Saturday, January 19, 2019

1979 in the snow

My idea of heaven: listening to Randy Bachman in my warm kitchen on a cold snowy Saturday night, with good TV coming up and an interesting library book waiting. No electricians, no Kevin or Ed or JM, just me in my beat-up house with its new electric lights and its new electric doorbell that's so faint I can hardly hear it, but it's there. At least 3 things on TV coming up at 9. Just had to get up and dance to "Operator" by Manhattan Transfer, an old fave.

This afternoon, I went to see a play called 1979, by Michael Healey. I knew it was about Joe Clark's brief government, but since my memoir takes place mostly in 1979, I thought it might have insights about that time. Well, it was about Joe Clark's brief time in government, and most upsettingly, it features an actor portraying a politician for whom I have a particular loathing, Stephen Harper, as a young man. The play wants to show us that Clark, in some ways, is our Jimmy Carter, a man almost too good to be a politician, with too much decency and integrity to survive the venal corridors of power. It brings back Flora MacDonald, John Crosbie, and Pierre Trudeau and mourns the end of the red Tories, Progressive Conservatives who were probably to the left of many Liberals today. With discussion about the huge recent victory of Margaret Thatcher and the rise of the far-right looming in the distance. Poor Joe - so untelegenic. Remember Diefenbaker? Imagine him being elected these days? I don't think so.

Anyway, rather depressing, especially because even hearing the name of S. Harper makes me want to take a shower. But I walked home in the falling snow, going via the library to return the disappointing Beatles book and getting out one I'd ordered, Out on the Wire: the storytelling secrets of the new masters of radio, by Jessica Abel.

So much to do, so little time. Did not go to the women's march, did no work today at all, just enjoyed being alone in my house in the snow. And that's enough.

Friday, January 18, 2019

protesting the NYT Book Review on behalf of Leonard Cohen

You know I am a kind and serene person. But on Monday I wrote an angry note to the editor of the NYT Book Review, Pamela Paul. They recently printed an appallingly personal and mean-spirited review of a posthumous collection by Leonard Cohen. My note to her:
I’m sending this protest as a Canadian, but also as a music lover, a poetry lover, a writer, and a decades-long reader of the NYT Book Review. 

I’ve rarely read a review that made me as angry as the one by William Logan of a posthumous collection of the work of Leonard Cohen. It was vicious, and it was unforgivable. 

I have not read the book in question, and it may be that this posthumous collection of scribblings is weak. But Logan makes a point of denigrating every facet of the man’s talent. Most of Leonard Cohen’s songs are glorious, musically and lyrically. He was a superb performer; his concerts were unforgettable, magical. He was generous and wise. It's no wonder women adored him, which also is something Logan holds against him. 

I’m surprised you would assign this book to a critic known to be petty and vindictive. But perhaps that was the point? 

Today she sent a nice note in reply: 
Beth, thank you for feedback, even if critical. I will pass along your note to the editor who handled this assignment. Know that you are not alone in your happiness with Logan's review.

Now that's impressive!

You know I'm a good-natured and generous writer. God forbid I say something negative about another writer or her work. Except for this: I heard about a novel published this year called "She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah," about a girl's obsession with the Beatles, specifically Macca, in 1966. So, since this sounds a teeny tiny bit like a certain memoir I know and love, I got it out of the library.

I submitted my memoir "All My Loving: Coming of age with Paul McCartney in Paris" (which is not specifically YA, perhaps to its detriment) to several small publishers and was turned down. This YA novel was published by Penguin Young Readers Group. Penguin! And I have to say, I hated it. Well, I guess I would, wouldn't I? Is it just jealousy? The narrator is annoyingly blinkered, limited, whiny, and the whole scene about American high school and BFFs and cheerleaders and the laboured setup and the denouement - she and her friends meet George Harrison and Paul McCartney outside the hotel where the Beatles are staying in Boston after a concert - oh sure. Paul signs a picture for her that urges her distant father to cherish her. Oh sure.

Okay, yes, I'm jealous. Penguin. My memoir I think is more real and more gritty and more immediate and a hell of a lot funnier, plus you get to go to Paris! It was published by BPS Books, partly paid for by one Beth Kaplan.


Moving right along.

The usual chaos here. The electricians still have not finished, a week after they were supposed to be done. Kevin wants to get to drywall today but all kinds of other things are in the way.
Kevin in my bedroom
The spare bedroom

JM and I are constantly renegotiating our marital relationship. I am at the moment in the sun in my office, though my desk is covered with dropcloths and dust and soon I will be pushed out. But all this is not making me sick, as it did in December. I'm listening to Bach through my headphones. I'm sitting in the sun. I finished an essay yesterday. May you live in interesting times. Onward.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

working in chaos: it's fun!

Electricians still here, poor souls - I think they're afraid they'll never get out. Always some new complication. That's my house for you.

It's almost comical, the scene here - the chaos upstairs, the shouts and drilling and hammering - today, Kevin and Ed putting in insulation and sound-proofing around the 4 electricians on ladders, JM dashing in and out, and in the middle of it all, two huge boxes from Wayfair with bedside lights I'd ordered a few days ago and hated on sight, needed to be repacked to be returned.

Somehow in the midst of all this, I sit in the kitchen wearing my noise-cancelling headphones, as I am now, and work. I've almost finished one essay and will soon finish another. For some reason, the noise and mess has spurred me on - perhaps because there's nothing else I can do here, not even take a nap, so there's no choice but to work. Hooray!
My bedroom
The second floor landing. Nice furry stuff in the walls, and next, drywall. Oh the excitement of drywall. Can't wait.

And now - 4.55 p.m. - my reward for being alive: Wine Time.

PS Is it POSSIBLE Trump does not know what those things McDonalds sells are actually called? He tweeted about serving "hamberders." Why are we surprised? I have one word for you: covfefe.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

"The Good Place"

Last night was a Monday in January, and I was not teaching. I've been teaching on Monday nights January through March for many years. This term, my course is being taught by the estimable Sarah Sheard. It felt good but odd to be taking a break. I'm back in May.

Still, upstairs, shouts in Cantonese. The job of rewiring my house is, of course, taking much longer than the electricians expected. It's 5 p.m. on the third day and they're still wrestling upstairs, pounding and drilling, with more tomorrow. However, soon I will have the perkiest, prettiest wires of any house in town.
I'm getting used to it now - the disruption, noise, mess, teams of men hither and yon. C'est la vie. C'est la renovation. It'll go on and on - and then, as my friend Valerie assures me, like childbirth, once it's over, I'll forget the pain.

Finished "The Business of Being a Writer," by Jane Friedman. Intimidating. I wonder when younger writers, who are busy building a platform and being visible on social media and being "good literary citizens," have time to write. This is a problem. But I've taken notes and will do my best to be a good literary citizen, ancient scribbler though I am.

On Sunday, I heard an interview on CBC radio's "Tapestry" with Michael Schur, creator of a TV series called "The Good Place," which I'd never heard of. He talked about being positive and uncynical, and the show sounded interesting. Wayson came for dinner, and after, we watched FIVE episodes of "The Good Place" on Netflix. Entertaining and even important - it takes place in heaven (or, I gather, not) and though absurd, it's about what it takes to be a good person, among other things, while making us laugh.

Today - a special treat, my friends. I went to see my beloved psychiatrist, the one person in the world who is always, 100%, on my side. Yes, I pay her for it, but still, she listens and she's there and I thank the great lord in the skies above that she's still practicing and I can see her once or twice a year. A check up. Yes, still sane, relatively. Still functioning, more or less. Onward.

My backyard is surreal - full of insulation. My grandsons would like to bounce on it, I'm sure. See how green, in January?! An amazing winter so far.
The electricians discovered this in the floorboards - part of an Ontario license plate from 1925.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Hannah Gadsby

Have you watched the Australian comedienne Hannah Gadsby's "Nanette" on Netflix? I'd started some months ago, found her amusing but light and a bit one-note, was interrupted after about 15 minutes and didn't think it worth going back to. But friends insisted and so I did - and wow, what a knockout punch she delivers, suddenly veering from amusing anecdotes about being gay in rural New Zealand to telling the truth about how heartrendingly hard it was, and is, to be different in a nasty, judgemental world - and then to find a way to make her story funny. Truth - that's my business, and I loved, just loved watching this brave, intelligent woman deliver hard, honest truths after making us laugh. "I need to tell my story properly," she says. "Stories hold our cure."

Gotcha, Hannah. Highly recommended.

It's Sunday, so there are no men in my house, thank God. The last few days - a horde of electricians chattering, sometimes shouting, in Cantonese, as they attempted to figure out the arcane wiring of this house. I just went upstairs, a bare skeleton with tangles of wires everywhere and holes in the outside walls; at this stage, it's hard to believe anyone will ever live up there again. But Kevin is ordering drywall, and next week, apparently, it'll start to go up.
 My bedroom yesterday
A few of the wires
The second floor looking west

I've been reading this "The business of being a writer" book - and though I am attempting to take it seriously, am putting in sticky notes to go back to, still, I wonder if it's a generational divide. What are Influencers? People with blogs or websites with lots of Likes, I gather. Content strategies? I think that means what you write about. Yes? No? No idea. But I'll try to develop some Content Strategies, though my days of being an Influencer are long gone, now that my children, whom I desperately attempted to influence, have left home.

My current Content Strategy: I am rewriting two essays for literary competitions. Though I was long-listed for one a few times, I've only ever in my writing career won one prize, was co-winner one year, in a not-too-crowded field, of the Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition. I stopped entering competitions years ago, focussing on books but also thinking that my writing was not the kind that shines in competition. Well, that is undoubtedly still true, but a competition provides a deadline and a word count, so I'm off. Yesterday, I took a piece written years ago and cut more than 700 words so it'll fit the 3000 word limit. It hurt and yet was surprisingly satisfying to see how much the piece could lose and still stand. At the moment, it's 2995 juicy, delicious words.

One problem these days, as I join more websites connecting writers and about writing, is that I could spend my entire life reading about writing. And that's not books and articles, just what's pouring out online. Some limits needed.

More coffee and toast and a fried egg needed.

From my little life to yours - Happy Sunday.