Friday, November 5, 2010

Recommended Reading: Two Memoirs on Aging

When Jungian analyst Florida Scott-Maxwell was 82, she began to write about the experience of aging in a notebook, not intending to share it with anyone else. Eventually, however, her reflections were published under the title The Measure of My Days.

I loved reading these ruminations, which are beautifully written and deeply insightful. "It has taken me all the time I've had to become myself, yet now that I am old there are times when I feel that I am barely here, no room for me at all..."

She notes, "So one has ample time to face everything one has had, been, done, gather them all in: the things that come from outside and those from inside. We have time at last to make them truly ours."

And in another note, she writes about the intensity of age. "But we also find as we age we are more alive than seems likely, convenient or even bearable." This book, published in the 1960s, is considered a classic. It gives a glimpse of the rich inner life of a very self-aware, spiritual woman as she confronts her experience of aging and mortality. Full of instruction.

Diana Athill's book Somewhere Towards the End, written when Athill was 91, is a vivid, compelling read. Athill talks about aging, illness, how the importance of sex declined for her. She describes wondering about when to stop driving, shares what it was like to care for her mother, describes relationships with old friends and what it was like never having children and talks about approaching death with a great deal of candor and humor. "Book after book has been written on being young...but there is not much on record on falling away," she writes.

For many years, Athill was an editor at a big London publishing company, and her clients included many famous writers. She didn't start writing herself until she was in her seventies. She has written several well-received memoirs. As soon as I finished Somewhere Towards the End, I read another of her books titled Yesterday Morning, which begins "Oh my God," said my mother, can I really have a daughter who is seventy? And we both burst out laughing.

In Yesterday Morning, Athill writes about her upper class English childhood from the vantage point of age. Both Yesterday Morning and Somewhere Toward the End are delightful reads from a very alive writer.

P.S. on The Artist's Life: Been feeling not very bloggish lately. Sometimes the darling blog just starts to feel too much like a duty. Know what I mean? I have been happily immersed in working on the manuscript for my book Songs of the Inner Life and am also working on another song for my musical revue A New Wrinkle, which I hope will be done by the spring. My composer collaborator Laura Rich just went to India for a month! What an adventure. Hope that you are all well and happy. Stay warm and enjoy this time of inner light and gratitude.

1 comment:

  1. Lots of good reading in this post. Put a couple on my reading list. thanks for the reviews -- barbara