Monday, August 17, 2009

Starting Out in the Evening

I pick a book based on a few criteria... a recommendation, familiarity with the author, an interesting title. This came to me with 2 of the above (a recommendation but of the movie, not the book, and an interesting title). I was never captivated by the story, in fact, I got frustrated quite a few times. I didn't necessarily find Morton's dialogue convincing but the story was engaging. And anything that gives me insight into a literary life is worth plugging through, so I kept on.

I by no means believe I am literary. As a matter of fact, I realized, thru this story, that I am FAR from it. But this story prompted this blog and caused me to be sincere and authentic with myself. I am not a scholar but I do know what I like in literature. And what I obviously don't like in literature is anything too intellectual, too profound or too un-obvious (that is most likely NOT a word but I'm going with it anyway). I get the feeling I was supposed to close this book with an "aha!" but that did not happen. It was more like a, "well, damn." Finished, yet unfinished, with unanswered questions that I'm sure are supposed to not be answered. It takes me back to a few years ago when I read John Grisham's "A Painted House." Now that was unfinished! This story didn't have that same feel. This story was finished as it was supposed to be - in the literary, profound, intellectual world. Not in the Jae Halam world. This is how I concluded I am not a literary scholar and will never, ever be.

I just don't know what the purpose of this story is supposed to be... I guess it's fair to say, "I didn't get it."

Too bad. I think there is something in here that is supposed to be "got."

Despite my frustration with Morton's prose, I did find, quite surprisingly, tons of quotes that spoke to me. And so this blog developed... because I'm forever collecting quotes but I hate to write them down. So to pay tribute to them here seems like a great blog idea to me... and Heaven knows I'm in need of a great blog idea. Trust me on this...

This book made me feel old, or rather aged - and aging - and it made me think about death. I guess I should be grateful that it made me think. Right? Right.

~ quotes ~

If you really listen, you find that most people tell you their life stories as soon as they meet you.

It was strange, the way a new person can bring out a new, unpleasant side of someone you love.

"We should unite stoicism, asceticism and ecstasy. Two of them have often come together, but the three never." Yeats

She'd once heard that when you have heart surgery - your chest sawed open, your ribs cracked, the action of your heart replaced for hours by the action of a machine - the suffering you undergo for the next few months, that peculiarly spiritual sorrow, is the sorrow of your body in mourning for itself, a body that believes it has died.

Her father had been hiding out for thirty years in his writing room, thinking that the war of high culture versus low was still raging away. He hadn't gotten the news that the war was over: that high culture, which he had cherished, fought for, given his life for, had been crushed.

even her imperfections had style.

How did that little girl get ahead of me, when I had a fifteen-year head start?

There was something uninspiring about him,

Levin didn't have much time left, but this hadn't dimmed the joy he took in learning.

and the very spareness of his output had finally begun to seem a mark of his intellectual delicacy, the fineness of his discriminations.

Every writer writes with mixed motives, with some combination of purity and self-aggrandizement;

His world was ending, and it was hard not to feel as if the world of intelligent discourse itself was coming to an end. the younger generation seemed so bent on celebrity, as opposed to lasting achievement. But of course, every generation believes itself to be the last truly cultivated generation. It's a form of vanity that's hard to resist.

I don't feel like an old man. I feel as if I'm still ripening. I feel as if I'm just starting to understand things. But what's the use of this ripeness? It doesn't give birth to anything. It doesn't nourish anything. It just disappears.

Freedom has always been my theme in life, she said,

she didn't understand that she was only the occasion for it, not the cause.

Sometimes, said Thoreau, you can date a new era in your life from the reading of a book.
what she's giving up is much clearer to her than what she is seeking;

I start with a character. With Tenderness, I had a picture of a woman being asked to leave a museum because she'd run her hand over one of the statues. I had no idea who she was or why she was touching the statue. I wrote the book to find out... You just sit down at the typewriter and follow the character around. It's like being a detective. You write page after page after page just finding out who they are. You wait for them to do something interesting.

You remind me of Lawrence in the way you give your characters room. Room to reject things - even the things I suspect you value. Like the way Ellen walks away from her marriage. I had the feeling that you sympathized most of all with Ira. But you let Ellen walk away from him without portraying her as cruel.

I have this old-fashioned idea that art and commerce are at war.

If you stick to your guns in life - this was the moral she drew - you become strong.

Even in your smallest gestures, you express your sense of honor, if you have one.

"Man can embody the truth but he cannot know it." Yeats

She gave joy more often than she felt it.

writers shouldn't talk about what they are writing; that one was all too likely to talk one's books away.

"A man resembles his time more than he resembles his father." Arab proverb

with his lifelong immersion in the work of the Great Dead - Thoreau and Whitman and Melville and Faulkner and Hemingway and Dreiser - he'd barely looked up at the living.

who were too preoccupied with their own personal questions to shed any light on the larger problems of the time.

let's just say I was concerned with the perfection of the work, not of the life.

We congratulate ourselves on having abandoned our vices, when it is they who have abandoned us.

Maybe you only feel things strongly when you're young.

Certain writers managed to stay fresh, even in old age. Yeats, for instance, grew younger as he grew older: his work grew stronger and more muscular as he aged. George Eliot got steadily better: more intelligent, more original, more daring. DH Lawrence and Virginia Woolf may not have gotten better, but they continued to experiment restlessly as long as they lived.

everyone who fades fades for his own reasons.

It was curious, the intimacy of a conversation conducted in shouts.

She felt very much in the disorderly middle of life.

It takes a long time to die, he said.

She was thinking that she was foolish to hope that someday, if she found the right path, she would be continuously happy. No one is that fortunate. The moments of beauty, the moments when you feel blessed, are only moments; but memory and imagination, treasuring them, can string them together like the delicate glories on the necklace her father had given her.

Everything else passes away; that which you love remains.

One makes one's mark according to one's capacities.

anything, anything, to leave an image of yourself in other people's minds.

You have to write honestly... if you don't do it honestly it's not worth doing.

You'll be speaking with conviction, and when you speak with conviction people notice.

Heather was the only one who wanted the ball when the game was on the line, the only one who wanted to meet the moment.

- a creature of bare crude wanting, a creature who lunged after things she desired and tossed them aside after she no longer wanted them.

It was sad to think that it may have been precisely his single-minded devotion to his art that had drained his art of its freshness.

She kept this part short, because there was no point in dwelling on what he had failed to accomplish.

Her point was that although James may have been the grater craftsman, Lawrence was the greater artist, precisely because his passion for art competed with other passions. The richness of his life enriched his art.

He was heading off to Paris in a week, to keep a fool's appointment.

When you've been a writer for a long time, you develop an uncanny sensitivity to barely perceptible verbal signals of rejection.

The thought crossed his mind that if greatness had eluded him as a writer, perhaps this was why: because he'd never wanted to make a scene. Subtlety and indirection are important tools, but you can't scale the highest peaks with these tools alone.

Not that the world was under any obligation to appreciate the gifts he'd tried to give - but the question remained: if what you offer the isn't needed, then why continue to bring it your offerings?

Nothing has meaning in itself: all the objects in the world would be shards of bare mute blankness, spinning wildly out of orbit, if we didn't bind them together with stories.

a writer isn't the best judge of his own work.

He was a Zen master, she thought: ... because he lived in a kingdom of purely spiritual struggles and purely spiritual rewards.

He was somewhere far away, taking a walk with Henry James.

But after ten years, fifteen years, you haven't accomplished the grand things, and you start to realize that what you've been doing in the meantime might be all you'll ever do. And then you have to decided - do you really want to go for the grand things, or do you just accept the life you've already made?

He had grown too old for Paris.

a strange place helped you find the poetry in everyday life.

But now he realized that it didn't really matter. She was gone, and he would follow soon enough, and it would be as if neither of them had ever been.

Sitting on the little stone wall, he waited for her ghost to come, but it didn't.

Sidney Hook - used to say that most of the difficult decisions in life don't involve right against wrong, but right against right. That's why life is tragic.

"I stopped when I realized it wasn't going to lead to an exciting life."

Love, during the middle years, is in great part a matter of accompanying your beloved through life's disasters.

She had once read that an artist is someone who stands outside in rainstorms hoping to be struck by lightning.

She didn't know if he was a hero or if he had wasted his life.

He knew that Ariel was at the beginning of the great and terrible journey, the journey into the experience of death. But everyone's journey is different, and there was no way he could accompany her on hers. How lonely everyone is!

She felt as if she were at a fork in the road, where you have to choose between becoming a grown-up or remaining a child.

How did it get so late so early?

She watched them making their way across West End Avenue - very cautiously, like two small boys who had only recently learned how to cross the street on their own.

~ end of quotes ~

OK, I think, after going thru this exercise I appreciate the book more... may even pull it out & read it again... but, at the same time, I've reinforced my original impression that I didn't get what it had to give. I'm still fuzzy on the point. What, exactly, is the point, Mr. Morton?

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