Well, I've been 40 for a little over a month now, and I just bought mom-shorts. I guess there are some things about aging that are inevitable. I bought the shorts without trying them on because they were a good deal, and I wasn't about to wait in a long line. I got them home to find that they're exactly that length. Bell bottoms for the thighs.
The shorts are a timely coincidence when I feel like everyone who asks me "so how does it feel to turn 40?" is really asking "how does it feel to take on the Jamie Lee Curtis transition?" You know the one -- the shift from hanging from a helicopter in a fitted little black dress in True Lies to being Lyndsay Lohan's awkward old mom in Freaky Friday. The desirable thief in A Fish Called Wanda -- the dowdy empty-nester in Christmas with the Kranks.
I've never been one to get caught up in worries about appearances very much, but I can guarantee that anyone who says they don't mind the physical repercussions of aging is lying. No woman likes making her resting face and having her daughter ask why she's mad. No woman enjoys slipping money to a bouncer who once waved her to the front of the line (I can imagine this might be true anyway -- personally, my bedtime leaves no opportunity for clubs). No woman enjoys when a mammogram machine gets to second base with her.
My body is older, and although I'm more fit now than I was in my 20s, my muscles and bones and forehead and liver will never reverse in time to what they once were. And then there's the whole, ever closer to my earthly demise thing.
But the physical side of aging is all that I can think of about being 40 that sucks. My favourite part of this birthday may be that I know myself so much better than I once did. I no longer golf to be a good sport, because I don't like golfing. I leave the pie on my plate if I don't want it, where once I might have eaten it, worried that people were wondering why I wasn't chowing down (on another day I might eat two pieces). I avoid heels and hangovers. I once thought that when I got older I wouldn't need to stress out anymore -- now that I'm here, I know that it's in my nature to stress, so I avoid situations and people that put me in that mindset unnecessarily. These are some of the things it takes 40 years to learn to just say no to.
As my earlier jokes about facing death may allude to, there is a certain rushing feeling to turning 40, almost like when you're writing an exam and you look up, surprised to find that the clock hands have moved further than you thought. It's a great time to take stock, and to become more focused about goals that may have gone off track, giving way to less-important priorities. I guess this is where the whole midlife crisis thing comes in, which may mistakenly have a bad rap (when you're 40, you're allowed to say "bad rap" if you feel like it, especially while rocking your mom-shorts).
Luckily, I've made good choices for myself in the past 10 years and my life doesn't need a big shake-up. But you can bet that as my kids grow bigger and I have more time to dedicate to my own path, I won't return to items that might look great on a resume, but that I don't enjoy. A big learning for me has been that there are many things I am able to do, but that I should only be romanced by what I want to do. I mean, I could take a derivative in calculus if you really needed me to, but... I'm busy that day. And also "that day" for the next 40 years or so.
Re-checking priorities applies to relationships, too. Am I spending enough time with the really important people in my life? (I type this as my son keeps calling down from the care of his sitters -- Shaggy, Daphne and Scoob -- to ask if I've finished this article yet). We can all get caught up, especially with young families, taxi-ing from commitment to commitment. But are they the right ones? Am I doing justice to the people who have gotten me through the first 40 years? I hope so.
Love is all there is, folks. At my birthday celebration I introduced many friends to other friends for the first time, struggling with summarizing meaningful relationships in a soundbyte. "This is my cousin," but my cousins are almost like siblings. "This girl rowed for Team Canada," but I don't really care, she was there for me when I was single and lonely. "This is a friend from our neigbourhood," and she helps me parent my kids. Only time allows you to collect a quality crew of amazing people. I hope above all else that I am a good friend, mother, sister, wife, and daughter, because that's really all that's important.
Whenever someone changed jobs at one company where I worked, the managers would send an email that said, "It is with mixed emotions that I announce..." and that wording applies here too -- "It is with mixed emotions that I announce I have somehow become 40 years old." I guess maybe I'll always feel about 28, and that the songs they play at the grocery store are still in the top 20 of today's charts. I'm getting older, but I'm in a good place. Can't wait to greet the insights that will take me into my 60s and beyond. But please, clock, take all the time you need to get me there.
By Ann Moore
The Purple Fig is an online women's blogazine with an emphasis on realistic and inspiring personal stories from women of all age groups, lifestyles, and nationalities. We feature essays about parenting, the journey to womanhood, feminism, overcoming challenges in both career and personal life, and issues surrounding sexuality, relationships, and family life. This is where women go to be inspired by the knowledge they are never alone.
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The memoir can teach anybody to forgive, let go of a tough past and get along with a hell-on-wheels parent (and we mean anybody.)
Maya Angelou's moving, honest portrait of her up and down relationship with Vivian Baxter -- the bold, smart, hard-drinking, pistol-toting woman who left Angelou with her grandmother for most of her childhood but reunited with her during her daughter's adolescence -- is full of wisdom, laughs and blockbuster sentences like, "there are times when no one is right and sometimes among family and children, no one can admit that there is no right, and that maybe at the same time there is no wrong," and, "She liberated me from a society that would have had me think of myself as the lower of the low. She liberated me to life."
-- Leigh Newman
Because all those subtle, change-everything moments in Munro's fiction are the same ones we need to take note of in our real lives.
With her penetrating new collection, Dear Life
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How to eat better, tack a few extra years onto your lifespan and save the planet, all in one paperback.
This book -- a look at the megafood industrial complex -- completely changed the way I eat. It shattered me! I'm not going to say that it made my life easier -- it made my life tremendously more difficult -- but it's been worth it.
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The novel that helps you remember all those sweeping, real-life tragedies on the television news -- long after the cameras have moved on to other stories.
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The wise, totally non-judgmental best friend who fits in your purse.
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-- Leigh Newman
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The scenes of Marina languishing in Manaus, Brazil, waiting for the elusive Dr. Swenson, offer tropical comedy filled with torpid heat, lost luggage and colorful locals. Then comes the inevitable trip up the river to a native village far from civilization where Dr. Swenson is "the uncontested kingpin," who challenges Marina, and readers, to consider the unintended consequences of choosing whether to disturb the world around us or to let it go on "as if you had never arrived." The large canvas of sweeping moral issues, both personal and global, comes to life through careful attention to details, however seemingly mundane -- from ill-fitting shoes and mosquito bites to a woman tenderly braiding another woman's hair. Ultimately Marina learns to put aside her predisposition to quantify everything with scientific data, especially where affairs of the heart are concerned. "In this life we love who we love," Patchett writes. "There were some stories in which facts were very nearly irrelevant."
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Raw, honest reflections for every woman about when a little too much drinking turns into way, way too much.
In the letter to her son that opens Mary Karr's irresistible memoir Lit,
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Lily Bart is beautiful and wellborn but without a dowry in the rigid New York society of the early 20th century. She knows that her only way to rise in this milieu is to marry for money, but she sabotages her chances. Caught between her disgust with selling herself on the marriage market and her inability to declare herself to a man she really trusts, she drifts along, becoming ever more unmarriageable. What makes this novel so moving is the way Lily never quite grasps her situation and thus cannot solve it. Her feminism is on the edge of her consciousness but never really guides her life. That lack of clarity becomes Lily's tragedy.
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The bible of the 21st-Century woman.
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asked Arianna Huffington, president and editor in chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, to share what the book means to her.
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The sequel to that bible.
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The memoir that helps with the difficulties of forgiving...(gulp) yourself.
does what memoirs can do best: illuminate a crucial portion -- and not the entirety -- of a human life. In this case, prose master Joan Didion focuses on her relationship with her daughter, Quintana Roo, who she adopted in the late 1960s. Quintana grew up in the rarefied world of Malibu and movie-making. Despite the advantages -- the closets full of Liberty lawn dresses, the bassinet from Saks -- she struggled with the discovery of her biological parents, grappling with mental issues known collectively as "borderline personality," and using alcohol as a way to cope. Her struggle to recover from brain surgery, was covered in Didion's previous book The Year of Magical Thinking,
a memoir that examined the extraordinary and excruciating loss that Didion suffered when her husband died and Quintana was hospitalized for many months. Blue Nights
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is less extraordinary, less jaw-dropping in terms of circumstance -- and that is its power.
-- Leigh Newman
So you did not win the gold medal in the Olympics -- or receive the Nobel Prize or make it to the final round of "So You Think You Can Dance" -- by age 20 or 30 or 40. You will have another destiny; one even more rewarding.
Growing up in Canada, Leanne Shapton was one of a handful of teenagers hand-picked to become world-class swimmers. She made 5 a.m. practices, traveled to distant meets and developed an obsession with time due to stop watches that gave her "the ability to make still lifes out of tenths of seconds." And then came the moment at age 14, when it occurs to her "gently, in a quiet flash: I'm not going to go to the Olympics. I will not be going. Not me." Rather that quit the team, she continues to train, and the thoughtful, exquisitely written book that results is ostensibly about her lifelong relationship to the sport, complete with photos of her various bathing suits and meditations on the difference between swimming (i.e., competitive swimming) and bathing (i.e., swimming for fun). The story underneath all this, however, concerns a troubling question: What do we do with ourselves when we're good (or even very good) at something we love, but not great? Shapton finds her way, meeting her husband and using her "feel" for water as a painter. She even includes some haunting, cobalt blue illustrations of pools she frequents as an adult, as well as a color guide to different swimming smells, such as "coach: fresh laundry, Windbreaker nylon, Mennen Speed Stick, Magic Marker, and bologna." These extra visual elements dazzle, but the specifics of this world and her insightful take on her own far-from-ordinary life are what makes any reader wonder if Shapton's gold medal might have already been won -- in writing.
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On your toughest, no-good, horrible day, this book will make you grateful for something we all take for granted -- peace.
This is the story of a former child soldier in Sierra Leone who now lives in the States. He's gone through these incredibly harrowing experiences, but he's also inflicted terrible suffering on others. I think that he will probably spend the rest of his life atoning for what he did. We're so protected in our little bubble, and we get to be concerned about the cast of Dancing with the Stars. I feel as if the universe has been sending me messages, including a book like this, to help me get perspective and make me feel grateful for the life I have. -- Samantha Bee
For those days when you feel as if your brain is dying, due to the never-ending mundane: a novelist who thinks as insightfully as she writes.
Zadie Smith's inventive and compassionate novel of aspiration, identity, and social hierarchy, takes its name from the part of London in which it is set -- North West -- a multiethnic, multiracial, mixed-income community where drug addicts wander the streets and wealthy entrepreneurs live among tradesmen. Sometimes using unconventional techniques -- she includes computer-generated walking directions and the text of headstones -- Smith tells the story of three natives of the area: best friends Natalie and Leah, and Felix, who at first seems to have no connection to the others. Each is determined to rise above a hardscrabble childhood. Felix, a former production assistant, links himself to a dissolute, aristocratic lover he meets on a film set. Natalie becomes a lawyer and marries a well-born banker. Leah attends a prestigious university in Scotland but returns home as an underpaid worker at a charity, suffering both guilt for being more successful than her parents and insecurity about not fitting in with an affluent crowd. When Natalie invites her to dinner parties, Leah and her husband "have no gift for anecdote" and "look down at their plates and cut their food with great care" while the others chat and laugh. Meanwhile Natalie -- so set on remaking herself, she's discarded her given name, Keisha -- lives a double life, engaging in sexual encounters with anonymous partners found on the Internet. Natalie's world collides with Felix's in a violent incident that forces her to peer "over into the pit that separates people who have known intolerable pain from people who haven't." There to comfort her is Leah, who understands the cost and complexity of her choices, as well as the gains.
-- Leigh Newman
For use in the case of writer's -- and life -- block.
Anne Lamott seems immediately like your new best friend -- funny, sunny, spiritual. This book can teach you how to write wonderfully, though its lessons are as much about life as they are about writing.
-- Diane Sawyer
Because we all want to grow up to be Anne Tyler.
How do you evaluate a deed that has brought catastrophe? Tyler writes about Ian Bedloe, who thinks he's doing his brother a favor by telling him that his wife is unfaithful, and the brother subsequently drives a car into a wall and dies. Ian is 17 and said something stupid and, as it turns out, incorrect. I'm not a great believer in sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop throughout your life as a spiritual quest. What I find interesting is how an enormous spiritual journey unfolds in the banality of life. When Ian asks a minister how he can redeem himself, the minister replies, "You can raise the kids." It means throwing away college, throwing away his girlfriend, throwing away everything in order to be a father to these kids. At no point is it ever considered a noble thing, but he takes it on. He lives for something other than himself.
-- Colin Firth
Help with the overeating anxiety that comes up at age 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39 and 40. Even if it's not you who's struggling with the actual overeating.
Edie Middlestein has never been thin. But in recent years she has eaten herself into life-threatening obesity, bingeing at fast food chains and Chinese buffets despite a diabetes diagnosis and multiple warnings from doctors. Tired of watching her "killing herself, and taking him with her piece by piece," Richard, Edie's husband of nearly 40 years, walks out on his incessantly nitpicking wife, throwing the Midwestern family at the center of The Middlesteins
into turmoil. With an expansive heart and sly wit, Jami Attenberg explores the family's attempts to save Edie from herself. Benny, Edie's conflict-averse son, is going bald from the stress of it all, while his high-strung wife makes a mission of overhauling her mother-in-law's unhealthy lifestyle. (Forced walks around a track do not go well.) The Middlesteins' schoolteacher daughter, Robin, is pushed "over the edge toward something close to hatred, or at least the dissolution of love," by her father's leaving. Meanwhile, Richard savors the pleasures of online dating, only "in the quietest moments in the mornings" suffering guilt for abandoning his marriage. As for Edie, she finds romance of her own with Mr. Song -- the widowed chef at the Golden Unicorn, who appreciates her raucous humor and zealous enjoyment of his cooking -- despite wallowing bitterly in memories of her ex. Throughout this poignant novel, the characters wrestle with two defining questions: What do we owe each other after a life together? What do we owe ourselves?
-- Abbe Wright
For those I-am-all-alone days: a reminder of how our stories wind around each other, even from opposite sides of the globe.
With her second novel, The Inheritance of Loss
(Atlantic Monthly), Kiran Desai has written a sprawling and delicate book, like an ancient landscape glittering in the rain. It focuses on one crumbling household in northern India, the Himalayas watching over the story like distant gods. There is a mean and increasingly vulnerable retired judge as paterfamilias, his 16-year-old orphaned granddaughter, and the frightened, scheming cook who is their last remaining servant. Stories radiate from each of these characters: from their pasts, from their romances, from the adventures of the cook's son as an illegal immigrant in America, each of the threads leading toward a core of love, longing, futility, and loss that is Desai's true territory.
Desai has a touch for alternating humor and impending tragedy that one associates with the greatest writers, and her prose is uncannily beautiful, a perfect balance of lyricism and plain speech. Hers is not a linear sensibility but a comprehensive one, and she has a flawless ear for the different castes, the different generations, the worlds of Anglophilic sisters at tea and illegal immigrants arguing in a bakery in Harlem. Novels have two aims, Flannery O'Connor once wrote, to reveal mystery and manners, and Desai has mastered both.
-- Vince Passaro
Every woman needs one romantic, elegant Nobel Prize winner in her life.
In The Museum of Innocence,
Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk offers a world-class lesson in heartbreak and happiness. Kemal, Pamuk's narrator, is the thwarted lover, his beloved the exquisite Füsun, who marries another man. Her rosewater-scented hands have touched the ordinary objects (a barrette, a glass, a cigarette) that Kemal has furtively taken and now displays in his intimate museum -- which is both the house in Istanbul where Füsun once lived, and the book that tells her story. Pamuk's own presence in this wily narrative is as surreptitious as passion itself.
-- Cathleen Medwick
The memoir that puts worrying in its place.
There's nothing funny about an anxiety so crippling that it takes only 30 seconds to turn a minor mistake at work into a potential disaster involving unemployment, homelessness, and death. And yet you'll laugh out loud many times during Daniel Smith's Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety—as when he says his wrung-out 23-year-old self resembled "Nixon resigning the presidency," or when he calls his anxiety a "drama queen of the mind." In the time-honored tradition of leavening pathos with humor, Smith has managed to create a memoir that doesn't entirely let him off the hook for bad behavior (is one's mother the source of every problem?) but promotes understanding of the similarly afflicted. (Who knew there were two kinds of sufferers: the stiflers and the chaotics?) Now, if only he had revealed the full name of the psychologist whose tough-love approach turned out to be the best medicine. What if the worst does happen, Smith had asked the good doctor; what if I do end up dead in a Dumpster? "Well," the therapist responded cheerily, "at least then you won't be anxious anymore!"
— Sara Nelson
Nora Ephron: She was funny. She was smart. She was who she was meant to be.
The first essay in this collection is about being flat-chested and making your way in the world as a woman with no breasts, which was never my problem, even at, like, 10, when I was reading the book. But Ephron was also hilarious, and I didn't know women could talk that way about those kinds of things. The collection felt like a really funny, intimate conversation you could have with one of your best friends. I thought, "This is how I want to write. This is the kind of stuff I want to talk about, and this is the way I want to talk about it."
-- As told to Sara Nelson