I didn't think it would hurt, to be rejected by a magazine. But, at age 54, I guess I should have learned that it takes a while to recover from unrequited love.
Apparently, according to the editors at O, I should also have my life figured out by now. I should know exactly who I am and what my work is here on this earth. Those thorny questions about meaning and destiny? "By the time you're 40 or 42," said Oprah in a recent interview in the Sunday New York Times, "you should have kind of figured that out already."
Oprah is not happy about the fact that the average age of her reader is 49. Times are tough at the magazine, which has seen a decline in readers and advertisers since her talk show ended 18 months ago. And it seems I am part of the problem, one of those aging hangers-on who still want to read articles with substance and depth about women's health, finances, spirituality and personal fulfillment. Enough already!
At 58, Oprah is looking around at the rest of us (late) middle-aged women, the ones who came of age seeking and searching right along with her, and wishing we would quietly go away. She wants, she says, to attract women in "their 30s or perhaps 20s, to be able to reach people when they are looking to fulfill their destiny."
So, I've let my mom know she doesn't need to renew my Oprah subscription for Christmas this year. I've been faithful, a devoted fan of the magazine since its very first issue. (In fact, I wrote a few articles and essays for O in the early years, and have never missed an issue since.) But Oprah's not one for sentiment, and now she wants to make sure we all get the message: it's not really a relationship. "Ultimately," she told the Times, "you have to make money, because you are a business."
I get that. But still, in an unexpected way, it was painful to learn that my age makes me not only invisible but undesirable. And I'm certainly not going to moon around where I'm no longer wanted or appreciated for who I am: a woman who is still unfinished, still growing and changing, still asking big questions, still seeking and searching and reading.
The thing is, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one. My friends and I may not look like a sexy demographic to the powers that be at O, but I think we are quite an interesting bunch. As I consider the women I know, I see a remarkable span of challenges and possibilities, from divorce, illness and financial crises to new careers, revived passions and ambitious creative endeavors. From thrilling new romantic relationships to adult children in need of support and elderly parents in need of care. From a new ability to say "no" to unwanted demands to renewed commitments to community service, friendships and family.
My female friends in their forties and fifties are running companies, writing books, going on pilgrimages, passing the bar exam, recovering from a husband's sudden death, taking up the cello, selling the family home, taking painting lessons, dealing with chronic illness, volunteering in a community garden, running marathons, taking religious vows. We are also making dinner, experimenting with new wrinkle creams, walking the dog, doing the laundry, going to yoga class, buying groceries and winter coats, reading books.
And what we all have in common is that the changes of midlife have invited or compelled each and every one of us to reinvent ourselves, to ask those "Who am I?" and "What now?" questions all over again, with just as much urgency and wonder as we brought to them in our twenties and thirties.
The difference is that we know now, in a way we couldn't have possibly understood then, that time isn't infinite. We've watched friends die, seen neatly ordered lives shattered by loss, close-knit families come unraveled, careers upended in a day. Knowing that my own steps are numbered, that whole chapters of my life have ended, that I've already lived more days than I have left ahead of me, I sometimes feel as if everything is up for re-examination, as if all my choices matter more. And yet, I still yearn to find my own true path and walk it -- if anything, even more thoughtfully and deliberately than before.
Which makes me think maybe Oprah's right after all. "You're never going to run out of people who are looking for a more joyful life," she says. And that is true. But I've also learned that life is complex, joy is fleeting, and there are no easy solutions. "Living my best life" these days is as much about being as doing, more about acceptance than pursuit, more about expressing gratitude for what is than about grasping for more. So perhaps I also need to acknowledge that the inspiration I'm looking for now probably isn't going to be found in the pages of a slick women's magazine fat with ad pages and geared to 30-year-olds. Maybe, Oprah, I've outgrown you, too.