XLVI

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

Next week I’ll be looking down the barrel of my forty-sixth birthday. 

And I honestly don’t know how I feel about that.  When I turned forty a wise cop told me that Life Begins at Forty.

He was right.  Everything in my life changed around that time.  My marriage which was in the early stages of collapse came to the intersection of Right and Wrong and my wife and I both chose to take a Right.  It was an unpaved road with bumps and potholes and sinkholes and it’s gotten so much smoother since.  We’ve poured a lot of concrete.

Early forties is when I decided to write my first novel.  And in 2009, at 45, the novel was published and the New Life began.

The thought that comes now is…how many good years do I have?  I should have written that book when I was in my twenties, dammit! 

And then it occurs to me that I couldn’t have written that book in my twenties.  I wasn’t fully formed.  I wrote my first screenplay in my twenties and look where it is now.  I mean, really, you have to look, hard, in some forgotten storage unit.

So at 45 I’m ready.  And those next fifteen, twenty, thirty or forty years are going to have to do.  But how much can I really do from 45 to 80?

Let’s talk about one of my favorite characters.  You’ve seen his face before.  If I open my wallet I’ll see him on a five-dollar bill.  I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen his face on a higher denomination bill.

Benjamin Franklin.  Died when he was 84.  Lifted weights right up until the end.  When he was 81 he was the oldest delegate working on the U.S. Constitution.

He didn’t really do anything we remember him for before the age of 42.  Sure, he ran that printing press.  Had his own paper, the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Printed Poor Richard’s Almanac.  All great things, of course.

In 1748, when he was 42, he placed the printing business in the hands of his partner and turned to other interests.  There was so much more he wanted to do with his life.

And then he did them.  He wanted to figure out the nature of lightening.  He was a curious fellow.  So he put his mind to it and, well, you know the kite-and-key story.  He captured lightening in a jar, then created the first electric battery.  Then he came up with the lightening rod, which saved many houses and many lives.  

He was interested in the currents of the ocean and he studied them, and discovered and named the Gulf Stream.  He created the Franklin Stove, a device which directed heat from a fireplace into a room.  He invented a better street lamp, one that would burn all night.

I’m sure many of you appreciate the fact that he invented bifocal glasses.

He invented the glass harmonica.  He invented an artificial arm.  He founded the Library Company of Philadelphia.  He founded the Union Fire Company, which was the first volunteer fire department in the U.S.  He became Philadelphia’s postmaster and then was named acting postmaster for America.  He founded the Philadelphia Academy and the Pennsylvania Hospital. 

In 1751 he ran for an Assembly seat and won.  He was 45 years old.  He raised troops and served as a general in the French and Indian War.  He served in the Continental Congress to win the war against England.  He was working 12-hour days in Congress at the age of 69.

He helped write the Declaration of Independence.  He became governor of Pennsylvania.  At the age of 70 he began counting his age backwards every year, so that by the time he was 82 he was telling people he was 58. 

He tried to end slavery and served as president of an anti-slavery society.  He was trying to pass a bill to end slavery when he died. 

Okay, then.  My second book will be published when I’m 46.  Hopefully I’ll write a book a year, so by the time I’m 80 I’ll have…oh, you do the math.  And I still want to have a film directing career.  If I direct my first feature when I’m 49 then I can pump out a few films before I die.  Ten sounds like a good number.  Damn, I also want to get up to speed on the saxophone again, and I want to learn to play guitar and maybe electric bass.  I want to learn at least three languages – French, Italian and Spanish.  I’ve had an interest in sword-fighting for years, so that goes on the list.  And, as long as I’m writing and directing films, I might as well do some acting.  I kind-of like that whole Bono scene, you know, being a world diplomat, saving the planet, stopping wars, feeding the hungry.  Really, that’s always been on my list.  As long as we’re talking about Bono, I wouldn’t mind learning how to sing.  I still think I’ve got a shot at being a rock star. 

What, you don’t think I can do it all?  Do I need to go over Ben Franklin’s list again?  At least I’m not trying to invent anything.  That’ll free up some time.

So, what do you guys want to do with the rest of your years?

 

44 thoughts on “XLVI

  1. Alafair Burke

    Happy Birthday. I also want to be writing into my 80’s. Triathalons. A senior LPGA tour. Restauranteur. Creator of several hit TV series. George Clooney’s unattainable crush. The next American Idol – well, that I am too old for.

    Reply
  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Oh, Steve, you ARE a rock star. Happy Birthday!

    Wonderful post and questions.

    I have a teacher who likes to say – “We are human BEings, not human DOings.”

    I’ve been thinking about that a lot, lately, because I’ve spent so much of my life DOING. And don’t get me wrong, I’ve had an extraordinarily blessed life (I said “blessed”, not ”easy”) in the things I’ve been able to do. But now I really am starting to look at it more as what I want to BE.

    We are all incredibly lucky because we ARE authors, now. That’s not a doing for us anymore, that’s a being. We have become authors, and in a way, I feel that makes my life very simple now, because a large part of what I want to do in life is to write good books, one after another, get better, get more real, and explore life in my life and on the page, in a way that is meaningful to other people. It’s not easy, but it’s as much what my life is as breathing.

    Now that writing books is a given, who I am, the question is about who else I am, who else I want to BE, not do. Writing is not something I do, it’s what I am, all the time. People don’t say to me, “You dance, don’t you?” They say – “You’re a dancer" – and people are always saying that to me, whether I’m actually dancing or not. It’s who I am – all the time.

    So I guess my answer is – I’m looking to DO the things I want to BE – all the time.

    PS – Benjamin Franklin? Sexiest. Man. Ever.

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  3. Cornelia Read

    Happy birthday!!!!! I hope you have the most fabulous year EVER, and that all your troubles melt like lemondrops and all that good stuff.

    I would like to finish this fourth book, which is about as far ahead as I can think right now.

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  4. Spencer Seidel

    Stephen,

    We must someday drink a coffee (or Guiness) and swap stories. Every time you post, I think to myself that I could have written at least a part of it. I just crested the big 4-0 and have often wondered why in the hell I spent so much time trying to be Eddie Van Halen when I should have been writing! Truth is, just like you, I wrote a lot in my 20’s, but I just wasn’t ready.

    So, rock on, brutha. The best is yet to come!

    Spence

    Reply
  5. JD Rhoades

    Happy Birthday Stephen, from another 40-something. As Eubie Blake* was reported to have once said, "If I’d known I was going to live this long I’d have taken better care of myself."

    *quote variously attributed to either Blake or Mickey Mantle

    Reply
  6. billie

    Happy birthday!

    I turned 50 this year and am busier than ever doing the things that make me happy. Writing, riding, being with my family, learning, reading.

    IMO, life gets easier because so much of the unnecessary falls away as we become fully formed as people. I loved being 19 and in some ways still feel like that young woman. But now I have the potent core self of that young woman, without all the trappings that went with the age.

    I love BF’s idea of starting to count age in reverse. I think he was on to something.

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  7. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Alafair – there will definitely come a day when you won’t want to be George Clooney’s crush. It might not come for thirty years, but it will come.

    Alex – damn, girl, you got yourself a heck of a lot of wisdom there. It’s weird, but I was just thinking about the Buddhist concept of "BE", and I had this thought that we are always thinking forward or backward, from memory to future action, and, unless we meditate regularly, we don’t spend much time Being. It made me think that our memories are what we are, without our memories we would just….BE. Then I thought about Alzheimer’s Disease, how it robs a person of his or her memories, until they are people who just "are." I wonder if, to them, it’s a comfortable place to be?
    Your comment made me think, Alex. I love hearing your thoughts. It does feel good to BE an author. I’ve always felt that, no matter what I do in life, I will always BE a writer.

    Cornelia – don’t we have to spend a lot of time sucking those lemon drops before they melt? I guess that’s a "good" suck.

    Spence – yes, let’s get that beer. At Thrillerfest of Bouchercon, perhaps? And Eddie’s the man. I watched this You Tube video of Chick Corea playing with Gary Burton and I sat in awe…now, that’s living. That’s BEING.
    I actually got to play sax one night for a rock band in high school. Got to feel like a rock star for a half-second.

    Duster – great quote – I always thought it was Micky Mantle. Or…wait, wasn’t it Mickey Mouse? He’s been around a while, too.

    Billie – I’ve been called Peter Pan more than once in my advancing years. I definitely feel like I’m 23…exactly have my years. And I agree with you that there’s a sense of comfort and stability that comes with growing older, from learning to trust who you are. For me it’s probably just the testosterone evaporating.

    Rob – yes, I tried to ignore the fact that he’d already made his fortune. But, listen, he started as a printer’s apprentice at age 12. The guy worked for it.

    Reply
  8. Ed Marrow

    Happy Birthday!
    My 37th is Sunday. You, sir, have inspired me. Time to get to business! Thanks.

    Reply
  9. Rebbie Macintyre

    Happy birthday! I love those late-in-life accomplishments. In my 80th year, I want to have like my 20th book published, learn a new language and hike in Switzerland. That may be my birthday present to myself. 🙂

    Reply
  10. pari noskin taichert

    Stephen,
    You’re such a whippersnapper. Happy Happy Happy Birthday. May each year become better and more satisfying for you.

    I’ve thought a lot about growing older during the last few years, especially since I turned 50. What I CAN say is that I want to live my intentionally from here on out — not waste it b/c I’m going too fast to see or look or smell. I want to push my own ingrained assumptions about aging and accomplishment, to keep learning and growing and feeling gratitude every day.

    When I’m 80, I expect to be in Ireland . . . finally doing that walking pub tour. I’ll have finished my 30th book or so — all of them published — and they’ll all still be bringing joy to readers around the globe.

    Why not dream big?

    Reply
  11. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Stephen

    Many Happy Returns for your impending birthday! As the late Colin McRae once said, "We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time."

    So, less time worrying about all the things you’re not doing, and more time enjoying the ride, yes?

    As for Franklin, well, all that showing off is a little on the vulgar side, don’t you think?

    Reply
  12. JT Ellison

    Happy Birthday, Stephen! It does take a few years of wisdom to learn that we are the people we want to be, and once we’ve reached that point, then we can start shooting for the stars.

    I have no lofty plans for my upcoming years outside of being able to back down to a one book a year schedule. We want to buy a small house in Italy, and spend time at the beach. Simple, boring things that allow us time to enjoy each other and lets us work in a less stressful environment. I’ve never wanted to be famous, or a rock star (WAY too shy for that) so it’s simple country living for us. When I found myself through writing, everything fell into place so perfectly that all my dreams did come true. Very much in a BE frame of mind these days.

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  13. Allison Brennan

    I hit 40 last year. Right now, I’m simply focused on raising my kids and writing–while I have some things I’d like to do, I guess I don’t focus much on the future. Sort of a take each day as it comes.

    I’d like to continue writing my entire life, but cut down to two books a year at some point. Or not 🙂 I’d like to travel before I’m too old to enjoy it. I want to go to Australia and Ireland. I want to go to Mass at the Vatican. I’d like to drive cross country (again–I did it once, but went really fast!) and go off the Interstates–I don’t want a plan, just a few weeks to go wherever I want whenever I want.

    Reply
  14. PK the Bookeemonster

    I think I’ve mentioned this story previously but it’s a good one and inspirational to me. I saw a news program, could have 60 minutes or something like it. A woman in her 80s was being interviewed and was asked what she regretted in her life. She said that when she was 60 she wanted to learn to play the violin but she thought she was too old. She said, just think, if I had done it I could have been playing for 20 years.
    Never too late.

    Reply
  15. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Lots of great comments!

    Ed and Rashda – thank you!

    Louise – when I face obstacles in my dreams at night, I always have a sword in my hand. I can even feel the weight, know the shape and size. I went to a sword shop once and described it and the salesman said it would be a Spanish rapier.

    Rebbie – I’m all for that Switzerland hike. Count me in.

    Pari – Ireland is where my wife wants to have a second wedding. With me, I hope. And I agree that I want to live intentionally from here on out – that’s a good way to describe it.

    Zoe – that’s a fantastic quote by McRae. I am so ready for that good time. Maybe spending time at an English pub will help. Overall, I am enjoying the ride. But, like PK says, if I had kept with the electric guitar when I started taking lessons when I was 35, I’d have been playing the electric guitar for ten years now. It’s time to start doing the things I’ve wanted to spend my life doing.

    JT – I forgot to put "house in Italy" on the list. Maybe one next to George Clooney, so I can see George and Alafair walking around hand-in-hand. I, too, would love to find a quiet little spot where I can create and enjoy time with my family. And I want to travel the world with them, too – see it through the eyes of my kids.

    Allison – wow, Mass at the Vatican would be cool. And you should do that road trip – have you read Steinbeck’s "Travels with Charlie"? He took that road trip when he was 60. Great book. And it simply amazes me that you write 3 books a year, raise the family, participate in all the blogs. Someday you will take a much needed, much deserved, rest. In Ireland or Australia.

    PK – I loved your story. See my note to Zoe above.

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  16. Allison Davis

    No age relevations here but Stephen you’re right about not looking back…the book comes out when it’s ready. I have had my share of potholes and bumps, and sometimes no concrete, sometimes no spare tire, but no huge regrets. Life is good every day. I intend to live to 100 (come y’all and watch me) and finish all those books in me (or a few more anyway)…the tragedy and ectasy of life is that we are finite so each moment is precious and a wonder. I am gradually becoming more sendentary (this is good), and satisfied with less (material goods) and look forward to hanging out and writing in either SF or New Orleans encouraging my foster kids (and adults), rescuing a few (more) dogs and likely misbehaved cats, cook and enjoy the company of my friends…if I can just kick this law gig!

    This year I am celebrating my Dad’s 80th birthday by taking him to France to drink Calvados and eat oysters…he’s still rocking, traveling like crazy with his wife, taking watercolor lessons, writing short stories and babysitting his grandchildren…and my friend, Jack’s 90th birthday in October — Jack still drinks a bit, chases women when they let him ("I’m a 20 year old trying to get out of the body of an 80 year old man" he says) and happy every day to be alive and allowed to have more fun. That’s the way I want to be.

    Happy B’day!

    Reply
  17. Allison Davis

    "Life is not a dress rehearsal."

    Rose Tremain (b. 1943) British Author. Sunday Correspondent (London, Dec 24, 1989)

    Reply
  18. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Allison D – "the tragedy and ectasy of life is that we are finite so each moment is precious and a wonder" – I love that. Every moment is precious. Every drop of life that falls on our tongues.
    I want to be like your dad or your friend Jack. I’ve quit the drinking and chasing women, but when I’m 90 years old, maybe I can start up again. It’s not like anyone’s going to notice. At least my wife could take me to a strip club or two, I mean, for my 90th birthday, right sweetheart?
    I’m definitely looking forward to babysitting grandchildren.
    And I’m looking forward to having a drink with you, Allison, when that first book of yours gets published. (Actually, a long time before that, of course. But we’ll do it with champagne when your book comes out.)

    Reply
  19. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    ps – I’m glad you set me straight on "Life is not a dress rehearsal" – I thought it was the Chili Peppers.

    Reply
  20. toni mcgee causey

    "At least I’m not trying to invent anything. That’ll free up some time." –Stephen, that cracked me up.

    I love the sword fighting one, too. And the whole world diplomat thing. And HAPPY BIRTHDAY to a fellow Gemini. 😉 May every year be exponentially better than the year before.

    Alafair, we could campaign for a "mature" idol… okay, never mind, that doesn’t even sound good.

    Reply
  21. Barbara

    Hi Stephen!

    Happy Birthday! I’ll be 46 as well at the end of this month. Do I have to technically say I’m in my late 40’s yet?! I’m still working on my first novel so you’re up on me in that regard! I’ve been fortunate to make a living as a journalist for over 20 years, and I look over what I wrote years ago and laugh. I have journals, poems, short stories and hundreds of articles. While there are some glimpses of good writing in them, what I do now is just better. I think that’s mostly due to life experience, editing the work of others and reading authors like yourself. I’ve grown into my own voice. I am so glad blogging didn’t exist when I was in my 20’s, otherwise, I know I’d have a lot of crap out there!

    I’d like to write a novel, but sometimes I think I might be better suited to non-fiction. We’ll see. Writing is like breathing to me, I just have to do it even if most of it is not fit for public consumption! Other than that, l just love to learn. Since I bought a home two years ago, I’ve taken up gardening and revel in seeing what I planted grow. It’s a simple happiness. I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the piano, but I could never afford it until now. My husband bought me a second-hand upright that we just need to get tuned and then I’ll be on my way to perfecting "Chopsticks.!"

    Murderati is my favorite blog. I often keep the page open for hours because I love to refresh and read the comments and see how the other contributors are all so supportive and encouraging. It’s a great community!

    Reply
  22. kit

    Stephan,

    Happy Birthday! what do I want to do? ..oh…keep breathing…I’m sure something will turn up.
    my cousin once put birthdays into perspective for me…I think it was after I turned 26(I’m weird, that one was hard for me..I had a child starting school, I thought I would have to start joining the PTA, wearing 3 button placket plaid shirts and bullet-proof polyester pants with the seams down the middle..all the fun stuff was over!) she just said " face it…you either have another birthday…or you die..deal with it!" *weelllll, since ya put it that way….*

    And I want to share, my hubbby’s perspective on Alzheimer’s: "just think about it, Kit…I had a pretty good youth, I wouldn’t mind going back there.."
    Kit to Doug: "oh yeah, while you are *out there with fast cars, and playing ball{he was a pitcher on a semi-pro team} I’ll come to see ya, and you’ll be running down the hall saying "who the hell is that old broad, with the boobs tucked into her sox??!"

    Reply
  23. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Kit, you crack me up. Maybe there’ll be a pill you can take so you can join him when that happens. It’ll be like the pilot episode of the original Star Trek, when those alien biengs with the pulsating veins in their bulbous heads created a youthful reality for the old captain and his old girlfriend to live. Remember that one?

    Barbara – you are part of the reason the Murderati community is so great. Thanks for your comments. And we say that we are in our Mid-forties, not late forties. Late-forties is 49 1/2. I think it’s great that you’re starting the piano. My 12-year old son has been taking piano lessons for two years now, and I had intended to learn along with him. But he moved along ahead. My ten year old has been playing the violin for about six months now. They practice EVERY night. Nice to see that. Thanks for chiming in!

    Ah, Toni, my little Gemini sister. I love you. No I hate you. No I love you. No I hate you. Damn, it’s hard being a Gemini, isn’t it?

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  24. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Pari – I was listening to the Bach Cello Concerto #1 this morning…mmmm beautiful. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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  25. Anonymous

    Stephen……Pari

    Dudes………..Jordi Savall !!!!

    Stephen you are a movie nut…………get out Tout Les Matins du Monde again…….just for the soundtrack

    Reply
  26. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Anon, let’s see, as I said, I still have to LEARN French. I’m guessing that film title means, "We’re the Martians of the World." Am I close?
    It’s a movie I haven’t seen. Who’s the director?

    Reply
  27. Anonymous

    ohforfuckingkryst Stephen………All tthe World’s Mornings……with the French fatty Gérard Depardieu. The cello music is to die about……..get the soundtrack…….DO IT. You can’t get to 80 without hearing this if you dig cello.

    Reply
  28. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Wait! I HAVE seen this film! Now that you mention Gerard Depardieu. I remember that I loved it, and that the music was exsquisite. (Is that spelled right? That can’t be spelled right. That’s the strangest looking word I’ve ever seen.)
    I still want to see the martian piece, however.

    Reply
  29. Anonymous

    I laughed so hard at your interpretation of All The Martians of the World that I am practically throwing up. But that is Cornelia’s realm and I dare not tread in fear…………….

    exsquisite……….I LOVE it!!!

    The word doesn’t look right. You try a couple of different spell check maneuvers (like I just did with that last word) and mostly it turns out right. READERS, writers who read, know when it is wrong. You know it but can’t DO it. Not on the first attempt. What is that thing that makes us go blank on words that we could write in ink on our high school term papers? But we know when it is wrong……..at least!!

    I laughed so hard at your comment…………

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  30. SomeFool

    Hello,

    There’s a typo that you might wish to correct in your post, Lightning is spelled incorrectly. You used "Lightening" which is a word but not the one that means Lightning.

    Franklin was a remarkable man, the most remarkable man of the Revolution I think. There was another remarkable man who was sometimes called Twain who wrote:

    "The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

    Or between Lightning and Lightening. Cheers,

    fool out

    Reply
  31. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    SomeFool – wow! How did you pull that off so well? To come up with the absolutely perfect Twain quote for the occasion. Either you have an encyclopedic memory or you’re quick with the Google.
    Point taken.
    Bug out…

    Reply
  32. Catherine

    You were just a little generous with your letters Stephen. No s after the x….exquisite.
    With a fair amount of self interest I can really relate to this post. I’m turning 45 in two months and it’s acting as quite the trigger to treat myself well. I figure with all the stuff I’d like to learn/do/be I need to keep myself functioning well for another 45. I’ve found myself musing hmm 90 would I like to be 90…and it’s honestly looking good as long as I keep fit.

    Top of my list is to learn German. There are a lot of wild areas of the world I would like to see…quite a few cultures I’d like to explore. Verbally I can tell a story. I want to see if I can develop that ability across into writing. Be fun and or maddening to do. Then I could be a mad writer….which seems sort of cool looking from the outside in. Must stop listing plans now, it’s a long and varied list.

    Happy Birthday Stephen.

    Reply
  33. Robin McCormack

    Happy Birthday. Your story gives me inspiration since I just turned 50, discovered writing a few years back on working on getting at least one of my WIP’S published. I have the whole 2nd half of my life to get it right. Hopefully it won’t take that long. Top of my list is to raise my son in the way he should go. We got a late start and he’s 10 and I’m enjoying every minute that I can with him. We are homeschooling so I’m having fun learning right along with him. I hope to see at least one of my husband’s inventions finally take off, then we can travel and explore more. Well, more than you wanted to know. However, turning 50 – I finally feel like an adult.

    Reply
  34. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Toni, I don’t know, but I think I’ll always think of you as my "little sister." I think it’s the "i" in Toni. I imagine it written with a little heart to dot it.

    Catherine – that’s it! That darned extra "s". How come my spell-check didn’t nab that? And I can’t wait to be considered a mad writer. I imagine myself very old, with long flowing gray hair, perched on a hilltop with an Underwood typewriter. Schwartz, the Mad Writer.

    Robin – so cool to have a ten year old at age 50. Even better that you’re homeschooling. We homeschool our two boys and we wouldn’t want it any other way. Such a wonderful, amazing experience. As a matter of fact – Benjamin Franklin was their homeschool assignment this week–I plundered their work. It’s like they’re my own little research assistants.

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  35. SomeFool

    | How did you pull that off so well? To come up with the absolutely perfect
    | Twain quote for the occasion. Either you have an encyclopedic memory
    | or you’re quick with the Google.

    The Twain quote is very famous. Secondly, a writer in my local critique group made the exact same error you repeated with the L-word on his web site last year (quoting the Twain Lightning bug bit with the incorrect spelling), a site on which he was offering his services as a copywriter. I was embarrassed for him and still am, even after I told him and he didn’t fix it. I’m also a bit fixated on the phenomena of lightning as well, which is a personal thing, a mania of sorts. I could tell you things about lightning that would… raise your hair. 😉 Like being on top of a mountain here in CO when the rocks start ‘talking’ to one another and having to tear ass down the mountainside to avoid the risk of getting zapped.

    So, I have neither an encyclopedic memory nor used Google to ‘discover’ the Twain quote (though I did use Google to get the exact Twain quote, word for word.)

    I turned 52 last week btw, so happy b-day to you. When I turned 40, I declared to my friends that I was ‘over the hill’, the next year I observed that I was ‘picking up speed’. But I’m not ambitious about filling the remaining 40 years more or less with published books, though one or two in my life would be nice. I’m in no rush. Life and writing will take care of themselves, I think. Others have a different POV on this, ‘natch.

    fool out

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  36. MJ

    Happy Birthday!

    Boy are you right – I’m midway through 40 and feel very much like I’ve hit an Important Life Turning Point where I’ll be better, do better and be more effective in the future.

    Why the heck didn’t I get more wised-up and effective BEFORE? You understand…

    Reply

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