I talk to my wonderful mother on the phone every night. We talk about everything from health to books to psychology to faith to whatever might be making us grumpy at the moment. This week while discussing health and diet, she shared something she’d read that said she was now at the beginning of the Third Act of her life. According to the same math (every thirty years equals an act), I’m at the beginning of my Second Act.
Naturally, as a storyteller and story theorist, this language appeals to me. It made me think about how my thirties are the opportunity not just for a deepening of my story, but for a new beginning of sorts. I quite like the idea of thinking of myself not as a thirty-three-year-old who is supposed to (and doesn’t) have it all together, but rather as if this were my second time to be an innocent, expectant, wonder-filled three-year-old—who just happens to have thirty years of experience and knowledge. (To expand the analogy, this means my mom is experiencing her third time being a six-year-old—but with sixty years of experience and knowledge behind her.)
I particularly like this right now as I find myself, rather painfully, stripping myself back to basics. As I examine the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical load I’ve been adding to for the last thirty years—some of it good, some not-so-good—I find myself longing to return to my three-year-old self’s easy trust in the sheer magic of life. As a professional creative, I not only want this, I need it.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is Neil Gaiman’s disarming response to someone who asked, “I want to be an author when I grow up. Am I insane?” He replied:
Yes. Growing up is highly overrated. Just be an author.
The older I get, the more I agree. Mostly, this is because the more and more grown-up I get, the less and less I see life’s magic and the smaller and smaller my window of creativity becomes. I know I’m not alone in this, even (especially?) among writers.
As I’ve hinted before, the last few years have turned out to be a crucible of sorts for me. Although there were contributing reasons and events, I now see them more as just an inevitable, if dramatic, conclusion to the growing-up pains of my twenties. After an unexpectedly stressful move a year ago, these growing pains bottomed out with me feeling more disconnected from my creativity than ever before.
During the last few years, I kept plodding faithfully, finishing one book and starting another. But during this time, I was also largely in denial of my growing panic. I had been creative my entire life. I had been a storyteller my entire life. I had felt life’s magic always. And now, increasingly, for years, that magic was becoming only a bare flicker in my soul.