It’s fascinating to me how I can have all the essential ingredients for a post like today’s (those primary ingredients, in this case, being interview responses from poet and author Lesléa Newman) and still spend days trying to figure out just how to get started. Not for a lack of ideas, but from an overabundance.
I’ve spent the past few days running through a list of relevant themes (from “understanding” to “empathy” to “compassion” to “belonging”) and each seems to warrant consideration. Each seems to demand it’s own place, not just in today’s post, but in several.
Late last night, after I’d been in bed reading for awhile, I finally decided to shape today’s blog around empathy and compassion. Of course, this morning, that changed a bit, after I spent an hour working on my YA novel, Mr. Bones. I’d finally gotten to a new chapter, to a new scene – one in which the protagonist (Gabe) and his best friend (Swatch) and their sworn enemy (Tyler) discuss the classic novel Of Mice and Men while working on a group project for school.
Unbeknownst to me, Swatch had come to a conclusion on her own about Steinbeck’s characters. She stated that nearly all the characters in the book wanted a piece of land to call their own. That theme is presented in the very first chapter – as George and Lennie discuss their shared dream (the “American Dream,” as it’s been called), but in many ways Swatch asserts it’s really just a human dream – when George says that “Someday . . . we’re gonna have a little house and a couple acres an’ a cow and some pigs and–” Lennie interrupts, “An’ live off the fatta the lan’ . . . An’ have rabbits.” I’ve always been especially drawn to that scene because it so deftly conveys Lennie’s childlike aspirations in the context of the much larger dream, one that, as Swatch pointed out to me and Gabe and Tyler this morning, is shared by most of the characters in the novel.
But, Swatch also suggested that the dream of being independent, of having something to call their own, might have also been written by Steinbeck to represent an even more basic human need (not shelter, but the need to belong to something larger than yourself).