Are you 30 or older? If so, you need to watch this talk. If you don’t have 19 minutes now, bookmark this post for later and just read some of the quotes under the embedded video below. It could change your life.

The first act in life occurs roughly from conception to age 30. The second act, 30-60. And the third, 60-death.

The 34 years that have been added to the human life span since the time of our great grandparents constitute a revolution in the field of human longevity. Naturally, if it’s a revolution, Jane wants to be there.

This group of older citizens worldwide, especially older women who live longest, could become an irrepressible, irresistible force for good. Much like the concept of Ubuntu described in my recent post, the life review process during the third act, if we actually conduct one, gives each of us the chance to find wholeness at last.

Instead of an arch that peaks in middle age and then declines, the best image for the human spirit in the third act, says Fonda, is a stairway. I like to think of it like a stairway to heaven. But we can only climb the stairway if we do the work of reviewing our lives, forgive ourselves and others, come back to our broken places and know them again for the first time. If we become whole, we don’t just seek our own salvation, we take risks so that younger people can climb the staircase also — and re-conceive their own lifespans. Instead of dreading decrepitude, they can envision themselves as evolving into wisdom figures.

No matter what you may think of the various stages of Jane Fonda’s own life, she seems to be walking her talk in this video. Without ever using the word memoir, she makes the case for a life review that builds peace in the world. To that I can only say, “Brava!”

What is your response to this idea?






Shirley Showalter


  1. Janet Oberholtzer on February 2, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    Great talk by Jane Fonda… and I agree with you, it makes a great case for writing a memoir, whether it becomes published or not.

    Loved these thoughts of hers… “In order to know where I was going, I had to know where I had been.”


    “It’s not having experiences that makes us wise, it’s reflecting on the experiences that we’ve had that makes us wise and helps us become whole.”

    • shirleyhs on February 2, 2012 at 6:03 pm

      You picked out two quotes I really liked also, Janet. Thanks for the comment and glad you liked the video. I didn’t mention that she is 74 years old and looks 47! I think she had a little help from a good surgeon and a good gene pool, but wow.

  2. Kathleen on February 2, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    At the risk of being redundant, my favorite quote too is, “It’s not having experiences that makes us wise, it’s reflecting on the experiences that we’ve had that makes us wise and helps us become whole.”

    Her allusion to Eliot is another favorite, “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

    Some of my own essential questions I wrestle with include: What supports me? By what truths am I living my life?

    Thank you for once again pointing the way to a thought provoking resource!

    Hoping to live into the questions,

    • shirleyhs on February 2, 2012 at 8:05 pm

      Anytime you can combine Eliot, Rilke, and Jane Fonda, Kathleen, you’re going to get interesting questions to live into.

      I love your own questions. What supports me? By what truths am I living my life.

      I imagine you reflecting on these on the wide prairie.

  3. Karin Krisetya on February 2, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    It is interesting to me how she refers to the review process as for ourselves first, but that in doing so we change the world and people around us. I wonder how that relates to memoir. Why do we write memoir? for self? for others? to change the world? Ubuntu may provide some clues to that.

    Somewhat related to life review–an idea I have been thinking about is how we preserve and shape memory / legacy. Scrapbooks, photo albums, memoirs have been used in years gone by. In our current reality where technology reigns over almost every aspect of our lives, how will we shape memory differently? What will the finished product look or feel like to our children? I am guessing that they will not be holding shoeboxes of labeled photos in their laps. Sheri Turkle (MIT) has a lot to say on this. I’m going to combine Fonda’s words with Turkle’s and see where I come out.

    • shirleyhs on February 3, 2012 at 8:07 am

      You’ve obviously been thinking a lot about memory, memoir, technology, and purpose, Karin. I think I heard Sheri Terkle on On Being with Krista Tippett. Would love a reminder of her ideas. There are so many ways to archive lives online now. This blog, in some ways, serves as a life archive as well as a memoir writing conversation. I always get more comments on life story posts than on review posts, so readers seem to enjoy the public archive. I have posted once a week on my grannynanny blog also and will have that to look back on always — as will Owen, my grandson.

      But turning all this experience into wisdom requires reflection, silence, meditation, and wise guides. In turn, I hope to pass along what I have been given to others.

  4. ShirleyK on February 3, 2012 at 9:31 am


    But something here seem wickedly ironic:

    • shirleyhs on February 3, 2012 at 9:45 am

      Thanks for finding this video, Shirley. I heard the interview but didn’t watch this.

      I think maybe I’ll do a blog post on wrinkles and waddles. Do you think readers would be interested?

  5. Richard Gilbert on February 3, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    A powerful idea, beautifully expressed, as is the way you frame it.

  6. shirleyhs on February 3, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Thanks, Richard!

  7. ShirleyK on February 3, 2012 at 7:44 pm


  8. Brenda Bartella Peterson on February 4, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Good conversation, Shirley. Just saw Iron Lady last night with Meryl Streep. It is another reminder about the aging process and choices we make in each Act of our lives. I won’t be a spoiler but let me just say, “Pay attention to the teacup when you watch this film.”

    I too have been writing my memoir for the last three years. I have found it immensely healing–difficult at times, but in the final analysis, healing.

    • shirleyhs on February 5, 2012 at 1:21 pm

      Another blogger friend I trust recommended Iron Lady. I hope to see it.

      And good for you for staying with the daunting challenge of finding your voice and your story, Brenda!

  9. Laurie Gray on February 4, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this TED talk. Jane Fonda’s words are an inspiration as I move into the 3rd scene of my 2nd act. I’ve written a number of autobiographical articles over the past several years and many “bios” for publication and find it difficult to balance the light and dark moments. I can tell my story so many different ways. I find myself wanting to step from mountaintop to mountaintop in my story; the deeper the valley, the more inclined I am to avoid it. I’ve seen writers do the inverse–focus on the valleys, sensationalizing them. There are at least two “story-of-my-life” books on my shelf that I found to be nothing but frustrating because my life didn’t fit neatly into their categories. I wish to give kudos, props, and accolades to those who find an honest balance in their memoir writing and have the courage to embrace and expose their humanity.

    • shirleyhs on February 5, 2012 at 1:25 pm

      You are starting the long journey into, wisdom, right on schedule, Laurie! And you articulate so well the dilemmas of choice we face. Blessings in the struggle.

  10. Judy Pigman on February 7, 2012 at 9:51 am

    Currently in the throes of writing my memoir, the difficult times are truths about my childhood and relationship with my father. My “spirit was tamped down” as Jane Fonda eludes to here. More and more I feel release from that. Going forward from mid-life to now has been easier and more enjoyable to write about! Her video enabled that even more so! One might watch it every morning, or once a week, as she gives us ways to enlighten our authenticity and wholeness, a lot to ponder. We musn’t give away what God has placed in us.
    age 67 (this month!)

  11. shirleyhs on February 7, 2012 at 10:16 am

    So glad you found this blog and this TED talk. Sounds like writing has already been a healing process.

    Many blessings as you continue! Please come back and bring your questions and celebrations.

  12. joan on February 9, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    “It wasn’t your fault… forgive them, forgive yourself, free yourself from your past”, as I write my memoirs of my twin and I, I am determined to “relate to these realities with quality.” My spirit is strong as I focus on a perspective that remembers the good, without denying the pain. My question, as I continue to write my understanding of my story, “should I include the pain, or leave it out?”. What do you think Shirley?

    • shirleyhs on February 10, 2012 at 11:13 am

      Great question, Joan. One of the best ways to learn is to observe how a great memoir writer like Mary Karr handles pain. In all of her books she experiences what most of us would call torture. Yet there is little blame. And almost no shame. Underneath is love, but the pain is neither denied nor repressed. No wonder she struggled in the writing of these books!

  13. How to Write a Memoir @ Shirley Hershey Showalter on February 20, 2012 at 8:27 am

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