In her most recent novel, Still Life With Bread Bread Crumbs, Anna Quindlen tells the story of Rebecca Winter, a sixtyish photographer whose best years, both professionally and personally, seem to be behind her. Struggling to reconcile herself to has-been status and reduced finances, Rebecca flees New York City for a rustic cabin in the woods.
As Rebecca hikes, shovels snow, and totes firewood, she slowly realizes that she’s no longer the person she’s been for most of her life. “People froze you in place, Rebecca sometimes thought, trudging through the woods. More important, you froze yourself, often into a person in whom you truly had no interest. So you had a choice: you could continue a masquerade, or you could give up on it.”
I suspect all of us feel frozen in place at one point or another in our lives. Locked into a career path or a pattern of behavior or a particular role, we go through the motions, but it’s a show, an act we’re putting on for ourselves and others. That’s no easy gig, day after day, but it takes courage to choose change over the status quo.
One of the benefits of aging—and yes, there ARE benefits—is that the choice to give up a masquerade comes a little easier. When two-thirds of your journey is over, the need to live the last third as your most authentic self feels more compelling. Sometimes the masquerades are small ones easily abandoned—hair color, for instance. (More about that in next month’s post.) Others go deeper; maybe you stop pretending that you actually enjoy the company of uninteresting or unpleasant people. Or perhaps you admit that you long to trade the city for the country or vice versa.
Bottom line: masquerading requires a lot of energy—energy that’s available for more rewarding pursuits, both mental and physical, once you give it up.
Still Life With Bread Crumbs makes a great summer read. It’s entertaining with just enough to chew on, and Quindlen’s a master at her craft who doesn’t require five hundred pages to tell a good story.