March 2007

Sara Davidson

Finding freedom in life’s final chapter
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A flower child who attended the University of California at Berkeley in the 1960s, Sara Davidson epitomized her trailblazing generation. After studying at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, she became a national correspondent for the Boston Globe, covering the election campaigns of Bobby Kennedy and Richard Nixon, as well as Woodstock. She helped establish the new journalism movement with articles for Harper's, Esquire, Atlantic Monthly and Rolling Stone, then became the literary voice of the baby boomer generation with her 1977 book Loose Change: Three Women of the Sixties. Davidson then alternated between writing books (including the best-selling novel Cowboy) and producing and writing for television, including her Golden-Globe-nominated tenure as writer/producer of "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman."

Clearly, Davidson wouldn't accept a conventional retirement of baking bread and knitting baby blankets in a McMansion by the links. But after her children left for college, her lover abandoned her, and Hollywood suddenly stopped knocking on her door, Davidson was stripped of every meaningful role she had known almost overnight. What was she supposed to do with the next 30 years? It is so hard to make a dent in the culture now, Davidson admitted. So she picked up her tape recorder and started interviewing boomer friends and acquaintances about their own final-chapter transitions. Leap! What Will We Do with the Rest of Our Lives? reads like a long, meandering and fascinating Esquire profile, documenting Davidson's own experiences, and those of more than 150 interview subjects including Jane Fonda, Dam Rass, Tom Hayden and Carly Simon, along with plenty of juicy facts from studies on aging.

Boomers forge their own way and look to each other, Davidson discovered. Following the struggle with every demon inside what you should do, what you're due, a lust for joyful work and personal excellence re-emerges in this laid-back generation. There's air and possibility at the end, Davidson says. We can be freer now. We've checked off so many things. The author answered questions about the book from her home in the mountains near Boulder, Colorado.

Leap! is categorized as self-help. Do you consider this a self-help book?
I never set out to write a self-help book because I don't get help from books. I love story, I love narrative and I learn from narrative. I think people learn through story, and it's so much more enjoyable.

The book is full of anecdotes, but few directives on how to age. Was this intentional?
I didn't want to make a list of things people should do, because there's no one blueprint. This is our last best shot. At this point in life, you shouldn't give a damn about what people are thinking. I wanted to stimulate people to think and come up with what's authentic for themselves.

Were you surprised by what you discovered?
Every interview was full of surprises . . . everyone was changing all the time. Nothing was as I expected it to be. People who made adamant statements changed. I went away feeling inspired and happy and envious that I didn't have what they had. Everything I learned was affirming. It's okay that it changed. I have a very different relationship with change now. Nothing else has the solidity that's the reality.

Did the process of writing the book ease your own transition?
I was so moved that I wasn't in this alone, that I wouldn't fall that far. We all have networks, so many people we can call.

How would you sum up the aging process?
Going through the narrows that rough passage everybody has to go through. If you don't volunteer, your body or the world will force you to.

What does being relentless and fearless mean now that you've passed 50?
I'm fearless about my career future. I have no idea what work I'll do next. I don't have a stack of things lined up. I have no clue, but I have trust that it will be OK.

Every person has gifts and nobody can take those away . . . and what your gift is, matters. You have a rhythm with that one tune that's yours to play. What else is there? At the end it's going to be about the moment[s] you're fully alive, loving and being loved.


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