Tag Archives: love

The Kind Heart Will Triumph

The Kind Heart Will Triumph:
An Open Letter To A Young Girl I Know

It’s suckage when you believe that there is no one you can trust to truly have your back and never fuck with you. I think that’s what all of us want from our families, friends and lovers – the one person we can depend on not to INTENTIONALLY hurt us. I am emphasizing “intentionally” because sometimes, shit just happens. Perhaps the person does not have the necessary skills to put themselves in your place and feel what you feel. Perhaps it does not even occur to them to do so. Maybe they are not mature enough to have empathy and compassion, or maybe it was never taught to them. Maybe they are all tied up in the competition for status, for a position among the “cool” people. Maybe they are really desperate for it, they really, REALLY need it. Maybe it’s so important to their own feelings of self-worth, they cannot afford to worry about your feelings or anyone else’s. Maybe they are trying their best, but it’s YOU who isn’t being clear about what you want, what you will accept and what you will simply not tolerate insofar as their behavior toward you is concerned.

Or maybe – just maybe, they are incapable of empathy and compassion, regardless of their age or maturity level. Maybe some people really ARE just that shallow. Maybe some of them do not see anything beyond the clothes, the hair, the makeup, the number of friends they have, the things they own or the number of boys who are salivating after their insubstantial, plastic little selves. Maybe they are just mean girls; there are some kids who don’t want friends, they want worshippers. They don’t value love, they value notches on their belts (or worse, on their bedposts). They don’t hesitate to hurt someone if they stand to gain something from it – inflated sense of self-worth, status among peers, whatever else they might want in a moment of malice.

At your age, the power of that status-among-peers thing is not to be underestimated. It is so very craved, it turns even nice young people, people who were brought up to behave “better than that”, into glory junkies. It’s a rough time, the teen-into-mid-twenties years. Insecurity drives more friendships to ruin during this time than any other. It drives people to behave with unspeakable cruelty toward one another. It drives them to behave with unspeakable cruelty toward THEMSELVES. It drives kids to do things that are dangerous to their bodies as well as to their psyches, just so that others will stand in awe of them and think they are cool. It drives them to cut, to have sex before they are ready and it drives them to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol and do drugs. Worst of all, the craving for status among peers can drive kids to end up, at their own hands, dangling from the end of a rope or floating in a pool of their own blood.

I don’t know how any of us manage to escape the teen/young adult years with our lives. We’re all just so fucked up and so disoriented during this time, it’s a wonder we can see straight once it’s over. Certainly we all bear the scars when we emerge. We’ve learned some hard lessons about people. We’ve maybe learned to be a little more cautious about whose opinion we value, because placing a lot of stock in the wrong person’s esteem for you can turn you into someone you never had any intention of becoming, and it can make you feel like a worthless fool when they capriciously flat-leave your ass for some insignificant supposed infraction. Or maybe just because they ceased to think you were cool. They don’t really have to have a reason, do they? They just do what they want with your emotions.

[pullquote]We learn that what gives a person value is this and only this – your value is measured by how you behave toward others, particularly toward those who are less fortunate than you are.[/pullquote]

Hopefully, what we learn from all this is how to measure a person’s value, how to measure your OWN. We learn that what gives a person value is this and only this – your value is measured by how you behave toward others, particularly toward those who are less fortunate than you are. I don’t mean that just materially. I mean it emotionally too. If someone is more unhappy than you are, then they are less fortunate. When you throw that person some pixie dust, it will make their day and they will always remember you for that. They will remember that you were kind to them when they needed it the most.

Those who matter, the people who you really want on your side through thick and thin, will measure your value by HOW YOU MADE THEM FEEL. Not by what lip gloss or shoes you wore. Not by your cool phone or your car or your status as an brainiac, athlete, whatever. They will measure you by how you behaved toward them.

I’m not saying that you should eschew material things. If it makes you happy to wear cute clothes and have cool toys , then have at it. You know that I’ve never denied myself anything I really wanted. But you also know, if you’ve taken the trouble to observe, that I have a shitload of friends; people who come running to wish me a Happy Birthday, people who clamor to be the ones I come to see when I’m home on Long Island, people who sorrow with me, hold me up when I’m down, rejoice with me when I’m happy. I would one million times a million rather have them in my life than anything else. Yeah, I’d flush my smartphone for them. I would. And they know it. That’s why they’re my friends.

You will get past this time when transient, meaningless things seem to be defining you and your relationships. It will happen sooner than later, if you let it. It will, if you can muster the courage to start choosing friends from the people who maybe aren’t so “cool” by school standards but who are smart, funny, compassionate people. Kind people. People who have a heart, like you do. You will attract these people to yourself by your own behavior. If you aren’t ready to do this yet, it’s ok. It’s a lot to ask of a person in your position, and it takes practice.

Start small. I remember one time being in an amusement park with a little person, many years ago. We looked across the street and I observed that some little kid’s stuffed animal had fallen out of the stroller and was just lying there in the street. Well the little person I was with, she saw this and she rushed across the street, picked up the stuffed animal, and lovingly tucked it into the stroller to await the return of it’s young owner.

That single random act of kindness and compassion is what I remember most about who you REALLY are underneath all this horrible but apparently necessary teen angst you’ve got to go through. I have faith that sometime very soon, you will start to collect friends who will always love you, who will always have your back and never fuck with you. I have faith that your kind heart will rise up and beat back all this meaningless bullshit, and that you will grow into the kind of woman everyone wants for a friend – smart, funny, gracious toward others.

And with really cool toys, cause that’s just how we roll 😉

Why doesn’t she hear him? [video]

YouTube – Huey Lewis And The News – Do You Believe In Love.


This evening, someone on a forum was talking about Huey Lewis. Naturally, the conversation propelled me toward YouTube, one of the most time-sucking applications known to the interwebz. I looked up my favorite Huey Lewis and the News Song “Do You Believe In Love” – I don’t think I’ve seen this video in at least two decades! Anyhow, she doesn’t hear him. He’s right there in front of her, singing to her, loving her and she thinks she’s alone. How sad is that? But it’s such a happy, upbeat song! The contrast is really disturbing to me. Oblivion like that isn’t really upsetting to the oblivious – that is, until they figure out how clueless they’ve been and what they’ve been missing. I guess that would be a bit depressing, to realize that you’ve missed Huey Lewis wanting to “love you all over”.

When all is crumbling

New York State Route 231 by dougtone via Flickr
New York State Route 231 by dougtone via Flickr
Autumn, 1977

There’s a parade coming down the main drag that connects the hamlet where I live to the village by the bay. Down here in the village, the main drag has long since dwindled to one lane in each direction. This morning, it’s brisk with traffic, each vehicle racing to avoid getting caught behind the barricade that’s going up at any moment.

We need to be on the other side. My practiced eye looks briefly in either direction, assessing the traffic for relative distance and speed. This is going to be cake. Taking off at a sprint, I easily cover the two lanes well before the oncoming traffic arrives. I look around. I see my two friends still huddled where I’d left them on the curb at the other side, faces drawn taught with thinly-disguised anxiety. Finally, they feel it’s safe, and they hurry across.

[pullquote]If you aren’t bold, then you’re destined to stand a good, long time waiting to cross at that uncontrolled intersection. Waiting, wating… who has time for that?[/pullquote]

“OMG, I thought you’d be killed!” one of them exclaims.

“What?” comes my bewildered response. “There was plenty of time. Don’t you people know how to cross a street?”

I’d grown up in the city, where you take your crossing opportunities as they come, even on wide boulevards of four and six lanes of heavy, New York driver traffic. If you aren’t bold, then you’re destined to stand a good, long time waiting to cross at that uncontrolled intersection. Waiting, wating… who has time for that?

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

NYC Street by T. Ruette via Flickr
NYC Street by T. Ruette via Flickr

It’s a few years later, and I am on my way to see a friend perform in concert with his quartet. I am traveling from Long Island with the only other person I’m aware of who also has a ticket, but I don’t know him terribly well. He’s funny and nice company for the mass transit journey into the city. His eyes are fringed with those impossibly long guy-lashes that make every woman sigh and wonder, “Why can’t *I* have lashes like that?”

(A few years into the future, I would focus on those lashes while standing under the chupah, having random thoughts about anything and everything, just to keep myself from thinking about the reason we were standing there…)

Sweet by Maureen Lunn via Flickr
Sweet by Maureen Lunn via Flickr

He pulls the cord overhead to signal the driver. We de-bus near Lincoln Center and prepare to cross Broadway. My practiced eye looks briefly in either direction… my muscles are tensing in preparation for the sprint. Although we are not physically touching, I feel him hesitate beside me, drawn taught… Before he has a chance to balk, I grab his hand and give it an encouraging tug. We have ignition, we have liftoff, running hand in hand until we reach the opposite curb. His hand immediately releases mine, but for a while after, I can still feel the shape and the weight of it in mine. How odd…

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Otters holding hands by mindluge via Flickr
Otters holding hands by mindluge via Flickr

This had happened to me only one other time, the very first time I’d ever held hands with a boy. He was funny and his eyes were an impossible shade of blue; not even a color found in nature, I don’t think, and certainly not one I’d ever seen before or since. The first time our hands touched (accidentally-on-purpose), I’d gone directly for the interlaced fingers position, but he was having none of that and quickly shifted us instead to the palm-to-palm position. I was satisfied, pleased that he hadn’t rejected the idea of hand-holding altogether, but at random times for days after, I would suddenly experience the pleasantly terrifying sensation of his fingers filling the spaces between mine.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

A moment of many by sarahpetherbridge via Flickr
A moment of many by sarahpetherbridge via Flickr

I wanted to be pleasantly terrified. I wanted to be gifted with the experience of someone filling in all the places where I am blank. I’m not sure how, but somewhere along the way “pleasantly” and “terrified” became uncoupled; unchecked, terror fills the blank spaces with something that’s drawn taught, something that drives me to flinch from the sprint, to wait at the corner until the signal changes.

Oh, for my days of the practiced eye, the ability to assess, the exhilarated sprint, fully confident that I would reach the curb unscathed. Oh, for the days!

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Now playing – The Fray: Never Say Never

Secrets

Love me some OneRepublic music, but this video is a bit on the disappointing side. I don’t think it accurately reflects what the poet really means by this song.



When I first heard “Secrets”, I immediately thought that Ryan Tedder was responding to criticism that his lyrics are not the usual “oh woe is me, relationships suck, my heart is broken” pop radio fare. The way I perceive a lot of what he writes is that his songs are often a reflection of what’s going on with him and the band on a professional level. I figured that perhaps he may have been criticized for not revealing himself emotionally enough, so this time around he’s “gonna give all my secrets away”.

Only, I don’t think he means it. I’m not sure it sincerely bothers him to the extent that he’d abandon what moves him to write in favor of what the critics want. Counting this one, there are at least 3 songs on the latest album that are about the career, the amazing experience of touring, being vaulted into the next level – or being afraid that they won’t be vaulted into the next level due to poor timing and/or connections.

No, I think “Secrets” is an indication that he acknowledges the criticism but he’s only kidding when he says he’s going to give it away. I think this is a man who knows where the line is. He’s not really moved to write about interpersonal relationships all that often. He’s very into his work, into his career.

It may shock some of you to know that there are people in this world who are NOT focused 24/7 on relationships – finding them, maintaining them, destroying them, ad nauseum. I should know – I’m one of them! I get the impression that Ryan Tedder is similar – many of his songs relate to his experiences as a musician, writer, producer, to his professional experiences, not his personal ones. Does that invalidate his poetry? Nope. I “get” him. There have to be others out there who “get” and appreciate what he writes, too.

It doesn’t have to be all about the emo, all about interpersonal drama, to be interesting. Really, it doesn’t.

My “cougar” days, part one

IMG_0917What a ridiculous term by the way – “cougar”. 🙄 Where the hell did that come from? I’ve been googling around to find out how a woman who pursues relationships with younger men has come to be known as a “cougar”, but no one seems to know. I even looked up some facts about the actual feline known as “cougar”, also known as puma, panther, or mountain lion, depending on if you live in Texas, Florida or Wyoming. I found no evidence that the female cougar prefers younger male cougars for mates, but did find reference to adults being more or less solitary and meeting for one reason and one reason only – mating. Perhaps this is the basis for the terminology – hunting for a mate, then going home alone. I know, it’s a stretch, but aside from that I got nuttin’ !!!

A survey conducted by AARP asserts that 34% of women surveyed responded indicating that they were dating younger men, thereby fitting the definition of “cougar”. The survey is 6 years old at the time of this writing. Spurred on by high-profile romances such as that of Ashton Kutscher and Demi Moore, I imagine that statistic has only grown in the intervening years.

Guess what? There was a time when I fit the “cougar” definition, too. Yes, ladies and gentlemen – I was cougar before cougar was cool 😉 I once calculated it and came up with a startling statistic – I am older than 80-something percent of all the guys I’ve ever been involved with. Age differences have ranged from 3 months all the way up to 8 years.

(As an aside, I also calculated that 80-something percent of all the guys I’ve ever dated and/or married were also Jewish. Yes, we detect a pattern here. No, I haven’t really tried to analyze it. I grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Queens, so I’m not shocked that I’ve got an affinity for Jewish guys).

I began my auspicious career as a cougar circa 1975-76. Harry was in 9th grade and I was in 10th. He was exactly my height, sandy brown hair, blue eyes, with freckles. A class-clown type, Harry really knew how to make me laugh, and he was just adorable. Soon after we met, he got his braces removed, a fact which relieved him no end. I’d privately thought that they only added to his adorableness factor.

We were both in the high school chorus, and both had 5th period free, during which time we ran errands for the people working in the guidance office. One day, the student body decided to stage a “walk out” during 5th period over some (no doubt) burning, socially relevant issue, and Harry and I decided to walk up to McDonald’s instead of hanging out in the guidance office. I guess that was our first “date”.

Soon after that, he proposed to me amidst the melee that occurs periodically each day at every high school across America – otherwise known as the break between classes. We were passing on the staircase. I was trapped in the throngs heading up, while he was heading down. There’s no stopping when you’re in the crush of humanity on the staircase in an over-crowded New York City public school. He was looking for me; he saw me and thrust something rather sharp and pointy into my hand. As the crowd swept him away, he hollered over his shoulder, “Marry me!”. I opened my hand to find a copper-colored paper clip, bent pretzel-style into the likeness of a ring. Despite the fact that the ring eventually left a greenish tattoo on my finger, I was da shit for the duration of the school year. A boy, a CUTE, nice Jewish boy (all my friends were Jewish – I was the token shiksa) had proposed. With witnesses! It seems like half the school was on that staircase during the first (but not last) proposal of my life. This is how I came to be the sensation of the 10th grade that year.

I received my first-ever kiss – with tongue! – from Harry. I suspect it was his first as well. We were riding in the back of a car driven by the senior boyfriend of one of my pals, on our way to a party. The sun was shining on a fine spring day, and the Beatles crooned All My Lovin’ as we practiced our exploratory maneuvers, entirely neck-up, on each other. Thereafter, just walking down the halls or ambling hand-in-hand down the street, one or the other of us would spontaneously burst into All My Lovin’, while the other harmonized. To this day, when I hear that song all I can think of is Harry and soft, first kisses in the warm sunshine.

When my friends threw me a girls-only Sweet 16 party, Harry and some of the guys from our crowd crashed. The hostess was my friend Denise, God rest her soul. She was rather put out, but I was delighted. They came bearing gifts. One of the boys gave me Wings At The Speed Of Sound and another Endless Summer. Only, they were LPs! You actually needed a record player to play them! These remain staples of my music collection. Harry, however, chose to come bearing jewelry. He’d petitioned his grandmother for funding and presented me with a tiny, perfect sterling silver cross. This was a grand gesture coming from a nice Jewish boy and his bubbie! 😉 I treasured it and wore it always, even after we moved away, which ended our relationship.

Fast-forward one year, which can seem like a thousand at that age. I was a junior at my new high school and a senior asked me to accompany him to his prom. The day after the prom, we went to see a show on Broadway in NYC, and who should we bump into outside the theater but Harry. It seems a senior had asked him to the prom too, at our old high school. We were ecstatic to see one another, but that made our dates antsy, so we had to be brief. A year had made a huge difference – I could tell he was now officially WAY taller than I was, and he was even cuter, if that was possible. His parents had relocated him, too – to California. We wrote to one another a few times, but as often happens with young love, one or the other of us stopped writing and that was the end of that.

I don’t know what became of the “engagement ring”. It probably disintegrated and went to paper clip heaven. But I do know what happened to the silver cross. Fast forward another year, to the magically golden summer of 1978. Our town sponsored an outdoor summer theater workshop, and during rehearsals for a dance number, the chain I wore the cross on somehow got caught on someone else. The chain snapped and it all went flying into the night. Several people helped me look for it. We found the chain, but the cross was lost forever. I probably would have been inconsolable, had it not been the magically golden summer of 1978 and That Boy.

Oh, and the show we were doing? Fiddler On The Roof – OY! 😉

NEXT TIME: His name was Jeremy…

Further reading: Here’s the article that inspired me to explore my inner cougar 😉

Click to read The Cougar: Progressive or Exploitative? on BlogHer

Getting my own way… by getting out of the way!

06282009839.jpg I was browsing the merchandise at Walt Disney World a couple of weeks ago when this mug crossed my path. I took a photo and sent it to Facebook, with some crack about wishing that “you have a knack for getting your own way” was true. I put it back on the shelf and walked away.

You’ll notice, it’s now sitting on my kitchen counter, awaiting it’s opportunity to become the vessel from which I drink the Elixir of Life. I figured, if I don’t believe it, then it definitely won’t be true. And if I DO believe, then I’d better start acting like I do. So I marched myself right back there and bought it.

After all, what exactly is wrong with having a knack for getting one’s own way? Nothing! As with all things, if the ability to get what one wants is exercised within a balanced and loving context, then sin cannot live there.

I’m sure that my initial rejection of this concept had elements of socialized (false) “nice girl” modesty lurking beneath. It was also influenced by past experiences, disappointments where I didn’t get anywhere close to my “own way”, my heart’s desire, what I’d been dreaming of.

Well, a dream is just a dream, a thought is just a thought, and neither can venture any further into reality without me driving it. I can drive manifestation either actively or passively. I have lots of experience driving things actively – that’s what has made me successful with most things in life. Notice I said “most” 😉 But driving the manifestation of my dreams passively – well, I have very little experience “letting go and letting God”, mostly because I’m too scared to relinquish control to something I cannot quantify.

StarGazersI’m going to try something new. I’m going to try driving a wish to come true, to manifest it into the physical world, by getting the hell out of the way and letting it happen. First step – believe that I have a knack for getting my own way.

I’ve now got a physical reminder from which to sip the Elixir of Life (coffee) 🙂 Let the manifestation of dreams begin!

PS – a grateful shout-out to a certain fairy godmother for her encouragement *~*~*~*~*~*~*

Posted by Wordmobi

The choice to be childless

Niece No. 2, aka my God-Niece, updated her status on Facebook this morning and has not been back to elaborate. Her status currently declares that she “never wants to be a parent”.

Never is a pretty long time. I’m intrigued, and looking forward to asking her what brought this on when I see her next. She’s coming to spend a week with me “doing nothing” on the beach next month. I’m sure it will be an illuminating conversation!

It started me thinking, though, about all the reasons I’ve had over the years for not wanting to have children. All these years, I’ve given the impression that it does boil down to that simple, declarative statement – I never wanted to be a parent. But in reality, nothing is ever that simple.

Growing up, my dolls were never really my babies – they were my friends. I never clamored to be the mother whenever the kids in my neighborhood played “house”. I just never had the drive toward motherhood when I was little.

I was babysitter of choice in my neighborhood when I became a teenager.  The kids adored me, and I them.  I wrote fabulous tales of adventure and heroism, and put them in starring roles in these epics.  I played the best games, and kept their secrets while still keeping them out of harm’s way.  I was their friend and guide – but NEVER their mother-figure.

In my late teens, I indulged in a little pipe-dreaming with a particular boy (yes, THAT boy) about “some day” and how it would be when we established our home and our family together – right down to “two cats in the yard”.  The scenario included a vague quantity of children, at least two judging from a sketch he drew for me one time.  At this point, though, I feel it fair to point out that for me, it really WAS dreaming; I felt very little real identification with the possibility that it could actually come true.  At 17-18 years of age, I’d already had a number of experiences that taught me the rug would be ripped out from under me as soon as I became comfortable and happy, so I don’t think I ever actually believed that “some day” would manifest into reality.

Later in life, I had what turned out to be an ill-fated marriage, to someone else.  But in the beginning, when I still had every intention of going through life with him, I picked out names; Julie for a girl (Julianna, actually, like the queen of the Netherlands) and Jordan for a boy. This was a nod to the name of the female lead in the musical Carousel. It was my first role after starting to study with Gloria, a radical departure from the roles I’d been playing – I’d learned how to sing like an ingenue.  I thought it was neat that “Julie Jordan” had two first names instead of a first and a last.  Anyway – eventually, I accepted that I was married to the wrong person, and actively sought to prevent the manifestation of children. I believed he would not pull his weight as a parent; he wasn’t pulling his weight as a partner, and I saw no reason to believe a baby would change any of that.  I already felt overwhelmed by the responsibilities of being an adult, having a household to tend to along with a full time job and a budding stage career.  I felt responsible for everything, and I didn’t see the sense in adding to those responsibilities.

I recognized, fortunately, that many men want children for the same reason they’d like a Porsche in the garage.  They love being able to brag about having one, but they want nothing to do with the maintenance.  I further recognized that a woman who is married to this sort of man is in for 18 years (minimum) of indentured servitude, self-sacrifice and subjugation of all her wants, needs and desires, always putting the needs of the children first, never getting an assist.

I grew up in a very restrictive environment.  I didn’t get to make the simplest of decisions for myself; everything was controlled to the nth degree.  I had no say in the clothes I wore, the way I styled my hair, the friends I was allowed to have…. no freedom of choice at all.  I was tired of external sources dictating every little detail of everything for me.  I wanted freedom.  The idea of living under restrictions again was not at all appealing.

I feared that, under virtual single-parent conditions, I would become resentful and miserable. This would leak over onto the children. I’d been on the receiving end of something similar. I knew what it was to really hate being treated that way.

Bottom line: I knew it would break my heart to have any child of mine hurt so badly that they would come to hate me.  I could not bear the thought of it. I’d been trying to prepare myself for a long time to not make the same mistakes my parents did. I started a diary at age 13 or so, for the express purpose of never forgetting what it is like to be a kid. I thought that would help me to be a better parent. Probably, it would have.  Definitely, under the “some day” scenario, with the right partner, it would have worked.  But once I piled the wrong partner on top of my fears that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree… there was no way I was going to introduce children into the scenario.  They would only suffer for it.

So, all these years, many of you reading this have had the understanding that I didn’t WANT children.  That is not necessarily the whole truth.  As is typical for me, I knew far better what I didn’t want.  What I didn’t want was to feel used and trapped.  What I didn’t want was to make children who were destined to suffer and to resent me for it.  What I didn’t want was to gift someone with a Porsche that I would then be forced to maintain solo. 

God is good.  Some women who go through chemo lose their ability to reproduce.  I was 33 when they finally decided that those episodes whereby my head felt like it was spinning into orbit were actually hot flashes, and that meant I was entering menopause.  I was not a candidate for estrogen replacement, because that’s what my tumor ate for a living – estrogen.  Therefore, I believe that God picked the right person to visit with this condition.  It would have been a real tragedy if God had picked a woman who would have been devastated by infertility.  From that perspective, I’m glad God chose me.  And it really kind of settled the question once and for all.  Want or not want, it was moot – “can’t” was now the operative word, and aside from a mild twinge now and then, I’ve really been ok with it, with the finality of it.

All of this led to my ability to focus some individualized attention (not to mention disposable income) in the direction of my nieces.  And now I’m wondering if it also led to an example being set for them of an alternative option.  Even growing up in the 60s and being exposed to media coverage of “women’s liberation”, Gloria Steinem, fish having no need of bicycles, etc., I still had some notion that one grew up and got married and had children because that’s what one did.  I’m sure the extremely conservative way in which I was raised contributed to that; my parents often said that a young woman did not leave her parents house unless it was to move into her husband’s house. 

This hasn’t been true for my nieces, thankfully.  They actually get to leave the house and go away to college – without first having to get married!  Although I would never want to discourage them from having a family if that’s what they wanted, I do hope that my life has somehow served to let them know that a person can be legitimately productive and happy leading an alternative lifestyle, that there is another choice besides wife and mother.  There’s the choice to be childless.  When I ask about the mysterious Facebook status update, I might find that this is the case, or I might find that she was just in a very bad mood.  Either way – it’s satisfying to know that there are children in this world whom I love, that I’ve not made them suffer and they don’t hate me 🙂  So maybe it was the right choice after all.

Forgiving Salinger

catcher-coverJ. D. Salinger used to be my favorite author. I first read Catcher in the Rye circa 1973-ish, when I was in 7th or 8th grade; my science teacher was actually loaning it around to people in my class, and I got on the list and read it and loved it. I loved it so much, that by time I got to 10th grade and we were actually reading it in English class, I swiped a copy. I still have it. Ancient, tattered, it bears the stamp on the inside cover, “MARTIN VAN BUREN HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH DEPARTMENT” (watch me get fined now or something – arrested, even!). It’s well-worn because it has been read a bazillion times.

A few years later, someone loaned me a copy of Nine Stories and I fell in love. With Salinger, too! 😉 I liked “For Esme, With Love and Squalor” best, but his favorite was “Teddy”. If I recall correctly, he had to beg me repeatedly to return the book to him. I think eventually I must have, because the copy I have on my bookshelf now is a mass-market paperback from 1991, and my introduction to Nine Stories was circa 1978. I also have a paperback copy of Franny and Zooey on my shelves.

Still more years later, there came unto us the internet, and Salinger was one of the first of those seemingly day-long searches I used to conduct back then with my CompuSpend oops I meant to say CompuServe account. I found out lots about him that day. He was reclusive. He refused interviews. He’d published short stories prolifically, in such prestigious publications as Colliers, Good Housekeeping, The Saturday Evening Post and The New Yorker, to name a few. There are many pages on the internet devoted to lists of Salinger’s “uncollected works”, nearly all of them mentioning that he doesn’t want them “collected”.

And then came that fateful year I picked up a copy of Dreamcatcher, Margaret Salinger’s memoir of growing up in the orbit of her famous father. Ah, FINALLY, some good and detailed information about my favorite author! I took the book with me on vacation to Sanibel Island and devoured it. After finishing it, this is what I had to say about it in my trip journal:

“I have to say that up until finishing this memoir, J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” was my all-time favorite novel. However, now that I know that he was such a pitiful excuse for a husband and father, my enjoyment of his writings has become tarnished. This man and his wife were classic examples of those who should not breed, for they steadfastly failed to comprehend their responsibilities as parents. If even half of what Peggy Salinger has written is true, both parents needed institutionalization followed by a swift kick in the pants to straighten their sorry asses out.”

Yes, the bloom was off the rose. I’d spent happy decades revering the man whose mind invented Holden Caulfield, only to discover that he was a whacko. No wonder he was hiding. He might be sick, but he’s not stupid. If a life-long fan can become turned off by the truth about him, think what would happen with casual readers. Think of all those unpurchased paperbacks. Think of all those 10th graders whose parents are having a hard enough time with the fact that they’re reading a book spattered with the F word and various other expletives. You wanna see books burning? Just wait until they find out what a horrible father he was!

And so, for the last 6 years, I’ve sulked, refusing to do the annual pilgrimage into the mind of the teenager that is Holden Caulfield. A few of those 6 years, my books were in storage, anyhow, so I didn’t really need to sulk those years, but probably did anyway. I did lay hands upon my Salinger paperbacks, though – twice. I’ve moved twice in that time period, and so I actually touched them without reading them, once to pack them up into storage, and then again when I got to the new house and unpacked them.

I had to do a book purge when I got here. I don’t know what possessed me to own so many books, never mind pack them and pay to move them from Long Island to Florida. I knew it had to be done, but it still felt like an amputation. I posted the titles online to various forums and lists, and mailed out the ones that people wanted. The rest went to Goodwill in Lehigh Acres, where the manager of the place was grateful to receive them.

Interestingly, I gave away Margaret’s hardcover, but kept J. D.’s paperbacks. Oh, I was still mad at him, but somewhere inside, I was still deeply attached to ol’ J.D. and his stories. There are other items I’ve dragged with me from pillar to post over the years, items that I keep in a certain Box, items that I have not wanted to read but not wanted to part with, either. But that’s another post for another day.

My recent run-in with personal history, compliments of Facebook led to a raid on that certain Box… (when I can face The Box again, I’ll let y’all know). The raid on The Box led to remembering Nine Stories in ways in which I had not indulged in many, many years. And so I left The Box and proceeded to comb the bookshelves in my home office, whereupon I found the book, turned immediately to the last chapter where I knew I’d find “Teddy”, and read it through.

J.D. is a talented, sensitive, brilliant writer. These attributes coexist with ineptitude as a husband and a father. Margaret Salinger commented something to the effect that she’d expected the man who thought up the role of the catcher, the guy who keeps kids from running off a cliff, to be that for her. Given that she is his child, I’d say she had a right to expect that, and has a right to be disappointed about it. I hope writing the book has helped her to cope with that disappointment, at least somewhat. I know that such profound disappointment in a parent is not something you ever really get over, but you can’t let it cripple you for the rest of your life, either.

So I read “Teddy” and I enjoyed it. And remembered. And shed a few tears. I’m not sure I’m ready to forgive ol’ J.D. yet, just as I’m not quite sure that I’m ready to forgive myself. All this time, I thought I’d abandoned Salinger in solidarity with his daughter, because he was such a poor parent. But now… now, I think I realize that it may have less to do with his sins than it has to do with my own. Like a lot of things associated with that time in my life, J.D. now makes me feel like that 17-18 year old fuck-up I used to be, flailing around on the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy, so desperate to survive, so heedless of the wounds I was inflicting upon others. And, let’s face it – upon myself.

Clearly, I am in need of redemption. Got any ideas, anyone? Perhaps the answer lies somewhere between the covers of Nine Stories. Perhaps I should read the whole thing. Just to find out.