Sunday, December 31, 2017

New York, Coco, Happy etc.

You never know what's going to land in your inbox. In mine, on Friday, something extraordinary - an email from David Serero, a hugely successful French opera singer, actor, and producer based in New York, who is producing and starring in a staged reading of my great-grandfather's play The Jewish King Lear at the end of January, in a gorgeous building that's the oldest synagogue in the States. Could he, he asked, pay my way down to be part of this event? He'd like me to speak after the show and do a book signing.

Would I?! It means deferring one of my U of T classes, but my boss said no problem, and my dear cousin Ted is happy to put me up at his place and accompany me to the opening. David asked if I would come to both shows, so on Tuesday Jan. 30 I'm flying to NYC for the opening, and then will attend the second show, aka the closing, on Thursday Feb. 1. I've given myself a few days there, too, so I'll fly back Saturday. How amazing is that? There are two big staged readings of Gordin plays in Washington D.C. next year too. Is the old man coming into his own, at last? David talks about 200 people a night, about press involvement. After decades resigned to the total obscurity of this subject, I find his optimism hard to believe. But still - some excitement for the new year, already.

Calming down, I spent Saturday and much of today with one of the great loves of my life. We saw a fabulous movie together, he made me a big pot of vegetable soup, and we had a joyful time on a walk to the Farm.

And then, this afternoon, I took him home to his mother, who was - insane woman - organizing a New Year's Eve party for a group of his 5-year old besties, who will have sparkling juice at 8 p.m., their midnight.

Eli and I went to see "Coco," an animated musical film about - yes, hard as it is to believe - the Mexican Day of the Dead. I know you are used to my rhapsodies about things I've seen, but I must rhapsodize once more: "Coco" is one of the best films of the year. It held Eli and moved me so that - well, you know what's coming - I wept. It shows that you are never forgotten, even after death, as long as you remain in the memory of family members; our beloved ancestors are still with us. Strangely, just after all this kerfuffle about my great-grandfather, it's about the powerful genetic links of artistic talent. But all is presented in such a sparkling, colourful, humorous way that a 5-year old, who didn't get all that about genetics and death, liked it too. It's a very beautiful film. I will carry it with me for a long time.

And then home to play - to make soup. (When, at home the next day, Eli told his mother about the soup, she asked, knowing of his dislike of vegetables, "Did you eat some?"
"No, Mum," he said witheringly. "The vegetables are made of WOOD!")
There was play doh, and a Green Eggs and Ham puzzle, and the favourite pirate boat. Today, a walk to the Farm in the brutal, mind-boggling cold which did not bother him at all. He adopted a piece of snow on the way back, called it Marshmallow, and placed it carefully outside my front door for safeguarding.
And then home for him, to party, and home for me, a quiet night in. It's so cold, they have cancelled or shortened New Year's Eve festivities across the country, the first time I can ever remember that happening. It's a bit like being under siege - survival is paramount.

Tonight, I pray for our planet to emerge back out from under the giant orange cloud and for some semblance of sanity and dignity and kindness to return. I pray for the health and happiness of friends and family, and of you too, whether I know you or not. 

On the way home, Eli and I discussed 2018. "This year, you're going to turn...?" I said, and he replied "Six!" 
"And I'm going to turn ...?" 
"86!" he cried. 
"No," I answered coldly. No no no! It turned out he got it backwards and meant 68. I do not forgive easily. But forgive I will. 

Happy 2018 to you all, no matter what age you will turn. May we get through this one with grace.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

student story

Last term at Ryerson, my student Daryl Elliott - who's a woman, BTW - wrote a beautiful piece about her unique solution to insomnia. I suggested she send it to the Globe; one of her classmates had already had a piece printed in the paper. I'm proud to say, Daryl's fine piece is in today's Globe.
https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/first-person/my-fear-of-the-dark-led-me-to-a-new-bedtime-ritualpodcasts/article37436045/

One of her classmates wrote to me about the piece and continued,
Little did I know starting out in your class, that I would continue with the writing and feel so at home. Thank you again for your wonderful gift of inspiration and support. I think I'll call you the Patron Saint of Writing and the Collective.

Works for me!

Bitterly bitterly cold. I feel for my daughter with her two bouncy little guys in a small apartment. But nothing fazes her - off to Eli's first skating lesson yesterday, outside. Unimaginable to this wimp, but luckily she's made of much tougher material.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

all is calm

My poor upstairs tenant Elodie, a young woman here for a few months from France, is not prepared for a Canadian winter. In some years recently, we've had it easy, but this year, brutal cold - yesterday, with the wind chill, minus 26. I started out completely bundled up, like a hulking mountain of cloth, walking to the Y, stopped after 3 minutes to see when the streetcar was due, and waved for a cab.

It's done; the tsunami has rolled over us. My tree is already down and outside the door. It was wonderful, it was exhausting, it was one of the best. We went tobogganing Xmas afternoon on nearby Riverdale hill, the best toboggan hill in Toronto; Jean-Marc and Richard lent us two classic long wooden sleds, and even in the bitter cold, and Sam in sneakers - he'd left his boots at work - we went to the hill. I did not go down but they all did, including Elodie getting a real facefull of Canada on Xmas; Thomas took Eli down the steepest part of the hill. It was wonderful.
The gang; Sam - in sneakers, and though you can't see it, Ben's Spiderman hat - and Elodie.

When we got back everyone had a quiet time, while the 18 pound turkey baked and some of us finished preparing the veggies. And then opening presents. Best of all - Eli's magical light up shoes, worn for a time by both boys.
JM and Richard and two friends of Sam's, a Brit and a Russian without family here, arrived, and we feasted on massive quantities of food. Elodie had made a stunning centrepiece and bought us a buche de noel. Despite an intense day of togetherness and pressure, there was not a single explosion, even from the kids. It was truly glorious.

And then, gloriously, the family went home. JM and Richard watched "Victorian Bakers" and then it was time for my treat, the "Call the Midwives" Xmas special. Typically for them, the main storyline was not just peace and love but about sexual and physical abuse from a jolly man we met at the beginning and then gradually learned the truth about. There are treacly bits, but this show delves deep.

I think there should be a #MeToo to acknowledge the heroic struggle that Xmas represents for women. Who carries this enormously demanding festival? Who makes the lists, buys most of the gifts, cooks the meal, gets people through it all? Almost exclusively women. Every year, I think of those women who work in retail, who do all that on their day off, and then get up at 5 a.m. to work the insane madness of the sales on Boxing Day. Those women are giants.

This lucky woman had help cleaning up, and then took her tree down and put the good silver cutlery and good dishes away for another year. And then the best part, yesterday's lunch - a heaping plate of leftovers in the silence of the kitchen. Family is heaven. Also heaven - solitude.

May you have the gift of silence at some point today.

Monday, December 25, 2017

merry

After the pageant last night, as I was folding a mountain of soaking wet cloaks and headdresses, a little girl who'd been one of the angels asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I had to stop and think, since such a thing had not occurred to me. "Peace," I said, and she laughed. She herself wanted something more substantial.

But here it is, 9 a.m. Christmas morning - peace. It snowed heavily through the evening and night - all through the pageant - and this morning, it's all fresh and magical. Windy, I can see, snow blowing off the trees, and the bird feeder a very busy site.

Every year, as perhaps you've noted, I declare I will not do the pageant any more, and every year, its magic pulls me back. It's hard for me, as a theatre professional, to produce something so very flaky and last minute. Last night, the mike, our most essential prop, arrived just minutes before the show began; luckily it worked but was so heavy, we had to drag a kid from the audience to carry it for us. The choir stood in exactly the wrong place throughout, as we moved around the farm. Etc.

And yet - the cast were all there, some who've been doing it for many years - the innkeeper and his wife, the 3 wise men (or, as one of them improvised last night, "We are two wise kings and one wise queen," to general cheers.) One shepherd instead of two, our wonderful narrator Gina who makes everyone feel at home - she and I (both half-Jewish) standing on the back of a tractor in the farm's drive shed, surrounded by hundreds of people - yes, despite the blowing snow, there were hundreds came to sing and commune.

And then after the scenelets and the singing, we end up in the barn where the sheep, goats and cows are in their stalls, the choir and crowd are singing "Silent Night," and in the centre, we see this:


It makes me cry every year, this year especially, of course, because that stunning Mary is someone I've known since her childhood: Christina, the daughter of old friends and neighbours Mary and Malcolm - Mary was another co-founder of the pageant - with her baby Eloise (in a pink pussy hat). Her husband did not want to be there, so that loving Joseph, hiding his tattooed hands, is my son.

We are going to have a meeting in January and figure out ways to make sure there's less last minute stress next year. We've said that every year, but this year - next year, I mean - we'll make sure that happens.

This morning, Anna just sent this:
Santa was REALLY good to them over there. A perfect toy for two boys who love cars and trains.

And over here - peace. Joseph is asleep; Johann Sebastian Bach is singing. I'll soon get the turkey stuffed and in the oven, using my mother's special long silver stuffing spoon, and put out the smoked salmon and bagels. Our own holy family will arrive in a few hours, and the chaos will begin. The stockings and the Charley Brown tree are loaded. Guests will arrive for dinner. We have our problems, over here. There are worries, issues, things that keep this woman awake at 3 a.m. And that's just thinking about friends and family, let alone our poor dear planet. I was awake at 3 a.m. this morning pondering not just my own worries, but Trump's budget, giving tax breaks to the owners of private planes, the foul obscenity of it all.

Peace. It's Christmas morning, there's fresh snow, family and friends are coming; today let's leave all ugliness outside the door, frozen in the cold, and focus on what matters most: community, kindness, love.

Little birds outside, having breakfast.
Not far from my thoughts, as I bustle about, is the fact that my mother died five years ago this morning. All I know about making a warm comfortable home, about stuffing a bird, I learned from her. My thanks, Mum. All my love.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

getting there

Lists. Lists lists lists. The other day Wayson came with his car and drove me around to get the heavy stuff - the 18 pound turkey, the huge sack of potatoes. Today I decided to make the stuffing - 2 days in advance. I got out the food processor which I use only to chop up breadcrumbs and spices for stuffing, and of course, it does not work. Spent half an hour trying to get it to work and another half hour pulling bits of bread into little pieces. But the stuffing, though lumpy, is made. Cross that off the list.

This afternoon, to the Farm to check on things for the pageant. There's fresh snow, it's very pretty, but doesn't make the job of preparing this event any easier. However - all systems go.

A woman on Parliament Street stopped me. "Our children were in nursery school together," she said. "So you're still in the neighbourhood? And you're still alive, that's what counts." Yes, yes it does indeed count. She complained that her children come from far away for Xmas with their spouses and kids and a very big dog and after a few days they all can't stand each other. I am very glad my children come from the other side of town and then they go home. And we all love each other very much.

Wayson came again tonight, for supper and to watch the end of "The Crown." What a superb series, fantastic. After he didn't seem to want to leave, so I proposed a few home movies, transferred some years ago to DVD. We watched a film from Xmas 1986, the year we moved into this house. The film quality is appalling, and the quality of the camerawork is even worse. But still - there are my parents and my uncle Edgar, gone now. There's Auntie Do, very much alive more than 30 years later. And also my ex and me - my face unlined, my hair brown, bustling around helping our little kids, aged 2 and 5, open presents, cooking, serving. In this very kitchen, this living room. She's a stranger; I can barely remember her. It kind of hurts to watch, to think about that time. I'll watch it all again sometime, for research, without boring my dear friend.

A small watcher this morning stood checking out the kitchen. Probably waiting for an invitation to Christmas dinner. With lumpy stuffing.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

the Christmas concert

It's the winter solstice, dark and cold with snow predicted overnight tonight. I wish my house had a fireplace. But there's a furnace, solid walls, and a roof - good enough.

Yesterday's adventure: Anna was really sick, poor woman; on Tuesday Thomas took a day off work to help deal with kids, but yesterday I went over to help, hoping not to catch whatever she had, washing my hands every five minutes ... It was Eli's Christmas concert after supper, and she actually got dressed and out the door with us, and then a few blocks in, had to turn back and go home to bed. So it was just Eli and me at the Xmas concert at his wonderful little school, with children from every part of the globe.

Concerts have changed since I was a parent, with the advent of cell phones. Now parents are madly taping everything, snapping and filming, standing so no one behind them can see, crowding the aisles and, according to the patient but exhausted principal, creating a fire hazard. It was madness - until it was time for the kindergarteners to arrive, and then I was up there with the rest of them, madly filming away - so we could relive it all and show the concert to Mama when we got home. Nearly got squashed in the crush.

Though it means giving up French immersion for Eli, Anna opted to keep him in this school, and I see why. It's warm and open, and on the back of the program for the concert was a song by the Tragically Hip: "Ahead by a century." "No dress rehearsal/This is our life." The Grade Ones sang a wonderful song about diversity: "Some of us celebrate Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/Ramadan" and it went on "Some of us celebrate Diwali/the harvest..." Loved that, some of us celebrate the harvest. That would be the atheists, like me.

Eli was cool and barely moved his mouth but he did sing. I was proud of him.

Another reason I think my daughter is a saint - she took Dakota, Thomas's nephew, to a Raptors' game for his tenth birthday. He's a huge basketball fan so it was his dream come true. And because Dakota is such a loud fan, they ended up featured on the Jumbotron, and he got free pizza and a t-shirt!

What a birthday!

An Xmas present for me - an email from another happy student.
I wanted to let you know that my piece on "Night" is going to be in the G&M. I won't really believe it until I see it in print but that is the plan at the moment.
Thank you again for your class which was such an unexpected gift to me and your suggestion to send that piece to the Globe which in a million years I wouldn't have done or even thought of....

Just wanted to let you know and thank you again for such a great and life altering class! 

My equivalent of the Jumbotron.

Anyone in T.O. looking for something to do New Year's Day - I could not recommend this more highly, at Hot Docs at the Bloor. A stunning, moving portrayal of life over decades. Don't miss it.

NEW YEAR'S DAY BINGE WATCH 
The Up Series 
Experience one of the greatest achievements in documentary film at this once-in-a-lifetime event. Top it off with our special concessions deal: bottomless coffee and popcorn all day.

MON, JAN 1

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

an editor an editor my kingdom for an editor

Tis the season - of lunches and dinners and excess. My grinch is out again - though I love to see friends and be festive, still, I find the forced jollity of it all, the bloody fucking holly jolly music, consumers jammed into shops to buy stuff, and outside, more desperate people than I've ever seen. It's just wrong.

However. Luckily there are two little boys who will love every bit of it, and I will love it with them.

It has been very cold but today was so mild, I was on the bike with my coat open. Went off to lunch downtown with the Word Sisters - a group of women in publishing - successful editors, agents, a publicist. I'm there to represent the desperate scrabbling writers. Much of the talk at lunch was about how much harder it is, year by year, to survive in this business, particularly as a writer - how now, even with the big publishing houses, writers sometimes have to pay for some of their own editing and publicity. Insane. Depressing. But my crepe was lovely and so was the company.

Yesterday, to the ROM with Suzette and Jessica to see the Dior exhibit and then to dinner at Planta, the trendy downtown restaurant featuring vegan food, and delicious it is too, including a very meaty mushroom burger. A great reunion with - not old friends, as someone said recently, but friends of long standing. Much, much to discuss with these dear women I have known since I was 17, in the corridors below Carleton University.

Sunday, to the play "Heisenberg" at CanStag, a terrific two-hander about a chance encounter between two strangers that turns into something more, something much more. A beautiful piece of theatre. And tonight, two more episodes of "The Crown" Season 2 with Wayson - utterly brilliant. So so so much to do in this town - it's amazing I do any work at all. But occasionally I do. Yesterday I sent the manuscript to yet another publisher.

But there's also reading, and I've been doing a lot of it, recently two memoirs from the library:
"Lights on, rats out" by Cree LeFavour, and "Priestdaddy," by Patricia Lockwood, both on several best of the year lists, the latter on the NYT best 10 of the year. What do I know? I thought the first was unbearable, I had to skim through it - the author liked to burn herself with cigarettes and required years of therapy to stop doing it. The second, about the writer's eccentric father, a crazy Catholic priest, was written in a gorgeous torrent of prose that sometimes carried me along and sometimes drowned me.

Here are two bits of her powerful writing, that almost go too far but I think do not:

I did not make it out, but this does. Art goes outside, even if we don’t; it fills the whole air, though we cannot raise our voices. This is the secret: when I encounter myself on the page, I am shocked at how forceful I seem. On the page I am strong, because that is where I put my strength. On the page I am everything that I am not, because that is where I put myself. I am no longer whispering through the small skirted shape of a keyhole: the door is knocked down and the roof is blown off and I am aimed once more at the entire wide night.

To write about your mother and father is to tell the story of your own close call, to count all the ways you never should have existed. To write about home is to write about how you dropped from space, dragging ellipses behind you like a comet, and how you entered your country and state and city, and finally your four-cornered house, and finally your mother’s body and finally your own. From the galaxy to the grain and back again. From the fingerprint to the grand design. Despite all the conspiracies of the universe, we are here; every moment we are here we arrive.

Pretty strong stuff, no? But here's an example of what I feel is the overwrought, overwritten style that drives me crazy: 

The year has been long. I feel like a single particle standing in the middle of my own ghost, I resemble a log of haunted cookie dough, and I need to be cured of myself.

What? What does that mean? A log of haunted cookie dough? Who let her get away with that? Where are the editors?! I know some really good ones. Just ask and I'll send you their coordinates.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

2017 recap

Feeling the usual aches, the tickle at the back of my nose and throat which signals that something is preparing to invade, so to head it off I'm sticking close to home. Just did a quick review of the year's blogs, which showed that I spent most of the month of February sick. Am determined not waste time like that again! There's a new health food store around the corner, and yesterday I bought fresh orange/ginger juice and orange/carrot soup. That'll do it.

What a year - much travel: France, London, B.C., the U.S., and of course, beautiful suburban Ottawa... Great memories, a long hike in the hot sun on St. Jean Cap Ferrat with Brucie, only a few weeks before he had the stroke that temporarily felled him; a superb dinner overlooking the water with Chris in Vancouver; Paris with Lynn, Gordes with Denis, Montpellier with them both; seeing Penny in London, Cousins Ted and Lola in New York, many cousins and my ex-husband in Washington; lying in bed for two days at Chesterman Beach - sick then too, for that matter, but in what a glorious place.

Highlights, besides those trips: the pussy hat protest march in January; learning the start of the Moonlight Sonata, more or less, on the piano; speaking about the Jewish Shakespeare in Fairfax, Virginia and meeting new family there; being part of the committee for next year's CNFC conference in Toronto; the establishment of the English conversation group; my ex on stage at the Tony Awards; students publishing books and essays and appearing at So True. Much much much reading, too much to detail here. Fantastic comedians keeping us going, and the spectacular Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, fighting the good fight as their country disintegrates around them.

Terrible losses this year, including, for me and my friends, our beloved friend the beautiful and brilliant Elke Town, after a heroic struggle with ALS.

My dear Wayson has struggles of his own but is still as funny as anyone I know. Yesterday I gave him his Xmas present - he'd told me his favourite movie was "The Corn is Green" with Bette Davis, so I got it from Bay St. Video and last night we decorated my $10 Charley Brown tree, lit the menorah candles, watched the movie, and then had dinner. Davis plays a teacher who makes a difference - an important subject for us both.

Speaking of which, in the blowing own horn department, I just received this from a former student and editing client - we worked for years on her gorgeous memoir, which she decided to self-publish:
My book arrived yesterday, I opened it and burst into tears. I can hardly believe after all this time that it is real, a concrete, touchable, holdable thing that actually exists on this earth. And it is beautiful.

Many, many thanks from the bottom of my heart for all the work you did both with my manuscript and with me, allowing me to believe I could complete this enormous project.

I can't wait to see it. Earlier, out doing errands I ran into a high school friend of Anna's, a young woman who has had her share of brutal difficulties. "I just got your memoir out of the library," she said, "and I love it! It really speaks to me." Boy, that's another mitzvah. A blessing.

So, sitting here swaddled in a blanket to protect myself from microbes, watching the sky darken, planning how to transform my house into two one-bedroom apartments, making lists of publishers to send the memoir to, eating snacks in silence, devouring newspapers, mags, books, FB and Twitter - is this all there is? Heading for 2018.

Wish you were here.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Lorax: sublime

Today's advice: grab the nearest child (or don't, you don't need an excuse) and rush to see "The Lorax," at the Royal Alex. It's a musical adaptation of the Dr. Seuss book, first produced at the Old Vic in London, and it's not just a stunning piece of theatre - enjoyable for both adults and children - but with a vitally important message too. I hope that among the huge crowd of kids at the matinee today, a few were hit between the eyes with the message and will emerge as the ecological leaders of tomorrow. The play shows that greed and ignorance are destroying our beautiful green planet. The Lorax, magnificently portrayed by a puppet manipulated by 3 actors, is a friend to the trees, the animals and all nature, and he watches in despair as his world is destroyed.

This sounds joyless, and it is definitely a downer - at the intermission, I heard a little girl say, "It's so good but it's sad - the swan dies!" And she does, of air pollution. But it's gloriously produced, with singing, dancing, great actors, amazing sets descending from the flies, lots of humour - "Best of all, I loved the bears farting, " said Eli afterwards. As I said, something for everyone. Even an anti-Trump moment, joined in enthusiastically by the whole audience.

Five is probably a bit young, but Eli stuck with it. His mama and I were enthralled. A piece of theatre beautifully produced about something that could not matter more, particularly right now - that's what I call a treat. Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukah. Plant a seed. Grow a tree. Save our world.
 
And incidentally, it didn't hurt that the man behind the Lorax puppet was gorgeous with a wonderful voice. Both my daughter and I were mesmerized. But only because of his art.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Doug Jones saves the world - or at least Alabama

Who'd ever have imagined the world would care so deeply about an election in Alabama? And yet, today there was a palpable lift everywhere. A modicum of sanity, a tiny ray of hope in that benighted country. How I loved Roy Moore's wife telling an interviewer they weren't prejudiced because "Our attorney is a Jew." No, no prejudice at all. And then the two of them riding up to the polling place on their horses. What movie are we in, Tonto?

Good luck, Democrat Doug Jones. I don't envy you. What a barrel of rattlesnakes you have fallen into. But our terrified, appalled planet is extremely glad you're there.

It is very very cold and snowy all of a sudden, definitely Christmassy, the ching of cash registers in the air. Though of course cash registers don't ching any more, more like the zip zip of the credit card in the machine and the sound of people clicking on their cellphones ordering stuff, the delivery guys out there in the ice and snow, going insane.

Yesterday, during a quick trip to Doubletake, I was assailed by Samia, one of the Bengali women who has worked there for years and become a friend. She wanted to ask me an important question. "What is it you do," she said in her careful English, "on Christmas?" I told her about the morning stuffing the turkey, Anna and the kids coming over to open presents, the huge dinner with, usually, a few people who have nowhere else to go. These mundane events were fascinating to her. This is exactly why we started the conversation circle - so immigrant women could meet and get to know mundane old Canadians, and we them, just by talking.

Today was our last session of the circle until February, a potluck, and of course, the women brought a big feast - chicken biryani with basmati rice, pakoras, chick pea salad, black bean salad, very hot with lots of green chilis, and other things we didn't know the name of but ate with pleasure; we Canucks brought dessert. We told them about our Christmas and they about their Eid. We talked about hair, at one point, though the only hair visible in the room belonged to me, Jane, and Linda, the volunteers, and Ashrafi, the Muslim woman who runs our group but does not wear the hijab. I said next time, we Canadians should do a potluck of Canadian food, but what would it consist of? One older woman said, "I like the sall mon." Yes, we could do salmon. She also told us she used to have hair down to her knees, but now, under the scarf, it's short. And, importantly, that though her children speak Bengali, her 5 grandchildren do not, so her English is improving as she speaks to them. That's how it's done, it takes a few generations.

The warmth, kindness and generosity, the neighbourly love in that room is spectacular. We all hugged. I will miss them, but am glad of some time off.

Last night, to the Performing Arts Lodge, where performers without much money can live comfortably in small subsidized apartments; what a blessed place. My friend Beth-Anne Cole, chanteuse extraordinaire, is putting together a one-woman show and wanted feedback, so invited a select group to watch, including of course her fella, one of my oldest friends, actor Nick Rice. She used one of PAL's performance spaces, had a great musician playing clarinet and keyboards, and sang beautifully; we retired to her apartment afterward for wine, and we all made friends with her friends, a fascinating group. Not an easy task, a one woman show.

But then, what worthwhile is easy? Just ask Doug Jones.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Faces Places (Visages Villages)

Confusing - I'm sitting here with two identical silver MacBook Airs, only one was bought in 2011 and the other last week, on sale on Cyber Monday. I figured my Mac - eight years old! - must be getting close to the end and thought I should replace it before it dies. Grace came over to help me transfer files, but we'd barely started before she had to go. So now I have a lovely new machine with hardly any files and a lovely old machine that contains my entire life. As soon as my genius Grace returns, I'll sort this out. The new one just startled me with a loud DING. What does that mean?

Still heartsick about this dark time on our planet, and yet so much, despite all, is wonderful and good. Today I went to see "Faces Places," the film 88-year old French filmmaker Agnes Varda made with a young artist, and it's sheer joy, absolutely one of the best - and in fact, on the NYT "Best 10 films of the year" list. The premise is so simple - an old woman with two-tone hair and a young man who never removes his hat or sunglasses become friends and colleagues and drive around the French countryside finding interesting working people to photograph, whose pictures are then plastered, metres high, on buildings, on trains, on abandoned bunkers. It's profoundly moving, quirky, a affirmation of life and art and our common humanity. I loved every minute - and fantasized about being 88 myself and finding a young man to work with. Tiny round Varda has so much fun.
That's Varda's eye in the background. Their work in the film reminded me of the exhibition I saw at the Met in NYC earlier this year of the work of photographer Irving Penn, who besides his long career shooting models at Vogue, travelled the world photographing tribespeople in Africa and working people in France and England. Faces. Places.

When I emerged from the Bloor - and how I love this cinema, devoted to documentaries, how lucky we are in this city to have it - it had started to snow, the first snowfall of winter. How excited my grandsons must be. I walked partway home, through my beautiful neighbourhood, in the particular muffled silence brought on by snow.


Yesterday's joy, two of my favourite male persons, Eli and Wayson, playing pirate boat and having supper. There's a great bond between my sometimes-mature grandson and my sometimes-playfully childlike writer friend.
After I'd delivered Eli back home, Wayson and I had dinner and binge-watched 3 episodes of the new season of "The Crown." On my old computer, which has the Netflix password. Delicious.

At this time of year more than any other, I feel blessed - health, a roof, a meal, a family and friends, and things I love to do, including my work. What more do we need? I know I know, a few more sane politicians would be nice. And a crushing defeat for the vile Roy Moore in Alabama tomorrow. Come on, my American friends, you can do it!

Oh - and then there's this headline in the Star on Saturday: "Eating cheese every day might actually be healthy." Now that's what I call good news.

Friday, December 8, 2017

the infuriating loss of Al Franken

I am more heartsick about the state of the world today than yesterday, something I didn't think was possible. Jerusalem - let's throw dynamite into this volatile situation and see what happens, chuckles Trump, the gleeful psychopathic six-year old. And Al Franken, one of the sanest voices in that insane land, sacrificed on the altar of political correctness in a country now so toxic, ripping itself apart from inside, it's hard to imagine how it will continue to survive. Franken was foolish and juvenile, pretending to squeeze a sleeping woman's breasts; another says he tried to kiss her, and another - oh imagine the horror! - that he squeezed some of the flesh of her waist during a photo op. What the hell is going on out there? Every minuscule grievance now has its chance to parade on the world stage, while an immoral pedophile makes his way to the Senate and the most loathsome predator on earth sits in the White House.

Okay, stop, racing heart. It will not do any good. Bill Maher must be climbing the walls. He's always shouting at the Democrats for being so prissy and holier than thou, as opposed to the Republicans who have not a single iota of decency or shame. And now, at a time when a man like Franken could not be more vital to the fragile democracy they claim to love, they've shot themselves in the foot once again. Franken, a clever, diplomatic, reasonable, and funny man, a rare politician popular on both sides of the aisle - gone.

I know many will disagree - that any bad behaviour must be punished. And I say when the other side agrees, let them all go together. Otherwise, you're handing the American government to the world's most sexist, blind, cold-hearted men and women, just wait to see what they come up with. I had a long argument with my friends on FB about this yesterday; one wrote this, about Franken, whom I was defending:
When "good men" do despicable things, they are no longer "good men." All the female Democratic Senators have called on him to resign, because what he did was not "something silly" - it was something disgusting and demeaning towards women. He does not get a free card because he is a Democrat.

Can we define "despicable"? "Due process" - have we heard of that? The fabulous, ultra-cool Deanne Taylor came up with the final word:
I don't believe any 'accusations', only proof established with due process. Some of us female-persons have to stand up for a sense of proportion, for knowing the difference between a mistake and a pathology, for not screaming 'victim' or 'survivor' over a fumbled pass.

SENSE OF PROPORTION. Now, there's an idea.

Heartsick. However. Pull yourself together, girl. It's cold but sunny. I spent yesterday rewriting my book proposal and getting it out to a publisher. No choice, it's got to be done; I will send to ten publishers and then, next spring, publish it myself and move on. Onward.

Heartsick.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Jane Goodall and Ben Bradlee - a magnificent pair

And now for something completely different: a shot from the taxi home from the island airport. Beautiful downtown Toronto.
No problematic Canada geese floating about amidst the concrete and sparkles. Above it all, invisible here, a super moon.

Today's excitement: a TWO documentary day. First, to the glorious "Jane" at the Bloor with friend Ken. It's about Jane Goodall, and what a story - I had no idea she was not a trained scientist when she went to Africa to study chimps, just a young woman who loved animals. She spent months living in the bush to gradually integrate herself into the chimps' world, and at one point, her mother came from the British countryside to live with her - two fearless Englishwomen camping in the African bush, amidst poisonous snakes and leopards, not to mention the male chimps who, as one interviewer pointed out, "could have ripped your face off." I knew I'd be fine, she replied serenely, because I was where I should be.

It turns into a love story when a handsome National Geographic reporter arrives to film her; they end up married with a baby, and the story takes a different turn. But always, she was with her animals in Africa, as close to them as to her own family, if not more so. Inspiring, especially now, as wild animals are more endangered than ever. Brava to a heroic woman, still out there doing this work.

And then tonight, most of a TV doc on Ben Bradlee, another extremely inspiring figure, the editor of the Washington Post when it followed and blew open the Watergate story; the exposĂ© might not have happened if not for his courage. What he hated most, said the narrator, was politicians who lie. What would he have made of the guy there now and his execrable mendacious team? Just as well Bradlee's not around to see the travesty going on in his country. I missed the beginning and came in as they were talking about JFK's extra-marital affairs, how one night the President followed and sexually assaulted Bradlee's then wife during a party. And we're surprised men have continued to get away with that kind of thing!

Had a great talk with my son today about this. He thinks the rise in sexual assault is at least partly because of porn on the internet, which dehumanizes women - and sex itself. He told me a guy he knows can only "get it up" when he's watching a screen, so when he and his girlfriend are making love, she films what they're doing and he watches on the phone. How's that for dehumanizing? Sam thinks the rise in gun violence is partly because of video games; guys spend thousands of hours blowing things up on a screen until violence isn't real any more. We're fucked, he said. And I might agree, were people not making fabulous documentaries to show us the truth and bring us to our senses.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

homeward bound

Flight delayed; sitting in the Porter lounge with shortbread cookies, cappuccino, and thou. In my suitcase - Ikea junk and smoked salmon from my brother, to go into the freezer for us to devour Xmas morning. And on the computer, a 10 page typed document of family memories I just sent to my cousins in Washington. Treasure.
From my quick morning walk:
Who knew that Ottawa had a Poets' Pathway?
 There was sun, briefly, and many annoyingly noisy Canada geese. Question: why don't we eat them? Wouldn't that kill two birds, literally, and help with hunger and an over-abundant goose population?
I kept singing Macca's sweet song "The Two of Us": "You and I have memories/longer than the road that stretches/out ahead ..."
Could not resist - this is part of my aunt's collection of plastic bags, the ones she has carefully folded and wrapped in rubber bands. But when we needed a plastic bag, she opened her dishwasher, which was stuffed full to overflowing with them. My mother too had a huge collection of plastic bags, and sometimes, I'm tempted to hoard them myself. CAUTION! TURNING INTO AN OLD PERSON!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Lady Bird

Look at this woman, talking one of her 3 nieces, Barbara in Washington, this evening. She was born in April 1920. As her friend Una said yesterday, there is absolutely nothing wrong with her. She has never had cancer or heart problems. Her feet give her a bit of trouble, she has to wear awkward orthotics, and she was diagnosed with macular degeneration in one eye which never amounted to anything. Her brain is phenomenal; I have taken 9 typed pages of notes about the family's past, including the addresses of various of her grandparents in Northampton in the twenties. She prides herself on her speed with the daily word jumble in the newspaper and is off tomorrow to win again at Scrabble. It's clear I must always depart BS - Before Scrabble.

Yes, there was as always some pretty gross stuff in her fridge that had to be dealt with, and there are often crumbs on her sweater, and she's more frail than before and does forget things. She's fiercely independent and stubborn - won't accept help unless it's strictly necessary. When we got to Ikea, I asked if she wanted a wheelchair, to make those miles of corridors easier. Oh no, she said, brandishing her cane. I don't want to start that kind of thing.

Today I took her to the movies, which is another of our regular treats. Last time disastrously - the only British film out was the Harry Potter spinoff about fantastical beasts, which turned out to be very loud and incomprehensible to her. Today we went to see "Lady Bird," which has had uniformly good reviews and was in a movie theatre nearby with reclining chairs - extremely comfortable, so much so that Do slept through most of the film. But she didn't understand much anyway, the story of a teen coming of age in 2002 in Sacramento. I loved it; it's spare, beautifully written and acted and directed, haunting. It showed once more one of the most important lessons I tell my classes - the more we tell our own small story with depth and passion and skill, the more others will see themselves in our tale. This is the story of one girl growing up a bit, and yet somehow it's about all families, the flawed love of parents for their children and vice versa, the desperate need of teenagers to figure out who they are and make their independent mark. It made me ache. Every family I saw for hours after seemed to be in the movie.

And then back to Do's for an improvised dinner and more typing as she talked about OUR family. I will miss her.

Friday, December 1, 2017

celebrating age in Ottawa

Today's excitement: my aunt and I went to Ikea, which is five minutes from her place, and walked around ogling, as we always do when I visit, as I loaded up on the only essentials I can put in my carryon suitcase - napkins, facecloths, cushions, candles - and then we had a gourmet lunch for $24. Ikea sells beer and wine now! So along with my candles I bought two small bottles of red to take back to Do's. Not supposed to do that, it turned out, but I managed.

On my way here yesterday, I took an earlier flight to avoid rush hour, but the flight was delayed and I ended up right in the middle of rush hour, which in Ottawa is at 4.15. It was dark, sleet turning to snow, and I was in a traffic jam on the Queensway - not fun. But still, even a traffic jam in Ottawa is tiny and doable in comparison with the metropolis. That evening, my brother and his 10-year old son Jake came over and we had dinner with Do. How I enjoy it when there is an 87 year span in the ages of my companions. For Christmas, I brought Jake, who's a reader, "The Bridge to Terabithia," a favourite, "Harriet the Spy," and best of all, a boxed set of all the "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" books. He'd started to read before dinner was over. Narnia forever.

Do and I spent this afternoon talking at her place, she telling me family stories, and I this time able to transcribe onto my computer as she spoke. Much I'd heard before, but this time, I wanted to know why my grandparents moved from the village in the country where they'd lived since 1923 - my grandfather was the stern headmaster of the village school - to London in the middle of the war - it made no sense. My grandfather was only in his fifties, not retirement age. Do didn't know, but we guessed that after 20 years it was time to leave Potterspury, and London, she said, was terribly inexpensive because so many people had left; you could find a flat for very little, and Percy and Marion had very little. Not long after they moved to Baron's Court, some houses almost right next door were obliterated by German bombs.

Stuff like that. Delicious. I wrote it all down then or here, later, in my little room. Because I will write the family story one day in a book, and then no one will publish it and no one will read it.

Sorry. Just a tiny bit sour.

As always, I was reluctant to come and am very glad I'm here. Tonight I brought in dinner and we invited Do's friend Una over, a mere stripling in her eighties. They laughed about another of their Scrabble friends, a rather vain woman who has a boyfriend. She had a fall while he was with her, and when the ambulance men came, they asked her age. She said she was 82. She's actually 91 but she didn't want him to know the truth, because he's 82, and she'd told him she's the same age.

I'm learning a lot about getting old. Keep your friends close, says Una. You get lonely when you're older, because so many people have gone, and younger people are busy. Una has been divorced for many years. I love living alone, she said, but sometimes, I'd like someone else to be there for me not to talk to, just there.

Went for a walk in Britannia Park this afternoon, reflecting on getting old and feeling unaccountably young. Passed the playground where my grandsons have played, now deserted in the chill.