Saturday, January 20, 2018

January 20, 2009, a great day

I didn't march today. Last year's march was inspiring and ennobling, and I'm sure today's was too. But I was busy this year.

Just happened to open one of my first books - "Yours Truly, a book of the blog," compiled from the first years of my blog (especially my 5 months in France in 2009,) shaped into a narrative, designed by my friend Chris, and self-published in 2010. My mother called it "the best book I've ever read," but then she did not read much. Reading again, though, I did find lots compelling. From exactly nine years ago:
Tuesday January 20, 2009
Hail to the chief, President Barack Hussein Obama

Dear planet, at last! I can't believe that from now on when we talk about the U.S. and say "the President," we are referring to the superb, the sublime Barack Obama ... It's hard to believe today really happened not only because Barack is black, but because he's intelligent and open, literate and generous, good-hearted, youthful, fine. How is it possible that we have gone from eight years of depraved darkness to this brand new hope and air and light, practically overnight? From the worst of human nature to the best? 

Well, it turns out we didn't know from depraved darkness or the worst of human nature. Who could ever have guessed what, or who, was to come? That we'd look back on the glorious days of George W. Bush?

Sigh.

Oh well. I also found, online, a photo from 1978 - a production called The Shadow Box, about cancer and family, with marvellous actors like Janet Wright, Goldie Semple, Allan Gray with particularly effective pale "I've got cancer" makeup - and a very young Michael J. Fox. Oh, and moi, in a role I had no idea how to play. Here's a shot of our dinnertime between shows on Saturdays.
That's me in a particularly unflattering shot, shrieking at the back, and Mikey at the front. RIP beautiful Goldie and powerful Janet. But Mikey, despite Parkinson's, is going strong. And yours truly, hanging in there.

And celebrating her students, as ever. Kathryn Belicki wrote a lovely piece for the home class, which we encouraged her to send out; it was just published in the United Church Observer.
http://www.ucobserver.org/columns/2018/01/spirit_story/. 
When I wrote to congratulate her, she replied:
You have created such a great space for our writing community to grow and flourish—and have a great time while doing it. The word “thanks” just doesn’t cover it.
It does feel good when something goes so right. Like January 20, 2009.

Friday, January 19, 2018

new driver in the family

Great excitement today: Anna passed her driver's test on Wednesday, and today we rented a car together - she can't rent one till she gets a credit card, which is coming - and she drove us across town. She is of course a terrific driver, steady and confident, hilariously quoting her stern driving instructor with his Serbian accent as we glided through the city. We went - where else do you go when you first get a car? - not far from her house to Ikea with the kids, for lunch and a play in the playroom for Eli, candles for me, and blackout blinds and much else for Anna. And then, back across town, not on the streetcar or in a cab, but in a car driven by my competent daughter, who also has just recently been to an optometrist and bought the glasses she has needed for years. So - glasses, a driver's licence and soon a credit card - a grown up, without a doubt.
Last night, my home class annual potluck - what a treat, eight dear friends, like family, who arrive bearing delicious food and great stories. We eat, and then they read. We're off again.

And ... the fabulous architect Jennifer Turner who designed my gorgeous kitchen after the fire has agreed to come next week to take a look at my ideas for the renovation. I went onto her website; last year she brought a photographer over to take shots of her work in this kitchen. They spent ages taking out all the stuff that I have on every shelf, so that the fine bones of Jennifer's work would show. Though it looks glorious, it certainly doesn't look as if I, the stuff collector, live here.

But I do.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Post

On the weekend I went to visit dear friends, a couple who have been swept away by a tide of misfortune - and are fine. He was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo radiation and chemo, and as he was beginning to recover, they discovered that their house had been contaminated by a flood of heating oil from a renovation being done poorly and cheaply next door. And then she broke her pelvis. They lived in a nursing home for awhile while they both got well and now are in a condo downtown; it will be many months, while the contaminated soil under their house is removed, before they can move back home. Not that long ago, all was hunkydory, and then all that slammed them. But they are remarkably resilient and cheerful, and the condo is lovely.

"But it's not home," he said.

Speaking of home, my reno is on. I've had the go-ahead from the bank and met with John and his architectural consultant friend, and we came up with a plan that looks great. It'll be excruciating and expensive and totally disruptive, I'll have to get rid of a ton of stuff and will end up with a bit more than half the house I have now - and that's as it should be. Now looking for a contractor. Please let me know if you have a lead.

Last night, the first class of the Ryerson term - it's always exciting to meet new people, and this time, to find 3 students from past terms back for more, including one from 5 years ago, a sports writer for the Star. And tomorrow night, my home class. The adventure begins.

Tonight, "The Post", how a brave newspaper printed leaked documents despite an injunction, and saved us from the deceitful American government. Wait - what year was that?! Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, superb, but best of all, the smoky newsrooms with their clacking typewriters, lovingly recreated, and closeups of printing presses, oily metal machinery turning, typesetters at work with blocks of type - heaven. A free press could not matter more. A great film at just the right time. Thank you, Steven Spielberg.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

warmest Jan. 11 on record - we'll take it

Toronto weather just broke another record. Jan. 4 was the coldest on record, and today, Jan. 11, was the warmest - over 12 degrees! The temperature jumped 35 degrees in six days - and will be dropping 20 degrees back down on the weekend. Utterly confusing. Today felt like spring, except for the mounds of filthy melting snow.

Bizarre.

My U of T class Life Stories II has been cancelled; sorry to anyone who wanted to register, please do so earlier next time. And please write to me if you want advice on what to do instead. As for me - I'm sorry to do without the money, but now I have Tuesday afternoons all to myself. Woo hoo! FYI the Ryerson class True to Life is nearly full.

Tuesday, I went across town to babysit Ben while his mama had her driving lesson. Anyone who's depressed for any reason should spend time with a two-year old. Everything is interesting. Thomas had brought some long cardboard tubes, and guess what, when you put a little car in one end, it runs right through and COMES OUT THE OTHER SIDE! The most exciting thing ever!!! Ben's favourite words: NOLIKEIT. For example, frowning at me when I put on my glasses: NOLIKEITGLASSES. I took them off. No messing around with this kid.

And then we picked up Eli from school and went to his first ball hockey class. Eight five-year old boys with sticks - terrifying. Fun. And - ahem - Eli scored the only goal.

Ahem.

The class was at Parkdale Collegiate, and while we walked through the halls - well, we old folks walked, the boys ran at top speed - I saw this:
Is that not fabulous? What would I have thought if that had been on a washroom door in my last high school, Lisgar Collegiate in Ottawa, in 1966? I'd have had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. Nobody would.

Anna's driving test is next week. Now that's exciting.

Wednesday, a meeting with my bank manager, whom I've known for 15 years and who is like a dear friend - and I'm pretty sure most people, especially freelance writers, don't feel that way about their bank managers. His first baby is due in a few weeks - a girl - and I'm getting a present ready. He told me I can have a big loan to do my renovation with no problem and at a pretty low interest rate. So - we're on. (And incidentally, I've just written and sent a letter to his boss about how helpful and hardworking he is. We writers must use our superpowers for good.)

Today, a long meeting for the Creative Non-fiction conference - what a compatible group we non-fiction-writers-and-conference-organizers are, a pleasure to work with.

I got embroiled in a FB argument about #MeToo. There's a level of feminist vitriol in the air that scares me. An American actress responded to Catherine Deneuve and the other French women's open letter, which says #MeToo is going too far and becoming a witch hunt, by saying their misogynistic self-hatred has taken over their minds. Oh come on.

Now there's a huge hooha about sexual assault in theatres and creative writing departments. As a longtime veteran of both, I have to say - is there something wrong with me that I was never assaulted in either? Yes, I made terrible mistakes sexually during my youth, but with my eyes open. No one ever importuned me in a way I could not handle. Was I just lucky? Was I so plain that lecherous men were just not interested? This doesn't mean I'm not sympathetic to women who have been assaulted, not at all. But as I wrote to a furious correspondent on FB, I guess we have different definitions of 'assault.'

In the good news department, there's this, and that's all I need to buoy me on this springlike day. Don't read it too closely. Just keep the headline close to your heart.
To Improve a Memory, Consider Chocolate
A small study shows that an antioxidant in chocolate appears to improve some memory skills that people lose as they age.
https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/27/us/a-bite-to-remember-chocolate-is-shown-to-aid-memory.html 

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Florida Project

Dear students and writers, if you are considering taking my advanced course at U of T, I ask you to sign up immediately, because a few more are needed for the course to run. The Ryerson course is filling fast and may soon be full, but the U of T class is only for writers who have taken my course before or who've received permission from me, and sometimes is small.

So if you're interested, don't wait.

I just returned from seeing a horror movie: The Florida Project. It's about poor families who live in welfare, slum motels in Florida, and though it's a brilliant film, I found it profoundly upsetting and depressing. The U.S. as a third world country - we know it's so, and here it is, on view - lives so devoid of meaning, unsupervised children running amok, and yet people struggling to make a community and find kindness and decency. Thank God for Willem Dafoe, with his expressive craggy face, as a manager who cares for the hopelessly lost people who live there.

What's exceptional are the children - utterly natural and unforced and real. How the director achieved what he did with these kids, I have no idea; it's breathtaking. But the film made me sad; not a good film to see in January. I came home to my house - my roof, my walls, the unimaginable luxury of my stable, comfortable, functional life.

And this after watching much of the Golden Globes last night, which was the most politically aware awards show I've ever seen, women rising up, wearing black, Oprah fierce and fiery. An important moment, as women struggle to change the world, or at least, their bit of it. But feminist struggles aside, that motel in Florida is as far from the glitter and champagne of Los Angeles as anywhere on earth.

The night before's excitement: watching "2001, a space odyssey" for the first time since it came out in 1968. A very odd movie - yes, a masterpiece, but also odd and very, very slow, long lyrical passages to Zarathustra or Strauss as spaceships float and dock, and then an utterly surreal ending I had to Google to understand. Interesting that Kubrick foresaw many things clearly about the future, but still had women as pretty stewardesses in pink suits and absurd little hats.

And yesterday, I was on the streetcar passing Allen Gardens on Carlton Street when I blinked and swivelled to look closer. It was a hawk, a big hawk on the ground, tearing at something in its talons, probably a pigeon. How often do you see that in the middle of the city? A magnificent raptor having lunch. Red in tooth and claw.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Toronto the filthy but great

Went to the Y this morning. For the 20 minute voyage door to door by streetcar, I wore: long johns under cashmere leggings with thick socks and boots, an undershirt, t-shirt, sweater, and puffy vest under a long puffy coat, also thick wool hat and scarf covering the face and of course, mitts. Warm as toast.

The temp is soon going up - maybe even to minus six! Woo hoo! But the city is its usual hideous self at this time of year - filthy snowbanks covered with garbage. I'm ashamed of it.

And then I read a Guardian list of the top places to visit this year - and there's Toronto. FYI the Bentway has already opened as a long skating trail for people crazy enough to want to go out in this cold. And Rail Deck Park, as far as I know, has not yet found funding. But it's still a great city, except when it's full of filthy snow and garbage. Otherwise, great.

Toronto



Ontario’s waterfront capital is already known for its multiculturalism (in addition to Chinatown, there’s Little Italy, Little India, Greektown and Koreatown) and festival-packed summer (from the renowned Toronto Jazz Festival to a host of food and craft-beer events). And the list of reasons to visit continues to grow, not least the fact that from 1 May British Airways will fly direct from London Gatwick, as well as Heathrow, with three new flights a week. 

This spring, the Museum of Contemporary Art will reopen, having moved into an industrial space in the Junction Triangle. The city will also be getting a new public space, the Bentway, a mile-long trail under the Gardiner Expressway, which has been transformed into a route for skating as well as art, markets and performances. Other developments, include the Rail Deck Park – a huge green space to be built over a railway corridor in Downtown – and the continued revitalisation of the waterfront.

And then there's this, sent by a friend:

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Friday, January 5, 2018

minus 36

Today was the coldest January 5th here on record. This morning, my daughter had to get her two kids, a cousin, and a neighbour's boy to an outdoor skating rink for skating lessons. With the wind chill, it was minus 36. But she did it. The parents who get their children through these bitters days are heroic - especially as the kids are off school now, during the worst weather imaginable, and the rigamarole just to get out the door, and then inside again - gruelling.

And then they came over here, and by the time they'd left, I was ready to fall over. Though it was wonderful. I got out my old doll's house, a Tudor manor given me when I was six by my English grandparents, that I played with and my kids played with and now my grandsons. I could not help but notice that the little people who live inside had all had their pants removed by the last group of kids. Anna hinted that it might, 30 years ago, have been her. I tried to get the pants back on but the bodies are too small.

Doll's house, making soup in the sink with the wooden vegetables, riding the Plasma car back and forth, playing the piano and drums, jumping on the sofa, snack, books, balls, trucks and cars, and by then, the house is a disaster. So out for dinner. By the time we wrestled the car seats into the taxi home, their mother was a basket case. And then Glamma got to walk home alone, clean up, sit in silence.

The cold is like being under siege, debilitating, unnerving, I just want to curl up and sleep. And drink wine and watch TV and read magazines under a blanket. Nothing is getting done. But we're alive. One more week of freedom before teaching begins. Must make use of it to do something useful. I promise. As soon as the brain kicks back in.

Have not forgotten the rest of the planet - am avidly following the release of the tell-all book about the orange blowhole. How long, O Lord?

Thursday, January 4, 2018

loving Leonard

Here is my image for the new year, the ivy on the south wall of the garden: the intricate beauty of something that might or might not be dead, and there, clinging to the old and bursting into the sun, new growth. If that's not a metaphor for a new year, I don't know what is.

And for all hopeful writers - comme moi, right now, waiting to hear from a publisher about my ms. - here's a lovely sight: J.K. Rowling's synopsis of her manuscript about a boy called Harry Potter, sent to and turned down by many publishers. All we hopefuls can say is: LOL.

Last night's treat - the musical tribute to Leonard Cohen. Halfway through, I posted this on FB:
Sitting in front of the TV, sobbing, watching "The Tower of Song," the tribute concert to Leonard Cohen on CBC. Hearing his son Adam who sounds so like him, k.d lang tearing the roof off with "Hallelujah" - and the man himself with his dignity, his gravitas and sweetness and lust for life - what a mensch. Oh he is missed.
Oh the glory of those songs! Yes you who must leave everything that you cannot control. It begins with your family, but soon it comes around to your soul.Well I've been where you're hanging, I think I can see how you're pinned: When you're not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you've sinned.

Thank you, Leonard.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

great gifts for the new year

Just heard from my longtime friend Suzette, who read a draft of the new memoir. She has given me a great gift: she loved it. It’s absolutely lovely writing, wise and full of heart and heartbreak and, ultimately, hard-won victories of insight and love and, in the end, happiness and fulfillment. An amazing journey of the self, full of insight and humour. beautiful, heartbreaking, heartmending story.

Does it get better than that? She has some critical comments, suggestions for possible changes - but I wrote to her, I'm drinking your words like fine wine. This bizarre business, as we slog alone for months and years, and then send our fragile vessels out into the world to see if they float. I must remember that this reader is a dear friend, on my side, and the editors who'll read the ms., or who won't, are not. Still. A great gift, much needed during these cold dark days.

And another gift: Since my upstairs tenant is moving out in May, I've been trying to decide what to do with my four-story house - which really means, where shall I grow old? As are many of my friends in this neighbourhood of tall, impractical Victorian homes. I was contemplating a huge reno to transform half the house into a separate apartment, completely lost heart when I considered the enormous disruption and cost in money and, more importantly, time - and now am back on track. My old friend Jessica, an artist who has that kind of mind - she can visualize, cost, see where the supporting walls are and what can come down - came today to take a look. We paced and she began to sketch - and voila, something possible. Yes, extremely disruptive and expensive, but at the end, two separate living spaces. I think I can stand it. It will force me to get rid of a ton of stuff, which I need to do anyway, and it will make me continue to be a landlady. But if I find the right tenant - like the one now in the basement suite, quiet, reliable, and often away - it's a great way to support this old bag into retirement.

So I think it's gonna happen. In the fall, maybe. We'll see. My bank manager has said no problem for the dough. The front part of the current living room would be my bedroom, the back part would turn into a library because I'd lose my bookshelf space upstairs, the current dining room would become the TV/living room, a spiral staircase would push through the ceiling at the back - oh it's big. Always interesting, life.

In the meantime, the New York trip is also getting more exciting. I discovered that the best actor in the world, Mark Rylance, is appearing in a show in NYC at that time, and now I have my ticket. I would travel a great distance to see Mark Rylance, whether I'm speaking at an event or not.

We are under siege here, the weather record-breaking cold. It's huddling weather. Thank you powers that be for a functioning furnace and roof. And lots of possibilities, and space to make changes, and generous, wise, supportive friends who have ideas. Onward into the brand new adventure of 2018. It sure has started well.

Here is the always-wise E.B. White on New Year's Eve celebrations. Had to look up orectic. What a valuable word! orectic - of or concerning desire or appetite. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Life Stories II at U of T

Always a lovely day, New Year's Day, quiet. No hangover for this old biddy. I knew it was midnight because the little girl next door, who was outside, shouted Happy New Year! and somewhere, fireworks banged and popped. My treat was watching Monty Don's "Great Gardens of England" - Sissinghurst! - at the same time as the brilliantly acerbic Canadian satire show, the Beaverton. By midnight, I was safe and warm in bed.

And now - moving from the fog of Christmas and free time into the real world. Checking my teaching numbers - Ryerson is filling fast, so if you're interested, please register soon. The U of T class Life Stories II has room. That class, on Tuesdays 12.30 - 3 starting Jan. 16, is for writers who have taken my course before or who have a lot of writing experience. The pieces are longer and emailed out in advance, if possible, for a more in-depth exploration.

If you'd like to take your writing to the next level, please get in touch or sign up at the U of T department of Continuing Studies. www.learn.utoronto.ca 

And begin 2018 with a creative challenge.