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Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Review: PRIME TIME: Love, Health, Sex, Fitness, Friendship, Spirit, Making the Most of All of Your Life. By Jane Fonda.

Jane Fonda has had, and continues to have, quite a life. Born of an icon, she became one herself. She has traveled the world. Been there, done that. I read her biography, prior to reading Prime Time, and found I would not want to be her. Prime Time, however, is uplifting. It's good to be Jane Fonda.

Part memoir, part reference and part how-to, Prime Time delivers Fonda’s journey through youth, middle age and seniority. Candidly she shares her triumphs and pitfalls, or “fertile voids,” her preferred metaphor for potential growth through crisis and tragedy. Driven, and afflicted with the disease to please for most of her adult life, Fonda shares insights into the aging process, citing well researched studies and some personal experiences with growing older. Naturally, she focuses on the woman’s plight with aging. She brings to our attention that “women over [the age of] 85 are the fastest-growing age group in the world!” (p. 276.) Furthermore, women are the largest demographic in U.S. history, (p. 274.) Consequently, those women can pack quite a punch in society's midsection (and we all know that’s where we keep the money belt.) She concludes that businesses better take note, as this emerging demographic has more political and purchasing power than those of the baby-boomer era following WWII.

Fonda's book tackles the subject of growing older and thriving while doing so, from every angle, as the subtitle implies. She offers encouragement to those of us in fear: yes, you sag and wrinkle and hurt, but you also realize a peace within yourself and have so much knowledge and experience to offer the world. Ironically you also have more time to enjoy the benefits of living older. Fonda cites numerous benefits, noting that elders contribute value to society and in return, absorb purposeful living. Fonda believes that contribution in the form of generativity, the nurturing of the younger generations, or of individuals of any age, leads to successful aging. Generativity encompasses caring for the planet as well (p. 257.)

Some of the graceful aging tactics she suggests include doing a Life Review: Gather as much information about yourself from family and friends and basically write your memoirs, with the intent to learn from and integrate your past. Fonda’s journey into her past mimics what Toni Morrison opined: “What becomes most compelling, therefore, are the places and voices where the journey into the cellar of time does not end with a resounding slam of a door, but where the journey is a rescue of sorts, an excavation for the purposes of building, discovering, envisioning a future.” What Moves at the Margin by Toni Morrison. University Press of Mississippi 2008 (p.181)
Fonda also asks us to craft such a purposeful future for ourselves, which benefits society as a whole.

In the preface to Prime Time Fonda introduces the “arch and the staircase” metaphor developed by Rudolf Arnheim. The arch represents biologic aging, birth, life experiences and finally death. The staircase represents human potential as a progression toward wisdom, spiritual growth and learning, i.e. consciousness and soul. Arnheim presented a straight staircase diagram. Fonda posits it should be spiral, in order to better represent that life’s ascensions circle around, allowing us to look both backwards and forwards. Both the arch and the staircase metaphors diagram how to view aging. Fonda chooses the more positive one, the staircase, which offers a framework on how to build your best life in Act III. (Fonda defines Act I as the early years/attaining/child rearing /career building to age 39. Act II spans to age 55.)

Fonda’s goal is to ready us for Act III, especially women. She works toward that goal by donning her activist hat and accessorizing it with a meditation scarf, pinning to it the practicality of health, fitness and financial acuity. She boldly attempts to cover all facets of living in modern Western society: mind, body, soul and, oh, yes, money. Sound expensive? It is, says Fonda, so better prepare early and often.

Relationships, spirituality, sex, health and money, Fonda covers those parts of life that matter most, at any age, but intensify as we enter ACT III. I understand why she expounds upon these critical areas, however I tend to cringe when someone addresses such personal issues as a “one size fits all,” even though the advice is solid. Having read many books on the subjects she covers, the inconsistencies among “experts” tend to confuse and overwhelm rather than clarify a plan of action. Fore example: Eat a diet rich with grains! Don’t eat wheat, we’re all allergic! Drink milk. Don’t drink mucus-causing cow’s milk, drink soy milk. Soy products effect estrogen receptors and may increase estrogen, so don’t consume unfermented soy! Red meat is bad. Our ancestry lived on red meat, and our bodies are genetically geared toward red meat consumption. (Financial advice is just as bad: Buy and hold .Buy low, sell high. Put your money in mutual funds. Mutual funds suck, a monkey picks better performing stocks that the fund managers! Invest in real estate. Real estate is too risky!) It’s enough to drive you to the loony-bin before breakfast. However, I can’t blame Jane for trying, because I do the same thing in seeking the holy grail of health, wealth and happiness. Let’s just all agree that out of all the methods and theories for living a balanced life, very few apply to every individual, except, of course: Eat your vegetables! With all the conflicting advice on living, we are called to experiment and experience for ourselves what works and what doesn’t. Jane Fonda has done that to the extreme.

Fonda ultimately commands us to shift the narrative of growing older from terror to triumph—the fact that physicality dissolves, reincarnates and renews imbues meaning and preciousness into our human existence. Our fearing the inevitability of mortality causes suffering, where suffering is a choice that we have made. Fonda offers a more palatable choice that we rise up to the task of facing aging with intention and courage.

Besides, as we all know, or will too soon discover, growing older is not for sissies or the faint of heart, so get with a program, and relax into your own powerful Act III.

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