Monday, October 14, 2013

Purity of heart

"[...] purity of heart, which, according to [Kierkegaard], is what makes one do the thing, whether it's embroidering an altar cloth or making a crème brulée or writing a story"
(what Edna O'Brien aspires to, as told to Susanna Rustin in the Guardian, 28/09/2013)

My fascination with accounts of old age and what it means and the life stories of septua-/octo-/nonagenarians continues. I have always had friends of all ages and always more older friends than from my own age group, but recently I have been more and more drawn to the elderly. Maybe turning 30 - still quite young, but nevertheless very different from the feeling of being 21- earlier this year had something to do with it, carrying a heightened awareness of mortality and the brevity and preciousness of life.

So I seem to be collecting life-affirming stories by people with plenty of life experience behind them. My almost 80-year old neighbour, who had to endure several tragic losses in her eight decades, was dancing in my kitchen the other day, eyes sparkling with mischief and joy. She regularly goes to a nursing home where she teaches people younger than herself knitting, signs up for courses, travels, exercises and goes to concerts and other events. She probably has a busier week than me.

This piece by Penelope Lively was very insightful, and I loved this interview with Edna O'Brien, one of my heroines. She describes her routine, which includes making "endless cups of rooibos tea" and reading "something astonishing" before settling down to write, as well as going for walks. These are people to whom "retirement age" means nothing and who continue being creative *.

And then there are those who only find their calling late in life and embrace it fully, spurred on by the knowledge that there is not much time left and ending up with a prolific late-life output (Mrs Delany, the subject of The Paper Garden) - reassuring when I worry about having wasted so much of my twenties being depressed when I could have been productive, or, productivity levels aside, enjoyed myself more.
Should I be lucky enough to make it to old age and find myself in reasonable health, I will make sure to make the most of it, with "purity of heart". 

* though of course there is nothing wrong with just enjoying retirement, whatever that may consist of. My focus here happens to be on writers and artists, because they are of special interest to me personally, and also because most written accounts prerequire that the person is a writer).


  1. Marina, this post really speaks to me. I'm fascinated by this late life callings and I love reading personal accounts too. I find them particularly inspirational. In the media there is so much coverage on under-30s millionaires, pop idols etc that has made me question whether a person over 30 can actually become successful, find their callings, start a new meaningful career. These books really put things under perspective.

    I don't know if you can watch channel 4 online in Ireland but if you can watch this documentary you'll like it.

    PS. I see you are reading Anne Tyler, how do you find it? I love her books, I've read them all in quick succession :)

  2. Thanks for your comment, Angeliki. That is so true about the media's obsession with youth, although I find that recently there has been a bit of a shift taking place with more space given to older people (older models, etc.). But it's very slow and gradual and a struggle.

    Some novelist (can't remember who it was) recently said something along the lines that you can only really write well once you are over 40 and have accumulated enough life wisdom and experience.

    Thanks so much for the link - I will see if I can access it.

    I like the Anne Tyler book. I had blogged about her last year after reading an interview and been meaning to get her books; this is the first one, though apparently not one of her best. Which one would you recommend next?
    Thanks! xx