While scrolling through her facebook newsfeed Christmas night, the title of an Emory continuing ed seminar captured Charlotte’s attention. The words Never Too Late: Reinvention Workshop practically skipped across her laptop screen coaxing her to follow the course registration link. Charlotte had heard the instructor, author Claire Cook, at a writer’s workshop several months earlier. Then, Charlotte had been disappointed more time had not been allotted for Ms. Cook who had captivated the audience with her self- deprecating humor, authenticity and unvarnished advice. Within ten minutes of seeing the post she was registered for the Saturday class. Charlotte only divulged the course description to one or two people as a means of self-preservation. She worried if anyone else knew she was participating in a reinvention workshop, it might translate to her being ungrateful and greedy. There was also the distinct possibility it would only lend to her flakiness standing.
So on the Saturday morning of the seminar, Charlotte woke up early and drove to Atlanta hoping she would return to Macon with renewed energy and determination to realize her dreams, or at least identify the worthy ones. She had a knack for accumulating whim. For quite a while, Charlotte had tried to convince herself the steady stream of ever changing ideas was part of her quirky charm. At the start of her drive up I 75 Charlotte, undaunted by the prospect of reinventing herself, let her mind wander. The last ten years of her life were testimony she could rise from the ashes. But what if now once the ashes were swept away, her ascension stalled? What if she could only retool her life while under pressure? Did she have it in her to become “the master of her fate and captain of her soul” and make her 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Howell proud? Or was she destined to stumble through life like a punch drunk boxer? By the time she parked her car outside the continuing education building, Charlotte had gone from excited anticipation to tepid apprehension. Given enough time, Charlotte could analyze her way out of anything, and later worm her way back several times over. This Charlotte chalked up to resiliency and not neurosis. Walking to the entrance, Charlotte adjusted her scarf and clutched her notebook.
Once inside and seated, she joined in some preconference banter with the women sitting nearby. They were discussing the conspicuous absence of men. Each of the women speculated as to why. One theory being men were uncomfortable publically expressing their dissatisfaction. Charlotte tossed her idea into the mix. “Men don’t need motivation to reinvent themselves. If it’s important, they make it happen. Women are more prone to act by committee.” Her remark was met with nods and somewhat wistful looks. She added, “And, have you noticed all of the women in this room are our age?” To which a petite woman with salt and pepper hair in a hushed tone agreed, “I was just noticing that.” This was met with even more wistful looks and audible sighs. Charlotte was smack dab in the middle of a gathering of aging women in varying states of flux. Each wanting to reclaim a part of them chipped away by time and lost momentum. Had Charlotte been forty instead of fifty, she probably would have excused herself and made a dash for the exit or positioned herself at the back of the room convinced she was not like the others. Their quest for metamorphosis would have frightened her. At forty, newly divorced and reeling Charlotte did not possess the luxury of surveying her dreams much less following them. At that juncture in her life, triage had been the goal. Now at fifty, Charlotte was ready to indulge in the possibility George Eliot was correct and it wasn’t too late to become what she might have been. George Eliot, or Mary Ann Evans, wrote many of her novels after the age of 40, so she might have been onto something in spite of her male nom de plume.
One of the themes of the morning was creating a platform. At first, Charlotte had difficulty with the platform concept. As best as she could tell, it was more about one’s image or branding than their ideals. Claire Cook explained their platform was like a lifeboat and encouraged the women to assemble supporters to accompany them in their “re-invention lifeboat.” In her notes, Charlotte wrote Titanic beside the metaphor as a reminder to be cautious and construct a sturdy platform, not a flimsy floating door with buoyancy for one. And she would make sure she wasn’t relegated to or distracted by anything in steerage on the off chance an errant iceberg came her way. While the option to becoming whom she was meant to be was exhilarating, it was somewhat overwhelming. What if she got it wrong and wasted precious time pursuing a red herring? How at fifty could Charlotte begin to revive the wide eyed fancies of her youth especially now her eyelids drooped? Even Mary Ann, aka George. had assumed another persona to realize her dreams. When it came down to it, was George really qualified to advise anyone on identity? True to form, Charlotte had scrutinized her way out of establishing a re-invention goal. But just as Charlotte was scratching lifeboat building and filling off her bucket list, Claire told the women to mill about the room and find 3 total strangers and ask the following questions: Where are you now? Where do you want to go? And how will you get there?
The first woman Charlotte approached worked in a church and had aspirations of becoming an artist. In a subdued and somewhat apologetic voice, she told of how she wasn’t much of a people person; however, when she began telling Charlotte of her desire to create intricate scientific illustrations, her countenance brightened. Her joy was palatable. And just like that, Charlotte was mixing her metaphors, worming her way back into the reinvention bandwagon and strapping on her life vest. By the time she had interviewed her third person, Charlotte was ready to pull up stakes and head to any beach, dig her toes in the sand and devote the next year or two to writing the novel Mrs. Howell had so many years ago sworn to read as soon as Charlotte had it published.
When instructed to return to their seats, Charlotte jotted the message, “Must remember to send a readers copy to Mrs. Howell.” And then she hastily scribbled, “Find her on Facebook first.” She wrote the names of her cracker jack lifeboat companions including the dashing Army Colonel who had stationed himself in her life about the same time she had first heard Claire Cook speak. Charlotte was aware he was not trained for water maneuvers, but she was sure he would come in handy and make a welcome addition to her lifeboat. She also noted the date and time, as though she were a physician, to mark the exact moment resuscitating Charlotte had begun.