Saturday, November 21, 2020

Toronto's second best bartender and Ian Brown, first best CNFC speaker

So Toronto is locked down again as of Monday. Sam's bar will only be able to sell take-out bottles. Thomas's work will probably continue, and so will mine. But how lucky I am; unlike many I have a roof, work, health. 

I also have pinkeye. And, well, a small complaint: the fireplace guy who was supposed to come Friday to make sure I can install a gas fire stove and then to order it, so I can keep warm this long cold winter, just called to cancel because of the lockdown. He says he'll come in February. It's the fireplace channel for me. 

Eli came for a sleepover (before I realized about my eye - hope he's okay.) The boy is a merciless player of games. I'd prefer to read him stories. But we played a long game of Monopoly in which he absolutely crushed me. Hotels everywhere. We played last night, left it set up at bedtime, he woke at 7.30 a.m. raring to get back to it, plotting his purchases. I managed to get him to watch a bit of TVO so I could have a cup of coffee before my total evisceration. And then Go Fish too - he won every game.

He has just learned to sign his name in cursive! Beneath the portrait of me painted in 1959 by a Hungarian friend of my American grandmother's that I've always hated. Love the signature, though. 

A triumph on Thursday: our first CNFC webinar with Ian Brown went fantastically. He was superb - very funny, chatty, full of fascinating stories about people we wished we knew - Calvin Trillin! He was inspiring about writing and generally warm and open. It was recorded and will be uploaded on the CNFC website for all members.

Then an even greater triumph: Sam Dobie the runner-up in the Best Bartender competition. He is the second best of the hundreds of bartenders in all Toronto, and in one of the smallest bars in the city! Bravo my son. Too bad you're now not able to do what you do.

Friday I had a telephone interview with Vancouver book podcaster Joseph Planta about the memoir. "I don't often finish the books," he said, "but yours I whizzed through. I enjoyed it very much, it was a pleasure to read. I got a lot out of it." He told me the scene with the Vermeer was moving and unforgettable. Lovely to hear. We talked for almost an hour. 

On the other hand, has once more sent back our audiobook files with a petty complaint; this time, our engineer said it was as if they themselves had damaged the files. It's like sabotage. Infuriating. 

Yesterday was beautiful, but I think that was the last nice day. Today, chilly and grey. My grandson and my eyeball have worn me out. Luckily Anna sent over piles of food - soup, stew, homemade hummus. Fed by my daughter, it's "The Crown" with wine tonight.

Anna sent me this of Ben. Be still my beating heart.

Monday, November 16, 2020

more nice words about the memoir, and French onion soup

Cheer on a dull day: 

From Ian: It's a terrific read. Quite the story, quite a life, to date; I wonder what your next "part" will bring. I'm amazed at the rich detail in your recollection. I hope the book receives lots of favourable attention. And somewhere along the way, I hope you were charmed by an uncircumcised penis. 

You'll have to read the book to understand the reference!

From my dear friend, sublime musician Shari Ulrich, on Sorry, the print is either too small and fits or doesn't quite fit and you can't read every word. Hope you get the gist. 

And from Lila

Yesterday's treat: the giraffeman came to cook a huge vat of French onion soup. Four bags of onions caramelizing - divine. Soul food.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

notes about taking notes

Only a writer perhaps will understand what this means: last night, as I watched a documentary, Monterey Pop, I got up, scrabbled around for paper, and started taking notes.

I used to take notes all the time, because I was an essay writer. Everything that happened could lead to an essay, so the neurons were firing constantly. What's the story here? What does it mean? Throughout the nineties, partially because as a single mother and teacher my time was limited, I produced a stream of short personal essays: 24 in the Globe in ten years and nearly as many written and read for the CBC, plus other newspapers and a few magazines. One year, I had six essays in the Globe and a friend said, "I enjoy reading your column." Finally, I published a compilation called Back Page Stories - my first book. 

And then the Globe stopped paying even a measly $100 for half a page of work, and a producer at CBC's Fresh Air told me my writing was "not edgy enough" for the program. I started focussing on books. A mentor talked once about the breath in writing needed for a sprint and for a marathon. I hadn't the breath for both sprints and marathons.

But recently, as I struggle to get my latest marathon Loose Woman into the world, I finally took heed: very often when nonfiction books are published, it says at the back, "Excerpts from this book appeared in - ..." with a list of magazines in print or online. Even if you're working on a book, it's a good idea to get excerpts out there as you write. So that's my new plan: essays and excerpts. Sprints. A job in itself, not just the writing, but figuring out what should go where - unlike in the nineties, there are now hundreds of online places. So -  which? 

I don't have much to say about Monterey Pop - one observation, that the young audience was absorbed in the music, focussed on the stage with eyes and ears rather than taking pictures or filming or scrolling, because there were no @#$# cellphones in 1967. How did we survive, communicate, photograph, check in obsessively with each other? One thing was clear: we really listened to the music. 

Also, that the film is a paean to the talented sixties icons who died so young: Jimi, Janis, Keith Moon, Otis Redding, Mama Cass - even Brian Jones there in the audience. Who knew it was so dangerous to be a rock star? And what was with the smashing and burning of guitars? It looks ridiculous - infantile - now.

But those observations do not an essay make. Though can I point out that even this post is a kind of essay about essay-writing? That even as I was jotting notes last night, wondering about an essay, I realized it could be a blog post. In some ways, I just realized, I've never stopped writing essays. 

Yesterday was lovely and bright; Ruth and I had a long masked walkabout in the 'hood. Today is dark, wet, and drear. But there is work to be done, not to mention The Crown on Netflix. (Have I mentioned The Queen's Gambit? Just the most fun, and the last five minutes spectacular. No pat clich├ęd ending here. Marvellous.) My cold is nearly gone. Never have I been so glad to have a mere cold. As another friend used to say, It's all good. 

Here's today's only mention of the orange blowhole, still trying to smash the planet:

And here's what I'm contemplating for my living room, if it's possible, which it may not be. A perfect inspiration for note-taking.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020


At five to eleven on yet another glorious day, four old planes flew high above in formation. I listened to the Memorial Day events from Parliament Hill, thought of my family members who served to defeat evil, and posted Dad (on the right) and his brother Edgar in 1944 on FB.

But Anna did much better. She and Ben created this. On one poppy, my mother and her sisters, on another my father and his brother, on another my in-laws, and then a soldier of colour who died under difficult circumstances and an Indigenous WW1 nurse. 

Lest we forget.

Such a heavenly day, even with a head cold it's hard to stay inside - easier to work when the weather's lousy. Did errands on the bike - I can carry six bottles of wine in a backpack! Success. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

a fascist coup?

Just so glorious - 23 degrees today! I'm convinced the heavens were agreeing with us about the end of the orange blowhole and shining their delighted approval.

Except that he's still there. Jason said today a pundit he follows has been tweeting for months about the possibility of a "fascist coup," Bill Maher has been talking about it too, and that's what has begun. I actually thought the Repulsives, seeing the multitudes against their guy and the dancing in the streets at his defeat, would decide it's in their best interests to cut him loose. But I forgot - 71 million people voted for him, most of those people are fanatics with guns, and his party is without either backbone or human decency. They've all drunk the Kool-Aid of Fox News and QAnon. Let's not forget that hundreds of people drank poisoned Kool-Aid and committed suicide at the behest of a lunatic. 

I've been overestimating humanity again.

No, surely the democratic machinery will hold, and he'll be vanquished. But he'll destroy a great deal before that happens. So - depressed again.

Also, Jason found out today that the reason the audiobook of the memoir, taped in September, has not yet been uploaded by Audible is because there were arcane things we neglected to do - the "The End" that they demanded I say needs to be in a SEPARATE FILE, and it was not. Stuff like that. After waiting 8 weeks and hearing nothing, we now have to wait for a list of our deficiencies, fix them, and send to them again, where we'll be put at the end of the line. Sick-making.

Also re-thinking the new book I've started about my spectacular, dreadful parents - do I really want to go through this again, spending years writing a book to find out no one wants to publish it? I should send queries to publishers now. If no one wants it, I'll know I should bang it out fast for my family and move on. Brutal reality. The business side of this lit business is not fun. But no, I won't complain, I'm so lucky to do what I love in the comfort of my own home. I just wish more people wanted to read it. 

Last night, Cinderella sat in the living room in sweatpants watching the Giller awards for, what, the 20th year? Only fiction writers need apply, PHOOEY. I'd met Shani Motoo briefly at U of T since she taught there too, but didn't know any of the others. It seems like a worthy writer won; I hope to read her book one day. Wonderful that an immigrant who at the age of nine didn't know how to pronounce English can become the winner of Canada's biggest literary prize!

Tomorrow, not so hot, not so bright - rain forecast and 11 degrees. I have a cold. No idea how that happened, in this time of frantic handwashing, but I have a cold. So I'll be staying in. My, that'll be a change.