Monday, October 31, 2011

a "Jewish Shakespeare" fan

My student Janet just sent me this, and I am, to use the great Yiddish word, kvelling. Which means revelling in praise. And yikhes, for those of you who haven't read the book - shame on you - means a kind of pedigree.

I’ve finished “Finding the Jewish Shakespeare”, and I just wanted to let you know how much I savored and enjoyed it. I’m not Jewish, nor do I go to the theatre much, but I love that period in history and am fascinated by that wave of migration into America, particularly into New York. The Tenement Museum is a sacred space for me. Talk about stories!

I see your great-grandfather as first and foremost a teacher. That he taught using didactic plays and lectures to his audience has a great deal to do with his personality, but also I think is a function of the scale on which he was working. As you say, he was trying to teach his people. This was a man leading an entire culture through a second exodus. More than 20,000 in his funeral procession says that he was heard. Thank you for writing this book and capturing this piece of history.

And Jacob Gordin would have recognized the yikhes in his great-granddaughter; you are a teacher down to your DNA! Thank you for the great insights you’ve given me. I think you know how powerful it is when you connect to the truth.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

costume consultant

Snow in New York today, and here in arctic Canada, mild and sunny ... there is justice in the world. Again, I meant to go to my yoga class but just couldn't shut myself inside on a stunning afternoon. I did walk to the Y to leave a package for a friend, admired the new entranceway, after months of construction, full of colourful panels and automatic doors, and inside, preparations for the Pan Am games with many wheelchair athletes - thrilling. And then, I walked back. At the back end of October, every moment of sun is glory.

I hope Hallowe'en is like this, for the kids. My favourite store, Doubletake, is crowded with amateurs looking for Hallowe'en costumes, oblivious to the fact that you can actually dress yourself, not just in costumes but in very nice real clothes, for almost nothing. My son visited yesterday and said he's in the market for a sofa, which means I'll be haunting the store for the next while, waiting for that fine sofa to emerge, costing maybe $75, an early Christmas present for the boy.

My dear W*son is on a writing retreat out of town and I miss him, especially because today I cooked up a storm listening to Eleanor interview Jeffrey Eugenides, and I love to share the food - a pork, eggplant and tofu stirfry, and scallops and shrimps with peppers, with my friend. Eugenides talked about "the marriage plot" - how novels for centuries, Jane Austen, George Eliot, ended with women making good matches and happy weddings, and how that plot simply does not work any more, in modern times. He cited Paul McCartney's recent wedding, and how much the world is still always hoping for a happy ending. "That's a marriage plot," he said.
"It certainly is," I said.

Great news in the newspapers: first, a new peanut butter, Plumpy'nut. Scientists have developed an inexpensive, nutrient-rich peanut paste that is easy to feed to starving children not in hospital but at home. I knew my favourite foodstuff was a delicious miracle, but I did not imagine it would save the world. I was wrong.

A headline in the NYT could not help but catch my eye: "To Age Gracefully, Try a Drink a Day." Woo hoo! "Researchers found that women who drank one-half to one ounce of alcohol a day were 28% more likely than nondrinkers to achieve successful aging. Those who drank throughout the week rather than on a single occasion were also more likely to be healthy in old age."

That is FINE! Especially because I will define for myself what one ounce means.

An article in the "Globe" about a new industry: "costume consultant." Apparently busy people pay other people to find them Hallowe'en costumes. Last year friend Annie came over before a Hallowe'en party and left with a fake Chanel jacket and bag, a ton of fake pearl necklaces and other Coco stuff. Turns out I was already embarking on a new career. Should have charged a fee. Who knew?

And finally, great news from the British Isles, where female progeny as well as male are now in line for the throne. No, truly, huge. Think of all those poor queens who lost their heads to Henry the Eighth in his search for a son, which resulted merely in one of the best monarchs ever, his daughter Elizabeth. Took a few hundred years, but the powers-that-be have finally acknowledged that women are not dominated by their wombs. Moving right along!

And through it all, the crabby cat sleeps, sleeps, sleeps. How is it possible for a creature to sleep so much and still be alive? Ask me in January; I'll be competing for her title.

Friday, October 28, 2011

the hermit muses

Okay, confession: I have been nagging my students to go to the International Festival of Authors, a spectacular event here this week at Harbourfront, the best writer's festival in the world. For years, I've attended readings and interviews; this year, I bought a ticket to the special non-fiction night, a celebration of the Charles Taylor Creative Non-fiction Prize. It was at 8 tonight. It's now 10.30, and I'm in my sweatpants, as I have been all evening.

I did not go.

I threw away $20, and, much more importantly, the chance to mingle with other aficionados of creative non-fiction. A great loss. On the other hand, I worked, I read, I didn't have to go into the cold night, and I'm writing to you. A gain. I also heard a fantastic documentary on Ideas about Canadian patriot and rabble-rouser Mel Hurtig, and discovered his website Recommended; read someone who hates Stephen Harper even more than I do.

Sometimes, not having to go anywhere is a gift. But then, I'm turning into a hermit. In the old days, nothing would keep me away from a social event or a party, a chance to see and be seen. Now, it's Friday night, and the crabby cat and I are in the kitchen. She's near me now, washing her face by licking her paw and rubbing, licking and rubbing all over her furry schnoz - so cute.

Oh my God, I'm sitting here grinning at my cat when I could be rubbing shoulders with wonderful writers. I'm turning into a crazy cat lady. Lock me up now. Sigh.

It was a lovely sunny afternoon, so I didn't even go to the Y, as I'd planned - I bought groceries and went for a jogette in the sun. At No Frills, I got into a bit of an argument with the cashier - she rang up a few things and the bill came to $71. There's some mistake, I said, could you check? So she had to scroll back, and it was still $71. When I got home, I got out my calculator. Yes, a few staples - including cheddar, yogurt, blueberries, tea and 3 large bars of chocolate - $71. Chilling.

Two nice men have been working since yesterday in my front yard - Sal, who's from Argentina and Chile, and his partner from Mexico, removed the old interlocking brick and are installing a new stone path, a long and winding road leading to my door. (Actually, it's short and straight, but I throw in a McCartney homage when I can...) It's going to be respectable, at last, without a huge hump in the middle caused by silver maple roots. The massive root system is so pervasive that the path will have its ups and downs, but not like before. Follow the grey granite road.

Last night, at the francophone discussion and dining group that meets next door, we began in usual fashion, listening to the extremely erudite Jack talk about Socrates and Wittgenstein. Then we talked about music (tone and pitch) and colour (what it means), and he told us about the friendship between Shoenberg the composer and Kandinsky, and how, despite this friendship, Kandinsky turned into an anti-Semite. No, I cried, please, I love Kandinsky! But it's true. And then, as usual, we began one of our two most contentious discussions - not Canada right or left, but the Middle East, the Muslim world, the state of Israel. Heated debate, in French - is there any other kind of debate in French?

Nothing resolved, Jack and Sylviane against the rest of us, the lefties. Jack feels that when immigrants come to Canada, they should integrate into Canadian society, as he did as a penniless 9-year old immigrant from Siberia, and not insist on standing far apart, as some do in the Muslim community. We spoke particularly about the niquab, which is appearing with more frequency in our community, and which all in our group, both left and right, see as subjugating the lives and rights of women. Wearing it is against the law in France. Jack is appalled, after the recent drowning murder of 3 rebellious daughters by a Muslim mother, father and brother, that no one in the moderate Muslim community has spoken out in horror. The rest of us argue for more tolerance, diversity, openness. And yet we hear Jack, a right-wing man of sensitivity and intelligence who has suffered greatly, and he hears us.

And needless to say, the cheese is good.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Here's a story of what it is to be a true gentleman and friend: Tonight, W*son and I were invited to dine at an upscale Italian restaurant as the guests of Ben, a dear friend who's a wealthy engineer and developer in his eighties, leaving T.O. for his Miami home in a few days. The two of us arrived in our snazziest gear and waited. Twenty minutes later we were still waiting, while waiters hovered, and at the half hour mark, I called. Ben was devastated - he had completely forgotten. He'd had a very busy afternoon and was exhausted, very sorry but he would not be coming out.

So there we were, two indigent writers all dressed up in an expensive, dare I say overpriced, restaurant. I suggested that we have a nibble of something and go back to my house where I'd make an omelette. No, he was having none of it; Mr. Choy said, we're here, we'll stay and have a wonderful dinner. So we did - lobster tagliatelle to begin, then shrimp stuffed with crab and osso bucco - exorbitant for the likes of us. Utterly delightful on a freezing, dark night of wind and rain - a glowing Italian restaurant, plates of rich food, and the finest company.

My friend told me about his singlehanded campaign in the early sixties to change racist American immigration policy. When his first short story, written in his teens, was not only published but chosen for "Best American Short Stories" of that year (!!!), he was invited to go to New York, and applied for a visa. He was turned down, because there was a quota of people "from the Asia-Pacific Triangle" who were permitted in, and the quota for that year was full. "But I'm a Canadian," he said, confident this would solve the problem. "I was born in Canada." No, he found out, he was not Canadian to them; he was Asian and inadmissable.

So he hitchhiked from Vancouver to Ottawa with a large sign about this injustice, his cause adopted by Quakers who put him up along the way; he was eventually interviewed extensively on news networks and by Pierre Burton. He was about to go on a hunger strike - to insist that Lester B. Pearson stand up for the rights of a Canadian citizen in the House of Commons - when the PM eventually did. Eventually, the Asia-Pacific Triangle quote was rescinded. And W*son moved into the Quaker House in Toronto and began a new life.

The bill arrived; Mr. Choy pulled out a frayed wallet and slapped down his Visa. What could have been a disappointing evening turned into a feast of friendship and stories about a crazy and wonderful life.

What made our pleasure poignant was that the restaurant, Biagio, is directly opposite Occupy Toronto, the tent city of protestors living in the park beside St. James Cathedral. As we dined, we looked out on a ragged assembly of tents and tarps, huddled together on this freezing wet night. Mr. Choy and I are also the 99%. But tonight, by accident and design, we ate like the 1%, and we enjoyed every bite.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

trees, colour, Chagall

So busy, I'm getting behind here. Busy doing what? Not sure, but time vanishes. I try to imagine what it would be like to be bored and can't. Not in this life.

Friend Patsy is staying here, looking after a sick friend in the Beach, so when I come home from teaching, I call out, "Honey, I'm home!" and there she is, waiting to have a glass of wine and hear about my day. Very pleasant. The weekend was hot and heavenly - people in shorts in late October! It's always good when someone from the gorgeous, rainy West Coast sees our city at its best.

On Saturday afternoon, I watched the musical "Camelot" on TCM, because I'd missed it at Stratford and know that W*son loves it a lot. The movie is hilariously Sixties, stunning Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere right out of Carnaby Street, but what a modern tale, the torment of the triangle.

The movie ended at 7.45; I flew out the door and grabbed a cab to the Berkeley Street Theatre where I walked in to "I send you cadmium red" with two minutes to spare. A very interesting play in two parts united by the haunting music of British composer Gavin Bryers - first a dance between two men, and then an epistolary conversation between artist and critic John Berger and a filmmaker called John Christie, about colour, what it is, what it evokes and means. At one point, when Berger was making an incomprehensible point about blue with Bryer's wonderful but very modern score in the background, I thought of what my son would make of this evening, he who likes five car crashes and a punch up or nine per ten minutes of film. A conversation with mournful music about colour would not do it for him. But I enjoyed it very much.

There was mention of "Caravaggio's red", and I thought of the Caravaggio exhibit I saw this summer in Ottawa; mention of the Chauvet caves, and I remembered the film about Chauvet a few months ago at TIFF. And this great line from Paul Klee: "All art is a memory of our dark origins, whose fragments live in the artist forever."

Sunday, 11 a.m., a Cabbagetown tree tour, a young woman from the local tree-hugger organization LEAF introducing a crowd of 60 or so to the local trees - a Siberian elm, a ginkgo (which is one of the oldest trees in the world), a London plane tree with fuzzy balls, a linden. She told us that Anne Frank's tree, the one that sustained her outside the attic window, was a horse chestnut; in all my years of loving Anne, I've never known that. The next day, walking through the U of T campus, I recognized a ginkgo, went over and said, Hello, old tree.

And then of course, it being Sunday, I cooked while listening to Tapestry and Eleanor Wachtel. Mr. Choy came over to eat and talk about his big groundbreaking lawsuit and his work - he gave me ten new pages to read - and mine. Bliss.

This morning, "Chagall and the Russian Avant-Garde" at the AGO, over a hundred pieces by Chagall, Kandinsky and others brought in from the Pompidou, in Paris. My daughter and I were the guests of friend Ken, who's a member - Ken, in his late 70's, wearing snazzy new jeans he bought on sale at Banana Republic, has more joyful energy than most of the teenagers I know. He loves this exhibit, says he's going to bring a new person once a week until it closes. And he's right, it's beautiful - the exuberance and joie de vivre of Chagall with his swooping fish, chickens, violins and women, his lavish colour - and Kandinsky too, my favourite - including a group of pictures I saw at the big Kandinsky exhibit at the Pompidou, that looked like David Milnes. Here they were, in the Canadian gallery where many Milnes live. A rich and lovely exhibit.

Ugh, I'm becoming a namedropper. Ah the Caravaggio, ah yes, the Kandinsky at the Pompidou ... oh well. You know that I'm just a humble soul who happens to have gotten around a bit lately.

We sat in the Galleria Italia for a long time, admiring Gehry's long wooden canoe room with windows and talking about our disastrous mayor. Now it's dark and raining, so to keep my spirits up, I've just eaten a lot of chocolate. It worked.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Canadian wildlife

Just back from a brief jogette to the Farm and back. While there, I stood by the big pond at the bottom, watching the mallard couple swimming through the chilly green scum. A woman and a young girl stood nearby, speaking Spanish, the girl saying something about "crocodillos." The woman turned to me and, in heavily accented English, asked if there were any crocodiles in the water. I replied that I was sorry, but there were no wild crocodillos anywhere in cold Canada.

They were from St. Miguel, here for her brother's art opening on Cumberland Avenue. We may not have crocodillos, but how glad I was to watch a tiny Mexican girl skipping along the paths, looking at sheep, pigs and cows under a shower of red maple leaves.

Maybe the idiots at City Hall will spare our Farm.

Maybe not.

Raucous bluejays at the feeder, the garden still green but turning inward, to brown. One of my oldest friends, Patsy (we met in 1970), is flying in from Gabriola Island tonight; one of her oldest friends is dealing with a very sick husband, so Patsy will stay here while helping out. And tonight I am going across town to another old friend, Nancy White (we met in 1972), for a Crone Power gathering. We were all working together at the Canadian Conference of the Arts in the early 70's, when Nancy quoted Neitzsche as saying that women were either virgins, mothers or crones. Since at that time none of us was either a virgin or a mother, we decided that we must all be crones. So the Crone Power movement was born - and will continue with a potluck and much wine tonight - five women with interesting careers and nine children between us. I'm starting the cooking soon.

In the meantime, keeping warm, the crabby cat and I, at work. I read a portion of the memoir to my home class last night. They, too, liked it, they really liked it. If only I didn't suspect that it's only those few pages that work.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jon's team on Israel and Palestine

Those brilliant folks at the Daily Show have come up with a great comic riff on the Arab-Israeli dispute. Surely it's not possible to be amusing about something so devastating - God knows, we are happy that negotiations worked, and Gilad Shalit and many Palestinian prisoners have come home. But Jon Stewart and his team have found a way to poke fun while telling the truth - and it's set in my home town. (One of them.) A Must See.

And before you get to that, one more smile for today - a very fit friend who's a 65-year old grandmother and has run 50 marathons said today, "I received a most unusual compliment yesterday. I had a colonoscopy, and the doctor said, 'Congratulations, you have the colon of a twenty-year old!'"


A glorious house in the heart of downtown Toronto:


I'm planning my next escape - very predictable, this traveller, as usual the south of France and Paris, a bit of London. Departing in late March, and returning end of April.

The very quiet, nearly invisible tenant will be in residence on the top floor, but there are two bedrooms on the second floor, a large study, and of course the downstairs with beautiful kitchen overlooking the garden. There is also an attractive if crabby cat, who could go to stay with her other mother if necessary.

Please let me know of anyone who might be interested. Merci.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Spent the entire morning with my handyman friend John, winterizing. A new verb - to winterize. That is, sealing windows, finding a place indoors for many plants, squeezing garden furniture into the shed, turning off the water. And of course, because this is not only an old house, it is MY old house, everything took twice as long as we thought it would, because nothing worked - the windows were buckled and swollen, the furniture disintegrating, the spigot unmovable. The job's not done yet. People who live in the Southern Hemisphere should come north and watch, for fun, the fascinating, tortuous process of winterization.

On Sunday I went to a meditation session at the Y, led by friend Judy Steed. What a luxury, no, a necessity in our busy world, to sit in silence. Judy gave us a wonderful visualization: you're on a beach, and in the distance, someone friendly approaching - "It's yourself when you're old," she said. "The two of you greet, hug. And then coming from the other way, another friendly person - it's your young self." I watched her come, the 80 year old me, calm and smiling with white hair. And the 30-year old me, so fraught and intense, I wanted to hug her and say, relax, sweetie, really, it'll be fine. It brought tears to my eyes, the three of us there together, old, middle-aged and young. And then I channeled really young me, the 14 year old of the memoir. A very interesting exercise - highly recommended.

When I told W*yson about it, he said, "Doesn't work for me. Wheelchairs aren't good on sand."

On Saturday, the city was littered with people in those heat-catching aluminum capes, having just finished the fall Toronto marathon. I clapped and shouted Bravo! to each one I saw. Imagine, people do that as recreation. Crazy. The idealists of Occupy Toronto could use some of those capes; they are still camping downtown despite the cold, police choppers still hovering constantly. They haven't changed the world yet. Always worth a try.

W*yson came for supper Sunday, and as we talked about work, he told me to send him ten of my best pages from the memoir. Those of you who've followed this blog know how painful that process has been in the past - receiving my precious pages back, slashed and annotated, so marked up they're unreadable. Many exhortations with exclamation marks - Unpack! Raw! Muscle and bone! Don't explain or romanticize - show!

Monday morning I picked out what I hoped were my ten strongest pages and sent them. Tuesday morning, I gritted my teeth as I clicked open the reply. "Congratulations!" it started out. I thought, maybe there's hope here.

There is. He liked it. He really liked it. The voice works, he said. I have some suggestions, but it works.

I realized what voice is. Students ask all the time about voice - what is it, how can I find mine. I realized: your voice comes when you develop profound confidence in your words, in your right to tell your most important stories truthfully, in your own words, with your own innate rhythm and emotional truth. And also, of course, when you've simultaneously developed enough technique and craft to tell your truthful story vividly, economically, powerfully. That's voice.

Onward, she said.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I'm with the 99% - at home

Those poor protestors - I gather from watching CP24 that a thousand or more have gathered downtown to protest corruption, inequality and "global greed;" it's a cold day, and a cold rain has just started. The helicopters have been buzzing all day, presumably both the police and the media, who are waiting for something exciting to happen - though all's peaceful so far. I watched footage of protests around the world - Rome, London, Hong Kong - and there are scores more. Amazing how these events now spread instantly from one end of the planet to the other.

My daughter called to find out if I was there. I've protested and marched with the best of them for my entire adult life, starting with the Vietnam War at 17 and continuing through every single one of Mike Harris's policies - school cutbacks, the megacity, the G20 etc. But this protest is a bit loosey goosey for me. I'll admire from afar. And, yes, it is warmer in here.

Margaret Atwood said that apparently the percentage they're protesting today, the 99% stuck in poverty or with stagnant incomes versus the 1% whose profits and incomes have soared, are the proportions that provoked the French Revolution. So - who knows what awaits?

Adversity makes men, and prosperity makes monsters.
Victor Hugo.

Now here's something to protest -

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Brace yourselves, peanut butter lovers -- prices are set to spike following one of the worst peanut harvest seasons growers have seen in years.


Friday, October 14, 2011

don't shoot the viola player

Confession: your faithful correspondent developed a big crush yesterday evening. Oh, I'm such a groupie. Last night, I went to hear the Jerusalem Quartet, a superb Israeli string quartet, and fell in love with the viola player. He was adorable, and he played like an angel.

I grew up with chamber music - my father played second violin in an amateur string quartet made up of colleagues and friends, which met regularly in our home, strains of Beethoven and Mozart emanating from the living room along with explosions of swear words as the players got lost, while my mother baked their break snack in the kitchen. (Though not to be outdone, she played in a recorder group.) I thought all that long hair music was incredibly square; it embarrassed me.

Now, periodically I have a fierce hunger for a good string quartet, which was amply satisfied last night with a giant helping of Beethoven, Shostakovich and Brahms played by what has been called the best quartet in the world. That powerful, intelligent, rich music felt like food, filling my soul. It's fascinating to watch four people, in this case four nice Jewish boys in their early thirties, who enjoy such a bond with the music and each other that they play as one. I thought - of course I did - about the Beatles, and what it is that works so well when 4 compatible men play music together. And then, I got the crush on the baby-faced one - of course I did. His viola was like dark honey, liquid, reverberating through my body.

Bet you didn't think Shostakovich was such a turn on. The funny thing is that the fierce, violently jagged piece of his they played - Quartet #6 in G - he apparently composed on his honeymoon. But you couldn't tell.

There was a demonstration outside the theatre before the show - people protesting "Israeli apartheid," accusing the Quartet of "fiddling while Gaza burns." The audience was largely Jewish, and as they walked by, many were riled by the protests. I talked to one young protestor - not Jewish, just felt this is an important cause. As do I, though so complicated, so rooted in ancient hatreds, it's hard to imagine it will ever end. But it's unfair to implicate and accuse musicians, who are in another realm.

Speaking of musicians in another realm, tonight I went to my friend Anne-Marie's, to lie on her comfie sofa and watch Scorsese's documentary about George Harrison on HBO on her large screen TV. We watched the first half, beautifully done - about so much more than the Beatles, it's about the Sixties, that whole crazy time, what happened when drugs hit the scene, and then Ravi Shankar and the Maharishi, George searching desperately for his place in the world. Very moving. The film shows clearly those twin opposite poles - John the bad boy, Paul the good boy - and in the middle, George, the quiet centre that made those extremes possible.

Indian summer seems to have deserted us; it's definitely fall now, we're ankle deep in leaves and it's getting colder. Time to bring all the plants on the deck in for good, find a place for them somehow, because they're huge. I've already brought in the nine foot tall hibiscus, outside thriving, inside desperately unhappy with wilting pale green leaves. Hope they all pull through the move, the plants, so we can keep each other company while waiting to get back into the sun.

Here comes the sun. Something in the way she moves. Thank you, George.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Life of Flowers

We've been in full summer mode for days - yesterday, everyone out in tank tops and shorts, after Thanksgiving! Mind-boggling. Weird, to tell you the truth, though I'm not complaining. But today, a bit colder and rainy. We're getting back to normal, grateful for that marvellous aberration.

Here's a stunning little film about flowers, almost embarrassingly sexual. My only complaint is that it cuts each one off a bit too soon. But wondrous. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

One person named Chris Tyrell

Tonight, there's an important event at the Performing Arts Lodge - PAL - in Vancouver. PAL provides housing for artists in the performing arts - actors, musicians, dancers, who have little money later in life. It provides a rent-controlled apartment and an understanding community of fellows, and the buildings - there is one in Toronto too - hold gallery and performance spaces, so the artists can continue to ply their trades. It's a godsend for many, who are poor despite - no, because of - having given their lives to art, and who can live with dignity into old age.

Years ago, my beloved best friend Chris Tyrell set as his goal to fundraise for PAL Vancouver, though he does not live there; he just wanted to honour and assist those who do. Through the years, he has organized fundraising dinners and other money-making events. His walk through France, which I wrote about last year, was another fundraiser - he was sponsored to march so many kilometres and would raise over $17,000 when his walk was completed. Unfortunately, the trip turned into a medical disaster for him, and he could barely begin the trek, let alone finish it. (Above, his first day.)

So he finished his journey by train, flew home, saw his doctors, and simply picked up where he left off, by walking in Vancouver. He wrote to all his sponsors explaining that the number of kilometres would be the same, only he wouldn't have a heavy backpack and would be able to return home at the end of each ramble. He accomplished his goal just the other day - 1,205 kilometres walked, over $17,000 raised. This puts the total he has raised for PAL Vancouver in the last eight years at $82,500. One man, singlehandedly.

Tonight they are honouring his efforts, though he has asked that the spotlight not be on him but on the photographs he took as he walked in France and around Vancouver. But I hope their cheers are loud and long. In his self-deprecating way, he told me a bit about what's planned. He wrote: The last slide says: One person can only do so much."


Tall young man carves 20 pound turkey as
avid guests await.

Handsome beetle finds a home
in a pretty rose. Is this an analogy?

BK interview by Julija Sukys

I'm a member of the Creative Non-Fiction Collective, a group of Canadian non-fiction writers who exchange ideas and information via the Internet, and have started to meet once a year. A Collective member, writer Julija Sukys, has undertaken to interview non-fiction writers who interest her and to publish these extensive interviews on her blog. She read "Finding the Jewish Shakespeare," and asked to interview me. The result has just gone up on her blog, below.

What a gift to a writer - a reader who reads closely, carefully, with great interest, and asks insightful, lively, probing questions. A spectacular treat. Which led to much, much blather from Beth. Thank you, Julija.

Monday, October 10, 2011

burbling thanks

Okay, I know it gets boring, all my joyful burbling - but this is the best morning ever. 10 a.m. on a holiday Monday, utterly tranquil, 20 degrees and sunny already with fresh dew on the garden. The rose by the fence has put out three, three new orangey-pink blooms for the pleasure of my Thanksgiving guests; the hibiscus is blooming red, there's a new bright red begonia, a bright red mandevilla, the pink geraniums ... The birds are at the feeder, the stuffing is made and ready to go into our bird and into the oven, the multitudes will assemble late afternoon. The newspapers are filled with stories about the election surprise for Stephen Harper - how this fine, intelligent country handed him a majority and then turned Liberal or NDP or even Red Tory provincially - what the hell is happening in Alberta? I'll have what they're having - and keeping our oily Prime Minister in check. Woo hoo!

I've done some work this morning - oh, I am pregnant now, the memoir is gestating, growing, I'm poking and polishing and ripping apart, the most fun work of all. So satisfying, I feel it right in my gut, the growth of this artefact that's from me and of me and will one day have a life of its own.

Time now for a walk; I'll go to the Necropolis and commune with the dead, and to the Farm to celebrate the living and smelly. There is so much wrong out there, but I don't want to think about it today. Today, this one little corner, so far ... omigod, I'd better shut up, if I talk too much, it'll all go wrong. So I'm saying this in a whisper, a tiny little voice - today, in this minuscule corner of the planet, we appreciate family and friends, food, gathering, peace. We are all grateful.

And ... I'd like to apologize to Nancy Shevell, now Dame McCartney, or whatever the wife of a Sir becomes. I was snide yesterday, Nancy. Yes, perhaps a tiny bit jealous that you've grabbed the most eligible bachelor on the face of the earth, aging rocker though he is. You have a lovely demeanour and have made the man extremely happy. He deserves happiness, he has given so much to the world. I thank you, and on this beautiful Thankgiving day, I wish you nothing but joy.

Though I still think that diamond is just a little bit too big.

The Story of My Life

Sunday, October 9, 2011

another Mrs. McCartney - sigh

It's all right, my friends, really it is. It's 8 a.m. on a brisk Sunday morning, and I've just read in the "Star" that my beloved Paul, Sir P. McCartney, is going to marry his Nancy TODAY. We can all rejoice that she seems a lot nicer than the last one, though I do confess, I find her CLINGY. In every picture, she's stuck to his side or draped all over him; when he was being honoured in Washington, she was seated in the row behind, and though he was sitting between the Obamas, who might perhaps have had interesting things to say, she kept bending forward over his chair to engage him in chat. However, I think he likes that kind of thing. She's very pretty and low-key, she has tons of money, she has a job in her father's company, sort of, I gather.

Yes, this is the third time he's marrying someone other than me. All my friends will turn to me with sorrowful, sympathetic eyes. And once more, I have to say - all I need is love. Not more; not marriage. I don't want to know the real Paul McCartney, thank you very much, his morning breath and his boxes of hair dye. I'm pretty sure I'd like him if we met; just yesterday, I read that he never misses his daughter Stella's fashion shows in Paris. He is a steadfast father and a musician non pareil, and he has engaged this Toronto writer in a sweet romantic fantasy since she was 13 years old. Which, incidentally, is providing great material for her next book. Which I hope, one day, he'll read.

May this generous man and musician be granted great joy and much creativity. May his happiness translate into many more songs for us. If she'll just leave him alone long enough to get to work.


Speaking of uncovering the real man: A new book has been published about Obama, puncturing
that particular rose-coloured myth, exposing the many arrogant, greenhorn mistakes he made the minute he arrived in the White House. He wasn't ready for the Presidency, says the writer, he ignored key advisors, he maltreated his female staff who were relegated to the sidelines - it goes on and on. You see? Sometimes the myth, sadly, is so very much better that the real thing. Not always, luckily; the reality of Nelson Mandela is as good as the myth, if not better. But that's rare.

There is one thing about the Paul story, though, that gave me a twinge. One of my longterm fantasies - just there, way down, at the back of the brain - has been to own - even, perhaps, to be given - a vintage diamond ring. I have no idea where that came from, I'm not a diamond kind of person, but there's something so beautiful and unique about the settings and the way they're cut, and of course, there's no worry about provenance since the stones were mined so long ago. When I read that Paul has given Nancy a vintage diamond ring, I thought, of course he did. He knows.

I hope she appreciates it, and him.

I hope she acquires a nice absorbing hobby that keeps her busy.


P.S. I just Googled the story and saw the actual ring. It's just a big honking diamond, quite ugly. One day, I'm going to find the ring I want, Victorian I think, discreet, delicate, and I'm going to buy it and become engaged to myself. Until death do me part.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

the Grateful Living

Saturday afternoon of a heavenly long weekend - and it's so quiet! No one is hammering, sawing, leaf blowing - no one is even talking, right now. It's just ... still. Nooooo! The second I finished writing that, some infernal, unbelievably loud machine started. Shouldn't have said a word.

I'm gradually amassing the Thanksgiving necessities - not easy to gather large quantities of potatoes, sweet potatoes, turkey etc. without a car, so I do it in stages, with my backpack. It's hot out there - people out in shorts, tank tops and sandals. I've got all my mothball-y sweaters out in the fierce sun, to steam away the smell.

The noise stopped. Will it start again? What the hell was it? How can people be so thoughtless? Don't they know a highly sensitive person - MOI - is sitting on her deck enjoying the silence?

Ah well. I'm spending this entire weekend giving thanks. For health, for beloved family, for beloved friends, for eager students, for the joy of words on paper, for the house and the garden, for intelligent Ontario voters, for the divine Honeycrisp apple I just finished eating and this heavenly day, even for the crabby pussycat with her perfect white boots: I am grateful. Thank you thank you thank you.

Friday, October 7, 2011


Do people still say, "Phew!" to express relief? Or am I once again advertising my extreme age?Anyway, thank you, Ontario voters, for ignoring the ignoble Hudak. May he vanish into the mists, along with his wife, once assistant to the hideous Mike Harris. And I thank Rob Ford, the ham-fisted, ham-faced mayor of Toronto, whose right-wing blunders I'm sure were extremely helpful in making sure the same thing didn't happen on a provincial level.

I don't envy McGuinty his minority for the next few years, as the world economy teeters on the brink, and the divide of rich and poor, of right and left, becomes ever wider and more acrimonious. But at least we won't have chain gangs on the highways, one of Hudak's better ideas.

It's absolutely heavenly out there - 22 degrees today, Sunday going up to 26! - and continuing all next week. I spent the morning in the garden, cutting back and pruning, with the birds waiting impatiently for me to go away so they could get back to the feeder. What bliss, the birds and I in the hot sun. W*son just came for lunch; we sat eating cauliflower curry in the garden and discussing the lawsuit that he and fellow Chinese-Canadian writers have launched against a writer who, they claim, has stolen from their books for her own. Exciting - newspapers are calling him every day for a quote.

And now - to my other work, the one that doesn't use secateurs. Well no, writing does indeed need lopping off and judicious pruning, no question, and sometimes, the cuts go deep. Invisible, but deep. The back door is wide open, with the crabby cat somehow, mysteriously, parked beside me, Steve Job's beautifully sleek computer on my lap - thank you so much, Steve, you have given the world a great deal and will be missed. The cat and I survey the tidy garden, the busy birds. And now, time to delve into my soul and coax something out.

It doesn't get better than this.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October lament

This is a strange limbo season - one minute freezing and wet, overcoats and gloves, the next, hot and bright, light sweaters if that. Yesterday, ghastly. Today, heavenly. And I, the lightoholic, rush to stick my face in the last rays from that hot yellow thing in the sky. Because soon, those rays will be pale and distant, barely felt on the hungry skin.

Thus, the Canadian preparing for winter: bit by bit, putting away the cotton and linen clothes and the sandals, getting out the woollens and the boots, the hats and gloves, overcoats, shawls. Bit by bit, shutting down the garden, picking the last green tomatoes, bringing in the outdoor plants to winter over, sealing the windows. Sealing all the windows - oh, that hurts.

Because my bed is next to a window. It's a great blessing - I can push the curtain open when I wake, and look out to see the ivy and the giant maple tree at the end, in my neighbour's garden. The open window brings me the smells of the day, and of the night. But soon it'll be closed. Soon I'll open the curtains and see the maple's naked limbs. And soon, I'll open the curtains and see those white flakes tumbling down.

And then we're in for it, my friends. Then we shut down.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Must See: "His Greatness" at Factory Theatre

Again ... so soon! Reporting on yet another fine Toronto day - a great play, an interesting
soiree ... W*yson and I saw a matinee at Factory Theatre of "His Greatness" by the marvellous Daniel MacIvor, who also stars, along with an old actor friend of mine, Richard Donat, and a terrific young actor. At the end of Tennessee Williams's life, in 1980, he spent time in Vancouver as the Vancouver Playhouse produced one of his last plays. The play is set in his hotel room on opening day, where he and his assistant and former lover bicker and chat, and where a young man, a gay hustler hired by the assistant as Tennessee's escort, both encourages and interferes with the familiar patterns of the two older men.

It's beautifully written, beautifully acted and directed and produced - sad, joyful and true. My friend and I loved it and were stunned that the theatre wasn't packed. It's really MacIvor's love letter to the theatre and to playwrights, and also to us, the audience. Don't miss it.

I was in Vancouver in 1980 and met Tennessee Williams, who came to my UBC playwriting class to talk about his work. I remember little about the event - pregnant at the time, I was always hungry and thinking of food - so what else is new? - except for suspecting that he was a little drunk and doing it all by rote. But I felt honoured to meet him. The Playhouse play, "The Red Devil Battery Sign," was pretty bad. Funny to go back and remember all that, and then see the man recreated with so much respect, honesty and heart.

This evening is Nuit Blanche, and though it isn't raining, it's cold. COLD. I went out on my bicycle wearing many layers and still froze. Downtown is jammed with hundreds of thousands of people, wandering around looking for art and trying to keep warm. One installation was perfect - it was a kind of ballet of fire, big machines spewing out flames in rhythm, funny and, as importantly, warm. At City Hall they were strapping people into wings and sending them "flying" between towers, with strange laser lights beaming about. I'm sure there are many fascinating things to see, but the crowds and the freezing wind did me in pretty quickly.

We're not ready for winter yet, Mother Nature - slow down a bit, will you, please?

getting cold

Dear bloggees, I apologize for having neglected you this week: teaching, the encroachment of chilly autumn, getting over my cold, all conspired to keep me away from my blogging duties. Sometimes, yes, I just need to live my boring life for a few days, without chronicling it.

Last night, old friend Suzette came for dinner and then took me to the Bata Shoe Museum for a media event; she's a very busy screenwriter on the board of the Canadian Film Centre, which was throwing a bash to launch their Nuit Blanche offerings - various interactive media projects. The average age at the bash: twenty-nine. Many little porkpie hats and tattoos, one man in an entire PeeWee Herman outfit. Watching the installations, I have to say that my bull@#$# o'meter was twitching vigorously; one involved putting on a headset that "reads your thought waves so you can control the activities in the video just by thinking." Hmmm.

But it was great to be with the artsy young things. And the shoes - took a little tour around the fascinating exhibits at the Shoe Museum and must go back. Especially as I was in a shoe frame of mind, or more particularly, since it's fall, focussed on boots ... I went to my massage therapist yesterday afternoon, and got there so early I just had to look around the comfy shoe store down the street, where I found the perfect pair of fall boots in my massive size yet very reasonable and comfy to boot. So to speak. They're soft-soled, made by Flexx - "Il Comfort Italiano," which sounded wrong but, according to Google translate, isn't. I was wearing my Flexx boots last night as I mingled with the hipsters. Not as fab as the boots my friend Tabatha Southey was wearing, a Chanel pair she bought many years ago. But pretty spiffy.

Am I shallow? is the refrain. Yes yes yes. Is the reply.

Massage therapist Barb used to give massages in her Cabbagetown living-room, in front of her fireplace - paradise on a snowy day. Now she's at St. Clair and Yonge, too near tempting shoe stores and with no fireplace, but just as skilled. I haven't been to her for years, but have had for months a dull, sometimes sharp pain in my upper left shoulderblade. She put her finger right into the sore spot and kept it there - oooooh. Pain gone.

It's an exciting life, n'est-ce pas? I hope yours is as thrilling. I recently watched a delightful CBC documentary about experts, which showed that most of the time, they have no better idea than the rest of us but sound as if they do. According to one study, the predictions of financial analysts over a decade were the same as the results of chimpanzees throwing darts at a board. The message: we need to do a bit more figuring out ourselves. And nobody wants to do that!

My son came over the day before, with a couple of his co-workers, to shoot a movie in the backyard. They make very short films and post them on YouTube; the last one was called Koats, about "coats who kill," starring Sam screaming, being devoured by his raincoat. This time seemed to be about two stupid gumshoes. In the meantime, pizzas were on sale at No Frills, so the budding Spielbergs were fed; Sam simultaneously did a quick load of laundry since he just happened to have brought it with him. The young men raided the fridge, watched some TV, and had a snooze before going off to work. And lucky moi cleaned up and went back to work too.

Oh - and I have to report my beloved Paul McCartney's first ballet score "Ocean's Kingdom" has received, shall we say, mixed reviews - but good on ya, Paul, you are a good sport and will try anything. I love that about you. Can we talk?

Today, Saturday, it's damn cold out there, the first real fall day. Unfortunately for Nuit Blanche, the entire city taken over for arts activities tonight from 6.30 till dawn, it's also supposed to rain. Ah well, nothing will daunt my fellow Torontonians on a hunt for art. I myself, however, might just be a little bit daunted.