LIFE IS SHORT, ART ENDURES.
Philip Roth is 78 today. Over a span of just six years, he won all four major American writing awards, each for a different book: the National Book Critics Circle Award for “Patrimony,” the PEN/Faulkner Award for “Operation Shylock,” the National Book Award for “Sabbath’s Theater” and the Pulitzer Prize for “American Pastoral.”
Terry Gross once asked him if what he wants out of writing changes with age. He said he wanted to be as alert and energetic as ever, to be taken seriously and make a work of art out of his subject. His prediction for the fate of fiction? I hope he’s very wrong.
Philip Roth must have a ferocious level of concentration. He lives a quasi-monastic life in the woods of Connecticut and writes seven days a week at a stand-up desk. His ancient-looking blue screen monitor sits atop reams of paper. The writer paces while he’s thinking. Half a mile for every page he writes, Roth says.
(I think I’d like a standing desk like this. Ernest Hemingway used one, too.)
At 78, Philip Roth continues to get life down on the page and strives to make his work better. And what about the relentless passage of time? Roth says, “I didn’t know what aging was – never heard of it. Then somebody told me.” I am in awe of what he does, at an age when some writers, if not in steep decline, at least start slowing down.
True Confession: I do a lot of hanging around ~ but I’m convinced that it’s far from a waste of time. This dithering of mine will never be mistaken for the disciplined existence of Philip Roth. Although I can compose whole paragraphs in my head, I need to write it all – every bit of it – down. Not so that I’ll remember it later. So that I’ll remember it now. It’s the long pause at the keyboard, waiting for that word I need, that tells me what aging is. The thesaurus is useful only if I can retrieve the word for what I’m trying to say in the first place. I wonder if Philip Roth ever resorts to the who-needs-that-word-anyway solution. Most times, I leave a_______ and walk away. To the bookshelf. For some poetry.
Poetry is just crazy good stuff. Join me here in April and make Words We Women Write part of your National Poetry Month celebration.
After all, what sweeter lagniappe for our readers than a Luxe-plus Poem-A-Day?