Sunday, July 21, 2019

workshop heaven

Such blessings. My garden workshop today, thunderstorms predicted, and not only did they not come, the day wasn't even too hot - just breezy and mild until late afternoon. The whole day could not have gone better: a lovely group of 11 writers, interesting, brave writing, good food - if I say so myself - and good timing for the various prompts. By the end of these events, I am drained but thrilled, to share my garden and what there is of my expertise with a group brave and/or crazy enough to commit time and money to sit poking about in their own entrails. Some had been students, but half of them were strangers, and yet, by the end of the day, they were all almost like family.


What's so important is not just the writing, but the quality of the listening. We were all listening with careful attention to each other. How valuable that is.

Now to recuperate, eat leftovers, wonder what's the name of that bird singing such a loud song at dusk. I'd run these workshops more often, but they're exhausting - not just guiding people through the process of telling the truth safely, but the food and drink, making sure everyone is comfortable physically as well as psychically, and that the house and garden are in good shape.

But by the end they were all telling their most important truths, the stories that mattered to all of us. A treat and a gift.

Speaking of a treat and a gift, here's a photo that brings me joy - Macca played in L.A. recently and Ringo came onstage to play two songs with him. There was a rave, an absolute rave, of Macca's show in Variety, which is no humble mag. Reminder: he's 77, and Ringo is even older.
This morning I awoke to a brand new pimple on the side of my face and had to scrabble about for the Clearasil. The Clearasil. I'm going to be 69 in two weeks, and still with the pimples. Is that fair?

But the good news: my raspberries are overflowing. In all these years, this is the first time I've had a bowlful, with more to come.
Come on over and share. I promise,  I won't make you write a story. Or perhaps I will.

Now my summer really begins.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Ben is four

Sitting here in front of the fan with the AC on too, at last - it's brutally hot outside with a storm predicted, a blessing for the garden. We're still clicking happily together, my new Mac and I, though it does something annoying; it likes to add periods before I do, before I've finished writing, as if it's editing me mid-sentence. Have to figure out how to stop that; it's bad enough with human editors cutting us to bits without machines doing it too.

Yesterday's joy - Mr. Ben's fourth birthday party. By some miracle, it was meant to thunderstorm, which would have meant myriad children rampaging through the apartment, but after a light sprinkle the sun came out and so did the children, straight into the wading pool, where the submachine water guns were waiting. And that was it, they were out for the rest of the day.

What made me marvel was that, of the ten or twelve children there, my two grandsons were the only Caucasians. The mothers originated in Sri Lanka, the Caribbean, Japan; a First Nations grandmother, one of Anna's good friends, is raising her 3 grandchildren for her daughter who's working and in school. These women know each other - and each other's children - from the drop in at the school run by Miss Claire, who was also at the party. One woman brought her tiny 8 month old baby who'd been born premature; every woman at the party held that baby. Anna said she's the "therapy baby"; any woman longing to have another child can hold her for a bit and maybe satisfy that itch. Miss Claire said when the principal of the school is having a bad day, she comes to the drop in and says, Where's that baby? One hug and she feels better.

When I was eleven, a girl from the Caribbean arrived at my Halifax school. She was like a Martian to me. My parents had a few African friends, it wasn't as if I hadn't met any people of colour, but they were exotic rarities, few and far between. Eli and Ben have grown up so immersed in a multicultural world, they simply do not see colour. For that matter, because many friends of their parents come in all shapes, sizes, and sexualities, they don't see any of that either. The way we should be. (The very fact that I'm writing this post about it means that I DO see colour. A dinosaur.)

I escaped from the party to my friend Lynn's; she has a shady, plant- and tree-filled backyard, a forest glade with a wonderful pool like a tiny lake. We floated and chatted for an hour before emerging for rosé and supper and a second swim. I can feel that cool water on my skin even now. Wish I could create a tiny lake in my own yard; the summers are not going to get cooler. Maybe I'll get my own wading pool, and a slide too.

Today, hard work getting ready for tomorrow's Write in the Garden workshop: twelve writers arriving at 10 a.m. to spend the day in my garden, with lunch. I have lots of interesting prompts ready; today was about making four big salads - potato, tabbouleh, tomato/bread, pasta with veggies - cooking the quiches, cleaning the house, doing the garden.

And then sitting in front of the fan.

PS. I see that I started posting 3482 times ago. Feels like yesterday.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Welcome to the Silver Hammer

Welcome into my world, sleek gleaming steely grey new computing machine whom I have named MacSwell's Silver Hammer. Oh that satisfyingly snappy clickity clack, the speed of typing, fingers skimming over the keys, the brand new keys. I am poor but happy. Very poor. Very happy. No idea what happened to the last one. People keep telling me about their ten-year old machines, and mine went completely bust at a year and a half. And I was careful with it. Just my luck.

But now there's the Silver Hammer. Onward. Will have a session with my personal genius Matt tonight, to get me back into the cloud and to download Office and get my camera, printer, and phone linked up. Can't post pictures yet.

Very hot today but with a breeze; editor friend Rosemary was just here for lunch on the deck, as we sweated and drank and got caught up. For dessert we walked to the end of the garden and picked raspberries to scatter on ice cream.

Wanted to say and couldn't because of no computer - that at Ruth's cottage I finished Middlemarch. What a joy. It was difficult and long, lengthy passages about 19th century issues incomprehensible to a modern reader, but George Eliot's humour and wit, the depth of her understanding of all her characters, major and minor - breathtaking. Magnificent.

And - the Wimbledon final was tragic. All of us, surely all the world, was rooting for the marvellous, indomitable Federer, grand old man at 37. At the end, after more than 4 hours of exhausting play, he was up several points, just needed to finish the job to win - and he missed two shots and lost. This is a man who has hit a tennis ball a trillion times, but the two times he needed most to hit it perfectly, he didn't. How cruel is that! I know, the firstest of first world problems, but still. Djokovic is like a tennis machine. We love our Fed.

However, as compensation, Grantchester was back Sunday night with the divine James Norton. But sadness again - it was his last show. Talk about eye candy. Come back, luscious James.

Okay, so here she is, drivelling on because she can. I've missed being able to zip out a message to you. The Silver Hammer and I - onward.

PS 9 p.m. All working.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The joy of sadness

Weepy today. It’s the Wimbledon final, Federer versus Djokovic, and my mother and aunt should be watching. Avidly. I really don’t care about sports but I love federer, as Mum did. A great wave of anguish swept over me about the missing. Dad died in July, just after Wimbledon. He lay in the living room as Mum and Do watched. I miss them all today. I just called Una, one of Do’s best friends, to get caught up and reminisce. They’re playing Scrabble today as always. But two key players will not be there.

So, weepy. Not to mention the sudden need for a new computer, plus the estimate just received from the electrician- $1300 to wire my office. I had no idea this had not been done and would be needed.

First world problems. It’s a gorgeous day, fresh and bright, the raspberries are coming in, and I’m going across town soon to visit my boys. I’m even glad to be sad. It’s good to know that the living remember the dead. That the missing are stored forever in our hearts and minds. At least, until those of us who remember die too.

And now as the summer air wafts in with the scent of lavender, mint, and roses, time to weep some more.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Mac misery

Purring computer literally on the blink - was working perfectly then screen began to blink on and off, like a neon sign. Hot bike ride uphill to the repair store to leave it with Jeff. He just called. It’s kaput. The $500 plus repair fee will go towards a new Mac. It’s a year and a half old!!!
Ah well at least my genius Matt has stored everything in the cloud. But until I get a new machine I can’t access my documents, or my bank account since my password is stored in a document. Think I have enough liquid cash to pay for a new Mac. Phooey.
However John repaired the hose. Small mercies.

Friday, July 12, 2019

cottage catch up

Heaven is this little machine in my lap, purring like a pussycat. For a mere $533 (!), my computer is fixed. Jeff from RiverdaleMac called at 5.20 this evening to give me the good news. They close at 6, so I changed out of my at-home-schlepping clothes, leapt on my bike, peddled furiously uphill to the Danforth, and reclaimed my treasure. I knew I was addicted, did not realize how much. Yes, it's a true addiction. Wine, sunlight, words on paper, this machine, and peanut butter - some of the things I cannot live without.

So, just to recap, because I'd wanted to share a few pix from the cottage and could not - here they are. (click to enlarge)
My fine hostess - dinner on the deck. The food was so good, I gained 2 pounds.
MANY sunset shots, so just chose one. This is from their "beach."
Ruth's son John and his partner Rob with their adorable baby Rhoda, aged 3 months, who was thrilled with every single thing - an acorn! a hat! some sandals to chew!!!! - and brought us all much joy.
 Off on a hike around the island, following the indefatigable leader, who recently turned 80. Inspirational in every way.
That's the cottage. So very beautiful, calm, restful for the soul. And because located on a breezy "point" - almost no mosquitos or bugs.

I was sorry to leave but also anxious to get home to fix my computer. I used not to understand cottage people who load up the car, sit in ghastly traffic for hours on the weekend, get to the cottage, unload, try to relax, load up the car and drive in ghastly traffic home. But Ruth stays for weeks at a time; her cottage has high-speed wifi, Netflix, tons of books and magazines, and a clear, quiet lake. I felt ten years younger when I got back.

Both Carol and the recently evicted Karen had kept the house company; Karen stayed one more night. JM and I are still trying to help her find a decent place to live. Her situation is horrendous.
This greeted me - the clematis and the astilbe have gone mad, and the roses are as lovely as ever.

Immediately, of course, there was the computer to deal with, letters to write for Karen, much email to tend to on my phone, garden, groceries, kids. Students, editing clients, friends, tenants. Last night, a wonderful evening - last year's CNFC conference committee, minus only Pam, came for dinner on the deck.
Yours truly smiling once again around food, wine, good company, greenery. Dear Cathy, now the CNFC President and living near Kingston, stayed the night; much much talk. What a story she has.

Friend Gretchen called today; her husband Jack, who has been battling cancer, died a few days ago, and today, her daughter is having a c-section to deliver her second baby. So much to deal with at once. But what a blessing this baby will be.

And my beloved Lynn turned 70; tomorrow is her birthday party at their home in Provence, with an estimated 65 people; 40, she wrote, for breakfast on Sunday. I cannot believe that beautiful, hilarious young woman whom I met in 1967 is now 70. Which means I'm not far behind. As some writer once wrote, "How is it possible that I feel 17 and am actually 81?"

The birds are noisy tonight. It was cooler today, a perfect summer day. My raspberries are ripening and the cukes are on their way. I can access my manuscript! Federer beat Rafa at Wimbledon and will battle Novak on Sunday, once more; how I wish my mother and aunt were around to discuss this. They would have devoured every moment.

I'm online, folks. The fingers are home again.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019


Still typing with one finger on my phone. Jeff from RiverdaleMac, my new guru, called. Part needs to be ordered from California and that’s just to log in so he can see if there’s another problem. Waaah! My fingers twitch, so much I need and want to do and cannot. Plus today the electrician came to fix what I thought was a simple problem- of course not! A full day job which involves cutting a trench through my office ceiling. Plus my hose developed a leak and is now spraying in all directions. Plus my neighbor’s roofers were hammering and shouting all day. No food in the fridge.
More wine.
Went with Ken to see “Yesterday. “ silly and fanciful, yes. Sweet, tender, joyful, yes. An acknowledgement of how very much that music means. And one small scene, aching with the sorrow that John Lennon is no longer on the earth. The movie, the music, made me sob, of course.
More wine.
This too shall pass. Off to pick some chard and improvise a meal. With, of course, more wine.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

City life

Home. Was at RiverdaleMac with my dark-screened computer as it opened this morning, hope to hear diagnosis by end of day tomorrow. It’s only a year and a half old! I feel lost without it. Have to write longhand. Can’t send group emails or e-transfers. Doing everything slowly on my phone. I know kids live on their phones but not me.
 Glad to be home though there seems not to be a cool refreshing lake in my yard. But the garden is gorgeous. Was awakened at 3 a.m. by police questioning someone outside in the street- that did not happen on Ruth’s island. My neighbor is having her roof repaired and they started at 7.20- that also. A bit discombobulated. Luckily going to see Yesterday with Ken this afternoon. Sad that I missed Macca in Vancouver on Saturday. But it’s a beautiful July day and the air smells of roses.

Monday, July 8, 2019

broken Mac

Leaving the cottage in a few hours after days of heaven. But my computer broke. Like breaking an arm. Will head to Mac repair asap tmw. Hope to post pix and details for you soon.

Friday, July 5, 2019


A surreal moment yesterday - sitting with my friend Ruth on an island in a lake in the Muskokas, right by the water, sand in our toes, the glorious landscape around us - rocks, trees, water. And she is on her cellphone, chatting face to face with one of her sons, who's in Jerusalem.

What a world.

Lucky me, I've been invited to spend four days at Ruth's heavenly cottage. My teaching term ended Wednesday night, just the garden workshop coming up and a bit of editing, but otherwise, the summer begins. We left at 12.30 yesterday, crawled up the Don Valley, and by 3.45 were in the water.

Ruth came to my Ryerson class years ago and has since continued to work with me and become a dear friend. She's a fabulous writer, a star of the So True reading series. Eleven years older than I, she was recently widowed after 57 years of marriage. Her energy and drive make me feel lazy. She's a reader, piles of fascinating books everywhere, and last night, after a day of pressing conversation, swimming, and a delicious dinner on the deck with lots of rosé, she suggested we watch the latest Ricky Gervais show on Netflix. So there, on an island in the middle of the woods, we did. "After Life" has been described as his darkest show yet, and it is, but here, in the sweet air, far from the news, nothing seems dark.

This morning - dragonflies, chipmunks, hummingbirds, the waves of Kahshe Lake slapping the shore. A huge heron just glided serenely past. Today, we will perhaps walk around the island; we will read and talk a lot and do some cooking and some swimming, though it may rain. I feel the pressure falling away. Yes, a noisy motorboat or six. But mostly - birdsong and dragonflies, so many of them.

My phone isn't downloading the pictures - have to figure that out - so here's yesterday morning instead. Yes, it's the inner city, very few dragonflies, no waves, but can't complain. My friends Carol and I hope Karen are there right now - their own cottage get-away, sort of. If only I could offer a lake.

Monday, July 1, 2019

arguing wth love

One of life's great pleasures - being insulted by your grandchildren. At the playground with Eli and his new basketball - that I bought him - and our frisbee, he said, "We're here to play frisbee and basketball, and you're bad at BOTH OF THEM."

Then he showed me how to shoot baskets - hold the ball this way, shoot out from the chest. I got better, but nearly not as good at this boy. Who is seven.

A sleepover with Glamma. We went to Loblaws on the way home to get supplies. What did he want for supper? The usual - salmon, rice, and avocado. This young man is very fussy, but he can eat an incredible amount of salmon, rice, and avocado. Followed by his favourite ice cream - and, coincidentally, mine - mint chocolate chip, only he has his with crushed up Oreo cookies. We'd already played basketball in the Sprucecourt playground and watered the garden thoroughly. After dinner he wanted to watch a movie and eat junk food which we'd also bought according to his specifications: Cheetos and ketchup potato chips. His knowledge of junk food is encyclopedic. I told him it's possible to watch a movie without eating junk food, but he did not believe me. We watched some of the new Spiderman with a bowl of that stuff, and I have to say the crispy neon orange Cheetos were going down well for us both.

But then that was enough, time for bed and reading. I read the last six chapters of Charlotte's Web and wept. One of the great endings in literature. "It's not often someone is both a good writer and a good friend. Charlotte was both." When I'd finished, Eli said, "Which one is this, 1, 2, 3, or 4?" He was, in his way, requesting a sequel. "This is the only one," I had to say. And then finally, he slept, while my upstairs tenant and her father moved her out.

At one point, we were talking about age, and Eli said, "I know how old you are. You're tired."

This morning I was having a wonderful dream - I was talking to a receptive group about, strangely, dialectical materialism (about which I know nothing) when my dream was interrupted by a soft knocking. Someone was knocking in my dream, and then in my bedroom. It was my grandson at 6.15, wide awake and ready to party. I had to get up, and by 6.30 he had eaten the leftover salmon, rice, and avocado. "Can we go play basketball now?" he asked. "NO!" said his grandmother. But I didn't want to be "tired," so by 9 a.m. - 9 a.m. on a holiday Monday - we were back at Sprucecourt where I proved my incompetence once again. But I tried. "This is why I go to the Y," I thought, as I tried to block the young man who was dribbling and sinking with great skill. "I'm going to play for the Raptors," he said, echoing surely 85% of the youthful population of this city.

And then to the Regent Park playground to hang upside down and scrabble in the filthy sand. And then home, for the great treat of pancakes.

At midday we joined his mother at Queen's Park. Since the disgusting Doug Ford cancelled Canada Day there so he would not have to listen to the province booing him, many groups arranged to meet and picnic there. Eli and I went to meet his mama, who'd had the night off. She had warned me but I did not understand - she was there not for the main Canada Day celebrations but with an Indigenous group on one side, who were protesting colonialism. She had brought a lot of food to contribute to their potluck; they held a smudging ceremony, and Anna wrote a sign.
I want to celebrate this magnificent country, which has made terrible mistakes, as have all countries, but which does so much right. But my daughter is determined to hold up a mirror to our flaws. I see this as a recipe for eternal anger about an 150-year-old injustice. I think she sees me as a complacent dreamer. 

I have to get used to the fact that I think of myself as a progressive empathetic leftwing person unless I'm with my daughter, when I'm a white middle-class stick-in-the-mud. 

Nicole came, and we cleaned the top floor. The tenant who left yesterday, a young playwright, was - let's be frank - a complete slob. It hurt to go up there when I had to and see the squalor. It was sheer joy to clean and dust and wash and tidy. It's now transformed, ready for the next tenant, who I hope will understand the word 'clean.' The word 'recycle.' 

It's an interesting life. 

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Annals of aging, part eleventeen

First, good news, FYI, the garden workshop is sold out.

Second, it's hot but not as hot as France, and it smells glorious here on the deck because it poured last night. Everything is fresh and sweet and soft. But it's especially Wayson's gardenia that scents my life right now. I miss him every day.

But this post is about aging. My friend Annie was over today; she's a few months older than I, 69 already, also grandmother of two, working full-time but retiring next year. I can't imagine someone so powerfully focussed - she works with the Jesuit Forum on world-changing issues - without work, and I told her about Lynn in France, turning - no! - 70 in a few weeks and busier in retirement than ever. We talked about Mick Jagger prancing about after heart surgery, and of course, my indefatigable Macca, touring the world at 77. How our definitions of old have changed.

But when I told Annie that I'd be taking a nap after our lunch on the deck with rosé, she laughed. She doesn't have time, but I have started to nap almost every afternoon, especially if I'm teaching in the evening, but even if not. Until recently, I never ever napped.

I have 3 medical appointments coming up shortly - a mammogram, an eye exam to test for glaucoma, and a dermatologist to remove the hideous white bumps on my forehead. They're minuscule, but I can see them and I hate them. Trying to keep the physical plant going and keep the unsightliness to a minimum. But it's there - the crepey drooping skin, the brown mottles on legs, chest, arms, hands, the deep grooves in the face. I spend at least ten minutes a day fixated on the magnifying mirror, to see what horrible thing has sprouted recently - pimples! moles! miscellaneous bumps! - and removing hair on upper lip and chin.

What's wonderful, though, is that I really don't care. It used to matter so desperately how I looked, but now - who sees me? Who cares how I look? I haven't given up, I still keep fit and try not to wear clothes that would make my children cringe. And yes, to keep the hairs to a minimum. But otherwise, feh.

And don't get me started on the body, the sore knees, the swollen fingers - I need to put cream on my hands at night to get my rings off - the creaking joints.

BUT I'm sitting on the deck with the magnolia and roses wafting my way, sparrows fluttering at the feeder, the garden lush and green - oh look, a dove and a cardinal and seven rosebuds about to open. I've just had supper - ham and fresh asparagus from the market this morning with more rosé. Randy Bachman is on the radio and later there are interesting shows on TV. I have money in the bank, health, healthy children and grandchildren, many things I like to do and work I love. Soon I will be 69, and I have to say, these are the best, the very best days of my life.

Yesterday Ben was over. He found a calculator and pressed it so rows of numbers came up, which he counted. "There's fives - one, two, three, four, eleventeen, nineteen, twenty six."

Decided that I'm eleventeen and shall remain so.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

writers and truth and Eleanor Wachtel's Books on Film

An amazing home class tonight, five of us sitting outside with cheese and wine, reading and telling our deepest truths. How privileged I feel to host encounters of such depth. This time, as well as listening to theirs, I told and read mine and received valuable feedback. What an endless journey it is to be a writer. I joke to my students that if they think the Nobel prize-winning Alice Munro says, yawning, " I think I'll toss off another story," they don't understand the business; that it's never easy, even for Alice Munro. Maybe especially for Alice Munro.

Not back to the drawing board for me, but work to be done. I read a memoir scene from my profligate youth, when I was living in a house with cocaine dealers and sleeping with the dealer across the hall, and what my listeners wanted was - more sex. More grit. I had to say, I don't remember! But that's the job. Unpack. Go back. Even to that not very pleasant time, the memory that makes me wince - go back and bring it to the light. Make them see and hear and feel it.


Well, not right now, anyway, it's after 10 and I'm sleepy. Time to go to bed and pick up Middlemarch, which is fabulous but a long slow read.

Yesterday, the smallest class I've ever had - two students at Ryerson, two brave souls who read and we discussed and then went home early. I'll give them extra time next week, when a few more will be there. It's hard to be in a classroom in summer, and it's definitely high summer here - 30 degrees today, feeling like 36.

On Monday, Eleanor Wachtel invited me to be her guest at the Writers on Film series at TIFF, for a film, Lore, based on a book called The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert. It's the kind of gruelling film I would never have seen if not invited by a dear friend, about five very young German children after the war forced to travel through a ruined country to safety. It was an excellent film, really about how Germans continued to deny what their country had done until the facts made it impossible to deny any more, and afterwards, the discussion between Eleanor and Seiffert was of course fascinating. The book is based on her German mother's story, and she told us about her mother's parents who were fervent Nazis. The evening ended with a very gloomy diagnosis of today, the rise of the far right and fascism; Sieffert said she felt we are in a version of the thirties. Very scary.

But at the same time, uplifting, because wise writers are making sense of it all with art. Going to the uncomfortable places, because that's the job.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Downchild Blues

When I saw the Toronto Jazz Festival was producing a free concert on Saturday - the Downchild Blues Band with guest Dan Aykroyd - I couldn't imagine where it was. The map showed somewhere on Bloor, so I imagined they'd taken over a small courtyard somewhere. But no - there was a stage right in the middle of Bloor Street near Avenue Road. Thousands of people gathered around, and the best, the absolute best music, raunchy, joyful rhythm and blues. Carol and I did not stop moving to the beat from start to finish.
A beautiful night, great music in the middle of the street - and then, on the way home, we could have walked down Church Street and immersed ourselves in Pride if we'd had the energy, which we did not. So much going on.

And ... an important realization about publication: in my typical fashion, I've been looking for a short cut, which has in the end wasted more time - sending the ms. to the wrong people who happen to be people I know. The only way forward is to submit: what an apt term. To send the thing out over and over again and wait to hear. Submission is how it's done, and that is what I will do. And I will look on it as an adventure.

So - as my beloved much-missed friend Wayson loved to say - Onward.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Write in the Garden July 21

Just received this email:
I attended a lovely summer writing session in a garden in the east end of Toronto years ago, I'm thinking in 2012 or 2013. After some sleuthing online, I think you might have been the person who hosted this. 

Are you still doing these sessions? I'm going to be in Toronto this summer and wanted to try and attend another session. 

You've come to the right place and yes, I am. Welcome!

marketing summer

Spring is over; it's summer, it's hot, and Toronto is overflowing with activities: this weekend it's Pride, plus the arts festival Luminato, plus the Jazz Festival and God knows what else - a superabundance of interesting things to do. Good times. Anna wanted to take the boys to Pride yesterday, so we arranged to meet on Church Street. Pride releases people's kinks in a way that can be quite shocking, so I wrote to her, "Are you concerned about what the boys might see?"
"We live in Parkdale," was her reply. Enough said.

And it's true, nothing astonishes her boys, who were more interested in the playgrounds nearby than in the nearly-naked people in bondage gear strolling around. Tonight, my old Ottawa friend Danny Aykroyd is fronting the fabulous Downchild Blues Band for a free street dance, and I might go. Though it doesn't start till 8.30 - pretty late for this old bag.

I am settling back into daily life in Cabbagetown. The winter is a blur, and much of the spring too - the reno and travels to Europe and Vancouver, the conference, finishing work on the house, teaching. My friend Carol, who lived upstairs on the third floor for 5 or 6 years, is visiting from her home in Ecuador for the summer, staying here this week and for the month of August. She is knocked out by the renovation. "You've improved things yet it's somehow the same, the character of the house unchanged," she said. She's out right now, grooving in the hot sun at Pride.

Mostly, now, my focus is finding time to get the memoir out, yet yet yet again. My student Margaret Lynch has taught me a lesson. She started writing in my class four years ago at Ryerson, took other courses and then the MFA in Nonfiction at King's, which does a lot to prepare their students for publication. She has since published a feature in the Star related to her memoir, which I wrote about here, and has had a piece on the CBC which was turned into a beautiful video'd interview with her.  

It's been shared thousands of times. This is known as building your platform, which is how you interest publishers. Her methodical approach to publication is inspiring. My approach is to run at it with my head down and try to crash through, as I do most things. Methodical is not a word in my vocabulary. To my chagrin.

So the process begins anew - preparing a cover letter, a précis of the book, a resumé about me, figuring out where these things should go. This is the part of writing that I hate. I HATE it. Marketing is one of my least favourite words, up there with the words Doug Ford. But unless I want to self-publish again, I have no choice but to do this tedious thing, sending and re-sending and re-sending. Trying to sell myself. Trying to build a platform.

My actual platform - the deck outside my kitchen - was taken apart this week to inject it with termite poison. There's surely a metaphor there.

However, in happier news: dancer Sara Porter, who's an editing client and a fan of my writing book True to Life, has written that she'd like to use my chapter titles as prompts, not only for writing, but for dance. She's thinking of using them in her next show.
Chapter 41 “Take your time”

Chapter 32 “Don’t be nice"

Chapter 31 “Try out your light voice”

Chapter 17 “Unblock”

Chapter 16  “Start anywhere”

Chapter 15 “Make it matter"

Maybe that's what I'll encourage my students to do: get up and dance. Works for me.

And ... Ben, who's 3, graduated from preschool last week, with a mortar board and diploma. Extremely impressive. And, if I say so myself, extremely cute.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


So this is something that has been reinforced this week: that we all pay a price for our decisions, one of the most important of which being where we live. My friend Chris has peace and ocean and glorious trees, but there's a price for living on an isolated island. My friends in Vancouver live in a gorgeous city with mountains and ocean, but there is a definite high price for choosing such a popular place.

And I came home to the price I pay - a very long list of all that has to be done in my house in order that I may live here. (Not to mention in Toronto, a fabulous city with its huge challenges.) The garden, in only ten days, has bushed out of control, and as I wrote before, the guy who used to help a bit has vanished. I could spend the next week just in the garden, but then there's the house. The roof and eavestroughs guy are coming tomorrow plus the window guys, Kevin coming Thursday to rip up my deck because the termite guys are coming Friday to finish the distribution of poison, which of course requires - ripping up part of the deck. I faced a huge load of laundry, because the people who rented here while I was away not only left sheets but every single bath towel. Why would people staying five days need six bath towels? When you get out of the shower, are you not clean? Can you not use the same towel once or twice?

Teaching today, tomorrow, Thursday. Recruiting for my garden workshop in July. Editing two U of T students, extra work that pays.

Worst of all, the biggest shock, another huge bill from the renovation, something I was not expecting related to the plans that didn't happen, thousands of dollars I didn't know I owed to pay for a failed plan. Truly ghastly.

So. Home. Gazing out right now at greenery, birds, flowers, veggies. But there is a price and sometimes, like right now, it feels steep. I came back from the conference fired up to write, but the house and life have once again taken precedence.

Ah well. First world problems. As one of the conference attendees said, to a writer writing about her upbringing in small town Ontario in the fifties, "Are you aware of your white privilege? Will you be writing about racial awareness?"

The author replied politely, "No."

My lettuce is bountiful. I'm going to pick some and crack open a bottle and a fresh avocado that I bought just down the street, because shops are nearby and easy to get to and cheap, and make dinner, and watch the last episode of "Gentleman Jack" that I taped, and not think about all there is to do. And then - I'll do some writing work. Yes we can.

Here is your faithful correspondent suffering in Vancouver.
Hideous Jericho Beach.

Okay, done and done. Go Raptors. Oh yes, they did go, and there were two million people on the streets yesterday to celebrate them, including my daughter and her boys getting a sunburn. Not sad to have missed that.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Conference finale

A quick word - I know this is Sunday, and it's still June, but otherwise I'm lost in a fog of conference. At the moment, though, in a UBC dorm living room looking out at mountains and ocean, a glorious view not much blocked by the building in front. My two roomies have departed already, as the main bulk of the conference is over, but I'm staying for the AGM this morning and the Shoe Project this afternoon - immigrant women who tell the story of their lives through their shoes. Then to Judy's for a debrief with the gang over dinner and a final night in Vancouver, home tmw.

We have been blessed in many ways - with, first, the most perfect weather imaginable, mild and sunny every day. This campus, surely the most beautiful in the world, and this building, where most of us lived and where our conference meeting rooms and meals were on the main floor. The attendees, a group of lively, intense nonfiction writers from across the country. The panelists and speakers, writers at the top of their game, sharing their knowledge and wisdom with us. More on that anon.

And some extras, including, last night, Sea Sick, a play by and starring Alanna Mitchell based on her book of the same name. A one-woman show of extraordinary impact, about her research into the devastation of the world's oceans, and eventually of the world, by fossil fuels. She manages to inject humour into the show, which is riveting, and to leave us with a message of hope, even as we acknowledge, with her, that the problem is much worse than we realize. The glass of wine afterwards was more than welcome, it was necessary.

Noon. Just back from the AGM and about to check out. I am now officially a board member of the CNFC. I love this organization and its people, so - here we go. I'm also on the conference committee for next year, and we've started already taking suggestions and making plans. New responsibilities, but also, great new writer friends.

Yesterday I met two of Canada's most interesting women - the Globe arts writer Marsha Lederman, who, when she interviewed me about Wayson, I told about the conference and who came out to UBC yesterday to interview Alanna and see the show; and Elizabeth Hay, acclaimed writer. Not to mention all the others. I'm stimulated and moved and only a little daunted by the work that's ahead.

But right now - out into the sunshine. Yesterday, I cut class - er, workshops - in the morning to walk to the Nitobe Garden here, a classic Japanese garden which in all my years in Vancouver I'd never visited. I needed time alone in green, and there it was, stunningly beautiful and quiet, no writers talking. We in Toronto may be the champions, but we have nothing like this.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

We are the champions!

Too much excitement. A fabulous dinner in a UBC pub tonight with a group of fellow writers; we sat outside as far from the Raptors noise and excitement as we could - but by the last quarter, tied, we had to go in and watch. Excruciating, back and forth, so close, and at the last few seconds, they kept calling time out. The tension in the bar was thick. Judy Rebick, famous Canadian feminist activist and one of our presenters who'd had dinner with us was a few seats away, watching with bated breath.
And then beautiful Kawhi pulled it out of the bag, and there we were - world champions. Toronto. Canada. Yes, they're all Americans, but still, as Margaret Atwood once said about the Blue Jays, they're OUR Americans. What fun!

Toronto must be going insane.

our creative nonfiction conference launched!

Sitting at the registration table at UBC, waiting for our writers to arrive. The weather is beautiful, our lanyards are laid out, the programs are gorgeous, and we are SET. It starts tomorrow, but we organizers started work yesterday.

Here we are preparing lanyards yesterday afternoon;
Before that, Wednesday, I had to leave the hallowed land of Gabriola and my dear Chris and his adorable pets. We had a wonderful visit.
The Gabriola airport - the plane is in the water
Sheba in front of the airport
The jumbo jet over - I sat in the co-pilot's seat.
Stayed last night at a friend's heavenly house right on the water - that's a hot tub in the foreground, where I floated last night watching the red-gold sunset over the mountains, the otters, seals, and herons fishing. Heavenly.
The magical city at dusk. When the sun shines, there is no city like this on earth - the roses! The mountains, ocean, trees, the sweet sweet air.

After our lanyard party with Prosecco, I had dinner with an old friend, a director from my theatre days in the seventies, and this morning, brunch with another old friend. And then out to UBC to start work. Tonight, the organizing group is having dinner together in a pub where we can watch the Raptors, if we want, Tomorrow the excitement begins. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

another day in paradise

I could not live here, I know that; it's an island, and islands make me claustrophobic. There are too many trees, which make darkness and shade. But Gabriola is, no question, paradise. My hardworking creative friend has found the perfect place for himself and is relishing every moment. And what a treat it is to relish it with him.

We go from pleasure to pleasure - from sitting in the hot tub on his deck - at least once a day together, though he does so twice - to walking on deserted beaches or walking in fields or woods or meeting kindly people. People wave here, to cars, to passersby. Congenial, open-hearted, rustic. Beautiful.

Last night, the most heavenly event - a picnic in Drumbeg Park with two of my oldest friends, Patsy and Chris. The weather has turned, the days are hot, and last night was sublime. We drank Prosecco and ate and reminisced and laughed, while watching the eagles and turkey vultures soar and two seals, and later an otter, fish in the water. It could not have been nicer. (click to enlarge)

Today, another busy day - talking, eating, walking. A drive to town. A walk on a beach and later in the woods.
A man and his dog - Sandwell Park
Another crowded beach

Later, we went to visit friends of his, a gay couple who have bought seven acres and are building a dream home themselves, with the most spectacular view and off-grid, run by solar panels. They showed me where the wine cellar will be and the guest bedroom. "Let's do a house exchange," I said, and when Francois found out I lived in Cabbagetown, told me he used to live just around the corner. I hope they come to visit one day.
The view from their porch. Can you imagine?
Their living room. They're going to plant an orchard and keep sheep. Now living in a trailer with their two whippets as they build. An amazing couple.

And then home to Violet Crescent to sit in the hot tub, drink wine, eat leftovers. Apparently we are going to meet Patsy this evening to watch the sunset over the water from the Surf Pub. Yes. Please.

I've been working and reading Middlemarch, also sublime. But mostly sitting outside listening to the birds and looking up at many 100 foot trees. Every muscle totally relaxed for once, this tense Toronto girl, listening to the wind in the branches. Thank you.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Gabriola Island

Another planet - Gabriola Island, where the deer roam through people's gardens, the log cabins are plentiful, and the air smells so sweet and fresh it makes me want to lie down and snooze. My brain cannot accept this much oxygen. And maybe - maybe today - my weather bad luck will turn, and the sun will actually stay out. I've been joking that people should keep away from me, because wherever I go, rain and cloud will follow. Here too - it was hot until the day I arrived, Chris told me, and then - cloud and rain.

An easy flight in the float plane - filming much of the way to show the boys when I get home, skimming up and over the water, and 20 minutes later, splashing down in Silva Bay. Chris waiting with beautiful Sheba in the little red Fiat, like a mobile strawberry. His beautiful home, more lustrous since I was last here - he's done an enormous amount of work in the garden, as those who follow his blog will know. Everything serene and lovely.

So here we are. We had dinner with Patsy, one of my oldest friends - she threw my 20th birthday party in August 1970 at Dead Man's Cove, Nova Scotia - who has lived here for decades and has helped Chris's entry into island life. We went to town, with its 2 or 3 shops and restaurants, for groceries and lunch. We walked with Sheba on the nearby trail, and last night, we watched the Tony Awards. I usually watch them with Wayson so was happy to be with another of my very best friends. It was the best yet, extraordinarily diverse and interesting. This year, my ex, Edgar, was on the Tony nominating committee but not on stage among the winning producers, as he was a few years ago.

Today, another exciting day - dog walking, talking, maybe a picnic with Patsy and Prosecco. Though I'm giddy from fresh air and tranquillity, I've been working in the quiet, editing students and on the manuscript, the final final final draft, to go out again soon. And tonight - Go Raptors.
 The jumbo jet over - that's the pilot
A man and his dog
a shorn Sheba and gorgeous stripey spotted Ethel
Tom Thomson? Emily Carr?

Friday, June 7, 2019

Vancouver and Raptors

A glorious tree and rose I passed today in this lush city today. (click to enlarge)

Go Raptors! What an exciting game. I watched the last half with Margaret, who's a big fan. Heart racing. Not that I care, but ... it certainly is exciting. And it's nice to win.

Good times in Vancouver. A painless flight to get here; I worked on a big editing job the whole way, pattering on my computer until we landed. A beautiful day here yesterday; a long walk for me on Commercial Drive, and a lovely dinner with old friends. This morning, pouring rain, and I awake at 5 a.m. with jet lag. And paranoia. I had not heard from a dear old friend with whom I was supposed to have lunch today - had tried email and text and finally, the other day, a phone message at her office. Nothing; silence. So at 5 a.m. I wondered if I'd somehow offended her and reviewed what had transpired between us until I figured out what I had done wrong and wrote, in my mind, an email of apology. When I turned on my computer at 6.45, however, there was a long note from her; she'd been on one of the Gulf islands, had no internet and spotty cellphone service, so sorry, was devastated to miss our lunch, let's do it next week.

So much for Paranoid Pamela. There's a lesson here, but I will pay no attention and the next time this happens, I will again assume it's my fault. That's how we roll.

As soon as the teeming rain stopped, about 11, Margaret and I took the Skytrain downtown to the Van. Art Gallery, one of our favourite activities, though today there was no special exhibit and much of the modern art that was there I found ... uninspiring at best and an absurd waste of time at worst. An interesting exhibition, though, of modern photography from India; there was a fun "set" there of the kind of elaborate background Indian photographers used in the 19th century. Hence the two of us posing.
Took Margaret for lunch nearby, eating outside, then a bit of shopping, then off to meet Bruce. We spent the afternoon poking around Granville Island and had dinner on the island, again outside near the water in the sun, with the smell of the sea. Divine. Makes me so happy to be on my old stomping grounds. I lived in this picturesque city for 8 years.
Not in Milan or Bologna this time. And next he's off to China - without me!