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Biography & Autobiography Women

If I Knew Then

Finding wisdom in failure and power in aging

by (author) Jann Arden

Random House of Canada
Initial publish date
Oct 2020
Women, Self-Esteem, Essays
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2020
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2022
    List Price

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Jann Arden—bestselling author, recording artist and late-blooming TV star—is back with this funny, heartfelt and fierce memoir on becoming a woman of a certain age. The power, gravity and freedom she's found at fifty-seven are superpowers she believes all of us can unleash.

Digging deep into her strengths, her failures and her losses, Jann Arden brings us an inspiring account of how she has surprised herself, in her fifties, by at last becoming completely her own person. Like many women, it took Jann a long time to realize that trying to be pleasing and likeable and beautiful in the eyes of others was a loser's game. Letting it rip, and damning the consequences, is not only liberating, it's a hell of a lot of fun: "Being the age I am—that so many women are—is just the best time of my life."

Jann weaves her own story together with tales of her mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, and the father she came close to hating, to show her younger self—and all of us—that fear and avoidance is no way to live. "What I'm thinking about now aren't all the ways I can try to hang on to my youth or all the seconds ticking by in some kind of morbid countdown to death," she writes, "but rather how I keep becoming someone I always hoped I could be. If I'm lucky one day a very old face will look back at me from the mirror, a face I once shied away from. I will love that old woman ferociously, because she has finally figured out how to live a life of purpose—not in spite of but because of all her mistakes and failures."

About the author

Born and raised in Calgary, Alberta and one of Canada`s most precious resources, recording artist Jann Arden is the winner of eight Junos (including the 2002 Juno for "Best Songwriter"), and a substantial collection of other awards and honours. She is also an avid painter, philanthropist and multi-dimensional performer, having appeared in The Vagina Monologues, a feature film and at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal. With record sales in the millions from her seven CDs (that includes fourteen top ten singles), Jann`s eighth CD will be released in early 2005. Jann currently resides outside of Calgary, Alberta.

Jann Arden's profile page

Excerpt: If I Knew Then: Finding wisdom in failure and power in aging (by (author) Jann Arden)

Waiting for the Crone

The meaning of the word crone varies depending on the person using it. Wikipedia says she is almost always a character in folklore and fairy tales. She is usually very disagreeable, somewhat sinister and malicious, with a sprinkling of magical or supernatural powers. That all sounds completely delicious to me. She sounds like somebody I’d like to invite over for a few pots of Earl Grey tea and a platter of carbohydrates.

I didn’t know who I was going to become in my forties or my fifties, I really didn’t. My twenty-year-old self just threw her head back and laughed at the thought of being that old. But I’m starting to get a clear picture of who I am going to be as I march into my sixties and seventies, Goddess willing!

Although the word itself is often associated with being aged and ugly and mean-spirited, to me a Crone is a kick-ass, take-no-prisoners, damn-the-torpedoes, own-your-own-crap, great kind of person to be. Entering into the time of the Crone, for me and thousands of other women (and perhaps a few fortunate men), has been nothing short of extraordinary.

The Crone is remarkably wise and unapologetic. She is fierce and forward-thinking—someone who is at the pinnacle of her own belonging. Okay, I’m not entering the time of the Crone, I am a Crone. I am at the beginning of a new chapter in my life—a whole new book, really. And it’s one that’s going to read and unfold exactly the way I want it to.

The first Crones I ever met were my grandmothers. As I was growing up, I watched both of them evolve into such fierce women, reaching for their “Crone-ness” in their own unique ways. I was both enamoured of them and a tiny bit afraid at the same time. I didn’t know it then, but Crones don’t take crap from anyone, even their own grandchildren.

My great-aunts were Crones too. My great-aunt Earn, who was her mother’s namesake, was a force to be reckoned with. She was a journalist before women were even trying to be journalists. She drove around in a little sports car like she was in the Indy 500, and I’m pretty sure she didn’t even have a driver’s licence, nor did she care. She smoked roll-your-own cigarettes, drank whiskey and swore with a great deal of purpose. She was one of the most unforgettable women I have ever met. She married, but very much on her own terms, and she never stopped working. When she got cancer in her early eighties, she remained unflinchingly calm, cool and collected. She wore a wig when her hair fell out after what was the first and last round of cancer treatment (sadly, it did not work), and I watched her chuck it into a roaring fire at a family reunion as she exclaimed, “I’m ready to die, but it sure as hell isn’t an easy thing to do!”

I recall it bursting into a ball of colourful flames and making a searing noise, and everybody laughing and slapping their knees. It was a good day for all of us, but not so good for the wig.

I remember listening to my mom’s mom and her sisters telling stories about their lives when they all got together. Rings of smoke circled their heads and stubby beer bottles were plunked on the table between decks of cards and tins of tobacco. Those old stories seemed to fill them with power and confidence. I miss all of them more than you could ever know. I miss their cackles and their beautiful wrinkled faces and their gnarled hands waving in the air as they laughed and laughed and laughed.

How I looked forward to having stories of my own to tell!

My maternal grandmother, Clara, talked about time a lot, how time made sense of things and how time handed out wisdom. She told me I would have to wait to be wise, that nothing made you wise but time.

I understand that now.

In my eight-year-old brain, I did sometimes wonder if they had ever been young. It felt to me as if they had always been these aged marvels—smart and sure and steady—and old. I realize now that they were probably much like me when they were young—unsure, tentative, hesitant. It takes a long time to become a person. I wish they were here right now to inform me and help me and guide me . . . But I’m pretty sure they are, right here in my head and heart, doing just that. I have to stop and be still long enough to hear them.


Lots of us don’t know quite what to expect as we grow older. It’s shrouded in our fear and worry about what we see as the inevitable decline. When we do think about it, we imagine it’s all about closing up shop or slowing things down or wrapping up loose ends. We think about the wrinkles that slither onto our brows and hands and necks, and we want all that to stop. We want to have our necks back, and our firm, strong legs and arms, and we want to have endless energy, and we want all of our marbles to stay right where they are!

But honestly, I have found such kindness in my bones as I have aged, an acceptance of self that I didn’t even know existed. I’m simply not hard on myself anymore. I appreciate the fact that my body is carting my soul around and it’s doing a spectacular job of it. I see such strength and ability in myself, which I didn’t even notice, let alone appreciate, when I was a young woman. I didn’t know how.

What I think about now couldn’t be further from brooding on time running out. Instead, I’m focused on reimagining and reinvention, the act of becom ing someone I always hoped I would be. I feel that I am a wise woman emerging through the trees with a renewed sense of the purpose of my own glorious life.

Now that I’m a Crone, I speak my mind and chase my passions relentlessly. I do not need to wait for per-mission from anyone to do as I please, and I throw my opinions around, not like confetti, but like lightning bolts. Opinions and thoughts and ideas that are bigger than the whole of the sun—and why not?

To finally be at a place in my life where I value my body (most of the time—I slip up some days) and my heart and my mind in equal measure is still remark able to me, unbelievable to me, but this is what is happening. The passage of time brings with it an unmistakable wonder. It brings a culmination of all the experiences that led me here, to this rock on which I stand—a rock of my own making.

Youth has its delicate wonder, its mischief and tender innocence, but there is little power in the handful of experiences of youth. We Crones have piled up thousands of undertakings over the years, and they provide us with a majestic view: a view of our own life, a view that enables us to be fair and kind and supportive of ourselves and each other.

I would be remiss if I did not add that, occasionally, very young Crones walk the planet. I have met some incredibly brave ten-year-old girls who have taught me a thing or two. There are some very old souls among us who defy all the rules and everyone’s expectation of what a ten- or twelve- or fifteen-year-old girl should know and can be.

So here I am, a full-on Crone, or at least well on my way to being one. I’m letting her take over my body with every decision I make, every choice, every conversation, every job I undertake. It feels right. It feels decadent and incredibly good. I am learning to listen, really listen to the voice inside my heart and head. I don’t ignore that voice the way I used to when I was young. I used to override every sage bit of advice I gave myself, mainly because I didn’t feel worthy. At last I can tell you without hesitation that I feel worthy of good things happening to me.

If I am lucky—Ugh, forget lucky, luck has nothing to do with anything; it’s all hard work and dedication and steadfastness, period. As I keep working towards myself, I look forward to the old face that (I hope) will look back at me from a mirror someday. I see new wrinkles pretty much on a weekly basis—new marks, new spots. I see them and feel grateful just to be here. Many of my friends and family members are not. They left far too early, and I miss them all terribly. You feel that your pack gets smaller as you get older, as all the souls you’ve been travelling with break away and head back into the abyss. It’s weird and kind of wonderful to think I might join up with them again someday. Even as molecules spinning in the ether.

Getting older in this life is a privilege.

It’s not the enemy at all—it’s a damn adventure. You’ve got a ticket to that adventure, so be daring and spontaneous and brave.

Mom used to say, “If you can’t be brave, be reckless.” I miss her the very most.

Editorial Reviews


“Storyteller. Counsellor. Life coach. Canadian singer Jann Arden wears all those hats—and more—in her latest memoir . . . If I Knew Then will strike vibrato chords with readers. Like her song lyrics, Arden’s phrasing is simple, authentic and rich. It resonates. She wears her wounds on her sleeve, and isn’t afraid to show her scars." —Winnipeg Free Press

Praise for Jann Arden:

“The type of free-spirited, brutally truthful woman who can stand toe to toe with any man or woman. Funny and not afraid to sprinkle an interview with helpings of words your mother would never allow in the house, Arden is two parts poet and one part your crazy aunt.” —The Toronto Sun

“[Jann Arden is] abundantly and humorously generous with herself in public. . . . No doubt Arden holds some secrets, some passions, some pain close to the vest, but, like the best gossip in the neighbourhood, she diverts our attention with titillating yarns.” —Toronto Star

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