When Dreams and Age Collide
I thought my age would limit my opportunities. It turns out it's given me the space to be truly creative and free
There’s a place in every great story in which the heroine has an all-is-lost moment that brings her to her knees. Something that humbles and inspires her to be of service to something greater than herself.
This is the threshold of the heroine’s transformation. And deep down, transformation is what most of us crave. It’s the reason that bookstore shelves are crammed full of self-help books, the reason we sign up for meditation retreats, or change our diet or other habits. There is in the human heart an innate desire to be better, to evolve psychologically and spiritually.
Great stories can give us clues and imaginings about our reinvention, our adaptation to what’s next. Each of us lives out many all-is-lost moments in the course of life; they mark the doorway to something new.
In the third act of women’s lives we have the potential to become more awake to reinvention, adaptation and transformation. It’s in this third/third of life where dreams and age often seem to collide, as evidenced by the all-is-lost moment. For me, it was realizing publishers aren’t exactly on the prowl for older women writers. Though I could cite Delia Owens, author of Where the Crawdads Sing, who published her first work of fiction at the age of 73, or writer May Sarton, who published until she was in her nineties, big press publishers taking a risk on an older woman’s work is unlikely.
So what to do? Give up the dream?
Sometimes it seems life reinvents us without us having a say in the matter. And while we cannot change the world around us, we can change the lens through which we perceive our world. In the third/third, I started to realize I needed to make my reinventions more conscious. For the last three months of 2022, I put my dreams on hold and asked myself the big universal question we all ask ourselves a hundred times — I asked, “What’s next?” I set up parameters to find the answer: First of all, I did not allow myself to work on anything that had the word “deadline” attached to it. Secondly, I gave myself permission to play. I journaled in the mornings. I painted rocks for my garden. I drew pictures in my poetry notebooks. I made collages and wrote about looking for magic.
Through this process, I began to discover the essence of my writing dream. Yes, I’m brought to my knees and humbled by my current relationship with the publishing industry. But here’s what I realized. It’s not the industry that I love, it’s the art of writing. As Anne Lamott says, “The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”
In the months that I eschewed deadline and obligation, I rediscovered the child-heart of what it means to play. When I was ten years old, I used to write stories on lined notebook paper, then staple a construction paper cover to the front and back. I’d draw and color a picture on the cover, along with a title. I called these “my books.” Making them was a joyful, satisfying endeavor that brought me delight. Why should now be any different? The writing life as a way of life holds more value to me than the product it produces.
So did I give up the dream? Hell no.
I returned to my editorial calendar in January, refreshed by a new sense of play. I write daily. I’ll attend some writers’ conferences this summer to pitch my book to literary agents. The difference is I will do so knowing the fruition of my creativity is not the book itself, but the way of life that makes me a creative.
I have a belief that every one of us is a creative. Sometimes it’s through the classical art forms like music, dance, painting or writing. But oftentimes our creative expression comes through how we love our children and our grandchildren, how we prepare a meal or tend a garden, how we organize our office or our closet . . . in other words, our way of living life.
When dreams and age collide, we have an opportunity to rediscover the pure essence of why it is we dream and create in the first place. We don’t need to leave behind pieces of a broken heart, we need only to tenderly gather those pieces to us and let them inform our transformation.
Emily Dickinson was not a well-known poet in her lifetime. She wrote dozens of poems that no one ever saw. Only 10 of Dickinson’s 1,800 poems were published while she was alive. She was a prolific writer who wrote her poetry and gave it away. Stitching covers around volumes of poems, she tossed them into a drawer where they were found after her death. Her unwavering fidelity to her art is why we now have books of Emily Dickinson poems.
Women make things. We make love. We make children. We make mercy. We make gardens. We make purpose as well as poetry. Art and creativity thrive in a woman’s hands, thrive in the liminal space between who we really are and who we think we’re supposed to be.
As we get older, we have an opportunity to tap into the spaciousness around us, to stargaze and cloud watch, because we begin to understand we have always been a part of that motion. Aging allows us to slow down. It provides us the opportunity to step into the creative consciousness where dreams and age don’t just collide — they explode into the potential of dreams becoming bigger than ourselves. And we are, once again, transformed.
Stephanie Raffelock is an author, speaker, and voiceover artist. She is the editor of the anthology, Art In The Time of Unbearable Crisis (2022), and the author of Creatrix Rising, Unlocking the Power of Midlife Women (2021) and the award-winning book, A Delightful Little Book On Aging (2020). She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and a goofy Labrador Retriever named Mickey.
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