Lives of Others


“Comparison, more than reality, makes men happy or wretched.” – Thomas Fuller

I assume I’m not the only one who thinks about where I “should” be at a certain age. In a steady job by 25, married by 30, taking kids to preschool by 35, etc. etc… And I also assume I’m not the only who compares myself to other people to either a) feel better about my situation ’cause they’re even further “behind” or b) feel discouraged/motivated because they’re further “ahead” than I am. My sister recently admitted to me that she’s constantly trying to guess the ages of strangers, particularly mothers, for that exact reason.

Even though the rational part of my brain understands that this is a silly thing to do, I can’t help but indulge myself every so often. Lately, I’ve found myself Wikipedia-ing the lives of famous writers and political activists. Hey, if Jack Kerouac didn’t finish writing On the Road until he was 29, that gives me almost 5 years to catch up…

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)

Best known for: On the Road, finished writing it in 1951 at the age of 29, published in 1957 at 35
Zodiac sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Lowell, Massachusetts
Academic background: Had a football scholarship at Columbia University, dropped out after injury; given a posthumous Doctor of Letters from University of Massachusetts
Work history: sports reporter, construction worker, joined the marines and the navy, wrote steadily but didn’t publish until On the Road made him famous
Marriage and children: Two ex-wives (first at age 22, second at age 29), one daughter
Worth noting: Problems with depression, alchohol and drug abuse; also honorably discharged from the military for “psychiatric” problems
Death: Died at the age of 47 due to an internal hemorrhage as a result of cirrhosis caused by a lifetime of heavy drinking

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948)

Best known for: Fighting discrimination against Indians in South Africa, starting more or less in 1893 at the age of 24, and leading India to independence from 1915 to 1945 (ages 46 to 76) through nonviolent civil disobedience.
Zodiac sign: Libra
Birthplace: Gujarat, India
Academic background: Went to law school in London, England around the age of 19
Work history: Worked as a lacklustre lawyer, which is what brought him to South Africa and started his whole political activism thing
Marriage and children: Had an arranged marriage at the age of 13 to Kasturbai Makhanji (14). Had 4 sons, the first at the age of 18ish
Worth noting: Was awesome.
Death: Assassinated at the age of 79. 😦

Mary Shelley (1797-1851)

Best known for: Frankenstein, published in 1818 at the age of 21 (started writing it when she was 18)
Zodiac sign: Virgo
Birthplace: London, England
Academic background: No formal education, but highly educated by her father and tutors
Work history: Full-time writer
Marriage and children: Married Percy B. Shelley when she was 19, had 3 children though only 1 survived
Worth noting: Had an affair (and a baby) with Percy until his wife committed suicide, after which they got married
Death: Illness likely caused by a brain tumour at the age of 53

Nelson Mandela (1918-)

Best known for: South Africa’s first black president elected by a fully democratic election, and badass anti-apartheid activist. He was inaugurated at the age of 76.
Zodiac sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Umtata, South Africa
Academic background: Earned his B.A. though correspondence and earned his law degree from the University of London while in prison.
Work history: Had a scattered political career, spent 27 years in prison for being a badass activist
Marriage and children: Married three times, at the ages of 26, 40 and 80. Had six children.
Worth nothing: Won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 (shared with another guy) at the age of 75.
Death: Don’t be morbid.

Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)

Best known for: Cat’s Cradle (1963), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Breakfast of Champions (1973), but he published his first novel Player Piano at the age of 30 in 1952
Zodiac sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Indianapolis, Indiana
Academic background: Studied chemistry and mechanical engineering, did graduate studies in anthropology (Cat’s Cradle was accepted as his thesis)
Work history: Served in WW2, worked as a reporter (briefly for Sports Illustrated and did PR for General Electric), managed a car dealership
Marriage and children: Married for the first time around 1945 (age 23), the second time around 1979 (age 57), raised 3 children from his first marriage, adopted 3 of his nieces and nephews after his sister died of cancer and adopted a 7th with his second wife
Worth noting: Attempted suicide in 1984
Death: Brain injuries sustained during a fall in his home at the age of 85

J.K. Rowling (1965-)

Best known for: Harry Potter series, first of which was published in 1997 at the age of 32
Zodiac sign: Leo
Birthplace: Gloucestershire, England
Academic background: BA in French and Classics. Has a bunch of honorary degrees.
Work history: Worked as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International, taught English in Portugal, studied for her postgraduate certificate of education while on welfare
Marriage and children: First married at the age of 27, and again at the age of 36. Has 3 kids, the first born when she was 28.
Worth noting: Suffered from depression. Came up with dementors during this time.
Death: 😦

Just a few things I thought were interesting: Both Kerouac and Vonnegut were born in 1922. Both On the Road and The Catcher in the Rye were published in 1951. Almost everyone lost family members early on in their lives, and kind of stumbled into their biggest successes. They all have different Zodiac signs.

(SOMEONE better get something out of this post, ’cause it took for-e-ver.)

7 thoughts on “Lives of Others

  1. What I get from this post is that most writers don’t become really successful until a little later in their lives, but do lots of cool (and sometimes tragic) things leading up to it. What I also get from this post is there’s still time for you to write your first book of travel literature and dedicate it to me (or at least give me the very first signed copy).

    (My comments are always overly supportive… Maybe if I was less supportive, it would be more meaningful when I showed it.)

  2. Laura: Aw, I appreciate the support in any case. It’s always meaningful! I promise!

    Amy: LOL, thank you for immortalizing that hilarious typo here ’cause I’ve fixed it.

  3. It’s funny you do a post on this Zalina. I think we all compare ourselves to others — whether it’s to “famous” writers or just other people our age, or younger, who appear to be doing better in their careers than we are. Is it healthy? Likely not. But sometimes doing those comparisons can also be the kick in the pants we need to move forward.

    But Zalina, I think you are great and don’t have to worry if you are not exactly where all those writers above were at your age.

    1. Thanks, Sarah! I think we could all drive ourselves crazy with comparisons, so I’m resolved to chillax a bit… for now. 😀

  4. Again, nail on the head. You are completely right. There were days I would watch Jerry Springer’s show for this exact reason. It would make me laugh and put me in a better mood because no matter how bad I had it, I still had my teeth and wasn’t shacking up with my brother and my husband’s best friend.
    It’s easy to look only inward. It’s also easy to only look outward. When we focus too much on our past we become depressed. Focusing too much on the future, causes anxiety. It’s AWESOME to note what other people have done though and important to note when as well. This helps to encourage our hope, our dreams, our hard work and determination. It’s very helpful. Looking at someone else can show us things to do and not do and ways to act and not act, just purely based on your impression of them. Would you really want someone to react to you the way you react when you see something you don’t like or don’t want to be? It’s an impression, and idea of what we want, and the things we dream up in our head either being demonstrated, or completely obliterated, by things we see in others. I really apprecaite this post. It’s AWESOME!!! I am going to link it to my page tonight, if you don’t mind??? Thank you so much!

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