WOW! A lot of wonderful things to respond to. And yes, Robby, you did, from the start tell me what a wonderful group this is. And you are truly vindicated.
I don't know if this is the best way to do this, but I'll try to respond to everyone. Forgive me for not getting to this earlier today. It was a demanding day. It began with work early. I'm committed to writing 2 pages a day to make the deadline on the book I am currently ghostwriting. But I'm trying to push myself to 4 pages a day, to be done by the end of August, so I can spend September hustling for new work and re-writing. By 10 a.m, I took my 16-year-old son, Isaiah, to the Department of Motor Vehicles on 34th Street, around the corner from the Empire State Building, to get his learner's permit. He passed and walked out the proud possessor of the learner permit. Forget the fact that we don't own a car, it was a rite of passage. Then I scurried home, walked Uma and Nelly, my two dachshunds, and cranked out some more and some email questions to the subjects of the book. I took a 15-min. nap, because my head was still reeling from a cold. And then, then I had to run back downtown to Book Mitzvah! What, you ask, is a Book Mitzvah?
Good question. Susan Shapiro, the writer whose blurb is published on the back of my book, has a new novel coming out tomorrow, titled OVEREXPOSED. It has taken her 13 years to re-write it enough that she was happy with it. In the interim, she published a number of other books, mostly non-fiction. But she felt 13 years was deserving of a Book Mitzvah. And so, there was a rabbi to give a blessing; there was a reading; and there was a candle-light ceremony, to thank everyone who had helped her over the years. And just in the nick of time, her mother showed up from Detroit, MI. It was all done with humor, but a fair amount for real sentiment.
So, that's by way of apology. Now:
JoanK, what a fabulous story about the effect of your getting a degree on your husband. What was your degree in? When you look back on that time, do you both see yourselves as having had courage? Also, in your saying that it was love that saw you through I was reminded of Harry Bernstein -- and the neuroscientist Marian Diamond, at UCBerkeley. Harry because Ruby's love made it possible for him to continue all those years, and really inspired him to do the work after she died. There was no more touching moment for me in the two years of researching What Should I Do With The Rest Of My Life? than the moment he handed me the photograph of Ruby in leotards, in her late 80s, still teaching yoga. I have never felt someone else sense of love so intensely as I did his for her at that moment. By the way, Harry mentioned the birthday party: On May 31, we celebrated Harry's 100th birthday at a diner in Brooklyn, close to the Booklyn Bridge. It was quite amazing. There were cousins there from Chicago who had known nothing about their family until Harry's second book, The Dream, was published. Harry gave a little speech. It was a lovely day. A couple of weeks later, I called Harry. He had finished his fourth book in five years and sent it off to his agent. Last week when we spoke, he had begun a new novel.
AdoAnnie: I meant to say that while I don't want to speak of it too much at the moment, my next book will be about dance (and movement) and the brain. The more reasearch I do, the clearer it becomes how powerful and important movement is to triggering cellular life. It's not just the big muscles that count, it's those little micro ones that do, too. There is a reason why we see so many people walking around with thin white wires drooping from their ears and plugged into devices playing Mozart, Miles, or Madonna (well, maybe not so much Madonna these days).
PedIn: I'm so impressed with the Latin and Greek with the Latin and Greek teaching that Joan and Ginny do. And you and Anne, getting Gold medals. Just amazing. I'm a little jealous. I so wish I could make the time to take one of the Greek classes. I would love to be able to read the classic Greek texts in the original. One day, one day, one day!
Wish I knew how you guys were making those quote boxes. Anyway, PedIn writes:
And while there are lots “doers” here, some of us are happy “being,” but just by virtue of all of us being here, on SeniorLearn, no one is letting life pass them by. And everyone has a story or two, like Annie's story about her friend
There's nothing wrong, of course, with "Being." But I do favor "Being" there mindfully. As a writer -- and particularly when I'm in a poetry writing phase -- I spend a lot of time just "being." I keep a box on my desk with a quote from Andre Gide which reads, "Existence is occupation enough." I fell in love with that quote when I was in my early 20s. It has come to mean different things to me over time. It's like Joseph Campbell's famous, "Follow your bliss." It means one thing as a bumper sticker, it means quite another when you really dwell on it. Campbell, the American mythologist and author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, never meant quite what my Woodstock generation took it to mean. He really meant something much more like "follow your passion." But he never saw it as a prescription for a sybaritic way of life. He actually believed that people need to work with discipline at their passions, to fulfill themselves and to make an offering to culture. And really, what I've come to appreciate over these last years is just how much people can accomplish by following what they are curious about with passion and discipline. Not everyone has to achieve for public recognition or by making their passions professions. But I think there is something intrinsically life-affirming about devoting oneself to something that gives meaning to one's life, whatever that is. Viktor Frankl (no relation), the author of Man's Search for Meaning, in which he chronicled his life and observations as a Nazi concentration camp inmate, came to the same conclusion, with a bit more authority than I have.
Ginny: Good questions related to Harry. You write:
And that was his solution, his way of coping. What can we take from that?
Honestly, I think his solution was to find what gave meaning to his life. And I think the reason why The Invisible Wall was such a wonderful book, one that people are moved by and for which he won a Christopher Medal for "bringing light out of darkness," is because is a search for meaning; an amazing effort to bring back to life the stories and pain, the human drama and prejudice, on one little universal street in an English mill town. It was the story that Harry was born to tell. His earlier novels failed, in part, because, as he says, he didn't tell what he knew. Robert Frost wrote, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader." I think that Harry risked both tears and surprise in writing those books.
Ginny, you also wrote this:
I loved this from him: "You live in a sort of dream most of your life. Your dreams are wishful thinking of what you want to be and want to have. It's not until you face the harsh reality of yourself that you can do or say anything intelligent."
I think that's about as inspiring as it gets. And life over 60 seems to provide a lot of harsh reality. I think everybody wants to make a contribution, in some way. But what IF you have no talent, particularly? What's the message, Bruce, you want these inspiring tales to carry over to those reading it in their own lives?
I suppose you have Anita Frankel to thank for the answer that I will give, Anita being my mother. She was not at all unlike Robby's mother. We were both brainwashed from an early age with the belief that talent was a matter of effort, not a gift. And I believe that even more now after writing this book and reading all the studies that I have read on neuroplasticity. Yes, there's no doubt that some people have an advantage over others. Certainly, as Malcolm Gladwell points out in his book, children whose lives are enriched and get to experience more, acquire a healthy advantage. But it is my counter to that view, that advantage is not an endgame. We have all known people who were sublimely talented and wasted it. As a writer, I have repeatedly seen people develop from crude work in the classroom to work that is widely admired. Talent is a factor. But it is not the only factor. That's the lesson. I know there is much we can't control in this life. And there are things that we might hope to achieve and might never succeed at. But it seems to me that another lesson in the book is that sometimes when we devote ourselves to achieving something -- if we set a goal -- where we end up might be different, our contribution may not be what we expected, but that does not make it less than.
One of the saddest things I ever heard anyone say was in an interview I did 30 years ago with the American philosopher William Barrett, the author of One Dimensional Man. The book was an enormous success. It was taught in every class on existentialism in every university in the United States. It was filled with important and wonderful insight into modern culture. But on the day I interviewed Barrett, at an oak table in the dining room of his home in Tarrytown, New York, he was feeling mournful about what he had done with his life. I remember it was fall and the trees were a stunning amber color, lit by the late afternoon light reflected off the Hudson River, just down the street. "I never became what I hoped," he said, telling me that he had wished to become a novelist like his friend Saul Bellow. I was greatly saddened by the interview. Barrett was, of course, brilliant. And he had a generous soul. But he saw himself as a prisoner of a life he hadn't intended. He even looked at where he lived through a disappointed lens. While he worried about teach Kant and Hegel to students at NYU, they went off to work each day on Wall Street and Madison Avenue, to make money.
My reason for bringing this up is that it depicts the opposite side. Barrett had all the talent in the world. And he had even made something of it. But he could take pleasure in it; he didn't feel as if he had used his "true" talent. And as a result, everything else acquired a dark coloration. Who knows, maybe that was the result of depression or too much alcohol (I'll tell you another Barrett story later). But I have always wondered, what if Barrett had gone ahead, even in his 60s, and tried writing, had applied himself to it, had experienced the joy of doing what he loved?
One other thing. Most of the people in the book are led further on their paths because of some positive feedback, some affirmation they receive early on. But that doesn't mean that in the beginning they are touted as the "best" or the "greatest." Someone gives them a pat on the back. Someone tells them the really like what they've done. They work more, they work harder, and way leads to way. Passion, discipline, and the ability to go forward in doubt, these are the true handmaidens of talent. And none of those are impossible for anyone.