We move now into another opportunity to overcome some challenges and develop our creative muscles. The challenge here has to do with what Julia calls The Great Block Lie. Here it is in a nutshell:
Question: Are you kidding? Do you know how old I’ll be by the time I learn how to play the piano?
Answer: The same age you will be if you don’t.
We whine that we are too old to start from scratch! If only we were ten (twenty, thirty) years younger.
Julia challenges the tired excuse of “I am too old for that,” calling it the twin deceiver, right up there with “I don’t have enough money for that.” The real power behind telling ourselves we are too old is that we are trying to save ourselves from what she describes as, “the emotional cost of the ego deflation involved in being a beginner.”
Nonsense! Nonsense! Would you like a list of late bloomers who started their successful careers after the age of forty? How about Ray Kroc, who never flipped a hamburger in a restaurant until he was fifty-two years old? Next thing you know, he is the gazillionnaire behind McDonald’s. Nelson Mandela was 76 when he became president of South Africa. And a guy named William Griffith Wilson turned a ruined, drunken lifetime into a book when he was 43 years old. That book was called “Alcoholics Anonymous” and it has saved countless millions of lives.
Well, what about artists? Okay, of course, most of us know about Grandma Moses, whose painting career began in her seventies. But there are many other late-starting creatives, such as F. Murray Abraham, who, at age 45, got his first decent role in the film, Amadeus, for which he won an Oscar; Elizabeth Jolley, acclaimed Australian writer, wrote her first novel when she was nearly sixty years old; Frank McCourt debuted his famed Angela’s Ashes, when he was 66 years old.
Edith Wharton was 43 when her first novel was published; she went on to publish more than 40 books. Danny Aiello did not begin acting until he was 40. Julia Child was 49 when her first book, The Art of French Cooking was published.
Want some more? How about famed Japanese dancer and choreographer Kazuo Ohno, who did not start formal dance lessons until he was in his late twenties and was 43 years old when he performed his first recital in Tokyo in 1949. A decade later, he and colleague Tatsumi Hijikata would achieve worldwide acclaim for the Butoh dance movement.
Henry Milller and Raymond Chandler were both in their mid-forties before they were published. Laura Ingalls Wilder became a columnist in her forties, and did not publish her first novel in the Little House series of children’s books until she was in her mid-sixties. And although Kenneth Grahame had written a few short stories while working as an executive at the Bank of England, he was forty-nine when he retired and wrote his masterpiece, The Wind in the Willows.
And Peg Phillips, everybody’s favorite shopkeeper Ruth Ann on the television show Northern Exposure started her successful acting career in her late 60s, after retiring from a career as an accountant.
Beware, though. Both Philips and Grahame, might lead us to fall into the other ageism trap, which I’ll discuss tomorrow.