Category Archives: Literature

360 degrees around Harper Lee

Last week I finished reading Harper Lee’s prequel sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird which is called Go, Set a Watchman. (It is a sequel but was written before her famous, award winning novel.) For a good ten years, Julia and I religiously watched To Kill a Mockingbird to remind ourselves what it means to be human. For me, that is nearly a perfect movie and it stirs not only my emotions but my conscience. 
Julia and I went on the first day the new book was released and bought it from the local bookstore which is happily called Pickwick’s.  We remembered being at Pendragon books in Oakland, CA at midnight to get the last of the Harry Potter books.  Pendragon was packed and there was an excitement and comradery in the air.  There will be very few times in our lives now where being in bookstore for the release of a physical book will be an event.
There has been a lot of controversy and criticism of Harper Lee’s new book and I did my best not read or listen to it before I read it myself.  I was worried that Atticus Finch, who said,  “I do my best to love everybody… I’m hard put, sometimes—baby, it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you,” would be dethroned as a literary God of justice and stalwart humanitarian. Harper Lee manages to find her own conviction as a young woman and upholds what Atticus has taught her.  But this book is about understanding what it means to be fully human. 
My father taught me when I was a child to walk three hundred and sixty degrees around a person’s point of view.  When I was a teenager, I would come home ranting as if I was a sixties radical and my father would sigh and do his best to help me walk around the additional hundred and eighty degrees. 
There is a way to protest injustice while remaining compassionate and being empathetic to our own shortcomings. 
Here is one of my favorite protests:
One man with a Sousaphone ruins an entire KKK march
by providing them with a silly soundtrack.
Here’s to the prankster that is able to lighten the load of our collective folly.
Here’s to merging our conviction with a loving heart.

Pulling back from the fray of complaint

I am amazed at how continuously I get pulled back into the fray of complaining in the midst of my good fortune.  The subtler laws of reality give me diamond studded winks and a bread-crumb trail of boons to lead me back into happiness and dedication.
Last week the pressure was on, for beyond our ‘things to do list’ for our Trust campaign, (What’s the name of this album? Trust. Oh yeah, right.)  Julia and I had two shows this past  weekend that required specific rehearsal and loving attention.  The first was our Literary Elements show: Peace, Love and Literature.  We celebrate some of the giants who illuminate our love of live and remind us to lighten up. These include Hermann Hesse, Shakespeare, Dorothy Parker, Maya Angelo, Hafiz, and even Edgar Allen Poe.  The second show was Raise Your Glass to Charles Dickens to celebrate his 203rd birthday.  The last time we performed our Dickens show, it was the next to last show during a seven gig weekend and we had not gotten to rehearse enough.  I did not give my best performance during that show and it made me sad as I felt I was not only letting Mr. Dickens down but the noble profession of those who are privileged enough to tread the boards.  This week we had these two shows as well as our only chance to rehearse with a fellow musician for an upcoming collaborative event, an esteemed annual benefit, in which we will sing and play on each other’s songs.
Fortunately, we did get to rehearse this week and Julia has the ability to direct and prompt the dialogue so that it flows into a cheerful cohesive whole.  As you can tell from my writing, I employ the stream of consciousness ramble-on method of communicating. Julia has the ability to focus us on what is vital and bring us back to our light-hearted intent.
As my mother likes to say, “Thinking about things is harder than doing them.”  The shows happily went very well.
Our Dickens’ show was up north in Kinderhook, NY in a little library near Albany.  The town itself had a Dickensian charm and its inhabitants were well-read anglophiles who loved their BBC.  Despite the frosting of snow on the ground and the weather channels fearful high-rating forecast of doom about winter storm Marcus, they ventured out to join us. It was one of those jeweled performances where everything clicks and the audience laughs in all the right places and sings along heartily. It made Julia and I feel like members of the actors and musician’s guilds of olde.  We learned that there had been a fraternity in Kinderhook called the Old Kinderhooks.  If you were a part of this fraternity you were O.K. which is where we get the term.
We did feel OK; the enkindled embers of the town glowing as we brushed off our car and drove off leaving Dickens to join Robert Frost Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening with miles to go before we slept.  This is where Marcus kicked up in earnest and our 90 minute journey from Kinderhook to Cooperstown became a three and a half hour crawl through unplowed highways and byways with maniacal semis bearing down on us.
My mom called in the thick of it to remind us to put a white light around the car and to call on victory for our ride and our rehearsal.  Our minds had already taken over when she called and we were complaining about the drive and our friend whose songs we had been learning.  This was to be our only rehearsal for this benefit a month away and our friend, on tour from North Carolina with his band, had a show early in the morning.  We were imagining our response if he claimed he was too tired to rehearse after we had shlepped ourselves through the storm. The mind is a terrible place at times. The stories, the stories!
We arrived and he greeted us with a warm embrace and helped us downstairs where he had arranged to have us rehearse in the exercise room next to the pool. We played until almost midnight and reveled in each other’s company.  Our friend really reminds me of my beloved Uncle Jeff who shuffled off the mortal coil a few years back but still comes through periodically to remind me to “Lighten up!”  At one point our fellow musician, leaned back and laughed so fully it made me appreciate how rich my life is.  We were missing the Grammy’s and we weren’t nominated but here we were in the exercise room of a Holiday Inn Express fully alive, sharing a memory that we will treasure in a pantheon of unique overflowing moments.
The snow continued to fall Monday but we made it back safely to our warm home and housemates. Again, I pull back and realize how fortunate we are.
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” – Charles Dickens
May your focus be on your good fortune so that your complaints give way to hearty laughter.