I have a great story for you all today, but to set the mood I’ve hand-selected these memes for you to enjoy:
So here’s the thing. After 40 or so years of being an adult, I’m getting less and less thrilled about it. Specifically, I’m talking about the years from around the time you become eligible for Social Security until you die. These do not seem to be the most exciting years of life, judging by what I did yesterday. Yesterday, 65-year-old me put new shelf liners in our kitchen pantry, and then I went to the bank, and then I waited until Jeopardy came on TV so I could make a gin and tonic.
I’m not saying that I was never bored when I was in my 20s or 30s — in fact, I was often bored. . . but there was always a way out! I could take off for Paris! I could stay out all night dancing and getting high in the East Village! I could join the Peace Corps! I could go hitch-hiking in Ireland! I could go live on a kibbutz in the Jordan Valley for a year! I could jump into a love affair with someone totally inappropriate that would end in tragedy! Sadly, life doesn’t offer itself up that way when you are in your 60s, 70s, or 80s and I rue it every day. And yet, there are people who get to my age and find ways to still be energized and excited and ensouled by life.
That’s why I am in awe of my friend, Janet Lea, a Baby Boomer public relations executive who fell deeply in love two years ago and, as a result, is in Yorkshire (England) this week, meeting and greeting local and national celebrities who are clamoring for her attention as she unveils her first book to the acclaim of world-wide gathering of academics and influencers.
Now this is what I call Living Out Loud which is, fact, the subtitle of her book:
Gentleman Jack is the name of an 8-hour historical drama from the BBC that aired in the Spring of 2019 about Anne Lister, an upper class lady from Halifax; a landowner, world traveller, and polymath who cross-dressed in men’s clothes and took a wife in 19th-century England. Anne Lister was a lesbian at a time when there wasn’t even the word “lesbian”.
As Janet says: “It never crossed my mind that watching a TV show in 2019 would propel me out of my comfort zone, send me on a transatlantic adventure, and plop me smack dab in the middle of an international community of lesbians, historians, and strong women. Gentleman Jack upended my life.”
The thing is, Janet is happily married to her wife of many, many years, and was enjoying a slower-paced life in semi-retirement in New Mexico but, “Thanks to Gentleman Jack, I fell in love with a woman who had been buried for nearly two hundred years. I was stupefied and embarrassed because Anne Lister was, after all, dead. But far more mortifying and unexpected was my morphing into a 70-something fan girl.”
With the conclusion of the first season of the show Janet “assumed what had become my unsettling preoccupation with Anne Lister would end and my infatuation with all things Gentleman Jack would surely dissipate.
But no, it didn’t,” Janet says. “It got worse.”
“I was obsessed.”
So what she did was put a 15-page questionnaire to the Facebook group of Gentleman Jack fans from around the world , asking about the impact the program had had on their lives. Out of the 600 people who wrote lengthy and “searingly emotional” responses, she interviewed close to 70 people, via Zoom, while the world was in lockdown in 2020 and 2021. Their stories show how people can find their true selves, via Gentleman Jack (or some other catalyst). These are people who re-created themselves to live more loving, more authentic, more meaningful, and more adventurous lives because of Anne Lister’s example of strength and courage.
Since publishers usually have a backlog queue of books in their publishing schedules that would have put her on a 2-year waiting list, Janet founded her own publishing company, hired a graphic designer, proofreader, IT specialist, and production manager while she handled rights and permissions and got her book and e-book to press just two months after her final interview. Pub date: September 2, 2021.
And now, 23 days later, Janet is the foremost documentarian of the phenomenon spurred by this BBC TV show that is re-shaping lesbian identity. She’s got a sold-out book event in Anne Lister’s hometown, she’s an honored guest at a symposium that features renowned Anne Lister historians and archivists, and she’s holding meetings with the creators of the BBC program because of their interest and gratitude for her work, which, buy the way, has made The Gentlemen Jack Effect the #1 book in Lesbian Studies on amazon.com.
P. S. I did the illustrations.
What I love most about Janet’s story is that it shows how alive we can be at any age. Everything that she has accomplished in the past two years comes down to falling in love, to having that special kind of passion that is the life force itself. I wish there was a way that you could conjure it up at will, but it seems to be a thing that comes out of the blue, randomly, when you least expect it. And isn’t that wonderful? It could happen today!
Janet’s book click here is available at amazon.com because it was the only distributor she could find who would get orders out fast and efficiently to America and overseas. You don’t have to be in love with Anne Lister to be moved and inspired by these life-affirming and joyous stories of self-actualization, but you do have to have a beating heart — these stories will move you.
Have a great weekend, everyone. I hope you all fall in love and 18 months later find yourself in a far-away land being the toast of the town. Or, throw yourself a staying-at-home party while you whip up some margaritas and tip the cute pizza delivery guy an extra $10. For all you Australians who are gearing up for lawn-sprinkler-hopping-into season, and all you Northern Hemispherians who are taking stock of the sweater situation: you never know. A great passion might be just around the corner, because weird things happen on the cusp.
See you all next week.