Friday, August 03, 2007

From Late Bloomer's Revolution Author Amy Cohen

I can't say enough wonderful things about Amy Cohen's irresistible memoir THE LATE BLOOMER'S REVOLUTION (Hyperion 2007). I asked her to write a guest post for this blog, and here's what she sent me. Enjoy!

First, I want to say what a pleasure it is to speak to so many Late Bloomers. As I’ve said so many times, we need to stick together and be each other’s best cheerleaders, if only because the path to blooming late is so often paved with many, occasionally blinding, obstacles.

I think my first advice would be to look within. I needed to ask myself, first and foremost, what was standing in my way, and not surprisingly? It was me. Within a year I lost my mother, my boyfriend (who I was desperate to marry), my job (as a sitcom writer), and my face (to an eight month rash). That left me wondering who I was without all the things that I thought defined me, which left me to ask: Who am I? And what is it I really want from my life? And the even more difficult: So what’s the problem?

I will tell you honestly the look within isn’t going to be easy. It may even set you back at certain times. It’s normal to succumb to long, mopey days, months, and even years when everything feels just too big and overwhelming, but just keep going forward.

I learned this the hard way myself.

I taught myself to ride a bicycle at thirty-five. At the time, I had no idea it would be one of the defining experiences of my adult life. I was just feeling sort of bleak and depressed about my life, and I wanted something to make me feel strong, if even just physically. That summer was filled with enough embarrassing moments (yes, riding into several parked cars; falling off my bike often and very publicly) to fill a lifetime. But I kept going. I had a goal and I wouldn’t let anything (including bruises covering my entire body) get in my way.

Since that summer I’ve taken bike trips to the Canadian Rockies and New Zealand. A friend of mine said that what he loved about biking was that, “you can’t look too far ahead or too far behind or you’ll crash.” I loved that metaphor so much and have used it to guide me through many difficult times since, always telling myself to just keep looking forward.

Part of the reason, too, why it’s so essential to keep trying to nail down who you are (trust me, I’m still working on it) is that, if you are a Late Bloomer, it’s very likely you will come up against well meaning, but exhausting comments. Things like 'aren’t you a little old to be considering the Peace Corps?' Or “Well, that’s a very young business to be thinking about now.” For me it also meant considering having children older and being told by a highly recommended and very expensive doctor, “for a thirty-nine year old your options are running out.” And now I’m forty-one. He’d probably put me out to pasture. And while what he said may have been true, it was no less devastating.

I never set out to be a Late Bloomer. In fact, I agonized for years about why things hadn’t happened as I expected them to. I thought I would be the successful TV writer, with an English Sculptor husband, great loft, and cute kids. But that wasn’t my story.

Instead, my story has been filled with so many happy surprises I would never have even dreamed of for myself. Things that exceeded even my wildest dreams (and my dreams can get pretty wild.)

For example. when I was thirty-six I got offered a job as a television reporter (my first time on TV). I figured at thirty-six I had the shelf life of a gallon of milk, but I was wrong. Another wonderful surprise was my relationship with my father. We’d had a difficult time for many years, and after my mother died, we found each other in the most incredible way. Actually, we were both dating at the same time. He got offered lists of women, while I got offered bagel. But we supported each other and cheered each other on. Our relationship remains one of the great joys of my life.

Finally, I would say that you have to believe in whatever your dream is and know that it very well may not happen in the time you think and it may not even look like the dream you imagined (now I’m happily considering adoption), but that is the fantastic thing about we Late Bloomers. We’re dreamers, yes, but with the blooms to prove it.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Phyllis Turner, 94

According to an official at the Guinness Book of World Records, Phyllis Turner, a 94 year old great-great grandmother, is the world’s oldest recipient of a master’s degree.

Turner's achievement is all the more extraordinary considering that she left school at age 12 to help her mother raise her siblings after her father abandoned the family. She didn't return until she was 70 years old, enrolling in the University of Adelaide in Australia. At age 72, she won a 12-month scholarship to study at the University of California.

After her husband died five years ago, Turner decided to return to the University of Adelaide. She received her master's degree in medical science this summer. No plans yet for a Ph.D.!

Photo Credit: Associated Press, released by the University of Adelaide.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Anything Is Possible

Trolling the Internet the other day for a column idea, I invented a game. I call it Anything Is Possible. The game begins by asking a simple question: What’s one obstacle that might prevent someone from achieving a dream?

The first round, I chose blindness. I asked myself, “What dream would a blind person be unable to pursue?” Piloting a plane is the first thing that came to mind. Fully expecting zero results, I Googled “blind pilot.”

I was shocked to learn that at least two blind men have become pilots: Steve Cunningham, who lost his sight at age 12 (see photo at right); and Miles Hilton-Barber, who has been blind for 25 years. Both use co-pilots, but computer software enables the men to be fully in control.

Okay, I thought, maybe planes have become so high-tech that sight is no longer needed to pilot them. But what about driving? Surely a blind man can’t drive. So I Googled “blind driver.”

To my amazement, I discovered that in 1995, Hein Wagner, a South African who has been blind from birth, broke the record for fastest blind driver. (See photo at right.) Driving a Maserati, he reached a speed of 167 miles an hour. (Note that the record is for fastest blind driver, not only blind driver.)

Then I Googled “blind doctor” and came up with at least five men and women who have become physicians. Two are in rehabilitation medicine, two are psychiatrists, and one is an osteopath.

Deaf musicians? There’s Evelyn Glennie, an award-winning percussionist; Shawn Dale Barnett, a deaf drummer who passed away in 2003; and, of course, Beethoven.

I found a marathon double-amputee (Clare Forbes), a dyslexic writer (Stephen J. Cannell, author of 11 novels and creator of 21 Jump Street), and a once-destitute millionaire (Chris Gardner, the inspiration for the movie The Pursuit of Happyness).

The list goes on and on. Try it yourself and see what happens.