There are many similarities among our stories of aging and there are many aspects that make each of our lives unique. The twenty-nine artists and writers who contributed to Winter Tales II: Women on the Art of Aging explore their perspectives on aging through visual art, comics, poetry, photography, and personal essays.
Contributor Gladys Swan shares a contemplative essay called "A Few Fragments." She speaks about moments of memory as "small markers in the path of becoming." I think this is a wonderful phrase to describe memory as well as women's stories.
My favorite essay, a thoughtful and well-written one by Diane McWhorter, is called "Stay Calm, Nothing is Under Control." McWhorter writes about the Eugene Saturday Market where she sells printed baseball caps, t-shirts with her own slogans, and nature-themed canvas tote bags. The market is a source of income, social time, a place to shop, and a chance to experience "our weekly spiritual commune with family and friends."
McWhorter, an artisan and one of the "stubborn remnants of a 60s subculture," helped to create the market in 1970. She chose quality of life with independence and control of her time over making a lot of money. She says, "The treasures our elders bring us can never be replaced, but they live on in story and the skills they share."
The bios of the contributors reveal that they are accomplished writers, some more famous than others. Ursula K. Le Guin, for example, has a couple of poems, including "The Arts of Old Age," in which she writes, "I learn the arts of old age day by day." As a poet myself I turned to Dorianne Laux, whose work I've enjoyed in the past. Her poem, "Mother's Day," poignantly describes an aging mother, "her tough toenails the yellow of blanched corn." Such vivid imagery is sure to resonate with some readers, sharply recalling their own experience with an aging mother.
Lauren B. Davis' essay, "Breaking Down," is heart wrenching; she writes about her mother in her final days. "I am adopted, and I am her only child," Davis writes. "I have worked so hard to keep a psychologically safe distance ... and yet now, there is nothing to do but pray."
Supriya Bhatnagar reflects on the death of a friend in "Memories and Misgivings." She writes about Hindu philosophy and about the fact that she used to procrastinate when it came to writing. Now that her friend Anju has died, Bhatnagar finds it hard to concentrate on her writing but knows that her friend, "...left her last canvas unfinished. Just like her life."
There are humorous essays too, such as R. A. Rycraft's "Ten Ways to Look at Boob Jobs." It's not all about poking fun, however. Rycraft's essay includes a no-holds barred section, "the eighth way," about a woman whose husband watches pornography. Another woman, "the ninth way," has had a mastectomy and breast reconstruction.
There's shared humor in reading about the sprouting of chin hairs and there's a chance to share the wisdom of elders. In other words, there's something for everyone in this eclectic collection.
Here are some final words from another of Dorianne Laux's poems, "Dark Charms," "We continue to speak, if only in whispers,/ to something inside us that longs to be named."
R. A. Rycraft is chair of the English department at Mt. San Jacinto College in Menifee, California and nonfiction editor at Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts.
Leslie What teaches in the Writers' Program at UCLA Extension and is the fiction editor of Phantom Drift, a journal of New Fabulism.
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