I sat in my very first writer’s workshop the week after I left my soon-to-be-ex-husband. I was going to chase my dreams, damn it, along with raising two boys in diapers and finding a job and a place to live. The presenter said something along the lines of, “you can’t write a memoir before you are forty,” or maybe it was, “no one wants to publish a memoir by someone under forty,” or perhaps he said, “the world hates memoirists under forty so come back in five years, Chicky-Baby.” No, that last line was definitely my imagination. He was a very nice man and admitted that he himself had published a work of creative nonfiction at the age of thirty-five or something defiant like that.
I hate to be told what I can’t do. I was going to write a book and even though I was not-quite-thirty-five someone was going to publish it and people were going to read it, damn it, because my mother was a lesbian, my father had been married seven times, and I was already going on my second divorce. The world doesn’t give you this much material and expect you to wait to write it down. I had already waited long enough.
First, though, I had to find a job and a place to live and I had to raise these two kids who were still in diapers and it turned out that although I had managed to write hundreds of pages as a stay-at-home mother, my mom turned out to be right when she said that as a single mother my writing time would take a serious hit. I think I wrote ten new pages that first year. Five the year after that. Life consumed me and I lost my words for four years.
Eventually, though, the kids outgrew diapers (yay) and naps (bummer) and I found my groove. I went back to school and finished my undergrad degree. One of my classes required us to keep a private blog, and I discovered that my online persona was a lot more upbeat and funny than I am IRL. I started my own blog to force myself to write several days a week. Soon I started writing essays and memoir chapters again. When I graduated, I didn’t know what to do with all that free time, so I sat down every day and wrote for six-weeks straight, and ended up with a 276-page manuscript about my first marriage. It was crap. I realized I needed more schooling to write something publishable, so I found a low residency MFA program and spent the next two years learning to write better.
Once I completed my MFA, I once again didn’t know what to do with myself, so I wrote all day, every day until I finished Girlish. I revised, found beta-readers, revised it over and over until I couldn’t stand to look at it anymore, then started querying agents and editors. I was forty-two years old—finally old enough to publish a memoir.
I have recently come to admit that I really am middle aged, and it turns out that I don’t mind it all that much. I’ve written about Elephant Skin, Grinning Corpse Face, and Fighting Gravity as well as the lessons my mother passed on about aging gracefully. After spending most of my life rushing to grow up, I’m happy with the age I am—all forty-four years of it. I may be wrinklier, but I’m stronger than I have ever been, more confident, and I’ve finally learned how to manage my hair—at least on occasion.
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