BOOMERBROADcast

Essays, rants and reflections on life after sixty for baby boomers who rocked life in THE sixties. And lots of book reviews too.


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The September issue blows


September 2018

Every year I look forward to writing a bitchy critique of the famous September issue of Vogue magazine. At upwards of 800 pages, it arrives with a heavy thud in my mailbox (a couple of years ago the postman actually rang my doorbell and personally handed it to me) and usually gives me a couple of hours of entertainment.

Most of what Vogue offers up is utter nonsense and completely irrelevant to the average woman. Despite this, somehow I usually manage to find one or two tiny sparks of inspiration in its superficial pages. This year? There’s nothing to write about. No inspiration. Nadda. Zero. Rien. Ziltch. Not a single thing. There is an article about an upcoming HBO series on Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan quartet, but otherwise, the September 2018 issue of Vogue is barren of anything relevant or worthwhile to this old boomer.

Is it just me or are fashion magazines seriously out of touch with their readers? I’m becoming increasingly fed up with fashion media, despite their few and infrequent pathetic attempts at recognizing older readers, a.k.a. baby boomers. As the saying goes, “I don’t know why I botha’.“. Who’s out of touch? Me? Or them?

Links to relevant reads:

Is the fashion media still relevant?

The September and other irrelevant issues

The September issue has arrived


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Thoughts on A Room of One’s Own


Spoiler alert: this is not a book review so relax and enjoy some thoughts on serenity. Virginia Woolf knew what she was talking about when she penned her famous story about the importance of women having their own private space in the home. Hers was devoted to writing and reflection. She recognized and advocated for financial independence and privacy in women’s lives. When she was alive in the first half of the twentieth century women were considered second class citizens. Many could not vote, work outside the home, have their own bank accounts or divorce their husbands. Twenty-first century women have much to be thankful for, although we still have a long way to go. Woolf would be pleased to see the progress we’ve made but, time has only confirmed and reinforced her vision. Experts suggest it will be another one hundred years before women have full equality.

My own personal space.

Now that baby boomer women are retiring, a room of one’s own has taken on practical dimensions. In fact, my own special room is literally ten feet wide and eleven feet long. It contains bookshelves loaded with years of loved books. There’s a comfortable off-white twill settee for reading, a computer desk and chair for working on my blog, memory-evoking pictures on the walls including a street map of Paris and a shadow box with a rose from the bouquet my husband gave me on our first Valentine’s Day together. There’s a television that never gets turned on but it’s there if I need it. A cream and taupe rug covers most of the dark hardwood floor and of course, there’s a wee little dog bed for our Yorkshire terrier. A lovely wide window looks out over my husband’s gorgeous hydrangea bushes, a linden tree and a blue spruce we planted the year we moved in. My little room is a genuine slice of feminine heaven and I spend several hours in there every day.

Not only do we need our own space, but so do our husbands or partners. It’s an equal opportunity situation. The high-tech digital age means laptops and televisions are now allocated to individual members of the household. In the case of retired people like ourselves, we each need our own space for working on our computers and I’ve discovered the secret to a happy marriage is separate televisions—one for news, weather and sports (his) and one for HGTV, PBS and other women-friendly channels (hers). Consequently, my honey also has a room of his own with his LaZboy, television, desk and computer. It’s a happy arrangement.

A wee slice of heaven outdoors.

When weather permits (this is Canada, after all), my favourite private space of all is sitting outside in the shade surrounded by flowers and trees in our back yard. I can listen to the birds, feel and smell sweet, warm breezes and maintain a sense of peaceful balance. I can read my books and even tip back in my cushioned faux wicker LaZgirl from Canadian Tire and have a delicious snooze. Life is sweet.

Virginia Woolf’s understanding of the value of quiet time and private space is as relevant today as it was nearly one hundred years ago. Women still need private space and financial independence. The only difference is technology. And we have to be careful that we don’t let technology encroach too much. Do you have a favourite or special spot in your house where you can read, paint, write, knit or simply be? Perhaps it’s a corner of your livingroom, bedroom or kitchen. Maybe it’s a spare bedroom. I hope you are lucky like me and have managed to carve out your own private space. Where’s yours?


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Is Chrissy Metz really . . . just like us?


We can forgive Chrissy Metz, who plays Kate in television’s Just Like Us series, for using a ghost writer (Kevin Carr O’Leary) to help with her autobiography. This Is Me, Loving the person you are today is well-written and full of wisdom. Her struggles before becoming a famous actor carry into her current adult life and she doesn’t hold back. Metz was born in Gainesville, Florida, the third child and second girl of a navy father who wanted only boys. Consequently, she refers to her biological father by “Mark” as he provided little to no support of any kind in her growing up. Her parents divorced when she was eight years old leaving her mother in a desperate financial situation. Consequently, her mother makes unwise romantic choices in an effort to provide for her three children which eventually grew to five.

As Chrissy was growing up, she experienced a disproportionate amount of negative feedback but uses those experiences to dispense wisdom to help others who are struggling. Acknowledging that we all experience challenges in life, Metz is honest and generous in sharing hers. She stresses the importance of having an ‘attitude of gratitude’ which personally I’ve also found to be valuable when we’re feeling defeated. Through years of verbal and emotional abuse by a step-father and suffering alienation by her peers because of her size, Metz developed a strong backbone and learned to adapt. Even her own mother was not always supportive in misguided efforts to keep her family housed and fed in a modest trailer park lifestyle.

Chrissy Metz stars as Kate on tv’s This Is Us.

Life often sends us on a circuitous journey to success. When she took her sister to a talent search audition, Metz struck up a relationship with the agent that landed her a job wrangling young talent. Traveling to Los Angeles with little money and a broken down car with her work, she leveraged the opportunity to market her own talents. But she spent more than ten years doing menial work for low wages behind the scenes. Like any young woman, she wanted love in her life and connected with a like-minded Scotsman she met through a computer dating site. Their marriage was loving but fraught with difficulties that eventually resulted in divorce. When Metz was cast as Kate in This is Us her life began to resemble what we would call success.

I really enjoyed reading This Is Me by Chrissy Metz. Her story is written with humour and is an easy read delivered in a hip, contemporary tone. The strongest recommendation for reading this book is its inspirational value. It serves to remind us that despite life’s challenges, we don’t have to accept negativism and defeat. Metz offers an abundance of solid suggestions for rising above adversity without being preachy or self-righteous. I’d give this book 9 out of 10.

Click here to order This is Me by Chrissy Metz from Amazon.

 


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What is disposable fashion?


They’d sooner burn it than have it fall into the hands of commoners like us.

Are you sitting down? Burberry recently incinerated $37 million worth of their luxury brand merchandise that didn’t sell. Rather than dilute the cachet of their brand by offering it at discounted prices to the great unwashed masses (like us), they torched it. It must be lovely to have a business with such generous markups and profit margins that you can afford to just set fire to $37 million. That act of destruction reminded me of how casually we treat our possessions regardless of the cost. Not only are fashions from Zara, The Gap and other mass retailers treated as disposable fashion, so are premium brands. Our “affluenza” and consumerism has reached ridiculous proportions.

Natalie Atkinson’s recent piece in The Globe and Mail about extending the life of your personal possessions was a reminder that we need to be more thoughtful about what we buy and conscientious about managing our belongings. It came on the heels of a sobering documentary Clothing Waste – Fashion’s Dirty Secret which aired recently on CBC’s Marketplace. Both pieces highlighted the negative effects of disposable clothing on the environment and the facts presented left me feeling ashamed and totally committed to changing my wanton ways. I used to feel vindicated when I dropped off old clothing at a charity bin until I saw on Marketplace what happens to my donations. Giant bales of excess used clothing sit in warehouses until they’re shipped to places like Africa or India. They’re then sold in street markets as used clothing—which seems all fine and dandy—until we’re shown the piles of clothing being burned behind the stalls—clothing that doesn’t sell. Brand names like Tommy Hilfinger, H&M, Old Navy and others, all go up in smoke. Even third world countries don’t want or don’t know what to do with our cast-offs.

From here . . .

We didn’t start off this way

When boomers were growing up we didn’t have the vast, disposable wardrobes we see today. In addition to a few everyday school clothes, we had a good Sunday outfit which did double duty for going to birthday parties or Christmas concerts. One winter coat, one pair of boots, one pair of everyday school shoes and one pair of good shoes was the norm and they lasted until we outgrew them. Our parents’ wardrobes were equally modest. Some of us perhaps remember our fathers having shoes resoled to extend their life. I grew up in house built in the 1880s with no closets. My spartan wardrobe was either folded in a couple of dresser drawers or hung on hooks on the back of my bedroom door and I did just fine with fewer items.

To here . . .

How far we’ve fallen. How many boomer gals have commandeered the entire master bedroom closet for racks of clothes (many of which we don’t wear or they don’t fit) and relegated our partners’ clothes to the spare bedroom closet? It’s an insidious process, a slippery slope and regular culling unfortunately invites more buying.

When I first started working in 1965, I was thrilled to finally have my own money to spend on mini dresses, shoes and even fabric to sew my own version of Twiggy-inspired fashion. How could we not fall in love with what fashion was offering in the sixties? It was a total transformation from boring and practical to colourful and fun. Over the years, boomer gals have spent small fortunes on dressing for success, weekend wear and special event dresses. To this day I’m still filled with self-lothing when I think that I spent the equivalent of nearly a week’s wages on that burgundy ultra-suede suit that I wore for one season in the seventies. Then, there are all the matching shoes, purses, coats, jackets, accessories—well, you get the picture. Who among us wouldn’t love to have some of that wasted money now earning interest in our RRSP.

And, finally, here.

What to do, starting with myself:

I know my triggers. From now on I’m going to be more discriminating about what I purchase and avoid the following potential hazards:

  1. Trips to the mall just acquaint me with more things I do not need so I’ll minimize the number of times I visit the mall. Ditto for internet shopping.
  2. Fashion magazines are bait for suckers like me. Seeing something I like starts me longing for it. See Item 1 above.
  3. When I see things on women’s television shows that include fashion and home decorating segments I’m motivated to shop. I’d be further ahead reading my books or going for a walk instead of watching those programs.
  4. Comparing myself with the beautiful people is counter productive. How often do we think if we just had that blouse, that bracelet, that designer handbag or pair of sunglasses, our lives would be complete.
  5. Advertising for the latest skincare or makeup product guaranteed to solve all our problems is so tempting and generally a complete waste of money. I have to work on tuning out the marketing ‘noise’ and stick with whatever basics work for me.
  6. The wellness industry including thousands of websites such as GOOP are constantly setting us up to think we need improving with supplements, diets, cleanses and other new age gimmicks. Tune out.

This is not a definitive list but it’s a good start. These steps are actionable immediately and would make a difference not only in my self-esteem and the environment but more importantly, my bank account. We can still feel great about ourselves without being sucked into the vortex of disposable fashion, useless health and beauty products and general consumerism. Regular culling of our closets serves to remind us that we already have too much and we should be much more discriminating about what we buy. I’ll definitely buy into that. Starting now. What about you?

http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/episodes/2015-2016/clothing-waste-fashions-dirty-secret

http://fortune.com/2018/07/19/burberry-burns-millions/


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Zadie Smith’s back in my good books


Do male authors explore the complicated relationships between childhood friends to the extent women do? I found myself wondering that as I read Swing Time by Zadie Smith about two girls growing up in the council estates of suburban London. Another author, Elena Ferrante managed to fill four voluminous novels about two close friends growing up in Naples, Italy, post World War II. I devoured all four of Ferrante’s books, one after the other. Female relationships are endlessly fascinating.

After hearing a delightful interview with the British writer Zadie Smith on the radio about her novel NW a few years ago, I bought the book and couldn’t wait to read it. After three tries, I gave up but a couple of weeks ago I picked up her earlier book, Swing Time, which tracks the lives of two bi-racial young girls who bond through a shared love of dancing when they meet at Miss Isobel’s dance class in their neighbourhood community centre. Like the protagonists in Ferrante’s books, Smith’s main characters are soul-mates, competitors, combatants and, most importantly, enduring life-long friends. The title of the book is drawn from their mutual love of classic musicals featuring dancers like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

The narrator comes from a comparatively secure, two-parent home with a loving, conscientious white father who works at the post office. Her driven, feminist, leftist Jamaican mother’s life is devoted to expanding her knowledge of social issues and working on getting a university degree through extended learning programs. Her best friend Tracey has a white mother and a largely absent, ne’er-do-well Jamaican immigrant father, Louie, who appears during brief releases from prison to bestow upheaval on the family.

Both girls love dance and envision their futures in West End musicals. They practise, they improvise, they study the moves and techniques of early dancers and build a fantasy world of their own in their London council estate. Tracey is the more feminine of the two and her body and personality lend themselves to precocious behaviour which ultimately causes a rift in the friendship. As the girls become teenagers, the gap widens.

The main plot line and subplots are interesting to follow as the various colourful characters take shape and grow. Through a series of serendipitous events, the narrator (we never learn her name) lands a job as one of several personal assistants to a major rock star, Aimee, reminiscent of Madonna. While she devotes her life and work to serving Aimee, Tracey pursues her stage career with the two women crossing paths intermittently. Work with Aimee takes our protagonist to a poor village in Africa where the star is building a girls’ school and we are given insights into the political, sociological and economic implications of interfering in a foreign culture, despite all good intentions.

Author Zadie Smith.

Now I can see why Zadie Smith is such an acclaimed writer. Her story lines, characters and writing are interesting. The dialogue captures the working class idiom and psychology of the council estate residents. As with Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan series of books, however, I found Smith perhaps spent too much time on the girls’ early years in school. That slowed down the pace and it was tempting to just skip over those pages. Otherwise, my only complaint is a personal one which I’ve mentioned before. I get confused when authors toggle back and forth in time; it disrupts the rhythm of the story. I prefer things to progress chronologically. After reading Swing Time I decided to once again give NW a try, but the loose, stream-of-consciousness writing and lack of punctuation confused and annoyed me, so I gave up—again. I really enjoyed Swing Time though and give it 7 out of 10.

Click here to order Swing Time by Zadie Smith from Amazon.

Click here to order Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels from Amazon.


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It’s the most wonderful day of the week


Mondays come with multiple benefits. Not only because I’m retired and no longer have to get up at the crack of dawn and go to work but also because Monday is change-the-sheets day. When we’re retired, it’s often those simple things that give us enormous pleasure. I”ll never understand how people can wake up in the morning and go to work or start their day without making their bed. The only thing lovelier than sliding into nice, smooth, cool sheets at the end of the day is when they’re freshly changed. In our house, that happens on Monday. When I change the sheets, I hang the freshly laundered ones outside to dry—screw the local bylaws. It’s environmentally friendly and they’re hung below the fence line where no one can see them.

Don’t you agree there’s nothing more delicious than sliding into a freshly made bed with crisp cotton sheets that have been air-dried and the pillow cases ironed with a spritz of lavender linen water? I even cheat and change the pillow cases mid-week to rush the experience. Is it a boomer broad thing, or am I the only peculiar one? My friends and I even have an acronym for it—CSD—clean sheets day. My friend Margaret loves the experience so much. she immediately hops in and has a snooze on CSD.

Bonne nuit.

I’ve yet to meet a man who understands our pleasure. My mother always loved CSD and my father was oblivious. My husband doesn’t get it either. Maybe it’s because we’re usually the ones who do the laundering and changing so we’re true aficionados of the ritual. Oprah gets it; her sheets are changed every second day, which is particularly gratifying when you have staff to do the work. The only downside I’m finding is that as I get older and my back gets weaker, it’s becoming harder to pull and lift the heavy corners of the mattress to tuck in those fitted sheets. I need Oprah’s staff to give me a hand, or better still, do it for me.

The reward will come tonight around 10:30 when I slide into bed, propped up with a good book in my hands (it’s currently by Zadie Smith, but more on that another time), snuggled up with my honey and my little Yorkie and a smile of satisfaction on my face. It’s a well-earned and delicious pleasure. Sweet dreams mes chères.

Click here to read There’s work and then there’s ironing


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Warlight was worth the wait


It’s an enigma wrapped in a mystery—or is it the other way around? However you look at Michael Ondaatje’s latest book Warlight it’s a compelling story about a puzzling set of relationships. The story is set in London right after the Second World War. When 14-year-old Nathaniel and his 16-year-old sister Rachel are informed by their parents that work will be taking them far away to Singapore, they are stunned to learn they will be left behind in the care of a vague family friend they call “The Mole”. Feeling abandoned, the young people become increasingly confused when they find their mother’s fully packed trunk still in the basement after she leaves. Where is she? Why did she not take them?

Life for Nate and Rachael soon becomes filled with a strange and nefarious assortment of characters. The Mole, who supposedly worked as an air-raid warden on the roof of the Grosvenor Hotel resumes his pre-war duties as catering manager and is often absent, leaving the siblings to fend for themselves. An odd assortment of people begin frequenting their home and before long, Nate and Rachel become involved in strange adventures. Piecing together fragments of information they pick up along the way, Nate realizes his mother is involved in what appears to be covert intelligence work for the government, a continuation of her war work.

Thanks to The Mole, Nate gets part-time work after school and on weekends in the hotel kitchen and has a romantic affair with another teenaged hotel employee known as Agnes. A shady character called “The Darter” who was once a prize-winning boxer and possible criminal becomes a regular in their lives. He takes Nate along on his mysterious nightly runs smuggling illegal greyhounds and other secret cargo on a barge up the Thames River during dark London nights.

Ondaatje has a keen knowledge of London and its wartime buildings. It’s a treat to follow the observations of Nathaniel as he accompanies The Darter around the city. His sister becomes increasingly less visible until a dramatic event changes the course of their lives. The author is a skilled wordsmith and I was totally engaged in the writing, the psychology of the characters and the progression of their lives. I was a teensy bit disappointed in how it wrapped up but that’s just me. I’d rate it 8 out of 10.

Click here to order Warlight by Michael Ondaatje from Amazon.