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It’s not all downhill after 50

April 15, 2011 Andrea Gordon Toronto Star

Nora Ephron felt bad about her neck. Now Shari Graydon feels great about her hands. Between the two of them, women over 50 can feel relieved that there is a humourous side to the prickly topic of getting old.


Laughter, according to Graydon, makes the hot flashes and turkey flaps, fading memory and collapsing body parts somehow less intolerable. So does the power of positive thinking (well, a little bit).


Her new anthology, I Feel Great About My Hands, is a collection of 41 essays and poems by Canadian women between ages 50 and 80 who share the gross, the hilarious, the poignant and even the blessings that come with each passing year.


The book (Douglas & McIntyre, $23) comes five years after Ephron’s best-selling book of humour columns I Feel Bad About My Neck, in which the best-selling writer minces no words about the dispiriting effects of gravity on a woman’s facial structure once she hits a certain age.


Graydon, a women’s advocate and author from Ottawa, writes about how her unusually large hands have created art, mastered shiatsu and earned her a living at the keyboard.


Diana Majury shares the “wrinkle revelation” she had after studying the creases and laugh lines on a beloved friend’s face and discovering their beauty. Gail Kerbel goes for a colonoscopy and finds out the doctor is a guy from her high school days.


Two old lovers slap together “like water hitting mud” in Lorna Crozier’s “My Last Erotic Poem.” And Lyndsay Green writes about happiness despite being “well past my best-before date.”


The Star reached Graydon this week while she was on her book tour in Victoria. Here’s an edited version of the 10-minute interview.


How old are you? How do you feel about your age?


Fifty-two. I feel really great. I have never felt more engaged, comfortable, excited about life.


Was the title of your book supposed to be a message to Nora Ephron?


No! It was less a message than a blatant attempt to capitalize on her brilliance and popularity.


So do you really feel okay about aging, or do you colour your hair or use under-eye concealer?


Of course. All of the above. Like every other woman in this culture, I have not escaped the pervasive ubiquitous messages about how I might look, if only I made a little more effort.


So you’re not against using a few cosmetic tools to look younger?


Absolutely not. My lamentation is the inordinate pressure and the extent of the comparisons that have moved many women into genuinely dangerous territory — for example, plastic surgery, liposuction, and facelifts.


What was your goal with the book?


I think we crave messages that affirm it’s not all over but the crying. Every woman wants reminders of the benefits of maturity because we are so overwhelmed by the (negative) messages. Every woman I spoke to wanted to read the book, even if they didn’t have the wherewithal at the moment to look at the bright side of the downward slide.


You are up against a formidable opponent — the entire culture as well as the anti-aging industry.


Yes, and one small book of 41 essays and poems is hardly going to make a dent in that!

Why did women want to write about hot flashes, sagging jaw lines and feeling invisible after 50?

Many of us look at our lives and think “God, I’m so glad I’m not 25 anymore,” or “That was tough being a teenager” or “Isn’t it wonderful that my kids are now in their 20s and they’re launched.” They appreciated the opportunity to celebrate what there is to celebrate at this stage of our lives.

Is this a “cheer up, or else” book as one columnist described it?

I don’t think of it that way. We don’t have much choice — we grow older. If you can’t find the humour and celebrate the benefits that do come from increased life experience and wisdom, that’s deeply unfortunate because complaining doesn’t actually improve the experience of aging.

What are the best things about aging?

I would say the wisdom of life experience, the confidence, the understanding of self and others, the paring away of what’s not important and the ability to focus on what is of value.

The worst?

Clearly, the body deterioration. There’s no secret about it and the book reflects that. Some of the pieces in it are pretty raw.

Why do you think this discussion is starting among writers and performers like comedienne Sandra Shamas, whose recent show included comical descriptions of menopause.

I think there’s a pushback. As somebody who has been advocating against the youth-obsessed media and objectification of women forever, I really hope the pendulum has swung far enough into the zone of artificiality that it’s swinging back. It may be the demographic bulge of women in the boomer years now entering that realm and feeling like okay, enough is enough.

What does aging gracefully mean to you?

It doesn’t mean going silent into that good night. It can mean all sorts of things, including wielding the power that you have and doing so in a way that makes a difference in the world.

Do you have any body parts that bother you these days?

My right shoulder and my left hip. But that’s more for functional and pain reasons than appearance.

How do you feel about your neck anyway?

I have no problem with my neck.

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