Saturday, November 29, 2014

Lefty forever

An interesting quiz in the Star - where on the political spectrum do you fall? It's designed for Torontonians but most of it will apply everywhere.
No surprise - I'm on the Social Democratic Left. The best!!!

cheese and magazines

Dear friend John took me to St. Lawrence Market this morning - oh the luxury of a car and another pair of arms to help carry. What a fantastic place it is - absolutely packed with deliciousness. Including ... be still my beating heart ... a cheese shop that rivals a French one.
I'd mentioned to John that I need a bench under a window in my living-room, and he took me back to the fantastic modern house he shares with his wife and daughter, for breakfast and then to show me a piece he'd been given by his neighbour, a fishing store owner. He thought it might go sideways under the window - but it's a magazine display rack that turns. Heaven. We brought it home.
Okay, it's a bit ridiculous to have a magazine display rack in the living room, except if you're a magazine nut comme moi. Now all my New Yorkers and literary mags are neatly arranged, and the bottom shelves are all for Eli's picture books. I can put on a record, twirl the rack, choose and read. Neat, eh? 

Christmas recommendation

People who have visited my house since my trip to Nova Scotia have all admired my new art - just prints, affordable, but glorious colour and design by my dear friends Peter Blais and Tom Alway.
Here's the link. They ship. Satisfaction guaranteed. Supporting local farmers is good, but don't forget to SUPPORT CANADIAN ARTISTS!

And don't forget - give books. Books. Books. Books. Books. Buy them at a local bookseller. Or here.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

putting your sex life on trial

When I left the Y at midday yesterday, there it was, the insanity around Jian - he was being arraigned at College Park a block away, and there were scores of newspeople and their trucks and their mikes and lights crowding the entrance, a helicopter circling overhead. You'd think he'd been arrested for criminal conspiracy to undermine civilization, not for forcing his aggressive, yes, violent kinks on his dates.

I know, even with my lukewarm sympathy, I'm in the minority here, and I do have to say that part of my attitude stems from the fact that a relative of mine was accused of sexual assault by his girlfriend, who had a problem with drugs and was angry at him. He was arrested, taken away in handcuffs and spent the weekend in jail, was released on bail, a trial date was set. By then she had apologized and said she was sorry she'd lied, but it was too late. There was a frightening expensive trial, she said her accusation was a complete fabrication, he was acquitted. It does happen. Not nearly as often as the actual assault of women, no question. But the other side of the coin, men falsely accused, does happen. It happened in my family. He went to jail.

So since then, I have not jumped, as Edward Keenan does in his column today, to say "I believe you" to every woman who accuses a man. Let's always look at the facts.

There's no doubt Jian did the things he's accused of. Why he needs to debase and harm, whether he thought it was consensual, whether he even cared - that's the case. The whole thing makes me sad, the pictures of his face in the paper - didn't even look like him. Can you imagine what it's like to go in one month from the very top of the top, one of the most lauded people in the country and internationally, getting everything his way, to being a pariah who has to live with his mother, forfeit his passport and have people writing the vilest things about him in the papers and on the net, strangers screaming at him outside the courthouse?

The Star today was over the top, page after page. And then in some obscure corner there's an article about a policeman and father arrested for child pornography, thousands of photographs, some of infants, some he took himself. Now there's a monster - barely noticed. Not titillating enough, I guess. Not to mention the rest of the planet, actual NEWS going on out there somewhere. But kinky sex sells, and God knows, we're going to get lots through the trial. Imagine putting YOUR sex life on trial.

No, let's not imagine that. Mine would be the dullest story imaginable. Happily so. I had a boyfriend in my twenties who was aggressive, who liked to bite and ram and even to hit. And I thought it was exciting. I thought my bruises were exciting. Hard to imagine now, but true.

Moving right along.

Busy times. The U of T term is over, and a superb one it was too. As a parting gift they gave me a beautiful big mug that reads "Life is a story. Make yours a bestseller." If only, I sighed. They were a wonderful group, another wonderful group is coming here tonight, and two big editing projects are waiting, not to mention my own work and the usual 4000 things to read and do and see - last night, a stunning documentary on ducks called, you guessed it, "Duckumentary."

I have a big passion for ducks. But luckily it's not on trial.

On Monday night I went to hear Kevin Courrier, renowned Beatles expert and author, speak in his lecture series about "The dark side of Sgt. Pepper." Fascinating - a two hour lecture with film clips and music to a room full of Beatle nerds. MY PEOPLE. Kevin and I went for a drink after with our mutual friend Stella, who had just come from her Cree class. Yes, Stella is learning to speak Cree - she also learned to speak Yiddish and trained to be a cantor, among many other things.

So it was a lively drink, Kevin and I passionately discussing the minutiae of Beatledom, and eventually Stella confessing that she doesn't really like the Beatles. WHAT?! To me that's like saying you don't like Italy, or sunsets, or the laughter of children, or the soft patter of rain on a summer's ... I'm getting carried away. She doesn't like them. And, as my mother-in-law used to say, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, no matter how wrong they may be.

Heading into December. Yikes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

R.I.P. Dusty the donkey

Riverdale Farm Toronto added 2 new photos.
15 hrs · 
Today was a very sad day at Riverdale Farm.
Dusty our beloved donkey passed away today Monday, November 24, 2014 as a result of health complications. 
Dusty led a happy life for almost 20 years being lovingly cared for by the farm staff. He was admired and adored by many people since his birth at Riverdale Farm. He was very vocal with his farm friends -in particular around feeding time- making us all chuckle with his antics.
Dusty was a favourite with all the staff and the thousands of visitors who have come to the farm over the years. He will be sorely missed by all.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ursula K. Le Guin, 85, takes aim and fires

Ursula K. Le Guin was honoured recently at the National Book Awards and gave a fantastic speech about the dangers to literature and how they can be stopped. The parts in parentheses were ad-libbed directly to the audience, and the Neil thanked is Neil Gaiman, who presented her with the award.
Thank you Neil, and to the givers of this beautiful reward, my thanks from the heart. My family, my agent, editors, know that my being here is their doing as well as mine, and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as mine. And I rejoice at accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction—writers of the imagination, who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.
I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.
Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. (Thank you, brave applauders.)
Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial; I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write. (Well, I love you too, darling.)
Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.
I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want—and should demand—our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.
Thank you.

the Bible explained

Great Romances end in tears

Hooray - it's November again and not February. A balmy 5 degrees or so, drizzly and grey but not cold, great on the bike. Must get old Bill to come put the Xmas lights up before it freezes again.

Yesterday, an enormous dim sum feast with Mary and Bernie at the Pink Pearl at Harbourfront, overlooking the cold grey lake. Mmmm dimm summm. And last night, a feast of documentary - The Nature of Things about babies, how naturally empathetic they are, incapable of deception - but how quickly they grow savvy and learn to fib. And how even very young children form automatic bonds with people who look like them.

And then finally caught the episode I've been trying to see of CNN's excellent series on "The Sixties": The British Invasion. A wonderful exploration of that crazy time when suddenly America was flooded with incredibly talented British musicians, bringing American r and b and blues back to the States: Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Gerry and the Pacemakers etc. They showed the Who, and one guy said, "The Beatles were always supporting each other musically, but the Who were like four separate leads on stage, having as little to do with each other as possible." And there they were in their own worlds, Pete Townshend flailing at his guitar, the lunatic Keith Moon, Roger Daltry with his long Louis XIV curls wailing into the mike - made me laugh out loud. And yet the music was incredible.

It showed how they were all listening to each other and to the American singers - the black groups, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys - overlapping spheres of influence. At the end, someone said, "How many people you fell in love with in 1964 do you still love? And yet we still love this music. It's one of the world's great love affairs." Right you are. And have I got a book for you!

I've disapproved of television all my life but am keen, now, on my new big bright TV. When the TV Guide comes on Saturday, I check it for interesting shows for the whole week, especially this week, the last days of free Documentary Channel. I just saw there's a show on PBS tonight at 9.30 called Great Romances. I've often seen it listed and never watched it, so decided to check what great romance it's about today. Guess who? "Paul and Linda McCartney"! I must have a sixth sense.

So you know what I'll be doing at 9.30 tonight. If you want to break into my house, go ahead, I'll be busy.

Love this, from Facebook:

This photo series by Rose-Lynn Fisher captures tears of grief, joy, laughter and irritation under the microscope.

Tears aren't just water. They're primarily made up of water, salts, antibodies and lysozymes, but the composition depends on the type of tear. There are three main types - basal tears, reflex tears, and weeping tears.

As you can see, they can look incredibly different when evaporated and placed under a microscope.

More info:

Saturday, November 22, 2014

celebrating documentary - Woody and Vivian Meier

The Documentary Channel is free for the whole month of November, and I've been taking advantage. Non-fiction films - fab. Last night, a long doc on the life and career of Woody Allen, intimate and hilarious. What unparalleled brilliance - at the age of seventeen, he was earning more than his parents by selling quips to newspapers. He was dragged reluctantly into performing, and ended up in film-making because his first film was so damaged by the studio that he resolved to have full creative control from then on - and he did. He has a great relationship with his sister, with whom he has worked for decades, and with ex-wives and girlfriends like Louise Lasser and Diane Keaton, who spoke with great warmth, love and respect.

Of course, there's one huge exception to that. I didn't see what the doc said about Mia Farrow, if anything, it got too late and I went to bed. But we know her and her daughter's allegations. Knowing what we now unfortunately know about abusers, the Cosbys and Ghomeshis who for decades got away with abuse until finally one woman and then a crowd came forward - the thought that Woody Allen has lived an exemplary if extremely neurotic life except for one heinous five-minute interlude when he abused his own 7-year old daughter in an attic - it makes no sense. We might not approve of the fact that his wife was once his girlfriend's adopted daughter, but they have been married for 22 years and look happy. He's weird, no question, and so is Mia; their whole relationship was insane. But in the meantime, he has never stopped writing, directing and producing films, some not-so-great and some magnificent.

Woody writes still on the German-made Olympia manual typewriter he bought when he was sixteen. "What do you do when you have to cut and paste?" asked the interviewer, and Woody held up scissors and a stapler - he actually cuts, and pastes. He said the talents he emulates are Groucho, Bob Hope and Ingmar Bergman. That reminded me of my friend Lynn, who says her role models are Jean Vanier and Lucille Ball.

Tonight at 9, for any of you in the vicinity, there's a superb doc, not on the Documentary Channel but on TVO, called "Finding Vivian Meier," about a strange woman who supported herself as a nanny while taking many thousands of brilliant photographs, which only came to light after her death. A beautiful and moving story. True stories on film, on paper - can't get enough. Keep 'em coming.

P.S. UNFAIR! I am sixty-four, dealing of course with aging issues - osteoporosis, wrinkles, general disintegration. And yet I also have pimples - this week, a grotesquely giant adolescent pimple on my forehead, two on my face. My bathroom counter sports an anti-aging serum and various kinds of Clearasil, including Popped Pimple Paste. What fun to feel fifteen again.


Friday, November 21, 2014

the Christmas vortex

This is what people in Toronto are saying, as they endure this extreme blast of winter FOUR WEEKS before winter is officially due to start: AT LEAST WE'RE NOT IN BUFFALO.

Indeed. A man just found dead in his car which was buried in a snowdrift. We're cold, but not that cold.

I got warm this morning by visiting Mr. Chatty, the busiest boy ever. I ended up throwing a ball for him to chase, just like a puppy. We read a book which had a picture of a purple cat. "Me kiss him," he said, and I held the book close so he could give the cat a kiss. Could I love this boy more? And then we walked up Roncesvalles to the wonderful toy store Scootergirl, to buy him something he wanted desperately - a firefighter hat. Oh, wonder. While there, his mother and I checked out the Playmobil stuff for Christmas presents. Another great treat of grandparentdom - visiting toy stores again. I wanted half the stuff for myself.

But despite this major display of cuteness, I am not getting sucked into the Xmas vortex this year. No no no. A few basic things and money for the grown-ups, that's IT.

No, that really is IT. Really. Well, maybe a few little things, but not much. No no no. Well...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Alanna Cavanagh's Open House

Many people have expressed admiration for the beautiful covers of both my recent books - the work of the multi-talented Alanna Cavanagh. For those interested in seeing more of her work and maybe - support your local artists! - acquiring some for yourself, she is having one of her famous Open Houses in a few weeks. Don't miss it. Her studio apartment, in a building full of artists, is amazing, and her work is unique. I hope she has some of her fabulous orange Penguin book cover prints on sale. Mine - by Virginia Woolf - dominates my kitchen. I love it.

your laugh of the day - David Sedaris and Mike Nichols

It is very cold and very dark and I KNOW you need a good laugh right now. So here it is, below. How glad I am that here is an ESSAYIST reading his work on the David Letterman Show! But of course, one of a kind. Love this man. Wayson and I were discussing Erma Bombeck the other day, how incredibly popular she was as an honest and very funny essayist. We need these voices.

David Sedaris on The Late Show

And there's a link below to an interview with David.

And speaking of marvels of wit and talent, yet another beautiful funny man: R.I.P. Mike Nichols. Thank you for all you brought to our planet. To complete your laugh riot interlude, here he is with Elaine May:

Nichols & May classic "Mother and Son" skit

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Jon has a crush and so do I

Benedict and Jon get married

BIG snowstorm - I gather the entire Eastern seaboard is inundated. Light is fading and snow is pelting down. Time to pour a glass or six of wine, turn up the heat, put on the big old fluffy slippers and give thanks to almighty God that I don't have to commute in a cold, dark storm. Thank you, almighty God.

For those who didn't catch the Daily Show last night, the divine Benedict Cumberbatch was on with the divine Jon Stewart. I overheated - two of my favourite men on the planet, sitting across from each other. Jon was like a schoolgirl with a crush; he asked Benedict to marry him, but BC said, "You're a bit late." He just got married to some incredible woman, like George Clooney's wife, beautiful, accomplished, brilliant etc. etc.

As are  we all.


Still, it's amazing that this man is such a star - he's not particularly good looking, he's cerebral and eccentric and almost all his roles are about strange men doing strange things. And yet he's elegant, sexy, extremely clever, and utterly appealing. I'd ask him to marry me too.

Well no actually, I wouldn't. But I'd love to have dinner with him - and Jon - on a regular basis. Once a month, say, along with a few other favourite delicious men, including Macca. Be still my beating heart.

Oh grow up. Time to practice the piano. That will keep me warm, as warm as my fantasies. Though this, below, makes me cold. Have I mentioned how much I hate him?
Yes. Bring it back. 

P.S. Something to look forward to - I just bought a ticket to "Let it be: a celebration of the music of the Beatles" on Valentine's Day 2015 at the Sony Centre. A concert of very good musicianship, apparently. Not the real thing, as some of us were lucky enough to see in 1965 and 1966. But great comfort in the middle of winter. Three months from now. Sigh. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

cold, guilt, perversion

Holy shit, it's cold. Crazy me, I saw it was sunny and decided to ride my bike to U of T. Much bundling, including three layers of mitts, and still I nearly froze to death. Found out later the temperature was minus 5, but with the windchill, minus 20. Minus 20, on Nov. 18. And there she was, folks, pedalling away, her feet numb, her hands numb, her face and head shrouded in whatever scarfing material came to hand ... And then my back brake cable froze and I only had one brake.

Lesson: sun is good for biking. Minus twenty not good.

Why is it so @# cold in mid-November? Winter doesn't even begin for four more weeks! I do not remember this, ever. Scary. Luckily the class was wonderful and I was energized and warmed by stories before the trek home.

Much debate from my francophone group on the innocence/culpability of Edward Snowden. Jack (on the right, anti-Snowden) says Snowden's careless revelations are directly responsible for the deaths of several Mossad agents and probably many others. Jacqueline (on the left, pro-Snowden) is concerned with the threat to us all from our mad search to protect ourselves from enemies - what is lost when we jettison civil liberties? Interesting issues. Laura Poitras, director of the documentary Citizen Four in praise of Snowden, was on the Daily Show last night; an admiring Jon did not ask her about Mossad agents, though he did point out the irony that Snowden, because of his protest against the invasiveness of the American government, is now living in Russia, one of the most invasive governments on earth.

Another controversial topic: now, thanks to Jian, that sexual abuse and S and M are much in the news, I was interested to read a review in the New Yorker of Alain Robbe-Grillet's last work A Sentimental Novel, published just before he died. One of the most renowned French authors, Robbe-Grillet has written a hideously violent porno fantasy based, he says, on his adolescent journals, about the horrible torture and abuse of young girls. Is this a rock we have just overturned in our society - men who fantasize about abusing or who actually abuse very young women and think it's okay? Ghastly. Nightmarish.

BUT - the good news - Keystone XL was just defeated in the Senate - though it's shocking to read on-line:

Canada disappointed by U.S. decision delay

Canada expressed disappointment that U.S. politics continued to delay a final decision, Minister of Natural Resources Greg Rickford said in a statement.

What Canada? Not my Canada. You may not have noticed, dear blog-readers, but I am distraught that the loathsome Harper and his minions in Ottawa pretend to speak for me. And you. Canada disappointed indeed. @#$# you.

Sorry. What an uncharacteristic display of petty anger. And I, usually so serene.

Today, an album of Macca's music sung by others was released and will, I hope, be under our Xmas tree with my name on it. David Sedaris is going to be on Finding Your Roots on PBS at 8. There is pleasure. Even when out there, in the bitterly cold world, rocks are being irrevocably overturned and God knows what is crawling out.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

avoiding Santa

Today I rode my bike all over town, even though it was snowing. But the Santa Claus Parade had taken over the city, impossible to get anywhere on four wheels. Eminently possible on two.

I rode first to Inspire, Toronto's new book fair. On the way - this was at 9.45 a.m. - I passed people already sitting by the curb downtown in the falling snow. Grownups with no children, even! How have I managed to avoid the Santa Claus Parade all these years? Anna was there today with Eli and some of his cousins, all bundled up. He fell asleep before Santa appeared, she told me.

My friend Kerry Clare, whose blog Pickle Me This appears on this page, was at the book fair with her website 49th Shelf, and she and I met for the first time, though we feel we know each other well from our mutual blogs. Kerry describes the event beautifully in her current blog post called Inspire, so I won't reiterate. It's a terrific event put on by Rita Davies; brava to her and her colleagues - beautifully organized, restful, thoughtful, fun. My only caveat was that at the panel I went to on writing memoir, one of the speakers was asked about writing one and said she's a novelist and hates memoirs. Perhaps not the best person for this panel.

I offer my services. In fact, Rita, who's a friend, said she'd ask me to do a seminar on memoir next year. Happy to oblige.

Then, skirting the vast crowds, I rode up to Bloor Street - saw Santa! He was on the last float, just as the parade, thank God, ended, because I wasn't sure even with the bike I could get where I wanted to go - to Koerner Hall to hear the brilliant New York pianist Richard Goode. My piano teacher Peter recommended this concert, saying that Goode, a pianist of uncommon emotional richness, is getting on in years - good to see him now. And I concur. Emotional richness indeed, and incredible precision, delicacy and force. Hard to believe two hands could make that wealth of music. Discouraging, no, inspiring for a fledgling pianist.

THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS TO DO IN THIS CITY. In this life! How to choose, how to cope? Last night I was going to work but just had to watch TCM's Wild Strawberries, which somehow I'd never seen - and it was well worth it, what a haunting film. There is so much theatre, music, film, art - not to mention the piles of books and TV - and then there's this little machine on my lap, the internet so packed with stuff, good and bad. Overwhelming sometimes. Lists. Must make lists.

I just picked up one of my new library books, the memoir "Time was soft there" - about a Canadian journalist's time in Paris. But I will not read it. I happened to open by chance to a page where he describes a story he pursued for a Canadian newspaper; he found out that a highly respected Ottawa heart surgeon had been arrested with a prostitute, and the story was buried. This journalist - Jeremy Mercer - decided to pursue it. Because of him, the surgeon was forced to hold a press conference with his family, confess and resign.

I know this story very well. The heart surgeon was Dr. Wilfred Keon; in my family, the man is a beloved saint - and in countless other families too. He operated on my mother's heart not once but twice, putting in a pig's valve and granting her decades of new life. A man of compassion and skill - in fact, like Richard Goode, of incredible precision, delicacy and force - whose one embarrassing illegal incident had been concealed because of his eminence and vital work, who should not have been hounded into humiliation. I'll take this book back tomorrow.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

a scary world

I’ve just left our francophone discussion evening, and despite the excellent food and many glasses of rouge, I am seriously depressed. We spent an obligatory amount of time on Jian and sexual assault and the injustices on both sides – women abused, men falsely accused - though for sure, many more of the former than the latter.
But then we moved on to the world. Jack, who grew up in a Siberian gulag and knows a lot, made sure we understood who Putin is – one of the sharpest world leaders, a crafty aggressor wanting to increase Russia’s already vast store of armaments. Jack blames Obama for not being strong or clever enough to play the major role the U.S. should play on the world stage. I retorted that American politics now is just about frantically raising money for re-election, no time for a wider world view. Gilbert said yes, the Bush Supreme Court in its decision to allow limitless money in elections had probably destroyed American democracy. Plus, I said, still defending Obama with my customary restraint - all this in French except when we got really really excited - the loathsome Republican machine is out to block every Democratic proposal, no matter what harm it does to the country. 
  Not to mention the issue of an incredibly complicated, shifting world map and the ever-growing ranks of murderous Islamic extremists the world over. No wonder Obama is not coming through.
Who HAS done a good job on the world stage, Jack? I asked. And we bemoaned the lack of leaders for the last … decades. 
And our own idiot, there in Australia turning a cold shoulder to Putin to gain votes in Canada – contributing nothing to civil international discourse, making Canada a pariah once more. Even Jack, whose politics are far to the right, admitted that.
He talked about 1815 – Talleyrand, Metternich, the great age of diplomacy when the balance of power was maintained by great diplomats. We do not remotely have that today. He talked about China and India, countries long at war with lots of bombs who are building rival railways in the Himalayas; Japan, seeking to arm itself again; Russian submarines filling the arctic … 
Jack said western democracies may not be able to sustain the kind of freedom they've always enjoyed when dealing with totalitarian regimes the world over. 
And Gilbert said he had talked to Margaret McMillan, brilliant author of a seminal book about WWI, and she said the situation in the world now is reminiscent of 1913. No one wanted war then, she said. The French, the English, they were clever, but they were dragged into war.

I just listened to the CBC news with new ears. But it’s better not to know. 

Ray Civello's library

Love this - the section in the Globe that shows you the favourite room of a person they have named an important Torontonian. Ray Civello is a hairdresser to the stars, I guess, and this is what he calls his library.
Notice something missing? Sigh. Oh, and those bookshelves - yes, he calls them bookshelves - are oak, original to the house, but he painted them white to better showcase his collection of ... things. And his seventeen books.


Today I wanted to go to the matinee of Soulpepper's Spoon River Anthology, which has had rave reviews, but it's sold out. So I will work instead. Tonight's treat - my neighbour Monique's Francophone dinner, her gathering of French-speaking Anglophones who eat and drink and jabber for hours in French - always fascinating, always delicious, and right next door. Quelle chance!

As a point of comparison, I'd like to show you one of the favourite rooms of an obscure Toronto writer and teacher: the library, with unpainted Ikea bookshelves, of my humble self.
This is in the spare bedroom upstairs, aka Bruce's Room, because the living room is already drowning in books. I just took two back to the library: 100 essays I don't have time to write, by playwright Sarah Ruhl, and Safekeeping: Some stories from a life, by Abigail Thomas, both thoughtful, well-written, and of course TRUE. And picked up two memoirs I'd ordered which just came in: If only you people could follow directions, by Jessica Nelson, and Time was soft there: A Paris sojourn at Shakespeare and Co., by Jeremy Mercer. I don't read all the books here from cover to cover - sometimes just a bit is enough. But to me, there's nothing more thrilling than opening a book I've been wanting to read. And it's been that way since I was about five.

Quelle chance.

One more library: in Lauren Bacall's apartment at the Dakota in New York. The second room they show has books, a fireplace, a comfy sofa and a view. A mere 26 million and it could be yours.
P.S. Just checked my bank account online - and there's a surprise $183.99 from Access Copyright, that collects copying revenue for writers. Don't let anyone tell you that writing doesn't pay. Woo hoo!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Julien Blanc. illiterate jerk

Much fuss about some guy called Julien Blanc - there's a petition circulating to keep him out of  Canada, so I decided to go on-line to find out who he is. What I found on his website PIMP is mind-boggling, grotesque, appalling. He is out to teach men clever tricks about how to get women to sleep with them: "hot-searing coal attraction," "panty-dropping masculinity" and "last dick standing."

I am not "self-amused." Hard to believe anyone has ever taken him seriously enough to write a petition about. And yet ...
Inner Game
Finally Debunking the Myth of what “Being a Sex-Worthy Guy” is, the Inner Game section of PIMP, will LOGICALLY explain to you how to reach The Vibe of “THAT guy” who girls respond to, every single time you go out, and how to STIMULATE HER EMOTIONALLY,making you IRRESISTABLE to her:
  • + The Four Pillars of a Sex-Worthy Guy: This module alone will boost you Game alone to ridiculous levels of efficiency. You will learn how to calibrate every single one of the FourPillars to adjust and have a hot-searing coal attraction from the girl EFFORTLESSLY, you’ll learn to be:
    • Purposeful
    • Controlled
    • Flowing
    • Self-Amused
  • How to Suck Girls Into Your Sex-Worthy Reality. It’s one thing to be Sex-Worthy and that magnetic, but the key is in making the girl relate to you. You will need the finesse to ease her into it. And I show you exactly how
  • THE ONLY REASON You’ll ever need to Make Yourself Feel Good All The Time. Once you understand this concept (and I break it down so damn well), you will awaken endless positive emotions in the girl
  • My INFALLIBLE Method To Hit State. I call it The Four Mantras, and it’s literally the FASTEST way to get “in the zone” where everything that comes out of your mouth is PURE GOLD. None of my clients have experienced Approach Anxiety since teaching them this method
  • A Cheat Sheet To Maximize Your Chances To Pull Every Night. I call it Tempo of the Night, and it will give you the best strategies to end up with a girl at the end of the night, depending on where her emotions are, and I reveal the techniques that her NEED TO BE FUCKED, or if she needs you to pump her up like I’ll show you inside the course
  • EXTRA SECTION: I’ll teach you the “Last Dick Standing” strategy to have sex with a girl after every other guy attempted to, but failed. And this is the reason why

writing and money - what's money?

If any readers out there have a fantasy about the glamorous life of the author ... and I know MY glamorous life lives up to your expectations, just slipping on my ball-gown now to rush off in the stretch limo and drink cocktails with Peggy Atwood, oh yes ... please read this excellent article from the Star. It's all true - being a writer not only doesn't pay, it COSTS. It's a career that makes no financial sense at all except for J. K. Rowling. But we do it anyway, for love, for truth, for art. But not, repeat not, for pay.

Can you afford to be a writer?

Not everyone can win the Giller Prize and for many authors, writing doesn’t pay the bills

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Scary snake

Yesterday was heaven - warm and sunny, like late summer. Today, it's winter - just above zero with a bitter wind. It's over, folks. Supposed to snow on the weekend. The trees are showering bright yellow leaves about, giant piles in every yard and on the streets. Cold will reign.

Nearly froze riding my bike to the Y but did so anyway, stubbornly, because it's so much faster than any other conveyance through downtown. Carole's class was as usual brutal but fun. There was a new woman there today, young, lean, amazingly fit. At the end, we went up to congratulate her - and she told us she's just getting back in shape because she has a 7 month old baby.

Ye gods.

I'm glad I had my babies when there was no pressure about getting instantly back in shape, losing the baby weight in two weeks and having rock hard abs in three. As I recall, I sat around in a dressing gown for two years, eating everything in sight. It was great.

The child produced in 1981 sent me through Facebook today the most wonderful little video - her son looking at a picture book, chatting about the animals he sees - "Das a fierce lion! oh, scary snake!" I have watched it five times and tried to send it to friends, but it won't send. She is going to find a way to get it to me so I can make you watch it. It will be compulsory viewing, the cutest thing you will ever see in your life, guaranteed.

I know, I'm insufferable. Don't care.

Last night, friend Lynn and I had dinner and much wine, getting caught up after months, and then on to see a show at Hart House called Canada Fall In, a collage of pictures, music and text about Canada in WWI. Now I know what place names like Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele really mean. What a sacrifice Canada made in that terrible war - 61,000 young men. Horrendous.

To cheer myself up, I'll watch my favourite movie "Scary snake" again.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Gracias a la vida

Nancy's birthday party was wonderful - a gathering of lifelong friends to make merry music, it made me glad to be alive. Friend Terry produced the photo below for the scrapbook on display - Nancy visiting Gillian, John and me in the kitchen of our communal house on Markham Street in early 1973. I was 22; Nancy was 28. John, an Englishman, made his own Guinness beer in a garbage can in the communal bathroom. There were cockroaches. There was marijuana. We went almost every Friday night to El Mocambo to dance. We were young. 
 Nancy on Sunday with her musician daughter Suzy who organized the whole she-bang. More than 40 years later she looks exactly the same.
What's extraordinary about Nancy's compositions are their range - from sharply satirical and political to hauntingly true about family life and failed love - "In love with the lead," "Bad Boy," the funny, moving song quoting her daughters' embarrassment about their mother - to Broadway showbizzy, as in the songs from her musical "Gilbert and Anne," to simply hilariously quirky, as in "Les Belles Fesses" or her song about the woman with a 40 pound cyst. Who else would read that in the paper and write a song about it??

Best of all, the singers were often the next generation, performers from Wexford Collegiate, where Nancy's daughters studied, so beautiful, so young - just a little younger, in fact, than Nancy and I were when we toured in 1972. Then a man from Argentina told us that when he and his compatriots were in Toronto trying to rally political support to fight the junta, Nancy wrote a song that became a union ballad sung across the country and in Argentina too. Didn't know that. And we all sang along with "Gracias a la Vida," the classic Chilean Violeta Para song that Nan translated and often sang.

I was at a table with friends I've had since the early 70's - and Gillian there too, friend since Halifax, 1958. It was a fantastic night.

Yesterday, my daughter came over to work. I need help organizing the chaos of my life, especially the basement where everything is piled, and she is an expert organizer. We spent two hours and I'm a new woman. We now have a date every Monday. Talk about win/win for me - I get time with my girl and an organized house too. At one point, I showed her a decade's worth of old daytimers and said, "I don't know why I keep these, but I do," and she said, "Mum, I hope it's okay if I say that if you don't get around to throwing them out, one day very, very far in the future, I will."

It's comforting to know that yes, without a moment's hesitation, she will.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

celebrating Nancy White

Cooking a chicken in anticipation - Anne-Marie and Jim are coming to dinner, and then we're all going to friend Nancy White's 70th birthday party at the Tranzac Club, organized by her talented musician daughters. A marvellously original and musical funnywoman is turning 70. Twenty performers, apparently, will sing her songs. We were asked to bring pictures for a scrapbook, and I have found some, including one from the tour Nancy and I did in 1971 of an adaptation of "Under Milk Wood" for Young People's Theatre - with music, as I used to say, by Gordon Lightfoot's evil twin. We survived a four-month tour of southern Ontario high schools and have been friends ever since. She's a national treasure, and I am honoured to be among the guests tonight.

When I saw the headline below in the NYT, I thought the article was about Jian and the fact that now there is ceaseless debate about sexual harassment - on CBC, in the papers, on the street. But it's about the recent attacks of two crazy men and the Harper government's threats. A very good article.

Don't Overreact, Canada

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Jimmy Carter, my hero, and "Arcadia"

Who I want to be when I grow up, Part 2: My friend Juliet sent me this link to David Letterman's interview this year with President Jimmy Carter, who at 90 - 90! - is passionately engaged, articulate and informed. What a phenomenal man - author of a new book "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power." And what he says about the prevalence of sexual assault and abuse is prescient, as this country can talk about little else these days. Inspiring.

Several treats on this dark rainy day - this morning, went to St. Lawrence Market with Anna, Matt and Eli. Eli is excited about everything he sees - everything - the red firetruck, the blue dump truck, the red leaves, the lello leaves ... the cookies at the market. He has the most sensitive hearing of anyone I know. "Too loud noiss!" he cries when an ambulance goes by - or even when I slam the microwave door. Though he doesn't mind banging on the piano, which he always does as soon as he arrives here. When does he start his cello lessons? I ask his mother, but she does not seem to have a reply.

And then Wayson and I went to see the Shaw Festival production of Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia" at the Royal Alex (thank you, David Mirvish!), tickets courtesy of my student and friend Tanya, the Shaw costume mistress. It's not an easy play; we're not used to the relentless Stoppardian torrent of words and ideas - as Wikipedia says, "The play attends to a wide array of subjects, including thermodynamics, computer algorithmsfractalspopulation dynamicschaos theory vs. determinism (especially in the context of love and death), classicslandscape designRomanticism vs. ClassicismEnglish literature (particularly poetry), Byron, 18th century periodicals, modern academia, and even South Pacific botany."

Such an obtuse play requires a superb production to make it work, and luckily, here it is, an absolutely perfect cast, beautifully directed and produced. It's set in two eras in the same house - the early 1800's and our time; the old-fashioned ones live their lives, and modern academics try to figure out exactly what they were doing then. As someone who spent years doing research into the past of my great-grandfather, trying to solve various mysteries - a passionate love letter to him, for example, from a woman not his wife, how did that fit? - I identified with the fumbling modern academics. Loved Lord Byron, a major character though never seen, skulking in the background. A great afternoon. Recommended.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Shakespeare and Company: book heaven

If you want a treat, read the following article in this month's Vanity Fair about Shakespeare and Company, the famous bookstore opposite Notre Dame in Paris, one of my favourite places in the world. It's a wistful portrait of a time when books mattered, when writers were honourable vagabonds, when someone like George Whitman could not just exist but flourish and make a difference to countless creative souls. A million thanks to him for being the generous book-loving eccentric that he was, and to his strong and beautiful daughter Sylvia for keeping the whole shmear going against the odds. Can't wait to visit again.

One of my fondest dreams - that one day one of my books might be found there. I know, the chances are almost nil, but you never know. Keep your fingers crossed.

The magazine's pictures of the store are in the print version. Below are mine from my visit in 2009, including one of the famous beds where vagabonds sleep, and someone madly playing the piano upstairs.

Paul Krugman, Jeffrey Simpson nail it

A superb article from Paul Krugman in the NYT about the Republican victory.

And a terrific article by Jeffrey Simpson at the Globe, same story.

From The Globe and Mail: 
Republicans win, but America suffers

What Jon Stewart keeps saying over and over in his funny but pained way, is: Why did the Democrats just roll over and die? Why didn't they hammer home that the Repubs had blocked every possible legislation? That of course Obama couldn't deliver in such a poisonous climate, and in fact at least managed the miracle of health care? Why did they let those disgusting petty people control the agenda?

It's cold, maybe that's why I'm feeling aggrieved - very cold for the beginning of November with most of the leaves still on the trees, the city a symphony of swirling yellow and red. I spent the morning in 1978, reading my journal from that time in preparation for starting the next big project. What luck that I was so neurotically introspective, writing everything down, inspecting every sensation - she's so vividly present in the notebooks, my 27-year old self. I wish I could reach through the years and teach her a few things, voluble hyper-sensitive struggling soul that she was. But she had decades to go before turning into the serenely wise and wrinkled crone writing to you today.