My two favorite books are Catcher in the Rye and A Moveable Feast. Both are books with elusive plots, which is interesting since I often maintain story is everything, but I confess I rarely read books for story or even content, I read for style. I can hear the critics chiming now style is content…I know, I know, what I mean is I read to see how a writer handled their subject, not to learn about the subject.
But that’s hardly what this post is about. This post is about romantic trickery, and how easy it is for a creator to get caught up in the romanticism of a life that hardly exists. The allure of Catcher and Feast rest in the easy lilt of the prose, and perhaps in the subtext that one can be unemployed, ride around in taxi’s, flirt with girls at clubs, smoke pipes in cafes in Paris, drive around with F. Scott Fitzgerald, bet a little on the horses and not have any bad days.
I picked up Feast in the airport in Boston. The older, black woman at the counter clutched her heart when I set it on the counter. It’s his best, she said. It’s the only book he wrote while he was happy. I sat at my gate and started the book. They loaded my plane fifteen feet from me, they called my name, the plane took off and I kept reading. I missed my flight to New York for the goodness of that book. I didn’t know at the time that little of the book is taken from Hemingway’s journals at the time, but that he edited it decades later to reflect a more romantic interpretation of the time.
That said, life was not so good for either writer. Hemingway went through wives as did Salinger. Their biographies are not as flattering as the stories they told about themselves, and neither died with any kind of dignity. Hemingway failed to produce much good work toward the end and killed himself.
It makes you wonder if the days in Paris were any less fiction than the accounts of Middle Earth. A good writer is a very good liar, and a great reader is more than willing to believe. I think the devil is better than Shakespeare, and I wonder if in heaven his books won’t be contraband, the stuff kids read behind the corner store, trying out cigarettes.
What’s this got to do with you? A lot. There’s the romantic life of a creator, and the fulfilling life a creator can actually live, and they are different. One is in the clouds and the other is grounded in reality. We do our work, we submit our lives in virtue, we create over a love of the creation and not to be thought of as a creator, and perhaps the story we tell with our actual lives will be meaningful. Will our real lives be as good as the stories that get told in books? No, they won’t, but the only story that actually tells the truth is the story you have lived, good or bad.
How’s the real story going? How’s the work ethic of the lead character? How is the love story developing? What chapter of the real story are you in? What’s it about? What’s important to the protagonist? What should be important? What will it feel like when it ends? We won’t have the luxury of editing this one.