Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Love, revolution and twits

An image from the Imaginary Foundation.

Something terrible has happened - at brunch on Sunday, my dear friend Richard convinced me that I need to follow Twitter. So today, I did. I am now following 12 and being followed by 7, though I have posted exactly one tweet. (Do you post a tweet?!) I am following Guardian Books and the New Yorker and expert tweeters Margaret Atwood and Jian Ghomeshi and Paul McCartney and ... 

Jesus save me, now I may never, ever get up from the computer. 

On a positive note, Mum is better than ever and today, even made a brief visit with my brother to her new residence at Amica, to get some things. She hopes to be back there for good in a few weeks. What's really great is that before, she appreciated the safety at Amica but pined for her old home, her condo. After her extended hospital stay, the new place, she says, feels like home. 

And another positive note: bought a chocolate orange mousse cake at Daniel and Daniel for my birthday tomorrow. I also went to Sephora and bought an expensive serum for aging faces recommended by a beautician friend. My two birthday presents to myself - something delicious and something useless, but what the hell. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

great pic

This is how Eli fell asleep yesterday. And later, his mother told me, he laughed for the very first time.

I hope he laughs when he's 17 and his grandmother shows this photo to his girlfriend.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Backbeat the play

I've just returned from the musical about the early days of the Beatles, "Backbeat." I was in cheap balcony seats and wish I'd been closer. But even from the balcony, it was thrilling.

The audience was the usual Beatles mix, boomer parents there with their children, wanting to show them what the excitement was all about, beside elderly grey hairs and thirty- and twenty-somethings and even teens. The show is a surprise - not a musical biography, but a play with music, a dramatic exploration of art and talent and love. It's about the friendship between John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe, the fifth Beatle, a gifted painter who was dragged into the band by Lennon, and who eventually ditched the group for painting and his German girlfriend Astrid. It's a nuanced portrayal of the bisexuality that resides in us all - the admiration, need and love between these two male friends that cannot be explored.

It's also, joyfully, about music. The actors are musicians who play early Beatles stuff, hard rocking, powerful, exhilirating and fun. But if I were Paul McCartney, I'd sue. He is portrayed as a wet and weedy whiner, in need of the vibrant spark of the irascible John Lennon to come to life. Really unfair - Paul was far more to the band from the moment he entered it; Lennon admired his superior musicality and knew how necessary it was. It would be a much more interesting piece with a stronger Paul. Ah well, Mr. Close the Olympic Ceremony doesn't need to care about his portrayal here. But I know that he does care.

It's just strange that a story I know so well, part of which I lived through - the early success of this band - is already being portrayed on stage as an iconic historical moment, like the life of Henry the Eighth. Makes me feel really old.

Cycling home, I passed a woman in the middle of the skyscrapers of the financial district, pounding on one of the painted outdoor pianos. The best public art ever.

In other news: for those of you who've been asking about my mother, I have to tell you that I gather she's well, but she's been too busy to talk. Yesterday when I called, she was watching the Olympics and asked me to call back, and today, my brother was about to take her for a spin outside, in a wheelchair. I guess you could say she's better.

Yesterday's treat was eating the sweetest, freshest cucumber I've ever tasted. It came from my own garden. Yes, my very own cucumber. Sublime.

And - perhaps I mentioned sending an essay that I'd laboured over to "Modern Love" at the "New York Times." They just sent it back. Our job, as writers, is to take the stuff that's been returned and fling it back out into the abyss. Not one of my strengths, however. As lining up auditions was not a strength when I was an actress. How to both create and sell?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

what innocence looks like

How to write, sort of


How to Write

Highly recommended, a hilarious article in the NYT. Take these lessons to heart, my students. 

And here, found for me by my daughter yesterday, is a very funny, if profane, examination of parents and children. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Olympic ceremony - remembering Ian Charleson

Of the many moving moments in the Olympic opening ceremonies this evening, one of the most poignant for me was the "Chariots of Fire" sequence. Yes, Mr. Bean was hilarious. But on the screen, running along the beach, was Ian Charleson, the beautiful Scottish actor, who was my friend at LAMDA in 1971-72. Unlike the rest of us, Ian left drama school before graduating - so talented, he didn't need further training. He went on to a stellar career of brilliance and grace, and died of AIDS in 1990, at the age of 40.

And then, after all that, after pastoral England, the industrial revolution and giant rings of fire, the British health service, Becks in a speedboat, J.K. Rowling reading "Peter Pan" and Voldemort and Mary Poppins flying about, after the Queen and James Bond jumping out of a helicopter, children singing and teens dancing and stunning fireworks, a tribute to the world wars and moving portraits of dead loved ones, after the endless parade of athletes, thousands of gorgeous young people, some from countries I've never heard of, and the spectacle of the flame - after all that, who but my boy to finish the night? Sir Paul at the piano, 70 years old and 22, leading the crowd in "Hey Jude," an anthem of our time and all time. What a guy. What a night.

And what joy for me to watch it at my daughter's place with Eli on my lap. I wanted him to see Paul McCartney for the first time. Okay, he was asleep, but for sure, that music entered his consciousness.  Anna invited me over to watch, and it was such a perfect summer day, I decided to try for the first time to ride my bike along the lake, from east to west. It took me 48 minutes door to door. I dandled the baby through the ceremony, though he slept in his baby swing part of the time, and afterwards we ate a shishkebab dinner Anna had prepared. And then my bike and I took the streetcar home. I won't watch much of the Games themselves, not caring that much who wins at beach volleyball (really? an Olympic sport?) or badminton or weightlifting. But it was a wonderful thing to watch the young athletes of Iran enter the stadium, followed by Iraq, followed by Ireland, then Israel, then Italy. What a confluence. Lock those 5 countries in a room with a lot of good food, and see if something good happens, no?

I hope the games are a triumph for England, my mother's homeland. I hope Eli gets to hear Paul many more times. Ian - you are remembered, and you are missed.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


I went to HMV today, to find a singer called Eva Cassidy whom I'd heard on Randy Bachman's program on CBC. I'd never heard of her before, but it turns out she has made many CDs. But I was also looking for a piece of classical music. Mum told me once that at her funeral, she wanted Mozart's G minor string quintet played, because it was one of her and Dad's favourites. Even though it sounds as if she's getting better, and we hope she will be around for many years to come, I thought I should have Mozart's G Minor string quintet on hand.

So I went to the top floor of HMV, and there found such a nice man, obviously starved for company, who wanted to discuss Mozart, and classical Spanish guitar, and who wanted very much for me to buy a sale CD of young French pianist Alexandre Tharaud playing Bach with les Violons du Roy from Montreal. "Listen, please listen to this," he begged, and put it on his sound system. A few bars, and I started to cry. I am almost too emotional to listen to Bach, right now. Almost too emotional to listen to Eva Cassidy, for that matter.

I bought all 3 CDs, and they're all wonderful, through my tears.

My Francophone discussion group gathered here tonight, a reduced version, four of us. Monique and I did an exchange; I'd just finished my library book, Alison Bechdel's "Are you my mother?" which was even more powerful, difficult, embarrassing and moving than her last book, "Fun Home," about her dad. She's incredibly brave, because she not only tells us all the details of her life, her childhood and parents, her therapies and sex life, she DRAWS IT ALL FOR US. I urge student writers to be brave, but let me tell you, Alison Bechdel makes us all look like shrinking violets.

So Monique asked if she could borrow the book for the weekend, and in exchange, offered "Fifty Shades of Grey," the vaguely pornographic S and M novel, first in the trilogy which has sold nine trillion copies worldwide. I heard the writer Anne Rice discussing female porno writing with Jian yesterday - the frank release of women's sexual curiosity, as seen in her work and now in books like this. There was an article in the paper today about how they're going to turn Jane Austen and Bronte sisters classics into porn. Mommy porn, they call it.

I am curious yellow to read this book. I'll let you know.

And ... I'd heard of this guy who goes around the world dancing with people, and here is a beautiful short film sent by my friend Chris in Vancouver - like me, another weeper - who writes:

"This made me weep after, making me feel that life can be such a wonderful gift and thing to enjoy."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Summer in the city - the joy of street art. Every day I ride through Allen Gardens and watch the very slow progress of a mural there. The city, to surround a huge waterworks project, has built a tall plywood fence, and some wise person has hired local First Nations artists to decorate it. Every day a big group is out with lunch buckets and platforms, sketching in and painting. One of the panels is a northern scene, a huge lake, Tom Thomson pine trees, forest animals, native symbols. I cool off just looking at it.

Then later, crossing a civil service plaza near University, I came upon one of the street pianos. Whose brilliant idea was that? There are pianos all over the city, inside and out, decorated by artists from different countries in honour of the upcoming Pan Am games, all of them bearing the words: Play me, I'm yours.  This one was painted by an artist from El Salvador, and a very scraggly man in black was noodling honky tonk. A crowd had gathered at a respectful distance to listen. Pleasure.

When I got home, an old friend - an old boyfriend, in fact - well, a boyfriend for a week or two, a theatre colleague for much longer - had just heard I'm a grandmother and left me a long message of congratulation. He was one of the wildest men I've ever known, a mad crazy musician/actor/draft dodger who built himself a geodesic dome in the Kootenays. Now he's back in a cabin in the mountains, living on disability because of a bad back. "There were bears in my garden this morning," he said. He called me "my dear."

Mon dieu, we 60's fruitcakes are getting old and mellow.

When I called my mother's hospital room, she answered the phone herself for the first time in ages. She had just come back from having a CAT scan and several x-rays and was about to get back into bed. She was completely coherent and her voice was stronger. My mother is the greatest living tribute to the Canadian health care system. They should make posters.

And now I have just one word for you: rosé.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Worrying, much phoning, but at home - home with the crabby cat. My suitcase is ready, though. A strange, tense and anxious time. Today, in response to my polite request - "I need me some baby!" - my daughter came over with her boy. Holding, watching, rocking, I felt so much better. Thank you, squishy baby body. Nothing feels or smells better.

While the baby slept and we folded laundry, Anna and I watched the first episode of "The News Room," Aaron Sorkin's new series. I didn't even know I could access HBO, but she showed me how, though I don't know if I'll be able to plunge into the Rogers thickets on my own. It's vintage Sorkin, with a glorious impassioned speech right off the top about the sad position of America in the world today, to fire us up. Lots of predictable TV stuff, romantic tension, workplace tension, character conflict tension, the music behind beating out the tension in case we don't get it from the actors. Maybe that's the joy of "Downton Abbey" - just a bit of delightful romantic tension but not this heart-pounding stuff. Nice to see Sam Waterston back in the saddle.

I'd continue to watch for the intelligence of the dialogue, but apparently the next episodes do not live up to the first. And I don't know if I'll ever find it again.

And then we went to Sam's restaurant, to have slunch, as Anna called it - lunch at 3. We sat for a long time on the nice back patio in the breeze, with a very handsome and skilled waiter plying us with good food and drink, and baby mostly asleep and being much admired by all. This is the life.

Here we are:

 Jolly jumping
 The two sweetest boychicks on the entire planet, one tall and merry and the other not
Glamma and Eli enjoying the patio

Got this email from a dear friend. How kind people are.

Beth, Just checked your blog....no, it is not easy......please know that you are loved by many. Courage. Love, Moi.

Monday, July 23, 2012

the American connection

When I was taking an  English degree at Carleton University in the late Sixties, we studied a book called "The Theatre of Revolt" by Robert Brustein, who had a stellar lifelong career in the theatre. He now lives on Martha's Vineyard where my friend Suzette recently vacationed, and where our mutual friend Larry knows him. Suzette gave Larry my book to give to Robert Brustein. And here he is with it. I shall just have to zip off to the Vineyard to chat with him.

Perhaps not to the Vineyard, but definitely to New York City in September, for another talk. I have been invited to speak once more at the Stella Adler Studio, on September 13th. The focus will be Gordin's play "The Jewish King Lear," which debuted in 1892, with me telling about it and actors reading excerpts. I spent the afternoon cutting my great-grandfather's 5 act play down to 3 very short scenes.

Two days after my talk, Great-Aunt Lola's 90th birthday. Woo hoo!

It's nice to have this excitement today, here at home, where I am feeling the painful aftermath of emotional days in Ottawa. Part of me wants to leave Toronto and go to accompany my mother on her journey, and part of me is determined to get on with my own life. The eternal struggle for women, with their children, and then with their aging parents - who comes first?

Dear friends Patsy and Lynn have been through this, so I had a long phone talk with one and Skype with the other, one on Gabriola Island just beginning her day and one in Provence at the end. Wise words and laughter with old friends, a gift. And also today, more than ever, the garden sustained me, just there, growing, scenting the air, signalling to bees and butterflies, gorgeous and rich.

What else do we need?

PS Just talked to Mum. She has been moved to a private room, and her voice is extremely weak. But we talked and we laughed. She knows who I am. She knows who I am.

PPS Someone just posted this on Facebook. Good ol' Cicero and I, on the same page.

"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." ~Marcus Tullius Cicero

My mother/the sky

My mother's condo faces west, and from her balcony, you see spectacular sunsets. The voice of God.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Not easy; not not not easy. Outside the hospital, a beautiful summer dances on; inside, the struggle for life. Sometimes it looks as if my mother has defeated the odds and will pull through yet again, this her thousandth health crisis. This morning she is very weak and not much interested in anything, as if she's shutting down. Impossible to tell which way this will go. Yesterday I took some of her favourite things from her condo - her Inuit bear sculptures, the silver Vanderbilt cup my uncle won at a bridge tournament, lots of family pictures - over to her new place at Amica, tried to make it look as homey as possible. And it does look pretty nice. Now we're not sure she'll ever live there.

Ah, who knows? Today she walked with her walker and the physio right to the end of the hall and back, with a rest in the middle. That was great. Then she collapsed into bed and slept for a long time. I sat beside her bed and read, went down to Tim Horton's for some caffeine, back up. My brother arrived and helped her eat lunch. I went; he stayed; I'm going back in an hour or so, and from there to the airport. I think it's called a vigil. We are being vigilant.

This morning I prayed to whatever god might be listening that I be allowed to keep my health, though I know even saying it is asking for trouble. Nothing matters more than staying out of those buildings, than being able to eat and walk and breathe on your own steam for as long as possible. I wish that for all of you. From the bottom of my heart.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Beth's adventures in surrealland.

My mother is herself and yet not herself - tucked into bed in the Ottawa Heart Institute, looking about twelve years old, very beautiful still, incredibly - with more wires running out of her body than look humanly possible. You can check her heartbeat on a monitor in the hall, along with all the other patients on the ward, see the words ATFIB, see the numbers jump about. When cheery Dr. Duchesne came through, he listed her current afflictions: pneumonia, atrial fibrilation, and edema indicating congestive heart failure. Along with a recent heart operation and being nearly 89. Otherwise, good to go!

But the medicine is working, the diuretics have reduced the swelling in her legs, the antibiotics are attacking the infection. Her mind wanders alarmingly, but the doctor says it's normal with all she has been through recently, including, let's not forget, a major move to assisted living - her month in a recovery room at Amica and now her new suite there, which she slept in twice before going back to hospital. I went there with my brother, who got her moved and arranged everything, and saw it with her furniture for the first time. He did a wonderful job; it's lovely - small, of course, but bright and homey, even elegant. Our great prayer is that she will be able to go back there and enjoy more time.

So I spend my days sitting by her bed; we chat, she falls asleep in the middle of a sentence, and then awakes and we resume our talk. She doesn't quite know where she is. Old issues re-emerge. "Why did I have that strange trap put into my ceiling?" she cried once, staring at the hospital ceiling where there is no trap. "Who are those people sauntering up and down out there?" she asked, looking at the other patients who push their heart monitors up and down the hall for exercise. "Time for the guys to go," she said sternly, "with their equipment." Not sure about that one.

But then she's there, she's lovely, we laugh a lot. After a black orderly named James helped her back into bed, I arranged her covers and told her she had good colour today. "But not as much as James," she giggled. Her snack arrived - a pot of yogurt. She's so thin, we're desperate for her to eat, so I fed it to her spoon by spoon, the way I'll be feeding my grandson before long. But mostly she can eat the ghastly hospital food on her own, though very slowly, with shaking hand. Being her always flirtatious self, she snaps to attention when the husband of the woman in the next bed enters the room. "What a handsome man," she whispered once, "so trim, with a good figure. And a Brit." And he is.

In the middle of all this, Anna and I are texting about her son, and she sent me a photograph on my phone of him trying a Jolly Jumper for the first time - at two months! "He's in love," she wrote.

When I can't take any more hospital, I come back to her condo for a break, and my brother takes over, or her caregiver Nancy. Her place is odd now - much of her furniture has gone to Amica, her TV and radio, pictures from the walls. Again, it's both her place and not. I am sleeping in her bed - the bed my parents shared, the bed my father died in 24 years ago. Yesterday I did something I've wanted to do for ages - her bookcases have gone to Amica and all the books were on the floor, so I was able to pile up the vast collection of old magazines - Bon Appetit, Chatelaine, Homemakers - each with little bits of paper stuck into them, indicating recipes she'd like to try one day - and will take them downstairs to the garage, stack by stack. You can leave things by the bins there, and people claim them and take them away. Perhaps someone here will try all the recipes she didn't get around to.

My first night here, Auntie Do came over - my mother's older sister, at 92 living alone, still driving, mind sharp and body bent but strong. We had dinner together, and she told me the old family stories again. She told me that despite their many marital problems, my parents were always crazy about each other. Treasure. She has lent me her car, because all the rental agencies came up empty, so I drive back and forth in a 1980 Toyota Tercel, rusty but functional with even a bit of zip, like her.

Luckily, Mum's condo is in Britannia, right next to the park and the river and beach; I walk there once or twice a day, under the trees, and breathe. The weather is heavenly, hot and breezy. My mother is not only still alive, she's getting better. "Are you all right?" I asked last night, before leaving.
"Perfect," she replied, with a smile. "Well, would you believe - slightly imperfect." And then her eyes closed again, and she nodded off.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Write in the Garden - August 19

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, and lunch.

Who: Writer and teacher Beth Kaplan has taught writing at Ryerson for 18 years and at U of T for 6.

When: Sunday August 19, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m
Cost: $155 for the day, including food for thought and actual food (and wine). 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.


It's a busy life, being a sandwich. Baby and mother are hot but fine. My own mother, however, not so good - water retention, general weakness, resulting in a trip to Emerg today. Many phone calls back and forth - should I come this minute? Well, maybe. She was admitted back into the Heart Institute and one doctor seemed to be predicting dire things. "If it becomes necessary, should we resuscitate?" he asked. So I cancelled everything for the next few days and waited to hear more, ready to fly at a moment's notice.

Phone call at suppertime: they have her on a diuretic, she's feeling much better, things have stabilized, she had a good supper. A good supper! Music to my ears. I am flying there tomorrow in any case; as old friend Suzette, who came for supper tonight, said, "You will never regret the time you spend with her now. It's the time you don't spend that you'll regret." My friend Isabel from the south of France has been staying here all week and will be here till Sunday, and my engagements have been cancelled, so for once, it's easy to get away.

Isabel and I watched a rented movie called Poetry last night. As I joked at the Y to my friend Paul, who specializes in action movies, "It's just up your alley, a Korean film with subtitles about an old woman with Alzheimer's who wants to write poetry." He laughed. The film is long and moves slowly but is beautiful, and the central performance is stunning, Oscar worthy. Not a GUY film, though. 

Yesterday was deadly - brutal, 36 degrees, a wall of heat. I rode my bike to visit my friend Jane in hospital, and nearly expired en route. Jane ... well, it's an incredible story, inspiring, almost unbelievable, except that it's true. I'll tell you about her one day. But right now, I have to go and pack.

I'm off tomorrow morning, leaving Isabel to water the garden and feed the cat; I'll be missing get-togethers, a class, lunch with a friend, a singing lesson, various visits. But I'll be there. Because, as I realized today - of course I've realized it before, but it really hits hard when it does - that when my mother is gone, she's not coming back. I will never hear her voice again or fold her frail body into a hug. I will never be able to call her up and hum a few bars of music I've just heard on the radio and ask, "What is that?" The two of us humming together, figuring it out. I will never help her choose clothes, worry about her diet, her heart, her living arrangements, ever again. Suddenly, doing those things, worrying, choosing, are a blessing, a great, great blessing.

I'm coming, Mum. Wait for me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

the men of tomorrow

From yesterday's visit - Eli and his cousin on his father's side, Dakota. Anna says that looking at Dakota is to know how Eli will look at four. He is a very talkative young man. Yesterday he and I got to know each other on the seat swing at the back of the garden. "Let's get high," he said, so we did, he pushing us with his little green Crocs. We talked about flowers and bugs, and then we sat still for a brief moment, and he turned to me and said, "I know everything."

And I thought, you know, you probably do - and you'll forget it all so soon.

Later I offered him some raspberries and he told me he loved raspberries. But he looked with dismay at the little red things on his plate. "I only like raspberries in peanut butter sandwiches," he said.

I would have liked to follow the contours of Dakota's mind in more depth, but after a few hours of answering questions was exhausted. Anna is looking after him for a few days because she loves him. This is a girl who has volunteered to take in a four year old while looking after her own always hungry newborn in a small apartment with only a small window air conditioner. They'll be out a lot. It's supposed to go up to 36 today, which with the humidity will feel much higher. A body of clean water nearby would be welcome.

Monday, July 16, 2012

buying albums again

Thanks to YouTube, I just watched Macca and Bruce Springsteen in London, singing their oh-too-brief duets before the authorities shut them down. What a marvel, the Boss at 62 and the Cute One at 70, rocking into the night like cool teens - such fun. But a bit too late, obviously, for the staid Brits.

A big thrill at HMV today - they have a new vinyl section! Yes, record albums are back on sale. How often in our zoom-by world does a scorned old technology COME BACK? I browsed for ages before buying "Music from Big Pink" by the Band, my own copy of which vanished into the mists of time. I bought one of Paul's first solo CD's and the new Paul Simon, and chatted with the sales guy who was young with grey hair and whose favourite band is Simon and Garfunkle. When I asked him what his favourite band from now is, he couldn't answer.

More music - Eli was over, so we had to have our obligatory dance to Michael Jackson. He is eight weeks old today and a music-lover already. I have been singing more since my singing lesson last week, poor world. It feels especially good to sing loudly when on a bicycle - warns motorists that a lunatic is near.

It's very hot. Very very very hot. I am actually using my air conditioner, which I usually don't, don't like to be sealed in. But these days, it's a good idea to close the doors, draw the curtains to shut out the blaze, and listen to your brand new album. Everything old is new again. Including your faithful correspondent.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Seven writers writing ...

Wayson came to enlighten us at lunch.

Before and after lunch - 

and before the thunderstorm that took us inside. Many hours of writing on the spot - moving stories, beautifully told. A wonderful day.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Special guest at tomorrow's workshop

I have one word for you today: PEACHES! They're in at the market, a tiny bit hard today but by tomorrow will be sublime.  It must be summer. Yes, I can tell it's summer because my neighbour the home improver is as always using his buzz saw. Sometimes, I confess, I wish to do a James Bond to him and attach him to it. But that's not the right thinking on a heavenly summer day when peaches await.

I just ran into a former student at the market, haven't seen her for a few years. "You're enjoying your grandson so much," she said, "and he's so cute!" That's the joy of a blog - no catching up to do. "I'm not writing," she said, "too lazy."
"Take the writing in the garden workshop tomorrow," I said. "That'll get you going again."

She said she'd think about it. There are two spots left for tomorrow's workshop. Don't think about it. Just come and start writing again. A wonderful and famous writer will join us for lunch and impart wisdom. Better than a peach.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Canada Writes - Creative Non-Fiction vote

A wonderful opportunity for Creative Non-fiction writers and students: the CBC has posted the five finalists for their CNF prize on-line, giving Canadians the chance to read them all and vote for their favourite. Why don't you read the five the judges chose and ask yourself why? Decide what you like, and just as importantly, what you don't, and vote yourself. I have entered the competition and been shortlisted three or four times, including last year, but have never won, and didn't enter this year. Next, for sure. You too?

As of today, you will have until noon (ET) on Wednesday, July 18 to vote for your favourite shortlisted story. Although the results of this vote will not have any impact on the final decision made by the jury, the winner of the public vote will get bragging rights AND the satisfaction of knowing that his/her story was voted as the favourite among Canadians. One lucky voter will also receive a beautiful Canada Writes journal.

In order to enter, voters will need to provide their name and email address. Only one vote per person is permitted. Voters must also leave a comment explaining why they think the story they picked should win.

The winner of the public vote will be announced on Thursday, July 19.
The Grand Prize winner as decided by the jury will be announced here on Monday, July 23.
Today's excitement: I had a singing lesson with my opera singer friend Douglas and his beautiful rich baritone. When I take my Beatles story on stage, I don't have the right to use their recorded music, so perhaps I may have to sing little bits myself. AAAGH! So I went to Douglas to get the instrument tuned up and working, and to learn to be unselfconscious about opening my mouth to sing. Mind you, I used to sing as an actress, I have done this before. But not alone on stage, and not some of the most famous songs ever written.

Aaaagh! That's not singing, that's terror.

PS I just wanted to check what the playlist was for the Beatles' concerts I saw on June 20 1965 - was about to go upstairs to find my diary of the time when I remembered that it's 2012 and there's Google. So I Googled, and what came up was more than the playlist - it was actual video and audio footage of the concert! Incredible - I was able to listen to it all again, all 12 songs, and then watch the boys doing their thing - when the camera swept the audience, several times I saw a girl who looked a lot like moi, though hard to tell for sure, it's so blurry. But I was in the 8th row centre, singing my heart out along with them. The sound is laughably bad - nothing on stage but drums, a few small amps and two mikes. They fade in and out, Paul muffs the lyrics to "She's a woman" and grins at his buddies, and they just ROCK. The last song, Paul's "Long Tall Sally," is the essence of rock 'n roll, right there, everything you want to know about the best of our music then. Talk about full of life. Lucky, lucky us. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012


There was a moment  last night, before the start of the storytelling event "Raconteurs," when I nearly bolted. What the hell am I doing here? was the kind of thing running through my head. First I was asked to sign a waiver to the filming and taping of my spiel, allowing them full copyright to do whatever they wanted with it "in perpetuity." I refused to sign, which created some tension; I was ready to leave, but they simply agreed to stop the taping for my segment. The women running the event were cheery but vague; at 7.30, when it was supposed to begin, our hostess, in a transparent blouse and short shorts, was replenishing her beer, and it started 20 minutes late.

The crowd was merry - average age 33, making me nearly 30 years older. I couldn't see this group, with their tattoos and little hats and ironic t-shirts, wanting to listen to an innocent old-fashioned story about a 13 year old discovering the Beatles. The first two stories confirmed that - the first one fun but a lengthy exposition about major drug use (nitrous oxide in balloons??) at rock concerts. So when I was introduced, I really didn't know what to expect.

It was fabulous. I'm so glad I did it. The audience was right there, listening, laughing at things I hadn't realized were funny, even applauding a few triumphant moments in the middle. I'd prepared about 14 minutes but cut it short at 10, and afterwards, many came up to me with lovely things to say. One of the organizers told me that her friends all liked the Backstreet Boys but she had loved the Beatles. "I hope you come back," she said.

I really enjoyed standing at the mike with a crowd out there laughing. Liked it a lot. A born ham, she is. So the storytelling project is a go. Of course, sustaining ten minutes is different from an hour or more, so we'll see.

After the intermission, there were three more storytellers, and each was moving, honest, thoughtful; I liked all three a lot - wanted more; wanted each of them in my writing class. My friend Ken who was there with me had the best time. We left before the next batch; I would have liked to hear them but not to stand around for another long intermission. For the target demographic, the evening is about schmoozing as well as storytelling. Not for us old-timers, though.

So despite organization that's a  bit flaky, it's a great event. It starts again in the fall. If you live in Toronto, check it out.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

question for oldsters about 1964

For all you oldies but goodies out there - do any of you remember how much records cost in 1964? I think I remember my 45's at 99 cents, and an LP at $4.99, but I'm not sure. Would love to know. Hooray for the internet!

Hip and Urban Girl's Guide dot com

My student and friend Lisa Jackson writes for a very successful blog called Hip and Urban Girl's Guide. She has just posted a piece there about my writing workshop on Sunday, and I've already had a query about it. Wow - it's a wonder what a bit of proper marketing can do.

Check out Lisa's work. Incidentally, the wine and cheese aren't mine - but I'll do my best to reproduce the look exactly.


Sweet - 7.30 a.m. on a perfect summer morning, the air fresh and perfumed. Just me and you.

You'll be relieved to know that I'm not seeing my grandson for a few days. Amazing that I have turned into the cliché of a doting grandmother so fast, but now, instead of whipping photographs out of my capacious handbag for every passerby, I post them on my blog for hundreds to enjoy. Because I am a MODERN grandmother.

Though the word 'grandmother' still rings strangely in the ears. It has nothing to do with me. I am a loving woman of a certain age with a new baby in her life who's a close relative. I think that's what I'll go by from now on.

Tonight, at the oddly named No One Writes to the Colonel, a venue at College and Bathurst, there's an event called Raconteurs: Music. A bunch of people telling stories, including the aforementioned woman of a certain age. It starts at 7.30 and there are tickets left. Fun times. Wheee!

Distress in Ottawa - my mother is now not sure she wants to stay in the assisted living place; she wants to go home. So difficult. I'd want to go home too, but she cannot - she needs the nursing care, the meals, the safety of the residence. She is not happy. What to do? We can only try to convince her that she is in exactly the right place, help her see the advantages. This is the pattern of her entire life, as well - she'd agonize over making a decision, delay it as long as possible while looking at every side of the issue countless times, finally decide, and then immediately seek more advice and change her mind again. It's been that way with every decision, from buying a few yards of material to choosing where to live. And all loved ones can do is listen patiently. I'd love to help set her mind at rest, but I know there's not much I can do.

I fell down the stairs again. It's becoming a new fun game around here. Luckily, after the last time, I put a soft mat at the bottom and moved the furniture away in case it happened again - so this time I landed on the mat and was not much hurt. Is this part of growing older - hurtling down stairs?

Big son came to visit yesterday with the usual large bag full of food; ate and stretched out on the sofa with the last "Game of Thrones," tattooed limbs flung in all directions. And fell asleep - my baby. My daughter and I now laugh ruefully about how hard it is to keep hungry sons fed. Once my boy was smaller than Eli, and now he's the tallest person I know. They're equally handsome, though.

Got two books out of the library yesterday - Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" and Spalding Gray's "Life Interrupted." Bechdel is a graphic artist famous for her "Dykes to Watch Out For" panels in alternative newspapers and mags; she has a new book out about her mother. This is a graphic memoir about her childhood, particularly her father, and it's superb - moving, incredibly honest, profound. Highly recommended.

I'm not going to mention all the stuff in the newspaper that makes my heart heavy. I'll sit in the shade with a cup of coffee and later a glass of rosé and read a good book, and wish peace of mind and body today for those I love. And for those I don't even know, as well.  I wish you a sweet and peaceful day. And now it's time to start mine.

P.S. Silly moi. Just talked to my brother, who said he visited Mum yesterday right after her diatribe to me about leaving Amica, and she said not a word to him about not wanting to stay. So I called her, but she couldn't talk because, "My torturer is here," she said gaily, her physio lady who's "super, I wish you could meet her."

I got caught again. How many times O Lord!!!!!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ottawa souvenirs

 On the train to Ottawa. Suddenly I have a thing for short bald guys.
 Auntie Do - 33,580 days. Elijah - 47 days.

Three daughters, three mothers, and a son.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Portrait of a woman in love

It's not often I dance to the music of Michael Jackson with a semi-naked much younger man. Particularly one who finds me so fascinating that after a few minutes, he falls asleep in my arms.

I knew I was boring, but still.

chronicle from Smith's Falls

7.15 p.m. on the sunny train home - just leaving Smith's Falls. I wonder who Smith was. This will go down as a marvellous but absolutely exhausting voyage, juggling the needs of the extremely young and the extremely old, my 7 week old grandson and my nearly 89 year old mother, neither of whom can remember much or is very ambulatory.

Today Anna wanted us all to go to her favourite café for lunch, which is a great idea except for the logistics - finding a time that worked for everyone and getting us there: Auntie Do, who at 92 is spry and sharp; the baby, who is a champion traveller as long as he's full, which means his mother preparing bottles and pumping and nursing most of her day. Then getting my mother out of her room and down in the elevator in her walker and into the tiny rental car and over to the restaurant and into the restaurant and sitting down and fed. She is so thin, so frail. This morning I pushed her, sitting on her walker, to look at the bigger room she'll be moving into in a few weeks, down the hall, to figure out which of her furniture pieces will fit. We looked and I jabbered about this chair and that bookshelf, and when I turned around, she had fallen asleep, sitting on the walker. Heartbreaking.

There was a funny moment on Saturday, when I was coming in to see her just as the movie showing on the residence ground floor got out. I was alone in the elevator when a whole crowd of seniors appeared wanting to get in too - and I had a cruel moment, as they approached, slowly and awkwardly with canes and walkers, shuffling, staggering, odd shapes and sizes, mumbling - a voice in me said, "Aaagh! Night of the living dead!" I felt guilty for thinking so and we smiled; they're charming and friendly. But being surrounded by a crowd all over 85 is something of a shock.

And then a visit to my brother in Chelsea, Quebec, getting out there another masterpiece of organization. He took us and his young son, not my mum who stayed back for a snooze, to his "yacht club" two minutes down the road - a wonderful folksy place on a Gatineau lake surrounded by huge fir trees; we plunged in and had a swim. A real Canadian experience.

In Mum's condo today, I opened a cupboard and found a huge folder entitled "Beth's Writings," and another box full of my letters to her. Took some with me. My life, all our lives in the family, have had a lifelong archivist. Lucky us; they're not cutting HER budget.

But mostly, on top of spending time with my Ottawa family, it was bonding with my daughter and her incredibly delicious baby that made this trip so memorable. What joy to watch one's child become a wonderful parent. And this baby, well, spectacular, giving pleasure to all. Do said he was the best baby she'd ever seen, and that's 92 years of babies. I confess there are many photos. Perhaps you won't mind my sharing just a few.

But ye gods, I will be happy to be home and just have my own body to prop up, my own mouth to fill, and my own functional little legs to carry me about. Well, just me to look after and the crabby cat, who as usual will be overjoyed at my return - ha ha - and the house and tenants and garden. A different kind of caregiving. Don't have to get them into a car.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


When Anna, Eli and I sat down on the train yesterday opposite a young couple, I could see their faces: "Oh no, a baby, groan." Five hours later, after that baby had spent the journey to Ottawa waving his fists, kicking his feet, looking around with interest, eating, or asleep, they thought he was the cutest thing they had ever seen.

I'm in Ottawa, here to introduce my mother to her great-grandson. But also to see what's happening in her life now; she's in an assisted care facility where she went after surgery to recover, but it's clear to us all now, and to her at last, that she will not be coming home again, she'll be staying there. Apparently Amica is a chain - but they have done a very good job of setting the place up like a nice mid-level hotel with nurses. Activities are posted, Scrabble, shopping trips, concerts. All of us ate there - Eli again obligingly adorable in his car seat on the fourth chair, with many residents stopping by to say hello. The meal was delicious, though the portions aimed at seniors, not nursing mothers; Anna ordered an entire second meal. Mum's medication is delivered before every meal; there's a nurse at the end of a call button. I am profoundly grateful she's so safe. She will move to a bigger room soon - though still very small compared to her 3-bedroom apartment.

It's hard to be here, in her bright, stylish condo, without her. It's hard to see her memory failing and her limbs so weak. And yet she was beautifully dressed, waiting for us when we arrived, and is still very sharp in some ways. She liked Eli.

The greater wonder for me, this trip, is being with my daughter the mother. She is expert at her job, and so her son is expert at his - keeping himself alive, growing, learning. Oh the infinite patience it takes to be with the very small all day - I am an impatient person, can't imagine how I did it. I do remember I was crazy a lot of the time. Whereas Anna is, simply, patient and in charge. Beautiful to see. Her little man had his usual evening meltdown when we got back here, an hour of lusty and inconsolable crying - I had to go for a walk, get away for a bit when nothing settled him down. But then, yes, Glamma discovered the trick - Michael Jackson. I turned on the TV while he howled, there was a documentary on Michael, and I started to dance with the boy in my arms. Instant silence. This is my grandma tip #1 - when there's howling, try Michael Jackson.

Mum just called in some distress; time to go.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Listening to the marvellous Jian Ghomeshi right now, his July 4 program on the American dream, talking to fascinating Americans, including Lewis Lapham and the founder of Wikipedia. But best was Toni Morrisson. After the war, she said, in my paraphrase, we were changed from being citizens to being consumers. Our focus was the pursuit of happiness, and what does that mean? It means consuming. To keep that level of euphoria and happiness, we need to consume.

And now, we're not even consumers. We're tax-payers. I'd change the constitution, she said, to "dedicated to life, liberty and the pursuit of integrity."

Ha. Some chance of that. But how interesting to turn on the radio in the midst of morning chores, and hear a discussion at that level. Thank you, CBC. Jon Stewart pointed out the other day that after the health care bill passed, Romney appeared on TV to say it should be repealed. When he got specific, he said he wouldn't change this aspect of Obamacare or that, just the payment of it. We'll keep the nice parts, paraphrased Stewart, and take out the bad part about paying for it. That's the Republican platform.

I woke in the night with a nightmare about Obama, the absurd situation now with billionaires pouring money into Mitt Romney's election. The Dems can't battle that. Why don't they say so? Why don't they say, Elections are not to be bought and sold, we're not going to fight that way, and simply pull out of the negative ad wars and the spend money on re-election wars? Run a campaign on integrity, honesty and issues?

Wouldn't people respect that? Or are they so stupid that they CAN be bought and sold?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

a little patriot

His first Canada Day. As you can see. His mother, who is a huge fan of the July 1 event, bought the t-shirt years ago in anticipation of having someone, one Canada Day, to fill it. And here he is.

Plus - OMG - Anderson Cooper has come out as gay? Is that possible? Who knew? Quelle surprise! And physicists have nearly found the God particle. I have no idea what they're talking about, but it sounds exciting.

For me, the God particle is human kindness.  

July 15 garden writing workshop information

People have contacted me with questions about the garden writing workshop that takes place on Sunday July 15. So here's some information.

1. There is still room. And realizing that we are in a recession, the fee has been dropped to $155. That's for an entire day, 10 to 5, of writing in my garden with feedback and inspiration, plus lunch (with the possibility of a special guest) and a glass of wine.

2. Even people who've never done a speck of creative writing are welcome. The event works for everyone. I assign easy but interesting topics that spark imagination, and the writers go off into the garden to mull, muse and write whatever comes. Then we reassemble, and those who are comfortable reading what they've written are encouraged to do so. Those who'd prefer not to read are welcome not to read. There is no pressure. The day is about accessing your stories, your imagination, your voice. I guarantee you'll be amazed at what emerges spontaneously and in tranquillity.

If you have any other questions, please let me know. Here's what a writer who came a few years ago wrote to me afterwards. She has just signed up again.

It was the most connected and grounded I have felt for MONTHS, and in a group of many strangers, that is a miracle. It refreshed my faith in writing as a love of mine, and something that makes me feel whole, no mean feat. I also met some new people with whom I really clicked.

FYI, a writer called Cathy Ostlere regularly posts information on Creative Non-fiction. There's tons of juicy stuff at this link: http://www.scoop.it/t/literary-nonfiction.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

stories from the Moth

Last night, there were about six raccoons racketing through my yard, including three very small babies. One of them clambered onto one of the chairs on my deck and began to attack the cushion with his sharp little teeth, and when I tried to chase him away, he came over to the back door and climbed up the screen! But tonight, no raccoons. The Canada Day fireworks are making lots of exploding noise. I imagine the ivy, full of those shining little black eyes, waiting.

Here's something wonderful - writer Nathan Englander writes of his discovery of the Moth, the storytelling event that now goes on around the world and which in its Toronto incarnation is called Raconteurs (where I will be doing my seven-minute bit July 11.) Englander has chosen a bunch of his favourite Moth storytellers, and they're fabulous. Take your pick. Heaven.


And if any of you are travelling to Paris, my friend David Burke, who has written a book called "Writers in Paris," now does walking tours, so you can follow him and listen to his great stories. Another kind of Moth. If you Google David Burke and Paris, you'll find him.

Let's hope, when we start telling stories, we sound like this guy.

the joy of going backwards

Usually we can hear the Gay Pride festivities loud and clear in Cabbagetown, but not this year. Are they quieter than usual over there? Surely not - it said on the news that a million people watched the parade. Maybe - maybe it's not them, it's me. I'm going deaf! That must be it.

A solitary long weekend, which is lonely and blissful, both. I'm sitting on the deck now, of course, at the end of a perfect hot, breezy day, listening to the chatter of birds, looking at the huge white hydrangeas, the livid purple of the clematis, the two fading roses. The smell of jasmine, lavender, gardenia, mint and basil - overwhelming. It is my country's birthday today, as well as Pride; too bad when CBC news began to air the sound of the prime minister's voice, I had to turn off the radio. We were a much better country once.

This is how working goes for this writer, in the age of Google: somehow - quelle surprise - I wound up thinking about Linda Eastman McCartney, how admired she was when she died but how at first she was scorned as a groupie. Was she a groupie? I wondered. So I Googled "Linda Eastman groupie" and lots of information came up. (The conclusion - sort of. It was the 60's, she had a camera, she met lots of famous men, she did not say no.) But then one name among her lovers came up, beside Warren Beatty and Jimi Hendrix - Tim Buckley. She was disturbed by his increasing drug use, it said, and distraught when he died in 1975.

Bing - next jump. I met Tim Buckley on an airplane between Vancouver and Victoria in late 1974; he was coming in to do a concert, I was a young actress with long auburn hair doing a show in Victoria. We chatted on the plane, had a wonderful talk, and he offered me a ticket to the concert. I did go and went backstage afterwards and to the Empress Hotel with his group and I did not become a groupie. It's a great story. I started to think about writing it - not just the groupie bit, but how Linda and I had Tim Buckley in common. He was strung out that night and died of an overdose only 7 months after I met him.

But first - just as Batman says, "To the Batmobile!" I say, "To the diaries!" I found 3 separate books for 1974, the exact date of the concert, and exactly what was going on in my feverish mind and life at that time - boyfriends, unrequited love, cruel housemate who stole my unrequited lover and broke my heart etc. Suddenly, on a hot Canada Day in 2012, I was plunged right back into 1974. It really is extraordinary. No wonder I have published so little - I spent decades writing endlessly, pouring out thoughts and words - to myself in diaries and to friends and family in letters.

Nearly 40 years later, now a slightly deaf grandmother with short grey hair, I write to you. Hope you had a wonderful day too, in whatever year you chose to live it.