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?