Monday, August 31, 2015


Life often hands out gifts, and I received a few today. I was forwarded an article in a scholarly journal; a few notable Canadians were asked to write about a university professor who inspired them and changed their life. Dr. Alex MacKenzie, a notable genetics researcher and doctor, winner of the 2013 Champion of Genetics Award, wrote about my dad.

I first encountered the late J. Gordin Kaplan teaching his third-year molecular biology course at the U of O in 1973. An indifferent student meandering indifferently through the undergraduate curriculum with no particular destination in mind, I came late to his second class (having missed the first) to encounter Dr. Kaplan beautifully outlining Jacob and Monod’s then fairly recent work on the bacterial lactose operon – work that established many of the key principles of gene operation.
         An elegant man, Dr. Kaplan had the delivery of a Shakespearean actor, albeit one with a distinctly New York accent, a fierce gaze and a wonderful sense of timing. A lover of all things Gallic and frequently bedecked in a cravat and beret, he gave lectures that were performances. I remember him pausing to stare at the floor mid-sentence for emphasis before delivering the intellectual coup de grace concerning a particular aspect of the operon theory, describing how the genes that make up all forms of life are controlled. Through his eloquent mastery, the elegance and simplicity of the then-nascent world of molecular biology shone forth. He had me from negative repressor.
         I did an honours project with Dr. Kaplan the following year, then shipped off under his guidance to his friend Lou Siminovitch in the U of T medical genetic department, where I completed a doctorate. To this day, I have been, more or less, tilling the same DNA furrow that Dr. Kaplan laid out so beautifully on that September afternoon.

This made me very, very proud - and also laugh, not just the beret and cravat - I never once saw Dad in a cravat and I'd dispute that memory, but the beret was a staple - but because MacKenzie describes the theatrical gene I inherited from him and he from his grandfather the Jewish Shakespeare. One of the things I was most proud of as an actor was my timing. Genes! Bravo, beloved father. Dr. MacKenzie has made a huge difference to the world with his research, and so did you.

Received this from #1 daughter: her older son with his best friend Finn at the Ex, two cool guys in their Jeep. They don't look three, do they? Pre-school Easy Riders. 
Wish his great-grandfather could have met Eli, and vice versa. 

My woodpecker is still at work. When I wake up, he's pecking away at the dead wood of the ivy, and late in the day, he's still there. Alone, working, intent - inspiring, that little guy. I am working too - over 60,000 words on the new memoir; the peaceful month of August has been a huge gift. Chris wrote to ask what my hopes are for this one, and I wrote back, Incredible success, obviously - publishers fighting for it, bestseller lists, becoming rich and famous and buying houses for both my children.

Or - the same as before, 132 discerning readers, most of them my friends and family. I will be sad and disappointed if it doesn't fly out of the nest. And then I'll start to write the next.

As perhaps the last of today's gifts - which included a visit with excellent #1 son, a lot of dark chocolate and rosé, and the smell of gardenia and jasmine - I have become a follower, on Twitter, of the Dalai Lama. How amazing is that? The Dalai Lama has a Twitter feed! What a world.
It's a rough life.

PS And one mixed blessing gift - someone returned my book, Finding the Jewish Shakespeare, to the Little Free Library, obviously untouched, unopened. Well, thank you for giving it back. I didn't leave it there, though. It's now stacked up with all the others - the many others - waiting for eager readers. One day. 

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