Jul 17 2012

Reading and Singing Farewell Tribute to Mother Tongue Friday July 20th

How would you like to share the stage with a jazz vocalist who one critic describes as having

A voice so rich it makes me crave a glass of milk.

Friday night at the final in a series of farewell soirée for the venerable Mother Tongue Books, I get to do just that.

Fabulous Ottawa singer/songwriter Renée Yoxon will be performing her magic, and I’ll read brief bits from some of the funniest and most poignant essays and poems by the likes of Mary Walsh, Lorna Crozier and others who contributed to I Feel Great About My Hands.

I’ll also tell a story or two about Informed Opinions, the project the book is supporting, which is designed to train and inspire women to share their ideas, analyses and informed opinions more often and more widely.

 7 pm  Friday July 20th

Mother Tongue Books

1067 Bank Street

If you’re in town, come join the celebration of an Ottawa institution that has supported local authors and featured a diverse selection of feminist, lesbian and queer literature.

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!



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 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!

Jun 19 2011

Rejecting the widow label

Susannah Dalfen is the kind of woman you fall in love with the minute you meet her.

In her moving and provocative essay, "Living Beyond Loss", Susannah Cohen Dalfen challenges the definition imposed on her by circumstance.

Warm and funny, perceptive and smart, she’s been a wonderful and supportive presence in my life since I moved to Ottawa nine years ago.

Two years ago our paths crossed unexpectedly while on holiday in Israel. Susannah had suffered the tremendous loss of her dear husband Chuck earlier that year and spoke about the impact of that, not only on how she felt, but on how others treated her. I was moved and provoked by her observations and delighted when she agreed to record some of them to contribute to the book. Called “Living Beyond Loss”, Susannah’s essay appears in the Surviving section of the collection.

Last week my friend Amanda told me that her mother-in-law, who lost her own husband last year, called her to express  appreciation for the gift of I Feel Great About My Hands. But in trying to communicate the great resonance she experienced in reading both the book in general and Susannah’s essay in particular, Amanda’s mother-in-law became overcome with emotion and was unable to speak.

Eager to read the book that’s had such an impact on both her husband’s mother and her own, Amanda nevertheless confessed that neither women would lend her the copies she’d given them: they’ve both become too attached to their books. (An inveterate under-liner myself, I’m guessing they’ve maybe made margin notes that are too personal to share.)

May 20 2011

Radio listeners eager to share benefits

On CBC Radio earlier this week, Almanac host Mark Forsythe invited BC listeners to write in with their own reflections on the benefit of aging. At stake was a copy of the book. He then proceeded to email me their fabulous responses all afternoon, a few of which I’ve posted below.

Bill Good posed the same question on his show, and then opened up the CKNW phone lines. He, too, generated some great calls.

Clearly, there’s an audience out there — female AND male — eager to celebrate the advantages of this and later stages of life.

Consider some of the responses:

I don’t have to pretend to like skiing anymore, I don’t feel guilty about falling asleep reading a book after lunch.  I can wear sensible shoes.  I can drive a Smart Car so I can park where I like.  My wrinkly neck is covered by my extra chin. These are just a few of my favorite things. Nancy Bain

I am free with a whole new agenda. I have more time and passion to pursue things that resonate with me. I care less about what people think and more about people. Nancy Hamilton

1. Thankfully, I started to work out regularly in my 40s and discovered that women my age DO look good in skinny jeans!
 2. No one ever questions my opinions and ideas any more.
 3. I can get away with calling people “dear”. Toni Serofin

Finally I know everything!  LOL!  I do love it.  It’s great to be confident in my life.  The knowledge I have acquired in my 57 years is in my brain somewhere, and I love not being worried about how to find it.  It usually comes to the surface when I need it, for now anyhow.   I am happy with my life, and it is still evolving.  I love being confident in my looks, and my health, and knowing I have achieved this level on my own.   Life is great!! Madeline Bakker

I feel GREAT about turning 65 this year!!!  My body is getting more decrepit than I’d ever thought possible, and my memory is sometimes weird, but oh my, am I more confident and free from the old messages of being ‘nice’ and a ‘lady!’  I also look forward to riding the ferries for free on weekdays and other discounts now that I’m this age…. Jo-Anne Dooley

I can defer my house taxes, take out a line of credit on my mortgage free house, and then spend my kid’s inheritance without guilt. Since retirement, I have time for friends, family, play, swim and run with grandchildren and can walk my dog at six in the morning on the beach meeting other happy dog people there too. Oh, and I am getting new eyes this month so the world will look brighter and clearer soon.  Then maybe a trip to Africa to see things and do something special there. Life is good when one has good health so I am keeping good care of mine… Barbara Hay

May 13 2011

Naming rights and the virtue of wiliness

Naming books is the publisher’s prerogative, and when I first pitched Scott McIntyre the idea for I Feel Great About My Hands two years ago, he reminded me of this.

“Don’t get too attached to your working title,” he cautioned.

But it was too late – I was already attached!

So I paid a visit to the Wakefield studio of photographer Helene Anne Fortin, who captured dozens of beautiful
 images of my hands (see one of my favourites here). We sent half a dozen of the best ones to Douglas & McIntyre and D&M’s senior designer Jessica Sullivan ended up selecting the cover image from among these. She also 
provided a beautiful package for the essays,
poems, drawings and one-woman play the book contains.

As a further bonus, Helene Anne herself contributed both a short essay — “Beauty Redefined” — and a photograph of one
 of her clients to the book.




May 5 2011

Up Against Awesome

Even though I was so pale and scrawny as a kid that teachers occasionally encouraged my mother to have me tested for anemia, I had good enough eye-hand coordination not to be picked last for impromptu softball games.

But last weekend at the Ottawa Writers’ Festival, seated next to Neil Pasricha, the lively and engaging 30-year-old author of The Book Of Even More Awesome, I thought about how lousy it must have felt for kids whose inability to connect the bat to the ball made them unpopular picks.

People were lined up ten deep waiting for Neil to sign copies of his book, while Joel Yanofsky (author of the funny and poignant Bad Animals) and I were visited by half a dozen or so book buyers.

Maybe this was because younger fans are generally more inclined to stand in line for autographs whereas older readers just wanted to buy our books and get out into the sunshine. (I’d have been in that category myself.) Or maybe selling a sequel is easier – especially if the original volume – The Book of Awesome – was on the best seller lists for months, and started out as an award-winning blog.

Either way, it was an honour to be invited to the Writers Festival and to share the platform with both Joel and Neil.

(Furthermore — as you can see from the photo snapped by Jowan Gauthier — I was having an exceptionally good hair day. Which really compensates for just about anything else!)

May 3 2011

Unexpected encounter of the joyous kind

So, I’m on a plane bound for a literacy festival in Saskatoon where I’m delivering eight (what was I thinking – eight!) high school presentations in two days. I’ve spent the entire flight doing something I love: selecting tantalizing excerpts from seven of the essays in I Feel Great About My Hands and stringing them together with transitions and introductions of their fearless authors.

When the plane lands, I stand up to put on my coat and a woman seated in the row immediately behind says to me, “Has anyone ever told you, you have great hands?”

I look at her stunned and manage to blurt out ungraciously, “Are you kidding me?” Because I’m thinking, OK, I must know this woman… or she must know about the book. But how could she, it’s only just out and none of the national papers have reviewed it and we’re in Saskatoon, for Pete’s sake….

And then with a flash of recognition I realize I must be speaking to the brilliant and beautiful Sheree Fitch, the inspirational master of words who penned “At This Stage” — the one woman play that appears in the book, and that I can’t wait to see her perform, hopefully one day soon!