I’ve spent very little time with the visual arts – compared to music and writing, at least. However, after finishing a collection called The Short Novels of John Steinbeck, I felt an urge to paint “The Pearl of the World” on a small canvas. I honestly failed to realize that the completion of my little attempt would fall on the writer’s birthday. It was a pleasant surprise. I almost feel like the world, or the pearl, conspired to make it happen.
There isn’t much that I can write about my painting. It’s only the work of a dabbler. I used a paint called gouache, which I’m not sure is even meant for canvas. I learned about that sort of paint during my time at The New School, from the aspiring fashion designers at Parsons The New School of Design. They used gouache a lot, mixed upon wax paper, and they applied it lightly to their designs on paper. I love the way gouache looks, although my painting fails to capture the effect it had on those fashion designs.
Anyway, I can write a little bit about John Steinbeck.
I used to dislike him very much.
When I was in grade school, I didn’t enjoy reading. Even some of the more entertaining, popular books felt like chores to me. I don’t think it was entirely due to my impatience as an immature boy; American teachers have a tendency to assign depressing readings about the Holocaust, about sad things that happen to children, or about anything that hurts happiness. I guess it’s supposed to help kids grow. It was in this manner that John Steinbeck’s The Pearl landed on my middle school syllabus. And as far as I was concerned, Kino’s pearl was more of a cherry to place upon a stack of miserable tales.
When I entered high school, my freshman reading teacher had the unfortunate idea of assigning A Child Called “It” and Angela’s Ashes. She was obviously a sadist… In my junior year, a much better teacher assigned The Grapes of Wrath, but the wounds were already too deep. I recognized John Steinbeck’s name at once as one of those writers who wants to ruin a guy’s day. I picked up the heavy stack of pages and said, “Well, of course, this book is about The Great Depression!” There was no way that I could appreciate his works at the time.
Years later, I earned my MFA in Creative Writing to do my part in creating the foul things called books. But, by that time, I didn’t dislike them anymore. And the childhood trauma of suffering and death no longer prevented me from enjoying a sad story. It was time to give John Steinbeck a fair shot, so I picked up that collection of short novels, which included The Pearl (the last one in the book). When I finished The Pearl, I felt as though I had read it for the very first time. Now, I think it’s a great story. They were all pretty great, actually. I finally have a brand new respect for one of American’s greatest writers.