Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Hare with Amber Eyes

What I bought second-hand today: nothing. I found a beautiful man's shirt from the exclusive London shop Pink of Jermyn Street, priced at $7, but I did not buy it, to hang in my basement until I found a man just the right size to give it to. For the last 20 years, I did just that. And I would find him, too.

I spoke to my mother this morning, to check in but also to ask her questions about an important period in both our lives, when my father got polio in 1951 and almost died. I've heard the story many times, but even so, she remembered new details that were fascinating and added to my understanding. When I recounted this later, in my U of T class, several students said they were eager to interview their elderly relatives, to record their stories before it's too late, but felt too awkward to do so. It would look, said one, as if I'm saying, you're going to die soon, so talk.

Get those stories, I said. Tell your elderly relatives you have an assignment for writing class and want to ask them a few questions. I think you'll discover they're happy to talk and be listened to. Ask. Remember. Write it down. If you don't do it, no one will, and all your family stories will be lost.

Every time an old person dies, the saying goes, a library burns down.

Speaking of family stories, later I had to take "The Hare with Amber Eyes: a family's century of art and loss" back to the library before I'd finished it. A friend is reading it, so I hope to borrow it and start again. But from what I read, I have to say: this is the book I wanted to write, the book I wanted "Finding the Jewish Shakespeare" to be - an eloquent family history written in an intimate, honest voice; a richly felt personal tale spanning continents and generations.

I skimmed the end, and the author actually goes to Odessa, where his relatives lived in the 1880's. When I was writing my book, I wanted to go to Odessa; my great-grandfather also lived in Odessa in the 1880's, and my grandmother, his ninth child, was born there in 1889. While he's there, the author writes about realizing that it's time his research came to an end. "I was missing my wife and children," he writes, and for a brief moment, I felt blinding, furious jealousy of men. He has a wife back in London looking after the children, while he muses about history and genetics in Odessa. I was the single mother of two young children, with neither the money nor the freedom to go to Odessa and muse.

Nor, it's important to say, the self-confidence. Edmund de Waal has written a supremely self-confident, accomplished book. I sat at my desk for years - it took 25 years, from beginning to end, for my book to be published - feeling overwhelmed, alone, discouraged. I know that I should not regret that it's not a better book. I should be proud, given my life at the time, that there's a book at all, and one that readers have enjoyed and praised. I should be very proud.

And I am. But also, when I read a book as fine as "The Hare with Amber Eyes," I'm not.

Monday, May 30, 2011

What I bought second-hand today

I'm trying this - the idea given to me by my hostess Liz at the book club last week, to keep a separate blog dedicated to my second-hand purchases. It sounded like fun - a bit like boasting, yes, but also ... people are curious. So, on this blog for now, here goes.

What's important in second-hand shopping is the time commitment. If the hunt takes too much time, it's not worth it, no matter how great your finds. So I will also chronicle, as honestly as I can, the time it took me to dig up treasure.

Today - deked into Doubletake on my way to the library before my 12.30 home class. Yesterday and the day before, in my quick tour around, I found nothing. Today, I found a bright blue Ralph Lauren jean jacket that fits me perfectly, a pair of khaki shorts ditto, some bangles including several that are the same turquoise as the jacket, and a "Far Side" anthology as a present for my son, who used to devour them. I opened it and laughed out loud: a man holding a dog training book and balancing a dog biscuit on a dog's nose; the dog thinking, "That's it. This time I'm going to kill him."

Total: 14 minutes, $14.00.

I promise, if I continue with this, which I may not, the pictures won't always be sideways.

Otherwise, in big news: it's summer. How very Toronto - this morning, it was chilly and grey, as it has been for the last 7 months. And then, at 11.23 a.m., the sun came out; by 11.41 it was muggy, and by 11.56 it was unbearably hot. When my students came, we sat under the canopy on the deck, sweating profusely. So much for my new jean jacket, which I won't be able to wear until September.

Or not. Maybe it'll be winter again by tomorrow. The way the weather is going around the world, that's as likely as anything else. But right now, I'm wearing a bare little summer dress, while my thick wool jacket is still hanging in the front hall because I wore it two days ago.

Suddenly the garden is calling. I've neglected it. My new viburnum is being eaten by bugs, the oleander went outside for the first time today and needs to be transplanted, I haven't planted the vegetables. Please, all I want for Christmas, all I ever want, is a hundred more hours in the day.

Incidentally, the book I'd ordered from the library and picked up today is about the fascinating artist, Alice Neel, who was a friend of my father's and painted his portrait. When I got home, just for the hell of it, I looked in the Index under Kaplan. There he was! Her son mentions his mother's friends in the late forties, including "Gordon Kaplan" (always misspelled - his name was Gordin) - who taught, it says, at Columbia. My wonderful Dad must have bamboozled them, as he loved to do; he was finishing his Ph.D. at Columbia at that time, not teaching at all.

I won't take a picture of the book, though it is one of today's acquisitions. I will tell you that the plumber finished his work today, and paying his bill reminded me why I shop second-hand.

P.S. Tonight, 14 degrees. Tomorrow, 32. Welcome to Toronto.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

shameless hucksterism, Part 2

The U of T summer writing school is an intense week at the beginning of July, covering many aspects of the writing process. I'll be teaching Life Stories. Check it out on this website under Teaching, then follow the links to U of T and the Summer Writing School.

"The U of T writing school was a great way to plunge into tangential dialogue, surprising plot twists, and flesh out an eccentric cast of characters... and in addition to all that, I did some half-decent fiction writing while I was there."
Vincent Lam, Author Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures: Stories, Giller Prize Award Winner, and Creative Writing Summer School Student.

July 4 - 8, 2011

Join our five day intensive workshop for emerging writers. Steps from the subway, on U of T’s campus in downtown Toronto , we offer you a chance to learn the craft of writing from some of Canada’s finest authors.

two WRITE IN THE GARDEN workshops, summer 2011


A one-day writing adventure.

Inspiration, structure and support for those with lots of writing experience and for those with none.

Spend a summer day learning to trust your voice and tell your stories. Listen to your creative self. Gain confidence and perspective from friendly contact with other writers. Write in the garden and enjoy positive feedback, bushy perennials, birdsong, and lunch.

Who: Writer and teacher Beth Kaplan has taught writing at Ryerson for 17 years and at U of T for 5.

When: Sunday June 26, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Sunday August 14, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: $150, including food for thought and actual food. $275 for both days. Register early; limited to 10.

Where: Beth’s secret garden in Cabbagetown.

Laughter, camaraderie and insight guaranteed.

For more information - www.bethkaplan.ca/coaching

To register – beth@bethkaplan.ca

“I’d like to express my deep appreciation to you, Beth, for making your garden workshop so memorable. You have a special gift for creating a safe learning environment, with a well of positive things to say without passing judgment. It was a joy to be there with you and the others. Your garden is magical, and you created a magical day for me. Ann C.”

Friday, May 27, 2011

the Writer's Union

Here's a brief report from the panels I attended today at Writer's Union of Canada AGM - which, this year, is located ten minutes from my home and just across the street from the Y - so after the morning panel, I dashed across the street for a quick runfit class, before dashing back for more discussion. Great choice of venue, guys.

First panel, "Vision/Revision" - on the editing process, and on whether writers need to hire an editor before submitting a manuscript - the answer, mostly, is YES. Which is great for freelance editors, of whom I am one, and the articulate and fiercely intelligent Barbara Berson, who was on the panel, is one of the foremost. Her job, she said, is to help writers take the manuscript to the next level, and to help them ascertain what they really want the book to say. (Or, as we say all the time in class, "What is this piece really about?")

The best editors, was the conclusion, don't tell you specifically how to fix your manuscript, they tell you what doesn't work - voice, characterization, pacing - and help you figure out how to proceed, how to make it better. "I write at least ten drafts before I let anyone see it," said novelist Genni Gunn. (Genni, incidentally, was in my poetry class in the UBC writing program when I was very pregnant with the child who just turned 30. Sigh.)
"You only get one shot at that clean read," said Catherine Bush. "So make sure your manuscript is in the best possible shape before you give it to an editor."

And then people told horror stories about editors, including one who made a writer change his manuscript from the first to the third person, ruining the book, and an editor whose changes were so invasive that the author had to take the manuscript back to the publisher and begin the editing process all over again.

It's a complex relationship, was the conclusion. But in the end, it's your book, it will have your name on it. Listen carefully to all critiques, but don't accept changes with which you fundamentally disagree.

After lunch, two workshops: "The Realities of Book Publishing," which was so crowded, many were standing at the back or sitting on the floor, and for the next one as well, "The Writer as Promoter, Or, Who has time to write?" Both were dealing with the new realities of the social media - Facebook, Twitter, blogs, podcasts, Goodreads.com - and how writers can help promote their books without losing themselves in the process. Anne Collins, legendary editor, spoke movingly about writers' need "to access the deepest, most quiet part of themselves, in order to produce something of value." And how difficult that is when they are being ordered to Twitter.

Russell Smith, on the second panel, concurred. He was particularly acerbic about writers having to think of their art as a product; of "wasting the few brain cells you have left" on blogging and Facebook when you should be writing.

But, said Terry Fallis and Cathy Buchanan, you have to get your book out to readers so you can write the next one.
Artists shouldn't think of their audience, said Smith. They should be writing for their ideal reader - themselves.
There's nothing wrong with connecting with your readers so they'll tell their friends about you and buy your next book, said the others. Cathy Buchanan Twitters daily, writes a regular newsletter which she emails to hundreds of addresses, has formed a "fiction writers co-op" who cross-promote their books, and Skypes book clubs. A publicist for Random House told us that 17 million Canadians use Facebook, a higher density than any other country in the world. Why not try to plug into that vast network?

Russell spoke with eloquence: "It's still unseemly to be a braggart. I don't want to receive your achievement updates," he said, and "If you think of your audience as a market," he said, "a market must be pleased."
"I only have a certain number of words in me a day," he said. "If I spend two hours on a blog, I'm done."
"Ah," said the publicist. "That's where Twitter comes in."

I think Smith was outgunned by the more pragmatic members of the panel. "I only know about your novel," an audience member told him, "through your column in the 'Globe.'"

In the breaks, I met a writer from Vancouver who writes about the film business and a writer from Guelph who writes about modernist literature and whose book is about T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf. I was chatting to her by the books table, where we placed our books for sale, when someone picked up "Finding the Jewish Shakespeare" and bought it! Thrilling. I signed it for her. Perhaps it helped, marketing-wise, that I dropped the price from $25 to $20 as a special promotional deal. And then, I rushed home to blog to you. Am I not up to date?

No, I learned today.
I must learn to Twitter. The next frontier.
Oh yes. And to finish the @#$# book.

@#$# go away, come again next year

All Toronto stands and shakes its communal fist at the heavens. "Will this rain never end?" they cry. But then we read in the paper about tornadoes and other natural disasters, and a bit of rain doesn't seem so bad. Well, a lot of rain. But still, not so bad.

The canyon in the front yard has been filled; my lilies of the valley are squashed but will, I'm sure, survive. The internet functions. The next hurricane about to hit here: my very tall son is moving out of his apartment on Tuesday and has not yet found another, so will be living here in the interim. I'm preparing a gentle list of roommate suggestions: replace what you eat; cook double so your aged mother can have some too; no beard hairs on the sink. Important stuff like that.

Yesterday's great treat, in the rain: my friend Marilyn, who has spent her working life in the book business, is not only kind, generous and fun, she's a gourmet cook. So when she proposed a networking dinner at her place to a bunch of her friends, all freelancers in the publishing industry, every busy woman said yes.

What a stellar group assembled in Marilyn's chic and funky flat - writers, publishers, editors, publicists and contract experts, including the founder of the publishing program at Ryerson and a former editor of "Chatelaine." Many of us knew of each other or had had email or phone contact, but had not met before. It's hard to say which was more filling - the conversation (how to survive and whither the business) or the food (a whole Chinook salmon, extraordinary salads and cheeses, sublime lemon squares for dessert.)

The evening was so stimulating and valuable that we decided we need a name and regular meetings - though for the next hostess, Marilyn has set the bar for food and ambience extremely high. If you have a question about the book business in Canada, any question at all, someone in this group has the answer.

Today - off to the Writer's Union of Canada AGM.

In the rain.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

wandering in spring

My lovely ladies.

An Ottawa scene - a goose family and tulips

The cutest nephew in the world

My front yard

My back yard

catching up

I got back from Ottawa late Monday night, happy to have spent time with my family and especially to have helped Mum into a kind of organization, but sad because Mum and Do are old and I live too far to be much help, day to day. It's a cliché but still, the reality hit hard: I will only ever have one mother, and she is infinitely precious to me.

Tuesday morning, I discovered that my lilac had burst into bloom over the weekend, and the rest of the garden too. But my front yard was a horror; I'm having my narrow old lead water pipes replaced and, of course, there are complications. Over the weekend, as he dug a huge hole, the plumber buried the lush bed of lilies of the valley, the pride of my spring, under five feet of dirt. My yard is now a giant hole and a giant pile of mud.

Then I discovered that my internet was down. After half an hour on the phone with Roger's, we ascertained that the router wasn't functioning, and I called a computer technician, who arrived an hour later with a new router and spent two hours installing it - incorrectly, as it turns out, as he needs to come back today. But while I was running up and downstairs with the computer guy, the plumber arrived to explain complicated things about the city pipes, my handyman called to check on the plumber, and the census people called several times to nag me about sending in the form that day. Usually punctilious about these things, I got stuck on various bits and had just abandoned ship.

Got rid of plumber and computer guy and rushed off to teach at U of T. That night I was speaking to a book club which had bought 12 copies of my blog book and asked me to speak to them about it; the event was in the west end, around the corner from my daughter's, so after the class, I had a few hours to kill before going to her place for supper before my talk. I wandered along Queen Street, marvelling at its uber-trendiness and, I confess, buying a pair of running pants at Lululemon, before hopping on the streetcar. My daughter has a warm, homey apartment always smelling of good food and, sometimes, of a strange and spicy smoke; she has turned into her father and his mother with her "OCD neatness," as she describes it.

How wonderful it is to be cooked for, cared for, by a daughter, in her own kitchen.

She walked me to the book club, which was a treat of an evening, a group of avid, thoughtful readers wanting to discuss various aspects of the blog book, including the hows and whys of writing a blog and, more importantly, about Paris. One of them said parts of the book, particularly the scene where my bra strap began to dangle down my arm during a lecture, made her laugh till she cried, and someone else told me that at one point, she actually cried. I hope it wasn't just the prose that made her cry.

The hostess Liz, a former student, told me she thought I should have two more blogs: "Beth Kaplan's Paris," and "What I bought second-hand today." I loved the idea, but, I said, the problem is that if I'm writing three blogs, I'm not writing anything else.

The book club members were wonderfully encouraging. It's a rare privilege for a writer to meet a group of her readers face to face.

Home late in the dark and wet, to discover that I was out of cat food - ran down to the corner store, which was already closed - that I still had the census to fill out, and that I still had to get my garbage cans and yard waste out for the morning pick up. After all that, at 11.15 p.m. when I was finishing the census on-line, my doorbell rang. It was the city water inspector, who had me on his list and saw my lights as he was passing by. So at 11.30 that night, I was lying on the floor, turning on my backyard water as he marched about with his flashlight, inspecting. And telling me that I had to take my water for a lead test; if the city found enough lead, they'd put me on a list and replace their pipes into my house WITHIN THE NEXT TWO MONTHS. Two months of a pile of mud - no thanks.

Exhausted, to bed.

Wednesday, still digging out after my trip and internet still dicey; Carol's class at the Y, and then something I've almost never done before: I watched Oprah, her last show. What an extraordinary woman. "This show and you, the audience, are the loves of my life," she said, her big brown beautifully made up eyes moist, love pouring out from the screen - no wonder millions watch her. She said she'd interviewed 37,000 people over her 25 years on the show, and that every one of them wanted most of all to be heard and validated. "I hear you, I see you, what you say is important to me," she said. "Say it often to your children, your loved ones, your colleagues." So I called my daughter, assuming she'd be watching too, but she was at work in her friend's daycare.
"I see you, I hear you and what you say is important to me," I told her.
"Thanks, Mum," she said.

Teaching a class at Ryerson, and then rushing off afterwards, in the blinding rain, to the Creative Non-Fiction Cabaret. What excitement! It's the Writer's Union of Canada AGM this weekend, and in conjunction, because lots of writers are here from out of town, the creative non-fiction people organized their own gathering. There I was in a pub room full of that very special breed: non-fiction writers. I'd missed the first readings of the evening, but heard my U of T colleague Ken McGoogan reading about the Scots in Canada, Rosemary Sullivan reading about artists escaping from Vichy France, and a young writer called Andrew Westoll reading about his time at a sanctuary for lab chimps. True stories, riveting. My people.

It's Thursday, and I'm waiting for both the computer guy and the plumber, who's I hope going to fill the hole and free my poor squashed lilies. I have a long list of Things to Do. Yesterday, Oprah told us that our lives are speaking to us; that the voice inside begins as a whisper and ends, if we don't pay attention, as a shout.
"What is the voice whispering to you today?" she asked.
And my voice answered, immediately, "WRITE YOUR FUCKING BOOK."

So somehow - here's the plumber now - I will.

Monday, May 23, 2011

We are famileee

I am at my mother's in Ottawa, trying to be useful and helpful without being overpowering. I want to set up some kind of organization for her papers which are piled hither and yon on every surface in the kitchen, the spare room, her bedroom and at the dining room table, rather than at one of her two desks. Did manage to clear out a huge stack of old paper, including every grocery bill for the last three years, her 4-year collection of "Martha Stewart" magazines and six of her eight 2011 calendars. God help me, I see myself the hoarder here, not at this level yet, but on my way.

Still, it's fantastic that Mum, at 87, and her sister Do, at 91, are still living independently, cooking and doing crossword puzzles daily and coping extremely well, considering. How lucky we all are. As my brother and I say, "We want those longevity genes." The other side - not so much.

We had a wonderful day Saturday - it was stunningly bright and hot, so we went for a drive in Mum's 1982 Volvo - down to the tulip festival, bed after bed of tulips in scarlet, yellow, pink. I parked and we found a bench to sit in the shade and watch the parade of Ottawans go by - "just like the U.N.," Mum observed, as every nationality was out rollerblading, walking kids, cycling, running. This is such a lovely city, just the right size, and the whole canal area is gorgeous. Three young girls went by, and I said to Mum, "I wonder if they know how perfect they are," and then realized that, when I lived by the canal with my friend Lynn at the age of 18, we too must have been perfect. And had no idea.

While Mum napped, I went out for a walk/jogette by the river and discovered something magical - someone had left a wooden kitchen chair facing the river so I went to sit down, and then noticed they'd created a kind of sanctuary, cleared a path and lined it with stones, piled stones around the trees, left small stones on big stones. I stayed a long time, appreciating the work that had gone into making this special place and taking pictures. The next day, when I went back, it had gone. No chair, no path, no stones around the trees. Glad I have the pictures to prove I wasn't hallucinating a chair by the river, with stones.

Yesterday, errands, getting a huge load of groceries and wine, cooking for Sunday dinner; my brother and his rambunctious 3-year old came to dine. And then TV with my two ladies nodding off and waking up, though we watched the life of Victor Hugo with Paul Muni and were all gripped at the heroic tale. And today, sorting, tidying, cleaning out. I hope to get to the fridge, where I've noticed lots of stuff past its due date. I wish I did not live so far away. But luckily my brother is nearby and very attentive.

Friend Chris writes from France that he's afraid of being stranded there by the volcano, shades of two years ago - or was it last year? I forget. Last year, I think. How time flies.

How time flies.

Home late tonight, unless a volcano erupts.

Friday, May 20, 2011

weighing in on DSK - Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Just back from my neighbour Monique's regular Francophone salon, where an eclectic group gathers on Friday night to drink wine and converse about interesting things in French. Tonight we talked about the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York, which is horrifying the French, who think it was a plot - and for Monique, a tragedy for the left in France and for all of Europe, which needs the brilliance this economist brought to managing European finances.

We discussed whether the event of which he's accused is even credible. Would one of the most important men in the world, a wealthy man who, yes, is something of a sex machine, but who could buy the most beautiful prostitutes in New York if he so desired, leap out of the bathroom, throw his towel to the wind and jump upon an African maid? Not long before he was lunching with his daughter and heading to the airport? With the presidency of France hanging in the balance?

And a big question for me - a man can obviously rape a woman, but can a man really force a woman to fellate him? Doesn't a woman have a jaw and teeth with which she can instantly inflict so much incapacitating damage and pain that she could escape?

And as someone else said in the group, for many years, this man has stayed in hundreds of hotels around the world. Why suddenly at this hotel did he go mad? Is he mad? That would seem to be the only explanation, if the story is proven to be true.

What was also discussed is the fact that the man is Jewish, and that this fact has never once been brought up in France. It was not an issue when he was elected to his current prestigious position, and it is not an issue in the press there now. The Americans, however, are enjoying just a little too much humiliating an arrogant Frenchman.

It's not impossible that this was an entrapment, like, for example, Christine Keeler, who was planted by the KGB to steal secrets from the hapless Profumo. Or it's possible that it's true, that the man sees every woman in his path as a sex object to be violated. But it just does not seem credible. When Monique took a poll at the table, two thought he was guilty and five of us, me included, said we could not judge until the facts are heard. Arrogant and sexoholic as he may be, he is still innocent of this crime until proven guilty. Let's not forget that.


Listening to one of my favourite programs - the World at 6 news on CBC. A long segment right now on the exploding moose population in Newfoundland - what is to be done? Earlier, a long segment on the Atlanta Thrashers, a hockey team moving to Winnipeg, another on the death of a former hockey player and a third on a hockey stick manufacturer returning from China to Canada, now making sticks with maple leaves on them. Squeezed in there was a bit about Obama and Israel and the fires that have destroyed the town Great Slave Lake.

A slow news day in Canada.

It's sunny! It's warm! The garden is green, and the birds are singing. Too bad this is all going to vanish tomorrow at 6, when the planet explodes, the Rapture hits and we all die - except for born again Christians. Apparently, the 89-year old lunatic behind this frenzy has even prepared a video about his horrific prediction to explain it to toddlers. Oh my - what fools these mortals be. And for "mortals," substitute "Americans."

Though I am, in fact, according to one of my two passports, one.

Yesterday, lunch with old friend Margaret from Vancouver, who decades ago was pregnant, twice, at the same time as I and who is now one of my esteemed editors. We discussed our beloved children, now adults - how utterly we love and support them unquestioningly and do not have the slightest, no, not the slightest worry or concern of any kind.

And then an in-class writing session with my Thursday group, which is like being with the most ideal kind of family, where you know and cherish people deeply but don't have to live with them.

Birds and distant traffic the only sounds, as the holiday weekend begins. A strange glow on my face, from the big round ball in the sky. I could get used to this. Tomorrow morning, off to Ottawa to visit my family. Happy long weekend to you, Canadians, especially Newfoundlanders. May you get your mooses under control.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

where's the ark?

My friends, it's Biblical out there - forty days and forty nights of darkness and rain. Time to build an ark. No wonder those Americans are screeching about the world ending on Saturday - my guess is that they haven't seen the sun in a long time either, and their brains are affected.

Tonight there was a brief moment of sun as I was preparing to go to Ryerson, so, bravely, I rode my bike. After class, it started to drizzle, on my ride home the rain fell harder, and as soon as I was inside, the heavens opened. Thank you, powers that be, for sparing me yet another drenching.

It's pouring still. What is going on up there? Is the sky still mourning the Conservative majority? I can understand that, with the news today of Harper giving 3 failed Conservative candidates fat Senate posts; already the facade has dropped and the ultra-partisan street-fighter is strutting his stuff. But whether that is affecting meteorology ... anyone's guess.

A good time last night - dinner with Isobel, Jessica, Suzette and Elke, old friends mostly from university days in the late sixties, who meet a few times a year to catch up. Last time we met in a restaurant, but this time, I proposed that we hold a potluck dinner here - restaurants are too noisy and crowded and fast. So I cooked a chicken and veggies, they brought hors d'oeuvres, salads, dessert and Cava - and we ate and laughed and toasted, gossiped and recounted our doings and doled out advice. I marvelled later that we spent the entire evening without one word about our collective health, except at the very end, when we learned the name of the best place in the city to have a colonoscopy, and why. That's the kind of invaluable information old friends pass on. Friends from nearly 45 years ago - priceless.

What rain?

Monday, May 16, 2011

showered with kindness

A dangerous precedent has been set: I write a whiny blog, and love pours in. Not only love, but this afternoon, from student Elizabeth, a picnic hamper of goodies including a bottle of Saint Emilon, a fresh baguette, some fabulous cheese and fruit. "You sounded like you need this," she said, handing it to me.

Another student, M. R., sent me this email:

Please don't feel discouraged. You are so accomplished already, even if you never write another word (which I hope doesn't happen). You're a sensitive and encouraging teacher as well as a talented writer. I feel silly saying this, because I'm just a student, but for what it's worth - I feel very lucky to have met you. I'm looking forward to your next book and I'll read anything you write because I know whatever the topic, you'll handle it with honesty and depth.

Friend Lani sent this message:

Time to get a dog, Beth. A loud-barking big black dog with large teeth. And when you travel I will take care of him. Or your kids will. Or one of your many many friends. Crabby Cat will adjust.

Could they be nicer, these kind friends? And others sent their sympathy. I like this. Everyone needs a little bit of spoiling periodically, don't you think?

I'm more than okay, my dear wonderful friends. I move forward with, as Chris wrote in response to the blog, "corragio." I had great cheese and bread after supper, and will think about a dog.

Today's whine is just: if only the sun would shine. No need to send gifts. But don't let me stop you.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

later that same day ...

Half an hour after writing the post below, I had a call from friends and blog aficionados Cathy and Christopher. "Are you all right? How terrifying!" It's a wonderful thing to share your tsuris (troubles) with the wide world. My son was incensed, wants to cover the balcony with spikes, and insisted that I call the police, who've just left - so young, these two, barely out of their teens, taking a report. "Why didn't you call last night?" the pretty, slender young lady cop asked.
"To tell you the truth," I replied, "not only was it 1 a.m. and the guy had vanished, but I was wearing a plastic bag on my head." We had a laugh. I will make sure the motion sensor lights are working, and they had several other ideas for increased security. But my best weapon, I think, is my loud voice and shrill cries. My throat still hurts. My son had a suggestion. "If you're ever in trouble, call out 'FIRE!'," he said. "People always respond when they hear that."

I took the police to my bedroom, the scene of the non-crime, and on the way out, the young male cop stopped. "Your husband is a scientist, I see," he said. And my heart took a hit. He was looking at a poster of a lecture of my father's, didn't notice the "1979" at the top. My father was 57 when the photo was taken, 3 years younger than I am now. No wonder the policeman thought this was my husband.
"No, that's my father," I said.

And now, writing about Dad being younger than I, thinking about break-ins and the day, so dark and wet and dreary - has there ever been a spring this long in coming? - I want to cry.

A glass of wine, instead.


Last night, a clichéd dark and stormy night, rain lashing the earth, I put a moisturizing product on my hair, covered it with a shower cap, and went to bed. At 1 a.m. - I checked the time - I snapped awake at the sound of the back gate clicking; the tenant who uses the gate is away, so I went on high alert. I thought I heard movement on the deck below my second floor bedroom, and remembered that I'd turned the motion sensor light off when gardening back there, to save money and energy. Bad move. I keep a flashlight by my bed and swept it below, but seeing nothing, concluded the noise must be raccoons.

And then I heard it, the unmistakable sound of a heavy footstep outside the windows opposite my bed. Someone was on the narrow balcony there. I leapt to my feet, wearing only a large plastic shower cap, wrapped myself in the curtain and opened it a crack.

There he was - an older man in a hoodie, two feet away in the rain and darkness. We stared at each other in shock. I opened my mouth and in my loudest voice shouted, "Help! Police! Help help police!" He looked at me in disbelief - the shower cap, the curtain, the scream - and moved off, not fast, mind you, but he climbed down from my balcony onto my neighbour's deck, over her fence and off. As his grey pony-tail vanished, I was shouting still.

No one heard me. All my condo neighbours to the south must be away. I stood there, wrapped in my curtain, trembling. I'd shouted so loud, my throat was raw. But he was gone.

It happened once before, opening the curtain to come face to face with an intruder a few feet away. After that, I installed motion sensor lights on the balcony - which don't seem to be working. Maybe I turned those off too. It took me quite a while to fall back to sleep.

It has been one of those weeks. The absurd basement saga continues, endless issues with pumps and traps and roots and vents, some caused simply by my last tenants pouring massive quantities of grease down the sink - more than a thousand dollars worth, so far, and more to come. There are worrying concerns, this term, with both my U of T and Ryerson classes. And it's hard to admit, but the brilliant accomplishments of my former student Laurel affected me too. When she told me, in her usual funny, self-deprecating way, about her prestigious award and good time in New York, I wasn't jealous. I'm extremely proud of her; she deserves every bit of her grand success. But I could not help but compare myself, and I felt like a loser. No awards for my book, my God, barely any sales, slow progress on the next one whereas Laurel has already sold her second picture book ... something in me twisted and felt sad and defeated.

For a bit.

I may be positive and cheerful, but I am also a woman who has spent a lifetime moving, as I pointed out here once, from very neurotic to kind of neurotic.

But I will not, as they say, go there. No, to put it more clearly - having gone there, I left immediately. Why should I feel diminished by the well-deserved success of a terrific writer? Or by practical issues that are normal in any life, or even by a burglar on the balcony? I am profoundly grateful for every particle of my life.

Things pile up sometimes, that's all.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday the 13th and all's well

Blogger was down for a few days. Which is just as well, because I was busy anyway, teaching, gardening and plumbing. The plumber is practically living here - replacing various pumps and water-level alarms and more. O joy.

The other day, I checked out a website called WorldCat.org, which lists books by location - you enter your postal code, and it will tell you where to find the book you want nearby. So I asked about my own book, Finding the Jewish Shakespeare. The nearest copy is at the Ryerson library, one kilometre away. I kept going - one at the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress in Washington, at Harvard, in Kansas City, in Anchorage, at the British Library, at the Sorbonne in Paris, in Strasbourg, Frankfurt, Munich, and Jerusalem, and, the farthest, at 16,280 kms, in Australia. I think I'll go to Australia and take it out.

216 libraries. That made me feel good.

More good news: a fat new prize for creative non-fiction has been announced, the Hilary Weston Prize. For years, I've watched the Giller Prize award night on television, like Cinderella in rags, surveying the glittering fiction people. But now, I may be able to watch the glittering non-fiction people - MY people. A $60,000 prize, and $5000 to four runners-up. This is big news. For so long, non-fiction was ignored, uninvited, the ugly stepsister. (I'm mixing my metaphors here...) And now we'll be chachacha'ing at the ball.

And speaking of dancing at the ball, friend and former student Laurel Croza has won yet another prestigious award - the Ezra Jack Keats Award for most promising new children's book writer. She flew to New York, delivered a speech at the New York Public Library, accepted her $1000 award, went with her family to dine at the trendiest restaurant in NYC, Eataly, and was even upgraded to a $5000 a night suite in her hotel. Does it get better than that? All this from one short story that came out of a True to Life class writing assignment.

Moral of this story: Do your homework. With care.

Moral of this story: Sometimes hard work, talent and perseverance actually get what they deserve.

Her note to me ended:

"And then your protege swooped back to her every-day life in Markham on Wednesday afternoon. Not a bad 24 hours."

She's good at understatement, is Laurel.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

the water gods

Tonight, I want to sell this crazy old house and buy a small, new, extremely new condo. Have just spent the evening dealing with a minor flood in the basement apartment. Many years ago, when I was dealing with yet another basement flood, that one much, much worse, a friend opined that I must have offended a water god in a former life. And yea verily, it is true. In my 25 years in this house, there has been every kind of water disaster, leaking roof, leaking skylights, leaking basement, and the oh so fragile yet vital sump pump.

And also, strangely, the major fire in the basement. Fires also are water disasters. Because though the fire does a lot of damage, the hoses and their jets of water do too.

Yet tonight, rode to the rescue an unlikely hero, John the plumber, recommended by his friend John the handyman. John the P. drove speedily from his home, charged in, inspected the sump pump, found various connections with bits of pipe, shone his trusty flashlight in various corners, and made pronouncements which I did not comprehend. I do know that it means spending money. Anything, as long as I do not have to do what Charles the tenant and I spent half an hour doing this evening, mopping two inches of water into a bucket, which subsequently broke.

I'm an intellectual, my soul whimpered. I'm meant to be sitting in an armchair smoking a pipe and reading great books, not in gumboots with a filthy mop in my hand.

But this is real life, girl, said my other half. And this is how you pay for this house. So if you don't want to move to a small, very new condo, shut up and mop.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Yesterday, on the sidewalk outside the door of my son's restaurant on Yonge Street, there was a sign. The photo shows what it said.

Quel honneur!

My daughter and I had a marvellous meal on the patio, and as you can imagine, the service was superb. She brought me, for Mother's Day, some cruelty-free pork products - bacon and sausages - and some artisanal Canadian cheeses and a very pretty organic eggplant.

If you wait long enough, parents of teenagers, they will grow to appreciate you. You just have to be patient, and survive.

And then I came home to spring in my kitchen.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day in heaven

Taking a quick break from dancing around the kitchen to Michel Bublé - "All I do the whole night through/ is think of you" - to report on this heavenly Mother's day. The birds are chirping frantically in disbelief, the plants are busting out, the trees are thick with green. I've called my beloved mother, and my beloved daughter has called me. My son has invited his sister and me to have dinner tonight at the restaurant where he works. I will walk there through the sunny dusk of Toronto's first real spring day. Even the crabby cat has ventured out to quiver in the direction of the birds at the feeder, before fleeing back to her favourite chair.

I got out the garden furniture, musty after its long hibernation; it's airing out at the back of the yard, where I spent an hour this morning in silence broken only by birdsong, drinking coffee and reading the paper. Even the thought of Stephen Harper and his minions cannot destroy my joyful mood.

Or the thought of Paul McCartney. My dear Margaret, who keeps assiduous track of this man for me, called to tell me she's sorry he is marrying someone other than me for the third time. I checked on-line - yes, he has announced his engagement. He looks a bit odd in the picture, I'm sorry to say, with his rich brown hair - but she looks like a lovely woman and I wish him the greatest happiness.

My friends, I do not want to marry him. My love is not for the real man with dirty socks and, I'm sure, many needs. My love is for the musician who has given us countless hours of pleasure, and for the fantasy of perfect love he provided during my lonely years. I love him greatly for these things. But I do not want to scramble his eggs. My guess is that Nancy has someone to scramble them for him, in any case, just the way he likes them.

To all my dearest family and friends, to all my students and blog readers who are mothers - and why not, fathers too - I wish you a wonderful day celebrating the biggest, most demanding, most rewarding love possible.

Michel sings on: "I just haven't met you yet."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

late and soon, getting and spending

In the circuitous way of modern international communications, I just received the complete tape of Obama's speech to the White House Press Corps from my friend Lynn in the south of France. I'd already seen his roast of Donald Trump, but this is the whole thing, and it's a marvel. Canadians, take a look at this brilliant, self-deprecatingly funny and witty and generous man. Then think about our leader attempting the same thing, and weep.

It's Saturday night, and I can barely move. Spent yesterday getting ready for today's huge block long garage sale, hauling tons of clothing from the basement, pricing it, stacking it to go out. Then, as a rest, I went to a fundraiser at the Y - an hour-long run-fit class. A lot of fun but hard on the legs.

Leapt out of bed just after 7 this morning; the sale was supposed to begin at 8.30, but people were there and ready to shop at 7.30, pouncing on stuff as it moved out the door. Luckily, my beloved Holly, my daughter's best friend, came across town at dawn to help me. We got set up, and I soon took off all the price tags I'd put on yesterday. Silly me - I'd affixed what I thought the items were worth, not what people would actually pay, which is about half, or less.

Finally, six hours of perfect weather and salesmanship later, Hols and I called it quits, a few hundred dollars richer and a big load of clothing lighter. After we'd packed up, we, and the others who were selling, simply left a lot of stuff on the street for people to take home, free. The piles of chachkas that Jean-Marc left on the sidewalk had gone in an hour. But the clothes I left hanging on the fence are still there. My clothes! Not good enough even for my neighbours from Regent's Park, who are the poorest people in Canada!

It was today's community feeling I relished - chatting with my neighbours, looking at their stuff as they looked at mine. Monique next door bought one of my dresses for $10, and then I found a great office chair in her pile and bought it - for $10. I now seem to have, in my house, a big brown betty teapot, a plastic file cabinet on wheels, a bunch of cloth anemones and an old oak file-box that were not here before. We then went down to visit Jean-Marc and Richard, who organized today's sale, and sat in the sun having drinks and barbecued sausages with others from the street and their various dogs.

How I love my neighbourly neighbours. Methinks you have heard this before.

But my legs hurt.

Friday, May 6, 2011

a touch of gloom

Bruth accused me once of being too perky in my blog posts, of always emphasizing the positive to the detriment of credibility. So I'm here to tell you, honestly, that I've had a dark few days. An issue arose in the family that has kept me awake at night. Not to mention fretting about the future of my country.

And perhaps I was hit by the beginning of my teaching life, four new classes started this week plus four one on one coaching clients, a sudden onrush of responsibilities that I take to heart.

So - overwhelmed and, yes, a bit sad. The gloomy weather didn't help - yesterday was beautiful, today is back to mild but grey and wet. They tell us we'll have a "sizzling summer" to make up for the freezing spring. A bit of climate moderation, how about that?

To cheer me up, an article in the "Star" - Claude Stanley Choules, the last known combat veteran of WW1, has died in Australia at the age of 110. The article said he didn't like to "fuss over his achievements, which included a 41-year military career and the publication of his first book at the age of 108."

All right Claude! And I thought Diana Athill was breaking records, with her best-seller at 92. So the message here, writers, is: it's never too late to push your words out into the world.

To counter that, however, another article points out that since the last survey of "accountability, integrity and the democratic process" done by Global Integrity, a Washington-based research group, Canada has dropped from 11th to 19th place. Syria was at the bottom. We have a way to go to drop to Syrian levels, but still, we're on a downward slide ... not a happy thought.

A savvy, outspoken left-wing friend told me yesterday to cheer up, that the outcome of the election was fine. "Harper has already been governing as if he has a majority, so that won't change," she said. "Jack's NDP will burn out because he's not really interested in anything but power, and before the next election, the Liberals will have time to get their act together and find a true leader."

I feel better already.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

my girl turns thirty

The two most adorable human beings on the face of the earth

The two most adorable human beings
with an old bag who hangs around

still shivering

April, said ol' T. S., is the cruellest month, but May is starting out pretty cruel too. There are hints of warmth, then back to bitter chill and grey. As I've said before, I don't ever remember a spring this cold and dark. Obviously, it's Stephen Harper's fault.

But there's a big fat robin on my fence nearby as I write, his feathers ruffling in the wind. Today at the Y, a woman was singing beautifully in the shower, and on the way home, when I rode through Allan Gardens, the trees were covered with feathery green, delicate, just beginning to burst. There is much to be thankful for, despite the election. Today one of the Sri Lankan women who works at Doubletake, with whom I've been discussing politics, told me that many of her friends were going to vote NDP or Liberal but switched at the last minute. So Harper's scare tactics worked. He's a fine tactician. And that's about the only nice thing I can think of, right now.

But I am thinking, still, of Buck Brannaman and his beautiful and inspiring tale. I hope this documentary is released commercially or plays on TV, so you all have a chance to see the story of how, with luck and fortitude, the human soul survives horror and goes on to make the world a better, kinder place. We could all use more stories like that.

P.S. David Letterman: "The good news is, at least Osama bin Laden got to watch the royal wedding."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


It was as if the skies were mourning with us today - a horrible day, constant drizzle or cold rain, black clouds all day long without let up. Anna phoned to warn me not to look at the right-wing "Sun" newspaper's front page, something gloating and nasty, she said. I did have to see Harper's face, with the sweet little glasses, on the front page of the "Star," looking as joyful as the man can look, which means like a human fence post.

However. It's not the end of the world. He doesn't have the power and resources George Bush had to firebomb another country. He'll do his best to destroy the fabric of Canada, and then move on. He'll be like Mike Harris, making buckets on the boards of vast corporations owned by his friends, and Jim Flaherty will take over his job. I can't wait.

In the meantime, I was too busy to think about it. Much. The U of T term started today - always a treat, to meet new students. After that, I rushed through the rain to meet my friend Lynn, to see another documentary at the Hot Docs Festival - this one about an extraordinary New Orleans tradition in which black communities dress up in elaborate Indian costumes at Mardi Gras, to honour the protection native tribes gave runaway slaves. When Katrina hit, all was destroyed - but the chiefs came back, to make sure the traditions continue. A hopeful and moving film.

Rushed from there to meet another friend and see another documentary, this one called "Buck," which won a prize at Sundance, and deservedly so. It's about Buck Brannaman, the prototype for "the Horse Whisperer," a man who travels the country showing people how to train their horses with gentleness and respect rather than brutality and intimidation. We find out that Buck's own father was brutal with his sons, so much so that Buck and his brother were eventually, blessedly, taken away and put into a loving foster home.

He tells us that often he's not working so much with the horses as with the owners, and we watch as he does so - teaching people to better understand themselves, so that they can be better with their horses.

I realized, as I watched, that my own work has something in common with Buck's. I'm not working with horses but with writing, but I have found I have to deal with the person behind the words - not because I want to do therapy, but because I need as a teacher to help people understand themselves better, so that they can be better writers.

Watching Buck Brannaman with horses and horse people helped me understand my own job. Which is also what I teach - that if you tell your own story with passion and skill, it will resonate with me. You can see what I'm talking about at buckthefilm.com.

And then home, in the rain, to find my son hanging out here drinking beer and watching the hockey game. O Canada!

So life goes on. Okay, skies, it's terrible that the Conservatives won a majority. But no need to cry forever. We'll get through. A little sun tomorrow, please.

Monday, May 2, 2011


11.25 p.m. I'm mourning on one hand and celebrating on the other. What an extraordinary country, that can elect a majority of Conservatives and yet also, overnight, propel a left-wing party from obscure third also-ran to a huge swath of seats in the official opposition.

I am nauseated at the thought of what that sea of self-congratulatory blue will try to do to this country. But overjoyed to think that they'll be facing Jack! Jumping Jack and all his people, who'll be making lots and lots of noise. So it's pretty bad, but it could be so much worse. Obviously, the Libs will have to clean house and change course, and Jack will consolidate, so next time, maybe we can wipe those blues right out.

And we do not miss the Bloc at all.

In fact, so far, the Tories have won 40% of the popular vote, and the NDP 30%. If you add the Libs at 20%, it means that half the country did NOT vote for the Tories. It's crazy that they should be able to form a majority government when 50% of this country doesn't want them.

However. It's over. I heard one commentator say, "With a majority, at last we'll have stability." And I thought, yeah, right, stability, prisons, war, secrecy, cutting taxes and social programs, stability. Well, let's hope Jack fights that stability every step of the way.

And in the meantime, my daughter had her birthday party, and we ate like kings, as always; I kissed her a great deal and read funny stories from the book of anecdotes I jotted down during her first years, till we wept with laughter. Then turned on the TV and began to weep in earnest.

No we didn't. Those Tories will never make us cry. As Cee Lo sings in his marvellous song, "@#$# you."

big problem in the voting booth

I've just come back from voting and immediately called the Toronto Star, to alert them to what I think is a story. Maybe I'm getting paranoid in my old age. I went behind the little cardboard screen and opened my ballot, and then looked at the large piece of paper showing me how to mark the ballot.
"How odd," I said to myself. "It shows that I should put an X through the name."
And then I looked at the top of the instruction sheet and it said, in small letters, "This is how you should not mark your ballot."

Instructions on the right way were on the far side. The wrong way was printed on the side closest to me. If I were not fluent in English, I would have looked at the picture of the wrong way to vote and voted that way. Had I been asked to design an instruction sheet to confuse as many non-English speakers as possible, I would have designed this one.

Be careful today, Canadians. I'm thinking of hanging chads, and many years of George Bush because of a (deliberate?) design flaw.

PS Okay, little Miss Paranoia, settle down. Several people have written to say that there's no such confusing notice where they vote. Could it just be local? In any case, nothing to be done now. The sun is almost out, which is good. I just taught my first home class of the term, which was superb. And now - off across town to celebrate my daughter's birth 29 years and 364 days ago. The best morning of my life. And the best evening, three years later.

There's a tingling in the air, supercharged, exciting. It feels like change to me.

voting day

A big day - my country votes. It's gloomy and wet, bad news for the good guys; the left wing depends on the votes of seniors, who apparently don't vote in the rain. I hope today will be an exception.

I'm ashamed to say I was in bed at 10.45 last night, nearly asleep, when the phone rang. It was my son. I heard him say, "Obama's dead!" and shot up in bed.
"What??" I screamed.
"Osama bin Laden," he said.

What a difference. My main thought, on hearing of the death at the hands of American forces, was that this will be good for Obama's presidency. And then I went back to sleep.

Here's an excerpt of an article about journals, about the diary of Sir Walter Scott:
Over a period of six years, the journal became a crucial outlet for the feelings of despair—the "cold sinkings of the heart"—that had agonized him from the time of his youth. "Is it the body brings it on the mind or the mind inflicts it upon the body?" he wondered, concluding that the two are inseparable: "I fancy I might as well enquire whether the fiddle or the fiddlestick makes the tune."
Scott found that the only effective remedy for depression was physical exertion. "Fighting with this fiend is not always the best was to conquer him," he wrote. "I have always found exercize and the open air better than reasoning." His long walks often led to dramatic emotional recovery: "The freshness of the air, the singing of the birds, the beautiful aspect of nature, the size of the venerable trees, gave me all a delightful feeling this morning. It seemd there was pleasure even in living and breathing without anything else."

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cross country marvel

7 p.m., the night before the election. I had a pleasant Sunday midday, a neighbour's 50th birthday party and then lunch with my beloved W*yson, followed by an unpleasant afternoon cleaning the basement apartment, into which a new tenant is moving tomorrow. Two hours of vacuuming up someone else's toenail clippings and pubic hairs, scrubbing sinks and toilet, not my idea of fun. But I brought down my radio and listened, of course, to Eleanor interviewing an articulate and moving Spanish writer on Writers and Company. Then Cross Country Checkup came on. Rex Murphy the host is so conservative and combative that I usually can't bear to listen, but this time, on my knees scrubbing the floor, I had no choice.

Well. If before I loved my country and its citizens but despaired of their perspicuity, now I am in awe. One caller after another: smart, thoughtful, fair and honest. And almost every single one said that, even if they were lifelong Tories, they dislike the leadership style of Stephen Harper so much, they're going to vote NDP. Astounding!

And especially the ones, at least 3, who said that they are going to vote for Jack Layton specifically because of the vile smear campaign started against him a few days ago.

What a great country. In the U.S., smear campaigns decide elections. Here, sceptical Canadians look deeper. "We've been lied to continuously by this government," said one former Tory. "Jack listens and is interested in ordinary people," said another.

There were notes of caution, especially the woman who pointed out that the Conservatives and the Bloc have huge support on voting day, actually driving people, one by one, to the polls, which the NDP do not have - that the whole surge may evaporate in the cold light of day. I don't think so, and neither did the program. The majority of people of this country do not like Harper, Quebecers are sick of the Bloc, and the Liberals did not present them with an alternative, so they found someone else - an honest, likeable guy who's been toiling in the boonies for decades, and who suddenly is running ahead of the pack. Extraordinary.

Democracy at its finest.

And for a final bit of joy - watch a cool and hilarious Obama take on Donald Trump, to his face. O happy day.

truth and lies

Friend and bloggee Chuck wrote this morning:

Beth, I know the Globe has you down, but this article is right up your
alley - and published (at least online, if not in print), in the GnM.

It's a terrific article, says it all, highly recommended. Thanks, Chuck, and thanks, Matthew Hays, who wrote it. The comments afterwards are 100% - at least as far as I read - against Harper. Who is actually voting for this man and his party?

Incidentally, someone told me that Harper doesn't need the sweet little glasses he took to wearing last year; they're an attempt by his handlers to soften his eyes. This may be apocryphal, but I believe it. Nothing, not even granny glasses from 1968, can soften those eyes.

It's terrifying, in these last minutes, to wonder what will happen Monday. The news of the "leak" about Jack in a massage parlour - my heart sank. What a vile trick, how they scraped the bottom of the barrel to come up with that one. Will people allow themselves to be affected? Will this NDP surge simply siphon off Liberal votes and leave the Conservatives romping happily to a majority? We've got to do something about this 3-way split on the left.

Luckily, on Monday night I will be across town, celebrating my beloved daughter's 30th birthday with her friends, eating burgers cooked on her brand-new birthday present barbeque, a huge thing of splendour. We will all celebrate or mourn together.

I saw a film yesterday that reminded me of the bigger world: the fabulous Hot Docs documentary film festival is on, and I went to see Koundi and the National Thursday with my friend Marilyn. It shows a week in the life of a small village in Cameroon, the villagers' efforts to make money with lumber cut by hand and dragged from the forest, their struggles to dispense justice, to plan for the future. The villagers have almost nothing, wash their clothes in the river, see an "auntie" for potions and medicine. There's a heartening scene of schoolchildren doing a play about the dangers of HIV-AIDS, and a moving scene in which young women, while cornrowing their hair, discuss the number of girls who've had to leave school because of sexual pressure from teachers.

And yet the film was made by a stunning young Cameroonian woman who was in attendance yesterday, nearly in tears to see such a large crowd there to see her film. Documentary film - like memoir, another way to tell and share the truth.