Sometimes the big barriers in life aren’t abject poverty, dreaded disease, or death. Sometimes it’s the subtle ones set upon us by time and place. We don’t know they are there; if we sense them at all, we choose not to turn and face them.
When I applied for a job as a writer at Hearst Corporation in New York in 1961, I was required to take a typing test. “No typing test, no interview.” I took the test and was offered a job in the ranks of those who could type 70 a minute. All the while, I had to insist upon the interview I had been promised.
In college, I took sound advice and studied education. I began to pay for my schooling by working as a staff writer at the Salt Lake Tribune – at 75 cents an hour. That I was making a living writing didn’t occur to me.
Something similar was at work when I married. My husband’s career took precedence; that was how it was done. Then there were two children, carefully planned, because that was how it was done. I happily accepted a new direction to accommodate my husband’s career and the life the winds of the times presented to me. I left my writing with hardly a backward look.
Writing as a career was not a consideration. It didn’t fit any of the requirements of the time. So when I gave it up, it didn’t feel like I was giving up much. But I was. My dream of sitting in an office, a newsroom with a pencil in my hand was a victim of the status quo. It never occurred to me to just strike out in my own direction – my husband and children needed me. My husband and I built a business. We raised a lawyer and a mathematician, grew in joy with a grandson, lived through floods and moves, enjoyed travel. I didn’t write for forty years.
In midlife I became aware that there was an empty hole where my children had been. The hole was more vast than the space vacated by offspring. I knew I not only would be able to write, but also I would need to write. After all, I dreamed writing, lived writing, loved writing.
One day, I read that those who live until they are fifty may very likely see their hundredth year. That meant that I might have another entire lifetime before me – plenty of time to do whatever I wanted. In fact, it’s my belief that women in their 50s might have more time for their second life because they don’t have to spend the first twenty years preparing for adulthood.
So I sat down and began to write the “Great Utah Novel.” I thought it would be a lot easier than it was. After all, I had majored in English Lit. Writing a novel should be pretty much second nature. It wasn’t long before I realized that it wasn’t as easy as writing the news stories I had written as a young woman. There were certain skills I didn’t have; there was plenty I didn’t know about writing.
After writing about 400 pages (easily a year’s work), I knew something major was wrong. I took writing classes at UCLA. I attended writers’ conferences. I read up on marketing. I updated computer skills. All the while I wrote and revised and listened and revised again.
This Is The Place (http://bit.ly/ThisIsthePlace) finally emerged, about a young woman, Skylar Eccles, a half-breed in Utah where she was born and raised. Half Mormon and half another religion. Skylar considers marrying a Mormon man in spite of her internal longing for a career. By confronting her own history (several generations of women who entered into “mixed marriages”) and by experiencing a series of devastating events, she comes to see she must make her own way in the world, follow her own true north.
Much of what I wrote about is my own story. I’m glad that I waited until I was sixty. I believe that forty years brought insight and a unique vision to the story in terms of the obstacles that women faced in those days. I really like being proof that a new life can start late – or that it is never too late to revive a dream.
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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, a novelist and poet, brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her “How To Do It Frugally” series of books for writers and the many classes she taught as instructor for UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program. The books in her “How To Do It Frugally” series of books for writers have won multiple awards. She is also the recipient of a number of community awards. The author loves to travel and has visited eighty-nine countries. She has studied writing abroad. She admits to carrying a pen and journal wherever she goes. Her web site is www.howtodoitfrugally.com.