Reading List

Girl Power Pep Talk from an Older Sister

A treasured friend reached out to me today with a reminder of her and her daughters’ visit to our home here in Austin six months ago. Both R. and I had a hard time getting our heads around the six months-ness of that memory: Wasn’t it longer ago than that? Wasn’t it last April? Although we don’t usually consider six months a long span, our days with our friend and her girls seems years ago, for all the close-to-the-core, rock-the-center events and changes that have happened since then (including the reasons for my absence and silence from this space over the past month and a half). Given the circular nature of the ways in which we perceive and measure time—and given our human efforts to take that circularity and flatten and stretch it into linear narratives—I was reminded again this morning of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1841 “Circles” essay and my experience reading it for the first time in college decades ago. I had a thrilling intellectual experience, asking Emerson my questions in the margins, having him address those in his next paragraphs; I drew diagrams of what I thought he was articulating, and he described my sketches. My reading the printed words on a flat page became a fleshy, dimensional dialogue, with his voice reaching across the centuries and the miles to engage me in his thinking and to respond to, expand, and shape my own.
In her latest book, The Upgrade: How the Female Brain Gets Stronger and Better in Midlife and Beyond, Dr. Louann Brizendine’s authorial voice differs dramatically—of course!—from Emerson’s. Her writing is intimate and accessible, consistent with her goal to empower a wide range of midlife and older women, but her extensive references, notes, appendix, and index also satisfy readers who demand to know on what she is basing her conclusions and require that her sourcing be rigorous. Her tone is relentlessly cheerful and optimistic even as she is talking about all the hard, possibly disheartening things that run through and surround female aging. She positions herself as both the expert doctor and the older best friend sister/favorite aunt, and you feel her commitment to you—to your wellbeing and thriving—in every sentence. She uses analogies that I have used as a means of visualization to navigate some of the most turbulent waters of my female experiences; she turns 70 years old this December and models her message with her own productivity. As I’ve read, I have felt validated and encouraged in my practice of yoga and meditation, in trying to balance my commitment to caregiving with my drive for my own growth and progress, in hoping for and working to create imaginative possibilities for what aging can mean for me and for other women. And as with Emerson’s essay, I’ve underlined and made notes throughout the book; it seems that Dr. Brizendine is looking over my shoulder and addressing my thoughts and concerns in her next words, the smart, compassionate friend who is pushing me to keep figuring it all out.