On late bloomers, family traditions and the reasons we tell stories



“I was a late bloomer. But anyone who blooms at all, ever, is very lucky. ”

Sharon Olds

I come from a family of late bloomers, which naturally makes me happier the older I get. I used to lament not being a child prodigy, but now I see the benefits of growing up in a family where nobody ever said they were too old to do something. My grandfather opened a bookstore in his fifties.  My mother got her Master’s degree. My sister became an artist. It’s a kind of family tradition. Although I think the real family tradition was our shared history of unhappy childhoods.  Our shared understanding that there were no good old days, there were only all the ways you wanted to be better and smarter and happier than you’d been before.

I tell my husband I have to be able to explain why I’m publishing my first book at fifty. The publicist called it the ‘why now’ angle.

Oh that’s not hard is it? he says. You spent 10 years trying to forget it, 10 years dealing with it and 10 years writing about it.

This is just one of the reasons why I love living with an engineer. How quickly he can do the math. How easily he can see how a thing works.

Forgetting, dealing, moving forward. The late bloomer equation. Some days I’m sad for how slow it all can be even when I am going as fast as I can, and other days I’m grateful to be moving at all.

I’ve hesitated a lot over the years  about thinking of myself as a writer. Growing up, writing was always my imaginary friend, the voice that kept me company when there was no one else to talk to. I needed it but I didn’t always trust it. I sometimes wondered if  writing it all down was just a way to tell myself I was always getting something out of every situation, even if it was only a story.  And then, what to do with that story? After burying myself in a cause it was very hard to need to be seen and heard in that way. I think part of what I was afraid of was that if I took writing seriously  it was going to lead to this book. I always knew that. So the question wasn’t even do I want to write? It was: do I want to write this book? 

And for a long time I thought I didn’t. I didn’t want to, I didn’t need to. I wanted what I could see I’d been chasing all along: love, safety, a family and to learn how to fully be in my own life.  I’d always had a sense that I couldn’t a writer and a mother at the same time. That my life would always be about choices. Or maybe I didn’t have the self-confidence to believe myself worthy of both.  But when the choice ended up being made for me, I began to see how profoundly I’d been marked by my experiences growing up.  And it felt like I had two choices about what to do with that knowledge: hide it like a scar or wear it like a tattoo.

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