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Mythogyny: What authors say about it September 9, 2009

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“Powerful stories, often quite artlessly unaware of their own power and emotional weight”  is how Alice Munro, Short Story writer,  winner of the third Man Booker International Prize, describes Mythogyny, the lives and times of women elders in BC.

The anthology of personal stories gathered from interviews and collected as true voices by Women Elders in Action (WE*ACT) along with volunteers will be launched on Sept. 24, at SFU Harbour Centre’s Teck Gallery at 6:30 p.m.

Expected to attend are some of the seventy-seven storytellers and story-catchers among them Shiela Baxter, Bev Mill, Millie Canessa, Joan Morelli, Pat Peters, Ruth Shaw, Colleen Caroll, Faye Yamsuan, Bernice Gehring, and Jan McRobb whose stories are either taken as a whole or as excerpts.

Special honors will be given to Wilma Hanson and Betty Greenwell who have died in the course of the book’s production.

 “During the training, we carefully formulated questions to guide us. But during most of the interviews, only one of those questions would be used. The magic of telling a personal story face-to-face relived scenes and emotions perhaps long forgotten and long pushed aside that what came out were compelling narratives we did not imagine,” recalls Alegria Imperial, one of the story tellers, story catchers and a member of the editorial collective.

Oonagh Berry, co-author (with Helen Levine) of Between Friends, did get struck by “…the courage, pain and tenacity expressed in these remarkable women’s stories,” which she describes as “breathtakingly moving and inspiring.”  

These dramatic experiences  for Fiona Tinwei Lam, poet and editor, author, Enter the Chrysanthemum, are nothing but “Gritty and authentic accounts … of hardship, poverty and social change… challenges rooted in time and context, yet remain universal.” 

As Joan Barfoot novelist, author of Exit Lines, puts it, “For anyone who supposes the old days were best, or dreams that old women are quiet creatures with nothing to say, or imagines that women’s equal place in the Canadian world is complete and secure–for all those people, these vivid, wrenching and brave vignettes of real lives are both a brisk corrective and a most timely warning.”     

With voices that “…are clear, honest and direct…no pretense. Just the truth of living”, as Cynthia Flood, short story writer, The English Stories, describes it, Ann Giardini, novelist, Advice for Italian Boys, adds that “their recollections are notably free of self-pity or bitterness.”

Margaret Mitchell former MP, author, No Laughing Matter, believes that the stories “open the door to an unwritten chapter of Canadian history.”

“These are moving and important stories told by our mothers and grandmothers,” writes Leona Gom, poet and novelist,  author, The Exclusion Principle.

“What turned out were not only ‘lessons learned’ but ‘real lives far more impressive than myth could ever be’, thus, the title of the book, Mythogyny,” Alice West, WE*ACT chair explains.

A pre-launch presentation of the book will also be held at the 411 Seniors Centre Cafeteria on Sept. 22 at 2 p.m.

For more information, call 604-684-8171 local 228 (please leave  a message) or email weact@411seniors.bc.ca or mythogyny@gmail.com

Women debunk myths in Mythogyny August 11, 2009

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“It was a good life even though we were poor as heck. We didn’t know that we were poor because everyone else was at that time, too,” says Alice West of her childhood in Winnipeg during the Great Depression. What Wilma Hanson recalls of those hard times in Kansas was “the dust that covered the thistles ‘til you couldn’t see the fence.”

Both their stories and seventy-six others from women elders of BC’s lower mainland will be read in Mythogyny, an anthology of unattached, living on low income women elders’ true life stories either as a whole or in excerpts.

Against the backdrop of today’s societal breakdown and financial challenges, their voices ring with relevance as they relive dramatic experiences of the ‘20s, the deprivation of the ‘30s, the chaos of WWII both here and abroad, the rebuilding of the ‘50s and the upheaval of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, right up to the readjustments of today.

Senior women who underwent extensive training in interview techniques, gathered the stories on a tape recorder, then transcribed, read these for themes, pruned some and edited them for cohesion, excerpted others and organized the seventy-eight “voices” for a book with no extraneous writing.

What turned out as a predominant theme are the myths they grew up with, especially in marriage, the realities they faced and how in debunking and surviving the falsity of myths, these women lived lives more impressive in their reality than myth could ever be.

Most of them marrying or having a baby in their teens or early 20’s, fell for the mythical “prince”, who when unmasked turned out unfit for “happily ever after”. A number had to deal with the “other woman”, and poverty in their marriages; “Who can live on $9 per hour?” one of them still asks.

Most of their marriages ended in bitter divorce with one woman losing custody of her kids and everything she worked for, a land mark case in BC court. “But I didn’t have to write him out a cheque at the end of every month,” she said; he had pursued for alimony.

While guide questions were discussed in the training and used in the interviews, the stories yielded individually textured narratives out of the spontaneous telling. Some of the stories personalized history such as that of the woman among the “freedom riders” in the US. A number of them bring fun during the wars like a “party sometimes in the bomb shelters”, while one of them simply recalled a wartime job driving a forklift for a company making elevators but which was as well, manufacturing Lancaster bombs.

A number of the storytellers recall “patches of Eden” in places they grew up as they moved in BC like the Doukhobor communities. Some poignant events have also turned up like a woman finding her biological mother who, it turned out, was the caregiver her adopted parents had hired for her as a baby.

Most of the storytellers are now in their seventies, a few in their sixties and four in their nineties. In the course of the book’s production, two have died.

Most turn out to be immigrants from Europe, and England, a few from the US, four from Asia including three from the Philippines. A lot of them live in Vancouver, a number in Abbotsford, Burnaby, Langley, Maple Ridge, Nelson, and Smithers. One or two come from Delta, Grand Forks, Nanaimo, Port Moody, Sooke, and Telkwa.

Mythogyny concludes a story gathering project entitled, “Lessons Learned: the Lives and Times of Women Elders in BC”, which Women Elders in Action (WE*ACT) undertook with financial assistance from the Women’s Program, Status of Women Canada and 411 Senior Centre Society in Vancouver.  The book will be available in late September.

For more information, call Weact at 604-684-8171 local 228 (please leave a message, it will be picked up soon) or email weact@411seniors.bc.ca.  or mythogyny@gmail.com