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Stephanie Gangi in front of a pile of her book galleys.
Stephanie Gangi
October 6, 2021

The New Old Me

There was no blueprint for how to age gracefully, how to stay you while embracing a new you.

I nervously read Chapter One aloud, and the brave women who showed up in a fog of shock and grief – no one expected The Outcome – cried, and I cried too, and not because of the book. A bond was forged, we were a community, we found some comfort. 

Note to Readers: Stephanie Gangi is a mid-60s marvel of a woman, and a longtime beloved member of the Woolfer and now Revel community. She published her first novel at 60, and is about to release her second, Carry The Dog, which will be the Revel Book Club pick for December 2021. Stephanie will also be in conversation with Nina Collins about the book ahead of our discussion and you can register to attend that here. In the essay below she helps us understand her path to creative freedom later in life.

In late 2015, I embarked on “the trip of a lifetime” with my two oldest friends. In our fifty years of friendship we had seen each other through the glory days and wild nights, the usual trials and tribulations, but also less typical up-close-and-personal losses. Each of us had experienced the premature deaths of our parents and our marriages, and the upheaval of the fairy tales we’d concocted together since elementary school. We were each on the cusp of 60 and we planned (meticulously, obsessively) to celebrate our friendship, our endurance, our good looks and kickass attitudes with a vacation in Sardinia.

Just to set the stage, my stage, in addition to escaping a recent heartbreak, the trip occurred two weeks after I’d gotten a scary diagnosis; two months after candidate Trump rode the gold escalator down into infamy; and smack in the middle of the excruciating submission process for The Next, my debut novel.

I won’t get into the specifics of what went wrong in Italy. I love juicy details as much as you do, but it’s too personal, too painful: we three are no longer friends. I promise, no one stole anyone’s husband, maligned their kids, embezzled funds. There was a lot of alcohol, very different traveling styles, some shit-talking and the surfacing of issues that, I guess, had lurked below the surface for years. The breach is as devastating now as it was on the very awkward plane trip home from Rome to New York.

I came home to news: my novel sold. It felt like a miracle. The next year found me careening between disbelief and pride and days filled with manuscript revisions, business decisions, and my new late-blooming identity as “author”. At the same time, I was juggling doctor appointments and medications and medical procedures. The election run-up dominated and blared endlessly and made everything, even my good book news, feel stressful.

One day online I stumbled across What Would Virginia Woolf Do? – WWWVD – a Facebook group, before FB became the hellsite it is today. It was a revelation. Other women my age were stressed out too, by their own health challenges, broken fairytales, wrecked friendships, devastating losses, and most pressingly, the vicious presidential campaign. The women posting were smart-mouthed, funny, sometimes snarky, liked clothes and sex and dogs and Idris Elba, and were trying to course-correct after divorce or trauma or regular old life. Most fascinating to me was seeing how we were all, in our own way, trying to customize getting older. There was no blueprint for how to age gracefully, how to stay you while embracing a new you. The WWVWD crew, their experiences and fears and humor – their voices – resonated with me. I was groping too, to define what “aging gracefully” meant for me.

My baby debut novel, The Next, was inauspiciously published on October 25, 2016, two weeks before election day. The very first author reading of my life, my first in-person event as a writer, was graciously arranged by Nina for Wednesday, November 9, The Day After. Here’s my first post ever on WWVWD:

I wanted to add my thanks to this group. I post now and then, but I so enjoy it. I love smart women. I love smart women! I also want to share something outside the world of publishing and promotion and the whole author platform thing I'm trying to climb. I want to tell you: I am 60, late stage breast cancer, single, living on my paycheck and guess what? Loving it. LOVING IT. My debut novel is coming out in less than a month, and suddenly, it's hitting me. I did it. I did it! Look what came in the mail today …
A woman smiles holding copies of her book.

I nervously read Chapter One aloud, and the brave women who showed up in a fog of shock and grief – no one expected The Outcome – cried, and I cried too, and not because of the book. A bond was forged, we were a community, we found some comfort. 

And for me, some wisdom. Because of the Woolfer community, I began to examine every creaky, leaky old assumption I’d held about sexuality, men, women, gender, Black lives, privilege, whiteness, parenting, marriage, divorce and yes, women’s friendships. I became a much more aware and articulate feminist, and I got the t-shirt to prove it, thanks to Diana Kane. I examined my values, my beliefs, the opinions I held. I listened and reflected and made a conscious (frequently unsuccessful) effort to stay true to who I was trying to become, a writer, an author, a woman with a public voice, the identity I stepped into after leaving my childhood friends behind.

I’d found my voice late in life, and all these strong WWVWD voices reverberated long after I closed my screens. I could feel myself becoming a new version of my old self: aging very awkwardly, but with moments of grace. Yes, those two old friends are gone, but loss creates space. My expanded identity – writer, author – has occupied the space. And, that’s who the Woolfer community saw, which is maybe something my old friends did not see. That public identity pushed me to keep writing and write better, including essays, poems, short stories and my second novel, Carry the Dog – themes galore – coming in November.

Two friends gone, but I made new friends, in real life. Nina and Hillary and Kara, Andrea and Meret and Rai and Hannah and Dena and Dina, just to name a few. Jenny made me laugh within sixty seconds of meeting her, and we haven’t stopped, and she lets me flirt with her boyfriend-now-fiancé, which I totally appreciate. I met Elena on January 27, 2017 at the NYC Women’s March Woolfer meet-up, and we are fast friends, fellow travelers, around-the-corner neighbors, with daughters who’ve gotten to know each other! I can’t even begin to tally the money I’ve spent on the Woolfer-approved clothes and beauty products and sex toys restaurants and – privilege warning! –the infamous leather pants.

By the way, Sardinia was the trip of a lifetime, just not the way I expected it to be. I’m still chewing over what happened, dog/bone, of course. I’m pretty sure that one of these days a Revel post or a thread or a comment will catch my ear and I’ll listen, and I’ll be inspired to write about it so I can figure out who I’m still becoming.

Endless gifts, profound and frivolous. The community Nina created and nurtured and grew and continues to grow with the Revel expansion is remarkable. If you’re a newbie, I can only say, lucky you. And lucky me.

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