I can't concentrate.
I have plenty of time. Little man is with his Dad. Laundry is done. My little foot heater thingy is on. A warm blanket on my lap. Hummus and veggies, ice water, a big comfy pillow. My Beans on my feet (my favorite LL Bean moccasins). All the things. I have all the things. And I am re-reading the same blasted paragraph over and over and over again, thinking about monkeys and spaceships and whether I'd like those steamed bun things GHT keeps talking about in their social, and whether to make those "poop" cupcakes for my kid, and that I really, really, do want chocolate. But I have "poop" in my head now, and who the hell came up with that? Stupid. Chocolate and poop should not go together. Just stop. I don't care if 4 year old boys think it's funny, they don't know things, they're 4. It poisons my chocolate experience.
I was hungry though. So, I thought... eat. Get food. I ate the food. Back to the script... still stuck. Dipped into the social again... NO, DON'T... I know. I did though. :shrugs:
Emma Gonzalez, you have my heart in the pocket of your rad, torn and shredded jeans. I wore those in the 80s, girl. Donnie Wahlberg style, but we won't talk about that. You're a force of nature and you've got the breath of the divine in you, no doubt. I can't imagine what you're all going through, I'm not in those rooms with you. I have so much Love for you and all these kids, ALL the kids. SO much. And I wish I was there in the park with you. And here's something silly... I have #March guilt. Or, more to the point, non-march guilt. I remember back in 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, going in to protest the war in Afghanistan, with a friend from school. We were ducking helicopters so we wouldn't be caught smoking our Parliaments on TV, because... we were idiots. #priorities Whatevs. But the raw energy, the movement of that day... being a part of something, part of a collective voice, that was so much bigger and stronger than we were... it was powerful. And I wanted to support these students, I wanted to be there.
I clicked a FB event, saying that YES, I was "interested." I'd go to a march. I'd support these kids, their trembling voices, their righteous and real tears. I would go. I wanted to go. Sisters, friends, compassionate hearts gathered in Central Park... I am WITH YOU, I will bleed with you, feel with you, heal with you! LET LOVE RULE!
And the day came... and I was at the beach, ocean-side, planting grass on the south shore, with hundreds of girl and boy scouts. Huh? So, what happened?
My best friend ever, decided a few years back to go back to school. It was a crazy-proud moment for a bestie to have. I gushed like any good bestie would, support her all I can, and I buy her lunches and food and stuff sometimes cuz... students be poor. I get it, I was there. Sandwich years. It's hard to change your life. And it's been a long road for her, going back, as an adult, when she could've surrendered to her station (<---- bullshit, no such thing) and gotten a mediocre job. She's rocked it, hard. And she deserves every accolade. So, when she wanted to volunteer for the Town and plant some dune grass, cuz that's who she is... hell yeah. Let's go. Cuz that's what besties do. She needed me, and Emma Gonzalez wouldn't know if I was missing...so... it was actually very cool. I had no idea that locals did this: replanting sea-grass along the sand dunes on coastal beaches to help with land erosion. Go Gaia. <3
And the whole thing... this whole week... student protests, gun reform, college years, finishing this book, it's all got my wheels spinning all over the place. Remembering my own path... to get to right now...
To have the time (which is a resource) to create...anything... is indulgent, indeed, in a world where many can't eat or get clean drinking water and still struggle for survival. I'm always looking to improve and grow and create, create, create...because I can't not. But... I sure as hell appreciate how far I've come, and where I'm at, and what my blessings are. And we can be grateful while reaching forward for more. We can be both.
Oh, the odd jobs I picked up. Cleaning my pops' house for allowance. The babysitting. Blockbuster Video days were good times with great friends and shitty hours, and I loved it. Late nights and cheesy diners with solid people. And I remember working at a local bakery, for the female equivalent of the soup-nazi. This broad was ferocious. "DECRUMB THAT PLATE, SAVAGE! SMILE BIGGER, BIGGER, NOT THAT MUCH. No cookie for you!" I'm exaggerating. But wow, I still have nightmares, sometimes. I got my hand stuck in a gigantic, evil, fresh-orange-juice machine. It was intense. I started writing my first-ever novel there, which will never see the light of day. Ever. But the things college students put up with... Anyway. I did what I had to do... to get through school. Because I was hungry. Like Scarlett ripping down her mother's drapes and scrapping for every financial opportunity, I was just hungry.
"As God is my witness, they're not going to lick me..." - Gone With the Wind
So, I appreciate anyone who goes through it as an adult: it's degrading and humiliating and isolating and wonderful and inspiring and magical, all at once. And it was worth it, in so many ways.
Higher ed is about so, so, so much more than that piece of paper. That's honestly the last thing it's about. Schools, in general, are a microcosm. A training ground. We learn who we are, what we're good at, we learn to form relationships, we get exposed to new writers, artists, thinkers, new ideas. We learn debate, we learn to form concise arguments based on critical thinking, not just blind repetitious rhetoric and nonsense. We learn originality over regurgitation. We learn to write, really write. To craft structure, narrative, flow, semantics, grammar, usage, and proper spelling. We learn the mechanics of language, and get real-time critique, and the motivation to improve our craft. We get exposed to philosophy, we learn that people have been pondering what we ponder since the first fool looked up at the night sky! We get exposed to new and different people and peer groups. We learn... our story. That of humanity, as much as we can, through observation, study, science, and art. We learn to discuss. We learn to form a skillset. We learn to evolve. We appreciate our minds, we honor science, we celebrate creativity and the freedom to express. It's about so much more than books and paper.
Any good college ought to teach its students how to think, debate, reconcile, come together, move forward, and solve problems. Mine did, at least. And it was a simple state school, right here, in New York. Because we get out what we put in. And when I finally went back to school, mid-late twenties? I was all in. For me, for my future, whatever it looked like.
Because I'd been so broke that I couldn't get my last 7 bucks out of an ATM. Because I ran out of that last package of Ramen and I was always run down and sick, because I was malnourished. Because I couldn't afford a doctor, and my medical issues were real and needed real care. Because I lost an uncle to cancer, then a grandmother to a broken heart, and she spoke often about the great privilege that I had as a woman... being able to get an education, how easy I could have it, and how I should soak up every scrap that I could because women before me fought hard for it. Just...for the opportunity, that I pissed away right after high school. There were so many reasons... but I'm glad that I went back.
I started at a community college. The n'er do well, the screw up, the black sheep, the class-cutter, dark and brooding, borderline/suicidal songwriter, that weird sullen kid who thought the world was against her... went back to college and got straight As and charmed her teachers, with a smile. Because I wanted to be there. It's funny, looking back... and knowing where I am now.
I wanted to be an advertising executive back then. Skirt suits and power pumps and print ads... A city girl. A loft on Madison, a weekend house in the mountains. I wanted to design a commercial, with my own slogan, for a top brand, to air during Superbowl. That was my big dream when I started college, after years in retail management. I didn't want to sell, on the floor... that was peanuts, I wanted to sell brands, I wanted to entice entire social groups and drive their customer behavior with my words and images. I wanted to find out what their problems were and find all the things that would solve them... and point out solutions, with ad messaging. Jingles and one-liners and storyboards and product placement, I was all about it. It sounds so shocking, almost, coming out of me, now. How free-spirited and artsy I've become, right? I wasn't always this way. I was cut-throat, once.
I took Marketing, PR, Sales 1 and 2, Advertising, Direct Marketing, as well as Psych classes, so I could get into people's heads. Sociology, to understand human compulsions and behaviors. Desktop Publishing, to learn about design, graphics, computers... and those lessons still stick. The programs, however, have been long-since outgrown. (Does anyone remember Quark Express? And Photoshop 1?) I remember practicing cold-calling in class, and mock sales calls, with my professor. I was selling "Doggie-Mints." I cut and pasted my magazine ads. No... I cut (with scissors) and pasted (with a glue stick.) Then made color copies of the new image. Homework was a lot of work. And I would dress up, on my presentation day, and sell my mints. I loved it. I was good at it. I was funny, snarky, and charming, my work was often an example for the class of how to do it right. I nailed the advertising spiral and could follow my simple ideas into production and distribution, theoretically. I got the concepts, they made sense. And I kept getting high As. I was blown away. Up until then, I assumed that I was stupid and lazy, a troublemaker... based on my high school experience.
Just before applying to 4 year schools, to transfer, we all (business-program classmates and I) went to see some self-made millionaire entrepreneur guy, at the Westbury Music Fair. I can't remember his name, I think he was a big deal in hospitality at the time.
And I remember the moment... I got shook. He had a hard Long Island accent. Fuggedaboutit.
"This kind of life isn't for everyone. You go after your dream, you get lonely. Not everyone wants you to get there. They'll throw you off, convince you to take a desk job, play it safe, get that 401K. You gotta want it. You gotta be okay alone, hungry, and restless... and you gotta keep going, til it hits. Til it works. It's hard work. You gotta have what it takes, and guess what... most people don't. That's the truth..." Something like that. My idealistic shimmer began to fade, at that moment. I remember the doubt oozing in, fast. Did I have it? What it takes? I didn't know... how do you... know? It's the same thing that threw me off music. Am I enough to try this? Can I do it? Can I handle how hard this might be? What if I'm not that one-in-a-million?
When I was young, every dream was accompanied with a proviso: Don't bother.
I switched to Liberal Arts, soon after. I fell into the humanities, where it was cozy and safe and artistic...and I would stay there, until library school. Until... now, actually. Art, literature, philosophy. And perhaps... all is as it should be. Perhaps. But.
There were times, while taking Women's Studies classes, and finding my roar, my voice, that I began to consider entrepreneurship again. Everything comes back around... I made my own soaps, lotions, sugar scrubs. Mimi's Garden, it was called. I had an 800 number, business cards, an email address, a Yahoo Business page... (they were big in the 90s-00s). I made one sale to the local 5 and dime, where I also... worked. (Yeah, she totally felt sorry for me.) And I realized how much I had to do... better labels that didn't soak through, a website, selling, phone calls, networking, craft fairs... I could do all of that, I was sociable, smart, driven, creative, but... there it was again. Was I enough? Could I follow through, could I handle how hard it would get? Could I keep investing into it? Was it worth it?
That speech, that one speech, from that one man... that was meant to inspire... was tinged with negativity and bitterness and condescension and had forever seeped into my head as a warning... that I probably wouldn't make it. Because I might not "have what it takes." Wow... funny how ideas are formed. Maybe he was right, and maybe not, but, I'll tell you this. Whoever this "big shot" was... I can't even remember his name, and I'm pretty sure he faded into obscurity as the years went on. So... there's that.
When I got my Masters, I really learned how to research, how to ask the right questions, and how to organize and access information for optimal flow and knowledge access. You'd be surprised how much learning "the reference interview" can improve your daily quality of life and cut down on bullshit and nonsense. Just getting to the core issue, to the heart of it, when folks are accustomed to dancing around topics out of habit... "what are you really looking for? What do you really want?" And solving the problem from there. It's a game-changer. Some of the relationships that I made in that program were life-changing, in small ways. The degree got me a professional certificate, to be sure, and that got me a great career, eventually. But again, the lessons I learned in those classrooms, beyond the assignments, were priceless.
And later, I went back for a professional certificate in management. And I met amazing people, some I still talk to, and my teacher... taught more about life, gut feelings, relationships, common sense, compassion, respect, and ethical behavior... than what any curriculum could tell us. His class made me a better human. And I was introduced to Leaders Eat Last, which changed my workflow dynamics, forever. Thank you, Sinek. A cared for staff, who eats first, will always go that extra mile and put in the time and effort. Morale is everything. We learned about gut instincts and intuition from Blink, thank you Gladwell. And we learned all about crisis management management styles from My Iceberg is Melting. I love this little book... we were exposed to so much great reading and so many perspectives in that class. And the greatest lessons were about life and leadership... not merely nonprofit or business management. Which is how it should be. Great ideas have legs and wings. Mediocre and narrow ones sit and get left behind.
I find myself at a crossroads, sometimes. Having spent most of my adult life working in service of... people... learning their behaviors, patterns, energy, attitudes, motivations, inclinations, moods, and all the rest. There is a very real part of me that remembers the allure and feistiness of that wannabe advertising executive: fire and sass and creative hustle; hard work and fun rewards. All-night projects, new idea butterflies, presentation jitters. There was a magic to it, an energy, a synergy, in working with a good team. Still, there's a part of me that wants to merchandise any good idea at the drop of a hat, from promo ad to shelf display. If I had the means. Because it's fun, because it's a challenge, because I'd get to employ everything I know. There is a fascinating science and thrill behind it, that used to keep me going for hours.
I get a taste of that in book displays, and PR and so forth, but it's quite different. Libraries are about people and service and information and advocacy, literacy and community, learning and growth... not bottom lines and cash flow. They should be anyway.
So. I have a stifled business woman inside of me that's been saying things, lately. And I'm listening, and I'm curious, and I'm open to where she wants to go and how that might optimize my creativity in some way.
But I also have this wild streak, the artist inside, that resists conventions and rules and anything exacting and spreadsheety. Ew, math. (Although, when I focus, I'm actually quite crafty with numbers. It's just not as fun.)
I am a paradox. A hurricane in a teacup. I just don't really make sense, do I? I spent an evening, recently, looking up MBA programs, because I wanted a challenge and I miss that side of myself, sometimes. I miss that roar. The honesty, the ambition, the hustle. The integrity in doing it right and getting results, despite the fleeting emotional hub-bub. The joy of taking an idea to notes to flow charts to storyboards to hard copy and backing it all up with a presentation. Going to battle for your idea, standing firm on how it will do good and help others in some way. And there's something to that, to... the presenting. Perhaps it's the same part of me that craves performance. An audience. And not just any old attention, but the energy of a rising and falling crowd. The vulnerability. The challenge in it. It's exciting, it's... alive. Pure potential, raw essence to be sculpted with new and emergent ideas.
Anyway. Here's what I have to say about that, if I could reach through the ether to my younger, doubting self: you just don't know what you'll excel at, what you'll love, what you'll find joy in, where your success will come from and what that success will look like. You just don't and can't know, not yet. So, go forth, and try it all! Follow your heart: try, try, try. All of it. Wear it out, with trying. You might be as good as anyone else who might try. And just as worthy. And it's not about whether you can "handle what it takes," it's about finding the right fit. If it's the right thing for you, it'll work, it'll click into place, and you'll handle it. But you won't know what works and what doesn't until you try it out. Gain experience. Try things. Hot shots and big-talkers like to make themselves sound pretty darn special. It's mostly smoke and mirrors, though. The great ones make less of a fuss, they just... get it done, and keep improving. Their work stands for itself, they don't need to pimp themselves off as a good this and a good that. They just are. i think the trick is in finding that thing... that you can do... that stands on its own. It just is. They don't tell you "I'm a great painter..." because their paintings are already great. Their art speaks for them. Right? I think it's the same with anything. Find the thing you do that cuts through everything else and communicates what you're about. And don't talk about the thing too much, just do the thing.
Maybe. What do I know? I know I'm procrastinating and I should be doing something else... so I'm off to dig in, renewed and refocused.
But try. Just go try. And try more. Keep trying. The magic, is in the trying, anyway. That's what makes a life-story worth telling, really... all of the glorious things that we... actually tried.
Hi. That's me. Baby me. Toddler me. Right about the age my son is now. The seventies, man. My brother had given me a haircut, *just before* school pictures. Mom was pleased. :sarcasm font: I think it worked for me.
1970s... Avocado greens and chocolatey browns and burnt oranges and that putrid vomit-colored maize-yellow. Bell-bottoms. My Mom's disco albums. Yeah, vinyl. I learned to dance the Hot Chocolate from one of them. I learned about (and fell in love with) Donna Summer from another.
I saw my grandparents a lot. I had one grandmother who delivered Avon, knew everyone in town (and they still mention her, to this day) and she lived in house dresses (look it up, they're like mu mus..) I had another grandmother who was a NOW (National Organization for Women) cardholder, worked in the city, commuted in sneakers and changed to pumps at the office, knew all the subways, and took us to see Broadway shows once a year. One was Grandma...one was Mimi. Can you guess who was who?
I loved them both, dearly. But I associated with Mimi the most. Honest. Eye-rolling. Sharp-tongued. A riotous and often inappropriate sense of humor, behind closed doors. She was the one who'd laugh so hard that tears would stream down. I get my fire, my sass, my passion, the marinara in my veins, my joie de vivre...from that side. The Italian side.
My other Grandmother, on my father's side (British/Dutch/Canadian)... had lessons to teach, just in her presence. In her stories. I wouldn't appreciate them until much later. They lived hard through the depression, my father's parents, and they both worked at Grumman. They had four boys, and they both worked, and rarely saw each other. They were scrappy, they had to be. They were thrifty, because they learned to be. My grandmother, boy, she could... make a dollar holler. She hit up garage sales, tag sales, thrift stores, and always gave to others the little that she could. We often got new school clothes from the rag bag (donated clothes that we got from the church in Glen Cove, cheap). So she'd often give us things to help out, even though they weren't Rockefellers, either. She wasn't a barrel of laughs or charm or high-fashion. She was a tough old broad. She got hit by a Mack truck crossing the street and broke a hip, in her... sixties? She was up an delivering Avon again, pretty soon after. That's how she was. Tough as nails. Vocal. Opinionated. In your face if you didn't submit. I get my grit and low-bullshit-meter from her.
My childhood was informed by some powerful women, although I didn't see it at the time. I won't tell you about MY mother, because, well, she's alive and well and reads this and it's just none of your business.
But my grandmothers: one was fighting the patriarchy, working, earning her worth as best as she could, trying to lift that glass ceiling up... just a bit. Caring for herself, putting herself first. She came from an Italian family that let the boys go to college and the girls... learned to cook and keep a husband happy. From the get-go, she said... "this stinks." She just knew how wrong it was, how it didn't align with who she was. My mother's side is where I get a lot of my... resistance to conform into a role. Like Becky Sharp, Scarlet O'Hara, Jo March, and so many other controversial figures of women in literature. I will hardly just go and be a wife... Because this fire burns inside... for more. For passion, for exploration, for challenge, for vibrance, for intellect, and color and travel and excitement. For a LIFE, not a sentence.
And I think, through most of her life, (I have a recording of an oral history I did with her, that I cherish), she silently stewed and let a fire grow inside, that would emerge later. And it did.
They're both gone, now, all of my grandparents are, and I feel it's okay to discuss them here.
So entwined with my current writing, Wild Horses and Mistakes, I set out on an intentional journey... call it shamanic, call it psychology, call it catharsis, call it healing the inner child, call it whatever you want... it's all the same to me, with different labels. We are but a story, and we can revisit our stories and pull meaning out, to inform the present. It's all a big spiral dance, around and around and around.
We go through childhood and collect all these stories, these ideas, that other people make up about us, and if we already feel small... we believe them. And it takes years and years of crawling out of those stories, and becoming our own people.
I can see it now, the whole pattern, as it's taught to us (of course, not everyone follows this):
birth: we're given a name, an identity, and put into the "system"
school years: our teachers teach us to memorize things, and often scold us for our originality or finding our own answers. We're often dumbed down for being resourceful or creative. It must be done their way, or we get "bad marks." So, we must get good marks, and so we conform. And often, if we're lucky, we find those one or two special teachers or counselors, that connect... and keep us going.
college: optional, but many take this route. To... fit the right mold to get the right job, to "be what they want," so they get hired to work for someone else's dream.
then...marriage, kids, two cars, vacations: and so we get out of school, we find careers, we find a partner to play this game alongside us. And for a while it's good, life is good. We played a good game, we got there! We did it! We ticked off everything on the card, look!
And then... those lost embers of glowing imagination, of magic, of dreams, of non-conformity start to bubble up through the cracks and demand change. This isn't what I thought. I did everything right, how come I'm not happy? I have a good life? Enter the mid-life crisis. Sometimes, if they're lucky and already have a healthy relationship, couples ride through it together and they both change. Often, they split because one will not change for whatever reason. Or worse, they stay together, yet grow apart, living a show within a show, for the kids, for the neighbors, and everyone is miserable.
Or... maybe you're still single, and none of that affects you at all, and you just feel like you're in a hamster wheel. Waiting for real life to start. For that ship to come in. For something to finally make sense and give you the unmistakable direction that you've been seeking. We've a got a wacky sort of society that breaks us apart and we scramble to put ourselves together again, later in life. And some of us don't make it that far, we become that system and lose our identities, altogether. (But not really, I truly believe that there is always a spark that stays lit.)
I'm not sure what I'm rambling about today, it feels a bit messy. And maybe that's the point, but it has to do with childhood, dreams, and how our fears and self-esteem are managed. I look at this little bright-faced girl and I wonder how she did it. How did she make it to now? And she can't tell me, because she had no idea. She was a child. Innocent. She just woke up and showed up. it was later that she started hiding and living in made-up worlds that made much more sense.
I've been doing this work, this self-study, this inner-journey for a few years now. And at the outset, it was about the present and the immediate stresses of life. And then it was about adulthood, in general, and then adolescence. And so on. It's like time-traveling, revisiting my life, all the way back to here... to early childhood. I think deep within each of us are these innocent children who want to play, dream, fly, sing, dance, and maybe see outer space. And it doesn't always work out that way, because we start believing in the limitations that others give us, throughout our growing up.
And this... is the mess. The bags, the burdens, the stifled dreams in our backpack, that we walk through life with. Unrealized dreams. Attention not given. Perceptions of love withheld. Mistakes, abuses, pain, trauma, fear. Carried forward, in our bones, in our minds, in our memories. Our...mess.
I first got into this intentional self-development, living with my eyes and heart wide open, fully aware, life-out-loud, hoping to heal. To get there. To that place, where I healed it all. And life would be a walk in the sunshine where nothing caused me trouble anymore, because I did all my work. Yay, I'm fixed, let's go heal the world! :throws glitter in the air:
:insert ironic laugh here:
No, unfortunately. And for me, freedom, epiphany, boundless creativity, inner change and transformation comes not in my ultimate and grand healing... but in deep acceptance that I will always have this pack on my back; my mess. My stuff. That stuff can change, things go in, things come back out. New experiences and joy go in, fear and pain go out. But then with adventure comes risk, and more sometimes more pain, so in that goes. And this, I think, is Life. That pack will always be there, it's my story, it's who I am and where I've been. And stories change... I'm constantly emptying and refilling the pack. But I'm owning it. Seeing it, knowing it, being with it. And traveling along anyway, open and trusting, knowing that pack will always be there. And that's okay. Because we've all got one. And I start thinking more about... searching through each other's backpacks rather than... feigning perfection. Because it's a lie. One I won't buy anymore.
And that little girl? That young, sweet, innocent little Stacie? She's still in there and when she's scared or nervous or overly exuberant or excitable, I just carry her too, with everything else. I pick her up, hold her close, and carry her with me (symbolically, of course). Because I can keep her safe and I can do my best to bring her what she wants. I think that's what all of our anxieties are about, really. That little young boy or young girl that has fears and anxieties and doubts and worries... but also, also... big dreams and hope and resilience and magic and wildness and that wonderful, playful, beautiful optimism.
Hello, heart. I see you. I'm listening.
I thought I had come to California looking for horses. That's what drew me out here; the wide open land given to these majestic creatures; throwbacks to a wilder and forgotten west. I swooned for their photos, I fell into them. The wildness that was still in these creatures, the neighing and bucking and kicking and running into the horizon, manes in the wind. Unbridled. Free. Charging mares, leading herds, tending foals. And perhaps I will still find them when that time is right.
But upon landing out here, I was taken by the water, foremost.
The Atlantic shores are beautiful, but for some reason, these waters...the Pacific...are different. The shores she touches. The stories she swallows, the secrets she holds. Oh, these waters hold so much. They have seen and felt so much. And in that, as a whole, as a body of water, a being in its own right... she is that much more calming. It's a powerful, cleansing presence. A deep healing. Not to mention the sheer majestic and aesthetic beauty of the area; it's no wonder writers and artists flock here over the decades. The vistas are unmatchable.
But Steinbeck. I was first hit as I toured Cannery Row, which is now a giant consumer-wonderland. Which is fine. I bought a souvenir or two, some t-shirts for my son. A refrigerator magnet. I'm a sucker for that stuff, within reason. My first day there, as I was walking up and down the streets, weary from a few hours in the car after leaving San Francisco, I snuck around back, behind a closed shop, to the boardwalk. Or pier, whichever. All the chairs were turned upside-down on the tables; this particular deck was empty.
I considered Steinbeck's writing, his growing up in Salinas, and his visits to this very bay and other points along the coast. And the man, the good friend Ed Ricketts, who inspired Doc. His trouble with marriage and relationships, in general. And the water! Oh, it's impressive. Overwhelming.
I had read a little bit about Steinbeck the night before, because someone in San Francisco mentioned that the area was great for writers, being that it's "Steinbeck-land." Now, of course, I knew who he was, I read Of Mice and Men in school. Grapes of Wrath. I did the assigned reading, but never delved fully into the man that he was: his motivations, his sorrows, his dreams.
As I toured the area and the Steinbeck exhibit in Salinas, and as I read more about the man... I felt such heartbreak. Disillusionment. Internal battle. Here was a man who saw great injustices and great stories and he had to get them out. He had to. And they were good stories with great themes. What I found heartbreaking, nearly tragic, was how his novel The Winter of Our Discontent was received and critiqued, as it won the Nobel Prize for Literature. But it was more than that.
John Steinbeck was a highly sensitive man, it would seem. A deep, mysterious, brooding, Piscean artist, who felt that the world was spinning off its rails, losing its morality. He saw the coming of the fifties and sixties and to him it was a breakdown in society and decent values. He felt things deeply. He felt his world crumbling and wanted to write about it. Fight it, perhaps. But at a minimum, provide a chronicle. He went out on the road with his dog, Charley, and wanted to revisit and recapture the America that he once knew, after spending time away, in New York and Long Island. he wanted to see real people, small towns, local bars, not the affluence and facade that he'd been living in.
"I nearly always write - just as I nearly always breathe..." - John Steinbeck
And later, when his novel was shunned so hard, despite praise from others, he put his pen down and never wrote another novel. And to feel that kind of pain and humiliation inside, is just heartbreaking to me. And I could feel how soothing those waters were, and must've been, to him. And to so many.
In reading Travels With Charley, just now, being that I was so taken with the man and his story and his need to see the country... I can't help but reach back and pull some lessons out...or some parallels, at a minimum. It's what I do.
Steinbeck came from a family of Republicans, and changed a bit when he saw more of the world and got out his his hometown. His perspectives on Life changed. When he'd returned home, arguments would ensue:
"Let's just be friendly and loving. No politics tonight." And ten minutes later we would be screaming at each other.
And so it was, and so it still is. Steinbeck knew he was nearing his last days. He felt his world deteriorating. I can't imagine the ache inside. Well, actually, I can. I think so many of us can, which is why he and so many writers like him are so resonant. Particularly now, in this climate, when the world feels divided and torn up, much like it did then. Those of us who truly do feel deeply want to find things to mend; to help that ache. And it's a humanity-sized ache, a global ache. There is a real and dire need to heal someone, something, anything, everything. Or a touch of madness grows in the absence of that longed-for resolution. And in that madness, oh, does distraction blossom. Numb, numb, numb the ache. With a drug, a habit, a spoon, a television, a drink, an over-zealous need to disappear into something other than what is, rather than live a healthy balanced life. And it's not easy, we've all got our things. Hopefully our addictions don't harm and make us ill.
And how did moderation become such a rogue idea?
We seem to be commanded by a world that favors extremes. Extremes in diet, in entertainment, in lifestyles, in just about everything. Nice, easy, simple living has become a lifestyle choice, something that has to be taught and remembered, rather than...just how things are. We have to be told and reminded with blips and beeps and timers and gadgets to relax and breathe and sleep and eat. I get it, John Steinbeck, I get it. The players have changed, the scenery is different, but it's the same game. And now, we have the internet. And do you know how often you're meme'd John? A lot.
I walked the coast again, and thought, in imaginary conversation with this writer I'd become enmeshed and obsessed with...
Despite the flack you got about that one book, John Steinbeck, I mean... wow, man. You did it. Didn't you? Your books are required reading in schools and libraries. Iconic. Champion of writing the proletariat. Great sense of place and giving voice to the everyman. You are part of the canon, good sir. I wish you could've seen it happen, in the flesh.