The Time Being

by Mary Meigs

Published by Talonbooks

1997, 144 pages

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A mature voice and a pure heart, Mary Meigs' The Time Being is a must-read. But not for everyone. It must have taken courage to bring this "autobiographical novel" to press: for both the author and the publisher. The reasons for that courage will likely put some readers off.

Looked at most simply, The Time Being is a love story. One that spans a couple of continents and -- in the whole -- a lifespan of years. It begins with a relationship that starts with a fan letter. A woman in Australia -- Kate -- writes to an author in Canada that she saw in a film. Marj who, since we've been told it's an autobiographical novel, we know is standing in for Meigs. After a while, the letters are crossing the ocean fast and furious and a love is ignited.

Here are the things that make this book so brave. In a society largely un-used to very strong female protagonists, we're given two. At a time where mature female protagonists are virtually unheard of, both of The Time Being's romantic characters are over 65. And then, of course, there's the fact that they are lesbians. Like I said: there are a whole lot of people who won't read this book. And that's a shame, because it's a worthwhile read.

The things that I found so joyous about The Time Being are the very things that I imagine made it a publishing risk. I am a hetro woman in her 30s. One day, if fate smiles, I'll be a mature woman. Forget mature: I even want to reach old. In The Time Being, Meigs has told me I can look forward to doing it passionately. She's said that excitement of the soul has no age limit and knows no physical limits of time or even gender. That's a reason to rejoice all by itself.

The author was born in 1917, and so she writes this joyous maturity with some authority. It's inspiring. Here's a for instance: Marj is planning her first trip to meet Kate. Their first meeting.

"Of course I'm delighted that you're going to Australia," writes Marj's painter friend who had hitchhiked alone in Africa when she was seventy-five. "Isn't it exciting that life gets better and better as you get older?" She is eighty-nine now, she paints better than ever, she is radiant with the blaze of her spirit. She writes on the envelope, "Let me know about the Old Age Epiphanies as they go along."

Encouraging stuff indeed. Especially for those of us who plan to reach the age of hitchhiking alone in Africa.

Neither are Kate or Marj's passion or attraction dampened by several decades on the planet. Meigs writes their first physical encounter with a poetic distance likely brought on by her personal involvement with the novel. It's lovely stuff.

"You are beautiful," she says. Marj in the twilight half-sees the pale rise of her hip turned toward Kate. They are young, they are going to make love with the lithe movements of youth, they will forget the daytime facts of age, their young faces will approach each other. Kate's eyes are half-closed; the blue glance, the chiseled lips, the slightly longer tooth are tenderly revealed. Marj has barely time to think, how can you look so young, and what makes this glimpse of tooth so enchanting?...

The Time Being is the story of two people coming together and then coming apart: classic stuff. It's about how they touch each other and how they alter each other's perceptions. It's not about being old or preferring your own gender: but these things are factors. In the way that blue eyes can factor into a character's make up. Or their height. Or the color of their skin.

Meigs is also the author of Lily Briscoe: A Self Portrait. A book she wrote about her life when she was 60. She is also the author of The Medusa Head, The Box Closet and In the Company of Strangers.


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fourth novel, Death was the Other Woman, will be published early in 2008 by St. Martin's Minotaur.