Gwen has had two parallel careers, one in education–first in schools and later in museums–and also as a writer of historic fiction.She is also a pagan and draws much of her inspiration in life and art from her goddesses. Find Gwen’s novels on her Amazon homepage.
My name is Gwen and I’m 48. I would describe myself as being in peri-menopause.
My mother, who is no longer alive, didn’t go through menopause until she was almost 60, and continued to have her period so late in life her doctor thought she might require a hysterectomy. She waited to have children until she was 37 with me and 43 with my sister, which at the time was unheard of. I knew she had hot flashes, which were hard to miss because when I was a child she was constantly throwing our windows open in the dead of winter. But she really didn’t discuss it and there wasn’t anyone else who gave me ideas or insights about what to expect either. I have older friends who’ve gone through menopause, and we joke that I want to join their club because they don’t have their periods any more and I still do; but beyond that my observation is people generally tend not to talk about it. My cousin is entering menopause now and she’s become very forgetful, and her sister told her she had ‘menopause-brain’. The main question I have is how long does it take. I’ve been in peri-menopause for the last ten years, but who really knows, and how long does that last; and then after that, how long does menopause last? I tend to doubt that there are any hard-and-fast answers because it seems to take a different course for every woman.
I’ve had recent changes in my life, not the least of which was being laid off from my museum job, which I loved; that left me at loose ends and with no idea of what to do next. I’ve always been a writer and have had ten books published, so I decided to go back to that because it was an obvious path and something I’m good at. But losing that job still affected my frame of mind even though I was happy to be doing what I’d wanted to all my life. I’ve fought with clinical depression and take antidepressants for it; it’s congenital, and I view it as an illness, just like my high blood pressure.
I write erotic romance novels. Back in the 1970s the genre was dreadful and extremely formulaic, what I call ‘hysterical romance’: the men were always 30-something and the girls were 17-year-old virgins who were forcibly ravished and then fell madly in love with their seducers. Even as I was reading these novels at the age of 12 I knew I could do better, and when I was working on my master’s degree in teaching I decided to make a stab at writing one of these kinds of stories solely for my own entertainment. In the end I sent it to a publishing house and much to my amazement they accepted it; and I can say, with some pride, from that day on I’ve never had a book turned down. So from there, being in school and working full-time as a teacher, I would write during the summers and crank out a book a month; and while I was at the museum I finished a few more books still, though not as many as I wanted. But when I got laid off I looked into e-book and print-on-demand self-publishing, which can be very lucrative on sites like Amazon Kindle and Llumina Press and Lulu, and it’s worked out extraordinarily well and I’m making meaningful money in those platforms.
I’m a pagan, not a Wicca but a pagan. Wicca is modern, duo-theistic and ecclesiastical in its structure, and paganism, in today’s meaning of the word, is pre-modern and polytheistic and has no organizational structure or fixed program of practices. The goddesses I call to most are Guanyin from East Asia, Terra who is Roman, and Bast and Isis who are Egyptian, and one god named Cernunnos, the Celtic horned man of the forest. My aspect of neo-paganism also features the crone as an archetypal figure of the wise woman, symbolizing the ritual rite of passage into an era of enlightenment and freedom and personal power: she’s a leader and one to seek out for answers.
When I was a girl I thought that by the time I reached 30 I would have amassed a vast amount of knowledge, but when I got there I discovered I didn’t know much about anything. And then I thought maybe it would happen by the time I was 45, but now I’ve come to realize that I just know what I know, and maybe that’s the crone stage: you’ve lived long enough to have had all of these experiences, and you possess a body of knowledge that you can pass along to someone who will learn and grow from it. The three stages of the evolution are maiden, mother, and crone. I think of my mother stage as my time in teaching. I mothered my students if only because there was little to no parental presence in their own homes, and they had so many needs that were not being met. You don’t have to give birth to a child to be a mother, and children adapt, they’re savvy and know who they can depend on. These kids were given to me and they were my responsibility, and they became my own in many senses.
My body is starting to change in peri-menopause. I have whacky periods that seem to never come, or when they do they’re like flash floods, and that’s been going on for nearly two years. I got my first period when I was 11 and was already ready for it to be over before I was even a teenager! Back in 1992 Depo-Provera became available in the United States; it was given as an injection every three months and was supposed to stop your period, among other things. My sister tried it and she had a period that lasted for three solid months, and her reaction alone was enough to end any consideration of that for me. My best experience was with the birth control pill. I went on it before I began using antidepressants and it helped because between my depression and my periods I was practically berserk, it leveled me out and my periods were not so horrible; four-day periods, hey life is good! But when I developed high blood pressure I needed to stop taking the birth control pill, though nobody told me the hormones from those would take up to a year to work out of my system, and my periods were all over the place. You’ve got to wonder what’s going on and why my physician never said anything to me about that, because I’d been on the pill for over a decade. I wish someone would have looked at me in the beginning and said when you start down this path if you decide you’re going to go off the pill it’s going to be a major process.
My mother had breast cancer two times. She had a double mastectomy, and after going through that she was forbidden from taking anything hormonal. And so I don’t plan to go on hormone replacement therapy, not that her breast cancer was family-related, because she had tuberculosis in the late 1950s for an entire year and was X-rayed constantly. If you consider how carcinogenic X-rays are for you in the first place imagine the damage happening back then with such strong doses and indiscriminate use. Nevertheless, I want to steer clear of hormones, I don’t see any reason to take the chance.
I think a great deal about the spiritual side of my expectation of becoming a crone, and I long to celebrate it. I’m also anticipating that my goddess is going to show up for this when I need her, and I’m sure she’ll be someone new. When I was teaching Saraswati showed up: she’s the Hindu goddess of teaching and learning and the arts, and there she was. I don’t know precisely where the crone aspect will come into being, but I’m certain it will because every time I’ve needed it someone pops up and leads that path, and what that spiritual being will bring to me is guidance, help and support. I adopted much of my approach to spirituality from my mother because she kind of shopped around in that regard. I remember her walking through the house one day looking for her car keys and invoking Saint Anthony by saying aloud alright Tony, let’s get to it; it was a typical thing for her to do, and it demonstrated to me that I didn’t need a lot of ceremonial structure, that spirit guides were always there and accessible. Guanyin was the first one I had, she’s my go-to because she’s the Mahayana Buddhist goddess of compassion, and compassion to me is preeminent. I believe the universe makes all this available and it comes to us when we need it. I don’t start a trip without invoking Guanyin, I don’t do anything, and every spring and autumn I open all my windows, air everything out, and smudge the house while calling on her to chase away all the negativity, and that helps me.