Sunday, 3 March 2013

#344: Long Live Calendar Girls

As I looked at the upcoming offerings at our local "alternative" movie theatre, I noted that during March, there are 22 opportunities to see Quartet, that optimistic, feel-good movie about seniors, whereas the Oscar-winning Amour, which depicts the unhappy realities of aging, will be screened just 4 times. 

Reality is clearly a hard sell.

An economic model might explain this discrepancy -- why one film is 5.5 times more popular than the other.   I figure it is all about the laws of supply and demand--what is plentiful and what is scarce.  Take reality.  There is already a whole lot of it out there.  It is impossible to avoid, and it smacks one in the face as one ages.  We don't really need more.  But hope--the only thing that makes grim reality bearable-- is a commodity that is not quite as readily available.   So we grab it when and where we can, and sometimes the best we can do is escape for awhile through movies or books. We fuel hope with imagination. If we can laugh, if we can identify with characters who overcome challenges not unlike our own, we are uplifted and fortified against the daily grind.  (Librarians like to think of life this way.)  

It helps, of course, if the consumer of uplifting books and movies has a predisposition to good humour.

I had reason to contemplate this recently while visiting 83 year old "Hetty", one of my more adventuresome retirement home readers. (She is the only person I know who has read all three of the Fifty Shades' books!)  But when I dropped in for my weekly visit I found her unnaturally subdued and dozing in her chair. She explained that one week before, she had had major surgery, and a much anticipated tropical vacation with her daughter had to be cancelled.  A follow-up medical procedure was also recommended, and she was adamant that it not take place. She had spent the morning in tears.

That's reality for you. It had dealt this woman a major blow, and since I think of Hetty as naturally optimistic,  finding her in a gloomy mood was really distressing. But I also knew that she consciously tries to cultivate a cheerful outlook so I left her with books I thought she would like.  Her preferences?  Absorbing fiction (no mysteries, and no mindless fluff, please) with a good story and a happy, or at least a "good" ending.  (If the Quartet DVD had been available, I would have brought that too!)

The book she enjoyed most that week was Marrying Mom, about an older woman whose children want to marry her off so they can keep her from interfering in their lives. It is clever, funny and uplifting -- a typical offering from Olivia Goldsmith.  But just because you write uplifting stories doesn't mean that you are happy. Hetty was horrified/fascinated, to learn that Goldsmith, depressed and insecure, died at 55 while undergoing a facelift.

Goldsmith's novel may have worked some magic, however.   I could see, without being told, that optimistic Hetty was back when I dropped in to collect the books.  All I had to do was glance down at the coffee table where she had displayed a 2005 calendar featuring barely-clad older ladies in Calendar Girl get-up.  I examined the cover picture and burst out laughing.  "It was my swim team" she explained. "We were raising money for charity."  I flipped through until I found Hetty, Miss May, coyly covered by a large and judiciously placed bouquet, and I laughed some more. "And how are you doing now?" I inquired.  She said she was healing nicely, and because it was important to her kids, she had decided to have the additional procedure.  "And I hope I can go on that holiday next year!"  She grinned, and added,  "I'm going to need another bathing suit!"  

I can't help but think that Hetty could have taught Olivia Goldsmith a thing or two about harnessing imagination in the service of happiness and hope.

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