Thursday, July 5, 2012

Senior Writer's Thoughts #2

Second in a series of reflections from our writers aged 70 and up, The Permanent Press presents: 
"Senior Writer's Thoughts"

From Anne Bernays: The Lighter Side of Aging 
Writing now with a fountain pen I dip into a bottle of Waterman's ink and pump three times to fill and then wipe off with a scrap of paper towel. I'm reminded that when I was in grade school, each one of us was issued a chamois-cloth pen wiper. The other day I realized that my mother graduated from Barnard one year short of a hundred years ago. Around me I see and hear constant reminders of just how old I am. A collector of shoes, small porcelain bowls, kitchen gadgets, and books by and about Evelyn Waugh, I've just about stopped buying almost everything I don't absolutely need. This is sad but also liberating. I try to palm off assorted items on my children, who usually accept with a small grimace.
As for writing, the white-hotness has, like my lung capacity, diminished. I wish I could say "So What?" and it's about time," but a writer needs to write the way a crocodile needs to snap its jaws and my humiliation at walking away from the labor involved in transforming thoughts into words is sometimes terrible.
I suppose I'm half living in the 20th Century, rereading my favorites rather than entering the worlds of hot new writers. War and Peace, Washington Square, Memento Mori, Mrs. Dalloway, A Handful of Dust, the short story A Good Man is Hard to Find, along with scores of stories by Sumerset Maugham. I've read these and many more at least twice--with both intense pleasure and a twinge of guilt that I'm not reading David Foster Wallace or Jonathan Foer or Claire Messud. While my taste may be stuck in a groove fashioned fifty years ago my appetite for leftish ideas and movements is stronger than ever. I did not become more conservative as I aged, but went in the other direction and now would willingly become a member of today's equivalent of the Symbionese Liberation Army--if only my husband would let me.

Anne Bernays attended the Brearley School on New York's Upper East side, graduating in 1948. A graduate of Barnard College, she was managing editor of Discovery, a literary magazine, before moving from New York to Cambridge, MA in 1959, when she began her career as a novelist. Bernays has been published widely in national magazines and journals and is a long-time teacher of writing at Boston University, Boston College, Holy Cross, Harvard Extension, Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, and MFA Program at Lesley University.

She is a founder of PEN/New England and a member of the Writer’s Union. She serves as chairman of the board of Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and co-president of Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill.

Bernays is the recipient of the 1975 Edward Lewis Wallant Award for her novel Growing up Rich, the New York Times Notable Book of the Year for Professor Romeo and The Language of Names (co-written with Justin Kaplan) and a grandmother of six.

Look for her upcoming novel The Man on the Third Floor coming in November!