Guest Blogger: Phyllis Schieber, Author of The Sinner's Guide to Confession and Willing Spirits
Today's guest blogger is Phyllis Schieber. Phyllis says, "The first great irony of my life was that I was born in a Catholic hospital. My parents, survivors of the Holocaust, had settled in the South Bronx among other new immigrants. In the mid-fifties, my family moved to Washington Heights. The area offered scenic views of the Hudson River and the Palisades, as well as access to Fort Tryon Park and the mysteries of the Cloisters. Her first novel, Strictly Personal, for young adults, was published by Fawcett-Juniper. The Sinner’s Guide to Confession, was released by Berkley Putnam and in March 2008, Berkley Putnam issued the first paperback publication of Willing Spirits."
Kaye and Barbara are longtime friends, now in their fifties. Ellen, who is several years younger, develops a friendship with the other two women years later, solidifying this close-knit group. The three women are inseparable, yet each nurtures a secret that she keeps from the others.
Jane Hoffman and Gwen Baker, both teachers and in their forties, have a friendship that helps them endure. Years after Gwen is abandoned and left to raise two sons alone, she finds herself in love with a married man. After Jane is humiliated by her husband’s infidelity and Gwen must face her own uncertain path, the two women turn to each other.Now, as each is tested by personal crisis, Jane and Gwen face new challenges—as mothers, as daughters, as lovers. And in the process, they will learn unexpected truths about their friendship—and themselves.
Not in the "Middle" of Anything by Phyllis Schieber
When I was in my early teens, I was at my friend Claire’s apartment one evening. We were getting ready to go out, and Dina, my friend’s mother (who passed many years ago) was watching. It was the Sixties, and I was a hippie-type, not in the least familiar with make-up or anything that smacked of the “establishment”. Dina was Cuban and extremely glamorous. She had gorgeous, long legs (something I never had and always wished for) and a beautiful figure. She used a cigarette holder, wore skintight capris, and always heels, typically mules that I found incredibly sexy even when I was only ten. She must have been younger than I am now. I idolized Dina. She looked the other way when we smoked cigarettes and made us wonderful, strong, dark coffee. I thought Dina was spectacular. That evening, she studied me as I brushed my hair. Cigarette smoke swirled around her head, and she smiled at me through the haze. “I can’t wait to see you when you’re thirty,” she said. “That’s when a girl really becomes a woman.” Of course, I had no idea what Dina was talking about, but I never forgot her words. Thirty seemed so old to me then. Now, I wish I had a chance to go back and truly appreciate the ripeness of the beauty that those years bestow on a woman. I know a number of young women in their thirties. As I was, they are all busy with newborns and toddlers, juggling many different roles at once. There is no time to savor in the fullness of their womanhood; there is hardly time for a shower and clean clothes. From the vantage point of my fifty-seven years, I relish the smoothness of their taut, unlined skin, the thickness of their hair, and the speed with which they chase after their children. These thirty-something women seem like exotic creatures to me now. I am happy to merely be in their presence, but I am neither envious nor sad when I am with them. This is their time. I’m having my own time, and it’s called, rather blandly, middle age.
I don’t think the term does this time of life the justice it deserves. I do not feel as though I am in the “middle” of anything. On the contrary, I have the sense of being on the beginning of yet another journey. I have the battle scars: my knees often ache, my hair is not as luxurious as it once was, and my skin, well, what middle-aged woman doesn’t pull back her face just a little as she glances in the rear-view mirror, remembering what it was like to look like that. I think back fondly on the years when I couldn’t walk down the street without creating a stir (and that was in just jeans and a tee shirt and absolutely no make-up), but I don’t mourn my youth. I have too much to celebrate now to waste time dwelling on the past.
In the last year, I have committed myself to yoga practice with intensity unparalleled to anything else I have ever done except for my writing and, most importantly, raising my almost twenty-six-year-old son. He is my greatest achievement. I did a good job, and I am proud of that. However, yoga practice has taught me to care for myself now in a way I never have in the past. This fifty-seven-year-old body can now do a split, a full wheel, a shoulder stand, and a myriad of other poses that I would not even have attempted until now. I think the confidence and determination that I have developed in yoga has inspired me to try everything. I want to do well in yoga. I want to be stronger. And I take pleasure in how persistence pays off. This all translates to other areas of my “middle-aged” life. I don’t feel the same sense of urgency about everything that I did in my twenties and thirties. I have more trust in myself and in my wisdom. I feel vibrant. I recognize the person who looks back at me when I gaze in the mirror, and I feel more kindly toward her. I see a body that gave birth (and has the stretch marks and pouch to prove it), a face that has known much pain and loss, and eyes that have shed tears of sadness and joy. I have lived, and I plan to live much more. I continue to feel sexually vibrant, intellectually curious, and eager for new experiences. I do not believe that middle age suggests that I am unable to know the thrill of passion or the satisfaction of being understood and valued by another. I anticipate the wonders of being a grandmother some day. I have more novels to write, more countries and cities to visit, and more people to love. And I believe it will all come to pass because I will make certain it does.
In my novels, Willing Spirits and The Sinner’s Guide to Confession, I write about middle-aged women who are wives and mothers, daughters and sisters, and friends. The “friends” part is really important, especially as we move through these years. I would be lost without my girlfriends. I know all the women I write about because I am all these women, and I have had all these roles, managed them in spite of their clamoring for equal attention. But these women are also struggling, (as I have and continue to do) to sustain happiness and to make sense of their lives. They want to know more passion; they want to be more of who they are, never less. Sometimes, they succeed; other times, they crash miserably with devastating consequences. I love these women because they always keep trying, Just like me. I feel very certain that if Dina were still alive, she would tell me from the vantage point of her advanced years, that I will never really come to know myself as a woman until my fifties… my middle age. And she would be quite right.