I’ve been meaning to post about this book since our Nicaragua trip in April. Time has gone so fast since then — it was spring break and now here we are officially in summer. The days have become deliciously long, but June weather in SF is the pits. Cold wind, gray skies. The wind is relentless, which makes all the things I love doing in this city — running, walking on the beach, picnics in the park, lazy days on a sailboat in the bay — pretty miserable. So I find myself daydreaming about my reading perch in Miramar. I would sit here for hours. The ocean breeze was strong enough to sway the hammock just the right amount. And when I lifted by head from my book, I could squint into the sun and see B surfing just below – a small speck in the line up.
See the little specks out past the break?
Anyway, I made it through four books down there. The stand out of the trip was Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.
I liked this book because it gave me a long view on life. Quindlen is in her 60s and writes a lot about decades I haven’t experienced yet. Sometimes I feel so wrapped up in my current stage of life. Reading her story I realized how far there is to go (if I’m lucky). In some ways, I’m still at the beginning. There’s no need to figure it all out right now. My friends and I talk about marriage and having kids and our careers. We’re all at slightly different stages with all of those things and it can be tricky to figure out how to make the best personal choices. We obsess over these topics and while of course they are hugely important, they aren’t the end all be all. Really. How often do we stop to think about what’s next? Babies will grow up. We will be in our 40s. And then our 50s. And 60s. And 70s! We will make more money and lose money. We will change jobs and maybe careers. Some of us will divorce and find ourselves single again even though we thought we had it all figured out in our 30s. We will have adult children (!). We will continue to make new friends all through our life. Who will those people be? What about the places we’ll live? There will always time to try something new, see something new, become someone new.
Quindlen makes this point succinctly with an anecdote about learning to do a headstand at age 50-plus. At first she insists that she is too old to learn a new trick. She’s afraid of headstands. Then someone tells her a story about a fifty-year-old woman who says she can’t get a college degree at her age. “By the time I’m done I’ll be fifty-four” she tells a friend, and her friend replies, “In four years you’ll be fifty-four anyway.” I love that! How many times have I heard my friends say it’s too late to go back to school, start a new career, leave a dysfunctional relationship. And we’re under 35! I mean come on.
Eventually, Quindlen succeeds at the headstand:
I’m not flexible, physically or spiritually, and it was when I decided to use my strength and determination instead that I got where I wanted to go. Tripod, leg raise, pelvic tilt. And one day I was up, and then upside down. The world didn’t look much different except that it turned out there was a lot of spare change and a couple of stray earrings under my bureau. But it felt different. I can do something today that I couldn’t do half a century ago. And if I can do one thing like that, perhaps there are others. The learning curve continues, which is just another way of saying you’re alive.
It’s so true. Thank you, Anna Quindlen, for giving me some much-needed perspective. Life will work out and it will also surprise us. There’s no way to know how it will look or what will happen. The best thing we can do is continue to participate.
There are dozens of nuggets like this, written in her frank and wry manner. I appreciate the humor she brings to major topics. However, my only complaint is she comes off a little too perfect. Where are her flaws? That raw honesty I admire so much in writers like Anne Lamott, Cheryl Strayed, Liz Gilbert, and Mary Karr was missing. She writes about the challenges of marriage but not really about her own marriage. She mentions quitting drinking in her early 30s almost as a passing comment. But that’s no small thing. What happened to make her want to stop drinking completely? There must be more to the story. I was left wondering about the personal struggles and failures that helped her become the person she is. I still thoroughly enjoyed the book, I just wished she had exposed a bit more of herself. Instead, she keeps us at a comfortable distance.
A few more gems:
“I was never one of those people who tell you that their spouse is their best friend, that they’re always on the same page. I feel like you’re ahead of the game if you’re even in the same book.”
On girlfriends (this was one of my favorite chapters):
“The older we get, the more we understand that the women who know and love us–and love us despite what they know about us — are the joists that hold up the house of our existence. Everything depends on them.”
About her mother:
“Where she was always felt like a safe place.” How perfectly simple is that?
I’ll leave you with a couple more photos from the trip.
The perfect breakfast nook.
There’s not much in my life that beats sharing a sunset with B.