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Miranda July's new book asks: Is middle-age a cliff or a mountain peak?

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Miranda July is a renaissance woman. She's written books, made movies, created art. Her latest book is called "All Fours," and it follows the story of one unnamed woman.

MIRANDA JULY: She's 45. She decides to go on a kind of vision quest road trip, driving from LA to New York, says goodbye to her husband and child, sets out and stops about 20 minutes from her house and checks into a motel and spends the three weeks that she's supposed to be in New York there. And when she goes home from this supposed road trip, she doesn't fit back into her life in the same way.

CHANG: Miranda July sat down with It's Been A Minute host Brittany Luse to share some of the inspiration she drew on when it came to love, personal rebirth and middle age.

BRITTANY LUSE, BYLINE: We're here to talk about your new book, "All Fours." And a lot of the book is reckoning with a cultural lack of imagination around women in the middle of their lives. And our society has so much imagination for what being young looks like. And you even say that youth is so heavily marketed to us to the point that some of us end up disappointed by our youths not looking the way we're told they would.

JULY: Right.

LUSE: But after a woman gets married and has kids, it seems like in a cultural sense, nothing else will happen to her.

JULY: Yeah, it's kind of the end of the story, right? Like, there, you did it.

LUSE: Yeah.

JULY: Good job.

LUSE: Yeah.

JULY: You're done.

LUSE: It's like, you checked all the boxes.

JULY: Yeah.

LUSE: And you're done. What kind of guidance were you hoping for, for middle age?

JULY: Right. As you said, like, the road ahead just seemed to drop off like a cliff. Not only was I having trouble finding, like, basic medical facts about my changing body, all the aspirational imagery, yeah, and stories - they just stopped as if what was coming was just too humiliating to even talk about. But meanwhile, among my friends, there was this kind of feverish whisper network about our bodies and our marriages and our desires, and that was complex and exciting. The stakes felt so high, but I knew I wasn't alone. The life going forward might actually be so undescribed that it's kind of a miracle.

LUSE: That's such an interesting way to think about it -like a miracle, like faith in things not seen. On the topic of keeping things the same and change, there's a quote I really, really liked where the main character is describing a way in which, you know, she's not keen to change. And she said, like, I also don't love getting in pools, by the way. Sunday nights, packing for trips, any transition, whatever state I'm in, I just want to stay in it, if that's not too much to ask. I wonder, can you talk more about that theme of becoming new.

JULY: Right. This book takes place in a transitional time, I mean, quite literally. Like, perimenopause is a big, huge biological time of transition. If you think of puberty, we know that biological things are happening, but we never just think of those things. We think romance. Like, every song on the radio in some ways is about that time or about this certain kind of love, and I remember thinking, oh, every love story is a hormone story.

And so what is the love story for this time of transition? What is this hormone story of perimenopause? And to know that, you don't just need to know the facts from your doctor, which would be nice. We would appreciate that. But also, what is the story? In what way are you supposed to fall in love during this time? - because it's a wild time. Some part of yourself is going to come out that has perhaps been starved before. And this moment when all your hormones are in transition, you're meant now to be sort of jumbled around enough inside that that blind spot comes forward, and it's hungry.

LUSE: For this book, you talked to loads of people, middle-aged women and women who have been middle aged and doctors and researchers about menopause. Were there any particular ideas that felt really sticky to you around how you could reimagine middle age, like anything that anybody said to you that kind of launched you into a certain direction or certain path?

JULY: Well, it was always interesting 'cause you're worried when you, like, get on the phone to do an interview about perimenopause and menopause with, like, let's say, a woman in her 60s or 70s. And I was just so struck by the riches I was getting. Like, I started to feel like I was sitting on this gold mine, and I just wanted everyone to know, like, this is all really weird and alive. Not to say it's easy, but then there isn't really an easy part of life, right? The thing that makes it easy is these conversations - easier. And it was kind of like some monster evaporated through knowledge, and in its place was just this kind of high feeling. I remember one woman described to me some, like, sad things about aging. And I nervously said, how bad is it? Is it unendurable? And she said, I'm here for the body experience.

LUSE: Ooh.

JULY: And part of that is loss, and so I want it all.

LUSE: Wow.

JULY: And the way she said it was just so true. I was like, right, I'm here for the body experience also.

LUSE: The body experience - ooh, that's a good one.

JULY: And that's desire, and that's lust. But that's also loss. And I realized like, oh, the loss is mine, too. I get to write with that. I get to love with it in my relationships. Like, it's not, like, a dead, empty, embarrassing thing. It's alive, too. It's power, too.

LUSE: Well, Miranda, I really appreciate this conversation.

JULY: Me, too. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: That was Miranda July in conversation with It's Been A Minute host Brittany Luse. Miranda July's new book is called "All Fours."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Brittany Luse
Brittany Luse is an award-winning journalist, on-air host, and cultural critic. She is the host of It's Been a Minute and For Colored Nerds. Previously Luse hosted The Nod and Sampler podcasts, and co-hosted and executive produced The Nod with Brittany and Eric, a daily streaming show. She's written for Vulture and Harper's Bazaar, among others, and edited for the podcasts Planet Money and Not Past It. Luse and her work have been profiled by publications like The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vulture, and Teen Vogue.