Steinbeck: On Love

Late 1958, John Steinbeck’s son, Thom, wrote to his parents from boarding school telling them he had fallen in love. These extracts are taken from his father’s reply, sent from New York on 10 November 1958.

First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.
Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had…
Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.
The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it…
It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good…
If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.

Steinbeck: A Life in Letters, edited by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten


The Missing Post Office

I have always enjoyed good correspondence. Letters and, latterly, emails can really make my day and more (so much more). Over the years I’ve kept copies of ones I sent to friends (here’s one) and family (here’s one of those) and yet others which I didn’t send (like this one written in gratitudeor this, written reflectively). I never intended to send them, whether for want of an address or conviction, or for reasons politic. I always felt better for writing all my letters, though the unsent have given me a particular pleasure.

So, it was with great delight this week that I discovered The Missing Post Office. An idea launched by the Japanese conceptual artist, Saya Kubota, in her home country, it was also offered in the UK until 22 February. A poste restante of sorts, it’s for those letters we need to write which would otherwise remain unsent – for many different reasons. So far, letters have been received addressed to people, objects and concepts. They take care of them all, ‘floating in a liminal space under our custody’.

As Saya writes: ‘We invite you to post a letter, like a message in a bottle, that will float on the sea of time. A letter to anyone, anywhere, at any time, which might one day
arrive here with us, and be washed ashore to you as the reader.’ So, without ado, if you’d like to know more…

Here’s The Missing Post Office…


A Thank You Letter

Dear You,

Thank you for standing and talking to me on the rocks whilst I was reading.

Thank you for taking a chance on me.

What I might easily have seen as an intrusion from another person, I had the good fortune and sense to recognize as honest friendship. My reward has been the true pleasure of your company. It’s never too much and always enough of a good thing. Your honesty, freshness and compassion have helped me immeasurably. You shook the dust from me and helped me see my world afresh.

Thank you.

Every heartfelt best wish for your next adventure.

I often do this, write letters I don’t send or show to the addressee. But I do keep them. I was raised to be polite and, where appropriate, would always say thank you for doing. I would not, though, express gratitude for being. I had a fear of exposure, of appearing weak. I’m a little better at it now. Just a little, mind. This letter was written for a woman I lost touch with years ago. Mary Wesley started the conversation which led to this friendship, though I didn’t tell her either.


Unsettled: A Letter to You

I’m writing you a letter. This is it, in fact. I’m writing it, but I won’t send it. You want to know why? Of course you do. Why is because I need to write it, but you don’t need to read it. Though I’d like you to, it wouldn’t be fair. I can cope with being unsettled but it’s not for you, this unease. It would affect your settled existence and that would never do. There’s the rub.

You unsettled me.

I wanted to see you again, but had practised my diffidence so well that I believed it didn’t matter – us meeting. I had rehearsed Plan B; disappointment was not an option. With so much else for me to do, really you’d have done me a favour if you hadn’t shown. But you didn’t do me that honour. You came. And when you said you would. And it was all like before. Yesterday was all those years ago, yet closer. I mean that’s when we’d last met wasn’t it?

In your company, there was no time, there was no yesterday, just today. We laughed warmly, we talked openly, we walked miles in companionable silence. All in the now. Then you left. When you did, I cried. I was bereft; happy-nostalgic and sad-empty. I had no idea you’d affect me that way, none at all. Yet, you did. By being you for a day I could be me. That was in your gift.

You unsettled me.
I appreciate it.
Thank you.