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Archive for February, 2010

Tonight the world witnessed not only the brilliant performance of a Olympic figure skater, but one of the most poignant displays of courage ever seen. Just two days after her mother’s death from a sudden heart attack, Joannie Rochette took to the ice in the women’s short programme, and skated in her honour.

Commentators at the Olympics told stories all week of the closeness between Therese Rochette and Joannie, that her mother was a hard honest critic but also her staunchest supporter. Mere hours after arriving in Vancouver to watch her daughter compete, Therese Rochette was dead. She was only fifty-five, and had no history of heart trouble.

One can only imagine the shock of her loss, and the irony of such sorrow at a time that should have been the high point in Joannie Rochette’s life. And the inevitable question arises. How did this young woman find the courage to put her sorrow aside tonight and do what her mother would have wanted?

It wasn’t for lack of feeling. The tears broke through the minute her programme ended, and she bent over, hands on knees to regain her composure. Around the world, hundreds of thousands of people, immeasurably moved by her performance and personal strength, wept with her. Still, she never crumbled, didn’t collapse in grief as many expect we would under the circumstances. Instead, she stood back up, straightened her shoulders and graciously thanked the crowd, who were by then on their feet. The ovation and outpouring of love must have seemed surrreal. She skated towards the place where her coach stood, and it was only then that the world heard her sobs.

The late Ernest Hemingway called courage “grace under pressure.” We witnessed it tonight in Joannie Rochette. and I doubt any of us will ever forget it.

Your grace and bravery inspired the world tonight, Joannie. Somewhere, your mother is smiling.

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Valentine’s Day is the yearly event that causes more headaches and heartaches than any other. Some may disagree, saying that Christmas is more stressful, but I’d bet my best red lipstick that more psyches suffer on February 14th. than on any other day of the year.

Think of it. The idea alone is masochistic. It’s the day chosen to show people how much you love them. Conversely, if you receive no such declaration, you may assume that no one loves you. It’s a logical deduction, even for a child.

Speaking of children, flash back to that brightly covered box in the front of the classroom, the one stuffed with carefully chosen paper Valentines? Remember how you waited with anxious breath for your name to be called, how everyone counted their cards, perhaps spread them out on their desks for others to admire? What must have been going on in the head of the classmate who received no cards? What a harsh reality for a child! Who knows what residual complexes remain once they become an adult?

I sympathize with people who are alone on Valentine’s Day, caught up in the melancholy envy of those in love who are out celebrating. But here’s the clincher: being in love does not guarantee Valentine’s Day will hold any romance, and relationships can be put to the test. I’ve learned that the hard way.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I love my husband dearly, but romantic expressions of love are not his strong suit.

His proposal to me was muttered under heated breath when, at 17, he pressed me against my parent’s back door for a goodnight kiss. “You’re gonna marry me, right?”

The budget for my engagement ring was negotiated between us. He would spend the proceeds from the sale of some musical equipment, not a dime more. I was too thrilled with the prospect of being engaged to dwell on the budgetary constraints.

To be practical, my wedding night was spent in our new apartment, rather than a hotel room. His best man and ushers had stayed there with him the night before, and the place looked like a charity bazaar after a three-day blitz. In the corner of the bedroom sat a partially dismantled car engine, evidence of his latest project.

Have things changed since our marriage? Over thirty-two years have passed, and my memory may not be the sharpest anymore, but truthfully, I can’t actually recall a Valentine’s Day that was the kind of romantic surprise women dream about. Therein lies the problem. Women fantasize about such things all their lives, but men are just not hard-wired on a parallel path.

I observed the “out-of-sync” interplay between my parents for years. Mom would watch soap operas where men planned extravagant and imaginative surprises for their loved ones; but Dad was another story. He’d leave a greeting card up on top of the fridge for her to see. Sometimes, there would be a heart-shaped box of chocolates with it. Once in a while, there would be a cheque inside the card, and his name scrawled hastily, devoid of any personal message. Of course, my mother did less. She was from an age where ladies did not bother to even reciprocate Valentine’s gifts. I can’t imagine how he would have reacted if she had.

So, though I’ve never really expected grand gestures from my own husband for Valentine’s Day, secretly, I’ve always hoped. I’d see the romantic gift a friend would receive, and I’d grow wistful.

As V-day approached, I’d inevitably become more and more anxious, gearing myself up for the inevitable letdown. Sometimes, he’d completely forget. Other times, he’d say he was planning various things for months, then he’d go on to tell me why none of it could be accomplished. To be honest, I believed him. An “event planner” he’s not.

“I wanted to take you somewhere special, but couldn’t decide where to go.”

“I was going to buy you roses, but they seemed such a waste of money.”

“I thought you’d rather pick something out yourself.”

“I didn’t know what you wanted.”

“I wanted to get you something sexy, but I figured you wouldn’t wear it.” Now, there’s a story behind this line. Years ago, he ventured into an erotic clothing store and bought me what the salesperson claimed was a negligee. Actually, it was four strips of very sheer blue material, two down the front, two down the back, perhaps three inches wide at best near the upper end and wider towards the bottom. Ribbons attached the strips to each other. Problem was, I could only wear it if I stood stock still. One twist and those two strips down the front no longer covered the “essentials.” At a time when two little sons might run into our room at any time during the night, it wasn’t too practical. We both laughed, he a little less heartily, and he’s shied away from sexy purchases ever since.

Another time, he brought me home a card and lovely wrapping paper but no gift. “I couldn’t find anything good enough,” he said, frustration dripping from every word. He seemed to have developed a “tic” while he was out too.

Sometimes he says, “What do you feel like doing for Valentine’s Day?” Of course, what I want is for him to plan it for me. If I actually suggest that, he looks like he’s about to have a stroke from the pressure of it. He’ll say “I thought we should go out for dinner,” but he’ll say it that night, at 5:00 P.M., when there’s no hope of getting reservations. Then he’ll squirm in remorse.

Once, we had a romantic dinner, and we followed it by going to a movie. “Total Recall” does nothing to keep the “warm and fuzzy feeling” alive, believe me.

But after all this time, I’m almost used to it. The truth is, he’s special in every other way that counts. He brings me tea and tells me I’m smart and beautiful all the time, even when I’m feeling like Phyllis Diller on her worst day. And I don’t think his lack of romantic inclination reflects anything more than an inability to recognize the special, small gestures that can be so heart-warming. In other words, big, expensive gestures occur to him, but limited by budget and circumstances, he flounders.

So, if Valentine’s Day is spent like so many other “dates,” I’ll be prepared. A dinner out if I make a reservation, followed by a tour around The Home Depot, and an early return home. Then, perhaps, a glass of wine each, a fast “I love you,” and we’ll each depart for our separate televisions. He’ll watch “This Old House” or The Antique Roadshow,” and I’ll watch a taped soap opera, probably General Hospital, so I can watch Jax as he plans a superbly romantic evening for his current lady-love.

If I grow envious, I’ll remind myself of what my husband said to me recently. He was removing wallpaper from a room, and he commented on the strong, unhealthy fumes from the stripper he was using. Then he added, “It’s okay. As long as I see your pretty face just before I die I’ll be happy”

Okay, so it sounds corny, but it goes a long way towards making up for Home Depot on Valentine’s Day

(published in the Globe and Mail, Feb. 14/05 under title: Valentine’s Day façade, Valentine’s Day feeling)

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I’m angry today, the kind of angry that makes me want to throw on a placard and demonstrate on the busiest street corner I can find. What would the placard say? “I’m over 55, but I’m not dead yet! HIRE ME!”

The month started off so well: an article in the Globe and Mail, a ton of positive feedback, including personal emails, and a guest interview on a CBC news programme where I talked about the difficulties of being out of work. Messages filled my mailbox. People complimented me on my honesty, said I handled myself professionally, wished me well. But a job offer? Not even one – unless you count a couple of people singing the praises of multi-level marketing companies.

I even joined LinkedIn. It wasn’t actually my own idea, but something thrown out at me as more of a taunt during an argument with someone. It was like “Why haven’t YOU tried LinkedIn?” The implication was that I wasn’t trying hard enough to find a job, so I joined, wrote up a profile, included my work experience and links to this blog in case writing opportunities were out there, and joined a few groups. Then I sat and waited, and I realized why I’d never joined before. The problem is that while I’m able to “link” to a few people, I am virtually unable to ask for a reference from anyone there because the people I’m linked to are friends or casual acquaintances, not people who’ve worked with me. What are they going to say about me, other than personal things? Some have never even read my work. They can only guess at my capabilities.

In the meantime, I’ve continued to apply for jobs at all ends of the spectrum. One person who responded to my article suggested I don’t apply for anything “beneath me,” because of the sheer number of applicants for less qualified positions. I understand her point, but it hasn’t stopped me because I can’t pass anything up. I’ve also applied for lots of work that I’d be perfect for, but so far, I seem to be the only one believing that.

And here’s the thing. No matter what anyone says, the longer I go without a job, the more I know that this IS about age. If I’d been twenty or twenty-five, I would have been hired long ago for some of those lesser-paying jobs. If I’d been under forty-five, I’d have at least been called in for interviews for some of the better jobs. I know it as well as I know that underneath this dark brown hair hide grey roots.

So I’m frustrated and furious.

They say that no group is valued less in western society than older women, and more and more, I’m beginning to believe it. We’re past our prime and for many, past our usefulness. We can no longer bear children and our figures aren’t perfect. We go through menopause and have “unsightly” hot flashes in public. If we are emotional, society thinks we are “losing it.” If we are strong, they say we’re “cranky old bitches.” Unless we want to volunteer and run ourselves into the ground (we’re always welcomed when the work’s for free), we are often ignored, even by our male counterparts.

There’s no industry where ageism against women is more evident than in movies and television. Actors are allowed to age but their love interests rarely are. And when we do see an ‘older” actress on the screen, the portrayal is sometimes ridiculous. Case in point: Erica Kane, from All My Children.

I’m a follower of soaps, and recently I’ve found myself more and more insulted and irritated by the way this character is being written. “Erica” is a fashion icon/television star/author/businesswoman/philanthropist, with ten marriages under her 20-inch belt, children in their thirties and a few grandchildren to boot, yet she’s seen as ageless, a tiny slip of a “girl” caught in a permanent time warp. The part has been played for over nearly forty years by Susan Lucci, now sixty-three years of age. Lately, she is batting her eyelashes and tossing her long hair over her shoulder, then finally falling into bed with Ryan, the early 30’s ex-lover of her daughter, the father of Erica’s grandson. Lost yet?

I’m 58, just a few years younger than Erica, and I find the current storyline extremely offensive. In fact, the lack of reality regarding Erica, the way she sees herself and how others view her, is turning me off the show entirely, and that’s after over thirty years as a faithful watcher!

Do the writers forget that people actually GROW in character as they age? Despite the fact that they’ve allowed Erica to develop some better qualities over the years, she is still coming across as a “sweet young thing.”. Her mannerisms are coy, flirtatious and affected. She is a caricature.

The viewers know she is in her sixties. Let her dress a bit more appropriately. Stop shooting her through a soft-focus lens. Don’t insult the viewers’ intelligence. Address the logical concerns that an older woman should be having. Have her worry about the younger women around Ryan. Have her look in the mirror and be concerned about her age. Bring in a storyline where she considers plastic surgery. Viewers know she’s had plenty. Have her talk about her grey roots. Show her having a bloody hot flash. Oh gosh, forget that. She’s long through menopause. Give her osteoporosis!

Why not make her REAL, make her HUMAN? I can’t be the only one who’s offended by the way this is going.

Nothing is as black and white as some employers see it, or as the writers on AMC write it. Women over 50 don’t whither up and die, but neither do they have to act like they did at eighteen to compete. We should be free to be ourselves, confident of our worth and believing that somewhere, someone still recognizes our value.

In the meantime, I need a job.

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