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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

Invisibility is a Choice

 Got your coffee? Here’s the “news” from Salon.com:

WOMEN OVER 50 ARE INVISIBLE

Rampant ageism and sexism have left women of a certain age virtually powerless in American society

Virtually powerless? Holy crap. I had no idea we were in this much trouble.

But first, great news!

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

I tweeted about the above article, and Jane Friedman responded. We’d met briefly before, when she was at Writer’s Digest Magazine. Jane is now a top editor at the Virginia Quarterly Review, and a renowned publishing and media expert.

Turns out, she was bugged by this, too. We agreed to do a tandem blog – she would address the under-fifty perspective, and I – since today is my 59th birthday – the over-fifty. I know you’ll find her POV extremely interesting. Mine will probably be better, because I’m older, but as soon as the whippersnapper gets a few more wrinkles, she’ll be all right.

Okay, back to the article. The author, Tira Harpaz, is an accomplished woman. Yet, she feels invisible, and thinks we are, too. Her comments below describe the pain she’s feeling.

  • “It hits you in areas where you feel most vulnerable–a loss of attractiveness and sex appeal, the end of fertility, a glimpse of a slow, lingering decline.” 
  • “People I met at parties would look slightly disappointed and then look past me, and gradually, I began to shrink inside.”
  • “As I eased into the row, the 30-something man sitting in the window seat glanced up at me. It was a brief glance, but it conveyed disappointment and complete disinterest.”
  • “When the radiologist no longer asks if there’s any chance you’re pregnant. When the cashier at the movie theater, glancing indifferently at your gray roots, suggests you might want the senior discount, years before you might qualify. When people in the subway don’t really look at you as they politely offer you a seat.”

As much as I disagree with Harpaz, she’s not alone. You’ve heard it yourself. Maybe even felt it. However, today, I’m going to suggest an alternate explanation, one that might set you free. Sort of.

I think invisibility isn’t about age. It’s about gender. It’s about being female.

Let me make my argument. From the time we’re old enough to raise our hands in a classroom, we’re ignored in favor of the boys (AltermattJovanovic, & Perry1998). While boys often speak out of turn and assert themselves, little girls sit back, waiting for the teacher to call on them.

Invisible.

Per Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, school children were asked to perform a small task and then pay themselves what they thought they deserved. (First graders were asked to award themselves Hershey’s Kisses.) In first, fourth, seventh and tenth grades, girls consistently paid themselves 30% – 78% less than boys. 

Invisible.

In her new book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg laments how young, professional women discount themselves, from second-guessing their readiness for promotion to declining an offer to sit at the table with the decision-makers.

Invisible.

So it seems we don’t think that much of ourselves in the first place. Meanwhile, men, who occupy 96% of the top CEO jobs and 80% of Congress, don’t notice us unless we radiate fertility.

And then that goes away.

Whether it’s gender or age, women can change the culture, and they can start today. For more on this, read the excellent In the Company of Women – Indirect Aggression Among Women: Why We Hurt Each Other and How to Stop, by Drs. Pat Heim and Susan Murphy. They cite research showing that women hang back, out of fear that other women will punish them if they act like they’re special. The authors call this the Power Dead-Even Rule, and it’s pretty chilling. You can read a summary of the most important points here.

We older women should model powerful behavior for our girls, and encourage them as if their futures depended on it. If I were counseling younger women, I’d say stop waiting for an invitation. Grab the reins and demonstrate your presence. Older women: You were raised to be nice, and to put others first. Are you still waiting for permission to live? Stop right now. Take off your shoes and walk on the lawn.

Finally, all of us need to support, rather than snipe at, powerful, amazing, barrier-busting women.

Sexism exists. So does ageism. (For proof, reread Ms. Harpaz’ statements, above). But if you feel as I do, you might agree that invisibility is a choice. And as for me? I choose to resist.

What do you think? Is this invisibility real, and if so, do you think it’s because of gender or age? Let me hear from you.

PS: Blogging with Jane is the best birthday present ever! Be sure to check out her post here.

Leave a comment

70 Comments

  1. Happy Birthday!! And I’m with you all the way…

    Reply
  2. I grew up invisible…so I was accustomed to the feeling when I eased into mid life. I had a girlfriend who is about 12 years older than me…she used to say (before I could appreciate what she meant) middle aged women make the best spies because we are virtually invisible. I am having the feeling now, however, since I began blogging that, VIRTUALLY, we are anything but invisible! Great Post and very worthy of discussion!

    Reply
    • Barbara, I love being 59! I was cute when I was young, and I got ogled. Hated it. Felt like I couldn’t move freely. Now I can, and I love it.

      Reply
  3. Hear, hear! Invisibility is a choice, not a fact. Wonderful post, Lynne.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Jane. I like the power in those words. We can choose! I’m going over to your post now. Thanks again for doing this with me!

      Reply
  4. I really think it’s age, not gender, that makes us invisible. I think younger people react to all older people, men or women, with equal disregard. We did the same thing, when we were in our twenties and thirties. Happy Birthday, Lynne! You’re look good (and, no, I’m not going to say “for your age”!)

    Reply
    • Thanks, Lynn! And you are right about the young people. Up to a certain age we don’t notice anyone but ourselves (and that cute guy!)

      Reply
  5. Love this. And I think it’s important that we speak out about it. We’re bombarded with the message that appearance is all (and I don’t even watch TV!). Even I occasionally go out and splurge on make up that only makes the people who love me go “ew, you don’t look like yourself!”, or go on a diet so I can look like I did in my 20s. But I really don’t care about those things and can’t make them stick because there are so many other interesting things I could do with my time and energy.

    Posts like yours make me remember that that’s more-than-OK. Brava to you and Jane!

    The most attractive people I’ve ever known are the ones with a ready smile and a lively curiosity about the world and the people they’re with at that moment.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Julie! It takes a bit of guts to live life on your own terms, but I don’t want to lie on my deathbed thinking, “Thank God I followed all the rules.” Brava to you as well!

      Reply
  6. noewoman

     /  April 12, 2013

    As someone a little bit older than you (happy birthday!), I can certainly relate to this.
    I reinvented myself (again) at the age of 57 into a writer. It was unplanned and unexpected, but it happened and it’s too late now.
    Sometimes we do things to deliberately make ourselves invisible. Have you ever seen “Soapdish” with Sally Field? She’s a soap opera diva who can make herself invisible and visible to her fans in a shopping mall. How we dress, walk, talk: all of it can be used to make ourselves disappear in plain view.
    The thing I find interesting about being my age is that I’m surrounded by people 20 years younger. I could be their mother.
    My mom has always said she didn’t want to live in a retirement community “with a lot of old people”. It wasn’t their age she objected to, but their attitudes: they acted old. I totally get that now.
    My 18-year old daughter has seen me change a lot these past few years, but she’s grown up with a mother who was always self-employed, involved in causes that are important to her, engaged in the world around her. We owe it to younger women to show them what’s possible – at any age.

    Victoria Noe

    Reply
    • Victoria, congrats on the reinvention. You’re an inspiration! Some thoughts on your comment: I get the “I could be their mother” thing but I try not to think about it. I have friends who are in their 80s and lat 20s. We’re lucky to live long lives. That’s fascinating about Soapdish. I’m going to rent it to see what you mean. Last thought: I live in a 55+ community and I can’t keep up with most of them!

      Reply
  7. I’m 54 and seem to be experiencing a renaissance of sorts. I’m hoping this means the start of many wise-crone years.

    My experience of visibility/invisibility is that it has been there all along–but I’ve always called it a tendency to be underestimated. Outwardly, this has advantages–it imparts a kind of stealth super-power–but underestimating oneself is all too easy and is both insidious and harmful.

    Reply
    • Lisa, you are wise beyond your years. Renaissance – YES! Stealth – YES! Danger of underestimation – YES! I am so with you on all of this. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  8. I agree with you that gender plays a huge factor, although I also believe that ageism exists and intersects with sexism – there is an invisibility inherent in how rarely we see depictions of people over 40 or 50 in film, TV, books, and magazines that reflects and perpetuates an age-based societal bias against people of all genders.

    As for how it intersects with sexism, I think you’ve got your finger on it when you point to the link between age and reproductive viability. Women are undervalued in our society, and despite the massive strides made in the last 100 years towards equality, in many arenas women are seen as valuable primarily for their roles as wives and mothers – the recent obituary of Yvonne Brill, a leading rocket scientist (or, as the Times painted her, a domestic housewife and “also a brilliant rocket scientist”), is a good example of that. I think men over 50 are also less visible than younger men, but to a smaller degree because for centuries their worth has been measured by factors other than reproduction – by their public roles and career success, many of which are attained later in life.

    I agree with you that we can choose to focus on and develop other areas of our lives (and that focusing on the appearance and reproductive viability that society tells us determines our worth is only buying into an oppressive regime), and I really like what you have to say about modeling powerful older womanhood so that women and girls of all ages are empowered to feel more visible and equal. But I fear there’s a danger in calling this invisibility a choice in that it ignores or denies that there is a system in place which dis-empowers women and older people. Women should certainly make the choice to act empowered and to assert their own value in the face of being devalued, but people of all genders should also be working together to actively dismantle a sexist and ageist system.

    Reply
    • Rachel, oh, that Brill obit got people riled, didn’t it! And rightly so. But as to the rest of your commentary, I was about to respond, but the best response would be to agree with the essence of your last paragraph. You’ve put it into better words than I did, especially the last sentence. Thank you.

      Reply
  9. Happy birthday! would it be helpful or not to say that when I read barrier busting women, I had to go back and reread. My male eyes saw something different at first. Did Lynn really say what I think she did? On second reading you did not. Even if you do think this is helpful, I am several years older than you the writer. And, as a male, invisibility for me is not frowned upon. I just wish those thirty and under would stop with the detailed directions. I feel like they are helping me across the street.

    Reply
    • Bob, thanks for the birthday wishes. And at least those kids are helpful. BTW, you write in a voice that reminds me of Roger Rosenblatt. Very enjoyable.

      Reply
  10. You hit the nail on the head. It is a choice, and I had this sudden revelation as I read. NOW I understand why my grandfather, in his 80’s and 90’s, used to fly into rages when he thought he was being ignored. He wasn’t a crotchety old man, he was making a choice.

    Reply
    • Jessica, my mom will be 88 in June. She is 4’11” and uses a cane but is NOT invisible. She drives a little red car, wears jewelry every day, goes to exercise classes 3 days a week, and stays up with world events. If somebody tries to ignore her (and damn, I’ve seen them try) she speaks up. “ExCUSE me,” she’ll say with mock politeness. “I asked you a QUESTION.” And they snap to.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  11. Happy Birthday! I am facing the big 6-0 in two weeks and yes, I agree that midlifers are often invisible. We need to believe that we are still relevant in a youth-obsessed world and have many more contributions to make. Pep talk, anyone?

    Reply
  12. For sure, ageism and sexism do exist, a lot of which is promulgated by the emphasis of the media on youth and beauty as well as how we all, as children, absorbed the cultural dictates of what it means to be female or male. However, in my opinion, a lot of it depends on the shallowness of the person doing the judging of the invisibility, as well as the insecurities of the person being judged. Speaking as a female in her middle 60’s, I have to say I now feel more powerful than ever and even less concerned about what others think of me. That wasn’t always true, but I’ve found it gets easier with age. I’ve learned that what matters most is what I think about myself. If I perceive myself as intelligent, competent, and satisfied with my appearance, then it’s not that important what the rest of the world thinks. I am inclined to believe that if you radiate this presence, many of those you come in contact with will see you in the same way.

    Happy Birthday, Lynne!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Shirley! And may I say, I feel like printing out your comment and hanging it on my wall. So much frickin’ wisdom!! The part about the shallowness; the aspect of insecurity; the fact of power with age – a benefit of age which gets so little airtime, and that is often patronizing. Relevance is internal, I believe. If we’re not happy with ourselves, nobody else can fix that.

      Reply
  13. I’m so happy to find this discussion. Thank you, Jane. When I lost my banking job in 2008, I was 56. I took advantage and morphed into the creative I always wanted to be. Off to charity went the corporate clothes, shoes and accessories, and while learning the art of crafting fiction I embarked on rediscovering my own style. Yet, I still choose clothes and apply make up and style my hair and jewelry… to fit in, to give a certain impression, to look ‘prettier’ to my man? I don’t know. It is a consciousness of self that I wish to modify. Internal pressure and cues influenced by the bias of media and society. Could turn out that I just need therapy, but the discussion is important. It may take a generation or two of influencing our daughters the right way. This kind of discussion is where I find internet connectivity most powerful. Our daughters are already profoundly better informed as young mothers…
    Happy Birthday Lynne!

    Reply
  14. I’m so glad you wrote this, I have been looking forward to 50 for a long time (I’ve got 2 years to go.) I spent many of my formative years in Paris where 50 year old women date 20 year old men and so I’ve seen how feminine power can ripen with age.
    That said, I’ve also lived in South Asia now for 12 years and have been invisible the entire time.
    So I think it’s very much a cultural issue. And though I do agree that we women need to (and can) take up our own power by supporting each other, unfortunately, we still live in a paradigm ruled by men.
    Thanks so much for sharing this. Happy Birthday!
    Kim

    Reply
    • Thanks, Kim! And I think you’re 100% right that it’s cultural. In America, for example, I think men are judged on the appearance of power (usually represented by $$) and women by the appearance of fertility. But does that have to continue? We women can set the table any way we choose. If we can’t meet the fertility standard, let’s change the standard! Power is a beautiful thing, unless it’s wasted. And speaking as an older gal, I don’t want the kids to go thru the same issues. That’s part of the reason I’m doing this blog!

      Reply
  15. I totally relate to the invisibility, I was that girl who never raised her hand. It’s actually nice to read that I wasn’t the only one! There was a song “I’m invisible” about women. I heard it on KPIG in California, years ago. I searched the web and cannot find the song, or the singer/songwriter (female) anymore. Perhaps someone remembers that song, please post!

    Reply
  16. …don’t notice us unless we radiate fertility. Sounds like at some level (DNA) natural selection is at play? I once read that the first half of life belongs to biology–the second half you are at choice.
    Though provoking piece; thanks for writing it.

    Patrick Roden
    aginginplace.com

    Reply
    • Patrick, I absolutely believe biology is in play. In fact, in one of the books I cited, “In the Company of Women…” the authors make the point that we have to rise above DNA/biology/hard-wiring, because we’re not even aware that we’re being motivated by those drives. But knowing that, we can compensate for it.

      Reply
  17. I remember being confused when my mom expressed her frustration at becoming “a nobody” when she retired from teaching school, where she had been highly successful. I was confused because my mom, after retirement, became, if anything, more visible and relevant to people around her than ever before.

    She wrote newspaper articles, a weekly column in a Seniors magazine, published numerous poems and short stories, and chaired a regional writers conference with writers from around the world in attendance. She was sought out by many people of influence within her political party and the teacher’s union, for advice and support for various campaigns.

    Honestly, as her son, and as one of her five children in my thirties at the time, I was astonished to discover that she suffered from acute depression at becoming invisible, despite her obvious accomplishments. She had never, in my experience, been a person whose appearance would have attracted undue notice, as she neither unattractive nor a fashion plate. Instead it was her intellect, her focus and intensity, and her powerful connection with people, one on one, that marked her out in a crowd.

    But I’m now rapidly approaching sixty myself, and increasingly observe that older people, in general, and older women, in particular, seem to be discounted or even invisible, despite whatever they have to contribute. The comments of the writer and the respondents to the blog clearly make the point… we have a choice, to be invisible, or not. Despite this point, relevance and visible importance are sometimes tough to achieve in a world of young people who are ready to dismiss their elders as “fuddy duddies” and their opinions as outdated and/or irrelevant.

    My mom seemed to find a solution that worked for her, she committed herself even more fully to her passions in life, her family, her writing and her political causes. I don’t think she ever felt that it fully compensated for sexism or ageism, but it certainly helped. In addition it kept her so busy she seldom stopped long enough to notice.

    Reply
    • Donald, you make some very good points. Thanks for commenting. It strikes me that your mom seemed to be going through what we used to think of as a man’s problem, at retirement from a satisfying career: loss of a sense of importance, or relevance within a community. Luckily, your mom was sharp enough to find alternate ways to gain that satisfaction. When I retired from my corporate job, I had to do it in stages, to allow my ego to let go. I went to part-time, then consulting, then – poof! – I gave it up completely. I had to accept that I was not my job. I wrote about it in last week’s post.

      But this negation of elders is a logical outcome of our society’s worship of youth. In another forum, one exasperated youth even chortled that we Boomers are getting what we deserve, since we started this whole drive to negate elders. (“Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” Remember?)

      So we can do three things (off the top of my head). 1. Accept that we’re old and pointless, and live the rest of our lives in a sad, bitter state. 2. Decide that relevance doesn’t come from externalities, but rather from an inner knowledge that we matter (even if our beneficiaries are oblivious). 3. Change the system. I like 2 & 3 in combo.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  18. Happy B-day, Lynne! I suspect there’s a bit of truth in BOTH your and Jane’s opinions — great idea for a joint blog, by the way. Invisibility seems to occur because of gender and age; it also seems to occur with achievement and money. How often, for example, do people take notice of the homeless guy, or the down-on-his-luck, poor guy? Perhaps, too, invisibility occurs because there’s just so darn many people now. For example, if you’re the only blonde in the room, you’ll never be invisible; if everyone around you has blonde hair, you fade right in! I think if you want to be invisible, you should surround yourself with peeps just like you. For some, invisibility is a crutch; for others, it’s a curse. Sometimes I rather like being invisible, but for those times I don’t, it’s up to me to come out from behind the curtain!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Debbie! I like your observations, and it boils down to this, for me: be aware of who you are/what you need, and act accordingly. Don’t be limited by what you see as societal rules or judgment. Thanks for weighing in.

      Reply
  19. Kathryn Jordan

     /  April 12, 2013

    Okay, here are my 2 cents on the invisibility thing. I don’t think women should buy into the idea at all. As a student and then a teacher for 28 years, I don’t remember girls in school being timid about raising their hands to answer questions. The boys were more reticent – more likely to act out in class, but certainly not as likely to raise their hands and offer an intelligent comment. What is this myth we’re building?

    If you want to talk invisibility, consider women in Saudi Arabia never allowed out of the house without “covering” completely. American women are the majority in universities now; more have advanced degrees than men, and it looks like women will soon be the majority in the “professional” work place.

    In fact, the whole “invisibility” concept makes me angry. I wonder if we should even give it lip service. You’re only invisible if you buy into it. Maybe women don’t understand how many men are attracted to older women. Never in my life did I date a man older than me. My second husband was 12 years younger, the man I lived with when I taught in Egypt, and who was probably the love of my life – ten years younger.

    And as you get older, invisibility (if there is such a thing) can be a gift. This is a time when the kids are raised, career over or changed to what you really want to do, and now you have your life back. And some of us just don’t want to bother with a man, at least not on a daily basis. We’re busy pursuing whatever interests we put off until now – and loving it, wallowing in the peace and quiet, owning our own homes, traveling when and where we want. And if we go about living with PURPOSE, luxuriating in our lovely cloaks of “invisibility,” it shows. It’s in the way we carry ourselves. “That woman is on a mission. I’d like to get to know her.”

    At 65 I still get looks, if I bother to notice. But now if I glance back, it’s the men who have become invisible.

    Reply
    • Hey, Kathryn,
      You get looks because you dress nicely, have a nice figure, great posture, and an inquisitive mind. You’re hungry for life, and it shows. The study I cited about girls not raising their hands referred to elementary school, but as to secondary I defer to your experience. My main point in raising this topic is to shout, “Don’t accept anything mindlessly! If you want to be visible, take that into your own hands. If you enjoy being less visible, do that. But be aware. Of your own power, your ability to make changes, your ability to shape your life.” Thanks for your thoughtful (and passionate) comment. I feel stronger just listening to you.

      Reply
  20. At 55, I’m not feeling the least bit invisible! I look to the fabulous Hank Phillippi Ryan and am inspired with the thought that I, too, can be even more fabulous as I age. I find the 50s to be invigorating and empowering!

    Reply
    • Fantastic, Hana! That’s how we should feel. This blog is all about finding the power, joy and beauty of all the years during midlife and beyond. There’s so much to celebrate! Thanks for reminding us. And about HPR, also.

      Reply
  21. Barb - The Empty Nest Mom

     /  April 12, 2013

    What a great topic. I really enjoyed reading both blog posts and the comments. Invisibility, like so many things in life, is a choice. And I agree that those who don’t see you, don’t matter much. Seems they’re coming from a shallow place anyway.

    And happy birthday! My 56th is next week – isn’t life grand?

    Reply
    • It IS grand, Barb! Except when it isn’t, and then, thanks to our greater resilience and wisdom, we soldier on until it becomes grand again. Happy birthday, Sis!

      Reply
  22. Happy Birthday Lynne…great blogs by both of you. Invisible is right! Even with all the gains made through the implementation of Title IX, things are still not equal. Just look at which gender is gets the most media coverage. Part of the reason I continue to coach girls in sports is because they learn to star in their own show empowered by physical fitness is and teamwork.

    Reply
    • God bless you for that, Pat. I’m so behind Sheryl Sandberg’s efforts to help girls compete, also. She should know about you.

      Reply
  23. We live in a society that socializes women to take a back seat. It was traditionally considered “unfeminine” for women to take an aggressive stance. We also live in a society that reveres youth. It is up to us older women to take a stance and model new behaviors for the younger women coming up. It is gradually happening. I personally choose not to be invisible at age 62.
    Laura

    Reply
    • Hi Laura, me neither, unless I feel like it. And then I can, to the people who are so limited that they risk discounting me. Then I get to be like a spy! Observing all, undetected.

      Reply
  24. I’m reminded of a question I asked when pursuing my masters at age 52. (I had finished my undergrad thirty years prior to that, raised a family & done mostly volunteer or “whim” working) I asked the department head, a petite woman about 6 years my senior , if my age would handicap my employment chances. She responded with a deadly serious expression “Your age will be less a factor than your size.” (I’m also a very small-boned 4′ 11″) .

    So the TRIPLE whammy – female, now 60 and little. I never really thought about it before as I’ve always been a noisy personality, but the older I get, the more I realize that I do slip under the radar & it has either increased with age or I have just become more aware of it as I become less naive. It has its pluses & minuses.

    Since I also became aware that then and even now , most male attention/recognition is based on the desire to assess /access one’s reproductive organs minus the subsequent baggage that might occur, I’m not sure that I even care. Maybe invisibility on one’s own terms is pretty cool!

    Happy Birthday! Girls rule/Guys suck. LOL I hate cliches……………….

    Reply
  25. I think you did a right turn on me. I was interested in something on ageism and you turned it into an article about sexism. What you had to say about sexism is true, but you abandoned the original subject which is what I wanted to read more about.

    Reply
    • Right, I did, Kelly. Because I don’t think the post-50 “invisibility” is about ageism; that was my point. But I don’t want you to feel disappointed. I’ve been blogging for almost 4 years about issues best described as ageism-related, though, so if you click through any of the past posts, I think you’ll find relief. Here are a couple of the most popular: http://anyshinything.com/2013/03/01/is-aging-bad/ and http://anyshinything.com/2012/11/30/oprah-to-boomers-drop-dead/

      I hope that helps. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
      • Great point! While there is agism, sexism and even shortism (smile) , what we perceive to be the cause is often just one of many variables. Cheers for Elinor Roosevelt and her quote “the only one who can make you feel inferior is yourself”. The same could be said about invisibility and most everything else. .

        What I take from your blog/comments and observations of others is it may well be our own awareness of the world around us heightens with age and not that our being older has created some new dynamic in how others perceive us.

        Between the demands and expectations of life, we don’t pause very much for a good many years and we often “just do what we do”. Finally in our fifties or thereabouts, we take a breath. We challenge things perhaps more than we ever have done. Particularly women in the second stage of life. I’ve seen it attributed to everything from the change in roles at this point; the change in our programming/hormonal composition as we view life differently. maybe that’s why they call it “menepause”. Where I have found men to grow more dependent with age, more status quo, I find women tending to develop their “weezer” self (steel magnolias) or fade out completely.

        Take home point is before I didn’t realize I was somewhat invisible. When it hit me, I was taken aback/surprised/whatever. At that point, it became my choice. Less about my external actions because then I’m just playing to the crowd which I’ve done all my life. Which is people pleasing, something females tend to do more often than not. Instead its my internal. I choose not to be invisible and it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or if they see me. I control my own dynamic. Now I’ll repeat that 100 times and it will be true. 🙂

        Reply
        • Especially love your last paragraph, Tricia. And the last sentence left me smiling, because so much of this is based on will. And the much-touted mindfulness. As Anais Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.”

          Reply
  26. I totally agree that invisibility is a choice. At this age, I know that I’m often the most expert person in the room. I am no longer the hottest. Know what? I’ll take “most expert” any day. But I will say that if Harpaz isn’t eligible for senior discounts, then she really could do something about those roots and quit complaining.

    Reply
    • Hi Kristen! I wanted to harpoon Harpaz over her lack of frugality. I’ve been lying about my age for years, getting the senior discount at movies before I’m eligible. I’ll sell my ego down the river for a $2 discount.

      Reply
  27. Happy Birthday, dear friend! I’m with you all the way on the renewal/reinvention that has accompanied my aging process. I am busier and happier than ever. I do agree invisibility is a choice and the better we feel about ourselves the more likely we are to not allow it. What a fascinating tandem discussion between you and Jane.Congratulations! Great post.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Kathy! Didn’t it bring back memories of that Editors’ Intensive in Cincy, where we met? A lucky day for us.

      Reply
      • Oh my gosh, yes, Lynne. It started in the lunch line when you asked me to listen to your practice pitch. As you rushed off to catch your cab,suitcase in hand, on the last day,I shouted another suggestion from the lobby and we’ve been a connected ever since..empowered, loving life and visible!! And look at Jane go. What a thrill 🙂

        Reply
      • adriennelacava

         /  April 13, 2013

        Hey, I was in Cincinnati at an WD Editor’s Intensive in 2010; its where I met Jane… are you talking about the same? Your’s and krpooler’s photos do look familiar 🙂

        Reply
  28. Hi Lynne! First, I’m so happy you got to spend your special day yesterday being highly VISIBLE & building your simpatico bond with Jane. I don’t remember anymore how I first found you online but I’m so glad I did – you’re always provoking (& poking around) my thoughts. Love when I get an Any Shiny Thing email. Thank you!

    I have felt visible & invisible on & off throughout my life – awkward-looking kid, then got curves at 15; stay-at-home/work-at-home mom & then published 2 books in my 30’s; divorced (when “friends” scatter) & then remarried in my 40’s; laid off at 50 & then …. ??? still trying to dig my way through the tunnel into visibility these days. I’ve had my 15-minutes-of-fame days and my living-underground days, and I think it’s more of a personality/ambition/attitude/self-awareness thing than anything else. Depends on what’s going on in your head & heart at any given stage of your life. I mean, wasn’t Geraldine Ferraro just about 50 when she became visible to the nation back in the day? Or let’s think of a fictional character – like Mame – could a personality like that ever be invisible? For someone like me – an introvert by default – it takes a real effort to be visible so I’ve got to have some type of mission to guide me.

    Sometimes I really wish I could find one of those Harry-Potter-like invisible cloaks to disappear for awhile from everyone until I figure out what I want my 50’s to look like. For me, that’s going to be about finding a new purpose. I have this saying hanging on my home office wall, “A life with purpose is the purpose of life.” Corny, I know, but at least it reminds me of what I’m aiming for. And truth be told, if I really wanted to stay invisible until I figure it all out, I wouldn’t be responding to your blog, right? LOL. I guess I need a little help from some new friends…

    Reply
    • Wow, Lisa, you’ve been through so much! On the plus side, I’m pretty sure that’s taught you some powerful tactics for getting through the tough, scary, uncertain times. Also that you have done it, and you can do it again, whatever it is. My first concern is always to be able to eat and keep a roof over my head. And health insurance. Once I’ve got that down, I can move up Maslow’s hierarchy to more lofty things, like finding my purpose. A brilliant scientist, who does not believe in God, and whose name escapes me, said she believes her purpose in life is to be of service and have fun. Tim Ferriss says you only need to figure out what excites you and then do that. So don’t try too hard to seek a purpose. You’re not here to be a servant, only to not waste the gift of being alive. Maybe that adds up to sitting out on the patio with a glass of wine and a grateful heart. Hmmm. Sounds good. Think I’ll try that directly.

      Last night I was quite depressed. I had no good reason. I took a bath, and that helped to the extent that I got an idea: I would journal my thoughts. So I put on my jammies, propped myself up in bed with a fat new tablet and a pen, and wrote for an hour. At the end of the hour I had figured some stuff out, shed some nasty emotions, and gained a sense of gratitude again. I cooked up a strategy for the next few weeks. Can’t believe how much happier I was! Something as simple as that.

      Don’t know if that helps, but thank you for your kind words. Best wishes!

      Reply
  29. Lynne, Happy Belated Birthday you share it with my 33yr old baby, so yes I’m also “of a certain age” and I agree with all the statements you made to a certain degree. I think you could substitute any age, race, sex and find truths. Personally I think invisibility isn’t about age, sex or race it’s about how you deal with it personally. I feel less invisible now than I ever did, I’m more socially in-person as well as e-active. I have tons more friends than when my social group only included my sisters, moms of my daughter’s friends, wives of my husbands friend’s and one or two friends who happened to follow from earlier in my life. Now I engage with people of all ages, races and both sexes and yes I have to agree it’s mostly on-line but I also sit on the board of my library district and moderate more than one in-person book club. Don’t get me wrong I do hate the inequalities between sexes and races but we’re not discussing that here.
    Deb

    Reply
    • Deb, you exemplify what’s great about having the new technology available to us. You’re reaching out, interacting, curating (as Guy Kawasaki preaches) and bringing value to your contacts. You’re like a radio station manager or a newspaper publisher now! Internet or not, nobody could call you invisible, and that’s a choice. I pretty much don’t want to tell anybody what choice to make, except that whatever choice they DO make, it should be with their whole consciousness. Thanks for proving that true.

      Reply
  30. Excellent post, thanks. “Invisibility” is a result of social forces—both ageism and sexism—in the culture around us, and they’re bigger than any one of us. We can choose how to respond to them, though, and we can work to challenge and change the culture—as you are doing. Thanks.
    Ashton,

    Reply
    • Thanks, Ashton. That aspect of choice is what I think is so fascinating. We don’t always know we have one.
      Happy Sunday.

      Reply
  31. Well, the upside of perceived invisibility, is feeling free to be the best of yourself on your own terms. Easy said than done of course.

    As long as we can speak, write and read, we still have a voice.

    In the cycling world, alot of women are returning to cycling often in their middle to senior years. I belong to an international forum of women cyclists. At least over half of us (several hundred) are over 40. I’m 54. I became visible (without revealing my age) by my employer for being car free for last 3 decades, cycling for last 22 yrs. It surprised alot of people.

    We could surprise others..if we only looked at ourselves….and learn how to market on the right things about ourselves. No one else will do it for us. (I submitted that cycling profile to our internal communications dept.) But choose the most vital, active parts of yourself. Everyone has this facet.

    Reply
  1. Invisibility is a Choice | Cubbys Corner
  2. Invisibility is a Choice | Cubbys Corner
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  • Lynne Spreen

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  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

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    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.

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    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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