The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Journalist focuses her latest book on aging well ... and for a long time

  • Print

TORONTO - Anna Quindlen likes being in her 50s — it's when she learned to stand on her head.

It took the journalist and novelist two years to master the skill, something she couldn't do as a youngster. Now, facing 60, she can do it "at a moment's notice," Quindlen brags in her recent memoir, "Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake."

She did not demonstrate the skill during a recent interview, but we believe her. Quindlen has built a career, and earned a Pulitzer Prize, by sharing the everyday elements of her life in such a believable way that thousands of baby-boomer women have felt like she was inside their heads.

Beginning with the "Life in the 30s" column that she wrote for the New York Times 25 years ago, Quindlen's non-fiction writing (she is also the author of six novels) has focused on raising children, building a career and staying married, all from a feminist perspective.

She is disarmingly honest in her writing, from little details — what she has in her closet — to big issues, such as why she has split from the Catholic Church. Her husband once complained, "Could you get up and get me a beer without writing about it?"

The journalist has now turned her attention to the intricacies of life as a "senior," although she admits, with a laugh, that she has sympathy for the view that baby boomers are acting like they are the first generation to grow old.

"We also acted like we were the first generation to raise children," she says.

But she justifies her focus with the fact that boomers' experience of aging will be much different than their parents because they will be living much longer. "My generation has an entire stage of life that previous generations didn't have."

The loss of her mother to cancer when she was 19 has shaded Quindlen's perspective and work. At the time, she consoled herself by thinking that at least her mother, who was 41 when she died, got to live out much of her life.

"Then I got older myself and realized, no, she died at such a young age."

This realization was an impetus behind her memoir, which she says came about "by happenstance."

Quindlen ran across a statistic that, in the year of her birth, people lived to an average age of 68. She was shocked at that young age and began to ponder the myriad issues that have arisen as people live longer.

Then, she was alone at her family home in Pennsylvania when a tornado struck. She sent emails to her three children to say she was OK and her youngest, Maria, called, crying, afraid that she too might have lost her mother, as Quindlen did, at a young age.

"I responded, Oh, honey, I'm too old to die young," says Quindlen.

She thought it would be interesting to explore the phenomenon of what has become an extremely long retirement and aging period in the lives of most — and which brings with it a whole new industry.

"Assisted-living facilities did not exist for previous generations," she says. "Assisted living was when grandma came to live with her daughter."

Quindlen does not deal with any catastrophic challenges that many people face in their aging years, such as poverty or serious illness. Her view of aging, from her perch as a financially stable, healthy, educated, long-married — and still working — mother with a city house and a country house —represents only a tiny fraction of people her age.

A review in her former newspaper, the New York Times, describes "her mulling over what might be termed White People Problems."

She writes about the importance of girlfriends, how white lies can smooth a marriage; the changes in women's underwear; and why her grown children still can't put a cereal bowl in the dishwasher. Nice problems to have, certainly.

Quindlen acknowledges that she often gets criticized for being too optimistic. But she makes no apologies, and thinks she is not alone, citing a poll that shows happiness levels start to climb after people leave their 30s and 40s, largely because they have more time for themselves.

The most surprising thing, she says, is "how good things are and how happy I am in my family life, my marriage and my work life."

"I am also surprised that I can still learn to do new things, like stand on my head."

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Judy W-L endorsed by firefighters union

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Bright sunflowers lift their heads toward the south east skies in a  large sunflower field on Hwy 206 and #1 Thursday Standup photo. July 31,  2012 (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)
  • May 22, 2012 - 120522  - Westminster United Church photographed Tuesday May 22, 2012 .  John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you think Judy Wasylycia-Leis will greatly benefit from the endorsement by Winnipeg's firefighters?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google