I was having a small crisis a few months ago and my wise friend Kelly, who always seems to know just what to say, saved herself a few words and sent me the link to this letter written by John Steinbeck to his son in 1958. He talks to his son about being in love, and what it means, and what he can tell him about it. The advice he can offer.
“The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”
I printed this letter off in February and have had it in my room ever since. I’ve read it a good number of times, and I can never get around that last line. Sometimes I find it really comforting; sometimes it reduces me to a little ball of a person curled up on top of my comforter, trying to understand why John Steinbeck would tell me that. Of course good things get away! They get away all the time, Mr. Steinbeck!!! How many failed relationships have you witnessed? I know essentially no successful marriages. I hear about them sometimes. I have friends who tell me their parents are still very much in love and very content with each other. But I don’t know these couples well. I’ve maybe seen them in passing, at the grocery store or wherever, but who knows what happens when they stride through the automatic doors and out to their cars. Maybe they start fighting instantly about the temperature of the air conditioner and how close the gauge can get to E before it’s time to put more gas in. Or maybe they aren’t fighting about it, they’re just bickering. Or maybe they aren’t in love at all, or even in like. But this isn’t even what I’m talking about.
I’m not talking about failed marriages; those people had their shot. I’m talking about Steinbeck’s son, and how Steinbeck is telling him nothing good gets away. Like you’ll have your chance with someone if you’re meant to. Like no legitimate prospect will slip through your fingers. Like if Steinbeck’s son is in love with a girl, she’ll automatically reciprocate to the extent that they can figure out of it’s worth pursuing or not. Has Steinbeck never had his heart broken, or is he just so supremely wise that he can see beyond such failure with some grander philosophical perspective, and know that, because he’s John Steinbeck, he’ll find someone else and life will go on? Maybe if something good gets away, something better will come along? But what if something perfect gets away? I don’t get it.
I don’t want to argue with someone of Steinbeck’s caliber, but I’m worried that good things, even the best things, do get away, and more often than we’d like to admit. Am I missing some important part here? I don’t think so. I think the sentiment is really pretty simple. I wish he were right. I would like him to be right.
dans le Marais, 25 mars 2012
This seems fairly accurate. Cupid shooting fools with a real gun. Some of them end up love-struck, but maybe some of them die. It is a gun, after all.
I’m starting to believe in it.
The Paris metropolitan area has 4 different suburban train lines that go from zones 1 (Paris ‘proper’ if you will) through 5. I live in the dreaded, far-away zone 5. Rent is cheaper out here, but it also means you’ve got to pay quite a bit for the transports. I have friends who live here who only pay for zones 1 and 2 because the controllers so rarely come out this far to check tickets, and it makes me feel like a bit of a chump at times. WELP, would you imagine…when I was charging my card this month I stared hard at the machine and thought about how I’d never been checked in zones 3-5, and it was just so tempting to cheat. However, I’m on the train a LOT – I go to Paris nearly every single day for babysitting or the other zillions of things there are to do in Paris, and I can’t imagine spending all that time on the train knowing that I could be caught and fined. The RER is bad enough; if I’m ill at ease every time I’m on it, it will just be hell. Plus I just believe in paying for public transports because I know what life is like without them and I want to support their upkeep and use. EN PLUS, I bitch about the RER constantly (because it stinks, it’s always delayed, it’s always full of people, it’s filthy, etc etc etc), and if I didn’t pay for it, I wouldn’t have a right to complain because I’d just be taking advantage. I certainly don’t want to lose my right to complain.
Well as I stood there staring at the machine contemplating the 45 Euro discount of cheaters, I realized that, though I don’t have any strong disapproval of it (it is but a small, victimless crime), I can’t do that. I have to pay for it. I’m not a rule-breaker; I’m just not that cool. So I sighed and pressed zones 1-5.
Whaaaat did my eyes behold? 50% discount this month because of all the delays and problems that have taken place over the past couple of months on my area of the line. I paid less than I would have for zones 1 and 2 alone. EN PLUS, I was checked in zone 3 just a few days later. Loads of people had little ticket stubs filled out, whereas this uncool granny handed over her charged pass for verification and continued with her book worry-free.
And it continues! I woke up feeling really crappy today…I couldn’t fall asleep until around 4 am and have been a bit sick lately, and today it was even worse. The French are big on spoiling yourself at the first sign of any illness, so I was super tempted to call in sick, at least for the morning classes. I debated it with myself up until the last minute and then decided I really didn’t want to let my teacher down because I knew it would probably mess up her lesson plans, and she even just told me the other day that the main office was doing checks of everyone’s attendance and she assured them that I’m always there and always do my work. So, sigh, I went. Faked a bright face for my first two classes and by the third, I was really running out of steam. I was there, though, waiting in the hallway with my students. But what what? Why were we waiting? The teacher was absent! We were all free to go! And now I’m enjoying a 2-hour break at home with some tea.
Two weeks into the month and I’ve been rewarded twice for being an honest, responsible person. Karma’s not always a bitch; sometimes she’s a right peach. I think it’s going to be a good spring.
near République, 8 mai 2011
I’m still talking about immigration with my students this week (predominantly students coming from immigrant families, since, you know, we’re in the Parisian suburbs and 40% of France’s immigrants live in the Paris metropolitan area) and plan to show them this article to add a bit of meat to their discussion (which hasn’t been falling too flat, but nevertheless).
the side of my apartment building at Stalingrad, 18ème, 7 février 2011
I don’t know what to say about all of this. I’m not sure what the percentage is today (it can only have gone up, I’m sure), but in 2008, 19% of France’s population was foreign-born immigrants with French-born children. Their immigrants come from everywhere, but primarily from: Italy, Spain, Poland, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, China, Romania, Mali, Cameroon, the US, and, of course, North Africa. In addition to those countries, I’ve had students whose parents come from Argentina, Chile, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Comoros Islands, Mauritius, Haiti, India, and other countries that I’m simply forgetting because they’re such a diverse group of kids. The Maghreb people represent 8-10% of the immigrant population in France, which seems like a rather low estimate to me, but voilà. France is also the European country with the largest number of black inhabitants.
This all makes me love France so much. My students tell me the government gives loads of financial and social aid to immigrants, helping them find places to live, giving them money to start new lives, and allowing their families to join them here in France. And of course there’s the health care. It’s just amazing. France is an amazing country.
I do have students who tell me they are “100% French,” and last week I had two boys tell me there were “too many” immigrants in France. Okay, these feelings exist. And here is Sarkozy, saying scary things again.
But you should hear my students talk about immigration. One of the questions I posed to each student (since it is impossible to make every student participate in general discussion and you must ask each one a direct question) was, “if you left France and immigrated to a new country, where would you go, and why do you find that county attractive?” Some of them said they’d go to England or the US for a few years for work, some of them said a beautiful island, some of them said Spain for the beach and the lower cost of living, but so, so many of them said they wanted to stay in France. “Eet eez good here!” It’s so good here.
Even if there are some negative feelings, and even if things may change in the future, as of right now, as an American, I can’t quite believe what goes on here in France. The government helping immigrants to this degree. Another question I asked them was, “what about refugees? Do you think refugees should be limited? Should they always be welcome?” One girl said, “of course!” and the response was overwhelmingly pro-refugee. Many of them do have concerns about immigrants taking advantage of the social aid, which is a huge problem, but they ask that the country simply monitor these social programs more closely to ensure that resources aren’t being wasted or abused.
My students asked me what country I would immigrate to if I left to the US permanently and after a bit of thought, I said I’d probably choose France. Or Switzerland (to which they responded, “ohh mais non, c’est nul la Suisse!” As if…).
Montreux, mai 2008