Oct 29 2012

Linda Spalding shortlisted for two awards

I was riveted by author Linda Spalding‘s 2005 book, Who Named the Knife, an engrossing exploration of her intersection with a murder case in Hawaii many years ago. As a juror who was dismissed near the end of the trial for being 10 minutes late, she  was unable to shake the feeling that her presence at the time of the decision might have made a difference to the convicted woman’s fate. The New York Times called the book “an honest, creepily fascinating memoir/true-crime story”.

Author Linda Spalding with her husband, Michael Ondaatje (courtesy of her website)

So I was thrilled when Linda agreed to contribute an essay to I Feel Great About My Hands — and even more delighted when I received it. In “Face It”, she revisits some childhood memories about the beauty shop in her Kansas hometown, and then tells of her encounter with a plastic surgeon — a tale she renders at once chilling and literary. In conversation with the doctor about gravity’s effect on skin, she refers to “the saggy, baggy elephant in the children’s story.” His blank look gives her pause:

How could I trust a doctor who had not read the story of the little elephant who doesn’t know what he is because he doesn’t look like anyone else in the jungle? When a parrot tells him his ears are too big, his nose is too big, and his skin is much, much too big, the little elephant says he’d be glad to improve himself. But how? I looked at the hand mirror, wondering the same thing, while the doctor spoke softly about the droop of my lower and upper lids. His surgical method involves a good deal of bleeding and bruising, he said. “Do you have sensitivities?”

The little elephant had tried to smooth out his skin with his trunk. He had soaked in a river with the crocodiles to make his skin shrink. A tiger had offered to take some bites out of his hide.

“I tend to weep.”

“With all the cutting, you might end up weeping for the rest of your life,” said the doctor blandly. “Or you might never weep again.”

I listened to a long litany of risks. If I woke up in the night unable to see, I should go to emergency. I should not call him. This is the end of me, sags, bags, wrinkles and all, thought the little elephant. And I put on my coat and went down the marble stairs.

Now Linda’s new novel, The Purchase, described by the Globe and Mail as “eerily compelling” and “an engrossing historical melodrama that reads like an HBO miniseries,” has been short-listed for both a Governor-General’s Literary Award and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.

It’s great to see her work getting such recognition.

 


Jun 27 2012

Ignominious endings

Helene Anne Fortin shot many photos of my hands for cover consideration

What body part would you like to be defined by after you’ve departed this life for whatever destination awaits you? What image indelibly associated with your name?

As a postscript to the previous entry, a brief tribute to writer and director, Nora Ephron, I have to say that reading the obit printed in today’s Globe and Mail (a condensed 6 column inches penned by Hillel Italie of Associated Press) gave me pause.

Although the piece quoted one of Ephron’s classic putdowns (a dismissive reference to a male character, widely acknowledged to be modeled on her ex-husband, Carl Bernstein, as being “capable of having sex with a Venetian blind”), the obit’s final words were devoted to some of the writer’s musings about her famously lamented neck.

Notwithstanding the best-seller status of the book known for its confessed concerns about wattles and creases, this still seems wrong to me.

The woman was a wildly successful screenwriter and director, who made highly watchable movies, wrote laugh out loud material, and was adored by colleagues. And the neck piece, although good enough to lend its title to her essay collection, wasn’t her best work.

More importantly, however, the title made clear how she felt about her neck. (Bad!) So it seems a bit callous, if not cruel, to allow the last image of the tribute to reinforce the unfortunate associations that the deceased — like women everywhere, encouraged by a physical-perfection-obsessed culture — despaired.

(Italie is probably young and male; this likely never occurred to him. And possibly it was the Globe editor who chopped a longer piece that ended differently.)

But here’s the YouTube link again, revealing a strong and confident, beautiful and gracious woman, holding forth — hilariously — in front of an audience of her peers.

(In the meantime, although I’ll never be remotely as famous as she is, I’m still relieved that I focused my own title essay on a part of my body that I actually like.)


Aug 12 2011

Celebrated novelist Carol Bruneau August 16th in Halifax

 

heartbreakingly true-to-life”

“empathetic and skilled”

“remarkably intricate, textured and complex”

… These are just a few of the superlatives that reviewers – from the Globe and Mail, the Sun Times, and the Literary Review of Canada – have used to describe novelist Carol Bruneau’s writing.

So I was delighted when she agreed to contribute to I Feel Great About My Hands. Her piece, entitled “Have Genes Will Travel”, pays tribute to both her centenarian aunt, and the mother she lost far too young – both of them inspirational role models with lessons to teach about how one might embrace the aging journey, and why.

On Tuesday, August 16th, Halifax residents and visitors alike can hear Carol read from her essay at the Halifax Club Literary Luncheon (12 noon, $20 buys lunch and entertainment, contact novamedia@gmail.com) and again at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia that evening (7 pm, no charge, RSVP info@informedopinions.org) alongside equally accomplished contributors Dawn Rae Downton and Sheree Fitch.

I look forward to basking in the glow of their reflected brilliance at both events. 


Aug 5 2011

Face half-unwrinkled and the dubious pleasures of pessimism


After 50, it’s just loose change.

This is Jason talking, a character in Miranda (Me and You and Everyone We Know) July’s new film, The Future.

 

According to Globe and Mail film reviewer, Rick Groen, Jason has reached “the no longer tender age of 35″, which I guess is supposed to account for the depression he’s anticipating at the prospect of his approaching demise.

I’ve been thinking a lot about optimism and pessimism lately, and the difference the orientations make to our daily experiences of the world.

The day I turned 50 I spent driving to and from the funeral of a former colleague of my husband’s. Under the circumstances, it was hard not to contemplate my own eventual end. But it was a beautiful spring day, and I was — and am — lucky to have my health, a wonderful marriage and work that I love. So I spent most of the car ride  a) recording all the things I was happy to have done in the past 30 years (including jobs worked, trips made, books written), and then b) making a list of what I might like to accomplish in the next 30.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that I’ll live to 80, but the genetic, economic and lifestyle odds are in my favour. And if I am so lucky, three decades of productive life is a very long time, during which I might live out all sorts of dreams I haven’t quite gotten around to yet.

“Loose change” doesn’t begin to describe the way I feel about life “after 50″. And in conceiving of, contributing to and editing I Feel Great About My Hands, I realized that I really am a “face half-unwrinkled kind of a woman”.

Of course, maybe it’s merely that I rarely wear my glasses when I’m looking in the mirror, which relieves me of witnessing evidence that might challenge such optimism.

But I don’t think so; I think it’s a wiring thing, and my circuits are set up to look for things to celebrate, not criticize or condemn.

And maybe dwelling on the negative, and anticipating the worst, makes life feel a whole lot longer for those who view the world through grey-tinted glasses. And so they can’t help but feel old, and tired…