One of the many wonderful gifts that writing gives us: We can pursue and share our creativity and zest for living as long as we can hold a pen or fire up a computer. In this guest post, my wonderful friend and journalist David Holmberg shows us just how inspiring our fellow writers can be:
“Would You Like Another Life?”
“Some older people – conceding that they’re running out of time – will say with resigned candor: “Well, I’ve had a good run.” And their friends and family will nod and murmur assent and admiration for the elder’s brief foray into reality — his or her gracious acceptance of mortality.
But why not go for the flip side of resignation? Why not feel a pang of honest regret that this might be all there is, and admit that it’d be wonderful if – wonder of
wonders – we could have another life? Not just “a good run,” but a great re-run.
That’s what the brilliant Irish novelist Edna O’Brien did recently in a magazine interview, at 88. O’Brien is the author of The Country Girls, which is probably
her best-known novel, published in 1960, and The Little Red Chairs, which came out 55 years later, in 2015. Another aged novelist, the remarkably productive Philip Roth, said of that novel: “The great Edna O’Brien has written her masterpiece.” The bottom line on O’Brien: she’s one of the finest stylists in the English language still working, and she’s one of the finest stylists in the English language, period.
She was the subject of a lengthy piece in the New Yorker the other day that paid appropriate homage to her while questioning her methodology in dealing fictionally
with violence in Bosnia and Africa. It was the story’s ending anecdote that produced O’Brien’s striking reference to mortality as she nears 90.
The story recounted O’Brien’s visit to the former home of the poet T.S. Eliot in London. His apartment – where he lived with his second wife, Valerie, until his
death in 1965 – is now the home of the T.S. Eliot Foundation, and open to the public. The foundation’s director, Clare Reihill, accompanied O’Brien and told her that on some Sunday afternoons Eliot would put a letter on the mantelpiece addressed to his wife. It would be “an erotic letter about their life together,” Reihill said. O’Brien’s response: “Would you get him back, please? Could I have a month of this happy, literary, erotic life?’
Then, after an exchange with Reihill about his reading the letters to Valerie Eliot when she was ill, Reihill showed O’Brien the bedroom where both Eliots died. Their
deaths were 47 years apart. O’Brien noticed their monogrammed luggage displayed as if they were taking a trip. And then the end-quote from the appreciative novelist about her fellow writer: ‘Look at the good suitcases. Oh, I want another life!’
Maybe us mere mortals aren’t quite capable of carrying off such a line. But let’s be thankful that O’Brien – a near-genius or genius of contemporary literature – is
still around to make a proclamation that goes beyond a routine appreciation of life. Roth is gone so he can’t do it (like O’Brien, he made it into his 80’s – “only” 85 – but stopped writing at 79.) The short story writer Alice Munro and the novelist Tom Wolfe could; they’re still around and writing and both were born in 1931, the year before Edna O’Brien came into this world.”
What a wonderful glimpse into the creative life! Bravo Edna and David — write on!
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