(I apologize in advance for the length of the passage I’m about to reference. I just couldn’t cut any of it out…)
About once a year, for the past few years, I go on a J.D. Salinger rampage, re-reading anything by or about him that I can get my hands on…published works, unpublished short stories, biographies, etc. This year’s happened a few weeks ago, and I was moved, inspired and nearly destroyed by a passage from Seymour – An Introduction. Which, of course, made me want to share it (selfishly hoping it would evoke a similar sentiment from someone).
A little context: Buddy Glass (the narrator of the story and an aspiring author) is writing about/remembering his older brother, Seymour. What follows is a portion of a note from Seymour, to Buddy, in response to a short story Buddy shared with him:
“…Do you know what I was smiling at? You wrote down that you were a writer by profession. It sounded to me like the loveliest euphemism I had ever heard. When was writing ever your profession? It’s never been anything but your religion. Never. I’m a little overexcited now. Since it is your religion, do you know what you will be asked when you die? But let me tell you first what you won’t be asked. You won’t be asked if you were working on a wonderful, moving piece of writing when you died. You won’t be asked if it was long or short, sad or funny, published or unpublished. You won’t be asked if you were in good or bad form while you were working on it. You won’t even be asked if it was the one piece of writing you would have been working on if you had known your time would be up when it was finished – I think only poor Soren K. will get asked that. I’m so sure you’ll get asked only two questions. Were most of your stars out? Were you busy writing your heart out? If only you knew how easy it would be for you to say yes to both questions. If only you’d remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won’t even underline that. It’s too important to be underlined. Oh, dare to do it Buddy! Trust your heart. You’re a deserving craftsman. It would never betray you. Good night. I’m feeling very much overexcited now, and a little dramatic, but I think I’d give almost anything on earth to see you writing a something, an anything, a story, a poem, a tree, that was really and truly after your own heart…”
…and then I feel overexcited and a little dramatic, for days.
A note: this passage gained additional relevance yesterday, as I watched my little bro graduate from college (and remembered watching my other little bro graduate from high school earlier this year). The usual suspects were present and accounted for…lots of feelings involving pride and love and “It seems like just yesterday when…”. But I also found myself wishing I was better prepared, better established in my own life, so I could bestow piles of advice and wisdom upon him and convince him that the future wasn’t scary, that he would succeed and make a difference and live a mighty life. And as I struggled with what to say, I was reminded of this passage again…in a different, non-writerly way. I read it this time simply as an elder sibling writing to a younger one, honest and excited and straight from the heart…reminding him to live with his stars out, and to do something, anything, he loves.