40-Something and Making Things

40-Something and Making Things 

Rachel Stofocik

The other day, I read “What it Takes to Turn a Hobby into a Career at Age 40.” Artist and illustrator, Lisa Congdon is interviewed about how she became a successful artist after an already established career with non-profits. Congdon confesses that after a bad break-up she felt the urge to “make things.” Congdon’s story struck a chord. Of course, the struck chord stems not from my success with clients such as the Modern Museum of Art but in that I too, have come to the world of expression pretty late in the game and after hardship. 

After 15+ years in the world of education, I became ill. I could barely eat without becoming sick. Not only was the illness devastating, but I felt far removed from the person that I thought that I was. My full-time career in education became strenuous. My social life was stifled—imagine going to gatherings with friends and not being able to eat or drink—and my family life felt tainted. On one particularly sad, swollen, and nauseous Friday night, I picked up a pencil, and through hot tears, started to draw my daughter, Suzanne. My first art teacher, Ms. McKitrick’s voice came back to me, “draw the shapes and the values.” My tears waned with each fervent stroke of concentration. After drawing Suzy, my mother and my grandmother, the solace I always felt in art classes in high school resurfaced. I took a few drawing and painting classes, and creative ideas I had while teaching became my therapy and joy. 

Congdon also suggests that pursuing a creative endeavor later in life has its advantages because when we are older, we know a little bit more about who we are and what we like. This was true for me. I drew images based on the words that inspired me from the literature I taught for so many years; I drew images that I thought would be helpful or inspirational to my daughters; and I drew images based on the political movements and new voices crying out all around us. I try posting to social media daily to stay motivated. The postings have not only been helpful for me and my family, but individuals that I have not heard from in years as well as new friends have reached out and asked if they could buy some of my pieces or if I could make them a special piece for their daughter, or boyfriend etc. Art has connected me. Similar to Congdon, if someone would have told me that I would occasionally sell some of my artwork or that I would even create art and write stories in my 40’s I would have laughed; however, to my surprise, this month I landed my first illustration gig! Someone I knew from the world of education sent me a message and hired me to illustrate some pieces for a website designed to help students who are deaf and hard of hearing. It has been the perfect first official job, combining my knowledge of what English Learners need, and my passion for visually depicting language. 

The illustration you see below is a simple way to demonstrate the use of prepositions, in this case “under the tree” and “in the tree”. While hearing children have access to language all around them from an early age and thus slight nuances like “on the bus” versus “in the car” are picked up naturally, it is not the same for children whose first language is not omnipresent. So, while I may never be featured in the MOMA, I agree with Congdon that pursuing any new learning later in life has its perks. The desire to “make things” may not always bring in fame or fortune, but it does offer sustenance in uncertain times, connection with others in a disconnected world, and fountain of vibrance in the second half of life.    

What should we write?

What should we write?

 by: Rachel Stofocik

Recently, there was an article in The Guardian about snails. It seems the stay-at-home orders across the country have instigated a new trend where people are welcoming common garden snails into their homes as pets. I thought, imagine that, individuals forced into a new frontier are able to find companionship in a slimy friend. 

How do we write or illustrate for children right now? It seems that children’s books have a tendency to never go too far. There has always been a veil over that which was too unpalatable, too shocking, too scary, and often too truthful. Even as a child, I perceived a tacit understanding that the stories and versions of history presented to me were altered to somehow protect me. However, most of the children in the world are aware of injustices and inequities from an early age. Ta-nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me made that point more pronounced in recent years and the conversation has continued. 

Even those children who have an idyllic childhood, are now in a world where they are experiencing obstacles and hardships. “Wear a mask” is like “brush your teeth,” and staying six feet apart is the new “keep your hands to yourself.” Kids learn from home, isolated in their rooms; they have lost the comradery and refuge that they used to find in their favorite club or sport; they do not go to the movies, parks, concerts, or even to the grocery store. Some children are actually in more danger and are fed less now that the world has been turned upside down. In August, USA today reported that “new estimates from Northwestern University based on Census Bureau data indicate the percentage of families who are considered food insecure has increased during the pandemic, is much higher than during the Great Recession, and, of great concern, disproportionately affect children and families of color.” 

So, how do we write or illustrate to speak to children living through such challenges? How do we best support them? I have been told that writing anything that speaks to the pandemic would be unwise and fruitless for several reasons: (1) it would never get published in time; (2) it’s too serious; or (3) this will all go away soon. It’s been eight months however since the pandemic began, and so much has changed in our social landscape that I am not sure I agree with those notions. I say that we simply remove the veil and use the opportunity to be more creative and simultaneously, maybe more truthful, in our storytelling and in our art. 

 During the Great Depression, and after, American authors became more interested in socially conscious stories. These writers empathized with the proletariat, the working-class citizens who were experiencing tremendous hardships. Realism and modernism emerged in American literature. Similar to that time, we are experiencing our own national crisis. Left at home, some of the world seems slower, and because of that new pace, individuals are forced to face problems in society that they may have overlooked before, and in turn, maybe they are more open to considering that which they thought was never possible. 

I hope to use the opportunity to adopt a snail in my writing and illustrating. I hope to tackle that which is somewhat sticky. I know that the process will be slow, and in many ways unfamiliar, but I think in the process I can also bring more truth to children. I hope I write to something that helps children cope with the realities, the injustices, and the hardships that they face. I hope we can all decide that it is time for change, not only in children’s books, but in the world.       

Peculiar Warriors

Singing Stars By: Nina Wright

Peculiar Warriors

Athena’s owl points east,

She knows what’s wise.

Now listen to her science.

advise your blind side.

We ride the wind

Like Lady Trieu.

We don taintless footprints–

Wings, paws, cycles, shoes.

We are the atypical

And magical too.

I am Greta Thunberg.

Can you hear what I say?

Protect the world we breathe.

Take action; be brave.

We fight a noble cause,

And our differences a gift.

The winged wolf is crying

Artic thawing is too swift.

No point going to school.

Emissions must reach zero.

We are modern Joan of Arcs

Our dissidence–your heroes.

I am Greta Thunberg

look past my braids.

See the climate crisis.

Take action; feel rage.

The lonely unicorn nudges;

She can’t do all the healing.

We need cathedral thinking,

unknowing how to build the

When you politic and do not

You deny us rightful water,
fertile land.

Like Lozen and the Apache

ousted from their Black

I am Greta Thunberg

Can you hear what I say?

This is an emergency

Be rebellious and untamed.

The jackalope remains demure

yet his antlers weigh him down.

Cultivate unshaken magic

Rosa Parks, Anne Frank,


The damage deserves attention.

Our rebellion wants to lead

Tackling greenhouse gases–

Bleaching coral, rising

I am Greta Thunberg

Can you hear us when we speak?

Stop following the crowd

Take a stand.  Be unique.

Heidrun gives us drink

But the rivers will run dry.

Suffocate your consumer self;

Stop draining the supply.

We are fighting for the mother.

We are standing for the she.

Emma Gonzalez, Malala Yousafzai

Alice Walker, & AOC.

I am Greta Thunberg

A peculiar warrior

they say.

But I foresee the fragile

Can you hear me? What I say?

I am beginning to wonder.

Because you knew it yesterday.

Stand up, rebel, take action.

Be Brave.

Stand up, rebel, take action.

Feel rage.

Fight untamed.

Be unique.

Stand with me–


Be a unicorn among the sheep.

Take a knee–

a voice offbeat.

A fearless voice

Of reason.

Of dissension–

creative thinking.

Hear what we say.

Be atypical.

Be magical.

Stand up today.

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