Aug 29 2011

Jane Fonda sums it up…

In an interview with Kate Fillion of Macleans magazine, the two-time-Oscar winning, famously  anorexic fitness guru, who left her third marriage to Ted Turner so she could be a “whole person”, Jane Fonda responded to the question, “Why do you call life post-60 ‘prime time’?” with this concise summary:

Most of the time, contrary to popular opinion, it’s happier, less stressful, you have fewer hostile emotions. That’s been the case with me, and studies show this is true for most people, whether they’re rich or poor — though rich helps! — men, women, married, single.

Fillion also asks Fonda why late-life sex is such a focus of her new book, Prime Time. Fonda replies:

I’m fascinated by it. I know it’s not part of some people’s third acts, but it’s part of mine… I know that a lot of people my age and older are getting it on, but nobody talks about it — it’s yucky to a lot of people.

Enough of the contributors to I Feel Great About My Hands talked about some aspect of sex that I grouped them into one section of the book and called it “Desiring”. Lorna Crozier leads the way with her graphic, hilarious and beautiful “My Last Erotic Poem”,  in which she asks:

      Who wants to hear about
      two old farts getting it on
      in the back seat of a Buick,
      in the garden shed among vermiculite
      in the kitchen where we should be drinking
      Ovaltine and saying no?

One of the things I love about the poem is that despite the question’s implicit acknowledgement that eager listeners may be few, she ignores the anticipated reluctance, charging ahead anyway to tell us all about

our old bodies doing what you know
old bodies do, worn and beautiful and shameless.

I read Lorna’s poem in its entirety out loud to my former in-laws, both in their nineties, a few months ago. Maude loved it but Allan allowed that “I could have used a warning for that one!”

The author of more than a dozen celebrated collections of vivid imagery and arresting insights, Lorna has a new book out out called Small Mechanics, packed with perfect gems. They have made me laugh out loud and weep in equal measure. I read them one at a time before lunch to slow my brain down and whet my appetite for the sensual pleasures of eating.

 


Aug 24 2011

Mary Walsh on heartbreaking youngsters

Overheard on the patio of the Wooden Monkey restaurant in Halifax:

I know. I’m so old. When I turned 20 I literally thought I was going to die.

I rolled my eyes, tucked into my fabulous scallop and almond salad, and thought of Mary Walsh.

The Inimitable Mary Walsh (screen capture from canoe.ca)

Yes, that one. She contributed a vintage rant to I Feel Great About My Hands, every word of which leaps off the page in her inimitable voice. It’s so funny that although I’ve yet to have the honour of sharing the stage with her at a launch event, I shamelessly quote a few of her gems about menopause every chance I get, because they always get a laugh.

And towards the end of the piece she writes:

But really, what’s so great about being young? Just looking at the poor youngsters breaks your heart… tottering around with their pants down below their bums with their piercings and cuttings and brandings, as if life itself weren’t going to cut and pierce and brand them enough.

Most of the women in the book, like Mary, wouldn’t choose to trade places with their younger selves. And the feedback so far suggests that many readers find the contributors’ comfort in their own skins — however wrinkled — inspirational.

 


Aug 23 2011

I Feel Great About My Hands: officially launched in Halifax

By the numbers…

2 beautiful venues (check out the Halifax Club and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia)

2 profile-raising, audience-attracting interviews with lively and engaging broadcasters (tune in to CBC radio’s Stephanie Domet and Starr Dobson on CTV’s Live at 5)

4 happy authors (witness smiles above)

1 pair of bright orange boots (see Sheree Fitch, page 138 – and yes, they matched her outfit!)

1 reference to the irrelevance of cottage cheese and orange peel thighs (see Carol Bruneau in blue, page 230)

? (too many to count) references to peeing (see Dawn Rae Downton in black, pages 130 – 137)

1 supportive, independent bookseller (thank you Bookmark, regrettably not pictured)

45 books sold (all royalties generously donated to Informed Opinions) and

1 extremely grateful, fish-filled editor/catalyst thankful for the support of her roadie/chauffeur/photographer/husband and eager to return sometime soon to deliver workshops to smart women who should speak up more often!

 

 


Aug 15 2011

It’s come to this…

This falls under the category of “you know you’re old when….”

We arrived in Halifax yesterday to glorious sunshine and enveloping heat with a beautiful breeze. In other words, perfect vacation weather. Once in the car, David driving and me navigating, it became apparent that fulfilling my responsibilities with the aid of one pair of spectacles was not possible: I needed two.

What can I say? I know it’s not a good look, but  the readers permit me to distinguish the lines and names on the map, and the sunglasses stop me from going blind.

And I’d like to be able to read from my own essay in I Feel Great About My Hands this afternoon on CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon, when Carol Bruneau and I get to speak to the lively and engaging Stephanie Domet.

In the meantime, I’m praying the predicted showers occur while I’m in the studio because CTV’s Starr Dobson has reserved a few minutes during the 5 pm show to devote to the book and the two events we’re doing tomorrow. (see Upcoming Events sidebar for when and where). And I know from experience that bad hair on TV has the magical ability to render a speaker mute (your lips move and the words are projected, but the bad vibes coming from your ruined coif intercept and disable the sound waves such that only the most evolved of viewers can actually hear what you’re saying).


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…

 

 


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.


Jul 29 2011

Following Dawn Rae Downton “Into the Void”

I first met Dawn Rae Downton over the phone 15 years ago during a board recruitment exercise for MediaWatch (now Media Action). Even though the position was voluntary, we had more than ten applicants for the Atlantic Representative and most of them looked pretty desirable on paper. But Dawn Rae’s obvious intelligence, impressive experience and sophisticated sense of humour clinched the deal.

Shortly after joining the board, her administrative, process and financial abilities propelled her into the treasurer’s chair, and it was my great pleasure to serve with her for the next half a dozen years. But my fandom reached unexpected heights with the publication of her two memoirs, Seldom and Diamond. (Who says crackerjack administrators can’t also be gifted artists?) I find her singular voice both entertaining and seductively hypnotic: she lulls you in with the cadence of beautifully wrought sentences and then arrests you with a surprising image or irreverent aside.

Both of these traits are evident in her contribution to I Feel Great About My Hands. Her title – “Facing the Void” – is a play on words that hints at her essay’s focus on an aspect of aging that can keep one up at night. But in Dawn Rae’s inimitable hands, the essay introduces readers to some precious characters and offers an around-the-world privy tour that ends up in Anne Murray’s back yard. 

If you live anywhere near Halifax, you can hear Dawn Rae read aloud from the piece on August 16th. At noon she’ll be featured in a Halifax Club literary luncheon along with sister contributors, playwright, poet and performer, Sheree Fitchnovelist Carol Bruneau (more about her soon),and me. For lunch tickets — a steal at $20 — contact Stephen Patrick Clare at novamedia@gmail.com.

That evening, we’ll all be reading at a special event in the theatre space at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, accessible through the Bedford Rd entrance. RSVP info@informedopinions.org

Books sold at both events will benefit Informed Opinions, a non-profit project working to encourage smart women to mouth off more often. Really.  


Jul 13 2011

Betty Ford, Sharon Carstairs great examples of power of voice

I read the news about Betty Ford’s death at 93 the same day as I learned a good friend had developed breast cancer. A passing reference in the obituary provided unexpected comfort regarding my friend’s unfortunate diagnosis.

Ford – an enormously respected former first lady who triumphed over both cancer and addiction, while challenging taboos with her characteristic candidness – went on to live another three decades after her mastectomy.

I don’t know what the survival rate was in 1974 when she had her surgery, but I’m certain that the numbers have improved since. According to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, women diagnosed today in this country have an 87% likelihood of living for at least five years. I take additional solace from having watched three close friends emerge resolutely healthy from their own battles with breast cancer in recent years. 

But I also think about some of the observations shared by Vancouver physician, Gabor Maté, who wrote about the implications of the mind-body connection in his 2004 best seller, When the Body Says No. Featuring scientific research and case studies alongside Maté’s own experiences in palliative care, the book devotes an entire chapter to the relationship of emotional stress to cancer. It’s been years since I read it and my copy now sits on the bookshelf of a friend, but I remember being struck by his message about the importance of acknowledging and voicing one’s feelings.

Sharon Carstairs using her inimitable voice last year (screen shot from CBC site)

In her moving contribution to I Feel Great About My Hands, former leader of the Manitoba Liberal party and current senator Sharon Carstairs writes explicitly about this. Indeed, her piece is called “Finding My Voice.” In it she recounts the abuse she experienced as a child from a trusted family friend, and how terrified she was of the potential consequences of speaking up and accusing him.

It was several years later – when my younger sister caught the eye of my abuser – that I found my voice and spoke out. I told the abuser that if he did not stop, I would tell. The abuse stopped. Unable to find my voice to protect myself, I found it to protect my sister. That act of speaking out was a pivotal moment in my life. I learned that I need not be silenced by my fears, I learned that by using my voice, I had the power to seek change.

…Which she’s been doing ever since, arguing passionately for constitutional, health care and criminal justice reform. 


Jul 11 2011

“Magical thinking”, Groucho Marx and the power of denial

 

Author of The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion, speaking at Tulane University, screen capture of image on university website

Joan Didion explored the notion of magical thinking in her compelling chronicle of the period immediately following the death of her beloved partner, John Gregory Dunne, when her yearning for his presence fed a disbelief that he could actually be gone. The book is a brilliant treatise on love and grief, on the ways a heart can inexplicably keep on beating, despite its broken state.

I haven’t experienced that particular kind of intimate loss, but I do think that the attachment many of us have to our own youthfulness constitutes a milder form of magical thinking. At the age of 35, despite physical evidence to the contrary, I felt much the same as I had at 16. And when I reached 50 a few years ago and was forced by the milestone to take serious stock, I was only willing to concede that my sense of my self had matured marginally – to about 25.

But there’s nothing like pop culture to remind you that in some arenas at least, the intervening years have, indeed, made a difference.

Standing in line adjacent to a magazine rack yesterday, I scanned the guilty-pleasure tabloid covers for some juicy gossip about the stars. But as my eyes moved from one unfamiliar face and barely recognized name to another, I was forced to acknowledge that time is, indeed, passing. Absent references to Angelina, Brad and Jennifer, or the starving or bad-behaving starlets of five years ago (when I must have been paying more attention), I was traveling in unknown territory. (Not that this is a bad thing: think about how much more room I now have in my brain for more important, illuminating or inspiring content.)

Let's subvert Groucho's famous line...

In the meantime, I take solace in the wisdom of Groucho Marx — adapted to a feminist perspective. “You’re only as old as the woman you feel,” he said, chewing on his cigar. I’m pretty sure the “you” he had in mind when he delivered this insight was male, but I am the woman I feel most often (so to speak), so 25 it is!