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Marlo Thomas finds 60 ways for women to get 'unstuck'

Marlo Thomas is an actress, an activist, an author and most recognizable as the face of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., founded by her father, comedian Danny Thomas.

She is also the editor of a new collection of women's stories, "It Ain't Over … Reinventing Your Life and Realizing Your Dreams — Anytime, at Any Age."

Thomas, who lives in New York and Connecticut with her husband of more than 30 years, pioneering talk-show host Phil Donahue, will be at The Baltimore Sun Book Club on Wednesday to talk to readers about her new book.

Tell us what prompted you to collect these stories

I travel a great deal raising money, and women come to my talks, and during the Q&A they would talk about themselves, about where they are in their lives. The overall picture was that they are stuck, often in dead-end jobs. A job that wasn't really their dream, but it was practical. They put their dream on hold while they provided for their family. Or their dream was to raise a family, and now the family is grown and they don't need her anymore. Or she lost her job or lost her husband. What was she going to do? These women needed another dream, and I was very touched by that.

At the same time, other women would raise their hands and say, "The same thing happened to me, and this is what I did." These women were providing a map of how to get out of the hole they were stuck in.

There are stories from 60 women in this book. How did you find these women?

We reached out on Facebook, on Twitter, on my website, on Huffington Post where I am also a contributor. And we hired local writers to comb local newspapers for stories of women who were starting over.

What stories resonated most with you?

The woman who always wanted to be a doctor but her father told her, "Marry a doctor, and learn to do something practical." So she becomes a graphic artist and she is very good at it, but one day she is doing a brochure for a medical business and she tells a friend, "You know, it hurts to work on this. I always wanted to be a doctor." He friend says there is still time to go to medical school and she says, "But I'll be 50 when I get out." And her friend says, "You are going to be 50, anyway." She is a doctor now, in her 60s and doing what she loves.

I can imagine some stories were left on the cutting-room floor. Any that were particularly difficult for you to leave out?

We would leave them out if they were repetitive. You only need so many unfaithful husbands. But we wanted it to be wide-ranging enough so that any woman who picked it up could find a map for herself. Here are at least 60 different ways of doing it. Of getting unstuck. They figured out how to do it.

Do you think men deal with the crisis of reinvention differently?

I think men have one advantage: They don't leave the job market. Women get on and off the track for reasons having to do with family and children or elderly parents. And women of the previous generation were not encouraged to have a career. That has completely changed now.

Your husband is Phil Donahue, one of the most sensitive men in America. What were his thoughts about these stories?

He thought they were very exciting. He has a granddaughter and a daughter. It means the world is different for them. A man now knows that the world will embrace their offspring. It is a very personal thing. But you have to remember, he had a female audience [for his talk show]. He became a feminist early.

One of the struggles women have is with the whole process of getting older. How have you tackled that challenge?

I don't face it. I wrote in the foreword, "Never face the facts. If you do, you'll never get out of bed in the morning." Why should I bemoan the fact that I am in my 70s? No one cares. And I enjoy my life. Nothing slows me down.

You have always been the picture of optimism and energy. What's next for Marlo Thomas?

I find that I need to have activity that excites me. When I get up in the morning, I have things I really want to do. I work very hard for St. Jude. I play golf. I play tennis. My Web page puts out 80 new pieces of content a month. I have an idea for my next book, and I start rehearsing a play July 10. Retirement makes you old. It means you have walked out on society.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

@SusanReimer on Twitter.com

If you go

The Baltimore Sun Book Club presents Marlo Thomas at 7 p.m. Wednesday at 501 N. Calvert St. Tickets are $25. Details: baltimoresunmarlo.eventbrite.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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