Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ford go go gone

WOO HOO!!! There I was listening to Macca, and the whole Rob Ford thing was blowing sky-high!!!!!! Anna called to let me know that the police have announced they possess the infamous video of the mayor smoking crack cocaine. "Best Hallowe'en ever!" she said, and I concur. Go away, nasty little man. Hooray for the "Toronto Star" and, for once, the Toronto police force. And with the Senate scandal, horrible Harper is melting down too, like the Wicked Witch of the West, into a giant green puddle. Great great news, all round.

Macca's "New."

Finally got to Sunrise Records this morning to buy the new Macca CD. I love that place - one of the few independents left. They sell records, tickets, t-shirts, and today, crazy Hallowe'en masks. I'm listening to it for the first time right now. A friend said, after so many songs, there's a certain sameness. But no, it's catchy, catchy, alive. Have you seen the "Queenie Eye" video with Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, Tom Ford et al? What a guy. 71 was never like this - go Paul! He's singing about John. I don't want to cry right now so I won't listen carefully. Soon I'll listen with my headphones on. Really listen.

Speaking of crying - last night's pleasure, the series I recently discovered, "Call the Midwife." I've wept at every single one I've seen, last night no exception - it's a show about family, blood, faith, kindness, and the power of socialized medicine. Beautiful stuff, though something of a fantasy, everyone comes through for the babies in the end, and unfortunately, in reality, they sometimes don't. Watching - it's set in London in the mid-50's, when my family also lived there - I feel cold in every part of my body.

Tuesday night, to the Author's Festival for the 50th anniversary celebration of UBC's Creative Writing Department, from which I proudly graduated with an MFA in 1986. A group of writers, some old graduates with books out and some current professors, read from their novels. It wasn't stellar, I'm sorry to say - because novels require a long set-up and then a snippet that's often out of context and hard to grasp. Joseph Boyden read from his current novel "The Orenda," and my Ryerson colleague Ann Ireland read from "The Blue Guitar," very enjoyable, both. I was sorry that the UBC professor of Creative Non-Fiction, the only non-fiction writer represented, also chose to read from his novel!

Paul is singing "New." It's a first class song. Love it.

Speaking of which, my Sixties memoir, I know you are anxious to know ... Well. I've written some new short bits, an intro and a postscript that I think frame it better than before, and a friend is taking a query to another publisher. If they say no, I will almost certainly self-publish. Enough. The publishing industry is a huge mess right now. I want the book out, so I can write other things. And yes, maybe create a one woman show, whatever. But for now, just get this thing out of my system, please. If someone out there won't do it, I will. Lots of writers are self-publishing. Friend Ellen Roseman wrote recently to remind me of that fact, of best-sellers that were originally self-published. Thank you, Ellen. Moving right along.

To Hallowe'en. Not my favourite night, it isn't for anyone who was an actor. We made our living dressing up as other people - there's no fun in it. Cabbagetown is Hallowe'en Central - we get 700 kids, easily, starting early and ending late, and my neighbours go crazy with ghosts, giant black cats, graves, skeletons, shrieking cadavers. I did it for years, scrabbling costumes for the kids and getting protein into them before they went out, getting the pumpkins carved and out, getting myself into some kind of get up and standing at the door for hours with hundreds of dollars worth of tiny chocolate bars. I loved seeing my immigrant neighbours and their children, learning North American ways. But tonight, as I have since my children left home, I will be turning out the lights and hiding, until it's time to go out to the Bluma Appel theatre for "Desh," a prize-winning dance program from London. Bah, humbug.

The door bell - it's 5.45, and they're here already. Time for hiding mode.

Portrait of a writer

Margaret Atwood in Berlin in 1984, writing "The Handmaid's Tale". A merry life. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

NOT writing for free

A terrific article about being asked to write for free ... which I am posting, yes, without paying royalties. I used to publish many articles in "Facts and Arguments" in the "Globe," which paid a measly $100 for half a page of content. When they stopped paying even that, I stopped writing for them - though I do encourage my students to send pieces, as a way to get started. God knows, there's little enough money in this business without professional writers being offered nothing, zero, zip, nada for their work.


Slaves of the Internet, Unite!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

the Toronto Centre by-election

We have a by-election coming up in my riding Toronto Centre, to replace the irreplaceable Bob Rae, one of the tragic figures of Canadian politics - if it hadn't been for his cowardly party and the Ignatieff debacle, a thoughtful, intelligent, decent man might be Prime Minister, instead of the creep we have now. However, Rae has had lots to do anyway and doesn't complain. Now, sadly, two very bright women are running against each other in this riding. We need them both to sit in Parliament, not to try to destroy the other in an election.

However, the NDP's Linda McQuaig turned me off instantly when her first campaign literature declared, "The real enemy is the Liberal Party." No, the Conservative Party is the enemy. But the Liberals are an impediment to you getting elected, Linda. She is running a negative campaign filled with personal attacks, so at the moment, I wouldn't vote for her if you paid me.

Chrystia Freeland for the Libs, on the other hand, I don't know much about yet. I'm waiting for the all candidates meeting. But a young NDP volunteer at my door and I had a great talk this afternoon; I told her I would vote for anyone who had a chance of getting rid of the loathsome Harper government. I think she was surprised to hear such vehemence on quiet Sackville Street. I also said I was furious at the Greens, who should fold themselves into the NDP instead of further splintering the vote on the left - and for what? Does the NDP not have a green platform? The Green party is the Ralph Nader of Canadian politics! The young canvasser, who was about 24, agreed 100%, which surprised me. She told me she had left the Greens to join the NDP because it was the responsible thing to do. She and I became instant friends, and then she went off to convert more Cabbagetowners.

I know, Russell Brand has a diatribe on YouTube about revolution, and how no one should vote because the system is corrupt and only about supporting corporations and nothing ever changes. And he's right. If you haven't seen it, it's worth watching; he's articulate and angry. But I'm older than he, as was the man interviewing him, and am incapable of saying, Don't vote. We must vote.

Yesterday, a cold wet dark day, I was going to go to a matinee of "Venus in Fur," a smash hit at CanStag. I was going to go hear the American Pat Schneider, one of the best creative writing teachers, in the evening. I did neither; I worked and read. Winter is coming and hibernation is the key. Today was busy, though - two new things, a pilates class at the Y, and a free singing class at the Winchester St. Theatre. Very enjoyable and uplifting, both. And then off across town to hug my Booboo, who had a zombie gash on his forehead, as did his mama. They were going to go on the Zombie Walk yesterday, but they didn't do anything either.

I'm reading "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed, a best-selling memoir about a woman who hits rock bottom and decides to walk the Pacific Crest Trail. I'm only half way through and I'm utterly exhausted and my feet hurt.

This week's "New Yorker" has a shocker - a story by David Sedaris about the suicide of his youngest sister earlier this year. He has written about Tiffany before, and it sounded as if she was more than a Sedaris eccentric, possibly mentally ill. His writing has a numb quality, no surprise - I wonder if he shouldn't have waited before writing about this. But then, he automatically translates his life into story. I can relate.

Last week's "New Yorker" was especially rich, including an article about the extraordinarily strong kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart, a reprint of a stunning Alice Munro story, and the best bit of writing about Israel and Palestine I've ever read. "Lydda, 1948" by Ari Shavit - a must read. With such wealth, not to mention the library and other books pouring in, it's no wonder I don't go out much.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Stephen King at the Author's Festival

Thrilling event last night - the opening night of the International Festival of Authors, a fundraiser for PEN Canada, featuring Stephen King and his younger son, fellow novelist Owen King. I'd already bought my ticket when dear friend Eleanor Wachtel called to say she had too much work, could I use her tickets? Could I?! I gave my ticket to my meditation leader Judy, and my tenant Carol and I took Eleanor's tickets, which included the reception beforehand. Where I got to watch Margaret Atwood, Adrienne Clarkson, Stuart McLean and other illustrious members of Canadian royalty schmooze, and Stephen King and Canadian writer Linwood Barclay fling themselves into an embrace like long lost friends.

What an audience - not the usual IFOA crowd, that's for sure - hundreds lined up far in advance, to get good seats to see their idol. People adore this man, who was wearing rumpled jeans and shirt, looking as far from a millionaire author as could be. Except that the organizer of the event, the amazing Janet Somerville, told me she had met "the King family private plane." The perks to a success as big as his.

They're all novelists, those Kings - father, mother, sons Owen and his brother who writes as Joe Hill, and a daughter in law too. The King daughter perhaps does something else - editing? Archeology? When asked their favourite memory of family life, father and son both talked about the ritual of reading books aloud "like a Victorian family" - specifically "Kidnapped." Stephen spoke with great pride of the work of his wife and sons, and it's a tribute to him that both young men have stepped bravely into his arena. As Owen read from his novel, Dad nodded his head and chuckled, as if he hadn't heard this bit before - though when I got home after the very pleasurable night, I heard Jian interviewing Stephen and Owen. Who said many of the same things to him that they did to the on-stage interviewer at IFOA.

So there's a family show biz gene as well as the writing gene. Stephen, talking about watching his sons turn into writers, said, "That stuff I thought was just Hallmark Card bullshit actually happens!"

If I'd asked him a question, it would have been about the horror he releases from his psyche and sends spewing out into the world. Apparently in his new book, Danny Torrence, the child from "The Shining," is now an adult with psychic powers who needs to defend the world from monsters who stay alive by torturing children to death, or something. I don't even want to see the words "torturing children to death" written down, let alone read a book about it. Where does that hideous image come from? Why would a writer want to explore it? It's as if King feels compelled to dig up the most appalling facets of human life. Why? Surely not just to make a lot of money, though that's the result.

Afterwards, as we left, there were hundreds lined up to have their books signed; I've never seen such a crowd. The man knows what works. His book "On Writing" is a classic. Though I do not read his horror books, I have great respect for his discipline and skill. But I do wonder about the source, and the effect, of his nightmares.

Today, another treat - hosting a tea for Jasmine and Niru, two of the Bengali women I met at the second-hand store Doubletake. Both with Master's degrees in Bangladesh, they worked at the store for six years, have been let go and are searching for a new direction; I think I am their first and only Canadian friend. My tenant Christopher who's been volunteering in Regent Park came to tea too, and we managed to make an appointment for the very shy Jasmine to take an English language assessment test at the Y, which will lead to English classes. We're meeting again in a month, to see where they are now. They are both interesting and beautiful, wearing head shawls. I told them about my great-grandmother Anna Gordin, who came from Russia to the U.S. in 1894 with her 9 children. She spent her life in the kitchen speaking her native tongue and never learned English. That should not happen to Jasmine and Niru.

Just before they came, I was rushing about the house after a very energetic 17 month old, the best baby ever. OMIGOD I love him. I wrote a song and sang it to him. It goes like this:
I love Eli
Oh yes I do
I love Eli
And Eli is you.

He didn't listen. He was too busy throwing all the books on the coffee table onto the floor.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Stories we tell about "Stories We Tell"

I learned something valuable tonight about my own impatience. I was on a panel at U of T, as listed below, about Sarah Polley's "Stories We Tell." I'd enjoyed it on my first viewing, when it came out, but wrote in my blog that it was at least 15 minutes too long; that what she needed, as do writers, was an editor. That the film would have worked far better if it had been shorter. Wrong.

This is a documentary about well-known Canadian actress and director Sarah Polley discovering that the man she thought was her father is not her biological father. It's a heartfelt tribute to her beautiful, vivacious mother, who died when Sarah was 11. On this viewing, I could feel my impatient self those months ago, dismissing what was taking place on the screen. In fact, there are two films - the mystery of her parentage, which is gripping and beautifully told and solved after about 70 minutes, and then, in the last half hour, a film about making a documentary about family, memory, life. Who owns the story? Who knows the truth? One of her fathers says, "I am the only person who can tell this story," and we know he's wrong - but he's a filmmaker too, so entitled to that opinion. The other father says, "You will shoot 6 hours of film and edit it down, so you will get to choose the story." And that is certainly true; she does. It's Sarah's story, her film. But she shares it with many other people, including her two fathers, her siblings, her mother's friends, and her mother, shown in old movies and also portrayed by an actress.

This time, as much as I liked the narrative of her discovery, I also liked the second film - about story, truth, documentary, ownership. I was happy, last time, to feel that I had an opinion different from the mainstream, which was wholeheartedly in favour of her talent. She needs editing, I sniffed. But I wasn't truly paying attention.

What's really amazing is at the very end, when the credits roll. She lists the actors who play, in some clips, her mother and both her fathers. Then she lists the actors who play all the other characters in the film. One of the people in the film is Deirdre Bowen, who was a friend of Sarah's mother Diane and is also a very old friend of mine. As the credits roll, Sarah gives the name of the actress who played Deirdre Bowen. But Deirdre played Deirdre. Sarah lists the actors who played her siblings, but it's obvious that the people on the screen are her siblings, they look exactly like her. So she plays a final joke on us, an out for the people in the film who might not want to be recognized. She pretends that they were all played by actors.

We had a great discussion with the audience afterwards, I and two academics from the U of T. I urge you, if you get the chance, to see this very fine film. And to ignore the blogger who thought it was too long. It isn't. It's just long enough.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

invite to up-coming debate about "Stories We Tell"

The Hart House Conscious Activism Documentary Series presents:
Wednesday, October 23
6.30 pm, Hart House Debates Room
Stories We Tell  
Directed by Sarah Polley, 2012
108 mins
Stories We Tell is an inspired, genre-twisting film by Oscar®-nominated director Sarah Polley, and produced by Anita Lee for the NFB. Her playful investigation into the elusive truth buried within the contradictions of a family of storytellers paints a profound portrait of a complicated and deeply loving family.
*with a special short film celebrating Sarah’s work commissioned by the NFB

Conversation and Q&A to follow the film with

Marlene Goldman, a University of Toronto Professor in the Department of English. She specializes in contemporary Canadian literature. Her recent research focuses on the intersection between narrative and pathological modes of forgetting associated with trauma, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Mary Beattie, a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at OISE/University of Toronto. Her research interests include professional learning and life-long learning, and focus on narrative, arts-based, holistic approaches to research and pedagogy in higher education.

Beth Kaplan, memoir and personal essay teacher at Ryerson University and the University of Toronto. When she is not teaching, Beth also works from home as a writing coach, editor and writer.

Sponsored by the National Film Board of Canada

Hart House continues its tradition of free programming that engages the mind, awakens the spirit and acts as an incubator of thoughtful exchange, and a call to action for the curious and the concerned.
Born of a desire to address injustice, each documentary we screen is an exploration of the complex relationship between social justice, spirit and activism. This semester’s screenings follow our model of showing award-winning documentaries that represent a diverse landscape spanning local, national, and global issues of social justice, and giving audiences the opportunity to engage the filmmakers and activists involved.

Please register for FREE tickets at

Upcoming documentaries:
October 30 Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie
November 6 Fall and Winter directed by Matt Anderson
Join the conversation on Facebook

Fam-damly in Ottawa

This morning, I went down to Britannia Park for my daily walk, thankful, as I am every time, that my mother and aunt chose to live near this heavenly park on the Ottawa River. It has saved me countless times, when the going got rough, when Mum's apartment was just too intense, too overheated, too full of stacks of paper, and now Auntie Do's the same ... a walk by the river, in any season, brings me back to sanity and life. So I walked and breathed, and then went back to the condo high-rise for a final few hours with Do. But my key would not fit in the front door. I punched my aunt's name into the keypad - "not recognized". I was standing there bewildered when I realized - I had gone to Mum's condo building, not to Do's, which is adjacent. I'd gone there without thinking. But my mother does not live there any more.

One of many moments of loss. My brother came over to Do's today with my mother's ashes, and I scooped some out to bring to Toronto, because I have some of my father's and want to do a scattering ceremony at the nearby Necropolis, with my kids. That way, my parents will always be in the neighbourhood if I need a chat. Mike will scatter the rest in the Gatineau Hills.

It was a working weekend. Do had had a fall, was not hurt but decided it's time for a retirement residence. Retirement - at 93! We had a tour of one of the best, the Duke of Devonshire, near her home. It's a terrific place with lots of activities including, most importantly, a Scrabble club. Since my mother's death, she's very isolated, losing memory, perhaps because she talks and walks so little now. So the move is needed. But still, it means vacating her two bedroom apartment, which, like my mum's, is absolutely packed with stuff. We are going to go through this all over again. But hopefully, after all that, she will be safe, well-fed and newly friended in her new home, small though it may be.

There was no wifi in the miserable little guest room I rented at the condo. NO wifi for a whole weekend! I did get my email on my miraculous little iPhone, otherwise I would have gone crazy, except for once when I managed to pick up a signal from somewhere. But I was glad to be a help to someone who has been in my life almost from the very first day. It was good to listen to her talk about our family's past. If it happened over 60 years ago, she remembers it perfectly.

"You're all we have left," said my brother to Do, as we left this afternoon.

fall in Britannia Park

This is my mother's patch of the communal garden below her condo. Thrilled to see it still so colourful.
 Britannia Park, my saviour every time I visit.

 The view from my aunt's balcony - the Ottawa River and the Gatineau in the distance

 The path I walk every time, near the river
Auntie Do, born April 18 1920, living alone, still driving. Proud owner of dozens of blue and green striped t-shirts.
Home! I went right away for a walk. Yes, this is downtown Toronto ... the Farm at dusk, through the fence.
A typical hideous Cabbagetown house. I love home.


Saturday, October 19, 2013


In Ottawa, visiting Auntie Do, going strong - well, not so strong - at 93, and tomorrow, my brother and his family. No time to write, as I'm stealing the internet from somewhere in her building, and it may vanish instantly as it did yesterday. Glad to be here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

dating actresses

I live where rich and poor combine, and my children in "mentally unstable". Fun.

And this YouTube clip is tears in the eyes hilarious. Especially as I and many of my friends used to be actresses. (A click will take you to Facebook where you can access the film.)

"56 Up"

Turkey turkey and more turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes etc. etc. The fridge is still full. Luckily the tall young man is coming over soon to help clear it all out, something he does extremely well. Wayson and my tenants Christopher and Carol did their best to help today, too. The weather is incredible - surely the most beautiful fall ever.

I've cut another thousand words, so more than 7000 words are gone from the manuscript. I hope now it's lean and muscled, not too thin and shivering, naked, in the wind. It's amazing how many words you can lose once you've set your mind to it. CUT! It feels so good. What does not feel good is my butt, from sitting here endlessly cutting and then eating turkey.

This phase is now over; time to put my mind, once again, to finding a publisher or an agent. I just KNOW someone out there is eager, nay, desperate, to read this fine piece of newly slimmed down non-fiction.

Come out, come out wherever you are.

The treat Monday night - "56 Up," catching up with those old friends whom we've followed since their youth. Again, it's a miracle to watch the group grow up, mature, find work, marry, divorce, marry again, parent and grandparent. The surprise is that in 1964, Michael Apted chose such a diverse group of children who'd all grow into interesting, nice adults. Tony, the Cockney cab driver, brown in the Spanish sun and caring for one of his granddaughters while his daughter is in rehab. John, the snootiest of them all at seven, now fundraising for an orphanage in Bulgaria, dancing in a circle with Bulgarian dancers and tending the damaged children. Handsome Nick, who grew up on a remote farm and became a nuclear physicist in the U.S. In "28 Up" he was married to the wrong woman; watching, I cried, "Nick, she's so negative, she'll drag you down!" By the next one he was separated, and now has a strong American wife. We see him visiting the old farm, reminiscing, his tall American son by his side.

Though many were at least once divorced, every single one is now happily in a couple, except for Neil, the one who was homeless at 28 and suffers from some kind of mental disorder - mild schizophrenia, perhaps. I watch hoping to see my own life reflected in this disparate group, but only crazy Neil lives unpartnered, as I do. But then, he never married, does not have children or the most beautiful grandson on the planet. Almost all the others are grandparents. I identify.

They're seven years younger than I am. Next film, "63 Up," they'll all be the age I am now, and I'll be 70. 70! Can't wait. The whole series, from "7 Up" on, is apparently on Netflix, I'm told. Don't miss it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

a boy and his glamma


The bliss of a day when everything is closed, and it's impossible to do much except read, write, and eat. Just had the best lunch, a plate piled high with leftovers, always much better than the actual meal on the night, when you're too fraught to taste it. There's enough in the fridge for an army. A tall 29-year old will come over at some point to begin ploughing through, and Wayson is scheduled for a meal on Wednesday. My daughter is cooking her own 22 pound turkey today for Eli's father's family. I can't face another feast, another family fest.

So today, in the silence - work. I have cut 6000 words from the manuscript and am aiming for more. There's huge pleasure in this kind of paring, I must remind my students - once it's all there, once you've poured everything you can into the story, then your job is to shape it, and then, last, to chop out every single word that does not advance the narrative. It's hard to be ruthless about this task, o those dear precious words, but it's vital. I feel as if the true story is emerging, lean and renewed, from the underbrush.

Too bad that last publisher saw the fatter version; this one is better. Where to send it next?

It's a beautiful day again; yesterday was rainy and cold, but today, hot and bright, 19 degrees. The potted plants are still out on the deck, but will come in for the winter on Thursday. After that, it gets cold.

Tonight, a great treat on PBS - "56 Up," the next in the "7 Up" series. I've seen almost all of them and can't wait for this one. One of the characters who vanished early on is coming back. I feel like I know them and cherish this panorama of being human and alive, growing up, growing old. They're all grandparents now. Funny thing. Just like me.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


As you know, cooking a large turkey dinner is a lot of work at the best of times. Today, we added a very energetic 17 month old who likes to climb and push things non-stop around the kitchen, and his cousin Dakota, who's 5 and likes to talk and throw things down the stairs and pound on the piano. Somehow, Anna, Sam, Holly and I managed to get the turkey and stuffing, the brussels (a recipe from yesterday's "Globe," braised with shallots and garlic), the gravy, bread sauce and cranberry sauce, the mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, the turnip/carrot dish and the peas on the table, and sit down, for a brief moment of peace. But the baby wasn't interested in dinner, so we passed him around, shirtless so he didn't smear his clean t-shirt, while we ate. He was interested in the chocolate birthday cake that came later, though.

One of Sam's best friends from high school, Matt, came with his wonderful girlfriend Maxine, who ended up doing most of the dishes, and later Joe, another best friend, came with his girlfriend. They'll all be 30 next birthday. They discussed movies, music and other friends, as they did as teens, but this time, also, the kitchen renovation Joe is doing on the condo he has just bought. We watched funny YouTube things on their phones. There was a lot of noisy laughter, and I remembered when they were here for hours, for the whole weekend, sometimes, legions of very large boys, drinking too much and talking too loudly, puking and passing out on the sofa. And now Joe was asking about the granite on my countertop.

I was their age, 29, when I met Edgar and fell in love; we moved in together and everything changed. I got pregnant two weeks after my 30th birthday. Best thing I ever did, except for when I did it again a few years later.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
 Milk and Jamiesons, and competing bellies
 Friends since Grade 9
Not much went in, though.
But this did. 

writing styles and barking dogs, for Thanksgiving

This just came from student Jari - enter a block of your prose and it'll tell you whom your writing style resembles. I pasted in the first newly-rewritten paragraph of my memoir, and it said I write like

Fine with me.

And here is a Thanksgiving treat for you, sent by my dear friend Patsy, on Gabriola Island, who empathizes with my dog problem - the dog next door howling and barking when it's alone.

Another Reason Why I Don’t
Keep a Gun in the House

The neighbours’ dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbours’ dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton

while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.

                                                Billy Collins

Saturday, October 12, 2013

thanks giving

A moment of blessing. It's the most stunning day, 20 degrees, the leaves red and falling, the afternoon quiet, the next door dog not howling, though the guy on Spruce is, as is usual on quiet holiday days, doing something with his relentless power tools. One day I may kill him.

Went to the market this morning for apples - Ambrosia, this time, and Empire, forcing myself to ignore the Jonagolds and Macs, those will be next week - and a load of brussels sprouts for our Thanksgiving dinner. Plus - keep this a secret - a quick trip to Winners to buy 12 pairs of black socks for my son's 29th birthday tomorrow. He may be six foot eight and working at the trendiest restaurant in town, but his socks are full of holes, and what are mothers for?

I spent time shutting down the garden, digging up and composting the last of the veggies, putting away the outdoor chair cushions, the sun umbrella, the outside tablecloths. Have spent days gathering, not hunting - big meals are hard without a car. Wayson drove me yesterday to get the 19 pound turkey and the drinks, and I've been carrying potatoes and the rest on my bike. Left all the stuffing bread outside all day to get stale in the sun; had to share it with the squirrels, who wanted some too.

But it's the last hour that was the best - listening to Sheila Rogers' CBC program about Alice Munro while I made the stuffing. Frying sausage meat, whirring it with bread, parsley, onion and celery in the food processor my mother gave me years ago, as Alice talked about her work. Sheila asked her why she didn't write memoir, and she said
she wanted to be able to invent characters and situations. Fiction tells the truth about life, she said. Memoir tells the facts. Well yes, but also the truth, we hope, we memoirists. I gather that her last book, "Dear Life," has stories at the end that are more explicitly memoir, and my friend and tenant Carol has just lent me her copy.

And then I went out to see what was left for our centrepiece, and managed to pick a bouquet.

Mint, lavender, hydrangea, the last rose, the last black eyed susan, the last echinacea, salvia, thyme, rosemary, marigold...

Tomorrow, my son, daughter and grandson and various friends will gather to feast, give thanks and wish our boy a happy birthday. I am more grateful than I can express, especially this year, with a 17 month old boychik and a Canadian Nobel prize in the world - to be alive, to be Canadian, to be a mother and grandmother and a writer. And to have the rest of the evening ahead to work on my memoir - I'm cutting a lot and reshaping, in anticipation of the next stage - and to read Alice's book, with a little glass of wine. Or two.

The fridge magnet Wayson gave me says, "It doesn't get better than this."

Oh, and Paul McCartney comes out with a new CD on Tuesday. Woo hoo!

P.S. On the other hand - someone has just cleaned out the Little Free Library, taking almost every book, again. It's like the squirrels and raccoons raiding the birdfeeder - very annoying. I think they must take the books to sell; they certainly don't bring them back. I have no more to put in, so it's nearly empty. Oh well. People will be too busy reading Alice Munro and eating turkey this weekend anyway.

And my spectacular neighbour Jian Ghomeshi moved out this afternoon. Neighbour no more. I can no longer set my schedule by his little Mini, zooming out every morning at 8.30 a.m. to head to work. I wish him great joy in his new home and 'hood.

Friday, October 11, 2013


Small boy, big tree - autumn at Riverdale Farm. When we get close, he starts to moo.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Alice in NobelLand

A toast, a toast to the greatest writer of short stories in the world - Alice Munro, a woman who beams ferocious shards of light into the heart of small town Ontario. Who would ever have thought, 30 years ago, that those intimate stories of Canadian women and children and the men they love and hate would be awarded the Nobel Prize? There is justice. Particularly now, because Alice is ill and a recent widow - this great honour, and its accompanying pile of dough, came just in time. Proud proud proud.

I wish the news people would stop calling her the second Canadian Nobel for Literature, after Saul Bellow, who left Canada when he was nine and as far as I know, never came back. (I just checked that on Wikipedia, and learned that Bellow's Russian-Jewish mother's maiden name was Gordin. Which was the uncommon name of my Russian-Jewish great-grandfather Jacob Gordin, the Jewish Shakespeare. So Saul Bellow the Canadian and I are quite possibly related!)

I just heard a clip of an interview Alice Munro did with the late Peter Gzowski, talking about how each time she begins a story, it's as if all the others she's written do not exist, like starting from scratch. She was quoted as saying this morning, with her customary generosity, that this award would help the cause of Canadian literature generally. And I think she's right.

In the late seventies, my parents went to China. Dad brought some paperbacks with him, among them Munro's "Lives of Girls and Women." I have the notebook he kept during the trip, detailing the scientists he was visiting, the meals, and the books he read. Beside the name of that book, he wrote, "Send to Beth." And he did. It was the first Munro I'd read and I loved it, as did he; we discussed it avidly.

Brava, Alice Munro. A whole country is prouder today. And we Canadian writers are glowing with reflected light.

Speaking of reflected light - and the lives of girls and women - Brucie and I just came back from seeing a documentary, "Vermeer and Music," about Vermeer's many paintings that include musical instruments. The doc ended with the sad information that when this greatest of geniuses died, at the age of 43, he was nearly penniless. So many brilliant artists are not appreciated during their lifetimes. Thank God, this great Canadian writer is.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

slightly used manuscript for sale

An emotional day yesterday. October 8th is my mother's birthday; it would have been her 90th. Yesterday was the first October 8th since my early childhood that I did not wish her a happy birthday, if not in person, then by phone. A heavy sense of loss.

And then, another loss - my manuscript was turned down by the publisher I'd decided would be perfect for it. He didn't even give a critique, beyond the fact that "there are many memoirs of this era, and this one would be drowned in the sea of competition." I wondered if he'd even read it, to tell you the truth.

So - back to the drawing board, once again. My sweet daughter reminded me that Harry Potter was turned down 27 times or something like that. Truly, you have to be insane to do this - to pour out your heart and soul in solitude for long periods of time, and then go through a demeaning and tedious rigamarole to get the product out into the world. But then, I felt that as an actress too - that what I loved was the instant communication, the back and forth with the audience. What I hated was the journey there, the auditions, the back stage politics. But unfortunately you cannot have the contact without the rigamarole. As a friend who's taking the publishing program at Ryerson said - publishers judge a book 25% on narrative, 25% on style, and 50% on marketability. It's probably, said Wayson, more like 60% or even more. Business.

However. It's just words on a page. I have my health and my teeth, and Booboo is coming to visit tomorrow. And friend Brucie is here, visiting till Saturday; we're going out for dinner tonight. Teaching is a joy, three wonderful classes. Right now, the dog next door is as usual howling. The cat and I are sitting side by side, as usual, listening to the chatty birds at the feeder on this beautiful day, sunny with a chilly undertone. I went to Carol's class at the Y and had a soak in the hot tub afterwards so my legs wouldn't hurt so much. I've just finished reading a wonderful book, "Swimming in the Monsoon Sea," by Shyam Selvadurai.

I will figure out what to do next with this book, and start work on something new. A writer is nothing if not filled with hope. Speaking of hope - Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani child shot by the Taliban for advocating for women's education, was on Jon Stewart yesterday, an extraordinary young woman, thoughtful, composed - so wise for 16. Her courage was inspiring.

That's what matters.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

the brilliance of "Peter Grimes"

A thrilling evening last night in this fair city, a night when the promised rain held off and the downtown streets were so full of people enjoying Nuit Blanche festivities that it was hard to move.

But first - the opera. I've mentioned before my great luck to have a student in the chorus, who sometimes is offered cheap seats to fill up the theatre and sends the info on. So for $25 each, Annie, Jim and I sat in orchestra seats last night for the opening of Benjamin Britten's "Peter Grimes." One of the reasons for the cheap seats, perhaps, was that famed Canadian tenor Ben Heppner had pulled out due to vocal troubles. We were sorry not to see him, but the replacement, Anthony Dean Griffey, had had rave reviews in the same role, so we knew it'd be good.

I had no idea just how good. It's moving, haunting, a fantastic production of an opera that must have been revolutionary when it opened in 1945, still startling and vivid today. Often modern music seems random and gratuitously ugly to me, but last night, a whole new part of my brain opened up to the beauty of this atonal but stunning score. It's like a dour Thomas Hardy novel on stage, Grimes a scorned outsider and doomed loner, perhaps a reflection of Britten's feelings as a homosexual and pacifist in war-weary, narrow-minded England. Britten and his life-long partner the tenor Peter Pears, the first Peter Grimes, managed to escape prosecution for being gay, but their compatriot, the computer genius Alan Turing, did not. What a benighted time.

Everything about this production was exquisite - the singing and acting, the set and lighting. When I read about the opera, I couldn't imagine how it could work, the tiny story of a troubled misfit fisherman in a remote village, in a grand opera. Well, it does, and how. I felt blessed to have been in the presence of such genius - as if I'd grown a bit bigger. That's what great art does.

And then, out into the surge of crazy artistic life that is Nuit Blanche. Last night I wondered if it can last without violence - hundreds of thousands of young kids on the streets, pumped up, looking for action. It was just too crowded for us, so after managing to thread our way to Nathan Phillips Square and its various offerings - besides the Weiwei bicycles, there were two driverless cars weaving in balletic fashion, and a giant neon poem - we walked back here, seeing various installations on the way.

Annie and Jim raised their kids in Scarborough, but are thinking of selling the big family home and perhaps moving downtown. "Just feel the excitement and energy," I said, "it's like this all the time."
"Yes," said Annie. "That's the problem."

a limited Nuit Blanche

Approaching Weiwei's sculpture of Forever bicycles, welded into patterns - pushing through Nathan Phillips Square jam-packed with thousands of revellers
So delicate and beautiful, yet massive, set against City Hall. I ran into a neighbour who said, "It's just a pile of bicycles." And remembered how sour his view of life is, and smiled and moved on. Well yes it is just a pile of bicycles, and Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" is just some yellow paint on canvas.
 You could walk through and spin the wheels.
On the way home, we encountered this outside an apartment building on Dundas - a kind of illuminated Rubik's cube that people were moving around.

Friday, October 4, 2013

hilarious improv skit

This is very clever. I worked with Colin Mochrie in the late 70's, when he was a sweet young theatre student in Vancouver. We had no idea he was a brilliant improviser who would become famous.
OMG This is So Funny.. Dont Miss It..
Length: 3:21

And this is fascinating. Take the test at the end. I got 86.1%, even though I read mostly non-fiction. So much for their fiction-centric research.  

Ai Weiwei, artist and hero

Those who follow this blog are used to me exhorting you to see or do something. Well - if you live in or near Toronto, PLEASE DO NOT MISS THE AI WEIWEI EXHIBITION AT THE AGO, which ends Oct. 27. Friend Ken, who's a member, took Anna and me as his guests yesterday, and as we left, I resolved to go back. It's impossible to show in photos the impact of his work. (I asked AGO staff if we could take pictures. "Oh yes," she replied. "He wants you to.")

Weiwei is a brilliant artist, making fascinating and beautiful objects and installations, but he's also profoundly compassionate and connected to the world, and his art is social commentary, which has required enormous courage to produce in a totalitarian country. We don't see that often enough, art that is both beautiful and socially engaged. A deeply moving and inspiring exhibition.

We went from there to the exhaustive David Bowie exhibit, which suffers in comparison. There's no doubt that the feline, bisexual Bowie with his endless array of costumes and personae has made the world a more interesting place. But Weiwei has made the world a better place.

 Old stools, transformed.
 Historic ancient pots, transformed.
 One of my favourites - a sculptural circle of Chinese-made Forever bicycles.
My daughter took one look and burst into tears. Weiwei and his team documented the more than 5000 children killed in an earthquake due to the shoddy construction of their schools. The government refused to comment on the deaths, so Wei Wei tracked down every name and birthdate. It's like the Vietnam war memorial in Washington - overwhelming in its relentless bureaucratic simplicity. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

write me back, please

Good news, blog fans - a young geek called Nathan has fixed the comment box, so that you can easily write back. Would you like to try it out? I wish you would test it, as I can't - for some reason, there was never a problem for me to respond to my own posts. Good work, Beth, it was easy for me to say to myself. Not so easy for you. So go ahead. Or, of course, whatever you'd like.

Incredibly beautiful out there - 25 degrees. The cat and I, side by side, looking out at the fading garden, the hungry birds. I just want to be outside, drinking it in, because it won't last. Tonight, dinner with four of my oldest women friends. The other night, a wonderful documentary on TV, "Bill Cunningham New York," about the lively 80-something man who cycles around NYC taking pictures of style and fashion for the NYT. He scorns money for himself and is only interested in people with style, the more eccentric and interesting, the better. A profoundly joyful and even spiritual man. Oh I love documentary.

Oh I love bicycles. One of mankind's most brilliant inventions. Nothing better than sailing around the city in the sun.

What is happening in the U.S. right now is incomprehensible to a Canadian - the Republicans comparing Obama to Hitler. What is wrong with those people? Irresponsible, no, reprehensible idiots.