This is a peculiar age to be passing through. My dad never made it this far; my mom had seven more years, dying at 85. You know you’re in the last act, but you don’t know how long it’ll go or how the playwright will end it: a gunshot, a curtain descending gently, or a messenger saying Godot will come at last. Being a playwright yourself, you know that feeling of having written yourself into a corner—a not-uncommon life experience—but with writing you can rewrite, whereas life is less forgiving.
I’ve faced the keyboard—whether manual, electric, or digital—since the middle of high school, churning out term papers, dissertation, countless plays, grant applications and press releases. Now, short stories and novels. My term papers were read by one person—the prof—and the dissertation by maybe half a dozen. Some of the plays had large audiences, some not, but they all gave us collaborators, tribe, community. Now, it’s back to the handful, mainly friends from previous lives. At each bus stop, a few get off.
Themes common with others my age: I don’t sleep as well. I can’t fish up names when I want to. I have to make an effort not to be prickly on the Web, though I’m generally mellow. Lovemaking gets penciled in on the calendar rather than depending on impulse. I startle to realize that our kids are in their forties. I spend too much on dentistry, and my shape changes a bit each year despite my efforts. My days have a sameness that I sometimes welcome, sometimes don’t.
The invisibility that accompanies age in our culture doesn’t bother me that much, as I’ve felt invisible pretty much since the age of fifteen. I miss directing a lot, performing a bit less, and my choice of writing prose fiction has meant putting myself back in kindergarten with scant possibility of parole. Perhaps the greatest curse of being a sentient 78 is having a clear perspective on how much you don’t know and never will.
I have to admit to a pinch in the gut every time I hear the phrase “old white men” or a snotty dig at “boomers,” or for that matter snotty digs in general, unless they’re funny. I don’t like songs where the lyrics are drowned in heavy molasses or banging on a can. I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that my obituary won’t make the NY Times or even the local daily. More and more, the world seems to me a surreal mishmash: the Three Stooges meet Rambo, with occasional hints of springtime.
Some of these things are natural, others culture-determined, others marks of my peculiarity. I have the enormous blessings of comfort, health, a lifemate, and not presently living in a war zone—in contrast to multitudes of creatures of all species. And I’ve always been in the grip of compulsions I find fulfilling.
What’s to come? Being human, death is a probability, though it’s not on my schedule. What does concern me, seriously, is the old Boy Scout maxim—I was an Eagle Scout—of leaving your campsite cleaner than you found it. Besides the accumulated tchotchkes of 60 years of marriage, I’ve got dozens of show videos, audio files of our 3 radio series, 18 large bins of puppets, 40 playscripts, 200 sketches, 8 novels, 40 short stories, countless photos, two cats—things just got outta hand. And I continue adding stuff to the array.
My other fear about death—besides pain—is the fact that all kinds of things will go on happening when I’m not there. You’re invited to the party, you’ve had a pretty good time, but the party moves on without telling you where.
So I’ll party while I can.