Thursday, June 26, 2008

Write in the Garden, #2


A one-day writing workshop to give you inspiration, structure and support, whether you have lots of writing experience or none.  

Spend a day learning to trust your voice and your stories.  Rediscover your creative self.  Connect with other writers.  Write in the garden and enjoy positive listening and feedback, hot and cold beverages, bushy perennials, and lunch.  

Laughter, camaraderie and insight guaranteed.

Who:  The workshop is run by Beth Kaplan, who has taught personal narrative writing at  Ryerson for 14 years and at U of T for 2.  "Beth is a wonderful teacher ... just enough directed teaching and inclusive dialogue. I was encouraged and motivated and learned so much. I am totally inspired to write." Recent student Amy Block, June 23, 08

Where: Beth's secret garden in Cabbagetown, in the heart of downtown Toronto.  If there's rain, inside the house.

When: Sunday August 10, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: $125, including snacks and lunch.

Registration is limited to 15.  A $25 deposit is required to hold a place.

For more information, please check Beth's website at

To register, write to Beth at

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

a beautiful story

Summer!  It feels real.  We'll have two perfect days of blue skies and whispering trees, and then everyone will scream about the humidity.  Canadians and weather: a love/hate story.

You'll be happy to know that I am working on "narrative tension", jumping right into the heart of the story.  I can see it now: I'll give a few new pages to Wayson and he'll say, "Too much tension!  Lighten up here."  No, this will not happen.  A student asked me yesterday, "How can you stand it when there's a tough critique like that, after so much work?" 
I replied, "Stand it?  I feel blessed.  Listening to an editor's criticism is part of a writer's job.  I don't have to take every word he says to heart, but I trust his expertise, taste, and knowledge of me as a writer.  It's a huge privilege to have that kind of attention."

Of course, the fantasy is always that an editor or reader will say, "Don't touch a word.  It's stunningly brilliant, the best thing you've ever written."  I'm sure that happens.  Once in a blue moon.

And now, the beautiful story.  I teach that you never know where your writing will end up, how it might touch a little bit of the world - how Anne Frank wrote because she had to write, never knowing that her words would change the world.  I have just received a great gift myself, of learning that something I wrote more than forty years ago has had an impact today.  

Those of you following the blog have heard a bit of the story of Barbara, my British childhood pen pal who died during an operation on her heart at the age of sixteen, in 1966; how this February I tracked down her family in England and have been corresponding with her younger sister, Penny.  I kept all of Babs's letters and sent copies to Penny, but she had found only a few of mine to Babs.  I assumed they had all been thrown out.  Recently, digging through a box of stuff looking for something else, Penny found an old brown paper envelope, sealed with Scotchtape, imprinted with "Beth's Letters to Me." Barbara must have put them into safekeeping before leaving for the operation on her heart at the Mayo Clinic, the operation from which she never returned.

Penny was in the middle of her own birthday party when she found the envelope, and so consulted her children Rosy and Tom and her cousin Rebecca and Rosy's boyfriend Phil about what to do. Her kids felt that she should leave the packet sealed, as was Babs's wish.  I turn the telling of the tale over to Penny, who is a superb writer.  This is what she emailed a few days ago:

Then Rebecca, who had been sitting quietly, said, "Can I hold them?"  She just sat there with the envelope in her hands, looking at the writing.  "I have her middle name.  My name is Rebecca Barbara.  I have the cross and chain she was wearing at my parent's wedding.  I have always felt close and yet I know nothing about her.  No one ever talked about her and I couldn't ask."

She handed the package back to me, and I turned it over and very gently pressed on the tape which with age had lost its strength.  The paper unfolded and the bag was open.  Holding it like a bag of sweets, I offered it to Rebecca.  "Read one," I said.  

Rebecca dipped into the bag and pulled out a letter.  "Dearest Babs..." she read.  They looked at each other and sat up awake with interest.  No one but me had ever heard her called Babs before.  Rebecca read aloud - about you being a dreadful mess packing, with suitcases, trunks and clothes all around you ... about the Paris book showing a bit of the beautiful city you were going to be living in.  

The bag passed on to Rosy who took out a letter dated June 18, 1963, about your ballet recital and a description, so witty, of the best dancer Clare Bader, tall and skinny, light and airy, who always walks with her feet in second position, and Cathy, not so airy.  We laughed so much that tears filled my eyes with pleasure and relief.

Phil had been reading another letter which he passed across to me.  "You'd better read this," he said.  "This has Big News."

So I read - your complaints about the Dave Clark Five and understanding comments about Babs's views on Ringo, your potted biographies of the Fab Four and then the revelation of your marriage to Paul, your children Paul and Paula, your ranch-style house by the sea and your cosy summer cottage.  Do you remember it, Beth?  I so want you to remember.  And then the BIG NEWS: "We're coming to England!"  And honestly, Beth, the five other people sitting in my kitchen cheered.  

Babs was buried on my birthday, Beth, and today you broke the spell with your gift, your talent and generosity.  You worked magic in that room.  You brought my sister alive for a generation who had only known her to be dead.  We talked for an hour about Babs and why it was we never really mentioned her, other than at formal times like family gatherings, how Rosy and Tom grew up seeing her picture on the wall, feeling her part of the family but never liking to ask about her.  

So the letters will be flying across the ocean to you very soon.  I haven't read the others but with your permission, I would like to do so, although I concede the argument that one really shouldn't read other people's correspondence, especially when it has been sealed for forty years in a brown paper bag.


Pardon me while I dab my eyes.

I must protest that talent and generosity have nothing to do with it - I was simply a 13-year old who loved to write letters.  But Penny's words mean so much because after Barbara died, I reread all her letters to me and was filled with guilt.  She was often in hospital, and I was busy and didn't write to her as often as I should have.  I was so sorry that at that moment, I resolved to be a writer, to make a difference to the world with my words.  To redeem myself for Barbara.  And now, in a small way, with her own family, I learn that the 13-year old me has done so. 

A great blessing, yes?  A mitzvah.  And now, out to Ryerson, to teach the value of stories on this perfect summer night.  Heart full.  


Monday, June 23, 2008

tension schmension

And yes, she did speak too soon, folks, the pessimistic writer.  I showed some of those brave new pages to my friend and critic, wise, stern Wayson Choy.  And he came right back at me. "The voice works," he said, "but there is no narrative tension."  What that means is that NOTHING HAPPENS.  The nice voice goes charmingly on and on, but nothing is at stake. "Never forget, your reader is asking, 'Why am I reading this?'" he said.  "This is much too leisurely." 

He said: Show don't tell; use detail to paint pictures, to let the reader see, hear, feel the story; dramatise, don't summarise; justify every word; grab the reader immediately.  These are things I have said a million times to students.

And then, "I sense you are getting a little too fond of your narrative voice.  That will lead to sentimentality.  Like in American films."

Omigod.  So I was growing to like the voice a little, yes, and now I'm at risk of writing "White Christmas"?  He's right, as usual.  Every writer should be so lucky, to have a trusted editor of this calibre.  Wayson himself has Martha, a superb editor at Random House. Thank the lord for good editors, who give writers, lost in the thicket of words and thoughts, a ball of string to help find their way home.

Mr. Choy and I went to a heavenly movie yesterday, after he'd savaged my tensionless prose. "When did you last see your father?" is a classic memoir, beautifully written by Blake Morrison.  When I heard they were filming it, I couldn't imagine how - it's so personal and intimate.  And now there's a personal, intimate movie, wonderfully written, filmed, and acted by a crack British cast including one of my biggest crushes, the divine Colin Firth, beautiful in this film about a son struggling with love and hatred for a difficult father.  Unless you had a perfect father, you'll find familiar conflicted feelings in this story. Highly recommended, both book and film. 

Nothing conflicted in my feelings for Wayson Choy.  At the risk of sentimentality: it's love, love all the way.   

Saturday, June 21, 2008


My Newfoundland friend Debbie called this month Junuary.  Definitely an odd late spring, with already a few days of muggy breathless heat, followed by days so cold I wanted to get my wool hat back out.  Lots and lots of rain, a blessing because it means the garden is watered from above.  There's no rush, my Toronto friends - the heavy weight of real summer will come.

No more about writing classes and workshops - both the U of T and the garden one will run in July, and there will be another garden workshop in August; please contact me for details.  I am happy to report that something has shifted in my own work.  I've been struggling for a long time with how to get an important story onto the page - what voice,  structure,  time line, will allow me to tell this tale.  One day, it was just there, in a flash - a name and voice, and the pages slowly piling up. 

We'll see if I'm right.  I did test it on my Ryerson class - to show them the tortuous process of rewriting to make something work, I brought in several previous drafts of the first pages of the story and read them and the current one.  Unanimously, to my enormous relief, they preferred the latter.  I could tell it was working as I read - often there's a point, when you're reading your own work out loud, where your voice falters and you lose steam.  That didn't happen with this one.  

At least, not yet, said the writer pessimistically.

This is my rigourous fitness regime, on the days I don't go to a class at the Y: I put on my running gear, warm up a bit, and then set out - for Riverdale Farm, which is three minutes away.  Yes, a whole three minutes of jogging, and then I'm at the Farm where I walk around and look at animals, especially, these days, the baby goats which are black with white spots or vice versa - "Glory be to God for dappled things," as poet Gerald Hopkins wrote - and the rust-coloured piglets, sleeping in the mud with their massive rusty-haired mama.  I may jog slowly down to the ponds and back up again.  On the way out, I often ask at the cafe window if they have any eggs for sale.  Last time they had none from chickens but they did have duck eggs.  I tentatively took two - huge ivory spheres.  I who live, as I tediously repeat, an eight minute bike ride from Bloor and Yonge, had poached duck egg, just out of the duck, for lunch. 

And now - back to work.   

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

great U of T course, July 7 to 11

Writers, Continuing Studies at the U of T is running a summer writing program July 7 to 11, and there is some space left in my section.  It's a course entitled Narrative Non-fiction, which covers a large spectrum - biography, memoir, personal essay, as well as more journalistic pieces.  The great thing is that you will have a lot of time and attention in a small class, as we spend the mornings workshopping writing and doing some in-class work, with at least one session focussed entirely on you and your work and needs.  In the afternoons, the U of T is presenting some panels, including Noah Richler talking about the importance of place in writing, and another panel on the business of writing. 

If you're interested, go to and look under writing programs to find the summer ones. 

I have just finished reading Pierre Berton's "The Joy of Writing."  It's an upbeat, gossipy, practical book full of useful advice, with 30 rules for writers (Rule # 1 - Know and understand your audience.  Rule # 6 - Don't give up your day job.  Rule # 15 - Dig deeper.) He includes pages of his rewrites or of editors' comments to show how the process works. 

"You can learn a good deal about the techniques of storytelling, " he says,"by listening to bad storytellers, some of whom may be your friends and relatives."


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

the Garden of Cabbagetown

Here is the famous garden.  Please contact me through the Contact page or this blog if you'd like more information or have suggestions on the workshops. One former student would like to attend but is at the cottage every summer weekend; she suggested holding a one-day session mid-week, for which, she said, she would gladly skip work. Let me know if you agree.  

Registration is once again limited to fifteen.    


Monday, June 16, 2008

"Write in the Garden" workshops update

We're onto something here - the first writing workshop sold out in just over a week, with a waiting list! So I am planning another, for Sunday August 10th.  And I will set up a few more after that. Very exciting.  

There will eventually be a flyer with all the information, but here's what's involved: an invitation to my home in downtown Toronto, for a full 10 to 5 day of writing in fellowship with other writers.  It will start with coffee and tea, introduction and discussion of writing in general and the rules of the day in particular, and proceed to assigned topics for ten, fifteen or twenty minute writing sessions at various spots in my very long garden.  Then, gathering to read only if you are comfortable doing so, to give each other feedback, and to eat and drink.

The workshop is open to people who have a lot of writing experience and to those who have none. It's about learning to trust your own voice and your own stories, to pay attention to the creative self, and to gain confidence and direction from supportive feedback and the friendship of other writers all doing the same thing.  It costs $125 for the day, lunch, snacks and morsels of insight included.

In other news: Luminato, Toronto's spring arts fest, is over, and I'm only sorry that I missed so much.  I did see the "Midsummer Night's Dream" done by a troupe from India and performed partly in Indian dialects.  It was charming, with a superb set of ladders and torn sheets looking like a tenement in Delhi, through which the actors tumbled and dove.  It's clear that even when you don't understand the words, Shakespeare's characters are completely understandable.

Not part of Luminato but just as great, I saw two good friends, Daniel Kushner who runs and plays first violin in the Gala String Quartet, and Duncan Fremlin who runs and plays banjo in the blue-grass band Whiskey Jack, bring the bands together for an event called "Bach in the Saddle."  It was a compilation of all my favourites: Dvorak and the Everley Brothers,  Bach and Gordon Lightfoot.  The highlight was the haunting Ashokan Farewell from "Oh Brother where art thou?" played with many, many strings.   Heavenly.

So, on into summer.  With thunderstorms.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Go and see "Black Watch".

I've just returned from seeing "Black Watch," the National Theatre of Scotland play about a Scottish regiment serving in Iraq that's here thanks to Luminato.  And all I can say is, anyone who is in Toronto tomorrow, Sunday June 15, and who hasn't already seen it, should go.  

It's nearly two solid hours, without intermission, of what theatre is all about - brilliant cast, script, production, whirling into such a powerful finale that I could hardly breathe.  All I could see was my 23-year old son in uniform, off to serve his country in a terrifying and meaningless war.  The play is, more than anything, about young men and testosterone, which have been manipulated for centuries to serve political ends.  Young men who want to prove themselves, to bond with each other, to just do a good job.  

And the irony is, as the play points out, the enemy is made up of those young men, too.  Only theirs are willing to commit suicide to find honour, making them a kind of enemy our side has never fought before.

Again, it's documentary theatre - there are scenes of a writer asking questions of the soldiers at home afterwards, to turn their answers into a play.  And the play that was created out of those stories does what all the best theatre does - wakes us up and makes us think and feel, glad to be alive.   

Good will

My friends, it's a sad blow.  A shock.  How could a place so vibrant and useful just vanish?  But that is what is happening, step by painful step.  It is being dismantled, and today, when I went in and saw the decimation, the empty racks and empty spaces, I nearly cried.

My local Goodwill store is closing.

People who know me understand what this means.  I started shopping at Goodwill at university and then as a starving actress.  During my decade as a married matron, I didn't step inside a Goodwill, though I did buy my work clothes - the things I needed to be the "wife of" at fancy events - at a designer resale boutique. 

But after my divorce and when I embarked on an expensive course of therapy, I could not afford new clothes or much of anything else.  There was a large Goodwill store around the corner from my home.  One day I popped in and came out with a snazzy red Calvin Klein jacket.  It was $5.99, and it stank of mothballs.  Five days hanging on my clothesline, and it was perfect.  A junkie was born.  

I am a low income person with an enormous wardrobe of fantastic clothes.  Not to mention furniture, chachkas, interesting bits and pieces, and gifts for all my friends.  There is almost nothing that Goodwill has not provided.  I drew the line at underwear and shoes, the shoes only because that really was something that my truly low income neighbours needed more than I. Besides, I and my giant feet do very well at Winners.  But otherwise, practically everything I wear, and a great deal that surrounds me in my house including the art on the walls, the dishes on the table and the carpets underfoot, come from the Goodwill store around the corner from my home.

Once I was hooked, I started to go often, then more often, then daily, and occasionally, at a really bad time, more than once a day.  I called it huntin' and fishin'.  Swing in, check out the stuff that has just come out at the back; swing by the books, the coats, the baskets, the material, the purses, the stuff the staff thought was exclusive and should be priced higher.  Trolling. Checking.  Eyeballing.  The key was spending as little time as possible to come up with something great.  I called it my daily orgasm.  Oh my God, what's that gorgeous thing in maroon satin?  It's ... it's a Balenciaga ballgown.  Talk about an orgasm.  Oh my God!

Suits, pants, skirts, coats.  Vintage thingies, crazy things, toys, books.  Lots and lots and lots of books, from antique ones to the latest bestsellers.  It helps that I live in a neighbourhood with its share of wealthy folks, who drop off things like that.  One day I might find an entire rack of designer clothes, obviously brought in by some woman who had tired of or outgrown them. They probably didn't fit me, or had enormous shoulder pads, or were stained.  No matter - the orgasm prevailed.  I'd buy them and find someone who wanted them.

This went on for many years.  Wayson Choy raves about the British Rail pea jacket that got him through the winters, not to mention the Armani raincoat.  My other friends the same, all with stories of things I've found.  Last night I went out with Jane, who was wearing a pair of Ann Demeulemeister pants that fit her perfectly.  All I know about Ann Demeulemeister, and that does not include the spelling of her name, is that she's extremely avantgarde and exclusive, and that these pants are perfectly cut for a size 2 like Jane.  What is this bizarre skill that allows me to see a flash of beige, grab the pants from a giant rack and say, "Hmm, I think these are Jane." I don't know where it comes from - maybe my grandfather Kaplan, who was in the shmatta business - and maybe Sam Leadbeater, one of my English great-grandfathers, who was an early recycler, a "rags, bones and bottles" man. 

All I know is that for years, I have been providing myself and all my friends with clothing and other stuff from that wonderful cornucopia on Gerrard Street. And now it's closing.  My friends who work there, Stefania, Wanda, Linda, Donna, Aggie,  Aya - they're going on unemployment or have taken other jobs.  I went in today to say goodbye, and even though there's almost nothing left, I found a beautiful piece of Liberty fabric I'm using already as a tablecloth, and a Harris tweed jacket.  I've been looking for a Harris tweed jacket that fits for a decade.  A parting gift from this wonderful store.

At the door, I ran into my friend Leslie, who owns Eclectisaurus, a wonderful vintage store nearby.  She introduced me to her friend as "one of the great amateur pickers."  I felt so honoured. 

But now - a new hobby.  I need a new hobby.  

I need a place to wear my Balenciaga ballgown.  

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I'm sorry to say that MacZine is behaving strangely again - this time, shutting down at odd times, which nice young Chris from Apple told me over the phone was a "colonel panic" - at least that's what it sounded like - or a "kernel panic"?  Did he say "journal panic"?  That's what I had after the fire in my home, when they packed everything up and took it away to storage, and I realised that a lifetime's worth of intimate writing was locked in a warehouse somewhere. Journal panic.  I don't think that's what my computer has.  Anyway, it's not good and she's off to the hospital again tomorrow, so I'll be back to paper and pen.  

I've just finished reading an extraordinary book and a classic of creative non-fiction, "The Things They Carried," by Tim O'Brien.  A well-educated writer and intellect, Tim served in Vietnam until he was wounded and shipped home.  Just as Anne Frank's diary helped us see, in one small voice, the reality of those six million dead, Tim's book brings the hideous reality of that vile war to life, in his portrayal of a team of very young men, lost in a jungle and trying to stay alive. 

But the author is also writing about the art of storytelling itself.  He speaks about the difference between "happening-truth," the cold facts, and "story-truth," the facts told by a writer to make them come alive.  This very issue was also discussed recently in a New York Times interview with the superb humour writer David Sedaris.  

O'Brien writes, "What stories can do, I guess, is make things present.  I can look at things I never looked at.  I can attach faces to grief and love and pity and God.  I can be brave.  I can make myself feel again."  

"The thing about a story," he writes elsewhere, "is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head."

I dreamed along with you, Tim O'Brien.  

Monday, June 9, 2008

The miracle of the transformation

I had the honour a few months ago of being asked if I'd put my garden on the Cabbagetown Tour of Gardens, a fundraiser for the neighbourhood. My immediate response was, "What kind of lunatic do you think I am?" So much work, so much time and money. But when begged, I said yes.  O hubris.  

So my friend Dave Mayers, whose gardening genius has helped shape this long space, and I, set out to spiffy up the yard to Cabbagetown standards. We undertook an ambitious project, to fix up the very end bit, which was a pile of rubble.  But then a good friend of Dave's was hospitalised, and heavy work stopped. A tiny bit of stress resulted for the owner. The first two pictures indicate the state of the end of the garden TWO DAYS before hundreds of people were due to tour it.  This is the advantage of a deadline, which makes you work hard and finish - a message for writers as well as for gardeners.  At the last minute, by dint of ferocious work in what felt like 40 degree heat, Dave and I got the place more or less ready; I was still pruning as visitors were walking up the path. But the response was wonderful.  One woman told me she found this garden 'moving.'  Perhaps she intuited the effort that went into its presentation. 

Gardeners are the best kind of lunatic.  Year ago, I wrote in the Globe and Mail about my dear neighbour Dorothy, who marched into the disastrous pile of weeds and dust back there and got me started.  Dorothy died a few years later.  How I wish she could have seen it yesterday; she would not have believed it.  Step by step, plant by plant, the place bloomed.  She's the one who saw the potential and gave me the first giant push.  Yesterday was dedicated to Dorothy, queen of of the butterfly bush.

Friday, June 6, 2008

courses and dancing

Okay, a decision has been made: I am offering a one day intensive "Writing in the Garden" workshop on Sunday, July 13th from 10 till 5.  We will do various writing exercises, discuss issues to do with writing, great inspirational books, I hope have a guest speaker, eat a delicious lunch catered by my estimable daughter, do more writing, and talk some more. Inspiration, contact with other writers, deadlines, good listening and feedback guaranteed. Laughter, tears and insight or your money back.  $125.  There are six registered already with room for eight or nine more, at most.  

So - pretty quick from waking dream to registered students!  Nothing has materialised on the Frank Mahovlich front, however.  And the racoon is still screaming.

I also hope, if there are enough students, to teach a course called "Narrative Non-Fiction" at U of T from July 7th to 11th, mostly in the mornings with some one on one sessions, readings and panel discussions in the afternoon.  So - work in July, hooray.  I'll be able to pay for sunblock and strawberries. 

Yesterday my kids and Sam's two best friends Matt and Matt came for supper.  Anna brought a favourite CD, a "Creedence Clearwater Tribute" band, and put on her favourite song "Cotton Fields."  She wasn't aware that it used to be my favourite song too.  I went into the basement and dug through my dusty records, which by some miracle survived the fire that destroyed everything around them a few years ago, until I found the Creedence album I've had since 1969.  

In February I became obsessed with getting a record player again; I bought an amp at a pawnshop and an old turntable, so that I could begin to dust off the old L.P.'s.  Maybe it was just so I could put on the real "Cotton Fields" last night, and dance with my daughter.  Probably the record hasn't been played in 35 years, and it's just as good as ever.  We even dragged the boys in to dance with us, briefly; they were dying to but were just too embarrassed to dance with familiar females in the living room.  As she jived and twisted, Anna said, "This is my exercise and therapy."
"None better," I said.  
And then she said, "Are you going to blog about this?  I sense a blog coming on." 

Oh dear - they know me much too well.   

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

the secret garden last summer

new idea for writing workshops - feedback requested

Funny how things come to you in the night.  I keep a pen and paper by the bed so I can jot down ideas or dreams, because they vanish so quickly.  Last night, believe it or not, I had a powerful dream about falling in love with a young hockey player called Frank Mahovilich.  Yes, it's true, and I don't even know what Frank looked like in his prime; it was Guy Lafleur I had a crush on. Frank asked me to marry him.  Aren't dreams amazing?  

But right afterwards, floating in and out of sleep, I had a grand notion.  As those of you following this blog know, I have a beautiful secret garden right in the heart of downtown Toronto. Suddenly I thought - I'd like to invite writers here.  I had an image of people sitting and writing throughout my garden.  

And I had the idea of setting up one day intensive writing workshops in the summer - a day of on-the-spot work to give writers a creativity boost, a charge of companionship, inspiration, comfort, feedback, direction.  Perhaps I'd run one on a Saturday in July and another on a Sunday in August - from 10 to 5.  I'd ask Wayson to come and speak, and I'd get my daughter the fabulous cook to cater a big healthy lunch.  It would be a chance not only to dig into your writing heart and exercise your skills, but to meet other writers and to discuss where you are now and where you'd like to go - and how to get there.

What do you think?  Would any of you out there be interested?  I'd need a certain number of people to make it worthwhile.  For people from out of town, I could suggest nearby inns or b and b's; you could combine the workshop with a Toronto weekend or go on to the Stratford or Shaw Festivals.  

Let me know what you think.  I'll work out specific details later, but I do think I'll go ahead with at least one.  Exciting!  If it rains, being inside the house will be fun too.  

And maybe, if we're lucky, Frank Mahovilich will come and say hello.   

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Mystery of the Screaming Raccoon

I played Nancy Drew, super sleuth, at 3 a.m. last night, after waking up to a raccoon screaming somewhere out there.  A shrill, high-pitched, warbling kind of shriek - definitely not a happy raccoon, though I did briefly try to dismiss the noise as love play.  But it went on and on and I finally had to get up and see what was happening.  

So there I am at 3 a.m., wandering around the courtyard of the chic condos next door in my dressing gown and slippers, to discover that some raccoon was screaming up in the ivy somewhere, invisible and unreachable.  Which was in some ways a relief, because what would I, Nancy Drew, have done if I'd discovered a wounded or enraged beast?  Ripped up my nightgown for a tourniquet or blindfold? I did whisper, "Shhh," but it paid no attention.   

Nothing to do but go back to bed and put in earplugs. I remembered that exactly the same thing happened last year; back then I thought it was a little one temporarily abandoned by its mother.  This year I guessed a female in needy heat.  This is a Freudian test - listen to the yelling raccoon. What do YOU think is happening?

I put this event down on a list I keep in my mind: -"Experiences that Europeans do not enjoy" -and spent some time explaining it all to my boarder, who'd never been outside of Beijing before coming to Canada six months ago.  I had to tell her not only about the entire family of raccoons living on the roof just outside her attic window, but also the cause of that very bad smell that sometimes wafts through the downtown air.  "And besides skunks, there've been deer close to here," I said, "and beavers swimming in the Don." No bears, though the suburbs not that far away have a serious problem with bears.  And, unfortunately, no moose. 

I saw an interview on Jon Stewart with a man who's written a book about what would happen to the planet if we humans were all wiped out.  Extraordinarily fast, he said, other species would take over.  The trouble is, when we're not here producing garbage, what will those agile, omnivorous, occasionally extremely noisy masked bandits do for entertainment and food? 

Sunday, June 1, 2008

That's life.

Whining and self-pity over.  Get a grip, get a life, get over it, my friends have said.  As Penny pointed out, in every competition there is a winner and lots and lots of losers.  That's life.  As Bruce pointed out, artists often feel that any review less than a complete rave is a pan.  "It's a nice review if short, with a good graphic of Gordin and the title of your book at the top.  What's the problem?  I've seen reviews for brilliant scores by Cole Porter or Rodgers," he wrote, "which said, 'Pleasant but not up to his usual standards.' That's life." 

I'm grateful for their admonitions but today, to tell you the truth, I can hardly believe that I was actually smarting for awhile.  This morning the Don Valley Parkway was closed for the Ride for Heart, and so, for my own heart, I rode my bike along the Don Trail.  The silence, the cascades of birdsong right in downtown Toronto - what a blessing.  

And then brunch with Nicola Cavendish, who finished the run of her play Misery last night croaking with a terrible chest cold.  But no self-pity for her!  I remembered the time I was in a musical with no understudies when many of us got a crippling flu - no choice but to go onstage and sing and dance.  They put a mattress backstage so that we could flop down in heaps until it was time to go on and sing and dance some more.

Nicola and I brunched with another old acting friend, Nick Rice.  Nick and I used to warm up for a production of The Three Sisters by singing folk songs on stage at the top of our lungs. Stanislavski would not have approved.  While others in the cast were doing serious sense memory exercises and immersing themselves in olde Russia, Nick and I were bellowing a song he wrote that went, "Oh I really don't want to do this show tonight."  That was certainly a premonition.  Not long after that, I left the theatre for good. 

I never forget one of the great things about writing as opposed to acting: you can go to bed, rather than to work, when you have the flu.