Founder, The Outside Institute
– as told to The Silver Women
Women who inspired you as a young girl?
I loved Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music for her talent, her beauty, her spunk and the fact that she got to kiss Christopher Plummer. Nancy Drew because she was capable and smart and bossy. Karana—aka Won-a-pa-lei or the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island—from Scott O’Dell’s, The Island of the Blue Dolphins for her resourcefulness and bravery. Celeste Phillips, my campfire girl group leader, who was a nurse and very patient and kind.
Women who inspire you now?
Jane Goodall for her vision, commitment, and compassion. My mother, who died in 2003, but continues to inspire me with the integrity and courage with which she lived. Sara Seinberg, my health coach, for her generosity of spirit, humor and wisdom. Betty Fussell, an accomplished writer who, at age 90, is still so engaged, active and intrepid. And all my women friends for their resilience, loyalty and wit.
Most valuable lesson taught by your Mother or any other women growing up?
My mother taught me to be true to my word and to offer gracious hospitality. My sister, Sari taught me to be brave. My grandmother, Eunice Chávez, taught me to make New Mexico stacked enchiladas.
Do you think older women are valued or celebrated enough?
The world is finally beginning to acknowledge that women have never received their due. I heard an interview recently in which the actress and activist Geena Davis was asked which moment in time she would like to return to if she had a time machine. “No woman would want to turn back the clock,” she said. “We’ve never had it better than right now.” Women are still evaluated by appearance rather than our accomplishment. Though I do think that as the Divine Feminine continues to rise and gain power more women, including wise elders, will step into their rightful role as inspiring leaders.
Have you made career changes over the years?
Yes, I have, though writing is a throughline.
Through the decades!
20’s: Graduated from Harvard and moved to New York City to work in the fashion world. Returned home for a year to be with my father before he died of cancer. (Wish he had lived to see me fulfilled and happy.) Married and divorced for the first time.
30’s: Wrote advertising for Bergdorf Goodman and Coach before launching my freelance career. (Wish I’d gone to graduate school and written my first novel.) Married and divorced for the second time. Moved to LA to write for TV. (Wish I hadn’t given up that amazing duplex apartment with a fireplace and a garden on East 1st Street.) Married for the third time.
40’s: Widowed. Moved back to NYC. My mother died after 14 years of paralysis. (Wish they had invented the MRI machine earlier.) Became a VP at Saks Fifth Avenue before returning to my own consulting business. Met my soulmate, George Billard, fell in love and married for the fourth (and final) time. Traveled the world (Japan, Italy, Turkey, Morocco, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Mexico, France, Greece, Lebanon). Left my NYC loft on the Bowery to live upstate in a tiny cottage. Started a lifestyle blog, Glutton for Life. Immersed myself in the natural world.
50’s: Pursued my passions for cooking, mixology and healthy living. Wrote The Bergdorf Goodman Cookbook and edited several others. Studied local flora, fauna, and fungi. Founded The Outside Institute to help people connect to the healing and transformative powers of nature through nature walks, workshops and culinary events featuring local and wild flavors. We’ve just launched our first publication, the Summer edition of The Outside Institute’s Field Guide to the Hudson & Upper Delaware Valleys.
“Challenges in my life?
Finding true love.
My tendencies toward perfectionism.
(Work in progress)
Discovering my life’s purpose.
What are you most grateful for?
The love of my husband. The support of my friends. The beauty of the natural world. The place I call home.
Has there been a significant circumstance good or bad that changed your outlook on life?
The death of my third husband from cancer was a pivotal moment for me. It allowed me to think about how I wanted to die, which affected how I wanted to live: more simply, more present, more truthful, more aware, more compassionate, more graceful.
Thoughts on aging?
The upside: I know myself better, which is helpful in making choices. I feeling comfortable in my own skin and worry even less about conforming than I did when I was younger. I am much more connected to my true essence and my heart’s desires. I am also more sanguine, more grateful and more tolerant of my own flaws and of others’.
The downside: Aging means being alive and I don’t want to resent or fear that. Most days, I succeed. On others, I succumb to the fear that underpins our dislike of wrinkles and sagging. I do miss the simplicity and ease of my younger body. And time seems to pass so much more quickly now, which can be disquieting.
Your advice to young women of today?
Avoid comparing yourself to others. Welcome failure; it’s part of success. Meditate. Travel. Connect to the natural world. Don’t feel pressured to have children. Do what brings you joy.
-Laura Silverman xoxo
Images courtesy Laura Silverman unless credited otherwise.
FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert – A searing account of the irretrievable loss of earth’s biodiversity at the hands of our own species.
Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee – A painful and gorgeous exploration of the human spirit
Film: The English Patient, The Red Shoes, Moonlight
Flower: Poppy, Elderflower, Trillium
Scent: Neroli (bitter orange blossom), Mrs. Taylor geranium, Vetiver, Palo Santo
Perfumera Curandera fragrances, especially Camino and Picaflor
Astier de Villatte’s Oulan Bator incense
City/place: The forest, Venice, Italy, Oaxaca, Mexico
Food/Meal/Cuisine: Vietnamese, cheese, wild-foraged ramps, greens, flowers, berries, mushrooms, nuts, and roots
Song: Down to You by Joni Mitchell, You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen, Human Hands by Elvis Costello Ghost Dance by Patti Smith
Artists: Georgia O’Keefe, Peter Beard, Isa Leshko (photographic portraits of elderly animals) Katherine Wolkoff (photos of deer beds) Francisco de Zurbarán,
Style Icon: Tilda Swinton, a woman unafraid to be herself, to take risks, to evolve.Michele Lamy, a true maverick, playful and a little scary. Fran Lebowitz, and all women who rock menswear
Skincare product you can’t live without:
Essential oils (I love Uma blends for face, body and hair), Aesop geranium body wash and body balm, My skincare guru Claudia Colombo
Lipstick color or Makeup product you can’t live without: Laura Mercier illuminating tinted Moisturizer SPF20 in Bare