Tuesday, November 22, 2011

THANKS . . .

In the past few weeks between Halloween and Thanksgiving, I visited with three good friends from three separate chapters of my life. The first to arrive was Betsy. She and I had attended graduate school together at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Our last semester, which coincided with the Watergate investigation, we lived in Washington, D.C. and worked for the Medill News Service. It was both fun and exciting--and great training. In the intervening years, Betsy has married, gone to law school, had four children and made partner at not one but two firms. She was in New York to give a speech the morning after Halloween. On the night before, we met at dusk and walked to the World Trade Center memorial. It was the first visit for both of us, and we each touched the engraved names of those we knew who had lost their lives a decade before. It was a somber and emotional moment. Afterwards, we headed to the legendary Greenwich Village Halloween parade where we marched the length of the parade route in our work clothes (wishing we had Pan Am flight attendant costumes). Later we stopped for dinner shared a bottle of wine and talked late into the night. (Hope that speech went well, Bets!)

The next weekend was Veteran's Day and Joan, my college friend and sorority sister, came for a three-day, jam-packed weekend. We saw plays, visited museums and galleries, walked the High Line and went to the WTC memorial. This time was even more moving with so many veterans and members of the armed forces in attendance. Joan is a dedicated history teacher in a girls’ prep school outside Boston—and I knew being at the site of this tragic event would be incorporated into her lesson plans. The previous two years, Joan had won fellowships that took her to China and India. Those experiences too added depth to her curriculum. Education is Joan’s second career, if not her second life. Previously she had been a stay-at-home mother of three children, now grown and living independently—no small feat in this economy.

Then, last weekend, I flew to Columbia, Missouri to see my high school friend, Mary Kay. Like me, MK is one of the WOWs--Women Of the World-- a club we started senior year to keep us in touch when we dispersed to various colleges. While in Missouri, I spoke to MK’s classes at the university’s journalism school where she teaches advanced writing. She hasn’t always been a professor. In her previous life, she raised two sons as a single mother, survived a nine-day coma in her 30s and for the past decade was a devoted caregiver to her mother who suffered from Alzheimer’s. She now has a new boyfriend, four grandchildren and a fourth book in progress. (You'll read more about her second life in a future profile.)

Seeing these friends back-to-back reminded me how grateful I am to have them in my life, and how lucky I am to have the time to spend with them. Friends are our living history. They are the eyewitnesses to the people we used to be--and the guides to those we yearn to become. They are not only the keepers of our past lives but they are the nurturers of our future hopes and dreams. This year I am thankful for many things--not least my beautiful daughters-- but particularly for these and other friendships that have sustained me throughout my life. And, this Thanksgiving like many Thanksgivings before, I will take my seat beside one of my dearest friends, my fellow sojourner and co-founder of the Second Lives Club. By the way, Maryl not only is an excellent cook but she sets a beautiful table.


I won’t be going off to a soup kitchen this Thanksgiving to help serve turkey dinner to those less fortunate. I admire those that do and am jealous of the satisfaction they get from doing so but I can’t. I can’t because I’m giving dinner to 23 family and extended family members at my home. None are needy, thankfully; they-- like me-- want to be near relatives and friends they care most about during the holidays. We also have three birthdays from the preceding week we will celebrate. I’m more than willing to accommodate.

I’m giving up the week to shop, pre-cook certain dishes and prepare the house for day and some overnight guests. It’s a large responsibility to take on Thanksgiving dinner for such a broad crowd not so much because of the work effort but because you have to live up to all the holiday tastes and traditions from your guests’ past experiences. I don’t really have any special recipes; I pull ideas from a combination of the NY Times food section, Martha Stewart Living and New York magazine and some online food sites each year. I love to try out new vegetable dishes for the few vegetarians at the table and to add some adventure to an otherwise basic meal of meat and potatoes. This year I was much better at the delegating too.

So at my table aside from my husband (soup and salmon) and daughter (birthday 1), there’ll be my brother (homemade cranberry sauce) and my sister (pies, pies and more pies), her husband and their three pre-teen and teenage daughters (cheesecake). My husband’s two sisters, one (roasted shrimp) with her husband and her grad school son, the other (stuffed mushrooms and sweet potatoes) with her husband, two out of school but working (Yay!) sons, and Elsie, her mother-in-law, will all be joining the group. And then there’s my stepson (18lbs of mashed potatoes!) with his fiancĂ©e, Nicole, who is already expecting our next grandchild but I’m not counting her/him. Add to that Nicole’s stepdad; Irene (birthday 2), my mother’s friend since childhood (very special since both my parents can only make it in spirit) and, of course, Caryl (cheese, olives and breads) and my goddaughter, Catherine (birthday 3), whose sister is away at school in Toronto and won’t be at the table for the first time in years. (Why Canada has to celebrate Thanksgiving in October..?) What we’ll do for the ones we love. I wouldn’t give it up for the world!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Meet our 1st 2nd Life Profile: Susan Lynton, Part 2

We were talking about how your personal and home life has changed with your second life.

Well, and I have more time to spend at my home in a small village in Provence. It’s an old house that was actually refurbished on its original medieval foundation. I bought it ten years ago and completely renovated it as a safe haven for me to retreat to and as an investment. I had lived in Spain as a child and my daughter was married in France and I think France has the best medical care which is important to me and my husband.

We also recently did a major renovation on our house in Westchester (NY) just because we have lived here for so long and things were falling apart. We took a chance with a young architect and aside from the repairs and a new roof, we added a new garage, closets and an apartment for my mother who lives in Texas and will be visiting more often. We also opened up the overall space and painted everything white. It’s airier now and I feel I have more space to breath. And I had already done over my bathrooms. I love my shower with its massage jets. It’s where I get my best ideas for my novels……the stories I’m spinning and the characters I’m creating come together there. It’s where they first become my friends.

What about friends….your real living friends not the characters from your books? 

I have lots of friends, some dating back to my childhood but fewer friends close to home except when I’m in France. There are a lot of expats in my small village community and it’s easier to have and hold friendships there. The atmosphere is more conducive to long walks and chats in outdoor cafes and town squares. I started my non-profit with friends from my village and you will find aspects of their personalities in the characters from my novel. 

What are your thoughts on aging?

On a good day I don’t think about it. On a bad day I think I have every cancer imaginable. Seriously, I like the natural way European women age. They don’t feel the need to look 20 years younger. Women who take care of their bodies naturally are more appealing and real than those who feel the need to have plastic surgery. My mother is 86 but looks 15 to 20 years younger because she’s still active and engaged. But I do still dye my hair and last time as a kind of homage to my age I did have my colorist leave the gray around my ears.
Any final words for the other members of our community? 

I think if you keep engaged as I’ve been saying it’s possible to be happier and more fulfilled in one’s second life. Thanks to advances in medical care and technology we can change our direction midstream. It’s great to be part of a community and a generation that has this opportunity. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Meet our 1st 2nd Life Profile: Susan Lynton

Susan Lynton grew up in a military family and had the usual experiences that come with that kind of a life, like living in a few countries and many states and attending 12 different schools before college. She had already been a film producer/writer and mother before entering the corporate world around the dotcom era and eventually being downsized. Now she’s returned to her first love, writing, and just completed her first novel.  Maryl had a chance to ask her more about how she’s conducting her second life.

Was there an event or an “aha” moment when you realized that your life needed to change?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Second Look: Charlotte Rampling

“You wake up one day, and you’re one day older,” says Charlotte Rampling. “You either accept it or you don’t.” Aging is just one of many topics including love, death and desire that the cult actress discusses in the new biographical documentary, “Charlotte Rampling: The Look".  Her musings are intercut with scenes from her many films, among them “Georgy Girl”, "The Verdict”, and “Under the Sand”.

The documentary is hardly a monologue, however. Director Angelina Maccarone brought together family, friends and confidantes—presumably of Rampling’s choosing--to stimulate the conversations. In one of the film’s segments on the subject of beauty, author Paul Auster tells Rampling, who turned 65 this year, she is as attractive now as at any age--and then quickly adds, like my wife (the writer, Siri Hustvedt). Described as an “exotic beauty” with “chilly sensuality” by reviewers, Rampling acknowledges in the documentary that she has avoided plastic surgery because, she says, everyone ends up looking the same. Her sultry hooded eyes may eventually keep her from seeing, she admits.

Earlier this year at Rome’s film festival where “Eye of the Storm”, another of her new films was screening, Rampling answered reporters' questions about growing older as an actress. “Who wants to grow old? Who wants to get lines?” In the movie, she plays a dying wealthy woman in her 70s in a dysfunctional family.” Rampling said that by allowing herself the “luxury” of being old, even ugly and unattractive while acting brought “extraordinary” rewards to the role. Rampling seems to have bypassed the film industry’s notorious age discrimination. Along with the documentary, she appears in two films that will be out soon. One is “Julia”, a thriller directed by her son Barnaby Southcombe. (In “The Look”, she and her son spar in some edgy but endearing acting exercises.) In the other movie “Melancholia“ from Lars von Trier, she plays the director’s now deceased mother whom he hated when she was alive.

Rampling has never shied away from controversial roles, whether it was “Max Mon Amour” where the title character was a gorilla or the infamous “The Night Porter". Legendary critic Pauline Kael described Rampling’s role in that movie as “degrading to women.” More recently, New York Times reviewer Stephen Holder said about Rampling in “The Look”: she's “an endlessly watchable mystery, an aloof but affable sphinx.”