If you are an astute blog reader, you have noticed a change in blog content over the past six years. In my early days of blogging, I chronicled my relocation dream. I wanted to kick the Hampton Beach sand from my feet, sell my chicken coop-sized condominium, and move home to Maine. I first settled into an apartment on the outskirts of my Maine town and then into a house right in the middle of it. Then, I started freelance writing. My childhood desire to “be a writer” had not diminished, although the realities of “working for pay” consume the time needed to “write for pay.”
A trifecta of unfortunate circumstances in 2016 caused me to reconsider the blog as a first-person narrative of my life. I made a conscious decision to write less sentimentally and more factually. Part of my rationale for this was born of necessity and self-protection; I did not want to process my grief in the public sphere. Another part of my rationale was a dislike of “I feel” being passed off as “I think” in news, social, and fake media. It troubled me and so I began to use my blog as a place where I could work out the stories I was writing for publication.
Like this post about a granite quarry in Jay, Maine.
I wrote this while investigating the granite used to build the upper portion of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine.
There is an old canard that “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” The opportunity to write for the Lewiston Sun Journal was a lucky one for me. Was I prepared? It didn’t matter because I was writing for Managing Editor Mark Mogensen, a patient and gifted “boss” who presented me with numerous opportunities to write about interesting topics and then made my submitted sentences better. I’m grateful he tapped me to work on the paper’s 2017 year-long series about the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, which will soon be published in book form.
When I send content to Mogensen, I use the word BREAK to delineate the place in my content where I am changing direction. I learned this technique from him. In the early days of my freelance work, he’d send my stories back for review with slashes and the word BREAK in the places where his sharp editor’s eye divined my thoughts. I don’t know if this is a technical term from an AP style guide or something from Mogensen’s magic book of copy-editing tricks, but it’s been a great help to me as a writer to know I could end one thought and go to another. Just like that.
As noted, Mogensen is a patient guy and he’s been unruffled by my lack of production for January and February. But it’s March now and I need to get some content to my easy-going editor. I’m working on a story about Auburn’s Pickwick Club.
I pitched my Pickwick Club story idea to editor Mogensen early in February and I started “working it out” here on the blog.
When you read big books in the middle of other life commitments, it requires discipline. I drank a little extra coffee to get through 35 pages of Dickens a day, but I finished Dombey and Son in 25 days. I laughed. I cried. I loved the characters. I started dropping Mr. Toot’s line “it’s of no consequence” here and there. I was sad when I finished, as it had been a welcome distraction from the cares of the present day. I looked forward to meeting the Pickwickians, albeit anxiously.
As I would learn from attending the meeting on February 24, the Pickwickians love Dickens and talking about all aspects of the great writer’s life and work. The conversation around the table was energetic and interesting. There were no hard and fast rules and it was not overly academic, per se. The modern world did not intrude, except if there was a recent article, book, or event about Dickens.
Not everyone liked Dombey and Son. One member said it was “a cry fest and a comfort fest.”
As a newcomer, I didn’t make many comments, although I did express my enjoyment of the work. How can one not feel intellectually stronger after reading a good book?
As of February, 2018, the members of the Maine Pickwick Club have read 14 of Dickens’ 15 major novels since their 2012 founding. Additionally, they’ve tackled novels by Victorian contemporaries Henry Fielding, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Anthony Trollope. The group has also covered biographies of Charles Dickens, his wife, and his mistress.
But that’s nothing for the Pickwickians because they all love to read. Some of them are in other book clubs and participate in reading-themed events like the New England Great Books Spring Retreat and the upcoming Winter Weekend, sponsored by the Maine Humanities Council and hosted by Bowdoin College.
I enjoyed my time among the Pickwickians and was encouraged to buy Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin. Pickwick Club co-founder Alexis Des Roches also recommends Life of Charles Dickens by his contemporary, John Forster. As Des Roches says “you can’t beat a bio by someone who actually knew and loved the author, although, of course, he tries to make himself and Dickens look good.”
It was reassuring to know that even Charles Dickens got distracted from the task of writing. Tomalin’s biography notes that while writing Dombey and Son, “he was still unable to settle to work, disliking his study, unable to find a corner anywhere else in which to write, moving the furniture about, distracting himself by writing letters…”
By the time I post this blog, my content on the Pickwick Club will be sitting on the editor’s desk. I’m relieved to know, though, that I am in good company when I was walking, reading books, writing letters, and rearranging furniture instead of writing as the deadline loomed.