Transparent and Still Mine: highly recommended

I’m always hungry for films that portray aging and relationships insightfully, teaching me something new and unexpected.

Amazon Prime jolted me recently with two stellar offerings — one series and one film — that feature aging characters who don’t fit any of the stereotypes. Both affected me profoundly, and I recommend them to you:

Transparent

At 68, Mort (played masterfully by Jeffrey Tambor) comes out as a trans woman who wants to be called Maura. In this sweet, smart, and strongly acted ensemble series, we see the strengths and vulnerabilities of Mort/Maura and a family of ex-wife and three adult children — who make a ton of relationship mistakes of their own.

This 10-episode series resolves many questions and leaves enough unanswered to allow for a second season, which is in the works — hurray!

Yes, there’s lots of sex in Transparent, but (boo) only Maura’s children are having it. Maura is more interested in establishing her identity and being accepted by her family than in having sex with anyone — at least in season 1. Will this change in the second season?

Still Mine

Craig (James Cromwell) is watching Irene (Geneviève Bujold), his wife of 61 years, lose her memory. He loves her fiercely and wants to protect her by building a house that will be easier for her to live in.

Although Craig has been building houses his whole life, he’s no match for the bureaucracy that insists on permits and strict adherence to building codes that are irrelevant to Craig  (the plans are in his head; the lumber came from a tree he felled; the knowledge came from his father and a lifetime of craftsmanship and self-sufficiency).

The love and chemistry between Craig and Irene are powerful. The tenderness in their loving looks and caresses will make you applaud or cry or both. And rather than portray this elderly couple as sexless, there’s a sexy undressing scene early in the film that includes, “This never gets old. We always did passion well.”

This film is based on real people and actual events. Don’t miss it.

What films have you watched that portrayed aging and relationships in a non-stereotypical way? I look forward to your recommendations.

“Promise me you’ll keep doing your work…”

 “Promise me you’ll keep doing your work,” Robert said, taking both my hands in his and pressing them to his heart, looking deeply into my eyes.

It was three years ago — end of March 2008 — and we had learned that his body was succumbing to multiple myeloma. There were treatments we could and would try, but this conversation marked the countdown to the end, as I think back on it.

He would have one more month of health — fatigued, but able to live the way he loved — going to his art studio to paint, dancing joyfully, and loving me as if his life depended on it (and maybe it did). Then, as treatments failed, his back fractured in multiple places. The extreme pain led him into another world — a world where love was not enough to heal or even ease the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. 

A world of preparing to die.

 “Promise me you’ll keep doing your work…”

Our profound sexual connection had powered our relationship for our seven, soul-soaring years together. Neither of us had ever had a relationship as sexually exuberant or as emotionally satisfying! Professionally, our spicy hot afternoon delights propelled me to switch writing topics from health and fitness to senior sex. Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty celebrated our love affair. We married in 2006, the year the book came out.

We already knew that our love wasn’t “forever” the way young people think of it. Besides being seniors, we had the challenge of Robert’s diagnosis — at that point — of leukemia and lymphoma. Our wedding celebrated not only our love, but that six months of chemotherapy had sent Robert’s cancer into remission. We were told we might have ten or more good years of health, a magical gift.

But we didn’t have ten years — we had two.

 “Promise me you’ll keep doing your work…”

March 2011: Two countdowns shift in my mind. In August, I’ll face the 3-year anniversary of Robert’s death. (When does it get easier?) But before that, in June, I’ll welcome a new book into the world — Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex — the book I started working on with Robert. In fact, you’ll see that he wrote part of the chapter, “Unlearning Our Upbringing: Men’s Stories.”

I think at our age, those of us who dare to live and love fully have this balancing act between the sweet surprises and rewards of living our dreams out loud and the inevitable losses. Robert gave me the right advice: “Promise me you’ll keep doing your work.” It sustains me and brings me great joy — as does sharing it with you!

Dear John, I Love Jane: book review

Dear John, I Love Jane — isn’t the title perfect? — is a 2011 anthology edited by Candace Walsh and Laura André (who happen to be a couple) and written by women who left their straight life/ relationships/ husbands because they fell in love with women.

Some always knew they were attracted to women, but bowed to society’s norm and married men anyway. Others had no idea they could or would fall in love with a woman.

The stories are engrossing, well-crafted, intimate, and dramatic. I felt I was sitting in a room hearing these women’s personal stories — their conflicts, thrills, misgivings (sometimes), and declarations.

When Seal Press offered me this book to review, I emailed back, “I hope some of the stories highlight women over 50.” I was surprised and pleased to learn that several of these authors are over 50, and in case you want to read their stories first–as I did–here are their names: Leigh Stuart, Sheila Smith, Susan Grier, Meredith MaranKami DayMicki Grimland, and Katherine Briccetti.

I loved many of the stories, including “Memoirs of a Wanton Prude” by Sheila Smith, who first fell in love with a woman at age 69. As a teen, she was taught that gays and lesbians were “Sick! Immoral! Perverted!” and she fought back her feelings until age 50. Still, she stayed with her husband, “reading lesbian books and [keeping] my feelings about women under wraps. A divorce and a few years of solitude readied her to meet Diana, who taught her that “Lesbians are about intimacy”: “It wasn’t so much she wanted to go to bed with me; it was that she wanted to wake up with me.”

One of the most moving stories to me was “The Right Fit” by Kami Day (also over 50), who was raised Mormon and was taught that “Heavenly Father had made one man whose penis would fit just perfectly inside my vagina,” and that perfect fit would be revealed on her wedding night. It wasn’t. But 15 years later, the perfect fit arrived: Michele. And 15 after that, they are still together, “using only about half the mattress in our double bed.”

The writing is terrific — often lyrical, sometimes funny, and full of surprises. For example:

  • “I have always been far more turned on by our magical, slippery little orchid than by their — what is that? A puppet? Some sort of sea creature?” (Veronica Masen)
  • “My body has a need that’s burning a hole through the mattress. My brain is hanging on for dear life to what remains of my heterosexuality.” (Meredith Maran)
  • “I had never imagined kissing another woman, but now I did, wanting to know the gentleness of soft skin, the taste of female, this female.” (Susan Grier)
  • “I had recurrent dreams of making out with Ellen DeGeneres in a rustic Spanish house in Santa Barbara.” (Leigh Stuart)

Dear John, I Love Jane is an important book. It is more than a lesbian anthology — it’s about women making choices at first that go counter to what they really want or need (and isn’t that especially true of our age group?), then facing and accepting — and being thrilled by! — their true natures. It shows women’s sexual fluidity in a way we seldom see or acknowledge.

When I was writing Naked at Our Age, several women over 50 sent me their stories about marrying men (some quite contently, others battling their nature) and in later life discovering love with another woman — or wanting to experience sex with another woman and not yet putting it into action. If this book had been out then, I would have recommended it. I recommend it now!

Purchase the Dear John, I Love Jane on Amazon or order from your independent bookseller.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Danny and Annie, “a beautiful song from a busted old radio”

“Listen, if we’re going anywhere, we’re going down the aisle, because I’m too tired, too sick, and too sore to do any other damn thing,” Danny told Annie 27 years ago.

I love this story from StoryCorps. Danny and Annie are narrating their love story, and they sound just as romantic now as in the first bloom of their relationship. “It’s like hearing a beautiful song from a busted old radio,” Danny tells Annie about why he tells her he loves her every day. “Thanks for keeping the old radio around.”

Listen to the whole 5:50 minutes — but be prepared to cry half way through when you hear about Danny’s illness, and at the end, when you read the final note on the video. I did.

As I’ve learned personally, when we love each other at our age, part of that loving is facing and accepting that one of us will lose the other. That’s a strong reason for embracing each other as closely and lovingly as we can, while we can.

Thank you, AARP Blog for posting this video, and to StoryCorps for recording it.  I’ve listened to it three times in a row now — let me know how you react to it.


Danny & Annie from StoryCorps on Vimeo.