I was one of those unfortunate souls who was not tasked with reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” in high school. Like Pudge, a character in John Green’s “Looking for Alaska,” I was more interested in Harper Lee’s biography than her books. When Argo told me that the movie version of “Mockingbird” consistently ranked in her top ten, I put it in the back of my head that I should read the book before I saw the movie, but was not in any way motivated to follow through until I realized I wanted to read “Go Set a Watchman.” Since I wanted to read them in order, I finished them both in about seven hours… and now, I am in an incredible funk. Their styles are drastically different. “Mockingbird,” while talking about serious issues, was also hilarious. It reminded me a lot of Haven Kimmel’s autobiography, “A Girl Named Zippy.” “Watchman” was angry.
Very angry. The difference in tone was striking, almost palpable. While there are pieces of text that were lifted for use in “Mockingbird,” most of the story centers on Jean Louise’s hatred of her father, because the person she thought he was in the past is clearly not the person she sees when she comes back to visit.
It’s a universal story at its core. Who IS the person we thought they were the deeper we get to know them? Argo got to see all of my funny until she helped me pick at my own scars, and I went out of my mind with rage. I unleashed on her in a way that I’ve never unleashed on anyone. I wasn’t the person she thought I was. Diane groomed me to tell the story that I was just a little kid with a crush and I just couldn’t get over it. When the shit hit the fan for me, she disappeared. She wasn’t the person I thought she was. The more Dana and I loved each other and opened up, the more we gained the ability to hurt each other, because we were using the other’s flaws as weapons. Neither one of us recognized each other anymore. We weren’t the people we thought each other were.
The great state of Texas is trying to override the Supreme Court in any way it can to get around issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. It is not the government I thought it was. A state built on individual principles and freedom seeks to mandate their brand of morality. I got tired of fighting. I got tired of feeling invisible. My last straw with the state of Texas was spending hours at the DMV trying to prove to them that the last time I’d come in, they’d taken a copy of my domestic partnership document as proof of identification, and when I came back, all of the sudden, they wouldn’t take it anymore.
Eventually, they found the scan they’d taken the last time I was in, but it took more fight than I was ready to have. When faced with such conflict, I run. This time, I ran to Maryland because it was more liberal than Virginia the last time I lived here, and Kathleen and I said even then (almost 15 years ago) that we needed to make the jump because Virginia wasn’t going to change as fast, especially with Richmond still caught up in speaking the “Jeff Davis English.” DC is the liberal haven we sought; Virginia was the part we didn’t consider. It wasn’t the state we thought it was.
“Watchman” is not so much a story but a “man vs. man” conflict. How do you watch these civil rights struggles when you are not on the same side as your family or your state? How do you love them through it despite differing views? How do you love people that do things you despise? Harper Lee’s answer is that there is no collective consciousness, that we are all responsible for what we see and what we do… but nothing renders another inhuman. You have to meet people where they are, and connect on the things with which you can connect, and not with what you cannot. For instance, if and when I have to go to Southern Virginia and someone says something racist or homophobic, the best thing I can do is start talking about pie or football.
Darkness will always exist. The calendar and the clock will not stop it, because humans will always find the next new thing for which they can harbor prejudice. There cannot be only one “watchman,” because one report will not fit us all. We all have to go and set our own watchmen, to create our own calendars and our own clocks with which to move ourselves forward. It is all at a different rate because we cannot synchronize humanity, and we never will.