Friday, November 29, 2013

let the celebrations begin

Just back from the first Christmas party of the season - let the eating and drinking begin! I indulged in far too much of everything. Luckily I read an article in the NYT that said that even a small amount of exercise can counter the bad effects of overeating. Unfortunately, I didn't move much today either.

I did spend time with my Booboo, who came with his mama to visit. He needed a haircut, so we went to my hairdresser nearby, Ingrid, and while I held him in my arms, she and I chatted casually and she snipped away the fuzzy bits at the back. It wasn't easy - he kept turning his head to watch Emma the dog - but it got done entirely without trauma, and we were handed a little envelope full of soft gold hair. Then I grabbed the time to get my hair cut too, but we left all that silver stuff on the floor.

First haircut. His first car is not far behind. Though actually, raised in the inner city like his mother, he probably won't even have a driver's license, let alone a car.

Last night, a great event - two teachers in the writing department at U of T have organized a reading series for both students and teachers at a pub on the Danforth. Now I'm dead keen to use the same lovely little space - with bar - to set up reading events for my own students. With bar.

Planning a trip to New York in two weeks, and a trip to Paris and Italy next March and April. Here and now, I am wrestling with what to do with work - the memoir is in limbo, waiting to hear from various places, and I am scattered about what to do next.

So I read - papers, books - at the moment, the marvellous collection of essays, "This is the story of a happy marriage," by Ann Patchett - magazines - I've decided my tombstone should read "RIP Beth Kaplan: She tried to keep up with the New Yorker" - and all the stuff that is so easy to fall into on-line, like a rabbit hole. I still can't get over the fact that on my lap is a tiny machine which can lead me anywhere in the world, show me films and play music and teach just about anything I need to know.

But cannot write essays for me.

Here's Booboo at home post haircut and his cousin Dakota with the menorah in the foreground and the as-yet undecorated Xmas tree behind. We celebrate everything going in this family.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Oh, poor Snow

From "Fallen Princesses" by Dina Goldstein

And this is hilarious...

Louis C. K. my hero

Ended up somehow at a site called URL Metrics, which tells you how your website is doing. Here's what I learned:

Elizabethkaplan is ranked 10,642,346 in the United States. 'Born to Blog by Beth Kaplan.

Ten millionth. Some kind of record, surely.

I don't know how this guy can be so funny and yet so wise. But Louis C. K. manages this all the time. Here - why his kids can't have a phone leads to a dissertation on existential melancholy and the inevitability of death. Absolutely wonderful.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

trying again

I am so NOT Holly Golightly, described by Capote as "an American geisha." He wrote the character about various New York socialites and wanted Marilyn Monroe to play her in the movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's". I resemble neither Marilyn nor Audrey Hepburn in even the slightest way, except that we are all female. When friend Chris wrote that he's Atticus Finch - Atticus Finch, the most noble character ever written! - I decided to try again. This time, changing a few answers - I mean, some of the questions are so vague - the result was only marginally better.

Scout is of course about nine years old. There is definitely a theme about completing tasks.

You are Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird

At your best, like Scout, you are inspiring company for your friends, colleagues and even strangers. Atticus would be proud as your empathic nature helps you to walk around in other people’s shoes. Being around you is fun as you instinctively know how to make people feel good about themselves.
On a bad day, you might blurt out something your neighbours wish you’d kept to yourself. Remember to take time out occasionally to work through your experiences. These periods of reflection will help you complete tasks and return to your naturally cheery, inspiring self.

Monday, November 25, 2013

rock the vote and then just rock

I was so proud to vote today, at Sprucecourt School where I have voted for the past 25 years. Hooray for Democracy. The Lib volunteers were out like crazy, knocking on my door twice to be sure I've voted, several phone calls, and not robocalls either, real people. I think Rob Ford has done us all a great favour. We're much more aware how every vote counts. Because if you don't think and don't care, look what happens. 

A hilarious - well, no, a savage article in the Star by Christopher Hume, on the pompous, hypocritical blowhard Conrad Black coming to the defence of one of his political stablemates, Rob Ford:

And one more thing - I checked on the 'net last week to see how Macca's new album was doing - it was at #40, so not great. But I checked out the top ten - #2, Celine Dion; #5, Avril Lavigne; # 7 Drake, and #9, Arcade Fire. Canada rocks, literally!

Holly Golightly - moi?

Scottish Book Week has launched a personality test; you can find out which character in fiction you most resemble. Margaret Atwood is like Elizabeth Bennet..
I am like Holly Golightly, in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Hmmm.  

Holly grabs life by the lapels and refuses to stop and mope. Audrey Hepburn found playing her tough, “an introvert playing an extrovert”, but she captures your inspiring, enthusiastic and outgoing nature perfectly. With a gift of the gab, your ability to bring the best out in people and your lust for life make you great company. People who meet you want to be your friend. If they were to catch you on a bad day you might come across as indiscreet, flamboyant and hasty but, if you can focus on finishing the tasks you start, instead of moving on to something even more exciting, you can inspire us all.

I think many of my friends might agree. Flamboyant and hasty! Someone with my slow and cautious nature? Not! I am a huge fan of Truman Capote's but have not read this book. Okay, put it on the list - # 4,687 on the Must Read list, right after "The Brothers Karamazov."

A great article by Ellen Roseman in today's Star on how our taxes actually pay for our services - just the point that was made yesterday at the library rally. When are we going to deflate the anti-tax Milton Friedman balloon that's been floating since Thatcher and Reagan? I bought the September "Harper's Bazaar" at Doubletake for 25 cents; it's full of pictures of $4000 coats, $3000 handbags, $1500 boots and shoes. These people who don't want to pay taxes starve our libraries and transit and roads and schools and health care and children and ... Phooey.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Support our libraries

Just back from a most heartening event - a "Save our libraries" rally at City Hall. When I arrived at 1.45, there were only a few people there, and my heart sank. But by the time we got rolling, the room was full, with more arriving, a diverse group, all ages. My people. By 2.15, the chambers were packed, including several Cabbagetown friends. The library spokespeople detailed how much the library budgets and staff have been cut, just as the need for them has grown. There was a chart showing the relative use of libraries in the largest American cities - and Toronto is by far the greatest.

They showed a fantastic little film about the library, made by two young men who were nominated for an Oscar a few years ago.

Click here to see it. 

When they called for the public to speak, a young man stood up to say that he grew up in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood, a heavy crime area, and that his own life was saved by the library.  Hooray. I was just at the Parliament branch yesterday, picking up a book I'd ordered online - Ann Patchett's "This is the story of a happy marriage," a book of essays that has just been released, and now I have my own copy for the next 3 weeks. Thank you, God and the taxpayers of Toronto, for the library.

A few words on ... aging. Last night, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and recoiled. Oh my, who is that old bag? Yes. Moi - my wrinkles more pronounced, my waistline newly vanished. It has just disappeared. But what the hell, I'm alive. C'est la vie.

Last night I watched a documentary about John F. Kennedy on PBS, and, of course, wept. Yes, he was more flawed than we knew, and yet, the man was gorgeous, cultured, intelligent, a writer - he won a Pulitzer Prize! - and he probably saved the world from nuclear holocaust. The program took us through the Cuban missile crisis, how close the world was to annihilation, American generals pushing for retaliation, punishment, unleashing the arsenal ...

Imagine if George Bush had been President. We wouldn't be here.

But we are. And to celebrate, here is the Ode to Joy - Beethoven on the streets of Spain. Sheer joy, indeed.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dallas Buyers Club

It is very cold; winter has whooshed in and taken over. The streets were so icy today, I watched an NDP canvasser on Spruce Street do a balletic spill. I'm glad he was not hurt; I wish him no ill, even if I'm not voting for his party. This time.

I'm usually not one for Oscar bets, but I am going to make mine right now - Cate Blanchett for Best Actress for "Blue Jasmine", and for Best Actor - Matthew McConaughey for "Dallas Buyers Club," which I saw this afternoon with friend Jean-Marc. lt's a powerful, beautifully made, gorgeously acted film, directed with great skill, I'm proud to say, by French-Canadian Jean-Marc Vallée, Oscar material himself. It's based on the true story of a homophobic Texas badass, Ron Woodroof, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1985 and took the matter of his medical treatment into his own hands. I've just checked, and though the Woodroof character is absolutely true, some of the other characters, especially his eventual partner in his drug buying club, a transsexual played with enormous compassion and skill by Jared Leto - who will ever forget him as every teen girl's heartthrob, Jordan Catalano, in "My so-called life"? - are invented by the screenwriters.

Well, it works. It brings back that frightening time in the mid-eighties, when gay men were dying and we were all terrified. It reminded me again how much we lost, how many incredibly talented men, including many of my own friends in the theatre. I even wondered, for the first time, about myself  - just before the AIDS pandemic hit, I was in the theatre and sexually active - I might easily have been infected. It's my own luck all that stopped when I fell in love in January 1980. Jean-Marc, on the way home, said that his and his partner Richard's lives were saved because they were so slow to come out.

We've been thinking of Kennedy on this 50th anniversary, how his death was the first world-wide television tragedy. But the dawning of AIDS in the 80's was also a first - though the world had been afflicted with plagues for eons, this was the first to land so publicly in our lives, and the first so politically fraught - our society had not yet come to terms with homosexuality. The most moving scene in the film, so quick you almost miss it, is when the Jared Leto character, who is dying, dresses in a man's suit and goes to visit his father, a big politician or lawyer, to beg for money. A stunning little scene, from a very, very fine film.

And then out, into the bitterly cold night. Dear readers, it's 7.30 on a Saturday night; I'm sitting, as usual, in the kitchen with the crabby cat tucked in beside me, there's snow on the deck outside the door, "Breathless" is on TV later tonight, but first, Randy Bachman's rockin' radio show is on, and now I will cook while listening. Unlike so many of my beloved actor friends, I am alive.

It doesn't get better than this.

Friday, November 22, 2013

a mantra for right now

Last night at my home class, I read an excerpt from an article I'd read, and they liked it so much, they asked me to send it to them. I said I'd copy and post it for everyone, instead. I think I may have posted parts of it some months ago, but it's important, so here it is again:

... A neuroscientist called Dr. Rudolph Tanzi talking about the brain - actually, about mind over brain, how you can use your mind to change not only your thinking but your mental and physical health. He was talking about mindfulness - living in a mindful way - which he defined as paying real attention in a neutral manner, devoid of judgment, to what's going on both inside and outside us.

He suggested we take time to be mindful with our senses, our internal and external body, mentally and socially. Take your time when you eat - taste. Be in touch with your body, listen to your breathing, your heartbeat. Be aware of those closest to you, then those further away. Pay attention; really listen.

Observe your own thoughts and feelings. "The real you," he said, "is the one observing your thoughts and feelings." You are the user of your brain. Use your mind to rewire your brain. Persist. Practice. He pointed out that when we feel down, if we conjure up a happy memory or thought, our brain will actually release feel-good chemicals like oxytocin and endorphins. There's a new field called neuro-immunology - how your brain can help you stay healthy.

What I liked most was that he said he repeats to himself, through his day, "I am okay right now. And there is only right now." I have said this to myself several times since. It's a mantra to ally anxiety about the past or the future. "Use your mind," he concluded, "to take charge of your brain and create the life you want."

Right now. Because that's all there is.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

standing up for the NDP

One of my most faithful readers emailed today from Quebec, to let me know she's sorry I have abandoned the NDP, at least for this election.

The political landscape has been changed here forever in Quebec by the NDP. Young people, women, immigrants, people coming out of retirement to serve as deputies in the House. There is hope here in our province for change and evolution. I proudly stand with the work of our party and the militants who continue to rally us all to the best we can be. I am sorry you cannot support the NDP candidate in your riding, and I hope you will receive my own notes from the campaign trail as fodder for your deliberations. It is not a cult of personality, but a movement of people, in solidarity and affection with all Canadians. Good luck on Monday with your candidate. May she serve you and the people of Toronto well. But for me and my house, we're going orange all the way to 2015. I read  you every day, and love your words and reviews, and BooBoo is the bomb. I felt I needed to pipe up. 

I understand and appreciate this sentiment, and thank her for her passion and commitment. My parents were lifelong members of the NDP and would approve. I can't, though, vote for someone I don't like much, especially because this time, I can vote for an equally good candidate in another party which is not a bad party. But there will be guilt. 

Bliss: an interview in the Star today with the Deputy Mayor of Toronto. He is a dignified, knowledgeable man, a former historian with BOOKS IN HIS OFFICE. Moving right along. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Chrystia Freeland for me

We have a by-election in Toronto Centre on Monday, an important one. Went to an all candidates meeting this evening at Jarvis Collegiate. It was packed to the gills, thrillingly. In this city, these days, we are reminded daily of the importance of democracy - for better or worse. Tonight, one of the marginal independent candidates, furious at not being included, took over the stage before it began, harangued the audience and refused to leave until the police were called to escort him off. Ho hum - just another rude weirdo in Toronto.

As I wrote before, it's sad that there are two spectacular women running against each other, when really, we need them both. But which to choose? I was once a member of the NDP, but I am moving more toward the centre and the Liberals in my old age - even though I will never forgive them for the Michael Ignatieff debacle, their choice of a snobbish man and tone-deaf politician, which doomed our country to more Harper. I've been tempted to vote strategically in more than one election, simply to pick the strongest candidate to defeat the Conservative. But in this riding, that's a given.

And this election is no different - the Conservative candidate is a joke. So let's forget him. The Green guy is well-meaning and idealistic, absolutely, and I was glad to hear him out. But he's off in the ozone; he doesn't have a hope in hell of getting elected and infuriatingly, is further splintering the vote on the left. If the Greens really cared about our country, they would work within one of the two centre-left parties which might actually win, rather than siphoning protest votes away.

So - which - Liberal Chrystia Freeland or the NDP's Linda McQuaig? Accomplished clever writers, sharp women on the left, both. For me, by the end of the evening, no question.

I was turned off McQuaig from the start because of her negative campaign, her personal attacks on Freeland. And tonight was no different; she brought up yet again the fact that when Freeland was a newspaper editor, she oversaw the dismissal of some staff members - at a time, as Freeland pointed out, when newsrooms all over the world were being shrunk. In a discussion on the need for a national housing policy, McQuaig brought up again and again the fact that Liberal Paul Martin killed the national housing plan in 1994. Freeland pointed out that when she goes door to door, people don't accost her with, "What about Paul Martin's housing policy in 1994?"

McQuaig is smart and funny, and if she got to Parliament, she would liven things up - though I doubt she would be a good team player. Freeland maybe tries too hard to be nice, but she's just as smart, and sensible and honest. She's clear and very well-informed. In this dirty game of politics, she has the best chance of making a difference. I think she'll learn fast.

If McQuaig wins, I'll be curious to see how she deals with Ottawa. But I am voting for Freeland. Oh - and they're on TVO right now. McQuaig is attacking Freeland personally again, while saying she isn't doing so. She is speaking about the layoffs Freeland oversaw AGAIN. I do not like her. She's a good writer. Let's leave it at that.

Angelina Jolie, humanitarian and wine-maker

Angelina Jolie recently won the Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Her acceptance speech, below, is moving and beautiful. She really is phenomenal - stunning (yes, a bit of Botox for this clear-browed mother of six, but I guess she has no choice), talented, thoughtful, engaged, loving. Can it all be true? Well, an actress friend of mine once made a movie with Angelina, and told me that the star was warm and generous with her and other Canadians in the cast. So it is. Right now, we are living with such ugliness in the papers that it's a treat to hear and see someone with a fine soul.

And - can it get any better - the rosé that is made at Brangelina's enormous estate in the south of France has just been voted the best rosé in the world! Oh for God's sake, now that's hitting really close to home - one of my favourite things on earth, rosé! What next, the Nobel Peace Prize? Well ...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

hearing the truth

A great day; a hard day. The sun shone but it was cold - a few degrees above. Last U of T class, a spectacular group. William wrote a hilarious yet moving piece about the struggle to come up with a piece of writing, that seemed to speak for everyone. We had our usual end of class party, with food and wine and great, great stories.

At the very end, as I often do, I read a bit from my own work, so they get a chance to hear what I'm doing, and to critique me. This time, I read a scene from the memoir, and then I read the email I'd received only an hour before leaving for class from my friend Rosemary, a brilliant editor who'd read the manuscript. Reading it aloud helped me process, though, in truth, I didn't really need to. I knew it all.

What she said is what almost everyone else has said, only I couldn't hear it until today: the book as it is, she wrote, though well written, evocative and enjoyable, would be hard to find a publisher for because it's a "niche" book, of interest mostly to women my age. Most men wouldn't get its romantic excesses, and the young women of today would find its stories of courtship quaintly old-fashioned. Self-publish, she said, market the hell out of it, and then write the story I want to read - the family story about you and those powerful, difficult parents lurking in the background. Which, she said, if well-written, could interest the big publishers.

If well-written. Oh well, that's easy.

I told the class, I've been working on this "niche" material for years. But what that means is that I wrote what I could, I told what stories I could while my mother was alive. I was not ready to go into other territory. Now my dear mother is not here to know what I'm writing about our family, and I am free. So - here we go.

I will self-publish because, as Rosemary says, this book is ready now. And though it's light, it still means a lot to me, and God knows, there are a lot of Beatle fans out there. I imagine a lovely little book and hope it finds its place in the world. But while it does so, I will be busy writing something else.

That's what I told the class. A hard truth. Writing is never wasted, I said, even if it goes nowhere. And then we ate and drank a bit more and that was it, another term over. Home, freezing on the bike, to drink wine and depress myself by reading about our poor beseiged city. Jesus God, it's beyond belief. It's like someone has taken the worst-behaved kindergarten kids ever and blown them up to grown-up size, no, bigger than that, and let them loose. Genghis Khan's toddlers at City Hall. Big fat mean bully brats, running our city. Here's the end of the eloquent Andrew Coyne's latest. Go, Andrew!

Even in the midst of Monday’s mayhem, his apologists were holding him to the standard of a Friday night beer league goon: “He was provoked.” More culpable still has been the unwillingness of political leaders, notably his federal Conservative allies, to denounce Ford in the terms he deserves. The provincial Tory leader, Tim Hudak, deserves credit for pledging his support for provincial intervention, should that prove necessary. But the Liberal premier has said she will not without an invitation from the council, and the council seems disinclined to issue such an invitation.
The rest of us are, in a sense, handcuffed. We simply don’t know how to respond to this level of misconduct, this sort of contempt for social norms. At some level, our whole system depends upon people, however badly they may behave, staying within some sort of limits. But the Fords have demonstrated they are under no such constraint.
All of which should make abundantly clear that it is time to put aside the therapeutic language, the Oprah-like pleas to the mayor to “get help” or “seek treatment.” We are long past that point. The mayor’s actions Monday were quite deliberate. They reflected the influence, not of intoxicants, but his own limitless ego and unformed character. As such it is not Ford who has the problem; it’s the city. The message he needs to hear, from every corner, is not get help, but get out.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The power of words

My Scottish student Patrick just sent this. "This is about show, don't tell," he said. And it is.

The Power of Words<

Tedeschi Trucks Band - the best

Last night I spent some time with a nice American couple. They're both in their forties, they have some kids, they both have long blonde hair, only Derek Trucks' hair is a bit longer than his wife Susan Tedeschi's.

What's unusual about this couple is not just that they are both fantastic guitarists, plus Susan has a glorious voice and Derek sings with his guitar. But they have assembled nine - count them - nine more superb musicians to play with them - black, white, two drummers, an incredible keyboardist who also plays a mean flute, two back up singers who also sing lead - especially when husband and wife are trading ferocious guitar licks, something I have never seen before - a bass player and a whole horn section. Together they're the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and they took the roof off Massey Hall last night. And my roof off too. What joy.

I didn't have a great seat, over on the left side tucked in behind the keyboard - couldn't see the drummers at all and hardly the horns. So at the end I went to stand at the back, where I could enjoy the full blast of their sound and also, even more importantly, dance. Their music - how to type it? Blues, classic rock, rockabilly - Bonnie Raitt mixed with Sly and the Family Stone with some country, bluegrass, big band and jazz thrown into the mix. Great artistry and sheer pleasure, as solid a wall of sound as you are ever likely to hear.

It's especially their extraordinary relationship that I celebrate, this week when we are thinking about the "obsolescence of men". Here's a married couple on the road with their band, equal stars on stage. There's a short blonde wife and mother in high heels, a woman with ten men backing her as she sings her guts out. Something that couldn't have existed a few decades ago - Susan, with all her sublime talent, would have been at home with the kids, maybe making records on the side. But there they are.

Many thanks to my friend Laurel and her husband Mike, for letting me know about these guys. Spectacular.

Support our libraries - this Sunday!

Our Public Library - Action Alert

Dear Beth,
ReinvestI would like to personally invite you to attend the first-ever Forum on the Future of Our Public Library.

It will take place on Sunday, November 24 from 2pm to 4 pm in the Council Chamber at Toronto City Hall. 

Please RSVP.
Toronto has the busiest and, by most measures, the best library system in North America. But this precious public asset, founded in 1883, is falling behind. How could it not, after 20 years of political neglect and budget cuts?
More service reductions are being planned for 2014 and beyond. Toronto Council is closely divided on this issue. Major decisions will be made soon.
Unless we stop them, this would make four years in a row that Rob Ford and his allies on Council have attacked our public library - on top of years of neglect that have already diminished this vital institution. For Torontonians this means:
Fewer Books - The TPL’s acquisition budget has been cut in each of the last four years. In total, cuts have taken more than $50 million in new materials from the shelves.
Less Service – 525 TPL staff positions have been cut since 1992 including all children’s librarians (more than 300 since 1998)
Reduced access – branch hours were cut dramatically in the 1990s and never fully restored; literacy, children’s and other programs have been eliminated
Please let me know if you can attend the first ever Forum on the Future of Our Public Library.
Click here to RSVP:

This is a crucial moment for the future of our public library.  It is essential that we have a strong show of support on November 24th.

Yours sincerely,
MaureenMaureen Signature
Maureen O’Reilly

Sunday, November 17, 2013

the death of children

Just finished an excellent book: "Anne Frank: The book, the life, the afterlife," by Francine Prose. She wants to be sure that we remember Anne, not as the winsome teen depicted in the play and movie, but as the serious, extremely talented and skilled writer that she was. In her last months, Anne revised the diary with an eye to publication; Prose details the ways Anne edited and improved her younger writings. She deplores what she calls the "dejudification" of Anne in some analyses, and shows how much the diary still means all over the world.

My heroes since the age of 13 - Paul McCartney and Anne Frank. I once wrote a play in which a girl not unlike myself talked to the two of them in her room. Not a successful play, but a wonderful fantasy. (Incidentally, in my play, Paul and Anne were sitting on opposite sides of my bedroom and did not meet.)

And I read a moving and disturbing Personal History in the most recent New Yorker, called "Thanksgiving in Mongolia." The author, Ariel Levy, announces immediately that as a child, she had no interest in playing house, she played explorer. And later she became one, with many adventures including travelling alone in India at the age of 22 and hiking in Nepal. She could not decide whether or not to have a child, a decision her partner left to her; finally, at 38, inspired by a joyful trip to Greece, she got pregnant.

And then, five months pregnant, she decided to go to Mongolia. This would be her last lengthy trip, she writes, for a year or two. Her doctor, she says, told her it was safe to travel until her third trimester. I wonder if he knew, though, that her destination was Ulan Bator.

She wasn't feeling well there, and, alone in her hotel room, she gave birth to a perfect breathing 19-week old baby boy who fitted in her hand. She managed to take a picture of him before they were rushed to hospital, where he was taken away. She never saw him again. When she got back to New York, "I was so sad I could barely breathe," she writes. Her life fell apart, and her marriage ended.

This story made me, too, profoundly sad, and I thought back to the discussion of the other night, Camille Paglia talking about the profound biological differences between men and women - that the basis of some of what feminists call sexist behaviour is the fact that women and infants do need protection. Ariel Levy wanted the freedom and autonomy of a man, which was just fine until she got pregnant late in a woman's reproductive cycle. And then, though she still wanted to behave like a man, her body was very much that of a woman. I think of my friend Lynn, who during several difficult pregnancies had to spend months in bed for the safety of the fetus. Levy did not want to give up her freedom; but motherhood is the very definition of lack of freedom. At least, a certain kind of freedom - the "going to Mongolia at five months pregnant at 38" type of freedom.

I mourn her loss, but I do not understand the decision that generated it. No, that's not true - I do understand it. I can understand saying, Why should I give up my exciting life for this new arrival, whom I haven't even met? She writes: "I liked the idea of telling my kid, 'When you were inside me, we went to see the edge of the earth.'" I can understand it, but I would never, in a million years, have taken that risk. But then, I did not play explorer as a little girl. I played with dolls.

To quote Camille Paglia, "Feminism was always wrong to pretend that women could 'have it all.' It is not male society but mother nature who lays the heaviest burden on women."

For sure.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Simple Toronto pleasures - my Sunday

 St. Lawrence Market: A MOUNTAIN of kale. I bought a bunch, which now fills my fridge. What to do with it?
The wonderful Merchants of Green Coffee gathering spot and shop, where I buy my beans. This place could have come right out of the Koonenays in 1974.
 Brunch at home, with fresh everything, including comics
The last bouquet from the garden, with the very last tiny rose

Andrew Coyne hits the bull's eye once again

The last paragraphs of Andrew Coyne's superb National Post article on the debacle, "Rob Ford mess a monster born of divisive and condescending populism":

And yet — there Mr. Ford sits, immovably: disgraced, largely powerless, but still the mayor. Is that his fault? The city’s? Or is it the fault of those who put him there in the first place, and sustained him through the long train wreck that followed: the staff who failed to report his misdeeds; the commentators who excused them; the partisans who ignored them. Disasters on the Ford scale, we are taught, do not just happen, and while the mayor’s endless supply of lies, manipulativeness and sheer chutzpah have helped to preserve him in office until now, he could not have done it alone.
And of all his enablers, the most culpable are the strategists, the ones who fashioned his image as the defender of the little guy, the suburban strivers, against the downtown elites, with their degrees and their symphonies — the ones who turned a bundle of inchoate resentments into Ford Nation. Sound familiar? It is the same condescending populism, the same aggressively dumb, harshly divisive message that has become the playbook for the right generally in this country, in all its contempt for learning, its disdain for facts, its disrespect of convention and debasing of standards. They can try to run away from him now, but they made this monster, and they will own him for years to come.
Get help? He’s had plenty.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Are men obsolete?

That was the topic at tonight's Munk Debate at Roy Thomson Hall - a sold out crowd of more than 3000, including many men, come to hear 1 British and 3 American intellectuals debate the decline of men relative to women in family and work: for the Pro side, Maureen Dowd of the NYTimes, who wrote "Are men necessary?" and Hanna Rosin of the Atlantic, whose book is "The End of Men."

On the con side, Caitlin Moran from England, author of "How to be a woman," and the controversial Camille Paglia. It was interesting that the Pro women wore tight skirts - Dowd in a little black dress and high heels - whereas Paglia - dedicated lesbian that she is - strode in wearing plain pants and flats, and Moran in shorts with tights and big boots and plaid shirt, like the punk SHE is.

There was a disconnect from the start in the debate in that both Dowd and Rosin were not arguing that men should vanish, only that we must be realistic in looking at a world - a western world anyway - that is shifting fast in favour of women. That manufacturing and blue collar jobs are disappearing, men are failing in the workplace, and one in five men were not working in the U.S. last year, whereas women are moving in the other direction: young single women now have higher incomes than men, women earn 60% of college degrees, and the "Alpha wife" who earns more than her husband figures in 40% of American couples.

Those statistics were from Rosin, who started with Rob Ford jokes - that our mayor was proof of the topic, we could just stop right there - and who was interesting but lightweight. Dowd was a disappointment; she's a brilliant writer but, as she said at the start, "I have never debated before. I am so screwed." And she was - she read her notes in a Margaret Atwood flat voice and didn't engage.

Whereas the Con two, whom I had rather dreaded hearing - I found Moran's book fun but exhausting - were fabulous - passionate, fierce, to the point. The real surprise was Paglia, who to me was the star of the evening, though her talks were cruelly cut off by the timekeeper; I could have listened to her for a much longer time. She rhapsodized about true masculinity, the working class men who keep our world running, and berated "upper-class feminists" for being "indifferent to the gallant work of construction workers." She spoke of the crisis in education - that schools are toxic for creativity, especially male creativity, and "maleness needs a revolution in the education system."

There was a spirited discussion about the meaning of Miley Cyrus, which once again I thought Paglia nailed, when she said Cyrus wasn't disturbing or anti-feminist with her blatant sexual come on, just boring, because she doesn't know that real sexuality is about mystery. Paglia ranted that there are no real male movie stars now like Gary Cooper, Robert Mitchum or John Wayne, because those were men who had manly jobs in the real world before becoming actors and stars. The young now have dismal role models, she said.

And she finished by musing that at a certain point late in life, power and wealth are meaningless, but that our Western obsession with wealth and career is distorting the meaning of life - leading us to barren lives. She goes to a beach near her home frequented by working class families, all generations vacationing together. As we grow wealthy, she said, we lose those close family connections. Feminism has denigrated the stay-at-home mother and the value of children.

Whew! I have felt some of those things for years - about the demonization of boys in our education system, and the lack of respect for childcare work in traditional feminism. I was there as the mother of a son struggling to find his place in the world and a daughter raising a boy alone. Lots of what was said was of great relevance to their lives.

Dowd: Men are so last century.
Moran: These are not problems of men or women, but of all humanity. We are the same species. Human equality is a necessity, like water. In the 21st century, our biggest resource is brains.
Dowd: Saudi Arabia is oppressive, but it's more liberated than the Catholic Church.
Moran: Straight white men are an extreme minority in the world, but they sure get a lot of shit done.

In the end, the vote was pretty close but the Cons won. Not a surprise. What was a surprise was the huge crowd, le tout Toronto, a real creme de la creme bunch - Torontonians desperate for a dignified, sophisticated evening out, celebrating what this city can and should produce. Brava to all four!

ways to donate

Torontonian humour is in full gear, thank the lord. I saw a sticker on a lamppost yesterday - an image of Ford lolling on a sidewalk holding a handwritten sign: WILL MAYOR FOR CRACK. A guy just said on the radio, "It's like Sarah Palin's whole family rolled into one without media handlers."

As Rick Salutin writes in the "Star" today, it's heartening to see people so united in response.

This mayoral fiasco has activated the citizenry in its sage, witty awareness. Compared to that benefit, some mockery from the U.S. networks is a small price to pay. Anyway, in their politics, Americans have given us lots to laugh at and feel superior about over the years. It's only right we pay them back in kind. Think of it as one of the more benign components of free trade. 

Yesterday our mayor, besides many other vile things, said, "Yes, I have drank alcohol in excess." Who cares about drug addiction, lying, criminal friends, sexist and racist rants? What about grammar?


Yes, onward to something that matters. My friend Odette, who's Filipina, has written that there are other ways to donate to the cause there without sending money.

It'd be great if you could also let your readers know that they can also donate rewards points like Aeroplan, Airmiles, HBC, Shoppers Optimum. The Red Cross has a link:

Thursday, November 14, 2013

a hot November day

Listening right now to the Right Hon. Joe Clark talking to Jian - never did I think I'd long for ol' Joe Who. He's a red Tory who disapproves of his Conservative colleagues in Ottawa, and he sounds like the wisest, most clear-eyed and sensible person in the country.

I know that something else appalling happened at City Hall, but I am shutting it out. It's excruciating. No one can believe it's actually happening in our city. But it is.

Last night, my French neighbour Monique and I watched the film "Hannah Arendt" on the French channel. It was a bit difficult - it's deeply philosophical and wordy, mostly in German, with French subtitles. But an extraordinary portrait of a brave and singular woman, an exploration of her concept of "the banality of evil," which she came to while watching the trial of Adolf Eichmann. It was horrifying, she concluded, not that he was a monster, but that he was not. He was an ordinary man following orders, who did not allow himself to think or feel, and so turned off all humanity. A thought-provoking film.

Heavenly today, a gift, warm and sunny, and all Toronto rushed out to make the best of it, because there may not be another like it this year. I went across town to visit Booboo; we walked to High Park and spent a happy hour kicking piles of leaves and climbing on the magic castle playground. We did a lot of swinging. A LOT of swinging and climbing and leaf kicking.
Then we went home and did some sweeping. Nothing more attractive than a guy with a broom in his hand.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

donate to The Humanitarian Coalition

I just donated, to help our brothers and sisters in the Philippines. If this is not what our money is for, I don't know what is. Please join me. Thanks! 

If you have not yet made a donation, your gift of $100, $150 or $250 today will help us continue our crucial response by providing health teams, mobile clinics and emergency supplies to hundreds of thousands.

Due to the sheer magnitude of this crisis, the Government of Canada will match your donation to provide even more life-saving support for Filipino children and their families.

Please act now.

Together, we can save more lives. Simply click here to donate!

the health benefits of writing

Always knew it, but it's nice to read it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

addictions of various kinds

You can tell when I've been spending too much time zipping from one site to the other, from Facebook to the NYT to Huffpost to Slate and around and around, when I come up with obscure old stuff like this - the Muppets, in a version of "Waiting for Godot." God, I miss these guys.

Sesame Street - Monsterpiece Theater "Waiting for Elmo"

Sorry, you'll have to copy and paste. It's worth it.

Hours, days, entire LIFETIMES can be lost inside this machine. How to stop? I've read that it's now considered an addiction - internet addiction. I'm not nearly as bad as some - I hardly check my phone when I'm out, for example - but I just love sitting here trolling around - always great stuff. Just watched Sacha Baron Cohen killing the presenter at the BAFTA Awards, forwarded by my son. His humour, definitely. But almost mine, too.

As usual, the New Yorker says it all.

Wait, I do get out sometimes. My Ryerson term ended yesterday, a wonderful group, generous, honest, brave. One wrote to us today: A big thank you to all of you. I signed up for a writing class but was rewarded with so much more. It was honour to sit in a classroom with you each Monday as memories and memoirs were shared. 

And another, A very enlightening and rewarding experience. For me too. And another, I have so many great memories of our time together and  I’ll never forget you. 

Some of a wild and crazy bunch - our farewell party yesterday
Thought I could get away without mentioning the obvious, but I can't. The man appeared at City Hall today, apparently, with "Ford Nation" t-shirts and a bobble-headed Rob Ford doll, going on, yet again,  about "saving taxpayers money." It's obscene, appalling, and all of us stand out here with our jaws dropping while he gets away with it. Mind-boggling gall. Makes me so furious, I'll just have to find some more funny stuff on the 'net. But I'm not addicted, oh no. No rehab for me.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

the resilience gene

Warsaw 1946. Photo by Michael Nash.

Is it okay to kill cyclists?

I live this every day as I ride - have been cut off by sharp turning drivers, had a cab nearly hit me as he did a u-turn without even seeing me in my bike lane, have had drivers shave so close to me they nearly knocked me over. It ain't fun. What he says below is true - why do drivers have the slightest incentive to be careful when there are no consequences for them at all?

But he's also right that we too should obey the law. I am cavalier with traffic signals on my bike, as I am when I walk. I'll be a good girl from now on.


Is It O.K. to Kill Cyclists?

Based on how drivers who run over and kill cyclists are punished, you'd have to say yes.

It's a true fall day, dark and wet with leaves blasting by. But the good news is: it's 3 p.m. and so far today, no new scandal.

Check out the spelling of "responsibility". Ha. Thanks for sending this, Chris.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

actually funny about the scandalous

I do not read this man's newspaper and hate to validate it in any way - but Coyne nails it here.

Andrew Coyne: 'I am so sorry. I am sorry in a hundred inadmissible ways'

Andrew Coyne, National Post
Friday, November 8, 2013
Note: This is not about any particular person in the news. It is about everybody in the news


There's a world out there with far bigger problems than a tormented human being masquerading as a mayor - a typhoon in the Phillipines, for example. I emailed my dear student Odette, who wrote back that though her immediate family was safe, an ex-inlaw witnessed the roof of her house being blown off and had a fatal heart attack.

Lest we forget, today - the men and women who died for the democracy that we witness being trashed before our eyes. Two excellent editorials in the "Star" today, especially the one by the wonderful Don Tapscott, "A crisis of legitimacy," taking apart our whole political system and putting it back together so that it works better. If only, Don. The other has a title that says it all: "Rob Ford's fatal flaw? He has no shame." No kidding.

I didn't watch "The Fifth Estate" and its exposé of the whole Ford debacle on its first airing, but enough people said to watch, so I did, last night. Another triumph of good journalism - the program made absolutely clear that Ford tried to buy the crack video, sent minions into the 'hood with suitcases of cash. And other shockers. Another "Star" journalist reminds us that we've had an incompetent suburban mayor before - Mel Lastman, who was also an international embarrassment. But Mel was a miracle of statesmanship compared to this guy.

Enough. Took myself on a dark and damp afternoon to a movie yesterday - "Enough Said," a romcom for the middle-aged and James Gandolfini's last role. More lightweight than my usual films, but charming, and worth it to see him one last time. He does so little, just is, there in front of all those cameras. He just is - warm, funny, smart, self-deprecating, kind. Was.

A dear friend and neighbour, I just learned, has terminal cancer, a few months to live. Suzanne Turnbull, younger sister of old friend Keith, just died suddenly of a heart attack in Stratford. This quiet Sunday, the blue sky, the grey clouds, the swirling yellow leaves, all seem more precious when I remember to sit still and breathe. Lest we forget.

P.S. I went to the market Saturday, bought a roast and veggies and invited both my children to Sunday dinner. Both of them are too busy today to accept. Made me feel wonderful - things are as they should be. The meal is in the oven now - cooked while listening to Eleanor on CBC Radio, of course - and I'll just have to force myself to eat it all.

Friday, November 8, 2013

our problem

The good news is that our mayoral crisis is giving lots of work to some of our best writers. My esteemed Toronto colleague David Macfarlane, who is incapable of writing a dull sentence, has a piece in the "New Yorker" on local politics.



As everyone who watches “The Daily Show” or “David Letterman” sort of knows, Toronto elected Rob Ford to be its sixty-fourth mayor, in 2010. What nobody knows is what to do with the crack-smoking politician now.

In the "Globe", Richard Florida writes about our need for a new kind of governance.
Canada’s biggest city needs more than a better leader – it 

And in the meantime, Jon Stewart and his guest Patrick Stewart chuckle about this city. We have always wanted to be a famous city, in the world's eye, but not like this.

I have done my bit. On my front door is a large hand-printed sign: THIS IS A FORD FREE ZONE. I put it up because students were coming last night, and I could see us chatting ad nauseam, when in fact, there is nothing new to say.

My friend the lawyer, at the Y, told me she thinks he'll stay in office until the next election. Unbelievable as that sounds. Even more unbelievable: Tonight on the radio, a pundit said that because of mistakes made by his enemies, which have made his fan base once more sympathetic to the poor hounded outsider, he may well WIN the next election. In the meantime, the mayor of benighted Calgary is a generous funny clever leftie muslim, and the new mayor of NYC looks like a saint.

Time to move.

Only joking. But still ...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Some of us LIVE here.

Please, please make him go away. And his brother too. Far far far far far far far away, forever.

If you want to laugh, there are a million parodies on the internet, including Jimmy Kimmel's short instructive video "How to tell if your mayor is smoking crack," both Jon Stewart and Colbert last night, and an editorial cartoon of the fat man lighting up the CN Tower like a crack pipe.

But to those of us who actually live here, it is not funny. Today, in the lounge of the Y, a group of women who'd never spoken before began to chat and were all in perfect agreement: it's a hideous embarrassment, unbelievable that the man is still there, and nobody we know voted for him. It's all Mike Harris's fault.

But outrage and blame don't help. He IS still there. Unbelievably. And the city staggers on.

An example of what is NOT happening, while this circus plays on: Today, as I often am, I was waiting in the drizzle for the 506 Carlton streetcar heading east. When it pulls up at Yonge, which is a subway stop, there's always a huge crowd waiting to get on, and an equally huge crowd waiting to get off. But infuriatingly, most of the people inside get off at the front of the streetcar, which means that the people waiting in the rain to get ON stand and wait. It's inefficient, it's stupid, it shouldn't happen. When the streetcar pulls up at a subway stop, people should be asked to get off at the back, so as they exit, others enter. Last year, I have even called the TTC about this, and the man said, Oh what a good idea, I'll speak to our staff.


Today there was someone who looked like a supervisor on the car, so, ever the hopeful citizen activist, I spoke to him. Oh what a good idea, he said.
Isn't it policy? I said. Is there no policy for efficiency analysis?
No, he said. The drivers have lots of ideas, but there's no mechanism for head office to listen to them.

Imagine that. We have a vast transit system, but there's no mechanism for head office to listen to the drivers - or to the passengers either. So one very small change, which would make the whole system more efficient, is not implemented. Let alone the hundred, the thousand other things that would make Toronto transit better. Let alone the thousand changes that would make the entire city work better.

In the meantime, to the joy of comedians worldwide, we endure this monstrous farce.

P.S. I did watch the documentary about Jimi Hendrix last night - marvellous, two hours long, where was I when he was making music in the late sixties? He was just too ... psychedelic for me, I think, too wild, though of course I knew his music, his powerful American anthem at Woodstock. I didn't know how ground-breaking it was that his original group, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, was him as lead singer backed by two scrawny white British musicians - the first band with white musicians fronted by a black man. It seems such a long time ago.

So - I just watched the Gillers on the internet. Lynn Coady who won is from Dartmouth! I grew up in Halifax, and I can tell you, in the old days, not much came of note from Dartmouth. Good for her. How brave they are, these writers, scribbling away, never knowing if they will find readers. And even, sometimes, a $50,000 prize.

More on my own lonely scribbles another time.

from one wise man about another

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tony Kushner on writing

Tony Kushner the great American playwright was invited to deliver a speech to up and coming writers recently, and here's part of what he said:

I’m utterly unsuited to the task of telling you how to live a happy, disciplined writer’s life. I’m a slow reader, a deliberate tortoise of a thinker rather than the intellectual gazelle I would like to be; I’m undisciplined and unhappy writing and expect to be until the writing stops. I find a remarkable number of things to do in a day much more compelling than writing. I could give you absolutely sterling advice on how to avoid writing, how when you run out of things to do other than going to your desk and writing, when every closet is reorganized and you’ve called your oldest living relative twice in one day to see what she’s up to and there isn’t an unanswered e-mail left on your computer or you simply can’t bear to answer another one and there is no dignity, not a drop left, in any further evasion of the task at hand, namely writing, well, you can always ask your dentist for a root canal or have an accident in the bathtub instead.
And sometimes, when I’m reluctant to go to my desk, when I’m too pole-axed by fears to allow myself to surmount the not especially formidable obstacles I’ve placed between myself and my work, I recite a couplet William Blake wrote to get himself going:
If Blake could do this when he sat down to shite,
Think what he might do if he sat down to write.
And sometimes that actually helps! It helps to know that even Blake needed a little prompting now and then to get to work.
All I really know about writing is that if you’re a writer, writing is what you do. The work, intellectual, emotional, physical work, is everything—the means, the ends, the justifications, and the doubts, the ignominy, acclaim, disappointment, and elation, everything that can happen will happen only when and if you write. In the words of one of my favorite writer-writers, the great poet Czeslaw Milosz:
The goal of an artist is to be free of violent joys and sorrows for which he had time enough during his past life. At breakfast not to think anything except that he will go to his workshop, where stretched canvases are ready. He works on a few of them simultaneously, intrigued by a surprise emerging out of the movements of the brush. He knows what he looks for, what he strives for. And that is the whole reality, a detail seen once but constantly escaping, its nameless essence not touched by anybody. Practically this means to re-create trees, landscapes, people, animals, but always with the hope that the brush will find a proper trail.
That’s the most I have to offer tonight: take up your brush, or rather your pen, or turn on your laptop, keep writing, find proper trails!