Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Inventing the Rest of Our Lives: Women in Second Adulthood" by Suzanne Braun Levine

   Have you ever been in the check-out line at Wal-Mart and overheard women discussing the exact same thing you have been going through or thinking about? And in that moment, even though you didn't join the conversation, you felt a tad bit better just knowing that you weren't alone in your experience or bat-crap crazy for your thoughts? This is what I've been feeling while reading "Inventing the Rest of Our Lives: Women in Second Adulthood" by Suzanne Braun Levine: that I'm not flying solo in feeling seriously screwed up from all this aging business.
   I am 51. Yes, I'm finally ready to admit it but with my own twist: I am calling myself an AGELESS 51. This puts me smack dab in what Ms. Levine calls the Fertile Void, "where we begin the process of sorting things out -- and shaking things up. We shed the voices of shoulda-woulda-coulda thinking and begin to sense the presence of an internal compass, our own voice." Well, my own voice is saying, or more like screaming: Fertile Void, Smyrtle Void, this feels like the Amped-up Abyss to me. Nothing in my life feels right anymore. I'm frustrated. I've got all this mojo building up to barrel over the precipice of where I am and don't want to be and to change things, but it would mean jumping into the abyss because I haven't got the first clue what to do to make my life feel more right. Ms. Levine says, "No wonder the journey begins in a torrent of confusion. Many women find themselves at the edge of a cliff before they even realize something is happening. And looking down, they can't imagine what ropes and pulleys will guide their descent. They are propelled only by a funny feeling . . . a mixture of dissatisfaction and fear -- and a panicky sense that is it time to do something." You got that right, Sister! I want to do something, anything but, as she and others who've written about the Fertile Void validate, I feel stuck. And feeling stuck SUCKS! So what to do to unsuck my situation? Ms. Levine says, "The solution, ironically, is not more movement, but less. The cure for 'stuck' is 'still.' A gathering in of the energy unleashed by Saying No and Letting Go (two of the key aspects she describes as common in Second Adulthood -- being able to finally say "no" and let go of whatever no longer serves your best life). That is what the Fertile Void can offer, an opportunity to exchange the wish to control life for a willingness to engage living." I am all about engaging living, having recently dubbed myself an "Adventurista," so I'm working on staying still until the big reveal of what the hell I'm meant to do next comes along. It ain't easy.
   Saying "no" has gotten easier for me over the years after I decided I was tired of being everyone's beck-and-call girl, especially when it came to family affairs that always seemed to involve rescuing relatives from crises of their own making and loaning money (more like donating as there was rarely ever any payback). But the "letting go" is a struggle, always has been. I am no good at accepting things I can't change -- like jonesing for the Tin Man's oil can to lubricate my creaky joints before I roll out of bed in the morning -- and releasing my expectations of how I want to look -- as good as Cher and Barbra, okay, I'll be more realistic and settle for Paula Abdul who is also 51. I am working on it, though, as Ms. Levine says the letting go is a necessary coping mechanism for surviving the transition to Second Adulthood. My first step was accepting that I could mess myself up BAD riding my skateboard Pinkie and releasing her to the care of my teenage niece who wants to ride. I miss seeing Pinkie standing up in the corner of the pantry, that hot pink confirmation that I am still a wild and crazy gal, but admittedly, that's all she's done for the past year anyway, so it was time for her to fly with someone a bit more spry.
   What else did I learn from this book? I learned that there's a bona fide reason for my crankiness, or my Ouiser-ness as my bestie Sara calls it from Shirley MacLaine's character Ouiser in "Steel Magnolias" who says, "I'm not crazy . . . I've just been in a very bad mood for forty years!" I have entered the Fuck You Fifties, as Ms. Levine calls the decade, a time of "speaking up, speaking out, speaking one's mind" and a spirit of rebellion that rivals our teenage years. I sure fit that mold to a tee; in fact, I should be the poster chick for the Fuck You Fifties! My sweetie DMan, the poor thing, sure gets an earful of me speaking my mind about anything and everything, including our relationship. As Ms. Levine explains, the Fuck You Fifties brings on a reexamining and redefining of our intimate relationships as women feel the need for more authority, independence and space in their lives. Therefore my age is to blame, not me, if we end up with a white line down the middle of our house separating my space from his. The way I've been acting, he may prefer it anyway so he'll have a safe-zone man cave where he can retreat when my Fuck You Fifties really get fired up.
   There is a ton of good stuff in this book to help women navigate the journey into Second Adulthood. Reading many of the personal stories felt just like that eavesdropping Wal-Mart experience, giving me real-life examples of how to handle the twists, turns and roadblocks ahead and also making me feel blessed in some cases that my situation isn't worse. As always, I'm a sucker for quotes, and Ms. Levine collected some dandies! Here are my two favorites:

"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is or how valuable or how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open."
                                                 -- Martha Graham

"At this time in our history, we should take nothing personally. Least of all ourselves. Try to do whatever you do as an act of celebration. WE ARE THE ONES WE'VE BEEN WAITING FOR."
                                                 -- Hopi Nation, "Wisdom of the Elders"

   "Inventing the Rest of Our Lives" is not a quick read, nor an easy one. There will be lots of time spent with the book lying on your chest while your mind ponders all the aspects of aging Ms. Levine touches on; there will be times of skimming through pieces that don't apply to your life. But the book is definitely worth the time to help you figure out what matters, what works, and what's next for the second half of your life. Enjoy!  

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