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Author to discuss ‘Madwoman’ at Bank of Books
For 52-year-old author Sandra Tsing Loh, 50 isn’t the new 40. It’s the new 11.
“I think that age is really a construct,” she said. “I’m happy to state my age. It’s really a great time to be getting older.”
She says that now, but just a few years ago the author found herself adrift in choppy midlife waters marked by a mid-40s affair that would itself become a circumstantial harbinger to her perimenopause several years later.
A Malibu native now living in Pasadena, Tsing Loh attended Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, Malibu Park Junior High School and remembers hour-long bus rides to and from Santa Monica High School. She will read and discuss her new book, “The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones” at Bank of Books Malibu at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 28.
“The Volvo is sort of a metaphor for the ‘Triple-M’ generation,” Tsing Loh said, “that is, middle-aged mothers entering menopause. Women wear so many hats these days that it’s way too much for anyone’s plate.”
And it’s that full plate where Tsing Loh said she derives the notion of the “madwoman in the Volvo,” even though hers is 14 years old and riddled with the remnants of coffee spills, pairs of Spiderman underwear in the backseat and at one point, an ant attack that Tsing Loh said she never thought was possible to occur in a car.
The set piece in Tsing Loh’s novel discusses a trip she took with some of her female friends to the weeklong Burning Man art festival in Northern Nevada – which ended up being more akin to the manifestation of a mid-life crisis in her mid-40s.
Despite coming for the art and friends, a married Tsing Loh said she ended up having an affair with a best friend of hers of 10 years – a man she calls “Mr. Y” – who was also married.
“It was a spectacular blowing up of people’s lives,” Tsing Loh said. “We got kicked out of our homes and it was the midlife screw-up beyond belief that blew everything up, but things came back together, were sorted out and two households were established.”
But before the dust could completely settle, three years later, Tsing Loh said she began to experience dramatic mood swings.
“So just when I thought I had blown up my life and then tried to put it back together, at 49 I start having these really black mood punches of going into perimenopause,” she said. “Your chemicals turn upside down and a lot of unpredictable things happen to your own mood and behavior; you can feel depressed, sleepless and gloomy, and you start to get this spare tire around your mid-section that won’t slim down no matter how much you eat less.”
On top of it all, Tsing Loh said she had to look after her teenage children and an elderly father – a 93-year-old Malibu resident of 50 years who Tsing Loh said is known throughout the community for hanging his laundry to dry in his front yard and doing naked handstands on the beach.
In one episode, Tsing Loh recalls confronting her sixth-grader’s 10-year-old bully.
“My kid gets bullied on Facebook, and I just flashed back to being at Malibu Park Junior High School when I was very unpopular and there was this group of mean girls,” she said. “I just flashed back to that point and I felt connected to my teen self at a time when Sean Penn was our popular and cheerful class vice president.”
A contributing editor to the Atlantic Monthly and having been on the radio for a number of years, Tsing Loh said her whole career is based upon talking about her experiences.
She said she hopes that beyond the laughs she tried to elicit through her writing, women in particular will find a candid portrait of the life of a woman going through perimenopause and her own midlife years.
“I wanted to have a more boots-on-the-ground look at what this experience is really like and to almost lower the bar so women can feel much better if they cant figure out everyday what they’re supposed to be doing,” Tisng Loh said. “It seems like every time you walk into the women’s health section of a bookstore, there’s a life-size cutout of Dr. Phil holding a variety of books about menopause that give you the same advice that you got when you were pregnant . . . but sometimes it’s healthy to go mad, because you question the givens of what we’re supposed to be as women.”