15 March 2012


last semester, i took a one-day writing class on flash fiction.  we discussed all of the different forms that short fiction can come in, and one of those forms is letters.

after that class, i checked out this book of letters that john steinbeck wrote all throughout his life (i've actually never read any of his books... slightly embarrassing).  my favorite of his letters was one that he wrote to his son.  i saved a copy of the letter because i really liked it, but didn't exactly know the context in which the letter was written.

until yesterday!  by magic i found this cool thing.  and what do you know, it featured this same exact letter a few months ago, AND a little of the backstory!

i love this letter.
a lot.
i hope you love it, too.

john steinbeck got a letter from his son, thom.  the son (who was fourteen at the time) was writing to say that he thought he'd fallen in love with a girl named susan at the boarding school he went to.

this is what his dad wrote (elaine is steinbeck's wife):

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning.  I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

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 egotistic 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.

You say this is not puppy love.  If you feel so deeply - of course it isn't puppy love.

But I don't think you were asking me what you feel.  You know that better than anyone.  What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it - and that I can tell you.

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.

If you love someone - there is no possible harm in saying so -- only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

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.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I am glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan.  She will be very welcome.  But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to.  She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don't worry about losing.  If it is right, it happens - The main thing is not to hurry.  Nothing good gets away.


(the book is Steinbeck: A Life in Letters, which can partially be found on google books here)

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