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The Author Speaks

Jacquelyn Mitchard: In My Next Life

Best-selling author writes about starting over at age 56

"I am big. I don't mind," she told me. "But I said, the babies are crying. They're hungry." One woman threatened Merit, but no one backs Merit down. So the woman beat Merit across the back with a broom. Looking up, Merit said, "Don't cry, Mom. It was so long ago."

I thought, hang the self-pity. Game on.


Surveying my skills and passions, I decided to teach in a program for MFA students in creative writing — and loved it. In fall, on scholarship, I will go back for my own MFA and I aim to teach, full time, forever, no matter what success comes. My husband and I found a grad student in psychotherapy who would work with us for a fee we could afford — nothing. Shame and blame can beat a marriage to death and, day to day, we still aren't sure ours will survive. The fact that Chris hasn't found work is no help. So now, I study the Currier and Ives views from the windows of the beautiful home he built as I would the face of a married lover — with longing, understanding our time together is borrowed.

Nothing will ever be the same. But as Betty Smith wrote in my favorite novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, "Enjoy the little things in life, for one day, you may look back and realize they were the big things."

The season for mourning has expired. The fall was the hardest part.

Once I found bottom, there were only two alternatives: to lie stunned forever or get up and try to find a handhold on a slick wall. If it were me, I could never rally, said a friend. But she would. You do. You must. The universe was not trying to upbraid me: What happened didn't happen because I flew too close to the sun, or failed in will, charity or wisdom. It just happened.

I'm no refrigerator magnet; but there is peace in acceptance: My life is changed.

I will always grieve for what I call The Things I'll Do in Heaven — flying first class, picking up the check, Tuscany in August. For now, my best hope is one more quote from that novel — to be something, every minute every hour of my life.

And oh yes, that leftover toast? Fry it in olive oil. Great croutons.

What I learned:

According to the journal Analytical Insights and other sources, Americans lost a quarter of their worth between 2007 and 2009, with the wealthiest least hurt. But it was those who had something to lose who got stung. No investment is scam-proof, but my own experience taught me four inviolable laws:

  • Get proof of a federal license in good standing. Even if you're scammed, federal tax law offers relief if you're stung by a licensed rogue.
  • Interview other clients.
  • Make sure you have to sign off on every single transaction.
  • Most importantly, trust your gut. Boss, beau or banker, your instincts know everything you'll ever need.

Jacquelyn Mitchard
, the best-selling author of 20 books, lives near Madison, Wis., with her family. Her next novel,
Second Nature: A Love Story, will be published in September by Random House.

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