The whole lot of them would fit right into a Wes Anderson movie. In fact, this whole book reminded me vividly of a Wes Anderson movie. And if you hate Wes Anderson movies, well, it's hard to blame you (though I, personally, enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel very much, thank you.)
“You keep talking about ego. My God, it would take Christ himself to decide what's ego and what isn't. This is God's universe, buddy, not yours, and he has the final say about what's ego and what isn't. What about your beloved Epictetus? Or your beloved Emily Dickinson? You want your emily, every time she has an urge to write a poem, to just sit down and say a prayer until her nasty, egotistical urge goes away? No, of course you don't! But you'd like your friend Professor Tupper's ego taken away from him. That's different. And maybe it is. Maybe it is. But don't go screaming about egos in general. In my opinion, if you really want to know, half the nastiness in the world is stirred up by people who aren't using their true egos. Take your professor Tupper. From what you say about him, anyway, I'd lay almost any odds that this thing he's using, the thing you think is his ego, isn't his ego at all but some other, much dirtier, much less basic faculty. My God, you've been around schools long enough to know the score. Scratch an incompetent schoolteacher — or, for that matter, college professor — and half the time you find a displaced first-class automobile mechanic or a goddam stonemason. Take LeSage, for instance — my friend, my employer, my Rose of Madison Avenue. You think it was his ego that got him into television? Like hell it was! He has no ego any more — if ever he had one. He's split it up into hobbies. He has at least three hobbies that I know of — and they all have to do with a big, ten-thousand-dollar workroom in his basement, full of power tools and vises and God knows what else. Nobody who's really using his ego, his real ego, has any time for goddam hobbies."
“You were good. And when I say good, I mean good. You held that goddam mess up. Even all those sun-burned lobsters in the audience knew it. And now I hear you're finished with the theatre forever — I hear things, I hear things. And I remember the spiel you came back with when the season was over. Oh, you irritate me, Franny! I'm sorry, you do. You've made the great startling goddam discovery that the acting profession's loaded with mercenaries and butchers … Why're you making me tell you things you already know? Somewhere along the line — in one damn incarnation or another, if you like — you not only had a hankering to be an actor or an actress but to be a good one. You're stuck with it now. You can't just walk out on the results of your own hankerings. Cause and effect, buddy, cause and effect. The only thing you can do now, the only religious thing you can do, is act.”
“I remember about the fifth time I ever went on 'Wise Child.' … I started bitching one night before the broadcast. Seymour'd told me to shine my shoes just as I was going out the door with Waker. I was furious. The studio audience were all morons, the announcer was a moron, the sponsors were morons, and I just damn well wasn't going to shine my shoes for them, I told Seymour. I said they couldn't see them anyway, from where we sat. He said to shine them anyway. He said to shine them for the Fat Lady. I didn't know what the hell he was talking about, but he had a very Seymour look on his face, and so I did it. He never did tell me who the Fat Lady was, but I shined my shoes for the Fat Lady every time I ever went on the air again … This terribly, terribly clear picture of the Fat Lady formed in my mind. I had her sitting on this porch all day, swatting flies, with her radio going full-blast from morning till night. I figured the heat was terrible, and she probably had cancer, and — I don't know. Anyway, it seemed goddam clear why Seymour wanted me to shine my shoes when I went on the air. It made sense …
… But I'll tell you a terrible secret — Are you listening to me? There isn't anyone out there who isn't Seymour's Fat Lady. That includes your Professor Tupper, buddy. And all his goddam cousins by the dozens. There isn't anyone anywhere that isn't Seymour's Fat Lady. Don't you know that? Don't you know that goddam secret yet? And don't you know — listen to me, now — don't you know who that Fat Lady really is? ...Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It's Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy.”
Five stars from me.
(1) I disagree with Salinger about hobbies, though I understand what he is getting at here (we should ideally do the work we are called to). But not everyone can do the work they love for pay. And even among those who can be paid for the work they love, it is often important to find another way to be with the world.
As I groped around trying to explain these feelings, I of course found that Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings had treated it much more fully, in discussing Henry Miller's book To Paint is to Love Again.
Henry Miller: "I turn to painting when I can no longer write. Painting refreshes and restores me; it enables me to forget that I am temporarily unable to write. So I paint while the reservoir replenishes itself."
Maria Popova: This, of course, is a strategy that many celebrated creators used — Madeleine L’Engle read science to enrich her writing and Einstein, who termed his creative process “combinatory play,”, is said to have come up with his greatest physics breakthroughs during his violin breaks. But it also makes sense under more formal psychological models of how creativity works, all of which require some form of incubation period, or what Alexander Graham Bell called “unconscious cerebration” — a stage during which “no effort of a direct nature” is made toward one’s creative goal and the mind is instead allowed to perform its essential background processing.
Read the whole article on hobbies as a way to enrich creative life here.