Monday, January 07, 2013

Stalking Harper Lee

Amy Whitaker, for the Millions, goes to Alabama.

From the piece...

As it turns out, I will not meet Harper Lee, but I will get to go to the church picnic, take a nap on the sofa of the president of the Chamber of Commerce, have a farm lunch and traipse through pastures with Truman Capote’s cousin, and be a bonnet-wearing extra in the play two days later. I will meet people starting properly Aristotelian four-year interdisciplinary programs at the local junior college, programs that sound a lot less like student loan factories than formative learning experiences. I will meet the police detective who plays Boo Radley, both Atticuses, two Scouts, and Crissy, an almost-Belgian existential philosopher who married a local doctor and runs the town’s one coffee shop. Like any life adventure or creative process, this is all steeped in the texture of everyday life — from daily drives past the vast Wal-Mart they call Wally World, to the man who wants to help Dawn get ice for her lemonade stand but quips, “The worst thing about losing the city council election was giving up the key to the ice machine.”

I will come to believe that the really interesting thing about Harper Lee is, moment to moment, what happens next. Harper Lee’s own life sounds fascinating, and I start to fantasize that she is a person I would have liked to be friends with, or even who is a little bit like myself. But to make her a character instead of a person — even inside her own mythology — is not as interesting as the living breathing life-as-art practice of all the townspeople who guard her privacy fiercely, who work as the bank CEO by day and play Atticus by night, and who print me a volunteer nametag even though I can’t give directions to anything but the ladies room, and offer me Styrofoam cups of Malibu Tropical Mojito out of a giant Capri-Sun container as we chat with Miss Stephanie backstage during the play. Crissy the bookstore owner who witnessed Lee’s cameo at lunch said, “Those people have no class, snapping pictures on their cell phones. They post them to Facebook and say they had lunch with Harper Lee.” She says it kindly in playful humor.

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