I can characterize my forties as a time of focusing on my family, striving to create a stable home, and intense parenting. I loved that decade, but it came with a good portion of putting myself second. In fact, I put myself second so often that it started to feel normal. There were many times I’d arrive on vacation or a weekend away, open my suitcase, only to realize I had done a terrible job packing. So concerned was I with other people’s logistics and getting the dog to the kennel, a poor selection of clothing became a sort of metaphor. But my fifties are starting out differently. The house is quiet and my mantra is not to waste another minute. I have a better suitcase, and am more intentional about what I put in it.
In my fifties, I’ve started putting myself first. When you haven’t done it for a while, it feels like an indulgence. Writing used to feel like an indulgence as well. I spent most of my forties toying with pieces of a novel, never admitting to the world that I cared about it, because what if it never amounted to anything? What if it was tantamount to a gigantic waste of time, what if that critical voice in my head was right and I wasn’t any good?
In my fifties, I came out of the closet. I went public with my goals and got serious. Hard work on revisions landed me an agent and a small indie press willing to publish EDEN: A Novel. Then came the launch: creating a website, developing a social media following, and publicizing and promoting the book. All this effort involved an investment in myself, in terms of time and resources. But the biggest investment in myself was believing, and being willing to take a risk.
What was it about turning fifty that gave me the courage? Or maybe it’s not so much courage, but confidence, or a desire to fulfill my dreams. Even though I still feel young at fifty, the truth is, there’s no escaping an increased awareness of my mortality. With every loss of a loved one or a friend, the message is drilled in a little deeper: life is short, do it now. I’ll write and talk about my stories, fulfill my dream, if not just for me, then for all the people whose lives got cut short. In my mind there is no better way to honor their memory, or to show gratitude for the life I’ve been given, than to make the most of it.
If my forties were about the little humans in my care, while friendships shifted to the sidelines and went on maintenance mode, this new enterprise has involved hyper-connecting. The EDEN book tour became a “friendship tour”, propelling me out of my bubble to visit and spend time with people around the country. I have also made many new friends: first, there is the community of writers at Grub Street (my creative writing center in Boston), and my cadre of She Writes Press authors who are sharing a similar journey with me, but most importantly, I’ve connected with readers. EDEN touches on some heartrending topics around adoption and unplanned pregnancies, and people have written me saying the book impacted them greatly, even inspired discussions in their families about matters that had long since been swept under the rug.
My biggest supporter has been my wonderful husband of almost thirty years, but I think even he is a little shocked by the recent shift in my priorities. Our refrigerator is empty and the clothes hamper fills with dirty clothes while I am deep into reading a book or hunched over my laptop. I am more forgetful than usual and I recently broke a twenty-year hiatus with my old friend caffeine, now pounding coffee again. I am living with him, in our home, but little does he know I am time traveling most of the time into another reality – that of my characters and the plot I am twisting and turning in a world I am creating. When I am not writing, I am reading or listening to audio books or talking with other writers about writing, or taking writing classes. I am re-fashioning my existence around creating, imagining, and new ideas. And to think, that kernels of what I make up are finding homes in others’ minds…. Amazing. I no longer doubt what I have to offer the world, but I never counted on all the gifts I would receive in return.