Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Joys of Writing, #4962

Yesterday, this email was waiting in my in-box. After reading it, I felt that the 25 years of my life absorbed by the Jewish Shakespeare book were worth it. Many thanks to you for that, my new friend Ruth.

I just finished reading your book, Finding the Jewish Shakespeare. I enoyed it very much, especially the unique perspective coming from someone who is both related to Mr. Gordin and also an actress herself. I am sorry that his life was so hard, and that the people in the world he inhabited could not help each other more. I'll never think about Abraham Cahan the same way again!
I have loved your great-grandfather's work since I first saw the movie Mirele Efros several years ago. Since then, I have seen some of his other work and enjoyed it very much, although I think that Mirele will always be my favorite. I am not a native Yiddish speaker and never learned it at home; I have studied it on my own for the last few years. This is a very slow way to learn a language, but I live in an isolated rural area in Texas, and it is my only option. Right now, I am attempting my own translation of Mirele Efros and Der yidisher kenig Lear.
I just wanted you to know that there are still lots of people out here who really enjoy your great-grandfather's work. For me, each work serves a dual purpose: it is a time machine into a world and culture that is at great risk of being lost, and it is just a great story for entertainment.
Zayt gezint un freylekh,
Ruth Murphy

Friday, January 28, 2011

featuring today: Bill, Jian and Ellen

Spent yesterday morning madly cooking while listening to Jian Ghomeshi, yet managed to be out buying groceries when he read out my letter. The day before, he'd interviewed the Books Editor of the "Guardian," about his article bemoaning the increasing number of fact-based films and books. I found and read the article and, as ever, couldn't resist adding my cents worth. For those of you who might be interested:

Jian, what a provocative interview, and what a silly man. As a writer and teacher of non-fiction, I was riveted.

Skidelski said artists should be using their imaginations to explore the human condition, which he posits happens only in fiction. As if memoir, creative non-fiction and fact-based films like "The King's Speech" or "the Social Network" are NOT imaginative explorations of the human condition.

"The King's Speech" may feature an obscure member of the royal family, but it shows us a wounded man, maltreated as a child, finding in adulthood a teacher and friend who restores his faith in himself. "Social Network" reveals the misfit outsider, selling his soul and yet not finding what he most wants. These are universal stories.

To call them, as Skidelski does, "lightweight pedagogical aids" that devalue creativity is simply idiocy. As for the death of the imagination and of fiction - I guess that's why those novels about a teenage wizard have done so poorly.

When I came in with my groceries, there were 3 messages waiting from people who'd heard it. Margaret was outraged he didn't deem it the letter of the day. "Overturn his recycling bins," she commanded, since she knows Jian lives nearby. But I would never do that. He is a most charming young man. I, like half of the female population of Canada, have a little crush.

I was cooking for a small dinner party, using the cookbook I got recently from the library and will actually buy when I'm rich: "Plenty," by Yotam Ottolenghi. It is the most superb, delicious book, full of pictures so delectable that you want to eat the paper. It's vegetarian not, he explains, because he's a vegetarian, which he's not, but because he loves vegetables so much. I made "Roasted parsnips and sweet potatoes with caper vinaigrette" to go with a roast of pork (from a small Stratford farm) cooked in a wine and shallot sauce. Oh my.

My guests were my dear friend Anne-Marie, who used to work for the Catholic social justice organization Development and Peace and now continues that work with the Jesuit Forum, with her esteemed boss, the Jesuit priest Bill Ryan, along with Wayson and my very tall son. Bill was mesmerizing, as in his very long life, he has lived and travelled all over the world, which he is trying, in a gentle yet single-minded way, to change for the better. What a pleasure, on a cold January night, to have good company and hot food. Bill said he'd never eaten such good vegetables. Thank you, Yotam Ottolenghi.

And thank you, Ellen Roseman. My other triumph of yesterday came thanks to Ellen, the financial columnist and expert. She teaches us in her talks and columns to enhance our finances not just by trying to bring in more, but by trying to dispense less. When I read my financial statements on-line yesterday, I suddenly was aware that there's a monthly bank charge on every account, even a dormant and nearly empty savings account - $2 a month - and an almost empty U.S. account I use when I need to send American money somewhere, also $2 a month. My chequing account charge: $8. That's $12 a month, or $240 a year, I was paying to the Royal Bank for the privilege of keeping my money in their fine premises.

So I called Dave, my bank manager, and in 10 minutes on the phone, we had switched all the accounts to ones without fees.

Today - with my newly-saved $240, I'm going shopping for shoes!

Just kidding, Ellen.

P.S. Ruth's piece on abortion has provoked 355 email responses on the "Globe" website so far. There are a few hate-filled rants, but most of the responses are appreciative, thoughtful and moving.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

in praise of Ruth Miller and Linda McQuaig

I'm proud to tell you that Ruth Miller's moving and powerful essay about working at the Morgentaler abortion clinic will appear in Thursday's "Globe." Ruth is in my home class, after two terms with me at Ryerson; she wrote the piece for class last month, rewrote it after the class critique, sent it to me for a bit of further editing, sent it in to the "Globe," and only a few weeks later, it will appear. I want to thank you effusively for your wise edits, she wrote to me, but the piece was, from the start, a beautifully written, honest exploration of a difficult subject.

Ruth is a ferocious letters-to-the-editor writer. It's great that there are people out there reading the news with such a careful and critical eye. And speaking of of a critical eye - I could not recommend highly enough Linda McQuaig's wonderful column "Harper's strange victory" in today's "Star".

She sums up what has happened to this country in the last five years, beginning by quoting one of Harper's recent statements. He said in a speech that the Liberals, in trying to bring in universal child care, were disrespecting parents by assuming they were - this is an actual quote - "more likely to spend money on beer and popcorn than take care of their children."

She marvels "at how Harper has managed for five years to get away with this sort of ludicrous, misleading, deceptive statement," goes on to present case after case of his government's abuses, and concludes, "Harper should be getting pummelled for his pro-corporate, anti-people agenda. Instead, he's strutting about arrogantly accusing his opponents of being disrespectful, even as he heads a government that is the most disrespectful - to the vast majority of Canadians - in our history."


In the let's get boringly real I am an idiot department, I noticed a picture in the "Globe" the other day of Madonna in Malawi, with her adopted African daughter and her other daughter Lourdes. In the photo, beautiful Lourdes, who's surely one of the most fashionable young women on earth, is wearing a purple and grey check shirt. I know where she bought that shirt - at Kate Moss's Top Shop in London. I happen to know because in 2009, when I was in London, I went to Top Shop, was overwhelmed by the vast quantities of uber-trendy stuff and the manic hordes of 18-year old girls, but still managed to find a nice shirt. It's purple and grey. The same shirt as Lourdes is wearing. The very same shirt. Yes, it is true. I am THIS close to Madonna.

Fashionista on Sackville! Be still my beating heart.

Okay, not many people understand this thrill. No one, in fact. Except moi. This goes to show that even writers with very deep souls and hugely important topics can be very, very small at times. Whaddya want, it's the dead of winter. The other night was so cold, I let a tap run a trickle of water all night, because I feared my pipes would freeze. That's cold.

I try to make sure that I get to the Y often enough to feel that, somewhere under all that wool and fleece, there is, in fact, a body.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Farm in the snow

Went for a walk to Riverdale Farm this afternoon - very cold, very sunny. I'd like you to meet my friends there - Dolly the Clydesdale, then Dolly with Dusty the donkey nearby and her son Rooster barely visible in the background, then some surreal white-faced sheep, and a rasta sheep, who are all, as of yet, nameless.

Had a moment of sheer joy - walking on one of the paths, I watched a mother and her toddler walking along in the blinding white of the snow. She was singing, "I want to hold your hand" to her child. "And when I touch you, I feel happy inside," she sang, and all around, animals in the sun.

Freezing bliss.

Hmmm. Once I collect my millions from Nigeria, maybe I'll buy the Farm and fix it up a little.

Sunday muffled

A gorgeous sunny morning, bitterly cold with a fresh coating of snow. I'm going to put on 19 layers and go for a walk. A brief report: heard an interview on CBC yesterday with Peter Bergen, an American journalist who has written a book on the Americans and Al Quaeda. I nearly wept, listening to him report that every single thing about the Iraq war has made the situation in the Middle East far, far worse. The whole world is far, far worse after the regime of George Bush and his band of venal thieves.

Yet the man has a best-selling book. Who is buying this book and why? There's a review of it in my newly-arrived "London Review of Books." My guess is that the reviewer will not think too positively about this book, and that the review will be fun to read.

Let's not forget: if Stephen Harper had been Prime Minister then, we would without question have gone along for the ride.

Yesterday I dawdled about Doubletake, as you know I am wont to do, and as often happens, wonderful vital things fell into my hands - two giant books published by "Rolling Stone," one on the Sixties generally and one on rock music. Fascinating reading. It does make me realize that though we share an enormous amount with the United States, there is still a huge difference between us. Much of the Sixties book is taken up with race riots and the Vietnam War; much of the rock book shows the Music of Philadelphia, of San Francisco, of Detroit. There is no section on the music of Windsor. But in the section "Singer-songwriters," there, huge pictures of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen. We're soloists.

Inside the Rock book I found a piece of looseleaf paper with some careful printing on it.
"Dada in world," it says, as a kind of title. "juice cans on window box with fruit globules/fat won't stick to ceiling but/won't nobody fly."

Dear poet-writer, have I got a class for you.

P.S. I just got an official email from FedEx in Nigeria - they have a parcel containing one million, five hundred thousand dollars for lucky me! I guess this is the end of teaching and blog. Goodbye suckers. It's the life of Riley from now on! Mwa ha ha ha ha!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The weekend? What is that?

A few hours ago, I was downward dogging in my usual Saturday yoga class at the Y, when heavy snow began to fall outside the wall of windows. The room felt small and cosy as we stretched and strained, while outside grew light and impenetrable, and the buildings started to vanish. Toronto was beautiful by the time I got out - like Christmas, everything white and muffled, silent and still.

There is a lot of snow on the ground already, however. And it's only mid-January. This is not a winter like last winter, this is a real winter. In other words, an endurance test.

I've decided that it's well-nigh impossible to look good outside in the middle of January, at least if you have to make your way around the city on public transit. As I sit on the streetcar, I look at my fellow Canucks, bundled up in a variety of dark-coloured, shapeless, hulking coats, hats, mitts and boots covered with salt. The body and face disappear; all you can see is the quest for warmth. Which, taken one step further, is a quest for survival - as the tragedy of the elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer's, who managed to slip outside her home wearing very little and froze to death, showed us last week.

So let's bundle up in massive piles of cloth, my friends; we may not be pretty, but we'll be alive.

Quick! More amusing stuff to slough off the January blues. How about the article in the "Globe" about the woman who made a big replica of Leonardo's Last Supper using only laundry lint? She bought her towels according to the colours she needed. Yes, it's true, imagine. Aren't human beings spectacular?

Tomorrow evening, a potluck dinner here with friends, and then we'll all watch the latest PBS smash hit, "Downton Abbey," at 9. It's a delicious drama, a new kind of "Upstairs Downstairs" with the irreplaceable Maggie Smith making the most of every word. Who will top her from the episode a few weeks ago, where a modern young man who's to inherit the Abbey says he works (works?!) during the week but can maintain the Abbey on the weekend.
"The weekend?" drawled Maggie, in her role as the Dowager. "What is that?"

Mostly, I'm happy to report that I'm in love, deep deep deeply in love - with my manuscript. I hate to leave it and am anxious to return to it. As I write to you now, I am partly in my kitchen on a snowy evening in January 2011, watching my cat, as ever, sleep, and reporting to my friends that the little hawk I've been mentioning is in fact a full-sized sparrow hawk, anxious to dine at my bird-feeder full of sparrows.

But I am also in 1964, I am 13, passionately in love with a fab new singing group and longing to know what kissing is like. Not a bad place to be, on a snowy evening in January, 2011.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

important business

A few practical notes: Please do not try to contact me through this website. The address here,, does not work now, for some reason. I'm looking into it. In the meantime, please write to my other address,

Also, do you know someone who needs a place to stay in Toronto for a month or two this spring?

I will be taking my annual jaunt, lucky moi - this year, over a week in Spain with my dear friend Bruce; a week in Montpellier with Lynn and Denis, and then two weeks in my beloved Latin Quarter flat in Paris. I will be gone from mid-March to mid-April. Susan, my housemate, will keep the home fires burning, but I would like to rent the spare bedroom of my house while I'm away - or even longer, for the entire months of March and April. Please let me know, but not at the website address.

Over and out.

writing report

I've been remiss, to leave you for days with only a picture of Florida for inspiration. But the fact is - sometimes it's hard to live a life and chronicle it at the same time. I've been doing lots of teaching and editing, and simply surviving winter takes a lot.

But mostly, I've been writing. Yesterday, I barely moved from this computer from 2 p.m. to 1 a.m., except for meals and Jon Stewart and a brief visit from a friend. A glorious thing happened last week, when Mr. Choy and I put our souls, in manuscript form, in each other's hands. He has called me twice to say that one key point I made about his main character opened a doorway for him and has triggered an avalanche of material. I was very happy to hear that.

And I've been just as happy to tell him exactly the same thing - his suggestion for my memoir, that I start in a different place, made something click. This is how important the opening is, the lead, as they call it: once I had found the right voice for the first page, the rest of the manuscript began to come clear and fall into place. Not only that, but a lot of the work from my seven weeks in Paris two years ago works in this format, I was thrilled to discover. Not without adjusting and rewriting, but I've been able to take big chunks of work already done and fit it in.

One of the most important things he said to me was: Love that girl. You're undercutting her, you don't love her enough. He was speaking of my 13 year old self, the star of the book. And he was right; I didn't have confidence in her ability to hold a narrative. But I'm backing her fully now.

Last Friday, W*son read 18 pages; now, the following Thursday, the manuscript is 175 pages long. Lots and lots, mountains still to do, but there's a shape and a spine. I know, you've heard this before. HE has heard this before. But I do feel it, this time, to be true.

Around all this, life makes its demands; I cook, shovel snow, go to the Y, phone my mother, edit manuscripts for others and teach classes and watch the young hawk hunt in my garden. But underneath, always bubbling along, is this book. After eleven years of incubation and struggle, I finally feel I know where we, the manuscript and I, are going.

This is one of the greatest joys for a writer, when the raw material finally start to flow. As Mr. Choy said, it's like a door swinging open to that bright world of imagination and words.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do.

P.S. This is a terrifying blog post. Maybe I'm wrong, and in a few months, I'll be writing here again - no, sorry, didn't work, boring and lifeless, no narrative tension, the way I have many times before in the past few years. But somehow, this time, I don't think so.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Condo in Florida for rent

INDULGE YOURSELF. A condo with high ceilings and a spectacular view - on Anna Maria Island, near Bradenton, an hour south of Tampa or 20 minutes north of Sarasota, available for rent, weekly until mid-February. Fully furnished and equipped, with a master loft bedroom with ensuite and a second bedroom with twin beds, also with its own bathroom; washer/dryer, even beach towels and chairs.
Here's the view of the setting sun from the endless beach across the street;

The view from the living room, of the Bay and the condo's swimming pool

The view of the condo itself, from the pool. (And there's a hot tub, plus pelicans, herons and cranes.)

Please contact me via the blog for more information.

If you show me yours, I'll show you mine.

What a treat, last night, the kind of joyful event only a writer would appreciate: a mutual editing session. Mr. Choy brought over 25 pages of the manuscript of his new novel, and I printed 25 pages of the latest incarnation of my memoir. We sat in different rooms with pencils scribbling and scratching, inspecting each other's hearts, brains and guts.

As usual, he is able to see, in my work, exactly what is wrong. In this instance, that I was starting in the wrong place. Start before the big change, he said, so we know what the change means. The irony is that the last draft started where he thought this one should, before the big change - and when he read that draft, he found the beginning flat and tedious and said I should cut it because there was no tension.

But he is right. I do understand exactly what's wrong and how to fix it. It just means beginning again. I went through my Documents files last night, to find at least a dozen different versions of the same story, different titles, voices, trajectories, going back to 1999. Ah well - the last book took me 25 years to finish and get published. This one has only taken eleven, so far.

And as for his work - his writing is so crystalline and gorgeous, it's hard to look beneath and see what doesn't work, but there were a few things, which he was happy to acknowledge. So we parted, with fresh insight and new resolve.

Once, just once, all writers would like an editor to read a manuscript and say, "It's the most brilliant writing ever. Don't touch a word." I wonder if this has ever, in the history of the world, happened.

More snow out there. A lot of snow. A vast landscape of snow. Inside, the furnace rumbles, the cat snores, the fingers patter on the keys.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

still learning, after all these years

Just learned the first big lesson of 2011, which I'm happy to share with you - a victory over my silly self.

The other day, I was on the phone, talking to someone with whom I've had a difficult relationship, and my interlocutor took the opportunity to raise an issue I thought was an unfair and petty accusation of me. I'd heard it before, and before, I had taken it badly, feeling insulted, misunderstood, outraged.

This time, as I heard the voice through the phone accusing me again, something wonderful happened. I did not get tense and defensive, furious and hurt. My belly relaxed. I relaxed. I sat listening until the barrage had run its course, and we proceeded to discuss other things. I thought, this person is wrong. I don't have to accept that view of me. I can refuse it. I refuse it.

Afterwards, I marvelled - what happened? Why had I been able to just let go what I'd considered not long before to be deeply offensive? And I remembered stage fighting class. At my prestigious London theatre school, LAMDA, in 1971, I took classes in voice, movement, Shakespearean speech. The hardest class for me was stage fighting. In the first class, our lively teacher, B. H. Barry, had us all jump from the top of the piano into the waiting arms of our classmates. He wanted us to learn trust and confidence. In those days, I had neither of those things. Jumping from the piano, and every stage fighting class after, as we learned to kick and stab and fence, to fall and die, I was so tense and awkward that I got hurt.

"Relax into the blow," repeated Barry. "Breathe!" and showed us how, when you're rigid with tension, you are easily hurt. Whereas when you're loose and relaxed and breathing, you go with the blow and avoid the jarring crunch.

I realized that as the voice came through the receiver, I had relaxed into the blow. I had let my belly soften, kept my breath alive, let the accusation waft over me, and moved on. When we left theatre school, they warned us that it would be at least seven years until the lessons sank in. But for me, it took forty years until B.H. Barry's lesson finally hit home.

Thank you, sir.

Now to see if I can do it again. And again.


A few years before LAMDA, as I finished a B.A. at Carleton University in 1968, my friend Lynn and I rented a small apartment near Carleton and sublet the dining room to two young men, one of them a kind, good-natured Australian called David. David married Elizabeth from Ottawa, moved back to Australia and vanished. Last week, after more than four decades, there in my email inbox was a message from Elizabeth, saying hello from their home near Sydney. The three of us chatted via email. They are vibrant and funny and have had very interesting lives.

I can't wait to make a jaunt to Sydney, to get caught up.


Back at work, as the snow falls: teaching is as absorbing and rewarding as ever. My Ryerson class is the most geographically diverse group yet, and I now have many private coaching/editing clients and two home classes. The irony is that I make my living helping other people write honestly and well, while I myself make the mistakes I point out so readily in their work.

But that's okay, because Wayson points out MY mistakes, and then makes them in HIS work. The Joy, the Blessing of Editors.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

teaching update

Last chance alert: my Ryerson evening course True to Life: telling your own story starts Monday evening at 6.30, and I think there's still room.

For those who've already taken a class with me and would like, for some masochistic reason, to continue, my advanced day class Life Stories II starts at U of T next Monday, January 17, at 12.30.

And for those of you who have gone to bed for the winter and don't want to get out, my private editing and coaching work is on-going, though I'm pretty booked up for now.

More information on this website.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

niceness re: "Yours truly, a book of the blog."

I'm happy to say that I've been getting wonderful feedback for "Yours truly, a book of the blog." The first just came in from a friend of my mother's and mine, the second forwarded by my New York cousin Ted, a note from his yoga teacher.

"Yours Truly" was a joy for me to read. I know nothing about art or the parts of Europe you were describing. But I do know about good friends, children, mothers and brothers, good wine, heavenly bread and exotic cheeses.

Your excitement and passion for making a difference in this world by writing is so darn admirable.

Hi Ted:
Just want to repeat how grateful I am for the copy of your cousin Beth's book "Yours Truly" that I'm halfway through now. I'm leisurely enjoying it as she has such an intimate and personable and cozy voice that I feel like it's a pleasant visit every time I read her.

More especially, her book is reawakening my love affair with my first Canadian home, Toronto. And it is reviving my lifelong love of writing, which gets shoved to the wayside by the noisy traffic of theater, and of Yoga, my current form of theater. I especially enjoy the references to Toronto locales - Kensington Market, U. of T. campus - and to New York locations - the 92nd Y! - and New York cousins too!


And while we're in boasting mode, this is an article in today's "Toronto Star" about the new Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and the multi-talented man who pulled the renovation together and is running the theatre: Edgar Dobie, the father of two gorgeous, multi-talented children who are also genetically connected to me.

my week

Tuesday January 4, 2011.
A chilly day in Florida.

Saturday January 8, 2011.
A chilly day in Toronto.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

kvetch no more

Later that same day: shut up, whiny woman! First, I just heard from a very dear friend who was waiting to hear about a biopsy - no cancer. NO CANCER. Could any two words be dearer?

And then I turned on TVO to find a show I thought was on, which wasn't, but was intrigued by what was there. I'd missed the beginning, but it was obviously an Australian documentary about a young woman severely handicapped with cerebral palsy, being beautifully treated by a sheep farmer; I thought she was his daughter.

As this extraordinary story unfolded, I learned that she was his wife, that she'd had a terrible stroke while pregnant with their first child that had left her quadriplegic and unable to speak, able to communicate only with her eyes. And yet they still made a rich family life, with the child she was carrying and another baby they had later. She was teased and loved, carried to and fro to be included in every family event and every decision, including one made by her husband to try to supplement the farm income by opening a legal brothel.

The doc is called "A Good Man" and this man certainly is. A beautiful, extremely moving film.

High on life in twenty eleven.

bitch bitch bitch

Home in the wind and snow. The house still standing, the crabby cat still alive and briefly affectionate. Could she actually be glad to see the hand that feeds her? Impossible.

Those of you who've travelled with me in the past know what a great victory it is, that I went away for a week with a small carry-on bag. I am a very different packer now. But on the way back, my carry-on was pulled over by the security people. They started rooting and ... aha! found the guilty materials - two tiny bottles of champagne and half a pot of Smuckers natural peanut butter. I'd eaten half the jar in a few days and liked the stuff so much, I decided to bring it home. But no, it was confiscated, because obviously a middle-class Caucasian woman flying from Tampa to Toronto is up to no good with champagne and peanut butter in her carry-on. Sigh.

Immigration at Pearson was beyond belief - there must have been five jumbo jets from around the world just before mine. Still, the endless queue moved briskly; I read a dystopian "New Yorker" story by the brilliant George Saunders in line, until the perky young couple in front of me confided that they'd just got engaged. Heartwarming stuff as we shuffled along.

There was indeed a massive pile of laundry waiting for me at home; the people staying here used every towel in the place. That's fine. What's not fine is that they readjusted my thermostat to read 72 degrees night and day, and left it set at that when they departed on Sunday, which means an empty house was roaring hot for 2 full days and nights. That kind of energy waste is shocking to me, the woman who barely uses her clothes dryer and doesn't own a car. In winter, I keep the house at 65 degrees at night and 67-68 during the day. 72 feels like a sauna.

Being a landlady is great when the cheques come in, not so great when there's an aftermath to be dealt with, as there almost always is. But sometimes, too, I overreact. As now.

You're hearing the mood dip that happens on arriving home. Yesterday, even on a cloudy day, I was picking up shells on the beach and sitting under palm trees, musing on life. Today, a list of fifteen urgent things to do running through my head while walking home from No Frills trying not to slip on the ice.

I'm very happy to be here. Just need to kvetch a bit. Hope you don't mind.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


REAL LIFE returns: It's time to bang the drum for my classes, particularly LIFE STORIES II at U of T, running Monday afternoons, starting soon, which needs a few more to make sure it runs. This is a smaller class than the first level, allowing much more individual time and longer stories, more in depth exploration of your narratives and your talent. An enlightening time guaranteed.

Ryerson is running True to Life I on Monday evenings, as usual, which is almost full already. What are you waiting for? Good writing begins HERE.

I'm at the Tampa Airport as I send these exhortations. It has been a great visit. I brought 7 "New Yorkers" and read 5, plus of course the sublime "Pride and Prejudice." I read a 90 page manuscript for a student and edited two short chapters for my friend Chris, did some of my own writing work, ran barefoot on the beach, drank a lot of fresh orange juice, ate an entire carton of chocolate/peanut butter ice cream, swam nearly every day. There is a tiny bit of colour in my cheeks which will vanish instantly.

I've just made a list of what awaits at home, including the laundry for the 6 people who rented the house, preparing classes which start Thursday evening, and several more big manuscripts. Hooray! I'm carrying that sunshine glow inside. And it's 2011, an exciting new year.

Rarin' to go.

Monday, January 3, 2011

cool but not that cool

Sitting outside the ice cream store in the Walgreen stripmall, 9 a.m. Monday morning - cool, gloomy, misty - not a glimmer of sun. But it's still milder than Toronto, even if it rains, as it did yesterday. I swam in the rain; the pool was 85 degrees. What's wonderful about this weather is that everyone disappears except the hardiest or those who are leaving soon. On the endless beach yesterday, there were maybe a dozen people as far as the eye could see. Nobody by the pool. Paradise.

My solitary idyll is drawing to a close - today I see the lawyer and try to sort out business matters for my mother, and tomorrow evening I'm back in cold reality. This is enough sand for me; I have loved the quiet, the reading and work, the mild damp air, the sea smell. It's been great, reading the actual "New York Times" every day. I have loved especially the new ice cream I discovered - Haagen-Dazs peanut butter and chocolate. Can you imagine the bliss of my two favourite substances, combined with a great deal of cream?

But the lack of internet access drives me mad, and I want my real life back.

One thing I cannot help but notice, as I excoriate these Floridians for their vile politics and their abominable eating habits - how friendly everyone is. Everyone smiles, says hello and is ready to chat. It would be easy to make friends, if I ever stayed longer than a few days.

Which is unlikely. Because I just can't stand this much pleasure.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Friday night. It’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m alone on beautiful Anna Maria Island, on the west coast of Florida. Outside, I can hear crickets and the cars bouncing over nearby Cortez bridge. There was a bit of sun today, and my skin feels warm. My cold has nearly gone. There is space here, silence and sky, and there’s the vital sound of the tides, washing over the shells and sand. I grew up by the sea and need to hear that sound; twice today I sat on the beach with my eyes closed, listening. And picked up shells, which I swore not to do – we have enough shells here already. But they’re so delicately perfect; we need a few more.

Instead of one big bottle I wouldn’t be able to finish, I bought four small bottles of champagne today, and had one with lunch. Soon I’ll have my pizza dinner and more champagne and continue editing work – I’ve got a ton to do here – and my own work too, and watch a bit of the ball falling in New York.

This is bliss.

Today I went to a bathing suit store with a sale on, and tried on a two-piece that did not make me want to scream aloud on viewing myself. In fact, I marched up and down in front of that mirror, and said to myself, honey, it ain’t that bad. Reader, I bought it. To celebrate the year I turned 60, I bought a two-piece bathing suit in many splashy colours, and a black sunhat too. As soon as I got back, I went down to the pool in my sexy new suit, but it was so cold I lay bundled in cover-up and towel. This morning, though, I swam – in my old suit, from which my bottom would soon have been hanging out. It is good to swim on December 31st, even in an old suit with a saggy bottom. (It’s the chlorine that rots the suits, said the saleslady. ALWAYS RINSE YOUR SUITS. Baby shampoo is good. Your first how-to tip of 2011.)

It’s also good to deal with one of my addictions, as I am doing now. No, not wine or second-hand stores, but the Internet. I do not have the Internet, have to drive out once or twice a day to check email, and as I work, I can’t Google! Hard to survive without Google. I can’t dip into Facebook to see how friends are doing, or read the “Globe,” or send a quick message to my family for New Year’s Eve. I can’t send a message to you either – I’ll go out tomorrow morning and post this. It’s good to stretch every once in a while. But not for too long.

And so, my dear friends, wherever you are, I am about to embark on my peaceful New Year’s Eve, as you are on yours. I hope yours is joyful, and that 2011 is good to you. With love from an aging woman who owns and may actually wear, occasionally, a colourful two-piece bathing suit.