Out of the Vaipe: Albert Wendt
For the first time in many years, the 76 year-old does not have a book on the go. That doesn’t mean he’s sitting around. There’s the start of a novel in his head but he’s committed to finishing a series of paintings before the words take shape on a page. “I can’t see myself sitting around – when I work, I really work.
“I can’t see myself saying ‘I want to enjoy my retirement doing nothing’. Now what does that mean? It’s probably the quickest way to go.”
He has been very productive recently, releasing the novel ‘Breaking Connections’ and an autobiography of his early years, ‘Out of the Vaipe, the Deadwater’.
The Samoan writer (ONZ CNZM), who lives in New Zealand, has stepped away from a long teaching career, most recently at the University of Auckland, but he cannot stop working.
He admits to waking in the early hours, a habit for many years, and confronts the fact he’s pre-occupied with how much time he has left.
“When I was younger, I was fascinated with death, like a lot of writers.
“You’ll notice in a lot of my work, early stuff, even then I was analysing what it is, but I wasn’t afraid of it because I was young and in my head, I had a long future ahead.
“I can’t sleep, I have to get up so I wake and I read, and that’s the worst time for me, pondering this, even when I don’t want to worry about it.”
Vivid scenarios at work
During his 60s, Albert Wendt spent several years teaching, writing and painting in Hawaii, and was able to keep those thoughts at bay.
“We came back here in 2008 and I had three books to finish and for the first time, I realised I only had a short life left; that life is finite.
“This thing that I had been pondering as a sort of semi-abstract thing was now real.” He admits death scares him.
“It’s real and it’s in a frightening, scary way because in my head I keep saying, ‘well, I’ve got 10 years maybe to go’ and I don’t want the silence.
“The scary thought that you’re going to be absolutely nothing in the sense this memory and mind that you have, that allows you to be conscious and aware that you’re alive, is going to end.
“This fantastic life is going to end.” The vivid imagination required for a writer contributed to the fear, although sessions with a psychologist has brought it mostly under control.
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