What’s your reaction to this one? Cool or creepy?

What’s your reaction to this one? I was walking St. James Court shooting houses and this young woman came walking up the sidewalk toward me. The shot was a classic surreptitious “shoot from the hip” shot. I just tripped the shutter on the 635 as it hung against my stomach. I was set for f16 and had the focal point set to about 20 feet, so I didn’t have to focus. I really like the shot, but it also strikes me as kind of creepy, almost like a stalker or something. Maybe if the girl was 80 years old, or a male, it would be different, but a young, fairly attractive female being photographed without her knowledge or permission bothers me. On the other hand, I really like the shot. What do you think? (Click on image for larger view.)



J. D. Salinger Didn’t Twitter

jdsalinger I know that I read Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger a long time ago in that lengthy parade of books I had to read to get through high school. Unlike a lot of folks, it wasn’t a life-changing experience for me. In fact, I scarcely remember the book. I liked Hemingway much better. I liked Tolkien and Heinlein. I read Plato and Kierkegaard in those days too (yeah, I know – my dad gave them to me). Poor Salinger hardly made a dent in my consciousness at sixteen. Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but that’s the way it was. I may go and buy the book, and read it again just to see if I missed something important the first time around.

I often find that the lives of writers are more interesting to me than their writings. Often, I would rather read about their exploits than read their books. Their lives say more to me about their vision than any individual tome. Salinger may be the ultimate example. The statement of his life and the way he lived it illustrate the courses taken in a tortured and alienated life far better than any work of fiction. I’m glad I wasn’t born J. D. Salinger.

Salinger published his writing between 1951 and 1965, fourteen short years. Then, he did everything he could to make himself disappear. He quit publishing and retreated permanently to his hermitage in New Hampshire. He liked to write, but he didn’t like to publish. Publishing and coping with the outside world was a violation of his privacy. Instead of craving fame’s spotlight, he ran from it. In doing so, he achieved the status of a counter-cultural icon, even more alluring to the hungry world than before. The ironies are rich. It must have been hard for Salinger to take when his story of an alienated adolescent misfit received such universal acceptance, especially from the education community, a group he never got along with very well. My hunch is that he would have been happier if the nation’s teachers would have conducted book burnings with Catcher.

“Hey, Sally,  . . . Did you ever get fed up? I mean did you ever get scared that everything was going to go lousy unless you did something? I mean do you like school, and all that stuff? . . . Well, I hate it. Boy, do I hate it. . . . But it isn’t just that. It’s everything.”
— Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye

I live in a world where I can know the intimate thoughts of Barak Obama, Lady Gaga or Derek Jeter within seconds of their having them via Twitter. J. D. Salinger didn’t Twitter. My world is one in which fame, instant wealth and celebrity are worshipped as the new religion. Success means fame and adulation. If you have a hundred thousand followers on your Twitter account, you’ve arrived. You’re on your way to apotheosis. If you can get past the judges on American Idol, you can count on instant fame and recording contracts for the foreseeable future. A few minutes worth of surfing on the web will reveal to you just about everything there is to know about me. Today, privacy seems more like a memory from another time than a present reality.

Against our culture of instantaneous knowledge of everyone all the time and our idolatry of celebrity and “success,” Salinger stands like a dark blob of anti-matter drawing everything to himself with the vacuum of his renunciation. He did practice Zen Buddhism, I’m told, so maybe that has something to do with it. Maybe he achieved satori. I don’t know; I never had the patience to sit still that long.

The tragedy of Salinger is that we don’t know if it made any difference. Was his life better or worse than ours? Is there an earth-shaking masterpiece born in solitude secreted in his safe? Unless some more manuscripts appear, we’ll never know, and in that way he cheated us. We gave him a life of leisure and ultimate freedom, a clean canvas on which to paint anything. He appears to have given us nothing in return except litigation and whiny complaints about his privacy being violated.

As I said at the top, I’m not a fan. Still, I am fascinated by how someone who seemed to “have it all” could turn his back on it all in such a radical way. Was it the ultimate expression of genius, or just the coping mechanism of a badly flawed personality? It would have been nice if he could have twittered just a couple of times, something like, “This Rocks!” or “This Really Sux,” or “The Great American Novel is hidden in the trunk of the car,” but he didn’t. We’re left with our questions and the dark, empty space that was J. D. Salinger.

“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”
— Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye