I Never Knew Harper Lee

Harper LeeI think the greatest sin of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman is the feeling of doubt that it gave me.

Before Go Set a Watchman, I naively thought I knew Harper Lee. Many of us believed that. There was such a beautiful personal quality to To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout and Atticus were not fictional, they were real, and we assumed that real people hid behind their smiles and hugs. Harper was Scout and, of course, her father was the noble and great Atticus.

They were friends and I visited with them often, in both film and book. Before Go Set a Watchman, I would watch the movie once a year, crying in the same two places each time (when Scout is told to stand for her father as he is passing and when she sees Boo in the corner). And I have read the book more times than I care to mention. A part of me still dreams of the first time that I will read it to my kids.

There was a moment in the 2000s, that I shared the same literary agent as Harper Lee. And I would beg (beg!) the agent for news on Harper. I imagined, if I played my cards right, there could be a friendship there. It would begin with a call, that slight southern warmth in her voice. “I was told you wanted to speak with me?”

Awkward at first and then the talk would grow. I would laugh at her sarcastic wit. And I would do a little dance the first time I was able to get her to laugh.

Of course, that call never happened, and my agent at the time just allowed my daydreams to take place.

But, like I said, that all changed with Go Set a Watchman. Continue reading

Cereal, Milk, and a Bank Loan (Part 2)

purple-wig-with-bangs-3This is part 2 of a remembrance. Part 1 can be found here

The idea of going to a psychic was like a dozen Christmases! This was my most wonderful time of the year, Andy Williams! And this wasn’t just any pretend psychic like on a 1-900 line, but one that my boss (the person who kept me employed and paid me) swore up and down was completely legit. I was giddy, giggling throughout the week up to my appointment like a kid on Christmas Eve.

Yes, I had to make an appointment, this psychic didn’t meet with just anyone. She also wanted to talk to me on the phone for ten minutes before agreeing to the meeting. It was an awkward conversation (which I did in the branch office with my manager looking on), almost feeling like I was attending a job interview. Of course here my soul, not my resume, was under review.  Finally, she said that I was okay and she would meet with me.

 Merry Christmas!

This, by the way, is not to say that I really believed any of this kind of stuff. But… But… But if this was an actual, real psychic like in a movie and I was about to have an experience like that? Well, just imagine that!

Quests have begun with lesser moments than that! By the way, that is the problem with having my imagination, it can carry me away just like a bear with a picnic basket. And at this point, it was a very wonderful picnic basket, full of magic and possible future joy and success. I couldn’t help but get excited by the fantastical possibility of it all.

Yes, I am in many ways a cynic and a realist, but a part of me has always wanted to believe in more than what I can see in front of me. I want to believe in a destiny and purpose, even though in my heart I know it is all a bunch of baloney. Continue reading

Cereal, Milk, and a Bank Loan (Part 1)

Bag of MoneyI own a copy of The Satanic Bible because of my time working at a bank.

Let me begin by pointing out that this was not a normal bank. For some reason, the higher-ups in the banking world (who I always like to imagine as fat pigs in suits with cigars) thought it would be a good idea to have a bank in a grocery store. Really? Okay, sure. This grocery store was also in the heart of a more struggling community, so the idea of a bank being in that store in that area made the entire experience that much odder.  Sometimes it would leave me feeling like we were taunting the more struggling citizens (those shopping with food stamps). Not for you…

No one that knows me would have argued that banking is the best career choice for me. Yes, I enjoy interacting with people and customer service to a certain extent, but numbers are not my thing. The one time I had ever (ever!) needed a tutor was for a beginning college course in Accounting. I remember the tutor having a hard time explaining something to me and so she would talk slower and slower as if it was the speed of her explanation that was the problem. For all I know that tutor is still sitting someplace trying to finish that sentence.

I was in grad school at the time (working towards a master’s in English Literature), and the job worked around my busy classroom schedule, so I couldn’t say no, no matter how off this position was for me.  It almost made me feel like I had a secret identity. At school I was in cool t-shirts and hoodies, talking about Virginia Woolf and William Shakespeare; at work, I was a business professional talking about mortgages. I was the English major’s version of Clark Kent.

Being in a grocery store, the bank looked more like a pharmacy, with one back office and a long counter. But instead of pills we were pushing financial obligations and long-term debt.  We were there to open accounts, sell the services of the bank. We were the front line of a financial war, and the shoppers walking around were the targets. Our weapons were free rulers and pens and other minor office supplies with our logo on them. It was also my job every thirty minutes or so to wander around those grocery aisles, interrupting strangers who were in the middle of shopping.  Honestly, it all felt so very rude and I hated it.

“Hi, I noticed you are buying groceries. Would you like a free notepad for your grocery list? No… Okay… Well, I’m with the bank over there and we are offering a new special on an equity loan… And… I’m sorry for bothering you.”

I said sorry a lot when I was on that job. Continue reading

Poisoning the Genius

poison-symbol1I want to say this at the start and I want it be clear to all who read this that I had no intention of killing my professor.

However, I’m certain if things had turned out worse that fateful night, some of my fellow students would have sold me down the river. I can picture them even today, accusingly pointing their finger across the courtroom at me. “There he is! That is the man who did it! That is the monster!”

The funny thing is there is actually a precedence for poisoning teachers in my family. Back when my grandmother was a principal at monthly meetings one of the heavier set teachers used to eat all of the snacks before the other teachers had a chance. My grandmother, being my grandmother, decided that she was going to send a “subtle” message to that teacher.

At the next full staff meeting, my grandmother brought in “special” brownies. Oh, they were fine. Perfectly fine… except for the biggest piece which was filled to the brim with laxatives.

That teacher called in sick the next day.

“But that is my grandmother!” I would say to the judge. “She is not me! And I had no idea that I was technically poisoning the guy. I throw myself on the mercy of the court.” Continue reading

My Lost Years in Trucking (Part 2)

full moonThis is part 2, part 1 can be found here.

We were the shadow people.

The lost boys and girls. The six of us who worked third shift were not invited to meetings or parties. No one sung Happy Birthday to us or bought us a cake. We were the forgotten souls that haunted the trucking halls after everyone went home. Yes, I know what it is like to be a ghost.

There was a certain level of mad freedom that came with working this late shift. For all of the rules were nonexistent for us. They disappeared in a poof of smoke once the day people left to continue their real lives.

  • No internet? Sure (until the boss left).
  • No music? Of course (until the last car drove away).
  • Scheduled breaks and lunches? Yes (whatever).

Before I began this job I used to consider myself a good worker, trustworthy. But when thrown in an occupation I had no interest in, I seemed to be a lot more questionable than I ever imagined myself to be. It seems I am somewhat a rebel. James Dean. Marlon Brando. Go figure.

We did have a supervisor, but we rarely saw him. There was a good reason for this actually. He was having an affair at the time and checking in with us was one of his excuses for meeting up with his mistress. I never had to answer a call and make an excuse to his wife (who, by the way, was home with a baby), but other employees did. If I did ever get his wife on the phone, I am almost a hundred percent sure I would have told her.

The mistress was a secretary from the day shift, and oddly in that office this affair was not too surprising for me the longer I was there. Right from the first day sitting with Marian I could sense the amount of flirting going on around. In many ways it was like an uninhibited high school. No teachers or parents here to tell you no! And we night owls knew everyone’s secrets. Continue reading

The Mad Man I Stole From (Part 2)

White Piano

This is part 2 of a rememberance I began in Part 1 here.

So for two months, I worked for the mad man, and strangely I saw him very rarely while doing it. I was supposedly restarting his car company, chasing his dreams, but I was doing it mainly solo. The working arrangement went something like this:

  • When I could get away from my own writing, I would leave him a voicemail saying I was going to the office with the white Elvis piano. (I would never receive a response to the message.)
  • If it was the right guard at the front desk (which was only occasionally, sometimes if another guard was on duty when I left later they would have some questions on where I was coming from), I would sneak into the building and up to my own little office.
  • After playing a few chords on the piano (Who wouldn’t?), I would then go to my spot in the back, turn on the computer, write for a few hours, and print up whatever I wrote for his review.

The strange thing is he never reviewed what I wrote! Not even a word. The most I would hear from him was the weekly small check by the computer waiting for me and an occasional assignment.

Usually, those assignments involved me having to drop off a check someplace or making a phone call for him. On one occasion, I had to drop off a check at a government office, I was informed exactly which worker to meet with and a script of what to say. That experience took over four hours with nothing but old magazines in a waiting room for entertainment.

After the specific worker took the check from me (after listening to my excuse from Mr. W that the rest of the money would be in soon), he looked me up and down and asked, “What are you doing working for him?”

It was a great question. “I have no idea,” I responded. And I didn’t. Continue reading

The Mary Jane Legacy (It’s not about what you may assume…)

Something different on my site today, and from a different Scott Southard! My dad has his own blog where he writes on his experience working in health care and as a manager. In his most recent post he shared memories of his mom, my grandmother. It is a touching piece and I think really captures her strong personality and amazing mind. I hope you enjoy it.

Healthcare Leadership: A Discourse

This month marks the fifth anniversary of the passing of my mother, Mary Jane Southard.  She was a hard worker and a very smart woman with several graduate degrees, held a position in public education of which she was the first Michigan woman to do so, and was responsible for launching the education of innumerable children in our community.

Grandma S. copy

Even now, people in her town still recognize our shared last name and ask about her or have an endearing story to share of her seemingly unceasing generosity and kind heart.  It always fascinated my sons and me when out with her that people in their fifties or sixties would approach her and ask if she knew who they were.  And, like some sideshow act, she would look into these people’s eyes and without fail recognize them and call them by the name they preferred as a five-year old… and then…

View original post 788 more words

Maurice Sendak: Childhood Visionary

There was always an element of darkness in Maurice Sendak’s stories that I found impossible to avoid.

With his passing, we hear and read again about his rough childhood fighting sicknesses, stuck in a room by himself, with only his imagination for company and the fear of death. His family were immigrants, just luckily avoiding the Holocaust; living with the grief that they were not able to save many of the people on his father’s side of the family. Yes, it was a childhood filled with death and the possibility of it around every corner. So it is not surprising that there is that darkness always someplace in his work, lurking and waiting.

In In the Night Kitchen, Mickey is almost baked in a cake by three heavy set individuals with Hitler mustaches. He emerges when he is put in the oven. When I first shared this book with my son, I was floored, and my belief about the sequence was confirmed when I investigated it the next day. Yes, that moment was inspired by the Holocaust.

To think parents and libraries were annoyed by the naked boy in the illustrations, there was a whole other secret message about evil they were too blind and ignorant to even see! Even in Sendaks’s childhood dreams, darkness is near. Continue reading