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In This New Book, Women Share Their Collective Wisdom About Aging

Insightful questions evoke inspiring truths about aging in ‘Collective Wisdom: Lessons, Inspiration and Advice from Women over 50’

By Patricia Corrigan

Hungry for meaningful conversations, exchanges that surpass pleasantries and affirm the value of women's lives?

Grace Bonney's new book "Collective Wisdom: Lessons, Inspiration, and Advice from Women over 50" provides a forum for more than 100 women, individually and in intergenerational groups, who speak honestly about their lives — and can teach us about our own.

A photo collage of three women Excerpted from Collective Wisdom by Grace Bonney (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2021. Photographs by Natalie Chitwood and Caroline Ingraham Lee.. Next Avenue, Women collective wisdom
Gail Marquis (left), Mimi Pond and Cara Reedy (right)  |  Credit: Excerpted from Collective Wisdom by Grace Bonney (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2021. Photographs by Natalie Chitwood and Caroline Ingraham Lee.

The material is deep, because Bonney asked questions of substance, questions about what success means, how confidence and self-acceptance evolve and how losses shape lives. Bonney asked about the women's hopes for the future, what they would tell their younger selves and about their role models. She also asked what misconceptions about aging the women would like to dispel.

"This book is a mosaic, a rainbow, a blending of our many stories, stories that need to be passed on to others," said Gail Marquis, whose story is featured in the book.

"I want to digest this book, reflect on who these women are. I want to step back and learn from them - and then step up."

Marquis, 67, was named to the U.S.A. Basketball National Team to represent the U.S. at the 1976 Olympics. Later, she worked as an executive on Wall Street and currently she is the director of development at New Jersey City University.

"I'm still reading the book, taking it slow, because I don't want to gobble it up," Marquis said in an interview. "I want to digest this book, reflect on who these women are. I want to step back and learn from them — and then step up."

'Aging Is in No Way a Universal Concept'

Other women in the 400-page book include writers Cheryl Strayed and Roxane Gay, Apsáalooke Tribe matriarch Margo Real Bird, swimming champion Diana Nyad, culinary historian Jessica B. Harris, makeup artist Bobbi Brown, disability rights activist Judy Heumann, model JoAni Johnson, transgender community leader and activist Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, the late restaurateur Cecilia Chiang and Betty Reid Soskin, at 100 the oldest National Park Service ranger in the country (and a 2016 Next Avenue Influencer in Aging.

"I wanted to provide a lot of different viewpoints, because aging is in no way a universal concept," Bonney told Next Avenue.

A woman wearing a striped sweater smiling. Next Avenue, Women collective wisdom
Author Grace Bonney  |  Credit: Natalie Chitwood

Bonney is also the author of "In the Company of Women," a book about women entrepreneurs, and "Design*Sponge at Home." She founded Design*Sponge, a daily website dedicated to the creative community; "Good Company," a print magazine and podcast and "After the Jump," a podcast about creative people.

Currently working toward a graduate degree in marriage and family therapy at Syracuse University, Bonney, 40, lives in New York's Hudson Valley.

What did Bonney learn that surprised her while working on the book?

"The conversations felt healing as I was hearing the women, but seeing their words in the completed book really stuck with me, especially that we have to have grace, empathy and compassion for earlier versions of ourselves," Bonney said. "Instead of feeling embarrassed or ashamed about mistakes, we have to embrace what it took to get us where we are. I now have a sense of compassion for myself that I did not anticipate feeling." 

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Freedom Comes From Moving On

Cara Reedy, featured in Bonney's book, said in an interview that she hadn't anticipated aging could be interesting.

"I was under the impression that life is boring when you get older, but it's not — it's exciting," said Reedy, a writer, comedian, actress and journalist in New York.

After working at CNN for a decade, she co-produced the documentary "Dwarfism and Me." Now, Reedy is working on a comedy show with Selene Luna, a Mexican-American disability rights activist. And as program manager for Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund's Disability Media Alliance Project, Reedy is building a disabled journalists' association.

What's Pond's best advice to readers of all ages? She hopes more women will learn to trust themselves, to go with their instincts.

Reedy, 46, said she is pleased to be included in the book (Not all of the women interviewed are 50+). "It's important for me, now that I'm middle-aged, to be of help," she said. "I've had mentors, but never one that looked like me — a Black, disabled woman, someone that had experienced multiple levels of discrimination — and that makes a difference. It's so important to make the world more equitable, and to do that, more of us need to speak out, be vocal, be loud."

For her entire career, Reedy said, she has struggled with people telling her she didn't belong in the room and that she didn't need to talk.

"That's come from men and women," Reedy said. "But when you hit a certain age, you realize that others don't necessarily know as much as you do. You get to a different level, one of 'I don't care what you think.' Where I used to get upset, now I realize that reaction from others never was my problem. There is freedom in that realization. You can move on."

Many of us feel tempted to challenge what we're hearing when it sounds different from our personal experience; Reedy says she is keen on listening.

In "Collective Wisdom," Reedy says, "…when someone is telling me something, I have to shut up." In the interview, she added, "I hope when people curl up with this book, they will make time to listen to all our stories."

'People Underestimate Me All the Time'

Book cover of "Collectve Wisdom" By Grace Bonney. Next Avenue, Women collective wisdom

Apart from her section in Bonney's book, Mimi Pond most often tells her stories in cartoons. She has written and illustrated five books, contributes to The Los Angeles Times and is working on a graphic novel. Pond, 65, also has written for television and numerous national periodicals and won the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Graphic Literature Outstanding Body of Work. She lives in Los Angeles.

"It's great to have the recognition in this book, because you do become invisible as you get older," Pond said in an interview. "Going through menopause, I never knew if it was just hormones or the righteous rage of someone who finds herself invisible. Now I see it as a plus in some ways, because people underestimate me all the time."

Pond was 50 when she says she "woke up" and decided to stop second-guessing herself. "Now, I'm finally coming into my own," she noted. "I'm producing the best work of my life, I have no kids to worry about, I have a husband, so I have a sex life and don't have to worry about putting it all out there — that's such a big time-suck! I've never been happier."

What's Pond's best advice to readers of all ages? She hopes more women will learn to trust themselves, to go with their instincts.

Pond said, "Start living, ladies!"

Photograph of Patricia Corrigan
Patricia Corrigan is a professional journalist, with decades of experience as a reporter and columnist at a metropolitan daily newspaper, and a book author. She now enjoys a lively freelance career, writing for numerous print and on-line publications. Read more from Patricia at latetothehaight.blogspot.com. Read More
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