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This Day in My History


TODAY's QUOTE

It is too bad that I write these long letters to you.  I might be better employed in just sticking to my book.  But I think I have explained my reason for it to you many times in an attempt to understand myself.  Actually, I do not think I lose much time with these letter pages.  I think I would either be staring at a blank page or writing to someone else I will be bored because I would have to tell things that happened last week or a month ago and I am not interested in those things.  On the other hand, in this, there is rarely anything that did not happen mentally or physically within 24 hrs.  And in such things I still have an interest.   So you see, I will continue with the letters.

~ John Steinbeck

(This was my favorite quote in explaining why I wrote daily letters (pre-computer) to Phil; now it works in updated fashion about why I write to Peggy so frequently.)


Yesterday's Entries

2000: Baubles, Bangles and Bigots
2001:
  Busy about Many Things
2002:  The Massacre of the English Language
2003:  The Good Old Days


TODAY's FOOD

Breakfast:  Honey Bunches of Oats
Lunch:   Lean Cuisine Southwest Chicken
Dinner:  Cajun chicken tenders, salad          


CURRENTLY READING

"Eyes of a Child"
by Richard North Patterson


TODAY on TV

Six Feet Under
Sopranos
The L Word



GOOD THINGS ABOUT TODAY
  • A brief visit from Ned

  • Animal Planet

  • Finally finishing the Ragtime review.

STEINBECK AND ME

5 April 2004

It is a really beautiful day. And maybe I will awaken pretty soon. I don't want not to work and yet I don't seem to get to it. The method --- it is the method that is so dreadful.

John Steinbeck, Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters, p. 95

This is an entry for the "Random Acts of Journaling" collaboration, which has been on hiatus for a bit. I was particularly taken with this quote because it’s from one of my favorite books--it is not from "East of Eden" itself, but from the collection of letters Steinbeck wrote while writing "East of Eden."

My friend Phil gave me the Letters book to read.  He had introduced me to Steinbeck, whose daughter was married to Phil's nephew (or something like that...maybe it was Steinbeck's son who was married to Phil's niece--anyway, there was a connection of sorts).  The Letters book belonged to Phil's mother and after her death, I just kinda "forgot" to return the book.

I had read "East of Eden" several times and had a copy of Steinbeck’s "A Life in Letters," which I loved. Steinbeck was an avid writer of letters, so I already identified with him. The "Life in Letters" is fascinating, but "The East of Eden Letters" is even moreso, because it is a collection of letters written to his editor, Pascal Covici, during the writing of this masterpiece. I read the two books together, reading the sections of the book itself and then the letters where Steinbeck is struggling through passages, explaining to Covici what it was that he was trying to put on paper.

As I sit here today, knowing I must write a review of Ragtime, which Joan and I saw on Friday night, it is nice to know that an author of the stature and talent of John Steinbeck, also suffered from writer’s block, from procrastination, and from the problem of just getting it on paper.

Steinbeck writes, "It must be told that my second work day is a bust as far as getting into the writing. I suffer as always from the fear of putting down that first line. It is amazing the terrors, the magics, the prayers, the straightening shyness that assails one..."

While not quite that eloquent, in an entry I wrote in January of 2001, I wrote "I don't know what there is about facing a blank screen that turns my insides to jelly and sets me to pacing up and down. My mind becomes a blank and I do all those chores that have been sitting undone for weeks while the deadline looms ever closer."

One would think that three or four years into this critic job, writing the reviews would have become easier, but not so.  I cannot seem to put anything into writing without going through the same sorts of tortures of the damned.  As I stated in 2001,

"....when I am actually on deadline to produce something is when I might decide that I can't wait another moment to--

  • clean house
  • do laundry
  • go for a walk
  • wash the kitchen floor
  • straighten the counter
  • dust
  • sort through piles of paper
  • eat
  • etc. "

Steinbeck also had problems with eating when writing.  "I ate too much over the weekend.   Must go on starvation to get my hunger back.  I just can't eat like that and keep any awareness.  Food, too much of it, has a much worse effect on me than too much alcohol....I'm having a hard time going to work because of it.   My brain feels fat."

Maybe that's my problem:  even my brain feels fat.

I have come to accept that writing is not about writing, so much as it is about the process.  When I finish the Ragtime review, I will have to start working on a special feature article I am writing about an upcoming dance festival at the University.

The interview I got from the director already had my brain sparking with ideas for how I could put this article together, but I know that after I've transcribed the tape and interviewed the choreographers, I will sit down to write the article itself and it will take many, many trips up and down from this desk around the house on cleaning, laundry, etc. trips.  There is something about my brain that needs the crutch of mindless jobs to allow it to percolate with the ideas for whatever is to be written before I can actually put it on paper.

Steinbeck has a whole paragraph about finding the right pencils and sharpening them.   Spraying the pages to prevent them from becoming smudged.  Things that have nothing to do with the actual writing, but are all part of the process.

I don't even aspire to the kind of talent that Steinbeck had, but it's nice to know that even he suffered from the same demons that I do when trying to write.

David Gerrold has written a book on the writing process (a booket called "An Author you Can't Refuse").  He poo poos writing problems.  It's simple, he tells us.  "The writing process is not mysterious.  It is not uncontrollable.  You just think it is.  That's what stops you."

And now that I've managed to waste the better part of an hour by writing this journal entry, I suppose I'd better try to get back to writing that Ragtime review.

But first I think I need a snack...

 

PHOTO OF THE DAY

steinbeckbook.gif (81042 bytes)

The interesting thing about this photo is the price
on the "East of Eden" paperback--can you read it?
It's 50 cents. When was the last time you bought
a new paperback for 50 cents??

For more photos, please visit My Fotolog and My FoodLog


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