After my novel The Hot Flash Club came out, other women, also plagued by this stage of life, asked me how to start their own Hot Flash Club. Here are my suggestions:
ONE: Think NEW, not old
Be bold enough to call women you met at a party, a lecture, in church, in the office. Dealing with new people wakes us up in the same way learning a new game stimulates our brains. We already know what our beloved family and friends have to say; we rely on them to provide stability and love in our lives no matter what sags or balloons or how our hair looks. New people come with a fresh point of view. They can be honest, and you can be honest with them. If you don’t become friends, fine – you already have friends.
TWO: Keep it small
Limit the group to 4 or 6 people, preferably an even number, so everyone can talk a lot and there’s never that two against one feeling we all remember from childhood.
THREE: Reserve at a restaurant
This way no one feels a need to clean the house, bake gourmet canapés, or do dishes afterwards. No one frets at the obligation to return the favor. The focus remains on the conversation. Most important, this way you don’t have to banish husband and children or be afraid they’ll overhear you confess your crush on the guy at the coffee shop.
FOUR: Devour while you divulge
Be sure to treat yourselves to delicious food and drinks. This is work, and it needs fuel. Don’t undermine someone’s determination to stay on a diet or off alcohol, but be flexible and creative. Ask the waiter for cranberry juice in sparkling water with a cherry and a lime. Indulge.
FIVE: Keep it light
Tell the group in advance that no truly serious problems should be brought to table. A serious illness or a death in the family can be too overwhelming. The subject should be more fixable problems like hot flashes, varicose veins, prolapsed bladders, insufferable in-laws, and whether you can really wear your gray hair long without looking demented.
SIX: The rule of four
Commit to at least 4 meetings. It’s difficult to get used to new people and new ideas. If you know you’ll be meeting again, you’ll have a chance to remember and jot down all the things you forgot to say the first time.
SEVEN: Don’t be afraid to argue
Of course peace and serenity are good, but these meetings are to inspire growth, to help you see yourself from new angles, to make you think in new ways. If you decide one of the club members is hopelessly dreadful, it’s no big deal – these people are not your close friends. You already have those.
EIGHT: Bring one joke to share each time
Laughter can carry conversation to new places, and it makes you feel better. Don’t worry if the jokes are vulgar. The hot flash stage is hardly elegant. Jokes can help you get to the honest and difficult truths. Write down jokes during the week. Or type in “Joke” on the Internet. Here’s one I found on the Internet: How many flies does it take to screw in a light bulb? Two, but don’t ask me how they got in there. **
NINE: Reveal role models
Discuss an older woman you admire and why you admire her. There are so many to choose from: Eleanor Roosevelt, Shirley MacLaine, Barbara Walters. . . This can lead to a casual list of admirable traits and rules we’d like to live by. In my novel The Hot Flash Club, the first rule, for example, was “Never let fear hold you back.”
TEN: Remember, “It’s never too late, in fiction or in life, to revise”
Three years ago, AARP used that quote from one of my early novels on its publicity mailings. Revise is the important word. It means change, amend, or correct, something already present, already formed. You can’t start from the beginning, you have to work with what you have. The good news is, you already have so much. Now, with the advice of your flashy new pals, you can try a new job, a new wardrobe, a new book, or a new scheme for dealing with that revolting relative. Let that be your slogan, and have fun!