Thursday, August 16, 2018

midsummer day's dream

8 a.m. on a beautiful, sweet morning, a reprieve during this sweltering summer. Yesterday, I was in the garden, listening to the cardinal heckling me - where's the @#$#@ seed, slowpoke? We're waiting! So I filled the feeder and the fearless bird swooped in immediately, a few feet from me, his scarlet topknot rising and falling as he pecked. And then he flew to the nearby fence and popped the seed into the mouth of a small brown bird with scarlet tinges. Back and forth he flew, the baby squawking I assume with gratefulness and not the way Eli sounds sometimes as he whines, I don't like this stuff, donwanit.

The drama of life in the garden. The minuscule spider in my bedroom, however, has vanished, and so has his web. No idea what happened to them, how they could completely disappear.

Soon the noises will start. Bell is installing fibre optic cable, whatever that is, and they're ripping up the street nearby. But for now, my oasis.

Monday - my best friend Lynn grew up in Chateauguay, outside of Montreal, and has come in from Provence with her husband Denis to visit friends and family. In July, three of her adult children flew from their far-flung homes - Sarah from Nairobi with her three half-Burundian children, Myriam from Mauritius with her two Muslim sons, and Christopher from London with his partner and their half-Spanish daughter. This international brood went to Banff and Jasper and back to Chateauguay, and then Sarah came to Toronto with her kids to visit an old friend of hers, and us.

I've known Sarah since she was a very small girl; recently she's been head of various third world NGO's including Handicap International in Nepal, then in Zimbabwe, and now in Nairobi. An extraordinary life. Her marriage to a Burundian ended in divorce, so she is the single mother of six-year old twin boys and a nine year old girl. A strong accomplished admirable woman. Eli and the twins immediately vanished into Anna's yard and were soon screaming with laughter; Maude, with no one to play with, got out her iPad while we prepared lunch and Anna and Sarah discussed motherhood today.

A special joy, to meet the children of your best friend's children.
A momentary lull in the action.
Maude has her grandmother Lynn's smile.

Lynn and Denis come to Toronto next week, Denis for a few days and Lynn to stay with me for 3 weeks. She and I met at Carleton University 51 years ago, in September 1967, when I was just 17 you know what I mean, and she, I never let her forget, a year and a month older. Despite homes on opposite sides of the Atlantic, we've enjoyed a lifetime of laughter. No greater gift than that.

Tuesday, a first - I met with a high school student who's off to university in September and wanted to improve her writing skills. She sent me two of her high school essays and we met to discuss how they could have been better and general principles of good writing. How impressed I am, I told her, that you've taken the initiative to learn how to write properly and well.

I gazed at her, so beautiful, perfect unlined skin, thick shining hair, glowing with health and youth - exactly the age that Lynn and I were when we met. We must have looked like that. And inside, we still do. Outside, not so much.

That evening, I was invited to my other Lynn friend's for dinner and a swim. When this Lynn bought a huge house in north Toronto, she and her husband transformed their ordinary backyard pool into what looks like a small lake, with irregular stone sides and overhanging shrubs and trees, restful and stunning. The day was, as always, breath-suckingly hot, so plunging into that tiny lake was beyond heaven. We floated for an hour, buoyed by pool noodles, before emerging for a gourmet dinner which included a 2014 Corton, because Lynn is an oenophile. And then, since her husband was out and the pool secluded, I took off my clothes and floated in the pool again.

Read my friend Theresa's evocative blog post yesterday about swimming every day in a nearby lake, and I'm jealous of her, of Lynn. The only way to survive these blistering summers is in a body of water. With no cottage and no pool and Lake Ontario flooded with sewage after last week's storm, I am doomed to swelter.

And also doomed to rewrite, yet again, the blessed memoir. Received the report of the young editor, perspicacious and punchy - this works, this does not. Less of this and more of this. A bit of it I don't agree with - there is a generational issue, for example, when I use the word 'retarded' because that is the word we used in 1979 when the book takes place, and my editor recoils in horror. But most of what she wrote is extremely useful. Even as I sigh at the work ahead.

I spent much of yesterday editing other people's writing and then trying to digest the comments of my own editor. Fascinating - that one can be a successful editor of others and yet be so in need of those critical eyes for one's own work.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Kenojuak Ashevak's owls

An unexpectedly enjoyable Sunday morning. I was up early so decided to go to the Runfit class at the Y. Friday I set off for there midday, and the weather was so beautiful, I turned around, deciding to just run outside and get on with my day. And of course, I didn't. If I don't go to the Y, in my undisciplined way, usually I simply don't do fitness type things. So reluctantly I went this morning, there was a new teacher with fabulous music, and the class flew by. My body hurts, but that's good.

Now listening to CBC's Michael Enright interview an all-female piano quartet called Ensemble Made in Canada. He just played part of the exquisite second movement of the Mozart Piano Quartet #2. Glorious.

Friday's treat - I was messing about at home when I realized that the exhibition of Inuit art at the AGO would soon be over. So I hopped on my bike. This might be the first exhibit of Inuit artists curated by Inuit artists. It featured one of the best known, Kenojuak Ashevak, whose gorgeous birds are iconic - my parents had her images in their home in the seventies, on calendars and prints -  and her nephew Timootee Pitiulak, whose work shows life in the Arctic today. His work is terrific, but hers is stunning, breathtaking, spiritual.
 Owl Sentinel - Kenojuak.

Pitiulak, Computer Generation, 2012. (Note - his computer is plugged into his hat.)

So - summer is rolling by. Visiting with friends Christopher, Jean-Marc, Gretchen, serving everyone gazpacho, as I'm still eating a cucumber- and tomato-based diet. Former student and current friend Gerry Withey (one of her stories is on this website under Teaching) sent me this print of hers; she's now more visual artist than writer. She calls the print Bliss, and so it is; for me, all that's missing is the cat. Right now, I'm reading two very good library books, Florida by Lauren Groff, such powerful short stories, I cannot read them before bed, and The Untethered Soul: the journey beyond yourself by Michael A. Singer, which just might change my life.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

after the flood

Several have written to ask if we're safe here after the torrential rains of yesterday and this morning, that had Union Station under a foot of water and various streets completely flooded. Two men trapped in a flooded elevator had one foot of air left before they were rescued. What a violent switch - from muggy, bright, and very hot, to dark and incredibly wet.
Yesterday morning, the garden looked like this:
The yellow golden glow at the far end standing tall, maybe 8 or 9 feet tall, with the rudbekia glowing gold beneath.

This morning, the golden glow looked like this:
A lot of stalks smashed and broken. But everything else survived, and the basement did not flood. The basement did not flood! Hooray little sump pump, you're my hero. That basement used to fill with water after just a little rain - after something like last night, it'd be horrendous. Not to mention my skylights and roof which also used to leak. As I've written before, my then handyman said I must have offended the water gods in a previous life because of the constant water issues in this house.

But today - so far - high and dry. Not high enough, as my daughter would laugh. But then, it's only 11 a.m.

Monday, August 6, 2018

"Eighth Grade" and "Sorry to bother you" = A+

A pleasure to catch up on movies during a heat wave. Saturday, "Eighth Grade" with Ken, and today "Sorry to bother you" with Sam - both superb, heartening signs of the strength and innovative creativity of the American film industry today.

"Eighth Grade" is a painful look inside the soul of an American 13-year old - very interesting for me since I spent years delving into my own 13-year old self for my memoir. The writer/director Bo Burnham does a great job of bringing an ordinary, rather plain, pimply, shy, yet sensitive and ever hopeful girl to life, depicting her world of the savage cliques of middle school, the vast jungle of the internet that devours her time, the creepy boys she must learn to deflect and navigate. In 1964 I wrote in my diary; she posts a stream of heartfelt, encouraging videos on Instagram where anyone can see them, though probably, no one does. I felt this film in my bones.

My only real criticism is in the persona of her father, who, unlike his daughter, is Hollywood handsome and decent, kind and wonderful. At one point, he delivers the most glorious, loving speech any daughter could ever hope to hear from her dad. As Ken said on the way out, I never encountered a father like that; I didn't know who that was. Me either. When he was 13 in 1948, Ken was battling a growing terrifying sense of being gay in small town Ontario; when I was 13 in 1963-64, my father was telling me I was spoiled, selfish, lazy, and a neanderthal for loving the Beatles. I cannot imagine what life would have been like if my father had said, over and over, how wonderful I was and how proud he was to be my father. Unimaginable.

But aside from this one bit of treacly fantasyland, a lovely, original film. Afterward I told Sam I was glad he and his sister were always the cool kids, confident in school, and he said, "Are you kidding? I had a giant mole on my forehead in Grade 9 and the kids called me Mole Man. The teasing didn't stop till the mole was removed."

I have absolutely no memory of his giant mole or of arranging to have it removed. Hard to remember a time when he was normal size.

"Sorry to bother you" is not lovely at all but amazingly original it is. Hard even to describe - as Sam said, I thought it was going to be about race, about black people versus white people, but it's really about fighting the excesses of capitalism. It's a funny and horrifying social satire, also written and directed by an immensely talented young man - Boots Riley.

A pleasure to be so stimulated and entertaining and thought-provoked in air conditioned rooms.

Aside from movies, I've continued, slowly, my culling of shelves and basement piles, taking the bulky albums full of photos and stripping them, putting the prints in plastic bags or boxes and throwing away the binders. And yesterday, getting out the pile of daytimers I've kept through two decades, going through them quickly to see what happened when, and then throwing them out. The daytimers show just how incredibly busy I was through those years as a single mother of two not easy children in a leaky old house, while also trying to earn a living, write a difficult book, become fit, have a social life and even, occasionally, a love and sex life (what a distant memory THAT is), keep myself, my children, and our pets and garden healthy, go to Ottawa regularly to visit my mother and aunt, and - oh yes - learn Russian and go to the shrink. It makes me tired to think about it.
Also had to deal with a crisis on my street - the Little Free Library outside my house became a flashpoint for two of the book-stealing crazies in the rooming house up the street, to the point that one threatened violence - "I'll kill you!" - to someone who tried to stop him from taking out all the books. So I had, painfully and reluctantly, to shut it down.

It rained, and instead of close and stifling the air is fresh and clean. Holiday weekend over, back to reality tomorrow, only I walk the streets with a new sense of what it is to be 13 and what it is to be a person of colour in a mad, greedy world. The insightful gifts of art.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

the beach, the beach

To bring you up to date on recent stories: first, the tiny spider in my window has remained motionless for days. Nothing has entered his web, and in any case, he and the web are so small and delicate, his dinner would have to be something in the order of fruitflies, which ordinarily do not hang around my bedroom. I have contemplated trying to catch one in the kitchen and sticking it in the web, but I don't think spiders, even very small ones, approve of that sort of thing.

In fact, he's so still, I wonder if he's even alive. But in any case, I am still careful opening my blinds in the morning.

Auntie Do is now out of hospital and in a recovery place; she's not happy there and misses the hospital. She is hoping to regain enough strength to move home in a week or two, and then we will begin the struggle about the next move - to the Unitarian retirement home which will soon have a place for her. That is, whether she will consider it or not.

And - being 68 is great! My energy was tested yesterday and passed. I worked in the morning (had sent the manuscript of the rewrite off to the young editor and then busily rewrote page after page, so have sent her a rewrite of the rewrite), did a muscleworks class at the Y, and spent the afternoon sorting in the basement with the help of Nicole. I am inspired by the CBC documentary about the lunatic hoarder and am truly attempting to make inroads on the junk here, tossing and tossing. But of course, we come back to family photos and memorabilia, CD's and books - impossible. Paralyzed.

After hours of that I was exhausted, settled into my chair with a good computer when at 5.20 the phone rang - Jean-Marc and Richard were biking to the island to swim and have a picnic, did I want to come and if so could I be ready in 5 minutes? I did and I was. It was heaven, cycling down to the ferry and around the island, landing on the beach, swimming in the cool water, dining together, with wine, on delicious salads and dessert. The beach was crowded and noisy, and of course, since it's clothing optional, there were many penises and a few breasts of various sizes, shapes, and colours parading back and forth. A truly unique place.

JM and Richard are celebrating their 22nd anniversary today. All my love to them - the best neighbours ever.

Will this woman ever learn not to grimace at the camera?

Today, Saturday of the long weekend, the city sounds dead. Heaven. I have cleaned some kitchen cupboards (because mice - don't know what to do, hate traps) and soon will head off to see "Eighth Grade" with Ken.  Later, must deal with vegetables - many cucumbers, much kale, tons of basil.

Bill Maher was back last night after a month away. It was riveting and appalling, his guests laying out in horrifying detail just how much trouble the US is in, just how hideous is the Axis of Evil as defined by Maher - Trump, Charles Koch, Rupert Murdoch. Guest Nancy McLean has written a book laying out exactly what Koch is working toward - rescinding various articles of the Constitution to make life much easier and freer for far right billionaires. Apparently, he's nearly there.

Not to mention our planet burning up on all sides, and the ostriches with their heads buried deep.

Hard to reconcile this beautiful hot day with the evil lurking out there. I will put it aside for now. Read in the NYT that we all deserve a holiday from the news. Maybe I should start today.

But how?