Menopause! There. I said it. Period (as in end of.) I’m not the only one turning up the volume on a forthright discussion. Lower East Side Librarian Jenna Freedman and her frank, funny and factual band of collaborators, including co-editor Kate Haas, are spurring a movement to change the way we look at “The Change.” Their compilation zine “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Menopause,” (with a grateful nod to Judy Blume) takes on a topic that’s “mysterious, fascinating, scary, and poorly documented in popular media. In other words, perfect zine material.”
(Don’t know what a zine is? I wasn’t really sure, either. I’ll explain in a minute.)
Jenna, as readers of this blog may recall, was the first to read and review the manuscript of my upcoming novel “More Than You Think You Know,” (Beating Windward Press, 2015). I’m forever grateful for her receptivity to my random review request. Because of the role menopause plays in my novel’s storyline, I’d Googled “menopause books” while looking for comps. Up popped Jenna and Kate’s Menopause Book Club.
Comps, by the way, is short for comparables, books like your book that explain to prospective publishers where your novel fits on the bookstore shelf. It was a relief to find readers and writers who like me were wondering why nobody is writing about something that currently affects the largest sector of the U.S. population. “By 2015 nearly one-half of American women will be menopausal or post,” writes Sandra Tsing LOH in AARP magazine. “…in the new menopause these steely-eyed women are running businesses, doing newscasts, setting interest rates, performing surgery…”
One prospective agent for my book described menopause as a deal breaker, as in do not ever mention such a repulsive condition in a query. Ever. No one is interested.
Jenna’s combination of courteous warmth and fearless bluntness is a rare find. I was extremely pleased when she asked me if I wanted a copy of the meno-zine. It arrived earlier this month complete with a knitted uterus on the cover and a vintage Modess sanitary napkin ad. What’s not to love? The work of contributors Abby Koch; Andria Alefhi; Ayun Halliday; Carrie McNinch; China Martens; Elaine Harger; Jude Vachon; Kim Cody; Krissy Durden; Margarita Alcantara; and Moe Bowstern together with Haas and Freedman cover every angle from celebration to consternation.
The deviled eggs illustration made me laugh out loud. The silence and confusion some contributors expressed about the major life event made me even more determined to keep exploring this theme, shouting “Menopause!” from the rooftops as needed to help women understand and address this passage by sharing their emotional, spiritual and physical experiences.
I wish I’d had a zine like this. I wish my role models had been more open about talking about what they were experiencing. I picked up most of my meno-info from eavesdropping, my mother swapping sweat stories with her friends about how she’d even soaked through her suede pumps. My mother-in-law, slugging down wine, dancing with abandon and expressing interest in ingesting herbs other than basil…
I assumed that menopause made you kooky and sweaty. It never occurred to me that you could take something for it until friends closer to my age went on estrogen replacement therapy so they didn’t cry or scream 24/7.
My own menopause confrontation came early because I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I decided on a hysterectomy, although I feared I’d get fat and lazy like a spayed dog. A mentor editor at the newspaper, thin, funny, blunt and energetic set me straight on that one. I kept my fallopian tubes, which kept me ovulating, which held off menopause. When I finally did go through “the change” I felt easier about it because I knew it wasn’t going to slow me down. What I didn’t know that I know now is that I should have cut back on cocktails and kicked the ciggies. Smoking and drinking exacerbate hot flashes. Eventually I discovered a couple of natural supplements that nurtured my adrenals instead of trying to mimic the estrogen that was naturally going away as part of the normal aging process, part of the Maiden-Mother-Crone cycle of life. My next novel is populated with all three archetypes.
Susun Weed, mentioned in the meno-zine, speaks to the power of homemade herbal remedies as well as the joy of being a crone. I’m still getting used to the term, which conjures visions of a cranky, creaky, cackling old witch with a big wart on the end of her nose. A crone is actually a beautifully and fully developed woman of sage wisdom, a woman who fearlessly dances to her own tune. I call myself a baby crone, still very much a mother but heading toward this final, glorious becoming.
A word about zines, if you don’t know what they are: All the rage in the punked-up ‘90s, these handmade versions of highly personalized, low circulated (maga)zines are making a comeback thanks, ironically, to the technology that makes us aware of their existence. They’re not meant to be read by millions. Zines do not seek an audience; the audience is a collaborative community sharing experiences and experiments outside the mainstream. Zines are usually an arresting mix of artwork, text layouts and viewpoints. No gloss, no pretense, no reach for mass media fame, although some may aspire to infamy. I plan on reading more of them and maybe helping to make some.
Thanks again, Jenna, not only for sharing this meno-zine but for educating, disseminating, cataloguing and celebrating this form of creative expression. I dub thee the Zine Queen. Someone irreverent enough to sign a letter “Menstrual crampingly yours” doesn’t strike me as a royal kind of gal, but perhaps one of your cats could wear a jeweled crown in your stead?
Jenna has started an online shop to allow the flow (pun intended) of specialty zines to reach specialty audiences. http://leslzine.storenvy.com/
Here’s a neat-o blog about Jenna and the radical librarian movement and a couple of other links that will clue you in to the lively zine network and the work she and those of her ilk are doing:
If you know or are one of the 10,000 women entering menopause daily, I encourage you to procure a copy of “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Menopause.” Share and discuss with your menstruating and hot-flashing community. May the views of these wise, funny and creative zine contributors embolden you to speak freely about a state of being that’s far more interesting than men and their boners, something mainstream America has been happily discussing since Bob Dole made erectile dysfunction an acronym and an acceptable topic for commercials airing during what TV networks used to refer to as “family hour.”
What do you want to know about menopause? If you’ve experienced it, do you have any advice about alleviating undesirable symptoms?