Thursday, June 16, 2005


why seymour? (joyful should be obvious)

Now, the internet doesn't need one more loving, long-form rave about the brilliance of J.D. Salinger. Just know that the man's words are deeply woven into my life, my body. Francoise and I were talking about the first times we read Catcher in the Rye, she in halting English just new from France, and me just 17, having resisted reading it for years because Mark David Chapman had been carrying it under his arm when he shot John Lennon. It changed my life, entirely.

And all the lesser works, which I don't consider lesser, have moved me just as deeply. One quote from Seymour: An Introduction, has informed my entire writing career.

Seymour writes a letter to his brother, Buddy, telling him what questions he should listen to when he writes: "I'm so sure you'll get asked only two questions. Were most of your stars out? Were you busy writing your heart out? If only you knew how easy it would be for you to say yes to both questions. If only you'd remember before you ever sit down to write that you've been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart's choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself....Oh dare to do it, Buddy! Trust your heart."

I've been trying to follow this advice ever since I read it, nearly ten years ago. So this evening, spontaneously, I picked up my battered copy of Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters, and sat down on the couch to read, intending to start grading ten minutes later. It's an hour and a half later, the sun has set behind the Olympic mountains, and I still haven't started grading. No matter. I fell into the prose and felt connected again. With Salinger and Seymour and seminal experiences in my life sparked by their words.

And with my writing, and that secret self that can never be put into words.

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