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THE PANDEMIC MIDLIFE CRISIS

Available for pre-order now.

In this essay collection, thirty-one midlife women describe their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are writers, teachers, artists, mothers, daughters, caregivers, activists, friends, and neighbors.

They share stories of heartache, joy, loss, love, sacrifice, despair, anxiety, loneliness, and connection. Resilience is at the heart of each essay. 

Gen X women were overwhelmed and stretched like never before by this pandemic. They were hit hard in all of their many roles — as workers, as caregivers, and more. In this anthology, women share how they coped with this unprecedented crisis.

This collection will take you behind the news headlines of job losses, virtual schooling, and quarantines. These stories reveal how real women have confronted the daily challenges of pandemic life.

Here's what women told us...

The Story of This Anthology

When COVID-19 hit the United States in March of 2020, we (Jessica and Stephanie of HerStories) were just starting a new writing intensive course with a few dozen students. The women in this course were women just like us — midlife women whose entire lives had been entirely disrupted in a matter of a few days. All of us (instructors and students alike) struggled to get through the course “successfully” (if we judged success by any pre-2020 criteria). 

We continued to offer groups and courses throughout the pandemic, and we heard — in writing and in our Zoom meetings — about our students’ everyday struggles. We also shared ours. We offered writing prompts and groups to help women like us to make sense of their feelings and anxieties and to share them on the page (or screen). Most of all, we knew women like us desperately wanted to connect, to be heard, to reach out. For some women, we knew we were offering a lifeline of support, and we took that responsibility seriously.

We also wanted to hear from women like us who weren’t enrolled in our writing courses. How were they doing? How were they coping? We put together a survey for our wider community, and over 520 women shared the details of their daily realities.

Right away we knew we wanted to offer women a chance to share their experiences in story form, not just through survey questions. Although we hadn’t published an anthology in quite a few years (so much work! so much time!), we knew that this pandemic experience was unlike any other. We wanted to put together a collection of fantastic writing about midlife women living through this pandemic — as a historical document, as validation for women who might feel that they were alone, as public evidence of Gen X women’s unique obstacles.

We were overwhelmed with submissions, and it was almost impossible to choose. For every chosen essay from a contributor, there were dozens more whose stories were equally powerful and resonant. This essay collection is dedicated to all of these women as well, who so bravely shared their pandemic stories.

Introducing

The Pandemic Midlife Crisis: Gen X Women on the Brink

The HerStories Project is proud to announce the publication of its fifth essay collection, featuring 31 essays from midlife writers and an introduction from co-editors Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger.

If you pre-order before July 20th,

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You’ll receive a paperback version of the book, delivered to your address. No additional shipping charges. (Canadian addresses will include a $5 additional shipping fee.) No other international orders.

a $5 value

A ticket to our live online event

You’ll get a free pass to our online author reading on August 12th. (More information will follow.)

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An e-book copy of the book

You’ll be emailed an electronic copy of the book to read on any device.

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You’ll receive your copy by early August.

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Receive a Confirmation

Get an email confirmation of your pre-order. In August you’ll also be emailed an e-book copy and your tickets to the live event.

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We’ll ship the book to your home address in early August.

Meet the co-editors

Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger

Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger are the co-founders and co-editors of the HerStories Project, a publishing and writing community for midlife women.

We met online as “blogging friends” and then founded the HerStories Project in 2014. We’ve published four essay collections, edit our HerStories Project website, and have taught writing to hundreds of female writers over the past six years.

Jessica is a former teacher, curriculum coordinator, and researcher with a doctorate in educational policy, living in western New York with her husband and two children. 

Stephanie is a music therapist, writer, and producer of Listen To Your Mother Boulder/Denver living in Colorado with her husband and two daughters.

Meet the Contributors

Amber Wong

"Nature Has Its Say"

Amber’s essay is a quirky journey through a rower’s consciousness as she tries to enlist logic to quell her pandemic fears. Problem is, her logic is informed by oddly idiosyncratic sources: the Endangered Species Act, a cult movie, science fiction, and lab coats. As she considers the odds of humanity gaining the upper hand, which side of nature will have the final say?

Amber Wong is an environmental engineer in Seattle who writes about culture, identity, and her firsthand knowledge about risks posed by hazardous waste sites, although usually not all in the same essay. Recent work has been published in Creative Nonfiction, Stanford Magazine, The Sunlight Press, Catamaran Literary Reader, and Tahoma Literary Review, among others. Amber earned an MFA from Lesley University and is currently working on a memoir.

Amy Heinz

"Memes, Dreams, and Automobiles"

When the pandemic cleared her family’s hectic calendar, Amy was excited to explore her potential beyond the driver’s seat of her dirty minivan. But she quickly realized that she was desperately missing moments of connection, and shuttling kids around town had come with its gifts.

Amy Heinz is a freelance copywriter and parenting writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and three children. Her work—which receives glowing reviews from her mother—can be found on Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Disney Baby, Pop Sugar, and her neglected parenting blog, Using Our Words. When she’s not driving her kids places where she cheers too loudly, she’s planning her next escape to the beach.

Andra Watkins

"A Garden of Pandemic Gratitude Lilies"

Andra used origami to fight pandemic depression. Her essay recounts how she thanked humans, famous and ordinary. Every day, she penned a letter of thanks, folded it into an origami lily, and mailed it. She hoped to lift a few souls, but she never expected expressions of gratitude to change her. For anyone needing inspiration to tell someone they matter – right now – before it’s too late.

Andra Watkins is the author of four books. Her memoir Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace hit the NYT bestseller list in October 2015. Her well-reviewed Nowhere trilogy targets the fiction lover. She gives rousting keynote speeches and has yet to meet a destination she doesn’t like.

Anne Pinkerton

"Hugger"

In “Hugger,” Anne confesses to her first hug during the pandemic, a masked embrace with her best friend Karen, which she receives with “the desperate gratitude of someone who has been on a hunger strike and is suddenly presented with a juicy steak.” A self-identified hug enthusiast, Anne mourns the loss of this kind of touch during the season of Covid-19. The experience of finally hugging again brings her back to the previous year when Karen’s mother died suddenly, and, in the emergency room afterward, without any words to say, she simply hugged her friend, again and again — the physical gesture the only way not to feel incompetent in the moment, the only way to provide real, human comfort.

Anne Pinkerton studied poetry at Hampshire College and received an MFA in creative nonfiction from Bay Path University. Her writing often circles around grief, loss, illness, and coping with these painful realities in our lives. She has been published in Modern LossHippocampus MagazineEntropyArs MedicaLunch Ticket, and The Bark, among others.

Autumn Purdy

"Why I Placed Minimalism on the Shelf During the Pandemic"

In her essay, Autumn writes about how she eschewed her minimalist practices and the ideals of simplified living as a means of survival during the pandemic, which led her to question: What truly matters most?

Autumn Purdy lives in Westerville, Ohio where she writes creative nonfiction and poetry, dabbles in nature photography, and serves as a book reviews editor for Literary Mama. Her work has been published by HerKind CollectiveThe HerStories ProjectLiterary MamaThe Sunlight Press, and Sharing Magazine. She’s writing a memoir about her recurrent miscarriage experience and path to motherhood. 

Caroline Berger

"Both of These Things Are True"

A love letter to Baltimore, “Both of These Things are True” chronicles pandemic life through the lens of working for a healthcare system, in a city which already suffers from the chronic ongoing traumas of community violence, racial disparities and corruption, but also finds moments of joy and hope for a better future.

Caroline Berger is a writer, editor, digital content guru and activist based in Baltimore. Her writing has been published in such literary journals as Flaneur Foundry, La Petite Zine, Pindeldyboz, Barrow Street, and Vibrant Gray. She is a digital marketing specialist for LifeBridge Health, where she focuses mostly on the comprehensive violence prevention and intervention work of the Center for Hope.

Caroline Grant

"At the Movies"

A film buff sees movies wherever she looks: with the pandemic keeping everyone stuck inside, the view out the window can offer a glimpse of a romance, a travel doc, or a family melodrama. “At the Movies” is both about the actual movies one 3-generation household watched together during shelter-in-place and also about how looking out the window offered a reassuring glimpse of humanity.

Caroline M. Grant is co-director of the Sustainable Arts Foundation. She served on the editorial board of Literary Mama for ten years, including five as editor-in-chief. She has published essays in The New York Times, Washington Post, Salon, Ozy, and a number of other outlets, and has also co-edited two anthologies: Mama, PhD and The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two sons.

Chanize Thorpe

"The Big Chop"

When she realized her long hair had lots of bad energy weighing her down she made a major change. The pandemic gave her the perfect excuse to make the Big Chop–cutting more than 20 years worth of hair in one fell swoop. Did she make a mistake?

Chanize Thorpe is a NY-based lifestyle editor and writer. A former Air Force dependent, she has spent over two decades traveling the world, contributing to both national and international publications as well as a variety of websites. Her work has appeared in outlets from Brides Magazine to Shondaland.com. She is the mother of two women and a proud member of the LGBQTIA+ community.

Cora Waring

"Who's In Charge Here?"

When the nation’s lack of top-down leadership concerning the coronavirus pandemic left Cora scrambling for guidance, she turned to an unlikely source — virtual fitness instructors.

Cora Waring lives in Brookline, MA. Her work previously appears or is forthcoming in Catapult, River Teeth’sBeautiful Things,” Santa Clara Review, Train River, and other publications. When she’s not chasing after her three children, she teaches indoor cycling classes around Boston.

Elizabeth Suarez Aguerre

"Doing Everything Right"

In her essay, Liz writes about her attempts to cope during the pandemic by suppressing her feelings and doing everything “right,” but when she finally breaks down, she realizes that she needed to have acknowledged her feelings along the way.

Elizabeth Suarez Aguerre is a teacher, writer, mother, wife, and beach bum. She is the author of nine educational books, is one of the featured women writers in the anthology The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship, and has been a featured voice on Mamapedia. She expresses her passionate opinions and shares her random musings on But Then I Had Kids.

Ellyn Gelman

"Lockdown"

Ellyn’s essay was inspired by the silence that fell over New York City after all nonessential businesses were shut down. She had lived in the city of her dreams for a little over a year before she found herself furloughed and alone in a 650 square foot apartment in midtown Manhattan. “Lockdown” is about coping with a new life in the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Ellyn is a storyteller by nature. After raising three children she earned an MFA in creative writing and relocated to Manhattan. She teaches creative writing at Westport Writers Workshop in CT. She loves to visit National Parks. Her best adventures include dogsledding in Alaska and white water rafting down the Rio Grande.

Gretchen M. Michelfeld

"Stage Mother"

When Gretchen had a son, she swore she’d never become a stage mother. Twelve years later the pandemic had other plans for her.

Gretchen M. Michelfeld’s essays have appeared in The Washington Post, Motherwell, Parents.com, Good Men Project, Natural Selections, and Real Simple. Her award-winning film, As Good As You, is available on EPIX, iTunes, and Prime. She has a BA from Vassar College, an MFA from Sarah Lawrence, and she lives with her family in Jackson Heights, Queens.

Jennifer Lang

"Sleep Like a Midlife Woman"

In her essay, Jennifer explores the heaviness of middle-of-the-night wakings when onerous and ominous thoughts careen around the frontal cortex and pondering one’s own mortality seems inevitable.

Forever a mutt, Jennifer Lang was born in Berkeley, sleepless in Tel Aviv. She’s a Pushcart Prize and Best American Essays nominee. Her flash nonfiction can be found in Midland Journal, Bending Genres, The Gravity of The Thing, Atticus Review, CHEAP POP, Pithead Chapel, Citron Review, and elsewhere.

Jenny Moore

"We Were Lucky"

Jenny writes about how the pandemic redefined the meaning of luck as she attempted to care for her young child and ailing mother.

Jenny Moore writes and edits fiction and nonfiction. Her writing has appeared in several anthologies, most recently This Is What America Looks Like. She is currently finishing a novel. 

Joan Delcoco

"It Took a Pandemic To Convince My Mother I’m Enough"

Joan’s essay highlights the complexity of the mother-daughter relationship as well as the challenges of caring for aging parents during a pandemic. After finally outgrowing her need to convince her mother that she was enough, the pandemic created an opportunity to redefine their relationship.

Joan Delcoco is a brain injury survivor who writes to retrain her brain, make sense of the world, and connect with others. In previous lives, she has been a grant writer for nonprofit organizations, a stay-at-home mothers to two now-grown children, and a middle school English teacher. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and daughter.

Jodie Sadowsky

"Stitching My Way Through the Pandemic"

Jodie’s essay is about learning to sew masks in the early months of the pandemic on a century-old heirloom machine. Finding solitude and connecting to a community outside of lockdown fueled a creativity that had been long depleted in years of mothering, coupling and lawyering.

Jodie Sadowsky is a Connecticut lawyer turned freelance writer. She married her high school prom-date (not that same night) and they’re still growing (up) together as they raise their three children. Jodie’s writing centers around her life’s biggest roles – mother, daughter, partner, sister, friend. Some of her work has been published online at The Kitchn, Kveller, Tablet, and Cottage Life; the rest exists on her laptop, her notebooks and in her head. 

Katharine Strange

"The Lunch Bus"

Katharine always thought if any disaster would upend her life, it would be the Cascadia Megaquake. She envisioned neighbor turning against neighbor in an apocalyptic hellscape. But when COVID hit, and the anxiety of the pandemic felt inescapable, she found solace in her community, and in particular, in a school bus that delivered lunch to her neighborhood.

Katharine Strange is an education activist and freelance writer who relishes writing about topics that would embarrass her grandmother. She’s a Moth Mainstage performer and a tireless advocate for irreverent humor. Her long fiction is represented by Savannah Brooks of Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons, and two naughty cats.

Kimberly Hensle Lowrance

"Lessons from a Pandemic Puppy"

Kimberly’s essay is about her family’s adoption of a rescue dog during the COVID-19 pandemic and how that decision connected them more to their community–even during lockdown and quarantine.

Kimberly Hensle Lowrance has been a nonprofit director, consultant, blogger, community volunteer, and elected official. She’s also a writer who has been published in the Boston Globe, Embark Literary Journal, and Mothers Always Write, among other outlets. She is currently at work on her first novel. Additionally, Kimberly is a producer and on-air host for A Mighty Blaze, an organization of writers and creatives who love books, authors, and bookstores and who work to bring attention to these essential parts of our culture during COVID-19 and beyond.

Kimi Ceridon

"Life and Death of an Angry Chihuahua"

In July 2020, Kimi had to euthanize her 21-year-old chihuahua, Chili. Even though Kimi’s mother died of pancreatic cancer four years earlier, Chili would always her mom’s dog. As they arrive at the veterinarian’s office, COVID-19 restrictions only amplify the feelings of nostalgia, loss, and grief.

Kimi Ceridon is a freelance writer and essayist in Medford, MA.  She has masters’ degrees in Mechanical Engineering from MIT and Food Studies from Boston University. Her personal essays are featured in Dreamers Creative WritingHerStryFor Women Who Roar and Snapdragon.

Laurel Hilton

"Little Earthquakes"

Laurel’s essay is a reflection on deep friendship and how to hold on to that bond despite differing opinions on global health and political issues that threaten to break their connection.

Writing has been Laurel’s passion as long as she can remember. She is an author, writing coach and social historian. Laurel has been featured in four anthology collections; performed her work on the radio; and co-produced the highly acclaimed stage show Listen to Your Mother – San Francisco. She and her husband, daughters, and Aussie cattle dog crew live in the San Francisco/Bay Area.

Laurie Foos

"Soon"

Laurie Foos is the author of the novels Ex Utero and The Blue Girl, among others, as well as the novellas The Giant Baby and Toast, and her short fiction has appeared in Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices, Quarterly West, as well as in the anthologies, Wreckage of Reason: XXperimental Women Writing in the 21st Century and Chick-Lit: Postfeminist Fiction . Her non-fiction has appeared in Brain,Child, Motherwell, and in the anthologies, At the End of Life: True Stories About How We Die and So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood. She teaches at Goddard College and Lesley University and lives on Long Island with her two kids.

Lea Grover

"Before and After"

Just before the pandemic began, Lea’s husband started to lose his battle with brain cancer. In the course of the pandemic she and her children lost her sister to COVID, then her husband to glioblastoma, and in this way experienced all of the worst that the isolation of quarantine could create.

Lea Grover is a writer and speaker in Chicagoland, living with her Platonic Parenting Partner, four children, five cats, and the enthusiastically supportive ghost of her late husband. When not completely lost in her own house and head, she can be found painting, cooking, or plotting yet another unfinished book.

Leslie Mac

"A Year in the Life of a Black Digital Strategist"

Leslie offers this honest reflection about life as a Black organizer in 2020. Part “year in the life” & part life lesson inventory, she shares a dynamic ask for everyone in the wake of a difficult and challenging year. 

Leslie Mac is a Brooklyn girl, Organizer, and Communications expert. She currently serves as the Communications Director for The Frontline. A seasoned Digital Strategist & Social Media Advisor, she founded LM Consulting to help her clients create diverse, imaginative campaigns and branding that focus on inclusivity and justice-minded content. Recent clients include Google, UltraViolet, Articulate, UMass Amherst, Amazon, Meadville Lombard Theological School, Canvas8, and The Advancement Project.

Liz Alterman

"The Parent Trap"

In her essay, Liz explores the delicate balance of trying to emotionally support both her parents and her teenaged son amid their very different reactions to the pandemic.

Liz Alterman is the author of a young adult thriller, He’ll Be Waiting. Her memoir, Sad Sacked, chronicling her and her husband’s simultaneous unemployment, will be released by Audible Originals in late 2021. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, three sons, and two cats, and can be found microwaving the same cup of coffee all day long.

Marie Holmes

"The View from the Courtyard"

In “The View from the Courtyard,” Holmes describes watching her children process the trauma of the pandemic through imaginative play.

Marie Holmes has written for Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, the Washington Post, and other publications. She has received awards from Gival Press, the Bronx Writers Center, and the Center for Fiction. She lives in New York City with her wife and their two children.

Marya Zilberberg

"Essential"

Plaster dust in the corners courtesy of mice who live in the walls of her old farm house. Grains of rice on the kitchen counter the only evidence of her nocturnal college kids, home for the pandemic. Two dental crowns, two bathrooms, an oven, her left eye, all fail. The rickety healthcare system is on the brink of collapsing, and supply chains have disintegrated. A force she cannot see fractures all façades. It clarifies what people mean by “essential”; what they value in their leaders; whose lives they believe really matter. These cracks could destroy everything. Or they may be portals for light.

Marya Zilberberg came to the U.S. as a teen from what was then the Soviet Union, and now lives in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains in Western Massachusetts. She is the author of Between the Lines: Finding the Truth in Medical Literature, a guide to evaluating medical evidence. Her work has appeared in Salon, Tablet Magazine, Longreads, Massachusetts Review, and Hippocampus, among others.

Natalie Serianni

"Subtle Shifts"

Framed by an ’80’s childhood and the pandemic, “Subtle Shifts” is an essay about how we continually shift, mutate and morph in our lives after loss. It’s about loneliness and learning to mother as a motherless mother. It’s also about the feeling of home, finding what we need, and reassembling ourselves to become whole.

Natalie Serianni is a Seattle-based writer, instructor, and mother of two, whose writing has appeared at Motherwell, The Manifest-Station, Literary Mama, SheKnows and Today’s Parent. She’s at work on a memoir about motherless mothering.

Rebecca Atkinson

"Whale Song"

Rebecca shares her young child’s obsession with whales, against a backdrop of the intensity of being under lockdown in the UK’s first wave of the pandemic.

Rebecca Atkinson is a 40-year-old cis woman living with her children and partner in Bradford, England. She works as a journalist in the cultural sector and is currently writing the first draft of her second novel about a young woman who is sent a treasure map by her errant father. During the pandemic, she formed a new writers’ circle focused on self-care and mutual support – something she didn’t realize she needed until it came along. She loves to write about the sea, despite living a long way from the coast.

Shannon Conor Winward

"Chrysalis Spring"

Shannon Connor Winward is the author of The Year of the Witch (Sycorax Press, 2018) and Undoing Winter (Finishing Line Press, 2014, winner of the SFPA’s Elgin Award for best speculative chapbook). Her work appears widely in places like The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Rivet, Analog, Lunch Ticket, Literary Mama, Pseudopod: Artemis Rising, the Minola and other Reviews and, most recently Deaf Poets Society, Skelos, Crow Toes Magazine, and Twilight Worlds: a Best of NewMyths Anthology.She is the erstwhile recipient of eclectic honors including a Best of the Net nomination, runner-up in a Celtic ballad contest, and a fellowship in fiction for her home state of Delaware.

Shari Winslow

"Seasons"

“Seasons” is about a high school English teacher who finds herself navigating the territory of remote learning, teaching classes from her dining room table while her own children log on to Zoom in their bedrooms. The essay grapples with the unmooring sense of grief and loss when schools closed, as well as the hope in finding new ways to connect with one another.

Shari Winslow is a high school English teacher who grew up in Montana and lives with her family near the shore of Puget Sound in Washington State. She never leaves the house without at least one notebook and something to read. Her work has previously appeared in Whitefish Review, The Fourth River, Hipmamazine, Toasted Cheese, the Literary Kitchen, and others.

Suzanne Weerts

"Life Support"

When Suzanne finds herself having both a hot flash and a panic attack behind her mask in the frozen food section of the grocery store, she knows that COVID-19 is forcing her to reckon with not only her mortality but also with what she’s going to do with her life once her briefly empty nest empties out again.

A writer and storyteller from Burbank, California, Suzanne Weerts is the artistic director of JAM Creative, a storytelling project committed to bringing diverse voices from the page to the stage while supporting local charities. You can read her essays in The Sun, Good Old Days Magazine, and other parenting websites. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Suzanne has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for public school arts education and mental health programs, while raising two compassionate, capable, decent Democrats. Now an empty-nester, she has turned her attention to raising her pandemic puppy and completing her memoir.

Tabitha Nordby

'Swathed in Thick Blankets"

Tabitha writes about depression amidst the pandemic and how writing became a safe space for her to heal during this year of mental and emotional transitions.

Tabitha Nordby is a freelance writer and college educator in Winnipeg, Canada, who writes about travel, relationships, and personal growth. Tabitha holds a BA in English and a Masters degree in Library Science. You will most often find her reading in her favorite chair or writing her next piece in her newly created studio space.

The HerStories Project is a writing and publishing community for midlife women.

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© HerStories Project LLC 2021

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