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Archive for April, 2010

The recent death of J.D. Salinger motivated me to read The Catcher in the Rye again, turning back to not only a great work of literature but to a part of my life that felt like a movie I must have watched rather than my own past. I found my dog-eared paperback in the basement and, upon opening it fondly, found  hundreds of penciled notes in the margins, most of which I couldn’t make out. Who WAS the person who took such copious notes? (Unlike the marginalia, I had neatly written the date on the fly leaf, 1974, just below my (then) maiden name.)

I couldn’t fathom why I would write so many explanations of the text, why I would circle and underline to such an annoying degree, and then it hit me: I didn’t just read Catcher in the Rye. I taught it! Oh right! I had taught college English off and on in a previous life. It sounded so academic and optimistic because that’s what I was — optimistic, certain I would teach and write for a living. But when faced with teaching composition to practical, world-weary non- traditional collegians, my confidence disappeared like the cash in Holden Caulfield’s pocket. One student said to me of Holden, “Oh why doesn’t he just get a job.”

There were many myths about Salinger the writer. Among them: he would hang each chapter on a clipboard and perch all the clipboards on nails inside his writing shed, so he could walk around and make a change here, another one there. I don’t know if this was true — I heard many other stories about him. But I wonder if I had written my journal on clipboards and if I could find clipboard  circa 1974, what would I change?  More detail, yes. A stronger voice, more dramatic plot points, and less ambiguity.

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