The Politics of Reading “Go Set a Watchman”

Last night, my fiancé asked me how I’m going to read Harper Lee’s new book, Go Set a Watchman.

“Will you read it as a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird, or will you read it as the rough draft of a novel that an editor saw and said, ‘Eh, try again?'”

It’s a question that those of us who actually looked forward to high school English class are mulling over: How do we approach this book? And how do we approach it with controversy around whether the elderly author of the work, who spent her entire post-Mockingbird life vehemently stating that she was unwilling to publish another novel, has suddenly decided it’s time to publish the forebear of To Kill A Mockingbird? Are we supporting the hangers-on of a famous woman who may not have her wits about her by buying the book and talking about it?

Quite possibly.

But I just can’t resist. Another Harper Lee novel was American literature’s white whale (to mix my literary metaphors). Watchman is likely going to be a disappointment when compared to Mockingbird—it was rejected by Lee’s editor in the 1950s and didn’t get much of an edit for its 2015 release. While it’s sold as a stand-alone novel, critics are already highlighting segments that echo across both books and viewing the work as a draft, not its own entity.

Another aspect of the hullabaloo around the release of Watchman is the character of Atticus Finch, who is apparently not the saintly, color-blind presence he is to young Jean Louise in Mockingbird. Friends in my Facebook feed have openly stated they won’t read the book due to the character assassination of a fictional character. Even parents who named their sons Atticus are outraged, which is a whole different blog post for another time.

I’m willing to take the ride on Go Set a Watchman. Remember: To Kill a Mockingbird is told by adult Jean Louise reflecting on a series of remarkable events from her childhood as Scout. The narration stays closer to Scout, with some wry winks from Jean Louise’s more mature narration. Go Set a Watchman takes place two decades later, when Miss Finch is in her late 20s. Are the memories you have of your parents the same at 26 as they were when you were six? Doubtful.

My plan is to avoid as many reviews and hot takes of Go Set a Watchman as possible, and to read it both as a sequel to Mockingbird while remembering that it served as a draft for one of American literature’s strongest works. No spoilers, please!


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The Neverending Wedding Pitch

Me, hiding from all forms of communication

Me, hiding from all forms of communication

Aside from shouting my social security number in the prison ward full of identity thieves, I can think of no greater invasion of privacy than telling a large company that you’re planning a wedding.

My fiancé and I are planning a small affair—more a large-scale gathering of friends than a weekend-long schedule of nuptial excess—and we’re starting to line up the day. The venue is a small community space, so the owner isn’t likely to sell our information to companies. Our photographer is independent and is a personal friend, so he’s not going to sell us out. (Thanks, Brad!) A friend is serving as DJ for the event. Hell, we haven’t even told Facebook that we’re engaged to spare ourselves the onslaught of ads targeted at the betrothed.

But I went to David’s Bridal’s website. And it was all over.

The dresses I’d scoped out prior to my appointment haunted me on Facebook—and the friends who I’d sent the items to for their opinion. But it got even worse when I bought a dress and David’s Bridal had my mailing address. Several times a week, I’m receiving cards urging us to “Make the memory of your first dance last a lifetime” and specials on suits for the ring bearer. I’ve also “won” a spa consultation to prepare myself for the big day.

The Knot’s temerity impresses me. In the early days of our engagement, I played around with setting up a website. I don’t recall publishing the site, but I must have—it now comes up on the first page of rankings when you Google either of us. From a purely professional standpoint, I’d like to get inside the minds of the Knot’s SEO masters.

Once a page on the Knot is live, it’s not a one-click process to remove it. One must find the years-old query in the customer service forums on the website, then email the Knot mothership for instructions on how to remove the site. And I still get the emails about “The Wedding Color That’s Taking Over the Internet” and “7 Wedding Hairstyles You Need To Know About Right Now.”

With each email and mailer I receive, my guilt about participating in the $53.4 billion wedding industrial complex grows. If a couple wants to spend obscene gobs of money on their wedding, more power to them. But as the trees die in a vain attempt to get noted klutzes like my beau and I on the dance floor, the more I’m wishing we’d just gone to City Hall and been done with it.

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Springtime Mindfulness

springtimeThe stupefyingly horrendous winter we just experienced has me traumatized. When I open the door of my office building at the end of the day, I still expect to be blasted by a gust of cold air. I truly expect to have to navigate the story-tall mounds of snow piled up at major intersections, even though we’re just days away from Memorial Day weekend.

Mindfulness doesn’t come easily to me. On my mother’s side, relatives of every generation I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting has been deep inside his or her own head. We call it “frettin’.” But this spring has me living in the moment.

In the depths of February, I figured I would never again experience the small pleasures of a warm day: Sitting on couch with the windows open, the sound of far-away sirens and rustling trees wafting in along with the breeze. The joy of leaving the house in a light sweater, which is enough to keep me warm instead of the down coat which threatened to fuse itself to my skin. Getting up a little bit earlier (which isn’t hard, given that the sun rises before 6am) and delighting when I miss the walk sign at each crosswalk between the train station and my office because it means another few moments basking in the sun before heading inside.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still deep inside my own head for 98 percent of the day. But oh, it’s wonderful to be truly grateful for spring.


Filed under Boston, Life

Check, Please: Discovering Where My Money Goes

This Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend was spent close to home. I didn’t get out of bed before 9am for three days. I finally put a couple of extra blankets into one of those vacuum-seal bags and stuck it under the bed. As dinner simmered away in the slow cooker, I took out my bank statement, fired up my credit card app, and decided to take a close look at my finances.

The scribbles of a lunatic

The scribbles of a lunatic

I’d rather deep-clean the dark reaches of the cabinet under the kitchen sink than come face to face with my poor financial choices. My early successes at consuming less had me confident. It was time to face the music.

My student loan payments weren’t any more appalling than usual. My fiance and I rent a nice and affordable apartment, so that isn’t too bad. My gym membership is expensive, but I use it and enjoy it, so that stays. My share of the cable bill is high, but that’s to be expected. Do I still need Birchbox? Why don’t I pay my renter’s insurance in full every year instead of paying in monthly installments? Why don’t I ever remember to budget for my haircuts?

Once I’d tallied up my regular bills and income, I saw I had about $1,500 left every month. I’m certainly not saving that much. My credit card app helpfully breaks up a month’s expenses by category. I tallied up the totals on “Dining” for November and December. The average for those two months? More than $450 per month.

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Filed under Austerity January, Finance, Life

2015 New Year’s Philosophy: Consume Less. Create More.

Every year, I think about New Year’s resolutions. They’re typically the banal kind that advertisers discuss in their focus groups. Lose weight. Pay off debt. Travel more. I read a million blog posts and magazine articles about the tools and tips I need to meet my goals.

When it comes to resolutions, I accomplished quite a few in 2014. I fulfilled my lifelong goal of sticking my toes in the Pacific Ocean on a family vacation to California. I paid off $10,000 in credit card debt after two years of hard work. While I didn’t lose weight, I stuck with a new fitness routine that’s made me stronger.

For 2015, I’m thinking of going beyond the New Year’s resolution. It’s time for a New Year’s Philosophy. Here it is:

Consume less. Create more.

No, I’m not running off to an ashram or a commune in Vermont. Hear me out.

The reason I haven’t lost weight is because I’ve consumed too much food that isn’t good for my body. If I take the time to create more meals at home, thinking about the stuff I’m feeding myself, odds are I’ll start losing weight. (And, if I don’t, I’m going to the doctor to have my hormones checked.)

Consuming less means fewer take-out meals when I’m just too lazy to reheat something I planned to eat. During a time when my fiance and I are both stressed out, frazzled messes with no free time? We’re getting a healthyish meal out so we can connect with each other instead of feeling guilty about a pile of dishes in the sink.

And it’s not just about food. I haven’t been writing as much because I’ve been consumed by distractions. House Hunters marathons just because I’m too lazy or too frustrated by my creative output to pick up the computer and keep plowing through. I simply don’t have time to write! No, I simply don’t make time to create. That has to change.

It might mean saying no to more social occasions because now that I’m out of credit card debt, it’s time to rebuild my savings. (And pay for a wedding.) That’s fine. I’ll have the time to create a fun environment in my own apartment for friends to enjoy.

zenSo. Who’s with me!?


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800 Words on Chicago

On my first trip to Chicago, my boyfriend and I stayed in a seedy-looking motel a long bus ride from everything other than a White Castle. Chicago isn’t a cheap city to sleep in, and after previewing the cost for a hotel room for our second trip, we threw caution to the wind on our most recent trip and rented a place in Lakeview on AirBnb last weekend to be close to the theater at which his brother is performing his first solo show.

During our first visit, my boyfriend and I had done a lot of the touristy stuff. We did the architecture boat cruise, which should be a mandatory activity for all first-time visitors to the city. I developed an opinion on the best deep dish pizza (Peaquod’s) thanks to my boyfriend’s brother. We caught a show at Second City. We posed for an obligatory selfie under the Bean and stood on the glass platforms on the Willis Tower.

Last weekend, we visited the Shedd Aquarium, which was great, if a little spendy. We did some shopping on the Magnificent Mile, which I first got to know watching Oprah as a kid and hearing the show sponsorship messages as the credits rolled. I insisted on another stop at Peaqoud’s and DMK Burger Bar which we’d enjoyed during our first trip.

My favorite moments on this trip were the ones that weren’t overly touristy. While Second City is mobbed by out of towners, the Annoyance Theater is more of a comedy sleeper cell, located in a new space in Lakeview. It’s produced talents like Stephen Colbert and is more offbeat and local. It was great to watch my boyfriend’s brother’s first solo show and to catch a few ensemble productions.

How beautiful is that skyline? It’s beautiful even when you can’t really see it.

Before leaving Boston, I had considered tossing in some workout clothes in case I felt the overwhelming urge to go for a run while we were on town. Our AirBnb was about a mile from the Lakefront, so I figured it may be nice to get some fresh air. I decided against it, which I immediately regretted upon arriving to the breathtaking skyline of Chicago. So after dinner one night I excused myself, walked over to a nearby Marshall’s and bought some workout clothes. (Hey, I needed them anyway.)

I got up early on Sunday to go for a jaunt by the water before we got ready to leave town. Not wanting to tire myself out before I got the water, I took advantage of Chicago’s bike sharing service and pedaled down to a station near the paths along the lake. Once I’d docked my bike, I started jogging.

The lake was still covered with fog, the sun trying to push its way through. Joggers, bikers, walkers, and serious groups of distance runners all cruised along the well-kept pathway. It was reminiscent of Boston’s Esplanade, but the path was set farther from the road, making it slightly more peaceful. Although it was too early for them to be open, small cafes were spread along the path for thirsty athletes and hungry tourists on a stroll. People lined up along the water to fish.

As I made my slow jog along the path, I rounded a gentle corner and saw the impressive Chicago skyline before me. It was still shrouded in fog, but the outline of the Willis tower and the Trump Tower were still visible. Somehow, Chicago has the height and density of New York City, but I don’t find it as imposing or overwhelming. Maybe it’s because the city goes for miles beyond, offering lakeside high-rises and small apartment buildings like the one I was staying in. Once I’d seen the skyline, I turned to head back. While it was not a good run from a pacing or distance perspective, it was the happiest I’d been after a run in weeks.

I love that, unlike Boston, most Chicago neighborhoods have the basics for urban living right outside your door, even if you’re 10 miles outside the downtown area. Lakeview had grocery stores, take-out joints, a variety of bars, wine shops, and bagel places within a 10 minute walk of our place. And, after an ill-advised urge to load Zillow on my phone, the real estate for sale was the same price as metro Boston, but each unit seemed move-in ready.

Lithuanian Combo Plate from the Grand Duke’s Restaurant

For our last meal before heading out of town, my boyfriend’s mother requested that we visit the Grand Duke’s Restaurant, a Lithuanian restaurant a few miles from Midway airport. She reveled as she eavesdropped on men at the bar speaking her native tongue. We all marveled at the sheer quantity of food that came with our order. It was amazing, and I’d consider dealing with the hell on earth that is Midway in order to have an excuse to stop in again.

Jeez, 800 words. That escalated quickly. All this is to say; I like Chicago and would consider living there were it not arctic cold there for half of the year.


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The Idiot’s Slow Crawl Out of Debt

It was all downhill from here

It was all downhill from here

Look at that idiot.

There I am, barely accustomed to my post-pubescent body. (I thought I was chunky then. I was the worst–look at that beauty! Anyway.) Glowing with consumeristic joy over the acquisition of both my first cellular phone that wasn’t drilled into the frame of an automobile and my first credit card. The ink was barely dry on my first private student loan and the federal loans that allowed me to pay the University of Rhode Island for my first year of college.

I’d worked babysitting jobs and a horrendous retail job and hadn’t lived away from home for more than a week in my life. Money had no long-term use for me; it was all about having enough to gas up my crappy car (easy enough in the halcyon days of a gallon of gas costing less than a gallon of bottled water) and some left over to buy a CD at Newbury Comics, and maybe some late-night diner breakfast at Bickford’s.

Fast forward about 15 years and the long-term consequences of my financial choices have become abundantly clear. I pay about $500 a month in student loans. (Sadly, a song compared to what some of today’s graduates have to face for their bachelor’s degree.) Over the years, I’ve been rent-poor. I’ve had to leave unsafe apartments or was asked to leave by roommates to make room for someone else. I worked a series of rewarding but low-paying jobs and tried to keep up with friends whose salaries were considerably higher than my own. I’ve had the unexpected stints of unemployment and little savings to cover it. It was manageable when I had one relatively low-limit credit card. But then I got a second in a foolish attempt to transfer a balance for a lower interest rate. Then my freelance gigs dried up during the recession. One day, I woke up and I had more than $10,000 in credit card debt.

That idiot’s chickens came home to roost.

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