Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A lone astronomer

In a room which blazed with light the young bride who was one day to be Queen of Italy was introduced. It was the event of the year... And while the world of fashion amused itself thus, at the same hour and in the same city a lone astronomer was discovering a new planet... --James Salter, "The Cinema," from DUSK AND OTHER STORIES.

I might hate James Salter. He was born in 1925, grew up in New York City, graduated from West Point and flew planes for the U.S. Army, flying more than 100 missions as a fighter pilot including during the Korean War. He resigned from the military to focus on writing. And his short stories and prose blur the line between prose and poetry. There isn't a word out of place. I hang on every sentence. He simultaneously inspires and makes me want to hang it up. But mostly inspires.

Salter went from fighter pilot to writer. He didn't waste time. I envy his economy of words and time. We all have a finite number of days on this earth, or at least in the bodies we're rocking presently. I wrote out the passage above about the queen-to-be and the lone astronomer. With your days, you can attend posh parties or you can set out to discover a new planet. Maybe, in the best lives, you can do both.

I picture Salter as the lone astronomer. About writing, he tells the Paris Review, "I hate the first inexact, inadequate expression of things. The whole joy of writing comes from the opportunity to go over it and make it good, one way or another." Salter misses parties.

I'm lazy. I don't always use my time to look for planets. To make the attempt. But as we're getting set to begin our Infinite Quest trekking through David Foster Wallace's masterpiece, Salter gives me the image of the lone astronomer. Salter and Wallace have made their discoveries. They've missed parties, put in their time.

Will we do the same?