Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Just had a long talk, as I do almost daily, with my mother. She told me the disturbing news that she has dropped about 30 pounds from her adult weight, and we began to discuss strategies to help her eat. In the middle of this discussion, she launched into a diatribe about Larry O'Brien, the current right-wing mayor of Ottawa whom Mum loathes (like mother like daughter, where politics are concerned), and the terrific man who ran against him, Alex Munter, a particular favourite of Mum's who was defeated by O'Brien's wealthy developer friends. "What does this have to do with putting some food in your fridge?" I asked with my customary patient sweetness.

Some minutes later, I found out. Alex Munter, who now runs a social service agency, delivered a valedictory address to an Ottawa high school recently, the transcript of which ran in the local newspaper. Mum so loved this article that she wanted to keep it, but somehow - somehow - it got lost in the mountain of newspaper that threatens to topple over and suffocate her in the living-room. "I spent an hour and a half today going through all those papers, looking for Alex's article," she told me, " and so I didn't have time to eat."

As she talked, I Googled Alex Munter's name, found the article and emailed it to her. "Everything's on Google now, Mum," I said, feeling like my kids when they're trying to show me how Blackberries and iPhones and iPods work. So now Mum has the article, and we were able to go on with a discussion about hiring her friend and cleaning lady to come and cook for her, and/or going to the local deli for some good take-out.

And now, I also have the article and so do you. Because she's right - it's beautiful. Alex Munter talks about gratitude; how lucky we are to have had the chances we have. I hope you enjoy it as much as my mother did, and can eat dinner besides.

Sitting here on the deck after a lovely summer day, I just heard one tentative downtown Toronto cicada. That shrill rasp immediately took me to Provence, last summer, throwing little stones into the trees to try to get the noisy things, like a deafening choir of vuvuzelas, to move somewhere else. Here, one little fella trying out his rubbing technique. So far, there are no mosquitos, no wasps. There were no June bugs this year. I used to be terrified of June bugs, but now, I miss them. Someone told me that there are hardly any snakes left in the world; can that be true? Is that true about June bugs, too?

What there are, everywhere, are tiny spiders with their phenomenal architectural skills. I try to be careful as I water, because I'm just a clumsy giant, lumbering about destroying these stunning habitats. I always apologize if I shred a web, but that doesn't make the task of rebuilding any easier.

As I sit, I'm reading "Writing Life Stories," by Bill Roorbach, one of the best books about writing memoir. I used to own it but must have lent it out, because my copy has gone. This one is from the library and it's new and improved; Bill has brought in a young female writer to help him update it.

He quotes a writer called Mignon McLaughlin. "The time to begin most things is ten years ago."
Hmmm. Sure speaks to me.

He writes about an elderly student whom he asked once if she knew the secret of life. She replied instantly. "Searching," she said.
"Not finding?" he asked.
"No," she said. "Just searching."

I'm here searching for June bugs and inspiration, and my mother is searching for good food and meaningful essays, and you out there - what are you searching for this fine July 14th, as our French friends celebrate the birth of their nation?

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