The novelist Theodore Dreiser met Helen (Patges) Richardson in Greenwich Village, where he was then living, in September 1919. They became lovers and moved to Los Angeles shortly after beginning their romance. Helen Richardson was an aspiring actress. She became Dreiser’s second wife.
The following telegram from Helen to Dreiser was dated October 18, 1920.
Can you imagine getting such a telegram? I cannot recall reading any form of correspondence with such a desperate, anguished plea. In fifteen words.
The concentration of people. It’s why I love cities.
The concentration of business establishments; of restaurants serving every cuisine imaginable, at a wide range of prices; of coffeehouses everywhere where you can sit musing or chatting for what seems like forever; of places of interest such as libraries, theaters, cinemas, concert halls, museums.
The parks and public gathering spots, such as public sitting areas everywhere on even the most congested avenues.
The wide sidewalks, thronged with people.
The wonderful infusion of people of all races and nationalities. The immigrants. The tourists. What they contribute and share in terms of enthusiasm and amiability.
The incredible variety of languages spoken. Heard all the time, on the street and on the subway. Music to the ears.
The access to water, to the ocean and the Hudson and East Rivers, every which way one turns.
A sense of being impervious to weather. It’s fun to walk the streets on a hot summer day when everyone is without a coat. On a winter’s day when somehow an icy chill doesn’t seem to matter. When it makes your blood tingle, and when walking the streets makes you feel warmer. And when it’s raining, the rain-slicked sidewalks often have a feeling of romantic beauty.
The City. Manhattan. The energy! The fun. The sheer excitement!
I made friends recently with a New York woman born and raised overseas — and thus intimately familiar with more than one culture and language — who showed an interest in my writing.
I hardly ever seem to not mention my blog to a new acquaintance. People say they would be interested in reading it. Few do. They rarely get back to me. I try to think of posts that might appeal to their interests, worldview, or tastes. It usually doesn’t matter.
The following, for example, is an email of mine dated December 5, 2018:
Dear Dr. _______,
I had an appointment with you this morning. I appreciate deeply having received treatment from you over the past weeks.
At the end of the appointment, you asked me about my writings.
It occurred to me that there is a recent essay of mine that might interest you. It is also possible that it will not.
It is a long essay of around 40 pages which I posted to my blog last June. It has gotten very few readers. I doubt that many readers found my points to be persuasive, and I suspect that many readers found my essay too long and tedious to read.
Nevertheless, I feel it is a very good and well written essay worth reading. I did a lot of work on it.
It essentially presents a contrarian view or perspective on modern medical practices. I have drawn upon my own experiences working briefly in hospitals as an aide when I was a young man, my own personal observations about health, and current books which question modern medical practices.
Most extensively, I have drawn on nineteenth century writings by medical practitioners, namely, nurses and volunteers who worked in hospitals during the Civil War. Using them, I have tried to make the point that much modern medicine ignores common sense and insights gained from actual experience with patients.
I would be pleased if you read my blog. If it is not of interest to you, or you do not have time to read it, my feelings will not be hurt.
“on caring for sick people (and why the health care system often fails them) … plus, what I have learned about same from experience and reading; and from Walt Whitman, Florence Nightingale, and the heroic nurses of the Civil War”
Nevertheless, it’s awfully nice to get an email such as I received last week from my new acquaintance, Ewa (mentioned above):
Roger, great to hear from you!
I’ve read the first three of your suggested posts today. … Your second and third post got me so inspired that I just had to start writing! It’s simplicity, light weight, and grace is very much appreciated and turns reader’s thinking into positive storytelling inner dialog! So I’ll get back to my writing now. …”
“Simplicity, light weight, and grace.” Very nice (and thoughtful) words, indeed. You know what? I think she’s right. But it often takes an appreciative audience to make one appreciate one’s own strengths or see them more clearly, and her feedback was beautifully expressed. I do strive for these things — strive to achieve this — in writing, but perhaps I don’t realize it, had not quite articulated it. She made me see it.
Lest one think that I am full of myself, I make it a point to show appreciation for the writings of others when I feel moved by their writing to do so, and it’s duly appreciated.
A thought occurred to me this evening. I hope I can put it into words.
It involves a memory. On the way home on the bus, some words from long ago came back to me. I recalled them exactly, but could not recall who said them.
I have been blessed with a good memory. Think, I told myself. My memory works contextually. The words, I knew, were said by a male of my acquaintance. Not by someone in my immediate family or by a relative.
The words, spoken long ago, were as follows: “You are among those who love you.”
Why did they come back to me? Because of a feeling I have been having over the past couple of days, or perhaps the past week, of being loved and cherished by those closest to me, of being suffused with love from others. Of basking in the warmth of and feeling enveloped by it.
Did a former boss say this? A coworker? I doubted it. A friend? Did not seem to be the case.
Then, as is usually the case with an effort at recall, it came back to me. The words were spoken to me by my boss at Columbia University, a dean, when I was working there many years ago. I was his administrative assistant.
My boss was gay, which was common among academia, but he was not openly gay. It was a time when being openly gay could be damaging to one’s career. He was discreet and reticent about his personal life, yet we had a close relationship in the office and I got to know him well. He was an emotive person, who openly shared his daily trials and work frustrations with me, and his likes and dislikes. We had rapport on an intellectual level from the get go.
His remark did not amount to saying that he had erotic feelings towards me.
Putting his remark into a larger context today, remembering and reflecting upon it, it occurred to me — something that I have thought about occasionally — that people want to love and be loved. Not just to have love affairs and intimate relationships, or to be loved by spouse or family. Not solely or exclusively this. But to love others and be loved in return. By others, I guess one could say I mean to love humanity. Maybe it’s not always love; it’s more like affection. But people, excluding perhaps psychopaths and haters, want to express and share affection towards other people and from them in return. Even including people they don’t know well. I experience this all the time. Living in a big, supposedly impersonal city. I go into a store or office or cross paths with someone, and they want to make me feel liked, and to show that they took pleasure in meeting me, if only in passing.
So that, I would conclude, the default, the human condition, is to want to love or at least to be affectionate as well as appreciative. Not to dislike or hate. The latter is an aberration.
Roger W. Smith, “Tribute to Pierre Coustillas,” Supplement to The Gissing Journal, Volume LIL, Number 4, October 2018
Pierre Coustillas (1930-2018) was a French literary scholar and emeritus professor of English at the University of Lille. He was the world’s foremost authority on the works of the late-Victorian novelist George Gissing.
What experience or qualifications do I have as a rock or pop music critic? Zero. I heard these tunes over and over again growing up. They kind of get drilled into you and never leave you. The experience is a pleasant one.
Music has a place in practically everyone’s lives. I know, it’s a cliché. But popular music proves this is true.
Your armchair critic feels that the following was true of musical developments of my youth. That the first popular music I recall hearing, on the radio, consisted of Hit Parade tunes such as “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window” and “Love and Marriage” that were INSIPID, if catchy. Things changed — undeniably for the better — when rock and roll and doo wop came along. Rock music got worse in the Sixties, I feel — it’s probably a minority opinion. The singers were worse and the music was less emotionally engaging.
Enjoy the tunes. And my thoughts, if you care, for whatever they’re worth.
Addendum: Black singers and groups and the musical styles they seemed to have learned early on — or imbibed, so to speak — had a particular importance. It’s no accident, I feel, that they wrote and performed so many of the best songs. Lead tenor Tony Williams of the Platters is in a class by himself. His voice is spellbinding.
Please note that, although I haven’t been adding much content lately, the site is not inactive. I have been continually collecting materials and I intend to add some new posts within the next few months. Several posts are in preparation, one of which I am collaborating on with another Deriser researcher. A fair amount of the material is original, meaning that it was obtained from primary sources or sources which seem to have been hitherto overlooked.
I beg forgiveness on account of other writing assignments that have taken priority. I intend to get back to Dreiser soon.