Joining Hands Across Generations – Newly Minted Crones
Cronedom is not just one generation. It begins in our forties and extends to the end of life, which for some of us happens in our nineties or more. At each stage we have much to learn from one another: Newly menopausal women can learn from sisters who were there twenty years ago, and the oldest wisest sisters can learn from women still working and raising children even while our bodies are changing. Learning and sharing across generations is essential, and it’s the opposite of ageism. The Grandmother Hypothesis in anthropology is about the value of older women as carriers of culture. We can expand that value by joining hands with women of other generations. Look for more blogs in that spirit, including a visit with the incomparable Ruth Saxton, who published her first book in her eighties. And to start us off, here is the exuberant Tera Johnson-Swartz with her take on life, the universe, and everything incipient crones want to know—and in particular, Tera’s exciting project, Midlife It. Tera’s vision is nothing less than a virtual village for women after midlife. Please check out Tera's website and social media after you read her thoughts. Her newsletter is here.
I’m 40 right now, turning 41 in December. Now that I’m at midlife, I’m thinking back on the women who came before me.
The women in my family were and still are very conservative. I’ve always been the black sheep—the one who’d intentionally wear pagan-garb, question and argue the purpose of the patriarchy, and just go against their grain (especially when it came to politics and religious concepts). I love my grandmothers (all deceased now), but damn. They had so much potential if they’d just have listened to their inner voices! That said, now that I’m older and a tiny bit wiser I can see myself as similar to them in a couple of ways. For one, I have a soft spot for things they taught me – woman duties like baking, cooking, cleaning, gardening, and crafting. I also understand what they meant when they said being a grandmother is so much better than being a parent—my kids are young (11, 8, and 4), and I already envision how different the relationship dynamic would be with grandkids versus kids.
Now that I’m at midlife, I’m taking a new look at my reason to be on this planet. On the fringes of perimenopause, I was struggling with finding my purpose. The first 35 years of my life, I dedicated myself to the needs of others – my family, friends, and perfect strangers. Then my menopause story started:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- And a crippling case of panic and anxiety.
What if this was it? What if my whole life purpose was summed up by a few failed bouts in music, a few kids, and a mortgage? I couldn’t accept that. I wouldn’t. But I also didn’t know what to do.
For nearly a decade, I’d been hustling freelance side gigs. I wrote for magazines, websites, radio promotions, and fliers. Then, someone asked to hire me as a ghostwriter for a project that was similar to Midlife It.
I wanted the gig for the money and relatability of it. But I couldn’t bring myself to sign on the dotted line. I didn’t want to ghostwrite or sell my writing soul to someone else’s dream that felt too close to mine.
If money and time weren’t an issue, and if my other fiction writing endeavors fell flat too, what would I really want? To empower and connect with other women. And Midlife It was born.
At first, it was a lofty idea of simple blogs and hopeful followers. I enjoyed writing my Monday Confessions like a digital journal recording my life as I knew it. But I quickly realized my story couldn’t be the only lens readers would peer through. So I expanded things a bit. Midweek Top 10s for funny and quick bullet points, and Friday Facts & Features allowed readers to learn some factual yet bite-size information about this phase of life.
My most recent project has been creating a Podcast series (Midlife On Fire). I actually had a business partner who happened to have experience in production and podcast development and was in the process of pulling the trigger when she passed suddenly—within weeks of when we’d planned to record our first episode. That put me back to square one. I was still blogging and enjoying it, but my podcast goal timeline wasn’t quite meeting the measures of the Universe’s reality.
But now I’m working with a partner to make this podcast come to light and I’m pumped. She’s in her 50s and we both feel we’ve got a good handle on our target market, offering different but useful perspectives. Five of our must-cover subjects are:
- How to Stay Relevant
- How to Stop Apologizing
- What Would Women in Their 50s Like to Say to Women in Their 40s
- Why You Should Use the Good China, and
- How To Find Your Peace in The Middle of a Shitstorm.
Ultimately, my vision for Midlife It is to connect women in middle age in a modern-type virtual village. I want them to have the freedom and grace to share their stories – the funny, sad, mad, and spectacular. Middle-aged women are often so slighted and shelved to focus on the young or old, midlife ladies are forgotten. They feel invisible.
I also want them to have a starting off point for their dreams. Maybe Mary wants to open a bakery to sell her prized pasties but doesn’t know the first thing about entrepreneurship or she doesn’t believe a 50+ year old woman could do it. What if someone in our village might know a thing or two and be willing to sit by the fire and share and help?
After a few years building the virtual community through blogs, podcasts, and video content, my dream is to take Midlife It around the world for retreats, chapter building, and acts of service. Most women can’t settle for just talk of change and a surface-based sisterhood. They need all senses on board. They need to see it, smell it, taste it, and feel it in action.
Now I’ll be honest, patience isn’t exactly my strong suit. In the past I’ve ditched some great ideas and cashed in my hand way too soon. But I’m confident this time is different. My wild heart doesn’t feel so strapped and weighted. It feels light and free to race and graze at will. It feels calm and ready to wait for the perfect wave.
Maybe that’s what midlife and menopause is really all about – finding that purpose and waiting for the perfect time to share it with the world. Maybe our patience is on reserve to those of us just entering middle age.
If that’s the case, the 35 years I spent chasing unicorns and selling myself short was well worth it. Not a single failure or short-coming came a moment too soon.
And now, at the crossroads of my midlife, I’m ready to not just find my purpose, I’m ready to live it.
And I’m also ready to write about it, in some form. I’m a writer, and when I think of writing and publishing a book, I immediately am drawn to the fiction side of things. I might one day take a stab at writing a memoir specifically about midlife and what I’ve gained from this side of the moon, but my first goal is to tackle writing fiction with the main character a 40-50-60 year old woman. My current book, part one of a trilogy, is down to the last few chapters. It features a vigilante 40-something-year-old mother. It highlights sexuality—empowerment along with the painful experiences of women over a certain age.
I’ve just read the 2020 Geena Davis Institute report on older women in movies. Basically this report makes plain that we aren’t there. We are absent from the screen. I love that this report exists. And I hate the idea of women between the ages of 40 and 60 being marginalized and practically invisible in the spotlight. It’s bullshit. Women of our ages are AMAZING. We’re beautiful. Stunning. And actually have enough common sense to NOT make our sexuality and sex appeal be the only thing we’re marketing anymore. I am interested in writing a screenplay. That’s what I’ve wanted to do for quite some time. I’ve got loads of material and story ideas but have been a little nervous to pitch any of them. But now I know about The Writer’s Lab, a screenwriting workshop for women over forty sponsored by Meryl Streep, Oprah, and Nicole Kidman, and that’s given me something to work on before next year (as soon as I finish my novel!).
And last but not least, here is my question for Stella:
If there were something you wish you could have told a younger, more naive you, or even a woman approaching or just entering midlife, what would that be? What’s the best part of it – the sweetest, most savory piece you wouldn’t trade for any flat-tummied-tight-skinned-dewy-eyed-wonder? Midlife women want to know…
Find Tera at her website and on Instagram, where she recently posted this:
“I really wish my younger self would’ve gotten a healthy briefing about menopause, middle age, and some warnings about managing midlife crisis while parenting.”
A great reason to join hands across generations!