Secret Lives

Invisible No More…
The Secret Lives of Women Over Fifty

by Ginny Robertson

Jean Peelen, Joyce Kramer and Renee Fisher met ten years ago while attending a workshop on creating powerful, visionary lives. All three were at a turning point. Jean had been a successful civil rights attorney, but was dealing with issues of alcoholism in her personal life. Joyce, a fundraiser for HERO in Baltimore, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Renee, a realtor, was in the midst of the dissolution of an almost 30 year marriage. The workshop had a huge impact on their lives and cemented their friendship.

While spending a weekend in Rehoboth being silly, eating and commiserating about aging, Jean, who had taken early retirement from her job with the vision of building a series of workshops for “women of a certain age,” suggested they write a book about life over 50. Renee and Joyce were in resistance but agreed to meet at Jean’s house after they returned from the beach. At that meeting Jean presented an array of books she had found on the topic. Renee said “when I looked them over, I felt none of them spoke to me. I wanted to see a book that expressed my life—the good, the bad, the ugly, the joy and the excitement. Joyce agreed, and we committed to start writing.”

They chose 15 topics and set a goal of writing one chapter per week. They (naively) thought they could knock out the book in a few months. A year later, they finally had something to show an editor. Renee met a young woman who had relocated to the area from Boston, where she worked at a large publishing house, and asked her to edit the manuscript for a novel she was writing. She was so impressed with her that she told Jean and Joyce and they hired her to edit their book. As a result of her suggestions, they worked on the manuscript for another six months!

They submitted query letters to literary agents and began to collect a stack of glowing rejections. All of the agents liked the sample chapters they sent, but none felt a book about women over 50 would have wide appeal. Several agents requested the complete manuscript and they came very close to being accepted. But after several months of close calls like this, they decided to take the print-on-demand route. They believed their book was too important to delay any longer getting it into the hands of women.

Renee shared that the writing of the book was a great journey inward. That it called for self-examination and an honesty that was at times very difficult. But the results were liberating. Their friendship was tested, as well. They had to force themselves to give honest criticism of what each of them wrote, regardless of the circumstances.

Before starting to write, they held small, informal gatherings of women over 50 who were friends and co-workers. These discussions confirmed what they already believed—that women at mid-life shared similar issues. They discovered both in these pre-book gatherings and at book signings that most women are hungry to share, to listen and to feel part of a community. Women felt inspired to share things with them and within the group that they had never shared before.

One remark they heard over and over was that many women felt invisible (hence, the title of the book). Some felt they were too old to break new ground in their lives, too set in their ways or too fearful. But more women expressed a new-found energy in their post-childbearing years. They felt strong and self-confident, rather than concerned about what others thought of them.

I think this excerpt from the book speaks to that self-confidence that can come with age if we allow it: “[For me] aging has never been about diminishing physical appearance, or whether I look my age. Aging, for me, is not about numbers. While I do care about my looks and fret sometimes over the wrinkles, aging means much more to me. Aging is growing wiser, putting my past behind me, and being fully alive. Aging means healing and maturing on the inside, accepting myself and who I am.”

The three are working on a companion book to Invisible No More. More than a workbook, it will explore through writing and experiential exercises, topics from the book and can be used by both groups and individuals. There will also be an opportunity for each woman to become the “fourth writer” of the book.