Tuesday, December 18, 2018

a slump

Voices from upstairs, men figuring out this and that. Measuring negotiating planning. Always problems arising in this old old house. Nightmares for the owner, sleepless nights, upset stomach. Decisions to make.

Let sleeping dogs lie, they say. My house was a very sleepy skinny old Borzoi with many things wrong. Undertaking to fix them has brought forth a whole new array of issues. My hair is grey and soon I think my face will be grey too.

However. No choice now but forward. Tomorrow they say there will be sun. That will help; it's been the greyest fall on record, I understand. Also, a family member recently called to tell me about a cancer diagnosis, that dreaded word: aggressive. Hit me very hard, just when I was feeling raw.

But - two of my oldest friends came for dinner last night, in the rubble - Suzette and Jessica, both of whom have been through renovation hell and were kind and supportive, with great ideas. And then we ate and drank and talked - a lot about aging, how and where will we live, what is happening to us now, how people call us Ma'am and stand for us on the streetcar, and we all, vibrant accomplished working women with lots still to do in this world, can't understand why.

I stepped heedlessly into this project, a good idea to do a little this and that, and now it's huge, carnage, massive destruction. I know it will all be worth it; good things have already come - a major clear out, timely discovery of more termites. But right now, all I see is money flying out the door and noise, mess, disruption, to the horizon.

First world problems.

Need to go for a walk.  And then - just to complete my joy - to the dentist.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Yo Yo, light, "Will You Ever Forgive Me?"

Yo Yo Ma was in Montreal recently with his new Bach project, playing Bach's Unaccompanied - how I would love to have been there. And then he played in a Montreal subway station. When asked why he'd included Canada on his very busy itinerary, he said something like, "Are you kidding? Canada is one of the only liberal democracies left!" Chrystia Freeland was interviewed recently by the NYTimes in Toronto; she rode her bicycle to the interview, and she also said, “I would argue — and I don’t think this is gloating at all — I think Canada is the strongest liberal democracy in the world right now. And if you guys disagree with me, name me one that’s stronger. Right? Truly. We’re standing pretty strong, and that’s great.”


Another weekend - no men in my house. Though today, I put an emergency call through to Kevin at noon, when I found water dripping from the third floor to the second. AAAHG - the angry water gods again! Luckily, Kevin lives a few houses away and came right away; not a hole in the roof, it was a problem with the plumbing he installed yesterday, fixed in an hour.

But as I sat in the sauna at the Y, breathing in the hot still air, I realized one reason this reno has been so difficult for me: yes, of course, it's my house being ripped apart and partially demolished as I live in it, with resulting disruption, dust, and chaos, terrible ripping, crashing sounds of destruction. And yes, it's money, tons of money floating up the chimney, to the great merriment of the Royal Bank of Canada.

But also - I am a woman who lives alone. There are days I talk to almost no-one, as I sit in my house, my sanctuary of peace and solitude. And now my sanctuary is flooded with people daily - Kevin and Ed arrive at 8.30 a.m., JM not long after, the electrician, the termite guys, the roofer, the others, a long procession, all needing to be dealt with. A thousand decisions have to be made, all costing me money and the men time.

So - a tiny bit of stress. A tich of anxiety. JM is very kind and says I'm dealing with it well. You could have fooled me.

Fun yesterday - we need lighting fixtures, and he discovered a high end lighting showroom that has - be still my beating heart - a remainder table with quality stuff vastly reduced. So we went yesterday to check out all the boxes piled on their table. It's a wonderful place: Dark Tools.
https://www.darktools.com/. The owner, Glen, a most personable man, took time from a company lunch he was hosting to show us his wares; he's passionate about lights, and we fell for his honeyed words, and also his offer of sometimes 90% off. I bought an extravagant something that's totally not me, and yet I hope will work in a new very tall space we're creating by taking out a bit of third floor floor, and also a pendant orb for my bedroom. I woke at 4 a.m. in a sweat, wondering if they're ridiculous. You be the judge.
We have the raw materials; that's the finished product. We'll hang individual maple leaves all over the frame and suspend it in a very tall passageway.

I've never bought anything at a high end design store before - but that remainder table made these a possibility. And then Glen drove us back here in his truck and I learned all about his love life. Now that's a great experience in a store!

Today, like last Saturday, I've spent recovering from the week, and from the leak. This mild afternoon, rode my bike to my favourite cinema, the Carlton, to see "Will you ever forgive me?" There seem to be lots of movies about writers these days, this one about Lee Israel, a biographer who fell on hard times, ended up forging author letters fashioned in the voices of famous writers and making very good money selling to dealers - until she was apprehended. And then, of course, she wrote a memoir about her life of crime. It features superb performances by Melissa McCarthy - only a little bit of milking going on - and the always fabulous Richard Grant, doing another version of his dissolute but adorable "Withnail and I" character. Well done and very entertaining.

As in "The Wife," in this film, the writer's life is not enviable. And yet here we are. With our new twinkly lights and our smashed house and a glass of wine in our hand.


Thursday, December 13, 2018

discovering Facebook Messenger

Starting with the big news - Michael Cohen's conviction. Sing, Mike, sing! Nail the giant orange blowhole. Though I wonder with what's going on everywhere else - Brazil, Britain, Ontario, Italy, Hungary et al - will it make any difference? What has happened to our world?! The revenge of the angry white man. Lynn Skyped today from Montpellier, livid at the gilets jaunes, who have paralyzed cities and shops before Xmas, putting lots of people out of work. "We have free education and wonderful health care," she said, "but it's not enough for them."

Major discovery today: Someone sent me a message on FB Messenger, so I replied, and then saw to my amazement that there were all kinds of messages on the left side of the screen. I started scrolling, and realized that they went back to 2008 or so, the year I joined FB! I didn't realize you should check Messenger regularly. People wrote nice notes about liking my books; one woman loved "So True" and wrote offering me a print of an old typewriter; several people wrote after pieces of mine appeared on CBC radio, asking if I was the Beth Kaplan they'd known in the past. I was mortified to realize I'd ignored them all.

So I wrote back to a few, wondering if they'd reply even after years, and one did immediately, a schoolmate from Grades 7- 9 in Halifax, and another a friend from New Brunswick. Crazy.

Yet another way to pass the time. I was about to write "waste time" but changed it. It's so much fun.

Nearly had a meltdown today. Poor JM brings up some new issue or expense and watches my face turn purple with stress. Today the electrician came and told us changing the panel and the new wiring would cost $8000. This is not even an item on the budget; we both forgot changing the wiring would be necessary. These are the kinds of things that turn my face puce. It's terrifying.

However. It's happening. And once it's done, if I survive, it'll all have been worth it. Already there's much more light pouring into the second floor because of the third floor barriers we've removed. But still, it looks pretty dreadful.
The view from my bedroom of the rest of the second floor and the stairs to the third. The skeleton of my house.

But on the plus side, there's this - Eli's Christmas concert yesterday. Just look at that multicoloured band of Grade One's. He's the fourth from the left in the back row - very serious. Looking, once more, exactly like my father as a boy.
Tomorrow JM and I go to look at second-hand light fixtures. Life is full of excitement. Oh, and best of all - I've booked a massage tomorrow at 3. I may just stay there until February.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

saving my sanity

A quiet day here in the battered house, down to its skeletal bones upstairs, and downstairs, cluttered and strewn. It makes me laugh to think how I used to fuss about putting stuff away and now - nowhere to put it, so it's just everywhere. You enter my living room through torn plastic sheeting. Showers of drywall on the stairs. Life is good.
My closet.

"News of fresh disasters." My mother would get the joke, from "Beyond the Fringe," our favourite comedy album. (Feeling like a dinosaur as I type the words "comedy album." Wuh? say the kids. Wuzzat?) Yesterday, fresh disasters, but we figured out a way through. And there was good news: the roofer came at 8 a.m. to inspect my flat roof. Doesn't look damp, he said. No water pooling. Termites must be coming from somewhere else.

I walked to the Y yesterday to take a shower and sit in the silence of the sauna. The place will save my life in the upheaval, as it has so often before. I read once about the importance of the "third place" - not home, not work; in England it's the pub, in France the café. For me, my second place, since I work mostly at home, is the Y.

Some treats: on Monday, dinner here with my friend Stella Walker, who didn't mind picking her way through the rubble, and then the season finale of the breathtaking My Brilliant Friend. Yesterday, getting Calypso by David Sedaris out of the library, laughing out loud on nearly every page. A note from a longterm student, saying he'd had printed the first draft of his memoir, and when he brought it home and showed it to his partner, they both burst into tears. "My whole life in a box," he wrote.
I want to thank you for all your guidance and support in making this stage of my writing journey come true. 

My pleasure, my very great pleasure. Another longterm student and friend wrote to offer me a private suite in her basement, and Monique said I can come next door anytime. Shelter! Thank you, kind neighbours. Jean-Marc and I went to Green's, the local junk/antique store, to pick through her unbelievably cluttered basement for old doors and other things. We now have about 56 possible doors. My friend is still bursting, exploding, with ideas. Sometimes that's wonderful, sometimes not so much.

It's stretching my tiny mind to figure out where things are. I've been in such a routine for so long, and now I turn to go upstairs to bed, but no, my bed is downstairs. I go into the hall to put on my boots, but they're under the piano bench. It's good for the shrivelling brain.

Sparrows on the deck, pecking snow. The other day there was a young hawk hunting in the garden, which is mostly white and brown. Here's something else that will save my sanity: the Conservatory in Allan Gardens, where I dallied yesterday on my way to the Y. Colour and scent and beauty.

Somewhere, in the jumble of furniture and clothing stuffed onto the third floor, are Christmas presents that need to be wrapped. Christmas! The pageant! Let's not think about that right now.

Monday, December 10, 2018

kill dem bugs

These are the words that are music to my ears today: Termidor, which is so toxic it's illegal in Canada, and Altriset, not as toxic and legal. Termite poison. Death to the colonies. Lots has to happen, mostly drilling all around the perimeter of the house, inside and out, to deliver the poison, plus making sure there's no moisture anywhere. They like warm, damp wood. The roofer has to come back to check every bit of my roof. My neighbour Pierre went to the States to get Termidor for his house, but I'm a law-abiding Canadian, so Altriset it is. I hope they'll get to it just after Xmas.

Had to check when the huge infestation was: August 2012. Luckily, it was a hot dry summer.
The ceiling right above my bed, before -
and after.
And rebuilt. My study now was then my bedroom - they ripped the roof and walls right off and remade it all. So this new problem could be much, much worse.

More good news - they chopped a piece of ceiling out of my tenant's apartment and found the beams to be in good shape. There's one possibly chewed beam but it won't bring the house down. YAY!

The heat was off again today so I sat here in coat and boots, stewing internally and freezing externally. Truly, I have the A team; I trust Kevin and Ed implicitly and see now that if JM had been around when the termites first appeared, he would have made sure we did more to keep them from coming back. My modus vivendi: deal with unpleasant things quickly and cheaply and MOVE RIGHT ALONG. Often, it turns out, a mistake.

Intended to get out today, if just for a walk - no. Trying to decide on how to get away during the winter - nearly impossible in this chaos. Thinking about my book? It is to laugh.

The house speaks to me at night, creaking, cracking, and groaning, even banging. Freaked me out at first, as I lie in my basement cubby listening to the mysterious noises above. Kevin said they took a thousand pounds of drywall to the dump today, so the house is feeling its bones for the first time in decades and telling me all about it. And soon, house, we'll make sure you're not being devoured by bugs.

After all this, if this old house doesn't actually kill me, I'll die of old age here and they'll carry me out, out through my bugless front door, feet first.