Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Lady Luck in 2015

Yesterday, I went to one of my least favourite places on earth, the vast Eaton's Centre mall, where I returned the sweet gift of diamond stud earrings from my son, which I don't need, and bought instead a pair of comfortable black walking shoes, which I do. Ready for the next trip to Paris. Thank you, Sam.

Last night, PBS showed the Kennedy Centre Honours, a yearly event in which the President honours great American and world artists: last night Al Greene, a ballerina, Lily Tomlin, Sting, Tom Hanks. I was watching the wonderful film "The Wind in the Willows," with the usual great British actors as Toad, Rat, Mole - Bob Hoskins as Badger, hilarious - when the show started from Washington and I thought I'd watch a bit. But I couldn't switch back - it was beautiful, well-written with unforgettable performances, the incredible Jennifer Hudson singing Al Greene and Lady Gaga belting out Sting, who had tears in his eyes.

And in the middle of the honorees, the President of the United States and his wife, looking more relaxed and open than they have for years. If you didn't read the newspapers and instead watched that show, you'd believe that the U.S. has no race problem, so seamless was the mixing of the races, performers black and white honouring each other. Too bad that's only true in certain places and on stage.

New Year's Eve has been a meaningless day to me for years  - even back in the dark ages when I received party invitations, I was not big on New Year's Eve festivities, and now I don't receive any invitations at all. I'm planning to go to the Y - it's Wednesday - and read and work. Maybe I'll watch "A hard day's night" which is being shown on TCM, though I've seen it forty times already.

Usually I don't read horoscopes, but I did read my horoscope for the year, printed in the Star, which couldn't be much better.

Leo: Lady Luck rides with you into 2015. As of late, you have been very lucky (no kidding!) and that magic continues through August 2015. You have entered one of life's peaks, which means you can manifest what you desire. You are entering a 12-year luck cycle, and the first year is one of the most fortunate. (Woo hoo!) Decide what you want to add to your life, as you will be very much in control of your destiny. (A healthy babe in July - that'll do.) You will have a great time creating more of what you want. 

Come late August, or any time in the following months, you could hit the lottery or get a pay raise. (Maybe we'll finally sell Mum's condo.) By mid-2016, you will be witnessing an upward swing in your finances. (Well, they couldn't go downward very far, so upward is the only way. Maybe the memoir will sell more than 74 copies. Be still my beating heart.) Travel and foreigners will be fortunate for you all year long, because it will drive you to learn about other customs and ways. (How to cut French cheese - I'll practice again next year. Maybe one day I'll get it right.) This knowledge could play into your life later, if not this year.

A twelve year luck cycle! Surely I'm in the middle of it already.

Happy New Year to you all, and a joyful, productive and healthy 2015. Thank you for following me on my journey. Onward.

PS. Got the Globe horoscope: It tells me "You've spent enough time thinking and planning, now you must get on and actually create something that brings lasting fame and fortune."

Time to write the next memoir. Lasting fame and fortune for moi!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

next year's news

Gifts. Yesterday, I received a small package from Zurich; on the custom's form was written "Music for a kindred spirit." Inside a CD entitled "Blue Suburban Skies" - a compilation of songs appreciating the Beatles, sent by a Canadian living in Switzerland who has ordered my memoir. He and two Vancouver friends, musicians and fellow Beatlemaniacs, have made the CD. It's wonderful - sweet music by lifelong fans. If only I could have sung backup.

Today, longterm student Helen, whose memoir about exile from and return to Czechoslovakia will be finished next year, brought me a gift - a giant, very, very soft polar bear stuffie. It's ostensibly for Eli, but I have the feeling that squishy bear and I will be exchanging hugs on long winter nights.

One more day of 2014. What a fantastic year for my family if not for the planet: for me, two books out and another with a publisher, and my kids expanding richly into their respective universes and especially their work.

Next year - well, it's time to talk about what happens next summer. Yesterday I took Eli to the Royal Ontario Museum and back home for dinner while my daughter had an ultrasound and then went to the funeral of a young acquaintance who died by his own hand. Eli and I loved the dinosaur skeletons, the bugs, the teepee, the stuffed creatures - though those were hard for him to understand. "De woof not moving," he said, looking puzzled at a stuffed wolf, and I tried to explain that this was a non-living but once alive wolf preserved for our edification. Try talking about taxidermy to a bright toddler. Dead? Stuffed? He is already preoccupied with death. He's two.

Anna brought back an ultrasound picture - yes, a baby. There is a baby due July 14th, Bastille Day. Great, I said to her, a revolutionary! It's early days yet, but she's fine. No, there is no husband. Eli's dad is very much in Eli's life, and hopefully this new baby's dad will be very much in his or hers. My daughter will do her damnedest to make sure that's so, and her damnedest is something powerful. One of the great lessons of my old age: my kids do not live my life, they live their own in their own way, and a most interesting way at that.

So, all being well, next July there will be a baby, and then on August 1st, I turn 65 and have decided to have a party. I believe in celebrating everything possible. Big party Aug. 1 to celebrate getting my pension, as good a reason as any. But more importantly, to celebrate a brand new life and a curious and compassionate three year old, and their 30 year old uncle, and their brave and beautiful mother.

In the meantime, I am starting the official Left-wing Atheists Who Love Pope Francis fan club. I'll be secretary.

And ... think I'll take up the drums. I have the other two covered.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Gerry Caplan nails the CRA

A superb article by the always superb Gerry Caplan that has my heart pounding with rage. He's writing about the environmental and social justice organizations perceived to be on the opposite side to Stephen Harper that are being viciously audited by the CRA, while their right-wing equivalents are not.

Sometimes the serenity gained by meditation doesn't cut it. Sometimes teeth-grinding fury is the only response.

Yesterday, Wayson and I went to see the extraordinary "National Gallery" - a three-hour documentary about one of the world's great art institutions. Mesmerizing. We go inside staff meetings about budget, marketing, charity requests; inside the unbelievably finicky work of the restorers and refinishers, the people hand-carving new bits of frame and covering them in gold leaf. And mostly, we follow docents and professionals as they explain specific paintings to the crowds. They are very learned and I learned so much. Most moving - a class for the visually impaired and blind, in which they are given paper with a raised surface equivalent to the outlines of a painting by Pissarro, which is then described and explained to them as their fingers move over the page.

The camera lingers on the faces in the gallery of those looking at paintings, and then on the faces in the paintings themselves. So very beautiful - to see how alike we modern folk are to those in very different dress three, four, five hundred years ago. Underneath, just the same.

Highly recommended. Pee first. It's long, maybe a tiny bit too long. But maybe not.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Matisse and Robin Hood

Two treats to tell you about: yesterday a documentary called Matisse: The Cut Outs, about one of my all-time favourite artists, and today a play called The Heart of Robin Hood. Very different, both wonderful.

Between the ages of 74 and 84, when he died, Matisse opened up an entire new frontier for himself. Ill, mostly bed-ridden, he began to work with scissors and paper. He'd paint or instruct his assistants to paint large pieces of paper with Matisse-y colours - yellows, greens and especially blues - and then he'd cut bits out with big scissors and create magnificent art. He said he was creating gardens and swimming pools because he couldn't walk or swim any more. There was a defiance of death - "a final fireworks," someone called it - in this phenomenal creativity at the end of his life. Sick and old, he not only continued creating, he invented something so new and spectacular, it inspired countless artists after him.

"Composition with masks."

He's like a child with his scissors and his paper, said Picasso with a touch of jealousy.

When the film compared Matisse and Picasso, I thought, They're like the Lennon and McCartney of 20th century art. Both brilliant beyond compare, but one is wild, crazy, selfish and domineering, the other self-contained, family-oriented, disciplined, making beauty. One of the great souls of the earth. Highly recommended.

Every December, I take my dear friend John, the handyman who keeps this house going, and his wife and daughter to the theatre, so I look for a show we'll all enjoy. One year War Horse made John cry; last year the new Riverdance show. The Heart of Robin Hood worked wonderfully for all of us, from Emilie at 9 to John at ... 70? From the Royal Shakespeare Company originally, it was mind-bogglingly energetic - actors descending upside down on ropes, clambering up or hurtling down the nearly perpendicular green wall that was the set, all kinds of comedy, tons of blue-grass music - fast-moving and very entertaining.

"The Snail."

Finally, I just read an interview with Karl Ove Knausgaard, with an interesting quote, with which I'll leave you.

KK: Creativity is located somewhere other than in the thoughts, which all musicians and painters know, so you need to neutralize the thinking while writing, to get to a place where they don’t matter, and one way to do that is to outrun them, just write as fast as possible. To make a piece of art, says Lawrence Durrell somewhere in The Alexandria Quartet, you need to set yourself a goal, and then go there in your sleep. The sleepwalking is essential. The difficult thing for me has always been to get there – I could easily work on a novel for five years with no result, but then, all of a sudden, something opens up, and it’s always the same. 

I saw an interview with Ian McEwan once where he talked about
the selfless state of writing, and that’s what it is – you write exactly the way you read, with no awareness of the self, you disappear completely, and that’s why I’m writing: this place, with no self, is just so desirable.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Eleanor Wachtel: Officer of the Order of Canada

When I visited Eleanor earlier this month, she told me this great news, but in secrecy as it hadn't been announced yet. But now it has. With all that the poor old CBC had endured this last while, how glorious that one of its most stalwart employees, recognized worldwide as a master at her craft - seeking out and pinning down the recalcitrant writer bird - has received such public acclaim.

Brava, Eleanor! Well-deserved.
  1. Congratulations to our beloved Writers & Company host . She was elevated to Officer of the !

Chrystia Freeland in the NYTimes

Terrific article in the NYT by Chrystia Freeland, a journalist and Liberal politician who is my MP.  Maybe, as some of the sour comments afterward point out, she's a little dewy-eyed about Canadian multiculturalism - more power to her. We need a bit of dewy-eyed right about now.

Bilingual Nationhood, Canadian-Style - The New York Time

It's 5 p.m. Boxing Day, and it's over. The minute my son went home at 4, I started to take down the tree. By 5, it was outside, the wreath off the door, the Xmas books and CD's stacked by the stairs ready to be put away for another year. I don't know why I'm so anxious to get past Xmas - a friend wonders whether it's my Jewish half. To me, it's a wonderful but exhausting yearly event and I am relieved when it's over.

Life resumes.

Jenny Offill and Colum McCann

I'm looking at my daytimer - and today's blank, except for "Carole boot camp Y 9 a.m." Dear Carole is teaching a tough class at the Y in half an hour. I will not be there. At one point, I must have imagined wistfully that I might be. No.

Because you also probably have time on your hands today - just sweeping up paper and pine needles, perhaps, doing the rest of the dishes, eating leftovers - Christmas hangover - I present you with this: a beautiful very short story, a true story of course, from the New Yorker by Colum McCann, about family and writing and legacy and truth. 

I finished a superb book last night: Jenny Offill's "Dept. of Speculation," which is on many top ten lists. Excerpt below, to give you a tiny taste. It's intense, distilled to the essence, and so profoundly, soul-searingly honest about a woman's life - a writer and writing teacher who marries, has a child, whose marriage barely survives the affair of her husband - that it's hard to believe it's fiction. Either she's an extremely skilled, talented and imaginative writer, or else ... she is all those things and also her marriage barely survived the affair of her husband. Highly recommended.

(As you click on the Paris Review, below, please note that on the right side of the page they offer you Fiction, Interview, Poetry and Portfolio. Something is missing, no? Also, under the interviews, there's "The art of fiction, no. 222," and "The art of non-fiction, No. 6." That means, presumably, 222 interviews about fiction, and 6 about non. Welcome to the real world, Paris Review!)

Offill quotes famous writers and thinkers throughout, to great effect, including these two, my faves:

What Rilke said: Surely all art is the result of one's having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, to where no one can go any further.

The Zen master Ikkyu was once asked to write a distillation of the highest wisdom. He wrote only one word: Attention.
The visitor was displeased. "Is that all?" So Okkyu obliged him. Two words now.
Attention. Attention. 

May you keep busy doing the best possible thing on Boxing Day: Read your socks off, friends.

P.S. Not to mention the many great films that have now hit the cinemas. Here's my list, which I'll try to cross off this week: Mr. Turner, The Imitation Game, Wild, and the Globe Theatre's Midsummer Night's Dream. Also two documentaries: the National Gallery and Matisse. And tomorrow, I'm taking my dearest friend and handyman John and his family to the theatre to see "The Heart of Robin Hood." So little time, so much to do!

Not to mention, yes, the glories of television. Last night, I watched the Christmas special of "Call the Midwife," one of the best TV shows ever. Wept. Of course.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Been there, done that.

Of course it's overload. Christmas is exhausting and fraught at the best of times, let alone that I am commemorating the second anniversary of my mother's death this day. So - some tears, especially when Johann Sebastian Bach was on the radio. I burned a candle for Mum all day and went in the afternoon to the Necropolis, where we scattered her and Dad's ashes last Christmas day. Said hello to them. I heard that they're very proud of their grandchildren and great-grandson. I knew they would be.

A wonderful Christmas despite its fraughtness. (Is that a word? Well, it is now.) The young man slept late, giving the grown-ups a chance for a quiet cup of coffee and talk - a great moment, as this rarely happens these days, with their busy schedules and social lives. For a brief moment, they both put down their phones and we chatted.

My favourite gifts were the original oil painting I got from Eli - showing a mature abstract style and sense of colour; the Paul McCartney tribute CD (of course) - and from my son, both for me and his sister, a pair of diamond stud earrings. I kid you not. And for me, a box of handmade chocolate truffles as well. He loves us.

Mr. Eli liked all his toys - Thomas the Tank Engine is a beautifully designed toy that he played with for hours, attaching and taking apart the various bits and watching it go round and round on its track. My gift to him, besides books, was a Playmobil firetruck that has to be assembled, and it defeated us - it stayed in the box until Eli's dad can put it together.

Wayson and Carol had breakfast with us - my brother's smoked salmon with bagels and cream cheese - and we spent all afternoon preparing the feast. After our dear friend Holly arrived, we sat down to an enormous meal, everything was delicious, and then it was over. We cleaned up, we did our best to wear out the boy who does not stop, and they went home. And now I want to put every bit of Christmas away and get on with life.

Anna and Eli slept in the spare room, and last night before sleep, Anna said, "You know Santa is coming tomorrow with his elves and his presents." And Eli said, "Me not want elfs. Me want Santa and presents."

All right, no goddamn elfs allowed around here.
Last Florida shot. A distant dream.
Back to reality - this morning. That's the tree I found lying on the sidewalk. This is the before shot.
He got great books, including "Baby Bear" and "Sam and Dave dig a hole."

I hope your day was fraught in the best way too - with memory and emotion and closeness and love.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Everything

Dear friends, it's nearly midnight Xmas Eve and a wild rain is lashing the windows. The pageant at Riverdale Farm was its lovely friendly hokey self - and we were very lucky, the weather was the best it's ever been, amazingly mild and clear. Baby and family did drop out at the last minute, so for the final pageant in Francey Barn, a lovely couple sitting in the straw, surrounded by wise men, shepherds and angels, were holding a small bundle of rags in the vague shape of a baby. Not quite the same thing, but what can you do? The show must go on.

Eli was more interested in the sheep in the stall next to that final pageant scene - "There's a mummy sheep and a daddy sheep and a baby sheep" - and the goat and the new young horse the Farm has just brought in to replace the two beloved Clydesdales who both died recently.

We all went to Mary's Xmas Eve party with great food in her beautiful house. And then home in the pouring rain to try to get Eli to bed so we could finish Xmas - putting all the prezzies under the tree, putting the stockings out, putting the dishwasher on, making beds for the guests, cleaning up the snacks, toys, books and detritus of a two-year old's afternoon.

We have only snapped at each other a few times, we the assembled family. Ah family. If it weren't for family, there would be no theatre. Praise be.

Merry Christmas to all of you, or Merry Whatever You Celebrate. I wish you a most joyful day tomorrow, alone, with loved ones, with difficult people you try to cheer up - however you're doing it, I hope it's great. Much love to you all. Over and out.

Oh, just before I go - the cast of Downton Abbey has made a spoof of It's a Wonderful Life - two short videos - with George Clooney as Cora's new husband Lord Hollywood. It's funny and charming. A Christmas treat, from me to you.

Downton Abbey for Text Santa - part one - YouTube

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Who is this Pope guy anyway?

Never did I think I would be reposting a quote from the Pope. But here you go. This guy is something else.

I saw what he's talking about up close today - made the mistake of going to Bloor Street to look for a small gift, some Body Shop cream that works on Eli's very dry skin. Walked up and down, only to discover the shop isn't there any more, it has vanished. Looked at various stores as I walked - jammed. Went into Indigo to buy a last minute book - they were lined up 20 deep at the cash. At least they're buying books. But I went home. Insane, it's insane out there.

My son is home, his first days off in months - he'll spend most of the next two days lying on the sofa watching TV, eating or sleeping, anything not to have to smile and be nice to people, since he does that for a living. Don't get me wrong, he's nice to us, but he's mostly flaked out. It is very good to see him, flaked out or not.

I have ended up - how did this happen? - being one of the producers of the annual Christmas pageant at Riverdale Farm yet again this year. My friends and I produced it for nine years and handed it over in exhaustion to others. This year I offered to help a bit, and the woman who took over from me called today to say her back has gone out and she can't make it, could I do it? Now I have lists and calls to make - cast, timing, scripts. At 7 tomorrow, hundreds of people - maybe 400 - will be at the farm to sing Christmas carols and watch shepherds, innkeeper and wife, wise men and angels lead us to the couple sitting in the straw in the barn with their baby, surrounded by the Farm's sheep, goats, cows and horses. Every year, it's a crapshoot, all over the map, but so charming and hokey, so completely community that it works. I hope it does this year too.

It'll be Eli's first pageant.

Monday, December 22, 2014

"It is, frankly, a long way from Jesus."

Where am I? I'm home yet today was ... yes, mild and sunny. Mild means one degree celsius - no one is wearing tank tops and shorts - but I did have to get a lighter coat out of the closet. Thank you, gods of weather.

I had intended to get up and work this morning - ha. Not with Christmas just around the corner and I not in a frenzy yet. So it was frenzy time. Had to find an Xmas tree, a real tree in a pot. Went to the corner store, none, where there'd been scores before I went away. Wayson came over and I commandeered his car to drive around to the other stores in the 'hood - none. Lesson: do not leave buying your tree in a pot till Dec. 21.

While I had his car, however, I picked up lots of wine, beer and Prosecco from the liquor store and a 17 pound turkey from Mark the butcher, who gave me a lovely hug and a gift for my decades of patronage. What would I do without Wayson's wheels?

I went back later on foot to get more groceries from No Frills, and there, on Spruce Street, lying in front of someone's house - I kid you not - was a Christmas tree. Abandoned, on December 21. I looked around to be sure - maybe someone had just thrown it down before putting it on their car? No. It was desolate and alone. So I took it home, went back to the hardware store to buy a base, set it up. Admired my handiwork - it's actually more or less straight. Unlike many of my friends. Ha!

Then continued to No Frills to buy groceries for the big meal while the weather was good. Then listened to podcasts while wrapping.

So - the lights are on the tree, though the main decorating is to do with Eli on Xmas Eve. Almost everything - and believe me, it's a bunch of books and second-hand scrips and scraps, the main gifts are winter coats and a bit of money - is wrapped. Most of the groceries are bought. Christmas is MOVING RIGHT ALONG at 308.

RIP dear Joe Cocker, who took one song and flew to the moon.

Here's an excerpt from British writer Nell Frizzell, in the Guardian, with her funny and sour British take on Xmas. I'm thinking of you, Chris.

Christmas is the stick with which millions of us beat ourselves into brandy-soaked agony for being poor, single, childless, lonely, or simply bad at being jolly. It’s one thing to be single, skint and surrounded by dysfunctional relatives, but it’s quite another when the entire capitalist world is telling you that this is the most magical time of the year. We seem to have lost the script to a pantomime we never even believed in. We have ruined Christmas, without even trying.
Last year the TUC published a study that showed the average British adult borrowed £685 over the festive period, grinding them into a debt that would take until June to pay off. If that adult earned the minimum wage, it would take them an entire year to drag themselves out of Christmas debt – just to do it all over again. And yet adverts, pop songs, window displays and shop shelves scream out that we should be buying ourselves into an orgy of goodwill and glamour – that Christmas has no value unless you’ve paid for it.
It is because of this wild fury of expected expense that you will find yourself, panic-stricken, standing under a soul-sucking white light, gently sweating to Slade, holding four ugly brass candlesticks, a spotty teapot and some bath salts in the hope that someone, somewhere, will want them as a present. It is, frankly, a long way from Jesus.
If, like 7% of those recently polled by the BBC, you will be spending Christmas alone, then the burden can feel even heavier. Everything from washing powder to chicken nuggets is sold on the promise of yuletide love, affection and romance from about 27 September onwards. Yet it takes a stout heart and strong backbone to stare down Christmas single-handedly. And if, like mine, your family are a long way from the Bisto advert, then getting in the Christmas spirit can feel like a lost cause.
Of course, there is a solution. Stop giving presents, stop watching television, stop comparing yourself to adverts, and actually spend it with people you like. Some of the happiest Christmases I have ever known have been surrounded by a group of generous, thoughtful, hard-drinking, chain-smoking, half-Jewish, Scrabble-playing, dog-walking, potato-roasting friends. People who willingly set up three separate screens on the dining room table just so my 96-year-old grandmother could watch the Queen’s speech, on repeat, from every available angle.
This year, however, I am opting out altogether. I shan’t be driving home for Christmas. I have no tree, have wrapped no presents, will eat no turkey and mull no wine. Instead, I shall go for a run, listen to the headlines, eat a baked potato and watch a western with my mother. On Christmas Eve I plan to volunteer at the Hackney care leavers’ Christmas dinner, but the day itself is as blank as a fresh fall of snow. I can’t wait.

Steve says, Kiss my ...

Sunday, December 21, 2014

winter solstice, home

Home home beloved home. The flight was painless, the city not that cold and even sunny. My tenant Carol left me homemade tomato soup in the fridge and had been to the library to get a book I'd ordered that came in: Steven Pinker's "The Sense of Style: the thinking person's guide to writing in the 21st century." That should keep me busy. Friends John and Sylvie left a big box of the most divine Christmas baking on the deck, some of which is in my stomach right now. There were Christmas cards in the mail, and just now, I got to listen to the podcast of friend and student Mary-Jane McPhee, who wrote a magnificent story for our Thursday writing group and this morning read it on CBC's the Sunday Edition. Here's the website, below; her essay The Night is off to the right. It's a beauty, and beautifully read too. Proud of you, MJ.

Florida - palm trees, beach, pool, birds, colour, soft moist air - seems already like a dream. Wait - my hands are an unusual pale caramel colour. And soon I'll read what I wrote down there and see if it's any good. That's the real test.

And now - Christmas! Ye Gods. I have to get a tree.

The Night - Essay

The Night - Essay
Catastrophes have to be good for something. Sometimes they are wake up calls. Sometimes they rearrange borders. And sometimes they bring people together in surprising ways.

Have I got a piece of Florida for you!

This is what I saw through the living room window at 7.30 this morning.

Readers, this condo is for sale - but at the moment, it's empty and available - if you are a friend of mine. A two-bedroom condo overlooking the water on beautiful Anna Maria Island, fully furnished with bedding, towels, all kitchenware, beach stuff - swimming pool and hot tub on one side, endless white sand beach (free shells!) on the other. You see dawn on one side, and on the other, if you go across the street at around 6, you see the sun drop below the Gulf of Mexico. Direct flights from Toronto to Sarasota, a 20 minute drive from the airport.


Let me know.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

more about Birdman

I should fill you in about Birdman since I know you value my opinion in all things. Particularly politics, I know you agree with me completely about that, dear reader - but also occasionally film. This one is the weirdest jumble of things. It's apparently famous for its long tracking shots, though those don't matter to me. I did appreciate its extreme originality of story, script, acting - many things make it worth seeing. It's never dull.

But it purports to be about the theatre, a Hollywood star producing and starring in a Broadway show, and it's so far off base with that, it drove me mad. In what show could you replace a lead role the day before previews and not even rehearse? What big New York actor would drink real gin and try to have real sex during a sex scene on stage during a preview? What theatre would allow an ex-wife of the star backstage in the middle of the second act on a Broadway opening night - and what star, on that same night, would loll around chatting amiably? Go and wait for your @#$# cue, I was screaming.

And what is it about Latin Americans and magic realism? Why do they all think they can fly and move things with their minds? Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Inarritu, the director of this movie, the same. Crazy stuff. Why can't the rest of us do those things?

Perhaps now you're anxious to see it. It won't be a waste of your time, though you might dislike it and like it in equal measure, as I did.

And now that I have given you my invaluable critique, I'm going to bed.

Bird land.

My last day amidst the pelicans and palm trees - back home tomorrow to grey and minus four. It has been a great week. I saw the accountant and the real estate agent and talked twice to the lawyer. Helped load twelve boxes of records that have been stored under the stairs here for many years into Cousin David's car - my Uncle Edgar's collection of baroque masterpieces that Mum couldn't bear to let go but never listened to. Now David has them and is doing research to figure out how to store and play them.

He and I have spent more time together than we ever have before. There's a picture of us taken in Chinatown in NYC in about 1961 - I ten or eleven, he six year older, the youngest and quietest of my father's Uncle Bill's three sons. We've connected on rare occasions through the years, but what a gift that he took his retirement in Bradenton. Last night we went to see Birdman, an excellent if wild and crazy film, a must for theatre people, and then had a small seafood dinner overlooking the water, watching a white egret stalking about on the deck of a boat. We're having dinner on the beach again tonight. I haven't been nearly as alone here as I usually am.

And yet I've been alone a lot and still haven't done as much work as I'd like. A huge editing job, barely begun, the stacks of New Yorkers still not finished. Where does the time go? My indulgence was reading the NYT every day - that took an hour. Walking on the beach. But every morning, I did go down to sit by the pool and write longhand and then transcribe on the computer. The new memoir is now nearly 15,000 words long. That's a victory.

Thanks to the neighbours who lent me their wifi, making this visit infinitely easier than previous ones, when I had to drive to the local donut shop to access the internet. And the weather - just warm enough that I could enjoy the pool, not so warm that others wanted to. Oh the blessed silence down there. And that long long white sand beach. The first blast of freezing Canadian air will be tough.

I honour my mother, yet again, for her choice to winter in this unpretentious, quiet, lovely place, and my father and uncle who made that financially possible for her and Auntie Do. Thank you, all of you, I am forever grateful for the time spent here, for the pelicans and palm trees. And now, I and my brown arms and my new collection of tiny shells and my 15,000 words are going home. Love, Beth

Friday, December 19, 2014

Colbert's epic goodbye

Epic send-off to Stephen Colbert yesterday night, demonstrating what a good show can and does - very occasionally - do: make us part of a kind of warm and intelligent family. Colbert, like Jon Stewart, feels like a really good friend. I've never watched Johnny Carson or Letterman or those other late night guys Americans are addicted to - who wants an hour of clever, cynical banter as you go to bed? But Stewart and Colbert are different because they CARE passionately about the world, and from the same angle I do, at a time when the voices on the right, the Republicans and their mouthpiece Fox "News," are not just wrong-headed but criminally petty, blind and selfish.

Colbert is a joyful man, that's what so rare about him and why he could get away with playing a blowhard egotist for so long. We sensed the joy right through the absurdities he was spouting. And to see the depth of his friendship with Jon Stewart, two wealthy, successful men at the top of their game, hugely important in the American media panorama, dealing with each other with brotherly love ... am I getting carried away here? I don't think so, if you've ever seen them together.

So we knew Jon surely would appear last night, and sure enough, he did. At the very end - after Colbert had vanquished Death - yes, typically over the top - Stephen began to sing We'll Meet Again and I thought, Oh God, surely not, how sentimental. Then a door opened and Jon Stewart appeared to a roar of approval, and the two linked arms and continued to sing. Wait - isn't that Randy Newman playing the piano for them?

And then they all appeared, celebs pouring in, all kinds, from all ends of the political and entertainment spectrum strewn about the stage singing, musicians, actors, politicians, writers, Muppets - Big Bird, my almost-friend Carol Spinney in costume with his giant orange feet! It was marvellous. Henry Kissinger! The failed politician Elliot Spitzer, unashamedly singing. A shot of someone singing on a spaceship. A panorama of faces, there to pay tribute to the king of truthiness.

I hope this next project works for you, Stephen. You'll do it without the cynicism others have found necessary for the job. Thank you for your commitment, your courage, sense of humour and giant joyful heart, your own invaluable kind of truth.

It was nearly impossible to get all of them, but here are some of the famous faces we spotted: Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterston, Keith Olbermann, Tom Brokaw, Katie Couric, Ken Burns, Howard Stern, Cory Booker, Bryan Cranston, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Charlie Rose, Tim Meadows, the Cookie Monster, James Franco, Toby Keith, Big Bird, Andy Cohen, Christiane Amanpour, David Gregory, Randy Newman, Willie Nelson, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Mandy Patinkin, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Cyndi Lauper, Andrew Sullivan, Ric Ocasek,  Michael Stipe, Kareem Abdul Jabar, Barry Manilow, Bill DeBlasio, Jeff Tweedy, Patrick Stewart, Stone Phillips, Arianna Huffington, Alan Alda, George Lucas, Alexai Lalas, Henry Kissinger, Elijah Wood, Mike Huckabee, Bob Costas, Nate Silver, Dan Savage, Thomas Friedman, Matt Taibbi, Mark Cuban and Paul Krugman.
There were many more, plus those not in studio: members of Pussy Riot; Vince Gilligan; and then Bill Clinton wishing Colbert well. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Col - bear!

I thought it was Friday. But it turns out it's Thursday. I still have two more days here before I leave on Sunday. Score.

Though I miss home.

One advantage of being here: Stephen Colbert. It's his last show tonight; I've been watching all week, and today Comedy is running his shows non-stop. I didn't watch him much - his right-wing persona, though brilliant - really brilliant - was noisy and grating, and 11.30 was just too late. But now the TV is on and I'm watching. He just interviewed Maurice Sendak in character - hilarious. How he gets away with being such an asshole is a study in performance art.

Today I met another tenant here, said hello as I swam in the pool and she sunbathed beside it, the only two people there. We began to chat. She was from New York, owns here and rents out, and I talked about trying to sell our place. I confided that the politics of Florida horrified me and told her about the bumper sticker I saw a few days ago, "Guns don't kill people, abortions kill people."
"As a left-wing Canadian, I find that so hard to understand!" I said, assuming that someone from NYC is a kindred spirit.

She stopped talking. That was it, fini, no more conversation. I was reminded again, people here take their politics seriously, and it's best not to bring it up. DON'T BRING IT UP. Especially abortion.

I spent an hour today reading the New York Times. Now that is one fine newspaper. But I still have miles of New Yorkers to go before I sleep.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


There is sadness for me here - this is the last place, except in my heart, where my mother is tangible. I cherish the cookie tin marked "Sewing" in her writing, filled with thread and needles; her collections - string, scotch tape, recipes, in the storage closet, bags of Xmas decorations; her pretty pots of dried flowers. I cherish them but I won't bring them home. When this place is sold, there's nowhere left that my mother actually lived, except in my heart.

But that's okay, the way things should be.

It was cloudy today, so I didn't walk on the beach or swim, I worked. I'm reading a fascinating book, "Into the woods: how stories work and why we tell them," by British screen and television writer John Yorke. It's about the five act structure of stories and the mirroring technique - that stories are about a journey IN and then a journey back OUT, replaying, backwards, the way the tale started. It's fascinating - very technical, and though more about screenwriting than memoir, in some ways applicable. A story is a story.

Then I wrote a few pages of my own memoir and it's just clumsy narration with no technique or mirroring or structure at all - and then this happened, and then this. But now I know - get a first draft down and see what's there. Then make it better. Over and over. (And spend years perfecting it and getting it into print and then sell 74 copies - been there, done that. But that's okay. It may not be the way things should be, but it's the way things are. Onward.)

Went this afternoon to see "Rosewater" with Cousin David, who told me he has not been inside a movie theatre since 2003. He enjoyed the experience and so did I - it's a fine film. Only Jon Stewart could make us laugh, in a scene between a civil service torturer and his victim, at a mention of the salacious pleasures of New Jersey.

The film is a humane plea for sanity, freedom and humour. In a world where 132 Pakistani schoolchildren are slaughtered by extremists, however, it now seems a bit muted.

shopping in Texas

I very rarely say this, but I was disappointed in Jon Stewart last night. The whole show was weak, and his interview with Macca was just - choppy, silly, odd. Something didn't work. I wonder why.

However, cousin David and I are going to see "Rosewater" this afternoon in any case. A cloudy morning, which was great as I sat inside and worked. But now it's sunny and I will not like being in a cinema. Get that face in the sun - I feel I have to absorb enough Vitamin D to keep me alive for the next six months.

Which I do.

Here's another reflection on the crazy people who live in this country - well, in certain parts of this country:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Marni Jackson tackles Karl Ove

If you have tackled even a few pages of Karl Ove Knausgaard's lengthy opus, My Struggle, with its relentless focus on the mundane - no detail too petty, so detailed, in fact, as to be mesmerizing - you will appreciate this hilarious take-off done by Toronto's brilliant Marni Jackson.

Santa baby

Meanwhile, back in Frozenland:
The consensus on FB is that this Santa is weird. "Dude," says Uncle Sam, "Santa has no face!" But Eli does not seem to mind. He knows "presents" and that this is where they come from.

it's tough but someone's got to do it

Truly amazing - the pool and the beach are deserted here because it's only 70 degrees. Too cold. And yet many of the people down here came from up north originally ... and are now huddled in their condos watching TV and playing bridge. Well, so much the better for me, I have the place all to myself.

Settling into a rhythm here - read, blog, sit by pool writing - I got a chunk of work done yesterday, very satisfying - quick swim, drive to Publix for supplies and newspapers, lunch, walk on beach, read. Read. Read. Work. And late, watch any scraps of left-wing TV possible - Rachel Maddow, though I can only take so much, and of course Jon. Watched a woman called Miranda Esmonde-White on PBS talk about how regular exercise is all you need to prevent the worst aspects of aging. Miranda went to Carleton University in the late Sixties, when I did; her brother was a friend. And now she's an American anti-aging superstar. Good for her! Too bad she's had so much work done on her face she cannot move her forehead. Kind of negates her message.

Was awake in the night thinking about the amazing word "set." Started with sunset, which I try to see most evenings here. The sun sets. I thought about what else sets - jelly. Then twin set, a set of dishes, to set something down, to set things right, to set your heart on fire ... That's one very useful word.

This is what writers do at 3 a.m.

Don't forget. Be still my heating heart.

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► MONDAY: Tim Burton
► TUESDAY: Paul McCartney
► WEDNESDAY: Anna Kendrick...
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