Monday, July 16, 2018

northern capitals: Helsinki, Ottawa

You know who is going to save the world from the maniacs currently running it? Another kind of maniac - the comedians. I just watched Sacha Baron Cohen pretending to be an Israeli operative speaking to American politicians and gun supporters about kinderguardians - training children as young as four - and younger - to use pistols. From the Guardian: Cohen as Morad (“Are liberals using school shootings to further their anti-tragedy agenda?”) gets various gun nuts in and outside Washington to promote arming pre-schoolers. “Fill the Puppy Pistol by pushing his lunchbox into his belly and sending the naughty men for a really, really long timeout,” says one, joyously. The gun lobbyist Larry Pratt notes that if children are young enough, “if they haven’t developed a conscience yet, they can make very good soldiers”.

The interview is beyond nauseating yet hilarious - but it's not a joke, it's true, at least, the people he's talking to mean every loathsome word. The level of criminal idiocy on display defies belief. Almost enough to make one give up on humanity. I don't think I can bear to watch more than this one brilliant segment.

However. We have no choice, we live here on this endangered little planet, and we have children, grandchildren, friends, homes, gardens, books, and many other things we love. Somehow we have to get through this insanely murderous time, while the most ghastly human beings on the face of the earth, Trump and Putin, dominate the conversation worldwide. Right now, dominating the news feeds with Trump's lunatic display in Helsinki. Mind-blowing. Nightmarish. Grotesque.

I am just back from Ottawa where I spent the weekend in the geriatric ward of a hospital, and let me tell you, it's not a place you want to linger. My aunt is not unhappy there; "I'm in a four star hotel!" she exclaimed, as yet another drooping beige meal was delivered to her bed - the man across the hall horking up his lungs, the woman in the bed across the room catatonic while her big sons sat silently beside her. People in wheelchairs struggling to manoeuvre the halls, a very determined old woman with a walker marching up and down, back and forth.

As did my aunt. She got out of bed several times, despite back pain, and we trucked up and down the halls and to the dining room where the TV lives, and watched a bit of the World Cup. I discovered her TV had been disconnected and got it connected it again so we could watch Wimbledon and the great British baking show and other shows that gave her pleasure. Otherwise, if there's no one around, she's just lying there dozing. No wonder she's losing muscle and brain. She's never been vague before, so forgetful, so disoriented.
On the march, up and down the hall.
A not unhappy camper, 98 years 3 months old.
In an open drawer in her apartment, where I stayed, this was on a cigar box. Everything is marked and listed. If you want sealing wax, you know where to go.

There's a lesson here: I tried to get her to move to assisted living a few years ago and was pilloried by her friends who felt I was forcing this wonderfully independent woman to go somewhere she didn't want and wasn't ready to go. No doubt I was, and she did indeed have a few more years at home. But now - now when the situation is fairly dire and it looks like she will never go home again - she's at the mercy of the system. At the most vulnerable time of her life, she'll have to go wherever they put her and be surrounded by strangers. It makes me very sad.

And what this means to me is more back and forth to Ottawa, as happened during the end time of my mother. Only Do is a tough old bird and may go on for a long long time, even if she's somewhere she doesn't like. It is not a pretty picture and fills me with despair. And in the meantime, in the background, my friend Wayson, who came over for dinner, is watching CNN and it's all about hideousness. Soon we are going to watch a doc about Robin Williams. So we can laugh before we cry.

Tomorrow is Ben's 3rd birthday. I missed his party on Sunday but am going over tomorrow with sidewalk chalk, a puzzle, and I hope a harmonica which I have to go out and search for tomorrow. It's a privilege to spend time with loved ones at the very beginning and at the very end. Though often, it won't surprise you to learn, these loved ones make me cry.

And here, a thought from your old-fashioned correspondent:
The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart. -Iris Murdoch, writer (15 Jul 1919-1999) 

Friday, July 13, 2018

good times

Just so you don't think I'm in a permanent funk, dear blog readers, I'm here to tell you I had a GREAT DAY! Up really early again and a full morning of work with real progress on the rewrite of the memoir. I think I've broken the logjam, which is big news. I hope. Perhaps not, I'll need to get someone else to look at it at some point, but for now, it feels like something is working.

I know, I've said that before.

My dear Lani wrote me the sweetest note, urging me not to burn out and insisting I come visit and sit in the quiet of their small town home. I will try to get there. I did feel close to burnout, it's true, just deeply irritated and ready to fly off the handle. But today, more equilibrium.

Oh, and a lovely note from my piano teacher, Peter Mose:
I was at the TSO to hear Beethoven’s 9th led by Peter Oundjian in his departing concerts as music director. A fellow seated one row in front of me was reading your book on memoir writing before the concert, and it had all sorts of underlining and highlighted passages! I couldn’t resist bending over and chatting with him. He was singing your praises from a class at the UT. 

Now that's an image I like, my writing book and Beethoven. A tenuous connection, but a connection nonetheless.

The bad news is that my attached neighbours have bought some kind of outdoor sound system. I managed to sit outside today with earplugs. Maybe they'll get tired of it. The good news is that the cucumbers are enormous, the beans are thriving, the raspberries are delicious, and the kale is taking over.

I'm off first thing tomorrow to see Do in hospital in Ottawa. She also is in a better mood and seems to be looking forward to my visit, even if she'd rather I don't stay at her place and steal all her valuable stuff, as I will certainly do.

No, I understand, she has had some pretty bad days herself, much worse than mine, stuck in hospital and in pain. She has much more right to be crabby than I.

Carol will be here watering and bringing in the newspapers. Maybe I should tell her to throw them away.
Below, the story of my life ...

Thursday, July 12, 2018

terrible, no good, very bad day

The bad day did NOT start cheerily at 7 a.m., like yesterday, but late, because I was awake for hours in the night worrying about my aunt. Her caregiver called last night while I was having dinner on the deck with my dear friend and former student Jason, to tell me how worried she is.

Beautiful day; hot. John the handyman arrived at 10 and we set out to tackle the tree roots that clog up the drains, by pouring in a solution that destroys them - and also erupts and spreads all over the floor. Floods. Much cleaning up. Then other things needed to be fixed. Thank God for John. This while I'm on the phone to Ottawa trying to decide whether I'm needed there while my poor old aunt is in hospital. Decide I am. Have a fight with a relative who knows how to push all my buttons, which roils me so much, my heart won't stop pounding. But life is too short. Let it go. (Easy to say.)

John leaves, and immediately the computer man Matt, my personal genius, arrives with a new router. Two hours later, after much up and down and to and fro, testing, failure, success, he has set up the internet anew in this house. I'm still trying to deal with Ottawa, and in the middle of it all, heard the birds outside calling Danger and ran out with my water pistol to chase away the horrible grey cat who hides in the bushes and tries to kill.

Booked Ottawa - flight, car. Very expensive because last minute - but it's important to see my aunt, who is marooned. I will miss Ben's 3rd birthday party on Sunday. Never again, I hope, but as his mother said, he won't remember, he's three. More talking to Ottawa to let Do's friends and caregiver know I'm coming and will be staying, for the first time, in Do's empty apartment. At least I don't have the hassle and expense of an Airbnb.

Also dealing with the ongoing thefts from the Little Free Library, the renovation plans which are flying to and fro, students who want private sessions, my own disintegrating body, the garden which needs fertilizer, weeding, and planting, (the beautiful multicoloured hydrangeas at the front are dying and I don't know why), cancelling Anna's friend Nicole who was coming on Saturday to help me throw things out. Carol my tenant is still here till Sunday, so at least I can leave without worrying about the house and watering.

And then the coup de grace - I finally got through to Do in hospital to tell her I'm coming, and she was furious and attacked me. Why didn't I ask if I could stay in her apartment? Why am I coming now when I'm back in two weeks? Someone must have given her a very negative view of my visit.

I confess, it did feel as if I should just hang up and go back to bed. But I did not, and we're fine now. But again, one of those days when it felt like I was trying not to be smashed by baseballs hurtling my way. And, of course, trying not to look at the news, because it makes me puke - now not just what's happening down south but also here in Ontario. Gut wrenching. Maybe there's a desert island?

And as for thinking about writing - the only words are LOL.

But the Thai boys are safe.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Macca tickets and "Yellow Submarine"

It's 7 a.m. and I've already had breakfast. This happens rarely - I once resolved never to get up before 7, because then I'm groggy all day. But this morning, after a solid 6 hour sleep, I was wide awake. If only I usually slept that way, I'd accomplish a great deal more with my life. Instead I'm awake at 4 for an hour or two, making lists - of my faults and failures, of things to do, sometimes useful lists, sometimes very much not. But when I get a solid chunk of sleep, I can do anything with the day that follows.

Yesterday's adventure was trying to get tickets for the Macca concert in Montreal in September - this time not just for me, but also for my bestie Lynn who by coincidence will be in Montreal then, leaving for home in France the next day. They've put through a complicated system to avoid scalpers, but I thought I was ready: I had to register as a genuine fan, then they emailed that they'd send a code to enter when the tickets went on sale at exactly 1 p.m. on Tuesday. I had a Fringe theatre ticket for 1 p.m., but so much for that; if you want good seats, you have to be online the instant they go on sale.

So at 1, I was waiting, trembling, for my code. No code. Kept refreshing my email - nothing. Finally I wrote to Anne, the Macca lunatic who follows him around the world, who wrote back cheerfully that she'd already bought the most expensive seats for Quebec, Winnipeg and Edmonton (at an average cost of $1500 each, plus plane fare and hotel. I am the thriftiest person on earth by comparison.) "They texted me my code early this morning," she said.

Ah. The word is texted. The code was on my phone! So then began the rigamarole of getting through another complex system - identifying road signs to make sure you're not a bot. I'm not very dextrous on my phone so finally figured out how to transfer the code to the computer. By the time I did that, it was 1.40 and almost all the sections were sold out. I managed to get seats, way at the back, but seats. Exhausted. But Lynn and I will go and see him together. And then I booked a B&B close by in downtown Montreal. So we'll spend the day being flâneuses in Montreal, seeing the concert, walking home. What fun.

In similar mode, Monday I was sitting at home at 6.40 p.m., braless in my sundress in the extreme heat, clicking on movie times, when I saw that the remastered version of "Yellow Submarine," which I first saw 50 years ago in the summer of 1968, would only be on nearby till Thursday, and the other days I could not go, it had to be right then, Monday at 7. I got dressed, hopped on my bike, and was sitting in the theatre 20 minutes later as the ads for previews began. And what fun the film is - a real stoner trip, incredible colours, funny, clever word play, and of course music. I remembered favourite lines from the Blue Meanies: "Funny, you don't look blue-ish."
Chief Meanie: Ah, the hills are alive... 
Max: [sings] ... with the sound of music! 
Chief Meanie: [Punches Max] Who did it? Who is responsible for this? 
Max: Rimsky-Korsakov? 
[Chief Meanie shoots him, Blue Menial #3 stomps him into ground]
Max: [Poking his head up from ground] Guy Lombardo? 
The Chief Meanie says, "Max, it's no longer a blue world. Where can we go?"
Max: "Argentina?"

I was going to take Eli, but it's not right for a 6-year old. He needs some Beatles indoctrination first. Though he knows I'm the proud owner of an actual yellow submarine.

And now, as the clusters of mauve phlox scent the kitchen through the open back door, it's 7.45 a.m., and this industrious early riser is off to work.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Beth's Let It Go Dance Party Sept. 14

The dance party is back on! As if I needed something else on my list, this has now become my production. Well, I'm the one who wants somewhere to go dancing like a mad thing, so it's my job to make it happen. And it'll happen while my dear Lynn, who also loves to dance, is here in Toronto. A celebration of our 51 years of friendship.

Come one come all to the Let It Go Dance Party!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Good For Her - yes and no

This evening, the world is too much with me. Old complaineypants here.

An hour ago, the police were at my door, after another altercation with the insane man up the street who regularly steals all the books from my Little Free Library. I saw him carrying off a stack of books, shouted for him to put them back, and will not tell you what he replied. The police can’t do anything – the books are free, so he’s not really stealing. But two handsome courteous cops came to listen to me. They said I could call the fire department because he’s got books everywhere in the rooming house, or else to take down the library, for now. Will probably have to do so. 

Before that, I came home to find the internet gone, spent the better part of an hour on the phone with Rogers running up and down turning modem and router on and off. It looks like the router just decided to die. WHY O LORD? she cried to the heavens.

Before that, I rode across town to the Fringe Festival. I’m interested to see how it works, because maybe one day I’ll consider taking my Beatles’ talk on the road. I saw Kander/Ebb, a young man who idolizes these Broadway writers in a fanboy show; he sang with chutzpah but a bit flat. After, in the same venue, BikeFace, a solo show about a young woman who has loved bikes all her life and eventually cycled across the country. I was hit with nostalgia - first because I myself had performed in the theatre, which is in an old church; Cruel Tears played there in 1977. And in the break between shows, I walked a block over to Markham Street and there found the house I lived in in 1973-74 – I rented the front room on the second floor, friends rented the other two bedrooms, and we shared the kitchen and bathroom. It was a joyful commune. British John made Guinness in a garbage can in the bathroom; if you went in there at night, you had to turn on the bathroom light and wait until the cockroaches ran away before entering.

Ah youth. I was sad to see what they’ve done to Mirvish Village up the street, rows of lovely old houses with shops, restaurants, bookstores and galleries – all being smashed for more condos. The city is a madhouse of construction, scores of massive skyscraping condos going up everywhere, noise, drilling, smashing, trucks. Hateful.

My aunt is still in hospital. It breaks my heart to talk to her every day, to know she’s stuck in there. I’m going in a few weeks but wish I lived closer. And children still stuck in a cave in Thailand, and in detention in the States - I can't bear to think about it. 

Okay, the positive – I stopped at Harbord Bakery on the way home for the first time in years – I used to come here regularly when I had a car. Everything everywhere is changing, but not this place – exactly the same for decades, with the same people running it and serving. Very reassuring. And nearby Good For Her, a sex shop for women; I popped in to take a look - so startling, it made me laugh, rows of different sizes of rubber penises in interesting colours. A unique experience. 

The terrible heat has broken – it’s much milder and breezy, beautiful. My son was over for a bit, my dear friend Isabel Huggan came for dinner, the little guys are coming tomorrow. All is well. I just need to let it go. Let it go. Kander and Ebb should write a song. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Dad in his labcoat

Maybe 1954? Chased out of the States by McCarthy. Lucky Canada.

And another gift on this special day - a truly beautiful TED talk by Lidia Yuknavitch, a fabulous woman.

thinking of my father

We are back to glorious summer, fresh, clear, breezy - sweet soft scent. Heaven.

Today, July 6 2018, it is 30 years since my father died. July 6 1988, early in the morning, in his own bed in their beautiful home in Edmonton, my mother holding him in her arms as I held her in mine. As I've written, at the moment of his death, I felt his soul fly out the window, and I felt part of him return and enter me. I felt his spirit enter me.

I just wrote to my brother that if Dad were still alive today, what is going on in the world would kill him. This is a man who thought Richard Nixon was as vile a human being as it was possible to be, the worst president imaginable. What a surprise lay in store for the world.

I'll try to find a picture of him to post, at some point.

Ryerson only ended on Wednesday; now my summer really begins. Well, except for seeing editing clients, my garden writing workshop in a few weeks, and of course, my own writing work. And all the rest.

Because I've been feeling crabby and put upon, I'd like to share a few delightful photos with you. I give you John and Paul: the early days, juvenile delinquents in the making. For your summer pleasure. And, need I say, mine.

And here's my favourite teddy boy:
I guess we were all that young once.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

old loves

Once upon a time, I was madly in love with this guy.
He was 16 and I was 15. I'd spent almost 4 years in a school with only girls when I walked into the classroom of the Halifax Grammar School, a private boys' school that had just gone co-ed, to find 16 16-year old boys and 2 other girls. It was mayhem. The boys were not happy to have girls in the class, and the teasing was brutal. As those of you who've read "All My Loving" can attest, I was a hot bath of hormones, ready to move on from Paul McCartney to a real boy, with 16 to choose from.

I chose him - tall, athletic, handsome, aggressively self-confident and macho, head of the students council and a hockey player - the least likely guy for me in the class. Later I understood - I was desperate to love but terrified of the reality of a relationship, so perhaps I chose the boy least likely to engage back. In any case, I spent that year adoring but also fighting with him about the Vietnam War, which he approved of. And then my family moved.

Many years later, my ex encountered him during a business venture in New York and knew exactly who he was - or had been, at 16 - from my stories. And then he read my book and encountered his young self and how I'd felt back then. He said he was floored, that he'd had no idea.

So last night, during what he said was a nostalgia trip to Canada, he and his wife took me out to dinner. I dug out our yearbook, which most of the class had signed for me, much of it juvenile and startlingly sexist - what we put up with in 1966! One guy wrote, "Roses are red, violets are blue, Beth's shoulders are blue, after I'm all through!" This guy wrote, "The people who criticize society are those who cannot get into it." My English teacher wrote, "Best wishes to one of the lights of my life." He opened the door to "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" and was one of the lights of mine.

My friend and I had a grand catch-up, though it made me sorry to find out he has not moved on in his politics and unapologetically voted for Trump. ("I voted for Obama twice," he told me. "Big disappointment.") So we spent the evening arguing, just like the old days.
His wife, his third, is wonderful - kind, interesting, thoughtful. I was astounded to find out she dated the poet Billy Collins and went with him once to George Plimpton's house on the East Side. Now that's royalty! No idea how she voted. But my friend is very happily in love with this woman and she with him. And it's good to know people of different political stripes, especially ones that go back more than 50 years.

Speaking of old old love - the excitement is great already. Macca is coming to Canada in September! To Montreal! I've already booked my flight and I don't even have a concert ticket yet; they go on sale next week. He's 76; how much longer can he do this? It will be my beloved friend Lynn's last night in Montreal before she flies back to France, so she'll be there with me.

Old love, old friends, the music of the still-beating heart.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

hope on Canada Day

Meet Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a fabulous young woman.

And then scroll down and watch Jon Stewart. My, I miss him.

More hope: my cousin Barbara and her husband Dan at the march yesterday in Washington against Trump's immigration policies. It's her fifth anti-Trump march, and she said there were more young people there than ever before. Her sign says, "Cruelty is NOT strength."
Another fabulous young woman on the march - my daughter went to a rally today in support of indigenous rights.

So - let's keep our spirits up.

I had a long talk with lots of laughter with a fabulous old woman, my 98-year old aunt Do, still in hospital. How can we get her out? And - my doorbell just rang. It was Megann Willson, who is running to represent this riding in the fall election. She's terrific and on the ball, and I'm throwing an event for her in September so my neighbours can meet her. I told her to check out Alexandria, above. We're on the move. May the forces of kindness and decency, at last, prevail.

Happy Canada Day to you all, Canadian or no. Our country has its flaws, but oh, how incredibly lucky we are to live here.

Friday, June 29, 2018

"The Dead Husband Project"

I'm not in a good frame of mind these days, so will not bore you here for long. The world is dire, and I'm giving up on human nature, at least for now, as we slide into a time resembling the brutal, heartless, xenophobic 30's. Watching what's going on in the world is making me ill. And this is before Doug Ford begins to smash things in Ontario.

So what's the solution, since the world is not going to go away? Stop reading the news and FB and Twitter? Sure. As if. I'm a news junkie like everyone else. What has he done NOW? And then I watch Sam Bee, Bill Maher, and John Oliver for sarcastic commentary on it all. It's corroding my soul.

I'm in a bad mood generally; yesterday I alienated someone who'd spent a few hours helping me in the garden who has now quit, that's how crabby. I am deeply irritated at just about everything, in my mind justifiably so. And it's breath-suckingly hot out there, that doesn't help.

First world problems, I know, whining whining whining.

On the other hand, a treat on Wednesday, for the second last class of the Ryerson term: a student from at least 14 years ago, Sarah Meehan Sirk, came to speak about her book and her journey, and to give us a workshop on defeating the negative inner voices. She told us that my True to Life was the first writing class she'd ever taken; she took it 2 or 3 times and was so inspired she took other courses, ending up doing fiction at Humber, where a writer took her work to his agent who took it to publishers, who fought over who'd get to publish her; one gave her a two book deal. Her book of stories, "The Dead Husband Project," received rave reviews. I started it last night; the writing is superb. A two book deal. It is to dream.

I told the class, Sarah was not immediately the best writer in the class. There was another writer who was extremely gifted and had an extraordinary story to tell. But she didn't do the work; Sarah did. So talent is great, but perseverance - focus, confidence, dedication - are more than half the struggle.

Eli graduated from kindergarten this week. There was a ceremony, his class a heartening assortment of sizes, shapes, and colours.

And last night, the last home class of term, we sat outside on the deck listening to beautiful writing and powerful true stories, one of my favourite things to do. I know, I have nothing, nothing, nothing to complain about, except the state of the world, that people keep electing fascists.

Please read my friend Kerry Clare's powerful diatribe about the anti-choice movement, to the left. She finishes, "Abortion is the tip of the iceberg. It’s never been about fetuses—don’t you know that? It’s about controlling women, and limiting their freedom to make choices about their bodies and their lives. It’s the same impulse that tears a baby from her mother, and takes her away on a bus to a migrant camp. And I hope you will join me in resisting it at every single step."

I celebrate her fire and courage. Kerry will not for one minute give up the fight. 

The raspberries are coming in. The roses are nearly done. The veggies are magnificent. And today, unlike Sarah, unlike Kerry, I am small and bent.

A picture of a cobra about to devour a mongoose:

Monday, June 25, 2018

Magnetic Fields: 50 song memoir

Everybody on earth sent me the Macca video - thanks to you all, dear friends, for thinking of me! Chris from Gabriola brought me great joy when he wrote, "I’ve never cared much about the Beatles or any one of them. I didn’t have the gene, but that carpool karaoke thing was so moving and wonderful. I was just smitten with your Paul thought the whole thing. It was a wonderful bit. I loved loved loved it."

It makes me happy that the world is finally discovering the worth of this brilliant, unknown musician who deserves attention.


And, more happiness, the roses and clematis are showing off again.
All in all, Anna's young guests completed 11 gorgeous pictures to send to immigrant children held in Texas - and then she persuaded her own kids to part with some of their stuffies to send too. The news continues to be mesmerizing in its hideousness; have we ever spent so much time checking to see if the planet is going to explode? A combination of Trump and social media. What a team.

Too bad it was grey and wet all weekend for the mad Pride celebrations, and today is glorious again - sweet and mild. Oh well, my gay brothers and sisters know how to party, rain or no rain.

But I myself, on the wet weekend, was fraught. Sometimes it's like I'm in a small boat, a fragile coracle on the high seas, and I'm hanging on for dear life. There was a huge battle about the renovation plans between the woman who did the original designs and the man who's doing the official plan to take to the city. She went berserk when she saw what he'd done, accusing him of undercutting and humiliating her because he didn't do exactly what she intended. He said her work was not to code. I was caught in the middle as the emails flew - she is a dear friend of my dear friend John, and the guy is an expensive professional whom I don't know, so I sided with her.

Wrong. Her work was not to code.

A whole day in a frenzy, with angry upper case messages going back and forth and me feeling sick and confused. This reno won't start for months and already it has worn me out. More today - John came over and we sawed and smashed something to see if it supports a beam or if we can remove it. Sawing and smashing - not how I usually spend my days. And we still don't know.

In the middle of all this, Auntie Do landed in hospital. Apparently she had a bladder infection, didn't take her meds and didn't eat properly, was taken to hospital by a friend, and there she remains. They have now discovered she has a fracture of her vertebrae of which she was unaware. 98 and not going quite so strong. It was good to talk to her today and remind her that Wimbledon is starting; I hope she can get it on her TV, it will keep her alive.

More Luminato the other night - "Magnetic Fields, A 50 song memoir." Stephin Merritt is a singer/songwriter who has written a song for each year of his life, sounded like my kind of show. I should have done some research before going - it turns out he's a cult figure, an underground musician of sorts, and the audience was full of adoring fans. I found a terrific set, a kind of memory palace jammed with old toys and interesting things and surrounded by musicians with myriad instruments ...
...but in the middle Stephin, a lugubrious fellow singing the most depressing songs. And hard to understand, when the whole point was the lyrics. Perhaps his fans already knew the words. He was so low-key and withdrawn, I left at intermission, but at home, found a fabulous song of his (with lyrics) that made me laugh out loud. Do listen - I'm sure you'll love it too. A good laugh is SO needed these days.

And finally, my son was visiting a young friend attending Rosedale Heights School of the Arts, Sam's alma mater, and when he flipped through this year's yearbook, he found moi.
I gave a talk there last year on an anniversary of the school, and I'm in the yearbook with the principal. Freaked out my poor son. Boychik, yo mama in her little coracle is everywhere!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

pictures for children in cages in Texas

Anna is hosting a group of kids at her house this dark, rainy morning. She told them what is happening to children just like them at the U.S. southern border, the cages and separation from parents, and asked them to draw pictures to send to the imprisoned children.

And they did.

This is how young people learn to think about others, to be aware of the bigger picture and of just how lucky they are. No more valuable lesson possible. It is a drop in the bucket, but to me, it is a very, very big drop.

Nos querimos mucho a ustedes. We feel super bad for you. We love you guys. Sincerely Noah.

Happy Pride weekend to all my gay friends. Sorry about the weather, but I know your festivities will be joyful nonetheless. We love you guys.  

Friday, June 22, 2018

Carpool karaoke with Macca

Weeping with joy. So jealous of those lucky people who were there. Check out the size of the rooms in his childhood home! Love love love.

Burning Doors - Belarus Free Theatre

8 a.m. and the sweet garden air wafting into the kitchen makes me swoon. The whole city, as I bike around, smells like jasmine. Beautiful days, sunny but not too hot with a cool breeze.

So it was hard to leave the pleasures of the garden and go to the theatre last night, especially as I had an inkling of what awaited at "Burning Doors", a Luminato show from Russia. Well, no, performed in Russian but from Belarus - the Belarus Free Theatre, "the only theatre company in Europe banned by its government on political grounds." This, not surprisingly, is a play about repression and imprisonment of artists, about rage and protest and the meaning of freedom. One of the actors was a member of the famed Pussy Riot.

Years ago, I invented the term "theatre of mess" for productions in which, when directors aren't sure what to do, they get actors or designers to toss stuff around and wreak havoc. Last night, we saw a kind of theatre I call "theatre of torture." To show us the horror of having to live under an authoritarian, repressive regime, this director tortured his impressive, incredibly dedicated actors in myriad ways. They were strung up by pulleys, one by her neck, others naked - in fact, they were often naked, both men and women. They wrestled each other into exhaustion, screamed at each other until I was sure their voices were gone. How they survive doing that show after show is incomprehensible.

So fun it was not, on a beautiful June night. It was at once the most physical and the most cerebral of experiences, as only a Russian production could be - long passages quoted from Dostoyevsky or Foucault, or from the interrogation of a dissident artist (after which, we learned, the interrogator quit his job and became a defence lawyer for dissidents!) - long arguments about philosophical or political issues of which I had the barest understanding, followed by more wrestling, leaping, crawling, hanging.

At the end, we were told about the imprisoned Ukrainian filmmaker Sentsov, who is extremely ill after a hunger strike, and learned that one of the musicians who'd composed the brutal score, and journalist Masha Gessen, were in the audience, and there was going to be a discussion. I confess that I escaped into the perfumed night of downtown Toronto, where we have massive problems, but we are not torturing our artists. Or, most of the time, our audiences. I hugely admire this group's ideals and their ferocious, unrelenting commitment.

(And remembered seeing Mikhail Baryshnikov performing the poetry of Brodsky a few months ago; this is the second show I've seen performed in Russian THIS YEAR. What a city.)

Last week another kind of protest, the documentary "Women, Art, Revolution", about the struggles of women artists in the U.S. for recognition. It was scattered and overlong, with a narrow focus, not one mention of another country, another set of female artists anywhere else in the world.

On Tuesday, dinner with two great women artists who were not protesting anything - Jessica and Suzette, friends since university days in Ottawa, one a curator and impresario of modern art, the other a successful and very busy screenwriter. Jessica and her photographer husband Geoffrey sold their big Victorian house last year and moved to a modern condo just built a few doors down, with a roof deck that gives a panoramic view of the city and the lake beyond. We ate, drank, and talked under a vista of limitless sky that I, the inner city mole, rarely get to see, as the sun set and light glinted red in distant skyscraper windows.

This week, the news was especially unbearable. My daughter has been distraught, in tears, as more photos emerged of imprisoned children and even babies. She is organizing an event to take place Saturday and will still take place, despite Trump's change of ... can't call it heart since there isn't one ... or mind either, for that matter. Change of direction. She has invited everyone to her house to create art and letters for the children, to send to the detention centres in Texas and elsewhere. Messages of support with words from grownups, pictures from children. I don't know what else to do, she said.

We try to make a difference in our different ways - the Belarus Free Theatre with violent, powerful theatre, my daughter with hospitality, generosity, and love. May you find your way to make a difference today.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Write in the Garden July 22

Out of the blue, received the most wonderful email from a young student reading the 60's memoir. Must share.

I just began All My Loving this evening and had to stop to write to you because of how much I’m enjoying it already. I’m only 10 pages in but I’m laughing so hard I’m on the verge of an asthma attack! I’m not exaggerating. It reminds me of stories my mom would tell me about her love for the Beatles. It also reminds me of my own adolescent obsession with Hanson. I can remember that same moment when my young mind exploded and I was never the same again. You’ve captured that so well. 

Thrilling. Even as I struggle to rewrite the new memoir for the 87th time, it helps to remember that it's all worth it if one person, and maybe even more than one, actually enjoys what we do. And speaking of enjoying what we do, I watched the inimitable David Sedaris being interviewed on Steve Paikin's TVO show last night. He's extraordinary - funny, loveable, yet willing to tell horrible stories about himself. Students, listen to what he says about not being able for years to write about his mother's drinking because he didn't have enough distance. Wounds and scars.

And - further to that - if YOU want to write a memoir that has readers gasping for breath, if YOU want to be witty and warm while being interviewed by Steve Paikin, here's a good place to start! Only a few places left.

Monday, June 18, 2018

one of those days, including the police

A writer friend said recently, if you posted fewer blogs, Beth, you might get more of your own writing done.

Amazing how sensible people can be when they're not you. She's right. So I am trying to hold back JUST A LITTLE here, because I do have lots of work to do. But now I'm behind in the blog. Here goes:

Last week I volunteered to sit at our Creative Nonfiction Collective's table at the annual huge writers' summit at Harbourfront. Wonderful to see and meet so many writers, and that evening, to be given a ticket to hear the marvellous Tomson Highway deliver the keynote address. His talk was hilarious, profound, moving; I hope they publish it. He talked about how little CanLit existed before 1970, and of course nothing from indigenous Canadians, and how quickly that changed. To paraphrase, "Before, people were only getting murdered in London and Paris; afterward, people were getting murdered in Moose Jaw!"

He talked about the vibrancy of the Cree language - how English is a language of the head and French of the heart, but Cree encompasses the whole body and laughter, the same message Lee Maracle gave us last month. I believe them, but still, as a person who speaks English and French but apparently is missing a good part of her body, I am sorry. Because it often feels to me as if I'm all there, but obviously not.

On Saturday night, I was awake for hours with ideas flying, kept jotting cryptic notes in the notebook by my bed. What came to me, among other things, was a new opening for the memoir; the knowledge that I had to call the police about my Little Free Library, and that it was time to sell my parents' solid teak sheet music cabinet, which is bulky and I do not need. So with list in hand, this morning, I began.

Explanation: I have a Little Free Library outside the house, a wonderful community resource, many people a day stopping to put in a book or to take one out. But for months, I'd go by and find it completely empty - denuded. Someone had scooped out every book, including kids' books, computer manuals, everything. And it was also happening to my neighbour Gina's library up the street. Bit by bit we heard a rumour - it was a man who lived in the rooming house up the street. Yesterday, I called the police and left a detailed message. This afternoon, a young couple who live in the rooming house went by with their pitbull (as I was loading the music cabinet into the car of the lovely elderly couple who'd just bought it, yes, it happened that fast) and confirmed that it's indeed a man from their building; they gave me his name and room number, told me his room and the whole landing of the house is piled high with books.

The police got in touch today and went to the house. The man was out, but sure enough, the cop said, there are books everywhere. The guy is violent and abusive, and his dogs were recently taken away by the Humane Society - not a guy we want on Sackville Street. They are going to give him an order not to go near my library and possibly get him evicted as a fire hazard. Hopefully, our libraries can go back to being the fine resources they were.


In the middle of all that, today I had a nearly two hour computer seminar from a fantastic computer guy - if you need a nice expert who makes house calls, let me know. I am in an ongoing battle with the strange fellow who's doing the plans for the renovation. A family member got in touch and blithely said he's arriving tomorrow for a quick visit, let's have dinner Wednesday, he said; I teach Wednesday. It was breath-suckingly hot and there were two monumental downpours that had me outside afterward to make sure my garden had survived.

And more. Yesterday I met Megann Willson who is running to represent this riding municipally; she came to the house to meet me and talk about what I think is needed in the city and the riding, and what she can offer. I liked her a lot. Go Megann! Today I figured out how to send a MailChimp mailing to over 300 former students but sent it out with the wrong title. And that's not to mention what else was coming in via email - requests for writing advice, a misunderstood student, devastating news about children in cages.

On the plus side, today is Macca's 76th birthday.

So. My neck is rigid with tension. Some days, it feels like I'm standing with my bat in front of a pitching machine, and the balls keep coming straight at me, hard. All I can do is try to whack and duck. Today, I have to say, I whacked and ducked like a champ.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Paul Simon: bravo

First, I gather from some of you, who used to automatically receive this blog in your email inbox when I post, that the link no longer works. Not sure why that is; another of life's great mysteries, along with the sound of some rodent creature, I think, gnawing its way through the kitchen ceiling that I heard to my horror yesterday morning and then that vanished. Mysteries! I'm seeing a computer guy about this and many other issues on Monday, so hope to have your posts restored.

As for the mystery rodent - stay tuned.

So - the Paul Simon concert Tuesday night: only superlatives. I understood the term "wall of sound" - he had 15 superb musicians on stage with him, every one of them adept at many things - backup vocals, trumpet, violin, flute, many kinds of guitar, many kinds of keyboards, two drummers. A musical phalanx, supporting this tiny man and his parade of brilliant beloved songs: Homeward bound, Kodachrome, Bridge over troubled water, Graceland, Still crazy after all these years, Me and Julio, 50 ways to leave your lover, The boxer, American tune, Mother and child reunion, Slip slidin' away...

And the sophisticated, lovely, quirky Rene and Georgette Magritte and their dog after the war, which was played with his musicians gathered around him in a kind of string quartet.

The most infectious was Diamonds on the soles of her shoes that segued into Call me Al - two songs that make everyone want to get up and dance. Heaven. He ended the very long night - he sang for 2 1/2 hours and finished by himself, with an acoustic guitar - singing Sounds of Silence. I still have the album, one of my first, still a fave. In my diary, February 1968: "Went to see Simon and Garfinkle (sic) at Carleton." Fifty years later, there he was again.

I compared him, of course, to my Macca, a musical superstar of almost the same advanced age - a year younger, but similar powerful drive and agelessness. Macca has only four guys up there with him, and his songbook is much better known. So Tuesday's Paul can't hold a candle to MY Paul, but still, fabulous.

The Star today calls the pedestrian and cyclist slaughter in this city 'a state of emergency.' We'll see if anything is done, especially now that Doug Ford, Mr. War on the car is over, is in power. What I think will change: absolutely nothing.

Photos for your enjoyment of some of my favourite males on the planet:
 Are they married?

A Sunday drive through the garden.

And ... agreed!