“If you get stuck (as a writer), get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don't just stick there scowling at the problem. But don't make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people's words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient." -- Hilary Mantel, author Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies. (1951 - )
BY JULIA ANDERSON
Preparing to spend the next month exploring Greece and Turkey, I have put a variety of reading material on my Kindle including Mary Renault’s “The Bull from the Sea.”
As a young reader I was fascinated by the Ancient Mediterranean, the Minoans and the Greeks. Renault’s fictionalized histories (there were eight of them) satisfied my craving. I’m again going to read her work for the fun of rediscovering that enchantment.
It crossed my mind that I’ve read many wonderful women writers over the past 50 years, starting with Renault and fantasy-science fiction writer, Andre Norton who I discovered on a dusty junior high book shelf. Norton’s “Beast Master,” sent me down an obsessive fantasy-sci-fi trail that lasted through high school.
Some historian (a woman no doubt) ultimately will summarize the 20th Century as an amazing moment when the female mind was truly unleashed to think and to write.
Let’s call it “When Women Found a Voice," or "The Exquisite Female Voice of the 20th Century," or "The Female Writer: American women take up the pen and build a literary legacy."
This fabulous female intellectual effort continues. Only in the past year did I finally read the enthralling true story, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," by Rebecca Skloot about a black woman’s unknowing contribution to modern medical research. Friends had been raving about “Henrietta” since it was first published in 2010. Skloot’s work over many years of sleuthing out the story impressed me for its doggedness and completeness, and for the storytelling.
Soon after, I plunged into a marathon read of Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Goldfinch," a modern masterpiece with twists and turns that had me crying for mercy. I’m convinced that Tartt will one day win the Nobel Prize for literature. She’s so good.
The two books are the latest in my lifetime of reading female writers. Not that I had a plan for doing so. I didn’t think in terms of male or female but of good reads. I caught the reading bug early thanks to my fourth grade teacher who read aloud the Nancy Drew mystery stories by Mildred Benson.
By the seventh grade I was using a flashlight to read at night under the covers when my parents thought I was sleeping. I read in class instead of paying attention to teachers. It was so easy to lean the text book up on my desk to conceal my book of delicious fiction behind it. Reading became a way of keeping the world at bay while at the same time, learning about it. I could lose myself in the imaginary of fiction and take on the drama playing out on the page.
Only later did I learn that Andre Norton was a woman, born in 1912 in Cleveland Ohio. That was something of a revelation for me as a girl growing up in a male-oriented world where being a tomboy was the closest that I could get to what I found interesting.
Maybe Norton’s stories resonated because they were tales of “alienated outsiders” on a personal journey of salvation. Critics describe her characters as resourceful and capable…loners on a mission to overcome situations. That was what I needed.
Oh, I read plenty of books written by men from Robert Heinlein to Ian Fleming, from Ernest Hemingway to Arthur Conan Doyle.
I always had a book at hand as a defense against boredom, against depression or in case my mother got “lost” shopping.
Looking back I’d say that some of my greatest pleasure came from reading women writers. Those authors have fallen into several now obvious categories, the most important being history and fictionalized history.
Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August,” along with her other huge works, “Proud Tower: Portrait of a World before the War,” “March of Folly,” and “A Distant Mirror” rocked my world for their readability and thorough treatment. I was curious to read James Warren’s glowing reminder of how great Tuchman was in his article, “Barbara Tuchman’s ‘The Guns of August’ Is Still WWI’s Peerless Chronicle.”
Antonia Fraser can claim a separate but equal place on my bookshelf for her “Mary, Queen of Scots” and “The Weaker Vessel,” which delves into the lives of 17th Century English women deemed unworthy of educating or teaching to read. Fraser followed up with “The Warrior Queens,” and “The Six Wives of Henry VIII.” I loved them all.
She wrote a series of detective novels with Jemima Shore as her main character.
I’ve just complete Joan Connelly’s “The Parthenon Enigma: A new understanding of the West’s most iconic building and the people who made it.” So well researched with annotations filling pages and pages at the back of the book.
“Wolf Hall,” and “Bring Up the Bodies,” by Hilary Mantel tell the fictionalized story of the rise and times of Thomas Cromwell, the man behind Henry VIII. She’s won the Booker Prize twice for this work. Her third installment is coming.
I’ve read biographies of women written by women: How about Stacy Schiff's, "Cleopatra: A Life." “Marie Curie,” by Susan Quinn tells the story of a brilliant scientist who was discounted by male colleagues but won worldwide recognition for her work with x-rays. Never mind the personal tragedy of her husband’s untimely death or the public embarrassment for an affair.
Nancy Matthews wrote a great biography of the American painter and printmaker, “Mary Cassatt,” who lived and worked in Paris in much the same time frame as Curie. Both are stories of women overcoming the obstacles of gender.
Biographies of interesting women writers come to mind: Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker.
Among my favorite fiction writers and essayists: Anne Tyler, who has written 19 novels focused on the American family…marriage, relationships, children and their attachments and conflicts. My favorite, “Breathing Lessons.” Tony Morrison’s, “Song of Solomon,” is among the many works that won her the Nobel Prize in 1993. Brilliant.
Annie Dillard’s “An American Childhood,” resonated with me as did “The Writing Life,” and “For the Time Being.”
In case you think that I’m sharing these authors and their work because I want to brag about what a great reader I’ve been, think again. I read for a living, I read for pleasure. I’m sure there are many people who read more constantly and with greater speed than I do. But I’ve loved reading books over my lifetime.
This is just a moment of sharing. Books are like children to me….I loved reading them, love seeing them on my book shelves to remind me how much I loved reading them. Who knows when I or someone else will have to take my beloved books off the shelves, box them up and hand them over to Powell’s Book Store for recycling.
There was a time in the 1970s and 1980s when I found comfort in witty American women’s fiction: “Fear of Flying,” by Erica Jong, “Cracker Factory” by Joyce Rebeta-Burditt. and “Heartburn,” by Nora Ephron. (Never betray a woman who can write).
There was “A Map of the World,” by Jane Hamilton, “Charing Cross Road,” by Helene Hanff and “Final Payments, by Mary Gordon. What about Harper Lee’s, “To Kill a Mockingbird” or Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club?”
I read Jean Plaidy’s historical novels about English royal families.
There was Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love.” I wish she hadn’t made quite so much money from dumping her poor boring husband but I did like her journey of self actualization.
I loved “The Shipping News,” by Annie Proulx. Catherine Marshall’s “Beyond Our Selves: A woman’s pilgrimage in faith,” resonated. So did Gail Sheehy’s “Passages,” written in 1976 when working women began to ask a lot of questions about life, marriage and longevity.
And thank you, Oprah, for creating your Book List that has brought attention to so many good writers who happen to be women.
Miscellaneous good reads:
Didn’t we love, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves,” by Lynne Truss? How about Anne Lamott’s “Traveling Mercies?” I personally benefitted from “The Journey from Abandonment to Healing, by Susan Anderson (no relation). As far as I can tell she is the only person to expertly and clinically look into what abandonment can do to us as the terrible “gift” that keeps on giving.
Someone has got to notice what women writers have accomplished in the past 100 years starting with Rebecca West with her “Return of the Soldier,” “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941)” and “The Fountain Overflows” and Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth.” (1931). There was Ayn Rand, “The Fountainhead” (1943) and “Atlas Shrugged.” (1957).
Isak Dinesen wrote “Out of Africa,” in 1937.
Real life stories of women: Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America, by Linda L. Hunt. Lauren Bacall's "By Myself." How about Beryl Markham's autobiography about her days as a Kenyan aviator and bush pilot? She (right) flew from from east to west across the Atlantic in 1936.
She wrote about it along with her other adventures
in, "West with the Night."
There’s a list:
100 Great 20th Century Works of Fiction by women at www.thebookescape.com.
Who am I to argue with this list.
I haven’t read every woman writer. I haven’t read Willa Cather, Virginia Woolf or Dumaurier or Marilyn French or Katherine Ann Porter or Susan Sontag.
I’m not particularly interested in “feminist” writers as much as I’m interested in real lives, real stories told through a woman’s eyes and life experiences and through women’s interests. This is a remarkable age. May it continue.
"It isn't what you earn but how you spend it that fixes your class,"
- Sinclair Lewis, American novelist. (1885-1951).
BY JULIA ANDERSON
Belonging to the American Middle Class was never doubted when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. My parents both knew where they had come from -- hard-scrabble farm life on my father's side, running a boarding house and starting a pickle business on my mom's. They certainly knew where they were going --- straight into the post-World War II Middle Class.
By the time I came into the picture, they were leading a relatively secure, if not comfortable life with a new car purchased with cash every three years. An ambitious remodel of their farm house in 1952 gave them the amenities of suburban living -- living room with an open brick fireplace, big picture windows, redwood paneling and a wall-mounted GE refrigerator in the tidy kitchen.
By the 1960s, there was enough money to send both me and my sister to college over an nine-year period without any student loans. My parents traveled, enjoyed their friends at cocktail parties and dances who shared their socio-economic class. They bought a travel trailer and spent winters in Arizona.
fter marriage, mother did not work outside the home but was always on the look-out for bargains at local clothing stores and in the grocery aisles. There was that frenzy of collecting Green Stamps and turning them in for "rewards" out of a catalog. She never bought anything on credit. The farm had been paid off for years.
Mother made our prom dresses more for fun than to save money. She canned peaches, made grape juice and froze green beans. She had a garden. And she bought corporate stock shares, a few at a time. McDonalds, Exxon and IBM were some of her favorites. At her death in 2014 at age 98, she was wealthy.
Growing up, it never occurred to me that we were anything but middle class although I did go through my own little rebellion after reading "Main Street" by Sinclair Lewis. His was a brutal attack on what he saw as "petty backstabbers and hypocrites of small town America" in the early 20th Century. I bought into some of that but never really walked away from my roots.
My parents were careful with money, avoided debt and spent within their means. There was tension in their relationship but what they had built together meant more than any other issues.
Up until lately, I too felt solidly anchored in the Middle Class. No longer. In fact I'm pretty sure I've slipped totally out of the Middle Class. My kids for sure.
Here's how I know:
- I no longer think about buying a new car every three years or even every six years. Come to think of it, I haven't bought a new car since 1971.
- Tickets to Broadway road shows that come through my city are out of my reach. $200?
- Taking my grandson to a Mariners baseball game in Seattle is nearly out of my reach. Going to an NFL professional football game...forget it.
- After more than 25 years, the Nordstrom store that anchored my hometown mall is closing. That tells me that I no longer fit the Nordstrom customer profile in a smaller market. Nordstrom has moved into the luxury retail category and left me behind.
Hey, I've been a card-carrying Nordstrom's customer since 1973 when I lived in Seattle. But my shopping there has declined as store prices even with deep discounts have became unreasonable.
My kids have never owned homes. I bought my first home at age 25. My mortgage payment on the house I own now is half what they are paying in apartment rent.
They aren't saving money or investing. They can't. Their income and household expenses don't allow it. It seems like our kids have either made the leap into upper class six-figure incomes or they've slid into just getting by.
I ask myself who IS buying the new cars? Who IS shopping at Nordstrom?
Who can afford those Broadway show tickets that seem to sell out? Hey, I know the super rich have gotten richer. I know that wealth is concentrated in fewer hands. Certainly not mine.
With baby boomers retiring by the day, I can't help but think more of them are reconsidering their status and putting extraordinary spending on hold. That's got to be having an impact on the U.S. economy. I am no longer an enthusiastic consumer. Don't consumers drive the economy?
I'm not buying a new car. I'm not buying a house. I don't subscribe to cable television.
I'm spending less on clothes, gasoline and even food since I stopped working full-time.
Heck, I'm spending less on shampoo and cosmetics. Working from home does have advantages. No, I have not given up my hair stylist or a good bottle of wine, although that bottle is less expensive than what I was drinking eight years ago.
Of course I'm not the first to notice this erosion of Middle Class buying power. Many have measured and commented on the trend.
("Middle-class squeeze: Costs rise 32 percent while wages stagnate" - Seattle Times, click here.) Joel Kotkin, writing at the DailyBeast,.com sees the economic "yeoman" that Thomas Jefferson recognized as the backbone of his democracy in decline.
"While Middle Class incomes have fallen relative to the upper income groups, house prices and health insurance, utilities and college tuition costs have soared," he notes. "By margins of more than two to one, more Americans believe they enjoy fewer economic opportunities than their parents, and will experience far less job security and disposable income. This pessimism is particularly intense among white working class voters, and large sections of the Middle Class."
I am not completely without hope that younger Americans will find their footing and re-invent the middle class.
The other day while shopping at a second-hand sporting goods store in downtown Portland, the young man helping me told me that he and his wife had recently bought a house. It was located in a lower-income suburb and sold for several hundred thousand dollars less than what they would have paid if it had been closer to the trendy Portland urban core. He was proud of the investment and confident of the future.
Maybe the new urbanites are not a permanent generation of renters. Maybe the middle class will, after all, experience a revival. My guess is that the new middle class will look a lot different than I do. Here's how:
The new middle class will buy soccer tickets instead of NFL game tickets.
The new middle class go to less expensive clubs rather than spend money on mega-concerts at arenas.
The new middle class may ride a bicycle rather than own a car.
The new middle class may be able to build wealth through homeownership but that home is going to look different than mine --- smaller, more energy-efficient.
Those Broadway tickets? We will leave those to the rich people.
"Retirement is not in my vocabulary. They aren't going to get rid of me that way." - Betty White, American actress, comedian, singer and author (1922 - ).
Retirement fact: Six out of 10 older Americans want a phased-in retirement while only 13 percent of employers have a program to allow that to happen.
BY JULIA ANDERSON
If I could have had it all my way, I would have gradually moved from full-time employment into that something else place that we call retirement.
Instead, my work mates hosted an office farewell party with cake and lots of well wishes as I went cold-turkey out the door with an “early buyout” in hand. It was a deal that many in my newsroom over the age of 60 had already accepted.
In hindsight, I should have negotiated a gradual glide path to the end of the job I’d held for more than 25 years. But my employer had no plan for that so I took the buyout and left.
It was scary. Giving up a regular paycheck with a 401(k) match took my breath away but I'm risk taker and it seemed like the right move. Four years later, it still does. The fact is that I didn’t retire. I work from home as a professional journalist with a bunch of clients.
I balance time at my desk with family, travel and work on my 20-acre property. Yes, my income is half what it was before I left the job but I'm doing nicely, thank you. Get the idea?
However, it would have been financially better for me if I could have waited at least until my "full retirement age" at 66 (as determined by Social Security) before I started tapping monthly retirement benefits to bolster my income. It would have been better if I’d not had to draw money out of my long-term savings account to help my Rollover IRA get where it needed to be. But that's what I did and I'm OK with it.
(Ironically for many, the five years from age 60 to age 65 when Medicare kicks in or 66 when Social Security says you're at full retirement age can be tricky. I often wished that I were older.)
Now, plenty of older American women are hoping to phase into retirement just as I wished that I had. Something like six out of 10 want that gradual adjustment with fewer work hours, continued health insurance coverage and more time to build up the nest egg before starting Social Security or tapping into savings.
The bad news, according to a Society of Human Resource Management report, is that few employers (only 13 percent) offer workers such a phased-in retirement opportunity.
There’s hope that things are changing as the economy continues to recover and employers gain more flexibility in how they let go of valued (higher-paid) long-time employees. A recent change in federal employment regulations may help.
New rules (starting in November 2014) allow workers to move to a 20- hour work week, receive half their pay but also start receiving half their retirement annuity. In other words, their take-home income doesn't change even though their work hours are cut in half.
It may be a bit more complicated in private industry but it seems to me that there are incentives for employers to set up such programs. This year, the last of the baby boomers are turning 50. A work place brain drain could gain momentum.
With a phased retirement program, employers can gradually allow long-time employees to hand off their knowledge and expertise to younger workers and at the same time reduce their payroll costs.
At bankrate.com, writers analyze five factors that can affect your phased retirement planning: Pensions distributions, health insurance coverage restrictions, scheduling flexibility, profit-sharing incentives and Social Security issues.
A survey by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that 65 percent of baby boomers plan to work past age 65 (or do not plan to retire) and just 21 percent expect to immediately stop working when they retire.
Negotiating your retirement in 6 steps
If you are an older worker looking ahead to retirement, it likely will be up to you negotiate a plan. Here’ are tips from the retirement studies center:
No. 1 Plan to do your homework. What will a part-time employment plan look like for you? Can you avoid taking Social Security benefits? Are your household expenses in line with a reduction in household income? Can you let your 401(k) nest egg grow a few more years? A one-time visit to a fee-for-service financial planner might help.
No. 2 Network. What’s going on in your industry? What are your employment opportunities beyond your current job? Are you meeting new people who might have a need for your skills?
No. 3 Keep your skills up to date. This may mean taking a class on social media or staying up to speed in your area of professional expertise or acquiring new skills. Do you know how to use Twitter, Instagram?
No. 4 Preserve your health. As we age, it is important to manage our health by staying fit, seeing your physician and staying on top of any chronic problems.
No. 5 Have a back up plan. Set up an emergency fund in case you are forced into retirement sooner than expected for reasons of ill health, job loss, family obligations. Do not assume your employer will go along with your phased-in plan or that health problems might interfere. Plan for the unplanned.
No. 6 Talk confidentially to your HR department. A phased retirement plan may mean negotiating with your employer. While baby boomers have intentions of transitioning from full- to part-time work, their employer may not have a program to accommodate such a change. Be the first to talk about it. Make sure your job-performance ratings are top notch and that you are in a good position to negotiate a workable plan.
“Baby boomers who are envisioning a transition into retirement that involves working should do a reality check whether their current employer will support them,” says Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. “The best intentions to continue working and fully retire at an older age can be easily derailed with a lack of planning.” Collinson said. Job No. 1 is to be proactive.
As for my own semi-retirement, I now work at my own pace, sometimes in my bathrobe. I have fewer work-related expenses --- gasoline, clothes, lunches out, networking. I have more time for family and for travel with lots of flexibility. go to a lot fewer meetings. I write about stuff that is interesting to me.
Life is good.
For more online resources:
LifeReimagined.com, click here.
RetirementJobs.com, click here.
Encore.org, click here
RetiredBrains.com, click here.
WhatsNext.com, click here.
I meet women all the time who face job and money transitions and who want to do them right. It’s about building confidence and taking charge of the future. This is your money. No one cares more than you do!
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