Monday, August 25, 2014

The new page that’s tomorrow


“At the age of seventeen, working as a delivery boy at Afremow’s drugstore in Chicago was the perfect job, because it made it possible for me to steal enough sleeping pills to commit suicide.”

Sidney Sheldon
That’s the opening sentence of the autobiography of a man who became a best-selling popular fiction writer apart from making a name for himself in Hollywood, Sidney Sheldon.

Born in 1917, Sheldon had to live his adolescence through the Great Depression.  His mother, Natalie, was born in Russia, a country which drove her family out along with many others during a pogrom against Jews.  She was a dreamer, according to Sheldon.  She dreamt of marrying a prince.  But the husband she got was Otto, “a street fighter who had dropped out of school after the sixth grade.”

Poverty at home.  Great Depression in the country.  Nothing to cling on to, nothing to look forward to.  The young Sheldon managed to grab enough sleeping pills from his workplace, enough to kill him.  He got some whisky from his father’s bottle and got ready to gulp down the sleeping pills with a good shot of whisky.  It was then that his father entered the room.

He told his father, “You can’t stop me, because if you stop me now I’ll do it tomorrow.”  His father took him out for a walk.  Sidney explained his position.  “My fantasy was to go to college, but there was no money for that.  My dream had been to be a writer.”  All his stories which he sent to various editors won “black printed rejections. I had finally decided I couldn’t spend the rest of my life in the suffocating misery.”

A writer, is that what you dreamt of being? asked his father.  “You don’t know what can happen tomorrow.  Life is like a novel, isn’t it?  It’s filled with suspense.  You have no idea what’s going to happen until you turn the next page.”

His father succeeded in talking Sidney out of his suicidal thoughts.  He died in 2007 at the ripe age of 90.

I have never been a fan of Sidney Sheldon though I used to enjoy reading his novels during the long annual train journeys I made from my home state to my workplace.   As I grew out of youth Sidney Sheldon fell out of my favour.  But when his autobiography was published I felt a strong urge to read it.  I wrote a blog on it too.


Now, about a decade down the line, Sheldon’s struggles came back to my memory.  It seems both funny and awkward that at this stage in life I wanted someone to reassure me that life is like a novel whose next page could make a lot of difference.  Also, I know, it doesn’t happen that way.  I mean no difference will come from out there.  Life isn’t that benign.  We have to write in that difference on the next page.  We have to become the author of the book that our life is.  I’m left bemused by the fact that Sidney Sheldon, of all people, turned up in my consciousness at this juncture when the last book of his I read was the autobiography and I really didn’t like it.  Life can be funny indeed.  And tomorrow can be a miraculous page depending on what I choose to write on it. 

22 comments:

  1. Sheldon first brought me my first tryst with literary feminism. His protagonists are almost invariably women.

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    1. You're right, Chinmoy. In fact, his mother was the most beloved person to him. His heroines are far stronger people than his heroes.

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  2. What a wonderful post! It made me pause and think!

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  3. I have read many Sidney Sheldon books and reading his autobiography is on my list of to-read books.
    I feel tempted at times to read a couple of Sheldon books again, just to see if they still manage to impress me and move me as much.
    When I do, I will surely write about it.

    We do have to choose what to write for the days to come, but I still believe that life does manage to surprise at times... naive of me?

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    1. No, Nimi, not at all naive. Life does hold a lot of surprises for us; it can simply topple all our plans sometimes - sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

      I'd be interested to know what you think of Sheldon now when you reread him. I can't bring myself to read him again.

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  4. Replies
    1. Once Sheldon attained fame and success his life was more like a Hollywood movie, not inspiring in any way. But yes, the beginnings were extremely challenging and hence inspiring.

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  5. Nice story. Everyone goes through ups and down. Some become successful others don't. Everyone probably gets a break sometime or other. Trick is to hang in there to tell the story later.

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    1. Indeed, the trick is to hang on. Once we learn to hang on and eventually to overcome the hurdle, we learn how to manage anything else. In fact, one big break leads to a lot more big breaks. The more you have, the more you get.!

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  6. Though I was never a Sheldon fan I read one of his novel as I was out of books I saw it lying on my roomate's table. It was one of the fastest read. An optimist who writes dark his life was a kind of inspiration for me. Thanks for bringing his story forward.

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    1. His novels are meant only for that, Datta: rapid reading, whiling away time, light read, etc.

      Yes, his youth inspires.

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  7. Have read a good number of Sheldon...I like them... :-) yet to read the autobiography though... nice reading your thoughts about his life and works...

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    1. Read his autobiography only if you liked and still like his novels.

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  8. Good to know about the person whose one or two novels I have read.

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    1. Life is a struggle for those who make beautiful stories. How beautiful, you decide.

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  9. "We have to write in that difference on the next page. And tomorrow can be a miraculous page depending on what I choose to write on it. " Beautiful lines. I was addicted to his books for sometime.
    Never made an attempt to know about his personal. His personal life is inspiring. Thank you for the share :)

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    1. The struggle was inspiring. After that he became a typical American. :)

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  10. But Sheldon's father spoke to a teenager who was emotional and easily influenced. He would not have chosen to say so to an adult perhaps. He would have spoken these words to an adult: "Being a grown up man, why don't you try to change your destiny than to give in yourself to it? Remember, you are not an adolescent now!" This will surely affect the adult ego, I bet.

    Even in Sheldon's autobiography, he might have brought in this anecdote only for the teenagers who are in need of such words. I think, sir, you or I may not be the target readers for Sheldon.

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    1. No, of course, the same strategy won't work with adults. Not because of ego but because of the layers of experiences that make the adult personality more complex and complicated. A person with a big ego will not contemplate suicide, in the first place.

      Sheldon's autobiography is titled "The Other Side of Me" [A play on the title of one of his most popular novels - 'The Other side of Midnight']. He wrote it not targeting any particular age group but to show readers how difficult a childhood and adolescence he had.

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