Change and All That
Nan Fink Gefen
The ocean pounds on the Northern California shore outside the retreat house, and we’re sitting around a roaring fire. It’s a stormy, dark day, a day for confidences—except that each of us is engrossed in an iPhone, iPad, or Smart Phone. Every so often someone calls out a bit of information: "Rick Santorum is winning the primary," or "There’s a new Iranian film coming to town." The rest of us sigh or smile and then go back to what we were doing.
We’re a companionable group of seven women that has met monthly for over two decades. At our biannual retreats we have long conversations about the most difficult of subjects, and we share quiet moments and laugh a lot. But the electronic dimension is something new. "Look at us," one woman says. "Where’s the interaction?" A certain defensiveness arises: "It’s no different than when we used to sit around together, reading."
But it is different, and we all know it.
Now the scope of our group, through electronic extension, includes everyone’s relatives, friends, work associates, and political, religious, and cultural groups. "My son just got fired," someone cries out, and then she reads the email she’s just received. Suddenly the son is in the room with us, a tangible presence, and we’re all worrying about what lies ahead for him. We might be on retreat, but the world is not as far away as it used to be.
Recently we’ve become heedless about interrupting each other’s silence. The extraneous bits of information get tossed around in a friendly way, without caution. I’d never interrupt anyone reading a book, but if my friends are online, what’s the problem? "Wow," I say, "I just learned that sand comes from land rocks and river beds, not from the ocean itself." They look up: "Wow," they echo.
I’m a great fan of electronic communication. I’ve been using email for years, and I like texting and Facebook. But I can’t help but notice that we’re becoming more scattered in our general conversations as a group and we interrupt each other more often. Our minds seem to be spinning with all the input we receive.
I credit this change to our immersion in electronics—but I could be entirely wrong. Perhaps these changes are taking place because we’ve been together for so many years. Like long-partnered couples, we read each other’s thoughts, finish each other’s sentences, talk on several channels at once in a funny kind of short-hand way.
But then again, there’s another possible explanation: perhaps these changes are taking place because we’re aging. The women in my group know a lot about this subject; we’ve certainly discussed it enough. The photographs we’ve taken through the years witness the progression in our bodies, and we too often lose the right word or we forget the title of a book we finished last week. These changes, and those yet to come, frighten us, but we try to accept them with as much grace as we can muster. Fortunately for us, we have a place to talk about them, and this softens our distress.
As a child I saw change everywhere. I witnessed the blossoms emerge from their buds, tadpoles turn into frogs, the days grow long and then short again, my mother’s eyes fill with sadness. Without being told, I understood that the world recreates itself constantly and nothing remains the same. It was a fact of my life, as it is for all children.
I didn’t know as a child, however, that change would be so difficult to navigate over the course of a lifetime. I didn’t realize how attached I would become to keeping things as they are. And how I would find myself holding on to people or jobs or homes past their time, all for the sake of a non-existent stability.
The painful changes—loss of relationships, children leaving, the death of loved ones, major illnesses—have been a challenge, but I’ve been surprised by how shaken I’ve felt by some of the tiny ones. A favorite restaurant closing, a nearby field plowed under for construction, a writing group disbanded. I’m even mildly bothered by the change in our women’s group, now that we’re bringing our electronic devices to retreats—although this new habit also amuses me, and I welcome the expansion of vision that comes through the internet. If asked, I’d say it’s good that we’re keeping up with the times as we grow old, but I’d also acknowledge that I miss our past way of being together. But not enough to suggest that we return to it.
Attachment and loss. Regret about losing the old and excitement about the new. These feelings have come to the foreground in my own personal life recently as I’ve struggled with what to do about my role at Persimmon Tree.
The back story: The idea for Persimmon Tree came to me in 2006, and we—the contributing editors and I, with the help of our web developer—published our first online issue in March 2007. Since then, we have done our best to make the magazine strong in quality and content. Our mission has been to provide a showcase for the talent and creativity of women over sixty.
In the past year, however, I started to flag. It became apparent to me that I no longer had the energy to continue in this job of chief editor. My enthusiasm about the magazine remained high, but there were other things I wanted to do. The smart thing, I knew, was for me to step away from editing the magazine, but the idea was unthinkable. For several months I was torn between my attachment and my readiness for change, and it was only through the support of friends and family that I reached a place where I could make the decision to let go.
But what should we do with the magazine? It can’t exist without a chief editor who lovingly and carefully creates each issue. The contributing editors and I had long conversations about how to handle this situation. The choices narrowed down to two: We could publish the magazine through 2012—thankfully we’d raised the money to do that from our readers—and then let the magazine pass into the netherworld of cyberspace. Or we could find someone to take my place. The first choice was unacceptable, the second one daunting. Who would be willing to do this huge job and do it well?
Change slid into place easier and faster than we expected. Not long after we made the decision to find a replacement for me, contributing editor Marcia Freedman was at a party in New York and heard someone talking about how much she loved Persimmon Tree. When she turned around, she saw it was Sue Leonard, a history teacher for decades and a one-time editor at The Nation. "If you love the magazine so much," Marcia said to her, "how would you like to be the chief editor?" The two women stared at each other for a moment, or so I was told, and then Sue said, "I’ll consider it."
It didn’t take long for Sue to decide that this was the right project for her at the right time; she could bring her editing skills and literary interests together, and she would draw on her contacts to help. We editors were thrilled. Sue is a talented, intelligent woman, based in New York, and the magazine under her editorship would be infused with new life and new ideas. She’d bring a whole different group of editors along with her.
The plan was made for Sue to take over the chief editorship of Persimmon Tree, starting with the summer 2012 issue. She began to work immediately to assemble her team, and now she’s ready to go. This issue, I am both sad and pleased to announce, is our editorial team’s final issue of the magazine. (Read more about this on the Editor’s Page.)
I and the other West Coast editors have all the predictable feelings about this shift of editorship: excitement, relief, regret, and sadness, but mostly we’re pleased that matters fell into place so easily. Each of us will find many other things to do with our time.
As for me, I must admit that I’m not going far away from Persimmon Tree. I will no longer be chief editor, but I will stay on as publisher. I have a dream of starting a publishing company, Persimmon Tree Press, a sister to Persimmon Tree magazine. It likewise will be dedicated to promoting the writing of women over sixty. There is much to learn about publishing books, and it will be a stretch for my seventy-two-year-old mind, but what’s life about if it isn’t about challenge and, yes, change.
Nan Fink Gefen was the founding publisher of
Tikkun magazine in 1985 and the founding editor of Persimmon Tree magazine in 2007. She is
the author of Stranger in the Midst (Basic Books, 1997) and Discovering Jewish Meditation
(Jewish Lights, 2nd edition 2011), and her fiction and nonfiction pieces have appeared in literary
journals and magazines. She currently is working on a novel, Woman on a Wire.
16 May 2012, 12:47
I held my breath until the line where you definitely said Persimmon Tree
will continue. Thank you for creating these wonderful reads for us "older
than dirt" women. Best wishes for the road ahead for you.
30 Apr 2012, 16:01
Dear Nan, Thank you - here I was sitting at my computer in the middle of
the night, sleepless and nervous, contemplating if at 64 I am too old to
start into a new venture in another country...and then read your lovely
article on moving on AND a new beginning. I shall now go to bed and sleep
and dream with new hope and confidence. All the best to you and thank you.
Mary Lou Breiman
24 Apr 2012, 20:39
My memoir group was founded by Anna Rabkin and she introduced the rest of
us to it at our last meeting. Your site is a gift to me to connect with
other people who are aging and at liberty to use our experience to bring
forth beautiful writing.
17 Apr 2012, 12:17
Dear Nan, I first "met" you through Tikkun, the only Jewish magazine that
made sense to me. Then Persimmon entered my life to enjoy and relate to
people of my generation. You have been on the cutting edge of literary
life and I wish much success to you and your new venture. Thank you for
giving so generously of yourself!
16 Apr 2012, 22:09
What an elegant and beautiful passing of the torch. Persimmon Tree is so
vital and alive - and its continuity is a tribute to the strength and
vision of all of the editors. Thank you many times over and mazel tov to
you and your team for creating a lasting legacy in a cyberspace! Love, Jan
16 Apr 2012, 20:08
Nan: thank you so much for the heartfelt column about change and moving
on---and I am so excited about the new venture, Persimmon Tree Press. It
may be just the place for me to send my as-yet-unformed book of poems.
Today was the perfect day for me to read your message about how all things
must change. Our gorgeous, heavily laden lemon tree in our backyard that I
love to look at as the sun sinks low in the sky was so heavy with fruit
that a big huge branch cracked off and the whole tree had to be trimmed
back severely. I have been sad all day but after reading your farewell
column, I'm thinking about how things inevitably change--and that we adapt,
as do the things themselves. Thank you!!!
16 Apr 2012, 19:28
Nan, Persimmon Tree has expressed your grace, editorial skills, and
generous spirit. In this transition you continue to be an inspiration.
04 Apr 2012, 13:24
Thank you for doing such a good job. Have a wonderful time in future.
03 Apr 2012, 09:35
I'm catching up today on emails. Even if I don't get to Persimmon Tree when
it comes out, I save it for when I have time. My pulse quickened as I read
that you're leaving, but slowed again when I heard the magazine would go
on. I've loved this forum for older women. And i recently had to let a
fifty-year RN icense expire, and it was one of the hardest things I've
done. I'm sure we'll hear good things about PT Publishing. Blessings on
your new endeavors. And I love this piece on the advent of techonology into
our relationships. Lois Roelofs
31 Mar 2012, 22:03
This was a surprise to me! Think I didn't breathe for minute! Thank you for
these years, for long distance friends and their creations.
30 Mar 2012, 20:08
Each issue of Persimmon Tree has been a gift...one that I have shared with
so many of my female friends...am so thankful for your vision and am
incredibly grateful that it will continue on. Bless your brave and daring
27 Mar 2012, 11:17
Thank you for all your excellent and dedicated work in forming Persimmon
Tree and sustaining
it these last 5 years. It has been an impressive achievement not only for
the content of its issues
but for the very fact that you did it! That remains an inspiration for all
us aging characters, artists,
writers, etc. who have pondered its 'pages'.
Your thoughts on the electronic influences within the groups biannual
retreats is a provocative
piece. I like how you maintained the middle path in the pros and cons of
this potentially alarming
I wish you well in your next creative adventure.
27 Mar 2012, 09:11
May your new venture unfold with much satisfaction for you and others.
Thank you for what you have done for those who wrote for and read
"Persimmon". Meanwhile, may this transition time be a quality growing time
Joan Reinhardt Reiss. (74)
26 Mar 2012, 20:27
Dear Nan Gefen,
Thank you for your exquisite description of change and aging. I also want
to give you a Todah Rabah for sending me the most beautiful rejection I've
ever received. I will try again...
Catherine E. Coulson
26 Mar 2012, 20:26
I am moved by your writing and happy for you, Nan, that you are able to
step back from this one of your full time jobs to nurture your own needs. I
am also grateful that you are staying on as publisher.
26 Mar 2012, 20:19
One of the biggest thrills of my wild and crazy life has been the
acceptance of a poem in Persimmon Tree--now, let's see!
What year was that? "My Boy" was the title and it doesn't matter when. I'm
turning 66 soon and will be querying you with a book of poems and one of
stories soon. So glad you're entering the publishing world. Not enough
women in small presses so mucho grácias in advance, and for all you have
given to women writers! Yea! you!!!!
17 Mar 2012, 08:34
Thank you, Ann, for all you've done, and for your incredibly gracious
leave-taking. May all your future projects bear fruit as delicious as
15 Mar 2012, 11:58
I have just discovered the magazine, but are familiar with you Nan and the
other women involved. I too belong to a writing group that has met for 20
years, so I enjoyed your musings on change. A beautiful piece of writing.
14 Mar 2012, 11:30
Dear Nan -
I love women who step into space, most especially "women of a certain age."
I expect to see you flying.
12 Mar 2012, 19:49
What a poignant piece! I have enjoyed Persimmon Tree since its beginning.
As a 57-year-old writer, I look forward to turning 60 and being old enough
to contribute! Thanks for many good years and best wishes on your next
venture as change continues to happen for us all.
12 Mar 2012, 19:05
I so appreciate your dedicated efforts to keep PERSIMMON going. Todah
rabbah to you and the the other editors.
12 Mar 2012, 17:41
I do hope you follow your dream of starting a publishing company. If you
do as well with it as the Persimmon Tree publication it will be a whopping
success. I wish you good luck and I will continue to look for your byline
and name. Publishing a book is such a rewarding feeling even if you do it
with 25 pages and stapled it together. My sister and I just published a
family cookbook. It was fun. We are currently working on a book with all
of our e-mail letters over the years. If you are in the publishing
business when we are ready I will see what you offer. Thanks again for
writing "Change and All That." Blessings, norma
12 Mar 2012, 14:24
Oh Nana, oh my. A beautifully written piece about change. You framed the
decision and outcome so well, in that larger context.
A close friend is starting a publishing company, a high-quality children's
press to be based in Berkeley. I will have a young adult novel on her
second list, and am actively brainstorming with her about it. Perhaps you
two might like to meet sometime. She is well on the way, has investment $$
lined up and the first two lists. Very different missions but probably
similar sensibilities. Congratulations to you! Warm regards and with great
P.S. Just sold an adult novel to Simon and Schuster, out next spring!
12 Mar 2012, 14:05
Simply and directly, I'm glad the magazine will continue and I know the new
editor/team will have a high standard to live up to. This writer/this
reader thanks you.
12 Mar 2012, 13:39
Nan, A huge Thank You to you and your team for having the courage and
determination to take on this project. I have loved every issue and was
Thrilled to be included in this one, your last. I will look forward to all
the new things to come. The new team has some big shoes to fill but I am
sure they will continue the good work.