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I Feel Great About My Hands
And Other Unexpected Joys of Aging
Edited by Shari Graydon
Douglas & McIntyre, 264 pages, $23
Five years after Nora Ephron published her musings about aging not so gracefully in America, I Feel Bad About My Neck still reverberates among women of a certain vintage.
"If I pass a mirror, I avert my eyes," wrote the talented and witty Hollywood screenwriter.
"At the age of 55, you will get a saggy roll just above your waist even if you are painfully thin," she proclaimed.
Now Ottawa author and women's advocate Shari Graydon has answered Ephron with an upbeat response, a Dropped Threads-like collection of stories, essays and poems in which more than 40 Canadian women over 50 celebrate aging and their lives well-lived.
You might recognize some of the contributors — journalists Susan Delacourt, Alison Smith and Susan Harada, poet Susan Musgrave, comedian Mary Walsh, politicians Elizabeth May and Manitoba Senator Sharon Carstairs. There are many more stories from women you have never met, but wish you could.
Marlaina Gayle's How Drooping Breasts Led Me to a Truck-driving Life of Adventure is a rollicking ride from a woman who kick starts a major career and life change by buying a new bra. "Turning 49 forced me to change," she concludes. "Turning 50 set me free."
Other writers share stories about taking up golf, going back to university, and luxuriating in the joys of a long-term relationship.
They all share their feelings about growing older, and what they've learned along the way. It's like having coffee with a bunch of really frank and forthcoming role models.
Some writers are weaker than others (not surprisingly) and some perspectives are (almost refreshingly) not as determinedly cheery as the title of the book might suggest. After all, as the saying goes, "Old age is not for sissies."
Even such topics as dementia and death are confronted unflinchingly. But mostly the contributors celebrate the good things in life: close friends, the ability to laugh, a gratitude for everyday things.
This collection is best read in chunks — most busy women prefer this anyway — and at times there are a few too many references to wrinkles and saggy bits.
But overall, I Feel Great About My Hands sends a strong and supportive message about the future.
And the chapter called Advocating is simply inspiring.
Do women "grow more radical with age," as Gloria Steinem asserts? All four of this section's authors appear to be living proof.
"This is a great time to be a woman," writes Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. She points to women she admires who "shook the world in their 50s," including Bella Abzug and Gro Harlem Brundtland. "We can be fearless. Uncompromising."
The kids are independent, careers and relationships have stabilized. If you're lucky, you have energy and drive to spare, she writes.
Legal scholar (and University of Manitoba grad) Constance Backhouse notes that the Famous Five feminists were not spring chickens when they fought for women's right to be regarded as persons in Canada. The youngest, in fact, was Nellie McClung, at 55. The oldest was Henrietta Muir, at 80.
It's no surprise, then, that all of these hands-loving authors have waived their royalties, with proceeds instead going to a Canadian feminist group called Media Action. Its role is to challenge the "under-representation, stereotypic portrayal and sexual objectification" of women in the media.
Graydon is the organization's former president, and one of the collection's strongest voices. The self-described "face-half-unwrinkled kind of woman," writes well, with humour and purpose, and the wisdom to accept and embrace the challenges ahead. "The time to celebrate is, indeed, now," she writes.
After all, what's the alternative?
Margo Goodhand, Editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, has never liked her freckles.