Because my release day fell on my birthday, I’ve already written a little about writing and age. One of the best things about writing, I believe, is that you can do it at any age. It belongs to you at any age. As long as you want to put words on paper, you can, although how you approach it might change. How it affects you, and what it means to you, will probably evolve over time.
I’ve already told the story of how I discovered the joys of writing in the first grade, very shortly after I learned to write at all, and how proud I was of that inaugural literary effort. It does seem interesting to me, when I look back, that I was probably paying as much attention to the actual making of letters when I wrote The Magic Mittens as I was to what my words were saying. I wish I could remember how that felt—to be writing when just forming the letters was still an effort.
These days, my printing is a lot less tidy, and my writing is more generous, words gushing out unconstrained by the need for neatness or a dictionary. There’s something wonderful about growing older and becoming less self-conscious in so many ways. As a teenager and a young woman, I was often preoccupied with how I looked, what people might think of the things I said and did. I think I was even self-conscious about what I wrote, while I was writing it. At forty-four, I am no longer burdened by these considerations. I’m more willing to let things spill out, to make mistakes. I’m comfortable with being loud, being noticed, whether it’s positive attention or not, and I’m more comfortable saying what I truly want to say on the page.
When I look back on writing and its place in my life, I notice a pattern of moving in and out, like a tide. I went through a period in my late teens when I was writing a lot of poetry. Multiple poems a day, just little bits of this and that about anything and everything. It was almost like my brain was wiring itself to be in the writing world. I created hundreds of poems over the span of less than a year. Most of them weren’t particularly good, but it didn’t matter. They were how I learned to play with words and making images, how I experimented with rhythm and line breaks. But then, I pulled away from writing. I decided to focus on painting, to do a bachelor of fine arts degree. I did keep writing on the side, but it wasn’t the same. The babbling brook of endless poems quieted down, but all the things I was learning still kept feeding my writing. While I was in that fine arts program I wrote my first poetry chapbook, called Michelangelo and Me (I believe it is still available over at Finishing Line Press). I was taking a course in Renaissance Art as part of my art history requirement, and I became obsessed with him. I read The Agony and the Ecstasy and had a vision of a woman whose home is suddenly invaded by Michelangelo setting up a studio in her bedroom, and the poems sprang from that idea.
After earning my degree in fine arts, doing a master’s in art history seemed like a logical next step to me. Believe it or not, this was my way of being practical. Again, writing anything creative took a backseat to all the research I was doing and the academic papers I was writing. After I graduated, I remember starting a first novel and working on it during my lunch hour in the cafeteria next to the art gallery where I was interning. I finished that book and edited it, then put it in a drawer. It wasn’t very good, but it served its purpose—I just wanted to know if I could finish a project that long. I was twenty-five years old.
I kept writing throughout my twenties, though never with the same fervor I’d had when I was first finding my way through poetry. I published the chapbook and sent short stories to magazines, sometimes getting published or recognized in a contest, but then, when I was twenty-nine, I had my first child.
This is where I truly got sidetracked. I won’t go on and on about that because I’ve written about it before (see Unbalanced: A Tale of Motherhood), but having children was quite a distraction from…well, everything else. I remember writing one poem when my son was two, and that was pretty much it for eight or nine years. By the time writing found me again, I had aged—I started writing The Dream Peddler when I was thirty-eight years old. All that time had passed.
I think about that time a lot. I wonder if it might be a shame that I lost so much of it, in a sense, so much time that I could have spent writing and improving my craft, but looking back on my children and all the things we did, how I was able to be there for every milestone, every fever, shot, bubble bath, and belly laugh, I know I’ll never believe that. If I wasn’t writing, then it wasn’t my time to write. I think if I had been working on a project that was really important to me and tried to push through that while raising my kids, tried to find an agent and an editor to buy it and then go through all the difficulties of editing and debuting a book, I would have lost too much. My attention would have been too severely divided, and I’ve never been very good at multitasking.
Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m really glad that all my focus was on my children when they were young and needed me more. I’m debuting at forty-four, but I think debuting young is over-rated. I know it’s probably partly my nature, but I don’t think I feel the same amount of stress over this as some of the younger people I see debuting all around me. I think having a family first, and having these extra years under my belt, helps me to remember that my whole life doesn’t need to revolve around this book. If I were a lot younger, the book would have a much bigger place in my life, it would be more important. I might even make the mistake of wrapping my own identity up in the book, and I’m so glad that I’ve reached a point in my life where I know better than to do that.
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