On a recent rainy afternoon in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I had the pure pleasure of interviewing Susan Page, whom I’d greatly admired when I attended the San Miguel Writers’ Conference last February. She and I met last week under the magnificent, 400-year-old arches of the Instituto de Allende, an arts and cultural hub in San Miguel’s centro, to talk about her WOW-worthy accomplishments and current passions, of which there are many.
If you were to Google Susan, you’d see she is the author of six nonfiction self-help books, all still in print and read around the world. The most recent of her relationship books, Why Talking is Not Enough: Eight Loving Actions That Will Transform Your Marriage, drawn from her 22-year career conducting workshops for married couples, was published in 2007 and has been translated into 22 languages. Susan told me she has drawers full of letters from people from as far afield as Israel and Sweden thanking her for her books’ helpful advice.
But after she moved with her husband Mayer Shacter from Berkeley, California, to San Miguel 12 years ago, Susan changed her focus from writing to organizing. “When I came to San Miguel there were no author readings at all and no place for local authors to sell our books,” she told me. “I thought, ‘This is a literary town; we should fix that!’ So I started a tiny little organization called the Literary Sala. I had very minimal goals at the time. Well, the thing just exploded. It was an idea whose moment had arrived.”
When I attended the San Miguel Writers’ Conference for the first time last February, this now world-renown literary gathering was celebrating its tenth successful year. From its humble beginnings as a small, local San Miguel Sala, it has grown, Susan said, thanks to the involvement of countless volunteers and supporters, to “this big, huge organization, which makes me very happy because it’s a lot of fun.”
On the subject of aging, Susan, who recently turned 72, has strong and positive opinions, which might be summarized in two words: stay engaged.
“One of the adages I live by,” she told me, “is something George Burns said: ‘You can’t help yourself from getting older, but you can help yourself from getting OLD.’ Another T-shirt-worthy slogan I like is: ‘Youth is a gift of Nature; older age is a work of Art.’
“So in order to age well,” she said, “we have to stay active, get involved, be engaged, think positively. I hear people in their 50s say, ‘I’m going to get a one-level house because what if someday I can’t climb stairs.’ I’m like, ‘Are you predicting that?’ I’m going to be climbing stairs when I’m 100! Really, you cannot make a self-fulfilling prophecy that you are going to be old and feeble. If you believe that you’re getting older and you can’t do as much, then that’s what you’re going to experience in your life. If, on the other hand, you believe you’re going to be vibrant and energetic and active and involved until you’re 107, then that’s what you’ll likely experience.”
Clearly, Susan has found her current passion in directing the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. As soon as one successful conference has ended, she and her staff are busy planning and preparing for the next one.
“Yes,” she said, “it takes up the whole year. I’m constantly, constantly working on it, all the time. It’s just what I do, and I really enjoy it. I organize things. I organized my Brownie troupe in the third grade! And I have been organizing things ever since. That’s who I am. I see a vacuum or something that needs to be started and I go in and make it happen. I feel I am very good at creating a group of people who can work well together, and I like to make everybody feel good about the way things are going.”
If she were given a magic wand she could use to fix a problem in the world, one of the problems Susan would fix, she told me, was ageism. “There is a kind of negative attitude that’s pervasive about aging and I would like to see that reversed,” she said.
She would also tell young people – especially young women – to take every opportunity while they’re young to, in the words of Socrates, “Know Thyself,” deepen their self-awareness, and in so doing find the courage to defy convention and follow their passion. Then, as they get older, she would advise: “age happily, age vibrantly, and be grateful for aging!”
She added, “I wouldn’t go back to my 20s for anything.” Then she paused and smiled. “Well…if I knew everything I know NOW, I might go back there and do it all over again!”