At 75, I have some perspective on that. I know it’s true.
For years I had a dream—to write every day, to be published regularly, to earn enough money through my writing efforts to feed my word habit, even if I wasn’t yet getting a living wage. (I’m still working on that.) But I lacked the confidence/courage/ support to conjure the dream into reality.
I did self-publish two cookbooks, and a publisher with little marketing clout picked up the third. I helped write jingles for a children’s nutrition coloring book. But none of these pleasurable ventures paid the bills.
I made all kinds of excuses. At 40 I was pregnant with my youngest child and running a health food business with my first husband. I squeezed in my writing as a refuge from the hectic, often exhausting, pace (for instance, nursing the baby while a delivery truck for our health food store came at 8 a.m.). I wrote mostly about healthy foods and kept a journal about my pregnancy and my daughter’s first year, as well as writing a newsletter that made no money. I also wrote a weekly column called “Kitchen Nutrition” that paid a pittance, but it did put my name in print. That felt good!
At 50, when I was experiencing pre-divorce jitters and menopause at the same time, my focus was on surviving, financially and emotionally. Again, I wrote mostly rhymes to relieve the double-stress of my situation, often crying into a towel as the feelings of anger, frustration, and betrayal erupted onto lines on the paper.
By my 60s I was reinventing myself, since my divorce left me nearly broke after my ex-husband lost our family business after I moved out. I went back to college for a second degree in Nutrition Education and moved to Seattle, where I lived with a friend and became a personal chef and cooking instructor. I wrote a couple of articles for local magazines, but was too busy surviving financially to do much writing. I loved Seattle, but I eventually returned to central Pennsylvania because of financial and family issues.
By 70 I was recently remarried. This required another move and another reinvention of my life. By then, on my son’s advice, I had just started a blog-turned-website, www.menupause.info, as an outlet for my energies. It has been a great emotional/educational outlet, but not a financial resource, because I did not want it to become a business with ads and mail-order. I wanted an unfettered, uncensored opportunity to write when I chose, without editorial parameters. Just my voice.
While I had claimed myself a “writer” at a New Year’s Eve yoga retreat center in 2000, the truth was that my cookbooks and other publications (a newsletter and computer primer for seniors that earned me a brief salary) never really earned enough money to make freelance writing my “career”; it was merely a hobby or a way to make extra money. I didn’t feel I had the right to stop substituting in the school system or edit other people’s theses and just write.
But when I turned 75 this past December, I realized that the hourglass has more sand in the bottom than in the top. I found myself persuaded by the idea that 50 might indeed be just a warm-up age—that it is possible, after divorce, widowhood, a failed business, and seven decades of life, to begin again.
Deciding to sail for the horizon has had a tsunamic effect on me. I seem to have a flood of ideas for articles nearly every day. I realize that I am more of a yacht (short pieces) than an ocean liner (novels). And nonfiction and rhymes are more my speed than fiction. Knowing what I feel comfortable writing about is part of the “side effects” of waking up to my particular skills and affirming myself as a writer.
And I no longer need to make money at my craft to believe I am a writer. The difference between my writing when I was younger and my work now is that back then I yearned to be “famous.” Now I just like the fact that people find my articles helpful. And I already have an audience: In the three months since I made my decision, three of my articles have been published in Women’s Voices for Change, another is scheduled for this Sunday, and I’ve begun sending my essays to magazines and other sites.
Now I can say that writing is the passion I want to pursue full throttle, and not worry so much about the money. I need to write, without guilt or apologies, just joy. Words are my oxygen, and “write now” I am breathing fine!
Image by sbpoet via Flickr.