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Been there, felt that: Remembering the teen state of mind

Posted Feb 05 2010 12:00am

Farewell J.D. Salinger
Somewhere between my sophomore year of high school and college, I went through a brief but poignant existential stage of life.  Idealistic, naïve, and socially…ahem…challenged (at the time only mind you), I remember my nerdish self sitting around with my nerdish friends discussing the virtues of Salinger stories. Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey and even his book of short stories all illustrated elements of our adolescent experience in a way that we could never quite articulate ourselves. They made so much sense on so many levels. 

When Salinger passed away the other week, I expected to feel some profound loss but surprisingly didn’t. To be fair, Salinger had been a recluse in the public eye. There was no longer a context for his narratives in my life, and hence no longer a vivid memory.  I tried to recall the plot of his books and stories…not much. I rummaged through the home office searching for my copy of Catcher…lost.  (Flashback:  Early in college, I lent my copy of Catcher in the Rye to my best friend at the time, who read it in segments while on the john. He finished in a month and offered it back.  I graciously told him to keep it.)

I went to sleep, disappointed that I couldn’t conjure anything of substance from such important, albeit clichéd, books from my youth. I mulled over this off and on for the next week or so. One day, Salinger’s stories were on my mind as I did my daily clinical work with the young men and women here at Hazelden. As I tuned into their narratives, it all came back. 

I realized that I wasn’t “missing” a factual synopsis of his novels or short stories. In my humble opinion, Salinger’s stories were never really about the plot anyway. I mean, I don’t think there are many people who could give you an accurate chronology of the events in Catcher in the Rye. The plot was never the point. Neither were the thematic elements, or the inherent symbolisms.  

Salinger’s works are relevant because he captures what I see in front of me everyday, the adolescent state of mind. Times change and technology certainly changes, but human nature, I’m not so sure. Salinger got that, and his writings stand as a timeless window into the adolescent psyche.

With the media portraying bleak outlooks in the world around us, the younger generations have a lot to be concerned about. Our youth face challenges today that we could not have even imagined ten years ago (if you could have predicted bullying via facebook, give yourself a hand). 

Parents and clinicians alike constantly ask me difficult questions about their child’s health and addiction. But before we delve into such academic questions, it might be valuable to simply relate to that adolescent’s perceptions of the world. Salinger provides a priceless reference for just that. He doesn’t offer solutions to teenage dilemmas, but sometimes just listening to a sad song remedies the blues. 

Were you a fan of Salinger’s? Are there other authors, books, movies you feel help provide an understanding of the adolescent world and psyche?

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