Archive for July, 2008

Parenthetically Yours

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

My last posting, filled with so many asides (in parentheses) has elicited a party of parentheses! I have been inundated with emails from readers and friends, packed with witticisms bouncing gleefully (back and forth (tra la la)) between those two curved arms. Parentheses are fun (whee!).

I seem to have a hang-up about applying correct punctuation marks and retaining grammatically correct ways of expressing myself. I turned to my friend Sharon, a technical writer, who lent me her Strunk and White, “The Elements of Style.” “No book in shorter space, with fewer words, will help any writer more than this persistent little volume.” (Persistent!) There are still periods and commas escaping (here, there and everywhere) in my writing, and I’m sure I’m still not consistent in keeping the dots, and dots with tails from wagging over to the wrong side of the brackets and quotation marks. But thank you, Sharon. I’ve come to think of parentheses as goalie nets. Sometimes the point gets in on the first try (good one!), but sometimes it doesn’t (and you can have another go at it).

I dug out J.D.Salinger’s “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour an Introduction.” First having read this as a teenager, I had absolutely swooned over Salinger’s delivery. The profusion of parentheses enchanted me. In “Seymour An Introduction” Buddy Glass says, “Please accept from me this unpretentious bouquet of very early-blooming parentheses: (((()))).” (I fell in love.)

And so my dear friends that urge me to write (and then actually read me), “(((xo)))”. I thank you without parentheses (and within). (You sustain me.)

What is it about an empty house that has me perched atop a lifetime of memories? Oh what a view. Everyone away for the long weekend, I hear the silent floors below me acutely. My landlord Derrick refers to me as God, as in, “Ask God up above.” I continually remind him to be gender correct, “That’s Goddess, Derrick, Goddess.” The attic seems higher now that I am alone in the house, and my bed under the skylight even closer to the night sky. I am uplifted in the dark and the quiet of this house, and felt myself shape shift in and out of all my roles and incarnations. When I whispered aloud my thank you prayer, for the first time I said, “Goodnight Father. Goodnight Mother,” and knew myself the young child of parents of a vast universe of such goodness and breadth.

Without the bustling household to keep me present I wandered in nostalgia. I wanted to find again (and did) the reason why Salinger named his other book “The Catcher In The Rye.” Holden Caulfield is telling his sister Phoebe that all he wants to be, if he had the choice, is to be that person from the song, “If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye.” Phoebe corrects him, and tells him it’s from a poem, a Robert Burns poem, “If a body MEET a body coming through the rye.” But Holden is undeterred and says that the only thing he really wants to be is that catcher, the catcher in the rye. He keeps picturing a field with thousands of little kids playing some game, and he is the only big person there. And it’s his job to stand on the edge of some crazy cliff. That if one of the kids is running, and forgets, and gets too close to the edge, that he Holden will catch them if they start to go over the cliff. “That’s all I’d do all day.”

In 1975 I shared a cottage on the very southern tip of Quadra Island with another young mother, Christine. She with her son Koby and me with mine, Jonah. The day I sat with my legs dangling over the side of the high bluff, looking south, the late afternoon sun shimmered spectacularly for miles and miles down the Georgia Strait. Off glinting ice topped mountains, the most brilliant blue overhead and the glistening waves glancing below and beyond, I had one of those moments when a picture turned crystalline, clearly into focus. I looked behind me. I’d heard about this place. The children were safely asleep inside, and between the cabin and the cliff’s edge the long, tall grasses were swept in a dance. To and fro by the wind, flattened one way then another, then springing up, obscuring the cliff’s edge. I had become the catcher, the catcher in the rye.

Re-reading these books that have been so pivotal to my younger self had the same impact, but what a longer view! Out of curiosity I looked up the study guides on “Catcher In the Rye,” and they said the key issues of the book were alienation, loss and betrayal, and that Holden does not mature through the novel. That the cliff symbolizes the transition from childhood to adulthood, and his grandiose wish, to be a catcher in the rye, is him wanting to keep them as innocent children and prevent them from turning into phony adults.

Returning to Holden Caulfield and Buddy Glass again, this time I saw a conjoined love story (spanning both books), that began with Holden as a teenager and evolved into Buddy in his later years. And Buddy did make the transition to authentic adult. Both Holden and Buddy are grieving the brothers they loved and lost (Allie, Holden’s brother, to leukemia, and Buddy’s Seymour to a self-inflicted gunshot to the head). They continue to hold them. What I hear in Holden’s desire to catch those kids, is his grief and love for his brother, and a longing to keep someone SAFE. And Buddy, now the writer, in his loving backward look at his brother Seymour, in the writing, finds himself now joyously running alongside him.

At my son Jonah’s birth, I gave him Seymour as his middle name, in homage to his “Uncle,” Seymour Glass. And now startled, I have looked up, I have looked back, from these books, from the woman I am now to the teenage mother I was then, in grief, with longing and with love, and I see it; I have finally caught me.

We are writers all. We determine the page of our days. Our deepest desire is to write our own life into a love story. “Seymour An Introduction” is simply one of the greatest love stories I have ever read. I invite you to re-view these two books through the lens of who you are now. And I share with you a piece of writing advice that Seymour wrote to Buddy, two questions that we can ask ourselves at the end of every day…

Were most of your stars out?
Were you busy writing your heart out?

Good Life