The Writing Menopause literary anthology is a diverse and robust collection about menopause: a highly charged and often undervalued transformation. It includes over fifty works of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, interviews and cross-genre pieces from contributors across Canada and the United States that break new ground in portraying menopause in literature. The collection includes literary work from award-winning writers such as Roberta Rees, Margaret Macpherson, Lisa Couturier and Rona Altrows. Emerging voices such as Rea Tarvydas, Leanna McLennan, Steve Passey and Gemma Meharchand, and an original interview with trans educator and pioneering filmmaker Buck Angel, are also featured. This anthology fills a sizable gap, finding the ground between punchline and pathology, between saccharine inspiration and existential gloom. The authors neither celebrate nor demonize menopause. These are diverse depictions, sometimes lighthearted, but just as often dark and scary. Some voices embrace the prospect of change, others dread it.Together, this unique offering reflects the varied experience of menopause and shatters common stereotypes.
“We live it but we don’t often talk about it publicly. Reading this book is like joining a hot conversation of distinct voices, each with a unique approach to storytelling. Their stories are clever, funny, and sometimes, bloody embarrassing. They talk about living with symptoms that keep you awake, melt your skin and your patience, and make you loud, cranky, and tearful. Their stories tell us how menopause shifted their thinking about their bodies, aging, fertility, sexuality and gender identity. When I finished the last page I felt as free as I did getting to the other side of menopause.”
—Diana L. Gustafson, Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University, St. John’s, and co-author of Reproducing Women: Family and Health Work Across Three Generations
“Strong women. Sexy women. Funny, proud, and beautiful women, living life to the full and in charge of their own destiny. Sometimes hot and sweaty, but never afraid. This anthology of poetry and prose provides an inspirational insight into the complexity of women’s experience of menopause. There may be lows, but these are far outweighed by the highs. Reading this book made me both laugh and cry, and feel glad to be a woman at mid-life. I recommend it highly.”
—Jane M. Ussher, author of The Madness of Women: Myth and Experience, and The Psychology of the Female Body
“This volume breaks the silence surrounding menopause through women’s stories of their own experiences of this important life transition. It should be essential reading for health practitioners, women’s health researchers, and women living through, or anticipating, this phase of their lives. As the accounts in this book demonstrate, it can often be the best phase.”
—Janette Perz, Director of the Centre for Health Research, Western Sydney University
“Writing Menopause is the first mixed-genre anthology I know of that explores menopause, a subject that still seems shrouded in codes of silence. This anthology sings its subject loud and proud, and for this reason alone it is worth the price of admission.”
—Mariam Pirbhai, Professor and President, Canadian Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (CACLALS), and author of Outside People and Other Stories
“Remember the not-so-distant past, when women didn’t speak about menopause—except in tones that expressed diminishing dread, as if a women’s worth was connected to fertility and birth. This collection will help to evolve arcane perceptions. As every woman’s experience with menopause is unique, so is every piece in this collection. The more we listen and the more we speak, the more our wisdom surges. The more we learn about our woman-beings, the more we reframe the myths that have isolated us from true nature—from the wild we have in our spirits.”
—Sheri-D Wilson, Poet
Jane Cawthorne‘s work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, literary journals, on CBC and in academic journals. In 2011, she was a finalist for the Alberta Writers Guild, Howard O’Hagan Short Fiction Award for her story “Weight.” Her play, The Abortion Monologues, has been produced many times in the United States and Canada. Jane has an MFA in Creative Writing from the Solstice Program at Pine Manor College in Boston and lives in Toronto.
E. D. Morin’s fiction, poetry, interviews, book reviews and essays have appeared in such publications as Fiction Southeast, The Antigonish Review, Alberta Views, Wascana Review and Alternatives Journal, and her work has been produced for broadcast on CBC Radio. Winner of the 2007 Brenda Strathern Late Bloomers Writing Prize, Elaine co-directs the annual Calgary reading series Writing in the Works.
The Chrissie Hynde Stories by Rea Tarvydas
I sat in a barbershop in Calgary, Alberta. Chrissie Hynde was in the adjacent chair with her feet up on the counter. Her biker boots were scuffed, the soles worn. A minute earlier, the barber had refused to shave my head. I asked him why and waited. He ignored me and repeatedly dipped a comb in blue tonic. “You’re great,” he said in Chrissie Hynde’s direction.
“No, I’m not great. I’m an ordinary person who plays in a band. Why won’t you shave her head?”
“It’s the easiest way to grow out the grey.” I pushed my unruly hair behind my ears. There was an inch of grey at the roots.
The barber narrowed his eyes at me. “It’s too short for a woman. Besides, I don’t want to be responsible for someone who has her head shaved, then jumps off a bridge. No way.” He was a big man with small, close-set eyes, and an oversized head. His hair was dyed black and carefully combed over a bald spot.
I assured him I would not throw myself off any bridge.
“Women your age—” The barber draped a towel across my nape.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
<p“That’s misogynistic bullshit and you know it,” said Chrissie Hynde.
The barber was silent, so she stood, grabbed a pair of scissors and set to trimming her bangs. The cuts were small but rough. Effective. Those bangs framed her kohl-ringed eyes to perfection.
“Looks good,” I said.
“It’s always a mess but I’ve learned how to manage it. I’m pretty comfortable with my look.” She wore a singlet under a blue vest, faded jeans and a black-and-white striped tie.
“You’re not very feminine,” said the barber. He snapped a nylon cape on me. Placed his hands on my shoulders like he wanted to calm himself down.
“Listen, I never wanted to be known as a girl in a band. I wanted to be known as a rock n’ roll musician,” said Chrissie Hynde.
And this got me thinking about how, the last few years, I wanted to be known not as a woman, but as a person. How I’d taken to wearing androgynous clothing and how I felt uniformly free.
“Shave it off,” I told the barber. He complied.
I travelled to The Banff Centre to work on a novel. I woke sick with strep throat. I was delirious by lunchtime. It was February and minus forty degrees Celsius. The windows were frosted over with a half inch of ice that was clawing up the glass like it wanted to escape. The in-house doctor prescribed antibiotics. I was put into quarantine, but twice a day I wandered over to the dining room and choked down a bowl of soup.
At lunchtime, the waitress leaned in and asked, “Have you seen the athletes?”
It hurt to shake my head.
“There are eight hundred athletes here for the Junior Olympics. We’ve got them billeted in the theatres out back. There are so many, we’re feeding them in shifts.”
“Haven’t seen them,” I whispered. My throat was shredded.
Later, in my room, my fever spiked and the walls started leaning in. Trails of colour rose from the tv. And I thought I could hear the athletes below, talking and laughing together on their way to dinner. Delirious, I shoved a chair to the window and climbed onto it. Balancing, with my fingertips on the metal transom, I could just see over the ice. The angle was acute. The walkway was empty. No athletes.
There was a knock at the door. It was Chrissie Hynde.
”Hey, how’s it going?”
I told her about my throat.
“Throats. Listen, I know throats. You got a kettle? I’ll make you a hot toddy.” She held out a bottle of whisky.
I crawled into bed while Chrissie bustled around my room, clearing away my clothes and making space on the desk for a small box she had fished out of her messenger bag.
“What’s in there?”
“Stuff from home. I’ve been on the road a lot. I know to put together a lotta things out of little Ziplocs.”
“Have you seen the athletes?” I inhaled cinnamon bark fumes. They reminded me of my father and I hadn’t thought about him in months. Dad swore by the efficacy of hot toddies. “Cures what ails you,” he would say, and then plunk down a steaming mug of brown liquid.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, sick girl,” said Chrissie Hynde. So I explained.
“No athletes,” she replied and spun in the office chair. Her hair was pulled into a messy ponytail and I could see a bit of grey at her temples.
After a while, she asked, “What are you writing?” And I tried to explain my amorphous novel. I’d grown scared of its size.
“The writing process. Ain’t it grand? You’ll get there.” Chrissie Hynde brewed another hot toddy, took a sip, hesitated, then said, “I have to tell you something. But you have to promise not to say anything to anyone.”
“I’m thinking of going out on my own. I’m writing a buncha new songs. I swore I’d never do it and here I am, going solo.”
I was standing among the avocados and blood oranges. Chrissie Hynde had shared her favourite salad recipe and I wanted to try it for dinner. A woman in her fifties stopped me and said, “You’re too old to be out in public wearing those.” And she pointed at my cargo shorts.
“Fuck off.” It came out of my mouth before I could stop myself.
“That’s not nice.”
“You’re not nice. I’ve never met you and you come up to me and tell me I shouldn’t be seen in public wearing shorts.”
“It’s unseemly,” said the woman. And I knew she was referring to my varicose veins.
“Fuck you,” I said with no hesitation. Later, I e-mailed Chrissie Hynde to tell her about my experience in the produce department at Safeway. I got an automatic response that indicated she was out of the country.
Transporting my completed novel manuscript, I rode an asphalt escalator across Southern Ontario. I came upon Chrissie Hynde. She was playing a solo gig in the middle of a farmer’s field—empty save a small herd of cows grazing on cut hay.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m heading out on the road next month. I’ve gotta practice.” She strapped on her guitar and bent over a piece of equipment.
There was a howl of feedback that she hastily subdued. I stared at the herd, knots of black-and-white cows with broad backs.
She nodded. “Stockholm’s the name of the album.”
“Like Stockholm syndrome?”
“Nah. I went to Stockholm and recorded it there. But I know what the syndrome is. I mean, I read up on it.”
And I remembered a recent trip to Florence. In the Uffizi gallery, immense Renaissance paintings leaned over me like darkness visible. I grew frightened and escaped to a concrete bench in the packed square. Later, at the business hotel, I dreamt I was choking on blood-red oil paint.
“Are you scared?” My lips dried as I recalled the oozing sensation of my dream.
“You better believe it. It’s just me. No one else. I mean, a band has a personality of its own and once you know what it is, it’s pretty comfortable up there on stage. What the hell. It’s only failure.” Chrissie Hynde tuned her guitar, then launched into a jangled riff. When the amp crackled, the cows took off on an awkward run.
I moved house. That is, I lifted up my bungalow and moved it to Saskatchewan. I’d always wanted to live by the Qu’Appelle River and figured my old house would survive the long trip down the TransCanada Highway. An urbanite wanted my narrow city lot, but not my sturdy bungalow.
I drove the pilot pickup truck forty kilometres an hour across the flatlands while Chrissie Hynde rode shotgun. “WideLoad” flashed the pilot pickup as it inched ahead of the flatbed that carried my bungalow, warning drivers all the way to Saskatchewan. “WideLoad, WideLoad, WideLoad.” That would be me. Too wide for places like city lots, office jobs, and marriage. Chrissie Hynde carried a red-and-white megaphone and, every once in a while, would announce a random thought out the open window.
“What happened with your husband?” she asked.
“I just need to be alone for a while.” I needed time to figure myself out.
“Listen, I’ve been on my own for a long while. I didn’t exactly plan on it happening. It just happened. But I believe in love.”
And I told her how I didn’t know what I believed. About a lot of things: writing, love, marriage. How living with a middle-aged man preoccupied with his aging body was hard work. How I couldn’t talk to him. How I couldn’t talk to strangers anymore.
“We’re all strangers, aren’t we?” she blasted through the megaphone.
I winced. “Do you have to use the megaphone?”
“You bet. I’ve got shit to say. Why in the hell are you moving your house, anyhow?”
“Geographical adventure. Dangerous impulses beneath the stucco.”
“The wiring’s hot?”
I nodded and fiddled with the radio knob. Reception was intermittent on that one stretch of road.
“Yeah, that’s menopause for you. Listen, you gotta have fun. I had an affair with a younger man a few years ago,” she blurted out the window through the megaphone. A chain of birds startled off the telephone wires that underlined the prairie sky.
“What was that like?”
“It was a doomed relationship, but the sex was fantastic. You’re on hiatus from your marriage. You should give it a try.”
I considered sex with a younger man. Twenty-five years since I’d disrobed in front of a man other than my husband. I considered the dangers of vigorous sex when lubrication was an issue. Cystitis at a minimum. “I don’t think I’m ready for that.”
“Do it anyway,” said Chrissie Hynde. And she asked me to pull over. The last I saw of her was in the rear view. She was standing in the middle of the road outside of Moose Jaw. The megaphone remained.
Caged by Lori D. Roadhouse
Female gorilla holds aloft the knife
accidentally dropped into her enclosure.
Eyes him warily. She knows what he wants.
“Get the fuck away from me, Silverback!”
“Hey, hey we’re the monkeys, we just monkey around!”
She glares at him, bares her teeth. Hisses, even.
She’s tired of this cage, tired of the judgemental,
gawping gawkers filing by. Wants out.
This was for better or worse, but not for this.
Not for a lifetime of hell-in-a-cage.
She drops the knife with a clatter, panting and
sweating, head down, clings to the bars. She’s rattled,
weary of making waves, weary from making babies.
She knows his shtick. She heard it through the
grapevine he’s been swinging on in his spare time.
He and that new gal from Boston. Yes, she
heard about their funky monkeying around
and no, she’s not going bananas.
She needs out. Out. Damn spot she’s in.
“An increasing number of marital deaths are
a symptom of underlying marital woes.”
She read that in the paper this morning, during
her last hormone-induced personal sauna.
The knife incident wasn’t truly an accident in
this series of unfortunate events. Tell that to
Lemony Snicket. It’d knock his balls out of the wicket.
A ticket wicket. “Buy me a ticket on the last train
anywhere but home tonight.”
She picks up the knife from the kitchen sink,
where it had fallen with a clatter.
Hot flash over, she resumes, resigned,
peeling the potatoes for his dinner.
Fact and Fiction by Heather Dillaway
List One: Things Menopausal Women Would Love to Hear That are True
•It’s okay to be glad to be done with menstruation, the threat of pregnancy, and the burdens of contraception. It’s also okay to use the menopausal transition to question whether you really wanted kids, whether you had the number of kids you wanted, and whether you’ve been satisfied with your reproductive life in general. It’s normal to have all of these thoughts and feelings.
•You’re entering the best, most free part of your life! But, it’s okay if it doesn’t feel like that yet.
•Menopause does not mean you are old. In fact, potentially you are only halfway through your life.
•You are not alone. Lots of people have the experiences you do. You are normal!
•I understand what you’re going through. (Or, alternatively, I don’t completely understand what you’re going through but I’m willing to listen.)
•It’s okay to be confused and frustrated at this time of life, or in any other time of life!
•You’ve had an entire lifetime of reproductive experiences and this is simply one more. How you feel about menopause is probably related to how you’ve felt about other reproductive experiences over time. It might be helpful to reflect back on all of the reproductive experiences you’ve had to sort out how you feel about menopause.
•Talk to other women you know. Talking about menopause helps everybody.
•Menopause and midlife can be as significant or insignificant as you’d like them to be. For some women these transitions mean very important things, but for others they mean little. Whatever it means to you is okay.
•Researchers are working hard to understand this reproductive transition more fully.
These represent the kind of supportive comments women might want to hear while going through menopause and, in particular, perimenopause. Items on this list also help us acknowledge that our bodies and bodily transitions cause us to reflect on our life stages, our identities, and our choices.
List Two: Things Menopausal Women Would Love to Hear But
Might not Be True
•This is guaranteed to be your last menstrual period. You are done! (Or, a related one: You’ve already had the worst. It gets better from here on out!)
•Signs and symptoms of menopause will be predictable and will not interrupt your life.
•No one will think negatively of you or differently about you if you tell them you’re menopausal.
•There are no major side effects to hormone therapies or any other medical treatments you might be considering.
•Doctors will be able to help you and will understand your signs and symptoms, if you need relief.
•Leaky bodies are no problem! No one will care if your body does what it wants, whenever it wants.
•Partners, children, coworkers, and others will completely understand what you’re going through.
•Middle-aged women are respected in this society and it is truly a benefit to be at this life stage.
•There is a clear beginning and a clear end to this transition.
•Clinical researchers are researching the parts of menopause that you care about.
This reflects many of our societal norms and biases about our bodies, aging, gender, fertility, and so on. This list also attests to the difficulties that menopausal women have in accessing quality health care or getting safe relief from symptoms when needed and notes the potential disconnects between research findings and women’s true needs during this transition.
Introduction – Jane Cawthorne and E. D. Morin
The Chrissie Hynde Stories – Rea Tarvydas
Let’s Talk About Sex – Taryn Thomson
Eating Beets During Menopause – Donna Caruso
I Found Her at the Beach – B. A. Markus
In Charge – Glenda Barrett
Caged – Lori D. Roadhouse
Dervish – Sally Ito
Disassembly – Jane Cawthorne
Adjusting the Ashes – Susan Calder
Long ago and far away – Louise Carson
Il y a longtemps – traduction par Lise Tremblay et Louise Carson
woman burning – Lynda Monahan
Unzipped – Maroula Blades
Go. Rock. – Noah Michelson interviews Tori Amos
Man with a Vagina – E. D. Morin interviews Buck Angel
Flash Flood – Colette Maitland
A woman at mid-life – Shirley A. Serviss
The Hot Women – Rhona McAdam
Life after Life – Arlene S. Bice
I Am My Mare – Lisa Couturier
The Things We Carry – Tanya Coovadia
On Women and Forest Fires – C. E. O’Rourke
Up at Two in the Morning – Caroline Bock
The Brothers Germain – E. D. Morin
Unconventional Wisdom – Merle Amodeo
Her Love Life – Gemma Meharchand
Roll Over a Change Is Coming – Maroula Blades
Autumn Fields – Margaret Macpherson
A sprinter with pluck and panache – Rona Altrows
Sixty – Marianne Jones
Perimenopause – Alison Stone
the year it did not flood – Gerry Wolfram
These Things Did Not Happen – Shelley A. Leedahl
October – Steve Passey
On Mountains and Menopause – Jane Cawthorne and E. D. Morin
Evie’s Massage Parlour – Roberta Rees
Hidden Talents – Lou Morin
Drenched – Leanna McLennan
Pressed On – Carol Kavanagh
Midnight Flit – Taryn Thomson
Ugly Duckling Syndrome – Carolyn Gage
Icing on the Cake – Rachel Williams
Eddies – Virginia Boudreau
My Mother’s Skin – Kate Austin
Blue Thread – Rona Altrows
Thaw – Elaine Hayes
Threshold – Jane Silcott
Perimenopausal I Buy a Navy Blue Blazer – Shaun Hunter
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