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.