For JD Salinger…and the rest of us.
by P. Braithwaite
An artist’s only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else’s. – JD Salinger
On a whim, I watched the JD Salinger documentary last night and, when it was over, I cried for a little while. I’m not sure why. There wasn’t one particular scene that did me in. I didn’t realize I was sad until it was over. For better or worse, I’m an American
fiction writer, and that makes JD Salinger a friend (in my head).
Plus , I (like every other American teen) discovered my discontent in Holden Caulfield’s angst.
Art is lonely and scary…and sad. And, up until last night, I was harboring the hope that the loneliness goes away, that the loneliness maybe comes from being obscure. I thought the loneliness could be cured with publishing credits or a three book deal. I thought the loneliness went away when The New Yorker thinks your great, or your mentors finally tell you you’re the shit.
The Catcher in the Rye inspired three separate murderers. I can’t imagine how devastating that must be.
A few months back my ex-boyfriend found out his good friend reads my blog, so they had a conversation about my work. On one hand this was huge, it made my little blog seem bigger, but the ex relayed that his good friend thought my posts were ‘sad.’ They made her think about how you ‘just never know what people go through.’ There was praise but also pity…and pity is an enemy of my strength.
I haven’t been able to write the same way since.
I’m learning to make peace with the loneliness of art. I’m learning that the path ahead isn’t exceptionally clear. The loneliness is part of the job. When people read your work, when they make meaning of your work, a different type of loneliness emerges. I’m learning to dance with it all. I’m learning that it might never go away.
Salinger, a war veteran, wore a canvas jumpsuit and wrote inside a bunker (he also had a thing for youngish girls). He faced his own demons over and over again, gave them different names and made his heartache universal. He chiseled away at his neurosis until he found collective pain. He inspired generations, but resented his success. He stopped publishing after 1965.
May JD Salinger rest comfortably in his artistic peace…and may the Gods see fit for me to do the same.
And so it is.