In what may be the last decade of life, Jan Morris, the Welsh historian is still driving her worn Honda, cruising around her neighborhood with her beloved Elizabeth. She has a set jar of marmalade to taste every day of the week. Her car is professionally cleaned, and she will walk that “half mile” to find that “pleasant restaurant”.
Above all her pastimes though, one stands out; she commits to writing diary entries for the first time in her life.
While the paragraphs in her narrative confront the realities of aging, they also demonstrate her unwavering commitment to life.
Jane isn’t withering.
The beauty of the world remains tantalizing for her. The pathway of her house is analogous to “India’s Grand Trunk Road”. There are a “dominant couple of elephants, laboriously swaying, and coveys of peasants jostled along the sidewalks..reedy halftones of..music magically in the air”. (15) However, while she immerses in the neighboring natural beauty, the frustrations of old age still tug on her sleeve.
“I realized there and then that I was foreseeing a tragedy to befall millions of us, when we are obliged to realize, like Shakespeare’s Othello, that our life’s purpose is gone. Othello’s purpose, of course, was the winning of battles, but for most of us it is nothing so finite but it is just the satisfaction of doing a job as well as we can do it.” (16).
Of course her surroundings cannot comfort her entirely. She finds purpose in both a mental and tangible library of literature.
“However, I’m damned if I’m going to let any old zeitgeist get me down, so I have searched through my jumbled poetic resources to find a proper retort and stumbled upon these reminders that good humor too, has its noble part to play in the passage of the ages.” (24)
Any lit-geek would have a dual-appreciation for this Paris Review article, as through Jane’s diary entries you read not only her sound writing, but also revisit excerpts of the literary canon.
Why do I personally love this chain of diary entries? Well I’m decades younger than Jane and yet her words are like my muse. We all have inner contradictions.
“In some ways I like myself well enough then. I enjoy the fun of me, the harmless conceit, the guileless complexity, and the merriment”. (21)
“When I go walking in the evening, on the other hand, my shadow is less distinct and less encouraging, rising blurred to reproach me as the sun fades. I shall not be whistling then, but humming some more thoughtful theme, and I shall recognize what I don’t like about myself — selfishness, self-satisfaction, foolish self-deceit, and irritability.”(22)
Jane however does not hide hers.
The saying, “age is only a number” reveals itself to be true for this self-sufficient woman who defines her own life.
I won’t reveal all my favorite parts of this Paris Review chapter, but this dosage of old-age reflection is worth the read.