By Gwyn Lurie   |   April 2, 2020
A) Thomas Steinbeck (August 2, 1944 – August 11, 2016)

A shout out of gratitude to Realtor Dusty Baker for sponsoring this week’s Montecito Journal home delivery.

Hemingway famously said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter… and bleed.”

Which certainly has been true for me on occasion. But on the positive side of the ledger, writing has always been one of the few things (other than quarantine) that allows me to completely lose track of time. Lost in my efforts at word-wrangling, sparring with serpentine sentences allows me to express an idea, a thought; one that might evoke a feeling; a chuckle, a chill, a revelation. A momentary brush with truth. And I am content. This is the work at which I have toiled for much of my life. Nothing can frustrate me, or excite me, more.

Not everyone is a writer. But of those who are, few were born with that ability. One becomes a writer by writing. And bleeding. And rewriting. By seeking truth or beauty and sometimes both and feeding it through one’s unique filter and putting it down on paper. By getting in touch with one’s authentic voice and learning to trust that voice. By having something to say. By being okay with the fact that not everyone will like what we have to say or how we say it. And most importantly, by not caring. While really, we care so very much.

My former neighbor and dear friend was the writer Thomas Steinbeck, son of the better known writer and Steinbeck, John. As the doppelganger son of a Nobel Laureate and Pulitzer winner, Thom bravely (and thanklessly) went into the family business after serving time in Vietnam. I so admired Thom’s passion and penchant for writing, his judgements-be-damned attitude that belied his spirited but in some ways heart-crushing life spent largely in the cold shadow of his legendary father’s towering legacy. I personally considered Thom to be as talented a writer as his dad. He had a way with words that slayed me. But the thing I loved most about Thom, the thing I miss about my friend every day, was his generosity. Thom, one of the greatest talents I’ve personally known, made those around him feel recognized and talented as well. If you wanted to write, Thom believed you could. And because he believed it, somehow it made it so.

Thom was well-known and much-loved by so many in this community to whom he was many different things: a raconteur extraordinaire; a drinking buddy, a great conversationalist, a brilliant writer, a muse; a man-child who loved to build model war planes, and fix wagons, and choreograph complicated battle scenes with carefully collected toy soldiers. Replaying battles un-won was one way Thom dealt with his PTSD.

To our family, he was Uncle Thom. My fondest memories involve my children and their friends jumping on our trampoline, shrieking and yelling and laughing as kids do – understandably and unknowingly annoying to a writer whose inner sanctum and writing sanctuary overlooked our property. Sometimes at those moments Thom would come bounding out of his house and through our yards’ connecting gates; and he’d stand there, hands on his hips and to our constant relief he’d say: “Kids laughing… it’s the best sound in the world.”

Two weeks ago we launched the first-ever Montecito Journal Creative Writing Contest. The idea was that with more time on our hands and nowhere to go, some of us might enjoy writing a story and submitting it in the hopes of winning a prize: a 100-dollar gift certificate for take-out food from a local restaurant. The writing prompt was: “I never thought I could be so wrong…” The rules were simple: the stories could be no more than 250 words.

The response has been outstanding. Not only did we receive almost 50 submissions, but the quality was genuinely impressive. It’s not surprising, as I know this community is filled with creative, talented people, many of whom are professional writers. But for even the most skilled, writing a good, svelte 250-word story, is no simple task. A handful of the stories were written by young children – and show great promise. Some of the stories moved me to tears. Many were inspiring. Some had great humor. Each of them, in some way, made me think.

From now on, this new tradition, that I hope will stay with us long after we’ve forgotten the dreaded words “Covid-19,” will be called:

The Montecito Journal Thom Steinbeck Creative Writing Contest

Because, like Thom, we believe that if you want to be a writer, and you write, then you are a writer. Judgements-be-damned!

With so many worthy submissions, we have awarded three prizes: Congratulations to…

1st Place prize: $100 gift certificate from Tre Lune Ristorante to Marc Cronin for his untitled story.

2nd Place prize: $75 gift certificate from Oliver’s to David Figueras for his story: “PEOPLE SITTING IN CARS.”

3rd Place prize: $50 gift certificate from Pacific Health Foods to Richard Renaldo for his untitled story.

Enjoy these stories on page 49.

This week’s new prompt is: “I could not believe those words came out of my mouth.” Please submit stories, titled and with a photo by Sunday, April 11 2020 to letters@montecitojournal.net.

In the meantime, stay safe. Wash your hands. Call a friend. And if you’re going stir crazy… write!


You might also be interested in...