A more important reason for grasp of languages to weaken is aging. My ability to remember things seems to weaken daily. My recall of people’s names is embarrassingly bad. Sometimes, I can’t remember where stores I frequent are located. When writing, I far too often can’t remember the word I want and have to resort to a list of synonyms. And my recollection of past events is becoming spotty.
But as my language facility weakens, my work in my true vocation, writing, is actually becoming better. I long ago discovered—and recorded in this blog—that the ability to think expands with age. That’s what we mean when we say that the old are wise. And thinking in depth is the key to successful writing. So my writing today is better than it ever has been in the past.
My problem is writer’s block. When my partner of more than twenty years, Su, died a year ago last March, my ability to write stopped dead in its tracks. I had been working on two novels at the time. One was about the 1967 battle of Dak To in Vietnam’s western highlands; the other was based on my relationship with Su. I have been unable to work on either novel since Su’s death. My sense is that I must wait for my grieving to lessen before I can pick up my pen again.
For all that, I genuinely loved studying, speaking, and reading in the languages I knew so well. Switching from one to another was second nature to me. And learning those languages greatly enhanced my understanding and use of English. But now I must accept the changes that go with a different time of life. Working in other languages no longer dominates my life. My calling, now and always, is to write. I’d better get to it soon.