Friday, February 5, 2016

Master class! Moi!

Still spring-like here - that is, colder than last week but not nearly as cold as usual and no snow - don't need gloves, coat open. Yes! Hmm - as I write, a few puffy tentative flakes are whispering down. But nothing to speak of. More like fairy dust than snow.

Some interesting events coming up for me. I rearranged my schedule this year so I could attend the April conference in Banff of the Canadian Creative Non-fiction Collective - a mouthful, but my kind of people - and was asked to lead a workshop called Performance for Writers. I was taken aback when it was listed a Master Class, since I consider myself the quintessential Jill of all trades and Master of none. But - a Master Class it is. Here's the info:

Registration for our 2016 Creative Nonfiction Collective member conference, Writing True 12: The Roots of Story, taking place April 21 to 24 in beautiful Banff, Alberta, is underway and we're thrilled with the response thus far!
If you've been holding back from registering until you knew what Master Classes were available, wait no more. As of now, we invite members and non-members alike to register for sessions with noted creative nonfiction writers and editors including John BartonLori A. MayBeth Kaplan, and Trevor Herriot. Get a jump start on your inspiration before the official conference begins! Choose from two concurrent sessions of classes on Friday, April 22. There will be two morning and two afternoon sessions:
9:30am – noon
1:30pm – 4:00pm
The fee for each class is only $25 for members and $40 for non-members. But there's a cap of 25 participants in each, so register soon!


And this morning, I spoke at length with Lisa Roy, who produces events for the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre downtown; she was keen to host an event about my great-grandfather, and so it shall be: Thursday November 17, a talk by me and, we hope, a reading or even scenes in both English and Yiddish by various actors. 

So, much to look forward to, not to mention more mild February weather. And Downton on Sunday - when will the potential partner for Tom Branson appear, a mildly bolshie beautiful young woman who loves children? And before that, Suzette and I are seeing a stage show called Kiss and Cry, which features not actors, but hands. Yes, only hands. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

spring? not quite but almost

The warmest February 3 on record in Toronto - 16 degrees. Heavenly. A friend wrote that he was going for a run in shorts and t-shirt. But back to reality - zero - tomorrow. It sure was nice.

I'm meeting my friend Ken to see a film tomorrow - 45 years - and as I checked the times at the Varsity Cinema, I realized I'd seen nearly all the films and that they were all fabulous. Great great movies these days. (Except The Revenant, which I wouldn't see if you paid me. "Suffering porn," one review called it, and it sure sounds horrible. Who needs that?) Forgot to tell you that on the weekend, I went to see Brooklyn. I hadn't rushed to see it - it looked nice but not that compelling, an immigrant story - but in fact, it's stunning, beautifully written, shot and acted. The lead Saoirse (however that's pronounced) Ronan is glorious, and Julie Walters is in full flight. My only complaint was that almost everyone in the film is so nice, so sweet - if only people and life were really that way. But  as another friend said, I'd gladly spend time with almost every character. Me too, especially the Italian boyfriend then husband, played by young Emory Cohen which does not sound like an Italian name to me. Mmmm, adorable.
The film made me think of Mum, sailing from England to NYC at the age of 24 to see if the wartime romance with her Yank would work out. She brought a big brown suitcase on the boat, just like the character in the film. I have that suitcase in my bedroom now - Cabin Class, the sticker says. I've been thinking of Mum too because the Australian Open was on last week. I do not watch tennis, but Mum did and Auntie Do still does, obsessively. I followed the matches through the Star, was thrilled when Milos Raonic did so well and was reviewed in the Guardian as "the mighty Canadian." He's tough and he does not give up. Go, Milos! I'm sorry Andy Murray lost to the human tank Djokovic, but it didn't matter once Federer was out of the scene. How I miss my mother sometimes. She would have mourned the early defeat of her beloved Fed and celebrated Milos with a little glass of sauvignon blanc. And she would have sobbed all the way through Brooklyn.

Speaking of cabin class - I'm going to Vancouver in March, returning via Calgary, so found what seemed a good price with Air Canada and booked on-line. As I completed the booking, the site asked me to choose a seat for a choice of prices - $25 for a regular seat and $65 for a special seat. So you now book a fare - but a seat is extra! I guess you can always stand in the aisle, or be strapped to the wing. Absurd and dishonest, it seems to me.

I'm trying something as I struggle with my winter insomnia - turning off the computer at 9 p.m. I tried it last night and did sleep better. It's damn hard, though. I kept coming into the kitchen and glancing at the little silver box, but it was asleep. I've so much reading to do, writing, tons of stuff, but this bright little machine keeps me tethered. So now - OFF!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Jian's mother

If there is one woman in the world I feel sorry for these days, it's Mrs. Ghomeshi. Unimaginable - from her golden Persian princeling running every cultural event in this country, to this - fighting for his freedom, the details of his sordid sex life splashed across every newspaper and TV news show. As many of you know, he was my neighbour, he was cheery, kind and friendly and I liked him a lot. Another neighbour who knew and liked him came over tonight to ask - what do you make of all this? What should we think? Particularly today, after the first witness's testimony was shredded?

My take, so far, is this: There's no question that he's arrogant and has dark, twisted views of women, reciprocity, respect and sex; that he was not just stupid but insane to think he could continue to behave in a heedless, abusive way and get away with it. It's good that society is dealing so openly now with violence against women, which I deal with all the time in my memoir classes - assault or abuse by grandfathers, uncles, family friends, leaving lifelong scars.

But there's an article in the NYT today about a man training to be a priest who was arrested for seeking out very small children for violent sexual encounters.
A young seminary student from Ohio flew across the United States on Friday in pursuit of a goal he had spent weeks discussing online in explicit detail: finding a baby, either through adoption or cash purchase, to sexually assault.

In email passages reprinted in the criminal complaint, Mr. Wright discussed his sexual fantasies and said he planned to pay the parents of a baby girl so he could “adopt/own” her. “The cheapest baby girl under 3 would be good,” he wrote.

I try to be a forgiving and open person, but a guy this loathsome - I'd throw him over a cliff.

No question, Jian should not have done what he did - pulling hair, punching, slapping - without making sure that behaviour was consensual, which it sometimes, I gather, is. But there is no comparison, in my mind, between his faults and those who assault children and other innocents. He was dealing with adult women who volunteered to be there.

And I have been a woman like that. Reading my 70's diary recently, I found a passage I'd completely, happily forgotten - that a sort-of boyfriend, one night, faced with me saying no, I was not interested in sex at this time, decided to force the issue. In essence, he raped me. And what I wrote in my diary was, "I loved it."

That is what I wrote. I was thrilled that a man took charge and that I was helpless. I'm ashamed and embarrassed and I find it hard to connect to that 27-year old woman, but there it is in black and white. What goes on between men and women is complicated, and there are flaws on both sides. Let he who is without sin ...

What can we do about sexual madness, though? It seems the internet has lifted up a rock to uncover the vile depths of human behaviour. To those who want to take sex education out of the schools, I say - look around you. See the superb movie "Spotlight." Children need to learn what's going on, what's right and wrong. Because grown ups can be reprehensible.

Okay, enough of that, let's celebrate the fact that it's nearly spring in Toronto. So mild, incredible, I'm riding my bike everywhere and tomorrow - 18 degrees. Unheard of in February. From my back deck and my bike ride on the DVP trail on Sunday, a winter panorama:
 Out my back door
 In winter, we can see the outlines of the trees, the delicacy of colour - beige, grey, brown.
 Oui, Magritte, tout est possible. Ou presque.
Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion bridge in winter.

I celebrate what is good and beautiful and honest and decent, which is everywhere. Because the other side is too. Please, God, let Trump fade into oblivion and let's move right along.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

celebrating Mike Nichols

Sometimes I am so enthralled by something on television, I think of my friends who proudly live without it and shake my head. Tonight, on PBS's American Masters series, a portrait of the director, producer, writer and actor Mike Nichols that was so good, moving, interesting, I took notes all the way through. Unforgettable. (Directed, I found out later, by his longterm improv partner Elaine May.)

I learned years ago, to my surprise, that Nichols was Jewish, but didn't know he was actually born a German Jew and was seven when he arrived in America as a refugee, knowing no English. And all the way through his life, I proudly note, he was surrounded by incredibly talented Jews, Elaine May, Neil Simon and the New York theatre set, and the Hollywood moguls who produced his films. (May herself debuted as a small child in the Yiddish theatre and so almost certainly performed in the plays of my great-grandfather. Should I send her my book?)

Nicols was both brilliant intellectually and extremely funny, two qualities that don't necessarily go together. He was a very nice man, adored by his actors, which also is not that common for directors. After years as an actor and improvisor, he said that as soon as he started directing, he knew this was what he was meant to do. "Directing is what, without knowing it, I'd been getting ready to do all along."

That really struck me. I thought, perhaps that's what teaching memoir writing was for me. Because from the start, it did feel like exactly the right place to be. Though Nicols had a tiny bit more success than I in his chosen profession, with a string of Broadway and Hollywood hits, wealth and fame, Tonys and Oscars and White House honours. However.

He talked about humour. "Funny," he quoted May as saying, "is where stuff goes into your heart."
And he talked of realizing, as he directed the movie Silkwood, that it was actually about himself. "It was about someone who's asleep who wakes up. And I realized that was me. All my work was, finally, about me."

And finally, in an overview of his work, he said, "People say, about a work of theatre or film, Why are you telling me this? And one answer is, 'Because it's funny.' But that's not enough; it doesn't fill the gaps between laughs. The second answer is, Because it's about you."

I have an old record of his work with May and will put it on tonight and toast them both, groundbreaking, brave, brilliant artists who made us laugh but more, showed us ourselves. With thanks.

Friday, January 29, 2016

today's favourite things

Vancouver, where soon I'm going to spend a month - you can practically see Bruce's apartment, which he'd lending me, right on the inlet in the lower left. Lived there 8 1/2 years, from 1975 to 1983, want to revisit old friends and haunts, and my younger self. And drink in sea and mountains and a little bit of rain. Lucky me.
An avuncular Seinfeld on the Daily Show. Trevor Noah is hitting his stride; I'm back to watching when I can. A much-needed voice of sanity.
 Speaking of which ... Still deeply deeply missed, our Jon.
Hilarious! For writers and English majors, at least.