Feb 6 2012

“What happened to Gracie’s eggs?!”

… That’s what the woman standing in front of me urgently wanted to know.

Sheila Deane explaining the significance of Gracie's eggs to a rapt audience at the National Arts Centre

I was as delighted with her question as she had been with Sheila Deane’s essay, “Kick the Can” — even though I’d only read a brief excerpt from it, along with sections from a few others, and my own at the BC Truck Loggers Convention Ladies Luncheon taking place recently in (unusually) snowy Victoria.

Equally gratifying was the experience of reading “My Last Erotic Poem”, Lorna Crozier’s contribution to the collection. I had to pause for laughter after EVERY SINGLE LINE.

Not surprisingly, all of the books I’d brought to the event were snapped up by eager readers, and the organizer said to me afterwards that the stories I read and told from I Feel Great About My Hands resonated so well with the diverse group of woman (ages 30 to 70)that they probably should have skipped the fashion show component and just given me more time to talk about the book.

The assembled audience’s engagement extended to the project it’s helping to support: Although I only spoke briefly about Informed Opinions, which receives a 10% royalty from every book sold, when I ran out of copies, two of the women still in line to purchase  one handed me their $20 bills and said, “We’d like to donate these to the project.”

Apparently the complementariness of the two goes both ways: recently after I delivered a half-day Informed Opinions workshop to some quick studies at the Canadian Nurses Association in Ottawa, one of the participants ordered three copies, just on the basis of a promotional postcard featuring all of the contributors’ names. (Because they’re an interesting and impressive bunch!)

As for the answer to the question above? All I can tell you is that if you want to learn what happened to Gracie’s eggs, and what they had to do with the benefits of aging, you’ll just have to buy the book! (Fortunately, it’s still widely available.)

And if I can’t make it to your luncheon or book club meeting to read a funny or inspirational excerpt or two, one of the other contributors may well be available!

 


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.

 


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.