Thinking about Harper Lee – Processing What’s Under Your Writer’s Bed&#8221… […]

  • As a Southerner, I realize how complicated it is to explain to others what that label means. How there is much to be ashamed of, but also how bone deep is our love of the land and the people–despite everything. Thanks!

    • I feel the same way, Debbie. But lately I’ve been considering that the shame of the Southern US is the shame of the human race. We all shoulder the ages of inequality and the horrors we visit upon one another. We are beautiful, too. There’s the rub. How can we make peace with OURSELVES? I think that may be what we ultimately learn from Harper Lee’s work. We are all Scout. We are all Atticus.

  • This is just lovely, thanks.

  • Thanks to Carol Bodensteiner for posting this on Facebook. Love the honesty of your voice, Kimberly Brock. I’m still thinking about this one too.

  • […] I shared a piece with Writers in the Storm. It’s mostly stream of consciousness, and I fear it misses the point many times. But I hope […]

  • Orly Konig-Lopez

    I’ve loved every version of this post, Kimberly. This is one post I’ll be thinking about for a long time!

  • The talk: The new one isn’t (they say) of the quality of the old one. The characters we love aren’t the same. And why the heck did she let it be published, anyway? Never mind all that for the moment.

    The point of reading (well, okay, not the only point) is to make us think. Give us a perspective on life that we didn’t have before. Trigger the brain to fire a few new synapses, and who knows? Maybe learn something. I’d say Ms. Lee’s book has accomplished that. And your rant, Kimberly, proves it. I just hope that when (if) I read the book it will trigger equal (powerful, melodic, artistic) reflection in me.

  • I imagine Harper Lee in so many ways. I hope she is not upset by the publication. At best, I think she might be unaware in that nursing home, not care a whit about all the rumblings and rants and the guards that stand outside to protect her. I also like to imagine her as this sly little grey fox, enjoying all the scramblings outside. All of us trying to keep up and make sense. Really, she has become a character in her own story for most of us, hasn’t she? Even if she never intended for #GSAW to see the light of day, I kind of love that it’s part of her legacy now, if only because, yet again, a little woman from nowhere Alabama has made us all take a look at ourselves.

  • Fae Rowen

    Thanks for a thought-filled post, Kimberly. I connect with the sadness. It seems I’ve been in a fear-sadness loop with tiny bits of hope. Since it’s all my perception, I’ve decided to add in joy. Should be much better for my writing!

    • The HOPE is so important, Fae! We write with hope and for hope. We write to persist. We write to celebrate and reveal and immortalize. To write is to light a candle. To be a writer (and you are one) is to BECOME hope. xo

      • Orly Konig-Lopez

        Oh, Kimberly … how absolutely perfect! I’m copying that and keeping it for those times when the doubt and fear threaten to suffocate the hope.

  • Get out of my head! I loved this, Kimberly. Loved.

    The copy of Go Set A Watchman that’s waiting for me at work…well, that’s another story.

  • I would read anything you write, Kimberly. I bet even your grocery lists are lovely. And I mean that in the nicest way. 🙂
    My copy hasn’t arrived yet, but I intend to read it as soon as it arrives. As for what’s under my bed, there is so much that it’s easier for me to look forward than backwards. So I do. It’s the only way to sift through all the busyness in my mind and get through the chaos of the day. Just keep looking forward.
    Love you!

    • Mostly, I forget my grocery list and wind up doing the market in much the same hairbrained fashion as this post! But, thanks!
      I don’t think we ever escape what’s under the bed, Sharon. I think that’s the real secret. Our experiences, observations and perspectives aren’t stagnant. They’re never really under our beds. They works out through the seams of us and our best writing until, if we’re lucky, there is no fracture, it is all just part of a better our better selves. Onward!

  • “From up North where they talk good …” really they do that up there. You must live someplace up there, but I remember trying to listen to people on the street in Boston and New York, and wondering if I was still in the United States. I amazed that you so obviously want to share your biases against the South, yet want to claim one of our authors, seems strange to me.

  • This was so thought provoking. I really enjoyed it. Thank you!

  • Daniel

    Very thought provoking. Love the insight!

  • I love your organic style, Kimberly, and your open, organic heart. We are all plagued with the same thoughts, worries, and insecurities….Harper probably is, too.

    • Jolina, nobody does organic like you! What a compliment, coming from a writer I admire so fervently. As for Harper, I hope she’s kicked back in her fuzzy slippers, laughing at us all.

  • Well said, Kimberly! I worry about the same stuff. The only thing I’ve been able to accomplish recently re worrying about Harper, Malala, Cosby or water germs, is to unplug my Keurig and start using my old coffeemaker again. This (several weeks ago), after hours of online research about how to empty the Keurig’s internal reservoir, against the manufacturer’s recommendation. I took the bottom off and cut away the plastic holders around the hose, but couldn’t get the blasted female hose off the other one to empty the old water. So I put the bottom back on, and the Keurig is brooding in the dark in my dining-room stash of items destined for a garage sale, probably breeding algae and dreaming of unleashing a bout of intestinal distress on us. The antithesis of the Brave Little Toaster is taking up space in my house.

    See how easy it is to turn my attention from the book which is in my head instead of recorded and stashed under my bed? In that regard, and in many others including your thoughts on Atticus, Santa Claus and Don Draper: I’m with ya, lady. 🙂

    • Maybe I need to cut back on the caffeine, I know. But it’s good to use the release valve now and again, if for no other reason than to confirm you’re not alone! Thanks for that, Kathleen. BTW, I really do secretly believe ALL of these things are going straight into my work in progress. Don’t you?

  • What a thought provoking post, Kimberly. Atticus is my all-time hero so I won’t be reading the new book. I don’t want my image of him changed. You are so right about all the bad in the world. It makes what we, who write romances (in whatever flavor they take) do, all the more important. The world is crying out for some happily ever afters. A lot of the bad stuff out there, we can’t fix. What we can make a dent in, we owe it to ourselves and the world to try. (As easy as not running the water while you brush your teeth.) And otherwise, we give people the hope of a better world. As you said with such eloquence.