Journey Into Solitude: What I Learned Listening to Steinbeck


Before Monday, I had only read one book by John Steinbeck.

It was The Pearl and it was long before I began to love prose.

But this week I traveled to Lake Huron from Lake Michigan. I needed some solitude and rest and to listen.

So, I downloaded an audio version of Travels With Charlie, and listened to Steinbeck’s words travel through my Volkswagen as I made by way across the state.

I love listening to authors. I think it’s because words form there own kind of music. They are their own sonata. They dance.

I like the way Steinbeck dances.

His prose is smooth and rhythmic.
His style clear but compelling.
It’s soft but sophisticated.

Prose without purpose is like a good jelly donut – you feel great for about 17 seconds and then want to vomit.

Steinbeck isn’t a jelly donut.

I was glad to ingest his words as I ducked through dirt roads and busy highways. I was making a journey to get away from the noise so having words that were full of life felt appropriate. We live around so many meaningless words. We move in next to them. They sit down next to us. They invade and we don’t evict them. We like the noise.

I like the noise.

It keeps me from getting to the bottom of things. When you’re at the bottom of the things you have to face the boogie man. There is no more campfire tales of his horror or tales of his great green eyes. You have to look at him – whatever that issue is and talk to it.

As much as it would be healthy for us to like this, I don’t think we do. We prefer to sidestep the reason for our fear. We don’t want to talk about why we have to control everything around us.

Maybe it’s just me but I have a suspicion all of us have an issue with silence.

Because in silence we can only spin so many tales before we listen. And there the real things begin to speak. We hear past hopes and pains and sorrows. We see prayers answered, lost, and forgotten. When you and I are quiet we begin to hear ourselves talk. This isn’t the talk that we spin when we have noise around us. This is the narrative of our life. This is our self talking to ourself.

It’s weird. Maybe that’s why we run from it.

But I think we need more of it. I need more of it.

I’m not talking about the inward obsessed man who is constantly thinking about how he feels about what he’s thinking about. I mean the man who sits with men and with God in silence. I mean the man brave enough to hear what he has been trying to tell himself.

If it sounds odd I think you need some time alone. We’re pretty complex beings. I think we need some stillness to untie our knots and kneed our fears. I do at least. I need the silence to stretch until I give in. I need to cave to it and listen. I need to sit there with myself and be honest.

It’s hard. But it’s more exhausting to never listen.

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