SURREY — “The first time I heard about the pencil test, I was sitting in a sea of sleeping bags and pillows, giddy on a combination of 7-Up and gossip.”
So begins Christina Myers’ contribution to a new book that reveals the burdens, expectations and pleasures of having breasts.
Diverse stories and poems by 19 writers are featured in “Boobs: Women Explore What it Means to Have Breasts,” edited by Ruth Daniell and published by Caitlin Press (Caitlin-press.com).
Among the contributors is Myers, who lives in the Bolivar Heights area of North Surrey with her husband and two kids.
With humour and some humility, Myers wrote about “The Pencil Test,” an informal gauge of breast development (and the need to wear a bra) conceived by Ann Landers, the legendary newspaper advice columnist.
Coincidentally, Myers herself is a former columnist and reporter who worked for papers in Burnaby and New Westminster.
“Mine is a story I had in my head for a long time and had never written it down, until this project came about,” she told the Now. “I’d used it as a punchline story over the years. I told it many times kind of as a joke, but underneath that humour was a lot of really challenging emotions attached to it. It’s a classic comedy thing that you turn something hard and challenging, maybe even tragic in a way, and you make it funny, and I’d done that for years. So as soon as I saw this call (for submissions for the ‘Boobs’ book), I knew what I was going to write about.”
Other stories in the book share memories of breastfeeding, breast-reduction surgery, sexual assault, exhibitionism, jealousy, “Late-blooming Boobies,” fashion-magazine images and more. Contributors include established writers (Lorna Crozier, Nancy Lee and Kate Braid among them) and newer voices, including Myers.
“It’s a thrill to have my name in the index list next to some of the writers I’ve known about, and in the biographies at the end,” Myers said.
Her “Pencil Test” story was first tested for an audience.
“I read it once at an event and that was kind of the test for the submission, that if it bombed at a reading, I wouldn’t send it in,” Myers recalled. “But it got a great reception. People laughed at the right parts and so many people came up to me and told me, ‘Oh, I remember the pencil test, that happened to me, too. It affected me.’ That’s what made me think, ‘People get this, I should send it in.’”
The book’s other contributors are Ruth Daniell, Francine Cunningham, Lynn Easton, Laura Ritland, Dina del Bucchia (with David Zomparelli), Sierra Skye Gemma, Jane Eaton Hamilton, Miranda Pearson, Sara Graefe, Taryn Hubbard, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Maggie Wojtarowicz, Emily Wight, Zuri Scrivens and Emily Davidson.