On Writing: Some Words from Dickens

In a March 1836 letter to Catherine Hogarth, the woman who would later become his wife, Charles Dickens wrote, “I like the matter of what I’ve done to-day, very much, but the quantity is not sufficient to justify my coming out to-night.” Dickens was referring to his work on Pickwick Papers.

Among other books, I am reading The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens, edited by Frederick W. Dupee, published in 1960. Like the glorious collection of John Steinbeck letters, Steinbeck: A Life in Letters, edited by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten, this collection of Dickens’ letters brings me deliciously close to the writer himself. And oh my, what I would give to be in a conversation with Dickens and Steinbeck, Tolstoy and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and believe me, many more.

But this sentence by Dickens, “I like the matter of what I’ve done to-day, very much, but the quantity is not sufficient to justify my coming out to-night” deeply resonated with me. As a writer I know I am not alone when I say that some who knows us react with a kind of deer-in-the-headlights look when I explain that I didn’t answer the phone because I was writing, or I need to get home or can’t come out because I am writing.

My closest friend in the world, Michael Sulsona, is, without question, one of the best playwrights and screenwriters in the country. And when I say one of the best, I really mean, one of the very best. He’s received many awards yet no producers (yet) have cleared their dust-filled heads long enough to realize they have a great American writer on their hands.

Michael wrote a play many years ago called, The Greatest Play Ever Written. It was performed on off-off Broadway. It is a comedy and is so damned funny when you would leave the theater you know you can forgo sit-ups for several months because you’re now the proud owner of six-pack abs.

Anyway, the play involves a struggling playwright who finds himself confronted by a brother-in-law who is entirely incapable of understanding that writing is hard work. In a moment of exasperation the playwright says, “I’ve got the weight of the world on my shoulders and my knees are buckling.” I know the feeling.

What is this essay all about? Not sure. Other than to say to anyone who is a writer or wants to be a writer, write. And if people don’t get it or don’t understand, the hell with them. Write anyway.

I’d like to talk to you some more but I’ve got to get back to my – wait for it – writing.

The Freedom of You

I remember songs.

Songs that moved my stride forward, lifted my head up. In the dark days of hunger and homelessness songs kept me warm, fed, loved, gave me air to breathe. Through all my life music carried me through Certain songs in certain times got me to the sunrise and let me rest my head in peace after sunsets drifted to deep blue, then black.

I don’t know what lifts your spirits, but I can tell you they deserve to be lifted. I don’t know what feeds your soul and fills your heart, but your soul deserves feeding and your heart has a right to be full.

Today I saw an old clip of Emerson, Lake and Palmer singing “Lucky Man,” one of those magic songs that wet my eyes and moved my heart. There were many, many others. For years Bob Dylan kept me going and for many years since it has been Bruce Springsteen.

Always Beethoven has mirrored my soul, jazz my mind, Steinbeck, Dickens, Tolstoy and others the thoughts that fill my mind.

Yet, when all is said and done, freedom seems to me to be the clarion call. Freedom for us all. Freedom to be who we are safely in the world we live in, unhindered by the bigotry and hatreds of others. Free of our histories, of the poisonous trappings of stereotypes.

Freedom to be you is what my heart and soul wishes for you.

And so, I can think of no better song then the one I place below. Paste it into your browser and enjoy. Take it with you through your days. Let it lift you, bring a smile to your face, maybe tears of joy and hope to your eyes, and fullness to your heart.

You are here to be you, it is your right to be you in freedom and peace, after all, you can’t have one without the other.

Go ahead now. Give it a listen.


Getting Free of Your History

Seems to me if you’re going to be in a relationship you might want to make sure you are free of your history first; at least free enough so you don’t wind up, consciously or unconsciously, holding the other person accountable for wrongs that may have been inflicted on you along the way. Watch out for judgment too.

While none of us, this writer included, are free of judgment, we are wise to hone our self-awareness skills in the hopes of noticing when we are engaging in patterns of judgment. Judgment can and does muck up clarity and can, if we’re not careful, cause us to lose sight of the person we are with, and then, if we don’t get hold of it, cause us to lose the person.

No one wants to be treated as someone they are not, or have cookie-cutter definitions inflicted on them because of their gender, their nationality, their sexual orientation, their religion, their height, weight, skin color, or other components of their make up, their history.

The truly breathtaking wonder and glory of each person is their individuality.

Sentences that begin all men are, all women are, all gays are, all blacks are, all whites are, all fill-in-the-blanks are, sadden me. They doom the speaker and listener to the seeing a forest without seeing the trees, and the loss inherent in that event is tragic.

John Steinbeck more than once talked and wrote about the danger of mass thinking and mass production, and warned of a dangerous result, a diminishment of the individual.

In my life I have experienced homelessness, a bit of fame early on, violence, a brain injury from getting shot, loss of family and so forth. When I am with others who have had like experiences, we are not mirror images of each other, swearda God, man. Yes, we are joined in some common experiences, and, as a result, have a bond of sorts, but we are not identical.

If individuality is lost, whether through mass thinking or those still hamstrung by their histories, the results are all of sad and tragic.

Something else just dawned on me. If we inflict generalities on those around us, without realizing it, we are denying ourselves the very real chance of fully connecting with someone. Generalities can seem to be their own defense system; but that is an insidious falsehood if ever there was one. Because the very generalities designed, consciously or unconsciously, to protect you, will be the very things that rob you of ever being fully with another person in life. In that case, your history wins.

You are the one who deserves to win