why I'm glad I read Go Set a Watchman

I love To Kill a Mockingbird. And I'm certainly not alone. I firmly believe that every American needs to read this novel, and I may unabashedly judge you if you haven't. (If grade school was the only time you've read this novel, I implore you to read it in adulthood, free from reading assignments and group projects.) Mockingbird could even be the keystone of American literature. Everything about it is beautiful, and I never tire of it.

So when Harper Lee's publisher announced the publication of a new novel, I was mostly excited. And as the time approached for its official release I steered clear of reviews and opinions, because I wanted to read it cold. I know the issues surrounding the novel, and I didn't want my experience to be informed by disillusioned readers or pedantic newspaper reviews.

Today I offer you a few guidelines for your own reading of Go Set a Watchman, followed by some thoughts that will contain spoilers. (But I'll let you know when that's coming, so you can quit reading if you want!)

First, Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird.
And you can't read it like one. Think of Watchman as a companion to Mockingbird. Some articles I've read say to consider it as an alternate reality of sorts, but for me I don't think even that was necessary. Watchman is different, and if you know going in that it won't be necessarily a sequel, then I think your experience will benefit. The best way to not pigeonhole Watchman as a sequel is to--

Know the manuscript history.
Few books really require you to know its origin and its authorial context. But you really do need to know the context of Watchman's genesis and publication. Harper Lee wrote Watchman before she wrote Mockingbird--before. She submitted Watchman to a publisher, and her editor asked for more content about Jean Louise's childhood. That led to To Kill a Mockingbird.

The manuscript for Go Set a Watchman's 21st-century publication was lightly edited. It did not undergo rigorous substantive or developmental edits, and in many ways could be considered a first draft of Maycomb and its inhabitants. Knowing how Watchman came about greatly informed how I read the book. I found myself asking questions about Lee's experience with Maycomb and Atticus and Jean Louise and how she might have written things differently had Mockingbird actually come first.

But Mockingbird didn't come first, and that's really important to understanding Watchman.

Read critically.
Don't read Watchman if you're looking for straight-up entertainment, because this book begs to be read critically. Your experience with it will be greatly enhanced if you ask questions along the way and think seriously about the story. Strive for empathy with the characters, and remember that we are reading this on the other side of civil rights, most of us having grown up post-1950s and '60s. Perhaps history books make it easier for us to understand the right/wrong of civil rights better than the good-at-heart white Southerners who lived it and had their entire worldviews challenged. That would be hard, and I think we really aren't in a position to judge Atticus, Uncle Jack, or Hank. They underwent a massive cultural shift, and I don't think many of us know what that feels like.

When I closed this book, I was filled with the truth that good people--even great people--aren't perfect. That perhaps even Atticus--arguably the greatest American literary hero--is human and fallible. Good people are imperfect, and imperfect people can still be good people. Maybe American literature has propped up Atticus as a too-perfect beacon, and I may love him even more than I did before after reading Watchman.

Don't read Watchman with emotions only--use your brain.

Spoiler time--I'm eager to share some of the specific experiences I had while reading Watchman, and those include some spoilers. So if you want to stop here, please do, and come back after you've read it!

:: I really wonder what Harper Lee would have done with Jem if she'd written Mockingbird first. You find out early on that Jem died young (in his twenties) of sudden heart failure. And I was devastated. I had to remember that for Lee, Jem was already dead when she wrote Mockingbird, and I'd love to know about her experience developing Jem's character in Mockingbird knowing the fate she gave him. Jem's death blindsided me.

:: If Mockingbird is Scout's coming-of-age story, Watchman is Jean Louise's quarter-life crisis. I love the Jean Louise of Watchman and admire her passion and empathize with her idealism. Later in the book she recognizes her figurative color-blindness, and while that's a wonderful quality, it also prevents her from being able to easily see the civil rights issue from another's perspective (like Atticus's and Uncle Jack's).

:: I love Dr. Finch (Atticus's brother). His character was my favorite next to Jean Louise. He's obscure, but insightful and helped me understand the issues in this book better than I would have on my own.

:: I don't hate Atticus, nor am I disillusioned by Watchman's rendering of him. I found his fallibility refreshing more than anything and also wondered who he might have been had Watchman undergone more serious edits, or if Mockingbird really had come second. I would love to hear what Harper Lee has to say about these two books, their relationship to each other, and her relationship to each of them.

:: In many ways--and despite Atticus's beautiful championing of justice in Mockingbird--Atticus is still a man of his time. In his 70s, he was witnessing a turbulent rebirth of his homeland and social systems. I truly don't believe his involvement in the segregationist movement was born of hate, but rather his attempt to reconcile his values and worldview with an imperfect and evolving social system. I wish readers today would give him more grace.

::  I loved this quote from the book (spoken by Uncle Jack--Atticus's brother--to Jean Louise):

Now you, Miss, born with your own conscious, somewhere along the line fastened it like a barnacle to your father's. As you grew up, when you were grown, totally unknown to yourself, you confused your father with God. You never saw him as a man with a man's heart, and a man's feelings--I'll grant you it may have been hard to see, he makes so few mistakes, but he makes 'em like all of us. You were an emotional cripple, leaning on him, getting answers from him, assuming that your answers would always be his answers.

How many of us fastened on to Atticus when we read To Kill a Mockingbird?

I would love to talk more about this book one-on-one, over Starbucks cocoa, Facebook messenger, in a book group, or in one of my old literature classes. Yes, it's different, but it makes you think if you let it. No, it's not in the same revolutionary, canonical league as Mockingbird, and that's okay. I read a library copy, because I didn't know if I'd like it enough to own it, and now that I've finished I want to buy a copy for my library. Go Set a Watchman does have something to offer if you can set aside your Atticus-worship for 278 pages.

Have you read it? Will you read it? What did you think of the book?


on thinking differently

I certainly wasn't surprised at the SCOTUS ruling last week, and I also don't believe that every governmental act needs to align with my own personal values. That's one of the things that makes this free country so beautiful, that we are free to think differently.

But that's also what concerns me most about the Supreme Court decision. I'm not worried about same-sex marriage, but I am worried about how I will be able to express my own personal dissent in future. I'm worried about how schools will teach my children about this moment in history. On Friday my social media feeds were flooded with celebration--which I do not object at all--but it also contained noticeable doses of snark, gloating, and derision toward those who disagree with the principles at hand.

I've written before about my feelings regarding sexuality and marriage (see here and here). While I cringe over the tactless and unkind expression of my stance from my adolescence, I have spent the entirety of my adulthood seeking to find a balance between defending values and doctrines that are important to me and still treating everyone with kindness and compassion.

My opposition to same-sex marriage does not stem from hate or bigotry; rather I understand gender, sexuality, and marriage differently. I don't expect others to share that view, and that's why I'm not sulking about or bemoaning last week's historic court ruling. I understand that we all come from different places and that I can't expect people to see things the same way I see them.

So when I see posts and links that ridicule my sacred books, marginalize the opposing side, and throw around accusations of bigotry, I hurt. I hurt because I know how hard I've worked to find balance and kindness and understanding. I know how much I've thought about why I see matters differently and how much I've strived to cultivate empathy in my heart for those with whom I disagree. And I also know that not once has anyone come to me to ask how I see things, how I understand these essential tenets of personhood and love.

Because I do have a differing approach, one rooted in doctrines of my faith that, if discussed, could at least give explanation to an opinion that's too often labeled hateful. If I ever express my views to someone on the "other side" it's because I volunteer them in a medium like this one, not because any individual actually sought out a discussion of understanding. Perhaps liberal tolerance isn't always as far reaching as the media would have us think.

I don't want to argue or debate--I want only mutual understanding and respect. For those of you celebrating this ruling, I encourage you to celebrate because that's your right. We all should feel comfortable to rejoice when values close to our heart are validated, especially when it happens in such an official and public way. But please don't be a sore winner. I have to believe that mutual kindness and respect really are possible in an environment wherein disagreement is inherent. I have to believe that this country can continue to afford me the freedom and safety to think differently. I have to believe that even with all that makes us different from one another, that there's a world in which we could all shout from the rooftops that love wins.


ice cream for lunch

I had actually already planned on having ice cream around lunchtime. But our plans suffered a twist. This morning I lugged my toddler, my sewing machine, and my serger down to Portland's Alberta Street where I dropped off my machines at my favorite local Bernina dealer for some quality TLC. (These babies work hard--they deserve some spa time, right?)

I reached into my bag for my wallet. And then I started pawing through my bag for my wallet. But it wasn't there. And I didn't know where I'd left it. So not only could I not shop in my favorite independent sewing shop, I also couldn't treat Asher and myself to Salt & Straw or the Grilled Cheese Grill where you get to eat your sandwich a school bus. So many things wrong with this situation.

With Asher buckled in and the AC blaring, I called the last place I remember paying for anything: Costco. And they had it. So back to my Portland suburb I went, ice-cream-less but soon-to-be wallet-carrying. Some good soul had turned in my wallet, complete with credit cards, cash, and identification. In celebration, Asher and I shared a full-sized swirl frozen yogurt for lunch. Asher thought it was spectacular, and I couldn't help but agree.


on big brothers and ultrasounds

Right around when Josh and I decided we were ready to grow our family, Asher started talking about a "bebe sis-uh." Few of his friends had baby sisters, so he had little social context for his persistent assertion. Yet over and over, he would talk about this baby sister he was convinced he had. 

I listened to him and took him seriously. One of the key pillars of my faith's theology is the teaching that our spirits existed before mortality, that mortality begins when the spirit and body unite. So in more practical terms, I firmly believe that every child that will come to us already exists and is spiritually already a part of this family. So when Asher kept going on about a baby sister, I felt a sweet peace that perhaps he really did remember a little girl.

Though just because my two-and-a-half-year-old talks about a baby sister, doesn't mean that this baby will actually be that baby sister. So as we talked to Asher about the baby I tried to prep him for the possibility that this babe would be a brother. As far as my personal preferences went for this babe, I had none. Being a total boy mom would be so fun, but that "bebe sis-uh" would be equally delightful. I couldn't lose either way.

Yesterday morning before I headed off to my 20-week ultrasound (20 weeks already!), I asked Asher one more time, "So, is the baby a boy or a girl?" Asher gave me a look that said, Mom, how many times do I have to tell you? and stated matter-of-factly, "Girl."

Our ultrasound showed a blessedly healthy, growing, active little babe--and she's a girl. Asher will, indeed, be big brother to a "bebe sis-uh," and my heart is full and expanding to make room for both tractors and tea parties. Baby lady, we're so excited you're halfway here.


why you don't have to be happy for me

Posting our babe announcement was almost bittersweet for me. And that may seem weird. But the thing is that not that long ago I had a really hard time with most baby news that filled my newsfeed.

We had to wait for this babe. Not nearly as long as many couples have to wait for a babe, and our waiting didn't involve extensive treatment or invasive surgery. But all the same, it was waiting, and we weren't sure how long the wait would last. There came a point in our waiting when I had no emotional energy left to be happy for others' happy baby news.

In the midst of our waiting, we suffered two early miscarriages, which demanded even more of my physical, mental, and emotional reservoirs. I had to come to terms with seeking medical advice, and that required more of my reserves. Pregnancy announcements would pop up, and I couldn't bring myself to click the "like" button. Instead I'd make the effort to hide the story from my feed completely.

I felt ashamed to admit that I did this, that I couldn't summon happiness for another. Because when you announce a babe-in-the-making, it's so wonderful to feel love and support from those around you. Happiness multiplies, and I usually love to be a part of that beautiful equation. But sometimes I had to excuse myself. It was too painful; I wasn't privy to the divine details of my family's own eternal plan and had to proceed every hour on trust in a loving Father. And that trust consumed me, for if it didn't, sorrow and fear would.

All of this to say, when I posted my happy news, I knew that someone out there would probably hurt. Someone might hide it from their feed or feel renewed waves of anger and grief. And that's okay. It really, really is.

If you are struggling with infertility--which could easily be much more difficult than my months of uncertainty were--and you wanted to hide my announcement from your feed, it's okay. If you are grieving for a babe or the promise of a babe and can't be happy about my happy news, I get it. I may not get what it is to struggle with long-term infertility, when your body quits working on you, when you have one shot at IVF and that's it. I don't get that. But I do get what it's like to ache for a babe and not know when you're going to have one of your own, and I do get that sometimes you don't have the emotions to spare for someone else.

My own experience with waiting and loss has infused me with an increased sensitivity to how I talk about pregnancy and babes, especially in public forums. I hope that as I document this pregnancy that I will be sensitive to those of you who may be wanting a babe of your own and have to wait. I carry a special and fervent prayer in my heart for you that you'll feel peace in your waiting and comfort in your grief.

I want to state again that my experience is in no way comparable to those who struggle with long-term infertility, who pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for treatment, who wait for years and years and often suffer silently. That was not my experience, and I'm not pretending that it was. But though I can't fully empathize with that specific experience, I do know what it's like to want a babe and not know when that babe will come. And that is so, so hard.


when three becomes four

Our little family is growing from three members to four. I hardly know how to write this sweet announcement, because coming to this point has been emotional, humbling, and, at many times, uncertain. We're so happy to welcome another babe to our little family.

Babe Number Two is expected to arrive this fall, in late October. My heart--while wildly hormonal--is so full.


Oregon spring

Tree branches droop with blossoms, and then one day you wake up and the trees turned green overnight. You're never quite sure how the weather will turn throughout the day, but you brave the park in the hopes that you can enjoy some sun before the clouds roll in at sundown. 

At night the rain falls softly, freshening the air and rustling the newly budded trees. You open the window to listen and smell and breathe. 


an acts-of-service birthday celebration

Josh's birthday is this week, and I have a confession: I've struggled in the past with how to throw him an adequate birthday week celebration. I've had birthday gestures that have flopped simply because I think about what I would like instead of what my husband would like. So this year I turned to his love language: acts of service.

{Mr. Wilson and I on our Valentine date this year in downtown Portland.}

Instead of writing him love notes (which would make this words-of-affirmation girl swoon), I'm making his favorite meals this week. I tell him to go ahead and play one more computer game with his friends. I rub his back and make banana chocolate chips bars at 10:00 at night because I know he really loves them.

I research the perfect cobbler recipe instead of trying to fool myself into thinking he'll like cake better (because he doesn't). And I find an ice cream recipe that will go perfect with cobbler. 

When he tells me that he wants to have a LAN party with his friends, I say, OK! Let's buy you darlings nerds a bunch of pizza! Because here's the thing: this week is about Josh, and yeah, we're different. And I'm so grateful for that. When he turns 30 on Friday I want him to feel loved and appreciated. Maybe this year I'll do his birthday right, the way he likes it. And I like it best that way.


said around here

Now that Asher is a full-blown conversationalist, I spend most of his waking hours talking with him. It's pretty much a never-ending conversation about planes, helicopters, and the little carts at Trader Joe's. Some days I kiss him goodnight and am so mentally exhausted by so much socializing that the thought of conversing with another person makes me want to hide. Most of the time his little words and sentences make me smile, even though we usually talk about all the same things every day. 

In case you were wondering what it feels like to be in the Wilson home for any amount of time, here are some conversation snippets for your enjoyment: 

:: "Yisten, Mommy! Yisten!" Listen. He says this when I'm telling him something he doesn't want to hear. He thinks that if I listen I will agree. Sometimes I do, but sometimes I don't.

:: "Um, me fine." Usually said in conjunction with "yisten, mommy."

:: "Waysing when Daddy g'home from wok!" Racing when Daddy gets home from work, referring to our now nightly Mario Kart races. Asher holds a non-functioning remote while Josh and I compete. Josh almost always wins, and we always congratulate Asher on his triumphs.

:: "Push yeettle cars a Tra-er Joe's!" Pushing the little carts at Trader Joe's is, so far, a lifetime highlight.

:: "Car pomming!" Car coming, said in mild panic anytime he has to think about walking through a parking lot. So instead of holding his hand, we usually end up carrying him.

:: "Mommy go kishen!" Mommy go to the kitchen. This one typically comes out when Josh gets home from work and Asher is hankering for some guy time. He sounds misogynistic, but he's really not. Promise.

:: "Watch Ar-hur?" Our morning routine consists of breakfast, watching Josh drive away, and then settling down for an episode of Arthur. Asher knows all the characters.

:: "Ash-uh Wiw-son." His name. I love it.  

:: "Me sil-yee!" Me silly. Yes, little boy, yes you are.

:: "A, B, C, F, G, K, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z now-know-ABCs-ness-time-seen-wi ME!!" The modified alphabet.

Asher makes me laugh on a regular basis, and even when I'm exasperated it's hard not to giggle sometimes. I will leave you with one of my favorite Asher-isms: "Seeya!"


hello, Monday

:: Hello, Monday.
:: Hello, neglected blog. Hello, hello, hello.
:: Hello to February and clean slates.
:: In the same breath, goodbye to January. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

:: Hello to grocery lists and checked-off boxes.
:: Hello to both skillet cookies and kickboxing.

:: Hello to a solo weekend trip to Utah.
:: Hello to flying on a plane with a bag full of books and without a lap full of toddler.
:: Hello to running away to my sister, at least for the weekend.

:: Hello to sanity t-shirts and nap-time sewing.
:: Hello to hoping and healing and maybe even a little bit more writing.

What are you saying hello to this week?

Joining in with Lisa Leonard in her Hello, Monday post today. 
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