When I first “met” Anna Quindlen, we were young women in the throes of raising our children, nurturing our marriages, making our homes, and somehow fitting in our careers. Her wit and humor were tinged with just the right amount of self-deprecation so that I knew she understood what it was like to juggle everything that the Women’s Liberation Movement (now there’s some old terminology!) told us we should be able to manage with aplomb, while still looking sleek and powerful in our suits and high heels.
Although I never actually sat down over coffee with Ms. Quindlen, every time I read one of her Life in the 30’s columns which began appearing in the New York Times back in 1986, I felt as if she were sitting across the table from me and we were hashing over the demands of life in general, stopping every so often to corral a wayward toddler, let the dog out, or put another load of laundry in. When she “retired” from writing her column after the birth of her third child, I felt slightly bereft. Where would I find someone else that inspired me to keep going like she did?
But I did understand her need to move on, to “stop examining life and start living it,” as she wrote in her farewell piece. I read all of her novels and followed the growth of her journalism career in the op/ed pieces she wrote for Newsweek. I rejoiced when she won a Pulitzer prize for Commentary in 1992, feeling a warm sense of validation that perhaps women really can have it all.
But it was always her “lifestyle” columns that felt most real, that expressed the commonality among people that she calls “soothing.” It is comforting to know you aren’t alone in the trials and tribulations of daily life, and I think Quindlen’s writing has provided me the most comfort in that regard of any writer I know.
“That’s what’ s so wonderful about reading,” she writes, “that books and poetry and essays make us feel as though we’re connected, as though the thoughts and feelings we believe are singular and sometimes nutty are shared by others, that we are all more alike than different.”
So now Anna and I are “women of a certain age,” and I was thrilled to have my old friend back in her new book Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. In fact, I enjoyed reading the book so much that I checked out the audio version so I could hear the author’s voice. Now it’s like having Anna in the car with me, chatting away about Life in the 50’s while we drive around town.
Anyway, here she is, talking about some of my favorite subjects with her trademark wisdom and gently sarcastic humor.
Parenting: “Being a parent…is the ultimate pay-it-forward endeavor: We are good parents not so they will be loving enough to stay with us but so they will be strong enough to leave us.”
Our bodies: “I’ve finally recognized my body for what it is: a personality delivery system designed to carry my character from place to place. 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.”
Our stuff: “My doctor says that, contrary to conventional wisdom, she doesn’t believe our memories flag because of a drop in estrogen but because of how crowded it is in the drawers of our minds. Between the stuff at work and the stuff at home, the appointments and the news and the gossip and the rest, the past and the present and the plans for the future, the filing cabinets in our heads are not only full, they’re overflowing.”
And finally she comes to the same conclusion about all of it that she did back in 1988: “This is where I am right now. So far, it feels O.K.”
Thanks, Anna ~ I feel pretty O.K. too.
It’s great to have my friend back.
Purchase Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake on Amazon.