Nicholas Delbanco sits on a swivel chair in his second-floor writer’s study, his back to the desk, knees bent slightly as he props his feet on the edge of a couch. He exudes energy and warmth, his conversation vibrantly self-aware. Elsewhere in the house his wife, Elena, is packing for a flight they’ll be taking in a few hours to visit her father on Martha’s Vineyard, so Delbanco says he can only talk for an hour or so. He has places to go, things to do.
Delbanco, whose prodigious writing has won him many honors, including Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, turns 70 next year. The father-in-law he’s off to visit, the cellist Bernard Greenhouse, a founder of the Beaux Arts Trio, passed his 90th birthday five years ago. Both men still create, though Greenhouse plays mostly for himself these days.
That relationship between aging and vital creativity has been consuming Delbanco for the last few years, resulting in his new book, “Lastingness: The Art of Old Age,” a mix of rumination and personal exploration of what it is to grow old while remaining creatively vital.
“For obvious reasons, the subject of incremental old age and continued productivity is of incremental interest to me,” Delbanco says with a wry smile. “My father died at 98. He was not a major painter, but he painted every day of his life. It’s what kept him happily alive. My father-in-law … loses 20 to 30 years when he picks up the cello. So I’ve been watching old men, as it were, from a very close vantage and realizing that with luck I’ll be one at some foreseeable future time and just wondering about what it will be like to keep at work.”
What is lastingness? It’s certainly a word that’s off the beaten track; it seems to belong only to the literary world even though, as Delbanco says in his book, that quality of endurance, or durability, applies to the world at large. Our culture today, he points out, is less welcoming to the old than to the young. Not only do “first novels have a better chance of being noticed than a fourth or fifth,” but supermodels, starlets, athletes and that neighbor of yours who just had a tummy tuck all battle “the harsh tyranny of time.”
To read the full article from the Los Angeles Times, see “Nicholas Delbanco Ponders the Art of Lastingness.”