Something I like about old age is that you can so easily let your mind drift. The present no longer contains much that demands concentrated thought: no more love affairs, no more work excitements or problems, no more (or very little) planning of entertainment or travel. Day-to-day life is so much simpler and more repetitive than it used to be that you can allow your mind to wander. The best times for it are in the morning, snug in bed putting off getting up, and in the event, idling one’s way towards sleep. Sometimes I find myself telling a story which has grown out of some small incident–perhaps a man in the park that morning was humiliated by his lack of control over his dog, and a mini-drama weaves itself round him. Or I have heard that a friend is ill, and spend a long time recalling her and her ways, imagining her feelings, foreseeing her future. Often I choose a time or place and let myself loose in it: Venice on a September morning, perhaps, or Santa Fe full of flowering lilacs as it was when I once spent a week there. One scene will lead to another, one event connect mysteriously with another of a different kind, and people I haven’t thought about for years will materialize. And since the place where I spent my childhood has been restored to me . . . well, everyone knows that what comes back to the old most often is their distant past, and that is confirmed again and again in my own experience. In the last two or three years I have learnt what a vast amount of my childhood is stuffed away below the level of consciousness, much of it probably never to emerge but a surprising amount of it ready to become available, and all of it there. it has become obvious that what an old person is–provided he or she has not gone gaga–is not just the deteriorating body going through its necessarily simplified and sometimes boring occupations, but a mobile reservoir of experience.
The knowledge that this is so much, I suppose, be one of the chief triggers of autobiography. ‘But if I turn it into a book,’ one feels, ‘there it will still be.’ Whether anyone will want to read it is up to them: at least it will be there for whoever does. I have acted on this impulse twice before, once in relation to my experience of love (Instead of a Letter), and once in relation to my life in publishing (Stet), and both times there was a fair number of people who wanted to read the resulting book; so now, when what has bubbled up asking for the same kind of expression is the material at the bottom of the reservoir — the stuff which, on the whole, causes a person to be what he or she is — I dare to do it again.