The soul doesn’t know about deadlines

Further to my last post and, while constantly contemplating career changes, motivation comes from reading about others who have been successful later in life, especially authors who have bloomed after the age of 50.

Take Laura Ingalls Wilder for example. Little House in the Prairie features in my childhood memories. I didn’t realise it wasn’t until she was 63 years old that she completed her first book and it took another two years before she became a published author.

In the visual arts, Anna Mary Roberson, also known as “Grandma Moses”, was 78 before her paintings were discovered by an art collector and 79 when some of her works were exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Frank McCourt, whose first book Angela’s Ashes won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, only began writing after retirement. Angela’s Ashes, his first book, was published when he was 66 years old. Apparently, he owes his success to his wife encouraging him to write down his stories.

Australian writer Elizabeth Jolly wrote for years before her first book of short stories was published when she was 53. The author of Watership Down, Richard Adams, was 52 when it was published. It was his first book. Raymond Chandler, despite writing unsuccessfully for years, was 51 when The Big Sleep, the first of the Philip Marlowe detective series was published.

I’m sure there are many more people who have successfully changed their career path in later life.

So, there are always choices and options. Options and hard work. And more hard work. Especially if you aspire to one day becoming a published writer. In the words of William Zinsser, who wrote several books about writing, “Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things that people do.”

But I find more hope in these words of Jeff Brown, “So called ‘late-bloomers’ get a bad rap. Sometimes the people with the greatest potential often take the longest to find their path because their sensitivity is a double-edged sword – it lives at the heart of their brilliance, but it also makes them more susceptible to life’s pains. Good thing we aren’t being penalised for handing in our purpose late. The soul doesn’t know a thing about deadlines.”

What do you want to be?

I woke up this morning another year older and no closer to knowing what I want to do with the rest of my life. Well-meaning adults, perhaps because they cannot think of anything else to say, often ask youngsters “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. The children um and ah a bit and then list off the professions which attract them like firemen or doctors or actors or the like. I think I wanted to be a lawyer at one stage, until I discovered the amount of study involved. But here I am, seemingly all grown up, and still with no concrete notion of what I want to be or can realistically achieve!

Sure, I would like to write but not all the time. I’m not keen on a solitary existence and, as I live alone, I appreciate the social aspect of having colleagues around me. I would also make a very bad copywriter or such as I am not enthusiastic about being told what to write, or how to write it. I enjoy writing a blog post when I have something to write about and I hardly ever feel guilty if I miss a week or two.

In an ideal world, where money is no object, I would like to work on various projects, such as building communities for creative people, who practice across all forms of the arts. I wrote about my inspiration for this, the Westbeth community in New York, here I can think of nothing better than rehabilitating and renovating old factories and warehouse to provide accommodation for creatives and a vibrant artistic hub for the communities they live in.

If I could help design and build such a community, I would make sure it is environmentally friendly, dependent on renewable energy, with gardens and open space. Perhaps even rooftop gardens, or at least artistic courtyards where residents would be encouraged to plant. I wish the town planners of Australia would all put more emphasis on the environment when they approve plans. Imagine a city of roof top vegetable gardens, or floral wonders!

But building a Westbeth type community is not the only project I would like to be part of. There are so many causes I would like to assist with. Volunteer you say! And I should, but I find there is already so little time left in each day for the things I want to do, like writing and researching. I’m no saint.

I would also like to study more – not necessarily for a degree or qualification, more for my own benefit. History, archaeology, languages, there are so many subjects out there which I would like to know more about. I often look up various courses and dream about the day I can afford to take them all. Imagination is a wonderful thing until reality jumps up at you and reminds you about the mortgage, the bills and the necessity of food to life.

But sometimes, one can launch an idea into the Universe and things happen. Maybe I will even find out what I want to be when I grow up!


Trigger Warning – I might disagree with you

I could not believe my eyes or ears when I watched the recent ABC Four Corners story about the growth of trigger warnings in Universities. You can read about it here.

The kids behind this move, who no doubt grew up with helicopter parents sheltering them, are now wanting to be protected from life itself. They have a long list of subject areas which Universities in USA and now Monash University here in Australia, will provide “trigger warnings” for, in order to advise students of potentially distressing material. Let me provide my own warning to these delicate little flowers – the real world is distressing.

All around us, at every moment, in every corner of the world, bad things happen. Rape, violence, war, crime and all of the harmful, distressing things humans do to each other, the animal kingdom and the environment are occurring over and over again. They might be happening next door to you, they might be happening to you or someone you love. But this is not the time to put blinkers on and sit in a protective bubble. Holding your hands over your eyes and ears while singing “la la la” loudly is not going to make anything bad go away. Sheltering yourself, or others, from evil does not mean it disappears.

We need to be reminded that bad things happen so we can try to stop those who choose to cause harm. If we are not made aware of the evil in this world, how can we begin, as a society, to plan against it? Through the ages, it has always been the creatives and the intellectuals – the artists, writers, poets, filmmakers, academics and the like, who have brought our attention to the disharmonies in the world. Their works have challenged audiences to look at things they might not have seen, and to think in ways they might not have thought before.

The same kids who have requested these “trigger warnings” are also attempting to ban certain literary texts, those they consider to be distressing. Let us remind ourselves that this is exactly what dictators and oppressors attempt to do. Hitler burnt books, various Communist and other extremist regimes have banned books and creatives they disagree with. To have a one sided, biased view of the world is a seriously dangerous thing. It is up to society to ensure a balance is in place, and Universities have long had the reputation of being able to project this balance; to present ideas and hypothesis which may be scary or distressing, but need to be brought to our attention and debated.

I am not saying that those who have suffered in some way need to be constantly reminded of their suffering. They need to be encouraged to self-censor. Just as I choose not to watch or read anything in the genre of horror because I know it distresses me, they need to do their own research and avoid the genres which distress them. But I certainly don’t attempt to ban anyone else from watching or reading horror stories.

I don’t think we need trigger warnings, I think we need informed conversation about issues which are challenging and confronting, as well as those we are comfortable with.