Friday, May 31, 2013

it's not over till the fat man quits

Luckily, there's a bit more to good writing, or else I could just send this to my students and lie on the sofa eating chocolates.

What an insane week. Record cold, torrential rains so ferocious that the Don River flooded and the Don Valley Parkway had to be shut down, and then, suddenly yesterday when the rain stopped, record heat. Normal temperature 22 degrees, yesterday more than 30 - sweltering and apocalyptic. 

And yet life in our crazy town goes on. There's a rally at Queen's Park tomorrow at noon to demand Rob Ford's resignation. The man is still there! Most of his staff have quit, and for weeks, he has not answered a single question about his drug use or anything else. And yet not only is he still there, but he's saying he'll run in the next election - apparently still fully supported by his Ford Nation. They say millions would still vote for him. Who are these people? The same, I suppose, who voted in arch-villain Mike Harris - twice. 

And Ottawa scandals deepen. It's painful to watch this disgusting debasement of the Canadian political process, the only good point being that it makes the Conservatives look really, really bad. One "Star" pundit wondered if Stephen Harper would end like Nixon, deluded, isolated, disgraced. One can only hope. Truly, it's as hard to believe that such an unpleasant and unpopular man has run this country for years, as it is that the fat red-faced bully still thinks he's running Toronto. 

And no Jon Stewart for a few weeks, to help me cast a satiric eye on things. He's off for the summer and John Oliver will take over soon. Can't be soon enough, as far as I'm concerned. I watched a documentary on TVO the other night called "My brother the Islamist," truly scary - a young British filmmaker watching his step-brother disappear not just into Islam but into its extreme end. We see the brother's British face with bright blue eyes and bushy beard and hear the bile pouring from his mouth, a violent rejection of the society he grew up in, and then watch another young, similarly disaffected young man, formerly a musician heavily involved with drugs, follow the same path. The film shows what we confront as a society - that lost and angry young men from all over are attracted to the lunatic Muslim fringe, where they are taught how to deliver retribution to the Western society they love to hate. 

I had a kind and beautiful Muslim student last term, who wrote about the prejudice she encounters sometimes because of her headscarf, when, she says, her religion preaches love, tolerance, forgiveness, generosity. Unfortunately, as fundamentalists continue to offer the rewards of community, discipline and purpose to young men, I fear we are doomed to endless jihad, and she to endless prejudice. As my daughter says, we need to find something else for angry young men to do. Yes. But what? 

To counter all this darkness, I gaze at the purposeful face of my grandson, who marched in here with his mother yesterday and proceeded, as usual, to dismantle my house room by room. He wants to see, touch and taste everything, including cat food and leaves. We went to Riverdale Farm and met pigs, cows, chickens, sheep - all mesmerizing when seen live for the first time.

Can we remember a time when everything in the world was so amazingly interesting? If only we could keep that curiosity and eagerness. But then - writers keep it. To write well means to pay attention, just like a one-year old.

And also, not ever generalizing. 

Monday, May 27, 2013


I got up at 5.30 this morning to make coffee for and say goodbye to Ed, my ex, off to Pearson to fly home. How far we've come. He and I married joyfully in 1981, had two children, separated in 1991 and divorced in 1992. Now we are grandparents and still parents, checking in with each other regularly about family issues. Since Eli's birth, he has come three times to visit his children and new grandson, and while here, he stays in my basement suite. This gives us calm time together, especially at breakfast and at night, and we have become again the friends we were at the beginning.

What a gift that is, not just to us, but more importantly, to our children.

Last Friday, Lynn flew back to Montreal, and a few hours later, Ed arrived from Washington, D.C. That evening, he took Sam and me to local restaurant F'Amelia for a fine meal, both of us eager to check in with our son and see how he's doing. Just fine, was the reply. Saturday afternoon was Eli's real birthday party, organized by his extraordinary mother, who was lucky that the cold weather turned just before the guests arrived - because besides many adults, there were eventually 14 children under the age of 7 playing in the backyard, with fierce little Eli determined to be part of every activity. And then a vast barbecue dinner with five salads and a wonderful dinosaur cake made by his father's sister. Anna had an eclectic group of guests, including most of Eli's father's family, her oldest childhood friend with brand new son, her favourite gay buddies, and a neighbour who weighs 600 pounds. Edgar and I were so exhausted by the time we got home that he went to bed at 8.30 and I not long after.

Sunday, a family dinner here. I baby-proofed the kitchen by covering everything possible with tablecloths so that Eli couldn't see the treasures of interesting stuff to pull out from underneath. Though surely that won't last long. Between us all, we managed to keep an extremely energetic young man busy - up and down the stairs, what a fun game! - and then, when dinner was ready, fed. He ate with his usual gusto, as did we all. A family a family we are a real family - what a wonder.

Today though, after Ed's departure, I felt like I'd been hit with a 2 by 4, not just because of all the cooking and talking and wine last night, or the big burn on my arm from being careless taking the chickens out of the oven, that had me strapping a cold compress to my forearm all evening to fend off the pain. I adore these people more than anyone on earth, but dealing with their beloved selves certainly requires energy, tact and focus. I wasn't up to much today except de-baby-proofing and cleaning up. Luckily, the weather is finally turning - that chill in the air lasted nearly a week, but today was sunny and warm, and later this week, it's supposed to go up to 30 degrees. Toronto in spring - freezing, boiling, everything in between.

The ghastly Ford brothers continue their rampage of prevarication, bluster and deceit, portraying themselves as poor persecuted little guys when in fact, they're bullying millionaires who have probably broken the law many times. Please, someone, step up to the plate and produce the video, or use your real name in accusing these jerks. Please! In Ottawa, the Senate scandal continues. Meanwhile, Obama weathers his own scandals by making two superb speeches, one to black graduates about developing a social conscience not just for themselves or their race but for the good of their country, and the other, a vital speech about putting 9/11-inspired paranoia and calls for war away and looking to the future. The man is an orator and an idealist - so inspiring, despite his detached nature. Whereas Canada has a cold secretive control-freak helmet-head incapable of a generous gesture or thought, and as for the city ...

Thank God for Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne, a politician in the best sense of that word, an honourable, intelligent woman who should be running everything in sight.

Here's Jian Ghomeshi's eloquent essay about Toronto, from this morning's Q:

Friday, May 24, 2013

riches at the AGO

My readers, a pledge to you today: I have been a grandmother for a year now. I'm thrilled to be a grandparent, as you no doubt have gathered. But the time has come to stop inundating you with pictures of my daughter's son. So from now on, I'll try to limit myself to a few pix every once in a while, and focus on other things. Cabbages and kings.

Okay, and that little boy, sometimes. I can't resist. But not too much. My ex-husband has just arrived in T.O., to spend the weekend chez moi, to attend Eli's birthday party tomorrow afternoon, a dinner out tonight, a family dinner here on Sunday. Perhaps a tiny photo or two.

Or not.

It has been a very busy week, no time to sit, let alone blog. Lynn arrived on Tuesday in time to join us as Eli smeared birthday cake hither and yon, then to stay till this morning before heading back to France after her months in Austin, Texas. My old friend and I walked the city, shopping and sightseeing; after her more than four decades in France, Mme. Blin is an extremely careful and thrifty shopper, fingering much, buying little.

There were two highlights of her visit - the Art Gallery yesterday, and dinner last night. Ken, a dear friend of us both, is an AGO member and often invites me to be his guest for one of their special shows. Yesterday, he took Lynn and me to the stunning arts of the early Renaissance exhibit. But first, we went to the Henry Miller atrium, where an art installation by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller is playing.

In fact, I'd seen it before, at Harbourfront years ago, and loved it - the 40 speakers set around a large circle, each channelling a different voice of the choir singing a forty part motet by Thomas Tallis. It was beautiful at Harbourfront. But in the echoing space of the Henry Moore atrium, surrounded by those earthy sculptures, it's overwhelming. To me, it's about humanity - how we are alone and yet part of a vast community, creating together, each voice part of a magnificent whole. It's a sacred work of art. Of course, I wept.

Here's what the gallery website says:

The installation is strikingly spare: 40 identical black speakers, perched on stands in a circle. What comes out of them, though, is near-transcendental. The composition, Spem in Alium, by 16th-century composer Thomas Tallis, is one of the most complex choral arrangements in the history of music, written for eight five-voice choirs to perform simultaneously. Cardiff and husband George Bures Miller recorded each of the 40 parts individually and sent each one through an individual speaker.
The effect is one of alarmingly disembodied intimacy. Stand in the middle and the full glory of Tallis’s piece washes over you like a wave. Come up close and you commune with each individual voice: some clearing throats or muttering under their breath, waiting for their part; others in full-throated song.
It’s one of the most popular works of art of the past decade or so, globetrotting with such regularity that its owners can hardly keep it in house (the National Gallery of Canada’s copy was on the road for nearly 10 years straight). This means its time here is, as ever, short. Don’t miss it.

Repeat: Don't miss it. And the rest of their installation work, on the fourth floor of the gallery - original, thought-provoking, fascinating. You can get stuck in a storm and explore some very strange minds. I was proud to show my friend from France the riches of our provincial art gallery.

Then friends came for dinner, old friends from our youthful days. Lynn and I, as I've often noted, met in 1967 when I was 17 and she 18; the other friends last night, Suzette, Jessica, Anne-Marie and Ken, were from the same era or only a few years later. Another kind of riches, the joy of old friends, old friendships, an understanding that goes back so far, to our young selves who were much the same as we are now, and yet so different. So very green.

I'd hoped we'd sit in the garden for our aperitif, but it was 5 degrees outside. We're back in early spring here, with a bitter, freezing wind. But it's not cold enough to kill the plants, that's all that matters. We humans will get through, but if something happened to my tomatoes, I'd be sad.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

first birthday cake

now and then

One year old today.
Baby buddha after his bath

One year ago ...
May 20 2012 - his mother's patriotic tummy
May 21 2012 - where the @#$# am I - and why?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Save the CBC - a petition

I've recently donated $100 to the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting. They're battling right now to save the independence of the CBC from an insidious bill put forward by Harper, which would allow the government to control much more of the CBC budget and therefore the on-air content. There's also a story going around about the esteemed Mike Duffy trying to manipulate a CRTC decision about the funding of Sun TV, our version of the U.S.'s loathsome Fox "News."

Below is a petition to send to your M.P. The hearing is this week. This is urgent. Please sign now if you care about the CBC.

This morning, when I woke, my watch, which tells me the time in the morning, was not on my bedside table; I'd put it somewhere else. But I can tell time by the light and the sounds - still fairly early, not too much traffic. But later, I know exactly what time it is, thanks to my neighbour, Jian Ghomeshi, who gets in his red and black Mini and zooms out to work at 8.35 every weekday morning, except when he's travelling. He is one of the new marvels of the CBC, like his TV counterpart Strombo - extremely smart, charming, gifted. Listening to the CBC is entering a world full of interesting people, music and conversation, like a fantastic cocktail party. Its budget has been crushed in recent years. Let's not let it be harmed further.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

opening up the new room

Bushed. But happy bushed, on this beautiful Victoria Day weekend. Much of Toronto has decamped to the cottage, to sit by the lake and listen to the loons. Or, just as likely, the cottage next door's sound system, gas mower or motor boat. Whereas here in the ceety, we had the usual soundscape of a holiday weekend - birds, sirens, the guy on Spruce Street who spends every waking holiday moment making something with his power tools, my next-door neighbours gardening.

Me gardening. I planted some veggies and bought impatiens and herbs to plant tomorrow. John #2, my plumber and other handyman, and his friend came yesterday to stain the cedar planks of the new termite-less deck, and today to help put up my pergola and carry out the big plants that wintered indoors. My outdoor room is finally set up and ready, with its new carpet of cedar. What a long haul. John's friend showed me how even the base of my wooden planters had been devoured by termites. John, meanwhile, was investigating the lack of water at the front, to discover that the pipes there had burst during the winter and have to be replaced, which means cutting into the basement drywall.

Good thing there's something else broken around here, otherwise we'd all just be so bored!

John's friend is a born-again Christian visiting from California. John is born again too, and I'm happy for him, he says finding religion saved him from alcoholism, depression and self-destruction. Though he talks about his faith, he doesn't push it. But when his friend mentioned the love of the Lord God for the fifteenth time, I asked him to stop. He was proselytizing the whole time he was here, and it got to be a bit much.

Once the Jesus boys had gone, I did some more gardening, cut the lawn, moved the rest of the plants out, brought out and cleaned the cobwebby garden chairs and the seat cushions from the backyard shed, found the Provencale tablecloth - and collapsed with a glass of wine, to enjoy the soft dusk light filtering through the lilac.

There's chaos out there in the world - Obama fighting various scandals with the slavering Republicans at his heels, like starving wolves. And Rob Ford highlighting Toronto's embarrassment for the entire world. Again, as Jim Coyne pointed out in his "Star" article today, we have Mike Harris to thank for the fact that the suburbanites of Etobicoke elected their man and shoved him down the throats of the rest of us.

But let it rest. It's a holiday weekend, it's full on spring, flowers and scent everywhere, and you cannot solve the problems of the world by fuming. So pour another glass, go sit outside, and listen.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Hilary Mantel on memoir

There's a fun interview with the esteemed Hilary Mantel in the NYT today. Here is what she has to say about memoir:

In addition to your novels, you’ve also written a memoir. What makes a good memoir? Any recent memoirs you would recommend?
It’s not recent, but I would recommend “Bad Blood,” by Lorna Sage. It’s a memoir of childhood and private life that has an almost eerie immediacy. When I was reading it, I felt as if the author were talking to me: and I talked back (at least, in my head). Memoir’s not an easy form. It’s not for beginners, which is unfortunate, as it is where many people do begin. It’s hard for beginners to accept that unmediated truth often sounds unlikely and unconvincing. If other people are to care about your life, art must intervene. The writer has to negotiate with her memories, and with her reader, and find a way, without interrupting the flow, to caution that this cannot be a true record: this is a version, seen from a single viewpoint. But she has to make it as true as she can. Writing a memoir is a process of facing yourself, so you must do it when you are ready.

more coffee!

This morning, lots of energy, with fresh, delicious caffeine circulating in my blood and brain. Several people have written in support of my coffee habit. Best of all, Bruce (who's in Amsterdam, standing in ecstasy in front of the 5 Vermeers at the new Rijksmuseum) sent a link to an article proving that the more coffee you drink, the healthier you are. Woo hoo!

Here's the last paragraph and the link. Go on, have another cup.

The evidence remains overwhelmingly in coffee's favor. Yes, it was observational, but the study published in May in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at hundreds of thousands of men and women and found this bottom line result: people who drank coffee lived longer than those who didn't. 
And the more they drank, the longer they lived. If you're into that sort of thing.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Yuck - spam

Readers, there's a relentless new spamming entity out there, and now my blog posts are being showered with hideously ungrammatical comments. I was just checking around, and for some reason, even posts from years ago have attracted these annoying pests. One post from earlier this year has 65 comments, all leading to sites about labrador retrievers etc.

I have tried to change the settings so you have to enter a word before you can post a reply. We'll see if that works. I'm wrestling with the forces of darkness, as I sit here drinking tea on my kitchen sofa.

not so springy

Ever since my brief but intense encounter with cocaine, in 1976, I have been forced to acknowledge the addictive side of my personality. Today, that aspect came once again to the fore. A few days ago, I decided to check my Air Miles points, and to my delight had enough to buy something I've wanted for ages, a burr coffee grinder. It arrived yesterday, I bought beans at the local deli, and today I enjoyed freshly ground coffee at breakfast.

But the day proceeded badly. I thought because I'd risen too early - at 6.30 - after too little sleep, I was worn out. Or perhaps I had exhausted myself yesterday, a morning of rushing about, an afternoon with Booboo here, my house a shambles and my arms strained after hauling 25 pounds of wriggling boy. I had so little energy, I had to go back to bed for an hour, and then still couldn't get anything done. At last night's home class, a student wrote about a sudden hospitalization that had left her listless and depressed; for some reason, I was experiencing the same feelings. Why bother? Just sit and stare at the sky.

And then at lunch, as I decided to make another cup of coffee, I realized. The beans I bought yesterday and had consumed for breakfast were decaff. Without the usual dose of my drug, I had lost much of the day to entropy.

That's some powerful drug. Plus, the Air Miles points for my free grinder were accumulated entirely at the LCBO, buying red wine, my other major addiction. Ah well. Could be glue. Could be expensive shoes or tattoos. Coffee and wine - could be worse. I rode over to the delightful Merchants of Green Coffee for a large load of caffeinated beans. Tomorrow morning I'll jam a big dose into my central nervous system and leap into the day.

Four classes this week, lots and lots of stories. After Wednesday's very full session at Ryerson, a wonderful writer from India said, "After hearing their stories, I feel love for everyone in this class." And so do I.

Today, like most of Toronto, I headed to the garden store - which luckily for me is only half a block away - to buy plants. So far, mostly veggies for my garden, which I'll plant tomorrow. It has been sunny, though there's still a bite in the air. Right now, looking out past the fresh cedar of the deck, all I can see is 56 shades of green. Praise be for green.

P.S. Here's a great link to pictures of writers' outlines - some are amazingly convoluted and intricate.

Handwritten outlines by James Salter, Jennifer Egan, J. K. Rowling, and others.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

the courage of Angelina Jolie and Chris Hadfield

Just read this and had to share it with you: Angelina's Jolie's op-ed piece in the "New York Times" about preventative surgery. Moving and brave. I have admired her for years, both her and Brad, in fact, crazy as they are - somehow, in the lurid fishbowl and incomprehensible wealth and fame of their lives, they are living a love affair and raising a family. And doing so with considerable grace, generosity and courage. For a movie star not just to do this but to write about it so publicly - brava, BRAVA to Angelina.

And - bravo, too, to Chris Hadfield, just returned from space. What an extraordinary man, what a journey he has shared with us, he and his enquiring mind and his guitar. Suddenly, space doesn't seem so very far away.

What a pleasure to celebrate heroes.


Richard the roofer is spending the next few days ripping off the old termite-riddled siding on the wall next door, attached to my kitchen. I was upstairs working when I heard the sound of smashing china. He'd hit so hard that several of the antique china jugs, serving dishes and bowls I'd just inherited from Mum fell off my open kitchen shelves and broke. Glass and china all over the kitchen floor, the cat fleeing in panic. Now the banging, hammering and drilling continues. He has hired another guy to help him. All on my bill.


Soft ye now. This too shall pass. It's a test of your new-found tranquillity and acceptance.


No I'm not. It'll be okay. The weather makes it all worse - it's awful, freezing, grey with a nasty, damp chill. Nobody can garden because there's a threat of frost. And I can't garden anyway because my deck needs to be stained and my yard is still full of junk. Not to mention the noise. Not to mention the bill that's coming.

And I'm sorry that the Leafs, as my son wrote on Facebook, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory last night, ahead 4-1 and then, somehow, beaten. Not that I care, but others do.

But ... here are some pix, taken on Mother's Day, guaranteed to flood my heart with good thoughts.

So cheer up, you whiney old bag. There are books and pies topped with ice cream to share.

Monday, May 13, 2013

celebrating the Leafs

Now here are true Leafs fans. It's Monday night, the second period is over and the Leafs are leading 2 to 1. I know this because at the end of my home class, I turned on the TV and watched on mute for two and a half minutes. I truly do not care whether a bunch of incredibly overpaid athletes win or lose, and I don't understand how people feel so little tension and drama in their own lives that they have to invent it.

However, tonight's outcome matters deeply to people I love and to the city I love.

So, I will say it, loud and clear: GO LEAFS GO!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day to you all

A bizarre Mother's Day - freezing cold, rain, hail, hot sun, and right now, a burst of sleet followed by more sun. I just hope Anna and Eli were not out in the downpour. I'm preparing to go over there soon, with a basket of goodies - a bunch of lilies of the valley, lilac and forsythia from the garden, potted lilac and spices for her garden, some foodstuffs from Daniel and Daniel, a hanging basket of flowers, a bottle of wine (for me.) Sam will meet us there briefly, as he's working later, and we'll celebrate all mothers everywhere, and those who are not mothers but who have a mother, too.

Poor Richard the roofer (to be differentiated from Richard the termite hunter and Richard my dear neighbour the royalty expert) is out there in this ghastly weather pulling away at my neighbour's wall - well, my wall. The termites have gone deep and they've gone high, and there are ants too. Everything has to be ripped off, killer Richard will come to spray, roofer Richard, who is impervious to weather, will replace it all. The new wall will cost a fortune, and I will never see it.

Ah well - it's not ill health, it's not unhappiness, it's just money. The only thing that matters now, as I call a cab to get me and my heavy goodies across town, is to celebrate life and love with family and friends on this, my 32nd Mother's Day, my first without my own mother, and my daughter's first with her boy. Last year, on Mother's Day, I called Mum, and we all talked to her. Anna did not have a son, only a bulge, a very active, kicking bulge we could not wait to meet.

Today, what matters is to eat and drink and toast, and hold a little boy close.

Just heard Eleanor Wachtel's interview with Kate Atkinson, who says because she was an only child and only had one child herself, a daughter, she had no understanding of the male psyche until getting to know her grandson. Now, she says, as a result of this young boy, she understands much more about men. Eli will do that for me too.

Understanding men: priceless.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

"This is water" - David Foster Wallace

This is a very beautiful video made with the audio of a commencement speech - an excerpt of a commencement speech - made by David Foster Wallace to a graduating class. It's about being conscious and aware; it's a treat, and wise and valuable too.


Saturday supper-time. Last night a torrential downpour, today dark grey skies alternating with sun, and tonight chilly but bright. I am inside with the backdoor open, smelling the woody tang of freshly cut cedar. My new deck. We're getting there, folks. But not quite. As in the "Beyond the Fringe" quip Mum and I loved to quote: "News of fresh disasters."

Because my kitchen extension juts out from my attached neighbour to the north, she has an outside south wall that is, it turns out, officially mine, though I cannot see it. It has been covered with thick ivy for years, and though I've begged her to allow me to remove it, as it has damaged my roof and provided a cosy home for raccoons, she has always refused, because "it's pretty." Well, so much for pretty - now we know that it is full of termites, and so is all the siding beneath it. And all of that, it turns out, the removal of damaged materials and the replacement of undercoat and siding, is my financial responsibility.

The irony is that my ivy-loving neighbour has had hardly any termite damage, whereas I have had a great deal. We're at nearly $40,000 worth. Absolutely devastating.

But I have a new cedar deck. I didn't realize that the wood needs to be stained and cannot be stained until we've had at least four days of hot sun. Until then, we have to walk on it in slippers. I do have eavestroughs now, though, and a finished roof. Praise the lord.

To cheer me up in the middle of all this, my dear friend Eleanor Wachtel, whom I've known since the mid-seventies in Vancouver, invited me to be her guest at the Canadian Opera Company's production of "Lucia di Lammermore." Those of you who follow here know that I ranted a few months ago about a supremely offensive director, Christopher Alden, who did his best to ruin not one but two wonderful classic operas. I did take a quick look before going this time, to see that this one was directed not by Christopher Alden but by a David something.

Wonderful seats and an amazingly knowledgeable date, who whispered as the curtain went down that she had heard it was a bit strange. Well. A classic tragedy by Puccini, it tells of a love between the son and daughter of two rival Scottish clans, forbidden by the bullying brother of the heroine, who turns their love into a bloodbath. In this production, Lucia is not a passionate young girl but a child dressed like Alice in Wonderland, or a midget, since she spends most of the play singing and moving about on her knees. Her brother the Scottish lord, in this production, spends time playing dazedly with his childhood toys and staggering around with his mouth agape. He is madly, incestuously in love with his sister and gropes her, at one point tying her to the bed, reaching under her skirt and grabbing her genitals just as she hits a high note.

Etc. You get the picture, I won't bore you with all the ridiculous, offensive details. Once again, the music and the singing are gorgeous, sublime, the production horrible. And guess what? At intermission, I learned from Eleanor about the Alden brothers. Yes. "Lucia" is directed by David Alden, who is none other than the brother of the dreadful Christopher Alden.

What are the odds? Two untalented brothers who direct to shock and be noticed, who put their sexual and emotional neuroses on stage, make a mockery of fine art and are rewarded by extended contracts with the COC.

I wrote to the company, as you can imagine, and this time they actually wrote back. Dismissively.

In other news: teaching started last week, a good-sized class at U of T and a completely full class at Ryerson. Good to see you all, students. And also - I haven't told you this yet, but now I will - I have started seeing my old psychiatrist again. As my marriage was falling apart and then divorce hit in the nineties, I began seeing Dr. O'Neil, who saved my life, literally as well as figuratively. Eventually I was in full psychoanalysis, four times a week, for four or five years. As I tell my students, "You see this serene and smiling face? It's thanks to lots of therapy and Dr. O'Neil."

As we were winding down our work, Dr. O'Neil moved to Montreal, and I'd call her once a year. Now, more than 20 years after we started, she has moved back to the city, and I asked to see her again. Not for myself, but to discuss difficult family issues and how to handle them. Because she is wise and sensible, and she knows me better than anyone on earth. What a gift.

Randy Bachman's show just started on CBC. Time for dancing. My tomato plants are out there ready to be planted - risk of frost tonight, they said, so I'll wait till the middle of next week. But it's spring spring spring. Out there, and in here too.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Enough said

Sent by my friend Lani, with a note: "I wonder if franchises are available?"

Good question.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


The day so far: the roofer arrived at dawn, or what felt like dawn, climbing up his big ladder to the roof to begin hammering and soldering, followed by the Aetna poison guys who were disappointed that the concrete for the deck has already been laid because they were supposed to spread a layer of termite poison on the ground beforehand. So they had to drill holes in the concrete to inject their stuff. Followed by the deck guys, who've filled my yard with lumber and equipment and are hammering in the sun. Followed by the garden guys whose number I found on a lamppost yesterday, who did a tour with me and will come soon to help me prune and plant. (The lilac is old and most of it has to go; the Japanese maple is dying of thirst.) The neighbour pointed out the two dead trees between our properties and suggested we take them down.

My mother's accountant wrote that something was sent out with the wrong SIN number, and her tax guy sent various forms to be signed; we are still having problems with the IRS demanding money that we think we don't owe, so many emails are flying back and forth and much money is being spent on experts. Plus yesterday I realized that instead of my usual Tuesday afternoon class at U of T starting today, my boss had suggested we try it in the evening and had made the change, which I'd completely forgotten and had scheduled a Tuesday home class. So much panicked emailing and calling to head off people coming over here tonight, since I'll be at U of T. The home class changed to Monday. Many emails.

My bank manager and I need to meet but cannot find a time; various social invitations need responses; and I spent time with Airbnb trying to book a room in Ottawa for my July visit to visit my aunt and Paul McCartney, as I cannot stay with my mother any more. Because she has died. As I will die one day myself.

At which point, time to jump on the bike to head to Mt. Sinai Hospital for my annual eye exam for glaucoma and general disintegration. Just before rushing out, took a call from my son. Last month his new bike, specially fashioned for his six foot eight frame, was stolen. He bought a new one, and the front tire was stolen. He bought a new front tire and an inviolable lock, and this morning found the back tire gone. He has been having a very hard spring, and all this did not cheer him up. His mother tried.

And then it was noon.

Last night, finally caught "Bletchley Circle," the final episode, so I'll have to find the first three. How very sad that my mother did not live to see this, as it's not just about what the people at Bletchley did, secretly, to win the war, but about their lives afterwards, especially the lives of women who went from exciting and challenging work to homemaking. I do not think my mother minded that, however. She would have loved to see the show. And after that, watched Simon Schama about Shakespeare's England, with a long treatise on Falstaff. I'll check the Stratford program to see if any of the history plays are on this year, and make sure to see them. The night before, the wonderful "Shakespeare Uncovered" series, with a program on "Hamlet." TV at its best.

I hate this chaos in my home and feel I'm about to be blown away in a high wind. But this too shall pass. The weather is sublime, and we are all healthy. My eyes are fine. Onward.

Monday, May 6, 2013

news about writing classes

Monday morning, all systems go - the guys are preparing to make concrete for the deck, the roofer is hammering the shingles, my usually quiet yard is full of men, ladders, equipment. A concrete mixer. Life is so exciting.

And I'm at work too, preparing for my teaching term which starts tomorrow, with the U of T class "Life Stories," at 12.30. Then there's my evening home class tomorrow evening at 6, for students who've worked with me at least once before.

The Wednesday Ryerson class at 6.30, "True to Life," is full or very nearly. Any former students who are thinking of registering, contact me directly instead - perhaps you'll fit with the Tuesday bunch.  There's room in that class.

When she was about 9, my daughter made a sign for my mother's art room - trees, flowers, and the words, "Come on in - it's art time!"

This is my message to you: Come on in - it's writing time! 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

*** Vital - save the CBC! ***

The new Harper budget bill is going to do something crazy -- take hold of our public media and turn the CBC into a place where Harper's cronies could control the newsroom.

This is how tyrannical governments behave -- they try to silence and control independent media. But the bill goes into committee in days and we can get this small collection of MPs to amend the bill and take their hands off our CBC before it's too late.

Sign the petition and when we reach 100,000 voices to free the CBC, Avaaz will deliver our call directly to the finance committee before the hearings begin!

"Good ol' Freda"

It's one of those days when you cannot believe the good luck of being alive: 23 degrees on a spring/summer Sunday with the city in bloom. After experiencing spring across America and on the west coast, now I get to enjoy it all over again - and the word for today is forsythia.
This is outside my front door - a wall of gold. It was also the 42nd annual Forsythia Festival in Cabbagetown today; I went up the street to watch the parade, remembering when my kids were in it, all dressed up, riding their bikes. It's amazing how many kids live in this neighborhood. I think because my own have left, they've all left. But obviously not.

 The parade on Sackville Street
Festivities continued in Wellesley Park, including a great new addition - a beer tent for grownups. See the delicate green on the trees - ready to burst forth.

Yesterday, another great celebration, Anna's 32nd birthday barbecue and gardening work party. You'll be happy to hear that I forgot my phone, otherwise you would be inundated with photos. I went early, we rented an Autoshare car and went to buy fertilizer and plants, including herbs, a lilac and a rosebush. My daughter rents a ground floor apartment with a yard, which was an ugly wasteland until recently, full of debris. Now, it's a green and growing garden and play-space for her son and friends.

Last night, to Hot Docs, one of my favourite festivals which I've missed this year due to travel and cold. But could not miss this one, luckily pointed out by my friend Leslie, who met me there - "Good ol' Freda," a documentary about Freda Kelly, who was secretary to Brian Epstein and who ran the Beatles Fan Club until the band broke up in 1970. Of course for a nutty fan like myself, it was a fabulous exploration of that time and place, the personalities and events that affected millions of us. But surprisingly, it's more - because Freda herself is so genuine, warm and honest, a loyal woman who has never betrayed secrets or sold her story for money, it becomes the portrait of a truly good human being. She's talking now only because she has a grandson and wants him to know about her life.

She was like a member of the Beatles' families through those years, and the film shows again what ordinary working-class stock the boys came from, how solid were their values of hard work, decency and humour. Thrilling.

PS I know I'm truly home. Spent Sunday afternoon, as I love to do, listening to CBC radio while doing chores - today, effecting the great wardrobe switchover, winter stuff into boxes, summer stuff out. Because it's full on summer today, baby. No nambypamby spring for us.

Friday, May 3, 2013


Just out in the garden with the secateurs, chopping off the old dead stuff from last year, trying not to harm the new buds, the green new growth just below it. Another perfect day, and I'm enjoying it despite still-stuffed up head and general droopiness from 3 sleepless, stuffed up nights. Last night at 4 a.m. I wondered if I was being punished for my holiday. I'm way behind in house chores - my 9-foot high oleander is so afflicted with sticky scale that I spend a great deal of time hovering beneath it, scraping the stuff off with my fingernails. If I hadn't gone away for a month, I'd have kept it healthy. All my fault. As usual.

Especially out in the garden, I think of my mother. She was a great gardener - in her healthy days, she'd leap out into my garden on her visits, pruning and adjusting. Sometimes the hole in my life that was filled by my mother hurts. Most of the time, though, I'm just glad she's not deteriorating any more. Auntie Do, at 93, is going strong.

John and John came today to consult about the deck - because of the on-going threat of termites, they'd proposed the replacement deck be made of plastic wood; though practical, undoubtedly, the stuff has one great drawback - it looks like plastic wood. So now my guys have figured out how to put in a solid concrete base so there can be real cedar on top. After my time in B.C., the thought of anything but cedar is out of the question. And Richard the roofer will appear this evening and start tomorrow. So there will be many men hammering madly for the next week or so.

And then, perhaps, peace. No more big projects, house? Please?

Today, my daughter is 32. Her party is tomorrow; she has invited close friends over to help her transform the industrial wasteland behind her rented apartment into a garden, and then she'll provide a barbecue. I'm going early with rented car to help buy soil and plants. I'm sure there will be a miniature plot for Booboo. She is spending today just with her boy, told me he took her to lunch at her favourite little café. Not bad for a son who's not quite one.

Ran into an old friend on the street nearby. She opened her arms to hug me. "Beware, I have a cold," I said.
"Oh I know," she said, "and what a wonderful trip you've just had!"

A blog saves so much time.

P.S. Two quotes for you: on YouTube yesterday, I watched Colbert interview President Clinton. At one point, Colbert said, I'm younger than you and I'm exhausted just reading the list of what you're doing right now. How do you do it?
And Clinton replied, "When you get older, you have more time to work."

And David Steinberg the comedian on Jian this morning, talking about comedians: It doesn't matter if they're African-American, Asian, gay, he said, the more personal and honest they are, the more the audience will connect with them.

That's how it is with memoir too. As my classes at Ryerson and U of T will begin to learn next Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday evening. Looking forward to meeting you all.