Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Where there's smoke, there's fire

Picture sent by Suzette in Santa Monica - the view from her balcony of the smoke from the fires. She says there are people now homeless staying with friends in her building. Very frightening.
And here in Toronto - snow predicted.

More clearing out today. I am lucky to live where I do - things put on the sidewalk vanish instantly. Today, an Ikea shelving unit, a chest of drawers, a bag of workout clothing - gone in minutes. A great blessing to share my abundant excess, the result of decades as a Goodwill junkie, with my neighbours.

On Friday - to Ottawa, where it's minus 7 with snow on the ground - of course. Whatever the Toronto weather is, the weather in Ottawa is always way worse. I'm going to do more packing up and host my aunt Do's memorial event, at her apartment, with my kids who are also coming from Toronto.

This may be my very last trip to Ottawa ever in my life. I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

clearing up, clearing out

Should keep this an orange blowhole free zone, but ... people are making such funny, clever things!

We always celebrate the last class of term with a party, but this term, at both universities, we're celebrating during the second last class because a few students can't make the following week. Last night, I arrived at Ryerson to the most amazing sight - a table covered with food: samosas, sushi, dumplings, dips, cheeses and breads, six desserts and wine, plus every desk with a little candle burning. That was a rollicking class, I can tell you.

The reno is getting serious. Jean-Marc laid it on the line yesterday - so very, very much has to be packed up and stored somewhere. We're starting on Monday by ripping apart the basement, my storage room, which was jam-packed and had to be cleared out. This is what, by some miracle and a lot of hauling, my friend Nicole, my homeless helper Bill, and I achieved today.
But this is what my kitchen looked like. There's a ton of stuff out on the sidewalk, including a futon from upstairs. Please, take it away!
It's going to be crazy around here for some months. But this is my chance to get rid of junk. Or at least to store it more effectively. Here's the kind of problem I face, tho' - artwork and a poem about walking with my father - "Memorys Shining Bright" - that Anna made in Grade 3. Love is! What to do with treasures like this?

Here, a writer explores this very problem in the latest New Yorker: 

Monday, November 12, 2018

"Sally4ever": YUCK!

In case it seems to you that I'm always in raptures about shows I see, something completely different: saw a TV show yesterday that has had rave reviews and that I absolutely hated, "Sally4ever," from Britain, about passive, nearly brain dead young Sally with a horrible job, an appalling partner - one of the most abject, repellant specimens I’ve ever seen on television - and ghastly parents, who is sprung from her hideously lame life by a passionate lesbian relationship that is shown in graphic detail, including her lover pulling Sally's tampon out with her teeth and spitting it onto a frothy white dress Sally was supposed to wear to her wedding. And incidentally, the female lover is also a lunatic (played, incidentally, by the writer.) 

Every single person was loathsome in some way or other, obviously meant to be satirical ha ha, but to me it was just black-hearted. I thought of E.B. White who said once that with his writing, all he hoped to show was that he loved the world. This writer hopes to show that she hates the world because it’s full of disgusting human beings. What's the point?

Maybe I missed something? Maybe I'm just too old.

However - "the Durrells in Corfu" is getting better and better, sheer joy, the most wonderful characters, writing, acting, and of course the set, a bustling small town in sunny Greece. And then John Oliver, lighting the way through the morass, as usual. 

Early in the day, a wonderful gathering: the Word Sisters, a group of women who all work in publishing in one way or another - editors, publicists, agents, lawyers, and one lowly writer - have been meeting regularly for 8 or 9 years now, and met again yesterday at the home of our founder, Marilyn Biderman, who lives in a sophisticated, sleek loft on the west side. It was pot luck, everything was delicious, the company was fascinating ... so, that's my usual tone of happy satisfaction, no?

It's getting really cold, and I'm dreaming of anywhere warm that is not in the United States - Mexico, Cuba, Barbados ... Any ideas out there for a nice place a pleasant, occasionally crabby writer can go to cogitate a few weeks of winter away? 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Ain't Too Proud: the Temptations

Last weep of the day, I hope: watching moving footage of Macron and Merkel in France, commemorating the end of WW1. The presidents of France and Germany hug. Some things in our lunatic world are better.

It's cold! Suddenly there is serious cold out there, time to get out the long johns, the hats, gloves, and scarves, and focus on survival. We are Canadians, an enormous privilege that comes with a price. And for the next six months, rest assured, we will pay it.

Bill Maher had his usual brilliant flash of inspiration in the show Friday. He said, when we greet friends, instead of How are you I'm fine, we should all just smack our foreheads in disbelief - because none of us can believe what's going on on the world stage, thanks to a man with less self-control and self-awareness than my six-year old grandson.

Who was over on Friday with his mother and brother - he wasn't feeling well and a visit with Glamma beat a day at home. I am always overjoyed to see them arrive and secretly overjoyed when they leave, with my house in pieces behind me. High point: reading "The Magic Hockey Skates" to Eli. A most Canadian story that brought tears to my eyes.

As I've said before, I am barely keeping up with my life, but that's okay. First world problems. Today, much pleasure - first the Antiquarian Book Fair at the AGO, not to buy, but to find places which might be interested in what I have to sell. For example, three copies of Les Temps Modernes, a literary magazine edited by Jean-Paul Sartre in the early fifties and bought by my father during trips to Paris. A collection of Nazi postcards viciously mocking the British, given to aunt Do during the war. And much more. Who buys Nazi postcards? Possibly an antiquarian bookseller or two, I found out today.

And from there down to King St. for the matinee of "Ain't Too Proud," a musical about the Temptations, directed by Des McAnuff, who must do this stuff with his eyes closed after directing "The Jersey Boys" about the Four Seasons. Same basic story - poor boys struggle to make good and survive fame in the tinsel world of pop music, this one of course with a racial twist - poor young men of colour make good in segregated America. In both, life on the road, fame, drink, and drugs destroy much of the group, but one stalwart keeps it all together. The story was not that interesting, to tell you the truth. What was heaven, on a bleak Saturday afternoon, was fabulous singing and dancing, the incredible harmonies, the rich rhythm and blues that black America has so generously given us. I sat in an audience of mostly old white people, feeling myself different because as the music boomed out, no heads were bobbing, no feet seemed to be tapping except mine. Perhaps at night it's different. Anyway, it was a treat.

And yes, deny it though I may, I'm as old and white as anyone.

Had the unusual treat of checking my email at the intermission and finding a message from my best friend Lynn in France, a picture of her with her literary hero, the American uber short story writer Lydia Davis. Lynn, a linguist, has been parsing Lydia Davis's spare, enigmatic stories and at a conference got to meet her. Ironically, I had been thinking of my dear friend all day - at the book fair and especially at the show, because when we met in 1967, I was plugged into British bands and knew nothing about the American scene. Lynn introduced me to fabulous Motown, to Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye and the others. And for that, as well as much else, I will always be grateful. I was wishing she were there with me to see this finger-snapping show. And then there she was on my phone.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

the bee's knees

I couldn't watch, it was too nerve-wracking. Casablanca was on, so Wayson and I watched bits of that, turning back to PBS and ABC coverage of the midterms, then back to wonderful actors and story. The hoped-for massive blue wave didn't happen, which I find devastating, Beto and Stacy out by such a slim margin, WTF! But yes, lots of good news - the House, women etc. Still, it's incomprehensible, the percentage who vote for ...

Oh stop. It's gloomy and damp out, I contracted a cold at 9.45 last night as I watched Republicans win, and the world just looks dark. Let the idealistic faces of those newly elected women cheer me up. And this: my cousin and her husband, who worked to elect this candidate in Virginia - and she won, defeating a Republican by a small margin, thanks to Barbara and others like her. This is what democracy looks like:
Today Carole's runfit class was the last place on earth I wanted to be, and yet, as always, it cheered me up. Art, another of the more elderly runners in class, asked me, "Do you still have your original knees?" He made me laugh, telling me that in the men's change room, everyone is full of bits and pieces of plastic. When I told Gord, another ancient runner, what Art had asked, he said," Why, does he want to buy yours?"

We need to laugh today.

Monday, November 5, 2018

the Monday before the Tuesday

Thanks to friends, who are sending wonderful messages of support re my aunt, including this:
Stop beating yourself up, right now. No matter what M. said, I know you and Mike did all you knew to do to help Do. Nobody can know how to go about helping someone die until she is through it - like finding your way in a maze, you don't know the route until you're at the end.  

I know, I agree. But still, we all feel guilty about not doing enough, not being there at the end.

Tomorrow is the bloody American election we've been obsessing about for months, thank God, let it be over, let it not be disastrous, let it show us the American people are not gullible, racist morons. Though yesterday, I sat on the Porter plane next to an American who immediately began to pour out his conspiracy theories. 9/11 was a government job - had I ever heard of Building 7? Look it up! he said. It was deliberately brought down by explosives but no one wrote about it because the mainstream media have their own agenda. Kennedy was probably shot by someone hiding inside a manhole on the route. Who? Could be the military industrial complex, because Kennedy was about to pull out of the Vietnam War. Could be Israel; President Johnson later allowed them to get nuclear weapons.

He saw conspiracies everywhere. "Do you ever do research on what you read?" he said, in disbelief.
"No," I said. "I read the world's best newspapers, the Guardian, the NYTimes, the Washington Post. They make occasional mistakes, but mostly they're trustworthy. Where do you get your news, Fox TV?"
"Yes," he said, "only Fox sometimes doesn't tell the truth either."
"Sometimes!!" I barked, wishing to move my seat to somewhere else.

But at the end, he told me he was coming to Toronto to see a holistic doctor - because of course medical science and Big Pharma had nothing to offer - about his condition, which is like M.S. When he stood, I saw that he was quite severely disabled, his limbs ungainly, walking awkwardly leaning on a cane. And, lunatic as he was, I felt sorry for him.

Happy, however, to get away before I heard any more theories. Did look up Building 7. The theory about explosives has been debunked; it was brought down by the fires nearby. The poor guy, to be pathologically suspicious of everything and everyone. Let's hope tomorrow's vote shows us the Americans are smarter than that guy.

Home in the dark and wet. Here are some pictures from my trip. Click to enlarge:
Do's labels on everything.
Her sketches - me at four, though not a good resemblance, I think. Sandra was my best friend.
A watercolour - lovely.
The view from her balcony ...
... and the park on my Sunday walk.
Another family artist to cheer us all on a dull Monday before an apocalyptic Tuesday - this is Eli's latest self-portrait. It's now my screensaver.

Let us pray.

Sunday, November 4, 2018


A difficult time last night. My dear aunt's dear friends U. and M. came here for dinner, and M. let me have it. She was on the front lines at the end of Do's life, visiting her often at the care home, and afterward, sending long, frantic messages to my brother and me about Do's terrible pain. My brother felt we were doing all we could, M. was very clear we were not doing enough, and I was in Toronto, trying to sort out the situation. Was she in the right place and receiving the right medication? My brother said yes. M. said no.

At the end, urged on by M.'s distressed emails, I started frantically phoning about palliative care, making lists of places she could go; I called an advocacy group for the elderly to find out how to get Do transferred and even got in touch with a friend who knows the former Ontario Minister of Health, to ask him what we should do.

What I did not do was get on an airplane. What I really did not want to do was, once more, get on an airplane or a train to Ottawa and rent a car, or rent a car in Toronto, and drive to a care facility. I did that ten times just in the year my mother was dying, not to mention the years before when she was in and out of hospital; I had done it three times this past summer for my aunt, and I did not want to do it again. I had my next trip to Ottawa booked - the trip I'm taking now, in early November.

As I pointed out to M. last night, we hired extra PSW's for Do, got a special hospital bed, a special nurse for her bedsore, and my brother was convinced the care at the home was very good. The head there, whom I spoke with several times, felt Do was receiving the right treatment. Though of course she'd say that.

We even wondered if Do only showed her pain to U. and M., because when he was there, my brother saw a different picture. We knew that Do hated to be a bother to her loved ones. But perhaps denial played a part here. But also, M. has a tendency to dramatize.

M. told me last night that we let Do down, leaving her to languish in terrible pain until the last day of her life; at the end, her medication worked or something changed, and she died in peace with Mike on one side and M. on the other. M. felt I should have come once more, to see if I could make things better for Do. She's right; in an ideal world, I would have come. But the world is not ideal, and my life is very busy, and I felt, somewhere, that I had done and was doing what I could.

M. begs to differ. Though I did not appreciate hearing what she had to say, I understand firmly that she spoke because she cared deeply about Do.

What we finally decided is that part of the fault lies with Do's caseworker, who should have referred her earlier to palliative care. But then, I pointed out that not that long before Do died, she seemed to be getting better. And the caseworker probably has an enormous caseload.

M. speaks about a woman moaning in pain, being forcefully encouraged by staff to eat despite the fact that she was begging to die. My brother did not see the same woman. And I did not get on an airplane to see for myself.

There should be a guide for people in our situation: Toward The End: What To Do When Your Loved One is Dying. We had no idea how to get her into a specialized palliative care facility, and the home where she lived told us they provided perfectly good palliative care - is that true? How could we tell? Mike told me he thought the doctor there was terrific. M. told me he came once a week and probably didn't get to see Do on every visit because he was so busy.

People only have one death, and loved ones should make sure they do what they can. And yet hindsight does not help. We know timing and circumstances after the fact. We don't at the time.

We do what we can, and sometimes, that's not enough. That's something I'll have to live with. However, as I clear out this apartment, I am finding stacks of the letters and cards I wrote to Do through the years, envelopes full of photos I sent, framed photos and the kids' drawings that my daughter sent with her own cards and letters. Copies of all my books, including one inscribed, "To the best aunt in the world." I called her often, even when I was in Europe, visited her regularly and brought gifts and took her to dinner and to the movies and for drives. We laughed and reminisced together. I did what I could.

At the end, I could have done one last thing.

P.S. Ten minutes after posting, read this in the Globe. I guess in my confusion and regret, I'm not alone.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

dust to dust

I've been inhaling dust for 24 hours - was up at six this morning, wide awake, up and at 'em - opening boxes, throwing out, sorting, everything thick with dust. Luckily Do's caregiver Pat came over with a very energetic friend and a dolly; they took tons of stuff to the recycling bin in the basement (years of tax returns, every single notification from the condo board during her decades here, she kept everything) and piles to garbage and to the place where you can leave things for others to take.

Oh what a pack rat. And she labelled everything: on one plastic bag, "Green and white check curtains - kitchen etc. From Earls Court - top flat, 46 Hogarth Road, London, U.K. 1946-54." Inside, yes, the green and white check curtains she'd made for her post-war apartment, neatly folded, threadbare, utterly unusable. Taken down when she moved to Canada in 1954, stored for more than 60 years - and out.

The one I like best, so far, is the plastic bag with this: "White and silver stole. Fine Wool. Never used.  Sent from the U.K. to Dorothy (by Mama circa 1958) who had told her in a letter her evening stole (white) had been stolen."

My grandmother was efficient and skilled at many things but she was not a warm, affectionate woman, least of all to her middle daughter Dorothy. It warms me to know she made the effort to find another stole and send it. Why would Do never wear it? For the same reason, I guess, that she never used the nice cutlery or dishes or tablecloths - save it for best, a time that never came. Unfortunately, my own need for a white and silver evening stole, pretty as it is, is not great. Have to find a home for it.

But the most bizarre was this, in a drawer, a small brown envelope: "Tooth w/gold filling."

Not opening that. As I said, she kept everything. And it's all covered with dust. Oh yes, in all the piles of empty art paper, I did find a box of art equipment and one small sketch book with a bit of her own work - and it's lovely, including a tiny sketch from 1954 marked "Beth." She did have talent - watercolour, pen and ink - but kept for years buying paper, how-to books about painting, drawing and calligraphy, pens and brushes, and yet seems to have done almost none of it, ever.

It stopped raining briefly so I went to Britannia Park for a walk to clear my lungs - but even with a bit of sun it's cold and very windy so the walk was brief. Do's friends Una and May are coming here for dinner, so I need to clear up a bit. In all her decades here, I don't think my aunt invited her friends in once. She went to Scrabble in their apartments every Sunday, never here. It's a shame.

I can't wait to show them the world's biggest collection of paper napkins.

Friday, November 2, 2018

clearing the lot

I'm in Ottawa, at Auntie Do's for the weekend. The first time I've come to Ottawa with no elderly relative to visit - my mother and aunt, both gone. Now I'm on the front lines, the next in line to go.

This is the fourth time I’ve cleared out the dwelling of a deceased relative, and I hope it will be the last. The first was the hardest – 1988, great-aunt Helen's squirrel’s nest in Queens NYC, her home for many decades. I had a weekend, alone, to sort out a lifetime’s accumulation, and arranged for far too much to be brought back to Toronto, including her little grand piano and her wheelchair. And then spent many years getting rid of them - including, right now, trying to find a home for stacks of old sheet music. But I do enjoy her gorgeous Fiestaware, big old desk, and baroque music cabinet featuring a carved naked nymphet.

Uncle Edgar, in 1997, his brownstone in New York, though I have to say that lots had been – shall we say, removed, by his household staff - by the time I got there. And I myself had stolen from him, which makes me cringe to this day: each time I visited through the years, I took home another of his hardcover E.B. White anthologies. He won't miss these, I thought as I put the books in my suitcase, wanting to be sure they ended up with me. One day when he was ill with the colon cancer that would kill him, he told me he'd wanted to read some E.B. White and couldn’t find any. I will never forgive myself.

In 2013 my mother the hoarder's three-bedroom apartment stuffed with stuff – especially difficult because as a writer, I want one day to tell her story, so took all that memorabilia - mountains of letters and photographs. Which now clutter my house in many, many boxes and drawers.

And now Auntie Do. Hard to understand a woman who had beautiful things tucked away in cupboards: dishes that belonged to her grandparents, silver cutlery, lovely tablecloths – when her table was covered with a ghastly plastic oilcloth, and she used ugly cheesy plates and cutlery. I just opened her dishwasher, which she never used, and found it's where she stored her mother’s silver tea set. Everything - everything - is carefully labeled and wrapped in many layers of paper. This woman took fantastic care of all her treasures and used none of them. Including - I just found - a box of different colours of shoe polish, meticulously wrapped.

What makes me sad are the many books on how to paint watercolours and an entire drawer full of blank watercolour paper - but no paints and never, never an attempt to actually put brush to paper. She just bought the books and the paper, and dreamed.

It’s a lonely job here, but at least I have a bottle of red and light and power – last time I was here, after the hurricane, I sat in the dark with a candle. Am listening to Paul Simon and Macca  on my computer while I open drawers and pile up the junk - more than 15 garbage bags of old and new clothes to go out, and more to come. Admiring my aunt's extensive collections as I prepare to toss: handbags, platters, ancient canned goods,  stamps, umbrellas, hats and scarves, greeting cards, twist ties, recipes, calendars dating back to the early 1990s, 25 packages of paper napkins.  

One day, who will have to do this for me?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

"Hyperfocus" on Hallowe'en.

It's Hallowe'en. I used to put on other people's clothes for a living, so there's not much fun in it for me and others of my kind. Plus we get 800 or more kids here on my street, pouring north from Regent Park and south from St. Jamestown, an endless stream for hours. It's marvellous and a treat and I did it for 20 years and don't any more. Will cower in the darkness until it's time to go to JM and Richard's for their annual post-Hallowe'en block party.

But we were encouraged to dress up for Carole's class at the Y today. I wore something easy - my plastic Viking Walkure helmet with horns, which was not easy to run in. Carole was a tough biker chick and Margot was a bag of McDonald's fries, very funny. There were some other great costumes among the staff.
That's me in orange and helmet, Margot on the left as fries, Carole below. Some of the others had gone before the pic was taken, including Liam who was inside a hilarious costume that made him look like he was a little guy riding a fat green horse. LOL.

Luckily, there are some who LOVE Hallowe'en. Here they are before going to school this morning. The costumes - ninja, scary skeleton - will be more elaborate tonight.
I've been corresponding with my very right wing friend, though why I don't know, since he will not change his support for Trump and I my loathing. He wrote today: Here’s my prediction. Republicans gain 4 in the Senate and hold the House by 5.

Makes me want to shoot myself. Plus it's gloomy and wet, and dear Bruce just left for New York after a week here. He's incredible, considering that he had a devastating stroke only a year and a half ago. Wonderful to see him trucking around the city visiting theatre friends and colleagues, and now off to NYC to see shows and go to the Met and the Frick to worship at the altar of Renaissance art, as he does everywhere he goes. We are talking about being in Italy together again next year. We'll see.

My left eyeball is no longer neon red. An ophthalmologist said I must have rubbed it and burst blood vessels, it will clear up. And finally it did, now a soft pink. And my hair grew out a tiny bit and looks better, so I am no longer a walking freakish Hallowe'en costume, even without the horns.

Am finishing the book "Hyperfocus" to return it to the library tomorrow. It's about how to get rid of distractions so you can focus on what you need to get done, and also when to employ what he calls "scatterfocus," which means mulling, musing, daydreaming. It's written more for kids who are glued to cellphones than for someone like me, and unfortunately, I was so often distracted that it took me a long time to read it and I can hardly remember what I read. So perhaps not a great success.

PS. 7 p.m.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Love will win

A dark, wet, cold day. A woman said as we were leaving the funeral event this afternoon, "The sky is weeping too."

So, another shooting, another lunatic, another savage, horrendous waste of human life, this one anti-Semitic but no different than the ones destroying black children in church or people celebrating music and life anywhere. Forces of racism, hatred, and death have been unleashed in the United States and the world. We thought, with Obama's election, that the world had fundamentally changed. Now we've turned over the rock and there it is, crawling out - the worst of humanity. Trump and his team, which includes Ontario's current premier and the leader of the PC's in Ottawa, beginning to attack the media in the same way. Dark dark dark.

And then I went to a memorial event for Ann Ireland, who was the writer/coordinator for the creative writing department at Ryerson. I worked with Ann for twenty years and received my last personal email from her at the end of July, about contracts. On August 8th, she wrote to us all that she was resigning because of a health crisis and would not reply to any emails or phone calls. She died less than three weeks later. Today, we heard that Ann chose assisted death; knowing her end was nigh due to terminal liver cancer, she arranged her final day with ten of her loved ones around her, and apparently said, "Wherever I'm going, I hope it's not boring."

According to one of her best friends, she also said, "Please tell people - in the end, work doesn't matter. I've shredded two partial novels. What matters is love and family and friends and kindness."

Thank you, Ann. I wish I'd known you better, but then, I always say that at funerals.

Out into the cold rain and home to more news about the dead in the synagogue. And then a text from my beloved daughter:
I'm so thankful today, Mum. I took this morning's terrorist attack hard. But then we went to a double birthday party for some of Elijah's friends. A Cameroonian couple and an Italian couple celebrating their beautiful daughters with our Tibetan, Cuban, Japanese, and Canadian friends. Grandparents, parents, kids of all colours playing together and having fun. Love will win. But we're going to have to work for it.
Love will win. But we're going to have to work for it.

Friday, October 26, 2018

her bloody eye

I tell people it's part of an early Hallowe'en costume, but of course it's not - my left eye is neon red, floating in blood, ghastly, vampirish. It exploded Monday night. I've had this before - a broken blood vessel in the eye - but always fairly small and fast to disappear. Not this; it's getting worse, and there's nothing to be done. I just have to be grateful I'm not in the middle of a film shoot.

Dr. Google says it has nothing to do with stress, could be caused by a sneeze or laughing - !! But I think it's stress; when I'm tense my neck and face tighten and get rigid, surely this affects the eyes. Sunday was so insanely busy from morning to night without a moment's pause, and then - I'm just generally overwhelmed these days, with teaching and editing work, the renovation plans which consume time, energy - and money, family events, my aunt's estate, and winter coming which is a job in itself. "Lucky you have a lot of energy," a friend said recently, and I do, but sometimes not so much. Not enough.

We're all falling apart. Carole at the Y had bronchitis for three weeks. My longterm hairdresser - we go back decades - had a liver attack, went to Emerg and took 3 weeks off; the other day she had little strength, and so somehow cut my hair extremely short. I won't say it's TOO short because I adore her, but it's short. So now, very short hair and a neon eye. Lovely. Luckily I'm 68 and absolutely no one looks at me.

And just to really cheer me up, there's this:

Author Incomes in Steep Decline

A 27% drop in last three years suggests educational copying is devastating writers’ livelihoods
LOL! Let's make merry!

An old friend from high school in 1965-66 got in touch on Wednesday - in town from Halifax for a meeting - so he came over for a glass of wine and eventually supper. He was nice 53 years ago, and he's nice now; it was great to see him. And he didn't say anything about my eye. Or my hair.

Grateful to my son who made the usual vast mountain of dinner on Sunday and then forgot to take leftovers home in containers, as he usually does - because I've been feeding the world with that dinner. Jean-Marc and Richard had the whole meal again with me, then my handyman John, then Jean-Marc alone, then my old friend, and twice, my beloved friend Bruce, who has come from Vancouver to stay for a week. And still there's more - large vessels of mashed potatoes, gravy, Brussels. That's the way to host - make one vast meal and eat it for weeks.

I'm reminded again what an exciting city we live in. A section of the Thursday Star tells us what events are recommended for the week ahead, and I read with anticipation the names of some of the bands I could go to see at local clubs: Dying Fetus is one that sounds particularly enticing, but there's also Genocide Pact, Wage War, Suicideyear, The Dose, Leprous, Gatecreeper, Knuckle Puck, Shotty Horroh, and My Coma. And also, Schumann's Piano Quintet. Hmmm. I wonder which I, invisible old fart that I am, should choose.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

In which Kristyn wins and I have an unrelated bad dream

Kristyn won with a huge majority, as did other terrific leftwing councillors - Joe Cressy, Gord Perks in Anna's ward, Josh Matlow. But the right wingers from the suburbs still outnumber our guys. As we have been since hideous Harris created the megacity, we are at the mercy of suburban councillors whose priority is fresh new highways for commuters. And we have again safe, dull Mayor Tory. No wonder this city struggles to keep up with the times, with almost no housing for the homeless, skyrocketing rents, limitless development, appalling gridlock, absurdly underfunded public transit, a pathetic number of bicycle lanes. 

However. Our guys will fight the good fight, and luckily, despite Ford's best attempts to wipe them out, what a great team of fighters we still have.

Last night's class at Ryerson had one of the most difficult moments I've ever encountered as a teacher; a pretty young student presented her piece, a light, amusing piece about something small bothering her, and another student countered with her own story of horrendous, unimaginable tragedy around more or less the same issue. I hope we got through with grace and with no one being harmed, always my main goal in this sensitive work. Another student read a piece about the guilt she felt at her inadequate response to her daughter's serious health crisis.

Last night I had a powerful dream that swamped me, that seemed to incorporate elements of what happened in class. I rarely remember my dreams, so it seems important when I do, and the details and emotion of this one will stay with me forever.

I was looking after three children, my grandson and a brother and sister, a pretty blonde girl of about 7. We were exploring a town I didn’t know, and we stopped at a building that housed a film studio. The girl was anxious to go inside and the boys were not, so they stayed outside and she and I went in. Something was being filmed in a big bright room with sets and costumes all around, and she was thrilled, slipping quickly away from me toward the action. I was whispering desperately, trying to catch and pull her back, but she was already far into where the cameras were. I didn’t want to follow her, interrupt filming and make the situation worse, and was concerned about the boys outside, so I decided to go find them and wait for her to come out. But when I got out, the boys weren’t there, so I set out to look for them and kept going far through the town, looking.

Eventually, panic struck. I realized a little girl was alone on a movie set, and I had to find her and make sure she was safe. But I couldn’t remember where the studio building was. After trying one door after another, I was exhausted and realized it might be far away. I decided, strangely, to call my mother to come help, and because walking would take too long, I should get a cab to take me around. But then I realized – my purse with my phone and my money was gone. Lost children and no way to call for help or pay for help.

I woke up frantic.

After my psychoanalysis, I learned to analyze my dreams. But I'm going to leave this dream of child abandonment and poor choices for now. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Go Kristyn Wong Tam and Keesmat!

Election day in Toronto - go Kristyn! Go Jennifer Keesmat! I know John Tory will be re-elected mayor, but I hope he gets the message that Toronto deserves far better than his cautious, please-everybody, let's-not-rock-the-boat ways. We deserve better than someone who is merely a decent person, merely unlike his predecessor Rob Ford, whose brother is now doing his best to destroy our city.

Yesterday, one of the most exhausting days of my entire adult life. Morning, stuffing a turkey and getting it into the oven for our late Thanksgiving celebration, also Sam and Thomas's birthday feast, and preparing the house for many guests. At 11.30, eight writers appeared at my door for the rehearsal for So True, and then at 1, all of us over to the Black Swan for the event. Because it was at a new time, the tech guy forgot and didn't show up, so one man had to man the bar and do the lights and sound, until backup arrived. Despite this, it was one of the best yet - one fabulous, riveting story after another. And then mine.

Here's what one participant sent yesterday: I thought yesterday was one of the strongest groups I’ve ever heard at a So True. I liked them all so much it’s hard to pick a favourite. It is a wonderful thing you do, giving us a venue to read our work.

And another: So happy to have been a part of So True again, Beth. It was, in my view, spectacular. I always feel so euphoric after having read. 

Straight back here afterwards to find everything happening - Sam had cooked all afternoon, the turkey was just coming out, Anna and family were here and the house was already being ripped apart by small boys, more guests arrived, wine and beer flowed, a ton of food was served and eaten, and the house cleared by about 10.30, with the fridge full of leftovers and most dishes done. It always feels like a marathon, a big family meal.

Today, vote, recuperate, and winterize with John - we put away the summer stuff. The cold is coming.

On Saturday, which was a beautiful day, after Wayson kindly drove me around to pick up a nearly 17 pound turkey and a large cake, I went to Theatre Passe-Muraille to see a good production of the absurd yet moving Krapp's Last Tape. I try to see a Beckett play at least once a year; he's good for the soul. I marvel always at how far ahead of his time he was.

Jean-Marc was just here; he's talking about beginning our reno as soon as next week. I'm not ready! Even though what we're doing is much more to my liking, still, I hate the thought of the disruption and mess. Definitely getting old and crabby.

Friday, October 19, 2018

So True Sunday, 2 p.m.

It's going to be a great one! And I'm working on my own story right now. If you're in town, hope to see you there.

Rebecca Belmore and Anthropocene at the AGO

I have just rediscovered how blessedly kind and thoughtful my friends are. Emails have been flowing in with condolences and words of wisdom, several saying they felt they'd met Auntie Do because she appeared so often in this blog. Today I got a letter from dear Nick Rice telling me he has made a donation to the Ottawa Food Bank in her name.

It is a tremendous comfort, at times of stress and grief, to feel the warm strong arms of friends around you.

My brother and I have been able to laugh. He was at her apartment looking for the tax returns we need for information for the estate, and I asked him if he'd found her used Kleenex collection. "It's in the second drawer of her dresser," I said. "It's extensive." We've done this before; my mother had extensive collections, including recipes and knee-high stockings. Both sisters stockpiled hundreds of clean yogurt tubs. But only Auntie Do collected plastic bags, all carefully folded and wrapped in bundles with rubber bands. A lifetime's worth.

It's good to have a chuckle.

And today I especially need one. This morning I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario. Friends had said not to miss the Rebecca Belmore exhibit which is over on Sunday, and I'm glad I didn't. She's an Anishinaabekwe performance and visual artist who makes amazing installations and films. In the last room is a powerful waterfall constantly flowing that she uses as a screen, on which is projected from behind a film of her flailing in the water, then rising with a bucket and walking toward us. And then, seemingly from behind the screen of water, she flings what's in her bucket right out at us, and the water turns blood red. It's as if all of us standing there, we nice folk at the art gallery, are drenched in blood. And in a way, we are.

So with that cheery message, I went down to see the exhibition Anthropocene, which made me want to slit my wrists. Anthropocene is a word meaning the era of the human, when humanity is affecting the fate of the earth, and the show is a series of vast photographs that Edward Burtynsky and his team made around the world of the various ways we are decimating the planet - mining, overpopulation, farming practices, polluting the oceans, even the hunting of ivory. The artists say they don't want to judge, just to inform, but by the end of a series of magnificent photographs of human-caused devastation to the natural world, I wanted to cry. Did cry. Was glad there were lots of school kids going through, though one group spent the time I was there gathered around the spot where you charge cell phones.
A worker trudging through a literal mountain of plastic and other garbage in India; it's a film and we follow him for miles.
Cars damaged by a hurricane, left in a field in Texas to be fixed or junked.  I am sparing you the worst.

Read an article in the Washington Post this morning about how the appalling far-right racist the Brazilians are electing will probably destroy what's left of the rain forest. So the planet, our children and grandchildren are doomed. It's chilly and grey. The good news is that it's 4.15, which means that in only three-quarters of an hour, I can have a glass of wine. Or maybe right now.

So - another laugh, thanks to my friend Chris.
My ex and I were madly in love when we first went to Ikea, and by the time we got out of there, we were nearly divorced. So this made me laugh and I just sent it to him, and he sent back a sweet note about the loss of my aunt. "Her energy knew no bounds and she mattered to a big bunch of us," he wrote.

Thank you all. Maybe we're not doomed, after all.

And now, wine.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

RIP Doro and Sylv

At the launch of my first book in 2006: the Leadbeater sisters, Dorothy Marion and Sylvia Mary. Do was there when Mum was born, a huge baby - "She looked like a big beautiful doll!" - when she met my father, when my father died. Mum was furious at this event because Do knew Mum was wearing her red jacket and chose to wear her own. My mother was the confident style setter and Do followed. Sisters.

Dorothy Marion Arevian, 1920-2018

A great blessing: my aunt drew her last breath last night at 9 p.m. with both my brother Michael and her dear friend May by her side. The last hours were peaceful; her face was serene.

It's a gift to a child to have a childless aunt. She knitted and sewed doll's clothes and sent a birthday card every single birthday from my earliest childhood until two years ago, when she couldn't manage any more. She sent cards and cheques to my kids too. She had a phenomenal memory.

Her caregiver Pat and I just had a great laugh on the phone; we were talking about the hundred striped t-shirts lined up in her closet when she only wore two, the green one and the blue one. "Sometimes," Pat said, "she wore the red one to Scrabble."

Here she is, in the blue one, holding Edward Bruin Green with his hand-knitted clothes and his jaunty red bow. My mother Sylvia's bear was named Donald Leonard Brown. He lives in my bedroom now.

Pat said, "She's happy to be sitting up there with Sylvia."
"They're having a nice cup of tea," I said.

Makes me cry.

Monday, October 15, 2018

the eternal sunshine of Paul McCartney

There's a bit of sun, outside and in my heart: my piano teacher just sent me this, a beautiful article in the Atlantic about the joy Macca's music has brought us all for decades. Thank you. Just what I needed today.

Let us not be afraid of the way we love him. For more than 50 years he’s been making us happy, giving us comfort, a genius who scoops tunes out of the air with his hands.

dire straights

Your faithful correspondent is not perky today. It's cold and raining, and things are confusing and dire. One of my aunt's good friends came back from visiting her nursing home last night and sent the most desperate email about her condition. It felt as I read as if we have betrayed her, let her down in the most appalling way, condemning her to a ghastly death. And yet I don't know what to do for her or how to change her circumstances.

Besides the staff at the home, who by my own reports and those of others, are skilled and caring, we have provided two other PSW's who are there for hours a day and care for her with loving kindness, as well as her own longterm caregiver Pat, who has just recovered from an operation and is there too, not to mention my brother. She is in a specially ordered hospital bed and is on a heavy dose of a powerful opiate. No one understands how she can still feel such pain and anxiety.

I have written to a friend who's a doctor, seeking advice - are there better meds? Should she be in actual palliative care, which would mean moving her? -  to an organization that advocates for the elderly, and to the woman who runs the home, who assures me my aunt is getting the best of care. Nothing has helped my brother and me through this terrifying, excruciating quagmire of death. My father was only 65, with terminal stomach cancer, when one day, after watching Wimbledon with us all, he walked upstairs, took the morphine he had secretly stockpiled, and died in my mother's arms the next morning. He was in no pain, never lost dignity, just saw what was coming and had had enough. My mother had been disintegrating for some time and was headed for palliative care when at 89 she died on Christmas morning in hospital. But again, she had not been in pain.

We have always been afraid of the current scenario for my aunt, who at 98 had absolutely nothing wrong with her - a tough sinewy body, a good heart and perfect blood pressure. So now, the strong body that allowed her to live independently for so long is delaying the death she so desperately desires.

I teach tonight but am cancelling things right now and am on hold with Porter; though I'm scheduled to go up in a few weeks, I'll go up tomorrow first. Was asked to speak about a student and her book at her book launch on Wednesday - I'm now writing the talk I would have given and someone else will deliver it.

I took a sleeping pill to be able to sleep last night, so much was roiling inside. All this, plus an election in Toronto that, after the disgusting Ford smashed our ward system, has me filled with concern, plus of course the apocalyptic UN report on climate change, and the state of the world, more dire reports coming from all over about the rise of the hard right - a story today on how Breivick, the far right mass murderer in Norway, was the beginning of a trend. Nightmares.

On the other hand - even in the gloom, the bright side. Eli and I had a sleepover this weekend, and what a gift to spend time with this bright, voluble, inventive six-year old. We played Snakes and Ladders many times and he only cheated a bit. We did the big dinosaur puzzle five times - he's really good at puzzles - and went twice to the wonderful playground in Regent Park for a lot of time on the monkey bars. First thing Sunday morning, as I reluctantly moved my ancient bones, he said, "Glamma, let's play tag!" Just, JUST what I felt like doing. Tag.

Best of all, snuggled in bed reading "Charlotte's Web." So I will leave you with a last word from E. B. White, the last two paragraphs of this glorious book, which Eli and I have not reached yet.

 Mr. Zuckerman took fine care of Wilbur all the rest of his days, and the pig was often visited by friends and admirers, for nobody ever forgot the year of his triumph and the miracle of the web. Life in the barn was very good - night and day, winter and summer, spring and fall, dull days and bright days. It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, and the glory of everything.

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is both a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.


Ten minutes later: my brother called from Do's hospital room. They don't think she will last through the night. He assures me again that she has been getting the very best of care, surrounded with love and attention. Perhaps her friend was distraught at seeing such a strong woman brought so low. I will wait to hear if I am needed, but he says she won't know me if I go tomorrow, so I probably won't. I said my goodbyes to her last time I was there.

Both my brother and I were weeping as we talked. She is almost the last of that generation - no one left on my mother's side, one or two on Dad's, in their nineties in New York. Loss loss loss loss loss loss loss.