Having lived “East of Eden”, in Monterey County California for the past 20 years, I couldn’t help but be in contact with the local native son and Nobel Laureate, John Stienbeck. From the Salinas Valley to Canary Row, his mark is everywhere. I have read and reread most of John Steinbeck’s work. Once, I even spent 48 hours reading, dancing, drumming, and singing (a friend organized a read in) to help ensure that the libraries named after Steinbeck and Chavez did not close due to a lack of funding.
My favorite passage from Steinbeck’s The Log From the Sea of Cortez has come to mind a number of times in the last few weeks. Does it matter if I write thank you notes to the people that have applied for our new faculty positions? Does it matter if our remote faculty can participate and feel connected to the department? Does it matter if I strategize about increased funding for or fundability of our department? Does it matter if the chair at your desk is comfortable and is adjusted so you won’t have ergonomic issues? Does it matter if I bake cookies for Friday break occasionally? Does it matter if we provide formalized mentorship to our postdocs? Does it matter if our classes are well taught? Does it matter if I take time to say good morning and how are you to the janitor or the team working on our renovations when I walk in the door in the morning? Does it matter that we get timely and science based answers to growers? Does it matter that I am now doing exit interviews with our graduate students? Does it matter that I take time to write a kumbaya moment for the beginning of each Monday Memo? Clearly there are priorities that we need to work on first, but I keep coming to the conclusion that none of it is important or all of it is. Luckily, I am not alone and each of you are leading or helping with those things you think are most important. Because all of it is important to someone, we make great progress in many different areas.
This link provides additional powerful passages from this important biology and philosophy text https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/1357995-the-log-from-the-sea-of-Cortez but the passage I keep handy on my devices is as follows:
“…Let us go,” we said, “into the Sea of Cortez, realizing that we become forever a part of it; that our rubber boots slogging through a flat of eel-grass, that the rocks we turn over in a tide pool, make us truly and permanently a factor in the ecology of the region. We shall take something away from it, but we shall leave something too.” And if we seem a small factor in a huge pattern, nevertheless it is of relative importance. We take a tiny colony of soft corals from a rock in a little water world. And that isn’t terribly important to the tide pool. Fifty miles away the Japanese shrimp boats are dredging with overlapping scoops, bringing up tons of shrimps, rapidly destroying the species so that it may never come back, and with the species destroying the ecological balance of the whole region. That isn’t very important in the world. And thousands of miles away the great bombs are falling and the stars are not moved thereby. None of it is important or all of it is.”
Enjoy your week and do something important.