Thursday, May 28, 2020

"Being Canadian" and "Mrs. America"

Another long silent day punctuated by contact: Robin my upstairs tenant, a hello and a chat; a phone call with a writing student wanting direction with her memoir; a chat with another wanting to buy the writing book; tonight, a Zoom class. Plus email and text messages, replies to this blog, all the Likes on FB and Twitter - for people sitting alone at home, we sure are dealing with a lot of voices.

The rain is just beginning. I went down the street first thing to get more plants from Jay's and got them in just in time. What a gorgeous smell. Today's garden joy: the delicate puffball magnificence of allium.
Sadness across town: Naan, Anna's beloved cat, has cancer and is scheduled to meet her maker on Saturday. She's a marvellous creature who has had a great life, coming in and out the window, being fed and petted by neighbours as well as her own family, and putting up with a remarkable amount of roughhousing from two small boys until they went too far and got a quick swipe of the claws. Anna wrote, "We're feeding her all her favourite things: eggs and ham last night, smoked salmon this morning, fried chicken for dinner; tomorrow she'll get her own can of tuna and some butter for dessert. I haven't told the kids yet."
I don't envy her that. I remember going through it with several cats here, especially Snoozie, our beloved Persian; Anna liked to dress up the poor creature and push her around in her doll carriage. Ten years later a vet came and administered the injection while I held her in my arms. Oh these pets whom we love so. My mother said, after the death of her beloved beagle Tippy, that she would never get another dog, the loss hurt too much.

Last night I watched the amusing documentary Being Canadian - Canuck comedian Robert Cohen who lives in L.A. crossing Canada to understand this country better. He interviewed many well-known Canadian comics, and one question dealt with was: Why does Canada produce so many world-class comedians? You could ask that question, and many have, about Jews, and I put it down to the same issue: when you're dealing with bullies, you learn to be funny. Canadians are powerless outsiders, living beside the biggest bully in the world. Make 'em laugh is one way to survive.

Then I watched the next episode of Mrs. America, which is extremely well done, about the early years of the feminist movement and the rise of right-wing anti-feminists, starring the fabulous Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly and Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem. It's very fair, not demonizing the appalling Schlafly even as it shows her narrow-minded nastiness as she uses lies and propaganda - and members of the Klan - to further her cause, and her hypocrisy as she fights for women to stay in the home while she herself is out campaigning, leaving her own home and children in the hands of her Black maids. It's painful to watch the birth of the Tea Party, and I may have to stop; in the end, Schlafly and her minions defeated the ERA. But not the feminist movement. A fascinating docu-drama.

Lots of rain now, a gentle, welcome sound, the heavenly scent of growth and green. Onward.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Cynthia Nixon in the heat

Just watched this marvellous 9 minute playlet starring Cynthia Nixon, had a great laugh, and emerged more glad than ever that I am not suffering through this pandemic in a small apartment with a spouse.

It was unbelievably hot today, and I think of parents in apartments with children - no splash pads are open, no pools, no playgrounds. Brutal. Cathy, who's a nurse, said she thinks the mental health issues we'll have to deal with later will be as devastating as the physical effects of the virus.

I will not turn on my A.C. in May, that's ridiculous, and the fan stored in the basement now does not work. So it was just sitting around being hot for much of the day. I did make a suicidal run to get a few groceries - line up, mask on, rush about, get out! - and for the first time in months to Shoppers, to mail my writing books to Lani who is giving them to three would-be writers of her acquaintance. That's a friend for you.

Importantly, Anna came with her friend and did more heroic clearing out downstairs. It's now starting to resemble a habitable apartment. A lot of stuff needs to be trucked out, maybe on the weekend, and then it can be cleaned and the repairs can begin. My shoulders lift a bit more.

But there was a big disappointment about the manuscript today - a vague hope I'd had that in the end was for naught. Nothing new there.

And another disappointment from my longtime hairdresser Ingrid. Ingrid and I have been through a lot together over decades; I was thrilled when she and her new partner moved their business to Cabbagetown and then bought a house up the street. It took me 3 minutes by bike to get to my hair appointments. I just wrote to ask if I could be on the list for when she came back to work, and she said she's closing the salon, at least until there's a vaccine. I will miss them both a great deal. And I will be hairy for some time, until I find someone else.

At day's end, the big treat was to welcome Monique and Cathy for rosé at the bottom of my garden. It's cool and shady back there, and quiet, and they told me it's the most magical place in all Toronto. The cardinal even dropped in for a bit.

Wish I could end on a cheery note. Hmmm. Nope, I got nothin'. Sorry.

Oh yes, there is something cheery, for me at least - I'm not sick. Anna bought me a thermometer, and I'm fine. A bit of a summer cold. Maybe I'll live till my 70th birthday, which is coming right up. Impossible as that is to believe.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Good People: Mark Sakimoto

Oh joy! My friend Marisha came today; she has cleaned my house and kept me sane for at least 15 years but has not been here since February. She was due to come in March when ... well, you know. I've managed to keep the dustballs from taking over, but barely, and today, there she was, six feet away and smiling. Her family is well. Her husband the truck driver is not driving long distances so is home more; she groaned, and we laughed.

At the same time, a miracle - my daughter appeared with her old friend who used to live with her family in my basement apartment, and they started to sort and clean. When they left, 3 hours later, there was a giant pile of toys and clothes in front of the house which we hope people will cart away; you can't donate to charities right now, they're all closed, but people around here do a good job of carting. There's a ton more to be done so they're back tomorrow, but the process has at last, at very long last, begun. See the writer's shoulders loosen slightly. My girl really came through.

So I cleaned with Marisha and kept an eye on downstairs, and then I started the "Marketing for creatives" course that I signed up for through the CNFC website. It says you should really consider keeping a blog. As they say on The Simpsons: Okeley dokeley.

Oh, and I'm better but not 100%. It must be a summer cold, a little bug with a bit of throat and body ache, but of course these days, any twinge leads to sheer terror. OMG THIS IS IT I'M DEAD.

Not. Thank you very much.

Today, extremely hot, and tomorrow, 31 degrees. It's July, and I'm not dead. Yet.

Yesterday I watched more episodes of Good People on CBC Gem, with the handsome talented empathetic Mark Sakimoto exploring our country's great problems and highlighting possible solutions. In my vivid dream last night, I was backstage at a concert with a man I really liked, and it was not - gasp! - Paul McCartney. I think it was Mark Sakimoto. Now going to watch more episodes. We'll see what tonight's dreams bring.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

hot hot hot

Hard to believe yet not, because we are Canadian: it is now high summer, nearly 30 degrees and sweltering, sweat dripping. I always joke that there's winter, and then spring happens on Tuesday between 2 and 5, and then it's summer. Not true this year, it was a long confusing spring, some heat, then cold, then hail and even a sprinkling of snow, then heat. And now - HEAT. The great wardrobe shift has begun - wool to the basement, shorts and tank tops out.

I have a sore throat. Usually that's something I'd ignore, but now, not. So I am sticking close to home. John came over to do some repairs and I kept far away and made him wear gloves. Otherwise, no one is coming close to me. Yesterday Jannette came to help me garden, but she always wears a mask. We planted like crazy, and my body hurt afterwards, but the veggies are mostly in. There's more to do, but then there's always more to do.

Right now, sore throat or not: rosé. Because nothing says summer like a chilled glass of rosé, on the deck, under the umbrella. And since I'm not feeling great, I will drink it alone.

A lovely animated essay about playing the piano at a late age - I identify completely.

TRUE TO LIFE: Chapter 21, Claim your truth


Claim your truth

once wrote an essay about visiting my grandparents in their dark, stuffy apartment in New York. My father—allowed to read the piece late in the process—protested. “There was nothing dark and stuffy about that apartment!” he said. “In comparison with the others, it was flooded with sunlight.” My childhood home in Halifax with its huge windows was the opposite of my grandparents’ flat on West 79th with its dark shroud of curtains. But my dad grew up in places with fewer windows and heavier curtains.
It’s your story, so you get to tell it your way. If my father had written the story, the apartment would have been bright.
I also believe you can, within sensible limits, change slightly or “recreate” the truth in order to fashion a better tale. Two friends were with me when a fire broke out in my home, but in writing the story, I didn’t need two bystanders to bring the drama to life, so I left one out. Her absence does not change the fundamental truth of the story: There was a fire and no one was hurt. Without an extra person, it’s a cleaner, clearer tale. But that’s as far as I would go with changes.
Beware of the pitfalls of fudging the facts. In 2006 James Frey’s forced admission that his memoir A Million Little Pieces contained blatant exaggerations caused a huge controversy about the issue of truth in creative non-fiction. Frey originally wrote his book as fiction but was persuaded by his editors to call it a memoir. If they’d printed a brief disclaimer—“Parts of this story have been embellished for effect”—Oprah and a million readers would not have felt cheated.
There is no universal truth. Ask your siblings to describe a dinnertime or holiday ritual from your childhood; their memories and yours will be so different, you could have come from different families. In fact, you did. (See Mary’s story in Step 19.) If they read your memoirs, they might be outraged. “It wasn’t like that at all!” they might say. No, it wasn’t, for them. But you are the one writing the story; your experiences and insights are unique. And you might also be reimagining the truth slightly to fashion a better story.
But only slightly. Beware of veering into fiction, a.k.a. making it all up, a.k.a. lying. And tell your siblings to write their own version.
After calling for honesty, I hope I don’t bewilder you when I say writers can be too honest. I don’t remember exactly, but I think my mother worked in a circus when I was young may be truthful, but it’s also opaque. If you can’t see the picture clearly, how will I? Do not tell me what you don’t remember (unless the whole point of the story is that you don’t remember). Contact someone who does know or do other kinds of research.
Without a way to ascertain something, you can make it up in the interests of a good story, but only to a certain point: only if it does not change the fundamental truth of your tale. If you have a general but not a specific memory of what you’re writing, like dialogue between your parents when you were small, make it up. Those memories are buried in there somewhere. I’ll bet what you write will be pretty close to what was actually said.
Be aware that this is controversial: Non-fiction writers who feel we should stay as close as possible to the strict letter of the truth will be outraged.
I preach there are all kinds of truth, your truth and somebody else’s. But behind all of them there is only one truth and that is that there’s no truth.
flannery o’connor

I have been corrected on some points, mostly of chronology. I’ve allowed some of these points to stand, because this is a book of memory, and memory has its own story to tell.
tobias wolff

Si non e vero, e ben trovato. (Even if it’s not true, it’s a good story.)