'East of Eden': The Novel That Changed My Life

"I latched onto Steinbeck's quote: 'All great and precious things are lonely.' To me, it meant that anything worth doing will be tough." (Lina Blanco/KQED)

The tattoo on my arm reads "All great and precious things are lonely." I first read those words in 2011, during the first few months of my service in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia. Steinbeck's East of Eden was a recommendation from a fellow volunteer, who said it was the best book he'd read while there. It consumed me from the very first page. After I finished, I wept. Wept because I knew that I would never again be able to read the book for the first time.

I had already made a life-changing decision. I left my cushy job, my comfortable relationship and content life to plunge into Peace Corps service. But early on I was always on the precipice of moving. I had my girl back home, a job I could return to, and my family who missed me. But as I dove headlong into the lives of the Trasks and the Hamiltons in Salinas, California, I latched onto this quote: “All great and precious things are lonely.”

To me, it meant that anything worth doing will be tough, that greatness—or to do great things—requires sacrifice. Those very words helped get me through some challenging, harrowing times while in Ethiopia. Steinbeck’s words fortified me. I made it to the other end of my two-year service, less one girlfriend, but with a renewed determination to take charge of my life post-Peace Corps.

I didn’t return to my pre-Peace Corps life. Instead, I forged a new path. I actively looked for work outside of my hometown Milwaukee. While interviewing, I worked on a political campaign, where I made some new friends and found some new inspiration, all the while developing a deep connection with a friend from my service in the corps. It was a long distance friendship that turned into romance. Now we’re getting married this September.

But the most significant change was where I ended up at the end of all the applications, all the interviews—San Francisco. Not quite Salinas, but among the many things that drew me to the Bay was the thought of Steinbeck’s world, so close. So I took a job in San Francisco to start my new life-changing endeavor.

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Sure, it was lonely at first. But aren't all great things?

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