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Jewish World Review
Oct. 23, 2007
/ 11 Mar-Cheshvan 5768
It was wholly a pleasure and compliment to be asked to contribute an article for a time capsule you're putting together. It isn't every day an inky wretch is given a chance to talk to the future.
As you say, writers are an egotistical lot, so you believed the idea would appeal to me. Yet it doesn't. Not that I'm any less egotistical than any other would-be pundit, but my ego isn't the kind that is particularly interested in writing to the generation of 2057, which is when the time capsule would be opened. For someone used to meeting a daily deadline, writing 50 years ahead sounds … rather abstract. Even worse than writing for a quarterly.
One of the reasons why I went into newspapering rather than trying to stick it out in graduate school was precisely the dailiness of it. A scholarly treatise might not see print for years. In this business the reaction to what I write, whether favorable or un-, is almost immediate. And that is only one advantage of the ephemeral. It's good to get something written and be done with it. Imagine waiting till 2057 for reader reaction. It'd drive me posthumously crazy.
The late Murray Kempton, an exquisite writer even if he was a newspaper columnist, would understand. He always remembered something he was told by Westbrook Pegler, a figure of fame in this country back in the '30s who went from being a talented sportswriter to a feisty columnist to a demented right-wing crank lost in an alcoholic haze.
It wasn't his hatred of Eleanor Roosevelt that had driven him crazy, Pegler once told Kempton. That was not the case at all. "It began," he explained, "when I quit sports and went cosmic. It finished when I began writing on Monday to be printed on Friday." He just couldn't stand the wait.
Now, sir, if you could find a way to increase my column's circulation in 2007, I would be mighty grateful. But wait till 2057 to be read? No, thanks. I guess it's a character flaw. I'm not much of one for delayed gratification, at least if I won't be around for it.
I've never been much interested in human cryogenics, either. The whole idea smacks of the obscene. When I'm gone, I want to be gone. Let life be for the living. I have no interest in sticking around like some kind of nag. There are days when I almost look forward to the long rest. If the future wants to know what I had to say, it can consult the archives somewhere in the radioactive ruins.
Even if I had the time to spare from communicating with the present, I daresay I'd find other things to write besides some dead-earnest letter to the future plays, short stories, love letters, ruminations, grocery lists, anything but writing something to be entombed and then disinterred half a century later. How I wish I could write poetry. But so many things are beyond me.
Now if you would offer me a chance to converse with the past, that would be different. I'd jump at it. I do hear from it quite regularly in the form of history, literature, ritual, old photographs and precious memory, and I would love to respond. How many apologies I would offer, how much love I would pour out to those who have gone before me and gratitude. But the tyranny of time, which imprisons each of us within our allotted span, is such that, when it comes to communicating with the past, I reckon I'll just have to stick with prayer.
Be well, sir, and good luck with your project. If you like, you may include this column in your time capsule or, for that matter, anything else I've written, for what it's worth.
But by 2057, I daresay today's newspaper column might sound … dated.
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