Hibiscus

Who’s Body Is It?

Flowers

In the May 20th, 2023 edition of the Times Colonist newspaper, there was an article about an African woman, Dr. Edna Adan Ismail, my age, eighty-five, who received the 2023 Templeton Prize for her work in improving women’s health care and combatting female circumcision. Yes, Female circumcision. Female Genital Mutilation. Commonly referred to as FGM. How barbaric we say. In some counties it is illegal but there are doctors who still perform these surgeries, or mutilations for cultural reasons under the guise of medical necessity. And there are always non-medical practitioners of female circumcision available in many cultures around the world ready to do the job. Usually without sterile conditions or pain management. This year’s Templeton Prize recipient Edna Adan Ismail’s own mother circumcised her at age eight. Ismail’s family were well educated, her father was a doctor, yet her mother fell back on traditional practices.

There are three methods of circumcision for a girl. In the least invasive procedure, the hood of the clitoris is removed or the clitoris itself is cut off. Sometimes, the labia are removed as well and in the ultimate obscenity, the vagina is sewn shut. Of course, once the girl marries the vagina is opened again. This circumcision, supposedly done for health reasons, is to keep the girl or woman clean and pure, if she survives the inevitable infection. Nowhere in my research on the World Health Organization site did they openly mention male dominance, or misogyny for the continuance of the practice of Female Genital Mutilation. Instead, they used words like cultural, religious, health, lack of education etc.

Rubbish! FGM is about fear. Fear of women taking control, fear of women enjoying sex and fear of unknown paternity. In short, misogyny. We believe that such rituals would not occur in Canada. There is of course the dubious practice of male circumcision which is done when the baby boy is a few days old, often without pain relief. Apart from an extra level of cleanliness, there is normally no medical reason for it to be done. In fact, it decreases the sexual pleasure for men. But it is a custom in our North American Society.

Female circumcision was not a custom in Canada in the time I grew up in the 1940s and into the 1970s yet I allowed men, in particular male doctors, to have control of my body in ways that are almost as horrifying as Female Genital Mutilation. Horrifying as I, and I expect many other women, accepted male dominance over our bodies, never questioning or speaking up because, it was the way things were done.

Take childbirth, feet strapped to steel stirrups, the scalpel slashed across your perineum that soft spot beside your vagina, the knife wound medically called an episiotomy to prevent you from tearing, the cut that needed sutures and healing and maybe became infected, all standard medical procedure for efficient childbirth. I was an unwed teen when I had my first child. My episiotomy had become infected, the antibiotics weren’t doing their job so my mother took me to her naturopath physician. After a cursory exam he snipped something in the area of my clitoris. A streak of pain.

“That’ll be better” he said in a reassuring voice as he nodded to me.

In what way I thought as I laid mute. Later, I wondered what he had actually snipped, and why. And why I never asked. Was my mother compliant like Edna Adan Ismail’s mother?

When I was a student nurse, I cared for a woman who had her vagina sewn up in one long neat and tidy line, her clitoris removed too. I could imagine the surgeon being proud of his stitches. There was a medical reason and the doctor had done a fine job and probably saved her life. But all the woman was worried about was how upset her husband would be. I wished I had known to tell her that her body belonged to her, not her husband. But I didn’t know that then.

A few years later and three more large-at-birth children I had many gynecological issues. Prolapsed uterus, prolapsed bladder, massive bleeding and over a five-year period I had three major reconstructive surgeries. After one operation the male surgeon cheerfully told me he had done a low incision just above my pubic bone so I would look good in a bikini. That was the last thing on my mind.

Another couple of years on, after another major operation my again male surgeon stood by my bedside accompanied by a couple of interns and proudly announced “The surgery went well. I stitched you up as tight as a virgin again. That’ll make your husband happy.”

Flowers

And then there was the hysterectomy where post surgery, he gayly announced that he’d taken out my appendix while he was in there. How was he allowed to remove a healthy organ without my permission? The scar this time went straight up my stomach, perpendicular to the bikini line scar. They were quick to take out women’s body parts back then. These days they would have found a way to manage my excessive bleeding and shrink my uterus which was permanently enlarged due to taking the early toxic experimental birth control pills.

And did he really need to remove my uterus? I was only thirty-three. My husband and I were breaking up. And now I was barren.

It was no coincidence that during the long process of breaking up with my second partner in the mid 1980s that I had more health issues. Breast lumps a year apart that required lumpectomies. I was prepared to lose a breast, or two. But luckily for me they were both benign. The surgeon (male) said I had nice breasts.

The article on Female Genital Mutilation appeared in the paper on the same day I visited a friend who’d had breast cancer twice over a period of a dozen years and had elected to not have breast reconstruction each time, the most recent surgery being a few months ago. The thing is I never noticed she was now flat chested; she was totally comfortable with her loose shirt and not worried about having to look a certain way for herself or for her husband.

I thought of my late daughter who also had a double mastectomy and how angry she was with her husband who instead of asking her how she felt about losing her breasts, offered to pay for the “best breast reconstruction going so she would still look good”. Their marriage didn’t last.

I hadn’t realized how much rage I had bottled until I read the newspaper article on FGM. It took a few days of packing that anger around while I tried to figure out why, and then it hit. I wasn’t just raging for all the women who had been brutalized, I was raging for myself. The self who hadn’t allowed herself to be angry, hadn’t allowed herself to say no. I was a fifteen-year-old virgin when I was raped and he told me not to tell. I was angry about rape and unwanted pregnancies and how the blame always fell on the woman. I was angry at how I had given up my power and let myself be a victim. I was angry about how many women are killed by the men in their life.

We congratulate ourselves on being informed and light years removed from what we consider to be primitive practices such as female circumcision and yet we allowed men and some male doctors to sexualize our bodies, and in my case perform some type of genital mutilation without my consent.

There is change. There is more equality between men and women in my country but we can do better. The change needs to be world wide. My heart aches for all the women who are affected. And for all the men who struggle to change.

What I do know is: I have found my rage, my power. I am no longer a victim.

This body belongs to me.

If you enjoyed this and are curious about more content from an Island Crone, please subscribe from my blog sidebar. I promise to post at least once a month and sometimes more. But not often enough to bore.

~ Island Crone by Liz Maxwell Forbes

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Part Three: Navigating Aging with Dubious Advice by an Island Crone

Don’t drink scotch when you are depressed! More of my excellent dubious advice in this post!

The following is an excerpt from my journal approximately ten years ago. It was a difficult time. I was feeling very old.

At my desk, writing in my journal

“Standing at the sink listlessly running water over a few dishes.

I am slipping away. I am a grey shadow sliding around corners, almost invisible. I have no energy or desire for making food. It is an effort to wash my hair. I can’t be bothered to have it cut and styled. Who will care?  A wild scraggly mess of wispy grey. I don’t shower unless I am going out, I don’t make an effort to look good, I feel dismal. My office is a mess. I have piles of papers waiting on the floor to be sorted and I can’t get the energy up to even care. I am afraid I will get to a place where I can’t return. I will slide into oblivion.

I have a trio of spirit guides who comfort me. They have been coming nightly in my dreams. My shadow self walks bent over wearing a long grey wool skirt, an old man cardigan clutched to my stomach, my hair drips over my face and my eyes focus on my feet. This is the person inside me that wearily keeps them company.

If I don’t do something I will get smaller and smaller, creeping around softly until I am nothing. I have to do a big something but it takes energy and I don’t have it”.

For now, I cram it back down.

Later I let these images rise into consciousness and I start journal writing.

I am depressed! The realization of depression caught me by surprise. It was not just old age.

That evening I share my feelings with Grant.

“Ah the black dogs” he said.

“Grey,” I replied, “my dogs are grey.”

“What are you going to do about it?  Don’t drink,” he added.

“That was the first thing I thought of,” I said. “Scotch.”

“We don’t have any do we?” he asked.

“No, unfortunately.”

We laughed.

Dubious advice #5: Don’t drink scotch.

Next day-10:30 AM

Still in my pyjamas, I have not brushed my hair nor brushed my teeth. I need a shower. It’s too much bother to get wet and dry and then wipe down the shower stall.

I need to do something. My mind runs through the list of things that comfort in times of despair.

Shoes- I have yellow shoes, red shoes, purple shoes, silver shoes, brown high boots and green boots. I have shoes I buy in times of stress and never wear.

Dubious Advice #6: Buy more red shoes anyway. Life is short!

Hair-always. Get a new hair style; dye it pink, or blue; shave half the head. Even the lure of an outrageous hair style doesn’t spark an interest.

Dubious Advice # 7: Remember there’s a fine line between outrageous and crazy old lady!

Chocolate- the only chocolate we have is Easter egg chocolate and it is the kind that makes my throat close in. Nix that.

Books- yes, there was book review I read yesterday, 150 Spiralizer Recipes. $19.95.   If I buy that and buy a Spiralizer, I will eat healthily and lose weight and my depression will disappear.

I order the book. Now that I have a plan, a renewed goal, I feel marginally better.

Dubious Advice #8: Hatch a plan.

 I take St. John’s Wort, get dressed and scrunch product into my hair. I put the black top I was wearing yesterday in the hamper and pick a pretty blue one.

Dubious Advice # 9: Make an effort.

 My mother’s face drifts in view. A memory. She was in my dreams last night, watching me. Her presence was warm and comforting. In my dream we talked of planting flowers outside the window where there were three arbutus trees above a stone wall. Then still in my dream I had a long shower in a big wood-lined shower room. A huddle of three Asian men walked by me in the shower, through the water, smiled and bowed as they said goodbye and left through an outside door.

Long ago Mum told me I had a Japanese spirit guide. Her guide said that he would always look after me. I guess he felt I needed three spirits guiding me this time!

11:30 same day, I put on a jacket and take the dog for a stroll along the Sea Walk. The sun is shining and two young mothers with children are talking and laughing as they pass by. They barely notice me.

I stumble as I walk away and wonder at my surge of jealousy. They have their youth. The young own the world. I will never again own the world.

That is the crux of my grief. So, I write. And I write around it and I write through it and I come out whole.

Dubious advice #10: Write what you feel. Put down words. Get to the crux.

I am still writing and I am still whole.

With love from your Island Crone.

If you enjoyed this advice and are curious about my next book about travelling on the coast with our dog, please subscribe from my news letter/blog sidebar. I promise to post at least once a month and sometimes more. But not often enough to bore.

Island Crone by Liz Maxwell Forbes

author of Growing Up Weird: A memoir of an Oak Bay childhood and River Tales: Stories from My Cowichan Years. Facebooktwittermail

Cookies and Tea

What do Dishpan Cookies, the Coastal Missions, and a local potter have in common? A lot in a serendipitous way. In fact, that trio has given me joy more than once. Take the other day, grey skies, garden calling to be cleaned up, my back telling me to chill, my mood bordering on a major blah when I remembered my list of Dubious Advice (refer to my blog posts on how to navigate aging).

Dishpan cookies and coffee in a Jane Wolters’ mug.

Dubious Advice # 11…Do something productive. Don’t mope around whining and groaning about how tired you are. Do Something!

I made cookies. Dishpan Cookies, big lumpy raisin, nut, oatmeal, chocolate chip cookies and served them with tea.

The first time I sampled Dishpan Cookies was recently at Chemainus potter Jane Wolters’ studio. Years ago, we had visited her studio and Grant spotted a vase on a top shelf that he liked and brought it down.

“Oh” she said, “I had forgotten about that vase.”

We had a feeling she was reluctant to let it go. It’s been his favourite vase and one we use often. So just before this past Christmas, when Grant was getting rid of some of his books, he decided his big hardcover book on the history of ceramics should go to Jane Wolters and we dropped it off at her house. She followed up with an invitation for tea and cookies at her studio a month later.

Oh, her studio. It was a wild and wonderful mish mash of working area with potting wheels plural, kilns and clay, pots in different stages of readiness and shelves of her earthy pottery and more shelves of her newer more metallic finishes. We wandered and touched and stroked. I had done some wheel work years ago and this was one of my dreams. As I was looking at Jane’s work I recognized her style, and realized that some of my pottery that I had bought along the way at art shows or fairs or gift shops was made by her. Jane insisted we both pick a piece of pottery as a gift as a thank you for the ceramic book. Grant chose a mug and I picked a tiny vase for my snowdrops.

Flowers in our vases from Jane Wolters

We sat comfortably in her studio as Jane served tea in her own pottery cups along with a plate of big fat chunky Dishpan Cookies. “These are good,” we raved as we gorged on her cookies and asked about the name.

“The recipe came from the couple who ran Coastal Missions.” she said. “I met them when we used to sell eggs from our hens and we soon became friends. After that every Christmas they would drop by with plates of a variety of home-baked cookies. They said the Dishpan recipe came from someone up the coast who they would visit on their missionary voyages.”

“But the name?” I asked.

“Likely the only bowl big enough to mix a huge batch of cookies in those up-coast logging and fish camps was the tin dishpan. They had to make do.”

I remember the Coastal Mission people who once lived along the water in Saltair and knew about the work they did travelling to the remote coastal villages, bringing more than just religion to the people scattered up and down our waterways. The Columbia Coast Mission boats carried goods, people, medical help and were an essential part of the Vancouver Island coast. (Now www.coastallight.ca)

This Coastal Mission connection was another serendipitous moment for me for it was part of different dream. I once planned to travel on those boats as a nurse going to the remote Indian Villages. And as I have a few ministers and missionaries in my background a bit of churching would have been possible too. One of my favourite books is Totem Poles and Tea by Hughina Harold who travelled by Coastal Mission boats to Village Bay and served as a nurse and school teacher in 1935.

And so, we sat In Jane’s studio soaking up her lovely energy and eating her scrumptious cookies as I basked in the revelation of the culmination of my dreams, even by association. (Jane is also an accomplished artist.)

Grant sat across from us and later remarked that we were a lot alike.

My only regret was that we were so busy talking that I forgot to take pictures of Jane’s studio. I did stop though to capture their whimsical array of garden tools along the fence as we were driving off.

Garden tools along the fence at the potter’s studio

When I got home, I checked the bottom of each piece of pottery that I thought was Jane’s and sure enough they had her signature big W. And the other day when my writers group met at my house, I baked a big batch of Dishpan Cookies and served them on a pottery plate made by Jane. And of course, read them this story.

If you enjoyed this and are curious about more content from an Island Crone, please subscribe from my blog sidebar. I promise to post at least once a month and sometimes more.

More dubious advice on how to navigate aging coming next month.

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Part Two: Navigating Aging with Dubious Advice by an Island Crone

Quite a few years ago, around the time I turned seventy, I began reading articles on getting old and on downsizing. The idea being you should downsize before it was ‘too late’. In other words, while you still had all your marbles.

The un-tended garden

We were already living in a small bungalow, but moving into a smaller home or modular home, with no grass to mow or gardens to tend, suddenly seemed the way to go. At least for me. I did most of the gardening.

It took a bit of convincing to get Grant on board. I quoted stats from Senior magazines and he was willing to at least look.

Dubious advice #2: Take a stand, be proactive.

While driving around a mobile home park up island, looking at the units for sale, we spotted a friendly looking woman walking across the road carrying a half full bottle of red wine. When we asked her about the park, she became animated, telling us how much she liked it and how hard it was initially to get rid of her things in order to downsize. “But it became easy. After all, it is just stuff,” she stated, as she waved the wine bottle in the air. “We got rid of everything when we moved here and never looked back.”

Grant celebrating with wine!
Grant enjoying a glass of white!

A neighbour joined her, clutching her survival pack of Benson and Hedges and a bottle of white. “It’s happy hour” she said, flicking a finger on her wine. “We’re off to visit a friend up the road.”

We asked them about the mobile home for sale further up the hill with the magnificent view of Nanaimo harbour.

“Don’t know anything about that one,” the red wine toting woman answered. “We keep to ourselves down here, have a good little community, summer barbecues in the middle of the street, everyone comes bringing their food and chairs. Never talk to the people up the hill. It’s nice, quiet down here with all the trees. We like it.”

Dubious advice #3: Drink wine- or not- but have fun.

We thanked them both and drove around the mobile home park and up the hill again to look at the unit with the kick-ass view and low price. “If we could bring in a new park model and put it in this site I could live here but that would become awfully expensive and not worth it,” I mused. Grant agreed.

We were still undecided as to what to do and as our needs weren’t pressing and as we hadn’t found anything that really spoke to us, it was easier to do nothing. Doing nothing was a decision but then as we were driving around in our free time looking at real estate, we hadn’t committed to doing nothing either. One thing we did had reinforced in this process is that one has to get rid of ‘stuff’.

My office with ‘stuff’.

Everyone we talked to had a story of getting rid of their possessions.

Another woman in a different mobile home park, told us of living in a four- bedroom house, her husband having a debilitating accident and having to downsize to a one level mobile home. She dumped everything she could on her children and had six garage sales before she was free of years of clutter. Free was the word she used to describe how she and her husband were living now.

“Getting rid of stuff was the best thing we ever did,” she said, “and it took my husband’s accident to motivate us.”

I don’t wish a drastic motivator but I do wish something would help me clarify this urge to move, to feel free. I continue to de-clutter, rid myself of stuff and we continue to pour over real estate. Perhaps when I am free of stuff I will feel free to be living in harmony with my surroundings and my self.

Dubious advice #4: Get rid of stuff.

Still more dubious pieces of advice, part three and final, coming next post.

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Crone: a derogatory term for an old woman, a hag? Or the word for a woman of an older age who is revered for her wisdom, compassion and healing laughter? And a woman who embraces the ancient crone archetype with her age accumulated knowledge, her insights and intuitions, a woman who has found her power. An Island Crone. A sometimes-witchy island crone!

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Part One: Navigating Aging with Dubious Advice by an Island Crone

Normally I don’t give getting old a second thought. Why should I? I am a healthy 85-year-old, active, and still interested in what’s going on in my community.

I feel I can do every thing I once did. Until this happened.

It was a beautiful blue-sky day on January 1, 2024 when I walked down to the ferry dock to watch the annual polar bear swim. I didn’t see anyone I knew. Covid had done that for me. I had stopped going to public events.

But then I recognized a voice in the crowd, a young couple whose daughter was doing the swim.

“Here,” he said, “you can watch with us.”

He held out his hand as I stepped over the foot high divider between the vehicle and the pedestrian path on the ferry dock.

When the swim was over and I turned to leave they were already walking away. I looked at the wooden beam that was the barricade between me and my way home and I knew if I tried to step over it without support, I would fall. The air around me was shimmering, it was either the sunlight dancing on the water or something else that made me feel dizzy, whatever, I knew I needed help.

I hate asking for help.

I called out to the wife who was on her phone walking away. Of course, she rushed back and gave me her arm to grip as I stepped over, teetered a bit, then centered myself. She gave me a hug and was on her way.

Dubious advice #1: Don’t be too proud to ask for help.

It was a long walk home.

“How was the polar bear swim?” Grant asked.

As I told him what happened I started to weep. “I hate feeling old,” I blurted between sobs. “I feel vulnerable and useless and as though I’ve aged a decade.”

Some of my journals

“Well, you are getting old Lizzie,” Grant said gently, “and its just part of letting go.”

“No!” I refused to listen to him. “I know I am old but I can still do something to slow the decrepitude. Walk with my Nordic poles. Do my balance exercises. And write in my journal to ease the angst.”

I have more dubious pieces of advice on how I am navigating aging to share with you. Next blog post, my friends.

If you enjoyed this and are curious about more content from an Island Crone, please subscribe from my blog sidebar. I promise to post at least once a month and sometimes more. But not often enough to bore.

~ Island Crone by Liz Maxwell Forbes

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Crofton Seniors Christmas Dinner

It’s a Christmassy Soup Sort of Town

The first winter after we moved to Crofton B.C., a small pulp mill town on the coast, we were invited to the Seniors’ Christmas Dinner. It was to be held at noon at the local community hall and I was expecting small-town-kind-of-lame, get-in and get-out.

It was the event of the year! White table cloths, sparkling wine goblets, Christmas crackers, fresh roses for the women, Santa Claus, live music and turkey with all the trimmings. Everyone was dressed in their best. There were speeches and dancing, the hall was packed and the wine was flowing. This annual event had gone on for years, honouring the towns’ seniors, many of whom had lived and worked there all their lives. We knew we had chosen the right town for our retirement.

I trust Jean and I looked better in our rose-coloured glasses than this model!!

A couple of years later I met another newcomer, the way you randomly do in a small town. Jean Ballard and I discovered a shared love of writing and a fascination for the deep sense of community in our new home and we launched a monthly newspaper column about Crofton for The Chemainus Courier.

Jean took photos, we shared the writing and soon developed a reputation around town. One irritated reader wrote to the paper saying we must be wearing rose-coloured glasses because we even made the ongoing dog poop problem into a funny story. Jean and I bought dollar store rose-coloured glasses, strolled the Sea Walk flaunting them and posted our picture in the paper. Our readers loved it.

And we loved writing about our adopted home. In fact, Jean wrote a love story to Crofton for Our Canada magazine. In her article she referred to Crofton as a chicken soup sort of town. You can read it here.

A Place to Call Home: Welcome to Crofton, B.C. | Our Canada (on readersdigest.ca)

Jean moved away a few years ago and we dropped our column, but she continued with her own blog of nature photos and country hikes and I continued writing my two memoirs, Growing Up Weird: A memoir of an Oak Bay childhood and River Tales: Stories from My Cowichan Years.

Life in Crofton carried on. New people moved in, houses sprung up on the hillsides, the population grew  and seemingly every one, and their dog, walked on the Sea Walk.

Then Covid struck and there were no more Seniors’ Christmas Dinners.

Of course, we still had the Christmas parade, with the fire trucks and floats and hot chocolate and live music at the Warmland Church, but I missed that turkey dinner and the camaraderie of the old timers  who‘s roots stretched back to the early smelter days.

Then this December the Seniors’ Christmas Dinner was back on and it felt Christmassy again. The Crofton Community Centre, that always hosted the Christmas dinner, no longer had their catering crew and were unable to do the whole turkey extravaganza. However they put on a great feast of sandwiches, home baked goodies, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, tuxedo cake and two kinds of punch.  The lunch was hugely successful and I realized it was more about gathering and celebrating than about the food. It felt like old times.

It really is a Christmassy soup sort of town. And yes, I ‘borrowed’ that title idea from my old writing partner, Jean Ballard. 

If you enjoyed this and are curious about more content from an Island Crone, please subscribe to my blog. I promise to post at least once a month and sometimes more. But not often enough to bore.

Island Crone by Liz Maxwell Forbes

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River Tales library poster

How I Survived my First Solo Book Reading and Discovered the Magic of Why I Write

How I survived my first solo book reading and discovered the magic of why I write.

When the librarian from my local library asked me to do a reading from my memoir, River Tales: Stories from My Cowichan Years for their book club, I imagined a cozy conversation with a small group of eager fans.

It wasn’t until the librarian showed me the poster that she had made for the event, that I realized it was also open to the public!

I panicked.
I wasn’t practiced.
I had a ‘small’ voice.
I asked for advice.

My writers’ group said, “Project your voice, breathe from your diaphragm.
My younger son said, “Read excerpts that follow a theme.”
My daughter said, “Read the story about the raccoon and the chicken.”
My elder son said, “Practice, practice, practice.”

I did it all, and more. Ninety minutes, speaking to twenty-seven people. They listened, they laughed. I told anecdotes, and they asked questions. No one noticed my deep breaths, the moments my mind went blank, the times I fumbled with a memory.

Then a strange thing happened as I was telling my stories. I saw myself in the audience. The young woman in the front row clutching a copy of my book, her shining eyes never leaving my face, absorbing every word with her whole being; that was me years ago.

I remembered how I felt the first time I heard a writer speaking to me, her words moving within me and how I knew then I was going to be a writer. That was Sylvia Fraser reading from her memoir, My Father’s House 1987.
She wrote in my copy of her book: “To Liz, thanks for your glowing face, Sylvia Fraser.”

And another time, listening to the elegant British born Elizabeth Latham, reading from her locally based historical fiction Silences of the Heart 1995 and feeling inspired and at the same time despairing of ever being able to write as well.

Latham inscribed my book: “To Liz Forbes, and thank you for being such a warm and positive person while I read, Elizabeth Latham.”

I also recognized an older version of me in the woman who sat directly in front of the lectern and asked questions with what I knew was a burning desire to know.
This woman asked about writing, about publishing, asked how I organized my stories, and if it was a problem using real names. I wondered if she were also a writer, she evaded my question but I noticed her furiously making notes on scraps of paper jammed into my book. A closet writer. I wished I had asked her name.

Another woman wanted to know if I wrote with pen and paper or directly to the computer. I asked Jane Rule that question years ago; only her options were paper or typewriter. I confess that I don’t recall her answer, only that she said her arthritic hands were so sore she could barely manage to write.

I once thought if I knew an author’s secrets of writing (how often she wrote and where; in her own study or at the kitchen table), that I would know how to become a writer too.

If anyone had asked on this day of the library reading, I would have told them there is no secret; it is about a need to write, a desire to figure out life, to record the world around you. Most of us have messy lives, doubts about our abilities, know we will never be as great as: ‘pop-in-a-name-here’, but we keep on writing because in the end, that is all there is.

And, reading passages from your book and entertaining an appreciative audience and perhaps inspiring someone to write their own story, is where you’ll find the real magic that makes the work of writing all worthwhile.

Musings of an Island Crone

Liz

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Ormsby Review

Great Ormsby Review of River Tales – Networking or Just Good Luck?

Here Forbes provides with a near-diary intimacy (seasoned with good humour and minus the angst present in much of anyone’s personal jottings in the moment) a perceptive and well-paced account of an important two-decade period of her life. A reader needn’t have lived in this region of Vancouver Island, let alone hobby-farmed or even homesteaded, to be able to relate overall to her “Cowichan years.” For most of us, this is what life is: a ride through personal growth, relationships, social change, successes, losses, and joys. And that ride takes us down a common channel, one with a combination of meanders, back eddies, tumultuous runs and, if we’re lucky, many long stretches of sweet calm. ~ Georgina Montgomery, Ormsby Review

River Tales coverI’ve always had a knack for gathering people, instantly looking for that connection, that three degrees of separation that delights us when we find it. Some might call it networking; I call it joy in meeting someone who looks interesting, or a little different—someone who could belong to my tribe.

Years ago, when I worked at the post office in Duncan, I frequently came across people who were new in town and I would often blurt out an invitation to a gathering at the river, such as the annual corn roast or a neighbourhood party.

I well remember one such event. There was a young social worker who had recently moved to Duncan, and I sort of befriended him. One day he mentioned that he and his wife were finding it hard to meet people.

“I’m having a pot luck this Saturday. Bring your swim gear and come on out,” I offered. “You’ll meet some people.”

I was standing near this young man as he was loading up his plate with tabbouleh and other semi-vegetarian options, when he stopped, slowly looked over to his wife and exclaimed, “My God Joan, we’ve found the alternative people.”

My ability to instinctively make instant connections has stood me well. When I wrote my first book, Growing Up Weird, I decided to self publish, and happened to meet Patrick O’Connor of First Choice Books at a workshop. There were other printing and self publishing outfits there, all with good reputations, but I was drawn to First Choice Books. I liked Patrick and his information booklet on self-publishing. At First Choice, I was fortunate to be able to work with Felicity Perryman, who, I found out later, was the person who had designed the booklet that influenced my decision to go with First Choice. Beside producing Growing up Weird, Felicity went on to design and do the layout and formatting of my partner’s book, View from the Tower, as well as my second book, River Tales. She also designed and manages my website Osborne Bay Books.

There was another meaningful connection that came along in this writing adventure. In one of the most serendipitous moments in my life, I gained a new friend and the best editor I could ever hope to find. In 2017, Grant and I were on an up-island book tour for View from the Tower, about his days as an air traffic controller in Port Hardy and beyond. I had an appointment to see the book purchasing person at the museum in Sointula on Malcolm Island, and I met Heather Graham, retired, a volunteer at the museum.

Two hours passed in which Heather and I covered almost every aspect of our lives; we were born the same year, both in Victoria, both at the same hospital; our lives took different paths but we connected with a capital C and promised to stay in touch. She only bought one of Grant’s books for the museum, but I acquired a wonderful friend.

A year later Heather asked to see my River Tales manuscript and offered to edit it at no charge.  I couldn’t have been luckier. She kept me focused. She was exactly the person I needed.

My book would never have been as well designed or as well written as it is without the expertise of these two women, Felicity Perryman and Heather Graham.

It was Heather who suggested that I contact Richard Mackie of the highly respected Ormsby Review and offer River Tales for a review.

And again, that was just another connection but look where it led: this brilliant review of River Tales by Georgina Montgomery, another writer and editor.

You may wish to call it networking, but I prefer to call it serendipity.Facebooktwittermail

Four beautiful crones

Crossing the Threshold into Cronehood

Have you ever been to a Croning?
I have. But not by choice.

A Croning is a ceremony, often wicca like, where women are celebrated for reaching the status of crone, wise woman, or elder.

My younger friend Sharon invited me. It was twenty years ago and I was not ready to be a crone. I was old enough, over fifty (sixty actually), grey hair, gone through menopause and had become a grandmother, but I was not nearly wise enough.

Nor was I ready to embrace old age, I was in a new relationship and the association of crone with the word hag or witch just didn’t fit my self-image. Pictures in my childhood fairy tale books by Grimm and Anderson came to mind, hunched back old crones stalking innocent children in the forest, hags cackling over cauldrons of stewed toads. This was not my reality.
I went, but only because Sharon, who was celebrating her fiftieth birthday, and ready to welcome her cronehood, was treating me to the experience.

You know how it is when you walk into a room and everyone seems to know each other and no one hands you the play list? That was how it was for me on this day. I watched as people embraced each other, I participated in the required circle where we introduce ourselves by our matrilineal line, dutifully naming our mothers, grandmothers as far back as we could go. I had done this many times before, with passion, but I couldn’t dredge up any of it on this day.

Women’s gatherings can be welcoming, warm and infused with joy. Seeing women being free to express themselves and move unconsciously to their own rhythm is delightful. This gathering was like this, and I had a hard time getting in sync.

Most of the women at this workshop were too young to be crones in my opinion. Yes, there were a few elders, lovely white-haired women who dressed in the appropriate flowing organic cotton dresses and long strands of beads. These were women I would love to have known but I couldn’t make myself participate.

It was towards the end of the day that we held our Croning ceremony. I watched as the oldest woman in the room walked up to receive her crown of cedar and her crone blessing. Others followed. I shook my head when someone beckoned me to go up and I held myself apart from them as they chanted and twirled with scarves swirling from their outstretched hands.

There was something not quite right about the day for me, and I have never been comfortable in groups where feelings felt contrived but at the same time there was a part of me that longed to join in and to revel in the freedom they so joyously embraced.

I certainly was not ready to welcome Cronehood.

All this changed last year when I turned eighty. I had arrived at this magical age, still healthy and active with a long list of things I wanted to do. Definitely a milestone to celebrate. I could now properly claim Cronehood status. I did some research. The Unitarians had this to say about Crone ceremonies and the word Crone: link

We could perhaps define the crone as a woman that is gracefully adapting to the process of aging. She inspires others. She is comfortable in her own skin and with her spirituality. Her intuitive and creative powers are pronounced. But what really sets the crone apart is that she embodies a passion to explore meaning in her life; and she exemplifies an unselfish willingness to share her honesty, knowledge, wisdom, love, and compassion.

Honoring our wise women for the contributions of knowledge and wisdom is a tradition that has been lost over time. This ceremony acknowledges that our elders are our wisdom-keepers.

Crossing the threshold into Cronehood can be a major event in a woman’s life. It’s a celebration of all that you’ve learned, and all that you will come to know in the future. For many women, it’s a time to make new commitments and vows. This third cycle of your life is the one in which you become an Elder. The word Crone should now be a word of power for you, so celebrate it. You’ve earned it.

I took this advice to heart and celebrated my eightieth birthday with my family and a few crones. The accompanying photo shows my daughter Maureen, my friend Sharon, me and my sister Kate, all beautiful crones who are aging gracefully.

I have entered what I consider to be the fourth cycle of my life. I embrace my Cronehood as I join the legions of elders who continue writing and publishing well into their nineties.

Stay tuned,
Musings of an Island CroneFacebooktwittermail

The Dutch House

From Peanuts to Ann Patchett and Nashville

Sylvia, from my writers’ group, gave me an autographed copy of Ann Patchett’s latest book, The Dutch House. The cover, a portrait of a young girl wearing a red coat, is stunning but it doesn’t seem to go with the title. It wasn’t until I read the last page and put the book down on my night table and turned off my bedside light, did the significance of the cover hit me. And no, I am not giving it away; that was my ‘aha’ moment; it may not be yours.

I turned the light back on and studied the picture on the cover and I knew I would have to read the book again; something I seldom do. Ann Patchett’s books have that affect on me. The Dutch House, about families and the bond between siblings, is now my favourite Patchett book, knocking an earlier novel State of Wonder, down to second place.

Sylvia bought The Dutch House for me in Ann Patchett’s bookstore, Parnassus, in Nashville, Tennessee. www.parnassusbooks.net

We have to go back a bit so you will know how this came to be. Last month I was reading one of those timely articles in our local paper on books to buy for Christmas. The book that caught my eye was a Peanuts book, and anything Peanuts being the perfect gift for my son, a fan since childhood, I immediately ordered it from my local bookstore, Volume One Books in Duncan BC. www.volumeonebooks.com

The book came with a long title: The Peanuts Papers, Writers and Cartoonists on Charlie Brown, Snoopy & the Gang and the Meaning of Life. It was a collection of essays by well known authors and artists, fan letters if you will, on how the Peanuts cartoons changed their lives.

The Peanuts Papers, Writers and Cartoonists on Charlie Brown, Snoopy & the Gang and the Meaning of Life
The Peanuts Papers, Writers and Cartoonists on Charlie Brown, Snoopy & the Gang and the Meaning of Life

The newspaper article mentioned that the writer Ann Patchett, had an essay titled To the Doghouse in the book, but most importantly it also talked about her bookstore in Nashville that she co owned with her business partner and how her dogs spent their days at the store. I loved the concept of animals in a bookstore and if I were in Nashville, I would definitely go to Parnassus with the hope of meeting her.

In a lovely coincidence, I knew that my friend Sylvia Holt was visiting her musician daughter in Nashville at the time and I emailed her to say, if you have time, drop in to Parnassus and give me a report. Say hello to Ann if she’s there.

Sylvia entering Parnassus bookstore in Nashville
Sylvia entering Parnassus bookstore in Nashville

Sylvia did more than that, she sent me photos of the bookstore, pictures of herself reading on a big comfy couch in the middle of the store and she bought a ton of books, including the signed copy of The Dutch House for me. I think Sylvia petted one of the dogs, but I am not sure, as she isn’t a dog person.

Sylvia relaxing in comfort at Parnassus bookstore.
Sylvia relaxing in comfort at Parnassus bookstore.

Ann wasn’t there that day, she was on a book tour selling copies of The Dutch House, but here’s the thing about liking a person’s writing; you want to know more about them and find ways to build a connection and having my friend visit Ann’s bookstore and bringing back her signed book, in a bag with their imprint, plus a book mark with the Parnassus logo, was nearly as good as being there myself.

Musings of an island crone

Liz

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