Widely published and winner of many prizes, 80-year-old Wendy Klein is a retired psychotherapist, born in New York and brought up in California. Since leaving the U.S. in 1964, she has lived in Sweden, France, Germany and England.
Her writing has been influenced by early family upheaval resulting from her mother’s death, her nomadic years as a young single mother and subsequent travel.
Despite dashing about between four daughters and fourteen grandchildren, she has published three collections: Cuba in the Blood (2009) and Anything in Turquoise (2013) from Cinnamon Press, and Mood Indigo (2016) from Oversteps Books. She is one of AofA’s favourite poets and we have republished some of her brilliantly taboo and lush poems. She was one of our poets at the AofA poetry evening at the Poetry Society in 2019.
What is your age?
Where do you live?
I live in Lindfield Rural, West Sussex.
What do you do?
I write poetry and emails and share care of my youngest grandchildren, 6 and 4.
Tell us what it’s like to be your age?
I hate being old. I hate everything about it: the body changes, the reduced strength and energy, the way people treat me. 80 is the worst it has been so far.
What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?
Constipation, arthritis, widow’s hump, osteoporosis, anxiety, too many clothes I no longer wear, a garden way too big to manage, and four daughters who love me in different ways and constantly put me right. However, I do have a wonderful 3rd husband (together since 1979, married in 1983), who just about manages to put up with my worst grumpiness with love and a sense of humour.
What about sex?
Rare, but good when it happens. At our age and married this long, probably unusually good, judging from experience as a family and couples psychotherapist.
I have always found relationships difficult. As an only child who lost her mother as a result of an illegal abortion at 9 months old, I was brought up by my grieving maternal grandparents until I was 5 years old and my father remarried. I believe that only children are disadvantaged from the start in terms of forming relationships with their peers, and that was certainly the case for me. My father was an English teacher who hated his job, did it poorly, which meant we moved house every three years when he didn’t receive tenure. The battle to make friends began each time anew. I was always the odd one out, never felt accepted, etc. etc. It didn’t help that my grandparents expected me to grow up to be like my clever, kind mother, and I did not – felt a sense of being a constant disappointment – fight it to this day. Have a general mistrust of people in relationships despite many years of being in and out of therapy and being a jobbing therapist myself.
How free do you feel?
Not even sure what that means. Nice to have enough money and a few people with whom I can be relaxed and happy.
What are you proud of?
Having survived a terrible childhood, leaving the country of my birth with a two-year-old child and never going back there to live. Managing to be a single parent because parenting was bound to be difficult as I had received so little reliable parenting myself. I am certainly proud of my daughters, who have survived being mothered by me, and have good relationships in their lives.
What keeps you inspired?
Not sure I believe in inspiration. I get ideas from what is around me, what I am reading, people I engage with, and I write about them, and sometimes I’m pleased with what I’ve written, more often I’m not. I love sunsets, dogs, wine, gin, popcorn, rare steak (I know, I know, so un-green), etc. I think the one thing that keeps me going is being curious enough to wonder whether something interesting, even something enjoyable, might come up if I just hang on a little longer.
When are you happiest?
I am very suspicious of the word happy – rarely use it. I am at peace with myself mostly when I am alone with a good book, and if the sun is out, that’s good, too.
And where does your creativity go?
Mostly nowhere, but if it’s going, it goes into my poetry. I am failed actor, a failed dancer, but not quite a failed writer.
What’s your philosophy of living?
Not sure I have a philosophy of living – pretty basic survival. I am afflicted with a socialism of the heart, but I no longer believe in socialism as a viable way of living. I have lived collectively in two communities which have fallen apart. We are too selfish to achieve that ideal world I read about and admired when I first left the US and came to live first in Sweden, then in France and Germany. England seemed so civilised when I arrived here in 1971. And now, I am so saddened by what I see in front of me that I will never live to see a functioning left-wing Labour government. I guess I’m a disappointed idealist…
I am not afraid of death, but I am worried about the process of dying. I support physician-assisted death. I have written a series of poems about a dear friend in California who availed herself of the California physician-assisted death plan when she was terminally ill and in horrible pain from a rare form of uterine cancer. After much surgery, chemo, etc., she was not prepared to accept palliative care, and I was with her 100% and would not want it myself. I think it is barbaric that we do not have medically assisted dying legalised in this country, so it’s always keep an overdose handy, my motto. Most of all, I fear losing my wits – I hope I know in time to take the tabs!
Are you still dreaming?
Sure, but mainly troubled dreams: bit of wish fulfilment and anxiety – nothing much fun.
What was a recent outrageous action of yours?
Goodness, what’s outrageous these days! Great sex and cannabis? All part of marital bliss.
DOO EN DAY (conversación de duende)
The hypothesis that the ‘endogenous’ group of disorders would be relatively independent of prior life stress was
not confirmed. Women who had lost a parent in infancy or early childhood were significantly more likely to suffer
from depression in later life.
(The Camberwell Collaborative Depression Study, 1988)
No tengo duende
I don’t have duende
He perdido duende
I have lost my duende
He perido mi madre cuando tenía ochos meses
I lost my mother when I was eight months old
No me recuerdo de ella
I don’t remember her
El dolor – the word for pain is masculine in Spanish
Tristeza – the word for sadness is masculine or feminine in Spanish
La pena – the word for sorrow is feminine in Spanish
El Duende (pronounced Doo En Day) – the word for ghost or spirit is masculine in Spanish
Hacer la conexión – Make the connection
I cannot have it; it is not mine to have
No tengo duende