Running Down a Dream

When my first book is published, I will be forty-seven years old.

This dream has been cyclical—one I’ve embraced and abandoned multiple times throughout my life. I wrote my first story in the sixth grade. It was depressing: An old, lonely widow (who loves celery) visits the grave of his wife. I gave it to my dad for his birthday, and was baffled by how hard he laughed after he finished reading it. It was supposed to be a sad story. My brother did the cover art:

But then I was called away to follow other dreams. I was a volleyball player. A musician. A cross-country runner and water polo player. I was a sorority girl and an artist. It wasn’t until my twenties that I found writing again. When I worked at Berkeley, I could take classes for almost no money, so I signed up for a short story class. My professor was a renowned writer herself (I don’t remember who she was, but she was Very Important). She loved my work and invited me to be part of a smaller, more private writing group…for a small fee. I had just enough money at the end of every month to keep me in books and beer. I declined.

So again, I wandered away from writing. I became a teacher and a mother. The next twenty years melted away, and I was forty-two before I came back to it. Someone had asked me what my perfect day would be…and I fell into a long fantasy about dropping my kids off at school and having the house to myself to do some kind of work where I didn’t have to herd children from one place to another, or navigate tricky school politics. At that point, I realized my life was passing me by, and if I wanted to be a writer someday, then someday needed to be now.

Like everyone else, I see these young phenoms graduate college, write a book and land 7-figure book deals, and I marvel at their luck and talent. I know with certainty I could never have done that in my twenties. I didn’t have enough to say. I hadn’t lived enough life, loved – or lost – enough people.

I couldn’t have done it in my thirties either. With two young children demanding minutes I never knew existed, I was bleary and foggy. I could barely string a full sentence together, let alone write an entire novel. I considered it a good day when we were all still alive at the end of it.

As a teacher, I do an exercise to teach kids how harmful unkind words can be. We take a large paper heart and let the kids say mean things to it—things they’ve heard, or things that have been said to them. With each insult, we crumple the heart. Rip it. Poke holes in it. We talk about how unkind words and deeds can do this, and that once it’s done, the damage can’t be undone with an apology. I haven’t figured out how to tell them, though, that it’s the people with the crumpled hearts who have the most to say.

My heart has been crumpled and smoothed out many times in the years between my first story and the one that’s getting published. I’ve fallen in love. I’ve lost family members. Friends have died—young and suddenly, or slow and painfully. I’ve lived through a bad marriage and a divorce, and am raising my kids as a single mother. I lost my best friend to cancer, and then contracted the disease myself three years later. The gift of debuting in your forties is that you’ve seen enough to know nothing is guaranteed, and that growing old is a blessing, not a curse. You stop comparing yourself to others, and at some point realize that none of it is a race. No one gets a special prize for reaching the finish line first. A book deal at forty-seven is just as wonderful as a book deal at twenty-seven.

And I’ve learned something important: I could not have written this book any sooner. Now is the perfect time—finally—to chase this dream.

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Born and raised in Santa Monica, California, Julie Clark grew up reading books on the beach while everyone else surfed. After attending college at University of the Pacific, and a brief stint working in the athletic department at University of California, Berkeley, she returned home to Santa Monica to teach. She now lives there with her two young sons and a golden doodle with poor impulse control. Her debut, THE ONES WE CHOOSE, will be published by Gallery/Simon & Schuster in May 2018.

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This article has 6 Comments

  1. A book deal is a big deal. And you my friend are the biggest deal. Each decade has its own personality and its fun to see how we fit in. I can attest that the 8th decade is truly a blessing.

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