But, really, what's new? We should probably all be more like our canine companions
Admittedly, and unfortunately, this post isn't going to be all about dogs (I love you, Charley). Instead, I feel the need to go more into depth about what I commented on in class today, as well as this notion of restless discontentment which we first got wind of in Tocqueville's piece.
John Steinbeck self-identified as a restless, wandering soul (see: the first few pages of the book). Let me quickly define restless (thank you, dictionary app on my MacBook--yay, capitalism): "unable to rest or relax as a result of anxiety or boredom." That's certainly not a good thing no matter how you intend the word. Restless doesn't just mean the desire or love for travel; restless means an anxious, bored discontentment at any moment one is not traveling. Because we see travel and the road trip so often used as a means of escapism, it bears wondering what exactly was happening with Steinbeck that kept him in such a restless state, through so late in his life.
Something that struck me in this book (or the first 2/3) was that Steinbeck consistently described Charley as if he were describing himself. Bear with me here, I swear I'm not reaching with this thought. Who has EVER met a dog that was less than jubilant at all times? Dogs are the happiest creatures on earth, and though, not every dog is of course happy at all times, the way Steinbeck personified Charley, and the strange instances he felt he needed to narrate Charley's state of being could not go unnoticed in me.
Charley was restless (multiple times); Charley wasn't well-groomed; Charley had a horrible dream; Charley was severely allergic; Charley was upset; Charley paced back and forth. Now, dogs get restless and do pace back and forth: it's very dog-like. They always want to be playing and having fun. However, Steinbeck would narrate these things as if Charley was a bitter, old man frustrated by the world in the way that he was. John, come on now, everyone knows your dog was having the time of his life on the road. Just because your spirit was broken by the "state of America" doesn't mean Charley's was too.
Thankfully, he did admit to the beauty of Charley's always-optimistic brain:
"But if Charley was aware of his deep-down inadequacy, he gave no sign." (p. 95)
"Confronted with our stupidities, Charley accepts them for what they are--stupidities." (p. 100)
It's clear that Steinbeck was desperately trying to find, and hoping for the preservation, of a way of life he, not only, never knew, but never wanted. I wonder what the fascination was. The small town person is always seen as being content, happy. Often times, this is true, and often times, you see someone who wants to be where you [Steinbeck] are (the road). Is this just a classic case of it's always greener on the other side? For all of Steinbeck's brilliance, was he eternally unable to look inward for the answers and contentment he sought? It's a little sad to think he saw contentment so rarely.
Montana was the love of his life, he said, his favorite state. However, he could not live there because of the lack of seashore. I don't know, John, there's something off about your logic, circles of thought, and strange contradictions and paradoxes of belief. Well, what can you do. (Is it condescending to call you John? And also pretend as though I'm talking to you? I don't know, you seem pretty cool, you have that fashionable mustache going on--I think you'd let me call you John). Okay, what am I even talking about anymore?
To finish, I must mention that my cat, Almond, is a traveler himself. He's been on road trips up and down the west coast since he was a lil' kitten. He's stayed in hotels he's been carried into like a baby in my arms. I'm telling you, dogs are normal to travel with, but when you walk in holding a cat, you're a weirdo. I accept the title.
Traveling = good; animals = good; traveling with animals = good x 2. So, where did Steinbeck go wrong? Perhaps the romanticized expectation people head onto the road with serves for more of a letdown than anything. Perhaps, when you assume you'll find out a profound truth about yourself and your country on the road, you are forgetting everything you need to know is already inside you. Sorry, I've started to sound like a hallmark card and have already been calling John John for the past several paragraphs. I'll stop here.