Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Well, my scanner is a casualty of the power blackout I caused a week ago tonight. So the next few times I get photos developed, I'll just pay extra for the CD. Once the photos are loaded into the computer I just use the CD as a coaster for a few days. It was open mike last night at the Mystic Celt and quite a few people were there. I've mentioned in the past that, even though I despise what some of the neighborhood has turned into, the place the Twilight Tales readings are being held until the Red Lion opens is a pretty cool place. A huge, well-lit room, and good food and drink. Last night it started thundering quite a bit during the second half, and I wasn't aware of the downpour coming down; this morning I saw how people escaped from Wrigley Field after the first rain delay, with the Celt being about six blocks from the ballpark. Further south where I live, a tornado touched down in Bolingbrook and I've been told the television never really stopped showing weather crawls. Used to be, we never had tornadoes hit in populated suburbs, only rural areas or newer subdivisions. All day today I've been listless, in part because I had such an enjoyable time last night, then spending the day doing mundane tasks like vacuuming and sitting outside reading an Ed Brubaker CATWOMAN trade instead of writing anything of worth. I was able to see the readings through to the end because Michigan Mike was going to give me a ride home, and after the showe we stood out in front for a bit watching lightning with Not From Michigan Mike and Aaron Longoria, then we stopped at Schuba's before driving home. I pointed out perfect examples of my disdain to NFMM, who shares a striking resemblance to the Avengers' Hawkeye, one three flat straight out of 1920 next to some thing that looked like a Transformer made out of grease traps and steam vents. While at Schuba's, I took advantage of a photo booth, since I had not seen one since 2000. My advice for the day: never pass up a chance to spend three dollars in a photo booth. Sadly, I can't scan the damn photos. Yet. Nor show you some of the readers and the layout of the Mystic Celt. Yet. I chose to read a piece of fiction, really a narrative, that I don't have another market for after its initial rejection. I had submitted it seven years ago for an anthology called LETTERS TO JD SALINGER, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the publication of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. Well, I'm going to post it here, as well, because I really don't see it being in print anytime in my lifetime. Hope you enjoy the read...Wayne

A World of Hurt:
My Letter To J. D. Salinger
By Wayne Allen Sallee

I’ll get right to the point, sir. I should think you would expect that of me. This letter is being written on Memorial Day of 2001. It has rained in Chicago for nine straight days. One gets introspective in such grim weather, and I am thinking not about the fact that THE CATCHER IN THE RYE has been in print for half a century, but rather that it had only been in print for eight years when I was born. I am going to be forty-two this year, sir, and I have been writing professionally since 1986. Years back, I had thought of writing a story and dedicating it to Holden Caulfield. It would have been entitled “A World of Hurt,” but I never wrote it, primarily because I was not content with every single thing I had hoped to convey in the story. But I was much younger then. And I have written many other stories in that time.
It was the summer of 1984 when I read all of your works on buses and trains, going the places I had to go. I read THE CATCHER IN THE RYE last, over Labor Day weekend. I remember it all so clearly, even now, but I’ve always been this way. I get weary from all the memories, because I remember even the smallest details. I want to think that I remember things that have nothing to do with the story, but then I get to thinking that those details have everything to do with the story.
It makes me crazy, thinking in circles like that.
That year, Labor Day was cold and cloudy, with a few patches of blue that really got me because the sky should be mostly sunny or mostly cloudy, not this in-between stuff. It didn’t keep me from wandering around the city, though, and this was when I would go someplace with just enough background noise and write in my commonplace book and write poetry. I hadn’t started writing fiction yet, but for a few story fragments that I had written in a college workshop. I would write poems about people on the street or events in the news.
That day, I had been walking back to the bus stop on Archer and Cermak and was surprised to see this huge fellow bent over a huge piece of cardboard. He was creating incredible sketches of the downtown skyline using colored pencils. I have encountered him several times over the years and my friends who are artists consider him to be somewhat of an eccentric. I wrote a poem about him later that day, “Wesley Sketches He Draws,” and another one about famine in Ethiopia.
Writing was a novelty to me back then. I had been published in several small magazines and I thought it was something that people wanted to read what I was impassioned enough to write about. My portrait poems were titled “Terra Strains” and I wrote just over a hundred of them. Maybe it was how that particular Labor Day affected me that led to my slowly abandoning poetry for short story, and eventually, novel writing.
Here I was reading about Holden Caulfield and coming upon different situations and scenarios all in the same day, and I put them all down in that beat up grey book. It got me to thinking on how I could just as easily string my poems together into story format. And I did start doing just that, first using the story as a forum for me to acknowledge a question that the real world had left unanswered. My stories were about the city I live in, with all its’ attendant ghosts, the wrongs that occurred and the rights that went unnoticed.
Soon, though, I wrote more and more about the echoes of my past, and when that wasn’t enough, I started to bastardize my present. That was fifteen years ago. I lost my youth. I found that I never had my innocence to begin with.
I have written about my city and my life in such a manner that I was asked to write a chapter for a reference book. My task was to explain to new budding writers that the question is not “Where do you get your ideas?”, rather it was “Where do you not get them?” The chapter was titled “Mirror, Mirror,” and I tell the novice writers you look out the windows of the train or the bus, your house or your very soul.
Just weeks ago, I was riding the train with a woman named Reve who lives in the south suburbs near me. We were talking about books and when I mentioned how long THE CATCHER IN THE RYE had been in print, she asked me to tell her about it. I kind of explained the John Donne poem, getting it wrong, like Holden did, and as I always seem to do. (It’s been like that with me ever since I loaned my cousin Denise my dog-eared copy with the red cover. She lives in Lagrange, Kentucky. In several of my stories, she portrays the Medical Examiner of Cook County.) That was enough to make her interested in reading the book. I bet that is how it has happened a thousand thousand times over. And I thought to write to you.
You see, I continue to write about everything as it occurs, down to that recent train ride home into the suburbs with a woman whom I had met only twice before. By the third time I will see her, it will be either at Ranalli’s on North Clark or at the TwilightTales author readings at the Red Lion across from the Biograph Theater, if she has read anything I’ve published, anything at all, she will know that more about me than from what I relate on the train rides away from the city. Of how I make sense of my life. I would perhaps let her read these few pages, if only they were a narrative and not a personal letter to one of the greatest authors of the last century.
Am I validating my existence as a writer by composing this? Aside from yourself, I have no intentions of sharing this with anyone else at all.
I say that every time.
Wayne Allen Sallee
Burbank, Illinois
28 May 2001