Nov 9 2011

Chris & Sonia met over the phone

Informed Opinions – the non-profit project that’s benefiting from every copy of I Feel Great About My Hands you buy for your sister, mother, friend or colleague — sent out electronic postcards this week to everyone on our mailing list, as a reminder of what we’re up to and why. If you’d like us to email you a copy, so you can share it with friends likely to smile at how the relationship turns out, just visit the project site here, and sign up in the box on the right hand side of the home page.

Oct 19 2011

Chocolate was served

Brownies are not my only criteria for accepting invitations to attend book club discussions of I Feel Great About My Hands, but they don’t hurt.

Award-winning short story writer, Renate Mohr

Last night Hands’ contributor Renate (Levity in the Face of Gravity)  Mohr invited me to attend the monthly meeting of her Ottawa book club. Hearing half a dozen interesting and articulate women talk about which of the essays most resonated with, entertained or provoked them — different for everyone — was a very gratifying experience.

Truth be told, I had no idea chocolate (OR wine and cheese!) would be served: the feedback itself was incentive enough. And the experience reminded me that there are likely enough other insightful ruminations on the advantages of aging to fill a couple of additional volumes of this collection.

If you have some thoughts you might be interested in putting to paper — or know a woman whose analysis you’d like to see in a subsequent book — please let me know.


Sep 2 2011

Rita Shelton Deverell extolls the virtue of “Power Wrinkles”

I’ve just read a wonderful essay I wish was in the collection. Penned by performer, broadcaster and playwright, Rita Shelton Deverell, current holder of Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax. Called “Power Wrinkles”, Rita’s essay lays out how this celebrated  and productive artist/activist apportions her time in her 60s, versus how she used to divvy it up in her 20s.

Rita ends the piece with a story about “breathtaking visual artist” Lorraine Malach. She writes:

Lorraine used to say “I have to get this painting, this series, this ceramic mural done while I’m alive.” Some of our friends worried. They said Lorraine was brooding on death.

Lorraine died in 2000 while working on a mural “The Story of Life” for the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta. Go see it. It’s unglazed, as Lorraine left it, in the foyer of the grand new museum.

I know now that Lorraine was not brooding on death. She was simply expressing a complex truth. The work we have been given to do we can only do while we’re alive. Do we think someone else will get our work done, make our contribution, for us? 

The power of wrinkles is to get the job done.

Originally published in CanPlay magazine in 2007, Rita’s essay is available online in its entirety courtesy of Women in Film & Television Atlantic.

Aug 26 2011

Lucy Maud Montgomery and the persistent power of words

I wasn’t going to go… Thought it would be too kitsch and tourist-trampled for my tastes.. too overloaded with commodified images of pigtailed Anne (with an “e”) to get a sense of the original inspiration. But in the end, a sunny afternoon and my intention to shop only for experiences, not things, found me driving north from Charlottetown through the impossibly picturesque hills of New Glasgow and Mayfield into Cavendish towards the so-called Green Gables coast.

The house wasn’t a surprise, nor the massive parking lot with enough room for 10 tour buses (though thankfully none present the day I was there). But what I didn’t expect was the preservation of the nearby woods (dubbed “enchanted” by  Canada’s favourite fictional heroine with the over-active imagination and precocious vocabulary), and the understated treatment of the entire property. The shrine to LM Montgomery’s enduring classics was decidedly devoid of the commercialism I’d feared, and easily evoked vivid scenes from the books the setting helped inspire.

On the cramped second floor of “Green Gables”, readers eagerly peering into roped off rooms with period furnishings and laid-out clothes, wash basins ready for the day’s ablutions, one young woman queried another, “Is this Anne’s room, or is it Marilla’s?”

I smiled at the question and the volumes that it spoke about the power of fiction to transport and make real. The industry of Anne in Prince Edward Island is really a stirring testament to the ability of LM Montgomery to conjure up an entire world, so vivid in its natural surroundings and nosy neighbours, so compelling in its sense of community and concerns, that — more than a century after it was published — generations of readers from all over the world still trek to this isolated island to pay homage to a captivating girl who never was.

Walking through those “Enchanted Woods” myself, I yearned to be arrested by the “Lake of Shining Waters” and to see the raven-haired Diana come tripping down the path in my direction. I recalled the gift I’d experienced at the age of 8 of completely losing myself in Anne’s adventures, loving her company, not wanting the book or its sequels to end.

A few hours later, back in Charlottetown, I picked up a copy of the timeless classic and rediscovered the brilliance of Montgomery’s prose, as sly and insightful as Jane Austen herself. It may be cliché to say, but words woven with skill and attention truly are magical, and have the potential to move, affect and change those who read them.

Aug 1 2011

Books with buzz

I have been known to type the name of one or the other of my books into every search kiosk at whichever bookstore I happen to be visiting in a futile effort to increase the likelihood that one or more customers might be exposed to a title that is otherwise almost impossible to find.  I’m not proud of this vanity, but I’ve justified such actions in relation to I Feel Great About My Hands because:

a) the collection profiles the fabulous work of many others,
b) they donated their writing without expectation of compensation, so the least I can do is increase the likelihood that  their words will be read, and
c) the royalties go to support Informed Opinions, which is having a tangible impact on increasing women’s voices in mainstream media.

My perceptive husband, David Mitchell, not only notices store displays, he also plays retailer when asked.

So you can imagine my delight the other day when the perceptive man I married pointed out that Ottawa’s busiest Chapters was featuring the collection in the high profile “Books with Buzz” section of the store, so close to Starbucks that you could smell the coffee.

Even more gratifying, when I spoke with Manager Pierre LaTulippe, he invited me to participate in the store’s book club event series, likely in October. More details on this when the date is set.

In the meantime, the discerning readers of BC have kept I Feel Great About My Hands on the province’s best seller list for seven weeks this summer. And my relatives in Victoria number only two, so clearly they alone are not responsible for this gratifying performance.

May 16 2011

She didn’t want to read the book

Would you worry if a review of the book you’d invested the past two years of your life nurturing into fruition began with the confession, “I didn’t want to read this book”?

Fortunately, Herizons’ editor Penni Mitchell begins the second paragraph of her review with a second admission: “I couldn’t stop reading.”

And then she goes on to speak of the contributors’ honesty and intelligence, courage and humour.  The review isn’t available online, but if you visit Herizons’ website, you can subscribe to one of the few magazines I read cover to cover every issue, and to which I am proud to occasionally contribute.

Apr 26 2011

Questions to get you started…

Here are a few questions you can ask the other members of your monthly gathering to see just which essays they pored over for advice, quickly skimmed, or skipped altogether.
(Hey, it’s a collection; you’re allowed.)

  1. Why did the cosmetician’s unfamiliarity with English pronouns doom her sale of anti-aging cream to Renate Mohr?
  2. Which sex siren was Elizabeth May compared to in her youth?
  3. How many of the lessons Susans Delacourt and Harada learned by going back to school involved alcohol?
  4. Which essay uses menopausal chickens as a narrative device?
  5. What stunt did Lillian Zimmerman’s friend try to jumpstart her sex life?
  6. Did it work?
  7. Why does Susan Mertens colour her hair, anyway?
  8. Which famous poets did Ann Cowan turn to for solace in her self-administered bibliotherapy?
  9. How many times does the word “wrinkles” appear in the book?
  10. How many references to “grey hair” are there?
  11. And “menopause”?
  12. Wait a second: wasn’t this supposed to be a book about the benefits of maturity?
  13. Which piece did you identify with the most?
  14. What does that say about you?
  15. Did any of the pieces make you:
    a. cringe with embarrassment
    b. squirm with discomfort
    c. laugh out loud
    d. weep
  16. If I had approached you to contribute to the book, would you have:
    a. laughed at my premise?
    b. expressed a desire to buy the book?
    c. started writing?
    d. all of the above?
  17. Can you guess the identity of the politician who penned the condescending email referred to in my introduction?

(For the record, the book contains 17 references to wrinkles, but most of those appear in two essays. Grey hair comes up 14 times and menopause is referred to directly only 8 times. Which is impressive, considering. Hands, on the other foot, are mentioned a whopping 52 times — and only half of those are in my essay.)