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!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

death on Bloor Street

A horrifying experience today - at noon, I was cycling merrily along Bloor Street on my way to U of T, congratulating the city on the newish bike lanes there, when, only a few hundreds yards from OISE where I teach on Tuesdays, I came upon a ghastly scene: ambulance, police, fire engines screaming in the distance, a crumpled bicycle, a helmet on the ground, a form covered with a yellow cloth, a paramedic unpacking a long canvas bag. A body bag.

I wept with shock and horror. The city and its drivers are slaughtering cyclists and pedestrians - careless driving, texting, speeding, lack of policing, lack of enough safe bicycle infrastructure. After class at 3, Bloor Street was still shut down. All we know is that the cyclist was a middle-aged woman struck by a truck which was turning. She must have been in the bike lane with her helmet on, just as I was. If I'd been there a few minutes earlier, it would have been me.

When I spoke later to a policeman nearby, he said, "It's happening too often." No kidding. "Cars and trucks go too fast," I said, and he nodded, but said, "The truck was turning, so speed may not have been an issue here." As I started to ride off, he said, "Be careful."

The issue here is that a woman got up on June 12 2018, put on her helmet, headed out on her trusty bike into this heavenly late spring day, and was killed. My ride home after class today was extra slow, and I was extra conscious of the sunshine, the smell of flowers and gasoline, the waft of wind, the warmth of sun on my skin, how lucky to still be here on this flawed, extraordinary planet.

The class itself was particularly meaningful, a group of brave students telling their deepest truths. Intense and inspiring.

Tonight, I go to see Paul Simon at the Air Canada Centre. The last tour of one of the best songwriters of his generation, second only to Bob Dylan and You Know Who.

On Sunday, I watched the Tony Awards, grateful to ever have been part of that dazzling world.

The first rose is out, the first (and only) peony, the lavender, the gardenia with seven gorgeous white blossoms wafting scent, the birds filling the garden with song - and I am alive to see and smell and hear and feel.

As the fridge magnet Wayson gave me says, "It doesn't get better than this."

While I celebrate life, I mourn you, dear fellow cyclist, and those who lost you today.

Friday, June 8, 2018


I awoke early this morning, saying to myself, Maybe it was all a dream, or a nightmare, not real at all. But no - there it is on the front page of the Star - "Premier Ford." Not a joke. Real.

So a day of recovery and sorrow for what awaits the people of this province - exactly what we've seen in the U.S., disaster for education, transit, health care, the environment, an endless succession of scandals. As I wrote to Anna, the only upside: Ford does not have any nuclear codes. Great comfort in that.

I feel sick and wounded, and not just because a whole party of cretins - including Mike Harris's son! -  was just elected with a majority, and there are small bloody dots above my eyes. The news of Anthony Bourdain's suicide after the news of Kate Spade's. Somehow, I'm surprised and yet not, that wealthy, creative, outwardly successful people are depressed to the point of suicide. The world is fucked right now. It turns out that human beings are far more limited, tribal, and small-minded than we thought. Such needless chaos out there, it hurts to read the paper. I'd cancel it, except that I don't want to further damage the endangered print media.

There's a documentary on TVO tonight about Fred Rogers. That will make me feel better. Or maybe not. He's dead.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The nightmare begins.

Hideous. Heartbreaking. The polls closed at 9; it's 10, and I've turned off the TV, can't bear to watch any more. We are going to have that gang of goons at Queen's Park. "The war on the car is over!"

At least my riding, which has been Liberal forever, voted in the NDP candidate. In fact, most if not all of downtown is NDP. The suburbs - solid blue. This for a party proudly without a platform headed by a bullying crooked former drug dealer with no provincial experience and facing a major lawsuit.

As my distraught daughter wrote earlier, "People are stupid!" And this is a woman who prides herself on not being judgmental. But sometimes, judgement is called for, and right now, no question, a majority of our fellow Ontarians are fucking stupid.

PS Anna on FB yesterday, telling it like it is to a right-wing nut:
Ford is a white supremacist and neo-nazi-endorsed (fucking literally) ex-drug dealing trust fund baby, bully and total creep tricking STUPID or intellectually lazy people with buzz words. 

That's my girl.

P.S. All you need to know:
The Doug Ford campaign bus parked in an accessible spot reserved for the handicapped.

hope, voting, and eyelids

So this is the crazy up and down about this writing business: I have more or less written off the current draft of my new memoir. The nonfiction conference and my editor friend showed me some of the problems with it, at least in the first section, so I assumed I would have to rewrite at least the first half. And I've been resisting that, or maybe life has handed me so much to do that resistance has been easy. Nothing has happened in the creative writing department for weeks.

Riding my bike to teach at U of T, I saw a familiar face walking nearby - the publisher of a small local publishing house of repute, to whom, months ago, I'd sent the ms. Have heard nothing and assumed they were not interested. As I cycled by, I called a cheery hello, since I sort of know him, and he flagged me down. "Walk with me," he said, "I have to talk to you. How coincidental to see you now."

He told me his acquisitions editor had given him the ms., saying she wasn't interested in acquiring it, and he had started to read it. "I really like it!" he said, and my heart leapt. It turned out he has not read much, doesn't even really know, yet, what it is about. So anything may happen; rejection may still be nigh. But there, suddenly, for this old donkey, was a big fat juicy orange carrot, dangling in front of her nose.

We shall see.

In the meantime, Ontario is voting. Will our very own criminal fathead Trump be elected? Probably, but when I went to vote this morning, the lineup was so long, I decided to come back later. In my three decades of voting there, that has never happened before. Are all those folks voting for the right party? This is a small l and big L liberal riding. I voted NDP. Let us pray.

In the meantime, my eyes hurt. I needed a procedure on my eyelids - a cyst on one and an ingrown eyelash on the other. Had an appt for yesterday at 3, hoping to get out quickly to recover before teaching at 6.30. At 5 I was still sitting in the waiting room, fuming, and had to leave, fuming, to prepare for class. They managed to squeeze me in today, and though I still had to wait nearly an hour, once I was in his chair, the operation took only minutes. I have small bloody dots above both eyes and will be black and blue tomorrow, he says. I told him he's a wonderful surgeon but his time management needs work.

My home class tonight, with a bottle of Prosecco chilling - we'll watch the returns after class. I doubt we'll have anything to celebrate, but a cold bubbly drink might help us feel better. My poor daughter is distraught. But perhaps the voters are not as stupid as we imagine they are. No. They are that stupid. Look at Trump's approval ratings. And remember the damage Mike Harris did to this province ...


Monday, June 4, 2018

Beth's Write in the Garden

An amazing thing has happened in the garden. More than twenty years ago,  I made friends with a British neighbour, Dorothy, who marched into my wreck of a yard and began to teach me what to do. It's Dorothy who started me off with practical advice and encouragement. At one point, she gave me a cutting from a wisteria, which grew like crazy, taking over fences and walls, but frustratingly, never bloomed. Dorothy became ill and had to sell her home and its lovely garden; eventually she moved back to England and died in her twin sister's house, in a bedroom overlooking the garden. Her sister sent me a picture of her gravestone, covered with roses.

After ten years, I cut down the bloody huge trunk of Dorothy's wisteria and hacked at it again only last year, though it's so invasive, there were still bits left.

Today I walked into the garden, and there are purple wisteria blossoms on the fence. They're small, but they're there; it only took them 22 years to grow.
I can see Dorothy smiling down on the garden she helped create. She'd be so proud to see it now.

And to celebrate Dorothy and her lessons to me, I open my garden to ten or so writers every year, to spend the day there digging up stories, planting the seeds of future writing, talking, eating, drinking. It's a wonderful day.

PS Breaking news: Renata Ford, the hopeless Rob Ford's widow, is suing her brother-in-law Doug for various malfeasance issues. Is this what we've been praying for?

And this, from Twitter: people are all wondering why melania trump hasnt been in the news lately, and i have a theory. its because she never does anything. im also not in the news for similar reasons.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Carole's 70 and Beth's a slug

I went to a party last night as an imposter. A catered affair held in an upstairs room at the Y, it was the 70th birthday party of Carole, my runfit instructor, combined with her 25th wedding anniversary. Though there was lots of family from both sides, there were also many Y members, including some who used to come to Carole's class years ago and whom I have not seen in a long time.

And this is the thing: I've been doing Carole's class since about 1993 and am still at the end of the line, but all around me were serious athletes. A 70-ish couple at my table had cycled 100 kilometres that morning; others were competitive runners or even triathletes. Carole herself ran 50 marathons, announced that was enough, and then changed her mind last year and ran one more, finishing just a few minutes off the qualifying time for the most prestigious of them all, Boston. She had a big job in tech along with her athletic career and decades of volunteering at the Y. This grandmother of three adults is as lithe as a teenager, a cheerful good person, a pleasure to know and an inspiration to all.
Her husband Brian was an athlete too - they met during a marathon - but, some years older than Carole, he is declining into dementia. The evening was especially moving because, with a video running in the background of their wedding in 1993, they renewed their vows. I felt privileged to be there, in a roomful of kind, wonderful people, like the old friend, recently retired, who's now organizing volunteers to read to refugee children, to instil a love of books.

I was glad there wasn't a fitness test to attend this event, because I would certainly have failed. Though Jim did remind me that one spring, he accompanied me doing an 8 k. in High Park. I did once do a 10 k. and several 5 k's. But that was decades ago; now after 5 minutes I'm spent. Thank you for inviting me, Carole, for including me in this fleet group. I've said it before - I'll up my fitness game. Just not quite sure when to fit that in.

Today, heaven - the Don Valley Parkway was closed for the Ride for Heart, and as I always do this particular Sunday, I went for a long peaceful ride down the trail beside it. So many birds, such lush greenery, such silence only a few blocks from my inner city home - made me very happy.

But - here's the but - I need to confess. The family crisis on the weekend was caused by me; I accidentally sent a hurtful email, intended for someone else, to a vulnerable family member. As I was bitching about something to John yesterday, he said, "Beth, do you have anything cheerful to say?" Later, I was complaining to my daughter about "the nightmare of the renovation" coming up, and she said, "Well, Mum, if renovating your lovely house is your worst nightmare, you're pretty lucky."

Reality check: I can be careless and crabby and whiney. And I'm a slug. Good to confront one's flaws every once in a while. But at least I'm a good niece, and I do keep my bird feeder filled. And a happy Sunday to you too.

Friday, June 1, 2018

tea at the Chateau with Do

A whirlwind visit, a great success - I'm in Ottawa. Thursday midday at the Toronto island airport I met my cousin Barbara, who had flown in from Washington D.C., and together we journeyed to Ottawa where we rented a car, drove to our hotel, and then on to visit our Aunt Do, whom readers of this blog know well. She is much more frail and forgetful than five months ago. But still, she's extraordinary at 98, not wanting to miss a thing.

We went out for dinner, and my brother and his ten-year old son joined us. My brother recently fell in love with a woman he met in Singapore, who will soon be on her way to visit him here. He wanted us to meet her, so we Facetimed with her at the restaurant. Definitely surreal, chatting on the tiny screen with a woman in Singapore who may be joining our family. Do talked away as if this was something she does every day.

Today, excursions: to The Scottish and Irish Shop, jammed with British biscuits and sweets - Jaffa cakes, ginger nut biscuits, sultana biscuits and much more for Do. And to Ikea, because it's close and fun, to look at cool stuff and buy napkins and dish brushes. By then I expected Do to be exhausted, but no, she was up for high tea at the Chateau Laurier. I'd told them it was her 98th birthday, which was actually a month ago, and they brought a lit candle with a bit of cake.

And then we drove back and talked family. Barbara had brought photos - one of our great-great-grandfather - and Do told stories. After hours, she was still going strong, though fading. For the decades of our growing up, I hardly knew Barbara, and she hardly knew Do - we were in Canada, Barb and her family were in Bethesda, our fathers didn't get along particularly, and Barbara's mother Margaret didn't get along particularly with her younger sister Dorothy. So, after years of a kind of estrangement, a wonderful bond has been made between two cousins and aunt and niece. Barb thanked Do for sticking around long enough that she could get to know her, and we had a good laugh.
But I wonder how much longer my dear aunt can live alone in her apartment and what will happen when she can't.

In the middle of all this, I was assailed with a family crisis - on the sofa with my phone and my computer, I was dealing with Toronto, texts flying back and forth, while listening to my relatives discussing life in the twenties and thirties - the thatched cottage where my mother was born in 1923, which never had an indoor toilet. My grandmother cooking on a stove that burned coke. How they had a fire to heat water for their Saturday night baths, which is where a family of three girls and their mother burned their sanitary napkins. Fascinating stuff.

My cousin and I are very alike - both strong-willed, efficient firstborns with one younger sibling completely unlike us and not close, both of us driven and anxious, she even more anxious than I and that's saying something. I love her a lot. It was a huge gift to see her and Do together, to see the joy on their faces as they hugged goodbye. Family. Blood. Goes deep.