Monday, March 18, 2024

A lucky life

Joseph Epstein writes about "Writing My Autobiography" in the current First Things. I will happily read just about anything he writes:
My own life has not provided the richest fodder for autobiography. For one thing, it has not featured much in the way of drama. For another, good fortune has allowed me the freedom to do with my life much as I have wished. I have given my autobiography the title Never Say You’ve Had a Lucky Life, with the subtitle Especially If You’ve Had a Lucky Life. Now well along in its closing chapter, mine, I contend, has been thus far—here I pause to touch wood—a most lucky life. ....

I have known serious sadness in my life. I have undergone a divorce. I have become a member of that most dolorous of clubs, parents who have buried one of their children. Yet I have had much to be grateful for. In the final paragraph of a book I wrote some years ago on the subject of ambition, I noted that “We do not choose our parents. We do not choose our historical epoch, or the country of our birth, or the immediate circumstances of our upbringing.” In all these realms, I lucked out. I was born to intelligent, kindly parents; at a time that, though I was drafted into the army, allowed me to miss being called up to fight in any wars; and in the largely unmitigated prosperity enjoyed by the world’s most interesting country, the United States of America. ....

The older one gets, unless one’s life is lived in pain or deepest regret, the more fortunate one feels. Not always, not everyone, I suppose. “The longer I live, the more I am inclined to the belief that this earth is used by other planets as a lunatic asylum,” said George Bernard Shaw, who lived to age ninety-four. Though the world seems to be in a hell of a shape just now, I nonetheless prefer to delay my exit for as long as I can. I like it here, continue to find much that is interesting and amusing, and have no wish to depart the planet.

Still, with advancing years I have found my interests narrowing. Not least among my waning interests is that in travel. I like my domestic routine too much to abandon it for foreign countries where the natives figure to be wearing Air Jordan shoes, Ralph Lauren shirts, and cargo pants. Magazines that I once looked forward to, many of which I have written for in the past, no longer contain much that I find worth reading. A former moviegoer, I haven’t been to a movie theater in at least a decade. The high price of concert and opera tickets has driven me away. The supposedly great American playwrights—Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Edward Albee—have never seemed all that good to me, and I miss them not at all. If all this sounds like a complaint that the culture has deserted me, I don’t feel that it has. I can still listen to my beloved Mozart on discs, read Tolstoy, Jane Austen, Dickens, George Eliot, Willa Cather, and the other great novelists, watch the splendid movies of earlier days on Turner Classics and HBO—live, in other words, on the culture of the past. .... (more)

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