Oct 19 2011

Chocolate was served

Brownies are not my only criteria for accepting invitations to attend book club discussions of I Feel Great About My Hands, but they don’t hurt.

Award-winning short story writer, Renate Mohr

Last night Hands’ contributor Renate (Levity in the Face of Gravity)  Mohr invited me to attend the monthly meeting of her Ottawa book club. Hearing half a dozen interesting and articulate women talk about which of the essays most resonated with, entertained or provoked them — different for everyone — was a very gratifying experience.

Truth be told, I had no idea chocolate (OR wine and cheese!) would be served: the feedback itself was incentive enough. And the experience reminded me that there are likely enough other insightful ruminations on the advantages of aging to fill a couple of additional volumes of this collection.

If you have some thoughts you might be interested in putting to paper — or know a woman whose analysis you’d like to see in a subsequent book — please let me know.


Jun 28 2011

Lynn Miles pays tribute to Rumana Manzur in “Love Doesn’t Hurt”

I think of Lynn Miles every time I read about the perilous fate of Rumana Manzur, the UBC graduate student who was brutally attacked by her husband last week while visiting her home in Bangladesh.

Ever since book contributor Renate Mohr recruited Lynn to donate the lyrics to one or her songs (“Rust”, a beautiful tribute to the lines we all earn on our faces through living), Lynn’s poetry and music have been a regular and inspiring presence in my home. And in addition to contributing to the book itself, Lynn offered to recruit other songwriters to work with her on creating a companion CD. It never quite came together — in part, we suspect, because as punishing as the world is to women of a certain age, it’s even more punishing to female performing artists of a certain age.

But the Juno-award-winning Lynn’s participation in the launch of I Feel Great About My Hands at the NAC in Ottawa in April was a huge gift to all who attended, and it made the other writers and I feel deeply honoured to be on stage with such a master. You can see her in action on the abbreviated video of the event, or find other samples of her performances online.

And the reason I think of her now whenever I’m reminded of the continuing problem of partner perpetrated violence against women is because the most heartbreaking song on her most recent album, “Fall for Beauty.” The song is called “Love Doesn’t Hurt” and on her website, Lynn explains that she wrote it as an emotional plea for people in abusive relationships.

I wrote this song after watching Oprah do a show about domestic violence. She kept repeating “love doesn’t hurt”, and even though I’ve written plenty of songs about how emotionally painful love can be, I wanted to put this crucial idea right up there beside my other songs, for balance, and clarity.” says Miles. “I’ve been playing the song live and have been approached by several people who work at women’s shelters who tell me it’s a powerful song, and that they want to play it for their clients. There’s no better compliment than that.

I think the song should be played every time domestic violence makes the news — and those of us who care about the issue should call up our local radio station and request it in honour of the women involved — both those who survive, and those who don’t. Its resonant lyrics and haunting music play in your head hours after you’ve heard it in the most beautiful way — like the entire album.


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.