Saturday, January 30, 2010

Who you callin' a recluse?

When people die, friends and family eulogize them, unless, somehow, they are "famous," in which case everybody gets into the act… as is the case with J. D. Salinger, author of, among other things, the acclaimed The Catcher in the Rye, a book you may have been exposed to in high school, and if not, then you must have been meaning to read it lo these many years. If you fall into this category, it's time you meet Holden Caulfield. Get thee to the library.

Apart from his publications that ceased decades ago, Salinger has been getting his share of recently ignited posthumous attention after living out the last nearly half century of is life as a media endorsed "recluse," before dying at 91 this week.

For the past five decades he was a resident of Cornish, New Hampshire, a town touted for harboring its share of "reclusive" artists. Salinger got out and about—church suppers, book stores-- and maybe stayed home just as often, like many folks do in towns where the population is 1700 or there about. While his widow thanked the town for affording her husband "a place of awayness from the world," is that what makes a recluse? Who doesn't want some "awayness?"

Are not writers solitary creatures? Try writing productively in a crowd. Or at least while engaging with the crowd. Do not writers, perhaps, create believable and memorable characters because they observe more than they engage?  And might not writers decide that writing for public consumption isn't what matters to them? So they stop. And might they tire of endless public evaluation of their work? And shouldn't they be granted this gracefully… no questions asked, or speculative magnifying glasses aimed their way?

Recluse? Is that what we call someone who once gave us good tales, and then stopped providing them for whatever reason? What about the other residents of Cornish? The…regular people. Were they recluses because they lived in a small town that afforded them privacy? And what is privacy anyway? Can you not be as private camouflaged on a crowded sidewalk in a city of  500,000 other souls to whom you don’t even raise an eye?

John David Salinger was a man, just a man. He wrote, and was published, and we read his stories and liked them or not. But now he's gone… leaving some of his words behind, and maybe, hopefully, many more hidden. Recluse. Who knows? Who cares? And what's the big deal anyway?

Salinger was who he was, and now he will now be redefined, many times, post death. He was a man, just a man. But we'll pull him back into the limelight now, poor guy.
I hope to hell that when I do die somebody has the sense to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody. ~J. D. Salinger


Ross Eldridge said...

Hallo there, Ruth,

First, a thank you for the lovely picture and poem below ... Winter Sings ...

And thank you also for your words of wisdom on the business of what is a recluse ...

I suppose Salinger picked up that tag because 50 years ago he was fairly fussy about having a private life. How refreshing that he was not bouncing on Oprah's couch!

I very much appreciate your inclusion of Salinger's thoughts on being dead. I have been to Westminster Abbey a number of times in my life and I have always looked for the tombs and markers and memorials of those people who have changed my life. I've not left flowers, but I've pressed my hand onto a name more than a few times. I've also been up to Bloomsbury to sit on Virginia Woolf's front steps. Does Virginia, in her Heaven, give a hoot? Probably not. But something in me likes to say "Thank You" ... Which can be easier in a noted place. Better, of course, to be thrilled by the writer's words and his or her life in the comfort of your front room. Touching the spine of a much-loved book, rather than looking for doors and windows used by the great, and taking flowers to their bones.

It has snowed again in Northumbria ... I thought we might be past that. But, everything has a song if one but listens.



Pauline said...

Apparently we never lose the childish urge to categorize and call people names.

"And what's the big deal anyway?"

Wonder if anyone can answer that without sounding like a pompous arse?

I laughed at the quote and then thought, oh I do hope my loved ones come to put flowers on my stomach on a Sunday, but I'd like if better if I could say thank you.

Ruth D~ said...

Ross: You say, "How refreshing that he was not bouncing on Oprah's couch!" This is it exactly!! Such a succinct sound bite. I love it. Sure JDS wanted privacy, and insisted upon it. But only the "famous" have to do that, and for insisting upon some privacy in the same measure many of us unfamous just take it as a matter of course, he's called a recluse. "Recluse" has a negative connotation to me--there's the brown recluse spider that comes to mind, a solitary arachnid, lurking in a hole waiting for prey...

Pauline: I hear you on the flowers, but it's really not that at all, is it? It's being able to communicate still. A grave puts you in a pretty "reclusive" position.

Lisa said...

I am in total agreement with you Ruth on the whole "recluse" thing. A wonderful commentary, and I love the quote at the end.

Tere said...

Love this. I have always detested the word "recluse". It is just another misunderstood judgement people make about someone when we don't understand them. Loved the quote and have told my children many times to just do what they want when I die. It only matters to the living.