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True Story, Issue #29

"Stumbling Into Joy" by Kate Hopper

True Story, Issue #29

True Story is a new home for longform nonfiction narratives. Published monthly by the editors of Creative Nonfiction, each pocket-size issue of True Story showcases one exceptional essay by one exceptional writer. From issue to issue, this new mini-magazine features the widest possible variety of voices and styles and subjects.

Offering vivid, immersive reports from real life, every issue of True Story is a small celebration of the larger-than-life stories and experiences that make us think differently about what it means to be human.


ABOUT ISSUE #29: Taking stock after a midlife medical crisis inspires a woman to fulfill her lifelong dream of learning to play the electric bass. Her quest to understand the instrument’s appeal leads her to the pioneering women of Fanny, and to some realizations about herself.

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From "Stumbling Into Joy" by Kate Hopper 

The year I turned forty-three, I was in pain almost all the time. It wrapped like a mammoth hand around my right rib cage, squeezing, squeezing. The culprit: a sluggish gallbladder.

Pain is like a feral animal; it’s unpredictable. It’s not just the physical discomfort that’s so disruptive; it’s also the fear of the pain’s return. So even when I had a good day, I knew it was short-lived. Would I feel okay tomorrow? Was it something I did? Or something I ate? Pain made me feel old. It also made me acutely aware of my own mortality.

Finally, after eight months of trying to address the pain on my own, I had my gallbladder removed. It took another six months for my digestion to stabilize, and when I finally felt better, I was relieved, but also a little shell-shocked. What had just happened?

I shifted into taking-stock mode. I was almost forty-four years old, and ideally I still had half of my life ahead of me. How did I want to live it? And what were my regrets? Luckily, I didn’t have many. I was happily married, with two wonderfully spunky, smart, healthy, and kind daughters. My work as a writer, editor, and coach, despite not paying very well, gave me great pleasure. I reasoned that even the hard stuff I’d experienced in my life, which I would have gladly avoided if given the chance, had taught me something and had, as the saying goes, made me stronger.
In fact, the single regret that rose to the surface as I examined my life was that I had not learned how to play the electric bass guitar when I was younger. I had always wanted to, but I had never even picked one up.

I mentioned this to my husband, Donny, and to a number of close friends, who all said the same thing: it’s not too late. But of course it was. How could I justify the expense when there were medical bills, groceries, soccer fees, and piano and dance lessons to cover? And between juggling work and the girls’ schedules plus time with family and friends, when would I have time to practice? And what did I know about playing the bass anyway?

Absolutely nothing.


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