Tuesday, October 6, 2020

A Thought Stimulated by Reflecting on the Lives of London, Fitzgerald, Orwell, Camus and Others

Now that I'm 68, I can't help but notice all the writers, rock stars and other famous sorts who never made it this far. I believe Michener was roughly this age when he declared it to be one of his great achievements to have never spent a night in jail. The tongue may have been in his cheek when he said this, and I know it's something Richard Branson can't say, though Branson would chime in that his night behind bars was a highly instructive and motivational experience.

Last night I was reading an essay on George Orwell, a significant writer who died in 1950, only 46 years old. Upon reading this it my mind clicked on a recent article that cited how Albert Camus likewise came to his end at age 46. Both Camus and Orwell left reverberations for decades afterwards.

These thoughts soon triggered my recollection that Jack London, author of 40 books and countless stories, died at age 40. I'm not envious, but am indeed in awe of such productivity. And then there's F. Scott Fitzgerald, 44 when he finished drinking himself to death.

London, pictured here, whose career peaked a little earlier than Fitzgerald's, was the highest paid short story writer of his day, until Fitzgerald exceeded him during the Roaring Twenties. Keep in mind, magazines had no radio or television competition. A century ago people read for entertainment, as opposed to watching videos or movies. It was a golden age for short story writers.

I can't recall my introduction to Camus. It was a reading of The Stranger, but whether in high school or college I can't recall. I do remember studying Camus in an Existential Literature class my second semester at O.U. Dr Trevas had us read and produce papers on Camus, Sartre and Joseph Fletcher, author of Situation Ethics. Both Camus and Sartre were awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, though Sartre rejected the award.

The point of this random flow of semi-related notions has to do with the massive influence of these writers who died more than two decades younger than I.

And then there's Mozart. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Only 35, yet more than 40 symphonies and countless lesser works. Amazing. Chopin still lives on as well, and he never reached his fortieth birthday at all.

Let's not forget Franz Kafka (40), Stephen Crane (29), Anton Chekhov (44), Thomas Wolfe (37) and Thoreau (44).... all so young, yet unforgotten.

* * * *

As I began thinking about these many talented people whose lifespans seem so brief, I was reminded of all the artists, writers, actors and musicians who ended their careers by their own hand.  (Follow the link below to Tina Mion's New Year's Eve Party in Purgatory.)

* * * * 

Then my mind returns to the day the music died, that plane crash in an Iowa cornfield in 1959. Buddy Holly was only 22. Ritchie Valens (La Bamba) even younger, and 28 year old J.P. Richardson, the old man of the group, only 28. (Photo at right courtesy Gary Firstenberg)

* * * *

I've always told young people, "Life is longer than you think. Pursue your dreams and little by little you will achieve more than you can imagine." As I reflect on these productive giants, and especially those whose lives were cut short, I have to reconsider. 

We can't take tomorrow for granted. The time to begin really living is today.

Related Links
Shooting an Elephant
Tina Mion's New Year's Eve Party in Purgatory for Suicides
A Brief Glance at the Life of William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. O Henry

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