Tuesday, July 14, 2020

July 13-14: The Young and Strong, Holden Caulfield, Dreams

Merton returns to England as a teenage American gangster . . .

The truth is that we did have quite a big bar bill, the Bryn Mawr girls and myself, but we were never drunk, because we drank slowly and spent the whole time stuffing ourselves with sardines on toast and all the other dainties which are the stock in trade of English liners.

In any case, I set foot once more on the soil of England dressed up in a gangster suit which Pop had bought me at Wallach's, complete with padded shoulders.  And I had a new, pale grey hat over my eye and walked into England pleased with the consciousness that I had easily acquired a very lurid reputation for myself with scarcely any trouble at all.

The separation of the two generations on board the ship had pleased me.  It had flattered me right down to the soles of my feet.  It was just what I wanted.  It completed my self-confidence, guaranteed my self-assertion.  Anyone older than myself symbolized authority.  And the vulgarity of the detectives and the stupidity of the other middle-aged people who had believed all their stories about us fed me with a pleasantly justifiable sense of contempt for their whole generation.  Therefore I concluded that I was now free of all authority, and that nobody could give me any advice that I had to listen to.  Because advice was only the cloak of hypocrisy or weakness or vulgarity or fear.  Authority was constituted by the old and weak, and had its roots in their envy for the joys and pleasures of the young and strong.

Finally, when I arrived at Oakham several days after the beginning of the term I was convinced that I was the only one in the whole place who knew anything about life, from the Headmaster on down.

I remember that time in my life, when I thought I had everything figured out.  It was wonderfully comforting, knowing that I had all the answers.  And when some authority figure tried to provide guidance or advice, I nodded dutifully, went away, and did exactly the opposite.  My mother told me to study computer science in college.  There was a future in that, she said.  I went to the university and became . . . a poet instead.

Adults always choose the safe path.  Security.  Money.  Employment.  That's not what young adults want.  When I was an undergrad, I was one step away from establishing my own Dead Poets Society.  I was artistic, love-starved, and, a lot of the time, clinically depressed.  In short, I was Holden Caulfield.

Now, as one of those old authority figures that Holden disparages through most of The Catcher in the Rye, I find myself craving safety, security, money, and good employment.  I often wonder if I chose the right path.  Perhaps I should have stuck with computer programming.  I might now have a good-sized 401(k), a nicer house and car, and a vacation home.  If only I had listened to my mother.

Yet, I know that, even with all those luxuries, I probably wouldn't have been very happy.  I mean, John Grisham was a successful lawyer, but he spent his spare time writing novels.  William Carlos Williams was a doctor, scribbling poems on his prescription pads.  Wallace Stevens sold insurance his whole life.  All of these writers had adult jobs to support their writing habits.

That's the real challenge about being a responsible adult--somehow managing to hold on to some part of what excited you as a young person.  The part that spurned all the advice of adults who wanted you to be responsible and boring.  The part that wanted to be Ingmar Bergman or Amelia Earhart or J. D. Salinger or Thomas Merton. 

If you're able to do that, no matter what career you eventually end up pursuing, you'll find happiness, despite all the adult pressures of the real world.

Me?  I work in a medical office and teach at a university.  But I'm also a Nobel Prize-winning poet.  Oscar-winning movie director.  Underground cartoonist.  Mad blogger.  My reality and my dreams.  The day I give up on my dreams is the day I stop believing in miracles. 

This message has been brought to you by Saint Marty, official sponsor of dreams and miracles.

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