by Leonard Bishop
I’m going to view what I write now, through a long-standing memory. Some will be about myself, some about what I have learned.
Until I was 18 years old I was just a street punk who only thought about surviving and keeping out of jail. I had no noticeable ambitions, no splendid hope. From the ages of 20 to about 24, I trained and worked as a draftsman to avoid a stint in the Army. When the war was over I drifted about the country as an itinerant worker and hobo. But wherever I was–waiting in a police station, eating hero sandwiches on a construction site, drying my socks at a fire in a hobo jungle–one phrase that everyone used was,” Hey, if I could only write, hey, the stories I could tell.”
I have just learned that the Manhattan Mercury has a large circulation. There are, in fact, thousands of people who read the “arts and leisure” section. They actually care about photography, paintings, opera, the theater, jazz, and many of the cultural programs put on by the University and private groups. This information both startled and encouraged me. It supports my belief that there are thousands of people who are interested in becoming writers. If I appear obsessed or even seemed fanatic about writing, I am justified. Whatever saved my life is a valid philosophy, a humane endeavor. Whatever saved my life deserves attention and serious interest. Because though I am not an unusual or exceptional man, there is one extraordinary connection I have with all people, one that unites me with everyone. Whatever resurrects my life, whatever makes me happy, whatever provides me with purpose, must do the same for many other people.
There I was, hiding while the cops chased around looking for the thief. Alone and afraid. There I was pounding nails, fixing pipes, shoveling garbage, scrounging for food and working as a dumb muscle under conditions that would humiliate a donkey. Angry and exiled from the “respectable” people. While in my guts, in my lacerated soul, I cried,” I am nobody, and it hurts. Someone please look at me, know my name.”
Though I am changed now, the world is the same. Only the costuming of the year, the terminology, the mechanics have changed–the people are the same. They hurt from anonymity, they are dying from lack of expression, they are hating because they feel exiled. And if they live as they are living now, they will be evaporated like a mist and their potential contribution, great or minor, will vanish with them. Over the years more than 1000 people have attended my classes in writing, and have been changed, have been increased. It was not my classes–not me–that caused the changes it was their involvement with becoming writers. They opened themselves to themselves, then to other people, then to the world. They did not all become writers, but all who wrote became happier and better people.
The fragile became strong, the timid turn bold, the unloving risked giving themselves to be loved were fulfilled, the rejected found a place, the humorless gained laughter–the self-presumed dumb and crass regained their inherent intelligence and sensitivity, the lonely were no longer alone, this self-abased discovered worth through their accomplishment. While” writing” is not the panacea to all dilemmas and misery, it is a partial solution. It is a beginning. And all anyone needs for reviving their depressed, inarticulate lives, is a beginning. Most people do not write because they believe they cannot write. And this belief is founded not on proof but on presumption.
Nine tenths of all grief, inner ugliness, guilt, shame, hatred, violence, bodily ailments and spiritual aridity, emerges from a person’s inability to find self-expression. (Cramps soon ulcerate and become cancerous). This knowledge has been around since the first language was conceived. From organized religion to E. S. T. to theatrics: the reciting of some mumbo-jumbo mantras and psychoanalysis and square-dancing, all are founded on the bringing out of self-expression. All encounter and confrontation groups, counseling services, and the full array of mind-screw schools of therapy, are based on the expression of self. But writing is more than that. It is giving yourself to other people, and many times you can earn money.
It has been suggested to me that I deal with the craft, technique, and general aspects of writing. I have not consulted my editor, Margaret Allen, about this. For all I know, she may dump all I have just written and demand that I titillate, amuse, and occasionally write something serious. Yet, if I can get this passed her astute eye and far-reaching know-how, I will happily respond, once a month to anyone who writes to the Manhattan Mercury about some difficulty, problem, or concerned that is involved with the accomplishment of writing. If I do not have the answer then I will correspond with other professional writers who may–and then pass them on to you.
I am just touched, deep within me, with the knowledge that as I wandered about searching for my “talent” and career, there are thousands of others who are in the same search. I thank God that the dark was not so overwhelming that I could not see some light.
(first Published Sunday, December 9, 1984 the Manhattan Mercury)
©Leonard Bishop, 1984