Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Write in the Garden July 22

Out of the blue, received the most wonderful email from a young student reading the 60's memoir. Must share.

I just began All My Loving this evening and had to stop to write to you because of how much I’m enjoying it already. I’m only 10 pages in but I’m laughing so hard I’m on the verge of an asthma attack! I’m not exaggerating. It reminds me of stories my mom would tell me about her love for the Beatles. It also reminds me of my own adolescent obsession with Hanson. I can remember that same moment when my young mind exploded and I was never the same again. You’ve captured that so well. 

Thrilling. Even as I struggle to rewrite the new memoir for the 87th time, it helps to remember that it's all worth it if one person, and maybe even more than one, actually enjoys what we do. And speaking of enjoying what we do, I watched the inimitable David Sedaris being interviewed on Steve Paikin's TVO show last night. He's extraordinary - funny, loveable, yet willing to tell horrible stories about himself. Students, listen to what he says about not being able for years to write about his mother's drinking because he didn't have enough distance. Wounds and scars. 

https://tvo.org/video/programs/the-agenda-with-steve-paikin/growing-up-sedaris

And - further to that - if YOU want to write a memoir that has readers gasping for breath, if YOU want to be witty and warm while being interviewed by Steve Paikin, here's a good place to start! Only a few places left.

Monday, June 18, 2018

one of those days, including the police

A writer friend said recently, if you posted fewer blogs, Beth, you might get more of your own writing done.

Amazing how sensible people can be when they're not you. She's right. So I am trying to hold back JUST A LITTLE here, because I do have lots of work to do. But now I'm behind in the blog. Here goes:

Last week I volunteered to sit at our Creative Nonfiction Collective's table at the annual huge writers' summit at Harbourfront. Wonderful to see and meet so many writers, and that evening, to be given a ticket to hear the marvellous Tomson Highway deliver the keynote address. His talk was hilarious, profound, moving; I hope they publish it. He talked about how little CanLit existed before 1970, and of course nothing from indigenous Canadians, and how quickly that changed. To paraphrase, "Before, people were only getting murdered in London and Paris; afterward, people were getting murdered in Moose Jaw!"

He talked about the vibrancy of the Cree language - how English is a language of the head and French of the heart, but Cree encompasses the whole body and laughter, the same message Lee Maracle gave us last month. I believe them, but still, as a person who speaks English and French but apparently is missing a good part of her body, I am sorry. Because it often feels to me as if I'm all there, but obviously not.

On Saturday night, I was awake for hours with ideas flying, kept jotting cryptic notes in the notebook by my bed. What came to me, among other things, was a new opening for the memoir; the knowledge that I had to call the police about my Little Free Library, and that it was time to sell my parents' solid teak sheet music cabinet, which is bulky and I do not need. So with list in hand, this morning, I began.

Explanation: I have a Little Free Library outside the house, a wonderful community resource, many people a day stopping to put in a book or to take one out. But for months, I'd go by and find it completely empty - denuded. Someone had scooped out every book, including kids' books, computer manuals, everything. And it was also happening to my neighbour Gina's library up the street. Bit by bit we heard a rumour - it was a man who lived in the rooming house up the street. Yesterday, I called the police and left a detailed message. This afternoon, a young couple who live in the rooming house went by with their pitbull (as I was loading the music cabinet into the car of the lovely elderly couple who'd just bought it, yes, it happened that fast) and confirmed that it's indeed a man from their building; they gave me his name and room number, told me his room and the whole landing of the house is piled high with books.

The police got in touch today and went to the house. The man was out, but sure enough, the cop said, there are books everywhere. The guy is violent and abusive, and his dogs were recently taken away by the Humane Society - not a guy we want on Sackville Street. They are going to give him an order not to go near my library and possibly get him evicted as a fire hazard. Hopefully, our libraries can go back to being the fine resources they were.

Relief!

In the middle of all that, today I had a nearly two hour computer seminar from a fantastic computer guy - if you need a nice expert who makes house calls, let me know. I am in an ongoing battle with the strange fellow who's doing the plans for the renovation. A family member got in touch and blithely said he's arriving tomorrow for a quick visit, let's have dinner Wednesday, he said; I teach Wednesday. It was breath-suckingly hot and there were two monumental downpours that had me outside afterward to make sure my garden had survived.

And more. Yesterday I met Megann Willson who is running to represent this riding municipally; she came to the house to meet me and talk about what I think is needed in the city and the riding, and what she can offer. I liked her a lot. Go Megann! Today I figured out how to send a MailChimp mailing to over 300 former students but sent it out with the wrong title. And that's not to mention what else was coming in via email - requests for writing advice, a misunderstood student, devastating news about children in cages.

On the plus side, today is Macca's 76th birthday.

So. My neck is rigid with tension. Some days, it feels like I'm standing with my bat in front of a pitching machine, and the balls keep coming straight at me, hard. All I can do is try to whack and duck. Today, I have to say, I whacked and ducked like a champ.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Paul Simon: bravo

First, I gather from some of you, who used to automatically receive this blog in your email inbox when I post, that the link no longer works. Not sure why that is; another of life's great mysteries, along with the sound of some rodent creature, I think, gnawing its way through the kitchen ceiling that I heard to my horror yesterday morning and then that vanished. Mysteries! I'm seeing a computer guy about this and many other issues on Monday, so hope to have your posts restored.

As for the mystery rodent - stay tuned.

So - the Paul Simon concert Tuesday night: only superlatives. I understood the term "wall of sound" - he had 15 superb musicians on stage with him, every one of them adept at many things - backup vocals, trumpet, violin, flute, many kinds of guitar, many kinds of keyboards, two drummers. A musical phalanx, supporting this tiny man and his parade of brilliant beloved songs: Homeward bound, Kodachrome, Bridge over troubled water, Graceland, Still crazy after all these years, Me and Julio, 50 ways to leave your lover, The boxer, American tune, Mother and child reunion, Slip slidin' away...

And the sophisticated, lovely, quirky Rene and Georgette Magritte and their dog after the war, which was played with his musicians gathered around him in a kind of string quartet.

The most infectious was Diamonds on the soles of her shoes that segued into Call me Al - two songs that make everyone want to get up and dance. Heaven. He ended the very long night - he sang for 2 1/2 hours and finished by himself, with an acoustic guitar - singing Sounds of Silence. I still have the album, one of my first, still a fave. In my diary, February 1968: "Went to see Simon and Garfinkle (sic) at Carleton." Fifty years later, there he was again.

I compared him, of course, to my Macca, a musical superstar of almost the same advanced age - a year younger, but similar powerful drive and agelessness. Macca has only four guys up there with him, and his songbook is much better known. So Tuesday's Paul can't hold a candle to MY Paul, but still, fabulous.

The Star today calls the pedestrian and cyclist slaughter in this city 'a state of emergency.' We'll see if anything is done, especially now that Doug Ford, Mr. War on the car is over, is in power. What I think will change: absolutely nothing.

Photos for your enjoyment of some of my favourite males on the planet:
 Are they married?

A Sunday drive through the garden.

And ... agreed!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

death on Bloor Street

A horrifying experience today - at noon, I was cycling merrily along Bloor Street on my way to U of T, congratulating the city on the newish bike lanes there, when, only a few hundreds yards from OISE where I teach on Tuesdays, I came upon a ghastly scene: ambulance, police, fire engines screaming in the distance, a crumpled bicycle, a helmet on the ground, a form covered with a yellow cloth, a paramedic unpacking a long canvas bag. A body bag.

I wept with shock and horror. The city and its drivers are slaughtering cyclists and pedestrians - careless driving, texting, speeding, lack of policing, lack of enough safe bicycle infrastructure. After class at 3, Bloor Street was still shut down. All we know is that the cyclist was a middle-aged woman struck by a truck which was turning. She must have been in the bike lane with her helmet on, just as I was. If I'd been there a few minutes earlier, it would have been me.

When I spoke later to a policeman nearby, he said, "It's happening too often." No kidding. "Cars and trucks go too fast," I said, and he nodded, but said, "The truck was turning, so speed may not have been an issue here." As I started to ride off, he said, "Be careful."

The issue here is that a woman got up on June 12 2018, put on her helmet, headed out on her trusty bike into this heavenly late spring day, and was killed. My ride home after class today was extra slow, and I was extra conscious of the sunshine, the smell of flowers and gasoline, the waft of wind, the warmth of sun on my skin, how lucky to still be here on this flawed, extraordinary planet.

The class itself was particularly meaningful, a group of brave students telling their deepest truths. Intense and inspiring.

Tonight, I go to see Paul Simon at the Air Canada Centre. The last tour of one of the best songwriters of his generation, second only to Bob Dylan and You Know Who.

On Sunday, I watched the Tony Awards, grateful to ever have been part of that dazzling world.

The first rose is out, the first (and only) peony, the lavender, the gardenia with seven gorgeous white blossoms wafting scent, the birds filling the garden with song - and I am alive to see and smell and hear and feel.

As the fridge magnet Wayson gave me says, "It doesn't get better than this."

While I celebrate life, I mourn you, dear fellow cyclist, and those who lost you today.

Friday, June 8, 2018

PTSD

I awoke early this morning, saying to myself, Maybe it was all a dream, or a nightmare, not real at all. But no - there it is on the front page of the Star - "Premier Ford." Not a joke. Real.

So a day of recovery and sorrow for what awaits the people of this province - exactly what we've seen in the U.S., disaster for education, transit, health care, the environment, an endless succession of scandals. As I wrote to Anna, the only upside: Ford does not have any nuclear codes. Great comfort in that.

I feel sick and wounded, and not just because a whole party of cretins - including Mike Harris's son! -  was just elected with a majority, and there are small bloody dots above my eyes. The news of Anthony Bourdain's suicide after the news of Kate Spade's. Somehow, I'm surprised and yet not, that wealthy, creative, outwardly successful people are depressed to the point of suicide. The world is fucked right now. It turns out that human beings are far more limited, tribal, and small-minded than we thought. Such needless chaos out there, it hurts to read the paper. I'd cancel it, except that I don't want to further damage the endangered print media.

There's a documentary on TVO tonight about Fred Rogers. That will make me feel better. Or maybe not. He's dead.