Sigalert With Salinger - Poem by gershon hepner
From Atlantic to Pacific
writers hope for a terrific
audience, although none will send
them messages like “Be my friend.”
Few like J. D. Salinger become
recluses; most will court the masses,
although the public’s mostly dumb,
and far less noble than the gases
that are, so much like them, inert.
To be their catcher he may try,
but since they’re less than Sig alert
he must resort to being wry,
like me when facing as I do
complete oblivion until
I die, when some may say––a few! ––
de mortuis nisi bonum nil.
Inspired by Jennifer Finney Boylan’s “Raise High the P.R. Blitz, ” an article on J. D. Salinger’s withdrawal from the public after publishing a few successful works, including “Catcher in the Rye”:
THE national bereavement over the death of J. D. Salinger provided a strangely public moment in the career of a writer who’d become best known, in recent years, for his reclusiveness. There are other American writers famous for shunning the public eye — Thomas Pynchon leaps to mind — but Mr. Salinger’s seclusion was unique. By the end of his life, he may have become better known for his solitude than for his imagination. In a way, nothing succeeds like invisibility. In America, we revere artists who won’t do the thing they’re famous for. We revere Glenn Gould, who gave up performing; Greta Garbo, who gave up acting; and Michael Jordan, who not only gave up basketball (at which he was gifted) , but then, perversely, took up baseball (at which he was not) . The more steadfastly they refuse us, the more infuriatingly desirable they become, like that boy we just know loves us but who cannot bring himself to call. How can the satirist Tom Lehrer, who long ago gave up performing music for teaching mathematics, not miss writing songs like “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”? (Whenever he’s asked when he will return to his musical career, Mr. Lehrer likes to reply, “Oh, did hell freeze over? ”) “There is a marvelous peace in not publishing, ” Mr. Salinger told The Times in 1974. “Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy.... I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.”..
I’ve always thought of encountering readers — of having any readers at all — as an unbelievable gift. Giving lectures, signing books, sitting hopefully behind a table at a bookstore in Wichita Falls: these rituals may be humbling, but I’ve never forgotten the fact that thousands of unpublished writers in this country would give anything to be humiliated in exactly this way. Of all the mortifications to be found in an author’s life, probably none hurts as much as the kind you get from not being able to share your work with another soul. In “The Catcher in the Rye, ” Holden Caulfield famously observes, “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours.” What was sad and strange about J. D. Salinger is not that he didn’t want to be our terrific friend. It’s that, at the pinnacle of his fame, he yearned for the very thing many writers fear most — a world without readers.
A Sig Alert, named in 1955 for Loyd C. 'Sig' Sigmon began developing a solution. Sigmon was Executive Vice President of Golden West Broadcasters (a company owned by singing cowboy Gene Autry) is defined by the California Highway Patrol as “any unplanned event that causes the closing of one lane of traffic for 30 minutes or more.” Sig Alerts are issued by the CHP and are posted on their Web site, broadcast on radio and television stations throughout California, and signaled to motorists via electronic message signs on the freeways. The term was added in 1993 to the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. (In practice, there is no standard spelling; the CHP Web site uses 'SIG Alert, ' 'SigAlert, ' and 'Sigalert, ' all on the same page.)
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