Archives for November 2013

Steinbeck Spirit in Children’s Art Created in Jacmel, Haiti

Image of Yolene Felix, children's art student in Jacmel HaitiThree young artists from Jacmel, Haiti never heard of John Steinbeck before visiting the Bay Area recently to exhibit their art at the Institute of Mosaic Art in downtown Berkeley. Like Steinbeck’s writing, the quality of their painting, papier-mache, and mosaic art—sampled here—speaks for itself. But the story of how three Kreyol-speaking youth found themselves in John Steinbeck’s back yard would have pleased the author, a global thinker and forceful advocate for social justice, individual freedom, and creative art in every imaginable medium.

Image of spirit of John Steinbeck painting from Jacmel, HaitiAs with John Steinbeck, Art is Our Youth’s Key to Survival

My business is marketing research. My passions are children, art, and travel, which led me to Haiti. Four weeks after returning from my first trip to Jacmel in 2002, I incorporated ACFFC, a grassroots nonprofit inspired by the renowned Haitian-American artist Turgo Bastien. Nurturing children’s art talents at an early age provides a path for survival, self-expression, and self-sufficiency, particularly in Haiti. When I started Art Creation Foundation for Children (ACFFC) more than 10 years ago to provide a place for Jacmel, Haiti’s poorest children, introducing them to John Steinbeck was probably the last thing on my mind. My mission at the time was first-things-first: clothing, feeding, and schooling a handful of kids with no resources, no future, and frequently no food, wandering the ancient streets of Jacmel.

Jacmel was the architectural model for New Orleans (where John Steinbeck wed his second wife and where my son was married for the first and only, thank God, time). Although located only 1,300 miles from New Orleans in the poorest nation of the Western Hemisphere, Jacmel was once a prosperous port. But like John Steinbeck’s Salinas, its most talented children tend to migrate elsewhere. Children’s art training and community art projects are contributing to the recent revival of the city’s economy, reputation, and quality of life. This is the entrepreneurial part of our educational purpose.

Image of papier-mache bowls by children's art students in Jacmel, HaitiArtists from Jacmel, Haiti Discover Steinbeck Country

Remember the Beatles’ line: “I get by with a little help from my friends”? That’s how Art Creation Foundation for Children grew.

From an initial group of four boys and four girls (we started and stayed with a 50/50 boy-girl rule), ACFFC has become an established organization that clothes, feeds, and schools more than 100 young people ages 3-22, also teaching older children how to make art and build homes using recycled materials such as styrofoam, bottles, and broken glass. Artists and businesses volunteer their time, money, and services, so ACFFC has remained extremely cost-effective. In Jacmel we employ an executive director, an assistant, kitchen and maintenance staff, an English teacher and three tutors, plus one full-time artist. Visiting artists and other professionals travel to Haiti from the U.S. to teach and lead children’s art programs for weeks at a time.

Laurel True, a celebrated mosaic artist and teacher who founded the Institute of Mosaic Art in Oakland and now lives in New Orleans, first brought the mosaic arts to our curriculum in Jacmel following the 2010 earthquake. She conceived and now directs our respected Mosaique Jacmel initiative, the reason 10 of our youth were invited to travel to the U.S. in November for a collaborative project with the Touissant L’Ouverture High School for Arts and Social Justice in Delray Beach, Florida. The American Embassy’s Office of Public Diplomacy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti was a project sponsor. U.S. Representative Lois Frankel, also an artist and advocate for children’s art, helped with arrangements and met with the group.

Image of mosaic art by young artists from Art Creation Foundation for ChildrenMosaic Art Celebration: John Steinbeck’s Kind of Party

Three ACFFC youth also made their way to the Bay Area as part of the tour: mosaic artists and team leaders Michou Joissaint and Jepte Milfort, along with photographer Fedno Lubin. More than 100 Bay Area mosaic artists, collectors, and supporters attended the reception in their honor at the Institute of Mosaic Arts hosted by Ilse Cordoni, IMA’s new owner, and Erin Rogers, the Hewlett-Packard Corporation’s Environment Program Officer and an ACFFC board member who traveled to Jacmel, Haiti, with Laurel True following the earthquake.

Some speculate that John Steinbeck was a citizen spy for the CIA. Whether that’s true or not, I think he would have liked the story of how three young artists from Haiti discovered Steinbeck Country on their cultural mission to California. He had an educated eye for art and loved to draw and make things, so I know that he would find these examples of ACFFC mosaic art, papier-mache, and painting equally appealing. I hope you do as well. If you would like to learn more, make suggestions, or support ACFFC’s work in Jacmel, we would love to hear from you.

John Steinbeck and John Kennedy: Heroes of Hope Joined at the Funny Bone

Composite image of John Steinbeck and John KennedyAnyone alive at the time always remembered the day John Kennedy died. John Steinbeck and his wife Elaine were in Warsaw on a U.S. cultural mission and helped embassy personnel deal with a flood of well-wishers while grieving quietly, inwardly, through the long November night. Though the John Kennedy-John Steinbeck bond was never as close as Steinbeck’s friendship with Adlai Stevenson, the previous Democratic presidential nominee, Steinbeck admired Kennedy’s warmth, wit, and wonderful way with words. It was the respect of one wordsmith for another, and it led to Jackie Kennedy’s suggestion that John Steinbeck write John Kennedy’s official biography.

John Steinbeck: Stevenson in ’52, ’56, and ’60!

A staunch New Deal Democrat with small town Republican roots and a record of wartime advice and service to his hero Franklin Roosevelt, Steinbeck had little to say publicly about Harry Truman, FDR’s successor.  But he didn’t hold back when Eisenhower and Nixon emerged. He thought Ike was tongue-tied, under-informed, and unqualified to be president. How could anyone who mangled syntax and read westerns for entertainment possibly be fit for the White House? Nixon he deeply disliked and distrusted for reasons that proved prophetic. In the 1952 presidential election, Steinbeck supported Adlai Stevenson, but he didn’t meet Stevenson until the Democratic convention he covered as a special reporter in 1956.

Image of Adlai StevensonJackson Benson, John Steinbeck’s principal biographer, described the opening act of Steinbeck’s long-running friendship with Stevenson in The Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer:

From the time of this meeting, the Steinbecks and Stevenson became close friends, visiting each other often in the years that followed. At the convention, Stevenson grabbed Steinbeck, pulled him into a little room, and said “Sit down. I need a drink.” The two sat talking for half an hour, John telling him of the humorous things he had heard on the floor. Every time he got up to go, Stevenson asked him to stay. It was the first time in days, Stevenson told him, that he had had a chance to relax.

John Steinbeck, who disliked funerals, attended Stevenson’s service in Ilinois in 1965. In 1960 he had hoped his friend would run again, this time against Dick (“I liked him better when he was a mug”) Nixon, adding his name to a list of celebrity authors and academics advocating for Stevenson over Kennedy, the Democrats’ rising star. But the charismatic young Senator from Massachusetts—the home state of Steinbeck’s paternal grandparents—swept the spring primaries and won the American presidency by a Chicago hair. Kennedy was Catholic, a writer, and a war hero, appealing qualities. The Steinbecks supported his campaign and were invited to his inauguration.

John Kennedy’s Inauguration and its Endless Invocations

John Kennedy once described Washington as combining Southern efficiency with Northern charm. He might have mentioned Southern humidity and Northern winters as well. The 1961 inauguration was marred by one of Washington’s worst snowstorms; while Kennedy’s acceptance speech warmed John Steinbeck’s heart, Elaine’s feet were freezing. In a section of the manuscript omitted from Travels with Charley when it was published, Steinbeck recorded the event with epic hilarity. (Given Kennedy’s constant back pain from disease and injury, Steinbeck’s reference to women’s “backache” seems especially ironic. Today we know more about Kennedy’s medical condition than anyone admitted at the time.)

I got us to our seats below the rostrum of the Capitol long before the ceremony—so long before that we nearly froze. Mark Twain defined women as lovely creatures with a backache. I wonder how he omitted the only other safe generality—goddesses with cold feet. A warm-footed woman would be a monstrosity. I think I was the only man who heard the inauguration while holding his wife’s feet in his lap, rubbing vigorously. With every sentence of the interminable prayers, I rubbed. And the prayers were interesting, if long. One sounded like general orders to the deity issued in a parade ground voice. One prayer brought God up to date on current events with a view to their revision. In the midst of one prayer, smoke issued from the lectern and I thought we had gone too far, but it turned out to be a short circuit.

Image of Elaine and John SteinbeckJohn Kennedy—a Catholic in the same way that John Steinbeck was an Episcopalian, nominal and not by choice—secretly agreed with Steinbeck about the endless prayers. Below the official text of the letter sent to the “distinguished artists who were kind enough to be in Washington,” Kennedy provided a handwritten critique of the episode for Steinbeck’s private enjoyment: “No President was ever prayed over with such fervor. Evidently they felt that the country or I needed it—probably both.” Two witty Johns joined at the funny bone, sharing the same artery to America’s master of irreverence, Mark Twain. As quoted in Steinbeck: A Life in Letters (edited by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten), John Steinbeck enlarged on the tale, which grew in height over time:

I had never seen this ceremony. I found it very moving when they finally got through the prayers to it. As Elaine says, most ministers are hams but they haven’t learned the first rule of the theatre—how to get off. When [Cardinal] Cushing got to whumping it up I thought how I’d hate to be God and have him on my tail. The good Cushing didn’t ask, he instructed; and I bet he takes no nonsense from the Virgin Mary either nor from the fruit of her womb, Jesus.

Image of John Kennedy's inaugural addressBut the young president’s address was stirring, and Steinbeck was more than moved. He admired Kennedy’s speech like a writer, for style as much as substance. The reason for his respect became the punch line of a literary joke, delivered dead-pan to reporters looking for a scoop about Steinbeck. Benson’s biography explains that the author answered their questions about the Steinbecks’ visibility around Washington with the same kind of humor shown by Kennedy in private:

Since he was [at the inauguration] and receiving all this attention, Steinbeck was assumed by some in the press to be up for some job in the administration. When he was asked, on one occasion he said that he had been named Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but he had not yet got his uniform fitted. To others, he replied that he was the new Secretary of Public Health and Morals and Consumer Education. When asked his reaction to the inaugural address, he said, for the television audiences, “Syntax, my lad. It has been restored to the highest place in the Republic.”

Syntax—high praise for any politician, and music to Steinbeck’s ears after the painful atonality of the Eisenhower era.

Kennedy’s Assassination and Steinbeck’s Refusal

Following the inauguration John Steinbeck and John Kennedy met several times, and Steinbeck was later selected to receive the Medal of Freedom—an honor the President would not live to bestow. In the spring of 1963, the author and his wife accepted the invitation to travel behind the Iron Curtain as cultural emissaries for the high-culture administration where a francophone First Lady set a sophisticated European tone. Remarkably, in retrospect, Steinbeck insisted that another writer accompany them: Edward Albee, the young creator of the biting Broadway stage hit, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Albee was acerbic, audacious, and gay; his sharp-edged play lacerated marital monogamy and introduced audiences to vocabulary formerly reserved for the drill field. Hard to believe today, but Steinbeck’s demand was granted and the trip to the Soviet bloc took place as planned, Albee (below) included.

Image of Edward AlbeeThe Steinbecks had reached Poland when they heard the news from America on November 22. Jay Parini quotes Elaine’s version in John Steinbeck: A Biography:

“That was a day none of us would ever forget,” says Elaine. “John and I had just gotten back to Warsaw when the news broke on the radio that John Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. The first report was that he was wounded, and we were horrified. Then we heard he was dead. It was so moving what happened: the Poles all surrounded us and hugged us, saying how sorry they were to hear this terrible, terrible news [and we] needed time to mourn. We called the State Department, and they suggested that we go to Vienna for a few days. There was a funeral service for Kennedy at the cathedral there. It was a memorable and moving day.”

Cutting short their itinerary, the Steinbecks returned to Washington for debriefing by the State Department over three days in late December, precisely five years before Steinbeck would die in New York at the age of 66. The Steinbecks’ letter of sympathy to Jackie Kennedy, written a few days earlier, received a surprising response from the former First Lady. Benson explains:

In the meantime, [Mrs. Kennedy] wanted someone to write a definitive biography of her husband, and she had thought Steinbeck the writer most suitable. She got in touch with mutual friends and made some inquiries and then wrote the Steinbecks to come see her in Washington. When John and Elaine called on her, they could see that, although she had herself under control, she was still obviously in a state of shock. She talked to them about the kind of book she had in mind and very openly and movingly about the President and about her relationship to him. At one point Elaine began to cry, and Mrs. Kennedy said, “Please, Elaine, if you must cry, go to the bathroom and pull yourself together. I can’t bear it now, and I’ll go to pieces.” Their visit stretched into a stay of several hours, as every time they started to leave, Mrs. Kennedy would beg them to stay—“I’ve nothing in the world to do.”

Image of Jackie Kennedy as First LadyAfter careful consideration and more meetings, John Steinbeck declined Mrs. Kennedy’s suggestion that he write her husband’s book. As Benson observes, “what he had in mind does not seem to have been an orthodox biography.” Steinbeck never produced his planned autobiography either, and for much the same reason. Writing to his college friend Carlton Sheffield a few days before the February meeting with Mrs. Kennedy, Steinbeck said that if he ever wrote his own life story he wanted to make it a “real one”—“since after a passage of time I don’t know what happened and what I made up, it would be nearer the truth to set both down.” As Benson suggests, the novelist “never found solutions to the problems of form presented” by factual biography. In April he gave Mrs. Kennedy his answer—not now: “One day I do hope to write what we spoke of—how this man who was the best of his people, by his life and death gave the best back to them for their own.”

John Steinbeck’s Arthur and John Kennedy’s Camelot

Steinbeck didn’t invent the Camelot trope for the Kennedy years, but as a serious student of Arthurian literature he could use it convincingly. When read today, the letter he wrote Mrs. Kennedy after their initial meeting about her husband’s book is—in its poetry, power, and prescience—better than “an orthodox biography” could ever be:

The 15th century and our own have so much in common—loss of authority, loss of gods, loss of heroes, and loss of lovely pride. When such a hopeless muddled need occurs, it does seem to me that the hungry hearts of men distill their best and truest essence, and that essence becomes a man, and that man a hero so that all men can be reassured that such things are possible. The fact that all of these words—hero, myth, pride, even victory, have been muddled and sicklied by the confusion and permission of the times only describes the times. . . .

Steinbeck wrote the closing moral trilogy of his career—The Winter of Our Discontent, Travels with Charley, America and Americans—in the reflected light of Kennedy’s Camelot and the sudden shadow that fell across America following his death. I wonder. Has it occurred to others that John Steinbeck died so soon after the abdication of his friend Lyndon Johnson and the election of Richard Nixon in 1968? Death spared Steinbeck the Watergate scandal, Reaganism, and the retrograde racism of today’s insurgent Tea Party. Surely he would have detested and denounced each, not merely for mendacity, but also for lacking any trace of Kennedy’s intellect, warmth, or wit.

The quality of educated humor went out of the body politic with the death of John Kennedy, and I think Steinbeck knew it as it was happening. His most memorable epitaph for the elegant president who joked with him, Twain-like, about priests and public prayers appears near the end of the letter just quoted. Fifty years after John Kennedy’s assassination, John Steinbeck’s words of comfort to the slain president’s widow still thrill with hope for the return of an American Camelot:

At our best we live by legend. And when our belief gets pale and weak, there comes a man out of our need who puts on the shining armor and everyone living reflects a little of that light, yes, and stores some up against the time when he has gone. . . .


Image of Barack Obama and Ted Kennedy

John Steinbeck, Carl Jung, and Phalanx in Tortilla Flat

Image of Carl JungJohn Steinbeck was ambivalent about psychology. In 1962 he lashed out at his country’s modern “psychiatric priesthood” in Travels with Charley. But 30 years earlier he had stayed up nights discussing the psychological insights of Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychologist-psychiatrist shown here, with Ed Ricketts, Joseph Campbell, and other members of the bohemian Cannery Row circle in the Monterey of his youth. As a result, Jungian principles of a collective human unconscious, the meaning of symbols and myths, and the essential role of certain types of individuals in group behavior inform Steinbeck’s most successful fiction of the 1930s. To a God Unknown and In Dubious Battle are frequently cited examples. As I will show, the insights of Jung in advancing Steinbeck and Ricketts’ phalanx theory are equally evident in Tortilla Flat, the book that launched Steinbeck’s reputation as a promising new writer.

Carl Jung, John Steinbeck, and the Problem of Language

I reached this conclusion not through studying literary theory in a classroom but by reading Carl Jung and John Steinbeck and applying their insights in my three-decade career designing, developing, and leading critical skills and management training programs for corporations such as RCA, KPMG Peat Marwick, Honeywell, AT&T, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of New Jersey, and others. In business, critical skills include tasks where failure to properly perform may cause death, serious injury, or financial loss. Central to the development of cost-effective critical skills training programs in my work was assuring clearly and uniformly understood terms, concepts, and models. To do this, a good instructional designer must define terms and concepts so that training objectives and process are easily communicated and comprehended.

This is usually not too much of a problem in industries and professions that have well-defined lexicons, such as law, engineering, and accounting. It is more difficult when training enters more the ambiguous arena of consulting, marketing, management, and sales. But these activities also require clearly-understood language for personal, interpersonal, team, and group-related tasks. Naturally the field of psychology seems an appropriate place to handle individual, interpersonal, and teaming challenges that arise in the process of doing business and improving outcomes. Yet key terms and basic concepts vary greatly throughout psychology from one school of thought and practice to another. For instance, the essential term ego is defined quite differently by followers of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud and was ignored completely by later behaviorists such as B.F. Skinner.

Because reliable sources to develop a useful lexicon for applying psychological theories outside the box of clinical psychotherapy are few—and because individual psychologists frequently employ esoteric language and the terms, concepts, and models commonly used are often misunderstood between different schools of psychology—the study and practice of psychology in its various fields and forms is almost universally looked down upon by more precise sciences as fundamentally unscientific. The language problem inherent in psychology is a major reason why empirically-minded biologists and chemists—the sciences that attracted and engaged John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts—continue to hold psychology in low esteem.

Discovering the John Steinbeck-Carl Jung Connection

I have been a Steinbeck fan since I first read his fiction, which I found irresistibly unpretentious, down-to-earth, and clear in style and story. Who could argue with the humor and accessibility of Tortilla Flat, his earliest best seller, for example? As in Steinbeck’s later novels, the characters in Tortilla Flat are so thoroughly defined that you felt you had known them all your life.

After rereading Tortilla Flat approximately 30 years ago, I began to sense a Jungian influence in its narrative flow and structure, an observation that was confirmed when I read the biographies of John Steinbeck that started to appear in the 1980s. When I learned that the young mythologist Joseph Campbell was part of the Cannery Row scene swirling around Steinbeck’s friend Ed Ricketts In 1932, and that Campbell’s correspondence with Ricketts continued until Ricketts’ death in 1948, there was no doubt in my mind about the influence of Carl Jung on Steinbeck’s writing—including Tortilla Flat—during the years that followed. I was equally intrigued to discover that the influence of Carl Jung on John Steinbeck did not originate with Ricketts or Campbell as some have supposed. John Steinbeck was a deep reader with wide interests who took philosophy as a student at Stanford. As a result, he came to Cannery Row in the early 1930s with knowledge about modern psychology.

The Phalanx and “Breaking Through”

The unconscious influence on behavior of individuals—Steinbeck’s “human units”—within an objective focused gathering, group, or MOB that Steinbeck called the phalanx is, I believe, worthy of closer examination today. As mentioned, To a God Unknown and In Dubious Battle are frequently adduced as examples from the fiction of the 1930s. But a piece of nonfiction published by Steinbeck in 1942, Bombs Away: The Story of a Bomber Team, includes a description of the phalanx in the training and development of bomber crews by the wartime Army Air Corps, and The Log from Sea of Cortez explains the phalanx more fully than any other work of nonfiction published in Steinbeck’s lifetime.

The MOB’s objective may seem simply unreasonable or illusionary, such as group bullying or scapegoating those who disagree with the MOB’s belief or creed. But however irrational or inexplicable, it can produce horrors like the Holocaust. Given the explosion of MOB violence around the world in our time and the reported incidence of  bullying in our schools, better understanding the phalanx as Steinbeck developed and used the term seems to me to be more important than ever before.

Steinbeck’s phalanx is based in part on Carl Jung’s collective unconscious, as well as on the ideas of philosophers familiar to Steinbeck from his studies at Stanford, such as those of William James—an important influence on Jung himself in my opinion. As a result of Steinbeck’s reading, discussion, and understanding of Jung, James, and others, I believe that he consciously coined the term phalanx, clearly defined it in his thinking, and applied it in his work, including Tortilla Flat.

As also mentioned, the concept is not something Steinbeck acquired from Ricketts but came to him as a result of his personal awakening to a thread connecting random notes that he kept in a cigar box beginning as early as the 1920s. When I read about the writer’s habit of jotting ideas on bits of paper in a leading John Steinbeck biography, I thought to myself, “what a great example of Jung’s Intuition!”  Significantly, the connection occurred to Steinbeck during his mother’s long illness and the crisis of caring for the parent who dominated his family and his boyhood.

To use Ed Ricketts’ term, this was a “breaking through” for John Steinbeck at age 33—a life-changing epiphany or event resulting in a leap of personal growth. Practitioners of Carl Jung’s method of psychology recognize how a personal tragedy like the death of a parent can awaken the mind’s eye to a new perspective, a deeper consciousness, and greater understanding. Importantly for my point, such an awakening proportionally reduces an individual’s susceptibility to the negative influence of the phalanx, sometimes by raising his or her resistance to participation in MOB violence and destruction. A desire to break through to deeper knowledge is a defining trait of each of the fictional characters created by Steinbeck, beginning with In Dubious Battle, based on Ed Ricketts.

Levels of Adult Maturity and the Influence of the Phalanx

In developing his phalanx concept, Steinbeck articulated two key characteristics:

* A group, gathering or MOB can take on an autonomous psychology and behave in a manner that may be quite different from what would be displayed by individual members under the same circumstances.

* The psychology of the group frequently appears to be in antagonistic counterpoint to the individual psychology of its human units.

I would add a third point: The higher the development or maturity of the group’s individual members, the less the negative influence exerted by the MOB on the group’s behavior. T

The levels of this development or maturity are fourfold:

Level 1.  Level 1 persons are almost completely unaware of their uniqueness as individuals. They have no ego as the term is used in the clinical sense—that is, the psychological object within which an individual defines himself or herself. Those who exist at this level lead lives that revolve around basic survival, shelter, safety, and procreation. They leave decisions on important matters up to authority figures such as a father or mother. During Jung’s research among African and North American Native tribes, tribal members told him that they leave all thinking and decision-making to their tribal chief or medicine person. They could not distinguish between their dream state and conscious state. They told Jung that they thought anyone charged with the burden of thinking was crazy. They were mainly unconscious.

Level 2. Level 2 individuals awaken to the differences between themselves and others. This is the beginning of the existence of their ego: their awakening to their uniqueness in the world or the universe. An individual at this level typically projects onto external gods and devils. As a result of their development they gradually learn to participate in their personal path, create goals, and use individual tools in dealing with life and its issues. But for the most part they are driven to self-serving aims with their newly discovered skills. They still are mainly unconscious.

Level 3. To understand my description of Level 3, we must agree on the definition of the term ego I intend: one’s conscious image of himself or herself. When we reflect upon ourselves, the image we perceive is the ego. The term is often mistakenly used to refer to an inflated ego where the self-image of an individual exceeds reality. But in truth, the ego is the focal point to which all objects of perception must relate to become conscious. Persons at Level 3 have a nearly completely developed ego and view it as their center, denying the existence of anything about themselves outside its circumference. While the Level 3 individual denies the unconscious, they are nonetheless the victim of unconscious influences in their behavior. Examples include embarrassing slips-of-the tongue or falling in love with a person who is wrong for many reasons. They may also be victims of irrational fears or hates—the Shadow, to use another term from Carl Jung, Level 3 persons are apt to become victims of group influence at the MOB phalanx, however emphatically they may deny this possibility.

Level 4.  For a variety reasons, some painful, Level 4 individuals have awakened to the reality that there is more to themselves than their ego. Accompanying this realization is a curiosity about their newly revealed psychological territory. It     usually doesn’t take them long to explore this uncharted terrain within themselves. Ideally, when they do so they will seek to integrate what they discover about themselves into their existing self-image and further build their ego on stronger ground. The previously unintegrated elements of Self found in their exploration likely were the source of many of the projections they suffered at earlier stages of their development on the way to Level 4 self-knowledge. Level 4 people are thus the most conscious and least vulnerable to phalanx influence. They are truly their own man or woman.

Readers may recognize the differences in persona presented by individuals at the levels I have described. These differences can be perceived through interpersonal dialogue and interaction or through observing behavior. Strong caution must be suggested to avoid pigeon holing another and then acting on that classification. Remember, we are also responsible for the persona we perceive of others and it may be very wrong. Individuals at Level 4 (Ed Ricketts, for example) often appear peaceful, content, friendly, and kind. Those at lower levels may be more easily influenced by fear, hatred, and ignorance. The fiction of John Steinbeck, who I believe intuited this truth about humans, offers unforgettable examples of people at every level of evolution.

The Phalanx in Tortilla Flat

In Tortilla Flat, I believe that phalanx can first be observed in action among Steinbeck’s paisanos as verbalized by the character Pilon, who expresses the group’s feeling that Danny, the “group caretaker,” has abandoned them. Characters like Danny—and later Doc and Fauna in Cannery Row—play the essential group-caretaker role ably articulated and applied in his work as an international management consultant by my friend James Kent, a Steinbeck lover of profound learning and understanding.

Pilon thinks that Danny is spending too much time with Sweets Ramiriz—the grateful recipient of the gift of a vacuum cleaner she can’t use—with the result that the group feels abandoned by their leader: “At first his friends ignored his absence, for it is the right of every man to have these little affairs. But as the weeks went on, and as a rather violent domestic life began to make Danny listless and pale, his friends became convinced that Sweets’ gratitude for the sweeping-machine was not to Danny’s best physical interests.”

The verbalized concern for Danny’s physical health is a rationalization—a banner-call to action—although its actual value-driven inspiration is jealousy about a relationship that has taken Danny away from the group. This distinction is important. In judging group or team behavior in business, logical rationalizations and value-judgments are significant factors in analyzing and predicting group or team actions; since they are functionally different, they require different responses. The distinction is revealed in Steinbeck’s description of the group’s decision to do something about the situation that confronts them: “Wherefore the friends, in despair, organized a group, formed for and dedicated to [Sweets’] destruction.”

As dramatized in John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat, the phalanx is an unconscious complex within a group drawn together with a commonly-held objective by forces from within the collective unconscious. But the attempt to effectively influence the illusionary driving forces of a MOB or community—a common response by authority to such conditions around the world—remains, in practice, a mistake. Targeting the consciously stated objective rather than the unconscious motivation of the group wastes time, resources, and—when force is involved— human lives. Steinbeck learned about the collective unconscious from Carl Jung. We have much to learn about group behavior from John Steinbeck, starting with Tortilla Flat.

This is the first in Wesley Stillwagon’s series on the application of John Steinbeck and Carl Jung’s insights in innovative corporate training program design. To be continued.

Essays on John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Co-Edited by the University of North Carolina’s Henry Veggian

The cover of East of Eden: New and Recent Essays shownThe University of North Carolina’s English department always had a great reputation. I should know. I attended in the 1960s, when American literature was thought to have ended with William Faulkner and John Steinbeck was politely ignored. The distinguished Steinbeck scholar Susan Shillinglaw wrote her doctoral dissertation on James Fenimore Cooper there several years after I finished mine on Blake and Yeats. British literature since Joyce and Woolf was still considered too recent for serious study, despite the presence on campus of Anthony Burgess, author of the wildly subversive novel A Clockwork Orange, published 10 years after Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Both books became successful movies, but were a world apart. So was Tar Heel and Steinbeck Country. At Chapel Hill, “east of Eden” meant the North Carolina backwater between Raleigh and the coast. Statesville may have looked like Salinas; Wilmington was no Monterey.

But I suspect that both Salinas brothers in East of Eden would have felt right at home as University of North Carolina undergraduates during my time—Cal in the go-getting young business school, Aron under the protective Anglo-Catholic wing of English department traditionalists who genuflected every Sunday during mass at the Chapel of the Cross before chatting over sherry about the Anglo-American Empire that might have been if the South had won the war. A countercultural English professor named O.B. Hardison—later director of Washington’s famed Folger Shakespeare Library, a post held by a succession of University of North Carolina legends—brought his dog to the SRO classes I took under him, pulled on a pipe that he rarely lit, and taught me most of what I remember about Spenser, Milton, Shakespeare, and how to write a sentence.

So it was a sentimental journey for me to read East of Eden: New and Recent Essays, the collection recently published by Rodopi Editions and co-edited by Henry Veggian, a current English professor at the University of North Carolina. Plus a pleasant surprise: John Steinbeck has finally made it onto the  literary canon at Chapel Hill; David Laws, a guest blogger, provided the image of Steinbeck Country used for the cover of the book.

Henry’s introduction to the dozen essays written by various academics provides important  insights into East of Eden that he expertly organizes around appropriate musical analogies. These took me back to my days in the music building at the University of North Carolina, where I confess I spent more time hanging around musicians than I did in the English department.

John Steinbeck played the piano, loved church music, and adored jazz. So did I. I was privileged to hear Dave Brubeck premiere his jazz cantata Light in the Wildnerness in the Hill Hall auditorium where I took weekly organ lessons, and I played on Sundays at the Lutheran Church across Franklin Street from the Anglo-Catholic Chapel of the Cross. Steinbeck admired the English who lived in Somerset, where he spent his happiest year with his wife Elaine in 1959. I loved my University of North Carolina Lutherans, who had no trouble singing Bach’s German when we performed a different cantata each year during Holy Week, a lively event Bach-loving Steinbeck himself would likely have enjoyed.

It was not the historical chapters that troubled them but rather the autobiographical interjections of Steinbeck’s narrator. As a result, critics argued that they might have held East of Eden in a higher esteem if John Steinbeck had not disrupted the historical-romantic narration of the Trask family with repeated autobiographical references.

But John Steinbeck never enjoyed the task of revising his writing, frequently annoyed by the suggestions emanating from agents, editors, and publishers. Most critics of his published books he considered picky parasites. East of Eden was no exception, as Henry helpfully notes in his introduction: “It was not the historical chapters that troubled them but rather the autobiographical interjections of Steinbeck’s narrator. As a result, critics argued that they might have held East of Eden in a higher esteem if John Steinbeck had not disrupted the historical-romantic narration of the Trask family with repeated autobiographical references.”

At the risk of disloyalty to the University of North Carolina, which had the sense to hire a teacher of Henry’s obvious stature to inspire students to Steinbeck as I was once inspired to Spenser,  the ghost of the late O.B. Hardison compels me to point out two problems with East of Eden: New and Recent Essays—neither the fault of the book’s co-editor, who inherited the project following the death of Michael Meyer: (1) At 67.00 euro dollars, the book is too expensive for independent scholars, limiting its readership to institutional academics with stable library budgets; (2) the essays on East of Eden vary wildly in quality, type, and readability. Several are illuminating, written in clear English that rewards careful reading. Others defy comprehension, obscured by critical jargon, teutonic sentences, and usage errors that suggest translation from a language other than English.

John Steinbeck’s only specific criticism of a new novel not his own can be found in the comments he wrote about The Sergeant, a successful first novel by Dennis Murphy, the son of Steinbeck’s childhood friend and identified by some Salinians as the model for Cal Trask in East of Eden. Steinbeck’s critique of Murphy’s ending for the novel was constructive, and Murphy said he understood it. I know I’m no John Steinbeck, but my lingering loyalty to the University of North Carolina and my newly discovered respect for Henry Veggian compel me to share advice from my own experience as an editor and writer with writers, editors, and publishers of future books about John Steinbeck:

1. Writers of Articles
Find a “text buddy” in another department—someone you can trust for candid feedback—and share your final draft for close reading by friendly eyes before you release it to your book editor. Every writer needs a editor close at hand with the writer’s individual interest at heart. You don’t have to bed or marry yours, as Steinbeck did Carol Henning, but if your obsessive-compulsive colleague in physics doesn’t understand what you’re trying to say, chances are other non-specialists won’t either, and your work will disappear in the echo chamber of contemporary academic criticism.

2. Editors of Collections
Take a day off from teaching and read every line of every submission—including footnotes and bibliographies—at one uninterrupted sitting before you consign your contributors’ essays on with your introduction to your publisher. Look for errors of diction and syntax, listen for sentence length and rhythm, and focus like a lunatic on consistent capitalization, abbreviation, and punctuation. If you miss distracting variances in the use and spacing of dash marks, for example, don’t assume that readers and reviewers will be less than unforgiving.

3. Publishers of Academic Books
Hire an experienced copy editor. At 67  euros you can afford it. The book editor back at the University of North Carolina is already busy with other duties—teaching, research, the next publication project—but you have one overriding responsibility before you go to press: Find and fix every error overlooked in haste by the editor on campus. I’ve saved my wagging finger for you as I head out the door because I think you deserve it. As I read East of Eden: Essays New and Recent and walked down memory lane to the pre-digital publishing dawn of time, the ghost of O.B. Hardison kept whispering: “What were they thinking?” I’m pretty sure he meant you.

When in Salinas, Do as the Locals Do: Have Lunch at John Steinbeck’s House

John Steinbeck House shown in SalinasThe next time you’re in the Bay Area, be sure to visit John Steinbeck’s birthplace in his home town of Salinas. It’s only two hours south of San Francisco, a hour or less from Santa Cruz, and no more than 20 minutes from nearby Monterey. Unlike other literary shrines, it’s also a great restaurant, so come for lunch any Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. (Closed Sundays and Mondays to give the volunteers who staff it a well-earned rest.)

Located a stone’s throw from the National Steinbeck Center, the Steinbeck House is a living, breathing memorial, not a stone-dead monument. Steinbeck was born and raised there, almost died there from an adolescent infection, and wrote his earliest stories in an upstairs room. Other historic buildings line Central Avenue, including the homes of several childhood friends of the author, most dating from the Victorian period. If you’re into old houses, it’s fun to walk off your Steinbeck House lunch with a stroll down the street. (Desserts are to die for.)

The people who run the place—hardworking members of the Valley Guild, a nonprofit organization—gathered together to buy the property 40 years ago and accomplished everything they set out to do. They rescued the house from rack and ruin after decades of abuse and neglect. They retrieved furniture and fixtures from family members, primarily descendants of Steinbeck’s formidable sisters Esther and Elizabeth. They got expert advice from Steinbeck scholars, friends, and enthusiasts on how to make the Steinbeck home place an educational experience for visitors without boring them to death.

Most important to the bottom line, the Valley Guild volunteers who wait tables, lead tours, and serve guests Victorian high tea once a month made the restaurant that occupies the first floor a profit center to support maintenance and operation. If you’ve ever owned an 1897 mansion with three floors and more than a dozen rooms, you know what that means. (Remember the definition of a yacht? A hole in the water you throw money into.) Fortunately for the Steinbeck House, the corner location is spacious and conspicuous—a big plus for access and security—and the California weather is kind. Neither storm nor quake has laid a hand on this lovely Victorian lady!

Designated as a literary landmark by the National Register of Historical Places, the Steinbeck House opened for business as a restaurant on February 27, 1974, the author’s birthday. When we visited recently we got more than a warm welcome, tour, and lunch: a chance to hold examine rare items from the Steinbeck family’s personal book collection, including Steinbeck’s father’s autograph book—dating from his childhood in Massachusetts before his German dad and Yankee mom moved to California—along with the child-sized Episcopal prayer book and psaltery (inscribed “Esther Steinbeck”) belonging to John’s sister.

We arrived at the peak of a busy Friday lunch crowd that included a pack of happy tourists from China, Japan, and Germany—the kind of visitors any town likes, especially one like Salinas, where produce is king and nightlife is modest. Tucked in a sunny corner was a table of local residents. All of them were friendly, and we had time to talk. Why the Steinbeck House, we wondered? Surely Salinas has other places to eat lunch without the . . . um . . . happy tourists? “Why not?” they answered. “It’s the best food in town!”

Also priced right. Our lunch for four was less than $50.

John Steinbeck Celebrated in Old and New Public Art

John Steinbeck statue at Salinas Public Library shownSalinas and Monterey—the two cities most closely associated with John Steinbeck and his California stories—both celebrate the life and work of the writer though a variety of public art projects. Although few of the murals and sculptures along Cannery Row in Monterey or in Steinbeck’s home town of Salinas approach the level of fine art, they enhance their surroundings while serving social, educational, and sponsorship interests in Steinbeck Country. When Steinbeck lovers visit, most view the works in a spirit of understanding.

The tradition of spreading political and religious messages through large-scale mural paintings originated with the Olmec civilization, the first major civilization in Mexico, and continued through the Spanish Colonial period to the time of the Mexican Revolution and beyond. With a current Hispanic population approaching 75 per cent, it is not surprising that mural representations of Steinbeck and his works are found in the City of Salinas. Thanks to financial support from the Cannery Row Company, works of sculpture predominate in nearby Monterey. Best of all, new art inspired by Steinbeck continues to be produced.

John Steinbeck mural at National Steinbeck Center shown

Detail of the mural outside the National Steinbeck Center

John Steinbeck Murals in Downtown Salinas

Public agencies have played a role, funding the One Voice Murals Project to develop community pride and provide summer work experience for youth throughout Monterey County. Of more than a dozen large-scale murals from Castroville to Greenfield funded by the One Voice Project Arts & Leadership Project, four of the finished pieces—all in Salinas—portray Steinbeck-related themes.

With the help of eight young painters in 1998, supervising muralists Patrizia Johnson and Mel Mathewson created the mural that has become familiar to visitors to the National Steinbeck Center. Dominated by a portrait of the bearded writer, the work is comprised of a collage of images from books and movies including The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, East of Eden, and The Red Pony. It greets passersby on a wall facing the entrance to the Center at 127 Main Street.

John Steinbeck mural Salinas Chamber of Commerce shown

The ghost of John Steinbeck reflects on the artifacts of area commerce.

Two murals sponsored by One Voice were completed in 2001. Designed by Linda Galusha, the wall of the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce building at 119 East Alisal Street shows Steinbeck surrounded by dollar bills and important elements of commerce in the Salinas Valley, from an abacus to an ATM machine, as well as the transportation systems employed to move area agricultural products to world markets. Texas artist Christine Martin led the team that recreated mythical scenes from Steinbeck’s The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights on the wall of the Grapes & Grains liquor store at 385 Salinas Street.

In 2002 a Macedonian-born artist named Blagojce Stojanovki supervised the completion of what is billed as the largest mural in California. Covering four huge wall panels of the Salinas Californian Newspaper Building at 123 West Alisal Street, the work depicts the writer with his books surrounded by images of scenes from his life.

John Steinbeck mural at Salinas Californian Newspaper Building shown

Detail of the Blagojce Stojanovki mural in Salinas

The oldest Steinbeck-related art in Steinbeck’s home town is a bronze sculpture of the author (top of page) created in the early 1970s by Tom Fitzwater—a Greenfield native studying art at Cal State, Long Beach—and donated by the Soroptimist Club of Salinas. The larger-than-life statue stands at the entrance to the John Steinbeck Library at 350 Lincoln Avenue. The identity of the iconoclast who hack-sawed the cigarette from Steinbeck’s hand remains a mystery, along with his, her, or their motivation. Was it a do-gooder intent on protecting youth visiting the library from the evils of tobacco?  A vandal bent on mindless destruction? Not all citizens appreciated the work when it was created.  A photograph of Fitzwater in the collection of the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies at San Jose State University is captioned “the godawful bronze statue of Steinbeck that birds still gladly poop on today.”

John Steinbeck & Company in Public Art at Cannery Row

Through the Cannery Row Foundation, the Cannery Row Company—owner of real estate along the former ocean-front canning district featured in Steinbeck’s novel of the name—has supported much of the public art that graces this popular Monterey tourist destination, including bronze figures of several of Cannery Row’s most famous characters.

A bronze bust of the writer welcomes visitors to the Steinbeck Plaza at the foot of Prescott Avenue overlooking Monterey Bay. A plaque mounted on the base quotes the novel’s familiar opening paragraph: “Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone . . . .” The sculptor, Carol W. Brown, reported that, still embittered by her desertion and divorce, Steinbeck’s first wife—Carol Steinbeck Brown—delayed the work in progress with numerous requests that the artist portray her husband’s features unflatteringly. Some say she even claimed credit as co-creator of the work.

John Steinbeck bust by Carol Brown at Cannery Row shown

Bust of John Steinbeck by Carol Brown at Cannery Row

Three years after the publication of Cannery Row in 1945, Steinbeck’s close friend and collaborator—the pioneering marine biologist, ecologist, and philosopher Ed Ricketts—died following an automobile accident at a railroad crossing near Cannery Row. Local sculptor Jesse Corsaut created a bronze commemorative bust of Ricketts that is installed in a mini-park at Wave Street and Drake Avenue a few yards from the crossing site. Ricketts holds a star fish in his left hand and has had better luck than the bronze likeness of Steinbeck in Salinas. The star fish is frequently adorned with fresh flowers.

Ed Ricketts bust at Cannery Row in Monterey shown

The Cannery Row memorial bust celebrating Ed Ricketts

Ricketts and Steinbeck were accompanied on excursions to Mexico to collect marine specimens by the artist Bruce Ariss, a member of their charmed Cannery Row circle. The pencil sketches of his companions made by Ariss recently appeared on festive banners placed along the Row. The only public work by Ariss that survives—a panel illustrating the Lone Star Café and discarded boilers featured in Steinbeck’s novel—was salvaged from a larger temporary mural painted by later artists hired to block the view of the Clement Hotel when it was under construction. The Ariss mural stands at the foot of Bruce Ariss Way, opposite Ricketts’ lab, at 800 Cannery Row.

Mural and bust of Kalisa Moore in Monterey shown

Salvaged mural panel and bust of Kalisa Moore at Bruce Ariss Way

In 1957 the Latvian-born entrepreneur Kalisa Moore opened a restaurant in the former La Ida Café, another venue immortalized in Cannery Row. Catering to musicians, writers, and visitors in quest of the Row’s magic mixture of hardscrabble and bohemian lifestyles, she hosted an annual Steinbeck birthday celebration beginning in 1970. After she died in 2008 she was honored as the Queen of Cannery Row with a commemorative bronze bust by Jesse Corsaut. Appropriately, it is located next to the Bruce Aris mural.

Cannery Row Mural of Mack and the Boys shown

Mural of Mack and the Boys by artist John Cerney

Today three photo-realistic murals by Salinas artist John Cerney overlook the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail, built over the former route of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Each mural features a group of workers relaxing after a day laboring in the canneries, along with an extended caption taken from the text of Steinbeck’s novel. The painting of Mack and the Boys at the rear of 711 and 799 Cannery Row is based on a photograph of the original “boys” including Gabe Bicknell, the inspiration for Steinbeck’s character Mack in Cannery Row.

And the Art Goes On

Tributes to Steinbeck in art continue to attract area interest and support. For example, plans for a sculpture depicting the writer seated on a rock with imagined figures from local history were recently approved by the Monterey Architectural Review Committee. When completed, the work by Carmel sculptor Steven Whyte—“Monument to John Steinbeck and Cannery Row”—will be installed at Steinbeck Plaza, where it is certain to draw new attention to the life and work of Monterey County’s most famous son.

Photos by David A. Laws

“At Least It’s Me”: Steinbeck’s Nobel Speech Still Inspires Writers Today

As any good writer knows, the intended audience shapes the message even before a word touches the paper or emerges on the computer screen. When the entire world is the audience, as John Steinbeck discovered when he won the Nobel Prize in 1962, the writer’s task is particularly challenging.

The Nobel Prize “is a monster in some ways,” Steinbeck wrote shortly after learning he had won the honor for literature. “I have always been afraid of it. Now I must handle it.”

Handle it he did, taking the recognition of his art and reshaping it to share his vision of the writer’s obligations to the world. What remains today is more than a historical document addressing the hair-trigger tension between Cold War super-powers. It is a call to each of us to continue to embrace literature as a reflection of humankind’s threatened condition, what Steinbeck calls “our greatest hazard and our only hope.”

The pages of Steinbeck’s Nobel speech are well marked in my copy of The Portable Steinbeck, and the writer’s words resonate as deeply today as they did when they were delivered before an international audience in Sweden on December 8, 1962. As an occasional speech writer myself, I recommend Steinbeck’s relatively brief comments as a model of form, content, and tone.

Like Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address a century earlier, Steinbeck’s Nobel speech is the creation of an enlightened mind informed by a profoundly moral imagination:

Such is the prestige of the Nobel award and of this place where I stand that I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession and in the great and good men who have practiced it through the ages.

Literature was not promulgated by a pale and emasculated critical priesthood singing their litanies in empty churches – nor is it a game for the cloistered elect, the tinhorn mendicants of low calorie despair.

Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed.

The skalds, the bards, the writers are not separate and exclusive. From the beginning, their functions, their duties, their responsibilities have been decreed by our species.
The present universal fear has been the result of a forward surge in our knowledge and manipulation of certain dangerous factors in the physical world. It is true that other phases of understanding have not yet caught up with this great step, but there is no reason to presume that they cannot or will not draw abreast. Indeed it is a part of the writer’s responsibility to make sure that they do.

With humanity’s long proud history of standing firm against natural enemies, sometimes in the face of almost certain defeat and extinction, we would be cowardly and stupid to leave the field on the eve of our greatest potential victory.

Steinbeck’s literary fingerprint is particularly discernible in his description of Alfred Nobel at the end of his address:

Nobel saw some of the cruel and bloody misuses of his inventions. He may even have foreseen the end result of his probing – access to ultimate violence – to final destruction. Some say that he became cynical, but I do not believe this. I think he strove to invent a control, a safety valve. I think he found it finally only in the human mind and the human spirit. To me, his thinking is clearly indicated in the categories of these awards.

They are offered for increased and continuing knowledge of man and of his world – for understanding and communication, which are the functions of literature. And they are offered for demonstrations of the capacity for peace – the culmination of all the others.

For writers like Alice Munro, this year’s Nobel Prize winner in literature, as well as for simple scribblers like me, there is an instructive back story to Steinbeck’s speech worth remembering in any era. As the biographer Jackson Benson notes in The Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer, Steinbeck understood that “the English sentence is just as difficult to write as it ever was,” even when the effort is linked to a well-deserved honor for literary merit. Just do your best, Steinbeck would still advise us.

“I wrote the damned speech at least 20 times,” Steinbeck wrote his college friend Carlton Sheffield shortly before leaving with his wife Elaine for Stockholm 51 years ago. “I, being a foreigner in Sweden, tried to make it suave and diplomatic and it was a bunch of crap. Last night I got mad and wrote exactly what I wanted to say. I don’t know whether or not it’s good but at least it’s me.”

My Journey West to the Dark Side of Steinbeck Country

Albert Bierstadt's painting California Coast shownFor this my Miata was made. A man, a towel, a mug, and rag top down. She may have struggled driving over the silt and rocks of the Monument Valley trail. She may have sneezed from the exhaust fumes of flatbeds and semi-trucks. But now my little car was in road rally heaven. This is what she was made for. Her adrenalin was up. Tight on the turns. Anyone can speed up on the straightaway. I love accelerating on curves. It is the story of my life. By the way, in case you haven’t heard, Convertible Top Down is mandatory on the California coast. Citizens approved this rule in one of their incessant ballot-box initiatives. Proposition 42, I do believe—but who else other than Californians is counting?

It had taken hours to drive up Route 1 from the Ventura Highway to Steinbeck Country north of Santa Barbara, wending, weaving, winding along the switch-back curves along the Pacific Coast, some with guard rails, some without. Then Moro Bay. Seal Point with hundreds of seals lolling about on their backs and bellies, tossing sand over themselves with their fat flippers. A few miles beyond, the overweight ostentation of Hearst Castle, built high above the surrounding countryside, trying mightily to look impressive. No, the seals are impressive. The expanse of the Pacific is impressive. Your castle is gaudy.

Americans don’t need guillotines; we have the American Dream.

Hey, buddy, somebody should tell you: This is America. We don’t have castles. We don’t buy into barons, lords, and sultans. Wealthy citizens might try to re-create Europe’s feudal system, but we peasants have a way of rising up and kicking out aristocrats. Americans don’t need guillotines; we have the American Dream.

The jagged coastline of California is always the winner in a beauty contest between nature and humankind. Green grass and lush vegetation crouch up against cliffs and rocks below. Curling waves of cobalt blue crash in bright, white spray. Streaks of aquamarine signal changing currents and temperatures. Big Creek Bridge. The 1932 Bixby Bridge. Then Big Sur with its towering trees and hairpin turns. An elven glen—a place of sprites, hikers, and Zen spiritual seekers. John Steinbeck once wrote this to Adlai Stevenson: “Having too many things they spend their hours and money on the couch searching for a soul.”

‘Having too many things they spend their hours and money on the couch searching for a soul.’

North of Carmel, at Monterey, a right turn to Salinas, my final destination.

Albert Bierstadt's painting Seal Rocks shownFrom Colorado Shepherd to Salinas Priest

Father James Ezell, the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, drove up to greet me as I loitered in front of the National Steinbeck Center. Steinbeck once suggested a bowling alley if the people of his home town insisted on putting his name on a building. I followed Jim in my car to the current rectory of St. Paul’s, where I would spend the night.

As a boy John Steinbeck served as an acolyte at St. Paul’s when the church was located downtown, on a corner now occupied by an empty parking lot. The St. Paul’s rectory described in East of Eden still exists; today it serves as a law office. They say that Cesar Chavez, champion of the United Farm Workers, held meetings at St. Paul’s with the support of the church’s rector in 1970. Wealthy growers left the church as a result. Some churches want their ministers to be mascots. Or marionettes. But it doesn’t, or shouldn’t, work that way. The moment a pastor worries about losing his or her position is the time that pastor deserves to lose his or her position.

Some churches want their ministers to be mascots. Or marionettes. But it doesn’t, or shouldn’t, work that way.

Oh, I can’t really call the current rector of St. Paul’s “Father Ezell.” He’s Spiff. He’s Jim. He’s been my friend since junior high school. We first met near Detroit on my family’s cross country drive in our old Dodge Motor Home. Our mothers had been cheerleaders together at Westfield High, and my brother remembers seeing a photograph of the prettiest girl he ever saw—Jim’s sister Kathy—at their house. He wanted to meet her, but she was away at tennis camp. He ended up marrying her anyway. Jim, who was a hood with rolled up T-shirt sleeves and a cigarette pack in high school, once worked as a shepherd in Colorado before finishing Alfred College, where he met his wife Lynn.

Later the priesthood beckoned. His first parish was in Asheville, North Carolina, followed by decades working as a chaplain, teacher of Christian education and social studies, and boarding home master to 64 boys in Brisbane, Australia, who come in from the bush for their schooling. The children of parents with ranches requiring two days to cross by motorcycle, their only educational alternative was short-wave radio. A far cry from Steinbeck’s ranchers, a close, clubby group.

Albert Bierstadt's painting California Spring shownLife East of Eden in Steinbeck’s Paradise

Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley is located between the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Gabilan Range, named for the hawks that soar among the hills, predators on the prowl around Fremont Peak. With some justice it’s called the Salad Bowl of the world. Its rich alluvial soil produces most of the lettuce used in the salads we eat. Plus strawberries, potatoes, grapes, and more.

The town of Salinas was already an agricultural center when John Steinbeck was grew up there. Today visitors can take an East of Eden walking tour, following Kate’s path to the bank to the corner of Castroville (now Market) and Main streets where she deposits the earnings from the bordello she owns. Steinbeck wasn’t always welcomed home after he left Salinas, where copies of The Grapes of Wrath—the book that exposed the plight of migrant workers a generation before Cesar Chavez—were burned in the street.  Steinbeck’s was the disturbed and disturbing sadness of someone who knew how to see. Learn to look, he urged readers. Just observe. Shove aside presumptions and preconceptions. Steinbeck called it “non-teleological thinking,” and not everyone in Salinas understood.

Steinbeck called it ‘non-teleological thinking,’ and not everyone in Salinas understood.

Twelve miles south of Salinas, down the valley, is Soledad, a name that translates as both solitude and loneliness. It is the setting of Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men. George and Lennie are ranch hands wandering from work to work, hanging on to the shards of their dream about a little piece of land of their own and rabbits for Lennie. Brawn coupled with ignorance spells sorrow. Lennie kills Curly’s wife because her panic frightens him. George does what he must to protect the friend he promised he would look after from being lynched by Curley’s gang. Trapped men. Imprisoned men. Lonely men.

Spiff reminds me that Soledad today is famous as the home of Soledad prison. The prison on one side, agriculture on the other. Families following their jailbird sons, husbands, and boyfriends have led to a recent increase in gang violence throughout the valley. The day after I left Salinas for San Francisco, police and federal agents in an action called Operation Knockout arrested 37 members of the Norteno drug gang in a neighborhood near the rectory of suburban St. Paul’s.

While waiting for Jim to meet me outside the National Steinbeck Center on my first day in Salinas, I watched an elderly man poke his walking stick into a trash bin. He wore a turquoise cap, a blue and white windbreaker, and grey slacks. Rummaging through the garbage, he pulled out a plastic bottle, dumped the remnants of the soda, squashed it with his sneaker, and stuck it into his plastic bag. He moved on, harvesting from other bins located along Main Street. If you don’t have a job and gather enough bottles and plastic, you can make a few bucks from recycling.

If you don’t have a job and gather enough bottles and plastic, you can make a few bucks from recycling.

Following dinner with Jim, Lynn, and their daughter at Clint Eastwood’s Restaurant in Carmel-by-the Sea—and a decent night’s sleep—I awoke to my first rain in 3,000 miles on the road. Before Jim dropped me off at the Center and drove back to his offices to prepare for a funeral, he took me to meet his friend the Methodist pastor. In partnership with local Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, the Methodists and Episcopalians of Salinas operate a drop-in center for hundreds of homeless men, women, and children. That day these folk waited inside, out of the rain, for the free lunch the churches provide daily. They were going to have enchilada casserole.

The homeless of Salinas could also change their wet clothes for dry garments from the clothing ministry. The Methodist church library, which once featured religious books read by few, now serves as a food pantry where canned goods line the bookshelves. Tillich and Barth made way for Heinz and Old El Paso sauce. Counseling services are also provided, along with volunteers who simply listen to these homeless souls tell their stories. A listening ministry. Homelessness, too, means isolation, loneliness, no one to talk with. A van pulled into the cramped church parking area. Clinica de Salud. This was dentist week. Salinas churches also participate in the I-Help ministry, rounding up the homeless in vans and bringing them to area churches for a safe, warm night off the streets.

Albert Bierstadt's painting Above the Golden Gate shownThe Truth of Grapes of Wrath Marches On

This is the California where the story told in The Grapes of Wrath ends. Between 300,000 and 500,000 Dust Bowl migrants, Steinbeck’s “Harvest Gypsies,” left ruined farms in towns like Sallisaw, Oklahoma, drove the Route 66 exodus trail, and huddled together in caravans of the desperate and disillusioned, hoping to reap the abundance of California as laborers for hire. Back home they suffered from bad agricultural practices, sustained drought, and financial indebtedness. They arrived in California to experience hostile police, apocalyptic floods, and even deeper debt.

One diary of a worker on display at the National Steinbeck Center reads: April 21. Work began today. The price was raised to .30 per hamper. Made 14 hampers which made us $4.20. April 22. Something different. Rain. Rained all day. Couldn’t do anything but stay in tent and read.

I double-checked my pocket calendar. Today was April 20. Seventy-five years ago this destitute diarist was filling hampers for .30 cents. Tomorrow I’ll be taking my daughter and her boyfriend out to an expensive dinner in downtown San Francisco. I’ll use my credit card.

April 20. Later I heard the news on the radio about the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig off the coast of Louisiana. Eco-disaster. Another Steinbeck theme.

Sallisaw comes from the French word for salt, named for the salt deposits along the streams used by settlers and buffalo hunters to preserve their meat. Salinas also means salt. Salt preserves. Salt brings out flavor. Salt can also heal. Salt is the reason our tears sting.

While I was touring the National Steinbeck Center on my second visit—excited by the touch of a kindred spirit when I recognized Rocinante, the vehicle Steinbeck used to drive America in Travels with Charley—I glanced out the glass entranceway and saw through the drizzle the same fellow in the same clothes harvesting from the same trash bins I’d seen when I arrived in Salinas. Steinbeck would have found it ironic that while I was touring a wing of the museum named for him, local Rotarians arrived for lunch and a program provided by the facility.

Perhaps the Rotarians with their 4-Way Test took time to view the exhibit of photographs in the center’s side hall. I did. It consisted of pictures from around the world—from Vietnam, Haiti, Iraq, Columbia, and beyond—showing victims of war. The display included stories and quotations from the subjects of the photographs. One image depicted an elderly woman, her skin stretched, punctured, and distorted from war wounds. Her body bore the divots of callused causes. Her caption read: My body took the brunt of the bullets but my family was hit hardest. . . . my grandchildren go to bed hungry and crying.

I felt like crying.

Albert Bierstadt's painting Sunet in the Yosemite shownThe Way Is Open, the Choice Is Ours

Timshel. Steinbeck’s version of a Hebrew word meaning Thou mayest. The way is open. The choice is ours. The word Steinbeck thought was the most important word in the world.

The Grapes of Wrath begins with a drought and ends in a flood. Steinbeck based his fictional flood on a real event that occurred in Visalia, California, 100 miles north of Bakersfield in California’s Central Valley. In the novel what is left of the Joad family huddles together in a rain-soaked barn. They have lost everything except each other. Their grandchild has died and their children go to bed hungry. The Joads’ plight continues today in the sufferings of the grandmother in the photograph, the homeless in the church vans, and the old man in the cap and windbreaker on Main Street, Salinas. Timshel.

The paintings of Albert Bierstadt, shown here, provide visual counterpoint that John Steinbeck would have appreciated. Like Steinbeck, the great Hudson River-Rocky Mountasin School painter was a prolific artist of German heritage who found inspiration in the sublimity of California’s coast and mountains. He died on on February 18, 1902. Steinbeck was born nine days later.