By Beacon Creative Director George Cork Maul
For some reason I have become attached to a number of writers in my life. That seems strange because I’m not a writer and, truth be told, I have a serious lack of trust of the written word. I believe that words can only be used for telling lies and giving driving directions. I am an aural learner. I am fascinated by the way words sound, but what they actually mean escapes me. My favorite sentence is, “Which light switch lights which light?”
There are a significant number of “words people” on the East End of Long Island. I’m not sure what attracts them here, but once they arrive, they tend to stay. They are beasts of a wide variety. Some write poems, some write books, some pretend they are journalists, and some just read the signs. I love them all because they all contain one thing that makes me love them. They all have a profound love for a story. I’m attracted to that. Endlessly.
Because they are story people, they embed themselves in the fabric of the East End and they dig in deeper and deeper until they are barely recognizable as writers. Let me tell you about a few of them.
I know an auto mechanic who is a poet. He weaves a yarn each day and writes poems in his off time when he is not working or tending to his family. He is so dedicated to his endeavor that he barely eats. It’s a dead giveaway to anybody who is looking. His life is a daily yarn that he spins between oil changes. It should be the subject of a documentary entitled: A day in the life of a day of an axle grease poet.
I know another writer who has been studying to be a writer for 20 years. She hasn’t written anything significant yet. She’s still studying. But I can’t wait for the story to emerge. It’s a good one. She has lived a life filled with pain and she hides in a waterfront rental, staring out at Robins Island. I can tell by her morning walk that sometimes the pain is overwhelming and impossible to bear.
Writers are sensitive people. I laughingly refer to writers as depressed musicians. Their art is a form of release of the worst cerebral pain imaginable.
The best example of this is a writer I know who was the best man at my wedding. He lives in a group home now after he was homeless and disappeared for 20 years. At my wedding he gave a toast by holding up a piece of toasted Wonder Bread. Almost all writers have a profound attraction to puns, which makes no sense to me. My best man’s writing goes from ridiculous punning to a profound, sublime articulation of the truth, at the drop of a hat, without any notice.
And then there are the journalists. I know a lot of them. They are the ones caught between the truth and the story, as witnesses standing on the sidelines. They usually work so many hours that they become invisible in the landscape, just going from car crash to brushfire to town hall meeting. They forget who they are. Some of them are terribly boring writers. Most of them have a novel in their soul that they want to eject at some time in the future. One writer I know says she is a journalist but she only works as a barmaid. It’s a story in the making, but it might not actually make it to words for another 40 years. There are columnists who must be paid in cash so they’ll know they’re one step ahead. I don’t know what they’re trying to stay one step ahead of. My favorite journalist has already written a book and is trying to find her way back to writing a new one. Journalists are all watching the story of the East End and planning to put the complete story together into a master version with the subtitle, “The Story of the End of the East End.”
So what is it about Eastern Long Island that seems to bake in writers, like blueberries into a pancake?
It’s got to be the sense of story. I can’t help thinking that the East End in unique in the way we see our inner world and the way we view the outside world.
There is a common anecdote that people refer to about how we notice each other as neighbors. The way the story goes, someone notices one of their neighbors walking their dog in the morning at 9:30 a.m. Around 11 a.m., the dog walker gets a phone call: “Hey Ellie, I noticed you walked your dog this morning at 9:30. You usually walk it at 9:15, is everything ok?”
So much for the writer within us all, and our view of this neighborhood, and the sense of community we view the outside world through. Living on the East End is like living in a Steinbeck novel, a Norman Rockwell drawing and a Jackson Pollack painting all at the same time. And no one knows that better than… a writer.