Crones, Hags & Witches

I used to think I was relevant. I had gritty things to say about pertinent current topics. I knew what I knew and I knew it was important, make-the-world-a-better-place kind of stuff. A friend once told me I was an interesting person and I believed her.

In many ways I feel that parts of me are waning. Not entirely. I hope I’m still interesting. But the gritty, pertinent, current part. Don’t take this to mean I’m looking for affirmations. I simply mean that who I am in the world and the role I play has changed. Dramatically.

I retired.

I wasn’t forced to. I choose to.

The reason I choose to retire was exactly what I’m talking about here. I had offered my field everything I could. I had squeezed myself dry. What Sylvia could do for on-reserve housing (my field of work, study, expertise, experience…in general my life’s passion) had been done. There are still side jobs and I’m happy to do them. But my life no longer circles around and around my work. And better still. Other people are doing the job. As well, or better than I did it. Not better because they have more commitment, or smarts, or passion or fire in their bellies but better because they are more current. Better because they can take the thing where it needs to go. We share one foot. The one situated in the present. My other foot is in the past. Their other foot is in the future. And that is how it should be.

I am becoming less interested in the content matter that I have stuffed in my head and more interested in the wisdom I can pull out of my experiences. I know it sounds heavy and more than a little self-congratulatory calling myself wise. It’s a characteristic that should only be ascribed to someone by someone else. But it is only wisdom that interests me these days.

The sum, aggregate, distillation of a life of inspiration and insight—wisdom. The words, touch, music, art and everyday acts of doing—sharing. There is no wisdom without sharing.

Ferron, of course Ferron, brilliantly put how many of us older women feel these days.

“My best guess for me is that I was on the train and then got off…to pee, get an ice cream, buy a book. And the train left. And I can’t catch up.”

We don’t need to run after the train. We can catch the next one. Or we can stroll down the road until our new place in life catches up with us.

All of us crones–the old girls who “have found our voices (or who are looking for our voices) and who know that silence is consent” (from Jean Shinoda Bolen) can do it together at the second, soon to be fantastic, Ferron writing workshop taking place October 26-29 at the Saturna Lodge. Check it out.

Barbie thoughts

I am the first Olsen girl (from my little Olsen family) to get a Barbie. In preparation for going to the Barbie movie, Emily, my daughter-in-law, bought it for me from the Thrift Store. It cost $4.00. The doll’s dirty blond hair is a mess and I don’t know what the designers were thinking when they made her outfit—mud-brown, fake corduroy pants and a dark blue, blousy, superhero top. Not pink. Not glitzy. Not fun. Not attractive. And, they didn’t do a good job of applying her make-up—heavy on the eyes, too blue and smudgy lipstick.  

But it’s her legs. They are about 1-½ times the length of the rest of her body put together, on her tip toes of course. My Barbie, like every Barbie, is in a perpetual stance of trying to look over the fence.  

I didn’t know, until I watched the movie that flat feet or feet in flats or worse, in Birkenstocks, were Barbie defying.  

I don’t know what to do with my Barbie doll. She’s too small to knit her a sweater although she really does need to get out of those clothes.  

My mother never let me own a Barbie. She bought me Barbie’s little sister, Skipper, for my 10th birthday (not blow up boob Skipper–that might have been intriguing). I don’t remember asking for a doll nor do I recall ever playing with it.  

When I sent an email to the females in my family and asked if anyone ever had a Barbie my youngest daughter, Heather, responded, “Mom, in what world are you living? You are my mother. Remember? You never let us have Barbies.”  

In the family spirit, to the third generation, my daughters and daughter-in-law never let their daughters have Barbies either. However, even while missing a relationship with this cultural icon, most of us still have body issues and measure the length of our legs against Barbie’s unachievable benchmark.  

Twelve Olsens and friends attended the Barbie movie the other night…grandsons, granddaughters…I didn’t want them to miss the gender critique, the current cultural analysis of the patriarchy and its outcomes. I want to hear what they have to say.  

I am still mulling it over and as yet am not quite sure what to say for myself about the movie. I’m wondering how, in 2023, the movie got away with the starkly differentiated male/female portrayal of human sexuality/asexuality. I’m wondering why there hasn’t been a Karbie or Ben–at least a mention.

I’m still thinking about the wrap up scene—Barbie visiting a gynaecologist. I can’t find any movie reviewers who mention this part of the film but I think it’s pivotal…when the dolls get real and get genitals Barbie got the vagina. It’s so clear-cut. It’s strangely out of sync with the open-ended gender discussions and struggles my grandchildren are currently experiencing.  

I was struck by how terrifyingly similar the glitzy, pink, plastic, fake Barbie world imitated the concrete, glass, shiny, glitzy real world. I’m thinking about how the line between the fake and the real world is getting blurred and how we are finding it increasingly difficult to know the difference.  

I haven’t heard from my grandsons yet but two of my granddaughters cried.  

Madison, who is 20, said:  

“One part that made me cry was when they talked about body image. I’ve had so many issues with it all my life. Then I cried and cried when the mother was listing off the struggles of being a woman. I’ve never heard that topic being acknowledged like that. It caught me off guard.  

“At the end when they played clips of a girl’s life and the narrator told us to “close your eyes and feel” I could feel my life going by so fast…almost out of control. I want to slow it down and cherish it. I couldn’t stop sobbing.”  

Yetsa, who is 26, put it this way:  

“I cried for a couple of reasons, mostly about being a woman and how hard that can be. But we already knew that. I cried because I’m sensitive and cry at everything. But I think it was really just about being a woman. It is exhausting, especially for young girls.

“Men have it easier. They are stomping around the world, fighting with each other, while women are trying to hold it all together for everyone. I cried because of all these things and the world itself is seriously something that drains me daily.  

“I was crying because little girls since forever and for the foreseeable future are growing up in a world that doesn’t make them feel very good about themselves. That makes me sad.  

“But then it’s not just little girls. The thought of how many people are feeling that way…could be a little girl or a mom…even a 65 year-old man…makes me sad. Everyone is carrying a lot of weight from the world. The movie brought all that out in me.”    

Good work director, Greta Gerwig. Good work Hollywood for giving us something we obviously need think about…deeply.

I love your shoes

I was having a business dinner with a new associate at a popular restaurant in Ottawa. As we got up to leave I excused myself to go to the washroom. When I came out of the cubicle I joined two extremely beautiful young women who were chatting as they washed their hands. One of them said, “I love your shoes.” I told them they were handmade Jesus sandals. That I had gotten them years ago from a shoemaker in Victoria. I said he used to be an old hippy with blond hair down to his waist and that I had bought a leather purse from him when I was a teenager.

The three of us got talking. They said they loved the pendant I was wearing. I said it was made from trade beads a west coast friend had given me. They loved my earrings. I told them about Stevie Kittleson a jewellery artist from Hornby Island. After about 15 minutes of me telling stories about the things I was wearing and a lot more they said they loved my life. They wanted to be like me when they got old; I was much younger than I am now but much older than them.

When we emerged from the washroom one of them asked, “Can I hug you?” This was before COVID so we had a wonderful hug session. My businessman-date watched in awe as I kissed the women goodbye. “What did you three do in there?” he asked. Of course. What was a man to think?

I apologized for keeping him waiting and then told him about our short washroom love fest of appreciation. I explained to him just a little about the richness of being a woman. The connections we make that are often demeaned and belittled. How we can be immediately intimate with each other without the sexual overlay men attach to intimacy. We talked about the richness of getting older and the freedom it brings to women, if only they could embrace it.

He listened but he got stuck on “Wow, if only I could have that effect on women.” I was pretty sure he didn’t understand when he said, “Wow, just 15 minutes in a public bathroom and they were asking for your number.” “Wow, and there were two of them.”

That tiny 15-minute interlude was one of my life’s priceless lessons. Those two giggling, partying young women were my teachers.

I don’t hesitate to tell someone I love their earrings. I don’t feel frivolous when I acknowledge something that catches my eye. I am not embarrassed to share my feelings of enjoyment when I see something that pleases me. Current social etiquette would have it that we need to “be careful” when we talk to people. Society wants us constrained by the significant, god forbid that we should appear trivial.

But we need each other and I’m not going to stop valuing the incidental. I am going to connect with whoever and on whatever level life provides. “I like your shoes,” means I see you. “I like your earrings,” means I have picked you out of my crowded, busy, important day and I acknowledge you and the beauty you bring to my world.

Sure, you might say, that’s all there is on social media. Narcissism gone wild. Everyone loving every insignificant thing about each other from what they ate for breakfast to their glorified face, airbrushed to perfection…their very own personalized Barbie.

But you are talking about a sad and very different thing. The bonus lesson the young women taught is that I am not going to give it all away to social media. We don’t need to diminish the importance of reaching out, in real life, person-to-person because something much less is happening on another level. I would say that the “likes” and “loves” on social media make encounters like the one I had in the Ottawa restaurant bathroom even more important.

Donna Ashworth, in her book of poetry, I wish I knew says it all and says it better.


I said your hair looked amazing but what I really wanted to say was…

“Your energy sparks a little bit of something in mine, your smile warms my heart, and when you laugh, I just have to laugh too, it’s like a bubbling stream of fresh water running through my soul.

I feel like the sun is shining on me when you’re near

and when I leave you, sad as it is, I feel like I’ve been charged, plugged into the mains for an infusion of fizz and life.”

But I said, “I love your shoes”, instead.

I hope you heard, what I really meant.