Thursday, May 27, 2010

still @#$%% - really - hot

My long-term group of writing students were at the house tonight, all of us sitting on the deck at dusk with white wine and riveting tales. At the end, Jason pointed out that it was 9 p.m. and still very light out. "It's not even summer yet," he said. "It shouldn't be this light at night. Something's wrong." It's the way we're all feeling about this incredibly hot weather - right for July and August, just odd in May. Welcome to the new warmer world.

Went to the doctor in the morning, to monitor this aging body. One of my complaints was that I'm getting pimples and wrinkles simultaneously, doesn't seem fair. The doctor was not interested in this complaint. I learned that I've grown another quarter of an inch and am now a tad over five foot nine. That is such a relief. For years I was five foot eight and three-quarters, which is just awkward. Five nine is much better. In any case - so far, touch wood, touch all manner of woods and anything else that will help - it's all systems go in the internal plant. The brain now - nothing she can do about that. Dialling a number and then having no idea who I've dialled - walking purposefully into a room and then trying to figure out why I'm there - even wonderful Dr. MacHamer can't do much about that.

Off tomorrow to visit my shrinking mother, who used to be six feet and is now shorter than I. (And yes, the doctor and I discussed calcium at length and scheduled a bone density test in the fall - with osteoporosis in the family, all the cheese I eat may not help.) My daughter Anna is coming in to Ottawa the following day and Mum's sister Do lives in the next building, so it'll be all the girls together in one small condo - perhaps a little bit of shopping might be necessary. Anna and I did not get nine days in Paris, thanks to the volcano. Instead we get a day and a half in Ottawa. Not quite the same thing, but we'll squeeze every bit of juice out of what we get.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

the merry broiling month of May

It must be 35 degrees out there - full on August, only it's May. Bewildering. Only a week ago I was putting away my winter hats, and now the back curtains are closed against the unbelievable force of the sun. I just don't want to turn on my air conditioner in May. It seems wrong. So we swelter. Are you listening, up there? It's only May!

Great blessings department: my son came over yesterday with a bag of groceries, to cook for me and Mary-Fay my boarder. This was the menu: marinated grilled tilapia on a bed of couscous with asparagus and cherry tomatoes poached in garlic water, topped with an apple/avocado chutney. It was sublime, piled beautifully on the plate, like a gourmet restaurant. In all my years of cooking, I have never made anything so elegant that also tasted wonderful. He makes it look effortless.

Here's a great story that was in the "NYT Book Review" last year, about how awkward writers can be socially, even famous ones:

"When the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt told a friend, a Parisian doctor, that he wanted to meet a certifiable lunatic, he was invited to the doctor's home for supper. A few days later, Humboldt found himself placed at the dinner table between two men. One was polite, somewhat reserved, and didn't go in for small talk. The other, dressed in ill-matched clothes, chattered away on every subject under the sun, gesticulating wildly, while making horrible faces. When the meal was over, Humboldt turned to his host. 'I like your lunatic,' he whispered, indicating the talkative man. The host frowned.
'But it's the other one who's the lunatic. The man you're pointing to is Monsieur Honoré de Balzac.'

the nastiest cat

Since I have spoken of her so often, I thought you might like to see the crabby cat with whom I live. Here she is in her favourite positions - asleep with her claws out, or draped at various angles until it's time to go to the litter box and make an incredible mess and smell, or else nibble a bit of delicious food and go back to sleep. She never sits on a lap, will slash you if you pet her, does not know how to purr.

I have never met a car who cannot purr. My daughter adopted her in Harlem, when she was living in New York, because the shelter cages were full of cute kittens but only one who was hissing and fierce.

"Oh dear," thought Anna, "no one will adopt that one. I guess I should." And now she's mine.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Please read Glenn Wheeler's editorial in the Sunday "Star"

A wonderfully quiet, hot Victoria Day, listening to the noisy birds, a tinny radio at a distance, right now a small plane chugging overhead. Did some gardening and some writing and a lot of sitting looking at green things grow. And, of course, reading - trying to get through the "How to file" book but you know, I think I'm going to have to file it under "way, way too organized for me."

Finally got to the newspapers. Yesterday's "Star" had one of the most important op-ed pieces I've ever read. Glenn Wheeler, a Liberal, writes about the coalition government in England, and points out that unless the Liberals and the NDP come to some sort of similar arrangement here, we are condemned to the Tories - "the most right-wing and reactionary government in living memory" - "social conservatives slowly remaking the country according to their own political vision."

He begs the NDP and the Liberal parties to get ready to form some sort of coalition unless there's a Tory majority after the next election, because it's clear that neither party can combat the Tories effectively alone. "It's not hyperbole," he finishes, "to say the future of Canada as we know it rests on the outcome of the next election. People of conscience - NDP and Liberal - please stand up."

HEAR HEAR HEAR HEAR HEAR HEAR HEAR! I could not agree more. It's tragic that the left is splintered into uselessness, while the big blue Tory machine marches along on the right, moving further and further right with each passing day. Ignatieff is unelectable and so is Layton, and yet Canadians have made clear that they don't want ol' ice blue eyes to have a majority. At least a coalition would stop him from further destroying our country, giving the Liberals time to finally - can they do it? - choose a new leader who will be able to lead a united party, appeal from coast to coast and win an election. Bob Rae, say. Just a suggestion.

Can you do it, Jack and Iggy? Put personal and party ego aside for the sake of the future of Canada? We beg you.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Happy Victoria Day

I feel sorry for those poor people with cottages. All that work, schlepping stuff to and fro, endless driving, dealing with boat houses and docks and all that confronting of overgrown nature, bugs, lakes - well, lakes are nice, yes, but still, the problem is that cottage people never get to experience the city on holiday weekends. Without them in it, the city is a whole new place, tranquil, still, empty, and those of us lucky folks without cottages get to enjoy it.

Just had the first barbeque of the year. Not an easy thing to arrange, after my daughter took my old barbie last month. Had to find a new one, much checking of Consumer Reports and sales flyers. Find one on sale at Sears, go to Sears, am persuaded to get a Sears Mastercard which I will never use again in order to get a further 10% discount. It is delivered to the store a week later. Go to Sears loading dock, locate the thing, call a van cab which takes me home. My son is there to unload the giant box.

Next step - find someone to assemble it. A week later, handyman Dan arrives, the uncle of a friend of my daughter's whom I met over many beers at her birthday party. It takes him nearly an hour to assemble it, and then he drives me to the hardware store to pick up a propane tank - getting propane is hard without a car - and does lots of other useful things around the house.

So today, Sunday of a holiday weekend - time to get the deck furniture out of the shed. The furniture was given to me by my friend Suzette, who has a spiffy deck. My deck is not spiffy so her old furniture is perfect here, with a few artful throws over the recently disintegrating bits. Get it out, get the hose, hose it down, wipe it off, let it dry, get out the cushions and let them air in the sun. One of them unfortunately is covered with raccoon poo. I am tempted to throw it out, but no. So, an unpleasant encounter, some disinfectant, soap, scrubbing. Haul all the furniture to the deck.

The hibiscus which came outside a few days ago after a winter inside is being damaged by the intense sun, the leaves turning white, and it's too heavy to move myself, so get out the big sun umbrella, drag it to the deck, drag the base, set it up to protect the hibiscus. And then, must get groceries - tomorrow is a holiday. The liquor store is packed, NoFrills also. Forgot tomatoes, go back, and swing into Shopper's to buy massive quantities of Lindt chocolate and sunblock, both on sale. Buy a "New Yorker" because my subscription hasn't started yet. Fill the bird feeder. Do some weeding. Do some watering. Pick the last of the rhubarb and make a rhubarb something or other while listening to Eleanor Wachtel interview Seamus Heaney, the Nobel Prize winning poet. He sounds lovely but what he says is so dense sometimes I can barely understand what he is talking about. More watering and weeding. And then - turn on the barbeque for the first time. It works! It's huge, like driving a cabin cruiser. Barbeque vegetables and a burger, lifting the heavy lid up and down. Stop doing stuff; sit on the deck with dinner, a glass of wine and the "New Yorker."

It took a bit of effort to get here, but at last - bliss.


Last night - the opera. Peg, a former writing student, is in the opera chorus, and whenever there are cheap tickets, she emails her friends, including moi. Last night, for $20, I had a box seat for Donizetti's "Maria Stuarda." Glorious.

And the night before, even better - a student's book launch at the Four Seasons Hotel, my first "semi-formal book launch." There are always amazing people in my classes, but Mercy was truly extraordinary, a former nun from India who left the convent to marry the man she'd fallen in love with when she was twelve years old and who'd come to the convent to seek her out. She arrived in my class, despite a full-time teaching job and a great deal of family caregiving, to write the story of her life and their love - eventually hired my friend Margaret as an editor and Terry as a copy-editor, finished the manuscript and self-published a book called "Vows." At the launch, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, she spoke of her love for Earl, and he spoke of his love for her, and then people wiped the tears away and bought the book. Mercy introduced me as her writing teacher, and as always happens at events like that, people came to tell me their stories, hoping, I guess, that I'd say, that is an incredible story, you must write that down. And that is what I said.

It's dusk; the birds chatter, I can hear a neighbour in deep discussion, and otherwise, nothing. Despite all this holiday restfulness, there's sadness on Sackville Street today. Across the street and down a few houses was a family - a former CBC music host, his much younger wife and their daughter, who's 12. Carolyn was one of the neighbourhood angels, an ever-cheery soul who greeted everyone. African-Canadian, she moved slowly, always calm. This morning, she was out watering her front garden and dropped dead. A police car happened to be going by, and the cops saw her and got her into an ambulance, but it was too late. She was fifty.

There's a new hole in the world, right on this street. She was fifty, and her daughter is twelve. My heart aches.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Insectopedia and more

I've just finished my evening snack - two toasted pieces of Allie's oatmeal bread from the farmer's market - not cheap at $6 a loaf, but worth every penny - drenched in peanut butter. My teeth sank into this delectability, and I thought, France? Where's that?

As I write, at 10 p.m., a little raccoon face is peering in the sliding glass kitchen doors, and the crabby cat is going crazy, patrolling up and down inside, tail slashing, protecting her turf. Wild beasts in the night.

This morning it was spring in Toronto, and this afternoon, summer - more than 25 degrees, and tomorrow, 28. Hot. Shorts. Sunblock. Sunglasses. Wonderful. For me it was Wednesday, and so ... Carol's class at the Y. Carol, a grandmother of 3 who looks 45 and runs marathons, is just back from a jaunt to Barcelona, where for once, she was there to enjoy herself and not to run a race. I couldn't believe it - now semi-retired, Carol so far has only gone around the world in conjunction with marathons, like the one she ran last year in Provence where they served wine and sausage at the rest stations. Now she's back, cheerful, lithe, fleet - an inspiration up ahead as I wheezed around at the back of the line.

Tonight in my Ryerson class, Christine told me she started reading my blog and couldn't stop, because it was like sitting down and having a chat with me, hearing my voice. That's so good to hear. In the end, I said, that is what we want from all the writers in this class - to feel, when we hear their stories, as if we're sitting down with them and listening to them talk, telling what's most important with honesty, clarity and passion. That, strangely enough, is what good writing is.

Speaking of good writing, I am reading two absolutely delicious books - still engrossed in "Wolf Hall," by Hilary Mantel, about Thomas Cromwell. This is a stunning book, full of effortless historical detail, moving, beautifully done. And it's FICTION, yes, I do read fiction on occasion, especially when based in historical truth, like this one.

But I'm also loving "When Everything Changed: the amazing journey of American women from 1960 to the present," by Gail Collins of the NYT. I got it out of the library the other day and don't want to put it down. She is showing, in her lucid, warm style, what life was like for women in 1960, and how unbelievably fast everything changed. The book opens with an anecdote: in 1960, a secretary dressed in a neat blouse and slacks went to court to pay a fine for her boss and was sent home by an outraged judge to change into a dress or skirt, something more respectful and suitable. Her husband, who had driven her there, was told by the judge that he'd better gain control of his marital situation quickly, as his wife was obviously out of control. 1960! And many other such stories. Collins is not judgemental, she doesn't have a feminist drum to bang, she's just showing where we were and where, in the blink of an eye, we landed. For better or, sometimes, for worse. As I read, I'm fitting my mother, her friends, and my own life and friends into the timeline.

I am awaiting several other books on order from my local library, after discovering something truly dangerous - a section of the library's website called New Books. For me, that's like handing a smoking pipe to a crack addict. I ordered three books and forced myself to stop: "File, don't pile: for people who write: handling the paper flow in the workplace or home office, " a daunting how-to book with not one but two colons in the title; "The Granta Book of the Family," a collection of memoir stories by one of the best British literary magazines; and "50 Paintings you should know," which may fill in the huge holes in my art history knowledge.

And more importantly, I have ordered a book I read about in the "New York Times" called "Insectopedia," an exploration of the fascinating world of insects. As you may know, I have something of a tiny phobia on this subject and think this book may help. How I'd love not to be held hostage to my fears - to be able to look at insects as marvels of nature and not as terrifying creatures with lots of spindly legs that move too fast. Worth a try.

An ode to libraries, places I've haunted since I was eight. When we were discussing our future professions in school, I, at eleven, told the teacher I wanted to be a writer. "That's not very practical," I was told and was encouraged - this was 1961, Gail Collins would understand - to choose something more realistic. "Okay, a librarian," I said. Anything to be close to books.

Nice idea. Didn't happen.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

back in form

Nothing like mewling on-line to bring in warm words from friends, including dear Patsy from Gabriola Island, who wrote in response to my plaintive "What's it all about, Patsy?":
"Keep using your gifts, with all your heart and mind, and offering them: it's not up to you to determine how they will be received. Indeed, I think we may often not be aware of what they mean to others. Light a few candles, sow a few seeds, and walk on the sunny side."

I should try this self-pity thing more often. Thanks to you all.

But moving right along, on a gorgeous Tuesday, fresh and sunny with a touch of wind and the garden leaping into life before my eyes - my spine is back in place and all is well on my tiny bit of earth. Today the local farmer's market begins outside Riverdale Farm. The ridiculous cat beside me is snoring in one of her contortions, her face pressed against a back paw and her mouth almost smiling, if this bad-tempered cat knew how to smile, which she most assuredly does not. And soon I hop on my bike to go to a class at U of T.

Later, my son is coming over to do some work in the yard. He has had a tough few days - Sunday was the first anniversary of the death of his friend. A group of Devon's loved ones gathered on the island, where they have planted a tree in remembrance. A recent documentary about the Doors showed that Jim Morrison died from much the same cause as Sam's friend, and at much the same, far too young age.


Last night's treat - two new episodes of "Law and Order" in a row. How is it possible that they'll cancel this finest of shows? I don't watch enough TV to compare it to other programs - are the others so much better? This one is intelligent, thoughtful, controversial, has fine actors, great scripts, tight action - is that not enough? The one last week was about a Bush-era law affecting tax laws in the spring of 2010 - does TV get more up to date than that? I'm mighty fond of the callow D.A. played by Linus Roache, especially as I marvel that an actor called Linus Roache actually finds work. Can you imagine his childhood?

Will Linus and that smart pretty brunette finally fall in love next week, the last show? And what about the superb Lieutenant Van Buren and her cancer? RIP, my favourite program. Mind you, there will be re-runs on every hour on the hour. But no new ones. Sad.

Now all I watch regularly is Jon. And that not always, when his program is too focussed on the minutiae of American politics or when the stuff in the middle is too silly. What is the next intelligent program for someone without HBO, can someone tell me?

Also, sadly, yesterday I ate the last bit of Camembert brought in my suitcase from Paris. Now that idyll is a distant memory. Was I actually there LAST MONTH? I don't think so. I don't think I have ever left this garden.

Another word about friendship: last week I emailed my very lengthy manuscript of the "book of the blog" to my beloved Chris Tyrell, in Vancouver, and he spent much of his Sunday transforming it into a publishable document. I have no idea how he does it, I just send it to him and he slaves for many hours, fitting in photographs, figuring out format, even designing the cover. He did the same with my last self-published book, "Back Page Stories."

This is a great friend and citizen in more than word. Chris is a volunteer extraordinaire, having single-handedly raised thousands of dollars for the Performing Artists Lodge of Vancouver and many other causes, on top of his teaching work and writing his second book on artists' resources. Not to mention dealing with his serious health issues, which brought him down on Sunday night. Chris decided, a few months ago, that he needed to lose weight because of his health. He began to walk everywhere, long fast walks, and to eat properly, and in a very short time lost 30 pounds, just like that. That's how Chris does things, with extraordinary focus and dedication. Including, lucky me, my books.

A tribute to an indefatigable man who is, it turns out, fatigable. I love you, Chris. You dazzled me when we met in 1975, and you dazzle me still.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Miss Otis regrets

Just went for a heavenly bike ride on a heavenly Sunday morning - down along the Don Valley Trail. Such a wonder, this trail, running so far along beside the river in the middle of the city, through woodlands filled with birdsong, dells and glades. (Have to look up what the difference is between a dell and a glade ...) My legs ache a bit now, but my soul is glad.

Gladder, anyway. A cold mist of melancholy has seeped in these last days, or perhaps weeks. Perhaps that's why I haven't wanted to write here as often as usual - because I'm not my usual burbly self. It must have something to do with re-entry - from "Wheee, I'm in Paris!" to "My taxes aren't finished, the basement is chaos and the grass needs cutting." But I think my 60th birthday this summer is looming, too. I spent that glorious bike ride dwelling on my regrets - for one reason, that I'd like to list them and then put them away forever. Regrets are a waste of time, and yet, there they are. So here they are.

I wish, most fervently, most importantly, that I'd been a better parent.
I wish I'd started writing for publication much earlier and with confidence and focus.
I wish I'd had more confidence in myself as a woman.
I wish I'd gone through my course of therapy much sooner, so had more years to live as a self-forgiving person.
I wish - here's a classic - I'd kept taking piano lessons and played an instrument well now.

That'll do for now. Because really, what's the point? It's like saying, I wish I'd been a different person. And that, I don't. I really don't. I just wish I'd been a better me. BUT THEN YOU WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN YOU, IDIOT, YOU JUST SAID THAT.

Okay, even so, how do I take this heavy list and throw it away? How not to feel that stab in the heart when I worry about my kids and blame myself? When I feel like a failure as a writer because I've produced so little? When I look at my failed marriage? Etc. etc.

This is not the happy blogger you have come to know. Sometimes I wallow in recrimination and self-pity, only I don't usually talk about it. Well, here it is in all its grump and groan. If I weren't post-menopausal, I'd think it's PMS. But it's just ... the way life feels, today.

And now, that's enough. It is the most heavenly day, as I might perhaps have mentioned. My garden is gleaming green, as I might also, at some point, have mentioned. It's quiet except for birds and a distant voice or two. I am healthy, my children are healthy, my mother is well. I'm about to have lunch, including the last of the cheese I brought back from Paris, a pungent bit of Camembert. And then the delicious rhubarb crumble I made yesterday with my garden crop. I will eat, and I think, for once, I'll have a glass of wine with lunch, and I will toast life. With all its foolish regrets, it's way, way better than the alternative.

PS A dell is "a small valley, usually among trees" and a glade is "an open space in a forest." Completely different things! Now we know.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Laurel and the Times

Sometimes fairy tales do come true. Fantastic news - former student and formidable writer Laurel Croza, whose book I know here, based on a Ryerson True to Life writing class assignment, was published a few months ago, has received a glowing review in the New York Times! This is the first time her publisher Groundwood has received a major review in the Times, with an illustration. Big, big news for the press, for the book, and especially for Laurel and for Matt James, the illustrator. Amazing and wonderful. It ends:

A story about a child leaving home could have been treated as a weepy leave-taking shaded with sepia sentiment. Heroically, Croza balances her story on something far more hopeful and true: a child realizing that the act of making art is a way to preserve memories of home. And to remember, you have to do something: pay attention, draw a picture, and take it with you.

Write in the Garden - come one, come all

I've been urged to run my garden workshops again this summer, after missing last summer because of my travels. So here we go.


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 16 years and at U of T for 4."Beth is a wonderful teacher. I was encouraged and motivated and learned so much. I am totally inspired to write."Amy Block, after her day at Write in the Garden

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

When: Sunday June 27, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: $125, including snacks and lunch.

Schedule (more or less): 9.30-10 a.m.: greetings, coffee and muffins; 10-12.15: two short, fun exercises, where you will write on the spot and then gather to read, though only if you want to. Reading is always voluntary. 12.15-1.30: lunch. 1.30-3.30: more writing. 3.30-4: a welcome glass of wine (or cup of tea.)4-5: final writing, wrap-up.

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

For more information, please check Beth's website at, under Coaching.

To register:

a green Friday

Winter has dragged itself offstage again, life has returned, and with it, my energy and brain. I think. I'm sitting on the deck, the sun is shining and the wind is soft - a perfect spring day. It's been a purgatory, the endless bitter wind. A friend told me that at the opera recently, she has never heard so much coughing and sniffling. When leaving the house in the morning, no one knew how to dress, and for two weeks, we were never warm enough.

Now I'm looking at green incandescence shining in the sun, so many different shades of green, all of them stunning. I went to Riverdale Farm earlier, more green and a row of bristly red piglets nursing frantically, until their bristly red mother turned over with a grunt and rested her exhausted nipples in the mud. Still, the babes poked and pushed at her massive side, trying to get back. It's not everyone who lives at the heart of a big city and can report watching a scene like that, two blocks from home.

My new barbeque is sitting in a giant box in the middle of the garden. A sale at Sear's, a bit of research on-line, and voila, there it is. Now I have to wait for the handyman to come and put it together, which won't happen till the middle of next week, and then, with the first hamburger and corn in the backyard, the good times of summer officially begin.

I am trying to avoid the newspapers, because it's too lovely a day to get angry. Today's Star has a front page story about the religious right and the Catholic church in Canada, happily thanking Stephen Harper for his anti-abortion, anti-women's rights stand. Almost impossible to believe that this is my country, heading straight back to 1952. I hated Harper before, but now, my loathing knows no bounds. My country is turning hard right on human rights, women's rights, reproductive rights, the environment, foreign policy - everything - while in the U.S., that valiant man and his team attempt to bring a bedevilled nation back to sanity. Horrifying. Close the newspaper and go outside.

But as I gaze at all the promising green, I'm not angry any more, but sad. Yesterday I received a group email from my friend Cynthia Brouse, who has been battling cancer for many months, and blogging about it in her inimitable style at She has posted the letter she sent her friends on the blog, so you can read it too. It's written with style and grace, and it's heartbreaking; she has been told - at least this is, as she says, the Pessimist's Version - that she has three months to live. But she has hope, and we have hope, and she is still writing, almost daily.

Cynthia and I had a fortuitous meeting; we were both working at the Ryerson table at Word on the Street one year and began to talk. She told me about her brush with cancer, then in remission, and I urged her to write about it, as I do to anyone who tells me a story - Write about it! Only most people smile at me and forget all about it, whereas Cynthia is a professional writer with talent and heart, who wrote a very moving story about her cancer for Chatelaine and won a National Magazine Award.

So now we hope and hope and hope that her stellar writing career will continue. Hope and hope and hope. Send good thoughts to St. Mike's. Hope that Cynthia can see the green from her window.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How's your novel coming along?

This is a hilarious clip from the "Family Guy" - Stewie asks Brian about his novel. Oh the cruelty of those who do not understand the creative process!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Happy Birthday, Beez

I know, I know, still not back to almost-daily blogging. There's definitely something about plunging back into daily life, not able to rhapsodize about buildings and bridges and museums ... Back to the joy of the mundane, and to top it off, it's cold. Suddenly spring ended and October began, freezing winds and all. It happens every year - the minute we get all our woolens put away, Mother Nature pulls the green spring rug out from under our feet and hits us with cold again. Hibernation time, till it's warm again.

Monday night, nothing mundane about my daughter Anna's birthday party. She is the queen of merriment, and there was much making merry at her place, where her brother, king of the barbeque, grilled stacks of hamburgers, to go with all the salads she'd prepared. They are both very funny; I did not stop laughing the entire time. Here they are, with those million dollar smiles.

Otherwise, stumbling slowly along.

Friday, May 7, 2010


My student and friend Liz let me know yesterday, sweetly, that she likes to read my blog with her morning coffee. Hmmm? was the tone. And I realized that the poor woman has had to make do with the "Globe and Mail" this week, while I took a few days off. Sorry - but I was a bit jet-lagged and buried - a class each day this week until today, getting stuff done around the house, and, mostly, I've just sent off a manuscript to my friend Chris, who's going to design the book. I'm self-publishing a book of excerpts from the first years of this blog, so was working on that - not in the mood to create even more words.

But here I am. Hi Liz!

I thought I had jet-lag beaten. I do going over to the far side, no problem at all after the first day. The minute the plane lifts off, I switch my watch to wherever it is we'll be landing and keep myself in that time. After a sleepless night on the plane, my job on landing is to get my face in the sun as much as possible, drink lots of water, and to stay up, however woozy, till at least 10 p.m. Then I take a sleeping pill, get a good night's sleep, and the next morning am on European time.

For some reason, the other way, though I do the same thing with the watch, the sun, staying up and the sleeping pill, just doesn't work as well. I wake up at 5 a.m. for a few days and am always tired at night. Not incapacitated, just too tired to stay up for Jon Stewart at 11, no matter how much I've missed him while away. But it's finally fading now.

Still overjoyed to be home. April is a great month to go away, leaving as winter straggles out, coming back on May 1 just as spring turns on the high beams. I'm drowning in things to do, barely know where to begin - but it'll get done, or it won't. I did two loads of laundry today, the first since my return, that felt good. The garden is pruned, there are a few groceries in the fridge, I've been twice to the Y after a month of no exercise except walking and am in pain. But most importantly, two classes at U of T, one at Ryerson and one here in my living-room are launched and thrilling, and the big new project is off to the man who will work his artistic magic and turn it into a book. Now there's a friend for you.

I saw in the paper that "Enron," the musical I saw in London, has flopped on Broadway. It's not surprising. It's one thing for the Americans to call themselves sleazy crooks and gullible consumers; it's another for the Brits to arrive with a clever musical and do so. The Americans, perhaps, who have shifted gears and are trying a new man and a new way, are in no mood to be needled about the sins of the past. Too bad, though, because they should see it - it was terrific.

Last night I told my home class about the Van Gogh exhibit Penny and I saw in London, which brought tears to my eyes yet again. The saga of the man painstakingly teaching himself to be an artist, working so hard, being supported throughout by his loving, patient brother, and then, learning that Theo was going to set himself up in his own business, perhaps shooting himself so he wouldn't be a burden any more - an artist with a vast soul, dying without the satisfaction of seeing his work appreciated and sold - well, I won't hear anyone tearing themselves down or feeling self-pity about how hard it all is. We do it because we have to do it, and hope there's at least a Theo along the way. And if not, we do it just for ourselves.

I''m home, but everything I saw and did over there is bubbling in me. Plus there's still lots of French cheese, and today, after lunch, I had another Laduree macaroon. A little bit of Paris lives on Sackville Street.

P.S. It occurs to me, as I sit here yawning, that perhaps it isn't just the chemical imbalance of jetlag that produces homecoming fatigue. When you go the other way, you land into the grand adventure of it all, the thrill of a European city and the rush - let's get going, time's a'wasting.

Whereas when you come home, you land in the same old place, no matter how welcoming, with all your chores undone - bills, messages, the roof that was leaking before you left, still, for some reason, leaking after your return ... no wonder we are perky going and not so coming back!


Hello gang from CWWR 336 - our new room has been confirmed. Apparently it holds 30, so we can stretch out! It's in Room 302 in VIC, which is the building directly to the south of the Chang School at 297 Victoria Street. VIC 302, next Wednesday at 6.30. Please email me at, just to let me know you've received this information. Thank you.

Also, while I have your attention, some more information: I have been invited to speak about my book in Philadelphia, but the only day that worked for them was Thursday June 3, which means flying out Wednesday June 2. So our class for that night is cancelled. The term is extended one more week, till Wednesday July 7. If that does not work for any of you, please let me know and I will make sure you get the equivalent of that class in editing or a meeting with me. Apologies if this inconveniences anyone.

See you soon. Happy writing!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Happy camper report

For breakfast - a croissant straight from Paris, smeared with peanut butter. Talk about the best of both worlds! For lunch, leftover Chinese food followed by a Laduree macaroon. Talk about ...

You can take it with you.

Pix of Paris

The doves, canoodling

A miscellaneous house

A miscellaneous park with Polovnia trees

Can I go back now?

Lynn smiling on the Place des Vosges.
This woman is a senior citizen and grandmother of three. Believe it or not.

Beth smiling under the naked lady. Notice the casual elegance of the French scarf. Yet this woman is Canadian! Believe it or not.

Notre Dame in the dusky sun

HOME. Anna (in hat) and Mary-Fay mangent fromage on pain Poilane, straight from Monoprix

I heart Toronto in springtime

Toronto is gorgeous, and that's not something I say very often. I've come back into the heart of another springtime, trees flowering pink, white, yellow, forsythia, lilac, the magnolia about to burst - gladness, the only word, the whole city radiates gladness. Luckily, yesterday was grey and overcast, and today too - first because my tired eyes would hurt in sunlight, and second, because if it had been sunny I might just have collapsed with the loveliness of it all.

Yesterday, at 7.15 a.m., I ran to the bakery next to the apartment to buy croissants to take back and some fresh bread, a heavenly, just-baked baguette, for our travel sandwich, Lynn's and mine. Left the flat at ten to eight after a last hug with my dear friend, who was leaving a bit later; walked to the Port Royal stop to get the metro direct to Charles de Gaulle. By 9, I was standing in the Air Canada line-up. Now, that's an efficient transit system. I bought some tinned patés and a luscious Chanel lipstick at duty free, but was worried about the long flight because I didn't have a book with me; the latest "Elle" wasn't going to get me from Paris to Toronto. But "Wolf Hall" by Hillary Mantel was on sale in paperback in English. My trip was saved.

And utterly painless, good old Air Canada - it left right on time, it landed right on time, the food was terrible but it was there, and the friendly, efficient head flight attendant had the most mellifluous voice. He was eloquently apologetic about the audio-visual system, which was broken in my part of the economy cabin; no music or movies but I didn't care, with "Wolf Hall," which is stunning, and, for comic relief, "Elle." When we landed, his voice flowed out over the sound system: "Welcome to Canada," and it sounded like the best place in the world. Leaving the plane, I told him, "You're worth your weight in gold."
"Thank you. My mother thinks so too," he replied.

In the baggage claim area, the drug dogs were out, sniffing the air, and I was afraid they'd smell my big bag of cheese and arrest me. But I managed to skulk through. And when from the cab window I saw an elderly woman on King Street in a bright red and blue track suit with big white sneakers, I knew I was home. This time, I noticed all the gas stations. Where are the gas stations in Paris? Invisible, at least in the centre of the city, whereas here they're everywhere. But no matter, all the trees not flowering are that bright, fresh green, flashing like neon, new new new. The forsythia in my front yard was flaming gold, and the carpet of lilies of the valley are just about in bloom. I thought of Paris, where that morning, all the Roma were out on the streets selling bunches of lilies - a May 1 tradition.

And here's my house, spotless - tenant Mary-Fay kept things in perfect order and it could not have looked better. Here's the crabby cat, utterly uninterested in my return. And here, best of all, is the garden. Even untouched, with no work done since winter, it's a joy. It looks huge. By European standards, it's a park. My house comes with its own park.

Of course, when I strolled in it later, all I could see was the amount of work to be done. The other side of having your own park.

Anna came by and she and Mary-Fay devoured a croissant fresh from Paris and some Poilane bread with a ton of cheese. And then some Lindt chocolate and a Laduree macaroon, which are as good as predicted.

I had dinner at the Pearl Court with my beloved W*yson before he left for a month in Stratford, his own writing retreat. He'd heard a well-known writer speak at a writer's conference, who said, "The first lesson of writing is to actually write. Most people who talk about being writers don't write. And the second one is: keep writing. A carpenter doesn't build a table by perfecting one leg before moving on to the other three. Keep going. Finish."

Easy for you to say!

It's Sunday morning; I've been listening to CBC, drinking coffee from my favourite mug, looking out at my own green park, the lilac tree, the sparrows at the bird-feeder. Only a few weeks ago, I might have spent days stuck at the airport. How grateful I am that my way here was so easy. How grateful I am to be home.