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  • Review of Home by Marilynne Robinson

    HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I loved Gilead by Marilynne Robinson so much. The review is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....

    But with Home, I had a different experience. I wasn't compelled through most of the book. At about the three-quarter mark, things started to happen and I felt my interest quicken. But here's a summary of my impressions, and my apologies to those who loved it so much they recommended it to me:

    1. I was disappointed to see this other, peevish, nasty side of Rev. Ames.
    2. I didn't like the Rev. Boughton very much at all.
    3. Jack is tedious and pathetic.
    4. Glory almost breaks free but then doesn't.

    Robinson really makes me wait for it, building my conflict between compassion and resentment for Jack. And just when I lose faith in him, there's a scene where the old misogynist/bigot Rev. Boughton asks to see Jack and his brother together in his room, and Jack insists Glory be included. As if he sees her as an equal to the men, rather than just the servant her father expects.

    In this, I felt Jack himself was a Rorschach test for the reader, in that while he seems almost feral, a man born without skin with which to hide himself from the world, easily wounded and always untrusting, you want to abandon him, but can you? If so, who are you? What are your values - what are your limits?

    So now Glory has decided to stop being codependent with her "fiancé", and switch her ministrations and self-sacrifice to her dying father and her feral brother. This is an arc? This is growth? What is Robinson's meaning, at the end of the story, when Glory decides to stay in a town she has said she hates, in a house she agrees to preserve as a monument/mausoleum to the family? It can only be read as failure to respect oneself in favor of service to others! This troubles me deeply.

    I apologize for the length of this next excerpt, but I have to reproduce it, because it's so telling:

    "(Glory) had tried to take care of (Jack), to help him, and from time to time he had let her believe she did. That old habit of hers, of making a kind of happiness for herself out of the thought that she could be his rescuer, when there was seldom much reason to believe that rescue would have any particular attraction for him. That old illusion that she could help her father with the grief Jack caused, the grief Jack was, when it was as far beyond her power to soothe or mitigate as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. She had been alone with her parents when Jack left, and she had been alone with her father when he returned. There was a symmetry in that that might have seemed like design to her and beguiled her with the implication that their fates were indeed intertwined. Or returning herself to that silent house might simply have returned her to a s state of mind more appropriate to her adolescence. A lonely schoolgirl at thirty-eight. Now, there was a painful thought.

    "She recalled certain moments in which she could see that Jack had withdrawn from her and was looking through or beyond her, making some new appraisal of her trustworthiness, perhaps, or her usefulness, or simply and abruptly losing interest in her together with whatever else happened just then...She found no consistency in these moments, nothing she could interpret. He was himself. That is what their father had always said, and by it he had meant that Jack was jostled along in the stream of (the family's) vigor and purpose and their good intentions, their habits and certitudes, and was never really a part of any of it. He had eaten their food and slept beneath their roof, wearing the clothes and speaking the dialect of their slightly self-enamored and distinctly clerical family..."

    God! Who hasn't known people like this - men like this, children like this - who take and take and take from an ever-hopeful spouse or family and yet never seem quite able to be satisfied, or fulfilled, or happy! When all the sacrificial loving family member ever wants is for that feral person to be happy. Or at least safe.

    Like I said, Rorschach.

    And in this, I have to admit, Robinson delivers again, most profoundly, in pulling back the curtains and showing us, right down to the faint beat of a pulse along a pale wrist, the impact on a family of such a lone wolf. Not that the wolf doesn't suffer. Not that we don't all feel empathy as we struggle to surface from this mire, gulping and gasping air, sorry for Glory who remains below, yet intent on saving ourselves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

    The Beginner's GoodbyeThe Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    After reading some of the reviews, I felt a bit off-kilter, as if I'm seeing something that wasn't intended by the author.

    Nevertheless, here's my impression: this story is about a man who, because of his physical limitations, resists closeness with other people, to the point that he marries a woman who seems certain to want the same, arm's length relationship. It's only after she dies that he begins to sense that he was wrong about that. During the grieving process, he comes to realize he's been living an arm's-length life.

    I love stories about people who come out of a fog and change their lives, empowered by the realization that they've been missing something important - that their reasoning was flawed, but it doesn't have to remain that way. And Anne Tyler is such a great wordsmith, anything she writes is wonderful. This book is perhaps a bit too subtle to win the raving applause it deserves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    As I read Lean In, I was intrigued at being able to get inside the head of a dynamic, smart woman who is one generation younger than me, and see the corporate world through her eyes. One of the cultural questions she answered for me was this: why are younger women so averse to the terms "feminist" and "feminism"? Apparently, Sheryl Sandberg and her contemporaries believe(d) the following:

    1. Equality having arrived, there's no need for feminism anymore
    2. Feminists are man-haters who resist makeup and the shaving of one's legs

    Okay, #2 was a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, having observed conditions in the real world for a few years now, Sandberg has come to see that the playing field is not and will not be level until more women occupy positions of power in the corporate hierarchy. She doesn't suggest that this is due to any malicious intent on the part of men, but rather it's simply a matter of ignorance.

    To illustrate, she describes having to park far away from her office door when hugely and uncomfortably pregnant. When she designated preferred parking spots to accommodate pregnant workers, no one complained. It was seen as logical. But prior to her taking her place in the C-suite, the issue hadn't been raised.

    Sandberg talks about not slowing down out of consideration for what might happen in the nebulous future. The example she gives, now famous, is of a young woman confiding her fears of not wanting to accept a job with a lot of responsibility due to the impact it might have on her family. The woman was planning ahead - she didn't even have a boyfriend yet.

    With this example, Sandberg makes the point that women, having been highly trained and educated, are waving off promotional opportunities. The jury is still out as to why, but she suggests, and I agree, that part of the reason is this: in corporate America, a woman's decision to go through pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and child-rearing is viewed as a private matter that should not impact her ability to work long hours and irregular schedules, including lengthy and frequent travel as needed. Rightly fearing this may drive her insane, a woman who wants a family may leap off the corporate ladder at a very early stage.

    Sandberg argues that if a young woman stayed on it long enough to secure a more powerful position, she would be able to exert more control over her work life (a perspective the young woman must trust will happen, since at her current low place on the corporate ladder she can only see her lack of power and control.) After a few promotions, she will be able to delegate some of her work to subordinates, afford more help at home, and influence workplace policies that unfairly impact women and families. Who can find fault with this argument?

    Sandberg is honest about her own mistakes, and I found that charming. For example, I was amazed that, for all her intelligence and education, she didn't originally intend to negotiate her starting salary with Facebook. Luckily a nice man (her husband) set her straight, and she made a counter offer to Zuckerberg. Reams of guidance have been written about how this error could have impeded her in later years, both at Facebook and with future employers, yet she didn't know. For other women who have not yet made this horrifying discovery, please read Ask for It by Babcock and Laschever (http://www.amazon.com/Ask-Women-Power...) which in addition to being enlightening and entertaining, offers tons of strategies for preparing yourself to negotiate. And not just for salaries. After reading that book I saved $150 on furniture I was going to buy anyway, by asking one question.

    But back to Lean In.

    I was also surprised that she wasn't well informed about how women can sabotage other women in the workplace, particularly women in power. This is an unfortunate truth with roots in biology, and is brilliantly explained in the amazing book, In the Company of Women by Heim and Murphy (http://www.amazon.com/Company-Women-I...) which I reviewed here:
    http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... This also suggests the reasons Sandberg was hit with such a backlash for the well-intentioned Lean In.

    There is so much more to say about Lean In, but let me close with this: I enjoyed learning how this stellar corporate executive struggled, made mistakes, and ultimately learned some strategies that will enable her, her family, and the women (and men) in her corporation to thrive. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not even pretty, but part of the lesson is to let go of the need for perfection.

    The other message, younger women, is to get as far and as fast as you can before starting your families. Don't opt out just because it looks too hard from where you're sitting now. The view improves with each rung on the ladder.

    View all my reviews

Are We Allowed to Slow Down in Retirement?

Retiring but Not Shy

Several years ago, a friend and I were talking about what we would do after we “retired.” I wanted to start a new career writing, teaching part-time, doing public speaking gigs, and blogging. She wanted to start a preschool! After decades at our corporate jobs, this was how we viewed retirement.

I was reminded of our conversation as I read the excellent book Retiring but not Shy, by Ellen Cole and Mary Gergen. The book is a collection of essays by women psychologists on the subject of their own retirement. Although some essays were by women who retired a while back, the ones I found most troubling were by those who were either considering retirement or had recently retired.

Like my friend and I, these bright, well-educated women had laundry lists of all the incredible new tasks and initiatives they would undertake. Retirement meant converting from busy/busy to busy/busy. Beyond financial security, many seemed afraid that giving up their jobs meant they would no longer “matter.” These stellar professionals, some of minority ethnicity, feared being marginalized by society after retirement.

Especially for us feminists, it’s hard to imagine walking away from the battlefield. We struggled against the social tide for those degrees, titles, professions and salaries. The achievement of professional stature became our our identity, our source of power, our protective shield.

When I gave up my profession, I didn’t feel special anymore, and looking back, this was where my post-retirement life got interesting. I found myself tackling some heavy questions.

  • Did I have value to society without my work? Does anybody?
  • Did I fear a judgment I’d attached to others who didn’t work? (As a society, this question has implications with elders as well as stay-at-home parents.)
  • Would I ever have the confidence not to work? To give up positional power? To still see myself as special, even without the hard-won mantle of office?

Ultimately, the greatest triumph of my sixth decade was gaining a sense of self-worth exclusive of my profession. To value myself without the suit and heels meant I had to view the rest of society in a more forgiving way. to look beyond the uniform and titles – or lack thereof.

In the book, one of the writers asks: if work equates to feminism and independence, to what does retirement equate?

I have come to see retirement as a time of enlightenment and the letting go of ego.

One writer says “I believe that even in retirement women must contribute to make a difference, to be perceived as powerful and to have power.” But powerful in whose estimation? We cannot make society respect us – we can only respect ourselves. And as for feminist battles, can’t we just model feminist principles as we putter in the yard, go to church, or help out down at the shelter? Why do we need to start a new national/international effort toward whatsis?

Will we ever accept that we are good enough?

Leave a comment


  1. I wrote with similar sentiment earlier this week Lynne..certainly asking the questions at least, though I couldn’t provide any answers. The drive to keep doing, the manner in which we define contribution and purpose. I think it requires a re-calibration – one that may take a little longer than we (I) may like.

    • Mimi, I went to your blog and was delighted to know of it – and the title is so cool. Subscribed.

      You’re right. Your post speaks of the same issue, beautifully wrought. I am so curious what others are doing with their Second Half, so this was candy for me. And we’re both recovering HR peeps. Here’s the link for others to check out: http://waitingforthekarmatruck.com/2013/04/03/the-relentless-drops-of-water/

      • It really is interesting that we’re both recovering HR peeps (I love that phrase).. I’m checking out a few options – as soon as I’m done with three weeks of non-stop consulting projects!!

  2. Fascinating discussion. I think that the real issue is whether or not you worship at the altar of external validation. If you only define yourself by how others perceive you, then retiring from that will be almost impossible. Hence, the need to be busy/busy. If, however, you define yourself from within disregarding societal expectations, you’ll find retirement to be the best time ever. Do what you want, in the way that you want– and you will matter. It’s that simple.

    • Simple and complicated, Ally. I sense from your writings that you’ve practiced this a while. When I first retired, it was a brand new challenge for me, one I hadn’t even known to expect. So here is yet another accomplishment of The Second Half, another acquisition of self.

      • Yes, it is an acquisition of self that I’ve found to be more authentic than anything I did previously. But due to situations beyond my control, I’ve always been an outsider so perhaps the transition to retirement wasn’t as dramatic for me. Like I said, fascinating discussion. Good topic, Lynne.

  3. Jan, AMEN says it all. Best wishes on your actual retirement. Let me know how it develops, will you? I’m so interested in the transitional years for us women.

  4. As a feminist woman I find this an interesting conversation. As a 62 year old woman I find myself unable to do anything but work. I lost my counseling job 6 years ago and was unable to find another. I have started an online business and will have to continue to work to support myself. I don’t need outside validation. I am happy with who I am. I would rather see more women my age having the option to retire, but I know too many like myself who are divorced and after spending many years as at home moms do not have the funds to retire.
    Thanks for posting this.

    • Laura, I apologize for seeming insensitive about the need to / have to question re working. Esp. after the Great Recession, so many of us are just trying to get by. Thank you for the reminder that to have the choice between self-validation vs. other-validation is in itself a luxury.

  5. Lynne That’s a very interesting and somewhat troubling take on retirement. I plan on sitting on the couch for the first 6 mos 🙂
    It reminds me of how in the 80s when I was a fulltime mom and housewife I often felt belittled when in social arenas where the women felt that if I wasn’t working outside the home I didn’t matter. When I do finally retire I plan on focusing on my passions, reading, interviewing authors, and of course blogging about all of the above.

    • Deb, that’s the thing that stopped me cold: I realized I had accepted society’s judgment that paid work/career was the most important determinant of a person’s value. In retirement, I had to reject this judgment, which led to reassessing other Americans not working outside the home, and society needs to do the same, both with the elderly and SAH Parents.

      And it interests me that the retiring psychologists have not yet come to the same realization.

      Enjoy your quiet time. And send a note to Hillary that she would like it, too.

  6. Lynne as usual you raising some provacative questions. I’ve been “retired” for many years. As a young child, when I thought about people dying, it didn’t make sense that everything we learned in a lifetime was lost. Much older now, I realize that much of what I’ve learned about being true to myself, relevant but not ego drive, has come from people who lived ages ago. Sometimes I think of my life as a seed caster, sharing what I have learned from those who have gone before me as well as what I have learned from living through the joys and sorrows of life. Do I retire from learning and sowing to rest because I’m in the later half of life or is it better to learn how to balance my need to be relevant-continue to learn-with periods of deliberated time outs to replenish and restore aging energy? Living is a wonderful mystery isn’t it?

    • Well said, Dolores. It IS a wonderful mystery, not the least reason of which is that so many answers are correct. I especially like your solution, as it allows for both “drive time” and down time. I think I’ll try to incorporate it (talk about sowing seeds!)

      I once read an essay called “The Silence of the Sky,” wherein man calls out to the firmament, and then laments the apparent lack of a cosmic presence who will prescribe to and care for him. The silver lining is the existence of free will. What a terrifying, yet empowering situation.

      So good to hear from you! I hope life is treating you well. Thank God for the Internet, that we can stay in touch.

  7. Lynne, I loved your blog and all the insightful comments. You really got me thinking and it was too long for a comment, so I wrote it in my blog http://leafriverwriter.com/?p=253&preview=true. Hope it’s okay that I left the link.

    • Absolutely, Deborah. It’s a compliment. I’ll read it just as soon as my very active grandbaby goes down for his nap!

      • deborahlucas706

         /  April 5, 2013

        Lynne, you’re lucky to have them close. Mine is six hours away–too far for these old bones lately.

  8. Your blog and all the comments have been so helpful. I was a SAH Mom for years and then worked part time for several years. I have health issues now that have really slowed me down. And yet, I still struggle with “What is Enough??”

    • Amma, thanks. I once heard a guy named Dennis Palumbo speak (http://dennispalumbo.com/category/biography-of-dennis-palumbo/) to a group of writers. He is a former therapist-to-the-stars who wouldn’t name names, darn it, but he told us that so many of his clients suffered from fears of inadequacy in spite of successful careers and celebrity. At the end of his talk, this nice man said he wanted to leave us with one gift. He grasped the podium, looked out over this sea (pond?) of eager faces, and said, “Let me tell you this: You are enough. You are ENOUGH.” I felt such kindness emanating from his statement. Plus, he seemed to know what he was talking about. I never forgot it.

      That’s what we have to learn! To know when to say, I am enough. And then to relax and live.

  9. Once again we seem to be on a similar path, Lynne. Recently I was talking with someone who is planning to retire not long after I do about the concept of “blooming where we’re planted” and she was aghast. I can’t help but think that if we’re stuck in the mode of always having to reach for the next best thing we won’t to adjust well in retirement. True, retirement often means a second (or third or fourth) act as we have time to pursue other passions but, like you, I believe we’ve earned the right to just be. Great post as always.

    • Thanks, Linda. So much of what we do is driven by fear. If we can identify the fear, maybe we can negate it. Many Boomers are afraid to admit they’re getting old. Driving ourselves for the sake of not being seen as old is a bad reason. We only have one life! Whatever we do should be with our eyes open. Thanks for coming by; have a great weekend.

  10. Snoring Dog Studio

     /  April 6, 2013

    My sister is going through this difficult transition in retirement now. In fact, she’s planning on going back to work full or part time. I feel for her. I don’t know how to help her. I don’t know how a person leaves that job self behind and finds the real self within. It definitely has made me think more and more about what my retirement might look like.

    • SDS, if she is lucky enough financially to be able to make the choice, that’s a blessing to celebrate right there. And if she’s self-aware enough to be able to say that she truly enjoys her work that much, then going back is probably a good idea. If not, maybe going back will help her rethink who she is and what she wants. In any case, I wish her happiness…and you too. What a caring sister you are.

      • Snoring Dog Studio

         /  April 6, 2013

        Your post was so timely. I had a long talk with her yesterday and never knew what she was going through. She said that she was “embarrassed” to be complaining about retirement. That’s so sad. I want her to have joy in whatever she decides to do.

  11. Hi Lynn-

    I’ve been reading your blog since a mutual friend, Dawn, told me about it. This post struck a personal chord for me as I struggle with these same issues of retirement. Little by little, I am letting those feelings go and relishing this time that we all work so hard for, so we can enjoy the things we love to do and new things we never had time to do.

    Cheers for your blog and retirement!

    • Michelle, I’m so glad it resonates for you. This is such an exciting time of our lives isn’t it? Hope to see you soon.

  12. Lynne, this post resonates with me, too, even though I haven’t even considered retiring yet for financial reasons. A part of me longs to give up the rat race and another part fears the isolation especially living abroad. My sister, also a teacher, is retiring at the end of next year, so I will be looking to her to lead the way. Thanks for another thought-provoking post.

  13. I never gained much self-worth from my profession as an academic librarian for 25 years. It was only after losing my job that I fully acknowledged that fact. I gain so much more from my counseling and writing now, even though the pay is minimal. I guess I am one of those do-what-you-love people who never makes a lot of money, but knows they are making some difference in the lives of others.

    • It’s all about being conscious – of who you are, what you need, whether you’re getting it or not, etc. I’m glad you’re happier now, Laura Lee.

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  • Lynne Spreen

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    Lynne Spreen's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)
  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

    Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Maybe this book is better than my capacity to appreciate. I don't tend toward writing that is obscure, or dense (or makes me feel dense). However, sometimes it's better to roll along with the storytelling and let the deeper meaning work its way up from subconscious to conscious.

    The ending of this book is extremely powerful. Margaret, due to the traumatic incident that happened when she was five, lived in a fog her entire life, married to a wacko genius, and not waking up until she was in her sixties and everything/everyone is sad and tired. Yet she seems to catch fire, fueled by bitterness, in the very last 3 sentences of the epilogue. It was a long time to wait for the enlightenment.

    I gave the book 3 stars because there's too much backstory too soon, making it hard for me to develop an interest. Once there, I felt frustrated at the repetitious nature of Margaret's obtuseness, even though she's a bright woman, and her deferring to Andrew, even though this is what people - women especially - do.

    It went on for her whole life! That she was living in a cloud due to, I believe, the trauma of the childhood incident, and that she was ill served by those around her, didn't make it any easier to like this story. I know Smiley is a master writer, and I feel like a goof not giving her a better rating, but this is my honest reaction.

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  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

    Up at the VillaUp at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Very much enjoyed this short book, which I read in one night. The settings are lush, dialogue snappy, and the characters realistic and strong. The plot and writing are compelling. I enjoyed it because a theme might be, "people are not what they appear to be." A character acts one way and you think, okay, he's good and upstanding. And maybe he IS, but the "why" of it is enlightening. Maugham is a respected author for a reason. What talent! A very good story.

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  • Review of Benediction by Kent Haruf

    BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ever in search of stories about midlife and beyond, I set up a page on facebook (www.Facebook.com/midlife.fiction) and asked for suggestions. I got 38 great recommendations, and I hope to read and review every one of them. Herewith, then: Benediction by Kent Haruf. What a masterpiece.

    Benediction centers around an elderly man who is dying, but the story encompasses many rich characters, and their small stories touched me. In fact, I think this is what made the book so special for me: I saw a little bit of myself in each of them. Each one resonated. I felt again what it was like to be a lost little girl, a lonely divorcee, a misunderstood introspective, a grieving wife, a person who is coping with serious illness. I longed for the small-town atmosphere described here (the Fourth of July fireworks over the high school football field is a stellar short story all by itself.)

    Although the central character is dying, the book is not negative. Far from it - Benediction reflects on the everyday goodness (and tawdriness) of people. His characters are beset by the normal difficulties of life yet buoyed by simple beauties and kindnesses.

    Yet, nothing in Haruf's writing is overly dramatic or in the least saccharine. In fact, that's one of the aspects of Benediction I enjoyed the most: being surprised by tears on the completion of a plainly-written paragraph, phrase or description.

    I couldn't stop reading excerpts to my husband, since he also loves beautifully crafted writing. This book put me in mind of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. If I could describe it in one word, it would be "elegiac."

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