Writing and Recovery

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August 12, 2014 by lucieromarin

Piers Paul Read told me once that no one should try to write a novel before the age of forty. I was in my early twenties at the time and wondered what anyone over forty could possibly have to offer the world (since people that age are, like, old). This morning, shivering in the rain and the dark at the bus stop, I suddenly thought I saw what he meant, and that made me realise that some kinds of roadkill may find, not only that their favourite thing or their truest gift has not been lost, but that it is actually better for having been delayed.

It is true that some things are irrevocably lost to time. Your hope of childbearing may be lost. The likelihood of owning your own home may have narrowed to a very fine point. If your talent is for sport, or for dance, or for synchronised swimming, your greatest opportunities for contentment or success may have died with your youth; it’s safe to say you’ll never play for the World Cup if you only start soccer-training in your forties. The difficulty of learning a new language increases with age, while the best singing voices fade, like the colour of your hair.

But not all gifts are the prerogative of youth. John Keats was an anomaly; much of the world’s great writing comes from older pens, and maturity can be a blessing to other arts. If you are willing to look, and think, and read; collect new experiences, and absorb the experiences you’ve already had (not to mention healing from the worst ones) you’re going to find more satisfaction in your art now, not less. I’ll admit there may be no career in it, but that’s not because of your age; that’s because the arts themselves are not essentially lucrative. We don’t need novels and paintings the same way we need paper clips and internet access and bread.

Obviously this is no consolation at all if you’re beginning to realise that your greatest desire or gift was for sport or parenting or something else that really does diminish with age. But those of us inclined to ink or paint should not be tricked by melancholy into thinking that we’ve lost something that, in fact, is as much ours as it ever was.

Even if your art remains wholly private, you owe it to yourself to make it. You know if you’re that kind of person, one who is almost never as happy as she is when she’s mixing acrylics or scratching words onto a page. You wish that the duties of life would stop crowding the ideas in your mind and at your fingertips; you steal moments to get things down on paper, and you grow restless and uneasy if you go for weeks away from the brush or the pen. If you’re that sort of person, thank God for it, because the way to recovery is within you. I know that, in some ways, art is a frustrating gift; if you were good at accounting, you could much more easily get paid to do what you love! But it’s a gift nonetheless. Don’t worry about fame or audiences, and certainly don’t waste time thinking you’ve wasted time, because you haven’t. This is the right and the best time to begin, and it will make you happy.



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