Not even close. My husband paints houses for a living. There are times during the year when I am the sole bread winner, such as right around the holidays, when no one wants a guy in paint-smattered work clothes covering the living room furniture with drop cloths while they try to decorate the Christmas tree. It is also that time of year when you need a little more money to buy gifts and the fixings for the holiday party because your sisters told you it's your turn to host this year. To add insult to injury, the New Hampshire town we lived in collected semi-annual real estate taxes on December 15th. I'd keep telling myself, next year I won't use the credit card for Christmas shopping. It never worked out that way and it finally got to the point where the 4th of July is now my favorite holiday.
I have no idea what Tom Hanks is like in real life, but some of the roles he has played remind me of my husband. Definitely Josh in the movie Big, mainly because he's a fun-loving, grownup kid who rarely plans ahead. He never really listens when I stress out over the bills. He sleeps peacefully, snoring next to me while I lie awake at night thinking about the FAFSA form I need to fill out before the deadline. On any given day, he has no idea what the balance in the checkbook is.
Like Tom Hanks' wife Rita Wilson, I am in my fifties. My children have flown the nest. But I am not a movie star. I've spent a lifetime working in accounting. I won't bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, it was never my passion. By the fall of 2012, I was trapped in a boring job in a cubicle, slowly unraveling. To be honest, I was in the midst of having a nervous breakdown. But there was one thing that helped me keep my sanity. Late at night, at the witching hour of three a.m. when many other women in their fifties are also awake, I was writing a novel. The Reverse Commute. A story about a woman in her fifties working in a cubicle, dreaming of a better life running a bed and breakfast on a Caribbean island. A true story you ask? Good question. More like a roman a clef. Possibly.
Right around the time I self-published the novel, Rita Wilson wrote a piece for the Huffington Post celebrating the first birthday of HuffPost 50. Her words encouraged me to keep believing in myself.
I took her positive thinking to heart and carried on with my plan. We sold the house and pretty much everything we owned. I quit the cubicle. Like the Clampetts, we loaded up the truck and moved. Now in a perfect world, it would have been to Beverly -- Hills that is. Swimmin' pools, movie stars. Where my husband, the famous movie star Tom Hanks, would have the option for the screenplay The Reverse Commute, The Movie. I can see myself, 20 pounds thinner, in a lovely svelte azure gown that makes my eyes pop, accepting the academy award for best original screenplay adapted from a novel. Rita could play Sophie, the dreamer of a better life in her fifties, and Tom could be her hapless but lovable husband Ray.
It hasn't happened yet. I am in Florida, another state famous for its palm trees, where I am working temporary accounting jobs because I am not earning enough money from writing to pay the bills. But I am still writing. I just finished and self published my second novel, Take Me Home. Another story of people in their fifties chasing the dream of a better, more fulfilling life. Like Rita Wilson, my characters believe it is never too late to do the things you always wanted to do. To try and reach for the brass ring.
"I remember when the ticket man opened the gate, I'd run to get the prettiest horse, one that went up and down, on the outside, so I could reach for the brass ring." "Of course you did," he said, his warm lips on her cold cheek. - Take Me Home by Sheila Blanchette
I won't kid you, the past year hasn't been as easy as I imagined it would be. Sure, there are palm trees and I don't have to shovel sunshine. The weather is definitely better. I have more time to walk, which keeps me sane and healthy. When we first started our new life in Florida, we struggled with healthcare. Our COBRA payments were wreaking havoc on our new and reduced budget, but now Obamacare has cut that bill in half. So, there is also that.
You don't need to be rich and famous to follow your dreams and if you do take the risk, you may not succeed in the way you hope to. But if I am not quite living the life yet, I am still dreaming the dream. I was broke back in New Hampshire, I struggled to pay the bills. I am slightly less broke in Florida, I still struggle to pay the bills. But I have more time to write, here, and on my blog, and a third novel I have started. I no longer feel trapped in that cubicle.
Notice I said I am not living The Life YET. Like a character in my first book says, "Not yet. That's good. Ya gotta believe." I still do believe. In myself, in following my passion, and in living every day not the way others think I should live it, but the way I want to live it.
In The Reverse Commute, Sophie meets a woman at a farmer's market who was unhappy working at her job in a pharmaceutical company. In her fifties, she and her husband quit their jobs, bought a farm, raised goats and made cheese. That woman has been fictionalized in my book, but she does exist. I met her. She inspired me, as do many men and women in their fifties who are rewriting the rules and chasing their dreams. I am here to tell you, Rita Wilson is right. "The future is there to be defined by you." Life is short. Be brave. If I can do it, so can you.
"Wow. It must be hard work though, getting up early, milking the goats, making the cheese?" Sophie asked. "Nothing's too hard when you're doing what you love. We didn't think about it, we just did it. We had no fear," the woman replied. "I work in accounting, in a cubicle. I hate my job, too. I have a dream of running a bed and breakfast in the islands. I'm going to be fifty this year." "Life is short, dear." "I know that. I lost my best, life long friend to breast cancer four years ago. Life is very short." "It's never too late to find yourself. Follow your dream. Be brave."
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