Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about age. In particular, my age, now on the flip side of forty. Maybe it’s because a New Year is upon us. Or perhaps it’s because every time my four-year-old meets new friends on the playground, the first question they ask each other is not, “What’s your name?” but “How old are you?” As if revealing your age is a secret handshake in the toddler-plus crowd. So long as you’re not a baby, you usually have an “in.”The other night when I was putting my son to bed, he reminded me that he was turning five in June. I told him it was fine by me if he stayed four. “Nope, five,” he confirmed. “Then I’m going to kindergarten,” as if he could hear my heart breaking. When he asked how old I was, I lied like any mom worth her age: “Twenty-two.” In less than a beat, he exclaimed (and I quote verbatim): “Holy cow! I didn’t know you were that many years old.”
My husband and I joke that we’re “getting old”; we’ve both thrown out our backs at various times, and though he continues to play hockey and I try to run a few times a week, we’ve had to face the fact that we’re no longer young whippersnappers. When my mother was my age, I was a sophomore in college. I have a four-year-old. It’s enough to make my head spin.I’m also probably hyper-aware of my age right now because I have a debut novel out this month. Most debut authors are in their twenties, right? There’s the New Yorker collection of writers, 20 Under 40, after all. So, I have to wonder: what about those of us who are debuting on the flip side of forty?
Ironically, I can recall the struggle of trying to be taken seriously when I was an associate book editor in my twenties. I didn’t like it, but the truth was, I still had a lot to learn. Age brings a multitude of experiences – and with it, I now understand, comes perspective. If I had written my first novel when I was younger, it would have surely been a story with circumscribed borders, a limited perspective, a fair dose of naiveté.That’s not to say great writers don’t appear in their twenties and thirties –to the contrary, they most certainly do. But for me, I needed the years after college -- the years of living as a single girl in the city, then as a wife and stepmom, and finally as a new mother -- to gain the necessary perspective to tell the story that I do in Three Good Things. I could have never written, for instance, the chapters of the younger sister, Lanie, who has a ten-month-old baby, without being a mom myself. I also don’t think I would have so readily identified with the older sister, Ellen, who tries to start her life anew by opening a kringle bakery, if I’d imagined her when I was younger. And let’s be honest, with age comes a stage in life (and, we hope, some financial stability) that allows us to take a chance on writing, to take that leap because we’re suddenly all too aware that life is short.
On her website, Claire Cook tells the inspiring story of writing her first novel in her minivan while she waited out her kids’ sporting events (http://www.clairecook.com/). She was forty-five. And she shares some illustrious company. I stumbled upon the following post by the wonderful Randy Susan Myers that lists debut authors over forty : (http://www.randysusanmeyers.com/2012/07/debut-novels-by-writers-over-40/). I was surprised to learn, for instance, that Paul Harding, author of Tinkers, was 42 at publication, or that Sue Monk Kidd, author of one my favorite novels, The Secret Life of Bees, was 54 upon her debut as a novelist (though she'd published memoirs before that). Or that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her first Little House book in the series when she was 65. It’s enough to give the rest of us hope.
And now we can thankfully turn to Bloom (http://bloom-site.com) to read about noteworthy authors over forty. Sonya Chung, founding editor, described her motivation for launching Bloom in a recent Huffington Post article: “The truth of it is that the majority of writers take a lot of time to write their best book, that detours happen, and sometimes those detours can be very fruitful.” I was reminded of this again as I was reading a review of Katrina Kenison’s newly released memoir, Magical Journey. Our lives are all journeys; what we make of them is up to us.Maybe it’s no coincidence that one my favorite childhood books was Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus. The story was a comforting reminder that we all blossom in our own good time. And maybe forty-something isn't "late," per se. As Tessa Hadley, author of Married Love and Other Stories, says so well on Bloom: “Eventually you find your own house and you let yourself in your front door.”
May we all find our own houses, our own front doors, in our own time. ~