Monday, February 28, 2011

moving on

The wait is over; all 331 of you out there, who I'm sure have been holding your breath in anticipation, can now inhale. The finalist list of the CBC Literary Awards has been released, and I'm not on it. Neither, I am amazed to report, are the multi-prize-winning Karen Connelly and one of my favourite writers, Marni Jackson. But I'm thrilled to report that Joe Kertes, who is not only a wonderful writer but an extremely nice human being, is on the list, along with four writers I've never heard of. Go Joe!

It's a huge relief, because I'm going away soon and would have been tormented to miss the finale of this great event, even if I'd lost, as I most surely would have. I'm not surprised not to be on the list, and I mean that. I have told a good story, but it has further to go, and so do I as a writer. Much, much further. It was thrilling to be on the short list. Now I have a story to send around for publication, and a boost to get going on new material.

Competitions, I tell my students constantly, can be helpful for writers: a deadline, a goal, a yardstick. But it's also good not to let them loom too large. All that matters, in the end, is sitting alone in a room and working until you get it right.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

the Oscar grouch

It's almost midnight, and as I always do, I am asking myself, WHY? Why do I watch it every year? To see pretty women and dresses and handsome men, yes, and also because occasionally, there's a meaningful moment. I've never forgotten when a documentary about Anne Frank won, and the heroic woman who discovered the diary was there in the audience and was honoured.

But I have to say that tonight's show was just about the worst ever. In the interests of trying to attract a new generation, the producers have abased the event just about as far as it can go, don't you think? Really, the hosts calling to their families in the audience? James Franco, you may be adorable, but could you have been more graceless? Anne Hathaway, stunning in one great dress after another, working hard, but like a girl at a slumber party, not the host of a grand old occasion. The best films mean something, but you'd never know it from the antics tonight. Missed Jon Stewart, missed Billy Crystal, missed Hugh Jackman. And while we're at it, let's not let actresses sing, okay? There are people called singers. And what was the thing about the presenters bickering with each other? Was that meant to be funny? It just made Mila what's her name and Jude Law look awfully bitchy.

The exception to the banality - of course - was the documentary award to "Inside Job," and the producer pointing out that not a single financial crook has been imprisoned.

Otherwise - well, it was great that the director honoured his mother; Colin Firth is as handsome as it gets, except for Javier Bardem, so utterly delicious and joyful. I'm sorry Geoffrey Rush didn't win, or the Canadian film Incendies. I'm sorry Annette Bening didn't win, after all those nominations. Natalie Portman was very nice to mention every single person who worked on her film. Loved the little kids at the end, though that was like a community playhouse finale, not the Oscars.

The most elegant gracious person in the entire event was Helen Mirren. True aristocracy. Halle Berry was pretty wonderful too.

I did my ironing while I watched, like Cinderella; I switched to PBS and TCM during the commercials, and then I read 4 magazines. And I still feel that I wasted my time. But at least I didn't miss anything. Or did I?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

MacZine's back in town!

Hooray! I am home and so is MacZine, picked up today from the Mac store, all fixed, the little darlin'. Only $56 to do whatever it is they did and clean her up too. Both of us now ensconced in the kitchen once more, beside the crabby cat, who isn't glad to see either of us.

But I am very, very glad to see her, and my house, and my own bed. I adore my mother, but her apartment is small and very hot; I am instantly claustrophobic and sweaty, desperate to clear out some clutter, open the windows, get out for some fresh air. We did a lot, as I wrote, and it was a great visit, but here I am in the midst of my OWN clutter, at peace.

Now that I'm back on the net, I can't imagine living without it. It's not just the vital connections of email and on-line banking and the editing work I do on-line and send back. It's the reading - the newspapers and newsletters, the on-line mags I subscribe to that lead me to other sites - in fact, I'm feeling swamped once more. How to fit in my own life and work with the actual books, papers and magazines piled up everywhere, and on top of all that, what comes at me through this little white machine? Overwhelming.

An article in the "New York Times" tells me that young people are no longer "long form blogging," like this - they're using Twitter. I'm a long form dinosaur. Another article in the "Times" is about a "mommyblogger," the queen of them all apparently, Heather Armstrong and her blog She has millions of followers and makes millions of dollars from her blog, which chronicles her marriage, her children, her daily life. As I read, I could not help but ask: WHAT AM I DOING WRONG? I too, write about my daily life, and I have the same 331 faithful monthly followers I've had for 4 years. Or, as they are described by Google Analytics, 331 Absolute Unique Visitors. As you all are.

Thank you, my approximately 331 dear friends, who make about 1091 visits a month. I'd make my posts racier if I could to spice up your day, but here's the excitement of the moment: I'm cooking a pot of steel-cut oatmeal to eat for breakfast for the rest of the week and looking forward to watching Donald Rumsfeld on Jon Stewart tonight, hoping that Jon's cold is better. That's your thrilling update. I guess I shouldn't wonder why millions aren't reading, but instead, why 331 kind, brave souls continue to check in.

Today I got a fat cheque in the mail from the Public Library Lending Commission, which rewards authors who have books in the library system. It was for $145.62. Most welcome.

I'm avoiding the news - can't bear to hear about the earthquake in New Zealand, even though I'm anxious to know what's going on in Libya and the other Arab states. Think I'll just watch my porridge cook and think about how much reading I have to do.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ottawa, freezing cold, nice and warm

I've been in Ottawa since Saturday morning, visiting my mother, aunt, brother and family. Took the British ladies to see "The King's Speech," which they enjoyed, though of course they knew the whole story, as they were there. "Colin Firth is not a bit like the real king," said Do, who will soon be 91. "The king was very small with narrow shoulders and he wasn't handsome like that." But of course, this is a Hollywood king, he must be tall and handsome.

The film builds to the king's famous speech as the country launches itself into war; my mother heard that speech on the radio, sitting at home, in the thatched cottage in the village of Potterspury, with her mother and father. "It's the only time I ever saw my mother cry," she said.
"Did you know he had a stammer?" I asked.
"Oh yes," said Do. "Every speech was slow, with long pauses. But we didn't know anything about Lionel Logue."

I loved seeing the film again, the marvellous music, the beautifully wrought interior and exterior shots, and especially, once again, the rapport between the two men, those sublime performances. Oscars all round, say I.

The following day I took my mother shopping for shoes, which is a major excursion as she takes a size 13 and there's only one shop that stocks them, Tall Girls, which has changed its name, not surprisingly. It's now Long Tall Sally. It was amazing to be in a shop where my mother, who used to be six feet tall, looks petite; there were amazons and giantesses in there. But none, I noticed, with size 13 feet. We bought Mum something she has never had - a pair of ballerina flats. I can tell you that not often has the word "ballerina" been used in a sentence about my mother. She's not clumsy or ungainly, not at all - just very tall, with big hands and feet. But now she has some pretty ballerina flats.

I went for a walk in the freezing cold and hot bright blinding sun - the snow is white out here, and it's a beautiful, Cornelius Krieghof scene. Punishingly cold though.

The next day we cooked a large meal for the family - it was Family Day, so our timing was good. My brother came over with his partner and their 3-year old, who is so delicious, you just want to gobble him up. He's a great dancer, so the two of us did some dancing together, which often involved being on all fours, not the easiest position. I invited him to come to Toronto in 15 years and we'll go clubbing. Jakie and Auntie Beth, on all fours in a club.

We'd had a family meeting earlier in the day, and for those of you who've been following here, I am happy to report that it was an exceptionally good meeting. I relaxed into the punches, so to speak, and in any case, there really weren't any. It was the best family meeting we've ever had, also on Family Day. We resolved some issues and no one got up and walked out in a huff. Followed by a giant meal and dancing. Do arrived with dessert - a big fruit salad and a freshly baked walnut banana cake. May I have half her energy at 91.

But today a walker arrived for my mother, delivered by the government of Ontario, which will let her try it for a month; if she likes it, she'll buy her own. What a great system. They are taking extremely good care of her, with nutritionists, social workers, physiotherapists all making sure she's well. Thank you, taxpayers. Because she is frail. I am worried, just as most of my friends are worried about their aging parents. So we do what we can.

There was a book about the childrearing years, called "Looking back on a decade of walking slowly." And as we tottered around the grocery store today, I thought, that's what we could call a book about this time of life too. I'm leaving tonight; the larder is stocked, and the wine cellar, and the fridge, and there is much love in the air. I could not be more grateful for this precious time.

PS And just picked up my messages from Toronto - MacZine is repaired and ready for pick up. Life begins again.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

still wandering in the night

It's as if a spouse or dearest friend has left the building. Each time I enter the kitchen, my heart beats faster, time to check email, go on-line to read the "New York Times" or watch Jon Stewart or some YouTube films or music or to go to writing blogs or websites and be inspired, but mostly to write to and hear from friends, colleagues, students, every hour on the hour ... but no. There's no MacZine. No internet. I found an internet basement dive on Parliament Street where I go once a day to check email, but luckily, today, my neighbours have let me back in. A homeless waif, netless.

But my office is spiffy, all cleaned up, I'm getting filing done, lots of reading and sorting. So there is an up side.

Did you see the picture of Bev Oda, sneaking a smoke behind the Parliament buildings? This is a cabinet minister?! Do what depths have we fallen?

And now, after this searing bit of prose, back to my lonely house.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

MacZine in the hospital

Aaaagh! On Valentine's day I toasted one of my loves, my computer MacZine - and she repaid me by breaking down. The panic of this morning - nothing on the screen, just black. What a lost feeling. Off to the Apple store, one of my least favourite places - the 'genius' kids are great, but ye gods, could the place be more crowded and noisy?

Anyway, some filament that lights her screen is missing, the part needs to be ordered, and it may be a WEEK before I get her back. If I do - if there's more wrong, we will have to have a diagnostic consultation. She is five years old, after all - very old, in her world.

What will I do with my fingers for a week? Eat more chocolate. Luckily, I just got two delicious books from the library - "Proust and the squid," which is about how we read, and - I think it's called "On silence," I'm at a neighbour's and can't check, a memoir about a woman's search for quiet. And that is what I will have until MacZine or her replacement returns - mental quiet. Just me and the books.

And the fair trade chocolate. And the wine.

Oh - and I found out on Valentine's day that Marni Jackson, Karen Connelly, Joe Kertes and I are among the 25 writers, out of over 800 who entered, shortlisted for the CBC Literary Award in Creative Non-fiction. There's another round of elimination in 2 weeks. I'm honoured just to be here, with those wonderful writers and all the others. My story is one I've written about here in the blog, about my penpal Barbara who died in 1966, and the on-going story with her sister Penny. As Penny wrote when I told her the news, we've won already.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My report on the Grammys. Since you asked.

Felt obligated to watch the Grammy's last night - well, we old farts have to keep up with the music scene, don't we? So I watched, and this is what I have to say: current fashion is the anti-feminists' revenge on women. Almost all the men were comfortably dressed in hoodies and sneakers. Even young Bieber, in his splendid white tuxedo, was wearing sneakers, and so was Mick Jagger, one of the most dressed up, moving pretty damn well with minuscule black jeans on his spindly little chicken legs.

But the women! One absurdly overdone, over-sexualized confection after another, and teetering about on heels so high, they looked terrified to move. We were terrified for them. Poor Gwyneth Paltrow, making her way down some stairs with the most grotesque devices of torture on her feet. They all looked as uncomfortable as can be. Lady Gaga, "I was born this way" is a generous anthem; do you have to sing it in a ridiculous costume? Rihanna and many of the others, we can imagine what lovely bodies you have, you don't need to show us everything.

In fact, the whole thing was absurdly overwrought, people flying through the air, hundreds flinging themselves about while we're trying to watch artists sing. Arcade Fire was barely visible, as they played their fine song, with blinding white light behind and - how bizarre is this? - adults on BMX bikes zipping around in front. For God's sake.

At the bitter end, good news for Canuckistan - Bieber was shut out, and Drake, but Arcade Fire won Best Album of the Year, the biggest award. And thanked Montreal, and spoke in French, and played some more, almost visible this time. They were all wearing normal clothes and shoes they could walk in, and still they won.

During the commercials and boring bits, I turned to TVO and watched a devastating documentary on the use of child labour in the chocolate market in Africa. From now on, besides fair trade coffee, I will make sure to buy only fair trade chocolate. Flipping from one show, about a people near to starvation in Africa, to the other, an over-the-top celebration of music, much of which had its origins in Africa, was surreal.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

gifts of love

My Valentine's Day present: this morning, at the Y, I started chatting with Audrey. Audrey is a favourite of everyone there; she's in her late 70's or early 80's, fashionable with hilarious cat's eye glasses, always full of cheer. "Do you want to see my tattoo?" she asked. I sure did. I helped her off with a few layers, including a stiff brace she has to wear to support her spine, and she showed me - a beautiful red heart on her left arm, just below the shoulder, with MEF printed through the middle.

"Mef was my husband, who died 2 years ago," she said, "I was devastated, beside myself, in deep mourning. I never dream, but one night, Mef spoke to me. 'Stop with the crying,' he said. 'Get on with your life. Get a tattoo so that when you miss me, you can touch my name.'

So I did," she said. "They loved me at the tattoo parlour on King Street. I'm their oldest customer. And he was right - when I miss him, he's right here." She stroked her arm. "I called the parlour the other day and said my tattoo needed a touch-up. 'Do you remember me? I'm Audrey,' I said, and they said, 'How could we forget you?' They said to come in and help them celebrate Valentine's day. So I'm going to bring a cake."

I gave Audrey a big hug and kiss for Valentine's day, for being a marvel of energy, spunk and charm - my hero for today.

Then came home to find that my friend Sylvie's husband John had dropped off another Valentine's present: a package of home-baked s'mores, brownies with melted marshmallow and heart-shaped cookies on top, and a Passion tea bag.

Forgive me, there's a little tear in the old eyes, thinking of the great love and thoughtfulness of friends.

AND - Friday, another great, great gift. I wrote to my publisher, Syracuse University Press, to ask if they were considering re-issuing the book in paperback. And received this note back:

Dear Professor Kaplan,

Many thanks for your email—it would be a great opportunity to be able to think of doing a paperback version of your book! Not only was the scholarship superb but there are great reviews we could put on the new back cover.

I wish to be addressed as Professor Kaplan from now on, please. They haven't actually said they will, but it looks good. I sent this note to my new Yiddishist friend Ruth, in Texas, and she wrote back asking if she should post a review on Amazon. I said sure, if you'd like to, and this is what she wrote:

As other reviewers have noted, this is a meticulously researched book about the great Yiddish playwright, Yakov Gordin. As a lover of Gordin's dramas, I was thrilled to find a contemporary book available on this little-researched subject. The author traces Gordin's life in Europe, his journey to the United States, and his challenges and triumphs during the early years of Yiddish theatre. As well as serving as a multi-level research resource for academic papers, the book is also a riveting look at a time and place long gone.

The fact that the author is Gordin's great-granddaughter lends a sense of intensity to the words on each page. Her pride in her Yiddish heritage and the substantial accomplishments of her progenitor is most refreshing in an age when most American Jews show little interest in things Yiddish. Ms. Kaplan is an extremely talented writer who brings the past alive for the reader. Indeed, as I read the book, I could almost hear the sounds of the ocean as Gordin's ship reached the shores of New York, the laughter and tears of the homesick immigrant audiences so far from all they had known, and the clop of carriage horse hooves on the city streets outside the theatre.

In many ways, by telling the story of her great-grandfather, the author also tells the story of my great-grandparents, who arrived in the United States at the same time and in the same manner. Not only is the book an important work for Yiddishists, it is also an important read for the majority of American Jews in the United States today.

Couldn't ask for better than that. Thank you, Ruth.
And the happiest of Valentine's days to all of you, too.

Friday, February 11, 2011

keeping warm

Stayin' alive, that's the job in February, especially one this brutal. But I'm sitting in a bright, hot ray of sunshine, pretending it's summer. It works if I don't glance outside, at the swaths of white.

How to survive the dead of winter: keep busy. Besides work, I've been avidly seeking culture of various kinds. On Tuesday I went to the Toronto Reference Library for one of their free chats with writers. This one was between Johanna Schneller, a Toronto journalist, and Allison Pearson, British author of I don't know how she does it, a funny book about working mothers, and a new book, I think I love you, about a teenager's passionate love for David Cassidy in the early 70's. This interested me, of course, since I am writing about a teenager's passionate love for Paul McCartney in the early 60's.

It was a marvellous evening, two highly intelligent and funny scribes discussing writing, motherhood and life. Allison was especially amusing about the hairless Cassidy, with his "marsupial eyes."

Schneller brought up Pearson's column for the Daily Mail, from which she recently resigned with a column about her severe depression. Depression?! I thought. Here is a woman I cannot help but envy; her first book sold in the millions in over 30 languages and is being made into a movie with Sarah Jessica Parker and Pierce Brosnan; she has had a column for years, is a respected journalist married to Anthony Lane, the film critic for that humble rag the New Yorker and a hilarious, hugely talented writer himself; they have 2 children and are writing a musical together. AND SHE'S DEPRESSED?

I later looked up her last column; she writes about being attracted to a nearby London bridge at night, though she knows she would never throw herself off because of her kids. She is seeing a shrink, she said, for "the modern woman's disease." More than a few of my students have written or spoken about having this disease, including the fantasies about suicide.

I can't understand it now, but then, I'm the product of years of intense therapy, before which I did have black moments and mood swings. Now, I think, how can you want to die when there are so many books to read, paintings to look at, movies to watch, countries to visit, friends to celebrate? Not to mention your own children. She talked of chemical imbalance; "It's an illness," she said, "and there's medication to make you well." I wish her good health. Because to my eyes, she has vast quantities to be joyful about.

I bought her book, got her to sign it and told her about my work. We had a good laugh, and after I saw that she had written, "Send me your book!" And I shall. One day. I don't want Sarah J. P. in the movie, though. I want Carey Mulligan. No, I guess not - by then she'll be far too old to play my 13-year old self.

The next night, even greater pleasure - dinner with my friend Ken at the Rebel House, where worketh a certain young man to whom I am much attached. What a great place it is, unpretentious but exceedingly warm and comfortable, with delicous food. And the service, it goes without saying, could not be better. Then Ken and I went to hear the greatest piece of music ever written, IMHO: Bach's B Minor Mass, produced by Tafelmusic. We ran into my friend and former student Pat, who sat in the pew with us, and I laughed; here we were, all of us moved to tears by the Catholic mass written by the great Lutheran, I, a half-Jewish atheist, sitting between a New York Jew and a gay Catholic. What a feast, a wealth, a richness of glorious music.

I thought about Allison Pearson, and wondered if they should bring depressed people to hear Johann Sebastian Bach. Listening to him, even if you're an atheist, you hear the voice of God. It's impossible not to.

I'd watched a documentary on the urbane and brilliant Alistair Cooke on Sunday, immediately ordered his book "Letters from America," and yesterday went to get it at the library. Another feast. More jealousy for me - that's how I'd like to write. If only I were British, urbane and brilliant.

My tall son has just arrived; he and friend Mike are shooting a movie in the backyard this afternoon. It's about coats that kill. My son will play a flasher being murdered by his raincoat. "There'll be lots of blood," he said. "I'll need a shower afterwards." And luckily, the fridge is full of food, because they'll need some of that too, for sure.

So much to celebrate.


I just posted this a few hours ago, and have already heard from 2 people about my notes on depression. I was insensitive, perhaps because I have worked so hard to put my own hard times behind me that I would prefer not to think of them ever again. Thank you, my friends, for making sure this important topic is dealt with fairly.

Friend and student Chris sent this:

One of the insidious and misunderstood aspects of depression is that it should not happen to people for whom all is going well.

Well it shouldn’t but it does. Although triggers can come from external factors, the source of depression is internal. The notion that one needs to be somehow downtrodden and beaten up by life to be prone to this disease leads to the type of stigmatization that marginalizes its sufferers, and makes us feel – in that Protestant way - that we should be counting our blessings instead of whining about our woes.

But to a depressed person, having vast quantities to be joyful about does not make you joyful; in fact it can have quite the opposite effect.

At the risk of quoting myself (and who better, says I?), I wrote:
‘But what do you do when you have everything you thought you wanted, and you still can’t escape from the enveloping sadness?... “I have no reasonto feel like this,” I thought. “I have no right.”’
It was a long time before I was able to get over the guilt of what I basically saw as “just feeling sorry for myself”, and was finally able to take steps to get help.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

on editing

Just had to share another pleasure. I've just read the article in the Saturday "Globe" entitled "Where have all the editors gone?" The article points out that fewer publishing houses are employing editors. Gone are the days of an editor like Maxwell Perkins making such a huge difference to writers like Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Often, now, writers themselves have to pay an editor to help get their manuscripts in order, before submitting them.

This is bad news for me as a writer. This is good news for me as an editor.

For once - is it possible? - some of my skills may actually be deployed at the right time and the right place. I entered writing as a profession just as making a living as a writer was becoming even more difficult and less lucrative than it already was. And worse all the time, with the unknowns of the Internet, magazines and newspapers flailing and publishers closing, small publishers particularly, the kinds interested in and patient with new writers.

BUT ... now that I am editing as well as teaching, I can see actually almost making a living in this business. "The biggest-growing sector in Canadian publishing," says literary agent Anne McDermid, "is the freelance editor."

C'est moi! Yes, more a teacher and coach than someone dealing only with what's on the page, but still - for once in my life, I'm in a biggest-growing sector. Bring me your tired prose, your huddled adverbs, your tangled beginnings and floppy endings and wordy middles, and I shall edit them.

And on the proceeds, I shall go to Paris and eat cheese.

Sunday report

I needed today to pull myself out of the winter doldrums - the world is colourless, white blanketing everything, and so much cold and slush and months to go. So I walked to one of my favourite places in Toronto, especially in winter - the Conservatory in Allen Gardens. It's a beautiful Victorian wedding cake of a building, made of glass with glass cupolas, and inside is warm and bright and full of greenery.

An extra treat - when I arrived, Curtis Evoy was giving a tour. Curtis used to sculpt the gardens at Riverdale Farm; the man is an artist of plant life, now in charge of the Conservatory. I tagged along and learned a great deal. The beautiful names of the cacti, for example: Queen of the Night, Devil's Backbone, the Mistletoe Cactus, Dragonfruit, the fabulous Barrel Cactus which is an endangered species because people steal them from the desert to put in their gardens. The Barrel Cactus, he told us, is a "compass cactus" - it always faces south. And sure enough, they all were.

Then we went through to the other, cooler side, where the cyclamen and the Jerusalem cherries, the camelias and the datura are blooming, and the spring blooms are almost ready, tulips, lilies, daffs, jonquils, hyacinth. He pointed out the Ponderosa lemon tree with its lemons bigger than baseballs, and the kumquat tree and the "carnivorous pitcher plant." In what must be the Valentine section, we saw the scarlet passion flower and the enchanting orchids in their own special little room. "They imitate female insects," he said, "to ensure polination by male insects."

The tour I attached myself to was the Toronto chapter of the Highly Sensitive Persons Group. Some members, I learned, are highly sensitive to physical stimulus - sound and smell particularly - and others to social stimulus and interactions. "We're intuitive," the leader said. Funny - I think of myself as pretty damn sensitive, and most of my friends too - but not this much, I guess. Not enough for a special tour of the Conservatory.

Then home, refreshed, through the white snow and slush, to a party down the street. Jean-Marc and Richard have recently refurbished their home, so we were inspecting the new paint and floors and de-cluttered space - beautiful - but also, because Richard is a monarchist, toasting Queen Elizabeth's 60 years on the throne. Tomorrow, I think, is the actual day she ascended. Brava, old girl. I asked Richard about the wedding coming up, and he said it's groundbreaking. No one in the monarchy has ever, in the history of the world, married someone they met at school.

These are groundbreaking times, my friends.

And then home to - it's Sunday at 3 so you know what - to listen to Eleanor and to cook for the week. Today she was talking to Richard Ford, who in pictures looks stern and serious with a long sharp face, and who is the opposite in person, obviously, from his voice on the radio - warm, expansive, funny. It's a marvellous interview; I'm going to listen again on the podcast and I urge you to do the same.

He finished by quoting another writer: "The way we miss our lives is life."
"Don't miss it," he said. "Pay attention. Pay attention to what you're doing right now, or else you'll miss it."

Right now, the patter patter of the keys, the sound of me sharing my life with you, O strange group of highly sensitive people who follow my progress through life. I'm watching dusk descend on the garden, the snow slowly turning a glowing blue. I'm drinking a glass of hearty Portuguese red. There are 5 essays to edit for tomorrow's class sitting in front of me, and an innovative new red pen with an eraser. The crabby cat is awake, for once. No, that brief moment of consciousness is over. She's asleep again.

This beautiful life, with Queens of the Night and actual queens of many kinds, all of us figuring out how to thrive and be beautiful and useful - what could be better? How could we be luckier than to be breathing? It's worth paying attention, even in February.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow neige schnee nieve

Snowed in. Twenty centimetres expected, and the winds are fierce - flights cancelled, people staying home. As my friend Marilyn, a literary agent, just wrote me, "Aren't you glad you don't have to go to an office today?" Yes indeedy. Just me and the crabby cat, and the falling snow, and thou, of course. Must not forget thou.

But it's Wednesday and so I'll soon be going to Carol's class at the Y, blinding snowstorm or not. After I am dead, on Wednesdays, my spirit will rise and haunt the Y. Because Carol's will too.

Since so little is going on in my life under the snowdrifts - teaching, editing, writing, and a great deal of eating and drinking, hence an even more pressing need for Carol - I'd like to report on a few news items, for your delectation. An article in the Saturday "Globe" on creativity, for example, which contained this illuminating line:

"(The scientists) have debunked the myth that creativity is seated in the right side of the brain and begun to explore the intriguing possibility that it is related to the ability to silence our inner critic."

Wow! What a vital bit of info that is, dealing every day, as I do, not just with my own inner critic, but with that of my students'. "This is garbage," they'll say, before reading a heart-breakingly honest piece about life. "I almost didn't come today, this is so bad." And yet - they did come. They did write. That's the triumph of creativity over the voices that intone, "Give up. There's no point. You're utterly without talent and this is drivel."

Incidentally, this leads me to the only mention I will make (maybe) of Amy Chua, the controversial "Tiger Mom" who has written a best-seller about expecting a great deal from your children. Her daughters are "successful," she says, because she constantly demands more, refusing them sleepovers and hobbies in favour of hours of music practice and homework. These girls will be achievers, that's a given. But creative? With, I would guess, an inner critic of such ferocity? I'd be surprised. Happy? I certainly hope so, though that is not their mother's concern. For more on the above, see my piece for "More" magazine, reprinted here under "Articles" - "The son also rises." The same issue, dealt with in my flabby, over-nurturing way.

Speaking of great achievement, I was thrilled to read about the Canadian woman who's the first graduate of a Liverpool university's new degree program in Beatlesology. She has a Master's degree in "The Beatles, Popular Music and Society." I have a Master's in that too, though not, as yet, a piece of paper confirming it.

Loved the survey conducted among the peoples of the world, to ascertain how anxious they are about the future. It found that all are, indeed, anxious. The poll showed that the most troubled are not those in the midst of turmoil, like the Pakistanis or the Afghans. The most pessimistic people on earth are, you guessed it ... the French. 61 percent of the French are gloomy about the planet's prospects. This in a country with the best health care in the world, not to mention the joie de vivre, the wine, the - be still my beating heart - fromage.

How I look forward to my two weeks in April amidst this grumpy bunch. I will try to cheer them up by pointing out that at least, there's not that much snow.

It sure is beautiful out there, though.

6 p.m. Hah! What kind of wimps do they take us for? They call that a weather emergency? Something like ten measly centimetres, none of it heavy and wet, but as fluffy as fluffy can be.
Hey, we're Canadians out here, you know. Just because we live in Toronto doesn't mean we can't deal with the elements. Bring it on.

No, don't. Please. Forget I said that.

It's incredible to watch what's happening right now in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and other Arab countries. How extraordinary to watch a revolution in real time. When things like this happen, I fantasize about talking to my father, who died in 1988. He was so involved in world politics, I love to tell him what's going on, hate to think he's missing it. I told him about Nelson Mandela, about the fall of the Berlin Wall. Dad, I say. The dictators are falling in the Middle East. How's that for thrilling?