Friday, April 30, 2010

On "In the Fullness of Time" and Growing Up...

HALLIE: A new anthology coming out this week, “In the Fullness of Time: 32 Women on Life After 50,” speaks to my heart (excerpt below). Its editors Emily Upham and Linda Gravenson have compiled an astonishing, exhilarating, and yes at times heartbreaking collection. As Emily says in the book’s introduction: she and the rest of "the baby boomers had arrived at the second half of life...this half would be laden with loss."

The list of contributors is an amazing who's who, including Vivian Gornick, Carolyn See, Claire Bloom, Gail Godwin, Jane Alexander, Ntozake Shange, and Erica Jong

Welcome, Emily. Was there a moment, an event in your life, when the seed for this book was planted?

EMILY: Absolutely. The person who had been central to my life for forty years was dying, and at the same time my career as a performing pianist was over because of multiple back surgeries. I had the Internal Empty Nest syndrome. And then I suddenly realized that much of this is age appropriate--all of my generation, the Boomers, were beginning to deal with major loss.

HALLIE: Do you think growing old is inevitably about sadness and loss?

I think a PART of growing old is inevitably about sadness and loss. I think we can't choose not to be struck down by inevitable losses, but we CAN choose how we react to these losses. The point of this book was for me to focus my inner camera differently and to look at these universal events differently.

HALLIE: What is it about 50?

I think that at 50 most women are dealing with menopause, their children are leaving home, their parents are failing, many of their needs and ambitions have been realized or laid to rest. You begin to realize that time does in fact run out.

HALLIE: Were there surprises as these essays came in?

EMILY: We have a range of writers from 55 to 101, as well as four non-writers. The essays were very diverse in subject and mood and some outstanding authors had a very difficult time with this subject. They are full of wisdom, courage and honesty.

A couple of pieces that are so funny you will laugh out loud. Jenny Allen writes about losing our looks and Martha Fay talks about losing a tooth.

Claire Bloom commented that she was the exact age that Ann Frank would have been, and that she realizes that she is living for all the people who were not given a chance to live.

HALLIE: Thanks, Emily.

Here's an excerpt from "The Fullness" - this is from Abigail Thomas’s essay, “My Narrow Escape.” No stranger to dark humor, Ms. Thomas published the wonderful memoir “A Three Dog Life” about how her life changed the day her husband went out to walk their dog on Riverside Drive. The dog came home alone; her husband had been hit by a car and suffered traumatic brain damage.

“My Narrow Escape” – Abigail Thomas

I like living alone. I like not having to make male conversation. I like that I can take as many naps as I feel like taking and nobody knows. I like that if I’m painting trees and the telephone receiver gets sticky with hunter green and there’s a long drool of blue sky running down the front of the dishwasher, nobody complains.

I’m seldom lonely. I have three dogs, twelve grandchildren and four grown kids. I have a good friend who now and then drives down with his dog. We’ve known each other so long that we don’t have to talk and when we do we don’t have to say anything. When he asks me if I’d like to take a trip around the world, I can say yes, knowing that I’ll never have to go.

Inertia is a driving force in both our lives.

Sometimes I feel sorry for my friends who are looking around for a mate. I don’t want one, and I don’t want to want one. It has taken me the better part of 60 years to enjoy the inside of my own head and I do that best when I’m by myself.

I am smug. I am probably insufferable.

Meet Emily and Linda Gravenson and contributors Nzotake Shange, Erica Jong, Tina Howe & Carolyn See at the 92nd Street Y, Tribeca, on June 16, 2010, 12 - 2pm

Or chat with Emily here on Jungle Red Writers -- are you looking down the barrel of 50 or are you like me and it's in your rear-view mirror? How is loss changing you?


  1. Emily, I'm curious about how you immersed yourself in such a difficult subject. How did the writers in the book initially respond to the idea? It seems, in a way, almost a forbidden topic, even taboo.
    Thank you.

  2. Our culture is afraid of difficult subjects. We hope to break some taboos. The writers were eager to talk about what they were really living.

  3. Emily, was it difficult to interview wwomen about their most personal experiences? You must be very good at drawing people out!

  4. Hi Susan I was initially nervous about phoning these wonderful women whom I didn't know, to talk with them about very intimate questions. But all of the women interviewed were so honest, generous, vulnerable and real in our discussions that I soon lost my nervousness. In the end we are all just people dealing with similar issues.