An Imaginary Journal Entry from Little Women: Mr. Lawrence Ruminates by his Window

Our latest writing assignment for my online writing class on The Habit Community was to write a page from the journal of a minor character in a famous book. It was such an interesting assignment; people did all sorts of great things from Jane Austen, J.R.R. Tolkien, L.M. Montgomery, Suzanne Collins, the tale of Beowolf and more.

My husband had the idea for my piece, told from the perspective of the rich old neighbour next door in Little Women, which is one of my very favourite books. It felt like treading on sacred ground, trying to slip into the writing shoes of Louisa May Alcott…I really hope you enjoy it!

Mr. Lawrence Ruminates by his Window

Every evening for months, I have heard their voices lifting in song—the four neighbour girls singing with their mother around an old piano. At first, I would shut my windows to block out the sound of their happiness, for its lively youthfulness unearthed memories of my own dear granddaughter, now so silent and still.

I tried to make myself believe that I was simply annoyed at their disturbing an old man’s rest, but it was not irritation at all: it was fear of the sorrow their joy was unleashing in my locked heart, until I could contain it no longer.

Eventually, I began opening my window. I now watch for their work-weary mother to come home through the gate, carrying her baskets and bundles. Her daughters greet her with joy, calling “Marmee!” through the open door.

After an hour or so, I bring my pipe and sit by the window pensively, as if pondering some profound problems, while the smoke wafts into the night air, but I am simply waiting to listen to them sing.

Sometimes, their warbling songs are delightful; other times their girlish voices and soft piano tunes are accompanied by my silent tears, the ones I could not shed when my own little grandchild died. How she had loved music!! Her untouched piano haunts me.

However, anger is a lonely refuge. It sustains me no longer, though I try to hide it from my foolish nephew, Lawrence, lest he think I have grown old and soft.

Perhaps I have. I long to do something for them now that their father is away at war. They must feel it deeply, though they carry their burden cheerfully. That lanky one even leaps over the fence at times; I have to restrain my laughter when I see it through the window. Oh, to have her spring in my step!

But what could a lonely old man do to increase their happiness? Their mother seems too proud to accept money; she bears herself so nobly, and I believe their family was wealthy before her husband’s business was ruined.

If only I could be there with them in that cozy little front room, with the light streaming through the window into the dusk, along with their dear voices…then I could hear the soft tunes of their old piano better.

That is it—a new piano! My granddaughter’s favourite instrument shall be silent no longer.

The Girl on Fire Finally Gets Burned

The coals of the firey Hunger Games trilogy are still smouldering on my iPad, several weeks after finishing it. Reading it was an intense experience, and one that made me think a lot. One of the most fascinating aspects was witnessing the slow, sad, mental breakdown of the heroin of the story, Katniss Everdeen. A passionate, intense teenager in a violent, unjust world, she struggles to fight against the repression of her state, and becomes increasingly embroiled in the plans of the rebels to take over from the sadistic President Snow.

For a long time Katniss is increasingly consumed by anger. It takes getting literally burned for her to realize it. That the fire of hatred burns not only the one hated, but the one who hates.

That being willing to do anything to destroy your enemy in fact destroys yourself, because it transforms you into them. That the greatest danger is perhaps not death after all, but losing yourself–what is essential to being you, your best part. It’s like Peeta said before the Hunger Games in book 1, that he wanted to die himself, instead of being corrupted by the Games. He didn’t want to be turned into a killer, a monster, someone willing to do whatever it took to achieve their goal, like the career tributes. At first Katniss can’t understand this way of thinking. All she can focus on is survival, for the sake of her little sister, and unwell mother, for whom she feels responsible.

Later she realizes to her horror, that the deeper into war you get, the more the line between ally and enemy blurs, the more the distinction between right and wrong fades, the more the shining idea of peace gets stained by so many splatters of blood.

In the end, so often betrayed and haunted by so many dead, Katniss trusts no one, and the only peace she can imagine is to join them in the grave, but this idea too gives her nightmares. I’m no expert, but I’m sure she has a bad case of PTSD (post-traumatic-stress-disorder).

Violence consumes her and spits her out broken; she is used as a symbol of rebellion, the Mockingjay, thinking that she is furthering the cause of freedom, when in fact she is helping the advancement if a new dictator, just as willing to kill as the last. When her usefulness expires, and her influence becomes a threat, she becomes expendable, and measures are taken.

The Hunger Games Trilogy beings and ends tragically: with the death of children. The abuse of precious and innocent human life as political bait, as hostages, as gory entertainment, as propaganda, as sacrifice for power, as a means to an end. The end is ugly.

But the books do not end in despair, but return to that small, precious hope of a quiet family life, faithful love, and children, made wiser by our experiences, with a future better than our past.

It reminds me of the return to the Shire at the end of The Lord of the Rings, after all the war and trauma of the journey to destroy the one ring, the ring of power, that nearly consumed Frodo. This ring likely would have killed or totally destroyed him without the faithful friendship of Samwise Gamgee, the kind, generous and brave friend who never abandoned him. After it is all done, and they have succeeded, the most beautiful thing is to see Sam return home to Rosie, to love, a hearth and home, to have a family. This is what makes all the sacrifice and heroism worth it.

Sam and Peeta both show us that what really matters, in worlds that can be so twisted and complex, is to remain true to our essential core, which is unswerving fidelity to those we love, and the realization that love is stronger than death, and is the force which has far more power to save our world than violence.

So what does this mean for us?

That when we are angry, we should seek peace.
That when we are disgusted by someone’s actions, we should still treat them with respect because they are a human being, and we, too, are capable of making many mistakes.
That when we are despised or mocked, we should not spit back nasty words, because returning evil for evil is a sure way to let our enemies win, by turning us into the kind of people whose actions were hurting us in the first place.
That we should never put people in simplistic boxes of good or evil, especially if labelling them the latter dehumanizes them. When we stop treating other people like human beings, we become monsters.

There is an expression worth pondering, that we must drown evil in an abundance of good. Often the best way to make the world a brighter place, instead of lashing out against the darkness, is to let the light of goodness shine by doing many simple, kind, and generous things, and trusting that all these little actions do add up to something important. If we teach this to our children, they can bear little torches of hope out into the world, and touch many lives for the better.

I don’t mean that we shouldn’t fight against injustice, and rally around the oppressed, but when we are in any kind of struggle, let’s remember what the rebels in the Hunger Games forgot: that not only the cause matters, but the way of fighting it, because fighting for a just cause by evil means poisons the whole thing.

And if the idea of violence against children rightly horrifies us, let’s remember that all people, of every background, were once children, too.

“Who needs sleep?”

Tonight the lyrics of a Barenaked Ladies song come to mind:

Who needs sleep
Well you’re never gonna get it
Who needs sleep? Tell me what’s that for?
Who needs sleep…this guy’s been awake since the Second World War!

It’s 2:30 am and with my kids sick it’s been a night of musical beds, coughing, crying, and administering Tylenol and ear medicine. Bit of a long haul lately. Good thing I had that last slug of coffee around 8pm, cause I’m holding up ok with a catnap here and there. I was hoping for a cosy evening with my husband, maybe watching a funny show together and falling asleep holding hands, but that was not to be. To prove my point, my two year old just crawled out of bed and brought me a Dora sticker book. Super!

“Dora…she can say map instead of saying map, Mama. Baby can’t have a show right now.”

“True enough.”

I’ve been playing Nurse Mommy for quite some time now, as I’m sure many other moms are this January. Post-Christmas-sugar-crash-cold. My house might feel like Slime Central Station, but it’s only one stop on the Flu Train. So cheers to all you other parents who are pulling crazy night shifts with sick kids…I’m with ya!

One buddy requested a poem of the soundtrack of our house right now, so here goes:

Cough cough achoo
Whaaa, whaaa!

Cough cough achoo
Whaaa, whaa!



Ok, now repeat. 80 times. And intersperse with requests for vitamin C, apple juice, Kleenex, new blankies, another show, another chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and new diapers. You get the picture.

It’s made reading The Hunger Games trilogy even more suspenseful, if that’s even possible:

“Oh, no Katniss and Peeta are out of luck this time for sure…wall of poisonous nerve gas approaching…starting to convulse…”
“Achoo! Mummy! I need a Kleenex! And my sister has a bare bum!”
“What?! Coming!”

Peeta leaned towards her and spoke quietly, ‘Katniss, if we don’t make it back…’

“Mummy, I’m too hot. My tummy hurts. Why do we have to get sick? I need a bucket.”

And so, my kids have ensured that this rare indulgence of reading a novel for fun has been sliced up into tiny little portions, lest I get a sick tummy from overdoing it. How thoughtful! 😉

Of course, when I do need to escape from my escape, the treacherous world of Panem, with it’s ruthless Capital and sadistic gamemakers, it’s so nice to have those little lovely faces to burst into bright smiles after a few tickles, and throw their little chubby arms around my neck and hang on for dear life. Then, slime or no slime, there’s nothing better to warm my heart than a little snuggle with my wee ones.

They are our hope for the future and our joy in the present, and even though it’s demanding to care for 5 sick kids, I don’t see it as bad. If the measure of our humanity is in how we care for the weak and vulnerable, I hope that caring for them when they are sick will make me more compassionate and more human. Will help me grow…but hopefully not horns!

The other thing that’s been keeping me going in this flu marathon, is you, my wonderful readers. Just knowing you’re out there, and having other “big” people to talk to, or write to, is really great. Also, my iPad mini makes the most lovely sparkly harp sound every time someone likes a post, makes a comment, or starts to follow my blog, so these little magical noises brighten my day as I’m taking care of the kids. It’s like finding candy to see new notifications from my blogging platform, WordPress, on my home screen when I flip open my iPad.

You’re all awesome! Thanks for visiting Crazyland, and as my herd of wild monkeys has finally settled down, it’s time for me to sleep.

On Vulnerability

Lately I’ve become a little addicted to reading The Hunger Games Trilogy, despite my initial resistance. My husband wanted to watch the first movie one night, and I refused, claiming it was not my kind of movie, and that the idea of violent teenagers in an arena was enough to give me daymares. So he bought the books instead and got totally hooked, reading it tons while he was home sick for a few days. Then my husband, who loves to share, convinced me to read it too, and after this we’ll likely watch all the movies. That’s what I get for not watching one movie! 😉

But I’m glad, and it’s a lot more engrossing than I imagined. Certainly the ideas of media control, surveillance, and propaganda in their harsh society are politically relevant and spookily real at times. But honestly, what’s really grabbing me is the romance. Tortured teenage love triangle, which sounds cheesy but is actually quite beautifully done. I’m only half way through book two, but what interests me so far is the main character Katniss’ inability to authentically respond to love.

She craves the warmth and security of love a lot but fears it more. I think this is because to really open herself up to love would be the ultimate vulnerability. Her survival so far has been based on strength, grit, toughing it out, learning to lock away her emotions and overcome desperation to help her family survive. Her identity is the hunter, the provider, the one who doesn’t care about anyone but her family. The idea of letting her heart out of its cage frightens her, because she couldn’t defend it with violence, as she can her life. Her happiness would be out of her control.

As I said, love is the ultimate vulnerability; the more you love someone, the more their loss can hurt you, and in her precarious world this is a real danger. This is in a way the real tragedy in her world, that the freedom to love is choked by fear. But if we can’t love, are we really alive anyway?

When the baker’s son Peeta is repeatedly kind to her, she is suspicious. His willingness to repeatedly sacrifice himself for her causes confusion and shame; she can’t understand his actions. Only when he is severely wounded, and she can come to the rescue, does she allow herself to feel more. When he is strong, her pride rebels; when he is weak, she yearns to heal him.

It is similar with her best friend and hunting companion Gale; her strong attachment to him only becomes clearly romantic when he is flogged and near death. She only feels comfortable as the saviour, and gets evasive whenever love is expressed between equals. This changeable nature of her heart is extremely frustrating, and in a way, very realistic. After all, she’s a teenager!

Anyway, you can see what I’ve been doing in spare moments when feeding the baby, and what I’ve been obsessing over while doing the dishes. Yup, I’m hooked, and rooting for Peeta, the kind, generous, giving one who lays down his life again and again for Katniss. He reminds me of my husband. The nice guy whose strength lies in self-giving, as opposed to the dark, brooding hunter that is Gale.

But don’t tell me what happens; I’ll be crushed if my little crush is crushed…which given the awful nature of the world of The Hunger Games, is very likely.