In “A Chorus Line,” the cast share their life journeys with the director and each other, as they audition for a Broadway show. Three of the female dancers tell similar stories, each based on an intimate girlhood memory, and how it helped shape her personality and more important, her love of dance.
In their song, “At the Ballet,” each woman describes that significant moment in her life. While every verse outlines a painful story, the chorus reveals a beautiful place—the ballet – where she felt happy, or pretty or valued, despite every single moment she lived through that tried to convince her otherwise. A place she could pursue and celebrate her own unique gifts and graces. It’s ultimately a song of triumph.
You can see why this message resonates. Like the dancers, I happen to have a scrap of insecurity about one or two or 30 things tucked carefully out of sight, born of a few significant, but not so wonderful, childhood memories. And like many American women who have reached the “new 40,” I’ve tried to diminish these with happier moments, born of my Easy-Bake Oven, Barbie Dream House, Spyder Bicycle, Peter Max posters, and a copy of “Meet the Monkees,” plus real game-changers like a bachelor’s degree, a career, a marriage and children. I don’t think this combination means I’m complex; probably more like 21st century ordinary.
Most women I know have a vulnerable place inside, where we feel lonely, or fearful or dispirited and we seem to nurture these places for a long time; sometimes almost as long as we can remember. Sure, our triumphs over challenges made us roar (in numbers too big to ignore) but let’s agree that if we’ve become successful personal disasters, it may be time to move on and let go of that “you can have it all” idiocy we fell for in 1975, and more.
The good news for women like us is that we can still find our own “ballet.” A new book, “Queen of Your Own Life,” helps us find our own places of contentment and joy, and celebrate the amazing women we are. The subtitle says it all: The Grown-Up Woman’s Guide to Claiming Happiness and Getting the Life You Deserve. (Note: I hate “self-help,” but this feels different. It’s “girlfriend you didn’t know you had” help.)
I know, I know, I know. We’re educated and emancipated. We’re professional people for God’s sake. We sit on the Supreme Court and serve as the Secretary of State. Women run corporations that sell soft drinks and mac and cheese; office products and Kevlar vests. We pursue graduate degrees in medicine, law and business in unprecedented numbers. Do we need this? Really?
Yes. Despite the signs to the contrary, we need this book. All the enlightenment, empowerment, equality and every other “e” word you can think of notwithstanding, we’ve stumbled pretty badly off track. There: I said it. In our steadfast pursuit of combined professional and personal “success” and our resolve to prove our worth, we undervalued what we gave up to achieve it: ourselves.
The book shares wisdom from two women, Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, who not only accept the second half of life, they delight in it. As only a girlfriend can, they broach such weighty topics as, well, weight (and appearance), clearing the mental clutter, pursuing and valuing friendships, and sincerely committing to success on your terms. (They also define the word “crone,” which—believe me – is even worse than you imagine, but you get past it, I promise.)
I have two questions for women reading this, who may doubt this QOYOL philosophy. At this point in your life, at least once in a while, do you ever think: “Dear God, haven’t I been around long enough, and lived through enough to know better? What happened to who I wanted to be?”
That’s what I thought. Well, guess what: “You don’t have to be 20 to have your whole life ahead of you.” Unlike Scarlett O’Hara, let’s not think of it all tomorrow. Let’s say instead we’ve “made the tough but rewarding journey to the midpoint” of our lives. Let’s position our tiaras, maybe even raise our arms and twirl once or twice, as we banish the bad, welcome the good and celebrate the Queen within.
Renee James writes social commentary and keeps track of the things that mystify her on her blog: It’s not me, it’s you. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.