I’m turning 44 next month, and I have the sense that 44 is going to be a very good year, a year of fulfillment, realization. I have that sense, not because of anything particular in store for me, but because I read it would be a good year in a 1968 book by Norman Mailer.

“He felt his own age, forty-four …” wrote Mailer in “The Armies of the Night,” “… felt as if he were a solid embodiment of bone, muscle, heart, mind, and sentiment to be a man, as if he had arrived.”

Yes, I know Mailer wasn’t writing about me. But I also know that he was; for all of us – you, me, the subject of his book, age more or less in step, proceed from birth along the same great sequence: through the wonders and confinements of childhood; the emancipations and frustrations of adolescence; the empowerments and millstones of adulthood; the recognitions and resignations of old age. There are patterns to life, and they are shared. As Thomas Mann wrote: “It will happen to me as to them.”

We don’t simply live these patterns. We record them, too. We write them down in books, where they become narratives that we can then read and recognize. Books tell us who we’ve been, who we are, who we will be, too. So they have for millennia. As James Salter wrote, “Life passes into pages if it passes into anything.”

And so six years ago, a thought leapt to mind:

if life passed into pages, there were, somewhere, passages written about every age. If I could find them, I could assemble them into a narrative.
I could assemble them into a life, a long life, a hundred-year life, the entirety of that same great sequence through which the luckiest among us pass. I was then 37 years old, “an age of discretion,” wrote William Trevor. I was prone to meditating on time and age. An illness in the family and later an injury to me had long made clear that growing old could not be assumed. And besides, growing old only postponed the inevitable, time seeing through what circumstance did not. It was all a bit disheartening.

A list, though, would last. To chronicle a life year by vulnerable year would be to clasp and to ground what was fleeting, would be to provide myself and others a glimpse into the future, whether we made it there or not. And when I then began to compile my list, I was quickly obsessed, searching pages and pages for ages and ages. Here we were at every annual step through our first hundred years.

“Twenty-seven … a time of sudden revelations,” “sixty-two, … of subtle diminishments.”

I was mindful, of course, that such insights were relative. For starters, we now live longer, and so age more slowly. Christopher Isherwood used the phrase “the yellow leaf” to describe a man at 53, only one century after Lord Byron used it to describe himself at 36.

I was mindful, too, that life can swing wildly and unpredictably from one year to the next, and that people may experience the same age differently. But even so, as the list coalesced, so, too, on the page, clear as the reflection in the mirror, did the life that I had been living:

finding at 20 that “… one is less and less sure of who one is;” emerging at 30 from the “… wasteland of preparation into active life;” learning at 40 “… to close softly the doors to rooms [I would] not be coming back to.” There I was.


Of course, there we all are. Milton Glaser, the great graphic designer whose beautiful visualizations you see here, and who today is 85 – all those years “… a ripening and an apotheosis,” wrote Nabokov – noted to me that, like art and like color, literature helps us to remember what we’ve experienced.

And indeed, when I shared the list with my grandfather, he nodded in recognition. He was then 95 and soon to die, which, wrote Roberto Bolaño, “… is the same as never dying.” And looking back, he said to me that, yes, Proust was right that at 22, we are sure we will not die, just as a thanatologist named Edwin Shneidman was right that at 90, we are sure we will. It had happened to him, as to them.

Now the list is done: a hundred years. And looking back over it, I know that I am not done. I still have my life to live, still have many more pages to pass into. And mindful of Mailer, I await 44.

Thank you.

下个月我就44岁了, 并且我觉得44岁将成为美好的一年, 充满着实现和领悟的一年. 我有这种感觉, 并不是因为什么特别的事, 而是我从诺曼·梅勒 在1968年写的书上看到的.
“44岁, 他感觉到了岁月无情,” 梅勒在<夜幕下的大军>中写到 “感觉到他自己就是 骨头, 肌肉, 心, 意识, 情感 组成的坚实的化身, 就像他已经那个年纪了一样.”
是的,我知道梅勒不是在写我. 但我冥冥中 能感受到他其实就在写我; 因为我们所有人:你,我, 还有他书中的主人公, 都在一点点变老, 从出生就限定在了 恒定的生命规律中了: 从孩提时期的好奇和禁锢; 到少年时代的不羁和烦恼; 再到步入成年的权威和里程碑 最后迈入老年的德高望重. 生命有它自己的规律, 这是所有人必经的历程. 就如托马斯·曼所写: “我将经历别人所经历的一切.”
我们不仅存活在这种规律中, 我们还会把它们记录下来. 我们把它写进书里, 成为了大家都可以读识的叙事. 书籍能帮我们了解曾经的我们, 当下的我们,和未来的我们. 所以书籍已经存在了上千年. 正如詹姆斯·索尔特所写, “如果生命能变成什么的话, 它能变成一本书.”

所以六年之前 一个想法从我脑中闪过: 如果岁月能变成书, 那么在某处,一定有 关于每一个年纪的文章存在. 如果我能找到它们, 我就可以把它们串成一段故事. 我可以把它们汇成一辈子, 一段长达一百年的生命, 这是只有最幸运的我们 才跨越过的生命长度. 当年我37岁, 威廉·特雷弗说 这是”一个小心翼翼的年纪”. 我总是想去沉思岁月和人生. 我们家族中的一种遗传病, 后来也对我有所伤害. 这件事告诉我不是每个人都 能平平安安活到老的. 况且,年华老去只不过是 推迟了不可避免的死亡的事实, 岁月看穿了一切. 这有些令人伤感.

然而一张时间表会得以留存. 去记录逐渐衰弱的生命, 就是去尝试挽留流水般逝去的年华, 就是让我们自己和别人 可以窥一眼未来, 无论我们是否能抵达终点. 而当我开始整理我的时间表时, 我就已经被迷住了, 一页一页地寻找岁月的痕迹. 在一百年的跋涉中 我们回看每年的步伐. “二十七岁, 是一个充满著豁然开朗的年龄.” “六十二岁, 是一个逐渐光华不再的年龄.”

当然我也明白, 这种对岁月的见解是相对的. 首先,我们的寿命比前人要长, 所以我们衰老得慢. 克里斯托弗·伊舍伍德 用”落叶” 形容53岁的人, 而一百年前拜伦伯爵正好用这个词 形容当时36岁的自己.


我也知道, 有时命运多舛的人一年之间 也会经历不可预测的大风大浪, 每个人在同样的年龄 都有不同的经历. 即使如此, 当这张时间表完成的时候, 我仍然能在那里面找到 我自己一生的影子: 发现”人在20岁的时候 总是看不清自己”; 三十出头”总算从 荒芜闯出精彩纷呈”; 40岁学会了”要轻轻地关上 我不再进去的房间的门.” 这就是我,

当然,这也是我们. 你所看到的这张美丽的照片 正是85岁的米尔顿·格拉塞, 一位了不起的平面设计师. 86个年头,”正是成熟和昇华之时” 纳博科夫写到. 对于我来说,文学就像艺术和色彩, 替我们记住我们记住了曾经的我们.

果真,当我把这张时间表 拿给我祖父看时 他赞同地点了点头. 他当时已经95岁了, 离大去之时不远了. 像罗伯托·博拉诺写的, “这就如同永垂不朽.” 往回看,我祖父也跟我这样说过. 普鲁斯特说所不假, 22岁的我们坚信我们不会死, 而就像死亡学家, 埃德温父施耐德曼说的, 90岁的时候, 我们都清楚我们将要离去. 就跟他的同辈人一样 他已然经历了死亡.

现在这张时间表已经完成: 整整一百年. 只是现在再回看这张表, 我觉得我还没有完成我的任务. 我还要去好好活我余下的人生, 而这剩下的年华,也足够去书写更多精彩. 心中不忘诺曼·梅勒所言, 44岁,我满怀期待.