Friday, February 1, 2008

Talking with: Rockwell Gray

We talk so well together, we writers, almost as if we were a distinct race of people. Yesterday I met with Rockwell Gray of the Department of English, who throws off brilliant observations and great quotations the way a spinning star throws off planets. He studied at the U. of Chicago when its four-year curriculum consisted of Great Books.

We discussed aging and our worries, but more important than what he said was his honesty and directness. Honesty is the most exciting quality in the world: it ignites everything. An honest writer is never dull. Usually I feel self-conscious in such a presence, but we could have talked for hours. He said that his 70th birthday approaches, he is both awed and shy of it: What to do with it? How to fit oneself into it? How to spend the days that are left? How to accept the totality of one's life?

And he referenced Robert Frost, quoting a poem written by David Ray, titled "Thanks, Robert Frost" (here's the first lines):

Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was, something we can accept,
mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
something that in the end we can bear.

This is the treasure Rockwell left me yesterday. It helped. And it also led me to another writer, which you know is like discovering a new planet.

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