Wednesday, May 16, 2012

16. My Second Act: How I Re-invented Myself..

As part of the WordCount Blogathon, all participants are invited  to share their “Second Act,” a midlife transformation they have made or hope to make. My own Second Act is unusual, in that my Act One was one many people aspire to for their second: life as a successful freelance writer.

By my late fifties, I found I had achieved most of my career goals--I’d published more than fifty books, including a couple of best-sellers and several novels; I’d written dozens of articles and short stories, I’d taught writing in many different venues. The publishing world was changing, becoming more difficult for “mid-list” writers like myself (those who make a living but are not household names), and I decided it was time to move on.

About the time I came to this realization,  I was inspired by our new president’s call to volunteer in my community. But I didn’t want to do anything related to writing or reading or words at all. What could I do?

One afternoon I visited Tohono Chul Park, a nature preserve near my home in Tucson, Arizona.  I was impressed with the knowledge and friendliness of the docents, who guided visitors through the beautiful cultivated gardens and natural desert trails. I was reminded of my own early interest in biology, including two years as a zoology major in college.

I can do this, I thought. Even more, I WANT to do this. I signed up for the docent training and a few months later found myself in a classroom with twenty other late-life trainees. For the next five months, I studied geology, desert ecology, reptiles, birds, desert mammals, and Arizona history. I learned, on weekly field trips, to identify dozens of desert plants. I read and did written homework, took weekly quizzes, helped prepare a plant book. It was extremely difficult, and more fun than I could have imagined.

In due time I earned my name badge and docent vest, and became a docent in the Park, leading tours, helping visitors and answering questions. Today I lead bird walks and help out at the reptile show, my favorite.

Snake Woman CU 1  KL the Docent

I have now completed two and a half years as a docent at the Park. I’ve made several  wonderful friends and have become the opposite of a reclusive freelance. Old friends are often astonished to see me approaching strangers and helping them enjoy the Park as much as I do.

As for writing, for the first two years I didn’t even think about it. Now, I realize that I just needed a break from something that had nourished me for so long. I’m working on a new novel, one that will be informed by much of what I have learned in my new role as a naturalist.

Tomorrow: Where did the fox-cat come from?



  1. What a radical -- and wonderful -- departure, Kathryn! It's clear from the photo that you love this new act in your life. Seems the best of both worlds if you can now also continue to write.

  2. Thanks, Lisa! I'm a very fortunate woman, for sure!

  3. Nothing wrong with doing things "in the wrong order". I've been enjoying all the Second Act stories, and you are obviously having a great time with your Second Act-with the bonus of being able to return to your First Act. Bravo!

  4. That's not a rattler in your hands is it? Egads! I'd be okay with the birds, but not the reptiles. Still, I can see it would be fun.

  5. Jackie--this is a harmless but very beautiful common kingsnake. Volunteers are not permitted to handle venomous animals, nor would I want to. We do have a rattlesnake demonstration, given by a herpetologist who knows what he is doing. No holding or touching it. At the end of the show, everyone knows that rattlesnakes will not harm them if they take a few sensible precautions. Everyone can also tell which snakes are rattlers and which are harmless but helpful nonvenomous snakes.

  6. I am plotting my own Second Act as my husband and I get ready to retire, sell everything we own and become citizens of the world with just our back pack and rollies. Your story (and the others on the Blogathon site) are brilliant and inspiring! As someone who never wrote anything other than business reports and letters, I felt the urge to create a blog and write about our adventures and my musings on this major life change. Of course, it's called Justabackpackandarollie. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Wow, Nancy, talk about inspiring! What a wonderful second act you and your husband have planned! I will check out your blog forthwith. (Or, as I often say, fifthwith.)