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When I Am An Old Woman, I Shall Play a Red Accordion. And Maybe Write Another Book

The best thing about getting older?  That’s easy.  It’s the unexpected flowering of my creative self. 

I didn’t plan on having a midlife crisis when I turned forty.  As a psychologist, I'd read the work of Carl Jung, but I didn't share his lofty ideas about the tasks of the  second half of life.  I had no plans to welcome my unexpressed Shadow side.  I  figured I’d just continue on my established path—a little creakily, maybe—until I dropped. 

I'd set out on the path early.  By the time I graduated from college, I’d found a life partner and my future profession. I got married and moved on to graduate school in psychology.  A month after I passed my Ph.D. orals, I got pregnant with our first child.  The second followed three years later.  My husband and I shared work and parenting.

We had a good life.  Stable.  Nothing missing, as far as I could tell.  But when I turned forty, everything started to shift.

First, I began a crazy, passionate affair—with the Cajun accordion. 

It all started when my husband took me on  a fortieth birthday trip to New Orleans.  I came home with a strange obsession:  I began to have recurring dreams of playing the accordion.  It made no sense at all.  I was a shy, cerebral psychologist—left-handed, a terrible dancer, too self-conscious to sing in the shower.  I had never mastered a musical instrument.  

But I was possessed with the desire to play.  I faced major battles with performance anxiety, endless worries about what-will-people-think?  But one day I had a revelation:  Self-consciousness is just the other side of narcissism.  I had to get over myself.  So I did.  

The first time I faced down my fears and played in front of an audience, I felt like flying. 

Writing slipped back into my life more slowly.  I had written poetry in high school (who hasn't?) but then I moved on to other things.  In the intervening thirty years, I  had done a little professional writing, but otherwise--nothing.  

I found myself writing long e-mails and Internet posts about my new music passion.  I started writing for a couple of Cajun music newsletters.  People started suggesting I take my writing more seriously.  I listened. 

At fifty, I signed up for my first writing class—a course in creative nonfiction, offered by the UC-Berkeley extension.  I found a wonderful mentor who invited me into her writing groups.  She kept telling people I was writing a book.  I denied it.  “A book!  No, not a book.  Just a few personal essays, maybe.”  

But then I did it.  I wrote a memoir about my unexpected musical journey.  My very first book—if you don’t count my Ph.D dissertation.  (I don't!)  I started collecting rejection letters.  Eventually, I found an agent and then a publisher.   

Accordion Dreams was published by a southern university press last year. 

I discovered music at forty, writing at fifty.  Now I’m waiting to see what the next adventure will be.  Another book?  Maybe.  I did try writing a mystery, but now I'm back to nonfiction.  Another instrument?  I have fooled around with the fiddle.

I ignore that nasty little imp who whispers in my ear:  How about death?  That’s the ultimate mystery.  The final adventure.  The real Shadow.

But don’t think so.  I have no plans for my immediate demise.  Although I have developed this strange interest in genealogy.  I’ve been hanging out in virtual graveyards.  Getting in touch with my Slovenian ancestors.  That’s one more important lesson I’ve learned as I’ve grown older:  I’m not always in charge of this journey.  

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The journey is best left to

The journey is best left to chance, Blair, and what a wonderful one you have had. Serendipity via the accordion. And then the need to connect with ancestry. It is rejuvenation is two disparate and yet meshing forms.

~F

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Thanks for the kind words,

Thanks for the kind words, Farzana! And it really is a connection with ancestry via the accordion: It turns out my Slovenian grandfather (an otherwise disreputable character) played a button accordion!

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getting older blog

I love the way you described the best part of getting older: "the unexpected flowering of my creative self." That's not a midlife crisis--that's a midlife epiphany!

I completely relate to the big changes you're experiencing in the second half of life: at age 45 I decided to leave behind my 24 years of teaching elementary school and become a writer. I've been at it now for two years, and it's good to hear a success story such as your own.

Congrats.

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Hi Tanya, Thanks for the

Hi Tanya,

Thanks for the nice message! I have yet to make the switch from my own long-term '"day Job" as a psychologist. Looked at your profile: I know someone who sings in the Berkeley Broadway Singers, I think. Do you know Marta?