Archive for October, 2013

If you haven’t yet heard, perhaps because you aren’t literary in your sensibilities, famed Canadian writer Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature last week, sending Canadian media outlets into a tizzy or love fest.  There were lovely, long articles in The Globe and Mail, along with a plethora of new and recycled interviews with Munro on the CBC.  I drank it up like good wine….I don’t mind admitting I love Munro’s work.  I find her fascinating, too, as a person.  She is very private, rarely emerging to speak to media.  She doesn’t ‘work’ the machine that other Can lit greats do and there’s something to be said for that kind of purity.  Her work sells itself, speaks for itself, in its artistry and craft.

Driving home yesterday after work, I listened to a replay of Eleanor Wachtel’s 2004 CBC radio interview with Alice Munro at Bailey’s Restaurant in Goderich, Ontario.  It’s one of the best interviews I’ve ever listened to….and I found myself so wrapped up in what she was saying, and in the sound of her voice, that I sat in my car, in my wonky paved driveway that badly needs mending, listening to her speak.

Focusing on her collection of stories titled Runaway, Munro spoke about how some women run away “from some kind of predictability in their lives….they want more, they demand more of life than is happening at the moment….but it’s always a good deal different than you’d expected.”  She uses the age of 40 as a marker for the women of her generation, and it got me to thinking.  As she says, “maybe enough has happened to them before 40 and they pick a life and go on with it, without these rather girlish hopes of finding love, finding excitement.”  Wachtel asks then, “Why girlish hopes?” to which Munro answers “Well, they seem to be rather youthful ideas….that there is a passion that will last or surpasses everything else in life….”  As she says, women of her generation might have thought “there’s got to be more to my life than that.”  These are some of the themes that Munro deals with in her collection, Runaway…the idea of escape for women of middle aged years.   “That’s maybe the thing you find out about life….that whichever road you take, there are difficulties, there are things you’ll have to give up and things you’ll have to miss.”  That line struck me to the core.

I’ll be 43 at the end of next month and I’ve recently struggled with some health issues that surprised and rattled me.  They arrived without warning, whereas before, in my 20s or 30s, they wouldn’t dare have had reason to visit.  I had surgery on my right elbow (linked to my dominant hand and arm) to remove a lipoma.  Having numbness in your hand for a day or two afterwards will set you into a bit of a worry if you write and teach for a living.  That passed and it’s healing now, but it’s still achy and a reminder that, hey, our bodies as we move into the second half of our lives don’t really behave in the way they have before.   There are other medical conundrums, but there’s no point going into them here….not my intention at all.  Rather, I just note that the 40 mark, in a woman’s life, does seem to have a real hallmark of change woven into it.  (Some women will have married and raised children, or taken care of ill and elderly parents in true ‘sandwich generation’ style, while others may be single….but all will have stories to tell of their evolutionary journeys and some will share commonalities.)

What Munro said in this interview, about women escaping, really spoke to me.  I’ve spent most of my life thus far trying to please others, doing things to help others, including my parents, out of duty and love.  The person who’s been most neglected, I’ve begun to realize, is myself.  That’s quite the realization when you’re not used to taking care of yourself and you suddenly have to learn how to manage that seemingly self-involved task.  They thought of “there’s got to be more to my life than this or that” is one that I grapple with on a daily basis.  There’s something there, at the centre of the idea, that speaks to a person’s purpose on the planet.  Call it a mid-life crisis, or a second life invention, whatever….it’s all semantics in my mind.   You notice that things change, that you age, and that you cannot avoid that press of mortality.  So you also, in turn, ask yourself, “am I happy?”  “am I fulfilled?” “if not, why not?” and “what do I still want to accomplish?” Our time here is so very short….

Munro said, “Maybe the thing we find out about life is that, whichever road you choose, there will be difficulties….”  Yes, there is no perfect ending or well written film scene with sweeping music in crescendo style.  There is a life, with ups and downs, with bland bits and sometimes joyous bits, but it won’t be without difficulty.  The myth Munro challenges is that if a woman ‘escapes’ a situation, there will be greener grass elsewhere.  It reminds me of the idea that you can run and run, but you can’t hide from yourself.  Moving houses, moving countries, leaving lovers, finding new ones, or being solitary, you carry yourself with you.  Perhaps she is saying, in this interview, that we expect too much of life, the myth of attaining perfect fulfilment in all aspects of our lives….something to ponder, for sure.

I’m glad Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year.  It’s largely common knowledge that she is frailer now, in her older years, and perhaps dealing with illness, but she deserves the praise and admiration.  In each story she fashions, in each female life she paints, Munro rings bells of recognition in the lives of women and girls everywhere.  You see aspects of your own life in her work….and can’t help but wonder if she lives across the street and watches your comings and goings.  There is the mark of a good writer….someone who can speak to the universal in the particulars.

Time to recollect yourselves, brothers and sisters, and dip into the oeuvre of a master short story writer….Go buy a book by Alice Munro.



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