On Being a Late Bloomer


In April, 1988, standing in our kitchen in NE Philadelphia, it came to me that for the rest of my life I would follow whatever course best served my desire to write. And by that, I meant–to make art, to be an artist, though I wasn’t yet ready to accept that name for myself

I was 47, two months short of my 48th birthday. It wasn’t that I hadn’t done these things before, I had taken courses in art from childhood, at the Chicago Art Institute, Nelson-Aitkins Gallery of Art and Kansas City Art Institute. Later, majored for for time at Wichita State University. I had written stories and poetry from the time I could write, but this was new. This was something else. Like a conversion experience. A sense of accepting a calling, making a commitment. If I could live to work another 20 or 30 years, I told myself, I would have as much time as many who had begun in their youth–to leave a body of work.

Maybe it was the feeling that time was running out. Or was it that to my mind, being an artist was something too grand, that I wasn’t worthy? I thought of what Cezanne had written: ” Why so late and with such difficulty? Is art a priesthood that demands the pure in heart who must belong to it entirely?”

Yes. I thought. It does.

Though not so sure about the “pure in heart” stuff. A bit too 19th Century.

But with humor, yes. And this new sense of freedom from any judgment not my own–this was what I was going to do.

It will be 27 years come April. Some of them–pretty rough going. But I can call myself an artist now–a novelist, a poet–and not cower in shame lest I be found out as a fake. And I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life.

I kinda like this, being a Late Bloomer–of just warming up when most people are winding down, of not having to hang it up, rest on the laurels of what I accomplished in my youth. Life is just beginning. Every day. Every day, a new beginning!