Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Life as a Trained Seal

Okay, according to John Steinbeck, a little above a trained seal. A little below clowns.

For the past 6 months or so, I've made numerous trips to Salinas. On nearly every one of them, I've meant to stop by the National Steinbeck Center there. There were reasons that I didn't manage to do it until last week, most of them (shamefully) having to do with beating traffic through the Bay area which is an impossible task anyway and I should have abandoned it before I ever started.

Which is to say that last week I finally visited the Steinbeck Center. I wasn't originally a fan of Steinbeck. They made us read The Pearl and The Red Pony in school and I didn't like either of them. Then one day I picked up a copy of East of Eden that was on my parents' bookshelves. Wow. Just wow. Steinbeck had me. He had me for life once I read Cannery Row and couldn't stop laughing at the The Great Frog Hunt. And The Grapes of Wrath? Suffice it to say that my grandfather was a sharecropper and it was only really because of a mule that kicked him in the kidney in Enid, Oklahoma that my own mother wasn't an Okie.

It turned out there was a lot I didn't know about Steinbeck. For instance, I didn't know he never wrote fiction again after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. I actually didn't know he'd won the Nobel Prize at all. There were a few other details like that and more, but what I loved were the quotes about writing that they had posted on the walls.

There's the one I mentioned at the top about writers being a little below clowns and a little above trained seals. Then there's this one:

The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.

So those are a little cynical, try this one on for size:

In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable.

And this:

The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.

And finally, from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

Furthermore, the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit - for gallantry in defeat - for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally-flags of hope and of emulation.

It all made me a little weepy. Then, I saw the quote (which they have etched into a beer mug in the gift store) by Steinbeck's good friend, Ed Ricketts: There's nothing like that first sip of beer. Supposedly he said it after waking from a 3-day bender.

Cheers to you, drunk writers! I felt like you were there with me in Salinas.


Stephanie Doyle said...

Awesome quotes Eileen. Coming from him it makes me feel like being a write is actually important.

Molly O'Keefe said...

oh!! I wish I had been!! What a cool thing - more museums for writers. Steinbeck is one of my favorites. Franny and Zooey (he wrote that, right) The one about the roofbeams and carpenters? See how smart I am?

What an inspirational trip!

Maureen McGowan said...

Oh, that horse racing quote...That one really resonates right now. Wow.

Eileen said...

I think Franny and Zooey might be Salinger, Molly. But there were tons of stuff that Steinbeck wrote that I didn't know about.

Anonymous said...

Wow! that is such a cool museum... I am very uneducated when it comes to the classic American writers.. .i have to fix that

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