Late Bloomers

Paul Cézanne, Bouquet in a Delft Vase

Have patience with all things, But, first of all with yourself.                                             —Saint Francis de Sales

I’ve often felt like a late bloomer. Not as a kid—I learned to read at age three, and that saw me through for a while, impressing grownups and whatnot. But now I’m grown up myself, I sometimes feel like it’s taking an impossibly long time to get there. I’m not 100% certain I know what there even is. Not fame and fortune. Weeell, maybe a teensy bit of fortune. Maybe a laurel or two. At a minimum, I really, really hope I can quit waiting tables before I’m half a century old. I don’t know if it’s because academic achievement came so easily when I was young or if it’s because our culture is infatuated with youth and early success, but for some time now I’ve had to ignore this refrain that ticks through my head like a very nasty white rabbit: too late, too late, too late. I’m much happier when I forget about time altogether and just settle in to the work at hand.

I subscribe to a “weekly interestingness digest” from a really cool site called brain pickings. This weekend it included a letter from Charles Bukowski to the editor of Black Sparrow Press who offered him $100 a month to quit his post office job and write full time. Bukowski was 49. Seventeen years later, he wrote a thank you:

What hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does…
So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.
To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.
yr boy, Hank


Bukowski’s letter inspired me to look up more so-called late bloomers. Here, I present my findings to you.

Julia Child didn’t learn to cook until her late thirties. She was 49 when Mastering the Art of French Cooking was finally published.

Julia Child's kitchen in The Smithsonian, photo from Wikipedia
Julia Child’s kitchen in The Smithsonian, photo from Wikipedia

Although Robert Frost started writing poetry at 15, he didn’t publish his first book of poems until age 39. In between he was a cobbler, teacher, newspaper editor and farmer.

Paul Cezanne had his first solo show at the age of 56.

Alan Rickman, Professor Snape in the Harry Potter movies, got his big movie break at 42.

Severus Snape by juliooliveiraa on flickr
Severus Snape by juliooliveiraa on flickr

Butoh choreographer Kazuo Ohno took his first dance class at 29 and performed his first piece when he was 43.

Laura Ingalls Wilder became a newspaper columnist in her forties, but she didn’t publish Little House in the Big Woods, the first book in her Little House series, until 1931, at age 64.

Half-pint herself, photo from Wikipedia
Half-pint herself, photo from Wikipedia

This little investigation also led me to bloom, a site devoted to profiling, reviewing and interviewing authors who published their first book after age 40. Super! (I’m saying that with a French accent, fyi.)

There you have it, you shoots, you buds, you blossoms: let us unfurl our riotous petals—no matter the day or the hour.

photo by 4o4 Not Found on flickr
photo by 4o4 Not Found on flickr


5 thoughts on “Late Bloomers

  1. here’s to the women of my life who kickstarted me at key moments – when I was laid off from USS, my first wife leslie got me into video-recording oral histories of retired steelworkers, when I retired, my second wife karen told me to write a book. and now maia blog keeps me inspired…thanks to all and now to the movie script!


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