by Helen DePrima
I’ve heard people make a big deal of decade birthdays, especially the thirtieth, the fortieth, the fiftieth. After fifty, it doesn’t seem to matter as much. With luck, you’re pretty well set on your course, happy with your life or at least content with your lot.
Mostly I can’t even recall what I did to mark most birthdays, but I did experience an epiphany of sorts at fifty. Still plenty of time to realize dreams, but time suddenly became finite, no longer limitless.
Growing up five hundred miles from salt water, I had somehow become fascinated with sailing. As a kid I read voraciously about historic voyages, about every manner of vessel under sail, from single-handed dinghies to majestic windjammers racing around Cape Horn. As an adult, my love of the sea only grew stronger living just an hour from the New Hampshire coast. I dreamed of tilting decks and the taste of spray from waves coming over the bow; the exquisite curve of white sails against a blue sky brought tears to me eyes.
|Helen at the helm of the Brilliant.|
So at fifty I learned to sail, both in my own little Nova Scotia-built lapstrake dinghy and crewing on other people’s larger boats. There were times when I was miserably seasick, when I was cold and wet, when I was afraid in a sudden gale off the Maine coast and crossing Long Island Sound in fog so thick that phantom images of trees and cliffs loomed where I knew none existed.
And still sailing was as wonderful as I’d always imagined. Steering the schooner Brilliant under sail beneath the I-95 bridge over the Connecticut River was the high point of my love affair with the sea, and the best sound in the world is the quiet of running with no power but fair wind singing in the rigging.
I no longer sail; a mild vertigo makes me an unsafe sailor, but for ten years I lived my dream.
by Liz Flaherty
I love Helen's dream, don't you? Mine is more prosaic than hers. At my most exciting, I'm just...well, not.
But I remember the first writers' conference I ever went to. It was in Indianapolis in the 1980s. I took my manuscript (the only one I'd ever completed) with me and went down and spent the night by myself in the conference motel. The next day I wore white pants and my favorite mint green jacket and sat at a round table with five other women. We listened to speakers all day long, had mystery meat for lunch, and left the hotel on sensory overload.
I thought the women at the table with me would be BFFs forever, but I never saw them again. I thought I'd never forget any of the speakers' names, but I did. I thought that first manuscript would be my ticket into Harlequin-stardom. Ahem. It wasn't. But I knew, listening to those women who worked in their pajamas and bare feet and got paid to write, what my dream was.
In the 90s, my friend Jenni Licata sent out letters to all RWA members in the area and created a new chapter, Northeast Indiana Romance Authors. I finished another manuscript. And another. And then I stopped counting.
It happened bit by bit. I sold my first book in 1998 and there have been 11 since then. I still don't work in pajamas, but I am barefoot and have the office-workroom I always wanted. Some of my best friends in the world are other writers. I get paid. And now I live the dream.
And all this time after that first conference, when I talk to high-school English students and hand them coilbound notebooks and cheap pens and tell them those and a strong dose of grammar, spelling, story, and heart is what they need to get started, that's when I know I always have.