Saturday, January 1, 2011

By Way of Resolutions

It is New Year’s Day 2011 and what thoughts does this generate in my 85- year-old head?  Another tooth has broken and fallen out; it will have to be replaced, however expensively.  Thanks to my shrinking spine, I’ve gone from five feet ten and two-thirds to slightly under five seven.  My trousers will have to be shortened.  I have lost a well-paid job and have not been able to financially replace it.  Well, there are enough holes on my belts for tightening. I have sold my beautiful three bedroom home near Lincoln Center and am looking for less expensive quarters. 

What’s to be done against such diminishments?  Fighting back.  Finding good things that will accompany you into decrease, the way Everyman is accompanied into death by Good Deeds.  A lovely piece of symbolism, but my good deeds, if any, won’t come walking through the door. Fight back how?

Well, first there is work.  There is this blog with which to reach out to the others who can be talked to, befriended, and lose some of their otherness.  Perhaps their problems, concerns, pleasures, can fit in with yours like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and together yield the picture of some smiling prospect.

Then there are books, books that can be read or reread and offer consolation. When I was very young, I thrilled to Rosamond Lehmann’s Dusty Answer; an autographed copy sits on my shelf.  The print is devilishly fine, but I have my trusty glasses.  It is a novel about young people growing up—but perhaps old people, too, can still do some growing up.

Or poetry.  Here are the collected poems of Robert Graves that can bear repeated rereading.  He knew all there is to know about love.  Or E.E. Cummings, whose Complete Poems need considerable effort in hefting, but why not, since I don’t do any other kind of exercise?  He too is witty and romantic like Graves, plus amusingly experimental.

Essays are always good; they challenge the mind into thinking rather than complaining . Before me is Isak Dinesen’s collection, Daguerreotypes and Other Essays. I have greatly enjoyed her stories, but these essays I have never touched—isn’t it time?

And there is music—my huge collection of classical CDs.  How about a Samuel Barber concerto, to set me dreaming?  Or some Janacek?  His string quartets?  Or an opera?  There is wonderful tamed wildness in his music that can break out into colorful indignation or subside into jocular intimacy in a trice.  Or for amusement, but amusement tinged with exquisite sentimentality, a little Poulenc?  The ravishing Sextet, or a ballet, or any of the sonatas?

Well, already at the thought of it, one feels a little better.  Then the phone.  Isn’t there a conversation with an old pal that wasn’t properly concluded?  Let the familiar voice blend with your own even more familiar one, and spontaneous dialogue yield some unexplored diversion.

Finally there is bed, sleep and dreams.  This is where you can truly surprise yourself if you can transport your dream scenarios into your waking memory.  The other night I had a long dream that, if I could have fully captured it and written it down, would have—damn it—made a terrific short story.  But forgetting also has its rewards: dreams are like a collection of stories in a book especially written for you, and you want to get on to the next one.  I say “for you” rather than “by you” because they are written by another self astonishingly lodged inside you.  Close as a twin yet different.  And you can be your own Dr. Freud.

Last night it was New Year's Eve, and waking up this morning it’s a whole new year.  What will it bring you—or what will you contribute to it?  Like seven new tiles in a Scrabble game: What word can you make out of them?  “Renewal” would be nice. 


  1. John:

    Delighted to get your invitation and very enjoyed reading your reflections on life and the passage of time in today's blog.

    Plodding along here in Cleveland. I too just lost a tooth. The good news is that bridge to hold the replacement will accommodate the four that preceded it.

    I think I told you hat I have begun a new book, a sort of sequel to Laws of Heaven only this time no more Mr. Nice. Have interview the Archbishop of Baltimore, telling him pointblank what I thought of American militarism, and he took it well since we both had been Airborne, he as a chaplain with the 173 in Vietnam, the unit featured in "Restreppo." Next week I see his opposite number in Detroit, Bishop Tom Gumbleton, who has been ostracized by his fellow bishops. He was in Michael Moore's "Capitalism, A Love Store." Trouble is, he's not a hell raiser, as Charlie Liteky (CMH) put it in a recent conversation.

    Rosemary and I saw "The King's Speech" yesterday and liked it very much. I see Anthony Lane went for "Blue Valentine." Have you seen it? Lane is good, but he's not perfect--like you . . . and, humbly, me. I see old Sophia is garnering praise. I loathed her "Lost in Translation."

    Check out my cool picture in Facebook. (I have six friends, I think.) I standing by the window that Keats down on the fountain at the foot of the Spanish Steps. (We were in Rome last March to, among other things, meet my old friend from Japan, Adolpho Nicolas, the Jesuit General. Once I told Rosemary that he had been elected, nothing would due but we had to go to Rome. It's very hilly, something I noticed more at 80 than I would have in my youth.

    As ever,


  2. Poetry? Boning up on AS YOU LIKE IT for Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production this month, I was touched once more by that most moving of all stage directions -- "Enter Orlando, carrying Adam" -- that caps (and challenges) Jaques' "All the world's a stage" speech.

    Fiction? Tackling Tolstoy's THE COSSACKS, easy tackle at a mere 160 pages. Rooshians and Cossacks shooting those sneaky Chechens, as they still shoot them today. With better weapons.

    Music? Simon Rattle's EMI Classics' recording of Stravinsky's three symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic. Each symphony clocking in at 30 minutes or less, perfect for the cocktail hour.

    Video? Robert Ryan's grand, wrenching performance in John Frankenheimer's 1973 film of THE ICEMAN COMETH, with some whippersnapper named Jeff Bridges bugging all holy hell out of the poor tortured old lush.

    Dreams? Good picture-book on the bed table comes in handy. A favorite: Malraux's THE VOICES OF SILENCE. Five minutes and it sends you off properly to The Land of Nod with all manner of dreams.

    Happy One-One-Eleven.

  3. Opera! Puccini's La Fanciulla del West with Eleanor Steber and Mario Del Monico conducted by Dimitri Metropolis.

    He claimed it was his best opera and I agree.

  4. John. It's so good to read you again. I'm still here, too. Life is great.
    Charlene Baldridge, on Facebook, still writing after having left the Globe 16 years ago.

  5. John
    Took your hefty book of theatre reviews to the hospital with me and managed to survive mentally through its pages. Thanks.

  6. Some nice lines from Andrew Marvell's "The First Anniversary of the Government under O.C."

    So Man, declining always, disappears

    In the weak Circles of increasing Years;

    And his short Tumults of themselves Compose,

    While flowing Time above his Head does close.

    (But if you look carefully, these letters can spell renewal.) T.Parker, DC

  7. Dear Mr. Simon,

    Some of us fight back not so much by the sources of art that you mention, but rather by reading your intrepid, elegant, and insightful criticism, whether it be of theater, film, language, or any other subject in the art world. Many thanks, and please continue to fight on.