‘I don’t want a static life,’: Jann Arden explores aging, fearlessness and finding wisdom in failure with memoir

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This is not to say that her new memoir is preoccupied with death, nor did it come from a dark place. In fact, when Arden began writing If I Knew Then a few years back, she was in as good a place as she has ever been.

She had recently quit drinking and was developing a television series that became Jann, a hit CTV comedy that is now in its second season. Her music career was also in full bloom. Still represented by powerhouse manager Bruce Allen, a relationship that began more than two decades ago, she was continuing to work on new material with A-list producer Bob Rock. Her 2017 memoir, Feeding My Mother: Comfort and Laughter in the Kitchen and My Mom Lives with Memory Loss, had become a national bestseller.

It was during all this that Arden wrote a post on social media that was both celebratory and a touch defiant. She says it was about “getting older, feelings about my body and my life and that I just felt great and so grateful to be waking up every day in a place that was comfortable and that I knew myself and that I was trying all these new things and if you’re not beside me, get out my way.” Anne Collins, her editor at Random House Canada, read it and thought it could easily be expanded into a full memoir.

Jann Arden's new memoir: If I Knew Then: Finding Wisdom in Failure and Power in Aging.
Jann Arden’s new memoir: If I Knew Then: Finding Wisdom in Failure and Power in Aging. jpg

While Arden doesn’t see If I Knew Then as a self-help book, it is geared to women, particularly those who are in their late-30s or older and living in fear about what lies ahead for them. As the subtitle of the book suggests, Arden puts a lot of stock in failure as a potent, if occasionally ruthless, teacher in life. She revisits her past, often making comparisons between young Jann and current Jann. The biggest difference, Arden says, is that when she was younger she was reckless as opposed to fearless. She chronicles her early life and career and writes about her occasionally dysfunctional relationship with her family, particularly her alcoholic and “textbook bully” father. Her mother, meanwhile, was often “mortified” by the actions of young Jann, but she always allowed her daughter to fail. Arden credits her mother’s combination of cheering her on and letting her fall down as one of the reasons she is successful.

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