When You’re Too Old to Be a Prodigy
from my journal in spring, 2010
I have been thinking a lot about art in maturity. There’s a tendency to delight in and glorify achievement that comes early—how remarkable! how surprising!—and assume, too, that this will be the best work in a lifetime. When else are we so passionate and intense and recklessly brave? And if life flows along without anyone much noticing our young work, it’s easy to think, I’ve missed my chance. Earlier this week, my eyes were bothering me—itchy, teary, and dry—and I was regretting just how intensely and clearly we see when we are young. Do you remember how you used to feel color, not just with your eyes, but with your bones? I miss that.
Having so much on hold while we await the sale of our Chicago townhouse has induced an intense art-sickness. I’ve been gazing longingly at pictures of artists’ studios, and making notes about how I plan to commandeer space in our next home. “We so rarely entertain,” I wrote, “why can’t I just take the dining room or the living room? People when they do come over will be intrigued by how we live. It can start conversations.”
So, it was while I was feeling particularly late-middle-agey, all clumsy and ridiculous and irrelevant, that I came upon this quotation from George Eliot: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
I can’t express to you how much I love that thought. Then, last night, while I was sketching and doodling and planning the projects I will work on soon, soon, after we move, it occurred to me that I have so many more ideas for my art than I can ever complete.
This did not make me sad. When I was young, I struggled to find things to say. I was ripe with the urge to create, but had no ideas. There may be a case for art in maturity after all.