Ella and Holden Caulfield

I am currently in a writing and talking time-out because I just finished reading The Catcher in the Rye (for the millionth time) and can’t stop talking and writing like Holden Caulfield. Also, the book makes me cry a lot. Because there is nothing more upsetting than sitting on the edge of that cliff between childhood and adulthood. And sometimes, I want to be with Holden, running interference in that field of rye, stopping the children from falling over the edge. Grabbing their little bodies in bear hugs, trying to let them remain blissfully ignorant of all the hurt and badness in the world for just a little bit longer. But that would never work. We’re all supposed to fall over that edge at some point and tumble down the rocky cliff.

I think that the act of falling is both the scariest and the most important part of your life, that time when you know that you’re not a kid anymore, but you haven’t hit the ground and become an adult yet. You can see the ground rushing up underneath you, and your body is painfully tensing for impact because the closer you get, the more your blithe assumptions are shattered. It becomes suddenly apparent that adults aren’t these foreign, super-hero or villain characters. They’re just as human and fallible as everyone else. It’s like falling in love with a celebrity or someone else you hardly know and then discovering what they’re really like. And it’s such a crushing diappointment.

When I was a kid, I had two theories about the world, and I don’t know which was more insane. I thought that some people were born adults, that was the way they always were, and when they talked of their childhood, it was all a lie and they were just preprogrammed to say it. And if that wasn’t it, I was convinced that I was the only real being in the world and everyone else was made up. Now, I know that the first one can’t possibly be true because as of now I’m pretty much what I had formerly deemed a preprogrammed adult, and I sure as heck wasn’t born yesterday. It took me eighteen years and close to five months to get to this point. All of those things in my childhood when I was running through the rye really did happen. But I’m still not sure about the second. It’s downright selfish and I don’t think about it a lot, but if it is true, then this is one heck of an interesting dream or experiment.

What really gets me about the book, though, is just how much Holden is hurting because he knows he’s falling, and he’s petrified. That scene where Phoebe asks him what he really likes and all he can truthfully say is her and Allie kills me. It just kills me. But it’s a book, and I can’t run screaming through the streets of New York City looking for Holden so that I can tell him that it’s alright and that I understand. But even if I could do that, I don’t think he’d accept my help–he just doesn’t seem like the type. But I want to. I want to so much that it makes me crazy.

I get hung up on that scene where he’s playing checkers with Jane and she starts crying, so he goes over and sits next to her on the glider and starts kissing her anywhere on her face but her mouth. And I think that that’s one of the best parts of the novel because it’s so impossibly kind and good. Holden’s just comforting her the best way he knows how, but he never ends up getting that from anybody in return. I find myself rereading it over and over and crying. And the hand-holding with Jane–that gets me too. But everything in that book makes me cry: from the descriptions of the Museum of Natural History to his memories of James Castle and the turtleneck sweater.

I can’t even put into words how much this book affects me and how much I care for Holden. It just makes me all achy in my solar plexus*. But what I really mean to say is that I love Holden, and I want to comfort him so badly, and I can’t, and that hurts.

I don’t really know how all of this reads or if it actually makes sense. I just know that I’m also falling and as much as I’m scared, I’m fascinated with the whole process. I could spend my whole life thinking about that fall, and in many ways, I want to. I’m trying desperately to write a novel about it, and I want to keep writing story after story of people falling. A million bildungsromans.

And I don’t ever want to forget about this falling, the way that it seems most people do or deny how difficult it is. Because right now, that seems like the biggest problem with adults. They get too focussed on their patterns of living, of going to work, fixing dinners, raising children, to really think–and I mean think–about growing older. Not in the way that their hair is turning grey and their eyesight is degrading, but what’s going on inside their heads and what happened and changed in there when they were younger.

* And I know that solar plexus sounds all weird and scientific, but I can never make myself say gut or stomach because those both aren’t even remotely true. And I hate it when people say stomach when they’re referring to their abdomen. If they’re going to be inaccurate, they should at least say small intestine, because that thing takes up an awful lot of space.

In other news, there is someone in a SUV in front of my neighbors’ house, waiting for their daughter to run outside and honking, never mind the fact that it’s one a.m. Apparently, the people in the car have forgotten the concept of ringing a doorbell or using their cellphone to alert them that they have arrived. There are so many families with young children on this block that really do not need to be woken up. And whoever is driving that car has obviously never before tried to put a crying two-year-old back to bed.

You can also find me lurking about on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/.

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5 thoughts on “Ella and Holden Caulfield

  1. You are so right. As adults, we do get so focused on our patterns of living. I think, for me, it’s a result of having so many responsibilities. It hard to let go of the patterns because on never knows what will happen. I think I may have just found an great idea for a blog post! (If you don’t mind)

  2. Sure, Solipsism (your option 2) is selfish – that’s kind of what it is for in the first place.

    There’s no real point in it unless you use it to justify treating people badly that you wouldn’t do if they were fully real. If they aren’t real, there’s no harm in treating them as if they were, it is just harder. And if you are going to be nasty, you might as well wrestle with your conscience at full strength. So it is also kind of a lazy philosophy too.

    • There is a point to solipsism even if you don’t use it to justifying harming other people. If this were all an experiment and I was the only real being, I don’t have to hurt people. If I truly believed in it, I could interpret it as my responsibility to treat others with as much kindness as I possibly could. Harming people in this world that I’ve been placed in just seems like it would end up hurting me as well. I don’t think that solipsism is a lazy philosophy at all. It demands a lot of questions and serious contemplation.

      But you have to remember, I was referencing my beliefs at the age of eight. That was ten years ago. I’m a very different and much more mature person now.

      You don’t know me very well if you think that I would ever set out to harm other people. I feel guilty even if I forget to push in chairs in classrooms!

      • Sorry if you got the impression I was calling you out. I was referring to the professionals. It’s a pretty direct inference from the fact that each of us is in our own head and has to take everyone else on some kind of faith to take the logical leap you did. It is just that unless you can use your world creating powers to make things turn out as you want by magic, the practical value of assuming that you created everything is nil.

        So to boil Solipsism down to brass tacks – in it, you are the universe. So why do anything at all? The universe doesn’t act, it just is.

        I guess you can hear the engineer in me. If you make a philosophy that my left hand is unreal, that doesn’t make it hurt any less when I smack myself with it! And if your philosophy doesn’t work in the ‘real world’ then its just a word game, and not a very interestng one.

        But don’t say any of this if you take a philosopy class in College untl after the final.

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