TRUTH OR DARE
Starting Over at Age 70
At my seventieth birthday celebration, my son noted that it was remarkable what I’d achieved during my later years—becoming a published author; learning to play tennis; becoming a community activist.
Oh my God, I thought. He’s right. I’m a late bloomer. For most of my life, I’d been in survival mode. The jobs I held, the choices I’d made—the good ones, the bad ones, and the terrible ones. I realize now that I’d made those choices to survive, always hoping to make life better for those I love. Thriving came later, specifically after my second marriage, during which time I raised a wonderful, diverse, blended family and wrote an award-winning novel.
But when my husband of 28 years succumbed to illness, and my younger sister to heart disease that same year, I lost a chunk of my identity, and an even bigger chunk of my personal history. The reality of the cliché—life goes on after death—was agonizingly hard for me to grasp, making it clear that grief does not come with a one-size-fit-all life-goes-on plan. Processing my loss threw me off my late-blooming course, and put me into a lonely, dark, lethargic, under-achieving place. I convinced myself that seven decades is a long time. So why not buy that proverbial rocker, settle in with Hallmark television and wait for the end?
To make matters worse, I made my birthday visit to the doctor for my annual checkup and was reminded that I had heart problems, was borderline diabetic, had hypothyroidism, and gum disease. In addition, my body parts were showing signs of wear and tear—chronic knee and back pain, my fingers and toes freeze up on me sometimes, and my hair is thinning. Forced to acknowledge what I call old-lady ailments, had me seriously considering ordering my rocker.
While the aches and pains in my body forecast that time is catching up to me, my more youthful psyche was haunted by the questions, who are you and what are you going to do now? Something inside kept nagging, harking back at me what it felt like to live life. To feel pride and gratification when I identified a passion. What it meant to relish the mark of success I made when I pursued it. For me, a late bloomer, those feelings were too recent to relegate to a memory.
Consequently, my soul rejected giving up even though I traded my idea of vigorous exercise from spin classes to Pilates therapy. I exchanged rib-eye steaks for chicken breasts. In other words, I changed my mental outlook to offset the biological changes to embrace my new physical challenges.
The question then became was I going to extend that viewpoint to my life-long passion. Was I willing to settle on the merits of my past achievements rather than continue to pursue my writing career? Or was I ready to set new goals?
Clearly, I’d reached another reckoning milestone in my life. I recalled, for example, that I’d faced similar jolts to reflect when puberty set in. When I turned thirty, and when menopause made me sit back to take a look at where I was on my personal journey and where I wanted to go.
This introspection now, to determine my rocker readiness, helped me understand that a full life is not measured solely by tangible rewards and successes like earning a decent salary and raising a great family, but by inner gratification and pride from knowing that you can and should pursue a legacy no matter the stage in life.
Hence, I revived my goal to get two more novels in my proposed trilogy into print. Like everything in life though, no good resolution comes without a setback. No sooner had I finished the second book, the publisher of my first novel was no longer in business. I had to start over.
Getting published just a decade ago, is a far different experience today. This added anxiety to my decision, although it still takes years of writing and rewriting, rejections galore, and painfully sifting through subjective critiques to acquire the services of a publisher to guide the process of garnering readers. In addition, I have technology phobia, which I believe was created to mute anyone over forty. Why else eliminate writing letters and making phone calls for tweeting and texting?
Further, it blows my mind that I have to address how many social-media followers I have before an agent or publisher even reads what I write, let alone promote it. I fretted over whether or not I have what it takes to conquer marketing myself on social media. At my age, there is nothing compelling about telling folks such trivia as I ate beans for lunch and suffered with gas all night.
A lot happens to a person in seven decades adding considerable experience and details to storytelling. For those of us old enough to remember editors influenced by the story then the writing, it is maddening when the younger men and women procurers of prose these days, use the marketing standards that they’ve created for so-called “high concept” ideas, to make publishing selections. Whereas to me, there is nothing more high concept than contemporary stories—a mystery trilogy—set in New Orleans, before, during and after hurricane Katrina, told in a black native-born’s voice and point-of-view as opposed to the historical black American experience that teach, preach and whine. Not to mention the high probability of being rejected if marketing doesn’t envision a 60-character synopsis that can go viral on the Internet.
What does all this mean for my plan to refocus and resurrect my writing career? If I am going to be motivated by the will to finish what I started, then my goal has to include developing a social media presence to attract readers, i.e. followers, as well as a publisher even though I don’t know Twitter from Instagram. This was a daunting consequence for me at fifty, but at seventy, it also gnaws at one of my core values, nothing beats failing but trying. It’s as if the forces that be are daring me. “Take aging and technology to task.”
My son’s birthday acknowledgment reminded me that I began playing tennis at age fifty. When I competed, and my opponent was getting the best of me on the court, my fight-back mantra was, the score is 0-0 and I’m still in it. In the game of life, the number on my scoreboard is 70. My mantra has to be—I’m still alive; still in the game.
Starting with this blog, a new website and, Lord help me, Twitter and Instagram, I choose to forge ahead on my quest to establish my social media presence ready to experience successes as well as failures. And I dare the significances of living seven decades—fear, loneliness, heart disease, aching bones, a jelly belly, technology phobia, 60-character communications, and teeth implants to stop me.
Help me. Read my book. Listen to my podcast, and follow me. I’d love to hear why you think seventy is a good age to start over and flourish. I dare you.