Decisions, Change… and John Steinbeck

Decisions, Change… and John Steinbeck

Jon Patrick Sage

There are times when life, after a long while of being steered in one direction or another, begins to turn. Once the whole thing starts to waver, for better or for worse, it’s nearly too late to stop or regain the control which might have been once-held. Almost imperceptibly at times, especially in the beginning of change, the scenery doesn’t really vary, it only gets to be a deeper or possibly a lighter shade of blue… or grey– maybe a fading grey, as if the December sky herself had chosen to rain in that particular fashion which diminishes the sky and the earth all at once; until only a foggy haze rises up from what might have been, hanging in the frigid air… until it is whisked away by a hasty whisper of wind.

It’s hard to explain, but at certain times, I find myself consoled by a book, as if it were an old friend, and the older the friend may be, the less often I feel the need to open the covers, and peer inside. I already know what to expect. … I certainly know what to feel! An apprehension? Perhaps a wonderment that… the story doesn’t change–it is only I that changes. Myself and those around me. We grow older, sometimes wiser, always more distant from the page the last time we visited… I see myself in my books, and at times, it’s a sorrowful sight. I would prefer, possibly just once, for the pages to change their tune, perhaps if the pages were written in a different prose, or described something other than what I knew they would describe.

I visit an old friend, one of my dearest, and it is East of Eden. I am too the point in my love of Steinbeck that I no longer need to pay attention to the characters in which he paints the pages with. Steinbeck is always like that; he is so conversational, that even if there are 5 pages of nothing except for the description of scenery, perhaps of the location and hidden beauty of the Salinas Valley, all is obscured by the dreadfully sharp tones which follow in the multitude of dialogues. More often than not, I find myself leaving the story just about the time that drought finally swallows up whatever is left of King County, and I might even drift in an out of some other book.

They’re all the same… take your pick, any of his classics, or even the unknowns, although I have a hard time seeing how any could be called unknown. In fact, the suggestion makes the whole proposition seem as if it’s a put on show of sorts, surely there are NO Steinbeck’s which are unknown. Impossible, for that would mean that pieces of me; parts of my heart and soul; teardrops and fleeting smiles; small portions of what was left of me–before I grew into this–would also be unknown, and I can’t have that.

I can’t be unknown… it matters not if I write an opus worthy to occupy the “1st Edition Section” of my Steinbeck Library; it’s up there on the top shelf. If I never breathed another word onto paper, it wouldn’t matter. I’ve already lived them, you see. I’ve already experienced what was set out for me to experience, and oh my; it was always under such a grand setting. I leaf through the first page or three of any novel, and I already know the flavor of the piece. It’s akin to cracking open an old cellar door, and discovering the smell; the overwhelming wetness of the brick and mortar… the dirt floor… the century old canning jars, neatly stacked in dust; which greets you, even before you are able to find a light.

The place, by its own being, gives itself away! Such is the case with any great book… they cannot hide from the scrupulous reader; this reader who needs only the feel of the paper and a first couple pages, to smell and feel the book, and then to know all therein contained. But, the book does not change– the pages are always the same. At times, we look at them from another angle; perhaps from another year later in life, and they look different, but they are the same, and they will stay the same.

We–my friends … We have changed, and all the world with us. The pages, while they are folded up into themselves, hidden from the world, and starved of the cycle of the sun and the moon, are devoid of change… They are eternal and unchanging works of art; things of beauty.

The haze rising up from the freezing ground is the same as it always was. Its’ simply a pheromone of the science! I have changed, and rightfully so. It is I who has desired change, and now it has manifested itself, happening to form at this time of year, when old meets new, and then just as quickly, as new becomes old again. I am already old, …at least in this search.

My sun will rise, tomorrow and the next, over a world which I already can sense as readily as I sensed the dampness of the cellar, of the feel of the text imprinted within the page… Within … the page! It is only for me to now follow, and finish the read, which I have chosen to open! The letters are already present upon the paper, and although this paper is very old already, it will be the first time I have seen it. …

This is not Steinbeck, and it’s not the search for a distant memory in a rum and rain soaked row of brothels. This is simply the prose of life, and although he does add flavor to whatever is before me now–this is the book I have pulled from the shelf. I have not written it, I have only chosen it, as an acceptable avenue. I believe the typeset is fair, and the margins proportioned… I am anxious to view the inner print, obscured till then by the rice paper. I have not yet read this book, although I have wanted to know its ending.

Page one is moments away, and once the book is opened… no; once the book is chosen, it is too late to put it back, and resurrect the old one. I hear the voice in which the prose is written, and I am not frightened; it is the language… it has the flavor, and the feel, which I have grown accustomed to. I will know, once I reach the other side of this beginning, in whose voice was this written, and how well did it harmonize with my own voice, and with those who are my friends… my other books– my other portions.

We shall soon see.