I don’t buy or read self help books as a rule. It’s not that I believe I’m perfect, or that I’m beyond help, it’s just that in my limited sampling of the genre, I’ve found either platitudes or lunacy, but nothing particularly helpful. But in January, I was in the doctor’s office and I picked up a Newsweek and read about Leap! What Will We Do With The Rest of Our Lives? It purported to be a book about what people do at that point in their lives when their kids are gone and work is a less central concern. I thought, damn, I need to read this and then I ordered it from Amazon.
There were some warning signs. After I’d ordered it, I read a review that said the book didn’t really address the mass of people for whom money, or lack of it, will be a central preoccupation of older age. And the NYT review was awful, but as is so often the sad case in these days when the ad pages are so far down, the review came out after the publication date. The book, as it was, was already in the mail. I was doomed to read it.
Here is the primary message Leap! for how to deal with life beyond children and work:
Be rich. Not just regular rich, but crazy, crazy rich.
Being crazy rich will allow you to spend a lot of your time gazing. The interviewees in Davidson’s book gaze out their windows toward the Pacific from their condos in Maui, toward the Atlantic from their homes in Nantucket and toward the mountains from their ski lodges in Vail. Had I but known what an important activity gazing would be at this stage in my life, I might not have settled in Somerville where gazing is viewed with suspicion by the neighbors, whose houses are a mere ten feet away.
Besides underestimating the importance of being crazy rich and gazing, there are several other things I failed to do to prepare myself to be fulfilled in late middle age.
—I failed to make friends with Carly Simon in the 1970s. If we had been friends in the seventies, then I could call her up now and ask her how she handled losing her record label, battling cancer and dealing with the neighbors at her townhouse in Louisburg Square asking her to stop all the singing. Since we weren’t friends, I think Carly might find it annoying or even psychotic if I called her and in any event, I don’t think finding a new producer and a new record label are what’s going to fulfill me.
—I failed to get married for a second or third time, which precludes me from now making the incredibly life-affirming and love-affirming choice to marry for a fourth.
–I failed to attend a tantric sex seminar in the 1990s with my much younger lover with whom I have nothing in common and whom my children hate, so now I can’t go back there with lots of scary questions about elder sex.
Enough about what I didn’t do. Here are some things that Leap! breathlessly reports on that Bill and I are unlikely to be doing in the next decade.
—We won’t be adopting a baby at 60. (That is we won’t be adopting a baby when we are sixty, not when the baby is sixty, which arguably might be fairer.)
—We won’t be living in a commune in Costa Rica.
—We won’t be taking tango lessons for the opportunity to feel up total strangers.
Real jobs, mortgages and grown children make no appearances in Leap! Besides the need to be crazy rich, the central tenet seems to be that boomers will roll back the clock and turn their sixties into the sixties, though potentially with more Viagra and less LSD. No thank you.
Davidson wrote the book when she couldn’t get work in Hollywood, despite her credentials as a producer of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. (Imagine!) Her kids had gone off, she says, to college (though the book reads more as if they had gone off to another planet) and the aforementioned younger lover had shuffled off as well. Toward the end of the book, Davidson goes to India on a volunteer vacation to teach orphaned children. Half the other volunteers take an instant and violent dislike to her, and though they are written as small-minded and mean, it is hard not to have just a little sympathy for them.
I was reading the book at the hair salon when one of the hairdressers approached me to say that she’d heard about the book and wondered if it was good. I told her it was the worst book I had ever read. “You certainly have read a lot of it.” She looked at me accusingly. I explained that at first I kept reading to see if there was anything at all helpful in it, then I kept reading because I was mad I had paid for the hardcover, and finally I read to the end just to see how really bad it could be. Joe Queenan has a paean to bad books in this week’s NYT book review, but sadly, Leap! didn’t even register on that scale. I was kind of mad at Newsweek for reporting on the book like it was something serious, but I’ve since discovered they have this whole boomer section, etc. Eeeyou!
Anyway, don’t buy the book. Don’t have some sort of retro moment (or senior moment) and steal the book. If you see it on the shelves, treat it like it’s radioactive and stay very, very far away.