Recently I sat in on a Zoom meeting of aspiring writers of all ages, but mostly young ones. The range in age was twenty to seventy-something and I was the seventy something. I had been invited because I had recently published a book and some were curious as to how I was able to do this. The subject for the evening was a general discussion of writers, playwrights and poets and the frustrations of trying to advance one’s career.
There were about twelve of us and the median age was around 40. The twenty-year old was a student and had to leave in the middle of the meeting to study for exams. Another was struggling to write in between taking care of her ailing spouse. Another was in between jobs after she was let go during the pandemic, and another was a wife and mother of four grown children teaching at several schools while trying to write on the side.
The complaints for all were about gender parity, ageism, writers’ block, rejections and a frustration with why they weren’t making as much money as Danielle Steele or Nora Roberts.
I looked at the shining beautiful faces of these women and I was not at all upset that I was in my older years even though my books have never yet made the best seller list. I sympathized with their struggles. They are basically mine as well. But there was a certain acceptance on my part of my strengths and weaknesses, my successes and my limitations that I believe only comes with old age. And I had very few of their obligations!
Perhaps the reason that I am relatively content is because of my latest project, a book about a woman named Mary Chase who in 1945 when women were not a major part of the work force, won a Pulitzer Prize for her play about a six-foot-tall invisible rabbit named Harvey. She was 37 at the time, a wife and a mother as well. She was never able to match or exceed her initial success as a playwright but she continued to write until she passed away at the age of 74 because she said that she always felt the most content when she was writing.
Unlike most of my peers, who have long since retired and are either on the golf course each day or by the pool, having lunch with the girls or going to book clubs, I feel the same way as Mary Chase even though my achievements are not anywhere near the ones of Mary Chase.
In my old age, I still want to keep plodding along. I’m just happy that so far my health has held up and I can take daily walks, enjoy my grandchildren and have fiery political discussions with my husband at breakfast as we read our morning papers.
I shared some of my life stories with these women and they were actually appreciative even though I was hesitant to offer them. I told them about all of my rejections before I was successful in finding a publisher. I told them about gender disparities I experienced when I was a speech and drama coach and all the sports coaches received extra stipends and I did not. And about the lack of pay for a weekly column I wrote for two and half years and for which my publisher paid me a paltry salary and offered me golf clubs instead. And I talked about the need to balance one’s life with other pleasures rather than spending every moment trying to do better.
To be appreciated for my contributions to the discussion was a great feeling and one I did not expect, the feeling that by sharing my experiences and struggles, they might actually find some comfort. I’m looking forward to hearing more about their accomplishments. And I will not be envious.