For those negotiating the aches and pains of getting old, it’s good to be reminded of aging’s honey, a favor Anna Quindlen provides for us.
Her favorite line in her 2012 book, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, is “Since we do not wish to die, surely we must have wished to grow old,” attributed to the late author Carolyn Heilbrun, who wrote under the pen name Amanda Cross.
“I’m going to talk about aging, and why it can be so glorious,” she said in an e-mail interview with The Blade.
Note this scrap of hard-wrought wisdom: “I’ve finally recognized my body for what it is: a personality-delivery system, designed expressly to carry my character from place to place, now and in the years to come. It’s like a car, and while I like a red convertible or even a Bentley as well as the next person, what I really need are four tires and an engine.”
Quindlen, 60, who won a 1992 Pulitzer Prize for her New York Times’ “Public & Private” column on topics such as abortion, the Persian Gulf War, and the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, will speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Stranahan Theater. Her appearance is part of the Authors! Authors! series cosponsored by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.
“There is, I’m convinced, a kind of dogged determination that can come with getting older, a determination not to be overcome by can’t or don’t, by perceived shortcomings,” she writes, a perspective she’s keenly aware of when working out.
For decades, her well-crafted columns have given voice to a liberal demographic of baby boomers. She’s penned six novels, compiled essays into books, and her 64-page A Short Guide to a Happy Life (2000) has sold more than a million copies.
“I felt optimistic and joyful about growing older when I began this book, but I feel even more so now, after reading about the subject, talking to many people about it, and especially after getting reader reaction. I will treasure always the women who came up to me in New Hampshire and said, ‘You think 60 is great? 70 is fantastic!’ ”
Power walking daily, able to do a headstand (“my personal symbol of opposition to the pernicious pessimism that accompanies aging”), and too young to receive Social Security, Quindlen got a head start on the subject of aging, writing it as memoir from the vantage of one bestowed with the best life has to offer. Memory, she admits, becomes “a strange shape-shifter, playing hide and seek with the obvious.”
“I don’t keep a journal and my memory is increasingly poor. What you see on the page is what has survived the erosion of the years. That may or may not mean it’s more important than what has disappeared, but it’s what I’ve got.”
The book’s topics include lasting marriages (she’s been wed to trial attorney Gerald Krovatin for 35 years), stuff (including our packed brains), parenting, solitude, girlfriends, her aging/Botoxed face, and her exit from Catholicism (“But I will be a big fan of Jesus until the day I die! It’s the hierarchy of whom I am suspicious — and who seem absurdly suspicious of my sex!”).
She often writes about loss, and as one of her offspring observed, about motherhood. Her own mother was dying when Quindlen was 19, prompting daughter to move home to look after mother and four younger siblings.
On the “good” side of the aging ledger are having more time for and a greater appreciation of friendships, children who are launched, and an understanding of how to place work in the panorama of one’s life. If you think of life as a job, perhaps by 60 you’re getting good at it, she says, noting that most people are happier after 50.
“They feel as if they’ve settled into their own skin, even if that skin has sun damage.”
In 1952 when she was born in Philadelphia, the oldest of five children of a management consultant and a housewife, Americans lived, on average, to 68. That’s now about 80, and while increasing numbers enjoy good health, others deal with infirmities or poverty — waters she doesn’t tread.
While attending the prestigious women’s school, Barnard College, Quindlen gained an appreciation for Charles Dickens’ eye for detail, and determined to employ the same in her writing. During college, Seventeen magazine published her first story. Intending to write fiction, she fell in love with journalism. Her most recent stint was 10 years of essays in The Last Word column for Newsweek magazine.
Both Quindlen-Krovatin sons, Quindlen, 29, and Christopher, 27, are writers, and Maria, 24, is an actress/comedian/writer; all live in their own apartments in New York City. She splits her time between homes in Manhattan and rural Pennsylvania, and has long served on the boards of Barnard and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The owner of two Labradors, Bea and Gus, she’s planning a trip to watch whales up close in the wild, and longs for grandchildren, “but I’ve been told to stop saying that.”
What brings her joy?
“Family dinner with everyone at the table.”
If you go:
Anna Quindlen will speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Strahanan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd., as part of the Authors! Authors! series. Tickets are $10, $8 for students, and may be purchased at any Toledo-Lucas County Public Library branch and at the door. Seating is first-come, first-served. Quindlen’s books will be sold in the lobby, but she will not autograph them. Information: 419-259-5266.
Contact Tahree Lane at: email@example.com and 419-724-6075.