This is Your Life

What would you tell your young self? I would tell her for every endeavor you undertake or agree to undertake, you have to ask what you are getting out of it ? If it is nothing but you feel happy doing it, go ahead as the pleasure must be yours. But always ask the question : What are you going to get out of it ? What will you benefit from it? Be calculating for your time is precious.

You may set out  to undertake tasks that may seem pointless to others so long as you know why you are doing them, you should carry on regardless what others may say. Be it a challenge, an education or just doing it for the sake of  doing it, it is your life. If I could go back in time , I would tell my young self that you should trust your instincts and have more convictions about your decisions.

Your teachers or your parents can tell you how to lead your life but they cannot tell you how to live your life. Like many things in life, you have to figure it out yourself.  

This is My Life by Meg Wolitzer is a story about Dottie Engels, a celebrity stand-up comedian and her two daughters, Opal and Erica. Dottie  performs in Las Vegas and on late night television. After leaving an unhappy marriage, she struggles to balance her career with the needs of her children who live in New York , aspiring comedians  are  their babysitters. When Dottie’s ratings slide as time has changed,  both her daughters have to save her from herself.

Both Erica and Opal have their adolescent angst dealing with her mother’s fame and growing up in general. When  Erica tells her  colleague Walter Green who her mother is, he tells her that he does not make the connection as she is petite unlike her mother who is big.

‘ “ We don’t look alike,” Opal said quickly.

  “ Do you look like your father?” he asked.

Opal shrugged. “ I’m not sure,” she said, and her voice dropped away.

  “ I’m sorry,” said Walt. “I didn’t mean to pry.”

  “ You didn’t,” said Opal. “ I’m just weird about certain things.”

  “ Everybody is,” said Walt. “ Everybody has a theme. You talk to somebody awhile, and you realise they have one particular thing that rules them. The best you can do is a variation on the theme, but that’s about it.” He shook his head. There was a protracted silence, and Opal became tense, wondering what he would say next.

This is My Life was Meg Wolitzer’s third book and its original title was This is Your Life.

Meg Wolitzer is a keen observer of contemporary life and she is insightful and smart  in portraying the modern family life.  I have also read her later fictions such as The Wife, Ten Year Gap and The Interestings. The Wife has  been made into a movie where Glen Close was nominated for an Oscar for her role as the wife.  Both  The Wife and The Interestings  are  brilliant reads.

The Interestings is about six teenagers who had met  at a summer camp for the arts and all of them had some artistic interests and abilities but the kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen may not be enough to propel someone through life. Five of them ended up keeping in touch for decades and they stayed good friends.

Meg Wolitzer wrote,

“ You had only one chance for a signature in life, but most people left no impression.”

In The Interestings  Jules Jacobson, one of the participants who was an aspiring comic actress at age fifteen said this,

“ My guidance counselor came in the other day with pamphlets about careers ,” said Jules. ‘Now we have to think about becoming experts. We have to have a field.” She thought for a second. “ Do you think most people ,” she asked,” who do have a field, sort of stumbled into it ? or were they being shrewd when they decided to learn everything about butterflies or the Japanese parliament, because they knew it would make them stand out?”

Jonah whose mother was a famous folk singer said, “Most people aren’t shrewd,” Jonah said.” They don’t think that way at all.”

One of the characters, Ash managed to pursue her dream of directing in her adult years. There was one time  she had to respond to a mother in the audience who asked,

My daughter wants to be a director too. She is applying to graduate school in directing, but I know very well that there are no jobs, and that she’s probably only going to have her dreams dashed. Shouldn’t I encourage her to do something else, to find some other field she can get into before too much time goes by?”

Ash told the mother that the child had to really, really want it and if she did really want it and if she seemed to have a talent for it, then “I think you should tell her, ‘That’s wonderful.’ Because the truth is, the world will probably whittle your daughter down. But a mother never should.”

Meg Wolitzer is truly perceptive about the contemporary minds. The Interestings is an interesting and engaging read.

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