Writers in the Storm

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March 16, 2016

The Yearning: Lessons from Gone with the Wind

Kimberly Brock


Before we get to the point, first you have to really understand where my love affair with Gone with the Wind began. It’s going to be hard for you to really grasp this if you can’t recall a day in your life before the VCR. My childhood years were measured by the yearly showing of Gone with the Wind on the local TV channel.

Once a year, I got to see Vivien Leigh flounce across the front yard in that white dress with the little red sash. I got to see her roll her eyes and purse her lips and sass and flirt and stomp her way through three hours of melodrama, doing all those Scarlet things that looked to me like getting away with a lot. And for a girl like me, who aspired to portray Mary holding the baby Jesus in my church’s yearly Christmas musical and never got away with anything, it should have been nearly impossible to like her or identify with her, let alone love her. Yet, I did.

Here’s how much I loved Scarlet: I spent almost every Saturday I can recall playing in my grandmother’s old square-dancing slip, fastened at my waist with a huge safety pin. It was white cotton, with flounces. Really flouncy flounces. Sound familiar? I rolled my eyes and pursed my lips and sassed and flirted with imaginary Ashleys and Rhetts. I stomped all over the farm, staking claim to our land.

And then I grew up and forgot all of this silliness, assigning it to the little box of cute childhood memories I sometimes trot out to make funny, southern-girl small talk with new writer friends who enjoy my twangy accent.

Margaret-Mitchell-House-And-Museum-27675I’ve been to the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta for author events. I’ve wondered at her dinky apartment. I’ve smiled, knowing she was an eccentric, feeling connected or wanting to believe we might have been pals. Peg and me, we’re BFFs. (If really knew her like I do, you’d know that’s what we call her.)

If you pull up her Wikapedia page, it says, “An imaginative writer from a precocious age.” See, there. Proof we’re peas in a pod. Funny, that’s how I thought of Scarlet, too. I wonder if some writer will ever read what I’ve left behind and think the same of me. If you do, trust me. We would have been pals.

After I married, I tried to watch Gone with the Wind with my husband and it ended in one of our first fights. I found myself passionately defending Scarlet and condemning wimpy Melanie and whiny Ashley and all the rest. I was shocked that my dear spouse could not understand my love of the hateful, selfish, lying, conniving main character. And more than that, I was horrified to realize, on all counts in regards to Scarlet’s character – or lack, thereof – he was actually right on the money.

Still, I felt betrayed. It seemed to me that if he could not understand Scarlet or appreciate her plight, he could not understand me! Not that I had pined over my best friend’s husband or married and gotten my sister’s fiancé shot through the head, out on the Decatur Road.

I couldn’t put my finger on my undying devotion to Gone With the Wind. In the end, as usual, Rhett didn’t give a damn and I’ll be honest, I didn’t spend too much time inspecting my feelings once the film ended. I did not divorce my husband and life moved on. Fiddle dee dee.

However, I now realize a thing that should have been clear to me all long. (Yes, tomorrow is another day, but that’s not what I mean.) What I realize is this: It’s not about Scarlet. It was never about Scarlet. Not for me or for any of you, I’d bet. Oh, you think I’m wrong, I know you do. Because there’s that curtain dress in the horse jail! There’s those boys under the tree at the picnic! There’s the moment she finally, finally realizing she loves Rhett and it’s so real and raw and true and horribly doomed.

But it’s not Scarlet, y’all. And it took another Southerner to show me. (Is Southern California technically a Southerner? I’m going to go with that.)

Picture this: I’ve gone to one of my favorite Indie bookstores, Foxtale Book Shoppe, to hear one of my favorite people and writers, Susan Meissner, and she’s got this new novel out that’s set during the filming of – you guessed it – Gone with the Wind.

I sit at the back of the room, because I tend to stick to the back or slide around the wall at these things. And I listen with a smile, as reader after reader giggles and talks about her love of the book and the film. They are so entertained by Susan’s talk, as am I, and her knowledge of the film set. And they especially love telling her everything they know about Margaret Mitchell and all the places you can see and learn about Gone with the Wind around my home state of Georgia.

We might as well be fluttering our fans and eyelashes, we are all so in love with Susan and her story’s subject. And that’s where she got me! It’s where she got all of us, really.

Now, I know you’re waiting for me to veer off into deeper, more treacherous waters where I rattle cages about all the historical relevance of Gone with the Wind in regards to race or the confederacy or any number of embarrassing reminders of the awful truth about our American tragedies. But there was something else going on with Gone with the Wind back then when the whole country went wild for Scarlet’s story, and that’s the thing Susan reminded me of just a few weeks ago.

That’s what I want to talk about today. And honestly, I think it’s what we’ve all been talking about forever. It IS the conversation. It IS the reason we write.

Susan reminded us all of the scene – that iconic scene – where Scarlet’s father leads her to stand beneath the ancient oak’s spreading limbs and they gaze at a sunset over their beloved Tara. The orchestral theme swells. And we all know it is an important moment. We all know that none of it will last long. And our hearts break a little for that loss.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t long for those days of plantations and Mammie and marrying my cousin. No, thanks.

But there’s something like grief that wells up in us when we experience those characters standing there on a precipice. There’s something that keeps us coming back to this story, reading and re-reading it. And because I love Susan and I suddenly felt, like everyone else in that bookstore, that I knew exactly what she meant, I raised my hand.

I found myself sharing a story. I didn’t mention my grandmother’s square dancing slip. I didn’t mention the argument with my husband about an unlikeable character I loved. I talked about dirt. I told the crowd about a memory of walking in a field beside my childhood home after my grandfather’s tractor had turned the soil, and the sudden, overwhelming love for that place, and the terrible knowledge that it was fleeting. I stooped and filled my hands with the red dirt and thought to myself, I couldn’t own the earth under my feet. It was too big, too ancient. When I stood, I’d grown up a little. Even as a young girl, somehow, I understood, that place and time and every thing and person I knew and loved, owned me. And I would lose it all.

I had a good old-fashioned, Southern Belle crying jag right there in the book store while Susan and the other readers looked on, horrified. I’m sure she thinks I forgot to take my meds. And I was honestly mortified.

But truth does that to us, reveals us and reminds us who we are. And that is the genius of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. It is the theme Susan Meissner’s new novel is built upon. It is the wisdom of Scarlet’s father. And it is what moved me to push my nervous hand high above the crowd to share a simple, poignant memory that broke me up and put me back together again in the blink of an eye.

Things change. I will change. How will love last, when nothing else does?

Every story we tell is searching for the answer to this ache inside all human beings since the beginning of us. It is at the yearning at the heart of Gone with the Wind, why we are a generation obsessed with Ancestry.com, even the origin of a terrible fear that is driving violence and uncertainty to a breaking point in so many ways in our country today.

And so I lead you, as Susan led me and Margaret led us all, to that hilltop beneath the sheltering oak. (I married under such an oak at my family home. Today, the tree is gone. So is the farm.) And I remind you of the beauty of what you do as storytellers, of what a gift it is to read the words of the seekers before you, and of the responsibility we have to remind one another with every precious word…It’ll come to you. Make no mistake, this love…

Home can not be lost. Love does not end. Both are safe inside of you.

Do you infuse your writing with life lessons and your yearnings? What are they?

About Kimberly

Kimberly Brock

Kimberly Brock

Kimberly 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.

30 comments on “The Yearning: Lessons from Gone with the Wind”

  1. I think the gift of Gone with the Wind is the honestly drawn characters - sure Scarlett is pretty, but none of her faults are dressed up. None of her awful motives or selfish ways are given any excuse. I'm not a fan - but maybe that's because she made me so angry - she was real. That's the immeasurable talent of a writer - to make a reader believe you and believe your characters, so much so, that even all these years later we remember them and remember how they made us feel .

    I loved reading this and while I'm not sure I followed every tangent (although I appreciated every one of them because my writing tends to do the same thing...), it brought up my own images of my childhood home, my first house as a young mom, and even this godforsaken hill on which I now live - the smells, the quirks and crevices you could only know if you lived there, the sound of a car coming up the drive. Even the feel of the salty breeze in dense summer at our home on the Eastern Shore or the muddy scent of worms after the rain here on this hill. I'll take all those with me. They'll always be home.

    Thanks for taking me there this morning - great way to get started on a full day of (sigh) editing!

    1. Thanks for such a thoughtful response here, Cara. I agree with anyone who says Scarlett is a flawed and unlikable character. I think that's why so many of us are confused by the appeal of this story. I truly believe it's about our fear of losing what we love. And then, hopefully a character who matures to understand and accept loss and face change without losing themselves.

      Hope you're having a great writing day!!

  2. This may also explain why stories about time travel are so popular. I remember a movie with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, I believe it was titled "Somewhere in Time." The longing for the past was palpable.

    1. I just saw that movie for the first time (huge fan of both Reeve and Seymour) a few months ago, and while some parts of it were a little silly you're absolutely right about that longing for the past. In fact that longing drove the movie to its end. Reeve and Seymour's characters couldn't live without one another.

      I often find myself feeling the same way in longing for the past, and recently I've struggled with my writing due to a major life change. Maybe I need to use that longing and channel it into my WIP.

    2. My goodness, you may have revealed me, Stephanie! I loved that movie when I was a girl. So much so that I gave my daughter the main character's name (Elise) for her middle name. And...to top that, her first name is Claire, for another time-traveling character, from the Outlander series. I do love characters and stories with a strong sense of place. 🙂

  3. Have mercy! You've got me all worked up now. I can honestly say, I've enjoyed this post more than any other I've read before - ever. The point of Gone With the Wind is so embedded in all of us and I love the way you reminded us of the story's heart. Our heart is our homes and their memories because in the end, life is consistent with change.

    Thank you for the lovely, poignant sentiment and realization your post invoked. Oh, I forgot to mention, I'm one of those girls too. You guessed it - a Gone With the Wind lover.

    Ya'll take care now.

    Catherine from Louisiana

  4. Okay, I have to say this is the first time I've ever flat-out blubbered while reading a blog post. I think you should consider headlining all yours with something like "Beware: Imminent Shift in Perspective" or even "Beware: Shift in Consciousness Ahead." I just treasure your posts.

    And I'm afraid I have to weigh in as one of those who could not STAND Scarlett, in spite of having a VERY Southern branch of my family, and a grandmother who was a Scarlett clone. And I figured it was only fair when Rhett finally decided he didn't give a damn. I always rooted for that gorgeous rascal, myself.

    Thanks for the tear-duct cleansing, and please keep these fabulous posts coming!



  5. HUGE fan of GWW. But when I was young it was ALL about Rhett (still is, quite a bit, if I'm honest) God how I lusted after him, before I even knew what lust entailed!

    But since, and of course as a writer, I've discovered deep underlying themes. You've reminded me of it with this beautiful post, Kimberly - thank you. The book I'm writing will be better for it.

  6. I'm a northerner, but Gone With the Wind has always been my favorite movie. I completely relate to the connection you have with Scarlett's story. Does she have faults? By the boatload! Is she reprehensible? Of course. But what I love about Scarlett is that she keeps getting up. The whole film throws roadblock after roadblock at her. She whimpers a little, then gets busy getting things done. She hasn't got time for tears and regrets. She has nothing if she doesn't have Tara. If Tara is going to be saved she realizes she's the one who will have to do it and do it she does. No matter what. She's kicking ass and taking names (so to speak)!

    1. Bingo! She sacrifices and connives and cheats - all for what she loves. That's what we identify with, a deep fear that might drive us to do anything. To compromise ourselves in unthinkable ways. Because of love. We all know that kind of love for something or someone. I don't agree with her methods, of course, but I admire her courage. And I appreciate that, in the end, she matures past that fear. I hope she has her new day. 🙂

  7. I've loved GWTW for years myself. It became an obsession and I have a huge collection of memorabilia. My husband felt the same as yours: how could anyone cheer on such a horrible woman as Scarlet? And while I see his point there is something about her determination and stubborn nature that makes her such a great character.

    I think as writers, we all need a little Scarlet in us to push us and drive us to succeed 🙂

  8. "I am who I am by virtue of where I am." ~Daniel G. Deffenbaugh, LEARNING THE LANGUAGE OF THE FIELDS via author Amy Green today! It must be in the air.

  9. The first time I read Gone with the Wind, I cried my eyes out at the end...because Scarlet is never going to change. She's never going to stop and "get" all those beautiful, nuanced life lessons that crossed her path and begged to be explored. She could never see past what she wanted, and what she wanted was Tara. And for the first time in my young life, I flipped a book over and immediately started reading it again. I didn't want to leave the characters and I wanted to understand how the author DID THAT to me. It was a moment. 🙂

  10. Have to confess, Kimberly, you took me back to living in Nashville in 1960, flying into Atlanta to connect with family briefly there, and making a point of visiting Margaret Mitchell's grave. I wanted so much to be as effective a writer; had no idea how long it would take to find the time to seriously pursue and begin to catch up with the dream - but, never mind - I've just spent a couple of minutes snapped back to the only play I was able to perform, there - and an older, very blond lady in the cast who blew us away, one afternoon, by sharing the most memorable moment of her brief Hollywood career: she was one of the girls who descended the grand staircase during the party at Twelve Oaks. Her unforgettable name was Lillian Bumpus and she was a terrific actress. Thanks for bring her and the film back in such a personal way. It's a pleasure to meet both you and Susan.

  11. I just finished the book. I read it many years ago as a nonwriter and loved it. Read it again as a writer and wished she'd lashed a lot of pages. Melanie, who I agree in the movie is does seem whimpy, turns out in the book to be a strong woman, stoutly defending Scarlet, who's behaviour is outrageously self-serving for the most part. And that's what I did love, that Mitchell had given us this flawed creature who on one hand you feel like slapping and another you want to cuddle.
    Watching the movie is definitely easier than reading the book. And okay...I'm going to say it. More entertaining.

  12. Kimberly, I've never sat and watched the film. I read the book around age 12 or 13 and cried and cried. The movie at the theater was before my time. The only movie I remember seeing every year was The Wizard of OZ. I'm from Texas so I'm more or less southern too. I'm not much of a movie person if I have read the book. I hate when they change things that were or weren't in the book. Maybe I'll go see if the library has the movie next week and watch it on a Saturday night when there's nothing on TV anyway.
    Thank you for sharing. I understand, even though I didn't grow up in the same place, in a way my grandparents house was sort of like that. After their death and it sold I sort of like wow.
    Now, I can tell you that as an army wife here in 1971 exactly where we lived (it's gone now) what that little place was like. I have driven to the place where we lived later. It's changed and I told my niece I wondered if it was that shabby when we lived there or is it just the 40 years since then? She probably the time. SO, I get it in a different way. We all have our roots. Funny, when we were here in the 1970s it was s different culture and attitude toward the military. That has really changed for the better in the last almost 45 years.

  13. Aha. I've often wondered why I loved Scarlett so much. As did my mother, and father as we watched her prance across our VCR enabled TV. She loved her Tara, fiercely. And because of that we forgave her for being so precocious and pig-headed and fiddledeeish. But as you said, like all great stories, it touched on a universal truth: love and our fear of losing it. Thank you for sharing this. I bet all those women in the room loved you for not being precicoious or pig-headed, and for actually giving a damn.
    Peace. 🙂

  14. GWTW influenced my writing for sure. I was home with scarlet fever when I was 12 and my father brought the book home for me. I re read that book six times by the time I turned 16. I did not love Scarlett, I liked her at times though and my heart ached for her when she lost Bonnie Blue. I really liked Melanie, and Rhett of course. Like Laura I swooned over Rhett (especially when I saw the movie). But I appreciated Scarlett and how the story would not have been as exciting without her. Connection to place is something so many of us long for and that theme was so strong in the book. Your post here is gorgeous and so moving. Thank you for starting my day off with inspiration!

  15. Gone With the Wind played on a continuous loop in my house growing up. My husband was surprised I could recite the dialogue and I was stunned he had never seen the movie. I LOVE SCARLET. I am proud to say I have read the book and it sits on my shelf to this day. My mom is gone now but she gave me Gone With the Wind.

    Born and Raised in the South
    Laura Lynn

  16. Am I allowed to say how much I positively DON'T want to see Gone With the Wind? A bit like saying I don't like the Harry Potter books (I enjoyed the films for their special effects but didn't have a clue re the plot...). I've glimpsed bits of GWTW and was really, really put off by this silly female having strops in a tea cosy. Plus Clarke Gable did nothing for me. A bit creepy. I used to love old movies of the 30s-50s but this one just left me cold. And any heroine of mine doesn't have strops. They're armed to the teeth and are great in a fight and they wear breeches or pants. I'd better shut up now before I get into trouble...

    Jo alias Kitty Le Roy

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