When did I stop writing about the angst of torrid love, motherhood, wandering husbands, and terrible bosses? About the time, probably, that I got bored with the angst and became a hen.
The transition was subtle in me and in my writing. It’s not that I didn’t still pay attention to love, children, and work. It’s just that I found myself writing about women who had concerns and problems that reflected my growing uneasiness in a world that still worshipped youth, in literature as well as in life, as I grew older.
One of these mature characters decided that romantic love was not a real entity. It was, instead, something conjured a few centuries ago to complicate the reasons for marriage. She opted for good conversation over a 2012 bottle of good wine. Another character rejoiced when her children grew up. She discovered a world beyond report cards and teenage sex. My favorite woman told her prick of a principal to go . . . . himself and walked out of a career built on files of old lesson plans. Her next stop was a tent in Rwanda and she didn’t know or care what would come after that.
Ellie, my most courageous old lady, confronted a serial killer with a knife. Another woman wanted to kill her husband and was relieved when he died on his own. If love of one sort or another presented itself to my characters, it came as a chapter, not her whole story.
Chick Lit may breathlessly describe a young women’s first adventure into adultery, her sense of guilt, joy, and whatever. Interesting to other young women in the same brood. A hen will have been there already. If she happens upon a man whom she desires, she will probably know what to do. She will do it without the histrionics, understanding there’s more to life than an orgasm. If a chick hates her boss, she’ll piss, screech, cackle, and finally stomp out of the roost. A hen will just waddle away quietly, exit the yard through a hole in the fence, having first left behind a ruthless peck or two of revenge. A Hen will start her own flock.
At least, that’s what my characters do because my writer persona nowadays is that of a flawed but strong-willed woman whose long life thickens and shapes her stories. It is impossible for me to write truthfully about a modern twenty-six-year-old. I don’t have the vocabulary. I am hampered by her lack of back story. I don’t have the vaguest idea of her ambitions, ethics, view of the world, or even if she has one yet.
What I do have are the experiences, fears, and dreams of an older woman, looking back as well as forward. I admire my strong women. After a little foundering, they often realize that they can take control of the rest of their days, uncertain in number as they might be. Young chicks have little awareness that an end may be right around the next pile of corn. My hens know that each remaining moment should be put to good use,
Like giving time and thought to the road they’ve been traveling along for years. Older women sit on nests full of memories, turn over the eggs, ponder, and exalt about small, clicking cracks. When the memory turns out to be a dud, rotten, a hen will toss it aside. These memories are what make Hen Lit the new genre.
And I am guessing that the millions of baby-boomer women who are way past being chicks have settled into their hen lives and are looking for books about people like themselves–intelligent, flawed, seeking, mature individuals–who spend a fair amount of time also thinking of the uncharted territory that lies ahead.
Editor’s Note: In addition to Jo Barney’s website listed in her bio, she also keeps a blog on writing called Breakout Novel.
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