A Pocketwatch that Doesn’t Work

When Harper Lee’s second book was published last year, I went back and forth on whether or not to read it. Of course I wanted to read it, but I wasn’t convinced I should – it seemed so strange that this great author who said she wouldn’t write again would want a manuscript be published.

Lee is my favorite author. She has been since I first read To Kill a Mockingbird in the sixth grade. I wanted to be Scout. I took Atticus’ words to heart. The necklace I wear almost everyday is two gold feathers, one engraved with “Scout” and the other with “Boo”.

I eventually did read Lee’s new book, To Set a Watchman. I bought it. In hardback. And, contrary to  popular opinion, I liked it.

Most critics were disappointed. Atticus isn’t the hero of this one! In fact (spoiler alert), he’s proven to be racist. But Atticus is still Atticus, our Atticus. TKAM’s Atticus is a father through the eyes of an eight year old. Of course he’s deemed perfect and brave and invincible. GSAW’s Atticus is viewed through the eyes of twenty six year old Scout as a whole human, flaws and all.

The new manuscript was a gift, to me at least. People are more complex than we imagine at age eight. As a child, Scout and Atticus taught me to be a good person, a better person; to treat others fairly; to not judge; to believe in justice and truth. As an adult, they showed me I can love people who I don’t agree with and accept places I’ve come from even if I’ve changed.

There’s a time for both of Lee’s books. I was fortunate to read them both exactly when I needed them.

Thank you Harper.

“Why doesn’t their flesh creep? How can they devoutly hear everything they believe in church and then say the things they do and listen to the things they hear without throwing up? I thought I was a Christian but I’m not. I’m something else and I don’t know what.”

Kitten or Hedgehog?

This week in What’s Christine Reading, the answer is discussions of language and sexuality, feminist linguistics, and queer linguistics.* The readings are intense. And fascinating – language and sexuality and how they inform identity or are informed by identity. Recent studies in language and sexuality emphasize the way sexuality intersects with other codes – like gender, ethnicity, and social class – to form identity.

There are a dozen interesting elements to these studies, but one I find really relevant to the identity-heavy culture we live in is the way our identities are formed by more than one characteristic. How often do I take Buzzfeed quizzes on my own identity? Am I more Emma Watson or Emma Stone? Which Hogwarts house do I belong in? Am I an introvert or an extrovert and what Myers-Briggs combination am I and what’s my Enneagram? I MUST KNOW.

But, of course. Our identities can’t be defined by one characteristic. My combination of identities – straight, white, middle class female with a college education – is bound up in my liberal, feminist, extremely privileged world view. All the aspects of who I am interact to form my identity. It’s not just that I’m an Emma Watson-Ravenclaw-introvert-INFJ.**

We have to string all the parts together because they’re all bound up together. What that means for my essay is that we can’t study language and sexuality without studying language and gender and language and race, etc. What it means for life is… c’mon, you know. We can’t put people into boxes. Because we overflow into other boxes as well.

Maybe it means I need to be nicer when I talk about particular presidential candidates, particular former employers, particular other people I know because… ugh. We’re all more than one thing. I HAD to resolve to be less cynical this year, didn’t I?

Also, because I know you’re wondering: http://www.buzzfeed.com/evernevera/are-you-more-of-emma-watson-or-emma-stone-16hvl.

*As a note, linguistically speaking, queer theory concerns all nonnormative sexualities, including but not limited to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc. Also, as another note, I feel there will eventually be a better and more accurate term than “nonnormative” sexuality, but that’s the term currently used in sociolinguistic research.

**Okay, actually, I don’t know my Enneagram.