You’ve released a new compilation of essays called The Bitch Is Back, featuring many of the writers from your first anthology, the New York Times bestseller The Bitch in the House. What was your motivation behind your new book?
The first anthology, The Bitch in the House, had come out at a time in my life when I was angry and overwhelmed. Since then, I’d gone from a young, harried, struggling working mother with too much to manage and do, to a happy, middle-aged working mother with a ton of gratitude for my very nice life. And while a lot of that outcome was due to luck and privilege, a significant other part resulted, I felt, from having been true to what I wanted all along, to have really done the work of digging deep and trying to figure out things and ask for things and get things, even if they bucked the norm. And I knew the same was true of my friends—some of whom were contributors to Bitch 1 (as I now call The Bitch in the House).
For example, one contributor had gotten out of her problematic marriage and then married a much more suitable guy who happened to be 20 years younger; another contributor, who had been single and searching in Bitch 1, had since gotten married and had a child. Other women had taken other steps, some large, some small—changing partners or careers, having a child on their own, transitioning from male to female, going on anti-depressants, taking up new things in life…or just accepting the limitations of the lives they had chosen and developing a new perspective on it.
I wanted to be able to tell some of those stories—what happens AFTER those hard, Bitch 1 years? Do things get better, easier, less stressful? If so, why and how? What have we learned? And I wanted to do a book that wasn’t about anger, but about wisdom and enlightenment and gratitude. That makes the book sound very new-agey, which it’s not at ALL—it has the same edge as Bitch 1—but it’s a book about getting through those hard years and into the next phase, with the specifics of how a number of women—nine from Bitch 1, the rest new ones—did that. And with the advantage that many of these contributors are top writers or editors—so, people who are paid to think about and articulate these things in an interesting way. In other words, the book has an element of literature, too, of real, and impressive, writing.
How will this book speak to women in midlife and beyond?
I probably answered that in my long-winded answer above! But the book offers both wisdom and specific stories about middle-age, in topics ranging from breast cancer and sexuality to sex after 60 (by the amazing Sarah Crichton, whose husband dumping her was the best thing to ever happen to her), to no longer caring about your weight, to whether or not to do artificial things to your face, to how a marriage changes from the time of a baby being born into it to that baby leaving for college….lots of topics.
What are some of the challenges and opportunities facing us as we age, as heard through the voices of your writers?
Where to start? First, just the physical challenge of aging—how our health, looks, sexuality, perspective change. Then there’s marriage: how to figure out what we want from it and how to get it; how to move on if it’s wrong; how to move on if we thought it was okay but our partners didn’t agree and moved on (see Sarah Crichton, above!). How to deal with aging kids, from teenagers who are moving away from us to our kids physically leaving home. How to hold onto ourselves with the pressures of work and family. How to age into a better place, to make middle age the best years of your life rather than the beginning of the end.
What advice do you and your writers have for women as we age?
THINK. Read, question, dig deep. Go to therapy if you need to, challenge yourself…most of all, don’t become complacent (unless, of course, that works for you!). Figure out what you want, and then get it. Easier said than done, right? Be true to yourself. If you do, you are headed toward happiness and possibly the best years of your life. If you don’t… Never mind. We won’t go there.
What resources do you recommend on the topic of women and aging?
I love the new website NextTribe—smart and relevant. I love Michelle Rage’s website Rubber Shoes in Hell—hilarious and smart, and tacky in the best ways.
Books, where to start, there are so many great ones. Abigail Thomas’s What Comes Next and How to Like It—god, what a beautiful book. Almost anything by Elizabeth Strout, ditto Kate Christensen. Dani Shapiro’s sparse and lovely recent memoir Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage. If it’s not too obnoxious, my own novel, Gone, about midlife marriage and motherhood, art and depression. I recently reread A Brief History of Anxiety…Yours and Mine by Patricia Pearson—not about aging per se as about anxiety, but still about midlife, and so smart and great. There is great stuff out there.
Gone: A Novel
Sweet Ruin: A Novel
My Sister’s Bones
The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage
The Bitch Is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier
Cathi Hanauer is the New York Times bestselling author of three novels—Gone, Sweet Ruin, My Sister’s Bones—and editor of two anthologies, The Bitch in the House and The Bitch is Back. A co-founder (along with her husband, Daniel Jones) of the New York Times “Modern Love” column, she has contributed articles, essays, and reviews to The New York Times, Elle (where she’s a contributing writer), O—the Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, and many other publications. She lives in Northampton, MA and New York, NY.