On Seymour...

So, back to Salinger. I’ve only ever read The Catcher in the Rye, famously formerly banned high school required reading. But it’s been ages, and I can’t say I ever revisited Catcher. In fact, even though I got good grades, loved to be around books, had an inclination toward English classes, edited the HS literary magazine, ended up an English Major in college and edited the university lit mag, I truly only remember reading maybe three books throughout all four years of high school.

Now that doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t read the books. I also don’t readily remember character names or story endings for books I may have read last year, but I remember reading them. The tactile experience: place, smells, weather, excitement, sadness, sudden lit light bulbs and so forth. If I flip through the pages, the memories rush back.

But for so many HS books, I can’t even remember picking them up. Call it PTSD or what you will; my memory of that era is shot full of holes. I do know for a fact that I never finished Huck Finn, though I always did want to go back to it, in theory. Other novels—such as Beloved, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine—I can probably thank these books for my (poor) choice of university study.

So, how did this get to be about high school reading anyway? I wanted to say what I loved about Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.
While Seymour did start to get a little old with the narrator, Buddy’s, description of his older suicided brother, Seymour, I love the tone, the voice, the undercurrent throughout. And what Salinger was trying to do: keep Buddy’s older role model brother young alive and still a model, someone who Buddy can continue learning from. In that way Buddy is able to deal (or not deal) with his grief. Or more accurately, he starts to reminisce and to grieve. We bear witness to this as writing about Seymour’s eyes and nose becomes excruciating reason for naps.

While the entire novella reads self-consciously as a writer writing a book, the “transcription” of Seymour’s letter to Buddy after Seymour stayed up all night reading one of Buddy’s short stories (in the story) is a beautiful collection of tips for writers. “Don’t make me proud of you,” Seymour writes. “If only you’d never keep me up again out of pride. Give me a story that makes me unreasonably vigilant. Keep me up again till five only because all your stars are out, and for no other reason.”

Seymour isn’t not praising the Buddy’s story. It kept him up till 5 a.m., but he’s warning him against perfection. As “trite” as it sounds, Seymour mainly wants to tell Buddy: “Please follow your heart, win or lose.” Don’t get carried away by what others want or by what you think others want. (Oh, this is so often when we miss the shot.) Essentially Seymour advises Buddy: don’t aim. Let accident happen.

This ties in with Buddy feeling it necessary to drop poetry entirely if one is to settle and stop seeking… well, perfection. I puzzled over this passage for some time. If one is able to loosen up, as it were, and accept things as they are, why is that a call to “drop poetry altogether?” I reread this passage several times, thinking what does it mean… exactly? At the end of the novella, Seymour re-utters his no-aim refrain, suggesting that Buddy stop trying so hard while playing marbles. Sure, Buddy always hits the target, but there’s no fun in it, no adventure. No serendipity. Nothing learned.

Which brings me back to what does it mean exactly

As I write this I realize that as a reader, too, I’m shouldering my perfectionist tendencies. Part of me, what I will call my intuitive and more intelligent side, wants to accept this line of thought as somehow profound; it’s certainly interesting. Another (rational, bogarting analytical) part is saying, what the heck do you mean by that? I want an answer. I want my target to be hit. But the fact that such a passage stops me in my tracks means my target was bullseyed. Go figure. I didn’t even know I had a target. So, perfectionism aside, my target, which might not have even existed before someone struck it, was indeed struck by accident, without aiming. Aiming for what? Exactly…

It’s funny that I’ve written all about Seymour, when during the read it was Raise High that I enjoyed most. But it seems I’ve run out of time. I’m hungry, and it’s time for breakfast, coffee and phone calls.

Appropriately, today’s Dictionary.com word of the day is jnana

This morning like every morning, our noisy kitty whined me awake, predawn. But instead of going back to sleep, I was awake enough to want to read some news. Why I would choose news over J.D. Salinger is beyond me. I just started reading Raise High the Roof Beam & Seymour: an Introduction. This book makes me happy, but I will return to that later, because right now I am thinking about being disconnected.

Disconnection comes so easy down here. And in a way, it’s therapeutic. The realities are different. Before it was simple: I, like most people around me, was “educated” and comfortable, I read the news and would feel emotional, even inflamed by it. Lament at what’s happening all over the world (and at "home": tea parties, oil spills, birtherism, nativism; really? are you kidding me? isn't the USA founded by immigrants?). So it so happens that sometimes we read the news, stress out, lose sleep, proclaim ourselves political and down antidepressants or blood pressure meds. We vote, maybe we donate. We grow alarmed, we grow frenzied. And this agitation pools into a greater collective human energy--maybe, I venture to say, even creating more bad news. Increasing the volume, as it were, on our own aggravated state. Thus creating more of a frenzy whose crescendo grows louder and louder and steadily more insane, because the crescendo never ends.

What am I trying to say? I see myself attempting to explain my own current disconnection to myself. Formerly I might wallow a little in guilt to be as desenchufado (unplugged) as I am these days. But let’s face it, I (have tended to) cling to guilt like a threadbare baby blanket. But that’s another story and another bad habit. Here, though, we are far, far end-of-the-earth far away from... well, everything. Isolated in every way. While such passions for news might warm me up, I guess I have little use for them here.

It’s often such a lonely place. A friend of mine, also from the states described living here as being like a family, because you know so many people. Or--she immediately revised herself--because there are so few people not to know. My experience has been rather more lonesome. But I guess my (other) tendency toward lonesomeness hasn't changed with place or time. It’s been cathartic, though, taking the proverbial step back. What I can say is, without wading through the tedium of over-explaining myself (or explaining myself sufficiently) is that I have less baggage and more presence.

I watch our 8 a.m. sunrise. Heavy violet-deep purple clouds, bright salmon linings. Wind whacks at the house and the rustic gate, clinging to the fence by the last nail of its last hinge, creaks. In bed, I can see my breath. I turn off the lamp.


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