“There are no second acts in American lives.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Given that the author of “The Great Gatsby” died at the age of 44, his proclamation is largely true for him. However, a great many authors and artists and musicians lived well into advanced age. They never stopped being creative individuals. Perhaps the quality was diminished by age and affliction but the desire did not wane.
I can trace the course of my life as a writer through my youth and early adulthood to middle age. Now, a year prior to turning sixty, with planning for retirement and talking about such things, I wonder what my third act might be.
Georgia O’Keefe had sent intermittent periods in the Southwest before moving permanently to New Mexico in 1946. She was 59, the same age as me. She thrived in an environment of pure natural beauty. Though she spent much of her formative artistic years in New York, it was this locale that cemented her status as a true original American artist.
On the other hand, Virginia Woolf struggled with mental illness and depression for a good deal of her adult life. She moved back and forth between London and a country house in Sussex. In this scene from “The Hours”, Virginia pleads to return to the city. Despite the enormous pressures, there is a sense of life that she finds there. She, of course, committed suicide at the age of 59.
Now, when I first met my wife, I was living in Boston. Nothing spectacular in terms of accommodations and nothing to brag about regarding financial security. I have always considered myself a “city boy” and could never imagine myself living on a farm. But as you approach retirement, there are further considerations. Will it be necessary to live in a more bucolic setting due to monetary restraints? Would it be possible to live in a condo (the most approximate thing to an early twentieth century metropolitan living?
I suppose that Choice takes a back seat to Necessity. The tales of our great artists from the past do not include considerations like social security, health insurance, or burial expenses. I hope that age and affliction do not force a diminishment in my work. I am quite certain the desire will not wane.
I look forward to seeing you at the OWFI Conference, Bridging the Epic Gap.