Plenty of Time

The thing about another year rolling around is that everything’s a year older. In the span of the cosmos, this is nothing. For human beings, it’s a sobering reminder that time is running out. (If you think it’s bad being a human, try being a dog. Or a fruit fly.) So it’s not unusual for people to think, “I wish I’d done that, but it’s too late now.” No, it’s not. Jeez.

I’ve lost some weight, and as I looked in the mirror the other day, I thought, “Too bad I’m too old to wear a bikini; about ten more pounds and I could rock one again.” And then I thought, “That’s dumb. I can wear a bikini now if I want. I can wear anything I want.” (It helps tremendously that Helen Mirren looks great in a bikini and she’s four years older than I am.) Along the same lines, I’ve been struggling to finish a book, and I actually had the thought, “Maybe I’m too old to write.” Then I remembered I’m Jennifer Crusie, so fuck that. Age is not a barrier unless you want to be the youngest in something. No thank you, I’m good where I am.

I think any time after mid-life is the perfect time to try something new and daring. You’ve got a lot of experience under your belt and you have a pretty good grasp on what you like and don’t like. You’ve probably made peace with most of the stuff that made you crazy before forty, and if you’re smart, you’ve offloaded the people who were garbaging up your life to concentrate on the people you want to share it with. You’re in prime creative territory. You should go for it.

! decided to be a writer when I was 40. I’d dabbled in it before, but never took it seriously. I went to a couple of writer’s conferences because a friend, Sandy Focht, wanted to go, but I couldn’t quite connect. Maybe later, I thought. I got a masters in feminist criticism because I was more interested in talking about what somebody had written than in writing myself, and a dual concentration in technical writing because the tech writing prof, Mary Beth Pringle, was my mentor. (She once suggested that I try fiction and I said, “Me? Not possible.”) And then in 1990, I thought, Huh. I think I’ll write a book, and I sat down and started to write. I sold my first book in 1991 and then my career ate my life, but it’s been an amazing second act.

Turns out, I’m not unusual. There’s something about the midlife-and-after that opens up possibilities. Take the people in this Cracked.com essay: 5 Famous People Who Succeeded Long After They Should’ve Quit. According to Cracked:

• Alan Rickman got his first movie role at 46. (In Die Hard.)
• Roget invented the thesaurus at 73.
• Joseph Conrad was a sailor, drifter and part-time criminal until 37.
• Kathryn Joosten got her first acting role at 56. (She won two Emmys.)
• Colonel Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken at 65.

Wallace Stevens was in his forties when he finished his first book of poetry; he won the Pulitzer twice (and my heart with “A Jar in Tennessee), and he punched Hemingway in the jaw when he was 47. But my particular fave is Anna Mary Robertson Moses who started painting at 76 when her arthritis made embroidery too painful. Whenever I think about my lost art career, I remember Grandma Moses. Plenty of time.

Malcolm Gladwell had an interesting essay called Late Bloomers in The New Yorker. In it he cites the research of economist David Galenson who argued that the difference between prodigies (those whippersnappers like Mozart) and late bloomers is in the difference between their approaches. Prodigies are conceptual, according to Galenson: “They start out with a clear idea of where they want to go and then they execute it.”

But late bloomers work the other way around. (In this context a late bloomer may have started young but only achieves greatness later in life, after many years.) Galen calls them “experimental innovators,” people who have to research and understand and hone their skills in order to figure out what they want to do. They don’t start knowing, they search and learn in order to find out what they want to do. As Gladwell puts it, “The Cézannes of the world bloom late not as a result of some defect in character, or distraction, or lack of ambition, but because the kind of creativity that proceeds through trial and error necessarily takes a long time to come to fruition.”

I’d thought of myself as a late bloomer because I didn’t start writing seriously until I was 40, but put in the context of experimental innovation, I could see that I’d been unconsciously researching story from the time I could read. My music collection as I was growing up was show tunes (STORY!), the strict librarian at our small town library let me go into the adult stacks early because I’d read everything in the kids’ library, I wrote satirical stories about my high school that my best friend passed around during classes. My big dream was to be a journalist, but my mother put paid to that when she insisted I become a teacher so I’d always have a good job and then when I got married and had kids, I could quit. (The old “my mother didn’t understand me” is glaringly true in my case.) So I became an art teacher because art is telling a story, insisting that my students be able to explain the art they made, tell me the story of making it. And when I went back for my masters and became an English teacher, I taught by telling stories. “This is what the writer was trying to do, this is how it can be read, what story do you read into this, what does it mean to you?” My whole life was about story, and I had to spend the first part of my life doing what I did to understand it so that I could begin to write at 40.

I think that’s the most important thing about living a full life: embracing what’s happening to you, learning new things, doing new things, thinking about things, not so that you’ll acquire a skill or achieve a success, but so that you’ll understand how the things that are important to you work. It’s a liberal arts education spread out over a lifetime. I could never have looked back over my life at 40 and said, “Of course, I’ve been preparing all my life to be a writer of fiction.” I just needed to have lived that life in order to grow into what I needed to be. And it’s entirely possible that I’m growing into a different life now, that everything that has gone before is coalescing into something new. That’s incredibly exciting. Thank god I’m old enough to have so much to draw on.

So it’s a new year, and you’re standing on top of a collection of life experiences, some more extensive than others (whippersnappers). You don’t know where you’re going and you’re not sure of everywhere you’ve been, but you’re relentlessly moving toward where you need to be. Enjoy the trip, accept that everything will become part of you and who you’re going to be, and for the love of god, don’t tell yourself you’re too old to go where you need to go. It’s time to bloom.

(I don’t want this to depress anybody under thirty. This is your time to gather experience, and I’m sure you can do great things, too.)

(Later.)

Happy New Year, Argh People! Embrace the future, it’s coming at you anyway.

56 thoughts on “Plenty of Time

  1. This is a timely post for me and I plan to re-read several times. I have been struggling with the “I am just too old for this” for at least the last six months. My husband retired and we started his dream of showing horses. Which has been a lot of fun, but also a lot of traveling and very tiring. Adding a trip to attend the funeral of my BIL who passed very unexpectedly, and a vacation trip to meet up with my daughter in August we have been gone 14 times in 2015 traveling all over Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee – from 4 to 6 days at a time. Then coming home and resting up and catching up on ranch chores and getting ready to go again. Added to this my ex-husband passed away last Sunday – he had prostrate cancer and was in poor health, but no one expected him to pass so soon. So my daughter is here from Buffalo NY dealing with his estate and we are helping where we can. AND did I mention we have TWO new puppies. Whippets. They are finally sleeping through the night but they still take a lot of energy. I think the main reason that I am struggling is that I have shown horses for the last 20 years, and had some real success, but the big goal of world show has always eluded me. Now I have an awesome talented horse and I feel just too old and out of shape to put in the work needed to take him there. Working with a new trainer, learning new ways just seems overwhelming.

    I know that fatigue is adding to my depression and having limited time to get any real kind of exercise (and of course, we are having the wettest year we have had in a long time). Your post reminds me that I have a ton of experience in the show ring, and that goes a long way. Thanks, I needed this!!

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  2. I love this post. I feel like I am a late bloomer. I just don’t know at what yet.
    2016 bring on the good stuff.
    Happy New Year Jenny and all the cherries.

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  3. Mary Wesley, first published in 1983 aged 71. She went on to have a pretty good career in books for the next 19 years.

    We LBs are like fine wine. Or brandy. Age is good. Necessary to ensure a rounded, rich flavour.

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  4. I worry way too much about being too old (and too tired) to do the things I want to do. I was just shy of 59 when my first mystery was published, but it’s also a matter of having a metabolic condition that involves both chronic pain and chronic fatigue, so there’s a limit to how much I can push myself now that I’ve finally bloomed. Still, whatever I can do, whatever I can write, is better than nothing, so I keep slogging along.

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  5. I had my first novel published when I was 54. No such thing as too late. (Well, I may never date again, but that’s another story…)

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  6. Happy New Year, Jenny and fellow Arghers!
    This is wonderful. Cheered me right up. *grin* I was 65 when I published my first novel, the same year I applied for Medicare, which made me laugh no end. I now have my seventh novel releasing on Feb 12th, and I’m playing with an entirely different, non-linear way to tell my next story. It may or may not see the light of day, but that’s okay, it’s another learning step.
    My only quibble in starting so late is that my lower back and right knee do not enjoy sitting at the computer for long periods of time, however, I couldn’t have started any earlier because I wasn’t ready. Besides, it isn’t a race. If it takes me twice as long to write this one it’s all good.

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    1. Never write at a desk. Get a LaZBoy and a lap desk. You can really hurt yourself sitting at a desk for long periods.

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      1. I’m with Jenny. I got a recliner (because of her) and my back and right arm (tendinitis) have been much happier. I do email and such at my desk, but major writing never.

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      2. I do have a recliner, and a laptop, but for some reason (maybe years of clocking in at an office desk) I imagine I need to be in my office to write. Ha ha. I will give this a try.

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  7. I really needed to hear this. It’s the most wonderful message-start to my New Year. You have a gift for distillation. Maybe you should think about writing non-fiction about life and dogs and creativity? Thank-you!!!

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  8. I remember wishing, when I turned 40, that someone had told me how much fun it was going to be, and it’s gotten to be more fun all the time in the 25 years since then. I never thought of it being because it’s time to bloom, but that’s absolutely it.

    Happy New Year.

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  9. Happy New Year friends.

    This explains so much about me. I’ve had 3 complete job changes and I’m only just starting to see the common thread running through them.

    Ten thousand thanks. Lucky for the draft(s). Guess it was a breath of fresh air.

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  10. I, too, needed to hear this. I’ve thought a lot about throwing in the towel. I’m notorious about not quitting things (ask my kids and my ex – I should have quit him a lot earlier. And my kids still complain because I wouldn’t let them quit some extra-curriculum activity once they committed). There is something to be said for letting go of the detritus in my life, but not my ‘dream’, okay? Anyhoo, I figure I have thirty good years left, barring some fatal accident or illness (and then I won’t care anyway), so there’s no reason to give up now. I think a lot of my delay in finishing the book(s) besides a fractured perfectionist’s fear of failure or success, goes toward not making death easy (I can’t go until I finish _____) or I still have all the time in the world…or, what is time? Does anyone really know what time it is? It’s like tromp l’oiel-ing my mind, perhaps. Maybe I’m such a piece of work that God won’t be finished with me for a long time. Anyway, I’ve got no where to go but up. And if I fail, it’s on me, right? I’ll be one of those folks they reiminise about “she coulda been a contender” and all that jazz. But you know what I did yesterday? I wrote almost 3K words on my WIP because I heard once that what you do on New Year’s Eve you do for the rest of the year. It’s my only resolution – to prove that right. Happy New Year, Jennifer Cruisie !

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  11. Total late bloomer here. Thanks for this, as I search for the right job, keep on making music, and maybe love someone. Maybe.

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  12. God, I hope I get there someday. I’m 37 and I feel like I’m not getting there (I do an end-of-year-meme entry every December 31 and frankly, other than the books I read and the festivals I attended and the occasional vacation, NONE of the answers have changed in years), and I just keep puttering and stalling and being all “I have no clue how to get from A to Z.” Every NaNo I rediscover that I suck at fiction writing. I want to get on stage but getting someone to let me is hard. Okay, this year I did but I have kinda given up on getting to do it regularly because there are so many other hopefuls and I’m not super awesome.

    And I really need a new job for the sake of my dying soul (public service kills me) and so far no dice. I will hopefully get interviewed for a new position in what I used to work in, but I’m so afraid to get my hopes up and have them dashed yet again. It’s not exactly the dream of “get famous and be awesome doing things I’m good at creatively,” but I just don’t think I’m gonna make that anyway and at this point I’d settle for just not being forced to answer phones about things I have no idea about and then getting in trouble about it.

    Supposedly according to astrology things should get better once I hit 40. I find that both reassuring and terrifying at once–like “wasted your youth being clueless” and “nobody’s gonna want you now” (okay, nobody does already except creepy dudes old enough to be my father) vs. “oh god, I hope things start moving then, oh god.” But there’s still three more years of wasting time and life and puttering and hoping someday I Do Something to go.

    Feh. I hope I bloom someday, dammit.

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      1. Yes, I totally agree with Deborah. Many times I have been in a miserable, rotten situation, only to discover that this was a moment of great change in my life – and the climb to new heights started with rock bottom. Bloom early! Bloom now! 2016 is Your Year. ?

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    1. It really is creepy and icky when men twice your age hit on you, isn’t it? Happened to me once. Luckily the was a grocery store and he left me alone when I politely turned him down.

      Good luck on getting a new job and finding direction!

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      1. Only once? You lucky girl. I am dirty old man Kryptonite. It’s actually even more worrying because I actually pass for a teenager (no joke, people thought I was 17 on the last birthday). I strongly suspect they are looking for young, dumb prey.

        Thanks, I hope it happens!

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        1. I think you must be very attractive. Being hit on often and having your personal space invaded, I have been told, is the down side of that. I’m blissfully average. I just got nice guys who were socially inept attempting to date me. We were usually already friends. I think it was a “wow she’ll talk to me so she must like me therefore I should ask her out” kind of reasoning. Then I typically politely told them no. Once I said yes and Boy did I learn a life lesson on that one. Ugh. Not a good time.

          Good luck!

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  13. I love this post so so much. I feel like I’m a late bloomer, in my 30s with so many ideas and starts but no middles or endings. A few weeks ago I became panicky that I’m too old to write something to be published, you’ve inspired me and filled me with new motivation. Thank you!
    May 2016 be filled with many great stories and experiences!

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  14. I’m trying not to get caught up counting the years and measuring. I’m trying to live my life in modules of experiences. Which is good. I’ve come to just about everything late compared to others, but it’s the only way I know.

    Thanks for all these deep thoughts, Jenny.

    Happy New Year everyone.

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  15. Great post, thanks. And Robena, also thanks for the reminder that it’s not a race.

    Happy and productive 2016 to all.

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  16. Wonderful post. I’m a late bloomer too – I started writing when I was 47, although I’ve always had stories in my head. But the journey from my daydreams to the written stories, and from that to publising has been a fascinating one, and I learned so much, not just about writing but about myself as a person. And I still hasn’t arrived at my destination. Exciting, isn’t it, this continuing traveling towards the unknown?

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  17. This was such a timely post. I know we’re all thinking about the New Year, and everything it will bring. In my own life, I have a feeling it’s all been building to this year.
    I get to be a Bride for the first (and hopefully only) time this year.
    I will be 5 years cancer-free this year (which, to some, means “cured.”)
    I am 36 years old, and have always wondered what I wanted to be. There are so many things to learn and do. But the telling of stories, that has always been there.
    So many ways I’ve grown. So many utterly insurmountable situations. But I’ve mounted them all.
    So many stories that are there, I just have to get them out.
    Thank you for your words. They are inspiring, as are you, and your journey as an author
    I love your books, and can only believe that if a girl from Wapak can do it, a girl from Lima can, too.

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    1. Congratulations!! Both being a Bride this year and 5 years cancer free! You are still young with much life ahead of you.

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      1. Thank you so much, Kelly! I believe that, too. It’ll most likely come back, but everyone has an expiration date. 😛 What’s important is dusting yourself off and loving the life you have while you’ve still got it.

        (Something cool about the wedding? My favorite of Jenny’s books is Bet Me. I’m using pages from my spare copy, and making them into origami cranes. I’ll have 1000 by the end of all the folding, and we’ll get married in front of the strung cranes, as our backdrop. Fun, huh? It’s going to be awesome…Pixar and Bet Me. A great combination of my fiance and I. <3 )

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        1. Five years is huge. It’s been thirty-three years for me, but I remember the five-year mark; it was like the end of a marathon where you stumble exhausted across the finish line and realize you can finally stop running. Assume it won’t come back, and then worry about it if it does; don’t poison today with something that’s unlikely now

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          1. It’s a daily exercise: to live in the Now. So very happy to hear of your health, and I hope it continues, unabated. Hearing from long-time survivors is always wonderful. It gives hope. Thank you for your empathy.

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  18. I’m a late bloomer, too. I never felt any anxiety about my life in the sense of a ticking clock because I live very much in the moment. When raising my 4 kids, I was 100% in that world. I wrote the whole time–learned my craft–but had no interest in publishing. When the last kid left for college, I published my first book. I don’t feel too old to write (and my books are quite saucy), but I’m not sure how well my writing process fits with the current trend of putting out 3-4 books a year. I love writing–but what I love is the whole process. The development of a book takes me months–and I won’t shortchange myself for a contract. So in this situation being a late bloomer might not work in my favor since I’m old school in my approach.

    I will not, however, under any circumstance wear a bikini!

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  19. LOVE this post! Thank you so much. I love your book, The Cinderella Deal, for just this reason – that Daisy is trying to tell her own story and not get caught up in someone else’s. That my story isn’t from a mold, and that no one has lived my exact life with my exact experiences, and that what we each have to share is unique. I love that we have dreams that we are trying to fulfill, and in that pursuit, we are writers, we do have a community of other writers and creative people, and this process is part of the joy – it’s not all wrapped up in the book at the end. And it’s not too late to begin. Beautiful, thanks!

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  20. I love the post too! I want to and likely will share it with my mom since she loves your books too but sometimes I think she’s just sitting and waiting to die. I suspect she could have another 20 years left and I’d like her to make the most of them.

    That said, I also see time slipping away from me as I go about my routine. I’m comfortable and I like my rut so much, I’ve decorated it. However, I have always looked ahead. I see that I need to be active now in strengthening my body & eating well or else in another few decades, I’ll be in pain and needing parts replaced and be just like mom, sitting and waiting to die. I don’t want that. I need to find a way to have more energy to use. As an introvert, I’m happy to sit in my home with my hubby and a cat and a book. Well, I did say a few posts ago that part of 2016 is a plan to figure out what to do with my life. I’m middle aged. I can leave things as they are and retire in 16 years or make changes so I can look back on my life and be proud or I could maybe do both.

    I’m also about 10 pounds away from rocking a bikini. Here’s hoping by the next tropical vacation!

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  21. Jenny, this is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing it. It’s never too late as long as we can say “I aten’t dead.” Today, everything has been whispering, “This could be your year.” I’m going to go with it, and make it mine.

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  22. Thanks. My thing is that I know I want to write. (Specifically, something I actually think, under my own name. Right now I’m in PR, so I write things that middle-age men take credit for. Which I didn’t think would bother me, but dammit, it does. Calling up a newspaper, even a tiny one, and being like “Oh no, you misunderstood. I didn’t write the op-ed I pitched you – it should be credited to so and so” really, really sucks.)

    I know getting to the point where you get payed to write creatively is often a non-linear path. But it’s hard to have faith when the three lovely people you live with want very linear, career type jobs, and are on their way to getting them. Then two of them got engaged, which is lovely, but doesn’t help with the whole feeling like a late bloomer thing.

    Rationally, I know that a lot of what makes them happy would make me miserable. On top of that, I know rationally that at 24 most people are not happily engaged, working at something fulfilling today that they know will take them to where they want to be tomorrow. Still, rational doesn’t always help with emotions. Thanks for being entertaining and comforting and for making me feel like a) every thing’s gonna be ok and b) no matter when the good stuff happens, I’ll be in good company. Speaking for the under 30 contingent, you’re definitely not depressing.

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    1. I used to put agency written articles online for my company, the main journalist went on holiday, so his colleague filled in, she was so surprised and pleased when I was willing to credit her for her work, so I know how you feel.

      Everyone has their own path, if I followed the herd, I’d be a teacher, guitar player, craft beer drinker. I wouldn’t mind playing the guitar, but I don’t think the other two would make me happy (I’m shy, I don’t drink, also tone deaf )

      Try to be happy that your friends are happy, their happiness just adds to yours as having grumpy friends just brings you down.

      Here is the thing, write for yourself, you might not make a living on fiction, you may never publish some of your drafts, but finding your own voice is always worth it.

      Good luck for 2016

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  23. I love this too and I feel much better now. I’m not a writer, the writing gene skipped over me although it hit a couple of my sisters, but there are other ways of being creative as you pointed out. I have long wanted to learn about and work with herbs (medicinally and otherwise) and being a great procrastinator have only played around with it now and then. Now that I have turned 60 perhaps I am ready to bloom too. And you have also inspired me to get cracking on losing the lbs that have crept up on me this past year when my exercising was limited by a pinched nerve in my back. It’s still present but the pain is greatly reduced so I have put on my pedometer and am heading out for another walk (my daily goal is 10,000 steps and I am 3/4’s there for today).

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  24. Fab & insightful post. Many thanks to you–one of the best blooming writers around–for sharing this & all you do:)

    Happy New Year, all!

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  25. I loved reading this, Jenny. Such wisdom and humor–my favorite combination! Thanks for sharing Malcolm Gladwell’s article on prodigies and late-bloomers. As for me, I’m in the latter group…but as this has been a mild winter in the Northeast, I’m feeling ready to sprout!

    Thanks, and Happy 2016 to all.

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  26. In a way I am a late bloomer-I did not take motorcycling until I was 62 but nothing in my life led up to that. Since I read this I thought about my life and I think that every positive achievement was a bloom in my vase of life. Go to URI and become a nurse-check. Join the Navy-check. Marry a man just like my dad-check. But-my dad was a Navy pilot, so was Joe until he turned into a John Deere salesman. Have kids-check. Although the first kid started doing drugs at 13 and it has been hell ever since. He is now 47 and homeless. That bloom died early. Grand kids-check. Travel-check. Survive stage IV breast cancer (7 years) -check. Survived A-fib and cardiac ablation-check.
    Am I lucky ? Heck yeah. Am I blessed ? Big time. Is it all good ? Absolutely not.

    http://visionsource-visionsolutions.com/2015/12/02/how-emotions-can-affect-color-perception/

    I have a pair of those rose colored glasses.

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  27. Late to the party, that’s me.

    I don’t do resolutions, but I think there’s a psychological turning point to starting a new year. I don’t think of it as trying to be new and improved, because I’m already pretty awesome, but I do like the ‘out with the old, in with the new’ philosophy. There’s something about metaphorically flipping the counter and seeing 1/1 … It’s day 1, lots of possibilities. So in the week or so leading up to and the days just following New Year, Day 1, I did a lot of decluttering. You should see my bathroom cabinets now! Seriously, I filled a kitchen garbage bag with stuff I cleared out of a 2’x3′ space. I think it was the bathroom version of Hermoine’s magic carpet bag, stuff just kept coming out of there. But you should see them now. No, I mean it. It’s been about a week, and stuff is going to start rematerializing in there any day, so you have to see it now.

    So, just to show I can stay on topic, I think there’s a psychological turning point to middle age, too. Well, ‘middle’ may not be accurate; but I do think that life experience, which is what aging is, gives you a different perspective on many things, and it can be very freeing. And middle age is often the point at which your priorities shift, sometimes literally. Things change in your life, and the way you view things changes. It’s a good time to do something new. As for whether or not there’s still time, nobody can know that for sure. You can run out of time at 30 or at 90. But as long as you are on this earth, it is not too late to try something new.

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    1. Thanks for this post Jennie. I love that you take the usual and give it a new spin. I agree with you that it’s not so much about being a late bloomer, as it is about the cumulative experiences informing what you choose to do or be right now. I’m on my 3rd, 4th and 5th career simultaneously and still trying to figure out which things I want to do long term. It’s all an experiment. And I get better at all of it as I go, once experience informing the other. Middle age (I’m now on the cusp of ‘freedom’ 55) is freeing. I have more self knowledge, more confidence and more determination than ever before. This is the year I will publish the first couple of my books. It’s taken me this long to feel I’ve got not only the writing, but also the publishing, marketing, social media, tribe thing figured out. It’s so much more complex than ‘just’ writing a book these days. And I’ve finally learned a few things about health, motivation, mindfulness, financial planning and many other things that I just scrabbled at (or avoided completely) in previous years. As I go along, it all becomes clearer. I too am looking forward to painting in my senior years (Emily Carr is my model), along with playing piano and cello. There is plenty of time. In fact I’m only about half way done!

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  28. Dude. This so perfectly explains why I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up until I was almost 50!

    Thanks for sharing!

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      1. That’s exactly it, thank you! And as I recently discovered the blog of a fantastic art teacher, here’s the link because I think you’ll appreciate this lady:
        http://cassiestephens.blogspot.de/
        I think she recently turned forty but she looks like she found what she’s supposed to do: open that wonderful world of art to primary school children. I wish my kids had had an art teacher like her.

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  29. I loved every inch of this blog. Thank you from another late bloomer – who didn’t achieve any writing success until her mid forties and finally found the nerve to reach for even bigger brass rings now that she’s in her 50s.

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