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.


May 30 2011

More praise for laugh lines

Given the prevalence of angry and ignorant “haters” who appear to have little else to do than slag others in online feedback loops – especially when the inspiring article offered up something remotely female- positive, let alone overtly feminist — it’s always a treat to read comments from thoughtful women weighing in on news sites.

Responses to the Dominique Browning piece I discussed here the other day included a woman in Portland weighing in on the downside of injectibles…

What bothers me is the early use of botox, by women just over 30 who are already fussing about aging. Really? My hair stylist can’t f**ing smile! And she has a young child! What must that be like?

and a woman in Chicago suggesting that such interventions are a waste of time, if it’s male approval you’re after…

I have noticed over the years that men don’t have very good eyesight and the main things they see are a big smile (open to approach), eye contact, and various other obvious attributes according to their tastes. Nothing in the way of wrinkles….nothing. They can’t see them with their male vision, which is the same vision that can’t see dirt, crumbs or grease on a countertop.

May 29 2011

Making a case for laugh lines

Thank god I don’t travel in the same circles as Dominique Browning…

That was just one of the thoughts that occurred to me when reading her provocative and insightful piece, “The Case for Laugh Lines”, in today’s New York Times. Browning confessed that she’s often inclined to greet people she knows but barely recognizes by asking them who they are, as opposed to how they are. She claims that many of her acquaintances have erased the traces of identity, if not life, from their faces.

None of the people I see day-to-day appear to have engaged in serious Botox injections or collagen enhancements, let alone the more invasive skin tightening procedures apparently so prevalent in Hollywood, New York or Texas.

This is not to say that I can’t relate to the phenomenon Browning describes. I do know a couple of women whose faces have been so distorted by surgical interventions that I can no longer hear the words that come out of their mouths, so distracted am I by the damage to their ability to present authentically.

Browning cites an experience of watching a smart and passionate celebrity make the case for disarmament on TV, observing that the woman’s frozen-in-place face

…is grotesquely fascinating — and undermining. Before I know it, the interview is over. The medium overtook the message.

Diana Majury’s essay in I Feel Great About My Hands contains many insights, but one of these is especially relevant. Confessing her unhappiness with her own lines, she recounts how her boredom at a meeting one day led to a “wrinkle revelation” as she watched a similarly aged friend speak.

I looked at her lines and I loved them – they were signs of wisdom, life and learning; they were guides to her responses and emotions. They were entrancing. I stared at her for the rest of the meeting, interpreting its tone and outcome through the lines on my dear friend’s face. I enjoyed myself immensely and saw her, as I always have, as extremely beautiful.