Time is one of those subjects that never seem to wear out their welcomes. A Google search for “time” with no qualifiers turns up “[a]pproximately 11,300,000,000 results”. Small wonder, when so much of our lives are devoted to talking about it, thinking about it, planning for it, using it, wasting it, managing it, killing it, maximizing it, praying for more of it. Whether seconds on the clock, hours in the day, or years in a lifetime, time is a universal obsession:
What time does (the meeting, the hearing, the show, the meal, the game, the party) start?
What time will it end?
Do you have time for . . . ?
What time is it?
How much longer until . . . ?
Can you believe it’s been that long since . . . ?
Do you remember when . . . ?
Someday, we will . . . .
Who had the fastest time?
Is it time to eat yet?
They’re going into overtime!
Can we get an extension on that deadline?
Don’t forget to turn your clocks ahead/back!
How much longer does he have?
Let me check my calendar.
The writing community holds up its end of this obsession. “Time to write” yielded 1,100,000,000 results, although in all fairness, some of these simply included both “time” and “write,” without addressing specifically such topics as the best time of day to write, the best time of year in which to write, how to make time to write, how to use the time you already have more productively so that you can write more, how to find time to write when you’re too busy to write . . . you get the idea.
And then, there’s the subset of the writing/publishing community that focuses on the time of life in which someone is writing: thirty hot new writers under thirty, forty writers to watch under forty, inspiring debut writers over fifty, sixty, seventy. Last weekend, I listened to a well-known agent from a prestigious agency tell how his agency courted and won an author who was . . . seventeen. (She started writing the book when she was twelve. Her parents had to sign the agency agreement, because she’s not a legal adult.) A roomful of writers, all of whom had left 17 behind long ago, stared at this man, and I suspect many of them had the same thought as I:
What the hell have I been doing for the past forty years?
This week, I will celebrate my fifty-eighth birthday. I cannot believe how old that sounds. If you’d asked me forty years ago, I’d have classified 58 as not-quite-closing-in-on-death. I’d have assumed that by that time, my children would be grown and gone, my grandchildren would be visiting, my husband (whom I’d married right after college) and I would be thinking about retiring in a few years, and my career would be winding down. Perhaps I’d have pictured the two of us sitting on the deck, watching the grandkids run around our backyard in a tidy suburb while one of our sons grilled the burgers.
My college boyfriend and I didn’t end up marrying (a wise decision for both of us). I have neither children nor grandchildren, a state of affairs some pity and others envy. I’ve been a short-term missionary in Thailand, cooked and served breakfast to hundreds of homeless people, performed in Gilbert and Sullivan shows, and graduated from law school at thirty-three. I’ve had several careers, some of which have overlapped. I’ve published a handful of short stories. My present career goal is to be a fifty-eight-year-old debut novelist.
(Perhaps I can ask the seventeen-year-old for advice about agents.)
In my favor, I come from a long-lived family. One of my aunts will soon turn ninety-two. She lives independently in the house where she raised her family. She reads, works puzzles, washes the walls every spring, and sits on the porch swing in the evening to think, dream, remember, or merely drift. She’s read every story I’ve published, and she writes me notes urging me to finish my novel because she wants to read it and she’s not getting any younger (or so she says). If I take after her, it means that I have 34 years to continue writing and reading and dreaming.
And there’s my other aunt, who is precisely thirty years older than I am. She and I started college at the same time: I was 17, and she was 47. She finished her bachelor’s degree and earned a master’s in library science, even in the midst of harsh personal struggles, because it had always been her dream to be a librarian. She worked as a librarian, retired, went back to work at the library, retired again, and now devotes a day or so each week to volunteering at the library, covering books and helping out however they need her except when significant health issues require her to take a break. She, too, makes a point of writing me encouraging notes, letting me know how much she enjoys my stories and how proud she is of what I’ve done.
Bringing up the rear is my mother, the baby of the family at a mere eighty-three, the only one whose husband is still living. Another avid reader (are you sensing a theme yet?) and puzzle-worker, she’ll celebrate her 62nd wedding anniversary with my father this year. In a frame on my bureau is the note she wrote me years ago, expressing her faith in me as a writer.
Compared to these amazing women, I’m barely more than a child. Which means that, popular culture notwithstanding, I have oceans of time to finish and publish my novel-in-progress, to write another one, and another, and another. Assuming I don’t get hit by a snowplow when I’m clearing the driveway or fall off the roof while I’m cleaning out the gutters, I have decades of writing ahead of me.
For some of us, life isn’t long enough to do all we want to. For others, the hours drag. It’s up to each of us to decide what we want to do with the time allotted to us. The seventeen-year-old may have a wildly long and successful career as a writer, or she may grow bored with it by the time she’s twenty-three and decide to become an accountant instead. There’s no way to know.
Me, I want to write stories.