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"Most people think I'm a hard-drinking slut, but really I'm an angel of mercy."
That's journalist Marion Winik talking about her new book, Highs in the Low 50s: How I Stumbled through the Joys of Single Living.
I'll understand completely if you expect it to contain all manner of lewd behavior. But having written previously about everything from her drug use in early adulthood to her first husband's death from AIDs complications in 1994, Winik seems to have Toned Things Down Considerably for her latest sally between the covers: "You may have noticed that I hardly ever have sex in this book!" she laughs, speaking to me from her Baltimore home.
What I love about Winik is her amazing ability to "make new friends but keep the old." (Marion, let's do lunch!) That superpower skill emerges as a leitmotif of Highs in the Low 50s.
Still, listen to how carefully the author goes about it: "I wouldn't have any friends left if I were just a ruthless scavenger of other people's lives. Well, I am that," she concedes, "but I'm also a lovey-dovey girl. I love people, and I am naturally nurturing. I guess you could say I have the qualities to be a good friend, but not a good wife: I'm macho, bossy, and controlling. I really want to drive the marriage bus!"
And she's cool with that. "I've reconciled myself to being a midlife singleton," says Winik. "I'm content with it." When I pushed her to say why, she invoked an unexpected role model: Her mother, "Big Jane" Winik. "I miss my mom so much, because she spent so much of her life as a competent, happy, single woman. From the time my father died at 55 until her own death at 80, she made it look good; she was incredibly vigorous in her pursuits. Big Jane was my mentor in older single living."
"Things fell apart" in 2008, says Winik, when she lost her mother and her second marriage unraveled. Eager to change things up, she moved from her home in rural Pennsylvania to a rowhouse in Baltimore. "The life that I've made since I came to Baltimore is the most consciously creative thing I've ever done," she muses. "I feel bad that my mother isn't here to see it and celebrate it with me."
Big Jane would probably laugh as hard as I did if she could read her daughter's latest book. "It's not a geriatric 50 Shades of Grey," Winik insists. Then, unable to stop herself, she burbles out some good news: "Shortly after I handed in the manuscript, I met someone on Facebook. I may have had enough fun in the last few months for another book!"
P.S. Highs in the Low 50s is being published by Skirt! - an edgy new imprint of historically strait-laced publisher Globe Pequot Press. "Skirt! is something of a hybrid," says Acquisitions Editor Lara Asher. "We do a lot of health books, but also memoirs by women speaking with a sort of brutal honesty. Marion's the perfect example of that; she's the queen of irreverence, and you feel like you're living vicariously through her adventures."
What were the highest highs of your low 50s?