I was having coffee with a writer friend of mine whose wife, a law professor, had just retired. Between the two of them they were living comfortably, and a few nights earlier his wife had broached the subject of his retiring. They could have more time together.
“I told her no chance,” he said. “Writers don’t retire. We just die.”
The last time I’d talked to my oldest son, he had reminded me that I had once said the exact same thing to him. My friend and I had a good laugh over this, but also agreed that retirement simply wasn’t an option. What was there to retire from? And what would we do with ourselves? Golf and visit museums? Would we be allowed to write if we just felt like it?
This conversation reminded me of when I went to hear Larry McMurtry give a talk close to 30 years ago. The Pulitzer Prize winning author of Lonesome Dove said that he believed writing was primarily a “middle-aged profession.” I hoped at the time he was wrong, though I suspected he wasn’t.
I didn’t in fact have much success myself until I was middle-aged. I have to say, I don’t like that term: middle-aged – at least when it’s applied to me. I know that when I look in the mirror I see a guy who could only be described as such, but that is not how I feel when I’m not looking in the mirror, particularly when I’m writing. I feel neither young nor old at the desk. Experienced, yes, but that is different. I’ve learned how to better navigate the open waters of imagination and memory. But I don’t feel in the middle of anything, because only something that ends has a middle.
I know all about endings. I value them more than any other part of a story. But to appreciate an ending, you must understand it’s invented. It’s a storyteller’s trick, a curtain dropped on a play still running. The play will run forever, whether I’m on stage or not. It’s hard to comprehend forever, until you sail again through endless memory and limitless imagination. Then you’re reminded that that sea is reality, and that all the things that rust and rot are like the clothes life dresses itself in and discards on its timeless journey.
If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.
Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com