“We’ve forgotten how to talk to each other,” laments Sherry Turkle in her latest book, “Reclaiming Conversation.”
Turkle lays the blame on smartphones, which have largely replaced in-person conversation, where “talk” is relegated to texts and emails. These short, scripted exchanges in cyberspace have replaced the deep connections that occurred when we met in real time.
How did texting become our primary form of communication, eclipsing in-person conversations?
The answer lies in the phone culture, which creates addictive behavior. It makes us frantic to be current. We worry that we’ll miss something if we aren’t constantly checking our texts, emails or our favorite Twitter sites. In the rush to be up-to-date, the brevity of texts is appealing. A short message leaves more time for Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
Turkle contends, “We have sacrificed conversation for mere conversation.”
In her interviews with young people, they admitted that the immediacy of in-person talk makes them anxious, while texts offer time to craft a response and get it right. Even families have opted for texting to settle arguments because it allows them to feel more in control. Why is everyone so afraid of showing their authentic selves who get angry, hurt and embarrassed? Have we really become this fragile?
I feel like I’m living inside the song, “Stop the World I Want to Get Off,” as I reel from our climate crisis, Afghanistan’s unraveling and a new Covid surge. Mary Oliver to the rescue! I pull one of her poetry books from my shelf, find a quiet place to stretch out and start to read. Oliver’s poems are balm for my soul. They settle me. I’m not alone. Many of my friends hold Mary Oliver close to their hearts as well.
Oliver’s popularity rests on poems that offer words to live by–words that stir our very being, like these verses from When Death Comes, that are tacked on the bulletin board by my desk:
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
I have to make a confession: I have been a bad climate citizen. While I have been moved to the core by this summer’s record smashing heat, wildfires and floods, in response, I have done little more than wring my hands and exchange feelings of despair with friends.
This weekend I read the book, All We Can Save, which hit me like a ton of bricks, awakening me to the urgency for immediate action to curtail climate change. All We Can Save is a compilation of 60 essays by diverse American women climate leaders — scientists, journalists, farmers, lawyers, teachers, activists, poets, and artists, across generations, geographies, and race.
The feminine perspective with an emphasis on climate justice has been sidelined in the climate change conversation.
Women climate leaders define climate justice as equitable climate policies that address women and children in poor and indigenous communities, marked by toxic waste and contaminated drinking water. An unprecedented number of children in low-income neighborhoods have developed asthma from breathing polluted air.
This year’s list of summer reads are books that I got so lost in that I stayed up well past my usual bedtime, or overlooked social gatherings with friends. I’ve compiled a wide range of books to fit a variety of moods, transporting you to 17th century Boston, the worlds of magic realism, psychological thrillers, and important social thinkers.
I love magic realism, which is deftly handled by two great Japanese writers, Haruki Murakami and Kazuro Ishiguro. Murakami’s Men Without Women is a collection of short stories that are full of surprises. Murakami’s plot twists left me gasping. Ishiguro’s latest novel, Klara and The Sun revolves around Klara, an automated girl, known as an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” purchased for a sickly child, inhabiting a dystopian society haunted by loneliness and disconnections. Halfway through this book, I’m on pins and needles.
My life long fascination with witches and witchcraft drew me to two new books, both rich in period details: Chris Bohjalian’s, Hour of the Witch, and The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner. In Bohjalian’s novel, set in Boston in 1652, 24-year-old Mary Deerfield seeks a divorce from her physically abusive husband, who in response accuses her of being a witch. She’s found guilty but that’s not the end of the story. Penner’s fast moving plot, takes place in 18th century London, featuring Nella, an herbalist who takes great risks, preparing herbal poisons for wives wanting to do in abusive husbands.
The writer, Lily Iona MacKenzie admits that she finds aging hard, but when asked if there are advantages to being an older woman, Lily offers a big smile, followed by the response, “I get to celebrate my wisdom.”
But what if one is having trouble accessing her wisdom? For help in getting on the wisdom path, I’ve compiled responses from several wise women I know. A common thread is the richness they uncovered by thoughtfully contemplating their lives, making time each day to meditate by sitting in silence, talking a walk, or listening to classical music. Quiet time, done with an open heart, allows our inner wisdom and creative adaptations to surface.
Adelaide Winstead, 92, an artist, loves the contentment afforded by her waterfront home.
I often daydream sitting by the water. This experience gives meaning to my life.
Adelaide’s reflection time has rewarded her with a new appreciation for her aging body.
I see the raw as beautiful. I find energy in the raw. By this I mean beauty in the imperfect. This is a change brought on by aging and my changing body. I now find the imperfect, like clumps of weeds, more acceptable. My body may be ugly in some ways, but I have never loved it more.
Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day.
These immortal words of Dylan Thomas are a suitable motto for Feisty Old Broads, older women who reject the stereotype of the accommodating old lady. The FOB’s are women who are fearless in their individuality. They speak truth to power, laugh a lot, have big hearts, and project confidence. They no longer worry what others think of them. They have aged into their authentic selves.
We all have an inner Feisty Old Broad. If you haven’t released her, this is a good time. The world needs her spirit. You can draw on your FOB energy by remembering the Feisty Old Broads in your families, or mentors in the form of teachers, neighbors and acquaintances, frequently overlooked because they don’t carry the star power of famous FOB’s, like the outspoken actress Judi Dench. Once we identify the Feisty Old Broads who influenced us, we can own our strengths and honor the women who paved our road to aging with gusto.
In my case, I am indebted to my older cousin Esther, who was an aspiring actress in New York City in the 60’s. Esther was a full-blown FOB in her lust for life. Her tiny Village apartment was eclipsed by a baby grand piano. When I visited Esther, as an impressionable teen, she frequently hosted actor friends who would drink and sing while she hit the keyboard. During one of my visits, cops banged on the door, demanding that Esther tone down the noise. As soon as the cops left, the ruckus resumed. Esther nurtured my fun-loving spirit.
Forgiveness is especially meaningful late in life. This is the time to wipe the slate clean, to do away with emotional baggage that prevents us from living in the moment. To quote Ram Dass: “The role of elders is to move away from ego into soul.” What could be better for the soul than to practice forgiveness?
You might ask: “How do I go about forgiving close friends or family that have hurt me”? For starters, regard forgiveness as a process and not a single act.
This step becomes clearer through the advice offered by Joan Chittister in her book, The Gift of Years: Growing Old Gracefully. Chittister recommends that you try to identify with the person you want to forgive. A big take away for me from Chittister is the understanding that negative behavior towards you is not so much because of who you are but because of who they are.
Recently we’ve been seeing lots of stories on older women going gray or white during Covid. Deciding it would be interesting to unpack these stories, I posted on the WOW Facebook page, asking women how they feel about their hair post Covid. I am pleased to report that the majority in my sample has made peace with their hair. Many felt liberated ditching their dye bottles. The racy ones went hog wild, posting photos of their neon blue or rainbow colored hair.
To Dye or Not to Dye
While most of the women who responded to my query reported embracing their new gray or white hair, some continue to dye their hair. Mary and Kim are among the latter, insisting that they’re not comfortable with their uneven, mousy streaks of gray. Kim commented, “I feel uncomfortable with the assertion that letting one’s hair go gray, makes one more authentic. Coloring is not consistent with a denial of aging.”
Nancy dyed her hair at the insistence of her husband. “I’m nine years older than my (hopefully) soon-to-be ex. He didn’t want people to think he had an older wife, so he insisted that I color it so I wouldn’t look old. I was such an idiot to go along with his BS.”
Eva echoes the freedom many women discovered once they stopped dying: “I am no longer a slave to my roots.”
Mother’s Day is right around the corner, and while it’s a joyful time to honor mothers, it can also be an unsettling occasion for those adult daughters with a pronounced mother wound. The holiday can reawaken a daughter’s memories of the maternal hurt she experienced growing up and which continues to affect her primary relationships. The mother wound can be traced to a woman’s proclivity to rejection, co-dependency and depression.
The good news is that the mother wound can be healed. The key is to discover a new mother story. This path takes time and might stir up unhappy memories, but ultimately a new mother story can be incredibly freeing.
I consider myself living proof of recovering from the mother wound. For decades I blamed my mother’s self-absorption and criticism of me for my lousy self-image and failure in relationships. All this changed in the process of writing a mother-daughter memoir about our life together.
She’s the older woman, who believes in doing her part to make her community and the world a kinder, more just place. She cares deeply about the planet her children and grandchildren will inherit. She’s not afraid to stick her neck out. She figures she doesn’t have much to lose given her advanced age. She doesn’t want to die in a state of indifference.
Not every older woman is a gold star woman warrior with the single-minded focus of Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem, Jane Goodall or Codepink’s Medea Benjamin, but we can draw inspiration from them. Given the urgent state of our country and the globe, it behooves all older women to do whatever they can to help shape a better world.
The world needs the collective wisdom of older women. It needs our compassionate outlook in a world dominated by men who have lost their moral compasses.
The older woman warrior expresses her concerns through painting, music, the written word, film production, direct action, or through a combination of these.