“I have never seen anyone who enjoys writing as much as you.” This is perhaps the highest praise my written work has ever gotten, and it was by Mrs. B (we didn’t use her full last name) in High School. I know I go on in my blog that writing is a “vocation” and certainly there are writers (like Elie Wiesel when he was alive) who regard their writing as a torment, but for me writing has always been “fun” and, to be totally honest, I would not write if it was not… I can only take so much torment.
Perhaps that is why I love Dickens’ work so much: he is so imaginative, and in his most tragic works–like The Old Curiosity Shoppe–there is still both a real heart beating in the author and a real love of creativity for its own sake. The Punch and Judy show and Mrs. Jarley’s waxworks ad an element of the bizarre, but also the fantastic. Little Nell, despite her tragic death, experiences the world she inhabits from a child’s perspective. As for his happy works, like A Christmas Carol, Dickens invents the Christmas ghosts practically from scratch. According to The Man Who Invented Christmas (the movie; I haven’t read the book yet), Dickens invented the idea of a “jolly ghost” for the Ghost of Christmas Present. People didn’t think of ghosts as jolly before then. Of course, my favorite books by Dickens are David Copperfield and Little Dorrit, and the second one is a little darker. Yet to the end, Dickens believed in happy endings.
I believe in Creativity for its own sake. Alfred North Whitehead defines God as a Creative Being, and I fully agree with him. I also believe that humankind is like God in that we are capable of creativity and the ability to make sense of our surroundings. The sciences look outwards and ask questions like, “How did the universe come into being? What is time? What is space?” or “How did the animal kingdom, including human beings, evolve?” History teaches us about politics and culture and how people lived in the past. And literature and art… delves into the inner realm, seeking the self-understanding which eludes even the greatest psychoanalyst. Of course, Fyodor Dostoyevsky as much as invented depth psychiatry for Freud, and Herman Hesse used depth psychiatry in his novels. Yet I believe literature tries to achieve a deeper understanding of “the human condition” than even psychiatry does. It asks questions like: “What does it mean to be happy? What does it mean to be good? What does it mean to believe in God?” It also asks the philosophical question, “What is truth?” I believe literature is philosophy for the masses.
It makes ideas accessible, but it does more than that: it gives them consequences. Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment shows the danger of Frederick Nietzsche’s thought: Dostoyevsky shows that “greatness” stemming from stepping outside of ordinary notions of right and wrong is in reality an act which will take an individual on the road to destruction–for himself and others. Having read both Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, it does not surprise me that during World War I Germans took Thus Spake Zarathustra out to battle with them plus the Bible. Crime and Punishment becomes a cautionary tale that should be heeded.
Despite my real reaction to Nietzsche, I believe in the value of a human being able to think… and therefore have studied history and literature and even a little bit of biology. I believe even science involves a little bit of creativity (I believe Albert Einstein said as much: that for him to work involved creativity as much as mere objectivity). Of course, I could be kidding myself: I have no scientific or mathematical talent, so I may not be the person to say what they come from in a person.
Anyway, I have always been grateful to Mrs. B for all she taught me about creative writing as a kid–iambic and trochaic forms of verse including iambic pentameter, as well as free and blank verse. Mrs. Hemmingway also taught me to use adjectives and adverbs effectively. Or rather she taught me to use them, period. Mrs. B helped me realize that I did not have to write like Hemmingway. As such she helped me learn my own voice. And voice is all-important for a writer.