How to Be at Home

| 4/19/2010 11:04:10 AM

Tags: S.M.R. Saia, J.D. Salinger, Philosophy, Writing, Wendell Berry,

Image“A man must have aunts and cousins, must buy carrots and turnips, must have barn and woodshed, must go to market and to the blacksmith’s shop, must saunter and sleep and be inferior and silly.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

J. D. Salinger died a few months ago at the age of 91, and his demise sent ripples of speculation through the publishing world. His famous novel Catcher in the Rye was a sensation when it was published in 1951. It achieved a gradual and building success that by the 1960s drove Salinger to retreat to a farm house in Cornish, New Hampshire, where he remained – raising his family and writing, but not publishing – for the duration of his life.

By the time I was born in 1969, J. D. Salinger was already a legend. I grew up knowing two things about him – that he wrote The Catcher in the Rye, and that he had essentially dropped off the face of the earth. He was that astonishing and unbelievable anomaly in the publishing world – the “sure thing” writer who refused to cash in his chips. I read all of his books about twenty years ago, and I remember liking them at the time, but they were not literary-life-altering for me. I’ve been an aspiring novelist all of my life and Salinger was never one of the writers who inspired me ... with one small exception. Writer’s magazines and web sites and agent’s blogs all tell us that in the present state of publishing it is now a writer’s responsibility to bring an audience “to the table” along with their manuscript, and it is within this context that I have always been fascinated by the idea of Salinger’s reserve; by his ability to not participate in the fray. What inspires me about J. D. Salinger is his apparent conviction that a writer’s only obligation is to write – a conviction in him that seems to have been attached to a real affinity for home.

* * * * *

Home must be something that Salinger understood very well. He refused to put art before life, I assume because he recognized and respected the complex relationship between them; because he knew that they were not – that they could not be – mutually exclusive. Eulogistic pieces in The New Yorker suggest that he was not technically a recluse, as we’ve been led to believe. He simply refused to be what he said most writers are nowadays, “book-selling louts and big mouths.”

Lillian Ross, Salinger’s friend for over fifty years, quotes him talking about taking his children to ride on the flying swings at the Cornish Fair, where he said he would “stand around and talk about schools with the other crummy parents, the summer parents.” She says he found “fun and relief” traveling down to New York to have dinner with her and another mutual friend. In the same issue John Seabrook, a friend of Matthew Salinger (J. D. Salinger’s son), describes an evening when Matthew invited him and his girlfriend to the Salinger home to watch movies. Salinger made them popcorn and sat behind them with “his face illuminated by the flickering projector.” Salinger and Seabrook later played golf together. On another day they spent “a wonderful afternoon ... going around San Francisco’s Chinatown, looking at exotic mushrooms, roots, and herbs.”

s.m.r. saia
5/23/2010 6:44:30 AM

Thanks Susan, and thanks for the great quote, which rings very true. :0)

5/21/2010 6:44:31 PM

Shannon, great post! I'm just now catching up on reading a bunch of them. I once read this quote, which I like very much: All of our problems arise from our inability to stay quietly at home. Since I got married several years ago and moved from city to country, I've learned, literally, how to be at home. To not want to be anywhere else. To not always feel the need to go soomewhere, or to do something. More and more lately, I'm pulled in by simple writing, honest observations, and reading a story that's told from the heart. I'll always love a fresh metaphor or a strange plot twist, but I no longer scoff at a simpler tale. I think it's partly me accepting that whatever I write doesn't need to be grand or stunning. It's me giving myself permission to get out of the way and tell the story as I remember or know it, or as it comes to me. Thanks for another thoughtful post. Susan Close to the Earth in Alaska

s.m.r. saia
4/30/2010 6:09:01 AM

Cindy, thanks for the info on the White book. I'll poke around for it. And I see your post is up now, so I'm going to go check it out. Nebraska Dave, thanks for the kind words. Sorry it's been a week or more since I've checked in. And don't worry about calling me Susan. I also answer to Sharon. :0)

nebraska dave
4/22/2010 8:31:16 AM

Shannon, sorry. I keep calling you Susan. I don't know why. Please forgive me? It has been a long week. My five year old grandson and his mom has come to live with me for an indefinite amount of time so things are just a little bit different around here now. You are such a good writer. I never could write with any depth or philosophical meaning. I guess that's why I write with pictures. It's the picture worth 10,000 words thing. Anyway I hope you keep up the brain stimulation. I can definitely use it. Most of my reading comes from magazines. Extreme How to, Handy Man, Organic Gardening, Mother Earth News, GRIT populate my chair side rack. I used to read books for fun but they were Clancy type books. I always marvel at the minds of writers. How can they think up the plots that they come up with. I really don't have a creative bone in my entire body. It's all about logic and has to make sense. It used to drive me crazy being married to a creative wife but I finally conceded to rely on her woman's intuition while making family decisions even if it didn't make sense. I just got tired of eating crow. :0) I hope you have a wonderfully creative day.

cindy murphy
4/22/2010 4:56:50 AM

Hi again, Shannon. "One Man's Meat" is a book - a collection of essays, actually, that White wrote after leaving New York to work a small farm in rural Maine. The essays are his observations and reflections on living his new found country life - everything from local colloquialisms to the ideals of America in the period right before the war (WWII). It's a wonderfully witty book with a very "Gritty" feel to it. My friend turned me on to; he found an old copy in a used book store, but I believe it may still be in print. Oh, and don't look too hard (or be too intrigued) for my upcoming blog; the tasks of day-to-day living take precedence, and I haven't gotten around to finishing it yet. Enjoy your day.

nebraska dave
4/21/2010 1:38:33 PM

Susan, I was in high school (1961 – 1965) when the Catcher and the Rye was coming of age. It became required reading soon after my high school years, but I have not read the book. It was a rare thing to see some one that could have had a high public profile to decide to write not for public fame but just to write for the necessity of it. I have had times when there are thoughts or concepts that just have to be put to words; not for anyone to read but just to get it out of me and in script. It’s almost like it has to come out or I’ll burst. After the fingers have flown over the keyboard, it gets filed away and hardly a thought is given to it. I don’t really expect anyone to ever read most of the stuff written let alone be published. It just never appealed to me to let a publisher slice and dice my writing to fit the criteria of the media. I guess it’s why I took to blog writing so well. Writing only displays 7% of who a person really is. Much more depth of character lies behind the writing. Pursuing fame and fortune can be such a fleeting elusive way to live life. Contentment certainly does not come from acquiring things and goals in life. It really only becomes clutter in the way of the real meaning of life. There it is the age old question, “what is the meaning of life?” Susan, I used the wrong word with heavy; more correct words would be thought provoking. Many times I have to chew on things awhile.

s.m.r. saia
4/21/2010 9:28:10 AM

Cindy, I love the quote from E.B. White. I totally agree with it, frustrating and discouraging as it can something feel. It's something I've struggled with my whole life. I'll have to check out that - essay? book? I'll google it. I'm going to cruise over to your blog now and see if your latest post is up yet. I'm intrigued.... Nebraska Dave - not too heavy I hope! I didn't mean to be! Thanks for reading!

cindy murphy
4/20/2010 6:40:25 PM

Hi, Shannon. It's kind of a coincidence; my next blog is about a writer also, and an observation that struck me as how her writings correlated (in a sense) to having a strong connection with home. Just as you described Salinger, she is also a legend. She understood home very well, just as Salinger. That is where the similarities might end, though. Oh, and except, like Salinger, she is dead. Eye-roll. Our two posts may both about writers, but that's pretty much where the similarities end. I can't even pretend to have a grasp of the analytic philosophy that it takes to write what you have, and do it in such an eloquent manner. That said, I found your blog very interesting. You wrote "that we mistake a person’s creativity or creations for who that person is...The work...represents us...But it cannot contain the sum total of us." It reminded me of something E.B. White wrote in "One Man's Meat", (which, believe it or not, is not about a giglio). On a Selective Service questionnare, he finds "writer" is not listed as an occupation, and contends that is how it should be. "It is more of an afflication...something that raises up on you, as a welt. Or you might say that it is a by-product of many occupations and professions...I think the best writing is often done by persons who are snatching time from something else...something that is burning them up...or boring them to tears..." In a nutshell, (I exceeded the character limit again), great post, Shannon.

nebraska dave
4/20/2010 1:48:14 PM

Susan, wow this is heavy stuff. I'll have to digest it a couple days then I'll be back.

mother earth news fair


Feb. 17-18, 2018
Belton, Texas

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, inspirational keynotes, and great food!