Sunday, May 19, 2019

celebrating green

Allen Gardens - a mass of colour. Better late than never.

As my friend Ken said yesterday, I love long weekends in the city in the summer, so quiet and empty - everyone's at the cottage. Today, this stunning Sunday morning of the long weekend, my garden, though so far almost untouched after winter, is beautiful, forty-six different shades of green with my own splashes of colour - daffs, tulips, a snowball viburnum with shining white puffs of bloom, further back a flowering dogwood, and on the deck, two bright red geraniums that survived the winter and the reno and are in bloom.

I slept soundly and woke to my sunny, tidy, renewed bedroom. Yes, a few electrical glitches perhaps in the house, a broken appliance or two - Lani wrote yesterday to offer me a gas stove she never uses! -  but things, more than ever before around here, are fixed and in their place. It's astounding.

And it's a relief, after months of waiting, to know what's happening with the memoir. I realize now I was overstepping to send it to the most successful editor in Canada (currently), whose taste, I see in the things he works on, is the opposite of mine. His wording says it all: "beautiful but gentle," as if these two things cancel each other out. I'm going to reread, see what I can rework, and send out to small presses. I've worked on it for 3 or 4 years - what's another? Onward.

Ken got in touch to say he was sorry to read about the rejection and the on-going struggles in the house and could he take me to lunch? He certainly could. So yesterday, we had our favourite date, a documentary and food. The Biggest Little Farm is about an idealistic couple in California who move from the city to an abandoned 200 acre farm, determined to farm the old way in harmony with nature. As they find out, nature is not harmonious - coyotes massacre their chickens, snails and birds attack the fruit trees, mastitis threatens their prized pig Emma. And then come the wildfires. But they prevail. The husband, who shot and directed, was a wildlife photographer before this venture, so the photography of plants and animals is gorgeous. But there's an unpleasant air of self-congratulation hanging over the film. Through all the stress, we never see the couple argue, never find out where they get the funds for the massive investments or where the young people who pour in to help them are housed and fed. Many lyrical shots of ladybugs, dogs, pigs, leaves in the sun. But - I am very fond of these things too.

And then lunch with one of my dearest old friends and a bike ride home to work in my own back 40. Happy Victoria Day weekend to you - I hope it's beautiful but gentle where you are, too.

Friday, May 17, 2019

So True: next Sunday May 26 2 p.m.

Coming right up. I've been editing the pieces - seven beautiful essays with one more to come in, plus mine, which will be a surprise. Which is good since that's the topic. A fabulous time guaranteed.

It's Friday night and I'm waiting to watch Bill Maher at 10; just watched the last episode of "Big Bang Theory," taped last night. It's one of the only sitcoms I watched - every so often, anyway - and I found it delightful, a celebration of geeks. This one stretched belief too far, but still, it was fun.

As I sit here, two things are going on: one is a thrilling culinary experience, eating a new peanut butter on toast. Yes, I, a fanatical p.b. aficionado since birth, have just discovered Adams Natural Crunchy. God it's good.

AND - I know you won't believe this - and I know you've heard that before recently - but as I sit here in my kitchen, where recently an outlet stopped working and then the stove and the fan vent above the stove stopped working, now as I sit here, I am listening to my fridge make really funny noises. Quite loud, strange, banging type noises.

My appliances were all bought after the fire in 2005 and the rebuilding after, so in 2006. The dishwasher broke first, then the washing machine. The Bosch stove and LG fridge arrived at the same time 13 years ago. Perhaps that's the limit, now, for appliances. After 13 years they explode. It seems to be happening.

On the other hand, the sun came out with a vengeance today, so I am filled with cheer. And now to go watch Bill Maher and get depressed all over again.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

rejection dejection

The sun is shining; my heart is heavy. Four months ago, I emailed my memoir, the memoir I've been working on for 3 years or possibly longer and have paid to have professionally edited several times, to a successful, well-known editor I'd met socially, who was friendly and nice and said he'd be happy to take a look.

So then you wait, and of course, you fantasize. He's one of the most high profile editors in the country, but maybe this small book will appeal, you think. So, hardly daring to dream but doing so anyway, you wait some more.

You know what's coming, don't you? Today, he wrote. "You do write very well," he said. He called the ms. "well-crafted," "enjoyable," "readable." Well, "readable" - talk about damning with faint praise. BUT he cannot market a book with "its beautiful but gentle import," he said, "and your modest profile. This is not about the worth of your memoir, but more the sales mandate I have to reach with every title."

What that means is: Sweet little book, but who the hell are you? How can I sell this gentle little story by an unknown author? Thanks but no thanks.

Which was what I was expecting, but still, it hurts.

But there's sun today.

Further to my letter of the other day, some funny fallout - I got a reply almost immediately from a name I recognized. He wrote that he'd been a student of mine some years ago, had loved my course and gone on writing. He is also the partner of the man who bought my neighbour's house and evicted her tenant, and so is co-owner. And he went on in a much more unpleasant tone with his take on events, which was very different, as you can imagine, from mine. Fake news, I'd call it, a deliberate obfuscation of what actually happened, to let him, his partner, and the landlady off the hook from admitting their heartless behaviour. Amazingly, the 3 of them are blaming and demonizing another party entirely! However, we ended agreeing to disagree.

He was a nice person, as I recall, and a good writer. Too bad.

And, I've been told, I am a nice person and a good writer. Some days it doesn't help.

What is happening in this province defies belief. At least, it would defy belief if we hadn't lived through the past few years with the vile buffoon to the south. Now we have the vile buffoon of the north, destroying everything decent, every single thing. Including speed limits.

More importantly, the rise in fascism worldwide. I remember many summers ago walking home along Carlton Street and coming upon a meeting in the basement of a house. There was a big black and red flag looking like a swastika and 7 or 8 white men in on a roomful of chairs listening to someone speak. I realized, this is the house of Ernst Zundel, Canada's most famous Nazi. These people are Nazis.

The scene was almost laughable if it weren't so creepy. But last night I realized - Ernst Zundel would be in his element now. There are fresh new Nazis everywhere.

Heartsick today. But there's sun.

PS. A few hours later: no more sun and increasing drizzle.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


I know you will find it hard to believe that after Mr. Wu the electrician and his gang spent many, many days this winter at my house ripping walls and floors apart to fix the electrics, that he would be back here so soon. But yes, today he was. I too find it hard to believe, even after all these years of chaos and crumbling, that my house is determined to disintegrate. But it is.

The other day, I noticed the green light on my computer power link wasn't lit. I tested the wall socket it was plugged into; it didn't work. Contacted my tenant about access to the panel, went down, flipped various breakers, nothing. Okay, not urgent, I plugged my computer in somewhere else and moved other appliances around until the outlet could get fixed.

Last night, my Vancouver friend Judy was coming for dinner so I turned on the oven to cook a chicken. After 15 minutes, I realized it was hardly heating at all. The oven, I thought, must somehow be connected to the damaged plug. Without panicking, I coolly shoved the chicken into a small dish and squeezed it into the toaster oven, where it cooked - slowly, but it cooked. I was able eventually to feed my friend, though not the potatoes that would have baked in the oven at the same time.

Down to check the panel again - no change. This time I pushed a thingie that said Test, and realized that not only had it not brought power back, it had somehow disconnected power to another part of the kitchen, and even more outlets didn't work. Luckily, the divine Mr. Wu happened to be nearby and agreed to stop in. After flipping and checking, he told me the dead kitchen plug must mean a dead or snapped wire. This means, he said, to go from the panel at the front of the house to this plug at the back, we need to cut a trench through the drywall the length of two bedroom walls downstairs, through the bathroom, the storage room, the living room, and then up to the plug in my kitchen.

No. No. Shani has just settled in with her small child and I am still recovering from the utter chaos of a reno. NO. If possible, I will live without that plug.

We tackled the stove, which he finally concluded was a separate issue entirely; my oven has broken, I merely need a new stove. Wonderful! But also, the wiring behind the stove, done after the fire in 2005, is appalling and dangerous, he said. And then we discovered the overhead hood fan and light don't work, so, attached to the nonworking plug.

Mr. Wu and his men fixed the basement wiring, the second floor, the third floor, not the main floor. Now - a whole new job opens up. Will I ever dig myself out of debt? Probably not.

But the sun came out, so I went out to make myself feel better by raking and sweeping and talking to neighbours I haven't seen since we turned into moles last December.

The elderly woman I wrote about in the letter yesterday, despite the fact that her circumstances have not changed, sounds stronger and happier today. Someone stood up for her. It matters.

Monday, May 13, 2019

bearing witness, taking sides

I am trembling. I spent some time yesterday writing and rewriting an email, read it to friends, left it 24 hours, read it to my daughter, just sent it.

There's been a huge injustice in my neighbourhood; a vulnerable elderly woman is being evicted from her longterm basement suite, which she'd been promised she could stay in until her landlady's death. The whole house was recently bought by a new landlord, who is allowing the former owner to stay but has evicted my friend; she was given a few months to find another place and get out. She used to help her landlady with her dogs and her garden; they were friends, until the landlady, a difficult woman, turned against her. I've been involved in trying to help her find a new place she can afford, which in this city, as we all know, is almost impossible. She is a cancer survivor, has a cat, no family, very little money, has been frantic for months. It's heartrending.

And then I discovered that the man who bought the landlady's house and threw out her tenant advertises himself on his work website as a committed social activist, proud of taking care of the elderly and vulnerable among the city's LGBT community. Fury boiled.

So despite some trepidation, I wrote and sent this, names excised here:

I am a longtime friend of X and once, though no longer, of Y. I have followed the appalling way X has been treated by you both with horror and sorrow. It says on your company website that you are "reaching out to Canada’s aging LGBT community to create a safe environment to assess the needs of this under-served population and bringing homophobia, gay-friendly housing and outreach to the forefront of social activism.”

This is 100% admirable. Bravo. Yet this same admirable activist has bought the home of an ill and aging woman with little income and few resources and evicted her. She is being thrown out onto the street. 

How do you rationalize your acute social concern with your disregard for this one human being? If she were a member of "Canada’s aging LGBT community," would you have treated her better? It seems to me utter hypocrisy to care so deeply - so publicly - for one aging segment of society while behaving with heartlessness and in secret toward another. I do not understand. 

I know this letter will change nothing; I just need to bear witness, to let you know that many are aware of what you and Y have done to X. I've copied this to the company because your profile as a proud social activist appears on their website. I will be following up with a letter to the city about this situation and the loophole that allows landlords to evict longterm tenants, no matter the circumstances. 

Incidentally, X does not know I have written this and I’m sure would be even more terrified than she already is, if she knew. 

I am writing to you because I believe this: "Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
Elie Wiesel, Nobel prize winner, writer, professor, activist, Holocaust survivor.

Beth Kaplan

P.S. Much shit has hit the fan; several emails have come burning back, and I've replied. This has taken the better part of a day. But I really don't think I had a choice. Do you?

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mother's Day?!

Do not ever remember a colder, more wet and miserable Mother's Day. We always complain that in Toronto, we go directly from winter to summer, with a temperate spring that lasts about three hours. But this year - much spring. We've had two hot days and then back to the chilly damp. Ed is supposed to come finish repairing my front door but we're waiting for a dry day; have been waiting a week.

My family doesn't really celebrate Mother's Day which we call a Hallmark card event. In any case, today in Toronto there was a marathon and two major sports events, which means getting across town would have been madness. I opted to stay here, alone. My kids called and that was nice; friends sent messages, also nice. I went to the Y and floated for ages in the hot tub, really nice. And now there's some great Sunday night TV. That's a happy day.

Last night I watched a documentary about Dorothea Lange, the groundbreaking photographer born in 1895, who wrestled, as women always have and perhaps always will, with her love of her craft versus the needs of her children and stepchildren - even though her second marriage was to a social activist who was her most ardent supporter. One anecdote particularly resonated with me: she worked for FDR's government during the Depression, chronicling the brutal life of migrant workers in camps. Driving home after a long day, she saw a sign for another camp, drove by, tired, but then did a U turn and went back to explore the camp with her camera. It's there she took the photo she called Migrant Mother, a desperate woman with her two children, which became one of the most iconic images of the Depression and in fact of all American photography.

Inspiring. I thought - I myself would have been hungry for dinner and thirsty for a glass of wine and perhaps worried about my family. I would have said, I've done enough for today and kept right on going.

A lesson. Not that I expect to change, but a lesson nonetheless.

Here are some faces: Migrant Mother
my own non-migrant mother, aged 89, doing a crossword just two months before she died; 
and my dear Wayson, in a notice taken out by his publisher that appeared on the weekend in the big daily papers. He'd have been tickled. "You're spoiling me," he used to say. "Don't stop." When I came in yesterday the light on my phone was blinking, a message for me; my heart stopped. The only person who left me messages, and many of them, was Wayson. But this was a welcome call from Anna who actually telephoned, a rare event for the texting generation. 


Saturday, May 11, 2019

"Amazing Grace" - Aretha in concert, a must see

I sobbed all the way through and thought of my daughter, gazing at the glorious rose window of Notre Dame cathedral and saying, "If I ever believe in god, it will be because of this place."

If I ever believe in god, it will be because of the power of Aretha Franklin's voice and the purity and power of her own belief.

Just came from seeing the documentary "Amazing Grace," which was shot over two nights in 1972 in a Baptist church in L.A., as she recorded her first gospel album. The record became her best seller, but the film had technical complications and was not released until modern technology made fixing the problems possible. And so here it is. I began to weep at the beginning and continued dabbing my eyes and tapping my feet in rhythm until the end. There were moments of such intensity I could hardly breathe; hours later my eyes are still puffy and swollen. It's transcendent, overwhelming, that voice ranging from a soft clear bell to a soaring clarion, a wave of sound, the sky opening, a universe from that throat. Behind her, a full gospel choir. In front of her, an audience of believers who 'witness,' shouting back to the stage, clapping and dancing. Also in the audience, on the second night, Mick Jagger and Charley Watts and the Reverend C. L. Franklin, Aretha's father, who jumps up at one point, while she's singing, to mop her brow.

What a gift. She is subdued throughout, as if gathering her forces, preserving her strength for when her mouth opens and the music flows out, going straight to heaven.

How grateful I felt to be there, to have the chance to spend a few hours on a Saturday afternoon in a black gospel church in 1972. I rode my bike to the Sherbourne subway station, jumped on the subway, was there in no time, watched the previews of all the documentaries I want to see. After the concert, mopping my sodden eyes, I rode back to get my bike and stopped at the library, where I returned two books - Middlemarch, because I've found my copy, and The Dakota Winters, which I'd skimmed (charming, lightweight, with a tragic premise, that the protagonist was going to help bring the Beatles back together just before John was murdered) - and picked up the one waiting for me: Dreyer's English, an utterly correct guide to clarity and style, which is on the NYT bestseller list. The hideous premier has cut the inter-library service for rural communities but not yet in Toronto, which means I can still order any book I want and have it delivered to my local branch.

Then I stopped at St. Jamestown Steak and Chops to buy a chicken from Mark; Judy is flying in from Vancouver and is coming to dinner on Monday. I've been going to Mark's shop for 32 years, knew his father Terry, his mother Doris, his brother Santo, wrote their obituaries for the Globe.

In a bit, Cyril will appear at my door with a jar of his $8 soup for my dinner. Last night the Spring Fling, a fundraiser for the Cabbagetown Youth Centre, dancing to a live band with my friend Jean-Marc, who loves to dance as much as I do. I've been going to this event for decades, on and off. Danced there with Terry the butcher, as Doris sat nearby and beamed.

Despite the battering, the brutal smashing Toronto is enduring right now from the provincial thugs, despite the things I hate about living in the city - the construction, the noise and dirt, the constant confrontation with devastating mental illness and appalling poverty - still, I am glad to live in this ever-stimulating metropolis where there is so much going on, so much to do, so much challenge, and where I am surrounded by friends and decades-long acquaintances.

Behind Aretha, as she sang, was a painting of Jesus being baptized; he's a white dude with long brown hair. It's ironic to see that image in a church filled with devout faces of colour singing praise to the lord. Now I have absolutely no doubt that Jesus was black.

Watch the preview in this review, and then I hope you can see the whole thing for yourself.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

with a little help from my friends

A thoughtful, kind email from Lani brought warmth and light, especially as, after two glorious days, we are back to chilly rain - the slowest coldest spring I can remember, though my memory is not what it used to be, perhaps this is normal.

Just read your latest blog and so admire your strength amid all the chaos and loss. You will be pining for Wayson for many years but the last sentence of your blog was wrong ... he IS there. Just not physically. Every time you think of him he lives again. I know that sounds ludicrous from an anti-religion excommunicated catholic but I found that out eventually with my mom. She is constantly with me. Same with Charlie. Occasionally with Redg. People who mean that much to you never go away. Like me, my pal. I'll never leave you either.
Love, Lani

Made me laugh and cry; I have no doubt Lani will be with me forever, as she will be with my kids, who adore her. Charlie was her older sister, Redg her first husband who worked often as a stage manager in shows I was in - I knew them both.

Nick made a donation in Wayson's name to the Toronto Food Bank. Several people dropped off cards.

And John, who started as my handyman and is now one of my dearest friends, appeared at my door yesterday with a gift from his wife Sylvie, an indefatigable baker and crafts maker. Sylvie works as a massage therapist at Sweetgrass Spa, and I'd enquired about having a facial there; after a long dusty renovation and winter, my face is battered and could use a polish. But the spa is too expensive for me. John arrived yesterday with a pretty gift bag full of homemade sweet treats and a gift certificate for a facial at Sweetgrass Spa.

As I wrote to them, what did I do to deserve such good friends?

It turns out I am indeed organizing a memorial event for Wayson. I know what HE did to deserve such good friends: he was hilarious, wise, fascinating, unique. His friends have been writing to tell me so, in case I forgot. As Mary Jo, one of his best friends who unfortunately can't be with us that day, wrote, I hope that the people you gather to celebrate him remember, not only what a good writer he was, and his gift for saying exactly the right things to people who were troubled, but also how much fun he was. I will never stop missing him.

Me either, Mary Jo. I should send you Lani's words.

Jean Vanier also gone - a good man who did a lot of good in the world, as detailed in my unforgettable gripping powerful new memoir which is still seeking a home. Hope you get to read it one day.

Anna shared on FB a post about nicknames for Trump. There were a number of marvellous ones, but my favourite, besides Blotus, was Trumplethinskin. Desperation does bring out brilliance. And we - we the world's people - are desperate.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

spring, rain

The gorgeous days over for now - two days of hot sun, and now back to grey drizzle - but it's mild. Yesterday, I watched two sparrows mating on my fence. It was brief and I would think not much fun, but I guess it got the job done, because after he'd climbed on her a few times for a few fluttery seconds, they flew away in separate directions. Ah, the rites of spring.

I go out to ogle the buds, the bursting of green - the miracle of renewal, especially after such a long hard winter.

I am feeling it too, slowly - budding, coming out of months of chaos, then travel, then loss. The house is settling; though the work isn't quite finished, the repairs and purchases still needed are minor, and I no longer need the long lists that I carried everywhere. Yesterday I actually made it to a yoga class at the Y, first time in ages. Today U of T starts, Ryerson tomorrow night, on Friday back to my piano teacher after months of very little practice - that'll be painful. The joy of routine. And yet every time I climb the stairs into the airy bright hall or step into my shining bedroom and closet, it feels like a brand new spring inside, here.

I finished Sally Rooney's Normal People, the hot novel of the season, though confess I skipped some bits. She's an extremely talented writer but I was just not that interested in the obsessive detail, however beautifully and cleverly written, of these young people's lives. Plus the book was due back. Now I'm reading Middlemarch, at last, for a book club at the end of the month. With my B.A. in English, I've always felt guilty not to have read Middlemarch, so am happy to have been pushed to do so. And I'm also reading The Dakota Winters by Tom Barbash, which recreates New York in 1980 and imagines John Lennon as a main character - delightful.

Last night, something horrible and then a treat: I watched, with jaw dropped, a bit of the coverage of the Met Gala, an obscene gathering of the world's celebrities wearing the most preposterous clothes, accompanied by fawning discussion. Utterly nauseating; talk about fiddling while Rome burns. But then Gentleman Jack, a terrific British drama on PBS, the adventures of a fiercely independent landowner and lesbian in 1832. Bonus - it's based on the diaries of the actual Anne Lister. From an interview with Sally Wainwright, the showrunner:
Reading between the lines of the journal, I believe she had very robust mental health. And I think she had an enviably healthy opinion of herself, and though that's often an insult, I don't mean it as an insult. I wish I had a healthier opinion of myself, I'm sure I'd be a lot happier. She believed her sexuality was God-given, she believed it would be against God if she slept with a man because God made her like this. And she seemed able to live with that in a very healthy way.
I find that really uplifting that for someone 200 years ago to have the courage and intelligence to be able to navigate her way through society, not to be ostracized from society, and to be truthful to who she was is why we should celebrate her. That's why the story is unique, because it's about this unique human being who was capable of being like this. I think that's a beautiful message for anyone, no matter what gender or sexuality they are.
Speaking of unabashedly being who you are, Wayson was like that too. These days, despite spring, my heart feels muted, maimed, diminished. Something key is missing. I had not realized how automatically I thought of Wayson, called him, invited him over. The impulse is there all day, but he is not.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Life Stories coming up at U of T

Wonderful article in the Guardian about how the memoirs of real people, as opposed to celebrities, are the new hits on the best seller lists. Great great news. 

So - if you are considering writing about your life, the Guardian is offering encouragement, and so am I. My course at U of T, Life Stories, begins Tuesday, though right now it's so small, they might cancel it - so please, if you want to write, considering signing up. There's also still room in the Ryerson class True to Life, which started last Wednesday.

I can be a guide on your way to telling the truth with craft.

Cabbagetown's Forsythia Festival, meeting John Tory

Le tout Toronto is out today - a gorgeous day, hot and sunny, at last. Someone did say that in typical Toronto fashion, we'd probably go straight from winter to summer, and so it is.

I've been busy with Mr. Elijah - going across town to get him yesterday, keeping him busy, taking him back across town this afternoon - his mother's birthday present. We spent many hours at the Regent Park playground, which is just the best, the most multicultural group of kids, every colour of skin, running and leaping and climbing. Eli is very big on climbing and hanging from monkey bars and even bigger on jumping, from everything.
And then - Lego. Much much Lego. Luckily I got a big container at Doubletake so have lots on hand, and it kept him happily busy for hours. He took last night's creation into the bath and then into bed with him. And then more Charlotte's Web. The new bed in the new spare room, for its inaugural sleep, was a success.
He rose at 6, however, hungry for breakfast, which did not make a tired Glamma happy. We were at the playground by 9 a.m., and then off to the Forsythia Festival, a neighbourhood celebration of spring this family has been attending for 33 years. Eli even consented to walk in the parade,
and then up to Wellesley Sreet for face painting and other festivities.
It's a wonderful event, getting bigger all the time - now filled not just with young families but with grandparents - saw many old friends with their grandchildren. I ran into John Tory, Toronto's mayor (as well as Barbara Hall, a former mayor who lives in Cabbagetown) and went to talk to him, to commiserate with what the city is enduring from the cretins running the province. I went on about how we now have our own Trump, and he said he hoped the decent people in Ford's cabinet would wake up. Some chance. Please keep up the good fight, I said, but have to say, he's not a fighter, he's a wimp or just a nice polite man, so we're doomed.

Then, at last, the TTC back to the west side of town, to leave my beloved older grandson with his family. On the streetcar home, I saw a million Torontonians out in the streets, soaking it up. I was reading C. S. Lewis's A Grief Observed which someone left in the Free Library, about the death of his wife. I have not lost a spouse but grief is there, nonetheless.

Now in my messy Lego- and crumb-strewn house, alone, with the hot sun pouring in through the back door.  Sam comes tonight to watch Game of Thrones. I'm grateful for my family when they're here, and also grateful for the solitude when they are not.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Wayson in the NYT and a possible memorial for him

I have a mail file on my computer where I've saved the most precious emails from or about Wayson. But last night I opened my Trash file and typed "Wayson Choy." There were 5,329 matches.

From a former student, one of many emails I've received about my friend which are now expanding the above file:
I must thank you for introducing me to Wayson, which unexpectedly (to me) led to a truly joyful connection. I feel blessed by his kindness & generosity to include me as a friend. He made himself available to meet with me the times when he could, & provided me with his words of wisdom.

And also many thanks to you that I became part of a small but warm & committed Writing Group - 6 of us who were your students at Ryerson a few years ago continue to meet & spur each other on with our writing. And some of us made it to your wonderful story sharing evenings at Black Swan.

People have been asking about a memorial event for Wayson. It seems the family will hold a private one in the summer and his agent Denise Bukowski will organize a formal one later. But lots of people have contacted me asking about it; people want to celebrate him now. I am thinking of holding an informal "gathering of remembrance" here at my house on a Sunday afternoon in early June. I'll let you know. 

In the meantime, there was a big article in the NYT. How he would have loved it! And a great photo. 

Yesterday was Anna's birthday; we had lunch with the boys at Rol San, her favourite Chinese restaurant. Today as her present I'm going to get Eli who'll be here till tomorrow. She gets a well-deserved break. 

Guess what? It's grey and gloomy and raining. 

Friday, May 3, 2019


Those moments when the heart seizes and the pain is physical: yesterday, marinating chicken breasts, realizing that every week, I cooked a large meal or two because Wayson would come to share it. Now I have to cook for myself or find another hungry single non-cooking friend.

Anna just sent this photograph. It's her birthday today, Eli is home from school, and we're meeting for lunch. Usually, I'd forward this immediately to my friend and he'd write back some rhapsodic lines about family and love and youth, about the boys as heartbreakers. Not today.
So - the heart hurts and then gradually not so much. As Theresa said, now I will come to know my friend in a different way.

Friend Gretchen just emailed, "Your blog continues to shine a light Into a completely unfamiliar world. The saying 'there are no words to express' or 'words fail to express,' simply are not true to me anymore. Because I am taking notice of very powerful and deeply meaningful words to express all sorts of loss, grief, sadness, rage, as well as joy, love, appreciation, delight, memory. Your community of writers, journalists, biographers, photo journalists (writers from the eye), are all becoming an essential tank of oxygen for humanity. Every person has a story, a narrative that rolls along, from birth to death. Keep writing. It does help to heal for the reader as well."

It is raining again. It has been raining for the last six months. One day it will stop raining.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Wayson in the Globe and Blackbird in Mi'kmaq

Marsha Lederman has written a beautiful tribute to Wayson, published today, capturing his quirky warmth. She wrote me to say she was sorry so much of our conversation got cut. But that means I can tell those stories in my own time.

And for something goosebump haunting - Paul McCartney's glorious "Blackbird" in Mi'kmaq. It's a wonderful world.

protesting in the cold

People have been incredibly kind. The notes on FB and the emails keep coming, including from students I've not heard from in many years, who met Wayson in my class or know what he meant to me. Nick Rice sent a letter, and this morning, Margot, a dear friend from the Y, dropped a card through my front door. Blogger friend Theresa Kishkan sent this beautiful thought: You will miss him and no doubt the grief is raw and painful right now. Any person who has become an intimate friend and who is interwoven in the daily fabric of our lives never leaves us, though. We learn to know them differently. It's a bit lonely, not having the physical person there to laugh with and talk to and share writing with, but everything he has meant to you will continue. And you will know him differently as you adjust to both his physical absence and his deep presence. I have a few dear souls who remain with me years after their physical deaths and learning to know them in a new way has been both sad and also kind of exhilarating.

I love the idea of our dead with us, us 'knowing them differently'.

The thoughtfulness of these friends gives me the feeling of a pair of arms holding me tight, at a time of grief. Wayson was one of the only people who telephoned me on my landline, so every time the phone rings, I think it's him. He'd call almost every day to check in, to ask if I needed to use his car for something; I almost never did but he called anyway, to make sure I knew he was thinking of me. I miss that.

I'm waiting to hear about a memorial event; apparently Denise, Wayson's agent, is organizing something but there has been no word. A number of people have written to me asking; I will post here as soon as I know.

Meanwhile, the usual. The weather has been appalling, the worst spring I can remember, protracted cold and wet, and that's after a cold, wet stay in Paris - not lucky with the weather this year. Work has not finished in the house. The other day I used the new small washing machine for the first time; disaster, during the spin cycle, it rocked so hard, it nearly spun out of control and was unbelievably noisy. I was in knots. An hour of exploration later, Kevin and Ed discovered they'd installed it with the feet needed only for transport still on, so no wonder it went off balance. One crisis averted. Matt my computer guy came to fix some bugs and upgrade me to Mohave. I got my bike fixed up for spring and some of the garden cleared and pruned. The window guys are coming, the termite guys. Today Ed is fixing the front door, which is about as old as the house - at least a hundred - and falling apart. Like me, some days.

But yesterday, I went to an anti-Doug Ford rally at Queen's Park, met friends there plus Anna and Ben. It was bitterly cold and we didn't stay long - long enough to register our disgust for this premier and his repulsive gang. It was good to be with a group of kindred spirits, fighting the good fight despite the odds. Despite the fact  that here we go again. Got to try.

 Ben with his sign, and, below, me holding Eli's.

And then Ryerson started last night - back at work, an interesting new group of student writers. Home class tonight, U of T next Tuesday. Normal life returns. Sort of. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

a visit

You know what really helps with grief? Writing. It's what I teach. It's what I do.

7 a.m. on yet another bleak, grey, chilly morning, and I sit here in tears. People have been sending the most wonderful notes; so many of my friends are writers, and all of them had met Wayson, so what they send is beautiful and profoundly moving.

Somehow, as well, one death brings up others. I've just heard from May, one of my aunt's best friends in Ottawa, so have been thinking of the recent loss of Do. And then I had a note from Penny in England, younger sister of my childhood pen pal Barbara and now my own friend. Barbara died in 1966 at age 16, a story I've been trying to get out into the world for years, without success so far. Penny and her siblings had just spent the afternoon cleaning the gravesite of their sister, parents, and brother Michael who died at two weeks old, a yearly ritual that brings them together in tribute and love. The stone was designed by their brother Peter, an artist, some of whose ashes they scattered there to help with the roses.
In the bleak council cemetery where stones subside and the grass covers the neighbouring plots where the loved ones of the children we grew up with are buried, Barbara's stone now stands proud, one of the cleanest and brightest. Peter designed it carefully, the text debated each time we laid another to rest and the wording cut by hand. Beneath it Babs, Dad, Mum sleep quietly together with the memory of first born Michael.

Yesterday I sat at the piano to try to start playing again but instead broke down and actually cried, out loud, "How could you leave me?"

It was almost embarrassing; that's the sort of thing a spouse says after the death of a longterm partner. And Wayson was definitely not my spouse. But he was an automatic part of my life, my day, my thoughts. My dinner table. It's a huge hole. Right now, it feels like an open wound.

Marsha Lederman from the Globe called; she'd been told I was a close friend and she's writing an article. The stories poured out; I jabbered, wept, and laughed. The best kind of remembrance.

Monty, a former student who met Wayson several times at classes here, sent me this:
Wayson was a shining example of being in life who you really are, wearing it on your sleeve, with no explanations or apologies, what you see is what you get. If only we could all have Wayson’s strength and courage to be so authentic and real. It was an honour to meet him, to be with him, to listen to him, to be inspired by him. 

Monty also wrote that after his father died when he was young, a friend told him his dad would never die while he, Monty, was alive, because Monty's memories would preserve him. His father would continue to visit in memory, and each visit would be a gift.  And, Beth, I think your gardenia story on your blog may be one of your first “visits” from Wayson. I will leave that for you to decide.

I think he's right.

Old friend from university days Isobel wrote, "I didn't 'know' him except through your blog - how you embraced him as a family member, his quiet, obviously happy presence at moments large and small. How wonderful that your family has your all-welcoming, open-arms approach to life... and that you record it all for posterity. And how magnificent for Wayson to feel that generosity and love -- infused with it all, his spirit shines on."

Monday, April 29, 2019


Still in shock. One dark thought passed through my mind in bed last night: it has begun. The losses of aging and old age - the gradual disappearance of loved ones - it has begun. We expect our parents to die before us. Wayson felt like another generation to me, but he was in fact only 11 years older than I. Except for the terrible losses due to AIDS in the 80's, he's the first of my closest friends to vanish.

I don't want to lose people I love. It will hurt too much. But the only alternative is that I die first, which wouldn't be so much fun either.

The other words that went through my mind were: Someone who loved me is gone. For those of us without a significant other, the loss of the significant others whom we choose is devastating. Wayson loved me and cared about my life, as I did about his. It was a powerful bond that hasn't faltered since we met in 2002 or 3. In the local Goodwill, of course. Junk junkies both.

Friends have been calling and sending beautiful emails of tribute to him and to our friendship, and I thank them. Nick Rice sent this pic he took at the Miles Nadal JCC - I gave a talk there and Wayson was with me to sell my books, hover solicitously, and beam.
Loss. Grief. Last night I found myself in the bathroom, madly cleaning the leaves of the tall gardenia that survived the winter and the renovation, but with dusty leaves. And then I realized - it was a gift from Wayson, years ago, that brings him to me every time it blooms. And it will be blooming soon.

And this I had from him also: Onward.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Uncle Wayson

 The loveliest picture ever - 2012, Eli had just been born

going through junk, as always, as our favourite store, Doubletake
the little aquarium was his Xmas present to Eli
Uncle Wayson
The worst picture of us ever
 his 75th
Wayson spoke to many of my classes, including a home group here

Sam loved to cook for him, and as we all know, Wayson loved to eat
At one of my book launches, with my former student and current friend, fabulous writer Laurel Croza - Wayson blurbed one of her books

 with Jean-Marc and Richard, my birthday party
a quiet moment in the garden - he never went anywhere without a bag full of books, pens, coloured pencils ...
The loveliest picture ever. Feasting joyfully on life, as always.

Wayson Choy: "utterly amazed and happy still"

I came back with Ben this afternoon from a visit to the playground and Riverdale Farm, when Anna, who'd stayed behind with Eli, greeted me at the door. Come into the kitchen with me, Mum, she said, and I knew something was wrong.

It says on Twitter that Wayson died last night, she said, opening her arms as I stood frozen in shock and then began to weep.

Impossible to believe. Not yet. Too soon.

I went over to his place Thursday, and we sat in the kitchen he shared with Karl and Marie. He wanted, as usual, to go out for lunch, but I did not, so we had tea. He was frail and his asthmatic lungs were wheezing, which is why he wasn't supposed to leave the house. But as always, he was full of humour and kindness and wisdom. We hugged, as always, when I left, with promises to see each other soon. He usually came here for dinner on Sundays, but this Sunday, today, my grandkids were coming and I knew they'd be too much for him. He called yesterday, and we made a date for him to come for dinner Thursday.

In hindsight, I think of the call, how insistently he thanked me for everything. I wonder if he felt something coming. Of course, whatever I did for him was a pleasure, he was family; he was ours and we were his. My kids adored him and he them, and my grandsons gave him nearly as much pleasure as they do me. Anna and Sam are devastated too by this loss.

There is much to say about his life and his work, his legacy. My textbook True to Life: 50 steps to help you tell your story is a tribute to him; he is quoted on almost every page. He was an important mentor to many, none more so than I; he taught me so much both as a writer and as a teacher. And in return, I made sure he had a home cooked meal once a week, if possible. It was a good exchange.

I can't believe he's not there. He won't be coming for dinner, we won't be talking nearly every day. But at the same time, I am glad for him that it was a peaceful end and not protracted. He knew he had Alzheimer's, he discussed it openly, though for now he was coping well. But that would not have lasted, and then it could have been terrible for him. It never was. He had it seems as beautiful a death as such a beautiful man deserves.

This was his last email to me, last week, after we'd exchanged words about what was happening to him.
Thank you again for being so understanding, Beth ...  I'm somewhat enjoying the scary bumps on this ride, if it weren't for the mental bruises that are leaving their mark and left me wondering -  but I'm not ever feeling alone or abandoned.   For example, you're pushing ahead and going on and on ... my hero!  

Keep writing - your life is crazy in the right proportions - crazy, yes, but as always crazy-smart and crazy-lucky!    Meanwhile, I'm just 'crazy' ... and utterly amazed and happy still.  

x0 Wayson.

December 2017 - playing pirate boats with Eli
 Dinner here in February - his favourite, steak.
My last shot of my friend, in early April, helping put together a complicated light fixture neither of us could figure out. 

Already missed missed missed. 

cardinal love, coming home

There's a wonderful scene outside: I propped a long mirror against the south wall in the garden, thinking it would go somewhere eventually - and now I see that the cardinal has fallen in love. He's married; Mrs. Cardinal is usually nearby because their nest is in a tree at the bottom of the garden, but he keeps flying down to look at himself in the mirror, hopping back and forth, gazing with fascination.

I will move the mirror later today to keep their marriage safe. But for now, cardinal love is a signal that it's spring at last; the sun is shining, the robins, sparrows, finches, and cardinals are singing full force, nesting, soaring. There's a sweet cover of green on most of the trees and shrubs - the willow is bright yellow - and the gardening helpers are coming tomorrow so we can begin the big job of pruning and clearing away winter detritus.

Like the garden, like the city, your faithful correspondent has come through a long hard winter. After months of panic, exhaustion, and stress, how light I feel. I know, a renovation is not a cancer diagnosis. It's not homelessness; in fact, it's the opposite, it's going through a rigamarole to improve one's home. And let me tell you, though the process was excruciating and I would never do it again - (never say never, girl) - it was worth it. There is light. Things are in their place and they actually have a place to be put in. Things that have never worked in my 33 years in this house are fixed. It's miraculous.

Of course, just saying this is asking for trouble, another sump pump explosion, perhaps; God knows what's in store, as the house has a way of producing nasty surprises. My close neighbours at 306 and 310, for example, did not have a recent infestation of termites, but 308 did. I will be paying for all this for a long time to come.

The house and I went through the fire in August 2005, the complete rebuilding of the basement and main floor which took till spring 2006. Then this felt like a brand new house. A couple of stylish friends came to visit, loved the sparkling modern kitchen and asked to see the rest of the house. I remember the look on their faces upstairs, because that part was completely unchanged. Old floors and windows, a strange jumble of rooms, a skylight stuck in a closet -

But now the glorious skylight is the centre of the house, the ceiling is opened up, the walls are painted, the windows are fixed, the floors are new, I can hardly believe it. And by next week, both the rental suites will be occupied and I can start paying off the debt.

Anna and the boys are on their way over; we'll go to the local playgrounds in the sun and then have a barbecue with Anna's oldest friend Shani, who's moving in Wednesday with her younger son Leo. Anna and Shani have been best friends since we moved here in September 1986, when they met at age 5 in Winchester Public School SK. Something has come full circle, and it makes me want to cry. I'll watch the cardinal admire himself and have a laugh instead.

Just for today, I won't think about the idiots in power, flooding, refugees, the heartbreaking list of injustices and horrors. Today, I celebrate rebirth.

another note from a satisfied customer

For some reason, the numbers for both my classes, so far, are low. Maybe it's because I dropped out during the winter. In any case, I hope the numbers jump next week. As if to encourage me as a teacher, I just received this from a student who was in the class at least 15 years ago. Yes, I replied. Yes yes yes.

I was wondering....will you be teaching True to Life at Ryerson in the Fall of 2019? I took your evening class eons ago. I see that Sarah Sheard was taking over while you took a break for other things - yay for breaks and travel and even renovations - but hoping you'll be back in the coming fall. Since I was 'under your wing' there have been many fits and starts, but I'm trying to get back to serious, regular writing. I'm still working so evening classes are my best option.

I've also been writing fiction and poetry, and am casting around for a writing class to focus my efforts in the fall. I so enjoyed my very productive time with you, and so much of what you shared with your students is/was helpful in fiction.

Only a few more days to register.

Friday, April 26, 2019

letter to the editor

Just like old times here today - Dan painting in the basement, Ed fixing things and putting up pictures; Kevin dropped by to see Ed, Evan dropped by to use Kevin's saw which Ed was using. Yesterday, Jean-Marc came to admire his design handiwork. All winter, I had to get used to lots of men in my house, and soon, I'll get used to no men in my house. I am more than ready for that day. But it's not here yet - they're all back next week. Plus the window guys, to fix something that doesn't work. And soon the roof repair guy and the termite guys will also be back.

It never ends.

In the night, I was writing protest letters about this government, so as soon as I got up, I put the words on paper and emailed both the Globe and the Star. I sent a long version and a short version; the Star wrote back immediately that they might use the short version early next week. Hope so. That's my writing for the day. Here's the long version:

To the Editor:

Here are words I never thought it possible to say: worse than Mike Harris. Harris destroyed the Ontario education system as my children went through it; year after year, their classes were disrupted by demonstrations and strikes, as vicious cuts came down, and teachers, students, and parents marched to make their voices heard. And then he attacked Toronto itself.

But this guy is worse. It’s possible Harris, mean-spirited and heedless as his policies were, may actually have believed they were for the best. Our current premier has no beliefs except winning, destroying, and getting even. He’s a vindictive, resentful blowhard, and his hates are many, education, healthcare, women, and this city chief among them. A man of lifelong wealth and privilege, he has no understanding of what a library means to a community, what legal aid means, safe injection sites, midwives – for that matter, what climate change means to our planet. He’s smashing the Ontario education system as my grandchildren go through it.

What shocks me most is not the man himself; we were well acquainted with his brother, and this man was his brother’s enabler. But what about the others in his team, can they not see how short-sighted and destructive these cuts and changes are? Where’s the conscience of Caroline Mulroney or Lisa MacLeod or the others who used to have a modicum of decency? Or maybe we just imagined it was there.

Donald Trump has eviscerated his country with the hearty backing of his spineless party. Now we are enduring the same here in Ontario. The damage inflicted by Ford and his team will bring harm to our province far worse than the damage inflicted by Harris and his. And that is something I once would have thought impossible. 

Beth Kaplan

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

coming together

The most wonderful thing happened today: I rode to the Y to do the usual Wednesday lunchtime class - Carole is away but someone always subs for her - to find that all the classes were cancelled! There'd been a power outage. Yes, I could have lifted weights or jogged around on my own, but instead, I sat for ages in the sauna, had a shower, and went home. I didn't need exercise, for God's sake, I've been hauling boxes up and down for days. I only went to see my friends, but another day. Hooray for power outages at exactly the right time.

Instead I rode my bike in the crisp spring sun - the day started cold but bright, and later it got hot - to the wonderful Carpet Mill in Riverdale, which sells carpet remainders at very reasonable prices, to replace the rug ruined by the sump pump leaks. Visited my beloved Wayson on the way, since he lives nearby. He is now quite open about what's happening to him. "I now know - I have Alzheimer's," he says, with his impish grin. He has notebooks where he writes everything down and though thinner, looks fine. The last time I called him to say I'd come visit, he misunderstood and set off for my house, so when I arrived at his, he was arriving at mine. What matters is that he's safe and will come over soon for dinner.

Ed was working here all day today. He was Kevin's helper during the reno; Kevin, my neighbour the contractor, was in charge of most of the work - carpentry, plumbing, drywall, he does it all, and so does Ed, who's a stellar problem solver in his own right. He's here to replace the baseboards damaged by the sump and put up pictures and do other stuff - my idea of heaven, a willing and able man with a power drill and a stud finder. Kevin came by, and there we were, the trio who somehow survived a brutally exhausting, protracted, and difficult winter renovation. It was good to be with them again, these capable men; good to know that we are all friends despite the stress and tensions we went through. Best of all, I'm still friends with Jean-Marc, who designed the project and was my main opponent - and ally.

So yes, it's all coming together, this investment, better than ever. If only the old bag who lives here could say the same.

note from a grateful student

My classes start soon - Ryerson next Wednesday and U of T the Tuesday after that. There's still room. Scroll down to the post from a few days ago for more information and links.

These are the treats that inspire teachers to keep going - out of the blue, this morning, I got this email from a Syrian woman who came to class 15 years ago. 15 years! But then, I've been teaching this stuff for 25. And still love my work.

Hello Beth, 
I wonder if you remember me :) I took one of your creative writing courses at Ryerson year 2007 I think! 

Just touching base with you to say that you an inspiring teacher. I learned from you.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

shelves of glory

Things are settling, I’m feeling more in control of my life and my home, and my cold is fading, so this morning, for the first time in months, I sat down to begin writing work. Then I noticed the internet symbol on the computer was off. Twenty minutes of fussing and anxiety later - the computer refused to recognize my network - I'd fiddled and tried and checked Diagnostics, then finally turned the router off, and the internet eventually came back. By then I was off on another track entirely. 

It never ends, does it? What was that glitch about? The computer saying, You think you're going to get to work? I have news for you. Mwa ha ha!

Okay, let's start again. I'm sitting in my east-facing bedroom because this is where the morning sun hits, and we've been hard pressed for sun this last while, except for yesterday which was sublime. The house around me is becoming recognizable again. The front hall is stacked high with empty boxes, because the books in those boxes are on shelves - and they're organized. There are shelves for memoir and books about writing, shelves for poetry and theatre and plays, sections for subjects that interest me: Jews, Beatles, E.B. White, travel, and languages; shelves for my own published work and for the family photo albums and books from my childhood, like Little Women, and a special section for family treasures - my grandmother's Shakespeare, my mother's little book of Rupert Brooke poetry, Virgil's Aeneid with marked inside "Gordin Kaplan, 1939" - what Dad was reading at 17. Barnaby Rudge with "Xmas 1907, Marion, from Father and Mother." What my grandmother was reading at 17. 

And two other special sections: the little red record player Lani gave me with my old Beatle records stacked beside, and a shelf of toys and dolls: my teddy bear, my mother's, my aunt Do's, our dolls, the Sootie hand puppet that was mine in England in 1956. 

Immense satisfaction.

Outside in the hall, in the new bookshelf Jean-Marc created, two more categories: classics, and books by friends, and in the spare bedroom, current children's books for when the boys come. Downstairs, stacked miles high, books I've yet to read. Luckily, Doug Ford has destroyed the magnificent and generous Ontario library system, so instead of getting out new books - I just counted 14 ordered, delivered, and read between November 2018 and March 2019 - I'll have to read the ones I have. Gosh, thanks, Doug. 

My office is still a mess but much better. The closet is getting there. I went out in the garden yesterday and did a bit of pruning, though there are still days of work remaining. Shani the downstairs tenant came yesterday and we saw what has to be done: the baseboards need to be replaced after the flooding, Ed I hope is coming tomorrow to do that and other things, and I'm hoping to buy a new carpet today. The new sofa is arriving next week. Otherwise, she's good to go. 

In the upstairs rental, again, more needs to be done - her toaster oven is ordered, also arriving soon, thank God for online shopping and delivery. We'll get there.

Best of all, yesterday I went across town to visit Anna and Thomas and the boys. Thomas has created an even bigger fenced-in garden and a whole greenhouse of seedlings under gro-lights - amazing. Being with the boys fills my heart with so much joy that it hurts. The day before, a very rainy day, Anna had entertained and fed some of Thomas's extended family, including six children plus her two. We had leftovers and I did storytime - Harry Potter, such a treat to read it again - and bathtime, because she was exhausted.
How to tell Anna lives here? Eli's sign: "Queen Victoria PS against education cuts!"
Helping in the garden by flinging dirt. Nothing better.

And then the streetcar home to a house which is now, once more, after a long and difficult and expensive year, my home. 

Dear blogger friend Theresa Kishkan, 3 books by whom are in my hall, wrote yesterday that instead of saying I have incurred debt, I could say, I have made an investment. And it's true, I have spent a year investing in the future of this house and my own future in it. I'm aware, however, that while I was busy renovating and fretting, arguing with Jean-Marc and choosing trim, Theresa was writing essays and books, with several published and others coming out soon. She made an investment of another kind - in her talent and her work. Which is what I must get back to too.

I settled down here this morning to begin writing work but the computer intervened, and now I'm writing to you, and then it will be time to get on with the practical side of the day, the hunting and gathering, before the predicted thunderstorms roll in. 

Stay tuned.