Wednesday, July 31, 2013

my ever present past

Okay, it's out there. Sent digitally to 4 readers, and in hard copy, by courier, to two more, with at least one more hard copy to go out. And yes, of course I couldn't resist, I read it myself, the version that came back from the printer, looking so official, not quite like my work at all.

Only it's not only my work, it's my life. That's what's weird about memoir writers - it's not just our writing chops that are on display, it's our entire lives. I confess - well, you know that I'm a weeper, and I did weep at the end. Because it's my adolescence, it's my parents, my love life, my fantasies, my future being mapped out there.

Now to see if it works for people who are not me.

After reading it, I put on Paul McCartney's "Memory Almost Full," one of my favourites of his recent CD's, and wept a bit more. He is singing about his "ever present past," about his own memories - "That was me." And about "the day that I die" in a song called "The End of the End." Quite beautiful.

It's pouring, thank heavens, so I finally got to watch the DVD I rented last week, "That Thing You Do," written and directed by Tom Hanks, about a Beatle-ish 60's rock band. Charming and fun.

Okay. Now I can clear the piles of paper away and think about tomorrow. I'll be 63. And next year, on August 1st, I'll be 64. Someone should write a song about that.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sisyphus and the Pope

My students ask how you know when a piece is finished. I tell them what I heard Ellen Seligman, Canadian editor extraordinaire, say once: "A piece is never finished. It is finished enough."

But, I tell them, I myself know a piece is finished, at least to the point that I need to push it out and get some feedback, when I realize that if I have to read it one more time, I'll throw up.

Well, this draft is finished. I am at the throwing up stage. Enough. I don't know if the new beginning works. I think now that the thing is way too long. And I'm sure there are a myriad other problems, which I will be happy to tackle after a break. For now, it's being sent to RePrint tomorrow morning for some hard copies, and will go out to other readers by email. Tomorrow. Enough.

Time to emerge from this cloister, see the world, check the garden, move my body - my ass feels about a mile wide - clean the kitchen, and - ah yes, I knew there was something - celebrate my birthday on Thursday. 63. My son is coming over to cook for me and a few friends.

I will toast artists everywhere. Lunatics!

And a toast to my friend Ken, who, in his mid-seventies, is on the food crew for the Ride for AIDS from here to Montreal - he's riding in a truck ahead of the cyclists, making all the food for them and sleeping in a tent for a week. Now there's a brave man. Ken's a Catholic who will be happy to read that his Pope recently said, about gay men, "Who am I to judge?" That's a pretty big step for a Pope.

Speaking of pretty big steps, I have just pushed a boulder up a hill. Eventually, it'll come rolling down again. But in the meantime, I get to sit in the shade and snooze.

Monday, July 29, 2013

the glamourous writing life

The finish line was in sight this afternoon, at least, the first of a few finish lines, I thought, as I got the manuscript ready to go out to some chosen readers. I had even called RePrint to ask about emailing a large document, to get copies printed tomorrow. I printed one out for myself last night, after a last revision on the screen, and spent much of today reading and revising the hard copy. Almost done. Just have to enter those revisions and ...

And dear Wayson called. When he heard what I was doing, he offered to come over and read the first 25 pages. Lucky me.

The good news - "This bit is terrific," he said.
The bad news - The terrific bit was on page 22, way into the action, and that's where he thought the book should start.
"The opening scene you have now," he said, "is just you setting things up. It's too slow. It's dull. You need to pull us right in here, where the writing is alive."

Jump right into the action is what I tell my students, of course, but ... wait a minute. I need this first scene, I said, to establish the antagonist. Readers said of earlier drafts that there was no antagonist, no narrative tension. In fact, Mr. Choy was one of them. So the opening scene is to establish the narrative tension.

Not needed. We need to connect to the narrator first, he said, get inside her, and then discover the antagonist. Otherwise, you're giving it all away in the first scene.
Lucky me.

Structure structure structure. Writing is easy, comparatively. Structure is really hard. How to set it up so it flows and makes sense and supports what you want to say and where you want to go ... hard. And where it starts is vital. A wrong start, and the whole thing will hang wrongly.

The change is more or less done, I think - managed to rearrange, do some rewriting. I need to sleep on it, read it fresh tomorrow, see if he's right. I think he is, or I wouldn't have done all that. So we won't be printing yet. I've done nothing all day except this and meals and a nice walk to the farm. Did nothing all weekend except this - in fact, on the weekend, I didn't talk to anyone for two days except a friend I ran into at the market on Saturday, who's now on the list of manuscript readers. On Sunday, I didn't open my mouth once, not even on the phone. Just sat here.

And tomorrow, will be sitting here some more.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

inspired by J. K. and Anne and the gardenia

I am at the tender and terrified stage of the creative process. Here in my hands is this fragile creature, my manuscript. Maybe I'm completely delusional, and it's a hopeless mess, a fountain of self-indulgence, no one will care. "What WAS she thinking?" they'll ask. I feel especially vulnerable because it's not just my writing now, it's my writing when I was 13 and 14, as many excerpts from my young diaries and stories are included. I think of all the people, the opposites of Van Gogh, who spend years happily creating stuff under the illusion that it will matter to the world, when it's a lost cause.

"There is no such thing as talent," some famous person said once. "There is only lack of talent, and very hard work." Meaning, I think, that innate talent is meaningless without hard work, but that there is such a thing as having no talent, which makes the journey to success nearly impossible.

Last week I sent the ms. to a dear friend, who critiqued a third and then got sick and hasn't gone back to it. Nothing is compelling him to finish the story. Maybe he's relieved to not have to read it. Maybe everyone will feel that way. Maybe I've spent all these years, these countless hours, creating something for myself alone.

Well okay, if that's the way it is, that's the way it is. Being an artist should be frightening. You have to listen to yourself and get on with it, and hope you're on the right track. We don't do this for money or fame, God knows. We do it because something pushes us to create. I always remind my students that J. K. Rowling was a brave and crazy single mother on welfare when she sat in an Edinburgh café inventing a strange, complex world of wizards, with no sense that anyone would ever publish her book, let alone read it. You never know. You never know what will happen to something you've left behind. Look at Anne Frank, whom I also always bring up in class - a 13 year old girl with a notebook, who changed the world.

On this absolutely perfect day, the gardenia Wayson gave me has just produced this year's first creamy white bloom. She just produces because she has to; I'll use her and that perfect white flower as an inspiration. I have cancelled the one engagement I had for today, so there's nothing, nothing in the way of work today, only me and these 70,000 or so words to fiddle around with and try to make better. Hoping that one day, they might matter to you too. But if not, well, they matter to me.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Gorgeous Georges

Friend Lani has just written to complain about my disparagement of the name George. And she's right. Not to mention dear cousin George Gordin in Washington. Apologies to all the Georges.

I must beg to differ, Bethes.  George is not dull.  Look at George Harrison (MY favourite Beatle); George Clooney; Curious George and even George Elliot!  Love, Lani

"Before Midnight"

So much for days of nothing but focussed work - it's 5 p.m. and all day today, so far, has been spent on the house and garden. My dear handyman John came in the morning and left at nearly 4. We made a long excursion to Canadian Tire for deck furniture on sale, furnace filters, smoke alarm, solar lights, hose nozzle etc. ... oh the excitement. And then the rest of the day dealing with it all, assembling, putting up, fixing. John is gold, solid gold.

As I sit on my new love-seat on the deck, which replaced the ratty chair that I picked up from the street, I'm watching the crowd of sparrows at the feeder, especially two who are feeding a little guy perched on a nearby branch. They pick up seed and flutter over to shove it down his throat.

Went last night to see "Before Midnight" with Suzette. I've seen the two others in this Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy/Richard Linklater trilogy and enjoyed them, but this one is something else - a cautionary tale about marriage. Though the acting, writing, production of the film are marvellous - the dinner scene alone worth the price of admission - it's a profoundly sad portrait of two nice people tearing each other apart. It hit too close, for me, reminding me of the dark days toward the end of my own marriage. The problem as a partnership fails is that all you feel is the profound misery of the marriage. You don't know that what you're headed for is the profound misery of divorce.

Anyway, this film is definitely worth seeing, but it made me extremely glad that I'm single. Be warned.

And now, back to my glass of rosé and then to work, at the end of a perfect summer day. With John.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

le Mas Blanc Writer's Retreat

I've just posted a link to my friend Isabel Huggan's blog. Isabel, for the few of you who don't know, is a superb Canadian writer who's been living for many years in the south of France. Her blog is a joy, thoughtful and, for some strange reason, beautifully written, with gorgeous photos to boot. In my last post, I mentioned the Banff Centre as a writing retreat, but for any of you who want a truly exotic and unforgettable experience, consider her Mas Blanc writing retreat in the south of France. No elk - just cicadas, French food and wine, the glory of France all around, and the wisdom of Isabel Huggan to guide you through.

getting ready to push

It's one of those mornings when you just can't believe your luck, to be alive and here. At least, I can't, why am I assuming you feel this? It's fresh, mild and sunny, the birds are crowded, squawking, around the feeder, there are bees - rare precious bees - nosing into the oleander flowers, and the Rose of Sharon bushes have exploded into bloom, mauve near the house and white with red centres further back.

And I am in love, seriously, deeply in love - with my baby, my manuscript. Now I remember how this felt last time, when my first book was nearly finished. Back then, in order to find the solitude and concentration needed to push it through to the end, I flew twice to the Banff Centre, to sit alone for many hours a day in Hemingway, my little round writing house in the woods. It was paradise - the air smelled of forest, there were mountains all around and elk grazing outside, and when I was hungry, I could leave the little house and go to the dining-room, which was full of delicious food and artists of all disciplines from around the world. I could eat and talk and then, filled up, go back along the pine trail to the little house, to pick up my beloved manuscript, almost ready, almost done. There's a thank you to the Banff Centre, which granted me a reduced, affordable rate, in the book's Acknowledgements.

Now my children have their own lives, and I can find that level of solitude right here, in my own kitchen. No mountains or elk, and I have to cook my own meals, but it's quiet, and there are birds. And there's that same excited feeling of getting ready to give birth, of the book nearly ready to head out into the world on its own. I've given myself a deadline - this draft will be ready for the readers I've asked to critique it by my birthday, next Thursday. Then I can take a few weeks off while they read, and then, I hope, plunge back in to finish it by the end of the summer. That's the plan, anyway. The readers may have other ideas. Maybe I am deluding myself that the book has a future.

But I think I'm not, and it does.

I first started work on this Sixties memoir material as an MFA student at UBC, in 1982, and I've written, oh, at least 15 drafts in the last 7 years. So why has it come together now? There's no question that the sudden rush to completion is connected to my mother's death at Christmas. I loved her very much, but I could not publish this while she was there to read it. Now she's not, and I am free.

There's a monarch butterfly, wings outspread, resting on the bannister in the sun. There are wonderful smells - jasmine, thyme, rosemary, basil, mint, and ... and ... I've forgotten the name of my favourite smell. Not lilac, it's .... it's a giant hole in my memory. This is scary. I can smell it, it's mauve, it's ... lavender. Lavender. Lavender.

I'd better hurry up with the work.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

all's well

Almost chilly this morning, amazingly - I put on my usual little bit of something and then went back upstairs to put on quite a bit more. It's just beautiful out now. Thank you, whoever you are.

I think they should name the baby Ralph. Prince Ralph. It has a nice ring. Looking at the pictures of that lovely couple in blue exiting the hospital, I remembered the day in May 1981 when I was 30, a bit younger than Kate, with my newborn wrapped in white, leaving St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver. I had just been hit with a blast of hormones so powerful that I am still recovering, and, in fact, will never recover. Happily, I could figure the job out without paparazzi - just my mother in attendance. When my husband, baby and I got home to our apartment, Mum had baked fresh scones and bought pink sweetheart roses. A wonderful time.

I wish them joy, the two of them and little Ralph.

Speaking of nice rings, my dear Sir Paul has offered free tickets to his Quebec City concert to the survivors of the Lac Megantic disaster. Now, is he a nice boy or what?

And, importantly, here's a petition to keep the CBC free from political interference, with a funny little video to go along with it. SIGN IT, please.

I hope your summer is as sweet, so far, as this one.

P.S. Oh that poor kid. George. What a stuffy, boring name.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

remembering Linda Lewis

Okay, so the royal baby has gone home. They are a most attractive couple, Kate looked way too good for having just given birth, and the baby looks like a baby. Moving right along.

An article in the "Star" today on the "27 Club" - the stars of the music world who died at the age of 27 - points out that, in a study of almost 3500 significant musical figures of the last century, "the age with the most fatalities was 62." Hmmm. I, for the next few weeks, am 62. Perhaps it's just as well I quit piano.

A sadder story - the loss to leukemia of Linda Lewis, editor first of "Today's Parent" and then of "More." Linda was only 52. I am profoundly grateful to her; both of her magazines were the first to open their doors to my work. She was respectful, straight-forward, generous, and always on time with the cheques, very rare in a magazine editor. I thank you again, Linda, for your kindness at a time when I needed it most, and send my deepest condolences to your family.

Finally - there's an agave
plant in the conservatory at Allen Gardens that is blooming for the first and last time in its 75-year old life, and they've had to make a hole in the the roof to allow it to do so. It will bloom for a few weeks, and then it will die. A woman who went to photograph it said, "Maybe when I'm 75, I'll shoot up and bloom."

I'm with her. 63, suddenly, sounds young.

Monday, July 22, 2013

tonight's pix

Writers in the garden
 Garden in the dusk light
Grandson in the Okanagan, visiting his grandfather's family

oh baby

You know that I'm a weeper. But I surprised even myself just now - I'm sitting here, tears pouring down my face at the news of the royal baby boy. I don't give a sh*t about the royal family, so why am I in tears? Well - it's a healthy baby, and there has been such a fuss that I'm happy for those nice young people that it's over and all's well. And he's a Leo! The best of the best, my friend.

But mostly, I'm thinking of Diana. One of the CBC radio people said that the baby's grandmother would be his guardian angel. It was startling to think of Diana as a grandmother - as it has been startling, this past year, to think of myself as one. I weep that she will not know this greatest of joys. I am grandmother to a baby boy, I was there beside his mother when he was born, and nothing, nothing in the world could matter more.

Diana's children are almost exactly the same age as mine. She is not here to watch them. I mourn for her.

Oh my God, now we'll have to watch this poor little guy grow up, every twitch in the public eye, like his father and uncle. Very tough. I'm sure that his mother will be there for the long haul. Welcome to the world, little guy. I really do not care at all about your stuffy old family. And yet - my mother was British, and I'm about to call Auntie Do. And I'm drinking rosé, to toast new life.

Well, I'm drinking rosé.

Yesterday, more importantly in my own tiny world, was my annual Writing in the Garden workshop, and I have to say, this one was spectacular. The weather was perfect, and the group could not have been more brave, interesting and compatible. One emailed today: Very special experience and a fabulous group of women. So many universal themes and everyone was so open.
Another: What a superb group in attendance - such kind, generous women with great senses of humour! Lunch was delicious and the bubbly with cheesecake was a treat.
And: I want to thank you for an inspiring, encouraging, safe and beautiful writing experience yesterday. It was a charmed day, start to finish. Aren't we fortunate people! 

Yes, yes we are. Here's to new life, on paper, and in London. 

P.S. The winner of the CBC Creative Non-fiction awards was announced today. I'd read the nominated stories, and I have to say that I didn't even finish the one that won. I thought it was the second weakest of the bunch. So there you go. I am right, and they are wrong. Twas ever thus. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Atsa my boy.

Oh what bliss - a normal summer day, hot but not unbearable, just right, as Goldilocks might say. So nice to have energy to do things, instead of just trying to breathe. I need energy - spent the day getting ready for my Write in the Garden workshop tomorrow - ten eager writers spending the whole day writing on the spot in the backyard, with a break for lunch, which I made today, plus whipping dusty house and messy garden into shape. And soon, friend Chris is going to send me his next bunch of edits. What do you mean, this manuscript is not PERFECT?

Just fiddling around on the 'net - found a review of the recent Paul McCartney concert in Seattle. He played to a sold-out house of 47,000 people, and invited members of Nirvana to play with him. The review concludes:
Paul McCartney is 71, rich and famous beyond measure, and one might suppose he has little to prove. But he gave the Safeco crowd a gift that isn’t often witnessed at superstar shows: he made the most famous songs in rock feel youthful, fresh, alive, important, vital.
It was magnificent.

Yes, he is. Magnificent.

And here's a writer joke:

Friday, July 19, 2013

golden slumbers

An extraordinary moment a while ago - the kitchen was suddenly suffused with golden light. I went upstairs to get a better view of the sky - stunningly beautiful layers of cloud, one small patch of cerulean blue beneath streaks of pink, orange and red, the rest banks of grey and white. I got on my bike and rode around the 'hood - a few others were outside looking at the sky. Saw two women sitting on their front porch, bathed in incredible light, staring at their cellphones.

I texted Anna about the light, and she wrote back, "Same over here. The sky like a golden dome." It demands a chorus of angels and some trumpets.

We've been waiting for extreme weather - a violent thunderstorm with hail predicted, even a tornado outside of town. But so far, just a hard burst of rain, and this. Now it's dark, there's still no rain, but the heat has broken. There's a fresh breeze. May it last. These last days have been brutal.

Hurricane Eli came to visit. He and his mama are flying off to visit family in B.C. on Sunday, so this was my last visit for 2 whole weeks. How can I stand it? I know I promised not to post so many pictures, but ... can you blame me for wanting to share his mind-boggling cuteness? Hmmm?

Friend Chris is reading the current memoir draft, sent me a bunch of comments today on the first 50 pages. Very valuable - pointing out where the timeline is confusing, for example. But at one point, he wrote, "I laughed out loud." Now THAT is music to my writer's ears.


Doing the dishes - in the sink
 playing the piano
 my garden in tonight's pink light
down the street

Harper's sweet smile and his new cabinet

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Survival mode here - unbelievable muggy heat. Right now, 8.30 a.m., it's apparently 28 degrees but feels like 33, and later, it will be 33 and feel like 45. This is when the grand luxury of central air conditioning becomes not a luxury at all. Our local library is a haven, full of people sitting quietly in the cool. At home, I have covered every possible window with curtaining. In the winter, the windows are a blessing; right now, not so much.

Speaking of "not so much," the phrase Jon Stewart made popular, I'm happy to report that the "Daily Show" is back on after a two week hiatus, and that John Oliver is wonderful. He's so different from Jon, so truly self-deprecating in an adorably British way, and yet trenchant and forceful in his analysis of the political and social morass that is the United States right now. Imagine, a law that allows you to shoot and kill anyone who makes you feel insecure. As John pointed out, it's just a step away from the frontier.

It's ten years since the superb Carol Shields died. The CBC Books people have put together a tribute to her, here.
this link 
Despite the heat, I'm still standing at the counter to work - well, perched on a bar stool right now - and did send the memoir ms. to my best friend Chris yesterday, the first person to receive this draft. Chris has asthma and bronchitis and so is helpless in bed. The perfect person to have to read my deathless prose.

Monday, July 15, 2013

"Much ado about nothing"

So here's a concept - a big Hollywood director apparently gets together regularly with his favourite actor friends and reads Shakespeare, and one day, they all decide to film "Much Ado" in his house, in 12 days. And they do, and I'm here to attest that the result is delightful.

So often, modern adaptations of Shakespeare are excruciating. This one works. It's clever without being irritating (Canadian Opera Company, are you listening?), and it brings our beloved William S. to bold new life. And with American actors, who generally grate on the ear when they're intoning Shakespeare. A few still do, here, but mostly, they make great sense of what they're saying for themselves and for us. And what they're saying is that commitment and trust are good.

I loved it. And the cinema was air conditioned. Life is good.

I'm writing this standing up. But luckily, there are stools at my kitchen counter, and soon I will sitting on one.

The story coaster

My writer-editor friend Elke just forwarded this from the NYTimes. My problem is that my entire memoir is stuck in the Tunnel of Badly-Written Love. And just how Reliable is that Narrator?

The office, take two

I just read yet again about the danger of chairs - that constant sitting is destroying our bodies. And suddenly felt myself turning to mush, sunk in my comfortable armchair.

Rooted around in the basement and found a little suitcase, which I have set up on the kitchen counter. Am now standing in front of this high-tech desk: counter+suitcase+computer. Testing testing. It feels odd. I'm moving around as I read and write, stretching my legs and arms and back. We'll see.

Sweating. Another scorcher on its way.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

ding dong belle

I do not like to make fun of people. But sometimes, it's hard not to. And that's where Facebook is a feast.
For example. Please relish this little musical treat.
5 July 2013 12:10

And for a real treat: Google the official trailer for "Twenty feet from stardom." It'll give you a taste of this wonderful film. (Sorry about the underlining - can't get rid of it.)

And another treat: here's that raving Socialist Andrew Coyne, cooing sweet nothings in the "Montreal Gazette" about our government.

Secretive, controlling, manipulative, crude, autocratic, vicious, unprincipled, untrustworthy, paranoid … Even by the standards of Canadian politics, it’s quite the performance. We’ve had some thuggish or dishonest governments in the past, even some corrupt ones, but never one quite so determined to arouse the public’s hostility, to so little apparent purpose. Their policy legacy may prove short-lived, but it will be hard to erase the stamp of the Nasty Party.
Perhaps, in their self-delusion, the Tories imagine this is all the fault of the Ottawa media, or the unavoidable cost of governing as Conservatives in a Liberal country. I can assure them it is not. The odium in which they are now held is well-earned, and entirely self-inflicted.

The office

Saturday, July 13, 2013

"Twenty feet from stardom"

Bliss. Bliss bliss bliss. Several friends have phoned wanting to visit or do things, but on this gloriously perfect summer weekend, I'm busy. Go away.

First - it's extremely quiet. Where's the whine of the Indy? I don't know. Maybe they've moved it further from downtown? I can't hear a thing right now except my neighbour cutting his grass and the birds at the feeder. And the wind in the willows. And second, the weather - after what we've been through, torrential rain, muggy heat - today is ideal, warm, breezy, soft. A gift.

I went to the market this morning and have one word for you: cherries. Cherries are the thing right now. And then I peddled home, had another cup of coffee, and started work. Sat and sat, on the deck, getting up periodically to deadhead the peonies (the two blooms, poor thing), to water, to check on the veggies, to watch the poor transplanted rose wither. But mostly, I sat and fiddled with my opus, this memoir which is blooming into life as the summer does.

At least, I hope it is. Maybe it's alive only for me. But I hope not.

Mid-afternoon, I didn't want to stop  - so quiet, heaven, the deck, the book, the sweet air. But I wanted to see "Twenty minutes from stardom" at the Bloor Hot Docs cinema, and it's only playing a few more times. So dragged myself away for a vigorous cycle across town on a hot, perfect afternoon.

Another favourite treat - going to the Bloor Cinema to see a documentary, surrounded by crazy kindred spirits also there on a gorgeous afternoon. It's a beautiful film, moving, powerful, highly recommended - about the women (and men, but mostly women) who came from the call and response tradition of the black churches, many of them daughters of preachers, and who for decades were the back-up singers for rock and roll. Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fisher - we've heard them countless times but don't know who they are. After seeing this film, you'll never forget them. It's a film about having a God-given gift and loving to use it, even if stardom eludes you and you never make it big. They have glorious voices, like Aretha's, have sung with the greats, and are not famous. Something missing - luck, ego, selfish drive. But still they sing. So, a meditation on what is success and what is talent.

Sting speaks about paying your dues and having the spiritual heft to deal with the music business, and I thought of young Canadian Bieber, falling apart publicly, no surprise. Not much spiritual heft there.

I cycled home singing at the top of my lungs, "da doo ron ron ron da doo ron on." I've always wanted to be a backup singer. And now I know something about the life - tough, very tough. I wish that I'd made making music more central to my life when I was young. One of my greatest regrets. However.

And now, home, the birds, the garden, a glass of rosé, a whole evening to work. And also, to listen to Randy Bachman and sing a bit of backup.

Friday, July 12, 2013

sweet summer

 Supper fresh from the garden.
Glamma and Eli visit the farm.

Checking out 1964

I'm reading the Feb. 21 1964 edition of "Life" magazine, full of pictures of happy women with their hair sprayed to hell and gone ("Does she or doesn't she?), busy in their kitchens and with their kids - there's hardly an ad picturing a woman without children. Also lots of manly men smoking cigarettes and drinking scotch, exclusively white male politicians, ads for Polaroid cameras, transistor radios, tiny televisions ("Take two, they're small!" cries an ad for the 11" Admiral Playmate), and cars the size of small cottages. The issue contains two very long analyses of the lives of Lee Harvey Oswald and of Jack Ruby.

And there's this letter to the Editor, with the heading ESKIMOS GET COSMETICS
Your special report on "Eskimos Get the Make-up Message" in the Jan. 31 issue is truly amazing.
The article proves a woman, if given half a chance, is willing to try and better herself.

Evelyn J. Boyd, Concord, Calif.  

Thanks for that, Evelyn.

Enjoying the quiet - because it's the Indy 500 this weekend, and soon the air will be filled with the high-pitched giant mosquito whine of testosterone on wheels.

And - here's a beautiful excerpt of an interview with Dustin Hoffman, about making "Tootsie" and what he learned about being a woman.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

celebrating men

It is a perfect summer night, and I am swamped with emotion. Everything made me cry today. Of course, I saw my shrink in the morning; that helps. We are trying to figure out why the fantasy figure of Paul McCartney not only loomed large throughout my adolescence but has continued to do so. Well - he's extremely talented and musical and brings back a time, and I love him. Will that do?

Plus, of course, a mention or two of my mother, my father, my children ... a tear or two.

Went directly from her office to see "An unfinished song" across the street. I suspected that the film itself would not be great but that the performances would be, and I was right - Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp as an elderly British couple are unforgettable, incandescent. You could watch their faces all day - her smile, his frown, her concern, his bewilderment - heartbreaking and glorious. Forget the flimsy film around them. Just watch them.

And then I cycled home to my garden, which makes me weep in its own special way. My aunt Do told me on this trip to Ottawa that my mother was thrilled I'd become something of a gardener. "You showed no interest when you were a child," Do told me. How many children embrace gardening? At least, as it was done in my family, by my mother. As was everything else. Today, my new gardening friend Dan came over and did a massive prune on the curly willow, which takes over everything. We decided to transplant a rose that was shrivelling with no sun, and the poor lost raspberry bush too. That bush was grown from a cutting from my mother's garden in Edmonton, carried back on the plane in 1989, after my father's death. Its survival matters. The climbing rose is drooping now and does not look good; I've been chatting with it. You'll be happier here, I say. Buck up.

More reason to love Ryan Gosling, Canadian superstar and sexiest man of the year - an op-ed piece in the "Globe" today about the cruelty of gestation crates for sows. The minute I saw a picture of how pigs are treated, about five years ago, I stopped buying pork except from small local farms. Canada has moved to rectify the situation, slowly, but Ryan points out a loophole. Imagine - he's majorly talented, handsome and has a great heart. Like a certain musician I am fond of. God, there are many fine men on the planet. Let's celebrate them. We don't do this often enough.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

CBC Literary competition

The short list is out for the Canada Writes Creative Non-fiction competition - five finalists. Their stories are here, with brief interviews; I just read them all and voted. Why don't you do so too, and then let's compare? Hint: they're okay, yes, one or two are good, but some would receive solid feedback in class, to make them better. This is not the best this country can offer. I wish I had kept the fifty best essays my students have written, through the years. We'd blow these guys away. 

Sorry. Macho talk. Mother's pride.

Read them all and vote for your favourite.

A silent "Yesterday" for you

Sorry - I got it this far. A big video chunk turned into a tiny clip with no sound. But it moves!

Awaiting further thunderstorms here, as the city recuperates from the frenzy on Monday. As we mourn the unspeakable disaster in Lac Megantic. The newspaper this morning was almost unbearable. But - there was a report from the 3 women who'd been kidnapped and held prisoner for 10 years, the 3 of them well, recovering, fierce, grateful. Life goes on. Until it doesn't.

I showed two pages of the current memoir draft to Wayson yesterday. "The voice works," he said. I suspected that, but what joy to hear it confirmed from my sternest critic. So - onward. Just came back from the brand new Regent's Park Farmers Market with a loaf of fresh multi-grain sourdough, a giant lettuce, some fresh ginger honey - and will cook my own beans and eat my own tomatoes for dinner.

It's still moving up there. So weird.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Mayors face-off: Calgary versus Toronto

Comparison on Facebook with how Calgarians responded to their wonderful Mayor Nenshi's efforts after their flood a few weeks ago, and how Torontonians are responding to our mayor after ours.

  1. 65,000 people may return home at 1 pm. But you MUST follow the safety information attached. Start at re-entry centre. 
@nenshi I may have not voted for you, but your hard work during the flood has ensured you will have my vote next election

  1. I am extremely proud of our staff for working through the night. I am also very proud of the people of for helping each other out.
@TOMayorFord were they working through the night to procure you some crack ?

  1. 8. Know that we'll get through this together. The spirit of Calgary has never burned more brightly.
@nenshi: 8. Know that we'll get through this together. The spirit of Calgary has never burned more brightly.” Thank you for being our rock

Monday, July 8, 2013

substitute cuteness

Well, if you can't hear Paul singing, you can see Eli encountering chocolate ice-cream, and using his tablesaw with his cousin. 


Apocalypse in Toronto - such torrential rains a few hours ago that the city is paralyzed, cars are flooded and abandoned, the lower Don Valley Parkway under water, parts of the subway out, huge swaths of the city without power. And I was ensconced in my house only half an hour before all this happened.

Thank you, powers that be. If I'd decided to take a flight one hour later, I'd still be at the Ottawa airport, and might be there for the night. Airports are in total chaos, of course. Instead, I swanned home in record time and watched the sky erupt.

And one of my skylights erupt, with water dripping onto the dining-room floor. How is it possible that this house still finds ways to leak? And yet it does.

The treat: Sam and his lady had come over to cook for me (also to watch cable TV since he doesn't have it yet), and Anna, Eli and Eli's cousin Dakota had gone to the new Regent Park swimming pool and to Riverdale Farm and so came over too, arriving just as the downpour began. So all those I love most were under this leaky roof as Armageddon struck. A blessing. And all of us to help care for the small ones. Eli found a big umbrella and began to push the end of it around the living room floor, under the coffee table and around. I realized - he was vacuuming! He's his grandfather's grandson. My ex was mad for vacuuming. I - not so much.

A successful trip. Spent some great time with Auntie Do, still fiercely independent though in need of more help than she'll admit, as a little clean out of her fridge proved. Spent some great time with my brother Michael and his partner Emilie. Spent some great time with one of my oldest sweethearts. And got home safely just before the world went mad.


I took some video of Paul last night. Not too much - I didn't want to experience the concert through a tiny screen, as many were doing, but through all my senses in that vast auditorium. But still, I do have bits of video and would like to share them with you, but just tried to post them here and could not. I think to do so would involve YouTube and therefore, you're out of luck. Sorry about that. I have a couple of unsatisfactory stills instead. Wish you could hear him alone with a guitar singing "Yesterday," and then the relentless rocking bassline of "Daytripper" and the pounding beat of "Paperback Writer". And then the gorgeous beauty of "Golden Slumbers," which ended the long night.

If you come over, I'll play them for you.
The tiny crowd. A very very happy crowd of nearly 18, 000. All singing.
Just before the band came on.

From the net. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Macca forever

Nearly 1 a.m., just back in my little b and b room, my ears ringing with the best rock and roll music in the history of the world. What a band. What a playlist. 20,000 people singing "La la la la, Hey Jude" at the tops of their lungs. Paul going from "Yesterday" to "Helter Skelter" with nary a blink. 71 years old in sexy tight black jeans and Beatle boots with Cuban heels be still my beating heart.

It was not optimal, this concert, me still sick, unable to sing along, just mouthing the words, and in the most godawful place - Kanata, suburban Ottawa, endless lineups to park, to get in. He started an hour late which was just as well because it took so long to arrive. I actually thought, in the mayhem, perhaps I'm getting too old for this. And then he and the band finally came on and started to play and ... well, what do you think?

Though - I did have to pee at one point - a 3 hour concert and we'd had dinner just before. That has never happened before; aging kidneys, sigh. So I sat waiting for a song I didn't like as much so I could dash out. Missed "The long and winding road," could have run out during that one but I missed it, and then one fab song after another, I thought, I'll never be able to leave. Then he sang "One two three four," that cute kiddy type song, and I thought, thank you Paul. Made it back just as he was launching into "Michelle."

My brother, who has played lead guitar in a garage band since his teens and has excellent taste in music - except for a strange fondness for Frank Zappa - and his beautiful wife were there, and they loved it. She didn't stop dancing. He said it was incredible. And it was.

And he was. He is.

Thank you, my Paul.

celebrating Robert Brustein and Oliver Sacks

Some dear friends of mine spend the summer in Martha's Vineyard and know Robert Brustein there. A revered name in theatre circles - he wrote "The Theater of Revolt" that I studied in my drama class at university, was head of the Yale drama department for years, has had a long career at the epicentre of American theatre. The Paul McCartney of American theatre criticism. And he is interested in the Yiddish theatre, had adapted one Yiddish play for the English stage and was working on another.

So last summer, they gave him my book.

And that was that. My book has landed on many august desktops and vanished - Stephen Spielberg, Hal Prince et al. I thought that was the end of it. Yesterday, a note in my in-box, from Robert Brustein.

I am ashamed to say that I have only now begun to read your book on your great-grandfather, Jacob Gordin, but I am finding it fascinating. Please forgive the tardiness but it's been a very full year. I have just finished a Klezmer musical called King of the Schnorrers (based on the Zangvill material) which I have updated to the Yiddish Theatre in New York, and which mentions Gordin, so I was especially intrigued.

But you write so well, and with such obvious sympathy and understanding that I thought I ought to send you a note.

Regards, Bob Brustein

Thank you to the planet. He has sent me his new musical, "King of the Schnorrers," to read; it mentions my great-grandfather. Who knows, another dynastic collaboration...

And here's a gorgeous, cheerful NYT essay by Oliver Sacks, sent by friend Brucie. Long may he live. (Sacks. And also Brucie.)

The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.)
by Oliver Sacks July 6, 2013 NYTimes
LAST night I dreamed about mercury — huge, shining globules of quicksilver rising and falling. Mercury is element number 80, and my dream is a reminder that on Tuesday, I will be 80 myself.
Elements and birthdays have been intertwined for me since boyhood, when I learned about atomic numbers. At 11, I could say “I am sodium” (Element 11), and now at 79, I am gold. A few years ago, when I gave a friend a bottle of mercury for his 80th birthday — a special bottle that could neither leak nor break — he gave me a peculiar look, but later sent me a charming letter in which he joked, “I take a little every morning for my health.”
Eighty! I can hardly believe it. I often feel that life is about to begin, only to realize it is almost over. My mother was the 16th of 18 children; I was the youngest of her four sons, and almost the youngest of the vast cousinhood on her side of the family. I was always the youngest boy in my class at high school. I have retained this feeling of being the youngest, even though now I am almost the oldest person I know.
I thought I would die at 41, when I had a bad fall and broke a leg while mountaineering alone. I splinted the leg as best I could and started to lever myself down the mountain, clumsily, with my arms. In the long hours that followed, I was assailed by memories, both good and bad. Most were in a mode of gratitude — gratitude for what I had been given by others, gratitude, too, that I had been able to give something back. “Awakenings” had been published the previous year.
At nearly 80, with a scattering of medical and surgical problems, none disabling, I feel glad to be alive — “I’m glad I’m not dead!” sometimes bursts out of me when the weather is perfect. (This is in contrast to a story I heard from a friend who, walking with Samuel Beckett in Paris on a perfect spring morning, said to him, “Doesn’t a day like this make you glad to be alive?” to which Beckett answered, “I wouldn’t go as far as that.”) I am grateful that I have experienced many things — some wonderful, some horrible — and that I have been able to write a dozen books, to receive innumerable letters from friends, colleagues and readers, and to enjoy what Nathaniel Hawthorne called “an intercourse with the world.”
I am sorry I have wasted (and still waste) so much time; I am sorry to be as agonizingly shy at 80 as I was at 20; I am sorry that I speak no languages but my mother tongue and that I have not traveled or experienced other cultures as widely as I should have done.
I feel I should be trying to complete my life, whatever “completing a life” means. Some of my patients in their 90s or 100s say nunc dimittis — “I have had a full life, and now I am ready to go.” For some of them, this means going to heaven — it is always heaven rather than hell, though Samuel Johnson and James Boswell both quaked at the thought of going to hell and got furious with David Hume, who entertained no such beliefs. I have no belief in (or desire for) any post-mortem existence, other than in the memories of friends and the hope that some of my books may still “speak” to people after my death.
W. H. Auden often told me he thought he would live to 80 and then “bugger off” (he lived only to 67). Though it is 40 years since his death, I often dream of him, and of my parents and of former patients — all long gone but loved and important in my life.
At 80, the specter of dementia or stroke looms. A third of one’s contemporaries are dead, and many more, with profound mental or physical damage, are trapped in a tragic and minimal existence. At 80 the marks of decay are all too visible. One’s reactions are a little slower, names more frequently elude one, and one’s energies must be husbanded, but even so, one may often feel full of energy and life and not at all “old.” Perhaps, with luck, I will make it, more or less intact, for another few years and be granted the liberty to continue to love and work, the two most important things, Freud insisted, in life.
When my time comes, I hope I can die in harness, as Francis Crick did. When he was told that his colon cancer had returned, at first he said nothing; he simply looked into the distance for a minute and then resumed his previous train of thought. When pressed about his diagnosis a few weeks later, he said, “Whatever has a beginning must have an ending.” When he died, at 88, he was still fully engaged in his most creative work.
My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective. One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’, too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too. One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age. I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like, which I could not do when I was 40 or 60. I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.
I am looking forward to being 80.