June 19, 2015. James Salter died today. I had the pleasure of meeting him last summer in a class I was taking at a writer’s workshop in Southampton, N.Y. There were only eight of us in the class. A humble, quiet man, he shared his thoughts on writing and craft and read from his short story collection, Dusk.
Since then I have read his books over and over again, studying the sentences. The words. The flow of language. Few come close to making the written word sing like this. It is inspiration at its most challenging. A goal to reach for but most likely never to attain.
He would have no loss for words describing the scene I am in right now. Thunder rumbles in the distance while the sun shines through tall hemlocks, the air heavy and muggy, causing steam to rise from the freshly mowed lawn as the sun shines on blades of grass that appear to have sparkling diamond tips. The world smells clean. It is that time of day when tranquility sets in. Pink astilbe, foxglove, and black eyed Susan are scattered among the weeds throughout the cutting garden. Our only guest checked in last night and left this morning. All the beds and baths are clean, the common rooms vacuumed. The last load of sheets tumble in the dryer.
Green grass blends in with green trees blocking my vista until all is black even the Norwegian pines, the hemlocks, and the mighty oaks. Lightening bolts dance across the treetops and over the hills I can’t see from my reclining position on the screened-in porch. Rain begins to pour down, headed my way, penetrating the screens and driving me inside where my daughter is making Chinese stir fry for dinner with a dash of Thai peanut sauce. An Xfinity van is parked along the stone wall at the front of our property waiting to restore power after the storm passes.
Many of Salter’s obituaries made note of the fact that although he was a master at his craft, he never received the mainstream success many believe he deserved. Never had a bestseller. I’ve been on the periphery of this business for almost four years now and it’s hard to figure out why some books get published and have large, well-funded advertising budgets and others do not.
But here I am, still writing.
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The following day we set out for a picnic at Butler Sculpture Park in Sheffield just over the Massachusetts border. On his way to Tanglewood, my brother-in-law had noticed the small blue sign denoting places of interest and told us about this mysterious place off the well traveled scenic road lined with antique shops. Small signs with arrows directed us through a maze of cornfields and up a hill to a dirt road that runs beside the Housatonic River until we arrived at a small wooden sign at the bottom of a rutted, steep driveway that we bounced along until we reached the parking lot next to a small shed that is the Welcome Center.
We poked around inside, grabbed a map, and walked back to the car for the picnic basket. Robert Butler, the creator of all this, approached from the barn further up the hill.
Butler has set his work among 40 acres of winding paths and spectacular views. This is one of only four single-sculptor parks in the United States.
He told us to wander around and we would find plenty of nice spots for a picnic. Meanwhile, he would get his studio ready for us.
Rich was fasciated with the big sheets of metal and the process Robert used to burnish, polish and sculpt them, and how he and his wife came to live here on this hilltop, how he cleared the land and dug the gullies for runoff with backhoes parked throughout the yard.
I was fascinated with the man himself. He told me a Manhattan art gallery had expressed interest in exhibiting one or two of his pieces but he said New York art dealers are corrupt so he sells his own work here on a hill in the middle of nowhere. He admits it is hard to sell large pieces to New York tourists. How do they get them in their car and transport them back to the city?
His wife started making smaller pieces that would be easier to sell and they are having some success with that but the business end of art doesn’t concern Mr. Butler.
He is following his passion and however he’s doing in regards to how others measure success, he’s living a pretty decent life. He built his own house, a small contemporary place with incredible views. He rarely comes down off his mountain except to get a cup of coffee at the country store. He’s off the grid but if you make your way up there he will gladly show you around.
Back at home I sat down to write. The fourth novel is coming along slowly. I published Life Is All This in May, a short month ago. Like my new friend Robert Butler, I am discouraged with big time New York publishing who awards a disproportionate amount of book deals to Ivy League graduates and the well connected who live in New York and write stories about Ivy League graduates and the well connected who also live in New York.
I work Life Is All This all over social media but as my protagonist Sam asks, “Does a Tweet sell a book?” I beg for reviews because I’m trying to get the novel on Book Bub and reviews are important but in the meantime there are towels to fold and sheets to wash. I’ve filled the lounge with clean glasses, granola bars, and complimentary wine. We are waiting for check-ins but Rich will show them to their rooms for I am recording the notes of the day. The shiny sculpture sparkling in the sun, the misty mountains in the late, muggy afternoon, the iconoclast who sculpts on a mountain, avoiding the spotlight, and the brilliant writer who never achieved the attention he craved.
We are driven to create and talent doesn’t always rule the day, but in the end it is an inexplicable desire that keeps you going. You bend the steel into a piece of art that sits in a forest in your backyard or you fill the page with words few people may ever read.
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March 16, 2016 I share these innkeepers notes months after they were written. When I started this journal I thought I would keep it to myself or maybe use it to write a book, but as I struggle to “grow” my followers I thought people might like to read the stories of an innkeeping life. I go back and forth on this, how much of my work do I share for free? They are words that I squeeze into my busy days. Where is it best to use them?
Then this came the other day from a reader who discovered a piece I wrote about my mother’s Alzheimer’s.
This is so beautifully written. My grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s and at some point she did tell us to take her home even though she was at home (she meant the house she was in when she was younger), so this really resonated with me. I discovered your blog through HuffPost and you are one of the writers I wish the world has discovered sooner. Take care.
I didn’t give that piece to the Huffington Post. She must have found it through another piece I posted there. I no longer share my work on Huff. I do enough writing for free. I don’t want to tell this reader the “world” has not really discovered me yet because her words brought a smile to my face.
Then I found this on Brain Pickings:
“For the vast majority of history, one made a living and then one had a creative life — the two didn’t have to be the same. Only recently did we come to believe that what legitimizes one as an “artist” is making art full-time and having that art also make one a living. The insidious implication of that belief is that the art made by people with day-jobs is somehow less valid, less legitimate. Which, of course, isn’t the case. It is indeed a rare thing for a creative life and a living to be one and the same. So how does one get to that point.”
The flag above is a piece made from weaving pieces of metal. It is called Hanging With the Stars. I find lots of meaning in this tattered flag. The harder it is to realize the American Dream. The journey to find meaningful work. Some people’s desires to become rich and famous.
Living the life I’ve lived gave me the raw materials. I’m not sure I would be a writer had I lived a life of privilege and easy connections. The stories I write are the summation of the stories I’ve lived and the stories I’ve heard in the places I’ve been.
So for now I multi-task. This blog is being made ready for publishing while we make breakfast at the inn. It’s served with mushroom spinach omelets, blueberry pancakes, and yogurt parfait because life is all this.