A few days ago I was having a complete artist-lame-vain freakout over editing my work for presentation. It’s so silly now because it was such a self-indulgent activity. What of my brilliant work should I cut? Damn you Time Limits for not respecting my rambling genius!
I wish I could say that my reading was brilliant, but that would certainly be an overstatement. Although I have some modest high school oral interpretation experience (second in TFA State Poetry–if you know what that means, you know how little it really means) and a much more impressive BFA in Acting (NYU’s Tisch, darling), I am essentially a shy, antsy performer. My reading broke the cardinal rule–I never looked up to connect with my audience. I just read the piece and tried not choke up on the sections which were deeply personal (sting rays–one of my deep issues).
However, even with all that, I think I might have gained my first fan. An attendee came up to me afterward during the panel part of the event and told me how much he loved my work, how authentic my portrayal of Aboriginal prejudices and culture were, and . . . how much my style reminded him of J.D. Salinger.
I won’t lie–that last part threw me. He actually said, “You are so reminscient of Salinger thematically. Stylistically, maybe a little. But your themes, your tone–it’s rings Salinger. It rips the guts like Salinger. You know Salinger?”
Between us, I said yes without thinking because I didn’t want to seem stupid in front of someone who liked my writing. When he asked my favorite Salinger piece, I stalled before asking, “You are referring to J.D. Salinger?” I finally asked because I felt like I was a fraud if he was talking about some other Salinger that happened to be an Australian author that I was too dumb to know (my piece deals with Australia).
“Yes, of course.”
Then I was off. I talked in depth about my love of Catcher in Rye. Those who graduated with me will hopefully remember reading this Junior year (even though she taught from CliffsNotes!). I remember every second of reading that novel because it was the first book I read that wasn’t a children’s book to which I deeply connected. I have even argued that teaching it to teenagers is important because it is really the first thing they can relate to (although with Teen Mom, perhaps The Scarlet Letter isn’t so far off). When Salinger died, I read a passage from it to my creative writing class and was even more grieved because no one in the room had read it. One of my deepest hopes in life is to own an original edition (that and On the Road).
However, that doesn’t end my Salinger connection. My junior year at NYU, my acting professor had me do an acting scene based around Salinger’s “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut” from his short story collection Nine Stories. We’ll skip over my acting talents to the point that I read the entire collection and loved it. In fact, it traveled with me for years. Something about his collection spoke to me.
So naturally when I was given an assignment in graduate Creative Writing of picking a story I admired, I selected one from Nine Stories. The story was “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” And through an almost painfully drawn out exercise, it suddenly clicked how to construct dialogue. I have not struggled with dialogue since and I have not picked up Nine Stories since.
When that man brought it up, I started mulling it over. It would never occur to me to compare myself to someone like Salinger in any state or form. I could pretend to see the similarities–masculine dysfunction, mental disintegration, questions of identity, the banality of American existence?
But in reality? Not so much. I’m just some girl trying to write some story.
But I appreciate the thought.