Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Covid slump, Hitchens heights, and a big fat yes

Anna managed to squeeze in a call to me as her boys skated in High Park today. She was near tears, my poor beloved daughter. It's overwhelming; because our premier and his team are lying incompetents, she's sure Ontario schools are unsafe, so she's off work, at home with two hyperactive boys during a bitter winter. My heart goes out to her. 

What's the solution? She's trying to find a student to come over after school and take them outside for a few hours, a day or two a week. My in-laws used to talk about "getting the stink blown off you." And that's what Anna needs someone to do for her boys. May she find someone to de-stink her boys and save her sanity. I hope to take them for at least part of Sunday to give her a break. But I cannot take them for a full day on my own; they're too much for me. 

She almost wept again, talking of the latest discovery of the graves of dead children outside a residential school. If you want to watch an evisceration of the Catholic church and its vile apologists, its many centuries of abuse and violence, watch the brilliantly eloquent Christopher Hitchens have at it. Inspiring.

I know, four of my very best friends are practicing Catholics. They are the good Catholics, and there are many. But overall, as Hitchens details, the church has been such a force for evil. In fact, at the moment in the world, most religions are. Islam? Christianity? Insanely murderous. How did religion get co-opted by violent intolerant murderous self-righteous lunatics?

Sorry. Feeling angry today. A convoy of anti-vax truckers is wreaking havoc in our country, as if there isn't enough going on. A nightmarish pissing contest between the disgusting Putin and the rest of the world. The ongoing stalemate in the US - what kind of political system is that? Paralysis. And it's @# cold out there. 

Sam is better. He should be non-contagious by the weekend, so I hope we can see each other. 

Last night's pleasure - the wonderful Henry Louis Gates and Finding Your Roots. Show runner Pamela Adlon, whose heritage is like mine, an English mother and a Jewish-American father, discovered on one hand that the man she thought was her grandfather was not biologically related to her, and when Gates's team found her actual biological grandfather, they also found a half-sister to her mother who's anxious to meet her new relatives. And then the team discovered that a great-grandfather had abandoned his wife and five children in Germany to run off to the States with his neighbour's daughter, 22 years younger, and then a whole branch of the Jewish family tree she knew nothing about, murdered by the Nazis in Ukraine. 

Fascinating, powerful stuff.

Meanwhile, I'm working on my own family tree. Tomorrow I talk to the editor who's read the essay collection, to find out what she thinks. Today I was working on the story of my uncle the world bridge champion. Sitting sitting sitting at the desk - heaven. Grateful, as I've said before, that at this time on the planet I do not have old people to worry about. I worry about my children, though. 

Just as I was signing off, I got an email about a 3100 word essay sent at the end of December to an American online mag called Full Grown People. Somebody's actually reading! Somebody said yes only 3 weeks later. 

Dear Beth, Thanks so much for sending this to Full Grown People. I'd love to accept it.

Thank you, nice new editor. 

Through the years I've submitted 17 times to various sites on Submittable, to be declined 15 times, including this very essay four times before. It was sent to the Canadian lit mag Brick in September; no reply. It's another story that matters deeply and that I've worked on for years. They pay $50 US. Grateful, as I've said before, that I do this merely for the fame and glory, and not for the money.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

the bliss of a Sunday routine

I've often said we are so blessed to live in Canada that if the weather were better, this country would be overrun. For many years, my family and I were lucky; my uncle by marriage owned a small hotel in Barbados that was paradise on earth, and then my mother bought a little condo in Florida. Most years we used to go after Xmas or in the March break; that moment of walking off the plane, embracing the sudden hit of soft warm moist air - bliss. 

But not now. We had a record snowfall last week, still mountains of snow everywhere, it's very cold, the sidewalks are icy. Staying home is the best idea. That's why I am beyond grateful, once again, for my bright house and new gas fire. And routine: today, Nicky's dance party at 10, exercise class from B.C. at 1, at 3 listening to Eleanor while roasting a chicken and making leek and potato soup. I fed the birds, watered the plants, took my bi-weekly (yes, once every 2 weeks) shower, will try to clear my jammed inbox and desk. Big TV night, as always on Sunday: at 7, 60 Minutes then 3 hours of PBS, except at 10.30 I'll watch the next episode of Somebody Somewhere discovered yesterday, very good. 

Do I have anything to complain about? Most definitely nyet. Am I incredibly lucky? Da. Si. Oui. 

The other day, watched the boys stagger with their hockey sticks around a big skating rink, created and maintained by volunteers in a local schoolyard. O Canada. 

Dropped a lot of food off for Sam, who's still very sick, and spent the rest of the day with the boys. I'd bought The Christmas Pig by J.K. Rowling, a lovely book with vivid short chapters, a boy protagonist with difficulties my boys can relate to - that woman can write, hope she gets discovered soon. Sitting with a grandson on each side, Eli with his head on my shoulder, reading them a good book: a first, they've been too restless until now. Nowhere I'd rather be.

Except, perhaps, Barbados. Reading them the book on a beach in Barbados. Yes. 

Thomas helped me put up the hooked rug from Nova Scotia that Anna gave me for Xmas. Some old bag took a photo of it. No idea who she is.

Recently two huge sparrow hawks swept through my yard and perched on a nearby tree. Suddenly my feeder was vacant. Everyone is cold and hungry. A friend wrote from Mexico yesterday about eating huevos rancheros under the hot Mexican sun, and I wrote back, STFU! We don't want to hear about it. We've got months to go.

Finally, a perfect description of the writing life. Happy Sunday routine to you too, my friends. 

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The essay book goes out

The New Quarterly asked for a short blog post about writing the Neel essay; it went up today.

And on Feb. 10, an interview about writing memoir will go live. Letting you know so the excitement builds. I know you CAN'T WAIT! 

Still Snowland out there, and now because the temperature has gone down, the sidewalks are sheets of ice. O Canada.

The big thing to tell is that I emailed a draft of the essay book to my editor today. On Tuesday we had a great Zoom meeting for the first time, editor Ellie Barton in Kingston and I, discussing what the project might entail. I thought it would take longer to get it together, but after days of sitting and sitting and sitting, I just sent it to her. 53 essays, 58,000 words. Maybe not worth the effort. We'll see. 

I need to move my body but have just had dinner and much wine, and soon it's Bleak House. So another day of, as the Jews says, sitzfleisch - sitting meat. Last night my eyes ached from so much screen time. But tomorrow I'm going across town to see the boys; it'll be sunny but minus 12, so my fleisch will not be sitting. Sam has just contracted Covid and has a terrible headache, so I'll be bringing freshly made stew and soup to my poor son who's in desperate need of food. As Anna said, how many women do we know who contracted Covid and had nothing in the fridge? None! Men! 

Last night, the Toronto Public Library sponsored an interview with the writer and intellectual Lydia Davis. Normally I wouldn't have watched; she's obtuse and not of much interest to me. A writer friend wrote a poem called "I hate Lydia Davis." But Lynn in France is studying her, so I watched and took detailed notes for Lynn, who in any case was able to watch the interview today. I was impressed at this beautifully run event with a terrific interviewer. Davis spoke at the end about how much she cares about libraries. Me too, Lydia. I was at my local today.

It's odd, I've spent the past weeks with my younger self, the writer of the essays, a single mother of teenagers gearing up for them to leave home. As I sit here in the silent tranquillity of my kitchen, it seems eons ago, the constant activity, the noise, the pressure and tension of two difficult teens. It's hard enough to parent teenagers, but doing it alone is brutal. I wish I'd been stronger. 

All right, no more regrets and recrimination, soon it'll be time for Bleak House by the fire. WeTransfer just let me know that Ellie has downloaded the document. What a grand life of adventure! Stay tuned. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

Portrait of the Artist: my article on Alice Neel

The New Quarterly is posting my essay on Alice Neel openly for this week only, though without the portrait. Here it is, only this week.

And a short piece on how the essay came about that they've titled "Finding the Form with Beth Kaplan" will be up on the TNQ site on Thursday.

Major snowfall last night, the first this winter. School cancelled. Blessed Thomas shovelled and is now going across town to play in the snow with the boys. The world is muffled; there's not a sound, nothing moving except - how glad I am to see the flurries at the bird-feeder, luckily filled not long ago. Because it would be quite a slog to get out there now.

Grateful Thomas is here!
The trench. They expect between 15 and 25 cms. 

Last night the whole of 60 Minutes was devoted to The Betrayal, a new book by Canada's Rosemary Sullivan about the search for whoever betrayed the 8 inhabitants of the House Behind, Anne Frank and family and friends, all of whom died in the camps except Otto Frank. A retired American FBI agent took on the job with a huge team of experts. Their conclusion, though of course there's no forensic evidence: it was a prominent Jewish businessman who survived the war by giving the Nazis addresses in Amsterdam where Jews were hiding. 

There was concern anti-Semitism might rise as a result of this discovery, but the team hopes it shows how totally the Nazis dehumanized the Jewish people.

Anne has haunted me all my life, as she has everyone who's read her unforgettable Diary. I wonder about this man, how he lived the rest of his life, especially as the Diary became one of the most important books in the world and its author the most famous martyr of the war. How would it feel to know he had condemned her and many others to death?

I spent most of yesterday working on the essay ms., and the evening watching 60 Minutes and PBS while also reading by the fire, to the point that a blood vessel in my right eye exploded. Too much screen and too many words; today I'll read and edit the long essays sent by my Tuesday U of T class. Two treats yesterday: an hour and a half Skype with Lynn in Montpellier, best friend for nearly 55 years and one of the best-read people I know, and, speaking of best-read, Eleanor dropping the new David Sedaris diary compilation with the marvellous title Carnival of Snackery by the house as a gift. 

Deeply grateful there's food in the fridge and freezer, including Christmas dinner. I don't have to go anywhere. It will be a long quiet snow day. Now, back to reading. Forgive me, eyes.

Friday, January 14, 2022

on writing

The most fun! As I've reported here, I decided to explore the possibility of a compilation of my essays through the years. I find writing the first drafts of anything hard, a slog, but editing, cutting, shaping, moving this word here and that paragraph there, is joy. That's what I've been doing, and now I have a manuscript of 56,000 words.

Let me repeat that: in a week, I've compiled a manuscript of 56,000 words. 

That's not to say those are all GOOD words. So far it's 47 diverse personal essays, starting in 1994 when I began to publish in Facts and Arguments in the Globe - about half published or read by me on CBC, the rest dug up from my files. Some I think are good and others probably too weak to include but there for now, aiming for variety in tone and subject. All are the solipsistic reflections of an aging woman. Me me me: that's my subject and I'm sticking to it. Well, me, my children and friends and city and colleagues and loves and distresses and travels and thoughts and realizations. 


Chaos in my office, open file cabinets and paper everywhere. But also I was just asked by Queen's Quarterly to send photographs; this spring they're publishing an essay about my British penpal Babs who died at sixteen in 1966. So there are also photos everywhere. 

Babs on the left, aged 12 in 1962 when we began writing, and her little sister Penny, who is now a good friend and new penpal living in Liverpool. 
Me also 12 in 1962
The letters 1962-1966

Teaching 3 classes this week, stimulating and exciting. It's been really cold; heaven to earn my living sitting in the kitchen in slippers. As always, too much to read. A new library book: Elizabeth McCracken's short stories The Souvenir Museum, wonderful. And of course Macca's two extremely heavy books. Be still my beating heart.

Maybe this will be my winter - compiling old stuff and filling in the gaps with new material, for a book of essays that - with my usual stellar track record - almost nobody will want to read. And what publisher wouldn't be keen to jump at essays by a middle-aged, middle-class white woman, the demographic everyone is most interested in right now? 

But I'm doing it anyway. Because it's easier than writing, for one thing. 

All true.

PS. I just skimmed the manuscript, and it's sure that many of those 56,000 words are repetitious or turgid or boring. Maybe it'll be a SLIM book of essays.