Tyee Books

I Feel Great About My Hands

Notable women writers reflect on 'doing old' well. Book launch this Wednesday!

By Shannon Rupp 18 May 2011 | TheTyee.ca

Shannon Rupp was a Tyee contributing editor. For permission to reprint this article please contact the author: shannon(at)shannonrupp.com. 

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Get your hands on a signed copy of I Feel Great About My Hands at Wednesday night's launch party.

A Canadian cadre has delivered a response to Nora Ephron's witty tome on the hazards of aging, I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being A Woman.

I Feel Great About My Hands: And Other Unexpected Joys of Aging opts for the earnest, and tots up the things that get better after age 50. These include everything from being more confident to enjoying the sight of adult children well-raised.

The book launch at the Vancouver Public Library, May 18, 7 p.m., features readings by some of the authors, including Tyee contributor Frances Bula and filmmaker Bonnie Sherr Klein, best known for her anti-pornography film Not a Love Story.

While many of the 41 pieces are penned by journalists, the collection includes heartfelt offerings from contributors like Vancouver doctor Liz Whynot, who discovered tai chi late in life, and Victoria poet Lorna Crozier, who penned (her) Last Erotic Poem. Green Party leader Elizabeth May revels in the fact that with age she has gone from being "feisty" to "respectable" in the eyes of the mostly-male political crowd.

Perk up

Among the most insightful essays is Marlaina Gayle's "How Drooping Breasts Led Me to a Truck-driving Life of Adventure." The former Province reporter tells the tale of how she shifted gears a few years ago and became part of a husband-and-wife trucking team.

Gayle and her husband had decamped to New York a decade earlier and were running a successful communications business, but by her late '40s she found herself "dragging her ass," as she phrases it. She was combating aches, pains, and that malaise -- psychological and physical -- that often decorates middle age.

Gravity, she realized, was not her friend, and "the girls" were heading south. Then a chance viewing of an Oprah show on how most women wear the wrong size bra sent her off for a fitting. The improvement, she tells us, was astounding. Stunned to learn she didn't have to just endure a steady unattractive decline into the grave, she went in search of medical treatment for a nagging hip injury. Then she began hitting the gym.

A few months after renovating her body, she realized none of the things associated with "aging" were inevitable -- at least not at 50. Which got her thinking about her working life.

What's inspiring about the story is Gayle's unflagging willingness to do the work. She researched career changes, wrote multiple business plans to test her ideas, and never stopped learning. She challenged her fears -- she's a reluctant driver at the best of times -- and embraced an adventure that has the travel-lover forever criss-crossing North America.

Gayle simply refused to settle, in any sense of the word, just because she was middle-aged.

While some of her co-authors sound resigned to what the National Ballet of Canada's Karen Kain calls "the dilemma of aging," and others try to romanticize it with vague suggestions that wisdom will accompany a thickening waist, Gayle attacks a series of specific problems. Some of them were vaguely related to aging, but most of them were connected to how she lived her life: sitting in front of a computer doing work that no longer stimulated her.

She wasn't getting old; she was getting bored. Which is probably true of most of us.

That lesson alone is worth the $22.95 price of the book.

Doing 'old' well

I wish there had been more pieces like Gayle's in the collection. There's a little too much false enthusiasm in some of the offerings for things that just plain suck, like the work necessary to forestall physical deterioration. Editor Shari Graydon says that the title of the book and her own essay is meant as a response to Ephron's bestseller, but her piece suggests the lady doth protest too much.

But then, I don't buy the argument that middle-aged women are as beautiful as the 20-somethings, nor do I think beauty is all that important. Of all the qualities someone might have, it's the least interesting. (Well, except to a certain sort of man. And he's too dim to have to dinner with.)

So I was grateful for Heather-Jane Robertson's astute essay discussing the "pro-aging propaganda."

"Are we afraid that just as each of us failed to play the perfect roles of dutiful daughter, supportive wife, transformational leader, woman-who-has-it-all, we may find that were not even doing "old" as well as we're supposed to?" Robertson asks.

The answer seems to be yes, if you look at growing volumes churned out by baby boomers who resist going quietly into that good night. There's Zoomer magazine's relentless cheerleading for cover-boys and -girls who (gasp!) continue to accomplish much after 45. Or Parisian Chic, penned by the supernaturally youthful supermodel Ines de la Fressange, who at 53 is still sashaying down the catwalk. She implies we could all be just like her if we'd only dress properly. (Alas, no word on how I can add five inches to my height.)

It seems the generation that partied to the Who ("hope I die before I get old") can't quite figure out how to behave under the circumstances.

But Robertson has some welcome words of wisdom for all the shallow strivers out there who are planning to turn aging into the last great competition. "…we are who we are and that's Mostly Good Enough."

Robertson's writing rings true, although it's clear that in the short-term, there's much to be said for getting a new job and a new bra.

© Shannon Rupp. For permission to reprint this article please contact the author: shannon(at)shannonrupp.com.  [Tyee]

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