Genre Confusion (That is Not a Typo)

Genre Confusion (That is Not a Typo)

Inspired to Follow in Harper Lee’s Footsteps

Kathryn Pincus February 15, 2016


I read Harper Lee’s iconic debut novel To Kill a Mockingbird in my freshman high school English class (when I seemingly lacked experience in everything), and I re-read it last summer at the age of forty-eight (after I had studied and practiced law, raised a family, and embarked on a writing career).  Remarkably, at both of those vastly different stages in my life, To Kill a Mockingbirdmoved me and influenced me in a manner unlike any other work of fiction.

 Last month, to my delight, news broke of a second Harper Lee novel, Go Set a Watchman, based on the same main characters and setting of To Kill a Mockingbird.  This news coincided with the release of my debut novel Long Hill Home, a thriller about a crime and the legal process that explores contemporary issues of social justice. These coincidental events led me to reflect on Harper Lee’s influence on my work, which in turn made me feel inspired and grateful.

My reflection led me first to look into Harper Lee’s background.  I needed to know why I identified with her, despite the fact that she was born in Alabama in 1926, while I was born in New York in 1966. There had to be some common thread, some reason why her message resonated with me. I quickly discovered parallels between us that gave me timely inspiration as I release my debut novel. First, we both attended law school and then used our legal education in criminal/legal thriller novels.  Second, we both wrote about characters and settings that we were very familiar with, which enabled us to infuse our work with authentic experiences and perspectives. Finally, and most importantly, we both confronted issues of social and legal justice in our debut novels.

Harper Lee attended law school at the University of Alabama in the 1940’s. Her enrollment in law school as a woman in that place and time suggests that she was courageous. While I cannot know Lee’s reason for studying law, knowledge of the law is the best means to pursue justice and protect civil rights. While Lee ultimately left law school to pursue writing, she demonstrated bravery and the desire to pursue justice when she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel that highlighted racial prejudice, mob justice and other troubling social issues present in the South in the 1930s. Harper Lee’s legal studies also prepared her to convincingly write about the life of a lawyer (defense attorney Atticus Finch) and the legal process (the criminal trial of Tom Robinson, an African-American man falsely accused of rape.)  This authenticity is critical to a reader’s enjoyment of a legal thriller such as To Kill a Mockingbird.

 I studied law at the Georgetown University Law Center between 1988 and 1991, when its student body had become quite diverse in gender, race, ethnicity, religion and  socio-economic status.  I did not have to be a trailblazer of sorts (which I imagine is how a woman studying law in Alabama in the 1940s may have felt).  However, I was reminded every day that law is a vehicle for social change, and that having a license to practice law brought with it a responsibility to identify and prevent wrongs in society, or to remedy them in a civil and just manner. As in the case of Harper Lee, when I wrote my debut novel, Long Hill Home, I felt compelled to weave in storylines that provoke thought about prejudice, injustice in our criminal and civil law system, and other current issues impacting social justice. Further, my legal studies and legal practice prepared me to write authentically about the life of a lawyer (Kelly Malloy and other characters who are lawyers in Long Hill Home) and the process of civil and criminal law (the criminal proceedings against Chad McCloskey, an eighteen-year-old man falsely accused of rape, as well as the criminal proceedings against the actual perpetrator of the crime).

 It is widely reported that To Kill a Mockingbird was inspired by Lee’s childhood in Monroeville, Alabama in the 1930s. By drawing on her real life experience, Lee created characters and settings in such a vivid and authentic manner that readers vicariously experience life in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s. Readers of To Kill a Mockingbird nervously watch over Atticus and Tom as a hate-filled mob gathers, they smell the scented air of a warm Southern night, and they feel the roughness of a thick tree trunk as Scout and her brother Jem look for treasure in its recesses. Readers sit in the “colored section” of the balcony in a tension-filled courtroom, their eyes locked on Atticus as he brilliantly defends the ill-fated Tom Robinson. The characters and settings of To Kill a Mockingbird are brought to life and feel familiar to readers because they were so familiar to Lee.

Similarly, the settings, characters and events in Long Hill Home were inspired by my life experiences.  I regularly run through the wooded trails of the Brandywine River Valley, the historic Wilmington neighborhood known as “the Highlands,” and the vast green space framing the Highlands known as Rockford Park. I practiced law in high-rise office buildings in downtown Wilmington, and then, only blocks away from those law offices, volunteered in dining rooms that feed hungry people with nowhere else to turn. I have boarded the city bus at Rodney Square after work, walked on the litter-strewn sidewalks of King Street, stood on the observation deck of Rockford Tower, and visited inmates in a Delaware prison. I have also represented clients in Delaware courtrooms and I have interacted with and observed countless attorneys.  Because of my familiarity with these people and places, readers of Long Hill Home will run through wooded trails and over mossy river banks of the Brandywine River Valley, sit in the eighteenth floor office of a downtown law firm, stand on a litter-strewn sidewalk in a poor section of Wilmington, shudder with fear in the shower room of a maximum security prison, and gaze out of the top of the hundred-year-old stone water tower that presides over all of these places.

I enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird because it is a beautifully written coming-of-age story and a suspenseful legal thriller.  But I was affected by it because it provokes thought and discourse about significant issues of racial prejudice and social injustice. Lee explores racial prejudice and injustice primarily through the character of Tom Robinson, an innocent and well-intentioned black man falsely accused of rape and then wrongly convicted by a hate-filled jury intent on lynching him. But Lee goes beyond the obvious racial hatred in the tragedy of Tom Robinson, and explores more complicated and subtle issues regarding race.  For example, Scout – the spunky tomboy who is the narrator of Lee’s story – has an important relationship with her family’s African-American cook and housekeeper, Calpurnia.  Scout’s mother is deceased, and Calpurnia is the woman who cares for Scout and nurtures her. Through this relationship, Lee shows that exposure to people otherwise deemed “different” – and the opportunity to meaningfully interact with and relate to them – is the antidote to  prejudice. Lee reinforces this idea by having Scout and Jem sit in the “colored section” of the courtroom as they watch their father defend Tom Robinson.

Harper Lee highlights another form of prejudice through the story of Boo Radley, a young man who is a social recluse and unable to leave his parents’ house, and who may also be emotionally or intellectually challenged. Without ever seeing him, and based solely on what they are told, Scout and Jem decide that Boo is a monster of sorts, and they make up ridiculous stories about him and challenge each other to draw him out of his house. But Harper Lee demonstrates once again that social justice requires that we must see and know people, we must assess them based on their conduct and character, and we cannot judge or hate them because they are different or because others tell us to hate. When Boo Radley finally emerges from his home in order to save Scout and Jem from a violent attack, he is finally seen and known. In lieu of the fabled monster, Scout and Jem see the compassionate and brave person that Boo Radley really is.

 There are many other examples of prejudice and intolerance in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird—too many to recount here. Notably, Lee finds a solution to these complex and enduring issues of social and legal injustice, and boils that solution down to its essence.  In the very last pages of To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee tells us (through Scout’s discussion with her father, Atticus) that “you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them,” and that “most people,” and even people you perceive as “scary,” are “real nice”……“when you finally see them.”

Similarly, in Long Hill Home, I share with readers story lines and characters that confront contemporary issues of social justice, including prejudice, sexual violence against women, immigration and the criminal justice system.  I remind readers how easy it is–and how dangerous it is–to judge, fear, or avoid other people solely because they are different in some way, and without ever seeing them. Long Hill Home is a story of three very different people – strangers – whose lives collide as a result of a crime. The victim, Kelly Malloy, is a wife, a mother and an attorney who is brutally attacked while running along the banks of the Brandywine River. A lonely eighteen-year-old boy, Chad McCloskey, stumbles across the victim immediately after the attack, and he is falsely accused of the crime and imprisoned pending trial, only because he tries to help her. Maria Hernandez, a young woman who emigrated illegally from Mexico, is reluctantly thrust into the role of witness to the crime, putting her in jeopardy of deportation only weeks before she is to give birth to her child.

Chad McCloskey is a lonely and shy eighteen-year-old, and the only child of an abusive alcoholic father and a depressed mother.  He is shunned and ridiculed by his classmates and ultimately retreats into himself. After Chad is wrongfully accused of a rape, he is forced to interact with his public defender and ultimately the victim, allowing them to see him—a kind, honest and brave person deserving of justice and worthy of love.

Maria Hernandez is a hardworking and honest person, and yet she notices women clutching their handbags tighter when she sits near them on the city bus and she overhears blue-collar workers talking about “dirty Mexicans stealing American jobs.” Maria struggles with her moral responsibility to the victim of an attack on one hand, and her obligation to protect her new family and not risk deportation on the other, and ultimately chooses to do the right thing and call in her witness account of a crime. Her terrifying involvement with a criminal investigation ensues, but it leads her to interact with people who see her as a person deserving of security and other rights—and not as “a Mexican” or “an illegal.”

Like To Kill a Mockingbird, Long Hill Home is a suspenseful thriller about a crime and the legal process that also imparts a valuable lesson: In order to eradicate prejudice, sexual violence against women, and other forms of social injustice, we must not judge, avoid, mistreat or fear others because they are different or because we are told to.  Rather, we must truly see them, and we must “stand in their shoes and walk around in them.”

As I conclude my reflection on Harper Lee’s influence on my work, I do so with a great appreciation for her impact on society and her influence on me, and with inspiration that I may strive to follow in her footsteps.

Fifty Shades of Grateful–Reflections on My 50th Birthday

Kathryn Pincus February 2, 2016
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On January 29, 2016, I woke up at 3 AM and these thoughts immediately flooded my brain. “My gosh, I am 50 years old. Where did 50 years go?” I have to admit it was unnerving–feeling as if fifty years of my life seemed like a blur. Since I couldn’t sleep, I decided to focus and recall some meaningful, vivid, or for some reason, just “inexplicably memorable” memories from every stage of my life.  Maybe that would help bring all of that time back in a way–or at least remind me that I had in fact lived it. 

I remembered my childhood in my small hometown of Allendale, New Jersey. Eight of us in a Colonial house that Dad kept adding rooms to, and even a pool in the backyard. Mom had a little vegetable garden. And beyond the pool, there were woods and a brook (Valentine Brook) that we waded in, caught fish in, skated on and crossed by climbing over a fallen tree to get to Bruno’s Meat Market across the brook and in the adjacent town (Mahwah) so we could buy candy. I remembered sitting around a wooden dinner table every night with Mom at one end and Dad at the other, and with three of us kids seated on a wooden bench on both sides. Our black lab Shannon would be under the table hoping to catch some scraps while we ate and buzzed about our day. I remember so many wonderful things about living in that house with my three brothers, two sisters and my parents–routine things like watching M*A*S*H episodes and Yankee games together and playing pick-up softball games with the neighbors in front of our house. I remembered the safety and freedom I felt running around my neighborhood with the other kids that lived near me–some I keep in touch with to this day.

I remembered my K through 3rd grade days at Hillside Elementary School–learning first how to separate from my mother, and how to sit still and wait to speak….and then realizing I loved books and learning. I could still see us screaming in joy as we ran outside for recess where we’d play dodgeball, climb on the monkey bars and have footraces. I remembered Brookside Elementary School, where I began to like boys, play sports and look in the mirror and wonder who I would become (after the braces and the acne were gone).

I remembered my first day at Northern Highlands Regional High School, which was gigantic, and scary, and exciting as we added a whole new town of students and many more opportunities to make friends. I vividly recalled watching the Saturday morning football games-with the Highlands marching band playing “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles at half time. I recalled carpooling or taking the train into New York with my friends to go clubbing at places like Studio 54 and to see concerts by the Grateful Dead, the Who, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, and many, many more. High school brought my first (and then second) trip to Europe to explore France, and then Switzerland. I remembered being awestruck as I experienced the antiquity and history in the “Old World” for the first time, and the sense of freedom I felt as I explored these ancient places and met young people from other countries (like “Nasko” the handsome dark soccer player from Dbrovnik I spent time with in Interlaken). High School brought teachers who influenced me, showed me “I could” and encouraged me to take risks, question, believe and explore. I remembered mistakes I made and lessons I learned–including drinking too much at a party never ends well, piercing your own ear with a long needle and an ice cube is painful, and you must find a balance of caution and aggression when driving in New York City. I realized that high school taught me how to be a friend, have a friend, accept and cherish all sorts of people…….and it gave me crushes and disappointments, and well as my first experience with authentic romantic love.

I recalled how college at the University of Delaware was a fresh page. There were thousands of new people I could meet and countless choices regarding what I wanted to study and who I wanted to become. I remembered the bustle of students along the sidewalk on “the Mall,” with its sweeping green lawn lined with beautiful old buildings that housed lecture halls, classrooms and dorms. I lived with nine friends in a house for two years and six friends in a house my senior year–and they all became my friends for life. We’d gather in the kitchen cooking our dinners at night, or walk to the Down Under night club or the Stone Balloon bar for “mug night” with our mugs in hand and an air of excitement about who we might meet or dance with. I remembered when the “Wilbur Fest” outdoor music festival happened on our block, and the Grateful Dead-inspired band Montana Wildaxe played on our back porch and throngs of people enjoyed a mini Woodstock in our back yard. I recalled twisting my ankle on that same back yard while playing volleyball and drinking too much beer the day before our graduation–and limping through our commencement ceremony at the UD Football Stadium the next day.

I remembered, in stark contrast to college, feeling very much alone and a bit lost in a new city as I walked up the steps of Georgetown University Law Center on my first day. I knew no one–and my only roommate was a person I found in a newspaper ad. I remember wondering “Can I do this?” Before long, my anxiety about law school and about navigating Washington D.C. melted away, and was replaced by a true love of the law, by the energy I felt as I walked by the dome of the Capitol or the steps of the Supreme Court and the feeling that “I can do this” growing inside of me. I fell head-over-heels in love with the city, with the sense of majesty and power around the National Mall, the beauty of the Potomac River and the reflecting pond, the shops and bars bustling with people day and night in Georgetown and Adam’s Morgan. I ran every day past the U.S. Supreme Court, Capitol Hill neighborhoods and its Eastern Market, the “Awakening” statue of a giant man coming out of the ground in Haines Point, the houseboats in the harbor in SouthWest, or along the Canal in Georgetown. I sat with my classmates at the top of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the wee hours of the morning–after partying all night because we had survived our first semester of law school. I remembered gazing at those lights twinkling in the reflecting pond and, beyond it, the Washington Monument reaching up to the sky, and at that moment I felt limitless possibility.

I remembered starting my law practice and my life as a young single professional in 1991. My first “home” where I lived alone. Long hours studying for the bar exam and then becoming a member of the Delaware and D.C. Bars. I felt as if I had been through the fire that summer–but I did it with my new friends who were studying and stressing out along side of me. Many of them are my friends still today. I remembered my first time in a court room– nervous as hell and excited at the same time. I vividly recalled being breathless when–during a deposition in a law office at the top of a World Trade Center tower, I got too close to the window and looked down. Mostly, I remembered countless nights where I sat alone in my small office, fighting sleep deprivation while struggling to complete a brief….. and reassured by the sounds of my coworker and friend in the office next to me doing the same. It was nerve-wracking and grueling, but it was exhilarating at the same time. With maturity and experience, I became a better lawyer and a happier and healthier one–by becoming more efficient, more confident and by ultimately finding a better work/life balance.

I remembered meeting the man who seemed to be the most unlikely of matches for me, and yet deciding on our first date that he was in fact “the one.” I remembered instantly and without waiver loving the way his eyes smile when he smiles, the way he makes people laugh, his incredible work ethic and his matching “play ethic.” I loved the way he shared my sense of adventure and he also believed you can do anything you set your mind to and are willing to work for. I loved his passion for all things important to him, his fidelity, and most of all, I loved the way he loved his young son and daughter above all else. I remember knowing, “this is it, this is what it is supposed to feel like.” I vividly recalled our adventures: roller-blading along Philadelphia’s Kelly Drive, helicopter skiing in waist deep powder in the British Columbia Rockies, zip-lining 300 feet above Echo Canyon in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, and driving the wrong way on a one-way street in Milan. Most of all, I remembered how nice it was to have someone to curl up with on the couch to watch t.v. or read the New York Times on a Sunday, to share a quiet meal with and to hear breathing beside me in the dark of night.

I could see–etched in my mind like photographs–our big life events: our wedding in front of family and friends on a hot humid September day in the garden of a small Inn, with our parents, siblings, children and friends sharing the importance of the moment and the joy with us. I recalled rushing to the hospital to give birth to my son Joshua, making me a mother only 12 hours before my 32nd birthday.  I could see every single detail of that moment, Baby Josh’s little pink hands reaching out to touch my chin, his eyes scrunched together sleepily and then opening wide and blue. Less than two years later, my second son Eric decided he was in a hurry to enter the world on Christmas night-when there were no doctors at the hospital available to give me an epidural or any pain relief. I recalled the terror I felt when the pain became unbearable and I knew there was nothing I could do but get through it, or the fear I felt when I saw doctors finally rushing in by the score after labor had gone too long and my baby was in terrible distress. Eric tested my limits and he kept fighting, entering the world with a broken collarbone, a swollen and misshapen head, and umbilical cord “rope burns” around his face.

I recalled an endless stream of moments–“mundane” at the time perhaps, but many of the most special moments in my life: curled up on the couch with a toddler at my side, and a sweaty headed baby sleeping on my chest, pushing a double stroller to playgrounds, festivals, on beaches and in 5k races.  I recalled watching them grow and mature, middle school field trips and school plays, high school sports, academic struggles and achievements, and long drives in the car to lacrosse and wrestling tournaments–and later to visit colleges.  I hold countless pleasant memories of the day-to-day activities of our household when all four of our children lived under one roof: teenagers and babies, eating family dinners, teaching some to drive while others were learning to walk. I recalled (and still have the pleasure of) amazing family vacations, with all our kids in one place, biking on the walls of Lucca in Tuscany, swimming with sea turtles in St. John or laughing on the the beach at the Jersey Shore.

I recalled getting a whole new community as my children grew. Each school they attended, every athletic team they competed on, and every neighborhood we lived in brought new friends. I recalled pro bono legal work for abused and neglected children, chairing fundraisers to build new school buildings and to help low-income children access better education, cooking and serving breakfast to homeless people who live only miles from my house and I recalled always being grateful for my blessings in life, for the people I met and for the smallest difference I could make in someone else’s life. I remembered deciding I wanted to publish that story that had been forming in my head for six years, and every step of the difficult and incredibly rewarding experience of becoming an author. 

So, it is now 4 AM and I’ve thought about all of these things I’ve done in my life, and the experiences I’ve had, and I realize I know the answer to the question that started all of this reflection—–I know “where those 50 years went.” They went to living life, living it deeply and fully and to the best of my ability. But more importantly, in every moment, every memory, every experience–it is the people by my side who made it better, made it fun, helped me through, made me laugh, shared the experience, showed me the way or let me show them the way, held me up or let me hold them up. So when I reached this conclusion–that it is Friends that made my 50 years so wonderful and so meaningful, I decided to post this on my blog.  If you are similarly wondering where those years have gone–take it step by step, remember the places, the experiences and most of all the people….it will make you grateful and hopeful at the same time.

Genre Confusion (That is Not a Typo)

Kathryn Pincus December 3, 2014

imgres-1Genre Confusion (That’s Not a Typo)

As soon as you walk into a bookstore, or enter the web site of an online book retailer, you are immediately confronted with genre. The genre labels are there of course to direct the reader to the type of book(s) he or she likes. But, while it is clear that genre classification is necessary to help readers navigate the seemingly infinite sea of books available for sale, is it possible that they can also thwart a reader’s search for the right book?

One of my favorite books is To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird is often listed under the genre Legal Thriller because it involves a criminal trial and a defendant falsely accused of rape. I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time because it was part of my high school English curriculum—I did not have to find it in a vast sea of books. Twenty-five years later, I purchased it again in a bookstore, solely because I enjoyed the first time. I am not confident that I would have found To Kill a Mockingbird if I had to rely solely on genre classification to guide me.

I love To Kill a Mockingbird because it is a coming of age story starring Scout, a spunky tomboy and her adventures in a southern town. Harper Lee’s description of Scout’s world is so vivid that it allowed me to live vicariously in a different world and at a different time. I felt the warm breeze, saw the giant oak’s boughs sway, and shuddered at the sound of a hate-filled mob gathering. Her characters were brought to life through their words and actions, and they became familiar to me. They also taught lessons that resonated with me. The reclusive and enigmatic Boo Radley and the quiet, determined and principled Atticus reinforced the essential principles of compassion, kindness and justice over prejudice, hatred and injustice. Boo and Atticus demonstrated the need for people to take a risk and literally “stick their neck out” when necessary to defend inviolate principles and values. Yes, To Kill a Mockingbird is about a criminal trial involving accusations of rape, and it should be considered a Legal Thriller. But, while the legal process is integral to To Kill a Mockingbird, it cannot define it.

Similarly, with regard to my novel, Long Hill Home, I have been advised by professionals in the industry to use the words “Legal,” “Thriller” and “Criminal” in any discussion of genre. While it is true that Long Hill Home is about a crime and the legal process, and it has moments that are downright dark and terrifying, I struggle with labeling it accordingly. It is all of those things, and fans of criminal, legal and thriller fiction will not be disappointed. My concern is that readers who do not search out those genres, but who would otherwise fully embrace and enjoy the themes and elements of Long Hill Home, may not find it.

Long Hill Home is a story of three very different people– strangers, whose lives collide as a result of a crime. The victim of the crime, Kelly Malloy, is a wife, a mother and an attorney who is brutally attacked while running along the banks of the Brandywine River. A lonely eighteen-year-old boy, Chad McCloskey, stumbles across the victim immediately after the attack, and he is falsely accused of the crime and imprisoned pending trial. Maria Hernandez, a young woman who emigrated illegally from Mexico, is reluctantly thrust into the role of witness to the crime, putting her in jeopardy of deportation only weeks before she is to give birth to her child. Readers of Long Hill Home will intimately know Kelly, Chad and Maria, and they will vicariously experience their struggles to triumph over adversity and find security and love. Readers of Long Hill Home will run through wooded trails and mossy river banks of the Brandywine River Valley, sit in the eighteenth floor office of a downtown law firm, stand on a litter-strewn sidewalk in a poor section of Wilmington, shudder with fear in the shower room of a maximum security prison, and gaze out of the top of a one-hundred year old stone water tower that presides over all of these places.

Yes, there is a crime, a legal process, and suspense in Long Hill Home. But I hope that people who do not gravitate toward those genres will at least thumb through a copy at their local store and see that it is also a story about relationships, challenges and adversity, and the importance of measuring people based on their character and not their economic, racial or social status.

Lacing Up My Running Shoes For My Morning Blog

Kathryn Pincus October 17, 2014
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Almost every morning, as the sun is beginning its ascent into the sky, I lace up my running shoes, stretch, and bound out the door. A feeling of contentment sets in immediately—not the fabled “runner’s high” or anything as dramatic as that—just a sense of calm and happiness, a transcendence over my daily milieu. Maybe it is the simple act of movement that makes me feel more alive, as I pump my arms and move my feet, breathing and transporting myself step-by-step through wooded trails, grassy hills, cityscapes or sleepy towns. Or perhaps it is a primordial reaction of sorts, my body moving as it was intended to move, Homo sapiens distinguishing herself from her primate ancestors by walking erect and then running, after her prey or away from her predators. It could also be the simple fact of increased circulation, a temporary surge of oxygen-rich cells reaching the recesses of my grey matter.

Whatever the reason, as I enter this physical state, my mental state begins to wake up and roam freely. The caffeine I consumed an hour earlier may be the catalyst, but the real reason for my mind’s exploration is the fact that it is blissfully unoccupied. There are no televisions blaring in my ears, no social media pages flashing before my eyes, and no teenagers asking me where their football jersey could be. My thoughts begin to wander to varying and random subjects. Often they get stuck on a particular subject and begin to analyze, dissect, and elaborate on that subject, as if I were attempting to persuade some illusive audience.

Most people would assume that this happens to me because I was trained as an attorney. Law school teaches you to approach problems with the “IRAC” method; i.e., identify an issue, determine the correct rule(s) to apply; analyze how the rule(s) apply to the issue, and then reach a sound legal conclusion. But I know that my legal education is not the reason, because I experienced the same mind-meanderings-evolving-into-subject-specific-analysis when I ran as a teenager. As a teenager thirty years ago, or today as a forty-eight year old, one morning I might analyze something as lofty as peace in the Middle East or improving public education, or my thought process might dwell on something more pedestrian, such as the pros and cons of brining my Thanksgiving turkey or manual versus automatic transmission in the purchase of a new car.

Recently, I realized what my brain had been doing all along while my body was jogging. I did not recognize it or have a name for it, because I had not yet been exposed to or become familiar with that term that is a combination of the words “web” and “log,” and which describes the brief but often detailed discussion of one subject as a periodic entry on a web site. Yes! Now I know what my brain was doing all along during my morning runs. It was blogging.

(PART 1) Finding My Home in the Brandywine River Valley

Kathryn Pincus October 16, 2014
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Part I: How I Found My Way to the Brandywine River Valley

I grew up in an idyllic bedroom community of Manhattan. My house was on a tranquil cul-de-sac with other similar homes, all set apart with green lawns and wooded lots. There were quiet streets to ride and walk on, a small shopping and dining district in the center of town, and strong public schools. Best of all, we were a short trip by car or train to New York City. My childhood memories are filled with family outings to Broadway matinees, the Ringling Brothers’ Circus at Madison Square Garden, and tree-lightings at Rockefeller Center. On every outing I was mesmerized by the seemingly infinite stream of people, the enormous buildings that blocked out the sky, and the cacophony of taxi drivers’ horns and foreign tongues. As a teenager, I had the freedom to venture into the city with my friends. I recall the feeling of unbridled possibility as we gained entry into venues that revealed an exciting side of New York. With fake i.d.,’s and lenient bouncers, we danced with people from all over the world at Studio 54, shouted for encores as rock concerts wound down at Madison Square Garden, and ran through Times Square at the break of dawn. I was certain that I lived in the best place in the world to be young, single and adventurous.

In my early twenties, I lived in what I considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Washington, D.C. For three blissful years, I ran daily in the area of the National Mall, with its massive and dazzling white Greco-Roman architecture, its perfectly parallel walkways, its expansive green lawns and its reflecting ponds, tidal basin and fountains. I felt the presence of powerful and important forces as I ran by the Capitol, the United States Supreme Court building, and the White House. My mood turned somber as I passed memorials to fallen soldiers of the Vietnam, Korean and World Wars, and then lifted with inspiration as I ran by the monuments to two of my biggest heroes: Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. Beyond the National Mall, when I wasn’t running, studying or in class, I met friends in Georgetown, with its neat rows of townhouses, bars and specialty shops, tried foods from all over the world in Adam’s Morgan, and browsed flea markets in Capitol Hill’s Eastern Market neighborhood. Because of its beauty, its international influences and its monuments to the forces of law and government to inspire my legal studies, I was confident that I chose the best city in the world to be a law student.

Today, thirty years after I moved from the “best place in the world to be young, single and adventurous,” and twenty-three years after I moved from the “best city in the world to be a law student,” I find myself truly at home in Wilmington, Delaware and the Brandywine River Valley. I moved here because it offered me a “big city” law practice in a “small city” setting. I remained here because the Brandywine River Valley is a place of abundant natural beauty, meticulously preserved and historically significant sites and boundless recreational opportunities. It is also the place where I found love, family and community.

(PART 2) Finding My Home in the Brandywine River Valley

Kathryn Pincus October 15, 2014
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Part 2: Why I Settled Down in the Brandywine River Valley

Read Part 1 Here

The “Brandywine River Valley” sounds like a magical place that exists only in a fairy tale, like “Candy Cane Forest” or “Gumdrop Falls.” But it is a real place, and it is my adopted home, because it is filled with qualities of places described in fairy tales: natural beauty, old world charm, and colonial history preserved.  The Brandywine River flows from the hills of Chester County, Pennsylvania, to its confluence with the Christina River in Wilmington, Delaware. Along its riverbanks, native wildflowers bloom in the spring and fiery hues of autumn foliage steal the show in the fall. It is a place of open and unspoiled natural scenery; with rolling hills, thick wooded river banks, winding country roads, vineyards, farms, waterfalls, Revolutionary War battlefields, and of course, the Brandywine River.  The river and its valley provide endless opportunities for kayaking, tubing, canoeing, fishing, hiking, jogging, mountain biking and even rock-climbing.

The Brandywine River Valley is filled with meticulously preserved and restored buildings and artifacts of 17th and 18th Century life. There are historic towns, Revolutionary War battlefields, old stone taverns, stone fortresses, working mills, and expansive and lavish DuPont estates. The Swedes who settled here in the 1640’s left behind Fort Christina and Old Swedes Church. A full-scale working replica of the Kalmar Nyckel, the wooden ship that brought the first Swedes, floats in the Christina River today. William Penn’s arrival from England brought Quaker settlement and countless simple stone and wood Friends’ meeting houses and Friends’ schools which still dot the Brandywine River Valley. The European settlers quickly recognized that the current of the Brandywine River, and its path to the Christina River and beyond to ocean-bound ships, was an ideal spot for milling. Numerous stone mills, with their large water wheels churning, still stand along the Brandywine River. These mills produced “super-fine” flour that became world renowned, plus paper and gunpowder. All of these historic buildings and places are preserved and open to the public.

In the early 1800’s, the DuPont Family of France started manufacturing gun powder at a mill along the Brandywine River in Delaware. It became the largest supplier of gunpowder in the nation. Today the gunpowder mills and it’s working damn, millrace and other stone and brick buildings situated in a particularly scenic part of they Brandywine River are open to the public as Hagley Museum. The DuPont Family’s wealth and their French ancestry are quite evident in the massive lavish estates they built in the Brandywine River Valley and generously left to be preserved and open to the public. Winterthur Museum and Gardens was the estate of Henry Francis DuPont. It’s one hundred and seventy-five room house contains over eighty thousand pieces of valuable antiques and American decorative arts, and is set in approximately one-thousand acres of gardens of flowering trees and plants, marble pools, ponds, woodlands and meadows. Nemours Mansion and Gardens is the former estate of Alfred I. du Pont. Its mansion contains one-hundred and two rooms, and its gardens, statues and fountains leave visitors feeling as if the have been magically transported to Versailles. Pierre DuPont purchased and developed what became known as Longwood Gardens, home to over 100,000 acres of spectacular outdoor and indoor gardens, conservatories and fountains. Visitors come to Hagley, Winterthur, Nemours and Longwood from all over the world, while I can visit all of them within a five to twenty minute drive from my home.

The historic buildings, battlefields and towns, as well as the naturally scenic parks and spaces of the Brandywine River Valley are host to numerous festivals and events. By way of example only, spring brings the Flower Market to Rockford Park and the Point-to-Point steeplechase event to Winterthur.  In the summer, our parks come alive with outdoor concerts, battlefield reenactments, and even an ice cream festival. Fall brings the Brandywine Arts Festival in Wilmington, music festivals at the Chadds Ford Winery, and a magical display of giant jack-o-lanterns carved by artists in historic Chadds Ford.

To this day I am very grateful for my idyllic childhood near New York City, and my inspired life as a law student in Washington D.C. But the Brandywine River Valley is the place I call home. It is the place I chose to build a career, fall in love and marry, raise a family and become rooted in numerous wonderful communities. And, if I ever feel a pang for a big city or a change of scenery, in under two hours I can be in New York City and Washington, D.C., or on the beautiful beaches of Delaware and New Jersey. So, I will add “proximity to other wonderful places to visit or live in” as one more asset of life in Wilmington and the Brandywine River Valley.

My Mother’s Inadvertent Lessons

Kathryn Pincus October 11, 2014
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There is an old adage about parenting that goes like this, “Do as I say, not as I do.” This saying does not capture my mother’s manner of parenting. While she was always there to lend a sympathetic ear, or even a little advice if I asked, my mother did not preach, lecture or judge. But unbeknownst to her, she taught me and shaped me every day through her actions.

My mother brought home and nursed to health injured and abandoned animals. She helped a Laotian refugee family come to America, find housing, employment and start a new life. She brought two young boys from a rough inner city neighborhood and challenging circumstances into our home every summer and made them our family. When she delivered Meals on Wheels to senior citizens in their homes, she didn’t just deliver the food, she stopped and listened and provided a bit of company. Without saying a word to me, by these deeds she taught me compassion, consideration, and the obligation to look out for and act on behalf of those who need a little help. She also taught me humility, appreciation for the things that I had and might otherwise take for granted, and the importance of treating all people with respect.

My mother grew up with the hardship of the Depression era coupled with the horrible loss of her father when she was a small child. As a young bride and mother she struggled through my father’s military deployment and his long illness in a military hospital in Germany. Then, she and my father soldiered on through the daily struggles of providing for and caring for six young children. I remember my mother clipping coupons and buying generic brand products as she loaded up a shopping cart at the supermarket. I recall my mother physically performing (along with my father) home maintenance and home improvement tasks because paying someone else to do them was out of the question. I remember her re-cycling clothing from child to child as one outgrew articles of clothing and the next smallest received them as hand-me-downs. I recall my mother sewing my graduation dress and prom dresses and even making her own dresses to wear to formal events in New York City that my father was expected to attend as an executive at a bank. These memories and circumstances had common themes however that will stick with me for life. I saw my mother doing these things with a smile, a laugh, love for the feeling of a job well done or the pure enjoyment of a moment as simple as a family dinner. As she solved problems, fixed things, or stretched a paycheck, she taught me resourcefulness, efficiency, problem solving, and tenacity. As she did these things with a smile, she taught me that you find happiness in the pure and simple things in life and in the appreciation for the things you have, such as genuine love, family, and good health. As she returned from grand fetes in New York looking radiant in her homemade dress, she taught me that it is not a designer name on the dress that matters but the light coming from the person wearing the dress that makes you beautiful to the people that matter.

While raising six children born in an eight year span, my mother had to break up our fights and field complaints from school principals, neighbors and even occasionally, the police. She had to decide when to intervene, when to discipline, when to tell my father and when to look the other way. Mom was steadfastly in our corner, yet she let us figure things out for ourselves and sometimes suffer from and therefore learn by our mistakes. As a result she taught me resilience, confidence and independence as I became an adult.

And while my mother helped us all through childhood illnesses and adolescent angst, high school and college trials and tribulations, and all other challenges and triumphs of our lives, she inadvertently gave me a roadmap for being a parent that goes like this: (1) As much as you love your children and you want them to always be happy, you must let go, let them fail and succeed, hurt a little, heal a little, explore, retreat, take risks, find rewards, and ultimately forge their own path; and (2) always, without hesitation, and even when they anger or disappoint, be there and ready to love them unconditionally.

My mother was not big on lectures, or criticism or opinions–and when she did speak it may have seemed like I wasn’t listening to her most of the time. But I was watching. I saw her, every day, be a person who taught me to strive for compassion, consideration, humility, appreciation for all of the wonderful things in my life, to love genuinely, to treat all people with respect, to be resourceful, efficient, tenacious and resilient, and to parent with the ability to let my sons forge their own paths, but with my unconditional love as a backdrop to their respective journeys.