11/21/2012 05:38 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2013

Please Write

Philip Roth says he will not write again.

I am corrected. "No," I am told, 'he said, he will not write another novel.'

Ah, but on the front page of the New York Times, our ultimate authority, there is a picture of you, Mr. Roth, not, indeed, at a desk, but leaning back in your Eames chair, yes relaxed, "The struggle with writing is over. I'm free. Every morning I study a chapter in "iPhones for Dummies."

I pick up a copy of Portnoy's Complaint at the Last Bookstore, here in L.A.

It pulses with vigor and fury.

That doesn't end. I'd like you to rage, rage against the dying of light.

I'm only two years younger than you are, Mr. Roth, and I'm just hitting a new stride. And, look, Nancy Pelosi, 72, is standing tall as leader of the House, and that's tougher than being a writer.
Mr. Roth, you inspired all of us. It wasn't just Goodbye Columbus, your first book, but even more, Portnoy's Complaint in which, for the first time, you wrote about a man getting himself off. A year or so earlier, they'd have cut off your Wall Street Journal subscription for writing up such a scene.

I'd gather with women writers then we were just beginning to write words we weren't supposed to know. (We didn't want to be Marjorie Morningstar.) We read each other scenes we'd kept hidden in journals. You were a talisman. You found a way to mix wit with sullen anguish and make it rise. "Write what you're scared to tell anyone, write what you did that you'd never tell anyone," we urged each other. Miller, Mailer, Roth. So why not us?

You wrote about guilt, about being a young Jewish kid, when the world around us was deep into mourning. I'd wanted to be Christian and free of the Grief, the survivor guilt. I knew God would shake his head.

In the picture of you on the Tablet you look resigned to the fate of age as defined by our culture. "I don't want to read, to write more... I studied, I thought enough is enough."
You are a Sage. Sages do not retire. The Youngsters don't know that when you're an Elder, you can sit around, write, read, dance alone to real jazz we love. Hang out. No one asks us to show up, to behave, get dressed or come over. I say Elder because I hated the word Senior since I was a kid; the Seniors at school were chilly know-it-alls. They finally left and were never heard from again, which we're supposed to do.

What happened to the legacy of our best grandparents, professors and crusty editors, skilled, in the arts of torment, demand and attitude?

I guess what brought us down was the end of attics, of guest rooms, where grandparents could hide out, tell stories, wrap bony arms around us in a way Apple hasn't figured out.

I mean barring emergency action: such as looming or actual death, family calls upon us once a year or so (major flaw of the holiday season. What warm thing can we send the seniors? Shawls are out. New Nikes please.)

We can teach youngsters the art of defiance; and how to proclaim. We invented the protest, all sorts of successful outrage. Just think; heroic ancient heroes were never as old as we are, and we are in superior shape, we swagger well in leather jackets, on a good day can summon up command.

There's a far better picture of you, Mr. Roth in Salon: you have affected a smile; there are actual books behind you. There is salty concern in your eyes. Just as America discovered there are new voters, that white bread is toast, so we have this our generation. We have the perspective to summon up keen wit, the references for going deep.

In this picture in Salon, your long fingers are poised to leap upon a pen.

Dear Mr. Roth, please write.