Monday, September 4, 2006

Write What You Know
Not long ago I visited the John Steinbeck museum in Salinas, CA. I hadn't read Steinbeck in years, and when I did it had been in the days before I understood what good writing really is. The museum itself is nicely designed and gives an intimate experience of the man and his works. There is a room for each major book, with the corresponding motion picture playing on a screen. There are letters in his own hand, and you can look at the truck he, with his dog Charley beside him, drove across the country. What I love about Steinbeck is that he wrote about what he knew; didn't try to be fancy. He penetrated into the ordinary, let everyday folks be profound, showed us that we all have that inspirational nature inherent within ourselves, that just by being ourselves we contribute amazing things. You don't have to go far from home to be universal. He says, "...I discovered that I did not know my own country...was working from memory...I had not heard the speech of America, smelled the grass and trees and sewage, seen its hills and water, its color and quality and light.. .So it was that I determined to look again, to try to rediscover this monster land. Otherwise, in writing, I could not tell the small diagnostic truths which are the foundations of the larger truth." We seem so separate today from those small close-up truths, looking anywhere but at the mundane for relief from the emotional pressures we feel. We forget there are some highly useful universal lessons in the consciousness of our great classic artists.

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