by Lisa Rivero
The older I get, the more I believe in late bloomers.
Last weekend my husband and I had supper with a couple of college students. The two of them were talking about someone who had already had a book published at their age. They shook their heads and lamented their comparative late starts, feeling behind the curve at age twenty.
I could only smile.
One of the marvelous aspects of being a writer, one that I never really appreciated until recently, is how little precocity plays a role and how much we have to look forward to with time. We writers are not like mathematicians or musicians, who must train hard and fast during the difficult years of puberty if they are ever going to make a real mark in the world. That’s not to say that young writers are not capable of giving us marvelous works of literature. As Malcolm Gladwell reminds us, T. S. Eliot wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” when he was only twenty-three. But Gladwell also shows that even poetry, once thought to be a young man’s and woman’s genre, is anything but. Nearly half of the anthologized poems of Wallace Stevens, for example, were written after Stevens’ fiftieth birthday.
Such thoughts make themselves at home in my mind these days for a couple of reasons. First, our only child is now in college. No longer do I have the challenge of attention divided between trying to be a good parent and wanting to be a prolific and respected writer (my attention is still divided, but for different reasons). When our son was young, I was never good at compartmentalizing my life or making efficient use of naptime or afternoons when he was in activities. A good friend of mine would tell me that when her son, then a toddler, took a nap, she ran-not-walked to her desk and pounded out as many words as she could before he woke up. I would like to say I did the same. I usually fell asleep myself.
The second reason I am embracing my late bloomer is that, just this week, I received notice of the acceptance of my first short story in an online literary journal. My husband immediately took me out to dinner to celebrate. He knows how much this means to me.
I can’t say that I have a wealth of life experiences on which to draw or that I’m going to write a best-seller anytime soon. But somehow, without planning to, I have managed to collect a variety of writing “lives” that were simply not possible twenty or even ten years ago, from my beginning as a journalism major (which morphed into an English major and math minor) to writing cookbook reviews and food columns, education articles and parenting books, and, more recently, fiction. Over time, I’ve gotten better at navigating genres and forms and audiences. I feel more able now than ever to hear and recognize my own thoughts and words. I can, when I remember to, take the long view and bring myself back to the moment and what matters. And every day I get a little better at seeing—and being—myself as I am. The result is that I treat my writing with more compassion, more tolerance, and more encouragement.
This spring I will turn 48, and, in terms of both writing and life, I feel as though I’m just getting started. It’s a wonderful feeling. I wouldn’t expect my college students to understand, but I wouldn’t want to be twenty again for anything in the world.
Lisa Rivero grew up in rural South Dakota and now lives, writes, teaches, and indexes books in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her online home is http://lisarivero.com.