Just Do The Best You Can


Little turquoise egg on a broad green leaf

What will you become when it’s finally season?

Will you emerge a bird or will you find that your a man?

Will you up and fly away or will you do the best you can?

Just do the best you can.

I see your shell is already cracked

And the veins of the leaf, well they’re pulsing

I won’t pretend to know just how you’ve attached yourself

This precarious natural thing

Are you even still in there

Hiding from the light, hiding from the world?

Or did you up and run away on your own to feet?

Did you fly away on fresh new wings?

Just do the best you can.

Maybe I’ve blown this all out of proportion

Maybe you’re much smaller than I think

Maybe you’re a bug and you got lost

On the other side of this wide, wide leaf

And that’s okay, you go and live your life

The way that you were meant to live it

I’m only here for emotional support,

so you can can take it or leave it

Just do the best you can.


The Old Man And The Grippe

(these are my rambling notes about Catcher in the Rye. This is chapter 2. Read my rant on chapter 1 first, if you want. Or read the book or whatever)

I’m not going to pretend that I knew what “grippe” was without looking it up. I’m not ashamed of my living in the 21st century. I don’t do no “good-by,” and I don’t do “grippe,” neither. I do think it’s interesting that Holden’s off to see a sick old man, though. I haven’t read more than the first sentence or three. Far enough to get to his wondering why this old fella bothered going on living for, since he’s so old and all. I haven’t been living under a rock. Even if I don’t remember reading this book, I have some idea what it’s about. I mean what it’s really about. I mean what’s probably written in those companion readers because there’s so much meaning and symbolismania behind everything.

Random side note brought on by thinking about Holden’s age vs old Mr. Spencer – Have you ever seen Harold and Maud? That tale about the 18ish year old kid hooking up with that 80ish year old lady? I think they met at a funeral, and if that’s not a place to find a good-by, then I don’t know what is. I don’t remember the movie much (I think I fell asleep on the floor of a flophouse in Savannah where a friend was staying), but I do remember that it was on VHS, and that was something so completely out of the ordinary even in 2007 or 8 or whenever it was, that I still remember having to play with the tracking during the first few minutes. I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but I did. And you read it. And you can never have those few seconds back!

Anyway, I think it’s interesting that this kid is hanging out with this old man, that they’re actually friends, I guess you could say. This old fella, this history teacher – ya think it’s symboligistical that the main character was pals with a history teacher? – he wants to see Holden to tell him something, but before I can get that far (I’m almost done with the first paragraph now), I’m reading this thing about people getting old and being excited about buying a blanket.

So. It’s gonna take me forever to read this damn book if I keep trying to read it while also trying to think about it, but I sort of don’t want to just read it. I don’t want to miss anything. I want to mine it for shit to think about. Anyway, this youngster is giving this old man shit about being excited about something so mundane as a blanket, but it isn’t just any blanket, it’s a Navajo blanket, and the old man’s a history buff, and there’s probably something interesting about that damn blanket that Holden just overlooks because he’s young and he’s got his own shit going on, but isn’t it better just to make fun of the quirkiness of old people while drinking their hot chocolate than listening to their reasoning behind buying some silly old blanket?

I just checked. This book (my copy of it) is 277 pages long. If I end up writing a few hundred words for every few sentences… *does math, fails, and shrugs*

I made it all the way to the third paragraph. I’m tellin ya, you’re reading this as I’m reading that, like we’re in some kind of literary meta inception somethingorother. I just have to make a note that it’s odd to have Holden repeat himself already. We already know he’s coming to see Spencer because the old man left him a note. We already know that Holden’s been kicked out of school and won’t be back after vacation. We know this from just a few pages ago, but since he’s talking to an old man now, maybe he feels like he has to repeat himself like an old man? Curious.

Now I’m getting to where he goes on about life being a game. All these old fucks wanna tell this young punk that life is a game? Something with rules you gotta play by. If that isn’t a reason to rebel… Holden says some quality stuff about the hot shots and the other side. You’re reading this too, right? I don’t want to go around citing stuff.

Holden hasn’t told his parents about getting kicked out of school. He figures he’ll see them soon enough. He admits that he’s the kind of kid that gets kicked out of school.

Something you don’t realize until you’re into the chapter: I skipped over the part about the old man nodding, but I’m coming back to it now because Holden’s over here shaking his head. He makes a point to say how the old man always seems to be nodding like he’s senile, but what does the head shaking mean for the kid? Do we get more agreeable as we get older and wiser? More understanding?

Holden’s poor vocab and acting young for his age. He’s a big seventeen year old kid with grey hair acting like someone a few years younger. He makes a point about the distinction between 17 and 13, and I’m sure there probably is. I’m going off on another tangent now, but I’ll tell you something kind of strange and maybe a little stupid. It felt stupid at the time, even as it felt profound as hell. When I was 18 or 19, I’d done maybe one too many hits of LSD and was spiraling down and down and down into some existential mix’em’up that would go on to last more than a decade. At the beginning stages though, I distinctly remember sitting in my dormitory-style apartment trying to explain to my roommates how I felt like I was suddenly 13 again. I know, it sounds like I’m making it up and no one besides Holden Caulfield has ever had this feeling, but I’m telling you that you can ask anyone who was there if I can remember their names. I don’t know that they’d remember, really, but it’s still true. I could never quite explain the feeling, and I certainly won’t be able to do it justice now, but… It was something in my vision. It was something in my perception. It was something in the way I felt about my body. It wasn’t something that has any words to talk about it, so all I can really say is that I suddenly felt younger. Now that I have some perspective and a penchant for stringing things together, I’m sitting here thinking about what it was like to be thirteen. Grade 8. Trying to be cool while trying to be one of the smart kids. Cutting my hair in a ridiculous bowl cut and hanging out with dirty kids in a flea infested trailer park. There was a summer around that time that I remember lying in bed and talking on the phone to a girl I was madly in love with. I was crying because I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to be forgotten. She wanted to console me, but I’d gotten myself all worked up, and she didn’t know what to say. What do you say to that kinda shit, really? And so there I was, five years later, in the middle of breaking with reality and trying to pretend that it wasn’t happening, and I suddenly had this simultaneous sinking and zooming out feeling, a settling into this mindset, like I could feel the regression happening, I could feel whatever emotional and intellectual growth I’d done in those few years just sort of evaporate. Poof. Gone. I’m 13 again. I’m stunted. And I can’t tell anyone about it without sounding like an absolute lunatic.

I should have paid better attention to this fucking book.

I should note that he also says he acts older than his age sometimes. And damn it. Damn it. I hate this book. I hate thinking, “Oh, hey, you remember that time when everybody kept telling you you were a 40 y/o trapped in the body of a teenager?” Except Holden says that people don’t notice things. I disagree. People notice all kinds of shit, they just filter it through their own little matrix of, “Am I 14 or 40? Am I real? Am I loved? Am I? Am I? Am I?” so you can’t exactly expect them to validate you at every moment. I will say, though, Salinger does a fucking great job at bringing to life the blindness and the impatience of youth.

Ohhhh. I just got to the first “phony” thing in the book. This is fun.

The only class he didn’t fail was the class he’d already taken. Adults don’t listen to your answers when they have something in mind already that they want to say. Holden hates it when people repeat themselves (I’m glad I made mention of his having repeated himself).

I knew kids that wrote the sort of essays that Holden wrote. Even his little note at the end of the essay. I can’t tell whether his “yeah, go ahead. flunk me. whatever” attitude is admirable or maddening. I suspect I’d answer that differently from one minute to the next, let alone one decade to the next. It’s funny how mad he gets when confronted with that whateverness, though. You aren’t supposed to acknowledge that sort of thing, I guess. You aren’t supposed to read aloud those things written down. Passive aggressive doesn’t like confronting itself.

[note to self among all these notes to self – if you’re really gonna sit here and dissect every damn word of this book, you should entitle this series of notes as “J reads too much into [whatever you’re reading]” and publish them as one of those helpful-if-quirky readers that no one will ever buy]

Onward! I’m almost to page 19.

Holden’s blowing smoke about how hard it is to be a teacher, and I’m thinking, “I do that. I tell people what I think they want to hear while I’m thinking about something else entirely.”

He keeps getting distracted with what it looks like to be an old man.

We find out that he isn’t only the sort of kid to flunk out of a school. He quits, too. He blames the “phonies.” (p19). He describes the headmaster of the Elkton school. He would gregariously shake the hands of all the parents, but because he’d spend more time with some than the others, he was, “the phoniest bastard I ever met in my life.” (still p. 19, and didn’t I say I wasn’t going to cite things? probably because I don’t exactly remember how to do it correctly?). I think it’s funny that Holden makes some pretty scathing remarks about the people the headmaster doesn’t want to talk to for very long. Mr. Judgey Judgerton over here calling people “fat and corny-looking,” and giving the headmaster shit for being polite. He says this is the kind of stuff that “makes me so depressed I go crazy.” (yeah. 19. obviously). C’mon kid.

He’s very down on himself. I remember being like that, too. He calls himself a “moron” (you know what page I’m on), and he isn’t just blowing smoke now. You don’t say that kind of shit over and over without believing it at least a little. I fucking hate how much I identify with this kid.

He starts repeating himself again on page 20. “Not too much, I guess. Not too much, I guess.”

The old man wants to help him, but Holden doesn’t believe it’s possible. They’re too different. But it’s okay. “Don’t worry about me.” (20) “Everybody goes through phases…” (21)

Holden hates it when people say “I don’t know.” (21)

And, of course, the last thing on page 21 (and the last page of chapter 2, if you’re paying attention) is how wishing someone “Good luck!” is a horrible thing to do. Is it a horrible thing to do? He doesn’t go into detail about why he feels this way, so it’s gotta be one of those things I’m supposed to pick apart, right? Am I doing this critical analysis thing correctly? what’d I miss?

Good luck… The fact that you would need luck! The fact that whatever out there ahead of you is bound to be so arduous that you can’t just float through it. No, if you’re going to get through what’s coming next, you’re going to need to be lucky!

Yeah. Okay. I can see that. He’s already proven himself a cynical little bastard, so that fits right in.

Alright. That’s the end of the chapter. Thank God. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying this, but holy crap my head hurts a little from all this thinking and considering and… Aw, who’m’I kiddin’. I like it. I’ll prolly do it again tomorrow, if I’m honest. Chapter 3 ain’t gonna read too much into itself, now is it?

It Starts With A Good-by

I don’t know how she got me to reread it other than by being so damn interesting when she talks about it. She teaches Catcher in the Rye to her students, and they all hate her for it – I remember the feeling – but I just stare at her thinking, “No shit? You got all that from that one page of text?” Maybe I have tunnel vision or something, but she’s not the first woman to tell me to reread Salinger. She’s just the first one to make it seem worth the effort.

To tell you the truth, I don’t know that I ever really read it in the first place. I remember it being assigned. I remember owning a copy. I remember taking a test and passing it. But I’m fairly certain that I read it the same way I read everything back then that wasn’t Stephen King creepfests or sci-fi fantasy short stories. What I’d do – and tell me if this sounds familiar – is skip around, looking for details from the middle and the end of the book, so when it came time to answer those annoying old essay questions, I’d seem like I’d at least gotten through the thing, even if I didn’t understand it. They don’t expect kids to really understand that kind of literature, do they? My teachers were just happy with the appearance of trying.

Anyway, I bought a copy of the book. An actual book! Because you can’t find it on Kindle or Audible (my preferred “reading” method these days), and it came in a box with all of the other weird crap that I buy – a Henley shirt because I look good in them, some castor oil to see if I can get my beard to thicken up, and some red suspenders so I won’t show off my crack at work. I put on the shirt and smeared some goo on my cheeks, and then I took a picture of the book to show her that I mean what I say. She was excited. I’m excited that she was excited.

I got all of four pages into the damn thing before I started laughing. I began by reading it the way that I read most things, skimming over the words until my brain decides to latch onto an interesting point, forcing me to pay closer attention. Before I knew it, though, I was reading it out loud like I was practicing monologues for some big production, pausing here and there to go back and say each line how they’re really meant to be said. Saying them how I think Holden goddamn Caulfield would say them! And every other freaking sentence, I was stopping to think, “Hey, that’s an interesting little piece of imagery,” and, “Is that how they used to spell goodbye, or is that some kind of symbologism too?”

Either way, there I was laughing at myself, and I thought, “I gotta write this down.” I was struck by the part where he’s just looking for that good-by feeling before he leaves the place that doesn’t want him anymore. He can’t move on until he gets that sense of closure. He doesn’t care if it’s a good feeling or a bad or a sad feeling, just as long as he feels it. And how does it come? In the simple memory of playing catch with some friends as the sun sets. That’s it. A little slice of sentimentality. He’s got his good-by (and I still want to think that’s a funny way of spelling that word).

So, Mr. Hofflebrock, why’d that tickle your “Huh…” button? I’m not exactly sure, but I’ll try and work it out here. When learning to write, I experimented with every tip and trick in several different books. I’d have the characters cross over water. I’d show a house burning down. I’d do something, anything that would show the reader that this character was in this place where they were just primed up and ready for something to happen, whether they like it or not. In flux. In transition. Open to noticing things they wouldn’t otherwise notice. Open to saying yes to something they’d never say yes to, or they’d say no to something and surprise the heck out of anyone who knew them well. It’s effective. It’s simple. It’s formulaic as all get out, but cliches are cliches for a reason (even the cliche about cliches being cliches for a reason). Anyway, I always leave it sort of open-ended. Whatever came before is still scratching away at the door. Maybe that’s something about how I live my life. Maybe I’m exposing my psyche, I don’t know, but reading this first chapter about Holden getting a sense of closure so that something new could happen (even if he takes all those old feelings and thoughts with him into the next thing – and who doesn’t?) it just… I don’t know.

You ever get the feeling that you’re a character in a book? Or a movie, that’s maybe better to ask of a lot of people, nowadays. But you’re reading this, so I’ll stick to the book thing. Anyway, so you’re a character in this book. And maybe you’re the main character, or maybe you’re just some subplot, but you’re in this book, and the pages are moving along, and things are happening, and… I keep wondering where my story really picked up. If someone bothered writing it down, they gave me some backstory, gave me some personality, gave me some water to cross or a fire to walk away from or a hill to stand on while I say my good-by to my youth or whatever. Do I get to decide? Can I just sit up and say, “Ya know what? This state of flux I’m in now, even with this sudden sense of closure, I’m ready, man. I’m ready for some aliens to come down or some espionage intrigue or something emotionally riveting to take over. I’m ready for something new to start so I can see how it ends!”

Does that make any sense at all? I dunno. I’m probably overthinking it. I’m gonna cross this street now and disappear in the snow.