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.



For the love of sanctuary

In times of upheaval, noise, and fear, like those we’re going through now with the Trump administration’s penchant for dishonesty, disregard for equal rights, and seeming dislike for democracy itself, finding healthy places of refuge are important. I can’t tell you what the healthiest places are for you, I can tell you what they are for me.

Books, music, dance, nature, love,  are all sanctuaries for me. In his essay, “Nature”, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Here is a sanctity which shames our religions, and reality which discredits our heroes. Here we find nature to be the circumstances which dwarfs every other circumstance, and judges like a god all men that come to her.” I agree with Emerson, far beyond the reach of any mastery of words I might have in my possession.

For me, the sanctuary found in nature’s embrace protects the soul while the sanctuary in a loved one’s embrace protects the heart. We are all connected.

And yes, of course, music. Classical, jazz, international, Springsteen, the Beatles, and so on. The right music can take the blues away and allow an already happy day to strut its stuff in the clouds. Nature and music aside, it is safe to say books are my primary refuge. They have been for nearly as long as I have memory.

Of all the gifts my parents gave me, I rank my love of reading at the top. I read thirty to forty-something books a year on average. I am baffled by those who go through life without them. No doubt they are aware of other sanctuaries life offers that are utterly lost on me. I hope so. We all need them, and, more importantly, we all deserve them. From my days of homelessness to now, being connected to a book makes the shifting currents of life easier to manage.

Through good times and bad, if you’ll permit me the use of an all too worn phrase, I’ve been part of the infinite number of worlds found in the pages of books. Along the way I spent time with Dickens and Steinbeck, Edith Wharton, Jon Dos Passos, Whitman, Updike, Anna Quindlen, James Salter,  and on and on and on. My mind has traveled the sentences their minds created! And, along the way, I’ve hung out with Pip, and listened to Steinbeck’s Charley bark like crazy at the bears in a canyon out west. I spent time with Lincoln and his cabinet in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s, “Team of Rivals.”

Your refuge can be a rich resource of knowledge. I gobbled up Shelby three-volume, “Civil War: A Narrative,” a collection of work so extraordinary I almost believed I was living in the 1860s and nowhere else.

Taking healthy care of yourself is not an act of disloyalty to anyone else. Moreover, remembering to take care of yourself, a retreat into a loved sanctuary, a conversation with a friend, say, will make you far more effective when you turn your focus to the benefit of others. Something we all need to do in today’s climate.

No more pipe dreams: a sketch in words

There was almost a gentleness to knowing the balance of his life had come down to nothing but the words he wrote on a page. Nothing, more or less, save, of course, for the blessedly endless supply of books to read. Such was his love of reading that he knew, in the end, if he was aware of its arrival, a deep ache-sadness at not having read all he’d wanted to read would be present.

Not sad, so much, this truth. So many around him seemingly spinning in place or out of control (held up to the light at the right angle this could indeed be redundant) in their misery. The chase for the material, gullible minds digesting to the point of blind and foolish faith that wealth meant joy and happiness. In short, pipe dreams.

Leaning back in his chair with a cup of tea, a brief and admittedly cursory self-examination led him to conclude he was free of pipe dreams.

No more pipe dreams. Reality for me, he thought.

A Writer’s Dream

Words of different colors, shapes, sizes, tastes and sounds tumbled from his mouth, falling onto the table and spilling over onto the floor where they skittered about, disappearing under rugs, under doors, swirling about the room, in the air, into and out of cabinets and drawers. They were everywhere, out of control, unmanageable.

He was dreaming!

Here he was a writer and words were dancing about so quickly, so frenetically, he could not make sense of them. Had he ever made sense of them? Really? Or were those just moments of luck when a sentence that escaped his pen held its shape?

As an increasing number of words poured out of him and scurried about, they now began to make an inexplicable unpleasant noise, a cacophony of clatter, crunching sounds like knuckles cracking, skidding, spinning, tapping, a beating out of rapid disjointed impossible to follow rhythms. Yet he knew they were pleading with him. With him! What could they possibly want? They are all, he knew, each of them, living beings, so they could not possibly be pleading for some kind of meaning. Like all living things they, above all perhaps, were born with meaning. They would live forever with their meanings. So what then? What was it they were pleading for? There was a yearning, he felt it.

He awoke sweating.

The sheets and pillow cases were soaked. He got out of bed, walked into the kitchen, turned on the tap, poured himself a glass of cold water, and drank it. He changed the sheets and pillow cases and showered. He drank another glass of cold water from the tap, peed, went back to bed, and fell asleep.

This times the words poured from his mouth, eyes, ears, nose, they flew from the palms of his hands, his arms outstretched, somehow he knew they needed to be outstretched. Why? Was this some kind of crucifixion?

The words again produced a cacophony of wild indecipherable noise and again he heard pleading and, more evident now than before yearning.

He wanted to shout out to them but his mouth would not work. He wanted to shout, “But you’re words! You have meaning! Why can’t you tell me what you want?” But try as he might, he could not speak.

It was then he saw the little boy looking up at him. The boy had dark hair, deep chocolate eyes. And although the little boy’s mouth did not move, the little boy spoke to him. The little boy smiled and said, “They want what I want, what everyone wants, what every living thing wants.”

The writer woke up and said, “Purpose.”


Writing Sanctuary

Last night, an unexpected and brutally painful event wounded my heart and soul. It reminded me how blessed I am to have the sanctuary of writing. As for specifics of the event itself, let me just say that you can love some in life with all your might and their demons will still lead them to cut your throat.

Writing is not easy, at least not for me. I find few things more intimidating than an empty page that expects me (of all people!) to fill it with something. Yet, once the story begins, the characters are there. You get to know them and they get to know you. In a very real way you become deeply close to each other. I even grow close to the characters I don’t like. Usually I don’t like them because they are laced with cruelty and greed and their siblings, none of whom have never impressed me. But I like my characters – all of them – because I grow to know the all of them.

When life wounds my heart and soul, it is comforting to know I have the sanctuary of writing to return to, my characters to hang out with. I hope you, my dear reader, have sanctuaries in your life too. We all deserve them.