The Compensations and Losses of Old Age

Benjamin Schwarz comments on John Updike's writing at the end of his life, and says:

Above all, and most poignantly, this collection highlights Updike’s evaluation of the slackening of his own mental and athletic prowess… A generous and companionable critic and an avowed Christian, Updike met the decline of his powers with courage and good humor, but also with a clear-eyed recognition that the compensations of old age—a hard-won sagacity, a bemused detachment—don’t make up for the irretrievable losses.

I liked "hard-won sagacity" and "bemused detachment" to describe the "compensations of old age." And I love the counterbalancing statement that, no, of course nothing makes up for the "irretrievable losses"…

3 comments on “The Compensations and Losses of Old Age
  • Let it be said that Updike continued to write magnificently right up until the end. If he was not quite as good as he used to be — well, no one was. Philip Roth is another novelist of the same generation. He continues to write. His subjects include the personal and sexual losses of old age. His late books are incredibly tough-eyed, often perverse, but powerfully written. (Roth wrote his best works, the “American Pastoral” trilogy, in his seventies.) For me, the worst part of getting old is knowing that I must offend people with my appearance, which is saggy and wrinkly and awkward. I regret it and can’t do anything about it. I imagine there’s probably also some smell. On the positive side, when you are not working or working out, you are not at all conscious of being old. You feel like a twenty-two year old in most respects — until you pass a mirror. And yes, you know everything. The way of the world and the course of your life are spread before you like a map and all becomes clear. What bemuses us is that we get this knowledge only when we can no longer act on it.

  • A plus of getting older is you’re more aware that your days are limited, so you try to make the most of each one. When Isaac Asimov, who had written 400(!) books, was asked what he would do if he had six months to live, he replied, “Write faster.” So would I.

  • With aging the common problems of memory loss that you will encounter are you will miss out on where you have kept the car keys few minutes back or you will find it extremely difficult to recall names of persons you met recently or even you might find difficult to perform regular routine work. However, if you find that your memory loss is deteriorating with time, then it is important to consult a doctor as it might be early signs of diseases such as Alzheimer or Dementia.

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