Brooklyn Magazine’s Favorite Writers Share Their Favorite Childhood Books.
One novel I loved when I was a kid was Madam Pastry and Meow. The details are fuzzy for me now, but I recall this: A schoolgirl in Paris meets a young artist, the type who lives in a garret and spends his food money on paint. The two are in cahoots regarding the care of an injured cat. In the end, the artist finds love and a way to make his paintings sell like hotcakes. I’m sure good things also came to the girl and the cat.
Evelyn Minshull was the author of this book, and it turned out she lived near us; my father knew her. One day he took me for a visit, driving from our place in the rural outskirts of a small town to where she lived, which was more rural yet. We sat sipping lemonade in the yard of her modest house. She was modest too—a middle-aged lady in polyester pants who looked no different from any of the others who shopped at Kroger and K-mart. I felt a beat of disappointment. Then I recognized the spark in her eye, and it hit me: that story I loved had come from her head.
What does it take to keep making art in middle age? After the dreams of grandeur have dimmed, the rejections have mounted, the successes have come without transforming the basic stuff of our lives? Even if you’ve had years when the art sold like hotcakes, maybe you’ve realized you still need a day job most of the time. Maybe others are depending on you now, for everything.
In the early years of creative infatuation, many of us push aside everything that gets in the way of honing our craft—responsibilities, people who don’t get it, thoughts of old age or the inevitable rainy day. But this usually isn’t sustainable. The world keeps knocking. Art-making hours dwindle. If only we could get them back! But they aren’t all that’s needed to keep the beleaguered artist within from going down in defeat. Maybe they aren’t even the most important thing. Sometimes, dedication to a creative life might be best fueled by choices that limit the time one can spend toiling alone.
For example, check out this essay by Susannah Felts about how she got the gumption to found The Porch, a nonprofit literary center in Nashville, and how it’s taken her writing time but given back more.
And here’s a related story by Sackett Street Writers Workshop founder Julie Fierro, from Poets and Writers— A Writer’s Comeback: How I Built My Own Literary Scene and Saved Myself.
I picture Emmett and Ma Otter jamming with their jug band on the river. When life’s adult realities weigh heavy, having a community is one of the best ways to keep from getting too tired.