I returned to college after I turned 50. I had been working in business and, for a variety of reasons (reasons that required an entire book to explain!) I was no longer willing or able to continue. After a lot of hemming and hawing, I finally decided I would jump through the necessary hoops and start over in an entirely new course of study. I decided, at 50, I wanted to be a writer.
I moved out of state and into a converted garage, bought furniture on Craigslist, lived on the stipend the university paid me for teaching, and spent every day writing. My fellow classmates were all half my age and twice as smart.
One day, a kind and very talented writing teacher asked me and my young fellow classmates, “Haven’t you always wanted to write?”
I thought about this for a moment. The answer was, unequivocally, “No. Not at all.”
I tried to remember when I had done any creative writing before this midlife reinvention. Only then did I remember in second grade when I was assigned to write a story entitled: “The 500-Pound Mouse.”
I don’t remember much about my story, “The 500-Pound Mouse,” except that it took a very long time for the mouse to reach its enormous size. In fact, it took me more pages to get my mouse to 500 pounds than any of my classmates. The only part I remember with perfect clarity was that my mouse had reached 500 pounds, the end was nowhere in sight, and my teacher lost patience and told me I had to finish the story before I was allowed to go to lunch.
(If I spend the rest of my life writing, I am pretty sure this will remain the most terrifying deadline I will ever face.)
All my classmates left the room. I seem to remember that at least some of the lights were extinguished and I was left alone with my 500-pound mouse. Missing lunch in the second grade isn’t just scary — it simply isn’t done.
I panicked. My mouse vomited all over the front lawn — nearly 500 pounds of mouse vomit — and was instantly and miraculously returned to his original size. I ran to the lunchroom, knowing I had not come up with a very satisfactory ending (and to this day I think endings are tricky), but also sensing that I had not really done justice to that poor mouse. I think got my first glimpse of how demanding and intimidating this writing business can be.
“Haven’t you always wanted to write?” my teacher asked, and the implication was that all the really important things we want to do in life are imprinted on us in childhood. Perhaps that’s how it is for some people. It wasn’t for me.
I am simply delighted by this astonishing idea that I am allowed to decide — at this late point in my life — to do something I have not always wanted to do, something new, something frightening, something at which I am likely to fail, but will have a wonderful time trying.
I looked around the room at all the heads nodding. Yes, they had always wanted to write, my fellow students agreed. I wondered if they always would. I wondered if, within some of them, there might not be another exciting goal lying dormant, some crazy ambition that wouldn’t surface for another 20 or 30 years.
Maybe it would be something completely new and unexpected. Or maybe it would be some long-forgotten, unfinished business — like getting a visit from a 500-pound mouse.
Till next time,
Carrie Classon’s memoir, “Blue Yarn,” will be released next month. Learn more at CarrieClasson.com.