It seems that when I can’t sleep, I find a film or book that amazes me and speaks of exactly where I am. Surprising indeed and it has happened more than once. I am so grateful.
I went to bed around 11.p.m. It seems that when I sit in my armchair, I fall asleep and when I go to bed the thoughts run riot. I speak with myself and practice all kinds of exercises to go to sleep, from music to Viktor Frankl, and many other impressive people’s ideas and nothing works.
Now sometimes it does. I have noticed that when I am struggling about writing, sleep eludes me no matter what.
This film seemed an unlikely subject to be of help and more appropriate for the holidays. It was truly unexpected. For me, expectations rarely help. I started watching it a week ago and something interrupted me. It was only tonight, sitting eating ice cream as if that would assist in the confidence required, that I remembered the film.
THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS
It is the story of Charles Dickens and his block in writing A Christmas Carol after he had written three flops, according to the critics. It is quite amazing and stars the delicious Dan Stevens from Downton Abbey and Beauty and the Beast. Oh yum I thought. It’s enough just to watch him.
The rest of the cast is acting royalty including Christopher Plummer, Miriam Margoles, Jonathan Pryce. Many of you might not know of these thespians – they are all English – but you must know the scrumptious Dan Stevens. Oh if I were sixty years younger!
I didn’t expect to relate to this story the way I did. I am a Dickens fan of the highest order, not the man – his books and A Christmas Carol is one of my favourites. I do read it every year. Now that I found it I’ll be looking for his other books made into film.
So now you are reading this so far, are you thinking, “What is this about?”
He wrote the book in 1843, I believe, and here we are in 2019. Ironically when I was trying to sleep a character came into my thoughts. It was Mrs. Bob Cratchit.
I did a one woman show about her from the point of view of being a feminist, as to my memory she was always known as Mrs. Bob Cratchit. Not a winner for me.
I’ve heard different first names for her, as some of the publications print their idea of what she was called, but Mrs. Bob Cratchit it always was to me. The reason I was thinking about her was that we decided, this fantastic group of people with me in Gilda’s Club, that we were going to dress up for Halloween. I have costumed on two occasions. One was Mrs. Addams and the other Mrs. Bob Cratchit, so I couldn’t decide which one I would be this year. I am sure this is what prompted me to remember the film.
How could I possibly relate to this man, his writing, his fame, his demons? As any writer would. My other three books were written mostly during the night so why would mine, How the Hell Did I Get Here From There, be any different?
Writing my life story has been so erratic. Blogs? After a period of blockedness, if there is such a word and if there isn’t I just created it, the breakthrough was easy. It just flowed. Those books were for others, this one is for me.
As I watched his behaviour unfold, I knew exactly what was happening. Writing about emotions – all of them – isn’t easy.
Watching his frustration, his rage, blaming others, loathing being interrupted – I get it, which is probably why I do my best writing at night. (I do hope I hear from other writers on this subject).
It’s true that sometimes I have to close the door to my little office/haven or Della will show up demanding attention, which lands her on my keyboard. I remember feeling stunned that I had announced I was writing my life story and can recall an article some years ago when Daniel (my son) started ‘suggesting’ that I write my autobiography. I told him I would never write my life story so often because I don’t want to remember. It took Daniel six years to persuade me, along with others, who said it was about time.
It All Began Eighty-six Years Ago
What was I thinking? I have to write about eighty-six years of life, the massive events that changed my life forever and the people who catapulted me into those changes. Where to start? I moaned. Not at the beginning I was told. I knew that. I just didn’t know how to do it.
This film really reached my heart and helped in an amazing way – that’s why I called it the miracle of sleeplessness.
In this film Dickens goes in and out of reality. He travels from one time to another, from poverty to wealth, from greed to charity. He wrote the book in six weeks including the illustrations. I have a feeling that might be the case with me as my major character defect is procrastination, so I have become a deadline person.
In other words, Dickens wanted this book out for Christmas – six weeks as I said – and it happened.
He was a successful author, lived well in a large house with servants. Had a wife and several children and they all felt the brunt of his rages when things didn’t turn out for him. His level of trust was zilch and I can remember feeling that way, which changed after 1988, for me.
One of the awareness’s (another word I just invented) was that since I started writing I have been very angry at petty things and pettiness being something I loathe. I even yelled at my cats occasionally when I was so annoyed and just wanted someone to make me a cup of tea when I got home. I asked them, “Can’t you even do something for me when I do everything for you?”. That’s how bizarre it gets.
Thoughts of me yelling at an animal of any sort is outrageous. They forgave me.
I met a young man a few weeks ago whom I hadn’t seen for years. He was in one of my Masters’ courses. His first question to me was, “Do you still yell at inanimate objects?” I had to laugh as I do. If I bump into anything or the television behaves badly I take screaming issue with them. Other things too that I should have taken care of and promise to do, but don’t, like clearing the dining room table which is filled with my paperwork and junk. I promise I’ll do it and I do, but within a week it’s all piled up again.
Of course I have been berating John, Joan and Peter for leaving me. I wrote my three books when John was with me and they were a blast. So I tested people constantly, as my life experiences around that situation of feeling safe were vital and enormous.
I don’t want to tell you all about the film as it is well worth watching and is on Amazon, I believe, and Netflix too if I recall. He experiences all the characters in the book and fights the injustices of life at that time. He visits the sites of the chapters of his book. It is so very realistic how he came to create them.
The difference is, I was about to write, that I am writing about my life and he had all these characters. Not so. It was his life in many ways. As I wrote before he was living the life so to speak until a memory sparked his childhood after his father had been arrested and he was alone. Working in a factory and hearing people say he was nothing and wouldn’t amount to anything, was rubbish.
His life as a child was violent, he was beaten where his worked in a shoe polish factory with other unfortunate children. I didn’t work in a factory. I was raised in violence and I felt as if I had been hit in the stomach. In fact I had to stop the film for a few minutes until I retained my equilibrium. So many of us were called those names, were rendered incapacitated and then suddenly the watch-me personality emerged. Brilliant.
He could have stayed where he was with his multiple injuries or put them to use to create magnificent literature. In my last blog about knowing who you are and growing from those lying adults, brought more responses than I have had since I first started writing. This film did it for me.
I knew that I was on a roll but disorganized. I had a recorder to speak into, but I wanted to write and as with Dickens, those people about whom I will write are in my head and uncomfortably active. I think they want to make sure I give them the space they have a right to! However, on seeing this film I decided I have to put some of them in a hotel so I can work on them one at a time.
When faced with the enormity of what I have undertaken, I realised that I have to write whenever it hits me. Some can have a disciplined time and set that aside every day. Not for me. My grasshopper brain won’t allow it.
Humor is the Answer to Pain and Grief
So when I saw how he tortured himself I had one of those grand awakenings. Writing about my early life, my mother’s family, my marriage, my codependency, immigration – I was a wreck. So I decided to write about the good times and those people in those good times, first. That would give me the strength to write about what I’ve spent thousands of dollars on in therapy, to release to the universe.
If I can make it a work of fiction it would be less challenging, and I did think of doing so as when I look back, I can hardly believe what I have conquered and given the finger to with that marvelous watch-me personality that came from violence and horror as it did to Dickens.
It was joyful to make a list of the funny incidents in my life and how the person in it taught me how not to be embarrassed by them. I speak of them often because humour is the answer to most pain and grief. With Dickens he created characters who emulated these feelings and the expression of them. He hit every single one. Hurt, pain, abandonments, anger, frustration, love, laughter, joy, and resolution. It was pure genius. Even though he created characters, they were based on his life experience. David Copperfield was as close to an autobiography than any of his other volumes.
The most enlightening feeling I had watching this film was the use of anger. As I said, I have been angry since I started writing or even before, when I couldn’t get started, which brought up another character defect – impatience.
I have enormous patience for others but when it comes to me, not so good. I want it done yesterday and with my other three books, I had a private practice and a secretary to transpose my voice into words for the publisher. Then there was John, who encouraged me time and time again when I couldn’t do it for myself.
The first book, The Child that Never Was: Grieving the Past to Grow into the Future, just flowed. It was therapy to me. The second Credit, Cash and Codependency, was more of a challenge, so he took me to a hotel in New Jersey, where I stayed in a room overlooking the ocean whilst he walked – for hours. The third book, 366 Encouragements to Prosperity was written when I went off to the Poconos to a lovely home in the mountains overlooking wildlife and beautiful foliage. It was the same thing. I wrote while he walked.
During the Iraq war I was asked by my publisher to write a daily affirmations book for ninety days for families whose loved ones had been sent to fight. I paced the house and said to John, “It’s too hard. I can’t do it. It is difficult and they want it by the weekend”.
He replied back to me, “Nothing is hard or difficult. Everything is a challenge and you can rise to challenges.”
I wrote it and then the publisher decided he didn’t want to do it because if his children read it they would be depressed! Whatever. I still have the manuscript and who knows – perhaps I’ll give it to my veterans to edit!
During all this time, writing books and so on, I had a lot of support. They have all transitioned, so I asked my friend, Dr. Donna Rondolone, to co-author. She is a professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia where she teaches mythology and WRITING. She agreed, so I’m in good hands, if she can tame me.
Thank you Charles. You inspired me. Thank you too for all the beautiful literature. I have read all the books. I believe it is his great-great grandson who travels the country presenting some of his work on stage. I missed him this year when he presented at Buyers Choice on County Line Road. I saw him a couple of times in the past and he is well worth watching. He even looks like him. You’ve missed him this year so perhaps next year. I’ll be writing more regularly now. I just need that deadline AND a publisher.