Oct 21 2012

Mixed feelings about Botox

I was still raw with grief over the premature death of my eldest sister three years ago when I stumbled into a dermatologist’s office in Ottawa. Sally had lost her life at 55 to malignant melanoma, leaving behind a loving husband, two adult daughters, who spent the last weeks of her life sleeping on gurneys in the hospital corridor, and a 12-year-old son.

And you thought the target market for Botox was middle age! Is the young woman featured in this Botox ad out of her teens?

Although my skin is quite different from Sally’s, a precautionary visit to have my moles checked seemed like a smart thing to do. I anticipated the feelings of vulnerability that I experienced as I entered the discouragingly full dermatologist’s office at 8:30 a.m.; what I couldn’t have predicted, however, was the rage that I felt when confronted by posters celebrating the 20th anniversary of Botox.

My fury was not solely about the popularity or promotion of an injectable toxin that aging women — and, increasingly men — are encouraged to believe they can’t leave home without, although now that you mention it, yes, I do resent that. But on this particular occasion it was heightened by the fact that I’d waited six months for an appointment, and was now about to have to wait another 45 minutes, despite being on time, first thing in the morning.

Earlier this week I received an email from Sandi Berwick, who’d come to the launch of I Feel Great About My Hands in Halifax. A grad student in the Department of Family Studies and Gerontology, she’s currently doing supervised academic research into women’s experiences with injectable facial procedures.

As someone who’s not immune to the wrinkles I see reflected in my mirror (see previous post), I’m interested to learn more about how this phenomenon affects women, and offered to try to help Sandi and her colleagues find additional research subjects. I’ve pasted the text of her notice below.

If you are a woman aged 35 – 65 who has had injections to reduce the signs of aging to your face but have mixed or negative feelings about your experience (for example, maybe you didn’t like how you felt emotionally or physically afterwards, you didn’t like how it looked, or other reasons),

 You may be interested in participating in this study on

Women’s experiences with injectable facial procedures

Participants will be Interviewed Privately and

Confidentially (in person, on-line Skype, or by telephone)

To find out more about the study or to participate, please contact: sandi.berwick@msvu.ca  (Dept of Family Studies and Gerontology)

OR call 889-4130 and leave a confidential message


May 26 2012

Best. Birthday. Present. Ever.

The subject line of the email read:
I Feel Great About My Hands is costing me a fortune…
and inside, the sender — a woman I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting — continued:
…because I love it. Every time I read a piece, I think of someone else to send a copy to. Just now, I’ve realized I have to send one to my friend in Israel, and earlier this week I “amazoned” one out to another friend in Vancouver for her birthday. I received my copy for my 65th birthday last month at a dinner party for my women friends organized by my daughter at a local restaurant. The party favours were books “that her mother would like,” which she hunted down in second-hand stores all around Toronto: works by Germaine Greer, Maya Angelou, and of course a Harper’s Bazaar on fashion, and a Life magazine on women’s hats, dated March 31, 1947.
A physician psychotherapist, my new pen pal revealed that she’d been recommending I Feel Great About My Hands to patients, one of whom was apparently happily inspired by her reading experience to make a list of all her accomplishments since the age of 31.

I engaged in a similar exercise on my 50th birthday which, readers of the book may recall I spent driving to and from a funeral. Confronted by the fleeting nature of mortality, I made a list of all the things I’d done over the past 30 years that I was proud of having accomplished. And then I reminded myself that given the average life expectancy of Canadian women, I might well have another three decades in front of me to pursue similarly engaging challenges. I, too, found the exercise enormously encouraging.
But back to the email, which finished with the following:
So thank you, thank you, thank you. It’s brilliant.
Sharon Baltman M.D.

I was already having a fabulous birthday when I received Sharon’s email, but her unsolicited and unexpected gift of expressed appreciation put it over the top. (I bet she’s an excellent psychotherapist.)

Feb 18 2012

You can tell a lot about a woman by her hands…

My friend Melanie, who has the gift of making me (and most everyone else lucky enough to know her) laugh almost every time she opens her mouth, came across the following image recently and sent it along for my — and now hopefully your — entertainment.

(Just to be clear, I am in no way advocating this particular use of hands, but in addition to being amused by the unexpected punch line, I loved the disconnect between the medium and the message.)

Nov 13 2011

Apparently I’m a fascist…

And to think I was concerned about critics calling the collection “uneven”…

Instead, the reviewer — a female writer over the age of 50 who I didn’t know and therefore didn’t think to invite to contribute to the book — began her broadcast commentary on I Feel Great About My Hands by describing me as “left leaning” and my organizing principle as “fascistic”. (But what does she really think, you might be wondering.)  And then she went on to complain that I had failed to include the voices of any welfare moms or plastic surgery queens. (um… really?)

The rational part of me dismissed the critique because she, did, after all, allow that a third of the pieces in the book were brilliant. She quoted from the entries written by Mary Walsh, Lorna Crozier and Meri Collier. And — I’ve done the math —  she must also have appreciated at least another eight or nine.

But the sensitive, occasionally insecure, emotional part of me (and yes, it likely is the bigger part), was a bit stung. A week later I’m still writing her pithy notes in my head and having fantasy encounters which involve me delivering withering refutations in front of a large and sympathetic audience of people who laugh at my witticisms and line up to get their copies of I Feel Great About My Hands signed afterwards.

Let’s start with “left-leaning”. I think the reviewer in question may have lazily cobbed this characterization from another review, but the truth is, in the 35 years since I became eligible to vote, I have cast ballots for candidates representing every major political party. Not even my husband is privy to the details, let alone which ones I endorsed for reasons of partisan affiliation, support for a particular issue, or the ultimately unfulfilled promise of a financial kick-back. (Kidding.) But if my purported lefty-ness was truly a crucial component, wouldn’t I have gone out of my way to include the missing welfare moms (or at least a union organizer)?  Really, what was I thinking? Why didn’t I badger a few women raising children in impoverished circumstances to donate their labour and talent to my cause with no expectation of compensation?!

I confess, it didn’t occur to me. Every month when I’m paying the smaller portion of my bills, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to share my life and corresponding expenses with a financially successful partner.  I well know what a luxury it is to be able to marshall the kind of time and energy necessary to tease insights and entertainment out of tightly crafted sentences. And although I also know a few financially struggling writers (apologies for the redundancy) who rely on coffee shop wifi and/or work retail to supplement the meagre income that writing often affords, none of them are currently collecting welfare or raising children. Sorry.

In fact, in recruiting contributors to the collection, I emailed twice as many interesting and outspoken women as ultimately appeared in the book. Recipients of my invitations were racially diverse, geographically spread out, and affiliated with every major political party. Some of them were more enthusiastic than others; more than a few promised to send me something but didn’t get around to it;  but only one sent me a snarky note ridiculing the endeavour and the cause it supports. C’est la vie.

As for ignoring the voices of any plastic surgery queens, well, um, OK — guilty as charged. Unfairly perhaps, I generally imagine that people who are addicted to needle- and anaesthetic-assisted cosmetic enhancement are perhaps less likely than the average woman to welcome the sometimes dubious benefits of aging. And yes, that was my organizing principle: I didn’t forbid anyone from acknowledging the gravity-induced disappointments of extra years (see pages 1 through 243; nor did I edit out the nurmorous references to hot flashes, gray hair or memory loss. But because I did encourage contributors to also share something that they genuinely appreciated about having been on the planet more than half a century, apparently I’m a fascist.

The ultimate irony, however is this: the reviewer dissed the collection for being “derivative” (riffing off Nora Ephron‘s title, collecting women’s voices like Dropped Threads — and countless other anthologies — have.) But she’s named her own blog a variation on “Stuff White People Like”…

So, really.


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.


May 20 2011

Radio listeners eager to share benefits

On CBC Radio earlier this week, Almanac host Mark Forsythe invited BC listeners to write in with their own reflections on the benefit of aging. At stake was a copy of the book. He then proceeded to email me their fabulous responses all afternoon, a few of which I’ve posted below.

Bill Good posed the same question on his show, and then opened up the CKNW phone lines. He, too, generated some great calls.

Clearly, there’s an audience out there — female AND male — eager to celebrate the advantages of this and later stages of life.

Consider some of the responses:

I don’t have to pretend to like skiing anymore, I don’t feel guilty about falling asleep reading a book after lunch.  I can wear sensible shoes.  I can drive a Smart Car so I can park where I like.  My wrinkly neck is covered by my extra chin. These are just a few of my favorite things. Nancy Bain

I am free with a whole new agenda. I have more time and passion to pursue things that resonate with me. I care less about what people think and more about people. Nancy Hamilton

1. Thankfully, I started to work out regularly in my 40s and discovered that women my age DO look good in skinny jeans!
 2. No one ever questions my opinions and ideas any more.
 3. I can get away with calling people “dear”. Toni Serofin

Finally I know everything!  LOL!  I do love it.  It’s great to be confident in my life.  The knowledge I have acquired in my 57 years is in my brain somewhere, and I love not being worried about how to find it.  It usually comes to the surface when I need it, for now anyhow.   I am happy with my life, and it is still evolving.  I love being confident in my looks, and my health, and knowing I have achieved this level on my own.   Life is great!! Madeline Bakker

I feel GREAT about turning 65 this year!!!  My body is getting more decrepit than I’d ever thought possible, and my memory is sometimes weird, but oh my, am I more confident and free from the old messages of being ‘nice’ and a ‘lady!’  I also look forward to riding the ferries for free on weekdays and other discounts now that I’m this age…. Jo-Anne Dooley

I can defer my house taxes, take out a line of credit on my mortgage free house, and then spend my kid’s inheritance without guilt. Since retirement, I have time for friends, family, play, swim and run with grandchildren and can walk my dog at six in the morning on the beach meeting other happy dog people there too. Oh, and I am getting new eyes this month so the world will look brighter and clearer soon.  Then maybe a trip to Africa to see things and do something special there. Life is good when one has good health so I am keeping good care of mine… Barbara Hay

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 27 2011

“I wish I could be 50!”

This was my hands-down (pun intended) favourite reaction from one of the women attending the launch of the book in Ottawa last week. And no, she wasn’t 85; she was 30!

But she was so inspired by the wit, wisdom and warmth coming from the contributors who read that she suddenly aspired to embrace maturity years ahead of her time.

In less than two hours, we’ll be testing the reactions of women here in Toronto at an event at Ben McNally’s bookstore, featuring readings by Sheila Deane, Judy Rebick, Lyndsay Green, Gail Kerbel, Beth Atcheson, Meri Collier and Renate Mohr. Stay tuned!