For those of you who didn’t watch the Academy Awards last night, David Seidler won for original screenplay for “The King’s Speech” at the 83rd Academy Awards on Sunday night. He’s seventy-three years old.
He began his speech with a wry statement: “My father always said to me I’d be a late bloomer.” He went on to say that he believed he was the oldest person to receive that particular Oscar, and hoped the record would be broken early and often.*
This smacked me right upside my forty-and-a-half-year old head.
See, several of the little anxieties that swarm around and bite my ears when I’m trying to get into the writing zone are the ones that tell me I’m not writing fast enough, didn’t start early enough, haven’t been published yet, I’ve only got a few decades left, I’ve wasted all this time . . .
This is all patently untrue: Betsy Lerner might rightly call me a bleeder**, but I do get there in the end, and usually well under deadline. When in my right mind, I don’t consider thirty-three years of writing practice—and thirty-seven of reading—wasted time. This is the point in my life when I have something to say and, just maybe, the ability to say it. And if I follow my parent’s example, I won’t be middle-aged until I’m eighty, if then.***
I know this. I do.
But I still have a tendency to hyperventilate like the White Rabbit trapped in a hamster wheel when I read about all these talented infants authors on the 20 under 40 list. When I read in The Guardian or the New York Time—or PW, occasionally—that younger writers have promise and older writers have an imminent expiration date. Remembering the writing instructor who informed me that I was starting five years later than I should be^ and realizing it’s been four years since I took her workshop—
It helps to know that plenty of authors debuted after, some well after, forty: Paul Harding, Belva Plain, Stina Hergin (who was 90), Annie Proulx, Sue Monk Kidd, James Michener (there’s a writer who hit 57 running), Richard Adams, Raymond Chandler, for pity’s sake, and a couple more bestseller lists full of etceteras.
It also helps to remember that late bloomers do, in fact, bloom.
Of course, finishing up my current chapter wouldn’t hurt. I believe I’ll try that next.
* Mr. Seidler was a childhood stutterer, and he closed his speech by dedicating his award to all the stutterers in the world who finally had a voice. I’m sure the video is on the Oscar website.
**Forest for the Trees. If you write, read it.
***You know what my parents did on their vacation in Hawaii? They went up a volcanic mountain and rode zip-lines down. I’ve yet to see the photos (Dad? Please send some, soon, so I can post proof), but I’d believe it anyway. For anyone keeping score, Dad’s going to be 79 this year and Mom’s going to be 73.
^No, I don’t know what her reasoning was, though marketability might have been on her mind.