Sunday, December 21, 2014

winter solstice, home

Home home beloved home. The flight was painless, the city not that cold and even sunny. My tenant Carol left me homemade tomato soup in the fridge and had been to the library to get a book I'd ordered that came in: Steven Pinker's "The Sense of Style: the thinking person's guide to writing in the 21st century." That should keep me busy. Friends John and Sylvie left a big box of the most divine Christmas baking on the deck, some of which is in my stomach right now. There were Christmas cards in the mail, and just now, I got to listen to the podcast of friend and student Mary-Jane McPhee, who wrote a magnificent story for our Thursday writing group and this morning read it on CBC's the Sunday Edition. Here's the website, below; her essay The Night is off to the right. It's a beauty, and beautifully read too. Proud of you, MJ.

Florida - palm trees, beach, pool, birds, colour, soft moist air - seems already like a dream. Wait - my hands are an unusual pale caramel colour. And soon I'll read what I wrote down there and see if it's any good. That's the real test.

And now - Christmas! Ye Gods. I have to get a tree.

The Night - Essay

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The Night - Essay
Catastrophes have to be good for something. Sometimes they are wake up calls. Sometimes they rearrange borders. And sometimes they bring people together in surprising ways.

Have I got a piece of Florida for you!


This is what I saw through the living room window at 7.30 this morning.

Readers, this condo is for sale - but at the moment, it's empty and available - if you are a friend of mine. A two-bedroom condo overlooking the water on beautiful Anna Maria Island, fully furnished with bedding, towels, all kitchenware, beach stuff - swimming pool and hot tub on one side, endless white sand beach (free shells!) on the other. You see dawn on one side, and on the other, if you go across the street at around 6, you see the sun drop below the Gulf of Mexico. Direct flights from Toronto to Sarasota, a 20 minute drive from the airport.

Heaven.

Let me know.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

more about Birdman

I should fill you in about Birdman since I know you value my opinion in all things. Particularly politics, I know you agree with me completely about that, dear reader - but also occasionally film. This one is the weirdest jumble of things. It's apparently famous for its long tracking shots, though those don't matter to me. I did appreciate its extreme originality of story, script, acting - many things make it worth seeing. It's never dull.

But it purports to be about the theatre, a Hollywood star producing and starring in a Broadway show, and it's so far off base with that, it drove me mad. In what show could you replace a lead role the day before previews and not even rehearse? What big New York actor would drink real gin and try to have real sex during a sex scene on stage during a preview? What theatre would allow an ex-wife of the star backstage in the middle of the second act on a Broadway opening night - and what star, on that same night, would loll around chatting amiably? Go and wait for your @#$# cue, I was screaming.

And what is it about Latin Americans and magic realism? Why do they all think they can fly and move things with their minds? Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Inarritu, the director of this movie, the same. Crazy stuff. Why can't the rest of us do those things?

Perhaps now you're anxious to see it. It won't be a waste of your time, though you might dislike it and like it in equal measure, as I did.

And now that I have given you my invaluable critique, I'm going to bed.

Bird land.

My last day amidst the pelicans and palm trees - back home tomorrow to grey and minus four. It has been a great week. I saw the accountant and the real estate agent and talked twice to the lawyer. Helped load twelve boxes of records that have been stored under the stairs here for many years into Cousin David's car - my Uncle Edgar's collection of baroque masterpieces that Mum couldn't bear to let go but never listened to. Now David has them and is doing research to figure out how to store and play them.

He and I have spent more time together than we ever have before. There's a picture of us taken in Chinatown in NYC in about 1961 - I ten or eleven, he six year older, the youngest and quietest of my father's Uncle Bill's three sons. We've connected on rare occasions through the years, but what a gift that he took his retirement in Bradenton. Last night we went to see Birdman, an excellent if wild and crazy film, a must for theatre people, and then had a small seafood dinner overlooking the water, watching a white egret stalking about on the deck of a boat. We're having dinner on the beach again tonight. I haven't been nearly as alone here as I usually am.

And yet I've been alone a lot and still haven't done as much work as I'd like. A huge editing job, barely begun, the stacks of New Yorkers still not finished. Where does the time go? My indulgence was reading the NYT every day - that took an hour. Walking on the beach. But every morning, I did go down to sit by the pool and write longhand and then transcribe on the computer. The new memoir is now nearly 15,000 words long. That's a victory.

Thanks to the neighbours who lent me their wifi, making this visit infinitely easier than previous ones, when I had to drive to the local donut shop to access the internet. And the weather - just warm enough that I could enjoy the pool, not so warm that others wanted to. Oh the blessed silence down there. And that long long white sand beach. The first blast of freezing Canadian air will be tough.

I honour my mother, yet again, for her choice to winter in this unpretentious, quiet, lovely place, and my father and uncle who made that financially possible for her and Auntie Do. Thank you, all of you, I am forever grateful for the time spent here, for the pelicans and palm trees. And now, I and my brown arms and my new collection of tiny shells and my 15,000 words are going home. Love, Beth

Friday, December 19, 2014

Colbert's epic goodbye

Epic send-off to Stephen Colbert yesterday night, demonstrating what a good show can and does - very occasionally - do: make us part of a kind of warm and intelligent family. Colbert, like Jon Stewart, feels like a really good friend. I've never watched Johnny Carson or Letterman or those other late night guys Americans are addicted to - who wants an hour of clever, cynical banter as you go to bed? But Stewart and Colbert are different because they CARE passionately about the world, and from the same angle I do, at a time when the voices on the right, the Republicans and their mouthpiece Fox "News," are not just wrong-headed but criminally petty, blind and selfish.

Colbert is a joyful man, that's what so rare about him and why he could get away with playing a blowhard egotist for so long. We sensed the joy right through the absurdities he was spouting. And to see the depth of his friendship with Jon Stewart, two wealthy, successful men at the top of their game, hugely important in the American media panorama, dealing with each other with brotherly love ... am I getting carried away here? I don't think so, if you've ever seen them together.

So we knew Jon surely would appear last night, and sure enough, he did. At the very end - after Colbert had vanquished Death - yes, typically over the top - Stephen began to sing We'll Meet Again and I thought, Oh God, surely not, how sentimental. Then a door opened and Jon Stewart appeared to a roar of approval, and the two linked arms and continued to sing. Wait - isn't that Randy Newman playing the piano for them?

And then they all appeared, celebs pouring in, all kinds, from all ends of the political and entertainment spectrum strewn about the stage singing, musicians, actors, politicians, writers, Muppets - Big Bird, my almost-friend Carol Spinney in costume with his giant orange feet! It was marvellous. Henry Kissinger! The failed politician Elliot Spitzer, unashamedly singing. A shot of someone singing on a spaceship. A panorama of faces, there to pay tribute to the king of truthiness.

I hope this next project works for you, Stephen. You'll do it without the cynicism others have found necessary for the job. Thank you for your commitment, your courage, sense of humour and giant joyful heart, your own invaluable kind of truth.

It was nearly impossible to get all of them, but here are some of the famous faces we spotted: Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterston, Keith Olbermann, Tom Brokaw, Katie Couric, Ken Burns, Howard Stern, Cory Booker, Bryan Cranston, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Charlie Rose, Tim Meadows, the Cookie Monster, James Franco, Toby Keith, Big Bird, Andy Cohen, Christiane Amanpour, David Gregory, Randy Newman, Willie Nelson, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Mandy Patinkin, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Cyndi Lauper, Andrew Sullivan, Ric Ocasek,  Michael Stipe, Kareem Abdul Jabar, Barry Manilow, Bill DeBlasio, Jeff Tweedy, Patrick Stewart, Stone Phillips, Arianna Huffington, Alan Alda, George Lucas, Alexai Lalas, Henry Kissinger, Elijah Wood, Mike Huckabee, Bob Costas, Nate Silver, Dan Savage, Thomas Friedman, Matt Taibbi, Mark Cuban and Paul Krugman.
There were many more, plus those not in studio: members of Pussy Riot; Vince Gilligan; and then Bill Clinton wishing Colbert well.