Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Doris, our lady of "never too late"


The sheer tonnage of this (ahem) unusual book makes you pay attention. The gold-edged pages, the red ribbon bookmark, the vast size (10+ by 13+ inches) and the quotes on the back, including Maira Kalman's, "I wish Lauren Redniss would write and illustrate my biography in the DREAMY, LUMINOUS way she did Doris Eaton Travis's," demand you muster your strength and lift it for deeper examination.

Referred to by Amazon.com as a "bargain book," which I interpret to mean that few copies remain, Century Girl is a life story told in oversized collage/journal style by Pulitzer Prize-nominee Lauren Redniss, a teacher at Parsons School of Design (as of publication in 2006). It is the biography of Doris Eaton Travis, at 14 the youngest girl in the Ziegfeld Follies, recipient of an honorary doctorate at 101. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate in history at the age of 88, she could easily be the poster girl for all of us who, having reached senior citizen territory, know we still have aspirations.

Yes, the volume was not published in the last few months, but that doesn't keep me from feeling all squishy and admiration-filled toward Regan, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, for their boldness at producing this journaler's fantasy of a book.


There a few aspects of life that have just one dimension. Situations, objects, theories and people are layered and nuanced, their meanings not always accessible in the moment. In my apparent role as amateur contemplative, I seem to have the assignment of looking, as best I can, behind the curtain. I think messages - and messengers - appear to us, a line of hesitant job applicants who want us to coax information from them instead of speaking up. Intuit, interpret, question and dig, for the truth is not always sitting there like a miner's fantasy nugget beside the stream. I received Doris Eaton's story as a gift, a wrapped present and, in the way of so many encounters, as a teacher.

Let us agree, if we can, on the fact that I am going to sneak up on the topic of "it's never too late" from as many directions as I can. Maybe I should have some warning code in the post's title, saying we are back in the same old territory, a variation on the spoiler alert.

IT IS NEVER TOO LATE. If we are drawing breath on our own, we have the potential to move with a bold or tremulous step forward along our ever-unfolding path. Discouragement is not our destiny. This is the Big Adventure. Woody Allen is credited with saying, "Eighty per cent of success is showing up." That is absolutely where it begins. In whatever way, by whatever definition, we need to keep showing up for ourselves. We are here to grow, to inch or leap away from where we stood yesterday. You are the only one who knows what the next step needs to be. How excellent, for then no one can tell you that you're doing it wrong.

28 comments:

Vespersparrow said...

Oh, Marylinn, what a delicious, delightful surprise! What a book I'd like to get my hands on! I found myself smiling all the way through your blog post!

You are write: It is never too late, as long as you are breathing. A PhD at 88? Knock my socks off sideways!
And the way the book is put together just from your description is making me drool.

Thank you for this slap-you-upside-the-head-with-love post. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Melissa - It is easy to picture the sharp-nosed scissors used to cut out the photos so precisely. Then would come the pen selection, text and drawing, arranging elements on the page. You would find much to enjoy here. xo

Antares Cryptos said...

It's never to late is more important than most people realize, while you're "sneaking" around I plan to shout. For a reason and it's a good one :)

Thank you for another recommendation, I'll certainly have a look.

Left a response to your comment, hope it's not rude to alert you since I'm already here.

Erin in Morro Bay said...

Of course it's never too late. Looking back at my first 50 years or so, I can see several times when it may have been too early, but never too late. This second half is by far the very best!!
I just went over to Amazon and ordered a copy - it looks amazing. What a lovely birthday present for you.
Erin

Marylinn Kelly said...

Antares Cryptos - Not rude in the least to alert me. It would be wise if I kept a rope around my waist connecting me to something sturdy...I wander off so easily. You shout, I may join you. This is an important message. It is quite the book.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Erin - Oh, I do believe you will enjoy it and as one so knowing as to the ways of publishing and such, you will be as amazed as I that it exists at all. Immense. Eccentric. Unlike anything I've seen. And a bargain. A gift with many faces.

Laoch of Chicago said...

Embrace boldness.

Claire Beynon said...

What a luscious volume, Marylinn - there's nothing reticent or demure about it! This exuberance - the book's, Lauren Redniss's and yours - is to be celebrated.

The lines I will nestle down beside when I go from here to sleep are these - 'Discouragement is not our destiny. . . We are here to grow, to inch or leap away from where we stood yesterday.' Trust and courage, hand-in-hand. . . and forward we go xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Laoch - Embrace, and, if we are very fortunate, embody boldness. Yes. That's the plan.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Claire - Forward we go, the Society to Stamp Out the dreary, the droopy, the juiceless. All flags flying, on the cusp of excitement and "what was I thinking?" xo

Robert the Skeptic said...

And it's onward and upward toward my next project!! ... but let me catch my breath for just a moment.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Robert - A new project, you say? I look forward to hearing about it, once you've caught your breath and are ready to share. It is either the book inspired by your comment replies or a new documentary...am I getting warm?

grrl + dog said...

as one who really only began her life at age 36,

I am a full supporter of "its never too late."

And another: "growing old disgracefully"

bring it on.

susan t. landry said...

i read this post in a whiz-by blur earlier this week, and just now i read it slowly, savored it. arent you good to us, to pass this along with your lovely smart words. thank you so much. (i have to go now: amazon.com...)
xoxo
susan
a life in process.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Denise - If I could just hold on to that slippery notion of growing old disgracefully and not ever get brow-beaten into mediocre choices by the toxins my mind squirts like an octopus' ink. It feels as though I begin life anew pretty much daily...at least I try.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Susan - Thank you so much. I am so glad you looped back. It is very much a life/living in process. xo

susan t. landry said...

marylinn,
i ordered the bk on amazon--it's on sale, a "bargain book", if anyone else is interested. even more: Redniss has also done this book: Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout, and it looks terrific, too. (great title!)
susan

KleinsteMotte said...

It's never too late is my motto as I head to my twilight years of learning.

Pamela said...

I love this book. (I bought multiple copies at Dollar Tree, and I give them to students who nail their memorization).

Marylinn Kelly said...

Susan - Great title, absolutely. When I saw on Amazon the depth of "bargain" on this book...I knew it was somebody's lucky day. I will look at the Curies

Marylinn Kelly said...

KleinsteMotte - That's it exactly...so much more to discover and who knows where it will lead.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Pamela - I would be a very motivated student with this as the prize. Such a great idea (and what a fine day that must have been at the Dollar Tree).

Antares Cryptos said...

Ha! That will teach amazon. :)

Kass said...

What a wonderful post. The book looks amazing.

I keep meaning to produce my one-woman show. At forty, it was to be a monumental Birthday Celebration. At 50, it was my survival of divorce celebration.
Perhaps at 65, I'll be ready (but maybe only for YouTube).

But yes, it's never too late.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Antares Cryptos - Is there anything better than book bargains?

Marylinn Kelly said...

Kass - As long as we hold it as a vision, an aspiration and allow it only to speak to us in future tense, it is real, never too late. Milestones come and go. Our perceptions of time and opportunities have been shaped by linear, literal, hard-edged convention. The truth, I believe, is much less confined and far more forgiving. To one-woman shows.

Antares Cryptos said...

Yes. Bringing the loot home or tearing into card board like a child. :)

Since you gave me permission to "nudge", I have a feeling you'll "love" the cards I just posted on my blog. Creativity, papercrafts...

Marylinn Kelly said...

Antares Cryptos - Thanks for the nudge. I'll be right over.