When I first read Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, which many critics consider to be one of the greatest American plays, I was puzzled. "What's Willy Loman's problem?" I said to myself. He was not like any salesman I knew—and I knew many because my father was a salesman, and so were most of his friends. My high school English teacher, who had assigned the play, said it was a profound commentary on American life. I thought it was corny. Salesmen get fired if they don't make their sales quotas.
What's the big deal?
Willy Loman apparently was based on an uncle of Miller—a salesman who had committed suicide. My father was fired from at least a dozen jobs, but he didn't fall apart like Willy Loman. If my fatherRead more
In recent years, I’ve begun to worry that I should think more about aging. (I know, I know — everyone is aging, but the term only seems to be used for people over 60.) The Beatles wrote “When I’m Sixty-four,” but I am 74—older than a baby boomer—so it’s irresponsible of me to know so little about aging. I should read some books on the subject, or take a course. I was happy to learn recently that Washington D.C.’s Office on Aging offers seven courses on aging, including “Take Charge of Your Aging 101,” “Age Well, Live Well 101,” and “Mindful Living.”Read more
When I sit down with old friends who, like me, are in their 70s, I sometimes ask: “If you could live your life again, would you do anything differently?” Most just scratch their heads and say, “I dunno.” Recently, I told three old friends that I would do one thing differently: I would get a middle initial—either Q or X—to distinguish myself from the many Stephen Millers who write books. Or I would give myself a full middle name—say, Xavier or Quentin.Read more
John Kinsella, a highly regarded Australian poet who teaches at Cambridge, was quoted not long ago in the Times Literary Supplement as saying that he has “not sold his soul to market fetishization.” Kinsella means that he doesn’t want even to think about making a profit from his writing. But Kinsella is also doing what comes naturally for most poets and many literary essayists: He is expressing a disdain for the commercial world. To think about selling books is tantamount to worshipping Mammon.Read more
My wife and I—we are in our early seventies—sit down in a local restaurant. After handing us menus, the waitress returns a few minutes later: “Are you guys ready to order?” she asks. The waitress, who is probably in her early twenties, could be my granddaughter, yet she calls us “guys.” A day later a young man selling apples at a local farm market says to my wife and me: “Thanks, guys.”Read more
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