Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Birthday Lessons

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I sat down next to a man in transit a couple of days ago, and we struck up a conversation. He was in his mid-50’s. His eyes were a shade of dark green and suggested seriousness. He spoke with a degree of resignation and, I thought, an edge of anger. His skin looked a bit yellow. Soon enough I learned he’d just completed his second round of radiation treatment for an inoperable brain tumor. This man told me a little about the career from which he’d had to “retire” early, and of his famous brother, and his wife and their travels. He had won a major award in his field last year. He also told me he was dying.

Contrast that conversation with my trip to the hair salon where one of the women was lamenting her 50th birthday. She said she was grouchy/menopausal, and couldn’t get a Botox appointment so wasn’t going out to celebrate. Her face looked like shit, she thought. She felt old. Granted, 50 is a big milestone, or so I’m told, but this woman’s approach to ageing is terribly sad and profoundly wasteful. “Live while you can!” I wanted to shout. “Don’t waste precious time!”

I’m guessing that the dying man I met in transit doesn’t care whether his face is wrinkled. In fact, I’d wager that he cares about important things because he knows he’s soon going to loose them: meaningful relationships and meaningful experiences. Meeting him made me reflect on my own relationship to ageing.

I was fortunate enough to know both my great grandmothers. Great Grandma A lived to be in her mid-late 70’s (no one was certain of her actual birth date.) I was 11 when she died. Great Grandma P lived to be 100. I was 19 when she died. An ardent believer in taking daily vitamins, we had previously celebrated Great Grandma P’s 90th birthday in the Otterville Ontario octagonal house. I hope to live as long as she did, and as fully. And what of the wrinkles or other signs of ageing that will mark me for old? Well, I plan to wear those badges of honour proudly, like the rings inside an old growth tree marking the passage of time. I should be so lucky!

Today is International Women’s Day and it’s also my birthday. A few close friends are coming over to celebrate. We’re having a Pie Potluck. I don’t like cake so I suggested pie instead. Cream pies specifically. My daughter is excited. She’s made me a gift. I’m not supposed to know what it is but she can’t stop herself from talking about it. When she finally gives it to me I’ll pretend to be surprised.

I’ve always liked sharing my birthday with IWD, so I will also be thinking about the millions of women around the world still fighting for basic human rights, those living under totalitarian regimes, living without enough food, clean drinking water or adequate shelter, and those who live every day in the throes of violence and violation. I will know how lucky I am to be me. Alive. Free.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Elizabeth Ruth

Elizabeth Ruth’s first novel, Ten Good Seconds of Silence, was a finalist for the Writers Trust of Canada Fiction Prize, the Best First Novel Award and the City of Toronto Book Award and was named a top 10 book of the year by NOW Magazine, the Vancouver Sun and the London Free Press. Smoke, her second novel, was chosen for the One Book, One Community program and also named a top 10 book of the year by NOW Magazine. Her most recent novel, Matadora, will be published in April, 2013 by Cormorant Books.

Go to Elizabeth Ruth’s Author Page