Wednesday, November 30, 2011

blowing own horn, #6794

Snow gone, sun shining. An email arrived today from a student in the U of T class that ended on Monday. It could not have come at a better time, as I nursed my tiny bruised ego, now completely healed. None of that petty stuff - who's teaching what when, who's famous, who's the best at this or that - none of that matters in comparison with the joyful contact in a classroom, that's of such mutual benefit. I am glad and grateful to have work I love and nothing to complain about. So there.

And, incidentally, I didn't get to the Great Wall of Cheese - there was a line-up waiting to get in. To Loblaw's! It does look like a splendid palace of food, that's for sure. But not palatial enough to line up for.

Here, if you'll forgive me, is the note from my student:

Thank you for the course. My writing really benefitted ... and that's exactly what I was after.

You are a wonderful teacher. I have a PhD in Adult Education and several years university teaching experience, so I know good teaching when I see it. I also know excellence -- and that is you.

You are inspired, inspiring, fun, warm, extremely knowledgeable, and you share your knowledge and passion freely.You are generous in all things, including inviting us to meet Wayson Choy (which was such a delight -- another master teacher and master writer).

Importantly, you are a masterful summarizer of each of our stories, getting to the heart of them. This makes your editing suggestions and critiques supportive, helpful, and in my opinion, right on the money.

In short, I couldn't have asked for a better class nor a better teacher. I took a chance on you by looking at the passion and professionalism of your website, and it paid off for me, in spades.

one of a kind

My American cousin Peter B., a photographer who's known for his intimate shots of the Statue of Liberty - he climbed all over her many times and took an especially gorgeous close-up of her toe - sent a sad email today:

Kasuku, my 37 year old parrot, had a stroke on Veterans day and died on Friday the 18th and was buried the Friday after Thanksgiving with 15 of his human friends at the ceremony.

He was placed in an African Mahogany coffin, with a miniature rubber Statue of Liberty, his Nikon Professional Service membership card (he was the only bird that was a member since 1992) and some peanuts for his trip to the afterlife. The service was performed in the Jewish faith; Sharon and Ricki read from a prayer book that my Father used in 1916 when he was Bar Mitzvah, Ricki also used it for her Bat Mitzvah and Gabriel used when he was Bar Mitzvah and now for Kasuku's Funeral. A real family heirloom.

I met Kasuku in the Seventies during visits to Peter's loft on W. 22nd in NYC, decorated with photos he'd taken around the world of animals and insects copulating. Kasuku was an extremely intelligent bird with stern political opinions. When you said, "Nixon," to him, he replied, "Fucker!" Peter and Kasuku visited us in Vancouver in the early 80's, so my baby daughter made friends with her first parrot. You were one of a kind, Kasuku. And you still are, for that matter, Peter.

Speaking of one of a kind, an old friend and neighbour was over yesterday during Penny's jewelry sale, which went very well, and we got caught up on our children. One of her daughters was an awkward, unhappy girl, slightly developmentally delayed, who went through a long goth phase where she wore hideous black clothes - you know the kind. She met a young transgendered man turning into a woman; they fell in love, lived together for years and had a joyous wedding last year. They're now living in connubial bliss in Northern Ontario, which is a very tolerant place. Once upon a time, these two would have lived as pariahs; instead, they are a happily married couple. The story made me grateful for these modern times.

Today's excitement, besides Carol's class at the Y and a haircut: the vast new Loblaw's is opening in Maple Leaf Gardens. The ads for the place promise "A great wall of cheese." In downtown Toronto on a grey November day, it doesn't get more cheerful than that.

P.S. Two days ago, people out in shorts, and right now - the first sprinkle of snow. Welcome to Canada.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I'm down, as the Beatles say

Chilly, dark and pouring. I'm watching a very wet sparrow hawk on a branch of the cherry tree in the yard, grooming himself - plucking at his leg feathers - in the rain. I'm about to put on my rain gear to go to the post office and mail off another long essay to a writing competition. Good to have deadlines and specific goals, not just "a book, one day."

My boss at U of T has just written to tell me he has asked two other writers to teach the Memoir component of the summer writing program, instead of me. They are both included in the Canada Reads competition this year for their memoirs, and so are famous and will attract lots of people to the program. It is 100% a sensible business decision and I understand perfectly why he has made it. Perhaps I'm feeling sad because of the gloomy day and the rain, and because it's the tenth anniversary of sweet George Harrison's death. Perhaps it's because the essay I wrote was about a difficult time when I was very small. Perhaps it's because Stephen Harper is about to renege on a commitment to the Kyoto Accord, and it's devastating to consider what Canada represents now, in the world. And Ford has just released his budget, cutting transit routes and increasing the fare, cutting shelters. Cutting shelters.

Perhaps it's because sometimes, it just feels right to be sad, because the world is a dark and difficult place.

Luckily, I had decided a few weeks ago to get a pedicure at Star Nails sometime. Today would be a really good day to soak my feet and emerge with bright red toes. And tonight, my friend Penny is coming over to sell her bead jewelry here at my place, because it's more central than hers. Lots of women will come to drink wine and look at her lovely work, and my house will welcome them. On Sunday, during the guided meditation with Judy, she asked us to put ourselves in a place we love, where we are happy and comfortable. I jumped immediately to my kitchen and my deck, in summer, looking at the garden. How lucky, to love my home so much, my work so much. All this, and a crabby cat with white boots, too.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

still warm

It said in the newspaper today that Friday was the warmest Nov. 25 on record. Today, still mild; through the rain, I saw two men in shorts. That's the problem with global warming - in the fall and winter, it's harder to be outraged when the air feels so good.

On Thursday, I went first to a memorial event at the Y - a runfit instructor of many years, Len, died a few weeks ago when his car was struck at a train crossing. I knew Len only as an instructor, one who'd stopped teaching the classes I attend years ago, but wanted very much to go anyway - because we runfit nuts are a family. None of us had met Len outside the Y, and yet there we all were in a meeting room at the Y, eating pizza with Len's wife and son and watching a video about his life. Several people spoke about him.

How I love and respect the Y. It has been an important component of my sanity for most of my life.

I rushed from there to the theatre to see "Red," a play about the painter Mark Rothko. Funny, not long ago I saw "I send you cadmium red;" must be this season's theme. My friend Nicky Cavendish was given opening night tickets she couldn't use, so she kindly gave them to Wayson and me. It was a fascinating evening of theatre, no question, the portrait of the irascible, volcanic Rothko giving a powerful view into the life and process of a painter. I loved re-imagining the Rothko works I saw recently in the Abstract Expressionist show at the AGO, and thinking about the other painters mentioned, especially Jackson Pollock. But it was a flawed production - a director getting too busy with distracting, unnecessary stuff - bits of music, lighting changes - and good actors starting too high, so left with nowhere to go. Mr. C. and I went out to eat afterwards and gossiped about the play and the theatre. My idea of fun.

Friday night, my francophone group - two of the men are impossibly erudite, I often feel like a dumkopf. This time, a discussion of the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, of whom I'd never even heard. They then discussed the perilous state of European finance, a conversation I could barely follow, and then we dove into genius and art, avoiding, for once, the divisive issue of Israel and the Palestinians. We ate chili, salad, cheese and pear-marzipan tarts and drank the Beaujolais Nouveau I'd brought. Gilbert talked about the first time he ate with a family in France, he from a Wasp Ontario farming family, tight-lipped and guarded. "They didn't stop arguing," he said. "The father and the daughter, screaming about Jean-Paul Sartre. I thought they were going to kill each other. And then suddenly the father said, in a normal voice, 'Cherie, could you get another bottle of wine?' and when she got back, they just chatted as if nothing had happened. I'd never seen anything like it."

Mais oui, that's the French family at mealtimes.

Went to the Y today, for a bit of a Zumba class - great music makes all the difference - and then guided meditation, a group run by Judy Steed. It's a wonderful experience to sit in a small group with eyes closed and be led on an inner journey. We spend a lot of time hanging out up in the right brain, the centre, she says, of creativity and emotion. My heart slows, and my breathing, and I relish half an hour of stillness and contemplation, led by Judy's voice, just listening to my own body, my own life. I'm spending so much time inside there anyway, with my memoir work. Tonight, I saw the last few minutes of a documentary on memory. "Your memories are you," it said. "Your memories are who you are." Especially interesting for someone who's actively working with memories, to get them down and true and vivid.

Floating around in the past. On a warm November night.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

two clips

Two things to watch:
Here's a clip of an extraordinary light project art piece in Germany. Unfortunately an ad, but let's pretend it's just art.

And here's a very moving ad disguised as a movie.

Friday, November 25, 2011

My friends at the Farm

Today was so mild, I went for a jogette in a t-shirt. A woman beat me - she was at the Farm in a tank top! On November 25th in Toronto!

Here are my friends at the Farm today - coming into the barn time for the ducks and feeding time for the pigs. What a noise. And then there's the beautiful Necropolis to the north.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Quick, my Toronto readers, pick up the phone or go to your computers and book to see "Ride the Cyclone," at Theatre Passe-Muraille. Though it may already be completely sold out. This summer, when I spoke with my friend Janet Wright after her star turn in "Grapes of Wrath" at Stratford, she told me to be sure to see the show. Her son Jacob Richmond is the writer and co-director.

And what an extraordinary talent he is and has. It's a superbly imaginative production - about a choir of high school students from a small Saskatchewan town who die one night on a roller coaster and come back for one last concert, to sing about their own lives. The music goes from gospel to hip hop to a pure Kurt Weil. I saw it with my daughter Anna, who's a hip 30, and she loved it too. A true inter-generational masterpiece. I'm sure it will end up in New York, and you know my theatrical predictions - "War Horse," "Jerusalem" - almost always come true. So see it locally, now, I urge you.

Before the show, Anna and I had dinner at the Epicure nearby; what joy to see my daughter eat. She has always had a hearty appetite, unusual in a young woman from our society - once on a dinner date, she told her beau she was sure she could eat more than he could, and she did. But she has been afflicted with terrible morning sickness for many weeks, almost unable to keep down water, let alone anything else. It has finally passed, and she ate with gusto, looking - yes, radiant, so extremely beautiful. Inside her is my grandchild, a little bigger, now, than a peach. We love you, little peach. I hope you too enjoyed the show.

Monday, November 21, 2011

a grown-up, singing with love

Just back from an exciting night - an event called "Grown-ups Read Stuff They Wrote as Kids." Apparently, this is the 11th such night, in which several hundred people gather to laugh at their own young selves and each other. I'd heard about them but had been unable to attend because they were always on Mondays, when I teach. But my Monday class ended last week, so a few months ago, when I heard about this date, I signed up immediately. It is what it says - adults reading their childhood writings, from sentience to age 18.

Huge problem - how to narrow down my choice of reading material to five minutes, considering that I started writing stories and letters at six and a diary at nine? The mass of paper from my youth is never-ending. I finally picked, of course, my Paul McCartney material, to see how it worked with what I suspected would be a much younger audience.

It was - one woman read from the 70's but everyone else, except me, was a thirty-something, reading diaries and stories from the late 80's and early 90's. And then I appeared, saying, "Let's go back to the magical year 1964." I read a diary excerpt and one of my fantasy stories about my relationship with Paul ("The Orphan", in which he accidentally knocks me, a lonely orphan, down with his Aston-Martin, and, because I'm left crippled, adopts me - but we fall in love and ... ) I ended with another diary entry, written at 2 a.m. in June 1965 after I'd seen the Beatles in concert twice in one day.

They liked it; they really liked it. One young woman, who read a very funny will she wrote when she was nine - "And my clothes should go to the poor" - came up to me after and said, "You were the best." Not so, at all - some of the others were wonderful, moving, honest, and absolutely tears in the eyes hilarious. But perhaps my presentation was the most polished, because I am an actress and couldn't help it making it a show. And also, I realized afterwards, the gift of comic timing, which I was lucky enough to inherit from the Jewish side of my family. Dealing with laughter for a story-teller or actor is like surfing in reverse - you feel the wave coming in, crashing over you, and the trick is to catch it as it starts to ebb, and plunge in again, to keep it rolling and rolling on.

A woman my age, the mother of one of the readers, tapped me on the shoulder during the intermission, after I'd read. She exclaimed at how articulate I was at 13. "Have you heard of the Nun Study?" she said. She told me about a famous study of the brains of nuns, invaluable because they all lived the same way, ate the same food etc. Before they became novitiates, the young nuns-in-waiting were asked to write an essay about why they wanted to enter the convent. It was discovered, after their deaths, that the ones who were most articulate in youth had lived longer or were afflicted with Alzheimer's later than those who were not as articulate. Certain parts of their brains, it was discovered after their deaths, were actually denser.

I thanked my new friend profusely for this information, because, I said, "My grandmother had Alzheimer's, so it's something I fear."
"Well then," she said, "I have given you a gift, haven't I?"
She certainly had. If youthful articulacy is anything to go by, I have a nicely dense brain. Woo hoo!

Here, for your entertainment, is a bit I did not have time to read last night, the beginning of a story about my life as Mrs. Paul McCartney, written when I was 14. Luckily, my view of marriage changed somewhat - though, thinking of the beginning of my own marriage, not that much, I have to say. Oh, there are so many wonderful, sweet tales to share. You'll just have to wait for the book.

October 1965

“I love him, I love him, I love him,” my heart sang as I washed the dishes, polished the floor and made the beds.

“He is the sweetest man on earth,” I repeated as I folded his clothes, washed his socks and tidied his papers.

Work goes fast that way, when one’s whole person is singing with love.

Friday, November 18, 2011

down and up

Zero degrees - it actually feels like November. Outside, as much yellow and brown as green; leaves tumble, squirrels frantically search and bury. Soon I'll get to use my sexy blue snow shovel. Teaching is winding down for the term too - two Ryerson classes and the home class ended this week. Each class has its special dynamic, each student his or her particular kind of growth and courage. How I love my work.

Spent time the other night exploring the last century's heart of darkness - a documentary called "The Rape of Europa," based on a book of the same name - how the Nazis pillaged Jewish art collections and museums everywhere they went. It showed how nations tried to protect their priceless treasures and monuments, not just from the voracious Germans, but from Allied bombs. A group of American G.I's, called the Monuments Men, travelled with U.S. troops in Italy, fighting to preserve art and architecture - and yet so much irrevocable damage was done. We watch young American airmen prepare meticulously to bomb the train hub at the centre of occupied Florence, so that none of the nearby buildings is damaged. Then the Nazis, as they are driven out, blast and destroy the city's ancient bridges and surrounding buildings. Sickening, vicious destruction.

After the war, we see the liberation of bunkers and mines, overflowing with the greatest art in the world. "I could not understand," said one Monuments Man, "how these people had the humanity to appreciate masterpieces of art, and at the same time were mass murderers, slaughtering millions. And I still can't." No one can, sir. The shots of G.I.s, in amazement, holding up canvasses by Vermeer, Raphael, Michaelangelo - tears in the eyes.

The documentary ends now, with a German man whose job is to trace the owners of Jewish religious artifacts unclaimed after the war. With one pair of ornate silver caps for the Torah, he manages to find the family of the murdered owners, and travels to suburban New York to bring the caps home. We see these beautiful objects with their delicate bells being put into place, the Jewish community dancing around with their Torah, the young German, kippah on his head, watching and clapping. We learn that most of the reclaimed art work is now back where it belongs. Over the final credits, though, we watch a parade of magnificent paintings lost, never found. An incomprehensible, hideous savagery. In this story, the Americans are the heroes of civilization. It made me proud of one side of my heritage, of my father, a G.I. in a MASH unit in France.

Luckily, this powerful heartbreaking film ended at 11; I was able to switch immediately to the Comedy Channel and lighten my heart with Jon Stewart. He is having such a marvellous time with the Republican presidential race - comedic gold, each candidate more impossibly idiotic than the next. Two nights ago, he had a hilarious interview with Diane Keaton, and last night, with Martin Scorsese, who, it turns out, is an extremely funny man. Or else, he is with Jon, as is almost everyone. The show is on late, and often I'm drooping, and yet cannot resist a hearty laugh with a smart, handsome man - a smart, handsome man proud of his Jewish heritage - before bed. Especially after watching something like "The Rape of Europa."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

November sun

Am I living in Canada? It's sunny and unbelievably mild - I was just out raking leaves wearing a light spring coat. Torontonians are looking around in bewilderment, congratulating themselves. "This just means it'll hit us harder later," said one cheerful soul. And another cheerful soul, my handyman John, stopped by with a reminder of what's to come - a new snow shovel. It's gorgeous, almost ... sexy, bright blue with that new kind of bent handle that makes it easy to lift. "I can't wait to try it out!" I exclaimed, and then thought again. "No, actually, I'll be happy to wait," I said.

Air fares plummeted over the weekend, for some unknown reason, so I jumped - booked my flight to Charles de Gaulle airport and back 5 1/2 weeks later. I was given the option of booking "premium seats," and went for it, so I'll have a bulkhead window seat both ways, quelle luxe!

Here I stand, old rake in one hand and new snow shovel in the other, ready for the next four months. I will deal happily with ice and snow - if there is any - until March 18th. And then I will get out.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Home - to bushels of yellow leaves littering my new front walk and my own lengthy List of Things to Do. But the crabby cat actually, perhaps, allowed a momentary flicker of affection in those green eyes. So you're back, she says. About @#$# time.

As my mother grows more frail and vulnerable, our bond grows stronger, to something primal - she is my mother, she is in need, I must help. There is a huge love. Hard even to write about. It meant a lot, this year, that we watched the Remembrance Day events together, the camera panning past the elderly faces of the veterans, and I sitting beside one, my mother, veteran of the British Land Army, then a code cracker at Bletchley Park. What stories she tells - thousands of people working there, cracking German submarine codes on the Enigma Machine, yet the place was top secret for years.

We salute and thank you, veterans. Like heroes in the Greek legends, you saved the world from a monster.

We took special note of that minute, eleven minutes past eleven, or 11:11/11/11/11. "Next year," I said, "I'll come for December 12 and we'll celebrate 12:12/12/12/12." Let's, Mum, okay?

Next year, she will be a great-grandmother. We're all rolling along on the conveyor belt of life. Celebrating the too-fast, never easy, ever-changing ride, as we head for the edge.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

British cooking at its best

I found a wonderful recipe book in my mother's bookshelf yesterday - her grandmother's turn of the last century, very British, yellowing and crumbling cookbook, that her daughter, my grandmother, used in her village kitchen. I'd like to share a few recipes with you; I hope you'll tackle them forthwith. These are copied verbatim.

Get's a pig's tongue, boil it gently for 2 hours till tender. Remove the skin and root and put it through a mincer; add 1/2 a teaspoonful of salt, some grated nutmeg, and pepper to taste. Melt 1 oz. of butter, mix one half of it with the tongue, press into mould or dish, and pour the remaining butter on top. This will be found a very nice relish for breakfast. Tested and found good.

The recipe SAVOURY SHEEP'S HEAD begins, Soak the sheep's head overnight in plenty of salt and water. The section on asparagus suggests boiling it for 20 or 30 minutes.

Take a sheep's stomach bag along with liver, heart, and sweetbreads. Wash stomach bag and soak in cold salted water for 20 hours. Plunge into boiling water, then take out, and turn outside in to scrape thoroughly. Then put back in salt and water until needed. Wash liver, heart etc. and boil for about 1 hour. Grate half of the liver and mince the heart, cutting away any skin or gristle. Mince 1/2 lb of suet and toast 1/2 a pound of oatmeal before the fire. Boil 1 or 2 onions for 10 minutes. Chop finely and mix all of the ingredients, season with salt and pepper, moisten with about 1/2 a pint of stock or water, mix well together. Put mixture into stomach bag. Do not fill more than 3/4 full. Prick bag with a needle. Sew up and drop into boiling water. Boil for 5 hours.


I go home today. We've had a great visit; I have done a ton of cooking, though unfortunately not haggis or any other part of a sheep's body, and right now, we are sorting and organizing (and I surruptitiously throwing out) the toppling mountain of paper and bills. We've laughed a great deal and argued not at all. It has been a joy. Now I'm exhausted and need to go back to my own chaos.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


It's a bright chilly day, and I'm in Ottawa, visiting my mother and aunt. At 88, Mum is thinner again since I was last here only a few months ago; she uses a walker now and is more forgetful, but then she smiles at me with those bright blue eyes, and she looks 12 years old. Both she and her sister Do, who's 91, live in their own places and do their own shopping and cooking - though Mum has some help three times a week, as now she can't drive. Do still drives, though I'd prefer not to be in the car with her when she does.

Mum and I have spent the morning deciding what needs most to be done during my time here; by the time we came to a decision, which naturally was going shopping, it was lunchtime, and now it's naptime. It'll take us quite awhile to get dressed to go out, to get downstairs, to get the walker into the car, and then out the other end, let alone into the shopping centre to find what's needed - pants with stretchy waistbands that fit, for example. It will be slow, and I, a very speedy person, will need all my patience. Must go into a zen zone. There's a movie called "Poetry" playing here - I'd wanted to see it in Toronto, Wayson said it's a must, about the power of writing; I missed it there and, for a moment, had a fond fantasy that I could take Do and Mum to see it here. I don't think so. Just the thought of that much organizing is exhausting, plus Mum would fall asleep anyway. We all started watching "Born Yesterday" starring Judy Holliday on TCM yesterday after supper; what a pleasure, a wonderful intelligent movie starring a wonderful intelligent actress (she was, I must point out, the child of immigrant Russian Jews.) Do saw some of it before she slept; Mum slept all the way through, except to wake up periodically to complain about Judy Holliday's voice, and then drop off again.

I brought Mum a CD of Haydn quartets played by the Jerusalem String Quartet, the superb group I saw a few weeks ago. She knows a lot about chamber music, so I wanted to see if she liked them as much as I did. She did; she loved their musicianship, the romantic delicacy and yet power of their sound. We sat at the dining room table, eating a boxed pizza, listening to the exquisite strains of Haydn, and I thanked the powers that be, with all my heart, for the joy of this time with my mother.

Incidentally, just received an email from friend Ewa, who pointed out that in a recent post, I said that I "wrote my bike" to a movie. She said, even on your bicycle, you're a writer. Or simply careless, one of the two.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

November pix

Incredibly respectable new front yard

Incredibly respectable new
backyard - with fence

Autumn in Cabbagetown

Mr. Choy surrounded by eager writers

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gillers yes

10.05 p.m. Just came back from teaching and wanted to watch the Giller Prize. But the CBC has relegated it to some obscure channel - tried and tried, couldn't get it. BUT - I finally picked up a live stream on the computer, just in time to see Esi Edugyan win against the formidable Michael Ondaatje. A young woman of Ghanian background, with a new baby, wrested this huge prize from one of the giants of Canadian literature - thrilling. She spoke with humility and sweetness about her editors, her publisher, and her family, calling a greeting to her father, who emigrated from Ghana in the 70's and who was watching the program.

Glad glad glad. I guess I'll have to read the book.

Wayson came to speak to my Advanced class at Ryerson tonight; students from all my other classes came as well. He was his usual eloquent, moving, inspiring self. "Think of your ideal reader," he told us. "The ideal reader is ... you."
"Pay attention," he said. "Look for detail. You're a writer. Writers, artists, are witnesses to the human drama."
"Your family has secrets," he said. "Your family is an epic. Find it out."
And he told us about his great luck as a writer, how everything fell into place for him. As everything fell into place, tonight, for Esi Edugyan.

At midday I played hookey and had a wonderful treat - wrote my bike down to TIFF to meet dear friend Ken, who rode his bike down to TIFF, only he is in his late 70's and in Birkenstocks. We saw "Le Havre," a beautiful Finnish/French film, a kind of fantasy and yet a powerful, real story about immigrants, poverty and love. About dignity and generosity ... and love. Wonderful.

I salute you, writers, Wayson, Esi, Aki Kaurismaki the writer/director of the film. Thank you for witnessing the human drama, and working so hard to bring us your version of truth.

the mystery in Scotland

Yesterday, I was standing in the garden with John, my dear friend and handyman, as he finished the fence he'd just built. It was an incredible day (sunny and 16 degrees! In November!), the trees flashing yellow and red, the birds ignoring us as they pecked at the feeder, the rest of the garden still green. (The former rickety bit of fence, incidentally, had been smashed by a crack addict trying to shove through, while being chased through Cabbagetown backyards by a store detective. I kid you not. So dull, my 'hood.)

I joked (feebly) that I'd be able to pay John for his work when I won the lottery. He stopped and looked at me. "You've already won the lottery, Beth. You have your health," he said, gesturing to the garden, "and this."

All this, and a lovely crabby cat. Yes, I am a lucky woman. And it's a mighty fine fence, too. That night, when I rode my bike home at 9.30 p.m. from Ryerson, I passed a young man walking home with groceries, wearing shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops. In November. We have all won the lottery, so far this fall.

Here's a link, sent by old friends and blog devotees Chris and Cathy, to a story about an artist who works in secrecy, leaving his/her work as mysterious gifts for the world.

Monday, November 7, 2011

the chance to dance

Woke up early this morning with a song in my head, one of the best from my favourite musical, "Chorus Line":

All I ever needed
was the music
and the mirror
and the chance
to dance
for you.

It was blasting through my brain. Must have had a theatre dream again. But it works for today - I teach two classes, and though I work differently now than when I was an actress, with ideas about words rather than with eyes and body, I will still do my best to lift the souls of my audience, to spirit them upward.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

having children

Sunday morning, and there's the treat of an extra daylight savings hour, most of which I've already blown reading the "New York Times." Not the news, no, I go immediately to the Style section and read the personal essays. Coffee, personal essays, bright sun outside as the orange leaves fall ... heaven. We have had a spectacular autumn so far.

The other evening I was doing my usual 11 p.m. TV shuffle - Jon Stewart, George Strombolopolis, and Steve Paikin, simultaneously - three handsome, intelligent, telegenic hosts. Steve won out with his hour on the future of marriage for women, with six weighing in, including the right-wing Danielle Crittenden, wife of David Frum, who is extremely happy in her marriage thank you very much, and wears her bangs so long, it hurts to watch the shafts of hair sticking into her eyes.


The main interviewee was a thirty-something woman in California who has written a piece in "Atlantic" magazine about why so many women her age aren't marrying - are they too critical and demanding, too successful to "settle," too isolated and busy? She kept talking about being married versus being alone. I thought, that's not right, it's being married versus being single. Single means that you're not sleeping with only one person but are not necessarily alone. I'm single, I argued only they weren't listening, and I'm far from alone; my solitude is a treasure, except when there's a heavy table to move or I'm in Prague, standing outside an apartment building in the rain with a key that won't work. Then I'd like to wave a wand and have the handsome prince appear. But the rest of the time, I suspect, his needs would get in the way of mine. I just do not feel alone.

And then I thought, of course you don't - you have children. Yes, I have supportive and loving friends, but most of all, there are two adult children living nearby. That bond is greater than any other. I may be wrong, but I assume that in a time of great need, my kids would be there. Whereas, as my beloved Chris in Vancouver has pointed out so often, without immediate family, especially kids, it's tough for single people in times of need. So in that sense, yes, the childless woman in California is not just single, but alone.

I will do my damndest not to draw on that bond; to let them get on with their lives without having to deal with their decrepit mother. But I do thank the universe for this greatest of gifts. I'm getting pretty maudlin about all this bonding and inheritance stuff, because of the grandchild in utero. I was about to say, maybe you should stop reading for the next while because I'll be sentimental, but the fact is, I'll probably be sentimental for the next 40 years or so, God willing. You'll forgive me, won't you?

In fact, one of the aforementioned progeny just appeared, the taller one, the very, very tall one. He got home to his apartment early this morning, after a wild night out with the boys, to discover that the landlord is going to renovate his kitchen today. So he walked across town in the early morning, still a bit sloshed, to here. "Home," goes the famous saying, "is the place that, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

It is odd, he says, to come back to the room he grew up in - he was 18 months old when he moved into that room, and here he is at 27.

How comforting, though, too - for us both.

Friday, November 4, 2011

the Peter Hessler Fan Club

Just read the most beautiful piece of writing that brought tears to my eyes: Peter Hessler, writing about a small-town druggist in the U.S. He pays tribute to his subject with respect and without sentimentality - clear-eyed, vivid, unforgettable. I'd already cut out a "New Yorker" story of his about emigrating from China, and have now officially added Mr. Hessler to my list of great essayists. Click below and then on H for Hessler, and the story will come up.

A bright sunny warmish day; the Japanese maples are stunning this year, the most startling red. After a morning sitting on my butt writing, I'm about to go for a walk and drink it all in.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

news new life new

Big big news, which I've had to keep secret from you for some weeks and feel shy about revealing now - but I will, because I reveal almost everything to you, and this is too big to keep to myself.

My daughter is pregnant.

3 months pregnant. She is due mid-May 2012. I have a copy of the first ultrasound picture, one of the most thrilling sights of my life - a little face in profile, an arm. Anna thinks it has her nose. In a month she'll have another ultrasound, and we'll know if it's a boy or a girl. But I am, as you can imagine, already scouring the second-hand stores for little clothes and, especially, books.

This is not the future for her I'd imagined in my motherly fantasies, which involved (don't tell her) a wealthy husband, a lucrative job, a house. Anna is not married or living with the father of the baby (whom I hardly know, incidentally), but they have a strong bond, and she says he is 100% behind her. She lives with her best friend Holly, whose job, like hers, is childcare; Holly also is 100% behind her, absolutely thrilled. So she has a team, not to mention a certain grandmother on the other side of town, who might be persuaded to do a bit of childcare herself, and an Uncle Sam who will do his best to help. The families Anna works for have all said, amazingly, that she is welcome to bring her baby to work. She's registering to take ECE courses at George Brown, where also, she has found out, a mother in a crisis can bring a baby or child to school. Times have sure changed for the better.

When I first heard, I confess that I freaked. You have no money, you're not settled, how can you do this? This is forever! But then sense prevailed. She has wanted to be a mother since her own childhood. Her whole life is other people's kids, and now she's 30 - the perfect time for her own. She is a strong, vital woman, and nothing matters more to her than the lives of children. She will make this work. I know it'll be tough, but then, what parenthood isn't?

Her mother, I can tell you, is more than ready to be a grandmother - 61, still vigorous enough to push a pram and play on the floor. Not to mention the feeling that this is immortality, 25% of my genetic material flourishing on, into the future. Not to mention how thrilled both grandmothers are, in Ottawa and Vernon, to be great-grandmothers. My ex-husband called when he heard the news, and we talked for nearly an hour. This baby is a gift to us all.

Remind me of this when I'm taking off a diaper or trying to stop a tantrum. Please.

Now for a tiny bit of bad news: I just posted happily about the wonderful health effects of drinking. Now science comes along and ruins it, telling us that even light drinking increases the risk of breast cancer. You can't win. I'll just have to have a glass of wine to console myself.

And to toast.