My Head Start


Let’s do a small visualization exercise. Close your eyes.


When you hear someone described as “a talented emerging writer,” what do you see?


I see a 20-something woman, five years out of J-school. She has subtle purple streaks in her asymmetrically-cut dark hair, a tasteful tattoo on her forearm, a beat-up leather bag slung diagonally across her shoulders. Her MacBook is safely tucked inside her bag, as she heads to the hipster coffee shop to write.


What you probably didn’t picture was a middle-aged mother with extra padding on her tummy, little grey roots poking through otherwise fabulous professionally-coloured hair, wearing progressive lenses. So I laughed when I saw myself referred to in a publication as a talented emerging writer. “YAY, I just dropped three decades,” I thought to myself. So much better than lying about my age.


In fact, I’ve been feeling way younger than my years these days. In part, I am associating more and more with people barely older than my kids. These are the “talented emerging writers” who are launching their careers, not re-inventing them like me. Some days I wish I was in their shoes (which in many cases, are far less sensible than mine).


One of my new friends is Laura. She’s 28, works in communications, and was in my advanced feature writing class. One day I stayed late to talk to the prof about an assignment, and figured she would walk ahead. When I left the classroom, she was standing by the wall. “Laura, you waited for me!” I said delighted to see her. “Of course, we always walk to the subway together,” she reminded me.


As we were walking to College Park I tell her, “Laura, you’re my new BFF.” Laura tells me how much she loves our walks to the subway, which I do too. “You know I’m old enough to be your mother, right?” I ask. She doesn’t believe me (the upside of being blessed with amazingly good genes) until I tell her that I know what year she was born because it’s in her email address.  “I met my husband-to-be in 1984, three years before you were born.” She shrugs and says, “It doesn’t matter.” Laura thinks I’m hip.


I don’t feel older than Laura but I am a bit envious of her age. She started to work on her craft so much earlier than me. As she frets about whether all the hard work and passion she has poured into a story will ever be accepted for publication, I remind her that she has so much ramp-up time; she shouldn’t put that sort of pressure on herself. It will happen, I reassure her, soon enough. She is talented.


But I feel the time pressure. The talent out there knocks my socks off. Last month I got a warm note from an editor at a national magazine who loved my submission. It was such an encouraging note—the type of “good job” note I would have written to my kids if I was a “good job” kind of mother. I checked out her profile on LinkedIn, and discovered that she graduated only a few years before my older son, from the same university. Again, definitely old enough to be her mother. But she had already won a prestigious award for an in-depth investigative piece. She’s going places. Far-away ones.


I am meeting so many other talented, ambitious young women and men who are now my new “peers”. We’re all in the same boat. The only difference is that I have to row harder and faster. But then I remind myself.  I started closer to the finish line.




Photo credit: Flickr/Ak~i/typewriter

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