Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I happened upon a book at the library a week or more ago, called "A Year By The Sea" by Joan Anderson.

It's a memoir of the time she spent away in Cape Cod as a hiatus from her life and all of its' demands. Her husband had accepted a position out of state and came home to announce they were moving. Her sons were grown men and out of the home. She felt like she had spent so many years in roles for others, that she no longer knew who she was inside. So, she told her husband she wasn't moving, and instead was going to take a year living at their cottage by the sea. The book chronicles her experience there and what she learned and came away with at the end.

In Joan, I saw so much of myself, or who I would be in some odd decade and a half. Personality wise there seemed many similarities as well. And the "search" I think, for most women, is easily transferable. Needless to say, I read through the book in about 2 hours. I then got another one of her books, "A Weekend To Change Your Life". She also has "An Unfinished Marriage" that I'd like to read. After her experience, she started hosting women's weekend retreats. She thinks it's very important that women "get away" for some time. Most don't have the luxury of a year like she did, or even 6 weeks like some of her friends did. But a weekend, hopefully, one can carve out. In "A Weekend To Change Your Life" she talks about what happens on those retreats and how you can do it yourself.

She said she saw friends hitting that searching or questioning period in their lives, and they found new careers, or went back to school, one came "out", another got divorced. She felt though that all they were doing was getting new labels and not really finding out about themselves.

As women, we tend to take on so many roles and so much of the caretaking of others. We have jobs and then come home to family and dinner and chores. Or, we stay home and spend our days making sure that everyone else's day around us runs smoothly. We volunteer, carpool, stand on school boards. We hold our friends up when they can't. We kiss scraped knees and mend broken hearts. We bake and clean and cook and iron. We encourage and support job ambitions. And at the end of the day, as one woman says in the book, "they don't give out a gold watch for menopause."

And yet, where in that day do we TRULY take time for ourselves? Even 20 minutes of pure alone time seems like an indulgence, at least to me. I feel guilty if I lie in bed extra long. I feel guilty if I go out to dinner and stay out longer. Too long. I feel guilty if I spend money on myself or if I didn't do any cleaning around the house that day. And if I went away for a weekend? I'd practically ruin it thinking about what my family was doing at home without me, or how they were managing. Why?????

Do men go away golfing and feel guilty? I don't think so. Do they feel guilty for guys nights and for making sure they don't miss their weeknight pick-up hockey game with friends? Again, I doubt it.

So what is it about being a woman that makes us feel so little regard for our own wants and needs?? And why does doing something for ourselves make us feel like we are acting selfishly or indulgently?

In the book, she advises that you get out a bunch of your childhood pictures and line them up in a chronological order and notice the subtle changes in your expression, in your clothing, in the shine in your eyes. She says to notice when "you started playing the role society imposed on you" and lost some of that quality that made you who you were as a child. How do we end up in these roles when we swore we wouldn't?

I would say I've changed a lot from the little kid that I was once upon a time. I was a kid that was always curious and getting into trouble because of it. I was always overly confident, overly sure of myself. I've always been bossy and a little sassy. But I always had a bit of a swagger-people like me, I'm smart, I'm pretty, I'm going to be whatever I want to be. Where did that go? Now, I question everything before I do it, I'd have an anxiety attack about doing something that was different or a change. I've lost that "too bad for them, I'm going to do it anyways and not worry what they think" quality about myself. I've lost my swagger. (though I'm still bossy and a little sassy)

By "getting away" though, she doesn't mean hanging out the whole time chatting with your friends and shopping. She thinks it's important for women to get back to themselves and the only way to truly "hear" yourself is in solitude. She advises to take a few hours of each day of a weekend away, all to yourselves. Walk somewhere new. Seek out a quiet spot. And just be. She recommends journaling and also gives some exercises to reflect on.

I know this all sounds very New Age-which is very much NOT me. But to say the books touched me in a very deep and personal way, as you can tell by how much I just wrote about them, is redundant. It's where I am currently in my own life.

While I'm certainly questioning "what I want to be when I grow up," there is a deeper part of me that wants to reclaim who I am as a person. What "I" am interested in. What makes me passionate and happy and joyful. So that, while I can't completely shun my role and nor do I want to, I can come at it with a renewed sense of self. And a sense of balance to all of the things I am to others versus all of the things I am to MYSELF.

So, I think a girls weekend is in order. I'd love to go on one of the author's retreats, but I'd settle for a bunch of my women friends, and a weekend by a lake. I am sure that laughter and tears and wine would be on the agenda, but I also think some time to touch base with my inner self would be there too. And really, who better to do that with than a bunch of your girl friends?
For surely they can see in you what you can't see in yourself. It's like a true mirror held up for you to look into, rather than the funhouse mirrors we so often see reflected back with our own eyes.

I really recommend you check out the books. Maybe they won't touch you as they did me. Maybe you aren't in the searching mode, yet. Maybe they are just too hokey for you. But for those of you wondering and seeking, they are worth the read. (http://www.randomhouse.com/features/unfinished/index.html)

Who's up for a road trip?

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