Sometimes I remind myself of the Don Quixote of our yard.  He’s a lunatic robin doing valiant battle through this long and glorious spring.  I can’t believe he hasn’t killed himself yet.  When morning is only a soft charcoal suggestion, he begins flying into the first window in which his reflection becomes visible, fighting off a ubiquitous rival in his territory.  He keeps at it, moving from window to window through sunset, until the cowardly intruder hides behind darkness.  Then, well before the alarm clock sounds,  bam, he charges a window with his beak, using it as a bathroom for good measure. Sometimes there are only thirty seconds before the next attack.  (Why am I assuming it’s a male out bashing his brains while the female sits on the nest and rolls her eyes at him?  Because I asked Dr. Dave Russell, an ornithologst at Miami University.)  Why don’t we do something?  The windows are too large and plentiful to cover them all at once.  We’ve tried.

I’m sure the robin thinks he’s doing a great job.  After all, he’s maintained the integrity of his turf and he’s still alive.  Winning, right?  Entirely the right attitude to be an author in his next life.

Obviously, he’s been observing through the window between his winning rounds.  My taxes are finished and ready to be filed.  Here’s something you might not know about the writing life.  As long as you make some money at it, you can deduct the money you lose, i.e., this is how you can win.

I’ll explain.   In order to avoid embarrassment, let’s say that I’m giving a hypothetical example.  Let’s say that literary agent Doris Michaels, who represented my first novel, did a great job selling foreign rights.   In several big countries (say Canada) I was familiar with the currency.  The currency of other countries, however, not so much.  In a few of those countries, let’s imagine the rights sold for what seemed like astronomical sums to my economics-challenged brain.  Here’s a specific, still entirely hypothetical example:   who wouldn’t be excited to hear that the advance was 2,394,698 gumbalsklots and that the publisher wanted a new color head shot for a marketing campaign?  (It was probably my sister, who actually passed algebra, who not only did that currency conversion but looked up the literacy rate of the country for good measure.  If I weren’t giving you a made-up example, I’d mention the figure $74.13 as the actual advance after the deductions to pay the domestic and foreign agent, the taxes, the bank exchange fees, etc.)  Hey, a sale is a sale, right?

Anyway, here’s the point.  Those old foreign sales pay royalties on a schedule so random and top secret that predicting a stock market rise appears a breeze in comparison.  So envision a writer who might be me finding a check in her mailbox last week, eleven years after the fact.  It might not be a big check, but it’s income.  Enough people bought that particular translation that while it’s not exactly paying the bills, it means she’ll already be able to deduct the current year’s expenses a year from now.  It’s already a good year.  You see how little it takes to encourage a writer?  You have to be a little crazy to make it.  You find reason, like the robin, to say, Winning.  And there’s always the plain love of the work.  There’s that.

Now I’ll tell you what makes us—or at least me—crazy to begin with.  As part of the American Library Association’s annual State of America’s Libraries Report, their Office for Intellectual Freedom has released their list of the ten most frequently challenged books and authors in 2011:

* ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
* The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
* The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
* My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
* The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
* Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
* Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
* What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
* Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
* To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

I’ve previously been clear about what I think of book challenges, which are initiatives to ban.  (Here’s the American Library Association’s page explaining the relationship between challenges, banning and censorship: if you’d like an explanation.

But seriously.  Even if you disagree with the Bill of Rights and think censorship is an okay thing, can you wrap your mind around To Kill A Mockingbird as one of the ten most frequently challenged books of 2011?  This was required reading for me in the ninth grade.  Thank goodness.  It was a life-changing book because it made me see writing fiction as a fully worthy calling.  I understood that a beautifully conceived and told story can seep into the mind and soul, affect thinking and attitudes by the power of acute observation of the human heart and truth of the human condition.  It’s the novel I’d most like to have written, a model of literary voice and brilliance.

Can someone tell me why we wouldn’t want To Kill A Mockingbird in any and every library?  Why would anyone want to take us so backward?  You see where I’m headed?  I have finally identified my life goal:  it’s to refine my craft until it shines so undeniably, to write something so deep, fine, pure and true that, given the direction the country seems to be going, it will be “challenged” out of every library in America.

Outdoors, lilacs hang like bunches of ripe grapes and red tulips open too wide, hungry for the rapture of sunlight in the electric air.  I think I’ll go out now and see if there’s a window that robin isn’t using at the moment.

6 Responses to Lunatic

  1. Before you find the right window to bash your head into try to remember the old camp song of “I guess.. I’ll go eat worms”. Must be your windows are too clean!

  2. We have also encountered the lunatic robin! Our solution — putting a very large, poster sized photo of our long diseased german shephard in the most popular window. It worked like a charm.

  3. Be glad that you only have one robin jousting at your windows. At our house, we have daily repetitions of that glass-shuddering “bam!” That’s when we look at one another, roll our eyes and say, “oh no, there goes another one.” Birds haunt our windows, leaving their spreadeagled (or robined, sparrowed, and the like) dusty outlines as a reminder that our house is in their path. Or so I’d thought. I was convinced they were committing suicide on a daily basis because our windows happened to be in the way. Now that I understand they’re doing battle, I can’t be as sympathetic. Particularly since the collies, Flopsy and Mopsy, dine on the birds’ war-weary bodies. In a sense, I’m winning the game. The dogs each much less dog food. . .

  4. Nu, why DO some folks challenge MOCKINGBIRD? Something in the language, the N-word, maybe? Sexuality and violence reported in the trial scenes? I’d love to know. And I’d be VERY curious how MOCKINGBIRD still makes the list but somehow HUCKLEBERRY FINN finally gets a reprieve.

    It happens that just a couple of weeks ago the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had a special 50th anniversary screening of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, with special guest Mary Badham (“Scout.”) She gave up acting long ago and now devotes herself to social issues, especially education. Surprisingly, (to me, anyway), since this was after all the MOTION PICTURE Academy, virtually all the introductory remarks and the post-film discussion (between Ms. Badham, a lady who is a civil rights attorney, and a gentleman who’d been one of the students to integrate Alabama schools,) centered around the racial and social aspects of the film and its continued relevance for contemporary times. Funny thing, but my personal love for the film has always been based on the nostalgic treatment of childhood, and when I recall the movie I almost never think about the civil rights conflicts depicted. (Composer Elmer Bernstein was at a loss as to how to score the film until he hit upon the fact that the whole story presented the adult world through the eyes of a child, and his beautiful music reflects that eloquently.)

  5. That is some trajectory – from a bird beating itself senseless defending its territory from whoever that intruder is looking back at him (or her?), to have one’s own book banned. Of course a book banned is a book that gives recognition to the author by way of a public’s negative reaction. You really hit the target in the (many?) prejudices of those people? My question is, though, how do you know one or more of your books haven’t been banned? Indeed, how do you know that you haven’t influenced people now or in the future. Book banning takes time, as does book loving.
    Think about the fact that if any of our thoughts got out there in the public, most, if not all of us, would be banned in a minute. The difference between thoughts and books is to have the courage to put our thoughts on paper in the most effective way to get a response. Even so, we may never know the kind of influence we have. That is the nature of those whose fate is to live by words.
    An example – Some years ago I visited a young girl in Cape Cod hospital’s mental division. She was there because she could not come to terms with a particular Biblical verse that seemed to damn her coming and going. She felt she was damned because her interpretation said the greatest sin was to be unaware of the Holy Spirit. I told her that of course she was aware or she wouldn’t be so concerned about have sinned.
    After I left I didn’t see her again until two years later when we happened to be at the same meeting. She recognized me and came over. She said, “Chaplain, I am so grateful to you. You set me free.”
    Who needs to produce a book banned in Boston! The recognitions come great distances, but that they come even once is, to my mind, indication of unseen riches.

    • Good points, Bill! I don’t know whether any of my books have been removed from libraries…

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