REIN­VEN­TION

ZOOMER Magazine - - REINVENTION - by Katherine Ashen­burg

TEN YEARS AGO, in my 60s, I was a non-fic­tion writer with three books and hun­dreds of ar­ti­cles to my credit. I loved to sing but couldn’t read mu­sic and had never man­aged to learn a for­eign lan­guage. To­day, at 73, I’m singing in a de­mand­ing four-part choir and prat­tling hap­pily away in faulty but im­prov­ing Span­ish. And, most im­por­tantly, af­ter a life­time of read­ing nov­els but never dream­ing I could write one, I seem to have be­come a nov­el­ist.

When I told my friend, the nov­el­ist Jane Urquhart, a story about the mar­riage of two Swedish painters and she re­sponded that that was the germ of my first novel, I thought she’d taken leave of her senses. But her in­tu­ition launched me on a 10-year jour­ney in which I tried, over and over, to do jus­tice to that story. The re­sult, Sofie & Ce­cilia, was pub­lished this spring by Knopf Canada, and I’m half­way through the draft of a sec­ond novel.

I don’t mean to present my­self as the poster girl for rein­ven­tion. But in my ex­pe­ri­ence, the older you get, the eas­ier it is. For one thing, we un­der­stand that time is not a re­new­able re­source: age brings a very ef­fec­tive now-or-never im­pe­tus. It also brings per­spec­tive: if you want to do some­thing for the work and joy it will in­volve, it’s time to stop fuss­ing about per­fec­tion. As Mon­taigne said, “The jour­ney, not the ar­rival, mat­ters.” I still can’t read mu­sic at all well but I can learn the alto part of my choir’s reper­toire by singing along with an alto soloist on YouTube. My Span­ish is full of holes, but I de­cided just to jump in and keep swim­ming. As for writ­ing nov­els, my dear­est wish is for a good num­ber of years to work at mas­ter­ing my craft.

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