BY MADONNA HAMEL
I am standing in the Regina airport lounge awaiting my flight to Toronto. I would like something to drink- but one beer costs $10 and a bottle of water is more than a pilsner back in Val Marie. I settle for a long draught at the water fountain. As I stoop to drink from the arc of cold water the Christmas classic “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” comes over the loud speaker. I stand still waiting for the telltale line, the one Judy Garland sings in ‘Meet Me In St. Louis’, the one that sums up life in a nutshell. She begins: “Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow” and then takes us home, if only in our hearts with: “Until then we’ll have to muddle through some how!” At this point the song can take a sentimental detour. Avoiding the fact that life is a messy creature that stumbles and fumbles and falters, the shopping centre version keeps things perky by replacing muddling with decorating: “Hang a shiny star upon the highest bough!”
But the airport version, Judy’s version, stays true, and, I lean against the wall and ball like a baby. It’s not a sad cry; it’s a cry of relief that the version of one of my favourite seasonal songs is drifting through the air in its original form and I am relieved of the necessity to get all upset about the big lie of ‘keep it nice, keep it happy, keep it pretty, keep your eyes on the merchandise’. Judy ends wishing us a merry “little” Christmas, after all. Not block-buster, not blow-out, not sensational!
Don’t get me wrong- I love shiny stars on boughs and angels too. I am grateful that I have a charge card that collects points and allows me to fly to visit friends. (Even if the points system is also a data gathering system, a means of surveying consumers spending habits and targeting them with invasive advertising.) Whenever I fly I am acutely aware of a larger population of the world who cannot afford to pay their luggage’s thirty dollar boarding fee, let alone pay for themselves. I am also aware that many of my fellow passengers ( referred to as ‘customers’ on the overhead system. As in: “All customers should now be on board. When did that change? I wonder) are on a business expense account. I can tell by their conversations on their phones, using words like “deal”, “performance”, “disclosure” and “investments”. And their smart clothes and satchels. They impress me as organized, focused, good at the ‘follow-up’. I re-position my hair clip, pull up my thick grey leg warmers- the ones Ervin says look like I’m about to go out and check my traps.
On board the menu gives me an array of viewing pleasures and distractions. Already I feel like I’m on a holiday. I don’t own a tv and I don’t miss it. But the minute I’m presented with three hours of free HBO, feature length movies and documentaries, I get greedy. In the end I realize I have no headphones and my budget does not allow for a pair so I watch my neighbour’s movie without sound. Turns out I can get the gist of the film just from watching it. Or, at least, the sub-gist, which is: the stories worth telling are the stories of wealthy people although wealth is not the story. People in movies incidentally: drive new cars, live in huge homes, eat out constantly, drink wine whenever they can sit down- which is often. People in movies don’t live in apartments, take the bus, make a roast chicken last a week, go to the library.
And older women are no different. In fact, looking young, fit and sexually active is a sign of aging successfully. Of course, in order to be in the game, these grandmothers require expense cosmetic surgery, hairdos, make-up, clothes,and once again, lots and lots and lots of booze. The older women in this movie are not elders, they are too busy trying to do what they did as young women: be sexy. It still hasn’t occurred to these women that ‘sexy’ is as sexy does. You don’t even need to hear their words to see their actions are orchestrated around looking good, meeting rich men, reviving their libidos.
These past-60 women are a book club. But they in now way resemble the book club I belong to, whose median age is 30 and who take on books like: Darwin’s classic “Origin of the Species” and Sue Monk Kid’s novel about early abolitionists “The Invention of Wings”. The Book Club women were bored with Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and are using “50 Shades of Grey” as a guide for living. Strayed is an actual sized human dealing with grief by hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, reading from Adrienne Rich, William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, burning the pages in campfires as she burns through their poetic wisdom. E L James’ story is what many call “housewife porn”, an assumption that women want to be dominated by violent sexual predators who must be older, so know better than us what we want, and must definitely be billionaires. Poor older sexual predators are creeps and pervs.
I tear myself away from my neighbour’s mini-screen and look out the window, searching for stars. Every culture has its way of interpreting the sky, I write in my journal. I recall last summer’s “Star Party”, a gathering of star-gazers and astronomers and park guides on the top of a butte in the great Dark Sky Preserve of the Grasslands. My friend Amber, with laser pointed to the heavens, gave us the Greek and Roman mythical versions of the constellations. That night I was reminded how much the stars in the sky ( not the stars on the screen) put life into its proper perspective, how the great muddle of my fears and judgments, my struggles and upsets are minuscule, how the best things in life are free.