Jun 4 2011

Two close friends, one dry sense of humour

Federal election campaigns are hard on candidates, but they’re no picnic for political journalists, either. That’s why when I Feel Great About My Hands was officially launched at the National Arts Centre on April 19th, Ottawa-based senior reporter for the Toronto Star Susan Delacourt, who co-authored a piece for the book with Carleton journalism prof, Susan Harada, couldn’t make it. She was on the campaign trail, covering the election.

The two long-time friends, who share a dry sense of humour and finish each others’ sentences, claim not to recall who wrote which bits of their joint essay, called “Back to School.” But readers aren’t likely to care: the whole thing is very funny. When Susan Harada read a short excerpt from it at the NAC event, she repeatedly had to pause for laughter, from her very first line…

Let’s be candid. No one wants to be known as a “mature student”. When you’re in university or college the first time around, a “mature” person is someone who chooses to spend the weekend at the library and arrives each week at class with the textbook artfully highlighted in multi-coloured, neon hues…

And it gets better from there!

May 24 2011

No longer hoping everyone will like us

My stepdaughter Madeleine forwarded me a reprint from a back issue of Transportation Magazine recently. The July 1943 Guide to Hiring Women offered some apparently indispensable advice. Number 2 on the to do list was particularly relevant to keen readers of I Feel Great About My Hands.

When you have to use older women, try to get ones who have worked outside the home at some time in their lives. Older women who have never contacted the public have a hard time adapting themselves and are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy. It’s always well to impress upon older women the importance of friendliness and courtesy.

The last comment in particular makes me smile. Although I found all of the contributors to I Feel Great About My Hands to be both friendly and courteous, many women do experience a certain freedom with their years. Green party leader Elizabeth May summed this up succinctly in her piece, “From Feisty to Respectable”:

Experience brings some wisdom. This is a great time to be a woman. No longer am I hoping everyone will like me. No longer do I care.

(And she’s a politician!)

May 23 2011

Jimmy Choo revenge fantasy

Stiletto maker Jimmy Choo was sold yesterday for a whopping $790 million – three times the price its owners paid for the fancy cobbler four years ago. Apparently, many women remain eager to spend as much as $1,500 for footwear made famous by the Sex and The City foursome.

The company’s continuing good health is a humiliating reminder of my abject lack of business acumen when it comes to shoe fashion. I’ve been ineffectively predicting the demise of stilettos since they were invented, and yes, my antipathy does have something to do with a) the fact that I have my grandmother’s bunions (see page 241), and b) my belief that the wearing of pain-inducing, feet-crippling and get-away-negating stilettos is a self-imposed form of female enslavement.

It’s no accident that in many of the available photographs of women actually wearing four and five-inch heels (Hollywood red carpets excepted) the women in question are sitting down. (I’m just saying.) And I think the company’s customer base should sue the advertiser for the impression created by the image above which suggests that Jimmy Choo aficionados may be of below average intelligence. (Does it make sense to paint your toe nails while wearing shoes that make it impossible to get at half of them?)

With the publication of I Feel Great About My Hands, I’ve publicly confessed to a scenario I’d pay money to see…

In my fantasy, Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo—over 50 and having worn out the cushioning flesh on the soles of own their feet—are forced to wear a pair of their implausible creations for an entire evening. I imagine them discovering their car battery dead and their wallets inexplicably empty of serious cash or credit cards. As a result, Manny and Jimmy have to run three blocks—along cobble-stoned streets—to catch a bus. Every seat is taken, requiring them to stand for the 37-minute journey. Disoriented from the unaccustomed pain in their contorted metatarsals, they inadvertently disembark—five stops too early—and are forced to negotiate an additional nine ice-encrusted blocks…

(For the culmination of the fantasy, well, you’ll have to buy the book.)

May 21 2011

A sometimes poetic journey with Alzheimer’s

Struggling with Alzheimer’s doesn’t seem like an obvious source of dignity and grace, strength and humour. And yet in the masterful hands of Ottawa-based poet Susan McMaster, her mother’s journey through the illness reflects all of those things.

Reading from her poems (which originally appeared in her own collection called Crossing Arcs), Susan paints a rich portrait of the woman who gave her life, supplementing it with verbatim quotes from her mother, that offered glimpses of the clarity and insight she still occasionally boasts.

When Susan finished reading from her poems at the National Arts Centre launch in Ottawa last month, she invited her mother, Betty Page, who was in the audience, to stand up and be recognized. We all celebrated her jubilant energy and irrepressible spirit.

Apr 29 2011

Cosmetician’s pronouns doom sidewalk sale

“The one by Renate Mohr makes me laugh out loud whenever I think about it — days after having read it to my husband.”

… So confided my friend, Julie Cafley, to me earlier this week. I wasn’t surprised. When Renate herself read an excerpt from her piece on Wednesday night in Toronto, and last week at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, it brought the house down.

A former Carleton University law prof and human rights advocate until a few years ago, Renate now writes full-time. I met her the first day I moved to Ottawa 9 years ago and was instantly struck by her quick wit, enormous warmth and deep intelligence — a very good combination in a writer.

She made the transition from legal texts to short stories seamlessly, winning the first two  contests to which she submitted finely-crafted gems of insight. Her contribution to this book — cleverly titled “The Levity of Gravity” — is both beautifully written and very funny, describing a telling encounter she had with an internationally-experienced but pronoun-challenged cosmetician.

It does a great job of encapsulating both the challenges and rewards of aging, and is a provocative teaser to her first novel, which she is polishing this very moment! For a prelude of the kind of brilliance that might reflect, you can read one of her award-winning short stories, Nonsense and Absence.

Apr 28 2011

Who exactly is Lubo Kransky anyway?

Last night at Ben McNally’s books on Bay, actor and writer, Gail Kerbel left the enthusiastic book-buying crowd of 60 hanging…

Reading from her engaging piece, My Colonoscopy, she took us all up to the moment when she was standing there feeling internally evacuated in her open-backed hospital gown and socks, about to undergo the dreaded procedure.

It was then, that the familiar-looking man about to perform the deed introduced himself as “Lubo — Lubo Kransky!” — as if she should know. And indeed, she did.

But like the assembled last night, you’ll have to buy the book to find out the details. And when you do, you’ll discover many other gems, as well.