Lately, I've been thinking a lot about age. In particular, my age, now on the flip side of 40. Maybe it's because a New Year is upon us. Or perhaps it's because every time my four-year-old meets a new friend at the playground, the first question they ask each other is not, "What's your name?" but "How old are you?" As if revealing their age is a secret handshake in the toddler-plus crowd.
The other night when I was putting my son to bed, he reminded me that he would turn five in June. I told him it was fine by me if he stayed four. "Nope, five," he confirmed. "Then I'm going to kindergarten," as if he could hear my heart breaking. When he asked how old I was, I lied like any mom worth her age: "22." In less than a beat, he exclaimed (and I quote verbatim): "Holy cow! I didn't know you were that many years old."
My husband and I joke that we're "getting old"; we've both thrown out our backs at various times, and though he continues to play hockey and I try to run a few times a week, we've had to face the fact that we're no longer young whippersnappers. When my mother was my age, I was a sophomore in college. I have a four-year-old. It's enough to make my head spin.
I'm also probably hyper-aware of my age right now because I have a first novel out this month. And debut fiction is the province of the young, right? There's The New Yorker collection of writers 20 Under 40, after all. Most of us assume that a "fresh new voice" is synonymous with "youth."
So, I have to wonder: what about those of us who debut on the flip side of 40?
Ironically, I can recall the struggle of trying to be taken seriously when I was an associate book editor in my 20s. I didn't like it, but the truth was, I still had a lot to learn. Age brings a multitude of experiences -- and with it, I now understand, comes perspective. If I had written my first novel when I was younger, it would have surely been a story with circumscribed borders, a limited perspective and a fair dose of naiveté. It probably would have been set on a college campus and featured some great heartbreak.
That's not to say wonderful writers don't appear in their 20s and 30s -- as we've seen time and again, they most certainly do. But for me, I needed the years after college -- those years of living as a single girl in the city, then as a wife and stepmom, and finally as a new mother -- to gain the necessary perspective to tell the story that I do in Three Good Things.
I could have never written, for instance, the chapters of the younger sister, Lanie, who has a 10-month-old baby, without being a mom myself. I also don't think I would have so readily identified with the older sister, Ellen, who starts her life anew by opening a kringle bakery, if I'd imagined her when I was younger. Ten years ago, I would have seen little humor in Ellen's predicament, but now I understand what a powerful thing it can be to laugh at ourselves on occasion. And, of course, with age comes a stage in life (and, we hope, some financial stability) that allows us to take a chance on writing, to take that leap because we're suddenly all too aware that life is short.
On her website, Claire Cook tells the inspiring story of writing her first novel, Ready to Fall, in her minivan while she waited for her daughter's swim practices to wrap up (http://www.clairecook.com). She was forty-five. And she shares some illustrious company. I stumbled upon a blog post by the wonderful Randy Susan Myers listing debut authors over 40. I was surprised to learn, for instance, that Paul Harding, author of Tinkers, was 42 at publication, or that Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees, was in her 50s upon her fiction debut (though she'd published memoirs before that). Or that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her first Little House book in the series when she was 65. It's enough to give the rest of us hope.
And now we can turn to Bloom to read about noteworthy authors over forty. Sonya Chung, founding editor, described her motivation for launching Bloom in a recent Huffington Post article: "The truth of it is that the majority of writers take a lot of time to write their best book, that detours happen, and sometimes those detours can be very fruitful." I was reminded of this again as I was reading a review of Katrina Kenison's newly released memoir, Magical Journey. Our lives are all journeys; what we make of them is up to us.
Maybe it's no coincidence that one my favorite childhood books was Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus. The story was a comforting reminder that we all blossom in our own good time. And maybe forty-something isn't "late," per se. As the lovely Tessa Hadley, author of Married Love and Other Stories, says so well: "Eventually you find your own house and you let yourself in your front door."
May we all find our own houses, our own front doors. And in our own time.