Tag Archives: Literature

Old School Sundays: John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”

A novella under one-hundred pages, Of Mice and Men is one of my all-time favorite classics. This is one of those stories where if, by the end, you don’t have an emotional reaction, I’ll venture to say there’s something wrong with you!

Furthermore, and it’s rare I’ll say this, but a fabulous film version exists. Directed by Gary Sinise (yes, Lieutenant Dan from Forrest Gump!), who also stars in the film as George, along with John Malkovich as Lennie, it captures the essence of the story without missing a beat.

What I imagine when I read ‘Of Mice and Men’
“Old Tractor”
j. l. johnson → in Automobile

My favorite scene from the story is when Lennie (who is mentally handicapped) stumbles upon Crooks, the ranch’s “stable buck,” a black, ostracized ranch hand who was kicked by a horse, and (as his name suggests) resulted in a crooked spine.

“Crooks said gently, ‘Maybe you can see now. You got George. You know he’s goin’ to come back. S’pose you didn’t have nobody. S’pose you couldn’t go into the bunkhouse and play rummy ’cause you was black. How’d you like that? S’pose you had to sit out here an’ read books. Books ain’t no good. A guy needs somebody–to be near him.’ He whined, ‘A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you. I tell ya,’ he cried, ‘I tell ya a guys gets too lonely an’ he gets sick'” (Steinbeck 66).

The story takes place in California during The Great Depression, so it’s clear why racial separation was taking place. What struck me about this scene is the fact that Crooks is reaching out to Lennie–a man who possesses the intelligence of a child. Lennie can’t fathom Crooks’ grief, but as he says, ‘Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you.’

Loneliness is a quiet emotion. When we segregate, when we ostracize others–and it could be in a number of situations: school, work, family, etc.–we are rarely aware of the depth of pain we thrust onto the banished, the shunned, the exiled.

In fact, so quiet and non-intervening are the lonely, that we’re often surprised to find they have feelings at all. But in reality it’s true: ‘a guy gets too lonely and he gets sick.’

This is how literature teaches us.

*On a side note, today I came across a great link on Oprah’s website, that I’d like to share with all my hardworking, persevering, and aspiring writers:

10 Things That Should Never Stop You from Writing Your Story

See? It turns out we’re not alone after all 🙂

 

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Why as writers, we strive to make sense of the world

Stephen Rayburn → in Plants & trees

I’m a reader, teacher, and (intrinsic) writer of literature. I’ve been trained to make meaning from the meaningless. To spot symbolism. To recognize “patterns.” For example, in Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening bird references run rampant. First there is the notion of the ‘caged bird,’ hence, the life of the Victorian woman, but as Edna Pontellier’s story moves forward, and she both physically and mentally escapes her bounds, the bird becomes an emblem for freedom—well, sort of.

This post is not an analysis of The Awakening. Instead, it’s an examination of both the reader’s and writer’s minds. As a student of literature, I would have been expected to pick up on Chopin’s bird motif. As a teacher of literature, I might expect my students to do the same.

I’ll always attest to the fact that my extensive reading of the classics and beyond has forever changed the way my brain functions. For years, my search for the significant went beyond the page. Those crocuses sprouting from the dusty snow became a personal “sign.” Hard times are over; transformation is possible. The stray cat in my backyard became an omen for an unexpected visitor. The tenuously shaped heart in the foam of my beer meant love was on its way. It was as though my life were a novel.

Recently, however, I discovered that science can explain this need to make sense of one’s surroundings. In the July issue of Psychology Today magazine, author Matthew Hudson says in his article “Your Sixth Sense:”

“Pattern-finding is so central to survival and success that we see patterns everywhere, even in random data—a phenomenon called apophenia. We spot faces in clouds and hear messages in records played backward. And while we expect some level of order in the world, on occasion our pattern-spotting gets away from us and makes a connection we wouldn’t expect. When that happens, we demand, at least subconsciously, an explanation.”

For the full article click here:http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201206/your-sixth-sense

Hudson says (and I paraphrase) that since our early schooling days, we are taught to recognize patterns. For example, we learn the alphabet and to count—all pedagogical pattern-finding practices. We are shown that the American Flag signifies liberty, and thus, our minds begin to associate stars and stripes with pursuing our dreams.

I believe we writers…we intrinsic writers are quite the experts on this practice. To us, everything is figurative. I’ve gotten so adept at this system that it happens naturally as I write. For anyone who has ever seethed in skepticism, “Did the author really mean to do that? Did she really intend for the road kill on the boulevard to mean that Mrs. Bumblestick’s dreams of becoming a model were ‘squashed?’”

My answer? Maybe. But more likely, with consistent practice, the author has simply gotten good at creating a web of connotation.

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The Particulars

“As writers we live life twice, like a cow that eats its food once and then regurgitates it to chew and digest it again. We have a second chance at biting into our experience and examining it. … This is our life and it’s not going to last forever. There isn’t time to talk about someday writing that short story or poem or novel. Slow down now, touch what is around you, and out of care and compassion for each moment and detail, put pen to paper and begin to write.”
—Natalie Goldberg

As an intrinsic writer, in my daily life I pay attention to the ‘particulars,’ or the details surrounding me. This began as a concentrated effort, probably some time during my undergraduate years when I first became immersed in literature. I read a ton as a kid, of course, any intrinsic will tell that he or she did. But back then I read countless R.L. Stine books, and The Babysitter’s Club series, plus other child classics like the Polk Street School tales, and Ramona, etc. Back then I read for the stories, the images that showed up in my mind, the characters that toyed with my imagination.

As I got older, I discovered that literature could have a rippling effect. Freshman year in high school I read A Separate Peace, by John Knowles (still one of my all time favorite books–I don’t care what the feminists say about it having no female characters. I used to love teaching it, too.) and for the first time discovered that fiction went beyond my favorite childhood narratives. I saw the complexity, the raw emotion, the parallels to real life.

These days, as a writer myself, I’m convinced that the complicated mesh and intricate web that makes up the anatomy of a story is all in the particulars. Any good novel, short story, screenplay, or even poem should be difficult to summarize. Even my own novel, when someone asks me what it is about, there is no way to explain it in a linear fashion. I can describe the plot, but I’ll always have to stop, backtrack, lay down the foundation of who is who, and what is what. Eventually the person gets tired of listening. You have to read it, I’ll say. Two years ago, I wrote a short story in a fiction writing class as part of my graduate program. The story was about a man who was having an affair with his mother-in-law. Of course it’s not that simple, see? There’s a background story, there’s various threads that weave together to make the whole. A classmate told me that I had “built [the story] like a house.” In any good writing, there has to be a recipe. Main ingredients, lesser ingredients, and those ingredients that make it just right.

Then there is filler. I search for filler everyday. The one stark red cardinal among a cluster of sparrows amidst a snowy backdrop. The visible veins in my cat’s ear when she sits next to a lamp. In spring, when the cherry blossoms along the main avenue shed their petals in the wind, lining up collectively along the curb lines. The leftover stench of onions hiding the pore of my forefinger after a night of chopping and mincing. A story is both big and small. Life is both big and small. The details are there for everyone. It’s up to the intrinsic types to point them out.

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Filed under Characters, Description, Inspiration, Prompts & Writing Ideas, The Writing Life, Why We Write, Writer's Block, Writing Details, Writing Process, Writing Tips