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The She Said/She Said of the Mockingbird Next Door

Until the brouhaha bubbled up to the surface, I wanted to read the new book by Marja Mills called The Mockingbird Next Door about living next to Harper Lee.  The journalist rented the house next door to Lee and formed a friendship with the author and her sister, Alice.  She claims that she had their blessing in writing the book.  Harper Lee says that she cut off the relationship once she realized Mills’s intentions; that she had moved next door specifically to write this book.

And now it comes down to a round of she said/she said.


Image: Jose Sa via Flickr

Either Lee encouraged the relationship and book, and then pulled back at some point, insisting she never agreed to an intimate biography (effectively wasting Mill’s time and money) or Mills wormed her way into Lee’s life for her own curiosity and gain and exploited a woman’s trust in order to write the book she wanted to write.  Either situation leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I was set to refrain from reading on that alone, not knowing the truth.

But the ChickieNob pointed out another reason not to read the book.  That no matter how curious we are, no matter how much we think the academic world could gain by having the author speak about her work, no matter how much we feel we’re owed something because we gave Lee’s book our attention and accolades, Lee should be afforded privacy.  She’s asked for it.  She clearly wants it.  To invade that is to disrespect her; a violation.

The best way you can show your love for the work and the person who wrote it is to follow her lead and do as she requests.  So I’m not going to read Mills’s book.  Even though I am so curious to hear what she has to say about her own work.

Are you going to read Mills’s book?  Would you read a biography where the subject is so clearly against having their story out there?  And in that way, how is it any different from reading someone’s diary without their permission?

July 17, 2014   7 Comments

The Secret Trip

The twins are in a computer programming club — think Girl Scouts but for engineering and coding — that I attend as well.  The ChickieNob was sharing a computer with a girl recently, and they were waiting for a dad to come by and help them with their wifi connection.  The girl tilted the top of her computer toward the ChickieNob and pointed at the stickers decorating her laptop.  “I’m really into Star Wars and Harry Potter,” she told her.

“I’m very into Harry Potter, and I used to be into Star Wars,” ChickieNob replied.  “The original three movies.”

The kids are entering into that age of passionate and rabid fandom.  I mean, yes, there have been things they’ve liked before this point — toys they were obsessed with or movies we watched ad nauseam.  But there is a difference now: they have entered that point where every single pore on their body is excreting their love for the objects of their affections.  Where it isn’t enough to just accept and enjoy what is offered by the film director or writer, but where they have stepped beyond into having their favourite things enter their self definition and they want to muse on it for hours like a crush, imagining well beyond what is on the page or screen.

They don’t just enjoy Harry Potter.  They talk about Harry Potter and his world as if they are classmates; family members.

I love it.

We’ve been talking about going to a Harry Potter conference once we finish the seventh book.  They like the idea of finding other people who equally like what they like.  They like talking about that point in the future; when they can go to a conference.  The anticipation is almost as enjoyable as reading the books.

We were driving this week, and I mentioned a family we met at a dinner party a few years ago.  Their kids didn’t know but the morning after the dinner party, they were surprising them and putting them on a plane to London to go to a Doctor Who conference.

“Would you like that?  If I just woke you up one morning and didn’t tell you where we were going until we got to the airport?”

“Are you going to do that?” ChickieNob questioned.

“Well… no.  I mean, I’m trying to figure out how you would feel about that.”

“Yes,” she told me.

“Yes… what?”

“Yes, please, take me to London to do more Harry Potter things.”

“But would you want to know ahead of time or would you want to be surprised?”

“I would want to be surprised or I would want to know.  Mostly, I just want to go do Harry Potter things,” she informed me.

I have a recurring dream where I show up at the airport for a trip and realize that I’ve forgotten my camera.  I’m filled with panic because my camera enhances my enjoyment of every trip and activity: I cannot imagine traveling (or doing anything) without a camera.  Granted, I always have two cameras on me at all times, but still, Josh knows about this recurring dream and how it speaks to my dislike of being surprised, even with nice things like trips abroad.  Part of the enjoyment of travel or a big event is the planning and imagining that takes place beforehand.  I like feeling prepared as I set out.  I wouldn’t enjoy a Harry Potter conference as much if I didn’t have weeks ahead of time to plan out what I wanted to do and re-read the books and re-watch the movies.  Even though sometimes it’s really hard to wait when you know that you’re going.

Where do you stand on the anticipation of travel?  Would you want to be surprised with a really good trip and not have to sit through a long wait, or would you feel as if you missed out on the chance to get excited about it ahead of time?

July 16, 2014   16 Comments

The Book Ruiner

This post contains Harry Potter spoilers.  Stop reading now if you don’t want the series ruined.

So we started Harry Potter Six despite saying three months ago that we weren’t ready at all.  Despite saying the same thing just a few hours before I read them the first page.  But the reality is that what I was trying to keep them from experiencing was the thrill that Voldemort takes in killing, and the ChickieNob noted at the end of Book Five that Bellatrix seemed to really enjoy killing Sirius.  I coupled that realization with the fact that they barely flinched over Sirius’s death.  They cried; they were sad, but they weren’t scared.  And I’m okay with introducing them to the concept of sad.  Dealing with a favourite character’s death, talking out how you feel about that death, is a safe way to process the feelings of death without actually having to lose a real person.  So… I’m all for encountering sad in a safe space.

Then Josh commented that he thought they were ready.  His fear is that the longer we wait, the more chance the books will be ruined as other kids read them and talk about them.

Here is the thing.  That has already happened.  And when it did, I lied.

[I promised I would never lie to my kids, and then I lied lied lied.]


In first grade, the ChickieNob came home from school upset and asked if she could speak to me alone.  And when we got upstairs, she told me that a boy had told her the end of Book Six just to be mean.  And she wanted to know if it was true; did Snape murder Dumbledore?

She was devastated over the idea that (1) Dumbledore would be killed and (2) that this boy had taken away something from her that she held precious — letting the story unfold as it was supposed to unfold.

So I told her that the child was cruel and had gotten it completely wrong which is to be expected when it comes to six-year-olds watching movies way above their head.

She was relieved, and has gone through the rest of the series calmly, sometimes asking reassurance that Dumbledore would be in Book Seven.  And I’m not lying when I tell her that he’s in Book Seven.  And I didn’t exactly lie when I told her that the boy was wrong.  I mean, he was wrong in the sense that it wasn’t murder.  That it was something much more nuanced than that.  But ChickieNob thinks that Dumbledore lives.  So… it’s a lie.

And it eats away at me now that we are ensconced in Book Six.


I told them that I have told one lie, and I would like to preemptively ask for forgiveness.  I lied for a good reason, which doesn’t really excuse it.  But I didn’t want the books ruined for her.

And more to the point, she has been so careful not to pass the story along to her brother.  He still doesn’t know why we went upstairs that day; why she was so upset.

There are times when we accidentally ruin a story for someone else.  We say something not realizing the person hasn’t read the story or isn’t at the same part.  It happens.  And while it sucks, it doesn’t bother me.  The person meant no harm.

But this kid ruined the end of the book on purpose.  He told her that he was going to tell her everything and ruin it for her, and when she told him to stop, he kept talking.  And that is a literary violation.  I mean, it sort of sounds funny when I write about it; torturing someone by telling them important book endings.  But in the moment, when it’s happening to you?  It feels as if someone has crept into your bedroom and stolen one of your prized possessions.  She has been holding this series in her heart for years; it is so important to her.  To take away allowing the twists to unfold in due time is a crappy thing to do.

Hopefully she will forgive me when we get to the end of the book.  When I told her that I once told her a lie, she asked me again if Dumbledore was alive in Book Seven.  I told her he was, and then I repeated that when I told the lie, I did so to protect the books.  I offered to tell her the lie, to confess on the spot, and maybe she knows what it was already, because she told me that she’d rather be angry with me when the truth comes out than learn the truth now.

I’m not sure which is worse: being a liar, even if it is to save a book, or being a book ruiner.

July 15, 2014   13 Comments

50 Cities to See Before You Die According to a Random Stranger

The Huffington Post had an article titled “The Top 50 Cities to See in Your Lifetime” that made the rounds on Facebook.  Of course the link makes you curious and you click over to see how many of these cities-you-must-see that you’ve been to. (I’ve made it to 12.)  And then you lament that you haven’t made it to a large chunk of the list.  Which makes you depressed enough to eat an entire carton of butter pecan ice cream.

Yet with the spoon midway between the container and your mouth, you suddenly remember that marveling is all in the eye of the beholder and there are plenty of places that didn’t make this list that deserve to be seen and experienced.

For instance, if you came to America and only saw the cities that made the list: San Francisco, Las Vegas, and New York, you would have a fairly limited view of life in the states.  Where I live has nothing in common with San Francisco, Las Vegas, or New York.  Don’t you think someone visiting the US should see some farmland?  Or a small town?  Or a beach town?  Head into the mountains?  Tour the Bayou?  While all are nice cities, they’re a somewhat depressing landing ground to experience America.  It reminds me of my cousins’ friends who knew America via 90210 and assumed that was an accurate portrayal of American teens.

And then I started realizing that while Florence was fine, I really loved picking a random town like San Gimignano and taking two buses to get there in order to get a better sense of Tuscany.  Because, sure, Florence is part of that, but if I had stopped at Florence rather than heading out to Poggibonsi, I’m not sure I would have seen the most interesting parts of the area.  I would have just seen the most popular.  And popular and interesting aren’t usually the same thing.

Which makes me guess that the rest of Huffington Post’s list is a bunch of bullshit too.  Just big, popular places that are common tourist destinations.  Not that there is anything wrong with tourist destinations — I mean, Washington, D.C. is a tourist destination — but I would hate to let someone else construct my travel bucket list.

So what is my bucket list?  I mean, where do I want to go?  Because it feels like I should have a personal travel bucket list.

This is what I have so far, though I made it countries or large areas for the most part instead of cities since I would need to do more research to figure out where I want to go specifically:

I seem to be heavy on islands.  I like water.

What is on your personal travel bucket list?

July 14, 2014   23 Comments

The Not So Scary Ghost

There is a haunted house in my parent’s town.  The house was built in the late 1700s.  A family was murdered there in the early 1800s, and a fire gutted the inside of the building.  It was rebuilt soon after that, but it has been vacant on-and-off for the last 200 years because — legend goes — the family that was murdered in the house haunts it.  You can see the house from the road, hidden by the trees, and the kids and I have ventured as far as the driveway, which is marked by many signs stating the trespassers will be prosecuted.  It is currently owned by a man who opens it up as a “haunted house” attraction near Halloween.  The rest of the year, it lies dormant.

The ChickieNob — a huge fan of ghosts and all things haunted — was interested in getting tickets and going inside until she discovered that it was just a bunch of teenagers in scary costumes writhing around on the floor.  “I want to see a real haunted house and talk to real ghosts; not waste an hour looking at what someone thinks a haunted house should be like.”

Good point.

Because here’s the thing: why are ghosts always portrayed as something scary?  I mean, if I were a ghost, I wouldn’t make a rocking horse creepily bow back and forth to get someone’s attention.

Antique Rocking Horse

Image: Thomas Quine via Flickr

Real ghosts don’t give a shit about rocking horses.

Look at it this way: Real kids don’t really play with rocking horses save for a few months of childhood.  Fine, I’ll accept that a toddler ghost may play with a rocking horse to get our attention, but anyone over the age of five?  Unlikely.

Human ghosts are still humans.  I mean, we don’t suddenly morph into being squirrels or goats.  We’re people.  And human ghosts would behave like people.  I suspect that if I were a ghost, I would behave with strangers the same way I behave around strangers currently at the grocery store.  I don’t try to freak out people buying grapes or make the people behind me in line quiver.  I either ignore them or make small talk.

As a human ghost amongst strangers, I would mostly be curious about all the things they’re using that weren’t around when I was alive.  I’d be all, “hey, what’s that crazy piece of wearable technology you have over your forehead, kid?”  Maybe I would move said piece of strange technology — I mean, THAT makes sense.  Slide that puppy across the floor toward the person so they’ll put it on and show me how to use it.  But rocking horses?  Or making curtains blow?  Seriously, what ghost is going to bother with that?

I plan on being an inquisitive ghost that keeps up to date on the latest advances in technology.  I am hoping that the humans I lurk around leave open Web pages so I can read them too.  In fact, realizing how I want to be in the afterlife, I’m thinking about placing the latest issue of People magazine on my dining room table and turning the pages every five minutes so any ghosts in the room can keep up to date with celebrity gossip.  THAT is what ghosts would care about; the same sort of drivel we care about while we’re living.

“Maybe they’re angry,” Josh offered.  “Maybe the family that was murdered is still angry and that’s why they’re haunting people.”

Give me a break.  I hold a grudge against people who have pissed me off.  But strangers?  Even at my angriest, I don’t take out my frustration on strangers.  I don’t think ghosts — even angry ghosts — would turn their anger towards people who weren’t even alive when they were murdered hundreds of years ago.  I really hope that after 200 years, they could set aside their spite and enjoy watching someone use their iPhone.  That has got to be cool for someone who died in the early 1800s.

I like the idea of ghosts.  I would be comforted to have someone I lost still with me.  I know that idea doesn’t sell tickets nor does it feed into the general festivities surrounding Halloween.  But I’m sticking to my version of ghost stories.

July 13, 2014   8 Comments

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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