Book Review: Flash Count Diary

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In Flash Count Diary, Darcey Steinke interweaves her reflections on her menopause journey with an exploration of the origins and history of menopause. She delves into topics like the nature of whales, the only other species that share menopause with us, to so-called witches in the 16th and 17th centuries who were primarily menopausal women.

There are many big ideas about menopause and midlife lurking in this short book. Steinke’s feeling of moving away from the feminine to androgeny, a process she describes as “gender slippage,” is thought-provoking. She believes de-feminization is an option, something you can shrug or throw it off or gradually let it go. Gender slippage or de-feminization is an idea many women seem to identify with - consciously or unconsciously - as they crop their hair, stop using makeup, and begin wearing comfortable clothing to please only themselves. In Flash Count Diary, Steinke encourages you to be “fully and authentically yourself.” Through her writing, you feel a powerful sense of permission to do just that.

Steinke also explores the curse of midlife - becoming invisible. She interviews a transgender musician, who shares her perspective that transgender people and menopausal women have different spirits from other people. She says, “They should not be boxed in and defined solely by their physicality.” She goes on to say that “Trans people have a lot of potential, a potential which often remains unacknowledged and even unexplored because individuals fall victim to society’s impression of them. Society reduces them.” Reading this short passage, you are compelled to make the comparison that menopausal women are also reduced by society and that too many of us accept and conform to society’s impression of us.

Like the Hulk, I don’t have symptoms or a condition. I am in the midst of a rupture, a metamorphosis, an all-encompassing and violent change.
— Darcey Steinke

Expanding on the theme of invisibility later in the book, Steinke talks about the sexual disgust aimed at older women. She believes we are still the little girl, young woman, midlife woman, that all of our previous ages are tucked inside us. Viewed through this lens, you have the strong urge to fight back and be visible as well as cherish and celebrate all of your earlier selves. After all, they make up the beautiful totality of who we are right now.

Steinke is upfront and unapologetic about going through a “violent change.” She plumbs the depths of her feelings about her journey from perimenopause to postmenopause. She quotes Germain Greer early on, “The woman who lashes out at menopause has found the breach in her self-discipline through which she may be able to, finally, escape to liberty.” Eventually, Steinke makes a kind of peace with menopause, understanding it’s not a disease that needs to be cured. Instead, she arrives at the conclusion that it’s a spiritual journey and not a physical one to be wrestled with and tamed. Reading Flash Count Diary makes you reflect on and consider your own menopause journey more deeply. In the end, you’ll know yourself better and what you want, finding your own unique path to liberty.

You may not agree with Steinke’s views on menopause as she’s experienced it, but you’ll find yourself lured in. An accomplished writer, her prose is elegant, with a compelling and palpable depth of emotion and reflection. Importantly, she brings intelligence to a subject that is too often reduced to books on self-help or self-spoofing. Flash Count Diary is an important addition to the growing body of menopause literature, elevating the discourse with an intelligent and provocative view of menopause. It’s a must read for all women no matter where they are in their personal menopause journey.

Darcey Steinke is the author of the memoir Easter Everywhereand five novels: Sister Golden Hair, Milk, Jesus Saves, Suicide Blonde, and Up Through the Water. Her books have been translated into ten languages, and her nonfiction has appeared widely. Her web story “Blindspot” was a part of the 2000 Whitney Biennial. She has been both a Henry Hoyns and a Stegner Fellow, and a Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. She has taught at the New School, Columbia University School of the Arts, New York University, Princeton, and the American University of Paris. She lives with her husband in Brooklyn.

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