Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Post

On the weekend I went to visit dear friends, a couple who have been swept away by a tide of misfortune - and are fine. He was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo radiation and chemo, and as he was beginning to recover, they discovered that their house had been contaminated by a flood of heating oil from a renovation being done poorly and cheaply next door. And then she broke her pelvis. They lived in a nursing home for awhile while they both got well and now are in a condo downtown; it will be many months, while the contaminated soil under their house is removed, before they can move back home. Not that long ago, all was hunkydory, and then all that slammed them. But they are remarkably resilient and cheerful, and the condo is lovely.

"But it's not home," he said.

Speaking of home, my reno is on. I've had the go-ahead from the bank and met with John and his architectural consultant friend, and we came up with a plan that looks great. It'll be excruciating and expensive and totally disruptive, I'll have to get rid of a ton of stuff and will end up with a bit more than half the house I have now - and that's as it should be. Now looking for a contractor. Please let me know if you have a lead.

Last night, the first class of the Ryerson term - it's always exciting to meet new people, and this time, to find 3 students from past terms back for more, including one from 5 years ago, a sports writer for the Star. And tomorrow night, my home class. The adventure begins.

Tonight, "The Post", how a brave newspaper printed leaked documents despite an injunction, and saved us from the deceitful American government. Wait - what year was that?! Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, superb, but best of all, the smoky newsrooms with their clacking typewriters, lovingly recreated, and closeups of printing presses, oily metal machinery turning, typesetters at work with blocks of type - heaven. A free press could not matter more. A great film at just the right time. Thank you, Steven Spielberg.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

warmest Jan. 11 on record - we'll take it

Toronto weather just broke another record. Jan. 4 was the coldest on record, and today, Jan. 11, was the warmest - over 12 degrees! The temperature jumped 35 degrees in six days - and will be dropping 20 degrees back down on the weekend. Utterly confusing. Today felt like spring, except for the mounds of filthy melting snow.


My U of T class Life Stories II has been cancelled; sorry to anyone who wanted to register, please do so earlier next time. And please write to me if you want advice on what to do instead. As for me - I'm sorry to do without the money, but now I have Tuesday afternoons all to myself. Woo hoo! FYI the Ryerson class True to Life is nearly full.

Tuesday, I went across town to babysit Ben while his mama had her driving lesson. Anyone who's depressed for any reason should spend time with a two-year old. Everything is interesting. Thomas had brought some long cardboard tubes, and guess what, when you put a little car in one end, it runs right through and COMES OUT THE OTHER SIDE! The most exciting thing ever!!! Ben's favourite words: NOLIKEIT. For example, frowning at me when I put on my glasses: NOLIKEITGLASSES. I took them off. No messing around with this kid.

And then we picked up Eli from school and went to his first ball hockey class. Eight five-year old boys with sticks - terrifying. Fun. And - ahem - Eli scored the only goal.


The class was at Parkdale Collegiate, and while we walked through the halls - well, we old folks walked, the boys ran at top speed - I saw this:
Is that not fabulous? What would I have thought if that had been on a washroom door in my last high school, Lisgar Collegiate in Ottawa, in 1966? I'd have had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. Nobody would.

Anna's driving test is next week. Now that's exciting.

Wednesday, a meeting with my bank manager, whom I've known for 15 years and who is like a dear friend - and I'm pretty sure most people, especially freelance writers, don't feel that way about their bank managers. His first baby is due in a few weeks - a girl - and I'm getting a present ready. He told me I can have a big loan to do my renovation with no problem and at a pretty low interest rate. So - we're on. (And incidentally, I've just written and sent a letter to his boss about how helpful and hardworking he is. We writers must use our superpowers for good.)

Today, a long meeting for the Creative Non-fiction conference - what a compatible group we non-fiction-writers-and-conference-organizers are, a pleasure to work with.

I got embroiled in a FB argument about #MeToo. There's a level of feminist vitriol in the air that scares me. An American actress responded to Catherine Deneuve and the other French women's open letter, which says #MeToo is going too far and becoming a witch hunt, by saying their misogynistic self-hatred has taken over their minds. Oh come on.

Now there's a huge hooha about sexual assault in theatres and creative writing departments. As a longtime veteran of both, I have to say - is there something wrong with me that I was never assaulted in either? Yes, I made terrible mistakes sexually during my youth, but with my eyes open. No one ever importuned me in a way I could not handle. Was I just lucky? Was I so plain that lecherous men were just not interested? This doesn't mean I'm not sympathetic to women who have been assaulted, not at all. But as I wrote to a furious correspondent on FB, I guess we have different definitions of 'assault.'

In the good news department, there's this, and that's all I need to buoy me on this springlike day. Don't read it too closely. Just keep the headline close to your heart.
To Improve a Memory, Consider Chocolate
A small study shows that an antioxidant in chocolate appears to improve some memory skills that people lose as they age.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Florida Project

Dear students and writers, if you are considering taking my advanced course at U of T, I ask you to sign up immediately, because a few more are needed for the course to run. The Ryerson course is filling fast and may soon be full, but the U of T class is only for writers who have taken my course before or who've received permission from me, and sometimes is small.

So if you're interested, don't wait.

I just returned from seeing a horror movie: The Florida Project. It's about poor families who live in welfare, slum motels in Florida, and though it's a brilliant film, I found it profoundly upsetting and depressing. The U.S. as a third world country - we know it's so, and here it is, on view - lives so devoid of meaning, unsupervised children running amok, and yet people struggling to make a community and find kindness and decency. Thank God for Willem Dafoe, with his expressive craggy face, as a manager who cares for the hopelessly lost people who live there.

What's exceptional are the children - utterly natural and unforced and real. How the director achieved what he did with these kids, I have no idea; it's breathtaking. But the film made me sad; not a good film to see in January. I came home to my house - my roof, my walls, the unimaginable luxury of my stable, comfortable, functional life.

And this after watching much of the Golden Globes last night, which was the most politically aware awards show I've ever seen, women rising up, wearing black, Oprah fierce and fiery. An important moment, as women struggle to change the world, or at least, their bit of it. But feminist struggles aside, that motel in Florida is as far from the glitter and champagne of Los Angeles as anywhere on earth.

The night before's excitement: watching "2001, a space odyssey" for the first time since it came out in 1968. A very odd movie - yes, a masterpiece, but also odd and very, very slow, long lyrical passages to Zarathustra or Strauss as spaceships float and dock, and then an utterly surreal ending I had to Google to understand. Interesting that Kubrick foresaw many things clearly about the future, but still had women as pretty stewardesses in pink suits and absurd little hats.

And yesterday, I was on the streetcar passing Allen Gardens on Carlton Street when I blinked and swivelled to look closer. It was a hawk, a big hawk on the ground, tearing at something in its talons, probably a pigeon. How often do you see that in the middle of the city? A magnificent raptor having lunch. Red in tooth and claw.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Toronto the filthy but great

Went to the Y this morning. For the 20 minute voyage door to door by streetcar, I wore: long johns under cashmere leggings with thick socks and boots, an undershirt, t-shirt, sweater, and puffy vest under a long puffy coat, also thick wool hat and scarf covering the face and of course, mitts. Warm as toast.

The temp is soon going up - maybe even to minus six! Woo hoo! But the city is its usual hideous self at this time of year - filthy snowbanks covered with garbage. I'm ashamed of it.

And then I read a Guardian list of the top places to visit this year - and there's Toronto. FYI the Bentway has already opened as a long skating trail for people crazy enough to want to go out in this cold. And Rail Deck Park, as far as I know, has not yet found funding. But it's still a great city, except when it's full of filthy snow and garbage. Otherwise, great.


Ontario’s waterfront capital is already known for its multiculturalism (in addition to Chinatown, there’s Little Italy, Little India, Greektown and Koreatown) and festival-packed summer (from the renowned Toronto Jazz Festival to a host of food and craft-beer events). And the list of reasons to visit continues to grow, not least the fact that from 1 May British Airways will fly direct from London Gatwick, as well as Heathrow, with three new flights a week. 

This spring, the Museum of Contemporary Art will reopen, having moved into an industrial space in the Junction Triangle. The city will also be getting a new public space, the Bentway, a mile-long trail under the Gardiner Expressway, which has been transformed into a route for skating as well as art, markets and performances. Other developments, include the Rail Deck Park – a huge green space to be built over a railway corridor in Downtown – and the continued revitalisation of the waterfront.

And then there's this, sent by a friend:

Saturday, January 6, 2018