Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Friday, March 23, 2007


Last night I heard Dick Gordon interviewing Marion Downs, the 92-year-old author of Shut Up and Live (You Know How), a guidebook for living well into old age. At first the interview was exactly what you'd expect it to be: the interviewer has a perpetual smile in their voice, an overly supportive tone that is reserved for children and old people. The woman tells stories from her life in a clear-but-paper-thin voice. And the theme was pretty much what you'd expect: an upbeat, you-can-do-a-lot-when-you're-old inspirational.

What was a little different here was the usual, "Aw, shucks I don't know why I lived so long" humility about one's age. Ms. Downs was (I think, quite rightly) insisting that this is going to be a common thing: "You don't realize it yet, but YOU are going to live to be ninety-two, and you need to prepare for it." I guess everyone hopes for a long life, but in the moment she said it I realized that it was most likely true, and not necessarily the blessing one normally expects. "Once I passed seventy-two, the age both my parents died, I didn't know what to do. I had no map. I thought I was supposed to die then, and I didn't. I had to find my own way."

Dick Gordon, sensing now that perhaps his guest didn't require the usual deference, asked a real question: "Why? Why should I prepare for old age? You didn't, and here you are." And she gave a practical answer: "Well, I was very athletic, and physically active my entire life. That prepared me." It gives my daily exercise more significance, when I realize that I am not merely warding off the extra pound or two, but preparing for a life that could go another fifty years.

And though her core advice was a chestnut I've heard a million times, she said it as one with authority: "Be here now. That's what really matters. Live every moment fully, 'cause you only come this way once." I think this is the gift of diminishment, the advantage of outliving your egoic notions of how your life ought to run. Eventually you stop thinking about your self, and just start to pay attention to life.



Post a Comment

<< Home