Anna Quindlen isn’t afraid of growing old. But then, for those who have read any of her six bestselling novels, her eight nonfiction books, her Pulitzer Prize-winning columns for The New York Times or her “Last Word” column for Newsweek, it’s easy to believe that Anna Quindlen isn’t afraid of anything. The author of the 2012 memoir Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, Quindlen, 60, recently spoke to Chapman University students in a class on creativity taught by Professor Harry Ufland at Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. Ufland and Quindlen are longtime friends, Ufland having produced for the screen Quindlen’s novel One True Thing, crafting a 1998 film that starred Meryl Streep, William Hurt and Renee Zellweger.
For more than two hours, Quindlen answered wide-ranging questions posed by the Chapman students, covering everything from journalism to materialism, parenthood to sisterhood. Some of her insights:
On aging — “For women particularly, aging can be incredibly liberating. We spend so much of our youth listening to outside messages about how we should look, about how we should live, who we should love; we’re bombarded with judgment. There comes a point in a woman’s life when she wakes up and says, ‘I don’t care anymore what anyone thinks of me. I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, I look fine, leave me alone.’ And that’s hugely liberating.”
On advice to young women — “I think the glass ceiling that most members of your generation will hit is less likely to be in the office and more likely to be in the kitchen. Because I still think that so much that we see about women either failing or more often backstopping themselves, saying I cant take that job or that promotion, is that they understand that they don’t have one job but two. They have a job at home and a job out in the world. If there was more of a sharing between partners at home in terms of raising kids and taking care of domestic chores, then I think women would be less likely to limit themselves out in the world.”
On the rewards of parenting — There is another reason I care so deeply about (sharing domestic responsibilities), and it doesn’t have to do with fairness at all. It’s because I have two sons as well as a daughter. I really feel that the hands-on raising of my kids was the making of me as a human being, and I would hate for my sons to miss that because of unfinished business related to gender roles. I want them to be as happy and fulfilled as possible, and to my mind that will only happen if they are extremely active in the lives of their children.”
On our consumer culture — “We have gone down a dark, dark road in terms of consumerism in this country, and it only has been made possible by the invention of plastic (credit cards). We’ve turned consumerism into a kind of sport. It’s pretty clear that we’re all looking for something, and we’re really not finding it at Banana Republic. Maybe this is the beginning of a time when we’ll figure out what it really is and where it really lives.”
On her process for writing a novel — “I usually develop my ideas while I’m power walking in the morning. Then there comes a moment when I realize that I’ve accumulated enough detail about the central character and the central themes that I might as well suck it up and sit down and start writing. The first chapter comes fairly easily, because I’ve been thinking about it for a few months. And by the time I finish that first chapter, I’ve managed to convince myself that I’m kind of a genius. And it’s a wonderful feeling. Then you get 60 or 70 pages in and that feeling evaporates, and you realize that it is, as always, about the hard work of pushing that rock of writing up the hill.”
On the biggest obstacle to success — “Most of the bad stuff done in the world is because of fear — fear of taking chances, fear of doing things differently than they’ve ever been done before, fear of judgment from other people. You have to get past that fear and say to yourself, what’s the worst that can happen? If you can do that, then you have the ability to get out there and do some audacious stuff, and that’s really what you need to be shooting for.”
>> READ MORE: In Chapman Magazine, Toby Juffre Goode writes about facing her fears — in more ways than one — and how her meeting Anna Quindlen almost turned into an unexpected limo ride.