Noe Valley Voice February 2009

Local Women Authors Dish on Life, Love, and Sex in Their 40s

By Lorraine Sanders

Noe Street resident Diane Perro doesn't make New Year's resolutions. Instead, she makes declarations. There was, for example, the Year of Cleavage, a 12-month span dedicated to showing off the aforementioned whenever and wherever possible (and, of course, appropriate).

During the Year of Being Good to Myself, Perro tempered her demanding professional life as a high-tech executive with monthly massages, regular mani-pedi sessions, and a three-week bike trip to Bali with several girlfriends.

But what turned out to be Perro's most life-altering declaration did not take place as December gave way to January one year. Instead, it happened while she was visiting a friend on Nov. 4, 2000.

"I made some huge statement about, 'If that blankety-blank [Bush] gets elected, I'm moving to Paris.' About a year and a half later, I made good on that promise," she recalls.

Detailed in the essay "I Declare," Perro's subsequent five-year relocation to the City of Lights, and the life lessons that came before and after the move, comprise one of three stories by Noe Valley residents in the new book Knowing Pains: Women on Love, Sex, and Work in Our 40s. All net proceeds from the book are being donated to Breast Cancer Action, a nonprofit breast cancer research and advocacy group founded in San Francisco in 1990. Other stories by neighborhood residents are "The Real Marathon" by 27th Street writer Tina Goette and "On Being Single" by Samantha Pinney, who lives on Dolores Street.

Since its debut last fall, the collection of essays by women in their 40s (32 from 12 states) has met with noteworthy levels of success for a self-published book created entirely through volunteer efforts. Recently, the book gained national recognition when it was featured during a Jan. 23 segment on NBC's Today show. Judging from the raves on, the book could well achieve its goal of selling 13,000 copies and raising $50,000 for Breast Cancer Action in its first year.

Confidently Single

The project began, simply enough, when Goette's friend and the book's editor, Molly Tracy Rosen, went in search of just such a book, only to come up empty-handed. "I literally woke up on my 40th birthday, planning to read a book like this. I couldn't find one. That's when I started reaching out to women I knew. The intent really was to help fill a void that I found personally," the Oakland resident explains.

When Rosen couldn't find a book offering wisdom and advice to women entering their 40s, she decided to quit her job and compile one herself.

The collection entertains with essays touching on everything from 40-something rock fandom to the sudden loss of a husband stricken with a brain tumor. The stories differ widely. Some are thoughtful and reflective, others full of unanswered questions, and others irrepressibly funny.

"Women in their 40s have so many different roles, as mother, as worker, as boss, as employee, as a lover. Just the range of roles that we have, I think there's a lot of pressure for women...and I think a lot of the essays speak to, you know, we're good enough at what we're doing and we need to stop trying to pressure ourselves to be perfect and accept ourselves where we are," says Goette, whose story recalls her struggles as a newly divorced single mother coming to terms with her new life while training to run half of the San Francisco Marathon.

As Goette, a self-described non-runner, prepares for the city's annual summer race, she discovers that she possesses the mental resolve not only to meet the physical challenge, but to press through the emotional transition from married to divorced, to confidently single.

'Best Decade of My Life'

One of the few defining aspects of the collection is the writers' lack of chagrin regarding the oft-maligned decade in question.

"One thing that surprised me was how incredibly positive almost everybody was. Most [contributors] said, 'This has absolutely been the best decade of my life thus far,' and that surprised me because I have always thought the popular media portrayed [being 40] as a bad thing," muses Rosen, who lives in Oakland.

Even in stories where sadness and frustration with life's circumstances are palpable, there's a common thread of optimism and hope that runs throughout.

Take Samantha Pinney's meditation on life as a single woman in her 40s, for example.

"On good days, I feel empowered by the choices I've made and am hopeful that the right relationship is still waiting for me," she writes in her essay. "On bad days, I pray for a time when I won't care so much about being alone. Happiness feels tenuous when I consider contradictory feelings from one day to the next. One chance encounter could change everything."

Solidarity Helps

For Pinney, the opportunity to write for Knowing Pains came during the dark, post-breakup days following the end of a serious relationship.

"I wish at the time I had been in a much more happy place and written something super silly. I have a lot more stories, and I'm a very funny person," she says.

Despite her wishes that she'd been able to write a sunnier, lighthearted piece for the book, she knows that her own dark period offers potential comfort to readers.

"I hope that they realize that there are other people out there that feel the same way," she says.

Traversing the 40-something decade--as the contributions from Goette, Pinney, and Perro illustrate--may not always be easy. But in Knowing Pains, at least, aging comes with an empowering message.

Says Rosen:

"Statistically, we're halfway through our lives when we're 40. It's really a time when, as the subtitle suggests, we're old enough to know better and young enough to do something about it."

Local bookstores carrying Knowing Pains (list price $16.95) include Christopher's Books in Potrero Hill and San Francisco Books Inc. locations. Several contributors will participate in a San Francisco reading for the book on Feb. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Laurel Village Books Inc. Information about upcoming readings is available at