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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

You Are More Powerful than You Think

Sometimes we perpetuate our own victimization. Cultures promulgate Big Lies. We tell each other a certain thing, repeat it endlessly and it becomes true. We don’t even hear our words anymore.

Let me provide an illustration. It’s extreme, but it makes the point about culture – in this case, thankfully, not ours.

The people who live in Afghanistan today believe that the current status quo represents reality, the natural way of things, but do they know any different? Some women are probably alive who remember the days when they could put on a skirt and heels and head out for university to continue studying to be a doctor. I fear that the majority believe the converse: that women are ignorant beasts suitable only for breeding and domestic labor.

Like I said, it’s an extreme example. Here in America, we have in the past chosen to put youth on a pedestal. We chose to imitate them, and we chose to say things like “senior moment,” “60 is the new 30,” and use the word “old ” as a description of something bad, negative, unworthy. We did this voluntarily. Nobody held a gun to our heads. We were so far into the Kool-Aid we were in danger of drowning.

But that’s changing. Judging from your comments, you’re as sick of it as I am, and you’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. You’re standing up for yourselves, refusing to spend the next thirty years of your life bowing, scraping, and apologizing for being old. You’re not as willing to emulate the young. You’re incensed by the ageism that’s so acceptable today, refusing to ignore the profound cruelty in what ignoramuses consider humor.

We have begun to celebrate the glory of the second half, and we’re excited about our potential. For an uplifting view of turning eighty, check out this essay by famed neurologist Oliver Sacks. And notice the title: “The Joy of Old Age (No Kidding)” – as if you have to be KIDDING to think there’s anything good about old age. Good article, stupid subtitle.

I beg you: don’t accept a low ceiling. With our numbers, we can make headway on this. I hope you will continue to spread the word about empowerment after age 50. We are free thinkers, we’re experienced, and we are deeper than we’ve ever been. We have to talk about it, with joy or anger. Too many of us are on the verge of myopic despair when we could be on the verge of enlightenment.

So keep talking. Keep asking why we use the word “old” as a pejorative. Because old is one of the most lovely things I’ve been.

Late add: It’s 7 a.m. and I’m happily reading your comments when this appears in my inbox from Huffington Post: 7 Easy Ways to Avoid Looking Old. *sigh*

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  1. 1959duke

     /  September 20, 2013

    Reblogged this on Change is Never Ending.

    • Thanks, Duke.

      • 1959duke

         /  September 20, 2013

        No problem. There are advantages to growing old. I told a female friend of mind who is going through a brutal divorce the other day that if there is anything I can do to help her anytime night or day just call. I said to her I really don’t care what others think anymore. That may sound cold but I really don’t.

  2. I love your emphasis on aging. Yesterday I spent as an ombudsman in a nursing home. Far different experience than as a chaplain. I will be writing about the darkness and light of the experience on newsfromthenursinghome.com

  3. Great set of contrasting pictures!

    • Martin, I read Atlas Shrugged about a dozen times in my teens, and while I don’t agree with Rand’s extreme libertarian views, I took to her theory of “the sanction of the victim.” We have to ask ourselves if there’s any way we are condoning the action. Maybe we can’t fight back (Afghan women might be in that category today). But I think in this question of ageism there is a lot of low-hanging fruit.

      • In my teens I read The Fountainhead about the same many times. Then, eventually, I got to the point that when I heard her name I wanted to throw up. But also, eventually, I became an expert (professionally) on Soviet affairs and Russian history, and it became easier for me to understand where she came from and to understand what was really informing her philosophy. Our politicians who espouse it, unfortunately don’t have the excuse she had.

        • I’m really impressed, Martin. I think my sharing this with you about my childhood must have been ESP. The victim sanction thing appealed to me because I needed a way to deal with my father’s violent behavior, and it’s why I went to work early. I also like the line in War Games: the only way to win is not to play. Atlas Shrugged shaped my character. This blog, you could say, is an outgrowth of it. But to your point about the yay-hoos in Congress who cite Ayn Rand? I think they’re clueless.

  4. Snoring Dog Studio

     /  September 20, 2013

    Agree – completely. Stop saying things like, “It sucks to get old.” Stop comparing yourselves to the younger workers among you. Celebrate your value.

    • Jean, to your last sentence, we are such a “grass is greener” society. Striving and ambition is beautiful, but not if we forget to celebrate what we have. That’s another thing older peeps are good at – gratitude. Because we’ve got front row seats to what could be.

  5. Awesome! I’m 62 and looking forward to the next 30-40 years.

    • Glenda, one day as I celebrated that my son had become a fully independent man, with kids, family, and job, I realized I still had (according to the actuarials) exactly as much time left on earth as the amount of years it took me to get him to this point. Holy crap, I sez to meself. I could write dozens of books! And you could hear the “WAHOO!” all the way to China.

  6. Truly moving pictures of visible hope and hidden despair. So many people take pride in things they have received by chance including youth and beauty and close their eyes to experience and lessons that have been learned over the years. We created the culture and worship of youth and now we have to figure out how to become more inclusive… Anita @ No Particular Place To Go

    • You said it perfectly, A&R. But implicit in your comment is that we DO have that power. Life would be better for all of us if we started exercising it.

  7. Amen, Sistah! And those contrasting photos speak volumes, don’t they?!

  8. The difference in life now in Afghanistan makes me want to cry. I’m not an accepting person especially now that I am mature and feel entitled (because I worked for it) to live the life I want to now.

  9. I’ll be 71 in November and am loving my life. I have more freedom than I’ve ever had before. I’m more relaxed, tolerant, interested, and ready to be open to the adventures I have yet to live. Here’s to being an elder!

    • Tell everybody you can about this joy, JZR, especially the young ‘uns. Let the world know it’s at LEAST no better or worse than being young! Stupid to denigrate and waste the happy times.

  10. Every moment is a new beginning for me. I love that I can live life as I want to . I no longer care what people think. As I wrote on my blog yesterday. Tell me I can’t do something? WATCH ME!!!

  11. Yes, and the more older adults realize how powerful they are as a demographic, and how rich later life is as a developmental harvest, the better off our whole society will be. Here’s to growing older, with the emphasis on growing.

  12. Shelley Charlesworth

     /  September 20, 2013

    I’m 65 and like others have said, I never have felt freer or more grateful for all the things I have had and still do! Our culture genuflects at the altar of youth & beauty!

    • Yes, we do, and we are misguided. I was going to say “stupid” but that would have been harsh. I want us to genuflect at the altar of being healthy and happy. And alive.

  13. I’m having a hard time with this comparison. Age-ism in the U.S. is nothing compared to the hardships women face in Afghanistan, and I imagine most women and men there DO remember the culture they had in the ‘6Os. Even the youth who can’t remember it, are probably told by their elders. The extremists shown in the second set of photos are just that, extremists. Recently they’ve been shooting women police officers. Who even knew they had women police officers in Afghanistan? But they do. So much for rampant sexism.

    How can we congratulate ourselves that this is not, thankfully, our culture when mass shootings happen here more and more frequently, and in the last 12 years we’ve fought two wars, one completely unnecessary which left Iraq a ravished country from infrastructure to a failed government. The other war, twelve years in Afghanistan – a decade after the Russians invaded… And we wonder why their culture has gone backwards?

    Sorry to get on a soap box, but I do have “senior moments.” I can’t hear as well as I used to. My ears ring, and my neck aches when I spend too much time on the computer, but I have a house I love and a decent retirement, and I feel so lucky to be born in a country with big oceans on both sides and a system of government that works better than most – despite our penchant for using our military to mess up other countries.

    Still, we Americans are blessed in so many ways. How dare we whine about the “ageism” of trivial phrases like “senior moment.” 100,000 Syrians will not grow old. Two million are in refuge camps, half are children. That is “profound cruelty.”

    • Thanks for putting things in perspective. It’s something that’s badly needed in all aspects of life. You weren’t on a soapbox (does anyone know what a soapbox is anymore) you were just talking sound, common sense.

    • Kathryn, I “dare whine about ageism” because I think it’s important. Is it as important as Syrian children in refuge camps? Nope. Should I stop talking about it because there is greater cruelty elsewhere in the world? No. But I admit after your impassioned comment I feel depressed.

  14. Thought-provoking photographs and words. Ageism is an old fashioned attitude that boomers are smashing to pieces in the way that we tackle each day with vitality, curiosity and courage. Thanks for leading the way, Lynne, with your musings on Midlife Magic. Now if the naysayers in the media would only stop to listen, they’d hear OUR voices roar.

  15. I have found a kindred spirit! I, too, am on a mission to give this phase of my life an identity with as much value as the previous one. I don’t want 50 to be the new anything. I just want to experience it for what it is. Great essay! Glad to have found you!

  16. I adore you Lynne, your voice is crisp and your perspective is sharp and on target. I just launched my own blog, not on aging, but on “being fabulous @ any age”. I have always known my life would improve with age and it has. and I think it is our responsibility as the leaders [in years] of the boomer pack to pave the way for a new transmission of thought. I am personally not heading into my “golden” years, i am heading into my future with my arms wide open to an expanded future of being ageless!
    thank you for all your insight, you’re the best…

    • Brain candy, Kate! I love this: we need to “pave the way for a new transmission of thought.” BTW is your blog private? I tried to glance at it but wasn’t successful. In any event, have fun with it. See you soon.

      • http://www.platinumboomer.com/
        this is me, fresh out of the blog hatchery…the transmission of thought is also called a “Meme”. which is an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person through writing, speech and various forms of communication. in one writing Memes are referred to as a “cultural analogues to genes”, in that they self-replicate and respond to selective pressures. it all sound so sci-fi, but when you think about it, how does a trend really begin, where does the first thought come from? anyway, read more about the “mystery of the Meme on my blog post next week.
        and thanks for trying to find platinum boomer, I am honored.
        thanks Lynne

  17. Great post (as usual). Thanks

  18. Kathy

     /  September 23, 2013

    I am so glad to hear Oliver Sacks being quoted. His is an amazing story, not just of professionalism, but incredible insight. I am a jazz musician of 50 years, and got to know him after his book ‘Musicophelia’ was written. After having brain surgery in 2007, I found I had a brain block when it came to the bridge for ‘Cry Me a River’. I emailed Oliver and he suggested I play what I knew right before bed, then first thing up in the am, play it. Darned if it didn’t work! I am so glad I found your blog. Thanks for the insight! Kathy

    • I’m thrilled that you’re here, Kathy, and that you’re well and playing again. Stay in touch, girlfriend.

    • What a great story, Kathy. Oliver Sachs is one of my true heroes. And stories like this, that is, how he helps people so much, always remind me why. I’m happy for you.

  19. Yes, we are “mad as hell and don’t want to take it anymore.” If it wasn’t for Maggie Smith and the Miss Marple character (both British) proving older women to be both brilliant and sardonic — i do not know where i would find this appreciation of older women in the U.S. culture.

  20. Lynne, I’m a little late to the conversation, but I just read your blog this morning. My! You did spark some lively conversation! Since you’ve read my Mutinous Boomer book, you know exactly how I feel about getting older. It is literally a state of mind and, yes, we are more powerful than we know. I had an online discussion a few months ago with a fellow Boomer who had blogged about accepting the fact that she was getting old physically and mentally. I told her that I respectfully disagreed with her approach. I believe that thoughts and words are extremely powerful. I shared with her a habit I began several years ago. Every day I thank God (out loud!) for giving me such a strong, healthy and beautiful body. I do this as part of my daily routine. I also thank my body for being strong, healthy and beautiful – out loud. And guess what? My body responded by becoming stronger, more healthy and more beautiful! Amazing. To this other bloggers credit, she was fascinated with the concept and we emailed about it for several weeks.
    As Boomers we rebelled against the system when we were young stuff. We believed we were never going to “get old.” Let’s stick to that! A line to a song that was popular in the 1960s comes to mind, “Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you, if you’re young at heart…”
    Thanks for a terrific blog Lynne. I’m with you, kid!


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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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