Happy Birthday, John Steinbeck

My amateur painting, "Kino's Pearl," in celebration of John Steinbeck.
My amateur painting, “Kino’s Pearl,” in honor of Steinbeck.

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.