Why I write

Let me make one thing clear on the front end of this piece: why someone writes is their business. No artist of any kind is under any obligation to explain why he or she creates. Responding with, I’m sorry, but that’s none of your business, is a just response. It is no one’s business.

As far as I’m concerned, whatever it takes a writer to put words on a page is fine with me. First off, the page can be a hard place to get to and, once there, the necessary experience of being fully present in the moment can be heavy lifting at times. Its the words, the writing that I care most about.  An actor who hopes to win an Oscar is no more betraying the craft of acting than a writer who hopes to win a Pulitzer is betraying the craft of writing. Wanting or hoping for an accolade is not a betrayal of creative purity. To think it is is misguided in the best light, and rubbish in any other light.

I have no problem explaining, to some extent, why I write. For some years now my short answer has been pretty much the same: Sometimes I write because I want to, always I write because I have to. I suppose I could polish that sentence into finer stuff, but I’m leaving it as it is because it was born that way.

It is the sanctuary of language itself that brings me to the page, writing or reading. As far back as I can remember, books and writing have provided sanctuaries I could depend on. Even when I was homeless they were they. I am not by nature a thief, but, when I was on the street, I had no problem at all pinching paperback books off those always-squeaky! book racks in drugstores.

Language is a living thing for me. Words are living beings; they have  shape, movement, sound; they each have their own pulse; they can be moody. I short, words have personality, every damn one of them.

And then, of course, there is this: language is great company. I am never alone when I write or read. Like I said: Sometimes I write because I want to, always I write because I have to.

 

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When a friend dies

My friend Chris Albee will be gone from this life four months the 20th of this month; the tears are streaming down my face right now as I write. I am only one of a number of people whose lives were — and I do not use this word lightly — blessed by his presence. He died from t-cell lymphoma.

Some times at night, during the day, it doesn’t matter, the knowledge he has died will strike hard, my fist will clench and I want punch death square in the face with savage fury — again and again and again. Chris was only 49! He had a wonderful wife and family, he had a nine year old son!

It is so hard to find people in life you know you are safe being yourself with. I was always safe with Chris and he would be the first to tell you he was safe being himself with me.

I cannot change the reality of his loss. What I can do is tell you this. Tell the people you love that you love them. Tell them. Tell your children, tell your parents, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins; tell your friends, tell the person you are in a relationship with. Say it! Tell them. And please, remember to hug those you love, and let them hug you back. Be kind, be kind, be kind. And if you are in possession of behavior patterns that wound yourself and others, do your best to get free of them. There is little doubt they may have kept you safe at one time, but maybe not so much now.

If there is a heaven, Chris is there. I have no doubt of it because if there is a heaven, he damn well deserves to be there.

I love you, Chris.

***********

For Kim & Joshua

 

On writing – Oct. 29, 2017

The best writing advice I ever received was given to me by Louis Sheaffer, a staggeringly wonderful writer in my view. Mr. Sheaffer received a  Pulitzer Prize for the second of his two-volume biography of playwright, Eugene O’Neill. Another remarkable writer and person, to put it mildly.

I met Mr. Sheaffer at his home in Brooklyn Heights around 1980. I’d been bold enough to mail him a script for a play I’d written with a letter written by my nervous hand asking him to read it. And he did! He called me, and invited me to his home, an apartment that was a writer’s workplace. I remember a large and long wood writing table and index card files, everything was wood; it was a beautiful sight.

It is only now I realize Mr. Sheaffer made me feel less alone as a writer. That I was unpublished in any way at the time was irrelevant to him. He knew I was a writer. That this might not sound like much to some is yet another irrelevance.

The task of writing is one of those things that requires, not just being alone, but being alone as completely as you possibly can in the moment you are in. When writers know they are safe with each other, the camaraderie is intimate and glorious, and humbling.

So here is the advice Mr. Sheaffer gave me. “Whatever it is you want to write, read a lot of it. If you want write plays, read a lot of plays, novels, read a lot of novels, poetry, read poetry,” and so on.

Let me tell you, for me, he was spot on. I’m right currently reading a novel called The Hamlet by William Faulkner. His writing is Picasso in English. He takes sentences where most others don’t tread. It’s not a matter of fearing to tread,  in the least. It’s usually a matter of not seeing the trailhead, as it were.

Charles Dickens’ writing displays an understanding of people, of children (bless him) and life’s environments so thoroughly I just wish I could have met him and thanked him and hugged him.  I will re-read a sentence or paragraph or section because I want the experience again! Do not people listen to a song more than once! I’d avoided Dickens for some knuckle-headed reason, no doubt rooted in the poison soil of judgment, and then, around 1990, thinking about Mr. Sheaffer’s advice, began reading him. Started with his first book, Pickwick Papers

Going to my grave without experiencing Dickens’ writing would be hell all on its own.

Mr Sheaffer in August 1993 in the Long Island Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, the same hospital that saved my life after I was held up and shot in 1984.

An amazing experience, life.