Elegant, exuberant, and idiosyncratic, Acting My Age is a memoir and meditation by one of America’s most playful and inventive writers.
Acting My Age is the newest volume from MĀNOA. In the words of Mary Mackey (The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams), “in Acting My Age, Thomas Farber gives us an unflinching, luminous, cleverly conceived meditation on his own mortality as well as on the extinction of the coral reefs, snow leopards, dolphins, and, ultimately the human species. Couching his observations in a series of short, interconnected, almost-epigrammatic essays that read like prose poems, Farber creates a narrative style reminiscent of Joyce and Melville: oceanic in depth and all-encompassing in range.”
Below, Thomas Farber shares how this book came together, water friendships, and how he’s faring a year into the COVID-19 pandemic.
University of Hawai‘i Press: You describe Acting My Age as an “interim report.” When and where did Acting My Age begin?
Thomas Farber: I’d finished Here and Gone in early 2015. The concluding chapter of its third person nonfiction has “the writer” confronting open heart surgery in seven days. Acting My Age picks up, in the first person, where that left off.
UHP: You sign your author’s note that opens Acting My Age from both Berkeley and Honolulu. Tell us about your relationship to these places.
TF: Born and raised in Boston, I first came to Berkeley in 1964 at age twenty. I’ve been based there most of the time since, albeit with long absences, and have taught at the University of California, Berkeley since the mid-1990s.
I first came to Hawai‘i in 1971, have had long stays every year since, often for half the year. Surfing and Pacific Island post-colonial writing have been two of my persistent interests. I’ve been visiting writer at the University of Hawai‘i, Manoa; visiting fellow at the East-West Center; and have traveled extensively in the South Pacific.
UHP: How do you feel Wayne Levin and Geoffrey Fricker’s photography complements your work?
TF: Water friendships! I first saw Wayne’s marvelous ocean photographs when I was dreaming toward the book that became On Water (1994). My collaborations with Wayne include Through A Liquid Mirror, Other Oceans (UH Press), and Akule. As for freshwater, I’d been part of a Geoff Fricker project about the upper Sacramento River. Then in the late 1990s Geoff asked me write text for his haunting photographs of the ruined Hamakuapoko sugar mill.
UHP: As the author of more than 25 books, how does Acting My Age differ from your other work?
TF: A return to first person nonfiction, something I’d not done for many years, it picks up after the impending heart surgery looming at the end of Here and Gone. Acting My Age is, not surprisingly, much concerned with aging and mortality—author seventy-one to seventy-five in the telling—but also speaks from my ongoing love of and fear for the ocean. My dismay with the mess humans can make of things. As for how the stories are told, well, I’ve had a long love affair with words, tried to draw on all I’ve learned in my writing life.
UHP: The revisions for Acting My Age were completed in the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic. How does this find you—and your writing—nearly a year later?
TF: Like everyone, I’m much sobered by the pandemic. Too many apprehensions realized.
Meanwhile, no one writes or lives forever. About to turn seventy-seven, clearing books and papers from my garage library, I feel like a surfer in a long lull. Waiting for the next set. Staying very close to home, perforce, has encouraged me to be the kind of reader I was as a child—(re)reading for the deep pleasure of it. No product quite yet in mind. Savoring company I’ve kept. Jim Harrison’s late poems, Dead Man’s Float. J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine. Calvino’s Invisible Cities. These “colleagues” I’ve learned from, have tried to measure up to.
THOMAS FARBER has been a Fulbright Scholar, awarded a Guggenheim fellowship and three times National Endowment fellowships for fiction and creative nonfiction, recipient of the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize, and Rockefeller Foundation scholar at Bellagio. His recent books include Here and Gone, The End of My Wits, Brief Nudity, and The Beholder. Former visiting writer at Swarthmore College and the University of Hawai‘i, he teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. www.thomasfarber.org