Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis

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Thank you to Grove Atlantic for providing me with a copy of Ada Calhoun’s Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, in exchange for an honest review.

In Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, Ada Calhoun explores the unique challenges facing Generation X women, who are now middle-age.

Spanning from the early 60’s to the early 80’s (there is some disagreement on the dates), Calhoun explains that many women born during this time had a challenging childhood. We ( I am a Gen-X woman) were raised by mother’s who fought for equality and told us that we could do anything. This created an immense pressure to “have it all,” even when “having it all” is an impossible goal and reaching for the brass ring has made us deeply dissatisfied. The caustic divorces that we experienced with our parents, created a drive to maintain the semblance of a perfect life for our children, to hide any cracks in the co-parenting relationship. Growing up latch-key kids and experiencing a free-roaming childhood, has turned Gen-xers into overprotective, helicopter parents. We are drowning as we fail to keep up with our self-imposed expectations.

Calhoun argues that previous generations did not put such a big emphasis on perfection. Our mothers didn’t have social media to constantly compare themselves to their friends and celebrities. They didn’t post pictures of their gluten-free cupcakes or their latest beach vacation. They didn’t feel a constant pressure to keep looking youthful. Societal pressure to go vegan or to believe in a certain movement didn’t plague them every time they looked at their phone, because cell phones didn’t exist. Social media didn’t exist.

Interestingly, Calhoun explains that the pressure to compare and to be perfect seems to be felt more strongly with Gen X. Younger generations don’t seem as worried about what people think. Perhaps it is because Gen Xer’s were older when social media became common place. I was born at the end of Gen X and Facebook wasn’t popular until I was in my 30’s. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have my teen years and 20’s recorded on social media. Calhoun notes that younger generations seem to post on social media with less worry of how it will be perceived, where as Gen X is more careful regarding what they post. We are a generation that has quickly adapted to technology, yet we have not had it in our lives the same way that the generations after us have experienced.

Why We Can’t Sleep made me feel stressed. I can attest to the feelings of perfectionism and failure. I’ve entered my 40’s happy with my life. I don’t have children ( two wonderful step-children, but they are only with us for holidays), so perhaps that lessens the intensity of needing to prove something or create a certain life. I think it gives me freedom. Still, I had a mom who drove home the idea that “anything is possible,” which, as I reflect, doesn’t feel true. I entered the work force and experienced inequality. My mom gave me a clear message that men should not be fully trusted, yet she also pushed a traditional marriage. I was told to be both independent and dependent. It was confusing.

Additionally, Calhoun pointed out something that I didn’t realize I was resentful over, until I read it. She mentions that there is now a backlash for the freedom that we experienced in childhood. I was a latchkey child starting in third grade and although there were adult neighbors, I was basically left home summers/holidays/after school, from the age of eight. That would be unheard of now, but my mom was a working, single-mom and we had no choice. Besides that, I don’t really remember my mom being engaged with me. When we were home together, I was told to play outside or in my room. Maybe it’s because my mom had me later in life, but she continued the, “children should be seen and not heard” motto from her generation. There were times that my mom did things with me, like take me to museums or to the movies, but on a whole, I was on my own. Calhoun says that this was common for Gen X childhoods and this has prompted many Gen X parents to become uber engaged with their children. I see this in my friends with their parenting styles. I realize that my mom had to work and things were hard, but I do feel that I was disconnected with her as a child and did not become close to her until I became an adult.

Calhoun tackles perimenopause and the options that women have to ease this transition. She states that this is an important life change that is simply not discussed. I agree, I’ve never discussed this with anyone, including my doctors. I’m 42 and I haven’t noticed much of a change yet, but I appreciate that Calhoun speaks to this topic.

With everything going on in the world with corona virus, I’m not sure that it was good timing to read Why We Can’t Sleep. I made me feel more anxiety. That said, I think Calhoun has written an important book that is worth a read. I will definitely recommend it to friends of my generation.

 

All That’s Bright and Gone

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Thank you to Crooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of Eliza Nellums’ novel, All That’s Bright and Gone, in exchange for an honest review.

Six-year old Aoife has recently witnessed her mother have a mental break-down at a shopping mall and is currently being cared for by her Uncle Donny, while her mother is recovering in a hospital. While living with her uncle, she tries to search for clues regarding the mystery surrounding her older brother, Theo. Her mother talks about Theo as though he is still alive, but Aoife is sure that he has been murdered. To add to Aoife’s confusion, her mother’s boyfriend has started coming around and he claims to be Aoife’s real father. Aoife attempts to navigate her muddled world with the help of her imaginary friend, Teddy, and her eight-year-old neighbor who is an amateur sleuth.

Nellums has created a vibrant and winning protagonist in Aoife. I think it is hard to craft a believable young child protagonist, but Nellum has nailed it, balancing Aoife’s precociousness with her innocence. Also balanced is the amount of truth that we know from the adults in Aoife’s world, allowing the reader insight to her reality vs. her assumptions. It is a compelling look at a child caught in the middle of adult issues.

Teddy makes the reader wonder if Aoife is headed down the same path toward mental illness as her mother or if an imaginary friend is simply a childhood rite of passage. Teddy resembles a teddy bear and he urges Aoife to act in ways that direct her toward danger. The inclusion of Teddy worked well to make me think that Aoife could be an unreliable narrator, but the uncertainty of it kept me on fence, adding to the mystery of the story.

I throughly enjoyed All That’s Bright and Gone. I truly had no idea where the story was headed, but was gripped from the start. I was hooked by the feeling of uncertainty and that Aoife might always be in danger. There is a great scene with a elderly neighbor that had me really worried for Aoife. Nellums never allows the tension to drop, which keeps the pacing tight and makes All That’s Bright and Gone a quick read.

Nellums is a gift writer with regard to both prose and plot. All That’s Bright and Gone is her debut novel and I’m looking forward to reading her future works.

 

Full Support: Lessons Learned in the Dressing Room

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Thank you to Amberjack Publishing for providing me with a copy of Natalee Woods’ memoir, Full Support: Lessons Learned in the Dressing Room, in exchange for an honest review.

During College, Natalee Woods applied for a summer job at a high-end department store and was placed in the lingerie department. This summer job turned into an off-and-on career, spanning over a decade, carrying through her move to Los Angeles and return to her native Seattle. During this time she navigated financial instability and the death of her parents. Woods becomes a certified bra fitter, which requires her to come in intimate contact with her customers. She learns that her job isn’t simply about selling underwear, but that often she must use discretion and empathy to serve woman who have a range of body issues, including breast cancer survivors.

Woods never mentions her employer, but it is clearly Nordstrom. As a former Nordstrom employee myself, I could immediately identify with the company culture, including her initial hiring for the anniversary sale, Nordstrom’s biggest annual event. Much like Woods, I was thrown into the fire of the anniversary sale and placed into a department (Men’s Furnishings) where I had to learn on the fly. It was utter chaos and Woods describes it, just as I experienced it.

Woods touches on the strange and rude customers that we find at Nordstrom, but that isn’t the focus of her memoir. Full Support is honest, but it is not a tell-all about being a Nordstrom employee. It’s a true reflection on what it is like to work for the retail giant, but Woods is not a disgruntled former employee. Her time with the company was not perfect, but she is not out to slag-off her former company or co-workers.

The focus is on the customers who made an impact on her perspective. For example, shortly after Woods’ lost both of her parents, a father brings his young teen daughter into the lingerie department. She needs a bra and her mother has just died. Woods has the father go off with his son, giving her time to help the daughter. The conversation transitions from bras to loss, with Woods carefully giving the young girl encouragement, as she tries not to break down herself.

During my short time at Nordstrom, I had a few customers who made a lasting impression. I helped a woman find an outfit for her mother’s memorial service and I helped a teenager find a suit for his first job interview. I’m not arguing that working in retail carries the same weight as other professions, but it is possible to make a positive impact on someone’s life and to be of service. The lingerie department is probably the most impactful department. Woods and her coworkers have the ability to help women love their bodies, including women recovering from cancer. Nordstrom has a service where they help with prothesis fits for breast cancer survivors. It is truly a wonderful thing.

Woods beautifully blends the stories of her customers with her own tumultuous life. Woods lost both of her parents to cancer and was with them during the last months of their lives. She also struggled to make it living in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is my hometown and I can attest that this is no easy feat, especially on a retail, commission-based salary. Woods is living life paycheck-to-paycheck and does not have a bigger plan for her future. One hundred percent, I could relate to this. I spent my twenties and early thirties in a survival mode similar to Woods, including being a caretaker for a parent dying of cancer.

My only negative comment is that I occasionally felt that the dialogue rang false. I could easily believe the situations with the customers, even the most outrageous, but the way the dialogue was written felt too quickly intimate or simply not the way people really speak. There are cliches. More than once, the dialogue rang false in a way that made me stop reading to consider it, which disengaged me.

The dialogue issues aside, I very much enjoyed Woods’ memoir. Full Support has a lot of heart. It will be of particular interest to those who have worked high-end retail, but I would recommend it to everyone. Also, if you’re a woman who has not worked with a certified bra fitter, it is a game-changer!