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I Didn't Know the 50s Could Be So Full of Possibility
Some birthdays of note. Taking stock of the past year before moving forward.
A month from tomorrow I’ll turn 57. The number shocks me, maybe because it tips me out of my mid 50s into my late 50s.
Before I get there, I want to take a moment—a month-long moment—to appreciate what 56 has been like, because it’s been big: a year filled with opportunities, granted mostly of my own making. It’s remarkable to me because as a younger woman, I didn’t have any idea that my mid-to-late 50s could be a time rich with possibility. Our culture didn’t tell me that.
I’ve also harbored a fair amount of fear with regard to this decade. That both my grandmothers died in their 50s, one at 51, the other at 55, has always been in the back of my mind. I’ve now officially outlived them both. I (so far) don’t bear any traces of the illnesses that killed them (a brain tumor for one, breast cancer for the other). I feel myself releasing some of the terror I’ve been holding onto, worrying I’d encounter a similar fate to theirs.
As a younger woman, I didn’t have any idea that my mid-to-late 50s could be a time rich with possibility. Our culture didn’t tell me that.
After chatting with book publicist Lauren Cerand (with whom I’ve planned a great seminar/interview for October 8th—more on that at the bottom), I’m trying to get more comfortable with owning my accomplishments, and not shying away from publicizing them—my least favorite thing to do, but a necessary evil if any of what I’m working on is going to be successful. So, here’s a little rundown of what I’ve done in the past year—things I’m really proud of.
Most notably, at 56 I finally, finally published my debut memoir-in-essays after years of stalling. For so long, I could not see myself getting to the other side of that struggle, getting to the place where my book was published, it was receiving positive reviews, and people I have never met or heard of were buying and loving it. I’ve done many book events and reading series, and have more planned. (I’ll next be on Michele Filgate’s Red Ink Panel in Brooklyn on September 8th.) I got to talk about the book on Kim France and Jennifer Romolini’s podcast, Everything is Fine, plus some other great podcasts.
I also launched a publication, Oldster Magazine, which turned 1 yesterday. It has been a great joy putting Oldster together, collecting voices around the subject of getting older at every phase of life. (I sure do like collecting voices around a subject.) It has allowed me to indulge in a great fascination of mine: what it means, to me and to others, to travel through time in a human body. I’ve got over 7600 subscribers there (a fraction of which are paying subscribers, but there are more every day), and readers keep telling me how much they love it.
This was also the year in which I took over the Memoir Monday newsletter from Lilly Dancyger (who is still hosting the quarterly Memoir Monday reading series), and added a new series of original essays there called First Person Singular.
It has been a great joy putting Oldster Magazine together, collecting voices around the subject of getting older at every phase of life.
In addition, I taught in two MFA programs—which was too much, so I’ve narrowed it down now to just one, Bay Pay University’s. I took a year off from teaching at Catapult, but in October, I’ll be back, leading my anthology pitching/editing course—and I’ve got a column there now. I also started leading workshops through Kingston Writers’ Studio—virtual so far, but for December, I’m scheming an in-person five-day personal essay/memoir writing retreat at an amazing bed and breakfast here in Kingston.
Somehow I managed to do much of this while recovering from mono. I was sick, in varying degrees in 2021, from June to December, and boy did that suck. I still haven’t fully regained all my energy. After being unable to function for much of last June, July, and August, as soon as I had a modicum of energy back at the end of August, I got busy. I mean, I had to. I am not a person of means, and I have to work to survive.
While I didn’t know there could be so much possibility at this stage of my life, I also had no idea that now I’d be working harder than ever. It’s been a really rewarding year, but I wish I didn’t have to always take on as much as I do. I wish I could afford to do less, and take more time for my own writing. I don’t see my current scenario changing any time soon—my field is a complete shambles, and the work we all do is perpetually devalued.
So I’ll keep going and making the best of whatever opportunities arise from here, and also try to create more of them for myself.
Have you signed up yet for Publicity 101 for Writers, the 90-minute seminar/interview I’ll be conducting with Lauren Cerand on October 8th at 2pm Eastern time?
If you’re looking to improve at publicizing your book or any of your other work, or to get over your discomfort with self-promotion, this is for you.
There are fewer than 25 spots left! $25