Fearless at Fifty

You don’t stop laughing when you grow old.

You grow old when you stop laughing.

George Bernard Shaw

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Before Fifty Shades of Grey and Sex and the City, there was Fear of Flying (1973) by Erica Jong.  I have yet to read this novel that introduced a notorious phrase to the English language through the heroine’s honest and exuberant retelling of her sexual (mis)adventures.  What I’ve read is Erica’s midlife memoir Fear of Fifty (first released in 1994 when she turned 50) that continued to provoke, inspire, and stand as an icon of self-discovery, liberation, and womanhood.

This classic came to mind because last Saturday was International Women’s Day and I remember reading Erica’s chapter on her writing sabbatical in a Venetian palazzo.  I thought, “Every woman should have such freedom!”  I also recall sharing her impression of Venice as a dead and dying city–but that was obviously before I heard about Carnival!

Fear of Fifty looks back and ahead, assessing the costs, rewards, the meaning of one woman’s journey.  Erica’s memoir “goes right to the jugular of woman who lived wildly and vicariously through Fear of Flying” with entertaining stories and provocative insights on a woman’s identity, love and loss, sex, marriage, aging, feminism, and motherhood.

And how far have women really come since the golden age of petticoats?  We gave up the corset and dutifully bind ourselves to the gym and diets.  We join the workforce to make our own money and the right to be eternally exhausted, never quite sure where the end of the rainbow is in doing and having it all.  After all, we must look forever young and fabulous while still running the home and feeling guilty about our (neglected) relationships.  We boldly proclaim women can do what men do while our daughters are lulled by the same fairytales of the one ideal man, the notion of that elusive union of money, sex, love, romance and fidelity leaving many in a state of dubious singlehood or perpetual marital discontent.  Will the day ever come when we’d drop the farce of calling unpaid housework “mother’s love”?  Will we live to see the pegs of hierarchy buried  and affirm the disparate choices every woman makes to be the best for herself?

As fifty beckons in my own horizon, I am honored to witness tired and wilted women transform into radiant blooms when they decide to give themselves the appreciation and sense of purpose they’ve been waiting to be given.  To see the great power in surrendering the fight of “I’m every woman” and letting the chips fall where they may.  To perceive our wrinkles as trophies of a life full of laughs and tame serious adult business with more fun, play, and dress up.  To allow disappointments to clarify who matters and the possibilities that lie beyond the pain.   To see the beauty aging offers with the wisdom and courage to say “To hell with it!”  If the Social Indicators Research (2010) is right about women being happiest at age 74, how different would the rest of our lives be if we laughed in the face of fear much, much sooner?

Click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) to share old fears that make you chuckle today.
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© Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Email me


Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mountain
    Mar 14, 2014 @ 08:35:03

    I read the excerpts from books that you share but I get the most out of what you have to say, Sharky. I guess it is the personal inflection that comes across in what you say. The meaning of your thoughts are so real and passionate.

    Women never age past twenty eight, in my eyes. I find it very interesting that the older I get (but feel 19) I notice how beautiful older women are, I guess that’s normal. Not just their looks but there place in life. Meaning, I work with and know many women that are strong in what they do and want. I appreciate and respect that and am happy to see the changes that have taken place in my lifetime with respect to women. Women are more than the housewife, mother or sexual partner. I think I have said this here before that women, thankfully have added balance to all aspects of daily life in the changing world we live in. Maybe it has always been there but grows more powerful as time passes.

    I imagine as the chips fall where the may, you, Sharky fearless at fifty will have all your chips in the right places, they sure are now. Stay fearless!



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