Inspiration

J.D. Salinger thought he wanted literary fame, but after experiencing it, quickly changed his mind. In an era where so many people crave the media spotlight, and style trumps substance (see Palin, Sarah), I find his intentional turning from notoriety intriguing. Will a movie be made? Is there enough post Catcher in the Rye material? Will his survivors sell him out? If it is made, the best way to honor his life would probably be to not see it.

Salinger was extremely eccentric, but what strikes me as far more interesting is that even after withdrawing post-Catcher he allegedly continued to write for pleasure. There’s a purity, even beauty to that, which inspires me.

Previously, I’ve assailed our increasing loss of privacy, which is another reason I find Salinger intriguing and inspiring. He took control of his public persona instead of passively allowing others to shape it. More accurately, he escaped having a public persona by assiduously avoiding contact with writers, photogs, and other media types. People today don’t seem to realize that there’s no obligation to take the call, speak into the microphone, or appear on screen.

Bill Gates strikes me as a very different type of dude too, and as a result, intrigues and inspires me in equal measure. A lot of well-to-do people do charity in ways that bring attention to themselves. And they give sizable gifts that are in actuality quite small relative to their total net worth. And their gifts, which often pad Ivy League schools’ endowments, don’t seem particularly well thought through. Gates has said he intends to give nearly all of his wealth away and he’s making good on that promise. He’s given something like $30b away so far and a few weeks ago announced that he was giving $10b more than planned for child vaccines in the developing world.

Gates stands out in a world where the richer some people get the tighter grip they maintain over their wealth. He doesn’t seem to seek media attention, but I think he deserves more of it for both the amount and ways in which he’s giving.

My guess is Melinda’s behind the scenes role has been key in Bill’s selfless, socially conscious giving. I’ve seen her on television a few times, but refreshingly, she has a little Salinger in her, content to parent, figure out how best to give away billions, and leave the media to pursue other stories like what Kelly Clarkson thinks of the Taylor Swift controversy.

And then there’s Sade, one of my favorite musical groups/people. Ten years on, finally another album. Turns out, Sade Adu has a little Melinda and Salinger in her. Here’s an excerpt from a Jim Fusilli WSJ article on the new album. “I asked Mr. Hale why the band takes such a long time between albums—it was eight years between ‘Lovers Rock’ in 2000 and its predecessor ‘Love Deluxe.’ ‘This time it was about family,’ he said. ‘Sade is a mother and she wanted to be home with her family. . . . The public side of what she does is what she enjoys the least. She sort of feels she wants to wait until she has something to say.'”

Imagine that, waiting until there’s something to say. After the Catcher hoopla, Salinger respectfully declined to say anything else to the public. The Gates communicate through their exemplary philanthropy irrespective of the media spotlight. And Sade passes on record sales until she has something to say.

Thanks for the inspiration.

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