Friday, October 24, 2008

late bloomers

I've been at this writing thing since the age of eight. As a kid, I first learned the word prosaic, a term my mother ascribed to my first work of lyricism. I offer said poem herewith:


Spring is when the flowers bloom.

With snow gone, there's lots of room.

Birds chirping while building their nests.

When mother-bird takes her turn, father-bird rests.

The tip-tap of rainfalls,

the sound of mate calls,

is spring.

While my mother critiqued the piece, finding nothing poetic in it at all save for the onomatopoeic tip-tap, my third grade teacher, a square-shaped, red-headed battle axe of a woman named Mrs. Angle, held the effort up in front of the class, and read it out loud as though it were coated with honey. I enjoyed an entire week of popularity. Mrs. Angle, having scolded me for daydreaming on my report card, redeemed me by pronouncing me a Writer!

My mother, however, wanted me to try again. And, bless her heart, she was right. But I never did return to that poem, instead, I moved to prose, and never looked back until, in Freshman English at Syracuse, I was asked to write a paper on Eliot's Prufrock. That may have been my first real immersive experience with a body of work, and was cause for another teacher-fawning moment—which, I must admit, I live for.

Junior year, I got derailed from writing. Instead, I took up with science and home economics and became a nutritionist. But all the while, stories stewed inside me. All through my twenties, I scribbled things on scraps of paper, which I often destroyed, thinking that I might die in an accident, and they'd be found, and read! Once out of school, I was at a loss for audience. There were no teachers to embrace me, so what was the point?

At thirty, as a young widow with two babies and a small pile of cash, I moved to Portland and jumped into the deep end. Teachers or no, I learned how to write for an audience that included myself. I began to submit my stories to journals and to get them published. I won some awards. I went back to school for an MFA and won more awards. But I haven't been able to crack the "book" thing yet, and I've had to admit to myself that part of the problem is that, I'm still wanting to turn that Spring poem into something my mother would like. Which is ridiculous. She's read and liked much of my work. But still.

Last issue, The New Yorker had a brilliant piece by Malcolm Gladwell, Late Bloomers. If you haven't read it, you must. The article tosses around a lot of preconceptions about genius and talent and precocity. One of the most interesting points is based upon research done by an economist from the University of Chicago named David Galenson, who undertook the challenge to disprove assumptions about creativity and age, particularly the idea that poets and artists peak young. What he discovered was that prodigies don't tend to engage in open-ended exploration, and that they are typically concept-driven; they have an idea, and then go for it, rather than painstakingly researching the way many non-prodigies do. In the article, Galenson is quoted as saying, about late bloomers, "Their approach is experimental. Their goals are imprecise, so their procedure is tentative and incremental."

In other words, late bloomers are nerdy, and tend to follow a depth of inquiry ad nauseam. Ergo, they might have a manuscript or two in Rubbermaid tubs in their basements.

So… to all you Late Bloomers out there—never give up!

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