Brand building through storytelling

Feisty old dames

Okay, I accept it. I’m going to grow old. Either that or die too soon, a prospect so flat-out unacceptable that I’m practically ready to shout, “Bring on the signs of cronehood! The memory lapses, the wattles, the chin hairs and saggy bits! And while you’re at it, bring me a cane that I can bang with authority and vigour when young pups displease me.”

Once at a fundraiser for literacy, I was one of several hapless bumblers who shared a Scrabble board with the cane-toting, convention-bashing, tirelessly sharp-tongued writer Judith Merril, “the little mother of science fiction,” who must then have been in her 70s. That night she was not in a maternal mood. Merril had a formidable command of arcane words and no patience whatsover with Scrabble neophytes who had come to hobnob with civic-minded celebrities like herself. As we blathered and scratched our heads, she pounded her cane. In mid-game she swept out, leaving me both dumbstruck and envious. I’d always been taught that smiling your way through boredom is a necessary feminine grace. Yet here was Judith Merril, a crone and proud of it, thumbing her nose at all that.

Merril died a few years later. As for me, a 40-something whippersnapper when our paths crossed, I’m now just two years away from my seventh decade (please, no birthday cakes, balloons or joyous shouts of “Surprise!”). Then I won’t be middle-aged anymore. I’ll join the ranks of “the young old.” Which isn’t so bad, if I get to be an old bird with attitude. I’m already casting about for inspiration.

Thank You Mr President PosterThere’s legendary journalist Helen Thomas, still covering the White House (and striking fear into presidential hearts) at age 88. In a speech a few years ago she said, “I censored myself for 50 years when I was a reporter. Now I wake up and ask myself, ‘Who do I hate today?'” Not long afterwards she pronounced George W. Bush “the worst President in all of American history.” For her bluntness she’s been banned from the pressroom. Younger journalists might take that as a warning. Not Helen Thomas: she has nothing to prove anymore. I hate to miss the new documentary on Thomas, Thank You, Mr.President, which airs tonight on HBO. I’ll be at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, wildly applauding Bob Dylan, another charismatic oldster (he’s 67).

I’m taking the bus to Hamilton, which means I get to read along the way. I’ve chosen Wild Mary, Patrick Marnham’s spirited biography of the flamboyant, late-blooming English novelist Mary Wesley, who published her first novel at 70 and went on to write a string of mordantly racy best-sellers. Wesley’s unapologetic zest for sexual adventure makes terrific material for Marnham.

In my favourite ancedote so far, the octogenarian Wesley calls a plumber to unplug her toilet. He discovers it’s been blocked by a knot of used condoms. Overcome with embarrassment, he assures Wesley that of course this has nothing to do with her. After he leaves, she can barely contain her temper: “Fucking cheek! How dare he assume that?”

Delicious, no?


Posted by Rona

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