“I’d never encourage anyone to be a writer. It’s too hard…” Eudora Welty
A little over a decade ago, a world-renowned author gave a much-anticipated lecture on his best seller at our local college. It was (for this owl at least) a thrilling event. The lecture was brilliant and the author did not disappoint. And… just as this charming god-of-the-written word was wrapping his lecture up, he announced from the podium that he would be heading over to the local bar directly after the book signing session and anyone who cared to, could join him there for a beer. Of course, being a huge admirer of his works, I was more than thrilled by the idea and was immediately chomping at the bit for an opportunity to meet him. (The whole time I imagined the brilliant and raw conversation he and I would have about his works never minding the fact that there were 700 people in the audience that had also been invited to join him.) I immediately envisioned how he and I would exchange email addresses and stay in touch with one another from that point on because in my minds’ eye we were now and forever “friends.” It didn’t turn out that way. Something very different happened. When I turned to convince a fellow owl (who is not only a voracious reader of all things books, but who had also very much admired this author’s works) that we needed to go hang out with this celebrity, he flat out declined. The reason? My fellow owl simply said he didn’t like his authors to be “so accessible.” My disappointment at the time was tinged with a bit of resentment towards my fellow owl, but the truth in the matter is, I never forgot the reason for why he declined this once-in-a-lifetime invitation.
I’ve thought about it a lot since, and the older I get in this world of instant accessibility, the more I appreciate my fellow owls’ insight. You see, we all like an air of mystery. Not the mystery of the whodunit variety, but rather the sense of the unknown and the unexplained. We are intrigued by what is not said and by what is yet to be discovered and yet to be explored. That, in my humble opinion is what keeps us all going. And when it comes to authors, celebrities, and our collective love of mystery… J.D. Salinger, as one of the most compelling examples I can think of, springs immediately to mind. Protected during his lifetime by his own code of silence even years after his death, Salinger remains as famous for creating one of literature’s most beloved characters, Holden Caulfield, as he is for recoiling from the public eye. We are still to this day intrigued by the mystery behind the man. Documentary filmmaker Shane Salerno’s new documentary, “Salinger,” tracks the writer’s monumental literary success as well as his abrupt retreat from it. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-3445_162-57600883/lifting-the-veil-of-mystery-from-j.d-salinger/
“Catcher in the Rye “ has sold well over 60 million copies and counting. This enigmatic man and über-talented author declined interviews and avoided photographers for nearly half a century. He kept us guessing (often incorrectly), and he most definitely kept us interested.
I for one loved “Catcher in the Rye.” I first read it in my teens and I can honestly say the character of Holden Caulfield changed my life. Salinger’s novel opened my pathetic little teen world to bold new possibilities and through the snarky and bright Holden Caulfield, Salinger demonstrated the power of independent thinking and voice, and that oh yes!…even a snarky adolescent voice could have its rightful place in this world. I will always be indebted to Salinger for his creativity, and I don’t want it destroyed for me by foolishly bridging the distance between the man and the author.
Creativity is, (I think we can all we all agree,) a truly mystical thing. The ancient Greeks believed in the Daemons, the Romans believed in the Genius- and these days …well these days it seems, we’ve gone and reduced ourselves into believing in “celebrity” rather than believing in the mystical nature of creativity. We’ve lost our safe distance. In fact, celebrity culture is one of the hallmarks of twenty-first century America. We “know” so much about celebrities now-a-days (even things we might not want to know about them) that we are lulled into thinking we are on a first name basis with them. We create nicknames for them: we hear about their romances, their escapades and of course their failures. (Sadly, we loooove to hear about their failures.) And heck, why not? Celebrity status does not necessarily require any unique skill or talent and in fact, often has very little to do with creative genius. So how did we confuse the two? Here is an interesting TED talk on the subject by author Elizabeth Gilbert: http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html
So what in God’s name has happened to what was once the expected air of mystique that surrounded our favorite authors? Can we blame the internet age for making everything about everybody accessible to the touch of our fingertips? Or do we need to take a little more responsibility in an age where everyone is clamoring for validation.
Is it because many of us are so desperate for validation because we’ve lost our sense of mystique? Does it even mean anything to be a writer anymore? I think so. And this is why: when I stumble on to a new book that I love, I can be okay with not needing to devour everything in the cult of celebrity. I’m going to take the advice of my fellow owl and do my best to let an author’s work be all the mental architecture I need to understand them. The world we live is a big and mysterious place… and so, when I am curled up later this weekend and enjoying Brice Austin’s “The Afterlife Road and other stories”…shhh don’t tell me…just let me dwell in the mystery.