- It’s time to do some writing.
- Fuck me.
- I’m serious.
- I can tell.
- You just –
- One word down, then another –
- And another, exactly.
- You know what gets me?
- It sounds so easy. Just sit down, or stand, whatever works, and then just start writing anything. Just set words down and pay attention and the words will just come of their own accord.
- That’s not so easy.
- What – ?
- “Words will just come of their own accord.” That’s an act of faith on your part. Faith that if you begin the words will follow. The weight’s on you to begin, then it’s pretty much stay the hell out of the way. It can’t be the same experience each time you write, is it?
- Now that you mention it, no.
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.
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.
Once in a blue moon Peter lets me write a piece for his blog. Mostly he goes for long walks with his dog, Charley, while I tap out words on this here keyboard. We don’t talk much about what I want to write but he knows there are times I think it’s important for those who’ve been knowing him for some time, or reading him for some time, to get a peek at just how he’s doing. That’s where I come in. I like to overview him from time to time.
Now he’s doing pretty good in Berkshire County these days. He does have this idea of moving to Cape Cod in his head. A dumb thing to say, I know, because where else would he have an idea but in his head?
Anyway, first things first.
This coalition of his, this Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition (named after Peter’s father, Sanford Kahrmann, not Peter), is gearing up to become a 501c3 with a board of directors and all that hoopla and that’s damn good news if you favor equal rights for folks and bad news if you don’t. I was in the room a day or two ago when Peter lit into someone who answered the phone at New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office (He’s New York’s version of Chris Christie, you ask me. A bully). Woman gave Peter her first name but refused to give her last name saying they didn’t provide last names and without missing a beat Peter said, “Thank you for confirming I’ve reached the governor’s office.”
He fires those rounds so quick you wonder if folks realize they’ve been hit. Not a whole lot makes Peter mad but when he is mad you’d have to be in a coma or gone to the next world not to notice.
He’s writing more than ever before in his life now and that is making him feel good and if you’ve been reading this blog you know he just did a lead part in a play and that was damned good for him. More than I think he realizes at the moment. Anyway, with him at his writing and, as always, reading up a storm, he’s begun to think of moving to Cape Cod. He told me once the proper phrase is people are “on Cape,” not “on the Cape.” Said he learned this from a woman he fell in love with. You’re on Cape or off Cape. No need for the.
It gets confusing. Last week I asked him, “Why Cape?” He said it was okay to say, “Why the Cape?” and I said him and these Cape people need to sort out once and for all what their where they stand on the word the because the rest of us are busy stumbling over syllables and are just fine with the word because we use it a lot. I think he might still be smiling over that one. Anyway, he said he’d been thinking about the Cape because he went there as a boy with his father and family and it’s a place his father loved and the last place his father felt happiness before he died. It’s a place he (Peter) fell in love and almost married the woman and, the underpinning of it all, he misses the ocean. I always forget that when he was a boy both sets of his grandparents lived by the ocean. One set lived right on the water, they even had boats. This was in Rumson, New Jersey. And his other grandparents lived in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, just blocks from the ocean. And then, later in the seventies, Peter lived right on the ocean in Seagate, Brooklyn.
The coming wave I was thinking about when I picked the title for this piece is the wave of change. Change is coming for Peter but what’s nice to see is how clear and peaceful he is about it. That’s a good thing. He disengages quickly from fight pickers or folks who, sad to say, are addicted to conflict, usually without realizing it. He keeps the door open for some who don’t have an active presence in his life. Even that Cape Cod woman. I asked him why he doesn’t lock more doors, I asked him about this yesterday or that day before. I can’t remember, and it doesn’t matter. I liked what he explained so I asked him to write it down. Asked him to write it down. So he did. Here it is:
“Sometimes people disengage from you, sometimes you disengage from them. Sometimes there are some barbs inflicted. Anyway, it would be unfair to them and to me if I judged someone or someone judged me on poor disengagement skills. I’ve certainly absorbed some clumsy and mean disengagement techniques but they don’t deserve so much influence over me that they rob me of remembering and valuing what was and very well may be wonderful and extraordinary in someone. The very reasons I loved them and still love and care about them, in some cases. No, I’m no one’s pin cushion and am not available to absorb barbs, and hold myself and others accountable. But if healthy ways of loving someone or helping someone in life make themselves known, I’ll act on them, even if the person never learns I had a hand in helping them. I’m fine with that.”
I like Peter. No, that’s not right. I love, Peter. A young man not long ago said Peter is one of the kindest and most loyal people he’s ever known. That’ true, except of course if you start denying people their rights. Then all that changes.
Anyway, let me publish this on the blog now. I can hear Peter and Charley coming back. Peter’s laughing. Charley must’ve said something. Yeah, I know; dogs can’t talk, but they sure can communicate. Just ask Charley.