In her new memoir 'If I Knew Then,' Jann Arden reveals how she learned to age with strength, courage of course, humour. Photo: Alkan Emin
> First Person
The Age of Jann Arden
The Alberta-born singer-songwriter talks her latest memoir and how she found power in aging. / BY Mike Crisolago / November 12th, 2020
Jann Arden is embracing her inner crone.
We’re not talking about the crotchety Disney stereotypes who cast spells and hand out poison apples. Rather, as she writes at the outset of her new memoir, If I Knew Then: Finding Wisdom in Failure and Power in Aging, her idea of a crone is “a kick-ass, take-no-prisoners, damn-the-torpedoes, own-your-own-crap, great kind of person to be.”
In a phone interview from her Alberta home, the 58-year-old explains, “The crone in me is my biggest fan, my biggest cheerleader. I’m looking forward to being 68 and 78, God willing, maybe 88 if all goes well.” And discovering this in her 50s allowed her to adopt an attitude of “picking up the tools that you’ve carefully made in your life and racing to the finish line instead of just laying down. I want to die on my feet.”
Of course, no one would ever accuse Arden of lying down. She has a new album in the works, the second season of her hit sitcom, Jann, premièred this fall (with a third season confirmed) and, recently, she published If I Knew Then, her third memoir that follows 2011’s Falling Backwards and 2017’s bestselling Feeding My Mother. But while the first book focused on her formative years and the second on caring for her mother who had Alzheimer’s disease, If I Knew Then is firmly grounded in the here and now — a manifesto for aging with strength, courage, truth and, of course, humour.
“I’m no Margaret Atwood, so I just sort of write the way I talk. And rely heavily on spell check,” she quips.
The book itself is undeniably Jann in its frankness and honesty. She writes about past mistakes and struggles — such as years of alcohol abuse — and how she learned to embrace failure. “Oh, it completely helps me ’cause I know I’m trying. If you don’t fail, you’re not putting anything on the table,” she explains, noting that, even if she never sells one copy of the book, she has already succeeded simply by writing it.
It’d be a shame, though, if it was ignored, because the memoir is so entertaining in chronicling her discovery of the virtues of middle age — a realization that hit her at age 50 in 2012, the same year she posed nude during a photo shoot by Bryan Adams for the cover of Zoomer. She laughs at the memory.
“I just figured, ‘I don’t know what I have to lose.’ I want to be a harbinger of good messaging for women especially,” she explains. “We’ve got to stop looking at anybody like they’re past their prime. You’re always in your prime. You’re always here. And people’s experiences and their wisdom that they can pass on is so important.”
Another theme is how good things often come out of bad things, a message that feels especially poignant as we find new ways to communicate and help each other during a global pandemic.
For Arden, perhaps the starkest example is how, in her youth, her father’s alcoholism prompted her to escape to the basement to get away from him. There she discovered a collection of records and a guitar and spent some time playing both. Had it not been for her father, Arden — who initially dreamed of becoming a teacher – is certain she wouldn’t have developed her passion for music.
In fact, a large part of the book is dedicated to her troubled relationship with her father, including how “he handed me the alcoholism like a $20 bill.” She admits she couldn’t have written about her experiences and fractured relationship with him while he was alive but that “I’m just kind of starting to have a relationship with him now. And he’s been dead five years.”
Arden returns to her beloved mother when asked what excites her most about aging. She recalls that, even when beset by Alzheimer’s, her mom would say, “We all need to have a purposeful life.”
“Whatever time I have, I accept it. I’ve had a good go and I’m very grateful for this human experience. And I’m grateful for what comes next,” Arden explains. “I want to have a purposeful life. Whether I’m scribbling out poetry … whether it’s folding tea towels repeatedly and setting them into a plastic basket. If that keeps me going, then that’s what I will do.”
If I Knew Then: Finding Wisdom in Failure and Power in Aging is available now.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec issue with the headline “The Age of Arden,” p. 70.