Wednesday, April 8, 2015

This is an ellipsis

James Salter's Light Years is beautifully distressing. I don't know if that's possible, as it sounds oxymoronish to some degree. And I don't know if it's healthy to admire art that can be classified as such. "It's what turns you to powder," Salter writes in one passage, "being ground between what you can't do and what you must do. You just turn to dust." The novel has numerous passages such as this one—instances where I am shaken by how a character becomes utterly lost in the complexity of their life, yet at the same time, I am intensely moved by the lucidity and elegance of Salter's writing.

I read this once, but don't recall where or when: "Just like sentences have parentheses, so do lives." Light Years delivered the realization that lives can also have periods, full stops. That life can end, even as it continues. A sort of emotional paralysis takes hold. What is desperately coveted is always a teasing fraction out of reach. The world becomes a claustrophobic place—a place of inertia and perpetual disappointment and frustrating stalemates. One disappears into everything and nothingness. Eventually, the grindstone Salter alluded to stops spinning, the job completed. Then you are dust; then nothing.

Unless ... You press pen to paper and add two periods to the one already in place. Make it an ellipsis, a suspension point, a momentary pause. Live each day as if—to quote an essay on Salter—all "things seem urgent, profound, and necessary." When Madame George gets on that train, I like to believe it's not another everyday rail journey. No, this is an ellipsis, a new beginning, a crossing of the threshold. An individual stepping out of the fog and choosing to live more, to feel human again. It's a small drop that will create big ripples.

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