NEVER TOO OLD, NEVER TOO YOUNG
How many times I have heard it said-“I wish I were younger.” If the people who utter these words are up in age and taking about entering the Olympics or becoming a ballet dancer, I can understand, they are too old. They had missed their calling in life. But if they are talking about writing, that is something altogether different. I do find such statements very disturbing. Being too old is not a valid excuse for not writing. How can one be too old to write? The older one is the more experience one has. With age comes wisdom.
No one ever questions the Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. They were actually kids when they made their mark in history. Plato, together with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, helped to lay the foundations of Western philosophy. Plato, founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the western world, wrote his famous Dialogues when he was eighty.
James Michener was forty-one years old when he took up the pen. As I mentioned before, his writing career began during World War II, when, as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, he was assigned to the South Pacific as a naval historian. Only until later did he tum his notes and impressions into Tales of the South Pacific, his first book and the basis for the Broadway and film musical South Pacific with the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein. He didn’t start turning out books until he was in his fifties and sixties. He was ninety when he died, and still writing.
I was in Singapore when Somerset Maugham came to town, as a guest of Franz Schutzman who was the general manager of the Raffles Hotel at the time. Maugham was on his last sojourn around the world. He had visited Bangkok in 1922 and again in 1961. In 1965 he was still thinking about stories to write when he died in his villa in southern France at the age of ninety-two.
We can’t forget the Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw. He was born in 1856 and died in 1950 at the age of ninety-four. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. He authored sixty-three plays, but he didn’t have success until he was in his mid-forties, and that was The Devil’s Disciple.
We know he penned his most famous play, Pygmalion, when he was fifty-six, which became an award-winning movie film, My Fair Lady in 1956, six years after his death. No one ever said George Bernard Shaw was too old to write.
Then we have Pablo Picasso. I admire him very much, for the beautiful art that he produced as well as for his tenacity to continue to work with his advancing age. The world remembers him as a Spanish painter, a cubist, and sculptor, but he was also a writer. He lived to ninety-five. He married his second wife in 1961 when she was thirty-four years old and he was seventy-nine, forty-five year her senior. Even into his eighties and nineties he produced an amazing amount of work and reaped enormous financial benefits from his work. He died in 1973. Private museums have been built to enclose his works.
We can’t stop growing old, that is certain, but a writer in advancing year can produce good works providing he doesn’t let his outlook become jaded. He must preserve a childlike belief in the importance of all things. He must never entirely grow up. It’s important he interests himself in matters which have nothing to do with the maladies of old age. lf he does he is dead, as dead as that person with a lost dream. I don’t mean deserting one life for another one of fantasy. The writer must be realistic. His approach must be sincere and not a recreation for then the end product will be doomed to mediocrity. Nor should his writing be a refuge. If it has no effect it has no value. The pessimist is the one who refuses reality, but the writer is the one who accepts it. His approach, however, must be reasonable, and that is the secret of the success of a writer.
One is never too old to write, for with age comes wisdom, but neither can one be too young to start. We have Francoise Sagan to prove that point. She published her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse, in 1954 at seventeen. She produced dozens of works during a career lasting until 1996. In addition to novels, plays, and autobiographies, she also wrote song lyrics and screenplays. She died of a pulmonary embolism on 24 September 2004 at the age of sixty-nine.
Let it be said that fiction is truth, and fiction is the truest thing there ever was. It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out the failures of others; not the doer of deeds who could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is there in the arena doing what he has to do-writing.
Unlike all other modes of writing, travel writing enters another dimension. Writing for a travel writer is transcendent, a means to pass on information that is informative, I but restricting. However, given enough time, the travel writer turns to other modes of expression, and some of us live our dreams of Travel become expatriates.