Many years ago I took great comfort in reading that Annie Proulx didn’t start writing in earnest until she was 50-years- old. The Shipping News is one of my all time favorite novels and the image of her coming into her writing zone at mid-life felt like a calming hand on my shoulder telling me to be patient about my own stalled output.
Raising three children was front and center during my 30′s and 40′s and what bits of artistic expression emerged during those years were like leaks as opposed to intentional creations. I have learned that it’s more than just not having the time to create that stops many of us from doing what we love, it’s also that we channel the accumulated wisdom and calmness of purpose that guides our hands and mouths as we age.
The best example of this is my own mother, Sydell. While I was growing up, my mom painted and her work was always amazing. She sometimes had a studio and sometimes did illustrations for an organization she was volunteering for but, if I introduced her, I wouldn’t have said,” meet my mom, she’s an artist.” Artistic yes, but not a working artist. Yet, long after her three children were adults with children of their own she returned to painting.
Over the past few years she has won many awards in juried shows, has a gallery that exhibits her work and sells her paintings for thousands of dollars. She is an inspiration not only to me and my siblings who see this as her destiny but to our children, especially our daughters, who recognize that it is never too late to honor our innate talents. When my mother won first prize the first time at the show at the Armory in Palm Beach, she said that she felt her mother’s hand guiding her. My grandmother, a very artistic and independent woman, would have been proud to see her success.We arranged, by email, to have a drink after work in a local bar.
Women’s lives are about sequencing. The promise of first wave feminism seemed to guarantee that if we wanted it all we could have it all. I believed that being a mom was not going to interfere with my career or productivity of any kind. What I found however is that the emotional choices were not so easy even if we had choices our mothers didn’t have. Choice felt like an illusion when my kids were little and even “choosing to stay at home” might not really have been a choice at all.
But thanks to my mom and Annie Proulx, I have learned that we get to return to the parts of us that may retreat during the years we are building careers or families. And the choice to do so is entirely ours.
Yesterday, I spoke to a dear friend who moved to California a while ago. She told me that she is an empty nester and feels exhilarated; like she’s 21 again. “I’m not sad that my girls are out of the house,” she told me. “I feel that I accomplished a great thing in raising them. Now it is time to reconnect with me and I’m finding it pretty easy to do!”
When I consider my mother’s renaissance I think it’s a story not unlike the Wizard of Oz. To return to your self and express it fully, is like returning home. Connection to the part of ourselves that can only be accessed by our own desire to do so makes these moments precious, and with age comes the wisdom to recognize that preciousness.
As Glinda so famously said, we always had the power.