I was on the far side of thirty-five before I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had stirrings and dreams, yes, but real commitment? Not until recently. And I’m forty-one. That’s why I love stories about late bloomers. Don’t tell me about child prodigies like Mozart, composing at the age of five. I would rather forget that Zadie Smith published White Teeth to critical acclaim before she was twenty-six. People like that don’t inspire me. So they had clear callings. Good for them.
I’d rather know about the late bloomers. Those that didn’t know what they wanted from life right away. Maybe they went back to school for the first time in decades. Or maybe they toiled away at their craft without much early success. Like the French Post-Impressionist painter, Paul Ce’zanne. Though he knew he wanted to be an artist and worked at being a painter at an early age, his work didn’t attract much attention till he was in his fifties.
There are plenty of examples. Danny Aiello didn’t begin acting until he was forty. Clint Eastwood became the oldest person to win an Academy Award for Best Director. He directed his first film at forty-one. And Alfred Hitchcock directed many of his classics between the ages of fifty-four and sixty-one. Joshua Millner of Great Britain even won an Olympic gold medal in the 1000 yard Free rifle when he was sixty-one.
As the “baby” of my writing group, I can tell you that many of my colleagues say it took until their forties just to figure out who they were! And I think they are better for it. Particularly in writing, it helps to have a little wisdom and life experience under your belt. Lucky for us, we writers have lots of tardy folks to emulate. Henry Miller published his novel Tropic of Cancer at forty-four. Raymond Chandler published his first short story at forty-five, and his first novel, The Big Sleep, at fifty-one. Laura Ingalls Wilder became a columnist in her forties, but didn’t publish her first novel in The Little House on the Prairie series until her sixties. Want inspiration? Check out this blog by a woman in my writers circle. She’s eighty. She published her novel in 2010.
Julia Cameron said it best in The Artist’s Way to everyone who gave excuses like, “Do you know how old I’ll be by the time I write a novel/learn to draw/_____?” The same age you will be if you don’t.