Books, Empty Nest and Gemini Rising
“They are busy and thinking of ways to be busier because such a space of nothing pressing to do would knock them down. No fields of cowslips will rush into that opening, nor mornings free of flies and heat when the light is shy. No. Not at all. They fill their mind and hands with soap and repair and dicey confrontations because what is waiting for them, in a suddenly idle moment, is the seep of rage. Molten. Thick and slow-moving. Mindful and particular about what in its path it chooses to bury. Or else, into a beat of time, and sideways under their breasts, slips a sorrow they don’t know where from.” Jazz, Toni Morrison*
This quotation from Jazz has come to mind as my youngest daughter and I busy ourselves with packing, shopping and planning for her to head to college in a few days. The effort is necessary and yet it’s also easier for me to be in action, focused on the details. The hard part will be when the busyness is over and my husband and I arrive home to our empty nest and then days and weeks pass and the nest is still empty. Then we’ll see what emotions come knocking.
I’m approaching this transition in typical Gemini rising fashion - by reading through a stack of books about empty nest, perimenopause, and women’s midlife pilgrimage. Here are some gleanings so far:
Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor: “Simone de Beauvoir was of the opinion that if, at menopause, a woman gives her ‘consent’ to growing older, she is changed into a ‘different being,’ one who is more herself, one who is complete.”
The Wisdom of Menopause by Christiane Northrup, MD:** “The point is that at midlife, more than at any other time, the aspects of your personality that kept you alive and functional for the first half of your life may actually put you at risk in the second half. All of us must find the courage to make the changes that will enable us to live our lives in an empowered fashion.”
It’s a hefty book, so here’s one more Northrup quote:
“Whether or not a woman realizes it going in, that hollow, unsettling, empty-nest experience is a blessing in disguise. Think of it as a kind of labor pain. What you are trying to give birth to is your new life, which your hormones, your brain, and your body have already welcomed and embraced, even though you may not yet be consciously aware of it.”
Then Again by Diane Keaton: “‘What’s better about being fifty than twenty?’ Goldie [Hawn] plunged in with something like ‘Being a great mom; learning how to grow up and love yourself for who you are; coping with the discomfort of fame; loving a man by not holding on too much; letting people be who they are; helping your daughter live with the fact that her mother is famously loved by many people; getting revenge, but the right kind; learning to be spiritually aware; learning to grow into self-esteem. Those are some of the reasons why being fifty is better than being twenty.’”
Crossing to Avalon by Jean Shinoda Bolen: “Jungian analyst and author Murray Stein describes midlife transitions as period of liminality, which I think aptly describes those times in our lives when we are in an ‘in between’ zone, a state in which we are neither who we used to be, nor who we are becoming. It’s like standing in a doorway, or being in a passageway, or even in a long dark tunnel, between two phases of our lives.”
A Year by the Sea by Joan Anderson: “... I have spent the bulk of this year unlearning all the rules, the conditions and goals that were set for me by someone else. Finally, I feel mature enough to recover myself - that person I was born to be.”
* I want to acknowledge that Jazz is exploring the lives of Black women who've had a lot more to contend with than empty-nest syndrome. Toni Morrison had her finger on the pulse of everything, including the way women stuff the harder, darker emotions and focus instead on petty grievances and complaints, probably because smaller irritations actually seem manageable.
** Having loved The Wisdom of Menopause, I will add that I do not share Christiane Northrup's views on Covid-19 and the dangers of vaccines. I very much embrace holistic health, which, as far as I'm concerned, unites science and mind/body/spirit wisdom. The two don't have to be mutually exclusive. As a Certified Healing Touch Practitioner, I would be irresponsible if I suggested that energy work and spiritual exploration were a replacement for medical care. I think we go to an extreme when we discount all the ways our emotions and life experiences impact our physical health (Gabor Maté, M.D. and Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. offer insightful books on this subject). But we also are too extreme when we discount the wealth of knowledge and life-saving techniques available through science.