August 15, 2015: A PALTRY THING
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A ragged coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress.
Famous lines from Yeats. I'm aged, and I feel that way sometimes. Then why am I so mortally busy? It's been that way this whole summer. I have just last week, or was it this week, finished a book I've been writing off and on since 1997. A book about Rome. A short book about Rome. (There's a long story about that.) I have volunteered once more to be the Chairman of the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review here in Sag Harbor. An onerous job, requires lots of time. But now I'm planning the next book. I've taken to just writing the damned things. Getting a contract before you write them, the traditional method, is getting harder and harder to do. So what's left of my life is all mapped out for me. Writers don't retire. In cases like mine, they can't. You're driven, and you're broke, too. But I know wealthy writers who keep on working when they don't need to. It gets in the blood. It's what you do, how you live.
But the village thing is something else. I was the Chairman of this Board when it was founded, helped found it, spent four years as Chairman. This is citizenship. This is the idea that if you live someplace, and care for it, you have a responsibility to get involved, to serve. "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." I was talking about this the other evening to a woman, aged like myself, who grew up in a prominent political family, and she felt the same way--it's about serving. You belong, you serve. It's that simple. I've written about this before on this blog, that a national service program of some sort, not necessarily military, should be mandatory for people in their early twenties. It is in other countries. Military service is mandatory in Israel. I did my own military service via ROTC after I graduated from college. Learned a great deal about this country. Service is an obligation. Political involvement is an obligation. That's what citizenship is all about. You don't get the privileges without the obligation. Not if you take it seriously.
Well, my soapbox. This fall I'll be preparing a second edition of the Lewis and Clark Journals I did for the National Geographic Society some years ago. HBO is doing a series on L & C. It's all in the timing. I feel rushed, even as I write this blog. And I'm old. I'm tired. I need a nap every day. But the challenge of writing if you're born to it never leaves you. It's what Eliot wrote about, the struggle with language, the wanting to know what you actually think about things, and follow through to see what that might mean. So the next book calls, and the next, plus the magazine articles. I can't believe it--torn cartilage in my knee, a slowing brain, iffy hearing: the shadow of the inevitable. A ragged coat indeed. But it's not over 'til it's over, said the immortal Yogi. And it ain't over yet.