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For local author Suzanne Spector, it’s never too late for new challenges

Author Suzanne Spector began writing in her late 70s and considers it her third career.
(Michele Goane)

Octogenarian Suzanne Spector is not afraid of change — nor starting over.

In her debut memoir, “Naked at the Helm: Independence and Intimacy in the Second Half of Life,” the local author writes about her family, career and personal challenges. The book is scheduled for release Tuesday, Aug. 9, and is available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other websites.

“At age 43, the midpoint of my life, I left my marriage, suburban family life and my career in education,” Spector said. “In therapy for three years, I stripped off the cultural expectations and prescriptions for women of my generation and learned to listen to my own inner voice. That voice has guided me, one step at a time, to try new things — living fully in the present instead of worrying or dreaming about the future. That way of being has added up to a wonderful, interesting second half of life.”

Spector was the founder and director of The Center for Open Education in New Jersey and became director of the Center for Studies of the Person in La Jolla, which says it aims “to maintain/build/create an environment where each of us can be heard, where we can be fully ourselves, where we accept and embrace each other as we are.”

Spector began writing in her late 70s and considers it her third career. She was a winner of the 2019 San Diego Memoir Showcase writing competition. Her entry, “Dancing Hearts Emoji,” was published in the award-winning anthology “Shaking the Tree: Brazen. Short. Memoir. Vol. 3.”

She answered questions from The San Diego Union-Tribune:

Q: Why did you want to write this memoir?

A: I decided to write this memoir when the younger women in my writing group reacted to my stories with surprise, even shock. Their reaction to my red-hot love affair at 80 years old illuminated the rampant misconceptions about aging that exist today. So many people dread getting older and think of aging as a downward slide. For me, it has been an upward staircase with a fulfilling new activity every few years.

Q: What’s your favorite decade of your life?

A: I’m tempted to say my 50s was my favorite decade because it was filled with unforeseen international work, play and friendships. But every decade has been great because I’ve kept doing new things.

Q: How did your divorce affect you and your three daughters?

A: My divorce liberated me to join the next generation of women who were riding the feminist wave. The family breakup wasn’t easy, but most important, I felt I was a role model for my daughters — as a woman living my truth.

Q: Talk about your professional careers.

A: I had planned to be a stay-at-home mother but backed into a career in education starting as a parent volunteer in a Montessori nursery school. That led to coordinating the American Montessori Teacher Training Program. I created a post-Montessori open classroom nursery and elementary school and subsequently added a teacher training program and then a high school. When I ran out of new challenges, I retired.

Three years later, I moved to California. I felt a “calling” to the Center for Studies of the Person, the humanistic psychology organization in La Jolla. I joined the faculty and began working internationally and was elected director of CSP. I earned my Ph.D. in psychology and worked with clients individually and in groups.

In September 1991, I brought a CSP team to the Soviet Union. There were Russian professionals burning to facilitate free expression, just at the fall of the Iron Curtain. I consider it the pinnacle of my career as a person-centered psychologist.

Q: How has therapy helped you?

A: Ever since my deep dive into therapy to find myself, I have been on a reflective journey of psychological and spiritual growth. That path has enriched my life and provided me with a foundation of how to live my best life.

Q: What did you learn about yourself while taking multiple art classes at Liberty Station in Point Loma?

A: In my 60s, I retired from psychology and began taking classes. I learned that I didn’t have talent, but I had fun and my products adorn my home.

In my early 70s, I discovered art as an expressive spiritual practice. Intuitive painting led to soul collage and art journaling, which eventually awakened a desire to write. I took my first writing class at 77. My first writing coach pushed me toward classes at Writers Ink at Liberty Station. My memoir reflects how I lived life, one step at a time, all the while remaining open to new possibilities. Its message: It’s never too late.

Q: What’s your current passion?

A: My eyesight and my energy held out just long enough. I’m excited to be preparing for my book launch and future book club and other events. As for what’s next — who knows?

— La Jolla Light staff contributed to this report.