Thursday, May 21, 2015

Three small madmen who are three, and "Mad Men"

I hope you'll indulge me, dear readers. My grandson was three today, and his birthday was a grand celebration which I share, below, with you. His real party is on Saturday; this was just a small event with his best friends Finn and Marcus. Imagine, having two best friends before you're three. My daughter's backyard is better than a playground, just full of toys, the hangout for lots of local kids, which is fine with her. Now more than ever, I'm sure - because my gift, which had been requested, was a large wading pool. They spent some time filling it up and the rest of the afternoon emptying it - scooping water out and splashing. The pool, believe it or not, has 3-D fish on it and 3-D goggles so you can appreciate them.
 Consultation on protocol.
Time out for smashing things.
And things with wheels.
Anna made the cupcakes and Finn's mother decorated them. With threes!
 Waiting for the cupcakes.
 Singing Happy Birthday.
A pretty damn good life, I'd say.

A quick comment on finales in television, of which we had two this past week -"Mad Men" and David Letterman. And both of which meant almost nothing to me. I never watched Letterman - it was on at 11.35, for God's sake, who stays up that late, except to watch Stephen Colbert? People keep saying how will they live without him - but what about Jon Stewart, he's the one we won't be able to live without.

Well ... I won't be able to live without. An interesting funny friend on the glassy screen late at night: what Jon is to me, what Dave was for millions.

As for "Mad Men," I'm really sorry I didn't watch what was obviously stellar television about a fascinating time in American life. I did see the last 3 episodes, because now - as those of you who follow these chronicles know - I have a PVR, and I actually managed to use it to tape the show. So I saw the famous zen finale and the famous Coke ad - and had no idea what to make of it, since I hardly knew the characters. But I was upset by what was shown - Don Draper flailing about in the middle of nowhere, learning that his ex-wife is dying of cancer and instead of returning to be a comfort or at least help out with his children, just keeps on going in a selfish alcoholic stupor. But then, he was a man of his times. Which weren't that long ago and yet felt like the Dark Ages, in some respects. Terrific TV.

It's 11.35. If Letterman were on, I could actually watch him for the first time. But he's not. Thank God, I get to go to bed.

Monday, May 18, 2015

gay wedding, yes; "Avengers," no

Last night a joyful event - my neighbour Rob, a lawyer I've lived next to for two decades and watched in and out of several relationships, and Alex, the young man he's been living with for five years, got married. The event was divided into two - the wedding itself at 6 was attended by close friends and family, followed by dinner, and then the rest of us were invited at 9.30 for dessert, Champagne and dancing. It was held at Momofuko, Toronto's member of the prestigious international Momofuko chain - David Sedaris told us the night before that as soon as he gets to Toronto, he rushes to Momofuko.

I, of course, have never been. So, much to look forward to. The dress code was "formal chic," so I raided my dress-up closet for Goodwill specials before settling, not without much back and forth in front of the mirror, on a little black dress from the Fifties ("Dress Town" is the tag), with a vintage sequinned coat on top and a gorgeous necklace of Mum's that I've never worn and she never wore either - a big chunk of topaz. High heels, but not too high. Danceable high. And an evening bag I bought at Housing Works Thrift in New York. Besides the shoes, which were from Winner's, the most expensive thing I had on were the pantyhose.

Fellow neighbours and 9.30 invitees Jean-Marc and Richard and I got a cab over together. A heavenly night, soft and sweet, to stand under a tent on a beautifully decorated terrace overlooking all of University Avenue. A friend who'd been at the actual ceremony said everyone wept. Winston, Rob's aging bull terrier, made a short appearance before being whisked away. And though I was sorry to have missed the ceremony and even more, to be frank, the meal, oh, the pleasure for us latecomers - meeting Rob's mother from Montreal, his beautiful sister who'd flown in from L.A. and was wearing an Oscar-worthy champagne brocade floor-length gown, and many old friends. Rob is Jewish from Montreal, so there were Jewish rituals, and also Macedonian ones honouring Alex's background - at one point they broke a big round loaf of bread baked by his grandmother. There was the cutting of the cake, the first dance which we all stood misty-eyed and watched - all the traditional rituals of a wedding.

Talking with Rob's mother, I thought, she must never have imagined such a day - that her brilliant son would enjoy a solid partnership and a happy celebration of it. To think there are forces in the world that would deny gay couples such comfort and community. I realized yesterday that weddings are as much for the community as for the couple - for us all to celebrate a loving and committed union, to join together in hope for the future. In a world of so much darkness and shame, some things are moving in the right direction.

And then Jean-Marc and Richard and I danced like crazy for ages. Mazel tov, Rob and Alex. I wish you many years of joy.

Today, speaking of a world of darkness and shame - Anna's Mother's Day present was for me to take her to the movie of her choice while a friend watched Eli. She chose the new Avengers movie, The Age of Ultron. She loves that stuff. I hate it but feel that every once in a while I should move out of my movie comfort zone. My kids make fun of my taste for obscure indie movies - which I call works of art instead of Hollywood crap. But sometimes I've enjoyed their choices.

This time, however, no. Anna loved it, she said, though how that's possible, I don't know. She says she goes to movies to escape reality and also was glad there wasn't a little person asking her questions and plastered to her side. Instead she had me with my fingers in my ears right through the unbelievably loud credits. It was all about blowing things up, smashing things, smashing, bashing, crashing. Incredible special effects, no question - there was a list of thousands of technical people at the end. But to what end? I had thought there would be a tiny bit of humanity - such good actors, after all. But no. Smashing and crashing.

It didn't help that all these superheroes had complicated back stories which I didn't know. Anna did, and tried to explain afterwards. It was all lost on me. All I could think, when the ringing in my ears subsided, was, "There's 2 1/2 hours of my life I'll never get back."

But the suffering is worth it if it makes my daughter happy. Once in a while.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

So True stories Sunday May 31

On this beautiful Sunday morning of the long weekend, I'm writing to invite you to our next reading event in exactly two weeks, Sunday May 31. Eight powerful stories from eight great writers and a short something or other from me, in a convivial, central spot with a nicely stocked bar. Doors open at 4 p.m., it starts at 4.30 and ends at 6.30, just in time for dinner on the Danforth. Cost: $10.

Please join us. Check our website for a map, some previous stories and more details.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

David Sedaris yes, Tom Stoppard not so much

Here is David Sedaris's relationship advice: "My husband Hugh and I have been together for 25 years, so I get asked about it a lot," he said. "I say, first, do NOT ever talk about your relationship with the person you're in a relationship with. Lesbians have the highest divorce rate because they talk about their relationship all the time. And gay men divorce the least because there's nothing they hate doing more.

And next, when you've been together 15 years, stop listening to what the other person is saying. Whatever they're saying, you've heard it all before. Oh, pretend to listen and make sounds of sympathy every so often. But don't listen."

Love it!

The man packed the Sony Centre tonight, which holds 3000 people. The downstairs was full and up was pretty full, so could it be that around 2500 people came out to hear A WRITER? A WRITER READING HIS ESSAYS? Jesus. Incredible.

He just walked on and stood at the podium and started to talk, and we started to laugh. He told us that his luggage had been lost in transit and so he had to go out and buy clothes. He was wearing a bow tie. "I used to say that wearing a bow tie means 'I cannot get an erection any more.'" And he went on from there, the laughs rolling in, people hooting and gasping. He read two stories, one about having a benign tumour removed so he could feed it to a large snapping turtle - yes - and the second, a long one about his crazy brother Paul, which was very funny but also moving - about how Paul is raising his daughter the self-esteem way, praising everything she does, as opposed to how David and his siblings were raised by their alcoholic mother. "Aren't they horrible?" his mother said once to her friends at the country club, looking at her kids. "I'd just like to line them up against a wall and shoot them."

Yes, it was funny, and said with affection. At the end he read from his diary - he must write down every funny thing he hears or thinks, and he hears and thinks a lot of funny things - and then took questions, about his FitBit mania and his collecting garbage mania. I put up my hand but was too far back for him to see. I wanted to ask how his family feels about his writing about them, especially his parents about whom he is brutally honest. Have they read his stories? Don't they mind? Does he hold back and censor himself? I'm sure he does - but it doesn't show, that's for sure.

Anyway, he was inspiring - a very funny man whose writing gives pleasure to so many. He is known to take a huge amount of time with book signing - staying for hours, talking to each person. When I left, the lineup was already the entire length of the lobby - young old gay straight, waiting for David. Oh, to be that funny. He's a writer superstar. They exist. He and J. K. Rowling, writer superstars, among my heroes.

This afternoon, however, I went to see the National Theatre Live presentation of the great Tom Stoppard's latest play "The Hard Problem". These filmed plays are spectacular, putting us all front row centre. But this play - two thumbs down. Stoppard is known for his intensely intellectual work; I saw the Shaw Festival's production of the brilliant "Arcadia" recently and loved straining to follow the dense, fascinating, abstruse discussions. Here, the discussions were just dense, endless, the characters made of cardboard, and even much of the acting, I felt, wasn't great, mostly because the actors had so much to say and so little to feel.

Have to tell you that part of me didn't mind at all thinking, If even famous, brilliant Tom Stoppard can write such a dud, then my own duds don't matter so much. Schadenfreude. David Sedaris could say something funny about that. I'll work on it.

Friday, May 15, 2015

meeting in writing class

You never know what will happen in a writing class. Mine are both well underway and already full of fascinating lives and intersections, including, in one, two Caucasians in their seventies who grew up and lived for decades as adults in the same small African country and then emigrated to Toronto, sitting side by side in class though they've never met; their first pieces of writing were both full of bonobos, puff adders and leopards. Even without that kind of synchronicity, students often find soulmates in class, people who've been through remarkably similar experiences.

But nothing beats this story, of two women, strangers in a New York creative writing class who discovered that they're sisters!

Former student Nancy Figueroa, who's had several pieces in the Globe since taking my class, including one about taking my class, had another in yesterday, just in time for the vitriolic debate in Ontario on sex ed. Very entertaining, brava, Nancy. I wrote to congratulate her, and she wrote back that many of the students in her 2012 class are still meeting regularly as a writer's group. She said, Please know we talk fondly of you at our meetings and often wonder, "What would Beth say?" Thanks for all you taught us.
Glad the class worked for you. Even if you didn't find a long-lost sister.

Another technological hurdle overcome today - I've been dealing with Rogers, my internet and cable company, and yesterday they generously offered me a free PVR. Is that what it's called? I've heard of them but had no idea how they work. Well, as of today, not only do I have a brand new modem delivering ultra-fast internet - no more waiting 20 long seconds, now things appear in only 10! -  but I have a PVR. The nice Rogers man slowly explained how it works, and I took notes. So this means you can tape and watch later? How exciting. Welcome to 2015, ancient Granny dear.

It's chilly and grey, so much so at night so that I've been covering the fragile plants on the deck, the jasmine and gardenia and bougainvillea, with a sheet to protect them. My babies! So far they've survived, but it's so chilly, nothing can be planted, and it's going to continue cold all through next week. Only a tiny bit of panic about the Cabbagetown Garden Tour on June 7, on which my so far chaotic, bald, unplanted garden will appear this year.

No panic either about the next So True event, Sunday May 31, though we are still a few readers short. Readers will come through and it will be stellar, as always.

Last night, the latest Word Sisters dinner. A group of women involved in words - editors, book publicists, agents, a lawyer and a legal advisor to writers, and your humble correspondent, gather regularly for gossip, food, wine and mutual support. This time our friend Meg is departing for the States, so we gathered to send her off in style, with much Champagne. Unfortunately your humble etc. liked the Champagne, and the subsequent rouge, a bit too much. Suffering today. Worth it.

There's a mouse in my kitchen - I encountered it skittering across the floor the other day. When it saw my startled face, it ran under the fridge. What to do? At least it's not a puff adder or a leopard. My handyman brought some poison - though I haven't been able to use it yet.