In transit

Maturity may bring about some level of sensibilities but age has nothing to do with maturity and sensibilities. Perhaps age and experience can make a difference in the way we approach a subject or the manner we  perform or execute a particular task or tackle a certain problem,  but I find that  age has nothing to do with how one thinks. I am not saying that we are no older than how we feel, I like to believe that we remain forever ourselves no matter what age we are. The saying that people mellow as they grow old often eludes me although it is not impossible for us to become better persons when we make conscious efforts to improve ourselves if we know and acknowledge our failings.

While we must be prepared to  accept several certainties or limitations of life, we tend to avoid thinking about  growing old though mortality is ineluctable and dying is a certainty.

The upshot of growing old is that you know life is about liberating yourself from vanity and graceful acceptance about mortality and death. Nonetheless you do not want to think  much about it .

Last week, I attended a memorial concert performed by a Russian pipe organist and also the funeral of a 93 year-old man, who was once my  senior partner in the legal firm where I was. At the material time, I read about the passing of I.M.Pei the prolific  architect who  had designed the Louvre Pyramid and iconic buildings around the globe. He was 102 and his legacy stretches from west to east  and he was renowned for fusing modernism into the old buildings. 

A weekend ago,  I chanced upon the book written by Erica Jong during my visit to BookXcess bookshop together with my family.  I have been meaning to read Jong’s writing and voila, I have purchased her book   Fear of Dying . It looks to be  another promising read, a relatable theme indeed.

A few weeks ago, I read the debut novel by Meg Wolitzer. It was published when she was only twenty-three while she was a student at Brown University. She sold the manuscript at age 21.

Sleepwalking  is a story about  three notorious “death girls” on the Swarthmore campus because they dress in black and are each compulsively obsessed  about the work and suicide of a different poet namely Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Lucy Asher, a gifted writer who drowned herself at twenty-four. Asher  is a creation of the author. The death girls gather at night and read their heroines’ work aloud in a candlelit room. 

Thia is how Wolitzer starts describing the “death girls”. 

‘ They talked about death as if it were a country in Europe.They made it seem that , after a brief vacation there, you could simply fly home bearing rolls of color film and tourist anecdotes. The three of them stayed up every night, usually until five o’clock, with the shade up and the window propped wide open, partly so the constant rush of air would keep them awake, pride themselves on how Spartan they were for requiring so little sleep,’ 

One of her characters, Claire Danziger has to confront some past that she has been avoiding and to consider why she has to hang on to the “death girl” identity. One day she takes the leap and vanish from her college, causing her mother, boyfriend and one of “the death girls” to worry as she has carried her obsession too far by showing up at her heroine’s home. Lucy’s parents are suffering from their grief of their daughter’s suicide.

Meg Wolitzer is an insightful writer even at a young age as she was then.

 ‘ The girl’s parents stood slope-shouldered in their overcoats in the doorway, silently waiting to take her home. Helen had turned to face the wall so she would not have to watch anymore.

It didn’t mean much to be a parent. All of those books -advice from Dr Spock and the rest of them – could take you only so far. They told you how to make the baby stand and take its first steps like a little sleepwalker, arms stretched out in front of leverage. They told you the right way to mix up the food, to mash together the greens and oranges and yellows into a muddy paste and spoon it in so it got swallowed. Here comes the train, choo-choo, speeding around the tracks, clickery-clack, and into  Lucy’s mouth. Open the tunnel wide and let the train through. That’s a good girl. They told you a few basic tenets of child psychology …………. “

Wolitzer  wrote in her preface to the book ,

“ I feel a real tenderness and protectiveness toward this book, in part because it was my first, but also because of its hushed awareness and its lack of showiness. I wrote the book I wanted to write, and I wasn’t particularly concerned with whether it would find an audience, or whether it would be “relatable,” which is a concept that all writers have heard a lot about in the intervening years. I suppose it was written in a state of innocence and mild grandiosity.”

Meg Wolitzer is fortunate to have a  writer mother who was supportive of her endeavours. Hilma Wolitzer is a novelist and the dedicatee of Sleepwalking. Both mother and daughter loved the same kind of writing. I enjoy Meg Wolitzer’s fictions due to her acute observation about contemporary life. 

Incidentally, just before I came across the novel Sleepwalking, someone asked if his friend could initiate any legal action against a fellow patient who apparently beat him in his sleep while he was recuperating from dengue fever at a private hospital. The patient was apparently sleepwalking when it happened. The hospital had explained that  the  medication  could have triggered the sleepwalking incident.  Sheer coincidence.


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