Last night I was asked about Steinbeck. If I like him. And the answer is no, not entirely, not overly much. (NB:East of Eden is widely exempt from that apathy.) So of course I wake up to read this (literary karma? I feel like there should be a more concise word for the phenomenon). To which my answer is actually, yes.
JOHN E. STEINBECK
A Letter to His Son | New York | 10 November 1958
We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.
-- if you are in love -- that's a good thing -- that's about the best
thing that can happen to anyone. Don't let anyone make it small or
light to you.
Second -- There are several kinds of love. One is a
selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for
self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an
outpouring of everything good in you -- of kindness and consideration
and respect -- not only the social respect of manners but the greater
respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable.
The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can
release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you
didn't know you had.
You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply -- of course it isn't puppy love.
I don't think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than
anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it --
and that I can tell you.
Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.
The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.
you love someone -- there is no possible harm in saying so -- only you
must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying
must take that shyness into consideration.
Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.
sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or
another -- but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.
Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I'm glad you have it.
will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will
make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be
very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more
help than I can.
And don't worry about losing. If it is right, it happens -- The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.
It is Sunday and I can breathe again. Laying across the floor of the nook, both arms at crane's angles over my head. It's snowing outside. I blink and breathe. Open and close and open. In and out and in.
Not that I haven't been breathing all along; I generally try to make a habit of it. Granted, there was that moment when my brother's basketball game was down to two points and 2.8 seconds and I don't think I was breathing then, not until Blake hit the three and March had nothing on that madness. Then driving home over point of the mountain the wind was doing double-time in the whiteout so I held my breath in some sort of counterploy, like maybe if there were a little less air in the world it wouldn't be trying so hard to rip me off the road. And okay, when Cumberbatch took a dive off St. Bart's the impact fair knocked the wind right out of me. Other than that, I breathe.
I guess what I mean is that this is different. There is something about Sunday breathing.
Poe wrote some seriously crazy stuff, and not just occasionally but always. One story's about a guy who literally loses his breath and, instead of dropping dead, heads out to hunt it down. In the ensuing adventure, Mr. Lacko'breath (really) breaks both his arms under a carriage, fractures his skull against an errant trunk, has his ears cut off by a curious surgeon, is condemned to death by hanging, finds himself dead and buried, and therewith carries on a conversation with the neighbor corpse before effecting their escape. The protagonist remains nonchalant, however, absolutely ambivalent, running commentary like any vaguely interesting afternoon story, punctuated by the occasional philosophy. At one point the guy's mentally repeating passages from the "Omnipresence of the Deity" the way some might count sheep. Like I said. Crazy.
It's all for the fun of it, the farce of it, the blatant burlesque, but I was thinking as I was breathing that maybe actually there's something to it. Maybe sometimes we really do lose our breath and simply keep on living, numb. On the one hand, you can't hurt anymore. On the other . . . well. You can't feel at all.
Breath. Bate it, catch it, hold it, gasp for it, save it, waste it. Out of it, under it, all in one. Deep. Of fresh air. Of life. Take it away.
These are the kinds of things you think about while Sunday breathing, sometimes, alongside inquiries into the function of sight and the way girls walk across ice and Pablo Neruda (because love cannot always fly without resting) and the possibility of victory and do we have enough eggs to make cookies? And when I say Sunday, I don't necessarily mean the seventh day of the week, though this happens to be my present predicament. It doesn't have to be really any particular day at all. Sometimes it's the seventh hour after six, figuratively speaking, or the seventh minute, or second. It's that quiet moment of lull and life where you connect the constellations and make sense of the mess. When you stop and breathe fully aware of that breath, that glorious inhale-exhale that remind you that you are, scientifically speaking, very much alive. Which, if you think about it, is a spectacular fact of the first order. You. Are. Alive.