Saturday, July 24, 2010

Daniel Schorr & further ruminations about old age

            A reader reminded me that Daniel Schorr lived a long time -- said he thinks he heard him just last week -- and suggested that since he had lived a long time went against my "ruminations."  As it happens, Daniel Schorr died at age 93 this past Friday:

            I didn't mean to imply that this wisdom-trigger (if there is one) is tied to "true wisdom."  I don't see how that would work.  It might not even be tied to results.  No one who hears this "wisdom" may believe it is true wisdom.  If there is any such trigger, it would probably be activated by the "wise person" himself.  If he believes he is imparting wisdom, that would probably be enough.

            In the case of Daniel Schorr, he was not alone in believing that.  In the article we read that "his greatest contribution came after a lot of other eminent journalists had left the fray," said Harvard media analyst Alex Jones. "He was a wise old man with all his buttons, a precious resource."

            The reader also mentioned someone who "lived to 104 and in good health for 103 1/2 of those years. He started at Syracuse China as a 13 yr old & worked there for 62 years--hand painting fine china for Kings & Queens and Nancy Reagan. (all the while doing his own 'folk art'... think : Grandma Moses primitives.) His painted milk cans were displayed in the Nixon White House, and other works in many other places, after the trip to china, with pics of pandas, the great wall, bamboo shoots etc. on give you a feel.  After he retired at 75 he went to work as a sign painter for the park service of Onondaga County NY doing that as well as for NYS doing the same for them for next 20 years. He was a marketeer and knew about publicity. . ."

            This latter fellow is more interesting than Daniel Schorr and speaks a bit about creativity and old age.  Up until 75 his "hand painting" sounds as though it would approximate other sorts of creativity.  We creative snobs might not credit him with much, but perhaps he thought his work important.  After that, when his creative impulse may dried up a bit and he continued on as a sign painter.  The reader describes him as a "marketeer," but I wonder how this fellow would have described himself.  A Chinese calligrapher might have painted "signs," but he may have taken creative joy in what he was doing.

            I'll make a few additional points.  The first is that if there is anything to this trigger that causes people to live a long time, it would be a "tendency" and not an absolute certainty.  In light of the way Natural Selection works, there would be some who would live to more than 100 who would show no signs of imparting wisdom and others who demonstrably imparted wisdom that did not live very long at all.  The survival strategy of our species would need nothing more than a sufficiency.

            The second is that In regard to poets and novelists, my impression is that they tend to have lives that are shorter than average.  Many commit suicide or spend long periods insane.  It may be (assuming my old-age-trigger thesis) that poets are like people with a job to do -- a teacher or an engineer for example.  They do their job and, retire from it, and die shortly thereafter.  The genome trigger may sense that their work is done -- the children taught, the designs completed, the poetry written, so it is high time they divest themselves of their mortal coils.  Of course this is just my impression of certain poets I admire.  One can refer to a "list of American poets," most of whom I have never heard, and find some that have lived into their 80s:   I initially had in mind people who lived past 100, but Robert Frost who lived to 89 would at least raise a genetic eyebrow.    But I never admired Frost all that much, for whatever that's worth.  A short-lived poet I admired was John Berryman who lived 58 years.  I also appreciated Sylvia Plath who lived 31 years, and Dylan Thomas who lived 39 years.  The latter two poets burned at a higher temperature than Frost, it seems to me, and used themselves up more quickly.    

            The third and last is that someone who strives to write a great body of poetry has a very different goal than someone intent upon passing on wisdom to a younger generation.  The first goal, on the face of it, is selfish.  The poet wants to be numbered amongst the great poets of earlier years, but he may not be interested in passing on wisdom -- unless he somehow puts his poetry in that category.  Is that possible?  But if so, would he not agree with Keats who in his "Ode on a Grecian Urn" wrote" "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
" and then die at age 26?

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