My Steinbeck “You should have banged on my door,” he said, in a way that let me know how concerned he was for my well-being. Small wonder that I thought of him as a second father.
He’d been the one to encourage me to write, to live the life of a disciplined writer. That’s why he’d found me, asleep on the mat of his doorstep when he’d taken a break from his daily routine of writing to get his morning paper near the stoop of his basement apartment in Chelsea. On the sidewalk, one concrete flight of stairs above me, my British motorcycle was parked.
I’d driven through the night after departing the Dover ferry to England from Calais, France. Rain-soaked and too weary to take one more step, I’d found peace where I lay, near collapse. My Jacob’s pillow was his doormat.
He’d written about his escape from Communist China in his book, A Man Must Choose, a Book-of-the-Month Club selection on a nationally known list in America. He wrote that well, was that brilliant. He’d named his oldest son after Earnest Hemingway.
But Eric Chou and I never talked about Steinbeck. Or that author’s approach to writing. To Hemingway, he’d felt connected as a warrior feels connected to another warrior and his stories of danger and heroism and their emotional components.
Steinbeck championed the cause of Americans who’d lost everything to the dry winds and dust of the Great Depression. Then he disconnected from their travail before writing East of Eden. But his writing discipline never varied. He wrote what he had to write, then opened his doors to friends and family, the rest of the world. Like my mentor, he knew no other way.
In John Steinbeck: Working Days:, The Jornals of The Grapes of Wrath, (1938-1941), edited by Robert DeMott at Ohio University, (ISBN: 0 14 01.4457 9), on page 46, Steinbeck discusses his work in his journal entry #40, July 20, 1938:
“...I wonder whether I’ll ever finish this book. Of course I’ll finish it. Just work a certain length of time and it will get done poco a poco. Just do the day’s work. Some days I think I am getting sour but I don’t know. Then comes a good day and I am lifted up again. And I can’t tell from the opening. Often in writing these beginning lines I think it is going to be alright and then it isn’t. Just have to see. I hope it is alright today...The work must go on day after day until one day it will be finished...”
All of us who write know such feelings. Were it not for you, our precious readers, such an emotionally fraught trail would be difficult to follow, might appear to be as unattractive as sleeping on a bed of concrete.
B. Koplen 12/13/11
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