by Shelt Garner
“You have potential,” the late Annie Shapiro told me in her last email to me before she died some time later. I find myself thinking a lot about those words as I careening towards my…gulp…50th birthday.
I also find myself thinking of two people. One is U.S. Grant. He was a big old loser for a number of the years leading up to the Civil War. It was only because of the crisis of the Civil War that he was able to rise to the occasion and not just lead the nation to victory, but to become president.
The other person I find myself thinking of at this moment in my life is Stieg Larsson. As I understand it, he was 50 when he sold three thriller novels only to promptly drop dead of a heart attack.
I continue to work on a project that is planned to be six novels. I hope to wrap up at least the first novel at least during the year of my 50th birthday. I had hoped to have something sold BY my 50th birthday, but that, sadly, is not going to happen.
Anyway, what have I learned in my nearly half-century of existance?
One of the key things I’ve learned is that I’m not only a late bloomer, but I’m far more creative than I imagined for much of my younger life. It took me going to South Korea to realize that I have a number of talents that I could have exploited had I realized I had them when I was 20 years younger. But, in a sense, some pretty dramatic changes would have to be made to my personal history for that to happen.
So, here we are.
Almost 50 and living in oblivion.
I suppose there’s still time pull things through. And, yet, if you’re a single man like me without kids you don’t really have any initiation rights for the different, new stages of your life. You just wake up one day, go to a bar and realize the cute female bartender you’re talking is old enough to be your daughter. Then you grimace and try to extricate yourself from the situation without embarrassing yourself anymore than you already have.
What do I think my chances are of living up to my “potential?” Good question. There is one talent I have over and above writing that I could probably leverage into success later in life: photography.
I’m an excellent photographer, good enough that I could become a professional fashion photographer under the right circumstances. I would have to fall into a little bit of money to be able to afford the equipment, but other than that, I have the innate talent necessary to get a lot farther down that creative path than you might think.
The key issue is, of course, that whatever success I might get at this point will be framed in the context of how old I am. The sweetspot for success is somewhere around your early 30s. If you’re 20 years older than that, every news story about you will be frame in the context of how fucking old you are because that’s the obvious hook — look at the old dude who managed to become a success later in life when everyone else is thinking of retiring.
But I’ve always been a late bloomer. Always. But something about what happened to me in South Korea blew out an emotional knee in my mind and it’s taken me way, way, way, way too long to get past it.
And, yet, in a sense, I finally have. But I’m still broke as hell and drifting through life, even if the seeds of potential success have been sown.