As I sat there, reading, the owner of the bookstore came over with a stack of books crocked under his arm, which he started shelving. The man looked like he was almost seven feet tall, and had a grey hair that looked like it was once auburn, there were still flecks of red among the grey, which made me think of Autumn turning into Winter, and his long arms and big hands made him look like the perfect Book-Shelving-Machine, the way he pushed books aside to make space for others.
"You're the owner, right?"
"Yes," he said, smiling.
"Nice place you got here."
"Thanks. I think so, certainly." From the stack that he was carrying, he pulled one and handed it out to me. It was a thin trade paperback, looked well-worn and read. I took it and looked at the cover, a grey cover with an illustration on the front of a boy with a dragon and a cat.
The title was "Catcher of the Writers."
I looked up at the owner of the bookshop. I don't even think I said anything. I think my mouth was just open. He smiled at me and moved past me, toward the back sections, where I think Acsa was wandering around. His grey cardigan flapped open and I saw that he was wearing a t-shirt that had the words Ardmore Gongmongers wrapped in a circle around what looked like a shovel. The shirt was old and faded, and I got the impression that he got it when he saw the band in concert, several decades ago.
I opened up the book and the first line was "I hated the way she smoked, the last time I saw her alive."
Those words really hit me. I didn't know why then, and still don't, now - how I knew, I mean. But they were written about my mom. I just knew. The description went on to talk about the bandages around her wrists, and the way they trembled as he held her cigarette in the mental ward at the top floor of St John's Hospital.
Yes - exactly where I am now. In the same room. Telling you all this onto this stupid tape machine.
Look, I'm getting a little tired here and I kinda want to stop here. Let's pick this up tomorrow, OK?
OK, let's start again. Guess I'll get back to where I was - in the Catcher of the Writers.
After the intro, it went on to say, if I can remember it all, something like this:
If you really want to hear about it, you’d probably want to know what really gave me the love of reading and literature and all that, but honestly, I’m not going to tell you – not because I’m some sort of Holden Caulfield jerk*, but because I truly do not know.
There was an asterisk after "jerk" and at the bottom of the page was printed
*I am a different kind of jerk, entirely)
Then, the book goes on with this story of a story that he - me, I guess - had read somewhere...
I remember a short story that I read once. A Christmas story. It was written sometime between the 20s, to the 50s... probably 40s are the most likely. I think it was in a collection of short stories that had been printed in the New Yorker.
It was about 4 pages long, and it was about a guy, can't remember his name, but I think it was George. He walked up the steps to a Christmas party, and when he walked inside, all the presents were sitting on the table, and while everybody else was congregated in the other room, he went through the tags and added his name to each one. "... and George"
Such as "Love from Charles and Sue ... and George!"
Or maybe the story was at a wedding reception ... that would make more sense.
I don't know. That's all I can remember. Kills me that I can't remember the story, or be able to find it. I've looked through my books, the collections of short stories, the collections of Christmas stories, collections of New Yorker stories, but I can't find it.
Really freaked me out how this writing sounded just like me. I kid you not, it was like it was written by me and at the same time, FOR me. Part of me was smiling because I was thinking, "Cool! A book written by me that I didn't have to do any work on!"
Yeah, I know by now this meant that at some point I'd have to put in the work on this book - writing, reading, notes, plotting, researching, editing, re-reading, MORE editing, all that crap. But I bet there would be a TON of people who would love to just have an idea and then just it into some machine that would spit out a book for them.
But then I thought, that would probably be a loser way to go. I mean, can you really call it YOUR book if you didn't really put the work into it?
But anyway, I skipped through the Catcher of the Writers and the main aspect of it seemed to be that this guy (me) comes to realize that his main point in life is to encourage other writers, other artists, other musicians, to create, create, create.
It keeps coming back to the idea that the creative impulse inside humans is the only thing that ultimately saves us from destroying ourselves entirely, both as individuals and as a collective body.
(That's a quote I lifted from the book)
Another passage that I read that really struck me was this - goes something like:
Marcel Proust once wrote, “… the only true paradise is always the paradise we have lost.”
But what if that’s not true?
At least not entirely?
What if the one true paradise is the one that we have never seen?
The one that we wish for, the one we yearn for? the one that we see in our dreams?
What if the one true paradise is the spouse that we have created in our minds?
The house that we have pieced together out of photos of houses in magazines, or the insides of houses that we have seen?
The rolling ocean when we live in a land-locked state?
The open fields when we are living in the urban jungle?
The paradise that we have lost is the one that we can never reclaim, but the one that we have not yet obtained, that paradise is always perfect, always true.
And that, right there, got me as well ... it speaks to the idea that we should always keep dreaming, keep creating: music, books, art, whatever, because at the end of the day, what we leave behind of our art is the only thing that we have given to the future, and it is the only thing that makes other people, as well as ourselves, feel as though life is worth living.
Art saves lives. Music, photography, poetry, all that stuff: it saves lives.
And sure, yeah, some - a lot, actually - of artists kill themselves, but have you ever wondered if maybe their art actually kept them alive longer than they would have otherwise?
Take Hemingway for example - he gave us all those books, all those short stories, but if he hadn't have been a writer, he probably would have taken himself out a long time before.
Look, I know you guys aren't letting me out of here anytime soon, but I'm telling you know, that ... I don't know how to say it ... but I - know better, now. I know.
Just wanted you guys to know that, too.