salinger and the love-artist

I often think about how our access to so very much both inspires and thwarts us. On the one hand, we can sit in our backyards (or front, at tables at Starbucks or the library) and via a few clicks own basically any book, or read about the day’s news from places hours and hours away (by plane). But it’s not just that, the access to so much, it’s the access to so much that is so very, very good. Words, and paintings, thoughts and theories of such ineffable beauty or tragedy which stretch our minds and hearts, images created that humble us and leave us agog.

Surely we strive to live simpler lives, to distill (sift? oh, yes) all that is out there until all that remains are those kernels that best give us what feeds us, but in the meantime we simply cannot hold in our outstretched arms all the things we want to absorb, to tuck in our pockets and hang from the walls of our memories. I am in a constant state of enthrallment (note word comes from the Middle English word for enslave) with this world and, like many, am so wrapped up in reading, listening, watching other creators that often I forget that I too can create, however humbly, simply. But then again everything I do or have done or will do is a creation, is it not?

Watching the film Salinger (the first part I found fascinating, when it got into his relationships with family and beyond I lost interest and felt a little nauseated, violated and violating at the same time) I was struck by Salinger’s description of the “marvelous peace” of not publishing, of the pleasure of writing to write alone.

There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.

I’m not certain I believe him, though. Clearly he lived for his writing, but he also seemed very driven to publish, publish, publish, at least in the beginning before the critics and the burdens of fame and life itself took him by the balls and spun him about. Often, though, I think we are too concerned with the end and forget about the joys to be had in the means. Nowness. Mindfulness. Focus. It can be applied to all aspects of our lives. Salinger too was into many practices whose core is just that.

But what began this meandering were words. Beautiful, creative words used in new ways to describe things we thought we knew but did not at all.

I’ve just finished, The Love-Artist by Jane Alison, in which Ovid, poor Ovid, grows mad in his exile and in his worries about whether or not his works will live on, and on, and on. ImageLike Salinger, Ovid was obsessed with his creation, the latter bemoaning his exile, the former seeking it out, locking himself in a writing bunker as his child stands by the tree waiting for her father, so close yet so far. (Alison’s writing is exquisite. I can’t wait to read more of her work.)

If only he could see what was to become of him, of his name and his bright, mercurial poems—the palaces and villas that will rise up hundreds of years later all over these famous hills, their ceilings and walls made brilliant with frescoes, and the stately galleries of paintings, the halls of marble sculptures…all glorying him and his clever, alchemical stories. If only he could see the scholars and monks illuminating his verses with tiny images of girls becoming trees, of boys with feathery wings, of cool statues blushing to life. I’ll write about bodies transfigured…He has hoped and begged for this so fervently that his nails have pierced his lean dry palms, as iron nails will pierce other palms only a few years from now; he has forced the blood to pounding behind his eyes with the sheer aching pressure of his ambition; he has, finally, done what he’s done, in the terrible force of his desire.

To be known. To be remembered. To live forever

Is that what lies beneath all creation, this idea that it will live on, that it will be greater than the sum of our parts and through it we will be remembered? We procreate, whether flesh or canvas or ink (virtual or actual) to give ourselves life.


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