(December View image for today follows. Please see end of post for what it is, if you don’t already know.)
Don’t know about you, but we keep old New Yorkers around for dipping into during dull moments. There’s not really a place to sit in our house where you won’t find a New Yorker within reach. Every few months, we have to go around and collect their tattered selves, and send them on their way to the landfill.
Last night therefore, while waiting for sleep to fall upon me, I opened the Oct 20, 08 issue and my eye fell upon “Late Bloomers”, an excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Outliers.
As it happens, this was a big mistake. The trick to bedtime reading is that you should look for intrinsically uninteresting material. Also it should be material written in a voice you don’t mind hearing replayed in your head for the next few hours. I had no trouble with the voice, but the subject was far too riveting for my own good.
Gladwell begins with the story of Ben Fountain, whom we know as the author of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, one of the hot story collections of 2006. He sets us up with how Fountain quit his law firm job to write fiction, with no more track record than a couple of college creative writing courses. Had some early luck with two stories, then nothing until he got a story published in Harper’s, after which le deluge of success.
Same old, same old, right? Well, not exactly. Because the fateful day he quit the law firm was in 1986, twenty years of publishing not one word before taking the literary world by storm at the age of forty-eight.
I found this enormously encouraging, since my first two published stories hit print right around that time and I’ve been laboring in the vineyards pretty much ever since.
Even more interesting, though, is the analysis of what makes a late bloomer. “Genius, in the popular conception ,” Gladwell says, “is inextricably tied up with precocity.” Think Mozart or Picasso. A researcher from Chicago named David Galenson, however, decided to find out if this myth was true. It was not.
I don’t want to recapitulate the whole article here, but it’s worth reading. Late bloomers, apparently, are the marathon runners of the artistic world. We’re the ones who have to explore, and try, and fail, and try again, and just keep on hanging in—indulging in a continually experimental process of attempting to realize our fuzzy goals.
Late bloomers get better as they get older.
I’ve been a little downhearted lately over how many years (about the same as Fountain’s) I’ve spent working on a story about post-partum depression, a continually evolving novel that by now probably amounts to three separate novels, with only an element or two in common. Just knowing that this might yet prove not to have been a complete waste of time is quite consoling.
(The image is the surface of Winedale Road, a material we call "blacktop.")