Four decades ago, Erica Jong introduced the world to the term “zipless” sex, that is, casual, no-strings-attached encounters with near strangers. Her book “Fear of Flying” became synonymous with female sexual liberation, and turned Jong into a feminist icon. Now, Jong takes on the subject of sex after 60. Her new novel, “Fear of Dying,” tells the story of Vanessa Wonderman, a former starlet who is forced to confront the realities of aging and decline. She thinks casual sex can stave off her growing preoccupation with mortality and turns to a website to find it. Author Erica Jong talks with Diane about death, feminism and 40 years of writing

Guests

  • Erica Jong author of 19 books of poetry, fiction, and memoir, including "Fear of Flying."

Read A Featured Excerpt

From FEAR OF DYING by Erica Jong. Copyright © 2015 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

Transcript

  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Eric Jong's new novel titled "Fear of Dying," follows a year in the life of Vanessa Wonderman, an aging starlet in search of casual sex. Her hunt leads to a website called Zipless.com, a reference to the sex described in Jong's iconic first novel, "Fear of Flying." As the novel progresses, Vanessa watches her parents deteriorate, her daughter give birth and her much older husband fall ill.

  • 11:07:31

    MS. DIANE REHMVanessa has to come to terms with her identity and her own impending mortality. Eric Jong joins me from an NPR studio in New York to talk about her new book and her four-decade career. I'm sure many of you will want to join us. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Hey, Erica. It's good to see you again.

  • 11:08:06

    MS. ERICA JONGIt's wonderful to see you, Diane. And you -- age cannot wither nor custom stale your infinite variety. You look fantastic.

  • 11:08:16

    REHMOh, thank you so much, as do you. I'm so pleased to have you on again. Tell us, Eric, what we need to know about Vanessa Wonderman.

  • 11:08:33

    JONGVanessa is 60 pretending to be 50. She's had a facelift. She looks good. She's an actress. She's reached the point where they just want her to play old crones with green skin.

  • 11:08:50

    REHMOr grandmothers or something.

  • 11:08:52

    JONGOr great grandmothers or, you know, anything but what she wants to play. She would love to play Queen Lear and nobody will finance.

  • 11:09:08

    REHMNobody will let her do that.

  • 11:09:11

    JONGShe says as long as I'm old, let me play the great parts, but it's very hard for a woman. I mean, Helen Mirren did play Prospera for Julie Taymore with whom I'm working on an adaptation of my favorite novel, "Fanny Hackabout-Jones." But mostly women don’t get that chance. If there's a feminist director like Julie Taymore, they might. Helen Mirren plays Prospera, but most actors don’t have that chance.

  • 11:09:46

    JONGSo Vanessa Wonderman, not being Helen Mirren, doesn't have the chance to do it so she says the hell with it. I am not going to play these ridiculous green-faced crones, which, by the way, Betty Davis and her contemporaries were forced to do when they were old.

  • 11:10:10

    REHMIndeed. Now, Vanessa has a husband who's 20 years older than she. He's quite ill.

  • 11:10:24

    JONGHis name is Asher and he is a lovely, lovely man and he totally understands her. He has an aneurism of the aorta. The doctors give him pills which make it impossible for him to have an erection. She adores him and he adores her, but at the beginning of the book, she says my husband whom I adore is taking these pills. My daughter is giving birth to her first baby, my first grandchild.

  • 11:11:01

    JONGMy parents are failing, really failing. Her mother is nearly 100. Her father is 93. And she says, what about me? What about my life? I can still walk. I can still talk. I can still have lust not only in my heart. What about me? Where's my life? And that's where the book starts.

  • 11:11:27

    REHMI love the fact that the book is titled "Fear of Dying" and I wish for our listeners that you would read for us from page 10, starting with "people shouldn't get this old," over to "knowing everything I know now" on page 11.

  • 11:11:57

    JONGSo Vanessa is with her mother who's very old. "People shouldn't get this old. Sometimes I think my mother's senescence is taking years of my life. I have to force myself to look at her. Her cheeks are sallow and cross-hatched with a million wrinkles. Her eyes are roomy and clotted with buttery blobs. Her feet are gnarled and twisted and her thick-rigged toenails are a jagged mustard color. Her nightgown keeps opening to reveal her flattened breasts.

  • 11:12:34

    JONGI think of all the times I've sat in hospital rooms with my mother in the last few years. I am praying fiercely for her not to die, but aren't I really praying for myself? Aren't I really praying not to be the last one standing on the precipice? Aren't I really praying not to have to dig her grave and fall in? As you get older, the losses around you are staggering. The people in the obits come closer and closer to your own age.

  • 11:13:09

    JONGOlder friends and relatives die, leaving you stunned. Competitors die leaving you triumphant. Lovers and teachers die leaving you lost. It gets harder and harder to deny your own death. Do we hold onto our parents or are we holding onto our status as children who are immune from death? I think we are clinging with every increasing desperation to your status as children.

  • 11:13:39

    JONGIn the hospital, you see other children, children of 50, of 60, of 70 clinging to their parents of 80, 90, 100. Is all this clinging love or is it just the need to be reassured of your own immunity from the contagion of the Moloch ha-moves, the dread angel of death because we all secretly believe in our immortality. Since we cannot imagine the loss of individual consciousness, we cannot possibly imagine death. I thought I was searching for love, but it was really reincarnation I sought.

  • 11:14:25

    JONGI wanted to reverse time and become young again knowing everything I know now. What are you thinking about, my mother asks?

  • 11:14:35

    REHMErica Jong, reading your book "Fear of Dying," I felt you were being the most philosophical in this book of any book of yours that I've ever read and it lead me to believe that you really are thinking an awful lot about death and what comes next.

  • 11:15:14

    JONGWell, that's absolutely true, Diane. I think that because I was a poet, I always thought about death. You know, my favorite poet when I was in my 20s was Keats, who died at 25 a virgin, never having had sex with Fanny Brawne and writing those great odes. "My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains my sense as thought of hemlock I had drunk or emptied some dull opiate to the dregs." I mean, you can't read Keats and write poetry as I have entirely all my life and not think about death.

  • 11:15:54

    JONGBecause the only true subjects of poetry are love and death. However, when your parents start to fail, you look at death a little more closely.

  • 11:16:08

    REHMAre your parents still living?

  • 11:16:13

    JONGMy mother died three years ago at 101 and my father died 12 years ago at 93.

  • 11:16:22

    REHMSo good longevity on your side.

  • 11:16:28

    JONGRight. And it terrifies me. Quite honestly, people always say you have good genes, but maybe I do, maybe I don't. We never really know. However, you know, you can walk down in the street in New York and be hit by a taxi.

  • 11:16:47

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:16:48

    JONGSo who knows? But the fact is that when you see your parents failing, it takes on a new resonance and the resonance is you can't deny this. This is going to happen to you. And if, at the same time, your daughter is having a baby and if, at the same time, your husband is having an aneurism of the aorta and if, at the same time, your beloved standard poodle Belinda Barkowitz is dying and if, at the age of 11, because she had Addison's Disease and we had to give her shots of cortisone every month and so her wounds didn't heal, and if, at the same time, you know, your friends are starting to fail and people are getting breast cancer, your dearest girlfriends, your dearest college roommate, your dearest whatever, you just realize you're not immune.

  • 11:17:52

    JONGSo you have the fantasy maybe I can go back to being 30 knowing what I know now.

  • 11:18:02

    REHMAnd that is Eric Jong. We are talking about her brand new book. It's titled "Fear of Dying." Short break. We'll be right back.

  • 11:20:02

    REHMWelcome back. Erica Jong is with me. She joins me on Skype from New York so I can see her, as well as hear her, as can you. You can join us at 800-433-8850. Send an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. So Vanessa , feeling as though she does, that she is losing a great deal in her life in the way of friends, her parents, her husband with this aortic real difficulty, she starts going online, looking for -- I think she's as much looking for companionship as she is for sex.

  • 11:21:11

    REHMBut it also seems to me, Erica, that you've written something of a precautionary tale about going online and looking for sex.

  • 11:21:24

    JONGWell, I've never done it myself, but I do have an imagination, and I do have a lot of friends who talk to me, and when Vanessa Wonderman goes online, she meets a collection of lunatics that even fiction could not provide.

  • 11:21:45

    REHMI totally agree.

  • 11:21:47

    JONGOne of the men wants her to wear a rubber suit.

  • 11:21:50

    REHMExactly.

  • 11:21:51

    JONGWith little zippers over the nipples and vagina. The -- there's another man who wants her to impersonate a little puppy and urinate on the floor. There's another man who says, would you be my personal slave, I will wear rocks in my shoes. Actually, this actually happened to a friend of mine.

  • 11:22:11

    REHMI had that feeling.

  • 11:22:13

    JONGI will put -- I will put rocks in my shoes to atone for my sins. And she thinks of what sins, and what did I have to do with them, nothing. And the crazies online are just hilarious. And at that point, Isadora Wing, who is now old and wise, the heroine of "Fear of Flying," and sort of serves Vanessa as Jiminy Cricket in this book, Isadora whispers in Vanessa's ear, you think you're looking for sex, but you're looking for connection.

  • 11:22:56

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:22:57

    JONGConnection, we don't need fast sex anymore. We need slow sex in a fast world.

  • 11:23:08

    REHMIn a relationship is what...

  • 11:23:12

    JONGWe won't be satisfied by a ZF.

  • 11:23:13

    REHMExactly.

  • 11:23:14

    JONGNothing -- we never were, actually. People made much of it, but I, as, you know, the author, never, never liked that kind of sex, never. But I intuited that it was in the zeitgeist. And I remember thinking when people would write in magazine, if the Erica Jongs of this world had their way, women everywhere would hop from bed to bed to bed to bed. And I thought, but I've always been monogamous.

  • 11:23:46

    JONGSometimes when a relationship is breaking down, I get itchy, as does the man I'm involved with, but as long as the relationship is totally satisfying, I have always been monogamous. So people do confuse the fantasy in a book with the reality of the author's life.

  • 11:24:09

    REHMBut here you are, this author who wrote "Fear of Flying" and who set off in women's minds something into the ethos that sparked a kind of revolution. Are you ever, ever, ever sorry that you wrote that book?

  • 11:24:39

    JONGNot anymore, but I did go through periods of terrible depression over it because I was so ridiculously misunderstood. You know, there were moments when I felt traumatized, you know, by women showing up at my door and wanting to move in with me because they had come to dislike their husbands and men following me around bookstores, inviting me to be the mistress of measurements at the club called the Hung Jury, which was a club of men exceptionally well-endowed. It was crazy at the time, just crazy.

  • 11:25:22

    REHMAnd now it does seem to me that what's happened with this book is that you've gone through all of that. You've experienced all of that. You've put that behind you, and somehow now you are facing into the reality of your own, as well as Vanessa's, mortality. And what I want to know is what are you afraid of?

  • 11:26:02

    JONGWell, you know, Woody Allen said, who blurbed this book, I'm not afraid of death, I just don't want to be there when it happens.

  • 11:26:12

    REHMYeah. I saw that, and I recognize that you've gotten lots of wonderful blurbs. Here's one from Judy Collins, who was just on this program the other day. She says, fear of dying by Erica Jong is hysterical and touching, compelling and heartbreaking and makes me want even more to live joyfully forever. So I wonder because, you know, Erica, I'm not afraid of dying, and I would like to understand what it is that you think is making you afraid.

  • 11:27:11

    JONGI don't think I'm afraid anymore.

  • 11:27:15

    REHMErica is having a little problem with her throat. She's just put a lozenge in her mouth. Let me give you time to relax and get your voice back, have a little sip of water. I'm going to, in the meantime, okay...

  • 11:27:39

    JONGEndless book tour. In fact I am not afraid of dying.

  • 11:27:45

    REHMYou're not. Good, I'm glad to hear that.

  • 11:27:48

    JONGI saw my mother, I saw my mother pass peacefully out of this world, completely ready to go. She was...

  • 11:27:57

    REHMShe was 100 years old.

  • 11:28:01

    JONGYes. And she used to say to me, you know what, I'm bored. And I would say please don't tell me you're bored. Please, please don't tell me you're bored. I don't want to hear that. She said, you know, I've done everything. I have children. I have great-grandchildren, I have grandchildren. I'm ready. My father was another story. My father raged against the dying of the light. He honestly thought if he stayed on the treadmill morning and night and ate kale, he was a health food freak, he would never die. And I have never seen a person so angry at the angel of death.

  • 11:28:53

    JONGIt seems to me women do this better than men, like so many things. Actually, I've been thinking of that, and I've been thinking about the wisdom of women. The -- in the Native American culture, all those people that we replaced that died of smallpox and gunfire and whatever, a council of grandmothers decided on war and peace. The braves fought the war, but the council of grandmothers decided when.

  • 11:29:27

    JONGAnd I think the United States of America has to go back to that, a council of grandmothers, a wise council of grandmothers who know what life costs because they've given birth, they've raised grandchildren, they've raised sons and daughters both. I think we have to go back to our Native American roots on this continent before the Europeans arrived.

  • 11:29:54

    REHMSo I am assuming from that that whoever she might be, you would be very much in favor of having the next president be a woman?

  • 11:30:10

    JONGAbsolutely, it's time. It's time. I mean, we have -- you know, I love Bernie Sanders. Ken and I used to have a house in Vermont. We raised money for him. We adored him. We loved the state of Vermont. We got married in Vermont. But I think it's time for a woman.

  • 11:30:38

    REHMAnd you believe that a woman could bring a greater sense of peace to the world?

  • 11:30:47

    JONGI totally do. As women, we know what life costs. As women, we don't want to kill off all the young men. As women, we're not so interested in -- you know, who are the principal victims of war? Children and young men. That's true. The principal victims are always children and young men. Ever since I've become the grandmother of four, actually when I was grandmother of one, every child I see on television who is bleeding or dead is my child.

  • 11:31:33

    JONGI don't care if they're in Syria, if they're in Gaza, if they're in Israel, if they're in Beirut with the piles of garbage. I don't care if -- what color their skin is. I don't care. I see a child, and that child is my grandchild. And children are the ones who suffer most from war.

  • 11:31:55

    REHMIndeed. I want to ask you about another aspect of dying. Currently, the legislature of California has passed a bill allowing medical doctors to provide medications to individuals who are within six months of death so that that person may take his or her own life at will. The bill was passed about three weeks ago, finally ended up on the desk of Governor Brown yesterday.

  • 11:32:52

    JONGOregon has this law.

  • 11:32:53

    REHMAre you in favor of the right to die?

  • 11:32:57

    JONGListen, we give it to our beloved dogs and cats. Why do we deny it to ourselves and our very ill loved ones? I know all the arguments. You know, my BFF, my best friend forever, lives in Portland now. Portland has that ability. I think one of the Dakotas or Montana has that law. I believe that...

  • 11:33:30

    REHMVermont has it.

  • 11:33:30

    JONGWashington state, Vermont.

  • 11:33:32

    REHMAnd Vermont.

  • 11:33:35

    JONGVermont, where we used to have the most beautiful house that we flew to in a little plane. If we can let our dogs go, and Belinda Barkowitz, my big standard poodle, rates a whole chapter in "Fear of Dying." If we can let our dogs go, hard as it is, we can do that for our loved ones.

  • 11:34:00

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've got a number of callers. I want to open the phones, 800-433-8850. Let's go to Mike in St. Louis. You're on the air.

  • 11:34:20

    MIKEHi Diane.

  • 11:34:21

    REHMHi there.

  • 11:34:22

    MIKEAnother good show. Yeah, I was fascinated with her comment about we're now more interested in the relationship than sex because probably about five or six years ago, I heard on NPR that Sophie Freud, the granddaughter of Freud, redid all of his experiments and found out that the primary drive of humanity is not sex but being acknowledged. So the relationship part is so much more important than the physical part.

  • 11:34:57

    MIKEAnd I have a little aphorism for you, too, that I think I made up, and it's youth is wasted on the young, slash, but wisdom on the old. Which is kind of a conundrum of life.

  • 11:35:10

    REHMIndeed.

  • 11:35:11

    JONGGeorge Bernard Shaw said youth is wasted on the young, and you have made it better.

  • 11:35:18

    REHMI agree. Wisdom on the old, why didn't I have that wisdom 40 years ago to understand my relationship with my husband better then?

  • 11:35:35

    JONGIt's hormones, basically. You know, you go through a period of your life when you're in the grip of hormones. And then you get wise.

  • 11:35:47

    REHMIt takes too long. I wish there were a way we could earn or turn on that wisdom button earlier in our lives.

  • 11:36:01

    JONGWell, some of us are able to. You know, when I say that I was monogamous in most of my relationships, I would look at some cute guy, who I met on a book tour, and I would think cute, complicated, problematic. How does it end? How does it begin? He has someone at home. I have someone at home. Let's not go there. And obviously, you know, when I was very young, I sometimes went there, but it wasn't my favorite thing to do.

  • 11:36:41

    JONGAnd nobody got this, but in "Fear of Flying" I did say the ZF is a platonic ideal, and I have never had one. But nobody read that part.

  • 11:36:52

    REHMYeah, yeah.

  • 11:36:53

    JONGYou know, because they were really excited. And I think I may have liberated a lot of people who were very uptight about sexuality, women and men both, and for that I'm glad. People who didn't enjoy their lives as much as they might have. And if they enjoyed their lives more, I'm glad. But that didn't mean that I was an advocate. You have to have judgment.

  • 11:37:19

    REHMI think that is the point. Short break here. When we come back, more of your calls, your questions. I look forward to speaking with you.

  • 11:40:01

    REHMWelcome back. Erica Jong is my guest. She joins me by ISDN and Skype from our NPR studios in New York. I'm going to go back to the phones, 800-433-8850. Let's go to Vanessa in Key West, Florida. Hi, you're on the air.

  • 11:40:36

    VANESSAWell, good morning, what an amazing, inspirational conversation between two such wonderful women.

  • 11:40:42

    REHMWell, thank you so much.

  • 11:40:45

    VANESSAErica, I wanted to say bravo for writing both "Fear of Flying," which I read back when I was about, I think, 18 and now "Fear of Dying," first of all, clever title and again so apt. My name is Vanessa, and I'm an actress here in Key West and have experienced -- it's crazy. I've experienced the great good fortune to play some very strong female roles recently, thanks to a local playwright whose name is Bob Bowersox, who is unafraid to buck the system and write for powerful, older women as Shakespeare did with Cleopatra.

  • 11:41:24

    JONGAbsolutely.

  • 11:41:28

    VANESSAAs soon as your conversation started, I felt you were reaching out directly to me. So I had to call. I've met Diane, and a couple years back in Florida, and she is as beautiful as, Erica, as you say she is.

  • 11:41:42

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:41:43

    VANESSAWith regard to dying, I'm a Christian Scientist, and we do not fear death. We regard it as essentially mortal era and that life is in fact eternal and divine. So I'm curious if you've found yourself drawn to any specific spiritual direction as you have researched and taken this journey on this -- what I hope I will be reading very soon, the new book of yours, "Fear of Dying."

  • 11:42:20

    JONGIt's very, very interesting. I've always been a very spiritual person. I grew up -- you can't write poetry if you're not, and poetry has been the center of my life. I grew up in a very nonobservant Jewish family in New York. But I have always believed in the force that through the green fuse feeds the flower, Dylan Thomas, and I have always believed that there is a great creative force in the universe, which you participate in when you write poetry, when you write music, when you write fiction, when you write, when you stand on the stage and speak your lines in a character.

  • 11:43:04

    JONGI believe that we participate in this creative force through our work, really, and our ecstatic work, the work we were born to do. And I feel when I'm writing that I'm in touch with a power much greater than myself. I come from a family of painters and musicians. I believe that we do participate in this force.

  • 11:43:33

    JONGLook, think of Mozart who died in his 30s and was buried in a pauper's grave. When I listen to let's say one of Mozart's operas that I love, "Cosi Fan Tutte," it could be "The Magic Flute," which I adore, Shakespeare is alive for me. He died in his 30s. He was thrown into a pauper's grave. He didn't have the recognition that he deserved. But he's alive for me. And I imagine his soul spinning in the cosmos.

  • 11:44:12

    JONGI believe that when we participate in the arts, we tap into this force, and quite frankly when I don't write for a period of time, I write poetry on book tours, amazingly enough, it astonishes me that I can, but when I don't write for a time, I feel bereft. I have this need to write. So for me, you would say -- I used to have this screenwriter friend, and I would say what's your religion, and he would say room service. My religion is poetry.

  • 11:44:46

    REHMThat's lovely. Erica, you mentioned your dog, Belinda, and there is indeed a chapter of the book, Chapter 10, titled "Old Dogs." I wonder if you'd read for us from Page 163 over to, I am invited to leave her overnight again.

  • 11:45:21

    JONGAnd then my dog Belinda died. Belinda is old. Old is the problem with dogs. Love 'em and lose 'em. One morning, she refuses to get up. She lies, unable to move, panting, her nose dry and her eyes tearing, big, gray, sloppy tears. I carry her downstairs and take her by cab to the animal clinic. Most of the humans waiting with their boxes and leashes and doggie strollers are middle-aged women, only a few men. Boxes chirp and mew. Dogs drool and sniff. Only occasionally a snake lifts its head out of its box as if we were already in India or the Garden of Eden.

  • 11:46:15

    JONGWe get attached. We project our fears and wishes onto our animal companions. Max, sit down, says a blonde with Band-Aids all over her face. The kids are gone, but the dogs linger on, dogs as incontinent old ladies, dogs with moles, dogs with wheels instead of legs. As I wait for Belinda to have a chest X-ray and various blood tests, I watch the whole range of human-animal interaction, women convinced are their babies or wounded birds or lame dogs with flopping rear paws.

  • 11:46:56

    JONGI wait and wait. I read every animal magazine. I drink a sweet coffee concoction out of the vending machine. Eventually a vet comes out and talks to me as if I am three. Belinda is not doing well for an older poodle. She is in crisis probably because of her Addison's but has a fever of 106 and crackle on one lobe of one lung. We may need to keep her overnight. Would you be good enough to go to the cashier?

  • 11:47:38

    JONGI am invited to visit Belinda later in the doggie ICU. She seems dead until she looks up at me with big, questioning eyes. Then they take her away for more tests, and I am invited to leave her overnight yet again.

  • 11:48:00

    REHMAnd you lost Belinda Barkowitz.

  • 11:48:03

    JONGI did, yes.

  • 11:48:04

    REHMHow old was she?

  • 11:48:06

    JONGShe was 11. And I know of standard poodles who live to be 14 or 15, but Belinda had Addison's disease, the same disease JFK had, and because she was on tons of cortisone, her wounds didn't heal. So when they took a lipoma of her hip, and of course like most dogs she chewed it, and she wore and E collar, an Elizabethan collar, and she was quite miserable, and we took her to every animal hospital we could find, and they put a vacuum patch on her hip, and then we ordered for her an antibiotic that cost something like $6,000 for a week and that we almost couldn't find anywhere in New York.

  • 11:49:00

    JONGAnd eventually, when it was clear she wasn't healing, and when it was clear her back legs no longer worked, I talked to several friends of mine who were dog lovers, and I went to the animal medical center, and the vet said, we don't understand why animals self-mutilate, we're doing a lot of research on it, but we really don't understand it. And that was when I made the decision.

  • 11:49:29

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:49:31

    JONGAnd one of my dearest friends, who is a great animal lover came and sat with me and my housekeeper, who loved Belinda as I did, and my assistant, who loved Belinda as I did, and we all sat there, and we said a prayer for Belinda, and for, you know, her soul to pass to doggie heaven or whatever, wherever. My mother was a pagan. She believed that when our dust goes into the earth, we become fruits and vegetables. Born Jewish, proud of our tribe but essentially pagan in philosophy.

  • 11:50:17

    JONGAnd we said goodbye. The vet gave her something to anesthetize her, and within a few minutes she was gone. And the dog crematorium showed up, took her ashes. She was cremated. Ken and I bought a beautiful weeping cherry tree and planted it near our pool in Connecticut. And we buried the ashes. When the spring came, we buried the ashes in the roots of the tree, and we call it the Belinda tree. And it stands over our pool in Connecticut.

  • 11:50:57

    REHMThat's terrific. I'm glad. I'm glad for you and for Belinda. In "Fear of Dying," you offer a rather vivid portrayal of a face lift and what one goes through during that face lift. Were you writing of your own experience there?

  • 11:51:26

    JONGOf course. But also so many of my friends have had face lifts. They're much better now, and the injectables are better than the lifts. But I don't think that for a woman in the public eye it is a choice. I believe that for a woman who is in the public eye, whether an actor, a politician, a newscaster, whatever, you know, a famous surgeon who appears and does lectures and television, there is no tolerance for a saggy, baggy woman.

  • 11:52:10

    JONGHopefully as feminism progresses, it will be different. Margaret Mead, I used to see her walking around Central Park West because I grew up opposite the Museum of Natural History, once on the 77th Street side and later on the 81st Street side, and I used to see Mead, whom I adored, who was a Barnard woman like me, walking with her African staff, and she didn't have a face lift.

  • 11:52:38

    REHMRight.

  • 11:52:39

    JONGShe was a great anthropologist. If you go to the Museum of Natural History, you'll see a wing dedicated to her, where she worked in a tower writing many of her books and articles and so on. But I think that at this point in history, if you look your age, forget it. You won't be invited on television. You won't be invited to conferences. You won't be invited to promote your books. You won't be invited to be a public intellectual.

  • 11:53:17

    JONGThat is very sad, but it is the case.

  • 11:53:20

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm going to give you another side to that story. Of course, I'm on radio. I am out in public a lot. However, both my mother and father died when I was 19. And because I never saw them grow old, I vowed to myself that I wanted my children to see me grow old naturally, without ever touching any part of my body for any kind of facial or reconstructive surgery. I want them to see me grow old because I never got to see my parents grow old.

  • 11:54:21

    JONGWell, I think that's just inspiring. And I -- and you look so beautiful, Diane.

  • 11:54:27

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:54:28

    JONGSo beautiful, and you're wearing the perfect colors, purple, and you just look beautiful. And I hope that everyone will exercise that option. I hope you will be a beacon for other women.

  • 11:54:47

    REHMDo you regret having had a face lift?

  • 11:54:52

    JONGNo, in no way. I mean, it was years and years ago. I went to a surgeon in San Francisco who didn't do tight face lifts. He's retired now. It was very difficult to recover because in those days the anesthetics were oil-based. Now they're not. Now they're water-based, so it's different. But I would never do it again.

  • 11:55:14

    REHMYou wouldn't?

  • 11:55:16

    JONGNo. I do a lot of yoga. I do a lot of fitness training. I eat organic food. I would never do it again. But those options, you know, I always worked like a dog, and those options weren't there for me 20 years ago.

  • 11:55:33

    REHMBut why would you never do it again?

  • 11:55:35

    JONGBecause of women like you, because we're setting a new standard.

  • 11:55:43

    REHMThat's how I feel. I am 79 years old. And I believe so strongly that if women stopped hiding their age, we'd be stronger rather.

  • 11:56:05

    JONGI agree with you.

  • 11:56:06

    REHMI think it's been a real shame that women have believed they have to hide behind a fictional younger age (unintelligible)

  • 11:56:21

    JONGExactly. I agree with you totally. And I've come, I've come to agree with you over time. You know, originally "Fear of Dying" was a book in which Vanessa actually does go back in time, through magic and witchcraft, and I threw that draft out because I believe that's a false sense of aging. That's a plot that you can read in "Plotto 1, 2, 3," if there is such a -- there is a book called "Plotto." Older person goes back in time, turns out not to be what he or she wants. There are many books like that.

  • 11:56:59

    JONGAnd I read my draft of that book, and I hated it. So then I said no, I'm not going to do that. Vanessa is going to explore this in a different way.

  • 11:57:12

    REHMI'm glad you did. Erica Jong, so wonderful to talk with you again. Thank you.

  • 11:57:19

    JONGThank you.

  • 11:57:21

    REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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