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May 26, 2022, 9:19 a.m. EDT

Actress Melissa Gilbert, now 58, on aging, budgeting and living in a little house in the country

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By Sandra Ebejer

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Read : ‘This isn’t just gonna go away’: Long COVID is crashing the retirement hopes of many Americans

We live job-to-job like a lot of gig workers do. Tim was on a series for two seasons, but again, compared to when he was on “thirtysomething” and “The West Wing,” the salaries are different and the orders are different. It used to be we knew we were going to get 22 episodes. Now we do 10 or six in a limited series for cable. Networks are not even doing 22 episodes for a lot of shows anymore. We also have overhead. We have college loans to pay off and an ex-wife on his side and taxes. We have to be realistic, like everybody else does.

It’s different from what I was accustomed to for a good chunk of my life, where I was reckless in my spending habits, because the assumption was that it would never go away, and then it started to go away. I have learned to be very mindful of my expenses and to prioritize what really matters. I thought I was doing that and then the pandemic hit, and then I realized what  really  matters. And it isn’t shoes.

Tim says in the book’s introduction that once you left Hollywood, your Botoxed forehead “was free from captivity” and your face “moved again.” All kidding aside, you write about the challenges of being an older woman in the entertainment industry. What has this experience of living a life somewhat off the grid taught you about aging and vanity?

All that stuff never really sat right with me, but I did it because it was just what we do. And as much as that pressure came from our industry and Hollywood, it is pervasive everywhere. You have Kim Kardashian showing up at the Met Gala in Marilyn Monroe’s dress, but then announcing she’d lost 16 pounds in three weeks to wear it. It really sends the wrong message to young women and girls that this is an accomplishment. [Kim Kardashian] does so many other things, [like] helping wrongfully convicted people get out of jail — let’s just talk about that.

Fighting a natural process is exhausting. The appointments and the working out and the skin care takes up too much time. I’ve got too much to do to worry about this line here and rubbing this lotion there. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t take care of myself or my skin. I do. But not with a goal of stopping time, just with the goal of nourishing and embracing what I have.

Also see: 8 simple rules to maximize wealth—at any age

This is the first time since the early ’90s that I’ve lived my life completely pain-free. It takes me four or five steps in the morning to get the juices flowing in my feet and my legs, but so what? Compared to a life of chronic pain, that’s nothing. I’m at this gleeful aging place. Yeah, I have bad days where I look in the mirror and go, ‘Blech! What happened?’ But I wouldn’t change any of it. I love being a Nana. I love that my children are competent, compassionate, loving, funny, talented people. I’m married to a man who loves me no matter what. So, I’m good. I don’t need any other validation from anywhere else.

During the first nine years of your marriage, you’ve run for Congress, dealt with chronic health issues, had surgeries, moved cross-country, bought and renovated a house and hunkered down in a cabin in the woods during the pandemic. What has all of this taught you about sustaining a healthy relationship?

I think the key for us is that from the moment we met, we felt that we had a real partnership, professionally and personally. I am continually amazed by how compatible we really are. I think all of those things that we’ve been through, some which created conflict for us, has only shown us our resilience.

I read a great quote from Jamie Lee Curtis, who was asked about the secret to her long marriage to Christopher Guest. She said, ‘You don’t leave.’ That seems very applicable for us. What’s amazing for me is that I can actually have someone in my life I argue with who won’t leave. There’s safety in that. We feel safe with each other, we trust each other, and we have so much respect for one another that all of this stuff we’ve been through just solidifies that and grounds us more and more.

What do you want readers to take away from this book?

There’s nothing anyone’s been through that someone else hasn’t also been through. We have to remember that we’re not alone. I would hope that as we continue to emerge from the last two years of isolation, where we siloed even further into our ideas and opinions, we can remember how to be human again, and how to be loving, compassionate, generous people.

Here we are approaching a million people dead from this virus in our country, which is remarkable to me. My heart breaks for everyone who’s lost a loved one. We have to remember that compassion for one another will enable us not only to get control of this virus once and for all, but to move forward and hopefully begin to heal some of the damage we’ve done to one another in a myriad of ways.

Also see : What dogs can teach us about life and death

How do you feel about where you are in your life right now?

I feel really good about where I am in my life right now. I think I’ve found a balance because my work life is part of my joy now. It doesn’t have the ambition and the desire attached to it and the need to continue working to remain valid. I’ve really found a way to love what I do when I’m acting. And at the same time, I’ve found this incredible stillness and peace in my life, in my home upstate, and in myself. And balancing that with the activist part of me that will never go away, that wants to reach out and help make the world a better place, especially now that I have grandchildren. I really see the future and I want to secure it for them to the best of my ability.

Sandra Ebejer lives in upstate New York with her husband, son, and two cats who haven’t figured out how to get along. Her work has been published in the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, Real Simple, Writer’s Digest, ShondaLand, and others. Read more at   or find her on Twitter 

This article is reprinted by permission from  , © 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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