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Book Review: In the Fullness of Time: 32 Women on Life after 50 by Emily W. Upham and Linda Gravenson (eds)

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A good anthology is like a box of candy — you can prolong the pleasure if you pick out one a day, savor it, and close the lid until the next day. That’s the best way to enjoy the charming personal essays, poems, and interviews in the collection, In the Fullness of Time: 32 Women on Life after 50, edited by Emily W. Upham and Linda Gravenson.

The book had me, as every book should, from the very first line in the preface by Upham: “Once upon a time, when I was a young and beautiful princess of twenty.…” A lot of us baby boomer women remember that 20-something princess. She had power over men, got what she wanted with a toss of her hair, could march into any job interview and get it, was wild, fearless, and indestructible. That young woman is no longer smiling back at us in the mirror. She’s been replaced, not by her mother, but by her grandmother. Ouch.

If you’re over 50 and female, with no doubt your own ambivalent and conflicting feelings about aging, you too may open this book with slight trepidation, expecting stories of grief, regret, loss, and resignation. What a delightful surprise to discover that one woman’s chapter is funnier, wiser, and more memorable than the next. The editors did an excellent job compiling a diverse range of subjects and voices, from legendary actresses Edna O’Brien and Claire Bloom, to well-known poets and authors such as Ntozake Shange, Gail Godwin, and Laurie Stone.

For example, writer Martha Fay tells a witty, sweet story about losing her first adult tooth at age 59 1/2. She recounts the trials of enduring an uncomfortable prosthetic tooth, then an embarrassing toothless period, before receiving, finally, a shiny new (and expensive) porcelain implant. Her takeaway? This was merely a gentle preview of greater indignities to come.

In an entirely different tone, women’s health expert Dr. Christiane Northrup speaks from an authoritative but reassuring perch. She reminds readers that scientific research supports the fact that the immune, endocrine, and nervous systems work much better in a state of peace, forgiveness, joy, and acceptance. As we age, it is our job to heal ourselves, she says. We will be better able to take charge of our health by changing our consciousness. Hope she’s right!

Co-editor Gravenson observes that our later years often bear a striking resemblance to adolescence: “We are simultaneously tremulous, opinionated, bold, surprisingly shy, and nonchalant or self-conscious about our appearance, to name a few.” What is not adolescent, she notes, is our capacity for self-irony.

So what is it like to be female and over 50? According to these women, it’s having urgent longings for experiences you’ll never have. The shock of being invisible standing in the Starbucks line with younger people. Experiencing the death of parents, friends, spouses, and the loss of health, of sexual power, of power in the workplace, of dreams, of time remaining.

But it’s also the recognition that, as Susan Schneider writes, you’re just a woman’s magazine editor, not a community organizer or a teacher or someone who attempts to do the world some good. And you know what? That’s okay.

After all, you’ve got the second half of your life ahead of you, or at least some portion of it. And you’re a lot smarter than that 20-something princess, who probably would have squandered the opportunities that still await you.

In the Fullness of Time will enrich your life and enliven your mind, and it’s got fewer calories than a box of chocolates.

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About Patricia Gale

Patricia Gale has written and ghostwritten hundreds of blogs and articles that have appeared on sites such as Psychology Today, Forbes, and Huffington Post, and in countless national newspapers and magazines. Her "beat" is health, business, career, self-help, parenting, and relationships.