Recently I exchanged comments with Sue Grafton on her fan page. Maybe because I am a writer too, or because Kinsey Millhone has been such a literary favorite of mine for the last twenty years, making her a staple in my life, with a relationship to me (albeit fictional) that has lasted longer than some real ones, I am naturally grateful to, and curious about, her creator. There are many people of course, who enjoy her books. Reading everyone’s comments about Kinsey Millhone gave me the impulse to ponder exactly why we like her so much.
I was raised on the books with Anne of Green Gables, and all the other girls-to-women of whom Lucy Maude Montgomery wrote; read Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms, Laura of the Little House and the Big Prairie, as many Wizard of Oz books as I could get my hands on, and not least of all, Nancy Drew. Kinsey Millhone is a grown-up, kick-ass, Nancy Drew, with a little sex and a few bad words thrown in. Our literary heroines have a huge impact on our lives, should we be fortunate enough to have access to them, and are blessed with the impulse to read. Channeling someone we admire when we are in a quagmire of choices, or backed into a corner, is a smart thing to do, regardless of whether you are channeling a fictional character, or a real one. Whatever works is my mantra, and Kinsey might agree with me.
When I was a single mom, taking care of my mom, and occasionally suffering bouts of loneliness for the touch of a man, Kinsey’s whole attitude toward her singleness gave me pause. Now that I’m no longer single, I see that state with greater clarity. I enjoyed all of the things about being single that she does. It is no small thing not having to answer to someone else concerning your time, whereabouts, housekeeping, or finances. She is also her own boss, which has been one of my dearest goals for years. To be happily single or in a relationship, gainfully employed in work you love, and be your own boss, there are few things better to which we can aspire. I love being in a relationship, and I love my guy, but sometimes I miss those carefree days, when there was always the anticipation of meeting someone, and I could read all night in bed if I wanted to.
Kinsey lives well within her means and saves judiciously. She loves small, compact, neat, and tidy spaces. I have never aspired to have a big house, and could happily live in the front half of my current house, which isn’t that big. I even clean the way she does; a little at a time, in whatever space I happen to be standing. Her looks never bother her, and she rarely bothers with them. Not being a fashion maven myself, I have often remembered the times Kinsey has not been ‘pulled together’ when mingling with the rich and well-turned out. I have a best friend who always looks just right, and channeling Kinsey’s simple wardrobe makes me feel less out of it, trend-wise. She is not a girly girl, but there is no question she is a woman. Her needs and wants are few, and this alone has given me inspiration to lighten the load of what I want to buy, or already own. Having more house just means filling it up with more stuff that has to be cleaned.
I can’t remember if Nancy Drew ever broke the rules. I don’t think any of my girlhood heroines did. If they did, it was an accident, or an impulse for which they showed proper remorse. Kinsey breaks plenty of rules, but since she stays on the side of the angels, and uses her lawlessness to achieve an urgent goal pertaining to a case, we not only forgive her, but breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have not gone through my entire life without breaking some rules. Especially if a rule prevents me from helping someone, or achieving a greater good. Kinsey’s occasional rebelliousness gives her readers some slack in their own lives; she is essentially a law and order type, just as most of us are. We know the difference between the outlaw and us, even if other people may not see it that way.
When I worried about my own tendencies to shun other’s company and advice, and to have just a few select people in my life, I channeled Kinsey. She may be a little skewed, which we may see as endearingly, or annoyingly, human, but her predilections make us feel more secure with our own, as indeed other people’s propensities do. How bad could we be, if even Kinsey screws up relationships, skips exercise occasionally, avoids people and small talk, and eats junk? She experiences fear many times, which makes the physical cowards among us feel better. Fear is natural and normal, and feeling it doesn’t make us cowardly. Overcoming it and doing what needs to be done is what makes a hero. She and I part ways on the question of dogs and nature, but she is a person I would like to be, if I was going to be someone else.
I think most women are admirable in many ways. There are many I like, and many for whom I don’t care. When I want to find one I like, and with whom I would like to spend time, I can always get a dose of Kinsey. She’ll never change, and we know she’ll never move away from our neighborhood.