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Pen Pal Project

Feminist Anger is Back in Fashion

January 18, 2018

Dear Reva,

Well, that was quite a year, wasn’t it?

I kept trying to write you a letter, and then life and the news cycle would overtake it before I could finish it. Eventually, I fell into a kind of paralysis. But it’s a new year, and this is no time for paralysis. We have a lot of work to do.

The last time I was this angry, I was in university, and it was twenty-five years ago, and it was about … well, it was about all of the same things that I’m angry about now. ALL OF THE SAME THINGS. Which makes me even angrier than I was back then. On the upside, I care less about the backlash. I am infinitely less interested in whether or not my anger makes people (men) uncomfortable. I’m middle-aged, and I’ve had my kids, and I work for myself, and I own my own home. And that means that while I desire love and approval, I don’t need them for my survival.

That’s a privilege, a huge one. So I need to stay angry, and keep working.

I met Gloria Steinem this fall. It was a revelation. She is in her eighties, and a glowing, vibrant, magnetic spirit. She laughs a lot – a great booming laugh – and she swears frequently and cheerfully. She talks sense. She appears completely at peace with her life and work.

When she spoke, she reflected on all that women had achieved and all that still remained to be done, and when she was asked what made her angry, she said, laughing: “So many things!” People were puzzled. She was so apparently happy, after a lifetime in the feminist trenches. “How do you keep from being discouraged?” they asked. And she said, “There is always something to do. You just find the next helpful thing to do, and you do that. And then you do the next thing.”

It is a good recipe for activism and for life. And for the Pen Pal Project, really. So I was wondering…what do you think about a podcast?

Lots of love,


You can follow the Pen Pal Project here.

Recent News

Launch Day

June 5, 2017

Dear Reva,

It was so great to see you at my book launch last week, however briefly. Those events are so challenging in a way – the room is full of people you love, and there is barely enough time to say hello to everyone, let alone have a real conversation.

The end of the school year is always distracting, and launching a book at the same time is positively head-spinning. I’m travelling here and there, and doing school events and exams with my kids, and I’m on the brink of a major professional or maternal failure at all times. In July, I’ll disappear up north with my kids and try to get a handle on my next book. But in the meantime, I feel like a madcap rom-com heroine without the love interest. That’s probably even less charming than it sounds.

Book launches have a This Is Your Life quality, too, and (at least for me) they provoke a strong emotional reaction. When I think about the period in which I imagined and wrote Just Like Family, I’m overwhelmed by the tremendous changes in my life in a relatively short time. While writing this novel, I got divorced, moved, quit my job, had a bestseller, sold another two books, started dating again, fell in love, broke up, got interviewed on radio and television, saw a lot of the country I’d never seen before, got really ill and ended up in hospital, got a sports injury that needed months of rehab, lost some good friends, and made spectacular new ones. So I guess that’s why it took me three years to publish it.

You were racing to get to the launch the other night, and I think you missed the speeches. I’m sorry, only because I wanted you to get your shout-out. There was a time when writing was almost impossible because it required a level of concentration that I simply couldn’t muster with everything else going on around me. And during that time, these letters kept steering me back, ever so gently, to my desk and to writing sentences. And after a few months, I found that I was able to write chapters again, and then a book. So I owe you, and the Pen Pal Project, a lot. Which is why, even though they are intermittent, I’d never want to stop writing you letters.

I give a lot of speeches, sometimes in hard situations, and I invariably hold it together. But this time was different. This time, I started crying. I said: “There are many people in this room who walked in when others walked out, and sat patiently beside me while I put the pieces of my life and self back together. If there’s a better definition of friendship, (*weeping begins*) I don’t know what it is. Every one of you is just like family to me, and I thank you for it.” (This last bit may have been drowned out by a sustained period of sobbing. Happy sobbing, but still.)

I was more than a little mortified, but my friends (they are nice friends, as you know first-hand) said it was more than fine. They said it was real. And it was.

With love,


Follow the Pen Pal Project here.

Pen Pal Project, Recent News

What Matters?

March 26, 2017

Dear Reva,

I went to a friend’s funeral today. An older friend, but not much older. Young enough, let’s say, for his death to come as a major shock.

This particular friend lived well, in every sense of the word. He travelled the world, had a huge circle of friends, loved his family, and did incredibly important work that changed lives. He burned brilliantly, if for far too short a time. He left behind him a legacy of activism, fellowship, and love.

The older I get, the more I appreciate how little we control in this life, including when we leave it. That realization has made me more mindful about my priorities. In fact, I’ve begun to think about my life in much the same way that I think about the programs of the various boards I sit on. What’s the overall mission? What are the strategic priorities? And how does any given activity align with them?

If this sounds hilariously corporate, I won’t disagree, even though my professional life has moved into a non-, even anti-corporate, phase. But successful boards, and businesses, are focused on where they want to invest their time, and they reject any project that falls outside their priorities. And I want to do the same, because that’s how you create a meaningful life and, dare I say it, legacy.

A dear friend of mine says that he no longer reads books to the end if he isn’t enjoying them. Why? Because he’s past middle age and he knows that he has a finite number of books left to read. And he won’t waste a minute on one that doesn’t excite him.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that my priorities right now are, broadly speaking, my children, my family (including my beautiful new dog), my friends, my own health and wellness, and my writing. And anything that falls outside of those priorities has to be extremely compelling to get my attention these days.

In that vein, it feels great to say that my novel – the product of two years of work – is coming out on May 30. It wasn’t easy to write, but it was worth the struggle. Writers I respect are saying very generous things about it, my publisher is thrilled, and perhaps most importantly, I’m really, really proud of it.

Lots of love,


Pen Pal Project, Recent News

Next step


January 8, 2017

Dear Reva,

What a year 2016 was. And I don’t mean that in a good way.

I started writing to you several times, most recently the day after the US election. Like so many women I know, I sat glued to the television, elation fading to faint hope fading to despair. Where women are concerned, it turns out, it’s not enough to be smarter, more prepared, more principled, or – let’s just say it – better in every conceivable way. But I guess we knew that already. We were hoping it wasn’t true, but we knew.

And so many people died! So many touchstones of our generation lost. It made me feel old. But then, so did the plantar fasciitis and the adhesive capsulitis, and the other itises that denote a body in middle-aged decline.

I wanted to write about all kinds of things that were happening this year – relationships and divorce and parenting teenagers in particular – but all of the issues I wanted to tell you about were private, not just to me, but to other people, and that’s one of the lines I try not to cross. And so I thought about you, but I didn’t write.

I measure out my life in to-do lists, which I keep. They end up providing an extremely granular picture of my life, from the small (‘pick up prescription’) to the large (‘finish book edits’). I leafed through my 2016 daybook this morning. And I could see that even when I was in survival mode, putting one foot in front of the other day after day after day, I was still making progress. I didn’t finish where I began. I grew.

Someone said to me recently, “You’re lucky to be such a kind person. That’s a nice way to be in the world.” And I said, “I work at it. It’s a choice.”

We don’t get to choose everything. But we choose more than we think. We choose our intentions. We choose our behaviour. We choose our priorities. And with these choices, we guide the direction of our incremental, daily steps, however heavy they may be at any given time. There is freedom in that.

Happy New Year, darling.



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Pen Pal Project

Love, Unexpectedly

August 1, 2016

Dear Reva,

I have so many conversations with you in my head that don’t make it onto paper.

Sometimes it’s because life intervenes, and intervenes again. But recently it’s been for a different reason entirely. I’ve been feeling shy. Our letters are public, and while there are conversations I might have with you privately, I’m not always willing to have them publicly.

Which is why I haven’t told you that I’m in love.


This is wonderful, obviously. It is a sensation I never imagined experiencing again and it is glorious.

It is also terrifying.

For starters, I’m out of practice. The last time I fell in love was close to twenty years ago, and we all know how that worked out. And then there are all the complications. Logistical ones: Dependents, responsibilities, schedules. Emotional ones: My shit. His shit. New shit that we are creating by combining all of our old shit together.

Here are some of the things you don’t do when you fall in love at our stage: stay up all night talking about the relationship (nothing is improved by losing a night of sleep); express every feeling you have every moment that you have it (no one at our age needs this kind of drama); make elaborate plans about the future (because you never know, do you?); overlook the other person’s flaws (they aren’t going anywhere); avoid hard conversations (they aren’t going anywhere); and imagine that you and he are going to change substantially from the people you are today (you made that mistake once, and the results were disappointing).

On the other hand, here are some of the things you do when you fall in love at our stage: have excellent sex as often as possible (because life is short and everything still works); get a nice boost from seeing yourself through the eyes of your new partner (interesting! funny! sexy!); talk about yourself as a person with individual preferences and interests, just like you did when you dated in your twenties (and discover that many of those preferences and interests remain the same, which is oddly comforting); and learn a staggering amount about all of your aforementioned shit.

I know what you’re thinking. That doesn’t sound very romantic, does it?

But strangely, it is. It’s about seeing past the fantasy to what is real. It’s about being equally present in Italian hotel rooms and in hospital rooms. It’s about knowing that there are no guarantees, and this might not work, and you might be humiliated, and still deciding that you’re all in. And it’s about being loved for who you are, with all the cracks and dents and imperfections that you would change if you could, but can’t.

It’s not a Disney romance, for certain. But what is it? I’ll have to keep you posted.

Lots of love,



Pen Pal Project, Recent News

High School, Revisited

May 31, 2016

Dear Reva,

I love, selfishly, that we’ve moved to a more organic structure for our letters in Year 2 (meaning that we write when we feel like it, and not on a weekly schedule), but I am conscious of how much time passes between letters when I’m not working to a deadline.

I’ve been thinking of you often, and am looking forward to seeing you in person next week. But I had to write and tell you about a fascinating milestone: my 25th high school reunion.

To be clear, I hated high school. It was a low point. I moved on. I grew out my perm.  I was glad to do so.

graduation photo copy

When I published my book, though, a couple of things happened. The first was that I ended up, somewhat against my will, on social media, where I reconnected with a network of women from high school. The second was that this network of women went all out to support my new career. They read my book, they recommended it, they invited me to their book clubs, they bought it for friends. It was beyond touching, and so unexpected. And so I agreed to help organize my reunion when the school asked.

In the lead-up to the big day, I began to receive messages from women who were anxious about attending. These messages all had one feature in common: the women felt that some aspect of themselves — their careers, or their life choices, or even their bodies — wouldn’t measure up, and that they would feel ashamed. I encouraged them to come anyway. Some did, and some didn’t.

Being a writer, I’ve realized, is a bit like being a priest, or a psychiatrist. People share things with you. Private things. Painful things. And this is a real gift, actually, because it allows you to understand that everyone is performing to some extent.

At the reunion itself, there were laughs and warm memories and much pleasure in the discovery of each other as adults. There was bracing honesty too. Women talked to me about years lost to health issues or childrearing, about career disappointments, and about marital failures. “I’m so glad that you wrote about your divorce,” said one woman. “I felt so much shame about mine that I barely spoke of it for a year.”

They talked about how challenging their own high school years had been. “I cried every other day for years,” said one woman. “I never I fit in,” said another. “If someone treated my daughter the way I was treated, I don’t know what I’d do,” said a third. And these were people who had appeared, to my teenaged eye, to enjoy high school immensely.

It was, for me, a startling insight into the fun-house mirror of identity that is female adolescence: we are surrounded and trapped by distorted images of ourselves. (This is not a problem that is getting better for girls as the world evolves; there have been a few interesting articles recently about teenaged girls in the digital age, trapped in a constant cycle of judgment that reinforces their desperate insecurities.) And it was an insight, too, into my own distorted self-image.

At one point in the evening, someone put a picture of my high school self in front of me. I recoiled. “God,” I said. “Look at my skin! Horrible!” Two women looked at me with genuine puzzlement. “I understand that’s what you see,” said one of them, gently. “But honestly? I can’t see what you’re talking about.”

Lots of love,


Read Reva’s last letter here.

Follow The Pen Pal Project here.

Pen Pal Project

When Moms Get Sick

April 21, 2016

Dear Reva,

Things at my end have been quite dramatic lately.

We’ve said many times that moms can’t get sick.  But I did.  I’ve been ill with an infection – so ill that I ended up in hospital. And while in hospital, I caught another infection (the kind that kills the old and frail, and knocks the rest of us off our feet). And three weeks later, I’m still shuffling around like a very old person (which, happily, I’m not, or I wouldn’t be shuffling anywhere), and relying on other people for things like groceries and childcare, and not able to work.

My hospital cocktail hour
My hospital cocktail hour

I should note that I will be absolutely fine, and I’m extremely grateful for this. Grateful too, beyond words, for the family and friends (my mother, in particular) who looked after me when I couldn’t look after myself.

Becoming very ill has been enlightening, as it often is when your deepest fears are realized. Since becoming a single person, I’ve woken up in the middle of the night countless times wondering what would happen if I got sick and couldn’t look after my kids. And now I know the answer: I’d move into my parents’ house, for as long as I needed to be there, and my sisters and my friends and the nice man in my life would come and visit and help my parents out, and my dear agent would tell me not to worry about my deadline, and we’d all be okay.

And even though I still feel lousy, this knowledge comes as a massive relief to me.

And now I have to practice being a good patient, and not coming back to work too quickly, and pacing myself, and cutting myself some slack, and taking it easy, and … well, you get the idea. Suffice it to say that these are all things that I am really, really unqualified to do.

Pushing myself as hard as I can is what I do. It’s what I’ve always done. It’s yielded terrific professional and other accomplishments along the way. But I’m discovering, as my body ages (speaking of turning 40), that it isn’t a sustainable life strategy. And so I need to recalibrate (slightly?). I need to figure out how to be ambitious without running myself down. I need to stop equating rest with weakness. I need to stop gutting it out. I need to stop proving myself, over and over again.

So that’s this year’s goal. Chances are, I’ll be back on my feet in a week or so, and racing around as fast as ever. But I’m going to try to remember that this body of mine puts up with a lot from me. And that I’m going to need it for a long time. And that it deserves a rest every now and again. And that it’s better for everyone if the rest is voluntary.



Read Reva’s last letter here.

Follow the Pen Pal Project here.

Pen Pal Project

Enjoy the ride

March 22, 2016


Dear Reva,

Between your travels and mine, it has been a month since you had a letter from me. It reminds me that the weekly back and forth is better, because there is too much to cover!

I loved your glam photos from Washington. Actually, I love everything about this new Canadian government. Watching the US political scene only intensifies my love of country. It is trite to say it, but entirely true: we are lucky here.

Speaking of the US, I’ve been travelling to promote my book, and was in NYC at the end of February. I was racing to catch a train to Greenwich from Grand Central Station, on my way to give a lecture at the Greenwich YWCA on the topic of midlife creativity, and it occurred to me that I was doing exactly what I had always dreamed of doing.

This gave me pause. I don’t make a lot of money, and I still have all kinds of day to day stress, and there aren’t enough hours in the day, and my editor doesn’t always give me a gold star, and I have more domestic responsibilities than I ever did, but I’m doing exactly what I’ve always dreamed of doing.

Do you remember your letter about celebrating our achievements instead of moving the goalposts with every success? I am a chronic goalpost-mover. Every new skill I master, in every period of growth, makes me hungry for a fresh adventure. I get restless. When it’s time to celebrate, I’m usually too busy working on my next project.

I often think of Tennyson’s wonderful poem Ulysses. I learned it as a teenager, and these lines still resonate for me:

I am part of all that I have met; 

Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough 

Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades 

Forever and forever when I move. 

That day in New York I was worried – worried about the lecture I was about to give and for which I felt unprepared, worried about the next day’s meeting with my American editor, worried about making the train. I was worried about everything that lay out on the horizon in front of me.

And then I remembered a convocation address by Neil Gaiman, in which he describes the best advice he ever received and never took. It was from Stephen King, who said: “This is really great. You should enjoy it.”

But he couldn’t. He ignored the advice.

Instead, he says, he worried about it: “I worried about the next deadline, the next idea, the next story. There wasn’t a moment for the next fourteen or fifteen years that I wasn’t writing something in my head, or wondering about it. And I didn’t stop and look around and go, this is really fun. I wish I’d enjoyed it more. It’s been an amazing ride. But there were parts of the ride I missed, because I was too worried about things going wrong, about what came next, to enjoy the bit I was on. That was the hardest lesson for me, I think: to let go and enjoy the ride, because the ride takes you to some remarkable and unexpected places.”

I’m not Neil Gaiman, of course. Not even close. But that’s the point, really. You just never know. And the horizon will keep moving as you do. And you have to figure out how to enjoy the ride.



Follow the Pen Pal Project here.

Read Reva’s last letter here.


Pen Pal Project

Inside my brain at 2 a.m.

February 16, 2016

Dear Reva,

I’m sitting in a waiting room and composing this letter on my phone while simultaneously texting with you! A Pen Pal Project first. (We are trying, via text, to arrange a time to see each other, or at least to speak on the phone. We have been trying, and failing, to do this for several weeks now. It reminds me why we decided to write letters in the first place, and it makes me glad that we did.)

So, I’ve had a wild few weeks, at least professionally speaking. The Hole in the Middle came out in the US at the beginning of January, and the publicity has occupied a large portion of my addled brain. The rest of it has been dedicated to completing the initial edits on my second book and submitting them to both Canada and the US (I have different publishers in the two countries). And then, because I’m incorrigible when it comes to overloading my plate, I’m involved in a few volunteer projects that are taking more time than expected. All of which is to say that you can take the girl out of the full time job, and she will still work full time (although she will earn less money, which we knew). You may have written some essays on that topic, come to think of it.

Some nice news here is that I’ve signed a two-book contract for Book 2 (now written) and Book 3 (only barely imagined). I’m thrilled, not at least because it makes me feel like a REAL writer. I wonder if we ever escape imposter syndrome? Here is a picture of me signing the contract. Can you see the hint of disbelief in my expression?

signing contract

A funny story for you: I was up half the night last night in a pool of sweat, absolutely convinced that I was hitting early menopause and having my first serious hot flash. As I lay awake, I thought of every possible reason in support of my hypothesis. The women in my family hit menopause early. Now in my mid-forties, I see my body changing in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Hadn’t I read something about stress triggering menopause? And hadn’t I been through two of the three most stressful life events in the past eighteen months (divorce and moving)?

It was obvious. I tossed and turned, fretting about osteoporosis and sex appeal and general decline. And then I finally got out of bed, hours later, to discover that my son had turned up the heat in the late evening and the system hadn’t reset as it normally does – and that my two boys, who are obviously not menopausal, had been sweltering as well.

And from this I learned that I am more than a little terrified of menopause. And more than capable of leaping to dire conclusions in the middle of the night. But again, we knew that.

So many things to discuss! I hope we can schedule that chat soon.

Lots of love,


Pen Pal Project

A Dream Worth Failing For

January 17, 2016

Dear Reva,

I loved your letter last week about your intention to make 2016 a Year of Deliberate Living.  In fact, re-reading it made me smile a second time, because (obviously) my response is late. At some point last week, I realized that I simply wouldn’t get it done on time. I rarely miss deadlines, and never without a good reason.

But I didn’t have a good reason. So much for Deliberate Living!  Sure, my book had just launched in the US, and I was fielding a lot of unexpected email traffic (I’m talking hours of email). A volunteer project got out of hand. My ex was away, and I was doing a huge amount of driving (we normally split the school drop off and pick up, an hour each way). My mom was also away, and she usually fills in for me if life gets particularly chaotic.

But really, I got overwhelmed. And eventually, I surrendered. And I’ve decided that I’m going to forgive myself for missing a deadline, because life is short, and my failure to meet a Pen Pal Project deadline isn’t the end of the world.

And life is so short! Two hugely influential artists (David Bowie and Alan Rickman) died last week, both of cancer, and both at the shockingly young age of 69. My friends were all talking about it. They were all doing the math: sixty-nine minus forty-something equals…way too soon. And these were men who, by anyone’s estimation, achieved great things with the time they had on this Earth. What about the rest of us?

Well, the rest of us need to learn how to take a few risks, and I’m not talking about the occasional missed deadline. We need to be willing to put ourselves out there, to step into the arena, and to court non-catastrophic failure. We need to do it in art, in work, in parenting, in friendship, and in love.

Yes, you heard me correctly. There is such a thing as non-catastrophic failure. In fact, most failure is not catastrophic. Most failure will neither ruin our lives nor kill us with shame. It won’t feel nice, but it will teach us things that success can’t. Believe me.

falling on face

One of the lovely parts of my new career as a writer is that it connects me with all kinds of people I wouldn’t otherwise meet. Many of them want to ask me a question, and it is almost always the same one: What’s your secret?

I’m fortunate enough to have the kind of career that many people dream about. I feel grateful every day to be able to do the work I do. And I’m happy to share my secret, such as it is. Are you ready?  Because this is going to come in handy as you rocket towards that big birthday in a few months.


That’s it, really. I want to be a writer so much that I’m willing to fail at it.

When people ask me this question, I can see how reluctant they are to step into the void. There must be a safer path, they think. After all, what dream could be worth the risk of total, abject, humiliating failure?

And I would answer: Any dream worth having.



Follow the Pen Pal Project here.




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