Where the Wisdom Is

After my last – unfavorable — book review last month (see “Binging on Books,” published August 16), my friend Cynthia pressed on me a book she was sure I’d appreciate and want to share happily here.

Cynthia was right.

The book, Wise Talk, Wild Women, compiled and written by award-winning writer, columnist, and consultant Gwen Mazer, with black-and-white portraits throughout by photographer Christine Alicino (Council Oak Books, San Francisco, 2007) is a treasure. It’s a gift to the world. In fact, it would be an ideal gift for a woman friend who is entering — or already in — the third stage of her life, as well as a gift to yourself.

Not only is it filled with wisdom from wise older women, this book is a work of art – beautifully designed, beautifully illustrated, and beautifully written from beginning to end.

Twenty-one highly accomplished older American women – from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities — are featured. These women include educators, artists, journalists, poets, authors, activists, lawyers, designers, doctors, community organizers, and more. Through probing questions in at-home settings, Gwen succeeds in eliciting candid and heartfelt responses from all of the women to meaningful questions about life, love, and lessons learned.

Explaining why she wrote the book, Gwen says, “I felt a rising determination to find and converse with women who were growing successfully into the next stage of their lives, women who could serve as mirrors for our wisest selves and as signposts for those coming behind us.”

Each of the women interviewed was chosen, Gwen states, because she “danced to her own drum”:

“Each one needed to create a life and an identity, an expression in the world, and each one seemed to find her own purpose, her own center. They could not be damped down. They were wild women in the truest sense.”

Here are just a handful of the remarkable women featured in Wise Talk, Wild Women, and some of their words of wisdom:

American futurist, author, and public speaker Barbara Marx Hubbard (who died earlier this year at the age of 89): “The change in identity for this evolutionary post-menopausal woman is huge. I have coined a word for this change, regenopause. In my seventies, while my body is declining, my spirit and vitality are rising. The evolutionary potential seems to be growing. I don’t feel old, I don’t feel young. I feel new.”

Lawyer, professor, and adventurer Beverly Baker Kelly: “Reinventing retirement, rethinking usefulness, and building skills must be goals for people sixty and over so that society can use these years creatively and constructively. Awareness is essential. We need to know more about the contributions people sixty and over make to this world.”

California Congresswoman Barbara Lee: “A lot of sexism and racism is subconscious. When men in power have a choice to make about who benefits, the choice becomes about who’s valuable and who’s not. It’s key that women become more politically involved, both in and out of office – and especially women who don’t act like men.”

Indian-American media mogul Veena Merchant: “As I grow older … I feel that I understand life better and I feel my spirituality more deeply. … At this point there is not much to lose, there is a shorter span of life left, so I want to embrace what gives me pleasure and joy with much more urgency than I’ve ever felt.”

Educator and activist Glady Thacher: “At this time in life I have grown into gratitude for living, for being well, and appreciation for what deep friendship gives. It’s like a root system; you are able to connect underneath the ground. Friendship truly is the warm hearth in a cold universe.”

On the last page of this rich and inspiring book, Gwen provides her own list for Growing in Age with Grace, which I’d like to share in full:

~ Take time every day to nurture yourself with silence. It feeds your spirit.

~ Learn to forgive yourself and others.

~ Listen to your inner voice and trust it.

~ Let go of your grievances.

~ Let go of being a victim.

~ Remember that living in the past keeps you stuck.

~ Be in the present. It is the only time there is.

~ Don’t expect others to read your mind. Make your wishes known.

~ Laugh out loud. It’s good for both body and soul.

~ Spend time with nature. She enlivens your spirit.

~ Look to yourself for happiness and peace.

~ Be open to new experiences. Stretch!

~ Love, honor, and nurture your body. Listen to what it asks you to do.

~ Find your creative expression and embrace it with abandon.

6 thoughts on “Where the Wisdom Is”

  1. I like what these women have to say because it’s almost wholly about being in the world and one’s life. Not doing anything particularly worthwhile, productive, or contributory. I think shining up my beingness is the most important work I can do.

    1. Yes, we all have different life-assignments, I guess. The 21 women featured in this book, at the time they were interviewed (roughly 14 years ago, since the book was published in 2007), were all still actively involved in their careers, even though many of them were beyond retirement age. To each her own!

  2. Gwen’s book is indeed a celebration of life. So, too, is Gwen herself!
    If only she could have been one of the amazing women featured!

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