My tree is the last to come into leaf. Even the stately oak, well known for holding its brown leaves through the winter, leafed out before the weeping beech. And in the final days of April, I was able to climb high and once again be completely concealed. These long months of barrenness while the squirrels ran the crosswalks and the cold wind swept the branches have passed.
The semester ends. I sit in the awakening tree with boughs celery green and students clustered at walnut tree tables preparing for finals. My final portfolio lays silent between the covers of my son’s yellow folder, a stack among other stacks on a desk crowded with papers that hold dreams and fears and all that a writer’s heart is poised to release. I’ve been on the grading side, sat in the instructor’s seat. I never wanted to pin a grade to someone’s work. The writer’s life is hard enough without a sentence granted. I am thankful not to grade another’s work, and yet I crave the high grade for myself. Is our work not worthy unless the professor says A, the agent accepts us, the publisher finds a market for our characters?
I am middle aged. Like my tree a late bloomer. As a young writer, I might have searched the future to imagine a time when my confidence would be such that opinions mattered less. I have not reached this age. Youth is a strange fantasy as is middle age. I have received recognition for my work and stood in first place with my certificates. I have won the cash prize.
And yet I have not yet found a home for my novels. My success is still tenuous. My heroine, Genevieve, graduates from William and Mary in May 1938. Georgia O’Keeffe speaks at her graduation. Genevieve boards the train destined for a life she does not want. O’Keeffe returns to New York. They will meet again on the coast of Maine at the Ogunquit School for Painting and Sculpture. O’Keeffe will teach her to drive. Freedom comes slowly. I’ve written this novel for ten years. I am late to bloom.
I do not mourn my middle-agedness. I am like the weeping beech still coming into leaf. There is hope in this assuredness. There is sanity in the beech’s process toward fullness. A middle aged writer is in no hurry. Life spirals up. I am caught among the leaves watching the wind touch new life.