Dr. Linda Edelstein is a writer, researcher, and clinical psychologist, and mother of two grown daughters. In The Art of Midlife: Courage and Creative Living for Women (Bergin & Garvey), she draws on interviews with healthy and active women and her extensive clinical practice. Dr. Edelstein weaves a tapestry of midlife growth that is complex, challenging, and deeply life-affirming.
Her most recent book has just reached the bookstores. The revised, second edition of the Writer’s Guide to Character Traits is a reference book for novelists, helping them to use psychology to create believable characters.
I reached Dr. Edelstein at her office in Evanston, Illinois.
Ruth Dempsey: Your book has been praised for offering "a practical blend of science and common sense for building a middle stage of life that exceeds expectations." Why did you call it The Art of Midlife?
Linda Edelstein: That’s wonderful praise. I had several other titles that I liked much better, but my publisher wanted a practical title that conveyed the content. With The Art of Midlife as its title, I hoped that I started immediately with the idea that there is an art, a creative approach, to aging.
RD: Are there differences in the ways women and men negotiate midlife? Can you please elaborate?
LE: Yes and no. Books about men’s midlife, for example Daniel Levinson’s Seasons of a Man’s Life, had been published long before women began to write about the same topic. I believe that the underlying dynamic is the same for men and women – that is, loss of youth, facing personal mortality, questioning our previous choices, wondering if there is still time to do things differently, and wanting to make use of all of who we are. That said, men and women may respond differently because they are answering those dilemmas in unique ways. As an example, if a person has worked building a business for 20 years and put that before family or other interests, that individual may want to reconnect with relationships. Instead, if a person has built relationships for 20 years, it may be time for some individual achievements or pleasures.
RD: You want to debunk the myths that threaten women’s midlife growth, what are some of these myths?
LE: The prevailing myths seem to be: That life is pretty much finished when youth is over, that the best times are in the past, that menopause is the end of womanhood, and that women face an empty future when children leave the nest. This is ridiculous. Most women report being happier than ever and feeling more genuine because they increasingly throw off the expectations of others. Also, we don’t lose our children – the relationships change. And we don’t stop being women – we become different kinds of women.
RD: In The Art of Midlife, you discuss the midlife transition and its various phases. Can you describe these for me?
LE: For convenience, I looked at the midlife transition as having various phases. First, we must relinquish the old, which means that midlife is a time to let go of outdated illusions and expectations (the same way we ought to clean out our closets regularly and give away the clothes that no longer fit). Second, it is an ideal time to reconnect to one’s self, which means that, over the years, we have probably misplaced essential elements of who we are. Busy lives filled with caring for others take their toll on individuality. We need to go back to the best in ourselves. Finally, after doing the first two stages, we have the chance to refocus on the future, which means that we can use our knowledge to create a life that is closer to what we want now. Women find many different things. I was able to go back to writing and pursue sculpture more seriously.
RD: You also deal with the danger of getting stuck at midlife. Can you give me some examples? Why is courage important?
LE: It is easy to get stuck. It is easy to keep doing the same thing. Complacency is dangerous. No one helps us change. It is difficult to try new things; we feel silly, we feel fearful. But if we don’t grow, we become resentful of other people’s lives and that is harmful. I wrote about courage in this book and, in the years since, I have become even more convinced that courage is essential for continued growth. Courage carries us through the process of change. Courage allows us to listen to our own voice and heart. Courage leads to a personal peace.
RD: Are women approaching midlife differently today, than they did, say a decade ago?
LE: Maybe not differently than 10 years ago, but certainly differently than 20 or 30 years ago. There are many more opportunities for women; there is more encouragement; there is more being written about midlife. Women are beginning to realize that, with life expectancies what they are, they are simply entering another phase of life.
RD: How important are dreams in refocusing the future?
LE: Dreams are important because they point us in a certain direction. Like memories anchor us to the past, dreams anchor us to the future. To me, it doesn’t really matter if all the dreams are reached. I’ve tried to avoid clichés, but here it comes – it’s all about the journey. Sorry. Read Cavafy’s poem Ithaka. He says it better than I ever will.
RD: What tips do you have for midlife women today?
LE: Have courage, courage, courage. Take healthy risks. Do lots of new things. Hang on to your sense of humor. Be grateful for every good check-up. Try to have grace when things don’t go your way. Have the confidence that you have earned with all your experience. Be kind.
I’m not naïve. I know that huge obstacles are out there, both personally and collectively for the world we live in, but I also see that there is beauty and joy.
Dr. Edelstein may be reached at: 1.edelstein @ sbcglobal.net.