There’s this collection of short stories by Raymond Carver that I read from time to time. It’s a small book, the cover is teal and red, and it is light in the way library books were light when you pulled them out from the oldest shelves. It is yellowed that way too and smells like a dream. I read one story and tuck the book back in casually as if nothing has happened, there has been no interaction, no shift. But there is, there always is. In all the stories I have read, I have noticed that there is a character with an ex-wife. There’s a current partner. And there is an inanimate object that becomes the centre of the narration, somehow. Of course, this is my readerly impression of it. I haven’t done a writerly analysis of it because I haven’t taken the time to go behind the stage, yet. It’s just so much pleasure being in the audience for a while.
And then there is the pleasure of reading East of Eden, whenever I do because my reading schedule has gone to hell. Reading Steinbeck is a different joy altogether and I make no apologies for the head-over-heels-in-love woman I am going to be now. Maybe it is the fact that I loved The Grapes of Wrath and this is a belated kind of affection and infatuation with the man’s writing. Maybe this is how love returns to our lives, in the form of the familiar and the recognisable. Reading East of Eden is an activity of submerging the self into familiar spaces, places I have been, words I have known, and my past-self who once discovered this man’s work. It’s like meeting that girl who was once whole, untarnished by literature, full of light and freshly minted curiosity. All said and done, there is no getting over the way Steinbeck writes about the soil and the earth in his books. All his lines about the mud, dirt, roads, farming, planting, harvesting remind me of belonging. Of being from the earth. And how we interact with the earth. They also remind me of hands. Men become attractive to me based on how they use their hands. Can he wrap his fingers around a tin cup like a Steinbeck hero? Can those arms plough like a Steinbeck hero? Can his arms hold on to a rope and tug at the rocks in the ground like a Steinbeck hero? Can he run his fingers through his hair or wipe the sweat on his brow like a Steinbeck hero?
One of these days I will escape into these worlds fully. I won’t steal glances at Carver’s protagonists or Steinbeck’s earth. I won’t be silently proud of letting myself go such that I can’t bring myself back. I won’t presume. I won’t suppose. And maybe, I might find in these worlds the slowed down rhythm I seek of late. I might find the escape into somewhere, away from the frenetic pace of the here and the now. Away from urgency, heightened pulses, to-do lists, unarrived-at answers, and even the raucuous company I so love.
Slow down my wildly beating heart.