Billie Best: Disrupting the Perceptions of Aging
In the spirit of full disclosure (and in a step towards embracing our age) we admit, this week’s guest on The Passionistas Project Podcast is a woman we’ve known for decades. Our sister Beth introduced us to the local Boston music scene when we were kids. Billie Best managed some of Boston’s most popular bands including Orchestra Luna. From afar, we thought she was the coolest.
Then while in college and studying advertising and graphic design, Nancy accepted a job Billie offered her at Boston Rock magazine laying out ads for the music rag. It was our first experience of a woman lifting up another in business, taking a chance on a young, college kid looking for a break. It was then we learned for a fact that what we thought was true — Billie IS the coolest.
Billie nurtured and mentored Nancy. She quickly promoted her to Art Director of the whole magazine. When Boston Rock became US Rock, Nancy was designing a national music publication while still in college. Billie guided Nancy and offered suggestions but mostly she let her spread her wings and fly.
She encouraged her creativity and independence. She exemplified what it meant to be a strong woman in a man’s world. She was the ultimate example that it was okay to be powerful and sexy. She created an environment of hard work and big laughs. After Nancy collaborated with Billie, there was no doubt in our minds that women working together could take on the world.
Billie has lived several lifetimes since those early days at Boston Rock including corporate gigs, dot.com experiments and farming in Western Mass. After losing her lifelong partner and husband to cancer, Billie found herself starting over and is currently writing a blog about the perceptions of women and aging called It’s Not Easy Being Fabulous.
We have kept track of her through our sister over the years, but it wasn’t until we reconnected to do an episode of The Passionistas Project that we were reminded of something. Billie STILL IS the coolest! Here’s an excerpt from our interview.
Passionistas: Tell us a little bit about the book Crazy Wife Farm.
Billie: Right before I sold the farm, I started writing a memoir about it because I realized this huge piece of my life is going to disappear. And also my marriage was pretty interesting. Of course it didn't end how I thought it would. Chet's death was exotic. He was an artist and a performer and he wanted his death to be performance art. And so we made it that and I was his producer. So that was pretty interesting.
And then after that I did a one woman show for a while called The Widow Wears Red Pajamas. That was weird and successful. But at the time I realized it wasn't totally honest and I didn't want my whole life to be about my history and about death. And again, I had this sense that I really needed it to step out of the past, get someplace new, re-experience myself as a human, separate from marriage, career and all those years of caregiving and really rediscover myself.
Like who am I, what am I doing here? What, what's the same about me and what's different? And you know, here I am talking to you guys cause what's different is that I'm 65. What's the same about me as I still have this like urge to rebel, and this urge to disrupt the system and just make change in a way that maybe it's a little faster and more destructive than a lot of people would like. That's how I got here. And the book, it ends with me being here.
So it starts when I met Chet in the music business and kind of follows that technology trail. And one reason it follows that trail is because technology, the Internet, the idea of the Internet is a network of networks and a neural network and an expanding almost living organism just by virtue of its design. To me, that's what I saw in nature and that really intrigued me.
That was my real mission in farming was to expose this idea of living in harmony with nature. Just the way you try to have all your apps work with your phone. It's not any different, and I left that. Here I am and what am I doing? Why am I here? What's the point?
I have this experience of having been a hottie. I was really attractive and it was a thing in my life and now I have this experience of not so much and looking at the world that I was in then in the world I'm in now, and just realizing how predatory that world was. And how that's not really right. And how the dominance of men has served its purpose. Nature designed us this way. We can't blame men. It's nobody's fault. It's not about men being bad. Men are fabulous.
It's about this idea of the genders, equalizing, blending about gender, being more fluid of all of us being a little more relaxed about gender and how it comes and goes and opening the door to power to people of greater diversity. And that includes the older women that really includes elder women.
So we have a few of them out there. You know, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Angela Merkel, Christine Lagarde, huge, amazing woman, hardly anybody knows who she is. Of course there's the women in the Senate. Love Elizabeth Warren. Loved Hillary Clinton, but you know, we need a dozen more. We can't be defined by those five women. We need a thousand more.
It needs to be a common thing for that Hall of Nations at the United Nations in New York to be filled with women. Because that's where you really see the truth of the world. When you start to look at international politics and you look at all those economic forums and the G7 and the G8, the G4 and it's all guys, that's what's wrong.
So, I'm here to push on that cause I don't have anything to lose. You know, it might be easier cause I don't have a husband and so I don't have to always be apologizing for the stuff I'm saying. So maybe I'm in a good phase. Feels pretty good.
Passionistas: So when you were in that male dominated world, whether it was the music industry or the tech industry, how did you navigate that as a woman?
Billie: It was very challenging. Of course I wanted to look good because looking good was a huge advantage in many ways. But at the same time it made me a target. It made me a target for sexual innuendo, sexual abuse and sexual assault. And so it's a double edge sword. I think I was lucky that I'm really smart and that when it came down to it, the men I worked with, they might've liked how I looked, but they realized that I was really smart and it was to their advantage to have me around. And in the end, my strongest partnerships were with the men who made the greatest views of my brain. And that was really fortunate.