The Older You Are, the More You Live in the Past
Walter Mosley is the author of more than 34 critically acclaimed books, including the major bestselling mystery series featuring the character Easy Rawlins. His work has been translated into 21 languages and includes literary fiction, science fiction, political monographs, and a young adult novel. His short fiction has been widely published, and his nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and The Nation, among other publications. He is the winner of numerous awards, including an O. Henry Award, a Grammy and PEN America’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He became a writer in his thirties, after a decade-long career as a computer programmer. He lives in New York City.
Question: What idea has influenced you most?
Walter Mosley: Well you know, I was thinking about big ideas because, you know, arrogantly enough I look at my own ideas as big ideas and one notion that I’ve had and I’ve been very committed to lately is: the older you are the more you live in the past. Now it struck me one day that, you know, because a lot of people get upset at young people. They say, young people aren’t living up to their potential. Young people are interested in things which are shallow, which are meaningless, which are unimportant. But the truth is, is that the older you are, the more your thinking is historical, and the more historical things become—especially in our world today where things change so quickly because of technology, the more they’re invalid.
So you find somebody who was raised in the Depression, they have notions of how economics and money works, which are no longer valid... or at least weren’t until very recently. You have people who have notions of race, have notions of gender, which once seemed true in their lives. They might not have been true even then, but they seemed true. Young people live exactly today... and they live in the immediacy of their world. And it’s important for us, people from older generations to realize that a lot of our values, a lot of our truths are no longer truths, are no longer valuable.
And so I think that one of the great notions to enact is that, hey, I have to remember that young people are living in this world today and I have to be advised by them as they are advised by me.
Question: What keeps you up at night?
Walter Mosley: It’s a funny thing, the notion of what keeps me up at night no longer keeps me up at night. I think I used to worry about money and career and what was going to happen. How was I gonna succeed or fail in the world? And I thought about it enough that I’m no longer worried about it. I’m not... I don’t worry about what’s gonna happen in my life. I don’t worry, as we talked before about telling me about dying, my own mortality. That’s a given.
I don’t worry about being broke. I remember one day I was talking to Gregory Hines, we used to live in the same neighborhood. And I had gotten my first book published and I said, “You know, Gregory, before I was working really hard, man, and I was so... I wasn’t making money, I was broke often.” And before I could go on he pointed in my face and he said, “And you will be there again.” And it struck me, like "Wow! You mean it’s not over?"
And then, since then, every time I go broke I remember Gregory pointing in my face and saying, “And you will be there again.” And I laugh, that there’s a certain kind of cyclical nature to life and that I don’t have to worry because whatever isn’t there right now, it’s coming back again.
Recorded November 10, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont
Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler
"I have to remember that young people are living in this world today and I have to be advised by them as they are advised by me," says Mosley.
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