Folders and Sharpees and Pens! Oh, my!

“My childhood smells like a box of Crayola crayons.” – Terri Guillemets

Right after the last cherry bomb explodes on the Fourth of July, the ads that touted Independence Day sales on flip-flops and patio umbrellas switch gears. It’s time to think Back-to-School. Those words once stabbed me with panic. Now, I calmly peruse the flyers from Office Depot and Staples, coveting everything I see. I have never been able to resist the lure of fresh new school supplies.

I love shiny new notebooks whose yellow, or red, or blue, or green covers are without tattered corners, whose lily-white sheets of paper are unscribbled-on. I like spiral notebooks with perforated pages so that anything I tear out doesn’t come with the frizzies. My favorites, though, are those black-and-white marbly composition books – the ones that really look old-school. I like pens that still have their caps, Mr. Sketch markers that haven’t dried up to create only pale squiggles of their once-juicy colors, and Crayolas with pointy heads. Pencils are good, too, especially if they have sharp points and clean erasers that don’t leave a smudge. An electric pencil sharpener? Yes, please.

I like pocket folders in rainbow colors, thick packs of filler paper, and three-ring binders that clack to attention when I spring them open. While I can’t remember when I had a need for Elmer’s Glue, I admire its jaunty orange cap as yet unclogged. Sticky notes are perfect for adding margin notes to books I’m reading. Pop-up Post-it flags are just plain fun. I esteem a strong stapler, one with a solid “kachunk” that signals its firm grip on my pages. My favorite paper clips are the jumbos, especially if they’re multi-colored, but what I really like are those heavy-duty clasps that can grasp a stack of pages without danger of escapees. I’m a pretty big fan of a muscular hole-puncher, too.

Then there are file folders in cute prints, like the ones with old books all over them or a chevron stripe in neon colors, all ready to be organized. For that, I’d need some labels. I’ve never had a label-maker, so I’m perfectly okay with the kind you peel and stick on. It seems I can never have enough Scotch Magic Tape. And, it’s always wise to have a stack of yellow legal pads on hand or a tiny little notebook I can slip into my purse or a new fine-point Sharpee or two.

Not that I really need anything at Office Depot, but right now they’re selling packs of three by five cards for one penny. One penny! Limit three! And ten-packs of ballpoint stick pens – with caps, even – for a penny. My total bill would be less than a dime. I think I gotta go.


Thanks, Harper Lee!



“Fill your paper with breathings of your heart.” — William Wordsworth

An open letter to Harper Lee:

Dear Ms. Lee,

I guess I first read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school, and over time, I’ve taken it off my shelves and have sunk into the story again and again. My kids read it; I loved that my daughter loved it. For a couple of years, we teachers pushed our advanced eighth graders  into the freshman curriculum, and so I had the privilege of introducing the book to a new batch of teenagers.

Like so many others, I was intrigued  by the news that an unpublished manuscript of yours had been found and was to be published. I learned that the story, written before TKAM, featured Scout as a young adult, and that the manuscript had been locked away. How could I resist a chance to read it?

At midnight on Tuesday, I was clutching my copy of Go Set a Watchman. Anderson’s Bookshop, our local indie,  hosted a book launch at a beautiful old movie house, the Tivoli. The evening included a panel discussion  on To Kill A Mockingbird, some TKAM trivia, and then the movie TKAM. When the credits rolled precisely at midnight, we book geeks filed out and received our Go Set a Watchmans.

I approached GSAW with equal parts curiosity and trepidation.  Would it measure up? It won’t be perfect, I told myself. It was a first attempt at her novel, after all. But what would Scout be like as an adult? What about Jem? Dill? and Atticus? I avoided reviews, but with media hoopla everywhere, I spotted Huffpost‘s “Et tu, Atticus?” headline. Damn. Atticus a racist? No way, I assured myself.  I dove in.

So, Ms. Harper Lee, I want to thank you. No, not for writng GSAW. Frankly, I found it to be less than wonderful. I’m sure you know that. There is scant plotline, a lot of heavy-handed dialog laced with didacticism, and yes, that side of Atticus I never wanted to see. Yet, there are lovely glimmers of beautiful prose throughout the story. I was drawn into the dusty streets of Maycomb when Scout thinks back on getting her period, or playing Tom Swift with Jem and Dill, or going to her first high school dance. I cared about the young Jean Louise, and her brother, her father, Calpurnia, and Dill. How wise your editor was to suggest that you tell your story through young Scout.

Thanks for listening to your editor. Thanks for writing that much, much better story, the one I’ve cherished for years. It must have been painful to face your editor’s criticism, to start over. Maybe you had grown weary of Atticus and Scout. Maybe you felt like you’d poured all you had into GSAW. Maybe you cried, screamed, despaired, or sank yourself into one heck of a pity party. But then, you pulled up your desk chair, rolled a fresh sheet of paper into the typewriter carriage, and went at it again. You persevered. And when you did, you created a place and a time I’ve visited time and time again, and a story that lives within me. I am richer for having known the Finches, the Cunninghams, the Ewells, Boo Radley, and Tom Robinson.

Thank you.