Friday, June 26, 2009

Aging Gracefully

Is there such a thing for women?

Yes, I guess there is. Those women I know who truly are aging gracefully are the ones who never carry on about their fading beauty, their new-found wrinkles, the sagging eyelids, their double-chins. And I do know women like this. They are the women who simply get up in the morning and get on with living a fulfilling life. But it's not easy. Everywhere we look we're bombarded with ads for anti-aging creams, teeth whitening products, hair colouring/replacement formulas. The media tells us, insists, really, that we should fight the signs of aging ~ at all costs!

This has really hit home for me in the past few years. I keep a website, and teacher-librarians often check this site before inviting me to their schools and libraries to do presentations. I have not bothered to update my author photo in about 10 years. The old one was a good photo, taken by my local newspaper, but really, I don't look like that anymore. I guess I simply didn't want to admit that to myself.

I met a lovely author in Whitehorse this spring, Shyam Selvadurai, who I only knew through his author photo. Once we met and got acquainted, I teased him about his publicity pictures, and how I'd expected to meet someone about 12 years old. He shook his head and said it was just sheer laziness that kept him from making updates.

I guess that was part of it for me, too, (laziness) but I suspect there was more to it. I say that I never take a good photo, but to be honest, it's not the photo, it's the subject. She's growing old. (See previous post.) There have been clues, loud ones, that it was time to update my on-line presence. In recent months (and years, if I'm being honest), when I've arrived at schools and libraries to do those presentations, the teacher or librarian would often do a double-take. They'd say, "Shelley? Is that you?" I could see them scanning my face, trying to find the similarities to the book-jacket photos they'd seen.

"Yes." I'd say, and smile innocently.

They try to hide their shock, and say things like, "Oh, I was expecting someone with dark hair, or someone taller, or....."

"Or someone younger?" I'd ask.

They always look sheepish, and I can only laugh. Of course they expected someone younger. My publicity photos show someone MUCH younger.

So today was the day. Daughter #2, Cara, photographer extraordinaire, took about 1000 head shots of me. I knew I would hate most of them, and I did. But there were a couple that were okay. Better than okay. Flattering, actually. I may be older, but is that character I'm seeing in that older face? And those lines around my eyes... laugh lines?

I have a new web designer and in a week or two those old author photos will be history, replaced with the new ones, and in the future, I will will try to be like my beautiful friends, the ones who accept the aging process, who don't spend ridiculous amounts of time and money to fight the inevitable. And I will not wait 10 years to replace the publicity photos. I will hire a good photographer (hopefully, Cara) and expect a few flattering shots. I will look at the aging face, and know that if I'm living a good life, it will be well-etched into my features and I hope to feel acceptance of that

In the meantime... posted are a few of Cara's photos. Didn't she do a great job?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Diva Down

I recently spent a long weekend in Vegas with 15 other women. How did this happen? There are dozens of places I'd choose to visit before Vegas.

Call it peer pressure. Call it a weak moment, but The-Book-Club-plus friends-that-likes-to-travel-together decided it was a great idea, and being a member of this group, I signed on. Maybe it was time for a little frivolous fun in my life.

Well. Day #1 was a most extraordinary day, and far from frivolous. The book-club- plus-friends is made up of remarkable women and one of these women was celebrating her 60th birthday. We knew that this occasion needed to be marked in a significant way, so we rose early, (after retiring late), climbed into two vans and drove out to the desert. I could not believe that such spectacular natural beauty could be found rubbing up so close to a city of such unlimited pretension.

We parked the cars at the epicenter of Red Rock Canyon and hiked one of the trails. Once we were immersed in the canyon, another one of our most remarkable women led us in a poignant ritual that marked the decades of the birthday gal's life. No matter how skeptical some of us had been at the start of the ritual, we were each moved to tears by the end as we reflected on our own life journeys' to date. The calling in of the directions, (North, South, East, West, above and below) and the smudging for purification all felt odd, but it set the tone for the ritual, and as a group we moved into a spiritual place that was most profound.

The ritual came to a beautiful end, the birthday girl wore her crown of dessert flowers and we piled back into the vans to return to Sin City, a jarring experience.

Our amazing organizers had thought to pre-order tickets to see Bette Midler that evening. Not being a Midler fan, I didn't have any expectations, good or bad. We'd each brought a boa to wear to the show to honour Bette's poster where she wears nothing but boas to advertize her show. Arriving as a pack of middle-aged women in gaudy boas (see above photo) someone in the theatre took notice and our seats were upgraded from the cheap seats to middle-of-the-road ones.

The moment she came on stage I became a true-blue Midler fan. Such energy! Such charisma. She confesses to doing the same show for 40 years, but you'd never know it. The way she engages with the audience is heartwarming. Part of her shtick was poking fun at how the (old) showgirl must go on. Many of her routines made light of the aging process, and at one point she fell onto her back and moaned, "Diva Down!" It became our mantra for the rest of the weekend.

It seemed uncanny that we could start the day reflecting on our life journey (and growing old) in such a beautiful and profound way, and end the day laughing so hard at the same life journey in a totally opposite kind of setting. Bette is a remarkable performer. No wonder she has such lasting power. After all these years she still appreciates her audience and shows beautiful humility at her continued popularity.

The day had come full circle, from heartfelt reflection to tears of laughter. Two different ways of looking at the aging process, and both equally as valuable.

The rest of the weekend was a more typical Vegas experience, but I will always remember the joy of that first day, for the beauty of the canyons, the rituals, and the growing old Diva who simply won't quit.

One of our lovely organizers sent the above picture to the local paper as they publish photos of locals travelling the world and holding up editions of their newspaper. Our picture was printed, but it was so small no one would have been able to recognize the faces. Kerry Henderson, writer extraordinaire, and with tongue planted firmly in cheek wrote to our Vegas group to share the following.

"I just received a visit in my classroom from both the editor of the North Shore News and Izzy Asper himself, CEO of CanWest Global and newspaper mogul.
They wished to sincerely apologize, in person, for the somewhat smallish and murky picture of the 16 of us in Las Vegas.
I believe their exact words were, "There is no size of photo that could ever be reproduced in the pages of a newspaper that would adequately capture AND reflect the colourful personalities and large hearts of such a group of beautiful ladies".
Of course, I had to agree with them, and accepted their heartfelt apologies on our collective behalf."

Thank you Kerry. You said it perfectly.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


My dear friend (DF) recently asked if I'd been doing much writing.
"No," I replied.
"Practising yoga?" she asked.
"No," I replied.
She just looked at me, eyebrows raised. She knows those three things are my major passions, aside from friends and family.
I opened my mouth, about to launch into my many excuses. All legit. But then I didn't. Instead, I threw the same questions back at her.
"Have you been painting?"
"Practising yoga?"
"Yes." She grinned, knowing she was one up on me.

But the questions hung in the air between us. Why aren't we doing those other things? We know they are good for us. We know they bring us satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. In short, they make us happy. We've been busy all our lives but in the past we still managed to carve out time for them.

With a sigh, DF and I agreed that staying on track with our passions is like staying on track with anything else. Routine is essential. As with exercise, or a diet, it just takes a few days of breaking the routine and the chances of falling off the wagon increases tenfold. We are creatures of habit, and we have to be diligent in making sure our habits are healthy ones. Ones that bring us pleasure. Ones that help us grow into our best selves. It's hard for me to get started each day on my writing projects, but once I'm warmed up, (like with exercise) it begins to feel good and I don't want to stop. It's just getting myself started, facing that blank page, or getting myself to the yoga studio or to the trailhead that is the hard part. I can't explain why, it just is.

Tomorrow is the start of a new week. There are still boxes to unpack, my mother to take care of and a to-do list a mile long but I think I'll start the day with a sun-rise yoga class. The natural high I experience from practising yoga will stay with me for at least a few hours, helping me accomplish many other tasks. I'll ask one of my daughters to walk the dog and my mother is stable enough to manage a day without a visit. So, after yoga I'll dust off the novel-in-progress. I'll face that blank page. And I'll do it again the next day, and the next. The page won't stay blank for long. I'll be a happier person for it, and the people in my life will benefit as well. Good energy begets good energy.

I know this to be so.