Thursday, February 27, 2014
This In-Between Month, Day 11: Happy Birthday Mr. Steinbeck
Today Mr. John Steinbeck would have been 112. I have often pondered following the same route he took across America with his giant poodle Charley. Load up a little camper trailer, give it some literary name, and visit point by point every place Mr. Steinbeck did in his delightful little book Travels With Charley in Search of America. To chronicle how America has changed, what she has become in the 50 years since the book was published. But of course my idea lacks all originality, having been done by countless literary enthusiasts and travel hounds for decades. In fact one such fellow, a Mr. Bill Steigerwald followed the supposed route and found some of the travelogue to be in the kindest words, littered with artistic license. You can read his gentle de-bunking here.
But it's the thing. The doing and the writing about it. Steinbeck describes it this way in the book: "...a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any here..." And in me I certainly find that same desire, and mirrored in my soul, perhaps even more intensely, the desire to write about it. And not just America, but every strange sun-soaked Island, every frozen gunpowder grey country.
How could you not want to sleep out in the wild desert when Steinbeck describes it this way? "At night in this waterless air the stars come down just out of reach of your fingers..." and "...there are mysteries in the desert, stories told and retold of secret places in the desert mountains..." But then to write the stories of touched stars and of the mysteries of those mountains. Wow.
In the Atlantic 1962 review of Travels With Charley they wrote: "This is a book to be read slowly for its savor, and one which, like Thoreau, will be quoted and measured by our own experience."
Isn't that just it, the reason writer's write, maybe one of the reasons Jesus spoke in parables, that in communicating stories we measure our own experience against others. And in that we find the big truths, the universal ones. And at the same time take the big things, the universal images and ideals and make them all our own. When someone reads us, when they feel less alone, when some turn of phrase makes their breath stick in their lungs or some titanic weight of sorrow shipwreck and sink deep inside their chest. That's the payoff, it is for me. To communicate truth in such a way that somewhere someone wants to meet my tender Savior, to communicate beauty in such a way that someone somewhere places their hand on their chest to still their beating heart, and falls a little more in love. Ahhh to be that writer.