BOOMERBROADcast

Enjoy, laugh, disagree or simply empathize with those who lived life in THE sixties and are now rockin' life in THEIR sixties, and beyond.


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The voice of Mary Walsh comes through in her writing


Britain may have Dame Judi Dench as their national treasure but we have our own Boomer Broad Mary Walsh as our beacon of everything Canadian. Newfoundland-born Walsh is a writer, comedienne and actor whose decades-long career began in a local maritime comedy troupe and grew to become a regular on national television. Walsh has skewered Prime Ministers and business tycoons as activist Marg, Princess Warrior. She made us laugh as one of the Friday Night Girls on CODCO and later as a regular on CBC’s This Hour Has Twenty-Two Minutes.

Walsh’s new book Crying For The Moon is a good read. It’s the story of Maureen, a young girl growing up in St. John’s, Newfoundland. She fakes her way on to the school choir to score a trip to Expo ’67 in Montreal. That’s the beginning of the unfolding of a different kind of life for Maureen. With a difficult mother she calls ‘the Sarge’ and a distant father who prefers being out on the boats, Maureen experiences all the confusion and angst of growing into a woman without the support and guidance of secure, loving parents. She seeks love in meaningless sex and suffers the consequences of having her illegitimate baby taken from her.

Maureen functions under dark feelings of inadequacy and a lack of self-respect which inevitably lead her into trouble. Like so many teenage girls struggling under similar circumstances, she puts on a tough, defiant face and tries to make the best of her circumstances. Her risky behaviours lead her into an abusive relationship and ultimately she becomes the prime suspect in a murder.

Throughout the book I could hear Mary Walsh’s voice reading to me with her lyrical Newfoundland accent. She paints a vivid picture of Maureen’s environment and she clearly understands the nuances of being an abused woman. It’s a serious problem and for those who have never suffered at the hands of another person, not always understood. “She thought she deserved it. And then, because she was so beaten down, so crumbled into pieces, so beaten into bits that she didn’t know how to gather up all the crumbs of herself to do anything. Plus, she’d been afraid.”. Maureen’s lack of self-esteem and with no support from her family she’s trapped in an untenable domestic situation. Walsh relates Maureen’s dilemma with sensitivity and understanding as we watch her rationalize the horror and then retreat from her circle of friends.  She uses drugs and alcohol to try and cope.

Mary Walsh as Marg, Princess Warrior.

I don’t mean to suggest the book is totally harsh or depressing. Newfoundland humour abounds in the dialogue and in the scenes that play out in the narrative. We’re treated to lovely descriptions of downtown St. John’s in all its colour and idiosyncrasies. Walsh’s depiction of the burden and crush of Catholic dogma enforced on young minds by the teaching nuns is revealing and we sympathize with the feelings of shame and confusion that it generates in Maureen. “She’d stolen so much makeup from Woolworths, she knew that, even if she went to confession, she had no hope of absolution, because the priest would insist that she pay back the store for all the stuff she’d robbed. She would never have that much money, and so she would never get forgiveness.” There are many religious references responsible for Maureen’s feelings of inadequacy and failure.

Eventually Maureen finds a sympathetic friend in a quirky co-worker who helps bring sense to her misguided life. I wasn’t thrilled with the ending but I enjoyed the journey. The story is a snapshot of the life of a misguided young woman trying to make her way in life. It’s packaged in an easy-to-read murder mystery. I’ve always been a huge fan of Mary Walsh so whatever she turns her hand to, I’m there. We have to support other women and Canadian writers—like me, sort of, eh? I give it 7 out of 10.


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Trip into the light fantastic


When I saw that I was number four on the waiting list at the library for Meg Wolitzer’s current best seller The Female Persuasion I decided to try another of her books while I waited for Persuasion to become available. The Uncoupling was written in 2011 and it turned out to be an interesting choice. I had no idea what to expect but it’s sort of a fantasy that wouldn’t normally have been my kind of book, however it turned out to be a really fun read. The plot follows the inhabitants of Stellar Plains, New Jersey as they fall under a spell that is reminiscent of a Greek play being performed by students at the local high school. If someone you know is a teacher, they’ll really enjoy this book.

We are first introduced to Robby and Dory Lang who along with their teenage daughter Willa form a perfect Stepford family. Robby and Dory teach English at Eleanor Roosevelt High School and Wolitzer’s descriptions of the students, teachers and the assorted members of the community is razor sharp. The Spanish teacher is called Señor Mandelbaum; Leanne Bannerjee, the school psychologist is having an affair with Principal McCleary; two of the students wear tee shirts that read SLUT I and SLUT II.

When a new drama teacher, Fran Heller arrives on the scene, the established social order is thrown off balance. As expected of a drama teacher, Heller is unconventional and paints her house in southwestern Arizona colours that are completely incongruent with the northeastern community. Her husband lives far away in Chicago and her precocious son Eli becomes a classmate and BFWB of Willa Lang. The play Fran Heller finally selects for her students to perform in their annual February event is a Greek comedy, Lysistrata, the Aristophanes comedy first performed in 411 B.C. Fed up with their testosterone-loaded men spending all their time killing and fighting in the Peloponnesian War for the past twenty years, the women in the play stage a sex strike to deprive their men of what they want the most in life—SEX—until they stop warring.

Coincidentally, a cold wind blows through various homes in Stellar Plains around the same time and deprives all the local females of their sex drive. They turn away from husbands and lovers creating an atmosphere of confusion, anger and resentment. As you can imagine, this action has grave repercussions. The drama culminates in a keystone cops kind of conclusion during the students’ grand performance of Lysistrata that made me think of a toned-down version of Jack Nicholson’s comeuppance in Witches of Eastwick. Except, there’s a solid moral to this story. Really fun read and I plan to check out more books by Meg Wolitzer.

Thought for the day:

What if American women staged a similar strike until the men got rid of their guns. Imagine . . .

 


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Backroom affairs are old news at The White House


It’s common knowledge that Donald Trump isn’t the first President of the United States who couldn’t keep it zipped. The only difference between then and now is that then it wasn’t talked about in polite company or in the news. JFK was a rogue. Thomas Jefferson* practised equal rights in the bedroom. Franklin D. Roosevelt had a series of mistresses and was forgiven his dalliances. When Eleanor Roosevelt learned of her husband’s love affairs, their marriage became a partnership of shared and mutual responsibility. But until recently little was known about Eleanor Roosevelt’s lusty love life. Propriety in those times and her reputation for good works spared her the criticism and condemnation lobbed at public figures today.

I’ve just finished reading Loving Eleanor by Susan Wittig Albert and I loved it. The book is a fictional memoir about the real-life love affair between Eleanor Roosevelt and senior Associated Press reporter Lorena Hickok. They met in 1928 before FDR was elected President and remained friends until the death of Mrs. Roosevelt in 1962. The author followed the approximate timeline sourced from more than three thousand personal letters written between Mrs. Roosevelt and Ms. Hickok, known then as ‘Hick’. Excerpts from these letters, which were sealed until after the death of both ladies are quoted in the book.

Even though she was in her mid-forties and a grandmother when her affair with Hick began, Mrs. Roosevelt’s bi-sexuality was apparent. She enjoyed both male (usually younger) and female lovers and FDR turned a blind eye, as did she toward his affairs. Hickok was a positive influence in encouraging the “reluctant First Lady” to embrace causes and assume a higher profile in the media with weekly press conferences for women reporters and ultimately a daily newspaper column.

From their first meeting in 1928 until their deaths decades later, Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok remained close.

Like many relationships, the romantic one between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok ran its course. Divergent, busy lifestyles and new partners soon intervened. But their friendship endured. They wrote to each other almost daily and Hick was involved in working with the former first lady up until the time of her death in 1962.

Although Loving Eleanor is a work of fiction, its connection to real life is vividly and sensitively portrayed. The experiences the two women shared, including social events, vacations and election campaigns are easily imagined in the context of what we know from documented history. The book is a delightful read and I highly recommend it.

*Jefferson’s Daughters by Katherine Kerrison is another book on my ‘to read’ list.


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Eleanor Oliphant touched my heart


When I first began reading Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by first-time author Gail Honeyman, it felt like a riff on Bridget Jones. Right from the beginning I had a smile on my face as I read her words. The first-person narrator, Eleanor is a thirty-year-old unmarried woman who works in Accounts Receivable for a graphic design company in Glasgow, Scotland. She appears to function on the low end of the Asperger’s scale as evidenced by her repetitive, boring routines and odd perspective on the rituals of life, while possessing obvious intelligence. Her peculiarities make her the butt of behind-the-scenes jokes by coworkers and she has an endearing appreciation for vodka.

The underlying message, however, is that Eleanor has a past. Her relationship with “Mummy” is complicated and references to a fire while she was a child make the reader want to know more about why she is the way she is. If you’re as old as I am you may remember The Tracey Ullman Show on television in the eighties. (As a side note, that’s where The Simpsons debuted as short segments between Tracey’s brilliant character sketches.) Anyway, Eleanor Oliphant reminds me of Tracey Ullman’s character called Kay, pronounced Kyyyye, a repressed colourless English spinster of indeterminate age who is dedicated to the well-being of ‘Mummy’.

Eleanor’s “before” persona reminded me of Tracey Ullman’s Kay Clark character.

When Eleanor develops an over-the-top crush on a male musician at a charity show, she sets out to remake herself as someone worthy of being his wife. Envisioning a fantasy future with the object of her affections grows in her imagination and she begins a process of rebuilding her persona. At the same time, Eleanor is befriended by Raymond, the similarly socially challenged I.T. technician who works in her office. One day as they’re going to lunch, they witness an elderly man, Sammy pass out on the street and they come to his aid. Raymond accompanies the man to hospital in the ambulance and Eleanor is unwittingly roped into following up on his well-being. They begin a tentative friendship with Sammy and his family with positive results for both Raymond and Eleanor.

The story is charmingly written and at times I burst out laughing as I read Elinor’s descriptions of her life. While she appears a misfit, she’s a sympathetic character and we want her to win whatever battles she’s fighting. Toward the end of the book, the pieces of the puzzle come together and I almost felt guilty about laughing at her earlier experiences. It is in fact dark humour with a happy ending. I loved reading Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. It’s an amazing book and I can’t wait for more by Gail Honeyman.


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Sleeping on Jupiter is a clash of dreams and reality


This book first came to my attention when I heard the author of Sleeping on Jupiter, Anuradha Roy being interviewed on CBC Radio. Listening to the background story of a young girl from India being told in the author’s lyrical accent prompted me to immediately put it on my ‘To Read’ list. The characters’ stories are linked by their common voyage to the seaside temple city of Jarmuli. It’s beautifully written with many sensory touch-points that take the reader deeper into the scents, sounds and texture of India.

Two story lines run parallel. Three grandmothers have decided to make a pilgrimage to Jarmuli for what baby boomers would call a girls’ week. They have never been away from their families and this act of independence allows them to communicate and explore their separate and different personalities. Latika is slender, not religious and the most modern of the three. She dyes her hair deep burgundy and is the most adventurous. Gouri is devout, traditional and the most conservative. She’s also in the early stages of dementia and its ravages are becoming evident to the point her two friends realize they have to keep close tabs on her to prevent her becoming lost or worse. Vidya is the intermediary and the one least inclined to rock the boat. During their travels and excursions their different personalities both irritate and reassure each other, which is common among old friends.

The fourth woman Nomi’s story begins with a guerilla attack on her family in their local village when she was only seven years old. Her father and brother were killed while her mother managed to escape with Nomi on her back. After days on the run, her mother turns Nomi over to an unknown man on the beach who embarks on a journey with a dozen other young girls to a distant ashram where they are left in the care of a famous guru. They are told he is God and they are to be fed, clothed and educated while in his protective care. Nomi meets the three traveling grandmothers as an adult when she shares a cabin on the train at the beginning of their trip to Jarmuli. As their lives intersect we are introduced to secondary characters whose lives are equally complicated and challenging.

Sleeping on Jupiter is beautifully written. The narrative alternates between first person (Nomi) and third person, and times in Nomi’s life as a child and an adult. The characters and their experiences are described in language that is compelling and descriptive. The darker side of life in India such as child sexual abuse and poverty are handled with sensitivity and understanding. My only complaint with the book is that it ended too soon. There were loose ends and unfinished story lines that I would have liked to be wrapped up. But life does not always have happy endings and satisfactory answers; this book is a slice of life.

To order Sleeping on Jupiter from Amazon.com click here.

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Living my dreams through Vanity Fair’s Tina Brown


What could be more enthralling than reading someone’s diary, especially someone who regularly rubs shoulders with the rich and famous? It feels forbidden, furtive, even a bit titillating. We’re discovering that person’s innermost thoughts, opinions and impressions in the context of their daily life. And when that life is one lived in the rarefied circles of Tina Brown, editor of Vanity Fair magazine from 1984 to 1992, it’s delicious beyond words. Which explains why I binge-read her book Vanity Fair Diaries in three or four-hour bursts until my eyes wouldn’t focus any longer. Brown is responsible for those avant-garde covers of a naked, pregnant Demi Moore and a moonwalking Michael Jackson.

Tina Brown is an upper middle-class British-born baby boomer, educated at Oxford University. At the age of twenty-five, she was hired to revitalize that famous British magazine, Tatler, which she did with skill and originality. Five years later she was bored and started looking for new opportunities. Across the Atlantic, Condé Nast in New York City was looking for someone to breathe new life into their ailing Vanity Fair magazine. After a six-month mating dance, Tina Brown was hired. Along with her husband Harry Evans, former editor of The Times of London they moved to New York, found an apartment, bought a weekend retreat on Long Island and began the dizzying life of news makers and reporters. She systematically dismantled the old VF staff and rebuilt on new foundations with creative people she knew could produce and deliver her vision.

Tina Brown’s husband, Harry Evans, a media star in his own right, was a strong supporter of his wife’s ambitions.

Naturally, any shakeup in business involves casualties. The politics and behind-the-scenes psychological games required to get a successful magazine to print involve a mind-boggling complex skill set of business smarts, networking connections, branding, marketing, creativity and ego management. Any senior business manager will confirm that one of the most difficult aspects of the job is handling the personnel issues and this is particularly true when dealing with sensitive creative types. Toss ego, personal wealth and power into the mix and it’s a volatile brew.

The name-dropping in this book is unavoidable and reading her accounts of interactions with famous people over the years is fascinating.  Her descriptions of daily events range from educational and informative to bitchy and salacious with wonderful and rather prophetic observations sprinkled throughout the book:

On observing the working women in the office of her real estate agent: “Looking at all these tense New York women, a little frayed, a little underpaid,  enough to keep them hooked on their career  path but not enough to finance escape. I felt they are the new prisoners of the American dream, always working harder than the guys and dealing and redealing the paperwork.”

On trophy wives: The perennial irony here is that men still have all the cards. “They can be driven bastards for years and ignore their kids. Then when they mellow out they can have a younger wife, a new family, and all the perks of a fresh start.”

On the pursuit of acquisition: “Without any market research he has crystallized the current longing for tradition and what he describes as the ‘lack of loveliness in the rootless, unbeautiful lives of the modern American woman who knows that deep down all the running is leading every day to a lesser life.”

With daring photos by Annie Leibovitz, Vanity Fair covers broke new ground.

On dealing with male entitlement: “On the Washington shuttle on the way to Kay Graham’s seventieth birthday party . . . I am sitting across from the Wall Street investor and CEO of CBS, Larry Tisch. He asked me to reach up to the overhead compartment to get down his jacket and I tipped it upside down so all his money and pens and credit cards rained down on his bald head, and he had to grovel around under the seat and retrieve them.”

On working mothers’ quality time with children: “Quality time is a myth. Babies want slow, wasted time together, not intense nose-to-nose ‘involvement’. There is no comparison.”

On (prophetically) reading Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal in September 1987: “It feels, when you have finished it, as if you’ve been nose to nose for four hours with an entertaining con man and I suspect the American public will like nothing better. . . Marie has been able to establish such a pattern of lying and loudmouthing in Trump that it’s incredible he still prospers and gets banks to loan him money. . . He’s like some monstrous id creation of his father, a cartoon assemblage of all his worst characteristics mixed with the particular excesses of the new media age. The revelation that he has a collection of Hitler’s speeches at the office is going to make a lot of news.”

On technology: January, 1990: “By the mid-nineties computer owners will be able to buy everything from their home offices and retail marketing will become a dinosaur.”

On the importance of political skills in business: “Having political instincts is always underestimated as a requisite for hiring. In fact, calling someone ‘political’ is usually pejorative, implying manipulation and distrust, but many jobs are impossible to succeed at without political skills.”

On being patronized by male superiors for “throwing money around” :” As if I am some ditzy girl run amok with the budget . . . instead of acknowledging our 63 percent rise in circulation and tripling of ad pages from 431 in 1985 to 1,193 today (April 1989). So fuck all the naysayers. I am so over being patronized by know-all guys.”

Brown is candid about money issues. She started working at Vanity Fair for a salary of $130,000.00. She’s forthcoming about her real estate costs, raises and salary negotiations. Like most women, she toiled for years earning less than men in her profession who oversaw magazines with smaller circulation, less ad revenue and generating less profit than VF. We’ve all been there, but Brown eventually made the smart decision to have a professional third-party negotiate her compensation package.

Is my future life destined to be editor of national magazines? Maybe I should stick with my own one-person band, Boomerbroadcast.

I’ve always envisioned being reborn in my next life as editor of national women’s magazine. Not the kind that gives you tips on how to cope with the crush of holiday entertaining or how to ensure your kids get into the best Montessori schools, but the other kind, like VF or MORE magazine, that beacon for ‘women of a certain age’ that was sadly discontinued a couple of years ago, first its Canadian edition and finally by its American publisher. MORE was an intelligent mix of business advice, fashion, current events and general interest pieces for mature women with interests beyond hearth and home—sort of a VF lite.

A few months ago I read The Price of Illusion by Joan Juliet Buck former editor of Paris Vogue and having just finished Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown, I’m reconsidering my career ambitions for my next life. I must say, Vanity Fair Diaries is a guaranteed page-turner. It’s not a memoir reflecting on times past, but an actual diary written in real-time. It reads like a time capsule allowing us to compare how things and people turned out over time. While being editor of such a glamorous and relevant magazine may seem like a dream job, there’s a lot of hard work involved. The constant churn of political manoeuvring, business strategizing and networking is physically, mentally and emotionally stressful and the demands on personal time make home and family life challenging.

Like most women, Brown constantly struggled with the demands of combining motherhood and career.

In the midst of all this, Brown had two babies, one with developmental challenges resulting from premature birth, and she still managed to maintain her love affair with her husband. She constantly struggled with the bilateral demands of trying to be the best mother she could be and the best magazine editor she could be. That’s a tall order for anyone. I must admit I might not be up to the task, much as I think I would like the job. Perhaps I’ll have to settle instead for living the life of editor of a national magazine vicariously through reading books by wonderful, talented women like Tina Brown and Joan Buck. In the meantime, I’ll just stick to blogging with my staff of one (me), my limited and precious readership (you) and no politics, ego or money involved. Well, maybe a bit of ego (mine) but that’s the joy and benefit of being your own boss.

Stay special mes très chères.

Click here to read my earlier review of The Price of Illusion by Joan Buck

To order Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown from Amazon.com, click here.

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The Girl With Seven Names had nine lives


If someone on your Christmas list enjoys books, I have a great recommendation and it’s not too late to have it delivered from Amazon. The Girl With Seven Names is the true story of how a young woman, with no foresight or planning escaped North Korea and became an international advocate for human rights. The book is a beautifully written, first-hand account of life for the average person in North Korea by someone who later came to experience the world beyond the Kim Jong autocracy. During her escape and resettlement, Min-young assumed a series of seven different names as part of the strategy needed to hide her past and create new identities to protect herself and her family still in North Korea. Hyeonseo Lee is the final name she retains.

Min-young was born and grew up in Hyesan, a North Korean town on the northern border with China. Hyesan was separated  from Changbai in China by a narrow river. Locals could wade across the river in waist-deep water or over ice in the winter when border guards on both sides were looking the other way or were sufficiently bribed to look the other way. This arrangement resulted in a brisk black market trade of superior Chinese consumer goods and food items coming across the border that were unavailable to most North Korean citizens. This trade supported Min-young’s family.

As a rebellious teenager of seventeen, Min-young made a decision to cross the river one night to visit the Chinese side, planning to return a few days later. Because of her age and naivety, she gave little thought to the gravity and consequences of her decision. If she had been caught coming or going, she and her entire family would be executed or at the very least deported to a labour camp. A series of decisions resulted in her being unable to return to North Korea. She traveled to visit distant relatives on the Chinese side who provided her with accommodation and help. She was constantly under threat of being exposed as an illegal immigrant which would result in her deportation and execution. An arranged marriage with a Chinese national seemed the only solution but Min-young got cold feet and fled. Over the next few years she assumes various identities and moves across the country trying to stay one step ahead of authorities, criminals and traitors. Through a complicated set of manoeuvres, Min-young eventually manages to escape to South Korea where life is not as she imagined it would be.

Who doesn’t love finding a good book under the tree? For you or a book-lover you know.

Most of us think we live in the best country in the world. Canadians are certainly entitled to feel we won the lottery being born in Canada. Americans have traditionally considered the United States to be the best country in the world, although, in fact, they fall further down the list. Canada consistently ranks as number two and the best is Switzerland, Germany or Denmark, depending on the source of the research. Citizens of North Korea have also been indoctrinated by the Kim-Jong regime to think they’re living in the best country in the world under the benevolent leadership of three generations of the Kim family. Despite famines, starvation and deprivation, North Koreans have no sense of context to compare their lives with the rest of the world. They grow up worshiping their ‘Great Leader’ or ‘Dear Leader’ as a god and their source of life. Those who escape quickly learn that things in the outside world are very different from what they’ve been told.

I absolutely could not put this book down. The author employs a literary J.R. Ewing cliff-hanger at the end of each chapter that further induced me to push on which I often did into the night. Hyeonseo Lee as she is now known has achieved local, national, then international acclaim for her human rights advocacy work, sharing her experiences to help others in similar situations. To be able to view life in North Korea from the perspective of someone who grew up there and compare it with a new life in a once-forbidden world is a rare insight. It’s a harrowing story of injustices suffered by citizens who live in countries without the freedoms we take for granted in Canada—a real eye-opener that will make you further appreciate our Canadian way of life and values. There wasn’t a single page of this book that I didn’t love and in view of the current tensions between the United States and North Korea it’s a timely read.

To order The Girl With Seven Names from Amazon.com click here.