Midlife is not too late to change - your reading lists, anyway

February 06, 2005|By SUSAN REIMER

I'M FINE. No, really. Everything's fine. Seriously. No, but thanks for asking."

I've been saying that a lot, lately.

To friends, who call out of the blue. To neighbors, who drop by with casseroles. To my family physician, who called just to "chat." To the police department's suicide intervention squad.

I wrote a column a couple of weeks ago about women in midlife as the target audience for a new publishing niche.

I listed just a few of the books out there for those of us who have shuttled the last child to college and are supposed to be reinventing ourselves for the second half of life.

Then, I proceeded to offer a brief survey of those books, most of which were working overtime to sound cheerful about this time in a woman's life.

The theme of many of these books was that women should use this time to follow their muse. But a heck of a lot of them described midlife as a time when people look back with regret at all the things they have not accomplished and look toward, well, death.

Some of these books talked about how death becomes a certainty in the near term for people who pass the watershed age of 50. It is no longer some event in the far distant future. And it is difficult to cope with this awareness.

I didn't find these books to be particularly uplifting, and so, neither was the column. But I didn't imagine that so many friends and readers would jump to the conclusion that I was ready to jump off a bridge.

"Wow. Thanks for the downer," wrote one of my readers.

"What on earth is wrong with you today?" asked another. She suggested hormones, an anti-depressant or "a good roll in the sack."

"I think you need help," wrote still another reader, who said she was grateful to have made it to 50 because her mother did not.

"I was morbidly fascinated by the article and couldn't quit reading until I finished every word," wrote one disappointed reader, who expected a punch line at the end of the column.

Those who weren't trying to pull me in off the window ledge were castigating me for not being more upbeat about a time in life that they were busy enjoying.

"I feel more vibrant, sexier, prettier and much healthier than I have in a long time," wrote the reader who was 50 and glad of it.

I felt like I should follow columnist Dave Barry's lead and step away before too many people started saying, "You used to be funnier."

But it wasn't me talking in that earlier column. It was the authors of these books, one of whom suggested that women not ignore good grooming and makeup as they age. Sheesh.

I admit, I am having trouble coming to terms with the 50-year-old woman who looks back at me from every mirror in the house. (One of the authors suggests that we all embrace our "inner crone."). That's because, in my head, I am still the 30-year-old woman whom I came to consider my best self.

She was thin and naturally blonde and she looked younger than her years. She was an accomplished professional in a male-dominated field, and her dad was still around to think that she was amazing.

She had driven all over the country by herself and jumped on airplanes at a moment's notice to cover the most glamorous events. She was madly in love and ready to embark on the adventure of marriage and family.

And there weren't any books around to tell her that it was all downhill from here.

That's because everybody was 30 and self-confident back then. The "pig through the python" baby-boom generation was hitting its stride with a crescendo, and the publishing industry wasn't gearing up to tell us all how to reinvent ourselves before we die.

So, faithful readers, forgive me if my reading list did not make me good company on a recent morning.

And do not worry about me. I am fine. Really. No, really.

But I am going back to English mysteries.

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