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The Face in the Mirror: Writers Reflect on Their Dreams of Youth and the Reality of Age

When you were in your youth -- riding your bicycle, playing stickball, learning how to knit, sitting too close to that old black-and-white television, attending the senior prom -- did you look in the mirror and imagine yourself in any way close to the person you are today? And now that you are here, in this place, at this age, do you look back with longing at the old dreams and expectations? Perhaps you are delighted, even surprised, by what you have achieved. You wanted to be a doctor or ballerina, the next person to walk on the moon, a teacher who stirs the imagination of students. Did those dreams come true? Perhaps a more important question: Was your future defined by your own dreams, or by the dreams and expectations of others? Some authors in this collection were encouraged by the people in their lives, while others have succeeded despite them.Whether we like it or not, we live in a society that gauges its citizens not by the content of our dreams, but by the accomplishments in our careers. There’s a presumption that successful people--that is, people who earn an excellent living or get mentioned in the newspaper from time to time--must certainly feel satisfied, even exhilarated, for having achieved so much. In many cases, I’m sure this is true. But maybe a question we need to ask ourselves is, What is our own gauge for success? If we could answer this, we might understand why some of us set the bar so low, demanding little of ourselves and waiting to see what happens, while others aim unrealistically high. More than a few authors in this collection write about the desire to achieve, as well as those obstacles that hindered their journey: unexpected parenthood, family pressures, economic need, emotional trauma. Authors include Malachy McCourt, Eileen Goudge, Joyce Maynard, Leon Whiteson, Sandra Gulland, Christine O’Hagan, Alan Dershowitz, and more.

Dale Farris, Groves, TX
Zackheim (instructor, Univ. of California-Los Angeles Extension Writers' Program; The Bone Weaver) has assembled essays from 20 authors who reflect on their advancing age and compare how they turned out with who they thought they would become when they were much younger. Among the relatively well-known essayists featured here are Malachy McCourt, Joyce Maynard, Alan Dershowitz, Beverly Donofrio, Eileen Goudge, and editor Zackheim; included are dual photos of each in youth and from the present. The authors reveal their highly personal, frank thoughts on their desire to achieve success, obstacles that hindered their life journey, their accomplishments and failures, the state of their families, how some ended up replicating their parents, and on meeting personal goals and living with unfulfilled dreams. A common thread is the writers' expressions of a sense of completeness, of becoming whole, and of learning how to live within themselves and be comfortable with whom they have become. One of the more remarkable stories is Donofrio's, sharing her life's experiences as she became a teenage mother, then a convicted felon, and later a college student and a notable author, now living in a monastery in the Colorado mountains. VERDICT Aging boomers will likely relate to these sensitive, refreshingly honest musings that tackle universal questions about the choices faced in life and the critical self examination that comes with age. Recommended.—