Thursday, March 22, 2018

made it

Yes! Yes yes yes yes yes. I'm here. It's dark and raining in Vancouver, of course, but the fruit trees are in bloom. I'm in St. Augustine's, a pub on Commercial Drive, drinking a rather sour craft beer - it's called Jerkface, how could I resist? My friend Margaret with whom I will be staying is at a class and will meet me here in about half an hour. I assumed I'd be late, that it would take me a long time to get here, but a more seamless journey I have never had.

I'd even made my cappuccino the night before, so up at 7.30, heat up coffee, eat cereal, last minute things to do, out the door by 8.10, walk to Parliament Street and the bus came a few minutes later. Bus to the subway, and the subway came a minute later. Subway to Dundas West station, get out, walk a few minutes along Bloor, onto the UP express to the airport, a 7 minute wait. A beautiful swift train, and here we are at Pearson. No lineup, get through security, drink a flat white, eat a breakfast sandwich, board. Plane takes off on time. Watch "The Shape of Water," which I loved - we just flow into this world of imagination, leave our sceptical modern selves behind. We need to do that more often.

I watch some National Film Board shorts which are brilliant and funny, and then listen to Bach and Beethoven while reading "Lincoln in the Bardo," George Saunders's Man Booker-winning novel which I bought at the airport.

Can I tell you the pleasure of this - soaring through the air in a clunky tin bird while reading a magnificently imaginative and moving novel - about the death of President Lincoln's son, narrated by the ghosts around him in the cemetery, if you can believe that - and listening to the greatest music ever written? And then, one more bit of pleasure - I got out my sandwich and ate that. Leftover roast pork with tons of mayonnaise and endive. I know how to make a sandwich.

We land, my bag arrives, the Canada Line train arrives just as I get to at the station, and the Compass card I bought the last time I was here has lots of money left. Tap, get on, get off at Broadway/City Hall, it's raining but my umbrella is right there in one of the outside pockets, and anyway, it's only a few minutes till the 99B arrives. I take it to the end of the line and walk across the street to St. Augustine's pub.

Does it get easier than that? Not a single moment of heart-stopping panic, as is usual during my travels. And all this with - I must confess - a rather large suitcase. Well, I'm gone for a month! And there are gifts.

I am so so relieved to be outside my house, I the most turtle-like of creatures, unwilling to leave the warm protective space I have built for myself and huddled inside for 32 years. It's good to be naked out in the world once in a while. Maybe I'll meet a fishman, like Sally Hawkins did. So here goes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

nearly on her way

Dear God, this is the usual state I'm in before leaving for an extended trip - beyond exhausted, drained like an overcooked noodle. This time my left eye is bright red with a burst blood vessel; as I rode my bike yesterday, I kept that eye closed against the cold, so there was a one-eyed lunatic weaving about. There is sun, but it's cold.

Whereas in Vancouver, where I will land tomorrow, 90% chance of rain Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Hooray.

So - packing the rain boots.

The last Ryerson class on Monday, all of them reading spectacular work, the room infused with a feeling of trust and courage. A new editing client on Tuesday - he read my article in Zoomer and was determined to begin work on his memoir before my departure, so insisted we meet asap. An interesting man with a very interesting life - this will be fun. Today, more tramping about the house with John and Tatiana contemplating the renovation, how to rebuild the staircase, where will the door go, after 15 minutes, I'm ready to give up. I did NOT do Carole's class at the Y, could not even contemplate putting out that much energy - I just went in to say goodbye to everyone and then to have a long hot shower. And then to the dermatologist to learn that the brown patch behind my ear is not ear cancer, it's an age spot. Good news all round.

And then across town to be with my boys - Ben bouncing off the walls - everything he says and does is with enormous gusto. "STEEETCAR!" he screams, his face alight with excitement as if it's the first one he has ever seen, every time one goes by his bedroom window. Eli meanwhile was playing Risk with his dad. He's five. I have never played Risk. He won.

And now - the last minute things, trying not to aggravate my eye; the bag is nearly packed, and out the door I go first thing tomorrow. It is good to get away. It is good to get away. I know that, but each time, at this point, I swear I will never do this again.

Don't listen to her. She'll have forgotten all about it by tomorrow night.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

basement suite to rent May 1

Beautiful furnished basement suite to rent in tranquil, historic Cabbagetown in the heart of Toronto. One big bright room with kitchen, living room, bedroom combined; a dressing room area, and a bathroom with big shower. Reasonably priced, available May 1.

Please get in touch with me if you're interested or know someone who might be.

"If the rocks could talk"

An honour and a blessing: another editing client and former student, Rollande Ruston, has come out with the memoir we worked on together. I blushed to read her dedication: "Special thanks for Beth Kaplan, my creative writing teacher and hero... From the very beginning she was appreciative of my efforts and always had something positive to say about my stories... Without her encouragement and support, this book wouldn't be."

It's called "If the rocks could talk." Rollande has traced her family back to the mid-1600s in France and writes with humour and elegance about her childhood in the Gaspesie. A beautiful book; brava, Rollande, all that hard work was worth it. Take a look.

I'm sitting in the hot sun in the kitchen; it's still chilly outside, but we all feel spring coming. On Saturday I took Eli to the farm where we watched the farmhand grooming a horse with the lovely name Ringo. His horsehair was flying off; he doesn't need that thick protective pelt any more. And then we saw green shoots of daffodils and croci everywhere.

But because I'm an impatient person, I'm leaving on Thursday for a month on the west coast, where spring is far more advanced. Chris writes from Gabriola Island that he is outside in shorts. Of course, he is a crazy person, but still, I am attempting to imagine warm weather as I pack. Or, in fact, as I don't pack, because I haven't started yet, still immersed in Toronto life.

On Friday, my upstairs tenant and friend Carol arrived back from her permanent home in Ecuador to her temporary home in my attic; she's moving out for good mid-June, but will be here while I'm away. There was much talking about her last six months and mine. Then, a sleepover with Eli on Friday night. We spent a great deal of time playing hockey in the kitchen, he with a small puffy hockey stick I'd found - no-one could be hurt with this stick - and I with a broom. Needless to say, the score was 22 to 2 for the youth of today. Wayson came, and the three of us had dinner with Carol. I can tell you that the young man dislikes a lot of foodstuffs, but he really really likes salmon.

This visit, for the first time, he was immersed in Lego, spending hours putting together a boat-like creation and then filling the sink to the brim to see if it would float. It did, and so he took it into the bathtub with him. The night was a bit rough - he missed his mother at 3 a.m. so I got into bed with him for a bit, and then he came into my bed at about 5.30. But I forgive him everything. The best moment, lying side by side on the sofa with me starting to read "Charlotte's Web," a favourite book by my favourite writer, to him.

He told me he can count to a million by tens. "Really?!" I asked. "Sure," he said. "10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 a million. Easy peasy."

He has his grandmother's math skills. Mind you, she's 67, and he's 5.

His family came to get him; now that his mother can drive, she rents cars and zips all over town, and for March Break, brilliantly, she had rented a room in a hotel with a big pool and play area for a one night staycation. A good time was had by all.

Now I am cooking a last winter Sunday night roast for Carol, Wayson, and our friend Judy Steed. Next week, the last Ry class, a conference committee meeting which I'm chairing, a visit to the dermatologist to be sure I don't have ear cancer. It'll be spring on Tuesday, but I'm not waiting around to see if she decides to come. I know she takes her time getting to Toronto. So I'm going to look for her.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

celebrating Diana

The astounding adventure of life continues. Last term, I was privileged to meet a lively new student, Diana, who as a child came to Canada as a refugee from Vietnam. Diana grew up as Jimm, a boy who secretly enjoyed putting on women's clothes, finally came out, and found a beloved partner with whom he lived for 14 years. But underneath, Jimm had another secret, a female self longing to emerge - Diana. He wanted to transition, and a few years ago, the journey to Diana began.

Diana is open, vivacious, and the most feminine woman I know. She read at So True dressed in skintight leather pants, a low-cut blouse, diamant√© earrings, and at one dramatic point, pulled the clips out of her hair so it tumbled down to her waist. As we worked on the piece beforehand, Diana spoke of being "a career girl", and I asked what career. She said, laughing, "Insurance!" Just about the last kind of employment I would have imagined. Her company has fully supported her through her transition, she said. I noted that her insurance company is also mine.

And this week, I needed advice on insurance. I'm someone who went through a fire, thought my life was over, and instead got close to a brand new house, so I understand the vital importance of insurance, but I'm not happy with my agent, my premiums are high, and there are complications with the possibility of a renovation. I needed a seminar in insurance, and who to give it but Diana? She came over last night and we drank wine and went through my policy line by line as she explained what the confusing terms meant. She pointed out, with another great laugh, that I get the "Mature Market Discount" because old people don't wreck things as often as young ones.

And then, more importantly, we discovered that our feet are exactly the same size and I was able to give her a pair of high-heeled pointy-toed suede boots from my own former life, when I wore such things. Win/win. Thank you, Diana! (Incidentally, she has given me permission to write this.)

On Friday, my upstairs tenant Carol comes back from her home in Ecuador to spend her last three months here, and next Thursday, I fly out west for a month in Vancouver and on Gabriola Island. So there is much rushing right now - to try to get the reno at least comprehensible and possible, the downstairs apartment rented again, income tax underway, goodbyes said - Eli coming for a sleepover Friday night - the Beatles talk in May organized, the house fixed and ready for Carol - John came over yesterday, fixed the always-broken doorbell and replaced the innards of the downstairs toilet, my hero, that man. The last Ryerson class Monday, the last non-fiction conference meeting Tuesday, Wednesday seeing the dermatologist about the brown patch above my ear.

Thursday, get the hell out of here.

Monday, March 12, 2018

the man who knew too little, the woman who knows too much

Slow mo snow - big flakes tumbling and whirling in slow motion, mesmerizing. Not spring yet. But I did see a big robin at the bird feeder.

Well, my surprise hours Saturday and yesterday, when I was supposed to be in Ottawa and was not, vanished. My handyman John came, fixed things, and gave me some valuable advice about the renovation. I cooked dinner, Wayson came, and we watched some of the Canadian Screen Awards, so much more snappy and fun than the Oscars though sadly I'd never even heard of most of the films, and then a documentary about Harry Potter featuring one of my great heroes, the fine person and writer J.K. Rowling.

But what else happened? Not much. A great deal of time was spent sitting here with the computer, on Facebook and other sites, keeping up with the news. And then I read the article below about a man who has gone completely off the news grid, and I thought, Hmm.
It has happened so gradually, this subservience to the devices, it's hard to notice just how very much time goes into checking email and various websites, how automatic it is - first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and many times in between, and that's just email and news feeds on the computer, I'm not a phone junkie like some. Of course, the current state of the world leads us to a fraught desire to know the latest: What has he done NOW?

But is that healthy? I think not. How to cut back? I have no idea. But perhaps spending three weeks on a small gulf island will be a start.

And I promise not to mention Doug Ford.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Zoomer expert c'est moi

Dazed. It's noon on Saturday; I'm supposed to be at the island airport to get a 12.30 flight to Ottawa, to take my aunt shopping and to dinner with her friend Una tonight, spend Sunday morning and lunch with her and depart tomorrow afternoon. I was just shutting down my computer to leave for the airport when I got an email from Porter - my flight had been cancelled and I was rebooked on one at 6 p.m.

Infuriating! I wouldn't get to my aunt - who, as you know, will be 98 next month - until 8 p.m., by which time she's usually nodding off on her bed as she watches TV. Pointless to make the trip, which incidentally costs over $300 plus car rental and my night at the Airbnb. I had to call Do and Una while I was on hold for half an hour with Porter; apparently the delay has to do with poor weather down east yesterday causing flights to be backed up.

Still infuriating. I had to cancel. Not sure when I can get there as I leave for Vancouver March 22. I am packed with gifts; I'd had a huge meal to eat the last of the food in my fridge which now is empty - as is the whole day. My aunt is hugely disappointed and so am I.


Okay, nothing to be done. I am sorry, my beloved aunt. But at least it was not an urgent trip to see her in hospital, as it was so often with my mother; I just wanted to see her. So now, to look on the time as a gift and use it well. I'd better get some groceries. Some wine. Do some work. God knows, there are a million things to be done. Started income tax last night.

On the bright side, I was checking True to Life on Amazon because of the Zoomer plug, below, when I found a few nice new reviews by unknown readers, including this one. "Fun to read - very tasty tips" - mmm, I can dine out on that.

a fun read and extremely useful for creative non-fiction writing
Playfully written, this book is fun to read with bite-sized chapters full of very tasty tips that really do help with non-fiction writing.

The very short article I wrote for Zoomer, in conjunction with our creative non-fiction conference, is getting lots of airplay - they've not only posted it on the Zoomer website, they've highlighted it in the email they send out to their subscribers. How I love being "an expert" - there's a first for everything! Ha.
6 Ideas for a Lazy Brunch, How to Write Your Memoir … and MORE!
Ask an Expert: 7 Tips on How to Write Your Memoir
Led an interesting life? Want to leave the unvarnished details to your heirs apparent
long after you’ve left the building? We say write it down now!  READ MORE

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

So True readers triumph, again

So True! It was wonderful. I'm so proud of the writers. Here's what one first time reader emailed afterwards:
Still feeling "full" after a night of feasting on everyone's authentic, bold, well read writing. So grateful to have shared the stage and mic (not so scary after all!) with all of you. Thanks Beth for creating the space and for all the support to get us up there. Amazing.
And another first timer:
I had a wonderful evening, just thrilled to have been in the company of such a fine group of people. Your stories are all touching. 
It was an honour and absolute pleasure to be a part of So True. Thank you Beth for this unique opportunity to share my story.

This time, we were nearly at capacity - maybe 70 people plus our 8 readers. If we get any bigger, we'll have to find another space, and we really like this one.
The next So True isn't until October; this particular May and June are too busy for me to be able to devote the time to our usual late spring session. Our autumn topic: Kith and Kin. I just love the word 'kith,' and those two words make for the best stories. So - stay tuned.

And then Wayson and I came back here, and Sam's lovely Amy came over too; Sam had cooked chili for our Oscar watching party. I can't believe we watched the whole @#$# thing, but we did. People have been dissing the show, but I thought it was better than most - less crass, more heartfelt, with some great moments. However, I used to sit and watch acting award shows like the Oscars and feel like Cinderella, at home in my rags while important glittering people celebrated each other. And now, I look at those women, working so very hard in extremely uncomfortable clothes in front of 200 million people, and am so profoundly grateful to be in my sweatpants in my living room. Speaking and reading an essay in a room of 70 or 80 friendly souls is stress enough for me.

Friday I had a checkup. There's a little cyst on my left eyelid, a brown mole-like patch above my right ear, both of which need to be seen, and I still have osteoporosis though my bones are holding steady. Aging, as they say, is not for sissies. Though in fact, I've never felt better. So there.

Today, across town to see Anna and the boys - it's been weeks. We got Eli after school and went to his floor hockey class again. I was there for the first class some weeks ago, and this was the last of the term - they've come a long way, those hooligan five-year old boys with their ceaseless energy. It was wonderful to see them screaming with laughter playing dodgeball as a warmup, and Ben allowed to join in at the end. But I was exhausted just watching them - non-stop noise and motion. My poor daughter.
Speaking of kith and kin...

I am seeing contractors on the chance that this renovation will actually happen, and this morning a possible tenant for the basement suite since my current tenant is moving to New York. Seeing editing clients, bank manager, teaching, trying to keep up with life - it never stops. Have not written a word for weeks. How do writers do it? I forget.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

blocking spam

Dear readers, I have been getting lots and lots of mail on this blog - from spammers in Nigeria, offering me ways to get my husband or lover back through the casting of spells. I checked the site that lists where my readers are, and sure enough, my third highest readership is in Lagos. Since I'd rather not read incoherent messages about conjuring my husband back, my tech genius Grace has engineered a way to stop them. From now on, a reply to one of my posts will go first to my email for approval and then be posted. It'll just take a bit longer to reply.

And now Grace is reporting them all as spam. Take that, you horrible creatures.

A very short article I wrote for "Zoomer" magazine has just appeared in their March issue with Oprah on the cover. There's a longer piece first listing different ways professional writers can help people get their stories on paper, and then, at the end, a short piece from me on how to write your own memoir. Very concise - in fact, considerably cut even from the short version I sent them - but already someone has contacted me to ask if I'd speak on this subject to their group. Not sure it'll work out, but it's nice these things are read.

On my blog, under "Magazines."

Or here:

Just finished Rachel Cusk's "Transit." What a very odd book. There's no question she's a good writer, but I won't read another book by her - too cold, too irritatingly unsettling. You never know where you are, as people suddenly take off into long philosophical discussions.

It's cold outside but the sun in this office is hot. I'm trying to dig my way out of the mess after clearing out the storage room for the renovation which is now on hold. My left arm is a bit sore - had the vaccine shot against shingles yesterday. On Thursday we held the rehearsals for So True - wonderful, as always. Yesterday, dear friend Stella Walker came for dinner; today, my oldest friend Ron. Tomorrow, after So True, Sam and Amy and Sam's best high school friend and his wife come for chili and Oscars, which will be wasted on me as I've hardly seen any of the movies. How did I get so behind?

Let's get together. It's still cold, and it's March.