Monday, September 29, 2014

busy Monday

Click to enlarge.
The garden is fading, but still bright.
John, my dear friend and handyman and a fellow scavenger, found a bike post in the street, and here he is installing it in my front yard. Now I don't need to have two bikes parked against the piano in the living-room. He also pruned the 12 foot high oleander and helped me bring it in, replaced a few of the ridiculously fiddly pot lights in the kitchen, figured out that the light switch in the fridge is indeed dysfunctional - in fact, broken - and fifteen other things on the endless list. I could not survive in this house without him.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sugar Beach

Rode my bike down to the lake and realized - of course, that's why the day is so silent and sublime - the Gardiner Expressway was closed for repair. Thousands of cars drowning us in fumes and cutting us off from the lake, not there. Just quiet and sunshine. Still, this city has tragically, absurdly little access to the vast body of water at its south end. Here's Sugar Beach, an artificial beach at the foot of Sherbourne Street,  one of the few places we see actual water.
Then I rode on to Corktown Common, a new beautiful park full of kids playing, parents watching, people sitting and walking. Sometimes the city gets things 100% right. Not for the last few years, though.

accomplished and gorgeous lawyer marries some actor

The article is called "Internationally acclaimed barrister Amal Alamuddin marries an actor" and is located at

Halifax here I come.

I am preparing for a big trip - on Tuesday I go to Halifax Nova Scotia, leaving my tenants to guard the house and pick the last of the cherry tomatoes. It will be an important trip for the launch of the memoir that is set partly in Halifax, where I spent 13 of the first 16 years of my life. I'm speaking at an assembly at the Halifax Grammar School in the morning of Oct. 1, and speaking again at the book launch there at 6 that evening.

HGS, as I've written before, was founded by my father in 1958 so my brother would get the best education; I went there for a year in 1965 when they started accepting girls, which is dealt with in the book. But HGS eventually bought the nearby public school Tower Road, where I went from ages 8 to 10 - Grades 4, 5 and 6 - and that's where these events will be held. Such echoes. Plus I will be seeing lots of old friends of mine and my parents. It will be a vital trip into my own long distant past in a historic city on the edge of the ocean. I can't wait.

It is a spectacular Sunday in downtown Toronto, and so incredibly quiet. I was going to go for a bike ride down to the lake, but could not leave home on such a perfect day, so instead I've got a load of laundry hanging outside in the hot sun and just spent an hour weeding the garden. My back hurts, but how good that feels - begone bloody clover and mint, ye gods the amount of mint, and the clumps of weedy violets. Filled one large garbage bin with weeds and have only tackled around the veggie garden. Oh I did let the garden go this summer. Mea culpa.

My carrots are minuscule, none more than two inches long, most about one inch. Did I buy midget carrot plants by mistake or did I do something wrong? Planted too close together? Any advice?

Though the bougainvillea is magnificent and the gardenia full of buds - hope springs eternal - it makes me sad to see the rest of the garden shutting down, the flowers dying, leaves turning yellow and brown and shrivelling. I am grateful, though, for seasons. With seasons comes gratefulness - for the life that begins again each year, flourishes, fades and dies. The natural cycle of things for plants, for animals, for us.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

when I'm 64

My son just called. "I'm working an event," he said, "and there's a Beatles cover band. Listen!" And there they were in the background, sounding authentic, singing "Eight Days a Week." He said the band was in full gear and haircuts with a blow-up of Sgt. Pepper's behind them, and went on, "I told my co-workers, 'Excuse me, I have to call my mum!'"

I am the Beatles go-to person. It's wonderful. I have not heard from this busy man for many days, and tonight made out his voice for less than a minute shouting over "Eight Days a Week." Lucky me. He turns 30 on Thanksgiving Monday. I will be the ancient mother of a 30-year old, very tall son. But there's a Booboo to make me feel young.

Wayson brought him a multicoloured Slinky that turned into a bracelet. Eli is now talking up a storm. When I asked if he wanted to go to the farm, he looked at his toys and said, "Not yet." What a sophisticated concept for someone not yet 2 1/2 - not yet! The first time he called Wayson by name was a great moment for us all. We did go to the farm and petted sheep and watched ducks being herded from the pond into the barn, and the sun was bright and it was heaven.

My email crashed this week - didn't recognize my passwords, resulting in huge frustration and a useless call to Rogers, which could not help. But luckily the magnificent Chuck made his way across town this morning with his one-year old. It took him ten minutes to sort out the passwords in my keychain and fix this infuriating problem. And then my fridge malfunctioned and my tenant's microwave broke. It's endless.

But as reported earlier, I do not have termites or colon cancer. The weather is beyond glorious - hot hot hot for the next few days, people out in tank tops and shorts. These beautiful days are all the more sweet because we know what's coming next. I think this weather is like being 64 - it's only September so winter is still a fairly long way off, but it's there, looming, nonetheless.

PS. Sometimes I look at past posts on this blog, to check in with where I was a few years ago. Just looked at September 2008:

I was working at the Ryerson table yesterday at Word on the Street when a woman with a familiar face came up - a student in one of my very first classes at Ryerson in 1985, there with her son, who then was a newborn and now is a young adult who has written a 500-page novel. She has been working as a freelance writer. "I remember the class so well," she told me. "You talked about the book you were going to write on Paul McCartney."

A jolt in my heart. I didn't realise I was talking about that material back then, and now, more than 20 years later, I am still talking about it - still labouring to find a voice in which to tell that story, with fifty different beginnings in my files and still no push through to the end. So I need to tell myself, also: perseverence, humility, self-confidence, guts.  And that final but so important necessity for a writer: BOC.  Bum On Chair.

Two things about this: one is that I started teaching at Ryerson in 1994 not 1985, so had not been talking about the McCartney book for 20 years but for 10, quite a difference, learn some math you idiot! 

And ... I finally got the book out into the world SIX YEARS LATER. Jesus, I'm slow. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

a new old year

Just got this Rosh Hashanah greeting from Cousin Peter in the States. Peter is a photographer famous for climbing all over the Statue of Liberty to photograph her, with an especially well-known close-up of her one visible giant toe.
According to the Jewish calendar, the year is 5775.
According to the Chinese calendar, the year is 4710.
This means that the Jews went without Chinese food for 1,064 years.

This period was known as the Dark Ages
Shana Tova to all who are celebrating.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Emma Watson - Hermione no more

A star is ... well, not born, she was a star already - but here is Emma Watson emerging from the shadow of Hermione into her own magnificent womanhood, speaking at the U.N. about a new initiative for women - and for men too: HeForShe. Brava!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Brucie was here! My dear friend was passing through on his way to London and a tour of the British Isles - on his bucket list, he said. So he came over to fix me up technologically, as is his wont. My own personal genius. He brought me a gift - a little cube speaker that runs on Bluetooth - and set that up, then brought my computer and iPhone up to date and downloaded the software so my new camera works. He provided two hours of tech expertise and I provided lunch and a lovely blue shirt from Doubletake. Is this a fair exchange? Well, it'll have to do for now.

Testing the camera. It works!

I am missing the tech gene, and so, funnily enough, are my kids; they know just enough to get along with their own gear but are not whizzes the way so many of their generation are. So I'm completely dependent on Bruce - and on Chuck when Bruce isn't here. I hope I can remember some of what he taught me.

What the hell is Bluetooth, anyway?

Went yesterday to friend Anne-Marie's book launch. She is the Director of the Jesuit Forum for Social Faith and Justice (what is social faith? I must ask her) and they've produced a terrific workbook, "Living with limits, living well: Hints for neighbours on an endangered planet." They believe that the poor are most affected by climate change and that ecological issues cannot be dealt with separately from issues of poverty. There were some rousing speeches and good food and wine too. The dear man next to me kept saying "Praise God" as people spoke, and I was aware of the fact that I was almost certainly the only atheist in the room. A prof from U of T made a beautiful speech and then told a joke to which I objected. "There was a man who was a life-long atheist," he began, "but he also liked nature."

BUT? He was an atheist BUT he also liked nature? As if these things are mutually exclusive? I pointed this out to him so afterwards. Why am I so edgy and obnoxious when surrounded by people of faith? Because I do not understand them. And perhaps I am jealous of the light that shines from their eyes.

And there were two bits of good news yesterday, one in a letter from the health department and one from Richard the bug hunter: I do not have colon cancer and I do not have termites. Does it get better than that? Today was an absolutely beautiful day with the sun hot in the sky, my dear friend came for lunch, I do not have colon cancer or termites - at this time at least - and I went for a walk to the farm. I am a life-long atheist, and I love nature.
Praise God.

cartoon from today's "Star"

What to add? This says it all. For those of you not from Toronto, this shows exactly who is running for mayor of this city: smarmy out of touch Richie Rich, Moose the lunkhead idiot from Archie's high school, and the smart, sad little girl from Peanuts.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Farewell Stratford - yo Word on the Street

Now over 325 people have viewed the hot pink gazelle. I do not understand. Do people think they'll be viewing an actual rose-coloured gazelle? I think not.

It's an extremely hot Sunday - started dark and teeming, then turned bright and boiling for Word on the Street. I cycled over, and as always I found the packed event both depressing and uplifting. All those books on display, and not mine! And yet - all those books! All those people buying books - impossible not to be encouraged. And yet - not mine. At one surreal moment, I stood talking to a smallish press publisher who'd been sent my memoir manuscript and who had turned it down - for good reasons, no question. He introduced me to the man he'd been talking to, who I realized was the OTHER publisher who turned down the manuscript. There they both were, side by side, THE MEN WHO SAID NO, though the second guy didn't realize who I was, I'm sure. He's the one who said my Sixties memoir was "too much like all the others," which led me to believe that he hadn't read a word of it. Because of all the things to critique in my memoir, and there are many, being just like all the others is not, I think, one.

Anyway, my book exists and it's beautiful. So good luck to you, dear gentlemen. At one point I was poking around a small publisher's booth when I saw the writer Howard Engel sitting beside a large pile of his latest book. This man has been writing for decades, and there he was, unrecognized. So I bought his book and asked him to sign it. It's a murder mystery, not something I usually read, but someone will want to.

So that's today. Yesterday, my last day in Stratford, I saw "King John," directed by Tim Carroll who directed the two gorgeous male-only shows I saw in New York last year. This one had some of the same ideas, which he calls Original Practices - doing things the way they would have been done in Shakespeare's time, candles lighting the set and period costumes. I don't care about his theories, just about the show, which was too long and beautifully done. Not often performed for a reason, it turns out - not one of Shakespeare's great plays, wordy and convoluted. But an excellent production, extremely well acted and directed, every word and thought - even if there were too many of them - clear.

So I saw a not-great production of a very great play, a great production of a not-great play, and a weird production of a weird adaptation of a weird and wonderful book.

And then the bus home, which got snarled in hideous Toronto traffic and was an hour late. Made me actually think fondly of the train. So - you can't win. And then the last of the Roosevelt shows, which had me weeping, tears rolling down my cheeks when FDR died far too soon at the age of 63. Simply incredible, what he accomplished in his short life. What a story. I confess I had a touch of schadenfreude when the narrator spoke of the difficulties of his and Eleanor's children - those kids who had the most spectacular parents on earth and yet ... And yet. It's not easy. It said they had something like 19 marriages between them.

Here are two Stratford images:
The Avon
The Bourbon

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"King Lear" and an old love

Maurice is their prize patient, already recovering amazingly well, the doctors say. Lani came back from the hospital in London exhausted but jubilant. The ordeal isn't over, but the worst of it is.

And I had a lovely surprise yesterday - an old schoolmate received the press release from the Halifax Grammar School about my book launch there October 1 and wrote to get in touch. He was in my class the year I went to the school, I 15 and he 16 or 17. He is, in fact, the model for Al, the boy at the end of the memoir with whom young Beth falls hopelessly in love. I chose him then for my frenzied crush, I know in retrospect, partly because we were so incompatible that I was safe from the possibility of real romance, for which I was not ready.

My family moved away at the end of that school year, and he and I have seen each other twice in the nearly fifty years since - once, when I visited Nova Scotia with my spouse and young children, he was visiting with his, and we had dinner with friends. He found out during dinner how much I had loved him and didn't believe me, I'd concealed it so well. I offered to show him my diaries, and one day he arrived at my house in Toronto as I was cooking supper for my family to take me up on my word. I showed him - four Hilroy scribblers filled with him. I think he was quite knocked out.

He's a businessman in the States, newly married for the third time. We emailed several times yesterday, getting reacquainted. I explained that Al in the book is partly him, partly other unsuitable boys from my youth. He downloaded the book and wrote to say he'll read the whole thing, not just the Al part at the end. I've never read a book written by someone I know, he said, and I wrote back, Let alone one in which a character is partly you.

This is the odd part of memoir, once more - real people are in that book, real feelings. I protected myself and them a bit by using pseudonyms. His name is not Al. But the power of my love for him is there on the page - and in vestigial form, still in my heart. Those early loves never leave you. Nearly 50 years after my adolescent crush, with six grandchildren between us, it gives me a thrill to see his name in my email inbox.

And then I went to see a matinee of that happy happy play, "King Lear."

It's always exciting to enter that beautiful theatre. I'd bought the last seat on the internet, way off to the side - directors are so clever at using that jutting stage - and sat surrounded by Japanese schoolchildren in dark blue school uniforms. It was a workmanlike, competent production with some very good bits; the kids were mostly absorbed, or at least polite. But my verdict afterwards to Lani - it was not good enough. Not good enough for our national Shakespeare company's production of one of the most demanding plays by our most brilliant playwright. What a magnificent Everest of a play. I felt the company in general was just not up to it. Where are the voices? There are so few rich commanding voices.

The one actor who dominated the stage was not Colm Feore as Lear, who I felt was too young and callow - competent, even sometimes moving, but just not big enough of soul - or voice. It was Stephen Ouimette as the Fool who did stunning work. He spoke simply without any histrionics, and he was mesmerizing. Every word he said rang true.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

good news, and Alice

The phone rang awhile ago and I picked it up. "Is this Mrs. Kenney?" asked a South-African accent, and I realized it must be the hospital. Lani and Maurice Kenney are not married but have been together for eons. Anyway, the doctor did not have Lani's cellphone number so I gave it to him. And so I was the first to learn that the operation went so well, they finished early. The doctor sounded jubilant. "He's fine," he said.

Bourbon and I took a long walk by the river to celebrate his father's successful operation and, we hope, speedy recovery. Thank you, Powers That Be.

This afternoon I saw the Stratford production of James Reaney's "Alice through the looking-glass" and am sorry to say it's a mess, the director madly throwing schtick around and most of the actors just not up to it. Bubbles, streamers, jelly beans, audience participation, lots of male actors in cute little pinafore dresses and striped tights, aka Alice drag, weird bouncy horses, in jokes and rude jokes and gay jokes, just gross, gross, gross. Imagine a production that wastes one of the best actors in Canada, Tom McCamus, putting him in big ears as the March Hare and giving him almost no lines. The only actor who triumphs is the redoubtable Brian Tree as a marvellously grumpy Humpty Dumpty.

It's a difficult, perhaps impossible script - a lot of it is based on chess in-jokes and geeky Victorian mathematical and philosophical wordplay. How many in 2014 will get these things, especially in a show geared for children? In a whirlwind fantasy world on stage, it's important to set the parameters so we understand the rules of the game. But there are no rules in this production except visual sight gags, mugging, and weak voices.

However, I'd got a discount seat and it was a glorious afternoon, I spent the intermission standing in the hot sun. And then I got the good news about Mau. Nothing negative about today, nothing. I bought $25 worth of dark chocolate from Barr's and have consumed too much of it. And now - Franklin and Eleanor.

FDR and Dad

Many people are praying today - or whatever non-religious people do - keep the faith, send out positive thoughts, hope hope hope -  pray - because Maurice is under the knife right now, a nine hour operation to remove bone from his leg and implant it in his jaw. An ordeal he was extremely reluctant to undergo, understandably, but if he didn't, eventually he wouldn't have been able to eat solid food. This is as a result of aggressive treatment for lung cancer.

Hard not to rage about cigarettes and smoking, the fact that countless people do this to themselves voluntarily, as I once did too. Mind-boggling, tragic, appalling. I tell people I'm trying to convince to quit that tobacco executives are the most evil people on the face of the earth, why spend your hard-earned money to increase their profits and poison yourself at the same time? But it never helps.

So here I am with the beautiful Bourbon - we had a great walk this morning, inspecting every tree - oh, the details uncovered by that sensitive nose. I can see why people come to Stratford to visit and end up wanting to stay - an endless array of lovely old brick houses with huge gardens, fresh air, big old trees, everything walking distance, and a world-class theatre too. I had a momentary seizure myself, imagining my daughter and her son in a fine little house, me nearby, walking our dogs on sunny fall mornings like today.

And then one word came to me through the rosy mists: February. Stratford in February. So much for that little fantasy.

I am immersed in Roosevelts, thrilled that Lani gets PBS (though not the Comedy Channel so I'll have to stream Jon on my computer.) Two more hours last night sped by watching this brilliant documentary. It was especially moving because it dealt with FDR's polio, the fact that from one day to the next, this extraordinarily active, vibrant man was felled, never to walk unassisted again, and showing his incredible courage in regaining a kind of mobility and forging ahead with his political career. The experts speculated that polio, in a strange way, helped this patrician aristocrat, because it humbled him, made him understand suffering and gave him a common touch he'd lacked.

The program made me think about my father's near-fatal polio in 1951. Dad was 29 when he was told he'd never walk again. But he made himself exercise, and he miraculously regained almost full mobility. He told me once that he admired President Roosevelt so, the only time in his adult life he ever wept uncontrollably was the day FDR died. When Dad contracted polio himself, I wonder if FDR's example helped him through.

My mother said I, one year old then, was feverish and howling at the same time, that she was told I'd contracted the virus too - but it passed. There were pictures last night of children in braces and wheelchairs and on crutches - polio is, after all, infantile paralysis. What God should I thank for the fact that I did not contract polio?

The same God who's listening as we pray for Maurice, right now.

So - we need a laugh on this solemn day, and here it is: a parade of the most hilarious album covers ever.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

on the bus again

Almost 250 people have now viewed the hot pink gazelle. We should all run around Cabbagetown more often.

Off to Stratford on this beautiful hot sharp day - Maurice, the husband of my dear friend Lani, is having a very serious operation tomorrow, and I'm going to dog sit for them while my son and tenant house sit for me. Last year Lani, who was then a heavy smoker, got the train from Stratford to Toronto where we met and then went on together to Ottawa - many hours without a smoke - to help me during a long difficult weekend, dividing all the stuff in my mother's apartment with my brother. I would not have survived without her. It's my great pleasure to attempt to repay that enormous kindness.

And - it's Stratford, after all, I may just have to see a play or two. I'm happy to report that Lani is not only a non-smoker now, at last, but the smell of smoke, she reports, makes her sick.

I'm packing Karl Ove Knausgaard. It really is amazing to feel this writer confiding in you, as if you're best friends having a beer. He seems to tell everything, no holds barred, details about his past and his present, as he sits writing. Fascinating.

It's good I don't have to do much today - I will attempt to stagger around Carole's class at the Y and then downtown to the Stratford bus. After yesterday's emotional exertion, that's as much as I can cope with. I hope Lani gets PBS, so I can continue to watch "The Roosevelts," the stunning new documentary series by Ken Burns. It's so clear what he's doing - and he made it even more clear in his chat with Jon Stewart on Monday: reminding Americans of a time when politicians, though deeply flawed, were huge of mind, soul and spirit, with the good of the entire country and all its citizens, rich and poor, at heart. It scarcely seems believable that there was such a time, but there they are, these men and women, on the screen, thanks to Burns and PBS. Eleanor - what a heartbreaking, moving story, what a magnificently brave and beautiful woman.

Now that both books are launched, it's time for me to start the next one. But first - time to eat some Stratford chocolate and watch some Roosevelts.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

launch pix

Click to enlarge
The beautiful cashiers, sisters Mary Jane and Carol, who are writing a book together about their childhood - imagine that, together!
Dear friends Wayson, Jean-Marc and Ken
Sam, Anna and Grace, who is, I like to say, my "personal assistant" - she's the reason I have any social media presence at all
Wayson and I with Laurel Croza, a former student who has gone on to huge success as a writer and who is just the nicest person. As was every single person in that room, yes it's true!

book #2 launched

Dear friends, my book launch tonight was a beautiful event, one I will never forget for its warmth and joy - my kids and grandson, students and dear friends gathered; Chris Cameron did a wonderful introduction, I spoke and read and dear Wayson spoke. It could not have been nicer.

Once I had paid the bill at the restaurant, however, this is what my profit was for the evening: $20. And maybe not even that, if I'm really honest.

Okay, so a money maker it was not. But a memory maker it was.

Yes, I brought back many books I'd hoped not to see again - but this is not the first time. My son pointed out that if I'd held the launch in my living-room, I would have made a profit, and how right he is, but I didn't realize how difficult it would be for people to get there. It's a frantic time of year, the weather has been iffy, and this is not a general interest book like the last one, it's specifically for writers and people who want to write. Last launch we sold 90 books, this one, about 25.

C'est la vie.

Luckily, my son is going to a festive event tonight, so he took all the leftovers with him, including a delicious homemade pate the restaurant produced just for us. Everyone who came was so great - it was fantastic to see former students and old friends mingling, colleagues, my family, Wayson, who is also family. His speech was very moving - what a calm, wise presence he has.

Still, for a moment, the briefest moment, I was a bit downcast. And then an email arrived from a former student who was there.
Hi Beth,
It was great to see you again this evening! Congratulations on the book launch, it was a lovely gathering. It truly is funny how things always happen for a reason. I was feeling particularly dejected and uninspired about my latest writing efforts and coming to your event this evening turned out to be just what I needed to give me a boost.
I read your book all the way home on the streetcar and subway and I love it. Will post a review on Amazon as soon as I can.
Thank you, Michelle. And as my dear friend says and as I quote him often in the book: Onward!

the coolest neighbourhood in the world

Imagine - Vogue magazine does an article on the 15 coolest neighbourhoods in the world - Canal St. Martin in Paris, north Brooklyn in NYC - and West Queen West in Toronto, near where my kids and arty friends (of course) live. I've never even heard of Bicyclette or Soho House - but then I live in the deeply uncool east end. Except - it's not.
/ 15
Toronto is currently enjoying newfound prominence—and desirability—amongst globe-trotting tastemakers. Queen Street West is a verifiable artery of indie patisseries, homegrown labels, and hidden-from-view galleries—hallmarks of hipness, if ever they existed. It’s also the home of the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, well-established “art” hotels The Drake and the Gladstone, and the charming Bicyclette, a local clothing boutique and lifestyle brand whose owners love “glitter, DIY projects, treasure hunts and details.” Soho House Toronto is nearby, as is Graffiti Alley, a block where street art is both 100 percent legal and lauded.

Monday, September 15, 2014

praise from a John Girl

Just got this from Kathy Lowinger, for many years the publisher of Tundra Books and now herself an acclaimed author, about the memoir. Thank you, Kathy!

I love the book and its perceptive view about adolescence. I too fell madly and deeply in love with the Beatles, but mine was John. I didn't want to break up his marriage so mine was a tragic romance. 

This is a book that any adult of my generation would love, regardless of how we incorporated the Beatles into our lives. The fact is, we all did.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The son of a terrorist speaks of peace

My friend Juliet in Paris just sent this very moving TED talk by the pseudonymous son of a man convicted of murderous fundamentalist Islamic terrorism. Beautiful. And he makes a point of talking about the influence of the Daily Show and its host Jon Stewart, "a Jewish comedian" more like a father to him than his own father. Highly recommended.
If you’re raised on dogma and hate, can you choose a different path? Zak Ebrahim was just seven years old when his father helped plan the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. His story is shocking, powerful, and ultimately, inspiring. 

Bikestock 2014

Click to enlarge
The glorious Rose of Sharon bush - maybe twelve feet high, beaming ever more beautifully as the rest of the garden fades.

This aft I rode to City Hall for Bikestock 2014, a gathering of cyclists. I missed the beginning, not sure if there was some sort of rallying cry; by the time I got there it was a sweet, rather aimless assembly - a young folksinger was singing a song about Amelia Bloomer who invented bike clothes for women. But the sun was out, and here was a large group of kindred spirits.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

No comment

Saturday, 7 p.m.

Here, there and everywhere

My gift to you today, as the sun comes out: Emmylou Harris's cover of one of Sir McCartney's most gorgeous songs, Here, there and everywhere. It is to weep.

Karl Ove Knausgaard's memoir

A quiet weekend ahead - and an exciting one. Here's the result of my morning outing ...
Went to the market for pork, peaches, peppers, potatoes and ... pretty Macs, and to the liquor store for a variety of Pinots and a Shiraz which should last a day or two (LOL) - and then to Doubletake, a lovely little notebook closed with blue elastic for a buck, and then - be still my beating heart - to the library. They'd let me know that the first of the Karl Ove Knausgaard books, that I'd ordered months ago, was finally in.

So - I'll make a ratatouille and a pork dish with peppers, and then I'll settle down with a large glass of wine and this book. Heaven, on a chilly damp September day.

And I'll wonder why the back of the book says, "In this utterly remarkable novel, Karl Ove Knausgaard writes with painful honesty about his childhood and teenage years, his infatuation with rock music, his relationship with his loving yet almost invisible mother, and his bewilderment and grief on his father's death." Why is this called a novel? A novel is a work of fiction. This is a work of autobiography masquerading as fiction. Why not call it what it is, a memoir?

People so easily accept misnomers - the wrong name for things - and it drives me crazy. Like when they call female genital mutilation "circumcision," which is something completely, utterly different.

I like to call things what they are. So I am going to open some wine and read this best-selling memoir.

PS Normally, about 60 people or so check my posts, but for some reason, over 140 people have checked out the hot pink gazelle. I guess a 64 year old woman in running tights is more exciting than I'd realized. Or else there's some mistake and people think they'll be getting something else. So sorry.

Last night I watched PBS's fundraiser "Rock, Pop and Do Wop" - they pull together groups (and individuals) from the Fifties and Sixties and I guess encourage them to rehearse and then produce this event. I expected it to be painful, all these aging, very aging rockers, but many of them are still fantastic, and the music is sheer joy. Jay Black of Jay and the Americans - an amazing voice still. Though of course when a man that old sings that "My heart wants to die," it means something different than it did in 1959. My favourite: LaLa Brooks singing the classic lines, "Yeah, my heart stood still. Yeah, his name was Bill."

They just don't write 'em like they used to. And da do ron ron sha na na to you too. Happy Saturday.

Friday, September 12, 2014


Maybe I'm meant to be an athlete (viz "hot pink gazelle") and not a writer.

I know, that's silly when I am so not athletic and have been writing practically since birth. But I have to tell you,  today I do wonder. In early spring, I submitted what I thought was a very good piece of writing, a moving story wrenched from my soul, to the Edna Staebler Personal Essay Competition sponsored by TNQ literary magazine. The winners were supposed to be announced in August. So I've been waiting.

The winners have just been announced. My essay is not first and it is not second. Earlier this year, I entered the CBC Non-Fiction Literary Competition. Ten writers were shortlisted, not including moi. TEN!

I can only assume that either I'm a lousy writer, or my writing does not work for competitions.
And I've decided to go with the latter. So - no more competitions. As my father used to say, @#$ them if they can't take a joke.

In world news, my beloved Jon Stewart last night mourned Obama buckling to pressure to declare a kind of war, once more, in Iraq. Since the last time worked so very well for all concerned. And in more horrible news, the Fords continue their dive-bombing of our city. Instead of Rob, we now have his brother, Candidate Doug! Not a crack and booze addict, just a vicious manipulative enabler, so much better.

It is cold, amazingly, bleakly cold for mid-September, and various relatives have been demanding, inconsiderate and annoying, which does not help my usually buoyant mood. Not at all buoyant right now. Time to go into the garden, Maud, with a glass of wine and listen to the birds. Pick some cherry tomatoes.

Though their time is nearly up.

home page

Click to enlarge
One wall of my office - controlled chaos. Overseen by portraits of Paul, my great-grandmother, girl with a pearl earring, Colette...
A boy and his glamma. "You on de lello one, me on de blue one," he said after, and we went back and forth.
A boy and his chocolate lollypop from Stratford and t-shirt from Monoprix, Paris. One of his favourite words already: shoc-o-late. A young man after my own heart.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


So happy trolling away - just ate dinner with Jon Stewart, whom I had to miss last night - and he thanked the Toronto film festival, where he was yesterday. That is, yesterday my beloved Jon was only a few kilometres away, and I did not meet him.

It's okay, I'll survive. At least I have my internet. All reports are that he is a prince among men - kind, thoughtful, polite and funny. My friend Richard was on a show at CTV yesterday and spoke to an interviewer there who'd met him and couldn't believe how nice he was. I KNEW IT!

This afternoon I went to see a musical. David Mirvish sends out special deals every so often, and because I go alone, I often get great single seats for reduced prices. Which I did this afternoon, centre orchestra for half price, to see "Wicked." My daughter saw it years ago in NYC with her dad and loved it, and I've wanted to see it ever since. So this afternoon, at last, I did.

It's superb. Divine. Fabulous - a great great story with lefty political undertones and amazing performances. What pleasure. Thank you, Americans who know how to do this thing so well, belt out songs, dance and act and produce shows that dazzle this way and yet are meaningful. Wondrous.

I was grateful, once again, to live in this fine metropolis. I went to the Y because it's Wednesday and Carol's class but had to leave early for a 1.30 matinee. I hopped on my bike at the Y at 1.10, was early for the show, and cycled home afterwards in ten minutes. Yeah downtown, baby.

And now, here's a sober thought as the rain comes down (it's feeling a lot like fall):

the internet and spam from me

It's back it's back I'm sitting in my kitchen connected to the entire planet once again. The Rogers guy said he thought raccoons had chewed the cable wires. @#$#@ raccoons!!

I have lived without the internet and TV, yes I have, but somewhere else, not here at home where I'm used to these luxuries at my fingertips. I kept stopping at my computer, which had nothing to say to me. No Jon Stewart, no updates of friends and family on FB, no email, no being able to check whatever I want whenever, including my bank and library accounts. I am truly attached to this vital electronic teat and I do not want to live without it.

A lovely day out, and my heart is light.

But - the down side - my friend Karen just forwarded an email that apparently came from me, but was spam. SOMEONE IS SPAMMING USING MY NAME, saying:
Hey Karen. How are you? Good website ...
And then the website address. This is not moi. Do not click on the link. Anyone who knows me can tell it's not from me, so I hope no one gets caught.

So this wondrous connectivity has its problems. But I am one happy camper nonetheless. Hello!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

still no 'net

A monosyllabic Rogers guy came yesterday, just before I left for Ryerson. Two minutes in the basement and he came up, said he'd tightened something and it was all working. And it was, both the internet and the TV. Hooray. I pedalled off on a stunning evening to the first night of school - exciting. Always great to greet a new class, the usual fascinatingly diverse group of writers.

That night, watching Jon Stewart, I noticed the TV going wobbly. And then the internet failed and the cable died AGAIN. I am once more at the Local Gest on Parliament Street, trembling without my fix. It is truly an addiction. I get up in the morning anxious to get my hands on three things: coffee, bowl of porridge, and email.

Oh well. It's a nice place here, and since I'm bringing them the business of my book launch, they don't mind me using their internet. But I do prefer my own. The next Rogers guy comes tomorrow between 8 and 10 a.m. Fingers crossed.

Do not take anything for granted. Speaking of which, there's a superb article in today's Star by Catherine Porter, who just spent a year with her family in Africa and writes about seeing our western urban lives with new eyes - how very, very much we take for granted. And also that we are in an abusive relationship with our mayor and need to get out asap to a battered shelter. No kidding.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Ryerson's "True to Life" starts tonight.

Internet still down - an addict needing a fix, I'm sitting on the patio at the Local Gest on Parliament Street, where my next book launch will be held next Tuesday Sept. 16 from 4 to 7. My last launch was also here. It's warm, friendly and nearby, the food is delicious, the coffee is hot and the wifi is fast.

This is to let you know that the Ryerson term starts tonight at 6.30 and there's room. Come one come all. I'd love to see you. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014


Disaster, incomprehensible - my internet is out. And my cable TV as well, just like that, this morning. After a day of twitching uncontrollably, I am using my neighbours Jean-Marc and Richard's wifi, catching up. OMG! No Net! How will she survive? Rogers is coming tomorrow late afternoon and until then, I'm scrounging.

Wanted to tell you more about the Festival, about the Short Film Fest on Friday night which was brilliant and which I'll describe another time, and mostly about this morning, the mini-marathon (an annual two kilometre fundraiser for the Cabbagetown Youth Centre) through the neighbourhood that I have done almost every year since it began. Once I was a contendah. Now a speedy, competitive and admirable Frenchwoman wins every year in my category, Senior Women.

This year, I am in worse shape than ever. I have gained weight - two kilos packed around my middle, forcing me to have a garage sale to sell all the fitted clothes I will never wear again. I've been so busy, little time to work out, and even in Carol's class at the Y, I feel like the slowest person there, lumbering around at the end.

So today, all I wanted on the gorgeous morning was to get through it. It hurts, it always hurts to run faster than I usually do, even though I run so slowly, and to run in that focussed and public a way. Just get through it, I said to myself. So I did - I breathed, relaxed and enjoyed it, thinking, You're here, old girl, you're alive and your legs are moving, that's a victory in itself. It hurt. But I forced the edges of my lips into a smile, or something resembling one, I hope.

At the very end, running down Parliament Street, I saw the snazzy new FINISH sign - the race even has a CLOCK now, like a real race - and got a burst of energy, passed the woman beside me and headed for it. At the last minute, just as I was about to go over the finish line - wham, there she was, speeding just ahead of me. Well, I thought, I've done it, I didn't stop and walk, made it to the end, brava. And I went home.

Later ran into friends on the street - You won! they said. Third place! Later I saw a list of the finish times, and the Other Senior Woman finished one second ahead of me, coming in second. My French friend finished first, a minute before us. And my friend Gina, entering the senior category for the first time, was fourth. A prize will be coming my way. Last time, a few years ago, it was a gift certificate toward dry cleaning. And most welcome too.

The Festival continued madly today, wonderfully, the same crush on Parliament, bands, food, stuff to buy. I did buy today - a $5 fan for my son, a $20 planter for my deck. Anna's friends who were helping sell my stuff came back and tried again; for two days work, we ended up with about $120 each. Not worth it! I will never do this again, I vow! Please remind me, next year at this time. Because I did get rid of a lot of stuff, and what I didn't sell is hanging on the fence outside my house. 

Teaching starts tomorrow and my internet is down. But it's the most beautiful day and I was third. God that feels good. Too bad I'll have so little left to dry-clean.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

inviting you to the book launch

From the latest Cabbagetown Review:

Beth Kaplan tells all
Cabbagetown author Beth Kaplan is launching her newest book at The Local GEST (424 Parliament) on Tuesday September 16 from 4 to 7 pm.  She’ll be accompanied by her special guest, another renowned author, Wayson Choy. Her book – True to Life: fifty steps to help you tell your story – is a guide to Beth’s secrets for successful writing.  It’s packed with vital information for new authors.  Drop in, enjoy a brew, chat with Beth and take home your own copy.  

more Festival

I just went for a bike ride down Parliament Street - 8.30 on a beautiful evening and the street is impassable. And what a crowd - they say that Toronto is the most ethnically diverse city in the world, and I can attest that Parliament Street, at this moment, is the most ethnically diverse street in the world. Every type of headdress possible - headscarves of all sizes and types, devout little hats on men, complete hijab, people of every colour from every country, all enjoying the music and street food right now. It's the closest I've ever felt in Canada to what I experienced in India - the noise and crowding, the assault of it all - a block away from my front door. Quite amazing.

The soul group outside the liquor store
Watching the salsa drummers outside the gas station
The fire juggler outside the pharmacy
And the wild rock and rollers (the lead singer with a beard to his solar plexus) outside the Wing Machine a block from here.

And then I saw poor silver Elvis pack up his gear and begin to trudge home, still silver, after a hard day's work.

the Cabbagetown Festival

My multi-ethnic and economically diverse 'hood in downtown Toronto has a huge street festival every September, and this year's was the best yet. Our main thoroughfare, Parliament St., is shut to traffic, there are food, drink and things vendors everywhere, lots of great music - a wonderful place for a very small boy. 
Click to enlarge.
Eli milks a plexiglass cow on Parliament Street
and has a swinging time
and goes back to the cow
 and relaxes on the street with his new ukelele ($10 from a Sri Lankan vendor. He wanted this, not a water pistol. Be still my beating heart. )
A big band of very young players and singers - fabulous.
I asked if I could take the picture of this dapper garage sale aficionado. "Of me and David?" he said.
A bassoon quartet - who knew?
A silver Elvis at Parliament and Carlton.

Friday, September 5, 2014

not being Angie and Brad

Just turned on my A.C. for only the second time this summer - it's supposed to go to 33 today. Very muggy. What a strange time! Nothing to do with global warming, of course.

And now I am officially feeling very ugly and very, very poor. Just bought - yes, I confess - "Hello Canada" for the first time (I think.) (As I recall.) To see pictures of Brad and Angie and her amazing wedding dress with the children's doodles hand-embroidered all over. Two gorgeous parents and their absolutely gorgeous children and their million acre private estate and vineyard in Provence. No, I'm not jealous, not one bit, just because they're happy and talented and smart and productive and caring and beautiful and in love and and wealthy and living in the most beautiful place on earth - who'd want their crazy life?!


Here is the beautiful view from my 'hood - Parliament and Gerrard. Not quite Provence, but I'll take it.
Now getting ready for the Cabbagetown Festival tomorrow - a favourite event, jam-packed with activities including the Short Film Festival which I'm going to tonight, a series of international films under 12 minutes long. Tomorrow at dawn, we're getting ready for the usual garage sale. Yesterday my friend Debra came over to help me go through my wardrobe and get rid of all my second-hand bargains which just aren't right for me. There are quite a few, as you can see.
First work event last night - the annual gathering of the Continuing Studies professors at U of T, for wine and dinner and reconnection. Much appreciated, all the effort that goes into these events. And the food is great. Perhaps not quite as good as the food at Brad and Angie's wedding prepared by their personal chef. But good.

PS I marvel at this speedy new world - I put a new photo on my Facebook page a few hours ago, and within minutes comments were coming in from friends near and far, including people I haven't seen for years. I like it. I wouldn't like it if nude photos of me suddenly appeared on the web - but luckily it has never occurred to me to photograph myself in the nude, so there's one less thing to worry about.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

note from a happy student

My student Maggie was a strong writer and person, so I knew she was ready to take the powerful story of her years as an alcoholic to the next level, which we call "jumping off a cliff". She bravely sent it to the Globe where it was published. I would never have encouraged her to do so if I didn't think she could handle such a public outing.

And this is what she just sent. I'm proud of her and happy things went so well.

I have had hundreds of emails, FB messages, and comments, remarks, and calls made in person to me since my essay that I wrote in your class was published in Facts and Arguments. It has been a positive and life changing event for me. You wouldn’t believe the kindness, support, and intimate sharing that has generated from ‘jumping off the cliff’. 

A good friend recently observed, after I shared the story of you being my teacher and taking me to the edge of the cliff, and encouraging me, helping me, and making it all possible —  “What a wonderful woman she must be, to have trusted you that it would be okay, and that you could trust her enough to be so brave”. I know I thanked you when I submitted it and all that, but I just had to let you know what an powerful 900 words this essay turned out to be. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

creative non-fiction workshop in Toronto

A wonderful group I belong to, the Creative Non-fiction Collective, is sponsoring a workshop in Toronto in a few weeks. Poster below. Two very good and extremely experienced writers will be speaking - Susan Olding and Ken McGoogan. Highly recommended.

the reject pile

Just received these emails from two readers who enjoyed "All My Loving": I just finished your lovely memoir. Its beautifully told and evocative of a time and place. Young Beth is so poignant and yet so powerful, though of course she has no idea. Also, quite beautiful despite her own uncertainty about that. I’m sure it strikes a chord among many who have read it.  

And another: I loved it. I couldn't put it down and it is remarkable in how it absolutely transports you back to adolescence--I am so glad to be past that stage! How amazing to have all the things you wrote at the time.

Heartening to hear these kind words. At the same time,  my good friend Ellen Roseman was just here for dinner. Ellen writes a column at the Star, and told me there's a table at the Star where they pile all the books they've received that aren't going to be reviewed. "I'm sorry to say," she told me, "I saw your book on that pile." 

I asked her to rescue it. It hurts to think of my dear book lying there forlorn, unwanted, ignored. 

I'd planned to be at Hot Docs tonight, seeing a film about Vermeer, but had dinner with Ellen instead. It was the most perfect mild, sunny summer day today, even as the schoolchildren march past my door with their heavy backpacks. Summer is over, and yet it feels like it's just beginning. Confusing and wonderful. Hope the Vermeer film comes back on some rainy cold day.

Last night I watched bits and pieces of two different versions of "The Jazz Singer," one with Eddie Cantor and the other made decades later with Danny Thomas. A powerful story about how you're born to be what you are, whether your parents approve or not. A hard lesson, and much harder for some.

Eli catches a fish

He is two. I am 64 and I have never caught a fish, and never will. Already with the life experiences.

new skills

My dear friend and technical assistant Grace is here and showing me stuff about Facebook and Twitter. So now I'm practicing.
Here is the Facebook page for the writing book.

We also have created an event listing for the book launch on Facebook. I'm excited about this new skill except that I'm sure I'll forget how to do it the instant Grace walks out the door. She's 22. I'm 64. Brain gone. But trying.

another student in Facts and Arguments

Student Nancy Figueroa wrote the other day, to say that another of her essays would be appearing in the Globe.
I read the story at your place in May, worked on it, including some of the suggestions you made and then I forgot about it.  Three weeks ago I remembered it and sent it off to The Globe. They liked it! It will be my third piece in F & A since I finished your class!
I'll look forward to seeing you September 16 for the launch of True to Life.

 It's a lovely piece, Nancy. Congratulations.

When our dishwasher broke down, my son and I were doing the dishes together. He suddenly had a lot more to say to me than usual. (Jori Bolton For The Globe and Mail)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Brian Epstein Story

My friend Juliet from Paris sent me a link to "The Brian Epstein Story," done as a British TV series, nine episodes of ten minutes each. I watched them last night: a bit slow and nothing really new, but still worth watching for a Beatle nut, the moving story of a beautiful, smart and honest young man who cared deeply about his "boys," as he called the group he nurtured and helped to bloom. Both Jewish and gay, a lonely outsider, his death a tragic waste. If he had not died, would they have gone on together? Surely for longer, yes, if not forever like the Stones. Too too sad. Thank you from the world for what you did accomplish, Brian.

Here's the first one and you can link to the others from there.

Goodreads: William Shakespeare and moi

Love this - that old guy who wrote "Merchant of Venice" is listed, for some reason, under my name on the website Goodreads. 

And he and I get the same star rating. Mind you, he has 123 editions and 90,729 ratings, and I have at most 2 editions and 3 ratings. Still - considering that his book has more than 400 years on mine - the stars are about the same. Will and I, pour toujours. 

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Showing 1-9 of 9 results for 'Kaplan Beth' (Goodreads search in 0.07s)

The Merchant of Venice
3.76 of 5 stars 3.76 avg rating — 90,729 ratings — published 1600 — 123 editions
All My Loving: Coming of Ag...
4.33 of 5 stars 4.33 avg rating — 3 ratings — published 2014 — 1 edition
Finding the Jewish Shakespe...
3.5 of 5 stars 3.50 avg rating — 2 ratings — published 2007 — 2 editions
True to Life: Fifty Steps t...
5.0 of 5 stars 5.00 avg rating — 1 rating — published 2014 — 1 edition