1: Must Love Midlife

1: Must Love Midlife

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Must Love Midlife

It’s never too late to be what you might have been.

~George Eliot

The Hollywood premiere of the Must Love Dogs movie was held at the mammoth Cinerama Dome on Sunset Boulevard. I was the author of the novel it was based on. I was thrilled that, because my name was on the movie poster, I was entitled to four tickets to the premiere, which meant my husband and two kids and I could all go. We were even given a suite at the Hollywood Roosevelt.

I had no expectations, other than thinking it would be fun and we’d probably get free popcorn. I remember wandering Hollywood Boulevard early that afternoon with my daughter, poking around in all the tourist shops. I bought a knock-off Gucci bag shaped like a dog and a pink feather boa collar to clip around its neck, and decided it would be only fitting to carry a copy of the book to the premiere in it. Clearly I was thinking like a tourist rather than an author whose movie adaptation was about to premiere in a few hours, since I also bought a refrigerator magnet with a picture of the Hollywood sign on it.

By that point I’d heard premiere stories from other authors. The one that stuck in my head was from an author whose name must not have been on the movie poster because he only got two tickets to the premiere. He brought his mother. The day came and they pulled up to the red carpet. The limo driver rolled down the window and gave his passenger’s name and said he was the author.

As the driver got out to open the doors for the author and his mother, the event publicist leaned into her microphone. She announced his name and told the long line of media people standing behind the ropes on the edge of the red carpet that he was the author.

“Nah, we don’t want him,” a television reporter standing with his cameraman said loudly. Everybody else in the long line concurred with a headshake or a brush of their hand, or just ignored the announcement entirely. The author and his mother slunk along the length of the red carpet as quickly as they could and disappeared into the theater.

I’d warned my family what to expect and I wasn’t really worried about it. I mostly wanted to watch the movie. Gary David Goldberg, the movie’s producer/director, had shared every draft of the script, as well as a few short promo clips, but he hadn’t wanted me to watch the whole thing until tonight.

It was early on a hot summer night and the sun was still relentless. Our stretch limo pulled up. The driver lowered his window, gave my name and said I was the author. He opened our doors and the event person announced me. I got ready to be ignored.

Well, it turned out that not only had the actors not arrived yet, but unbeknownst to me, one of the Boston affiliates had asked Access Hollywood, which aired on the same network, to get some footage of me for them to show on the local news that night.

“We want her!” the crew from Access Hollywood yelled.

And because Access Hollywood wanted me, Entertainment Tonight yelled, “We want her!”

And then Xtra wanted me. And then everybody in the whole media line wanted me. The event publicist started escorting me toward the line. “How do you feel about director Gary David Goldberg changing Mother Teresa, the St. Bernard in the book, to a Newfoundland in the movie?” a reporter yelled.

“I would have been fine with a possum,” I yelled back.

And so I walked along the red carpet, which was actually a dogthemed green faux-grass carpet dotted with fire hydrants, taking questions from the media line. After I finished chatting with the big outlets, the event person pulled me aside and whispered that I’d done the important ones, so I could stop now if I wanted to.

“Are you kidding me?” I said. I talked to every single one of them, including the guy from a radio station in, I think, Singapore at the very end of the line. I did thirty-five interviews on that green carpet. The paparazzi were even yelling “Claire, Claire” and taking my picture when I looked. At one point I remember asking a group of them if they were really the paparazzi because they seemed so much nicer in person than I’d heard they were.

And the next morning I awoke to find out there was a picture of me, holding up my knock-off dog purse with a copy of Must Love Dogs peeking out, on the front page of The Hollywood Reporter. And in an AP piece that was picked up by hundreds and hundreds of publications, Michael Cidoni wrote that in his twenty-five years of covering Hollywood premieres, he had never seen an author have as much fun at a premiere as Claire Cook. And of course, “Must Love Dogs author Claire Cook says she would have been fine with a possum!” was just about everywhere.

This was the year I turned fifty, which in Hollywood years I’m pretty sure is at least eighty-two. My green carpet media blitz was a total long shot, and I was not in any way prepared for it or expecting it to happen. A minute or two later one of the actors — Diane Lane, John Cusack, Christopher Plummer, Elizabeth Perkins, Stockard Channing — could have arrived and the media would have dropped me in a Hollywood minute. But in this tiny window was a colossal opportunity to get the word out about my books, and when that happens, you’ve just got to go for it.

Eventually my long-suffering family and I made it inside the theater. And I was right — not only did we get free popcorn but also free soda, both delivered to us by handsome tuxedo-clad waiters. We were even seated in the front row of the first balcony, with the actors surrounding us.

Way down below, in front of the movie screen, Gary stood up to speak.

“None of us would be here tonight,” he began, “without Claire Cook and her wonderful novel. I started out as a fan of her work, and we quickly became personal friends, and I now consider her one of the few people in the world I can always count on for the truth presented in the kindest way possible.”

Behind me, some of the actors hooted. Dermot Mulroney caught my eye and gave me a thumbs-up. I was stunned. I was overwhelmed. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life.

Just over five years before that, I’d been sitting with a group of swim moms (and a few good dads) at 5:30 A.M. My daughter was swimming back and forth and back and forth on the other side of a huge glass window during the first of two daily practices that bracketed her school day and my workday as a teacher.

The parental conversation in the wee hours of that morning, as we sat bleary-eyed, cradling our Styrofoam cups of coffee and watching our kids, was all about training and form and speed, who was coming on at the perfect time, who was in danger of peaking before championships, even who just might have a shot at Olympic trial times.

In my mind, I stepped back and listened. Whoa, I thought, we really need to get a life.

And right at that moment it hit me with the force of a poolside tidal wave that I was the one who needed to get a life. A new one, the one I’d meant to have all along. I was not getting any younger, and I was in serious danger of living out my days without ever once going for it. Without even trying to achieve my lifelong dream of writing a novel. Suddenly, not writing a book became more painful than pushing past all that fear and procrastination and actually writing it.

So, for the next six months, through one long cold New England winter and into the spring, I wrote a draft of my first novel, sitting in my minivan outside my daughter’s swim practice. It sold to the first publisher who asked to read it. Lots of terrific books by talented authors take a long time to sell, so maybe I got lucky. I’ve also considered that perhaps if you procrastinate as long as I did, you get to skip some of the awful stages on the path to wherever it is you’re going and just cut to the chase.

But another way to look at it is that there were only three things standing in my way all those years: me, myself and I.

My first novel was published when I was forty-five. Not only did I walk the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of the movie adaptation of Must Love Dogs at fifty, but I’m now an actual bestselling author of eleven novels, as well as my first nonfiction book about reinvention, Never Too Late. Not many days go by that I don’t take a deep breath and remind myself that this is the career I almost didn’t have.

Anything can happen. It is never, ever too late.

~Claire Cook

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