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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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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Hillary, When Do You Stop?

I was going to write something funny today, but with the news about the blood clot in Hillary Clinton’s skull, I think this might be more important.

Many people speculate that Hillary Clinton is planning to run for president.  I don’t think so.

I think the fact that she’s letting her hair grow long is an announcement, conscious or otherwise, that she’s transitioning away from public service. She has plenty of power, plenty of interests. She could have an amazing retirement.

As Secretary of State, Hillary set records for global travel. At any age, that kind of schedule can take a toll on one’s body, not to mention the stress of her job. Now consider the health concerns of running for and perhaps taking on the job of president. Every one has aged visibly in office, disproportionate to the number of years in that role. Why should Hillary throw herself onto that pyre?

As a private citizen, Hillary would have the world at her feet. Reputed to have an IQ of 140, she probably knows she could serve on any board; learn, observe, participate in anything; travel anywhere. Any number of global titans would be happy, I’m sure, to lend her a jet and a vacation home. Wouldn’t you think?

“I am so looking forward to next year,” Hillary told Gail Collins recently. “I just want to sleep and exercise and travel for fun. And relax. It sounds so ordinary, but I haven’t done it for 20 years. I would like to see whether I can get untired. I work out and stuff, but I don’t do it enough and I don’t do it hard enough because I can’t expend that much energy on it.”

If she does return to civilian life, most of us would nod with understanding. Some things are more important than being Leader of the Free World. Like sleeping in, or turning off your phone for a couple days and catching up on the last few years’ worth of movies or books.

Some say that after menopause we’re more like who we were at age eleven. I think we long to return to who we were before all the obligations and transformations were required. Before we started changing ourselves into that nice young lady, that girlfriend, that worker, that wife, that mother, that corporate person. In the case of HRC, that global politician. Wouldn’t it be crazy to explore that path?

We yearn for authenticity. We miss the real us.

I’m reading a book about professional women transitioning into retirement. Many of their essays contain exhaustive lists of the equally high-level, professional accomplishments they expect to achieve in this new phase. It appears they expect to work part-time until they are prevented from doing so by death or disability. I understand remaining active and not turning into a sloth, but at what point will we feel we’ve earned the right to fritter away our time in joyful nothingness?

Perhaps we still feel a need to prove ourselves. Perhaps as older people we’re afraid of being marginalized, so we work hard to earn our keep and deflect criticism.

Yet, getting a blood clot in your skull can force you to reprioritize. You see that it might be okay to simply park your ass in a lawn chair and savor the quiet of mid-day on your own peaceful patio. Sure, it’s good to be productive. But here we are on this good Earth. What are we doing with that privilege?

Hillary is powerful, well-traveled, and accomplished. She’s a warm and loving person with a throw-her-head-back guffaw. I would award her Crone status. I admire the hell out of her, and I wish her the greatest happiness and hopefully, many years of dolce far niente.

Leave a comment

42 Comments

  1. I think it will be interesting to see what she does. Although she has definitely earned the right to sit back in a lawn chair and relax, something tells me she won’t. I would personally love to do that, but the real world just doesn’t allow it for many women my age.
    Laura

    Reply
  2. I have lived more than one life. When I started each one I thought I would do it forever and approached the tasks with much enthusiasm. I played golf more than most mortal souls and I traveled so much that United called me Mr in my forties which even now I consider way ahead of schedule. At 65 I haven’t played golf for ten years or more and I abhor airplane travel.

    Reply
    • Hi Bob, I think most happy, well-balanced people have a lot of interests. Now as I understand it you’re on the New Hampshire Council on Aging? See, you’ll never stop.

      Reply
      • Yes, NH Committee on Aging and AARP’s Granite City Volunteer’s and other stuff. All things about aging and especially from the perspective of a chaplain. I am big on listening. My ears are like a kids having been used infrequently pre-fifty

        Reply
  3. I sincerely regret that she will probably not be known as our first female president. She is an incredible woman. I don’t blame her at all for wanting to relax and enjoy travel for travel’s sake. She’ll still be busy, she’ll still be in the news, I suppose. I hope that she finds an abundance of joy in her next phase.

    Reply
    • Happy New Year, Dog! Since she appears now to have a tendency toward clots, it’s a wonder she did all that traveling without an earlier problem. I believe, like you, that she’ll be an asset whatever she does, and wish her joy.

      Reply
  4. I anticipate my years of nothingness will be my most productive years ever, and I can’t wait to get there. In fact I’m actively working on speeding things up. I really enjoyed this post. Thank you.

    Reply
  5. I love the idea of dolce far niente. I read recently that when Ms Hillary does get a moment for it – she loves to get lost in HGTV. Can you imagine that? I loved the image of her kickin’ back and allowing herself that treat. See? She is indeed intelligent – emotionally too. I wish her the best too – she so deserves it, and being the woman she is – I believe she’ll live it, whatever “it” is to her.

    Reply
  6. Hillary is one person for whom I would get out and knock on doors. But having a blod clot next to your brain might be the one thing that could make her say, do I really want to do this? Whatever she chooses to do, she is on my list of Most Admired Women.

    Reply
  7. Yes, i am behind her 100% enjoying her life and relaxing instead of striving, striving, striving. Go girl! I love my retirement.

    Reply
  8. “Some say that after menopause we’re more like who we were at age eleven. I think we long to return to who we were before all the obligations and transformations were required. Before we started changing ourselves into that nice young lady, that girlfriend, that worker, that wife, that mother, that corporate person.” Keen insight Lynne! I’m ready to embrace my eleven-year-old self. Curious, playful, imaginative, adventurous, friend-seeking, instead of “grown-up” demands like ambition, presentation, networking and achievement. Thanks for this post.

    Reply
  9. She deserves some time with her handsome husband and beautiful daughter. I have the utmost respect for her and what a powerful, yet likable woman she is.

    Reply
    • Yes, Sharon, and we need to invent a better word than Crone, because it should sound like what it is: powerful, yet likable. Wise, peaceful, with a sense of humor and balance. Any ideas?

      Reply
  10. Hillary’s certainly earned the right to kick back and enjoy life. She’s done a great job in an extremely challenging position. And yet the absurd double standard is still out there in terms of looks. Remember the flap about Hilliary looking tired on one of her trips and using a scrunchy to pull her hair back. Did the media ever comment that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was having a bad-hair day?

    Reply
    • Ha ha, Madeleine! I once heard that Kissinger’s regular masseuse, after he left Washington (the White House) confessed that he apparently had not one muscle in his body.

      Reply
  11. Instead of crone, I like “wisewoman.”

    Reply
    • Why not? We know what “wiseman” means. In fact, three of them played rather prominent roles in the nativity story.

      Reply
  12. Well said! I hope she takes the time to simply enjoy herself for a while. She has looked just exhausted of a while now. So maybe it will be me time. I hope so.

    Reply
  13. Amen, Lynne! In the end, health is everything and a scare like Hillary has faced sets priorities in motion like nothing else can. I admire Hillary and would feel very comfortable with her as President but I do hope whatever she decides to do is what makes her feel most alive. She has made and will continue to have a lasting impact no matter what she decides. When I finally made my retirement decision, my health was the overriding factor in taking the plunge into the “unknown”. I am busier and happier than ever. No regrets!

    Reply
    • Kathy, you speak with authority on this. And although I would love to have her as Prez, I don’t think I’d have the stomach to see what some would do to prevent her from that. Even her illness was made fun of by some. I hope she “retires” (we do need a new word for this phase of life, don’t we?)

      Reply
  14. Glad you wrote about Hillary this time. Your thoughts and observations are right on.

    Reply
  15. Yes isn’t ironical that while she has been so busy being on the front page and trouble shooting world problems, she hasn’t had time just to be. To think of her global travel alone makes me tired. Feel like I a decade every cross Atlantic trip. For all its glamor, air travel even in the 21st century takes its toll.

    Reply
    • Yeah, but her plane has a bedroom and shower in it! Seriously, you are right. I think she needs to back off and smell the roses. I’d like her to be around into her 90s, but at this pace…

      Reply
  16. Great post. A therapist friend of mine introduced me to the concept of “being your own mother”. We are so busy taking care of everyone else that we often forget to take care of (mother) ourselves.
    That little nugget of wisdom got me to thinking about how I would prepare for a plane trip when my son was small, so I now pack snacks, “toys” and comfort items for me whenever I travel.

    Hillary has been taking care of the world for so long–let’s hope she devotes equal time and energy to being her own mother.

    Reply
  17. Excellent discussion. I’m thinking that for most of us who aren’t Secretary of State, it doesn’t have to be either or. Risk your health or slip into delicious idleness? Even with long hours, I believe there’s a way to keep working and strike a balance that keeps us healthy, happy, productive and solvent. That’s what I’m trying to do, anyway. We’ll see how I feel in a couple of years!

    Reply
    • Donna, I read a lot about aging well, and it seems you’re on to something: it’s about the balance. Doing all of one or the other isn’t healthy. But here’s something that’s getting more airtime: the need to “matter,” and I think it was meant in the sense of mattering to people as opposed to an issue, mission or effort. I.e., I matter to my family, but probably not to the blogosphere.

      Reply
  18. Hey Lynne – Before the blood clot incident, I was all for Hillary in 2016, but it’s as if her near death experience has reset the priorities for many of us ‘older wiser women’. (I like that better than crone, too) I just want to see her alive and kicking for many years to come.

    After some much needing R&R, I can also see Hillary doing more for women and the country as an outside advocate rather than as president. After all, we had high hopes for Obama (and still do), but are witness to how much (or little) he can accomplish as long as old school conservatives block the path.

    If Hillary decides not to run in 2016, let’s hope she’ll have groomed a fantastic woman to run in her place.

    Great post as always, Lynne ☺

    Reply
  19. I agree that she’s earned some downtime, but I know so many people who seem driven to keep on achieving. I don’t know whether Hillary is one of them, but I could imagine it either way. Great post!
    Karen

    Reply
  20. I agree with your last comment about feminists and retiring. It’s a delicate balance. We want a strong female, particularly at ‘our’ ages, yet we have to honor the individual decision to take the best course for them. Clinton has proven, as did Madeline Albright, that women are as capable and powerful and often smarter, than their male counterparts. Maybe Clinton’s place is to wrok as a powerbroker as her husband is. That may be more effective in terms of changing the cultural perception of women?

    Reply
    • And how much more satisfying for her to make her own schedule, do what projects she chooses, circumvent govt. as he is now able to bring together various sectors for the common good. What a wonderful life she could have.

      Reply
  1. Retirement

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  • 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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