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  • Lives of the AgingThe Year in Canada
  • Alana Bell (bio)

One of the most significant trends in Canadian life writing this year has been the proliferation of stories about aging and dying family members. Canadians' recent fixation with aging is understandable. Census data from 2016 shows the number of seniors in Canada's population exceeding the number of children for the first time. In fact, the largest growing Canadian demographic since 2011 is centenarians, whose numbers have increased by 41.3 percent. Our baby boomers are aging, our population is living longer, our fertility rates have declined, and these trends are creating a shift in our intellectual and philosophical landscape (Ciolfe). This year's life writing reflects Canadians' preoccupation with aging, illness, and death by documenting the lives of those who care for older loved ones and mourn them when they are gone. In this essay, I focus on four exemplary texts because of the specific voices and concerns they add to our national consideration of aging while also stretching the limits of auto/biographical form. In narrating the aging, illness, and death of family members, Margaret Christakos's Her Paraphernalia, Lynn Crosbie's The Corpses of the Future, Joy Kogawa's Gently to Nagasaki, and James Maskalyk's Life on the Ground Floor address the silencing of aging voices and the use of writing as a coping mechanism for caregivers negotiating the trauma of familial loss. These texts raise questions about narrating the lives of vulnerable subjects and inscribe the aging body in language, experimenting with auto/biographical form in the process. As they narrate the lives of elders, these texts explore institutions crucial to Canadian lives and also grapple with the national history in which the aging population has been a key player.

In terms of form, the most groundbreaking texts I consider here, are Margaret Christakos's Her Paraphernalia and Lynn Crosbie's The Corpses of the Future. These texts address the seismic shift that occurs in an autobiographical subject's life when a parent undergoes a sudden illness. In 2012, Christakos [End Page 553] turned fifty, her daughter turned fifteen, her marriage ended, and her mother suffered "an ischemic stroke that deprived her of the ability to create or receive unjumbled language" (11). Noting that the words her mother "retained, from the difficult garble of paraphasia, are unmistakable expressions of her love for and pleasure at seeing my siblings, my children and me," Christakos explains that this altered relationship with her mother marks a new phase in her own life "as a woman, daughter and girl," a moment that allows her to recognize "a palpable umbilical rope that moves from the middle of my body through the middle of hers and which extends toward the other women of her lineage, from who I am descended, but with whom I have felt little attachment or identity" (11). Highly experimental, Christakos's text exemplifies the formal inventiveness of life writing recently published by Canadian independent presses. Organized into ten études and including dated entries, Her Paraphernalia logs time over four years in which Christakos explores her identity in connection to her female family members in the face of her mother's decline. The first and least experimental étude explains the form, which Christakos refers to as "tumultétudes," in fact "messy portraits, porous forays" into the nature of her identity and selfhood (19). This multigenre text includes diary entries, poetry, prose passages, photos, selfies, and even photo captions leading out of the text to images posted on Facebook as Christakos travels to England and Greece in an attempt to trace the history of her female ancestors. The book is playful and self-conscious, exploring the luxury of "a woman's pleasure in self-recognition," something not afforded Christakos's forebears, because domestic labor often precluded a creative life (61). At the same time, the text is highly meta-autobiographical, most interestingly through Christakos's exploration of the selfie (referred to playfully by Christakos as "cellphie," perhaps to highlight the cellphone's prevalence as a tool for self-narration) as autobiographical form. For Christakos, "the brief moments when one turns the cellphone into a camera to surf only...


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pp. 553-559
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