September is my birth month, and this year I had a big birthday. It was sobering but, happily, I was blessed with three birthday cakes. I'm well into what Francine du Plessix Gray called a woman's Third Age, a time for outspokenness and self-possession.
Writing a memoir was an act of enormous outspokenness. It also demanded deciding who I once was and who I am now.
At the moment reading other writers' words is more compelling than composing my own. My neglected reading list is very long and very intriguing.
A LitHub survey of the professional lives of eighty authors found that on average they published books for about three-and-a-half decades, a shorter working life than, say, many visual artists. Women writers usually started publishing in their thirties and stopped in their sixties, the survey found.
My first book was published at age 37 and my last at age 78, so I've worked a little longer than most other authors, but I have written fewer books than many because of the time it took to research my biographies and other nonfiction books. And the time it took to tend my garden and the rest of my life.
When Philip Roth was in his late seventies, I had a chance to ask him why he had stopped writing novels. "I wasn't going to get any better," he said, a reply I liked for its honesty. Most older writers rarely stop writing entirely, however. If their words do not appear in new books, words find their way into journals and letters, blogs and newsletters, articles and essays, as mine will, too.
With Warm Regards, Laurie
It's now time for me to edit all the boxes of papers I've gathered and generated when researching my books, now stacked in an upstairs hallway and waiting to be opened.
There are also many papers in file cabinets awaiting sorting, saving, or discarding because I began writing before the beginning of the digital age.
I've already given a great deal of material about Georgia O'Keeffe and Louise Nevelson to the Archives of American Art, part of the Smithsonian Institution.
Hopefully, the research materials, which I used when writing my more personal books, will find a place in another archive.