One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Landscape of the Mind

I just finished reading Mockingbird. Extraordinary. Kathryn Erskine gets inside the landscape of Caitlin’s mind the way an archeologist gets inside the earth. Digging carefully and deeply around the treasured object.

In Caitlin’s case, the treasured object stuck and hardened inside her mind is emotion, I believe. It is trapped by her idiosyncratic behaviors and coping mechanisms: isolating herself, her lack of social skills, her inability to define anything that isn’t literal. On the outside, Caitlin’s actions and reactions appear disconnected. I understand this, as a reader, because Kathryn has created many scenes between Caitlin and other characters. But what I also understand, as that same reader, are Caitlin’s thought processes. I am privy to the way she thinks and the way she strings information together and the conclusions she draws. Chapter by chapter, Kathryn hunkers down and journeys just a little further into that rich and muddy earth of Caitlin’s mind. She doesn’t walk away into someone else’s perspective. She doesn’t look away, even for a moment. She is focused and determined and, more than anything else, she excavates with a loving hand.

When my running partner, Kara, and I stop at the edge of the river trail to let the dogs swim—when we look out on the rock ledge that bridges the trail and the water, when we watch the sun hit the water and turn into tiny sparklers of light, when we gaze beyond the river to the pine forest hillside in the distance—we are, more or less, seeing the same landscape. More than that, we are feeling the same landscape. Feeling the same heat of the late morning sun, feeling the same drops of water on our ankles when the dogs bound out of the river and shake, feeling the same burst of energy from the momentary rest and recharge.

But we—none of us—can see or feel inside the landscape of someone else’s mind. We can try. And I believe it is, perhaps, the most important thing we can try. But it is hard work. It is murky and thick and hard to navigate.

Kathryn Erskine gives us a critical lesson in Mockingbird.

A tool that can help bridge the space between one mind and another.

One heart and another.

Tam Smith

1 comment:

  1. I tried to comment and failed. Of course, I said everything better last time!

    What you have described is exactly why reading is important for character development, for understanding, for anti-bullying. Reading this story allows us to empathize with Caitlin, someone who is most likely very different from us.

    Beautiful post, Tam.