February 21, 2006. Oakland.
What is to do in old age when all the years (the numbers) and times
(the periods and their tasks) are passed away? As Paul Mills said to me a
few months before he died, it was “finish it up,” the things left undone
in all the times before.
Somerset Maugham said
almost the same in the title of his memoir, The Summing Up. But
fumbling and confused in his dotage, he later wrote another and called it
Strictly Personal. Maugham’s prose in The Summing Up was the
example to me of a clarity of language for which to strive, while
Strictly Personal was an example of the confusions of old age when it
would be best to stop working—except that you are the last to know.
And as for De Kooning’s
old age, the others never told him it was time to stop because whatever
else he might have been before, anything he did anytime was always money
in their bank—and he was already too far gone ever to know of himself it
might be best to stop.
Thus, since I will be the
last to know, I can keep on working until I know too—which, by evidence of
Maugham and De Kooning, is never.