Tuesday, November 23, 2010

book tour - strip searched in Oakland airport

I am in a rush. I have just given a talk in Oakland, California and I have to dash to the airport to fly all night so that I can arrive and give a talk in Niagara Falls, New York. I only have 38 minutes to get from venue to the plane. I am in a panic because I am sure there will be hundreds at my talk in Niagara Falls since my first book Too Close To the Falls takes place there. It is my home town. That always draws a crowd.What if I don't make the plane and the audience are all left looking at a blank podium. It will give new meaning to Thomas Wolfe's line You can't go home again. (Little did I know at the time,I actually had nothing to worry about. I had fewer people in Niagara Falls than I had in Oakland where I didn't know anyone.)

Breathless I arrived at the gate and threw my bag on the security belt. There were two pretty young girls in their early twenties in front of me and the security guard said, "have a nice trip girls" and smiled. I am next and the smile faded from his face and now he has gone from looking jovial, if a bit lecherous, to looking like he is doing a Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry imitation and he says, "Do you have any metal parts?" I say, as a joke, "Like that metal plate in your head?" as I walk into the frame where they check you over with the magic wand. Suddenly all of the machinery stops whirring. The conveyor belt is no longer running. The guard, a white haired male in his 60's like I am a white haired female in my 60's, glare at one another. He says "Come with me." I realize I have been, as my mother used to say to me, 'digging my own grave' I decide it is best to explain my 'humor'. I ask how come he didn't ask the girls in front of me if they had metal parts? If you can't do racial profiling how come you can do ageist profiling?"

He no longer looks at me or listens to me. I am now only a talking metal part to him. He motions to two very large black women and says only two words, Strip search. I am taken into a small room and as the woman pulls on her robin's egg blue gloves, she shakes her head and says "Who did you piss off?"

I emerge from the room assured that I will never feel the same way about robin's egg blue rubber gloves, and there is the bad Dirty Harry imitator. Now he calls me to the side of the conveyor belt and he has decided to go through my suitcase. He finds a number of copies of my book in the suitcase and asks in an accusatory tone "So you like to read I see? This was said as though we were in Turkey and he'd just found a kilo of hash. I nod in the affirmative. (Once you've had the blue glove treatment you learn humility.) He has a trainee with him and I can see he is showing off for him. He says, "How come you keep reading the same book?" ( further evidence he has a medal plate in his head) I explain that I wrote it and when he looks dubious, I show him my picture in the back of the book. He takes about five minutes to check out each detail.( There are so many Catherine Gildiner impersonators out there you can't be too careful.) Then he asks what the book is about and I say it is a memoir. Then he says "Who's it about?" When I say 'me' he laughs as though the idea of anyone reading about me is unfathomable. He shakes his head and says to the trainee, "It takes all kinds."

After all of this I have of course missed my plane. I run to the gate anyhow and lo and behold they are late loading so I get on. I am so late that everyone is all belted in. They think the plane waited for me. I say to the woman next to me "I was strip searched at security.". She just looks at me and says "TMI" and does not utter another word for the flight and the other people give me a stare that said 'what is wrong with you? You are not even a Muslim and you held up the plane.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Great Good Place to Buy Books-- book tour

On my book tour for my memoir that just came out in the States called AFTER THE FALLS I went to Oakland, California. The day I got there everyone in Oakland was told to stay home and the police closed the Bart subway system. I was bewildered since I had flown thousands of miles from Toronto to give to talk to people who were not allowed out. Bad Karma.

When I asked the doorman of my hotel why there were police on every corner and the streets were empty, I was told that Oakland expected a race riot. A Black Man had been shot and killed by a white officer. A trial ensued and the judgment, which was a light sentence for the white cop was handed down on this day of November 5, 2010-- the same day as my talk. The doorman said "Everybody knows that policeman deserved more time than he got and the community is going to rise up and tell the world about it." I said "I came out here to give a talk and now no one will come since they have been told to stay home." The doorman yelled, "Sorry honey. I guess it is not all about you today!" He had a point.

So as the evening approached, I packed my speech to give to an empty room in my bag and headed on the vacated police lined streets to my venue. As I drove down the huge forlorn highway a policeman pulled me over and asked where I was going. When I told him, he suggested I turn around and go back to my hotel and stay in until morning. I told him in no uncertain terms that I had flown thousands of miles to give this talk and I planned to make it to the book store no matter what and if no one was there, I would talk to myself. He nodded and said to another approaching policeman, 'No point talking to her. She thinks she some bell of the ball at some book store."

It was probably the only night in years that there was no traffic. I pulled onto a narrow side street and saw the small independent bookstore in the Montclair district of Oakland. It was bigger than a shoe box and smaller than a real room. I'd say it approached the size of a box car. When I walked in people screamed and shouted my name. There before me were a gaggle of girls that I'd gone to high school with at good ol' Amherst high over 40 years ago. They had 'gone out west in the 60's. There were also many others who came from hours away and all congregated at the small store. They had braved the ominous atmosphere and made it to the store.

Then the owner introduced me and told the following story. The previous owner of the store had loved my first book called TOO Close to the Falls and had actually managed to hand sell 500 copies. For those of you not familiar with book sales that is an amazing amount. She kept asking an employee to read the book. However the employee, who was also a stubborn Irish Catholic, refused to read it saying things like "just because you liked a book doesn't mean I will." Then the owner got cancer and the employee read the book as a tribute to her and loved it. When the owner died, the employee bought the store and continued to push the book, just as the previous owner had. They are now up to 700 copies sold.

I just loved this store and the people who ran it. I don't think there is any store in the nation who has sold 700 copies of my book and that includes my home town. It was such a joy to walk into a shop off a desolate street and see such warm hearts. Thank God for the independent book store and this one in particular. At first I though the title of the store called A GREAT GOOD PLACE TO BUY BOOKS was hokey but by the time I left I thought the name was inspired.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

book tour first stop Seattle

Ok so my first stop on my hard cover AFTER THE FALLS book tour was Seattle. Naturally it was a gorgeous city-- everyone knows that from Sleepless in Seattle. If you didn't see that movie then you are from another planet. Speaking of another planet, it is the home of Microsoft and Starbucks. Everyone's clothes smell like a bitter roast venti.

What I noticed about the city was how natural women looked. I had just left New York and Toronto where almost everyone my age ( I am almost a national institution) dyes their hair. No one my age has gray hair in Toronto except for me. People often comment on it--saying how nice it is, etc. Really they are thinking --why oh why does this woman not dye her hair!

Once when I was a psychologist I had a patient from Iran. On the last day of her therapy she wanted to thank me so she gave me a package of hair dye from L'oreal. She was completely sincere when she said that she figured I had no idea that I could dye my hair at home and she assumed I had no idea about the hair dye products available in the drug store. As she said, 'otherwise why would you have white hair?" She just had the nerve to say what most people thinking.

It was great to be in Seattle. Even at smart restaurants women had natural gray hair and very little makeup. They were not burned-out-hippies in tie-dye shirts and stone washed jeans, but really stylish women who decided to look their age and not pile carcinogens on their head every six weeks. They also wore comfortable loose clothing and flat shoes. Many of the shoe stores didn't even have high heels. (not kidding)

All of this time I thought that I was odd in Toronto marching around with my white hair looking like Mrs. Claus. Once in Toronto I lost my cell phone and someone got on a loud speaker in a large theater and said "Will the woman with white hair come to the counter. We have your cell phone." If I lived in Seattle they would never have gotten away with that message.

It was also strange to see no one with a face lift. Everyone over 50 looked just like they were over 50 and not like tired stretched 35 year olds. It was great to be with others who were not trying to look younger. Shockingly they only wanted to look good, comfortable, relaxed and their real age.

Monday, September 27, 2010


My husband is a radiologist. He goes to work every day and wears a lead apron and tells me how hard his job is. When I ask him what happens at work ( just to make dinner conversation) he says in a certain taciturn tone "Nothing happened-- I took exrays and blew up some occluded arteries--then I got in a traffic jam and came home."

However I beg to differ. My son went with him to take you kid to work day and he took the following video. Never believe that your husband has a boring day at work. He just wants you to think that so you will make him supper.

Anormal from Jarbas Agnelli on Vimeo.

fish need a bicycle.

Wodek Szemberg,a director of ideas segments on TVO television, has suggested a topic for me to discuss on the program. He asks "Is the bumper sticker slogan A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle more then just snarky expression of feminist hostility towards but an early apprehension of the diminishing importance of men to women." Wodek then suggested I read an article in Newsweek called 'Why we need to re-imagine masculinity' (http://www.newsweek.com/2010/09/20/why-we-need-to-reimagine-masculinity.html)

First of all just a point of clarification. Many people think that Gloria Steinem originated that phrase but Steinem says she got it from an anonymous author who painted the slogan on a wall at University of Wisconsin in 1969. The slogan was a twist on the philosophical text 'A man needs God like a fish needs a bicycle'.

It is interesting how it has caught on from graffiti and the phrase is used today as though it is new. However, it was coined over forty years ago. If you haven't heard it you are probably from another planet.

Why does the phrase say so much to so many women? It is having a renaissance in the last year or two since the topic of males falling behind in education and in so many other categories has been discussed in the press.

You can talk about the 'feminization' of the school system' and the other injustices to males all you want, but the fact remains that females have made major changes since the sixties and males have not. If men don't want to make changes then of course, they are going to get left behind in a changing world.

I don't blame men for not wanting to make changes. After all they held all the power since the beginning of civilization and now they are digging in their heels rather than give it up. It may take a century or more for the change to happen. ( It may take even longer given the fact that so little change has happened in the last half century.)

When you look at the rise in male alcoholism, depression, and joblessness, in psychological terms, you can see that males are conflicted about making the necessary changes and may in fact be at a loss on how to make those changes. All they conscioulsy feel is that they don't fit in the world as they used to. To be fair we give males a double message and as we all know double messages always make you slightly crazy. First we say we want more nurturing males. Yet when a male says he is a nurse, as in the film Meet the Parents we silently snicker and think to ourselves, 'Hey isn't that a girl's job'.

Women have headed into the workforce. I often give talks on my new memoir After the Falls about what it was like to be a teenager in the 60's. When I talk to girls in high school, they are shocked to find out that it was not politic if you wanted to date in the early 60's to be smart. You were supposed to hide that. They are also shocked to learn that the term assertive was not used in connection with females until 1966. So what were you called if you were assertive before 1966? How about bitch, mouthy,or bossy. Anyone over 50 knows what I mean. There was no positive word to use. As these high school girls listen to this incredulously they say the opposite is true now.

Gradually over the last forty years the expectations for girls have changed. Law and Medicine now have more females than males in their programs. Women had to make changes. They had to stop being passive and looking at getting their Mrs. as their goal in university. Women actually said that proudly in the 1950's and 60s when I went to university. Women had to learn how to negotiate, head into the boardroom, be assertive and make it stick. Still they had families in the hope that their husbands would make changes as well and do as much work as they did on the home front.

Guess what? They didn't. Most males act like their father's acted. They do less than a third of the child care, less than 20 percent of the housework, and in terms of personality traits they have not changed one iota.( That's why Monday Night Football was invented.) Of course there are exceptions. However,I am talking statistically.

They have actually fallen behind as fathers since there are more single mothers than ever before and more dead beat dads hit the pavement every day and they are not going to the employment centre. How are they getting away with it? Of course they are not. They are lost and often depressed, refuse to communicate, and act out.

As one of my patients said to me-- I can get sperm in a bottle and then I never have to plead with any man to change a diaper.

It is naive to think that when women change as much as they have over the last four decades and men stay the same-- there will not be conflict. I find it interesting that as the decades go by the gender gap in terms of males' behaviour does not narrow.

Girls in high school today say that they don't know what the slogan I went to university to get my Mrs. means? How long will it take before girls and women don't know what is meant by the phrase A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle?

Managing Creative Expectations

I just finished reading Lit, the new memoir by Mary Karr. Her fist memoir The Liar's Club was her breakthrough childhood memoir. It was about a tough hard scrabble childhood in Texas where she lived with an alcoholic, among other things, mother and father. Her second volume Cherry about her wayward teenage years was also compelling. It had the added feature of making my teenage years seem tame by comparison. Although, wait a minute I just remembered she didn't have a murder trial or the FBI to deal with. Lit is about her own adult fight with alcoholism and her desperate attempt not to be the mother to her son that her mother had been to her. I really enjoyed Lit as well and finished it in one all night sitting. All three volumes are packed with Karr's amazing use of language and her ability to be really funny in a tragic situation.

The truth according to me ( that is why this blog is called GILDINER'S GOSPEL) is that the first volume,The Liar's Club, is the best of the three and I believe the sales will substantiate what I am saying. The same was true of Jill Kerr Conway's three volume biography. Her first The Road to Corrain was by far the best.

I am now facing the same issue with my three volume set of memoirs. My first is a childhood memoir called Too Close to the Falls. It was an international success and was on the best seller's list for years. The sequel, After the Falls my life as a teenager in the 60's has just come and the third, The Long Way Home, is close to finished.

I guess what you have to do is manage your expectations. It is hard to top a really successful book. It is also difficult to admit to yourself that your 'best work' may behind you. In the end all you can do is get up every day and write what your life was actually like. If you worry about outcome you are not a creative writer but you become a marketer. You can't pander to the public and that gets harder as you unconsciously want the second book to be as successful as the first.

Elizabeth Gilbert , the author of Eat,Pray,Love is facing the same situation. (Although her book was way more successful than mine. She had a sales phenomenon.) She has given the issue of creative expectations some interesting thought which she has shared in this video. it was serendipitous that I came upon it exactly when I was pondering the issue.

Monday, May 17, 2010

American vesus Canadian

The second volume of my autobiography called AFTER THE FALLS has just rolled off the presses in Canada. It will be out in America in November of 2011. Despite being born in America and spending my first twenty years there, I have lived my last 40 years in Canada. (There are three unaccounted for years-- maybe I was on another planet—oh wait it was weirder, I was in England!) Despite having lived the majority of my life in Canada, the book is about my life in America as a teenager in the happenin’ 1960’s. Therefore, I am glad that Penguin has seen fit to release it with some fanfare in the States in the fall.

I just received the American book cover in the mail and am surprised at how different it is from the Canadian cover. When you compare the two you can really see the difference between Canada and The States.

As you can see the Canadian cover has a small picture of me on the top half of the book and the bottom half is a much larger crowd of peace demonstrators. My image is a minor part of the cover. The majority of the cover is about demonstrating for the social good. In Canada it is considered to be gauche to put yourself forward. It is acceptable to write about yourself as long as it benefits society. I was part of a movement (civil rights and the peace movement) so my exhibitionism is socially sanctioned. It is acceptable to put yourself forward if it is for a worthy cause. The idea is that your ‘fame’ is a mere byproduct of your good works.

While the Canadian cover is white and demure, The American cover is black and edgy. It is covered with pictures of me and more me at various ages. It is supposed to be a page from my photo album. (Whether that works or not is up to you to decide. I'd be interested in your opinion.)The American version has ignored the social context of the memoir and focused on me growing up. Americans really think it is perfectly fine to say ‘It is all about me’.

The two covers are representative of what was stated in the two constitutions. In the American constitution you have the ‘right to happiness’. In Canada you have the right to ‘peace, order and good government’." You can see those two goals reflected in each cover.

In the U.S. It is acceptable to pursue your own happiness. If you want to ‘toot your own horn’ – so be it. In Canada whenever you leave the ‘pack’ you are suspect. In fact the phrases that each country uses to express individualism are the same. The tone however is different. In America you might say ‘She puts herself forward.’ That could be a compliment or a neutral statement. However, in Canada the phrase would have that English cutting edge and would be said as ‘She puts Herself forward’ and would be negative in tone. In America you would say ‘She hides her light under a bushel’ as in – what is that about? Why doesn’t she let people know what she can do? In Canada the same phrase would be a compliment. It could never be neutral or negative. You would be praised for your modesty. In Canada when someone asks 'what is new?'—they don’t mean new with you. It took me a few years to get on to that one. The flip side of that trait is that you will never see personal advertisements such as car stickers letting you know where their child goes to college ( Called University in Canada) or a bumper sticker with their personal slogan. You don’t see ‘support our troops’ since they would not presume to tell you whom to support.

When I first began to write I said to my Canadian friend that I was doing my own publicity. She said, ‘Really. You needn’t toot your own horn.' When I told a friend in the U.S. that I was doing some of my own publicity she said, ‘Oh great. Everyone works hardest for themselves.Go for it’

Of course each of these national traits has their pros and cons. In terms of making things happen and being a mover and shaker, the Stars and stripes has it all over Canada. If you want something done or a new idea put forward ask an American. However, if you want a door held open for you, no one to cut in line, and people who obey traffic laws, welcome immigrants and commit very little crime-- not even road rage—then you want a country who values working together – The mighty maple leaf.

Since I was born an American, all of you Americans will see me next fall blazing my way through the colorful leaves pushing my own book and giving whistle stop tours to whomever will listen. However, I have been in Canada long enough to never cut in line, have no flags on my car. Of course I will always hold the door for the next American behind me.

Monday, February 1, 2010

It takes two to tango

I am now in Buenos Aires--home for 16 million people-- 15 million of them Tango-- the others aren't worth mentioning. Before we came here my husband and I had some tango lessons in our home town of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

When we first got here we immediately read all the dozens of tango magazines. I chose the free lessons as it turned out so did everyone else. When we went to our first lesson there were dozens of people there. The class was going to be divided into beginner, intermediate and advanced. When the instructors asked us what group we would fit into I said 'advanced' just as my husband said 'beginner'. Since I have the bigger mouth we were placed in the advanced class and were immediately demoted to the intermediate and were then unceremoniously kicked out and thrown into the beginners. While my husband shot daggers at me, I said with North American English officiousness, "but we know the steps." The teacher looked at me and said, " A giraffe can learn steps." My six foot six inch husband then said "let me dance with her, I'm tall." Ignoring him, the teacher said, "You cannot even walk across the floor as one. Until you have one heartbeat you cannot proceed."

One heartbeat? Like Siamese twins? Ok now I get it.

We were at square one. We had several problems. One, Tango and everything else starts after midnight and goes until dawn. That is the life in Buenos Aires. I have no idea when people go to work. Our tango brochure said things like Milango ( which means tango dancing halls) starts at midnight and lessons immediately preceding. We are Canadian. We go to bed at 10:00 unless we are having a wild weekend and then, if we can sleep in we stay up until 10:30 watching Silver screen. We couldn't stay up that late no matter how much we tried, We didn't speak the language,and we had no idea how to 'walk as one'. So we hired an English speaking teacher, took private lessons in the early evening, and broke our backs walking with our hearts together ( girl goes backwards in high heels). You have to wear high heels so that you can lean into the man. Clearly I had to jettison my Teva sandals.

I had to go to a special street in Buenos Aires which has only tango shoe stores one after another and tango clothes. After tangoing with the store clerk, I bought stardust sparkle high heeled tango shoes and even my husband bought a pair. I tried to get him to buy the matching glitter shoeslike the local tango stars wear. However, he suggested that I must be on crack. He said he found it disappointing that even after getting kicked out the advance class I still had the chutzpah to even suggest matching his and her shoes. Ok, ok, so I'm a slow learner.

I had no idea that the steps are the least of it. We had to spend hours making a tent with our two bodies. Our chests had to be glued to one another with our feet about one foot apart. Get this-- When a man asks you to tango, you have to lean your entire chest on him and then put up your hands for him to hold. This is not easy for a woman who cringes when people kiss hello--even if I only see it on Jay Leno. Even my unflappable husband was shocked when the male Tango teacher kissed him good bye.

No wonder Buenos Aires is the plastic surgery capital of the world. If you have to bang your chest on strangers you better have some ammunition. You can get full breast implants, no scars all in with aftercare for three grand. I know this because I was in the washroom of a Burger King in Buenos Aires (My husbands Idea of a cafe) when a woman who had just had surgery showed me her implants and told me that when you tango you need something to press against or you can't breathe because your nose it too close to the man's chest. Now there is an anatomical problem I hadn't thought of.

I am quite athletic and have high arches and danced as a kid so I asked one of my teachers in a private lesson why we couldn't move on to intermediate. I know the steps and I think I am following. I said I am paying for a private lesson so I want an honest answer with no saccharine. Picture the following said by a gorgeous south American male who looks deep into your eyes and says with a heavy accent. "Cathy you are like so many women I have met from the northern latitudes." Then he sighs audibly at the tragic mess standing before him teetering in her glitter high heels. ( see picture above) "You are anticipating the movement of our partner. That is your problem. Plus you must learn to trust the man. He is in charge. He is the wall that you lean against. He does what he wants with you. You must learn to surrender."

Oh that is a problem.