Saturday, February 28, 2015

So True readings tomorrow.

We had a rehearsal Thursday for our next "So True" reading event - 8 moving, powerful, sometimes hilarious stories, and me. So much truth for a mere $10 and two hours of your time on a cold Sunday afternoon - does it get better than that? Details on our website sotrue.ca.

Beautiful sun today despite the cold, which isn't as extreme. The city is at its most hideous, however, with mounds of filthy snow making the sidewalks nearly impassable. But I'm not complaining. "Je constate," as the French say in a most satisfying expression which doesn't have a good equivalent. I'm stating. Noting, not bitching. Because there's nothing to be done about winter and filthy snow. It is. Even if I have forbidden my Vancouver friends to talk about their @#$@ daffodils.

Last night - the second last episode of the second season of the British thriller "Broadchurch." The first season was superb, the second not so much - plot points wandering all over the map. But still, you can't beat those British TV artists for committed acting, stunning scenery, briskly moving story. Last night ended on a cliffhanger, and I realized I'll miss the finale because I'll be in Ottawa next Friday, so I went on-line to find out how it ends. Thank God for the internet, once again.

My family is mourning the demise of the great Leonard Nimoy, one of the nicest people, apparently, on this planet and any other. I am not a trekkie, I liked him because of his obvious gravitas and kindness and his humble beginnings in the Yiddish theatre and love of Yiddish. Perhaps he was in one of my great-grandfather's plays, who knows, but he certainly would have known who Jacob Gordin was. He speaks online about knowing how to play half-Vulcan Spock because of growing up Jewish in Boston - always an outsider. A lovely man.

And yesterday, Wayson held a Chinese New Year dim sum for his friends. Anna and Eli came, and Eli impressed everyone with his appetite for rice and Chinese beef. Then he and I went to the library where we sat near a sunny window and read many books. We took out one of my favourites, "The story of Ferdinand," the peace-loving flower-loving bull who refuses to fight. If only his spirit could infect our world, dear lord. If only.

Now - many lists. I leave in less than 3 weeks for my 5 week adventure in Europe, and have much to do, including my taxes. The climb to departure day always seems insurmountable. But then it comes around, and off I go - out of the crusty snow, landing in Paris. Seems a dream right now. But I'll be more than ready when it's time.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Karl Ove Knausgaard discovers America

The man is a vivid, thoughtful and amusingly neurotic writer whom many can't stand - Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of lengthy introspective non-fiction volumes, disguised as novels, about every moment of his life, was invited by the NYT to drive around America and write about it. The resulting essay is engaging and hilarious, as he spends a few distraught days in a snowstorm in Newfoundland and finally gets to the States. I copied a few of my favourite bits to give you the flavour; the link to the whole article is at the end. Take your time; read it and enjoy.

In the meantime, the brutal, almost unbearable cold here continues, but at least it's sunny. So - could be worse. Today at the Y I watched a woman who must have MS make her extremely slow way down the stairs, and I resolved I would not complain about the cold or anything else. My legs work. What is there to complain about?

Here's the delightful Karl Ove Knausgaard:

When we drove out of Cleveland a few hours later, I was worried; I hadn’t seen anything yet that I could write about. To be able to describe something, you have to feel some kind of emotional attachment to it, however faint. The external has to awaken something within; nothing means anything in itself, it is the resonance it produces, in the soul and in the language, that gives meaning to the thing described. Cleveland meant nothing to me. The air was freezing, the windows of the skyscrapers twinkled, people hurried singly through the nearly deserted streets; outside a car in a parking lot lay a pile of sliced white bread, surrounded by a flock of birds. They took off when Peter opened the car door to take a picture of them; their abrupt departure was like the opening of a fan.

As we drove through the snow-covered landscape, surrounded by cars with smoke fluttering out of their exhaust pipes, under the gray-white sky, past rows of run-down buildings, interspersed with clumps of colorless trees standing in colorless fields, the feeling I got was that something here was over, that something had been emptied out and that nothing new had begun. But perhaps that was too harsh a judgment to pass on a whole country after spending three hours in it?

I’d seen poverty before, of course, even incomprehensible poverty, as in the slums outside Maputo, in Mozambique. But I’d never seen anything like this (downtown Detroit). If what I had seen tonight — house after house after house abandoned, deserted, decaying as if there had been disaster — if this was poverty, then it must be a new kind of poverty, maybe in the same way that the wealth that had amassed here in the 20th century had been a new kind of wealth. I had never really understood how a nation that so celebrated the individual could obliterate all differences the way this country did. In a system of mass production, the individual workers are replaceable and the products are identical. The identical cars are followed by identical gas stations, identical restaurants, identical motels and, as an extension of these, by identical TV screens, which hang everywhere in this country, broadcasting identical entertainment and identical dreams. Not even the Soviet Union at the height of its power had succeeded in creating such a unified, collective identity as the one Americans lived their lives within. When times got rough, a person could abandon one town in favor of another, and that new town would still represent the same thing.

Monday, February 23, 2015

for your viewing and reading pleasure

I have heard from Rosemary Shipton, who has kindly agreed to act as my editor on the new memoir, at least until she can't stand it any more and runs screaming into the night. She read a very rough first draft and had many valuable things to say. Mostly that the first half does not work - scattered, self-centred and boring, was the gist - but the second half is much better. It needs work on structure, on social, political and personal context, on tone, on character development, on plot, on focus.

Otherwise, good to go.

What a gift, what a godsend. I had reached the point where I was buried and discouraged and couldn't see the light. Now I think I can see, a bit more clearly, where I have to go and what I have to do. I could not be more grateful, even as I go back to the beginning and start again.

My student Bruno just sent this - the moving story of one immigrant family which is also the story of millions of families.
Last week I participated in a 3-day Digital Storytelling workshop sponsored by the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. The link below is the result – a 2-minute video – offered for your viewing pleasure on this grey Sunday afternoon.

And a wonderful piece from the New Yorker, the confessions of a comma queen. Fascinating about the specifics of grammar - that versus which, serial commas ... I know you are hungry for information about these important matters. Read and learn. 

Oscar was wrong IMHO

It's 8 a.m. the morning after the Oscars, and am I groggy with a television-induced headache? No - because for once, I turned it off and went to bed. It was just too awful - Neil Patrick Harris, joke after stupid joke waiting for applause with a cute smile - what happened to his charm? And all those ridiculous dresses, enough already, enough enough enough. I could feel the way the night was going with all the love lavished on Wes Anderson. Perhaps I missed something - I started to watch "Grand Budapest Hotel" on an airplane and turned it off; it just seemed foolish to me, full of sound and fury - terrific sound and fury, much rewarded by Oscar, but signifying nothing. As far as I could see.

So I had the feeling that the predications would be right, that "Birdman" would overtake "Boyhood," and I was right. "Birdman" is an excellent film, despite its flaws. But IMHO it's hollow flash and dazzle compared to "Boyhood," a beautiful, honest film about being alive that took enormous patience and courage to make. In 50 years, I do not think we'll be much interested in Michael Keaton's noisy breakdown and redemption, but I do think we'll want to see an achingly true portrait of life.

I did get to enjoy the stirring "Glory" musical sequence, loved the always-classy Julie Andrews, thought the remembrance section was the best ever - beautiful artwork of those faces. And then I TURNED IT OFF. And now - off into Monday, fresh and bright. Thanks, Oscar!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Object Lesson

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Friend Suzette and I just saw an unforgettable piece of theatre: "The Object Lesson," starring and by an artist - mime, dancer, actor, magician, comedian - called Geoff Sobelle. Very hard to describe - when I heard the show was about our relationship to our stuff, I knew I had to see it. We are in a room stuffed with cardboard boxes, all labeled - "Stuff my sister doesn't want"; "CD's I might throw away" - you know those boxes, you have them too. Only here there are hundreds of them, some are opened on the floor, and before the show we are welcome to poke through. I saw one that contained a stuffed alligator.

Then we sit on various boxes and bits of furniture as Mr. Sobelle assembles his playing area, pulling lamps, a rug and furniture out of boxes - shoving audience members politely aside to do so - and our journey into memory and possessions begins. It feels as if we are travelling inside his life and his memories - he tells us about a week of his young life, a traffic light that he saw in the distance, then that much later he saw the same traffic light only now he was on the other side of it, older - and then he pulls the actual traffic light out of a box and it works, so we all sit bathed in the coloured lights he has just described. 

He puts on skates, courts a woman in the audience, and makes her a salad on a table top, chopping lettuce and peppers by stomping on them with his skates - then does a hysterical tap-dance, in skates. He gets women in the audience to empty their purses and detail what's in them. And at the end, he does an incredible, inexplicable magic trick - he pulls out a flat box, shows us it's empty, tapes the bottom carelessly, and then proceeds to pull an enormous quantity of stuff, bit by bit, from this box - showing, we soon realize, the whole span of a life. Young man on the make, young husband, then he pulls out diapers and baby toys, then bills, on and on - armloads of books, chunks of brick, and at the end pill bottles, slippers, and chunks of wiring that look like our insides. And then the lights go out. Needless to say, tears were running down my cheeks. 

An hour and a half without intermission, a show I will never forget. He asks at the end of his note in the program: "This thing that is in your hands now. This thing that is yours now. Your property. Not trash - your property. It wasn't - but now it is. It's all yours. What will you do with it all? Do you have what you need? Do you need what you have?"

For an acquisitive society like ours - for an acquisitive species like ours - those are important questions. He says, at one point, "There's a fine line between vintage and crap." Anyone who has ever been in my house knows I walk that line every day. On the way home, I passed my favourite store Doubletake - and did not go in.

Yesterday, a gloomy day of snow, I found a film I wanted to see at the library: "Get on up," a bio-pic about the great James Brown, who had a hideous childhood and became the godfather of soul, though also, as the film makes clear, a deeply flawed human being. It's a wonderful film - produced by Mick Jagger and starring fabulous Chadwick Boseman who nails Brown to perfection. The music is heaven - the actual James Brown.

Unfortunately, "The Object Lesson" ends its run today, but you can watch "Get on up" and I urge you to do so. Over and out from your talent and entertainment scout today.

Tonight, the Oscars. Every year I swear I won't watch and then I do. But this year, Downton is in the middle - some real art in the midst of the glitz.