If you’re a baby boomer and haven’t yet turned 60, you’re close. What does 60 mean? And, what do you do with 60? Leslie Thomas was shocked to learn that no one has really written about this milestone in our lives. So she decided she’d be the first.
When my first friend was about to turn 60, I went up the street to my local Barnes and Noble to shop for a gift. And because 60 is a scary birthday -– the first one with the distinct whiff of “old” about it — I looked for a book that would be not just relevant, but amusing, entertaining, upbeat. A book that touches on the awesomeness of making it to 60. A book that comes at the subject from a positive place.
Nothing. I found nothing.
There were books about retirement planning, and age-related health matters, and how to update your makeup so you didn’t look like a fool. There were books filled with cringe-inducing jokes and cartoons about age. There were plenty of nostalgic, backward-looking books about our long-haired youth, its wars, its social upheaval, and its rock ‘n roll soundtrack. But there was nothing really interesting or amusing about where we are now: approaching our 60’s or already well into them.
So I decided to create my own book.
60 SMILES would be a collection of 60 portraits of men and women from all parts of the country who’ve reached 60. Its central feature would be brief interviews aimed at discovering what each has learned about how to be happy. Because while babies are pretty much automatically chipper, happiness isn’t automatic later in life.
Every 60-year-old has struggled at some point with a dark mix of disappointment, failure, and pain. Every single one. And yet, plenty of us are still able to smile. How do we manage that? We manage it because we’ve developed strategies. We’ve got survival skills. And that’s what I was setting out to collect: our reflections about what it takes to be joyful even after we’ve been subjected to the inevitable pummeling that is life.
I did a brief book proposal with a photographer friend, but we got no traction. Several agents, however, suggested building a web site to create a “platform” which might, in turn, lead to a book. I asked around and discovered that “platform” is just another word for “following,” or “fan base.” The agents want to know if there is an audience for this kind of baby boomer book. To find that out, I would need a web site.
So I read BLOGGING FOR DUMMIES; HTML, CSS AND XTML FOR DUMMIES; WORDPRESS FOR DUMMIES. Then, I created my web site. And while I still think there’s a surprising shortage of engaging birthday books for us, I’ve had such a good time building the site that my interest in actually creating a book has faded. If I were posting to my site, I’d smile and say that one secret to happiness is to keep learning new things.
I hope you’ll visit The 60 Smiles Project and make a submission. Because, baby boomer, I know you have something to say.