"While we are reading, we are all Don Quixote." ~ Mason Cooley

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Last Gift of Time

"Women, I believe, search for fellow beings who have faced similar struggles, conveyed them in ways a reader can transform into her own life, confirmed desires the reader had hardly acknowledged - desires that now seem possible.  Women catch courage from the women whose lives and writings they read and women call the bearer of that courage friend."

~ Carolyn Heilbrun
The Last Gift of Time:Life Beyond Sixty

I have been fortunate to acquire a few such friends along the way, often by accident - Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Tristine Rainer, Judith Cameron, Natalie Goldberg.  Heilbrun is the most recent; somehow I missed her until recently when The Last Gift of Time was lent to me by a friend to whom I'd shared my interest in reading about aging. This book, she said, was a must to read, a classic, a favorite of hers and of her mother before her. I wasn't 20 pages into the book when I knew I wanted my own copy. 

Although I am close in age to the age at which Heilbrun wrote the book, I did not identify easily with her at the outset, the particulars of our lives being quite different.  Heilbrun was a distinguished author and critic, a professor at Colombia for over 30 years, a single child of upper class Jewish parents, a mother and grandmother, well-traveled, well-known.  And I - the eldest daughter of working class Sicilian-Americans, a Mid-westerner at heart, educator, small business owner, no children - in so many ways, an ordinary woman. 

As the book unfolded, however, as Heilbrun shared her insights and opinions about men, marriage, memory, time, mortality, I felt I'd come across a kindred spirit.  When she described her despair over the state of our society, I became her hallelujah choir.  When she declared a woman could be a feminist without hating men, I knew I'd found another friend (Heilbrun calls such a friend "unmet").  And when she asserted that to remain vital beyond sixty, one needs to pursue an undertaking that "requires strong effort and the evidence of growing proficiency", I knew this to be another one of those right books at the right time that I cherish.

What sealed my conviction that I'd found another friend was the sense of recognition when I discovered that Heilbrun had written a mystery series under the pseudonym of Amanda Cross, a series I had devoured years ago.  And the sense of loss and sadness when I learned that Heilbrun had committed suicide only seven years after the publication of The Last Gift of Time.

I recognize that some younger readers may find this book to be dated; after all, it was written over 20 years ago.  But I hope they will explore it anyway, if only to appreciate the challenges and contributions of feminists of Heilbrun's era.  And to get a taste of her writing style.  Crisp, clear, intelligent, uncompromising, with an irreverence I found particularly appealing.  

My copy arrived in the mail yesterday.  I intend to reread it soon, to take more time to savor the writing, to reflect more carefully, to appreciate that I came upon this gift, now that I am beyond sixty.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

I Recommend....

"My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” 
                                                                                                                       Dr. Seuss     

In the last years of my mother's life, she often said that it seemed she was reading the Sunday paper every day, so quickly was time passing by.  I'm not quite at that point yet, but the quick passage of time has been brought home to me repeatedly in recent months...my 74th birthday, my "baby" brother's 70th, our 32nd wedding anniversary. the 40th birthday of a young man I would have sworn was only 25.  And returning to this blog to discover I haven't posted in almost a year to the day!

I have been reading, honestly!  In fact, two or three books some weeks.  Mystery, historical narrative, psychology, e-books, paperbacks.   Book club selections, books I've enjoyed, books I haven't finished - but none that I've felt compelled to share until recently.  None that I couldn't wait to recommend to friend, family, even strangers, until recently.

Therefore, after a longer hiatus than I had planned, here are four books that I have been recommending, even extolling whenever and wherever I've had the opportunity.

Flourish by Martin E. P. Seligman    NF c2013

Seligman, considered by some as the father of Positive Psychology, has continued his work on resiliency, learned optimism and most recently, what he refers to as well-being.  A champion of learning from what works and from healthy practices rather than illness and disease, Seligman combines research and application and presents his findings here with clarity and - optimism.

I almost cheered when I read that Seligman "detests" the word happiness because it's become so overused as to become meaningless...the way I also have come to feel about the word "deserve".

Focusing on well-being and its five pillars of positive emotion, engagement, positive relationship, meaning and accomplishment, Seligman asserts, is what makes for the good life.  And he supports his assertions with academic studies as well as anecdotal stories.