Sunday, May 31, 2015

celebrating toy trains, Gaslight, Laurel and clutter

It is FREEZING and very wet. I should have known this would happen. The windows in my study are behind my very long desk; to open them, I have to climb up on the desk and strain. So I wait until the last moment to make that effort, and yesterday was so hot, I did. I hoisted myself up on top of the desk and struggled to open the windows.

This morning, the house was so cold, I turned on the furnace and then climbed back up on top of the desk and closed the windows again. It's like when you finally decide it's time to put your winter coats away, and you haul them to the basement or wherever they go - that's a guarantee that the very next day, it will plunge to minus five.

Yesterday, much pleasure. Anna was going crazy - Eli's dad was supposed to take him to visit family but got stuck at work, so what was meant to be a day off for Anna turned into a cold wet day with a restless young man sitting at the back door looking out. "A lot of rains," he said. "Very rains."
So I went over, to read some stories - including The Day the Crayons Quit and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, fabulous books - and to get down on the floor and make Thomas the Tank Engine go round and round. And round.

And then on to Gaslight, Sam's restaurant, to meet Laurel for dinner. Laurel came to my class maybe ten years ago; she had always wanted to write and never had. And as I've mentioned proudly before, including on this website under "Teaching," the piece she wrote for the very first class turned into the multi-prize-winning children's book "I know here." She has since published her second book and is working on her third. She still sends me stuff to read, and now I send her stuff to read. Her husband, who joined us briefly, is a musician, her four children are all interesting and creative, we talked non-stop for hours in the dim light of that wonderful, funky restaurant, watched over by Sam, while eating broccoli poutine and other good food.

This morning I'm in bed as the rain pours. I was going to garden all morning - the Cabbagetown Garden Tour is NEXT SUNDAY and the garden is not ready! - but luckily it's too horrible out there. So I'm in bed to try to get rid of my cough before So True. Reading a stack of newspapers and books, while the rain falls - does it get better than this? You know the answer.

Here's a great article from the NYT - celebrating clutter. A woman after my own heart.

Friday, May 29, 2015

proud mama

This is an official announcement - I am now used to my son's tattoos. They're part of him, and they're beautiful. Except for the sailing ship on his chest and a few bits and pieces, they're all animals - otters, an owl, giraffes, a red panda - and each animal is for someone specific in his life. (The giraffes covering one calf - a mother and a baby - are for me.)

Yes, the ones on his fingers I could live without. But when I look at this man, I don't see the scribbles on his skin, I see the most beautiful face in the world, except for two others. He's kind, loyal, hilariously funny and full of life.

I sorta like him.

cover indeed

Beautiful weather, perfect. I am happy about many things right now: life in general; the way the So True readings are shaping up after last night's rehearsal with an extraordinarily diverse group of great writers; the buds on the rosebush; the pretty summer skirt I found at Doubletake; Jon Stewart's brilliance and humour, a marvel that we can still enjoy for a few more months; the fact that I don't care about the shocking FIFA scandal, because nothing could matter less to me. Small mercies.

This is for my daughter, who will breastfeed anywhere she damn well pleases.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

That was spring?

That was it, folks, a few days ago - Toronto had its seventeen minutes of spring, and now it's summer. Saturday night there was a frost warning, and by Tuesday, it was boiling hot, everyone's in tank tops. Unbelievable.

And of course, I celebrate the change in the temperature by getting a cold. Snivelling dripping coughing. Otherwise, filled with joy.

No, really, all is well despite the empty balloon in my head. Monday Sam came over with Eli to give his mother a whole bunch of hours off, which is all she wanted after throwing that massive party on Saturday. So Sam and I spelled each other off with the young man, we went to a playground and to Doubletake and did some gardening and mostly, Eli watered everything in sight, including himself. Then my son cooked his usual spectacular meal and took his nephew home at 7.30; Eli, who'd had his bath here, fell asleep in the cab, and I, exhausted, not long after. I was worn out after one afternoon with him, with someone to help. Anna does it alone, 24 hours a day, pregnant. And soon there will be two. Yikes.

Good thing she's young. Ish.

Speaking of old-ish, Sam just texted me a photo. I looked at it - there's Eli, but who's that ugly old man with him? And then I realized - it was me. Sam had taken a photo of us fooling around at Doubletake,  wearing straw hats. The ugly old man was me.

I wrote sadly to my son, and he wrote back, It's not a great picture, but you're a beautiful woman. And I wrote back, GET YOUR EYES CHECKED! Which he actually needs to do. It does make me sad, sometimes, to catch a glimpse of myself. But mostly I don't care. This is what 64 looks like. Get over it. I will not however be buying that particular straw hat.

Busy busy busy 64 - editing like crazy for the So True readings this coming Sunday - this time, NINE stories plus my own, which will be - I think - a short excerpt from the new memoir - readers ranging in age from 27 to 87, four men, five women and moi. Teaching three times this week, hoping I don't sneeze all over my students. But the fridge is full of delicious leftovers, the polls are not good for the Conservatives, and the garden is bursting with green. Happiness is.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Stephen Harper in the closet

Hooray for Ireland and its vote on gay marriage! Not a surprise, given the kindness and generosity of the Irish. Though they've been under the thumb of the Catholic church for so long, it is incredible how fast they've freed themselves.

Waiting for some of my family to arrive. Sam's Mother's Day present to his sister and me is to take Eli off her hands and over to my house where he'll cook. So she gets a break and I get my grandson and dinner. Deal.

Visited Annie yesterday, the first of my close friends to downsize - she and her husband recently sold their family house and moved to a rented condo right on Queen East. It's lovely, bright and in the perfect location; we walked along the seawall surrounded by hundreds jogging, rollerblading, sunbathing, playing beach volleyball - like another Toronto entirely.

Saturday was Eli's actual birthday party, and once again, I take my hat off to my daughter, who's a lunatic but a wonderful one. By the time I left, exhausted, there were in her backyard at least 15 children under the age of ten and their parents - relatives, friends, neighbours, with ever more arriving. The kids were all busy with various activities, and Anna fed everyone. Eli was swimming in gifts and two birthday cakes. He is a lucky boy. Apparently, speaking of lucky, Anna's 3 best friends cleaned up.

Bruce just sent me this picture - me arriving in Rome last year. I'd flown from Paris to Rome and taken the subway from the airport into the city, to find him waiting on the platform. How happy I was to see him!
And - here's the best political cartoon of recent days. For those of you not in this country, our esteemed Prime Minister, when an armed gunman broke into Parliament, ran into a broom closet to hide. And now, in the run up to our national election, he has refused to participate in most debates.

That sums him up. Have any of you noticed I don't like him? Very perceptive of you.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Three small madmen who are three, and "Mad Men"

I hope you'll indulge me, dear readers. My grandson was three today, and his birthday was a grand celebration which I share, below, with you. His real party is on Saturday; this was just a small event with his best friends Finn and Marcus. Imagine, having two best friends before you're three. My daughter's backyard is better than a playground, just full of toys, the hangout for lots of local kids, which is fine with her. Now more than ever, I'm sure - because my gift, which had been requested, was a large wading pool. They spent some time filling it up and the rest of the afternoon emptying it - scooping water out and splashing. The pool, believe it or not, has 3-D fish on it and 3-D goggles so you can appreciate them.
 Consultation on protocol.
Time out for smashing things.
And things with wheels.
Anna made the cupcakes and Finn's mother decorated them. With threes!
 Waiting for the cupcakes.
 Singing Happy Birthday.
A pretty damn good life, I'd say.

A quick comment on finales in television, of which we had two this past week -"Mad Men" and David Letterman. And both of which meant almost nothing to me. I never watched Letterman - it was on at 11.35, for God's sake, who stays up that late, except to watch Stephen Colbert? People keep saying how will they live without him - but what about Jon Stewart, he's the one we won't be able to live without.

Well ... I won't be able to live without. An interesting funny friend on the glassy screen late at night: what Jon is to me, what Dave was for millions.

As for "Mad Men," I'm really sorry I didn't watch what was obviously stellar television about a fascinating time in American life. I did see the last 3 episodes, because now - as those of you who follow these chronicles know - I have a PVR, and I actually managed to use it to tape the show. So I saw the famous zen finale and the famous Coke ad - and had no idea what to make of it, since I hardly knew the characters. But I was upset by what was shown - Don Draper flailing about in the middle of nowhere, learning that his ex-wife is dying of cancer and instead of returning to be a comfort or at least help out with his children, just keeps on going in a selfish alcoholic stupor. But then, he was a man of his times. Which weren't that long ago and yet felt like the Dark Ages, in some respects. Terrific TV.

It's 11.35. If Letterman were on, I could actually watch him for the first time. But he's not. Thank God, I get to go to bed.

Monday, May 18, 2015

gay wedding, yes; "Avengers," no

Last night a joyful event - my neighbour Rob, a lawyer I've lived next to for two decades and watched in and out of several relationships, and Alex, the young man he's been living with for five years, got married. The event was divided into two - the wedding itself at 6 was attended by close friends and family, followed by dinner, and then the rest of us were invited at 9.30 for dessert, Champagne and dancing. It was held at Momofuko, Toronto's member of the prestigious international Momofuko chain - David Sedaris told us the night before that as soon as he gets to Toronto, he rushes to Momofuko.

I, of course, have never been. So, much to look forward to. The dress code was "formal chic," so I raided my dress-up closet for Goodwill specials before settling, not without much back and forth in front of the mirror, on a little black dress from the Fifties ("Dress Town" is the tag), with a vintage sequinned coat on top and a gorgeous necklace of Mum's that I've never worn and she never wore either - a big chunk of topaz. High heels, but not too high. Danceable high. And an evening bag I bought at Housing Works Thrift in New York. Besides the shoes, which were from Winner's, the most expensive thing I had on were the pantyhose.

Fellow neighbours and 9.30 invitees Jean-Marc and Richard and I got a cab over together. A heavenly night, soft and sweet, to stand under a tent on a beautifully decorated terrace overlooking all of University Avenue. A friend who'd been at the actual ceremony said everyone wept. Winston, Rob's aging bull terrier, made a short appearance before being whisked away. And though I was sorry to have missed the ceremony and even more, to be frank, the meal, oh, the pleasure for us latecomers - meeting Rob's mother from Montreal, his beautiful sister who'd flown in from L.A. and was wearing an Oscar-worthy champagne brocade floor-length gown, and many old friends. Rob is Jewish from Montreal, so there were Jewish rituals, and also Macedonian ones honouring Alex's background - at one point they broke a big round loaf of bread baked by his grandmother. There was the cutting of the cake, the first dance which we all stood misty-eyed and watched - all the traditional rituals of a wedding.

Talking with Rob's mother, I thought, she must never have imagined such a day - that her brilliant son would enjoy a solid partnership and a happy celebration of it. To think there are forces in the world that would deny gay couples such comfort and community. I realized yesterday that weddings are as much for the community as for the couple - for us all to celebrate a loving and committed union, to join together in hope for the future. In a world of so much darkness and shame, some things are moving in the right direction.

And then Jean-Marc and Richard and I danced like crazy for ages. Mazel tov, Rob and Alex. I wish you many years of joy.

Today, speaking of a world of darkness and shame - Anna's Mother's Day present was for me to take her to the movie of her choice while a friend watched Eli. She chose the new Avengers movie, The Age of Ultron. She loves that stuff. I hate it but feel that every once in a while I should move out of my movie comfort zone. My kids make fun of my taste for obscure indie movies - which I call works of art instead of Hollywood crap. But sometimes I've enjoyed their choices.

This time, however, no. Anna loved it, she said, though how that's possible, I don't know. She says she goes to movies to escape reality and also was glad there wasn't a little person asking her questions and plastered to her side. Instead she had me with my fingers in my ears right through the unbelievably loud credits. It was all about blowing things up, smashing things, smashing, bashing, crashing. Incredible special effects, no question - there was a list of thousands of technical people at the end. But to what end? I had thought there would be a tiny bit of humanity - such good actors, after all. But no. Smashing and crashing.

It didn't help that all these superheroes had complicated back stories which I didn't know. Anna did, and tried to explain afterwards. It was all lost on me. All I could think, when the ringing in my ears subsided, was, "There's 2 1/2 hours of my life I'll never get back."

But the suffering is worth it if it makes my daughter happy. Once in a while.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

So True stories Sunday May 31

On this beautiful Sunday morning of the long weekend, I'm writing to invite you to our next reading event in exactly two weeks, Sunday May 31. Eight powerful stories from eight great writers and a short something or other from me, in a convivial, central spot with a nicely stocked bar. Doors open at 4 p.m., it starts at 4.30 and ends at 6.30, just in time for dinner on the Danforth. Cost: $10.

Please join us. Check our website for a map, some previous stories and more details.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

David Sedaris yes, Tom Stoppard not so much

Here is David Sedaris's relationship advice: "My husband Hugh and I have been together for 25 years, so I get asked about it a lot," he said. "I say, first, do NOT ever talk about your relationship with the person you're in a relationship with. Lesbians have the highest divorce rate because they talk about their relationship all the time. And gay men divorce the least because there's nothing they hate doing more.

And next, when you've been together 15 years, stop listening to what the other person is saying. Whatever they're saying, you've heard it all before. Oh, pretend to listen and make sounds of sympathy every so often. But don't listen."

Love it!

The man packed the Sony Centre tonight, which holds 3000 people. The downstairs was full and up was pretty full, so could it be that around 2500 people came out to hear A WRITER? A WRITER READING HIS ESSAYS? Jesus. Incredible.

He just walked on and stood at the podium and started to talk, and we started to laugh. He told us that his luggage had been lost in transit and so he had to go out and buy clothes. He was wearing a bow tie. "I used to say that wearing a bow tie means 'I cannot get an erection any more.'" And he went on from there, the laughs rolling in, people hooting and gasping. He read two stories, one about having a benign tumour removed so he could feed it to a large snapping turtle - yes - and the second, a long one about his crazy brother Paul, which was very funny but also moving - about how Paul is raising his daughter the self-esteem way, praising everything she does, as opposed to how David and his siblings were raised by their alcoholic mother. "Aren't they horrible?" his mother said once to her friends at the country club, looking at her kids. "I'd just like to line them up against a wall and shoot them."

Yes, it was funny, and said with affection. At the end he read from his diary - he must write down every funny thing he hears or thinks, and he hears and thinks a lot of funny things - and then took questions, about his FitBit mania and his collecting garbage mania. I put up my hand but was too far back for him to see. I wanted to ask how his family feels about his writing about them, especially his parents about whom he is brutally honest. Have they read his stories? Don't they mind? Does he hold back and censor himself? I'm sure he does - but it doesn't show, that's for sure.

Anyway, he was inspiring - a very funny man whose writing gives pleasure to so many. He is known to take a huge amount of time with book signing - staying for hours, talking to each person. When I left, the lineup was already the entire length of the lobby - young old gay straight, waiting for David. Oh, to be that funny. He's a writer superstar. They exist. He and J. K. Rowling, writer superstars, among my heroes.

This afternoon, however, I went to see the National Theatre Live presentation of the great Tom Stoppard's latest play "The Hard Problem". These filmed plays are spectacular, putting us all front row centre. But this play - two thumbs down. Stoppard is known for his intensely intellectual work; I saw the Shaw Festival's production of the brilliant "Arcadia" recently and loved straining to follow the dense, fascinating, abstruse discussions. Here, the discussions were just dense, endless, the characters made of cardboard, and even much of the acting, I felt, wasn't great, mostly because the actors had so much to say and so little to feel.

Have to tell you that part of me didn't mind at all thinking, If even famous, brilliant Tom Stoppard can write such a dud, then my own duds don't matter so much. Schadenfreude. David Sedaris could say something funny about that. I'll work on it.

Friday, May 15, 2015

meeting in writing class

You never know what will happen in a writing class. Mine are both well underway and already full of fascinating lives and intersections, including, in one, two Caucasians in their seventies who grew up and lived for decades as adults in the same small African country and then emigrated to Toronto, sitting side by side in class though they've never met; their first pieces of writing were both full of bonobos, puff adders and leopards. Even without that kind of synchronicity, students often find soulmates in class, people who've been through remarkably similar experiences.

But nothing beats this story, of two women, strangers in a New York creative writing class who discovered that they're sisters!

Former student Nancy Figueroa, who's had several pieces in the Globe since taking my class, including one about taking my class, had another in yesterday, just in time for the vitriolic debate in Ontario on sex ed. Very entertaining, brava, Nancy. I wrote to congratulate her, and she wrote back that many of the students in her 2012 class are still meeting regularly as a writer's group. She said, Please know we talk fondly of you at our meetings and often wonder, "What would Beth say?" Thanks for all you taught us.
Glad the class worked for you. Even if you didn't find a long-lost sister.

Another technological hurdle overcome today - I've been dealing with Rogers, my internet and cable company, and yesterday they generously offered me a free PVR. Is that what it's called? I've heard of them but had no idea how they work. Well, as of today, not only do I have a brand new modem delivering ultra-fast internet - no more waiting 20 long seconds, now things appear in only 10! -  but I have a PVR. The nice Rogers man slowly explained how it works, and I took notes. So this means you can tape and watch later? How exciting. Welcome to 2015, ancient Granny dear.

It's chilly and grey, so much so at night so that I've been covering the fragile plants on the deck, the jasmine and gardenia and bougainvillea, with a sheet to protect them. My babies! So far they've survived, but it's so chilly, nothing can be planted, and it's going to continue cold all through next week. Only a tiny bit of panic about the Cabbagetown Garden Tour on June 7, on which my so far chaotic, bald, unplanted garden will appear this year.

No panic either about the next So True event, Sunday May 31, though we are still a few readers short. Readers will come through and it will be stellar, as always.

Last night, the latest Word Sisters dinner. A group of women involved in words - editors, book publicists, agents, a lawyer and a legal advisor to writers, and your humble correspondent, gather regularly for gossip, food, wine and mutual support. This time our friend Meg is departing for the States, so we gathered to send her off in style, with much Champagne. Unfortunately your humble etc. liked the Champagne, and the subsequent rouge, a bit too much. Suffering today. Worth it.

There's a mouse in my kitchen - I encountered it skittering across the floor the other day. When it saw my startled face, it ran under the fridge. What to do? At least it's not a puff adder or a leopard. My handyman brought some poison - though I haven't been able to use it yet.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Old age pension?! Not for Anne Boleyn.

I just called the government about my old age pension - surely, given that we sixty-somethings are so incredibly perky and youthful, they should call it something else - the good times are rolling in payment plan, something like that. Anyway, no need to call, they said - vast sums will start pouring in to my bank account in September, a month after I turn 65. Can't wait. The Ritz, here I come.

Or maybe not.

Because I just received a firm notice from RBC, announcing that as soon as I turn 65, the travel health insurance covered automatically on my Visa card drops from 15 days to 3. That means I need to buy 12 additional days of insurance every time I'm out of the country for more than a weekend. Because obviously, the minute I turn 65, I'm going to be sicker than a dog ALL THE TIME and drain RBC Insurance dry.


Who knows what 65 means any more, except RBC to whom it means obvious disintegration and decrepitude? I spent most of yesterday with my grandson, riding around the kitchen on the back of his Plasmacar, digging with him in the muddy garden, the two of us accompanying Raffi on the record player, I on the tambourine and he banging a pot with a spoon, and then we went to Yogurtys for frozen yogurt with sprinkles. I was wearing skinny jeans, sneakers with hot pink laces and a Paul McCartney concert t-shirt my daughter picked up in the free bin at her local drop-in centre. As Gloria Steinem so famously sort of said, this is what 65 looks like. Whereas my own two grandmothers, in their girdles and dresses and good grown-up shoes, seemed old long before they received their own old age pensions.

I'm not much bothered by my advancing age, what would be the point? I do put a selection of the less expensive lotions and potions on my face, though I know it's hopeless, the wrinkles increase exponentially. I catch a glimpse in the mirror and say OHMYGOD. Used to be so proud of my eyesight and now am constantly searching for my reading glasses. Spent the morning having a fasting blood test because of osteoporosis. My back aches when I get up in the morning.

But I spent yesterday on the back of a Plasmacar behind its two year-old driver. And as Beth Kaplan famously likes to say, it doesn't get better than that.

Spent Sunday night in the heaven of the last "Wolf Hall" - unforgettably good drama, brilliantly written, directed, acted. The execution of Anne Boleyn will never leave me - she was a nasty bit of work and yet we cared about her trembling desperate end, just as we cared so very deeply about Cromwell as he lost his soul. Though it is set hundreds of years ago, everything it says about ambition, corruption, greed, lust, status, pride - all the sins - holds true today.

But mostly - it's lit by Mark Rylance as Cromwell. As good as acting gets. I can't imagine ever seeing a deeper, more intelligent, wise, confident and generous performance. More, please.

Incidentally, just heard from Lynn in France. Her daughter Sarah and her 3 children, who left Kathmandu for r and r last week after enduring the earthquake, were due to fly back today, but the airport there has closed due to yet another earthquake. So they are all safely in Montpellier where they just went swimming in the Mediterranean. "How much hardship can one small country take?" wrote Lynn. It's unbearable. But at least one small family is safe.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Room to rent

Saw this on my ride: Affordable housing in downtown Toronto. One room, lots of light.
Actually, if you do know someone who needs a room temporarily, please let me know - I might be able to help.

remembering Mama

Here's what motherhood looks like now, to me:
a beautiful pregnant woman buying shoes for her sleeping boy.

Sunday morning - it rained last night, the garden is damp, the birds are noisy, the lilac is on its way, and my heart is full of the blessings of life. I am thinking of my lovely, loving mother, such a powerful force in my life - hard to believe the space she occupied for so long is empty. Here she is only two months before she died in 2012, meeting her great-grandson, doing a crossword.

I miss you, maman.

Here's a moving and important article about Jean Vanier. My new memoir is partially about my time working at l'Arche in 1979, which changed my life. Many thanks to M. Vanier - and to HIS mother, Madame Vanier, a vital force also.

And now, on this blessed tranquil morning, my first bike ride of the year on the Don Valley Trail. It does not get better than this.

Ten minutes later: Yes, it does get better than this. I looked out at my dead ivy ...
and saw life - tiny green shoots. The ivy is alive! Happy Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Andrew Coyne on the case

Not to get all political on your ass, as the kids say, but here is a stunning article by Andrew Coyne - highly respected columnist for the extremely conservative National Post - pointing out in damning detail one day of misdeeds by our current government, finishing:
The point is, this was all in the space of 24 hours. If one were to draw up an indictment of this government’s approach to politics and the public purpose, one might mention its wholesale contempt for Parliament, its disdain for the Charter of Rights and the courts’ role in upholding it, its penchant for secrecy, its chronic deceitfulness, its deepening ethical problems, its insistence on taking, at all times, the lowest, crudest path to its ends, its relentless politicization of everything.
But you’d think you would need to look back over its record over several years to find examples. You wouldn’t think to see them all spread before you in the course of a single day.
National Post
Thank you, Mr. Coyne. Superb.
In other news - well, not much, except that the rest of the garden is growing but the ivy is still dead, and it's summer in Toronto, people out in tank tops and flip-flops already. I took Eli to the play gym at the Y so his mother could have more than an hour to herself, then we had lunch and went to the Eaton's Centre to buy Eli his summer shoes, bright red sneakers and blue sandals that light up - how do they do that? The Eaton's Centre on a warm Saturday afternoon is my idea of hell, but it's a good place to find children's shoes. 
On all sides, chattering of birds and neighbours, that's all. Lynn's daughter Sarah and her 3 children were flown from Kathmandu to France to get away from the disaster zone for a week - they spent two nights after the earthquake sleeping outside in the rain. The ground under my feet feels as solid as can be - even more solid when journalists like Mr. Coyne are doing their job. Praise be.

(And while on the Post site, I found this wonderful article ripping apart academics who slammed the Beatles. Rock on, brothah!)

Friday, May 8, 2015

my boychik

My son was entered in a city-wide cocktail making competition, sponsored by Jameson. He had to invent a cocktail using that whiskey. And he did. He didn't win - this time - but he looked great. As is his wont. And though I am not a whiskey drinker, the cocktail doesn't look bad either.
So on the eve of the eve of Mother's Day - which I really don't care much about, an event invented by Hallmark cards - I am proud to show off one of my two magnificent creations, showing off one of his own magnificent creations.

My other magnificent creation saw her midwife today, and all is well with HER next magnificent creation. What a creative bunch!

Home. Home home home home home home home. I am home. Happy Mother's Day to you all. I hope you are home too, or wherever else you want most to be.

And speaking of home, special good wishes to Omar Khadr, who is now walking out in the world for the first time since he was imprisoned 13 years ago, at the age of 15. A vile, brutal injustice was done to you by the government of this country. I pray that you continue to put your life back together.

Khadr was the first person since World War II to be prosecuted in a military commission for war crimes committed while still a minor. His conviction and sentence were widely denounced by civil rights groups and various newspaper editorials.[12] He has been frequently referred to as a child soldier.[13][14] He was formally identified as such by the head of the United Nations child soldier program in a letter to the Military Commission in October 2010.[15][16] The last Western citizen held at Guantanamo, Khadr was unique in that Canada had chosen not to seek extradition or repatriation despite the urgings of Amnesty InternationalUNICEF, the Canadian Bar Association, The Federal Court of Canada and other prominent organizations.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Hooray for Alberta!

The teaching term is launched, U of T last night, Ryerson tonight, and my home class tomorrow. And again, as always, I celebrate the fact that I love my job. Such interesting new people, and in two months, I'll know them well.

A miracle happened yesterday: Alberta elected a majority NDP government. Alberta, the Texas of Canada where oil reigns supreme, where my left-wing parents lived for years desperately hoping for a ray of light - well, I can see them dancing right now in heaven - or wherever they are, they're dancing. The Tories have ruled there for over 40 years, and now they're buried. And not just by the socialist party, but one led by a young woman. Thrilling. Though we should have known that Alberta was not what it seemed when Calgary, Cowtown, once the most right-wing city in this country, elected as its mayor Naheed Nenshi, a thoughtful, progressive Muslim with a wonderful sense of humour and decency.

This is democracy at its best - the good surprises that an electorate can deliver. Rather than the bad ones, as when hideously stupid governments (Mike Harris, Stephen Harper, George Bush, I'm thinking of you) are elected and then re-elected.

But let's not think about that right now, let's celebrate the wisdom of Albertans. And never did I think I'd be saying those words.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver

Cannot stop adding bits, today, to this chronicle of my little life. Early this morning, I opened the curtains to see a flock of geese in their V, heading north, and thought, I have seen that sight all my life, as have all Canadians. I felt my place in the family of things.

And I thought about my Eli, yesterday, stopping with an exclamation to pick dandelions - so many, so pretty, he wanted them all, and gave their picked heads to all of us. It has been many years since I exclaimed over dandelions. But now I see them with fresh eyes.

A woman who has always seen the world with fresh eyes is the poet Mary Oliver. Here's one of her best-known, haunting poems:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

in olden days ...

An old friend just sent a photograph I've never seen, of Edgar and me in 1984 or 85. I was 34 (as our daughter Anna is now), the mother of a 3-year old and a newborn (as Anna will be in a few months), had moved not long before from Vancouver to Ottawa. Now we were about to move again to Toronto, as my young husband's meteoric rise in his career continued. I think the fierce frown is a joke, the way Sam's frowns (below) are a joke. I hope so.

I barely know who those two young people are. I have no memory of ever hanging onto a man, even if he was my husband. But you can see where our son gets his beautiful smile.
Thirty years ago.
Yesterday. Edgar said Sam should only have paid half-price for his haircut since the barber only cut half his hair.

information on Beth's writing classes this week

Hello new students, I look forward to meeting you soon - Tuesday evening at U of T and Wednesday at Ryerson.

Special information for my Ryerson students - I posted that the class would be in the VIC building, as it has for years, but this term, they've changed it to the Ted Rogers building. The room may be changed next week, but this week, that's where we'll be.

Wednesday at 6.30, the Ted Rogers School of Management; the building's entrance is on the south side of Dundas, between Yonge and Bay. There's an elevator to the third floor; I took the escalator and then turned left and then right to Room 3112. I'll be waiting for you.

The U of T class is in University College, Room 255.

The first class is to get to know each other and me, and to discuss the process of writing and the scope of the course. Next week - we write. See you soon.

a fan

My dear uncle in Washington D.C., whose birthday is today, just forwarded this email from a friend of his. What pleasure to think of a reader laughing out loud. My day is made.

On one of our snowy weeks I read Beth's "All My Loving." It was fabulous! I haven't laughed out loud like that while reading a book in years. Thanks again for sending it to me. I'm starting on her memoir book this week as I'm taking a memoir writing workshop at the end of the month with two of the big names in non-fiction/personal essay/memoir writing. 

we are family

Greta Lee gets a flower face.
Exhausted Spiderman.
Edgar used to be the tall one in the family.

Sunday was the Forsythia Festival in Cabbagetown, games, music and face painting for kids, a celebration of spring. It was also Anna's birthday, and her dad and his wife Tracey and their daughter Greta Lee drove up from Washington, D.C., to be here. We spent all day Sunday together, in my garden, at the festival, having dinner. My ex-husband is a dear friend, a good man, a very successful  theatre producer, trusted and respected. His wife has a great sense of humour and takes very good care of Greta and Ed and even of his family in Vernon, sending gifts to his once-powerful mother Connie who now has Alzheimer's. They are coming back in July to meet Anna's baby. Can't wait.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Seymour: an introduction

Just back from a profoundly beautiful and moving documentary, "Seymour: an introduction," (love the reference to Salinger) directed by Ethan Hawke, about the New York pianist and teacher Seymour Bernstein. A film about the universal language of the soul that is music - including, in a section on the ecstasy produced by music, footage of the very young Beatles and their audience. But the film is also about the power of an empathetic and wise teacher who has helped many pianists achieve their goals.

Seymour tells about realizing, at a very young age, that when his practicing was going well, his life was as well, and that the reverse was also true. "The real essence of who we are," he concludes, "resides in our talent."
"Most artists," he says about stage fright, "are not nervous enough."

"Struggle is what makes the art form," he says in a discussion on craft. He's a serene man who gives only one hint of pain and struggle, when he tells us that his father used to say he had three daughters and a pianist. "He couldn't say he had a son," Seymour says; his father had no understanding of who that son was. Seymour reports that he constructed a "translucent dome" around himself; outside were ravens pecking, trying to get in, but they could not harm him. One of the birds was his father.

He's a joyful, solitary man who entrances us as well as his students. As I left, my heart broke a little for my own young self. Both my parents and three of my grandparents were musical, and there's no question my brother and I are as well. I took piano as a kid, came second at the age of 11 in a provincial music competition with a Bach piece, and then, at 13, quit. The piano was my mother's domain, and classical music belonged to my parents; just too fraught for me. And now, at the age of 64, I am returning to music on the piano of my childhood. So far behind, playing the same Bach pieces I did in 1962.

Though I was envious of the kids in the film, so accomplished, such brilliance at their fingertips - no point regretting a life without an instrument. I celebrate that I'm able to come back now; to rediscover this language I am so very eager to learn.

PS Just turned on the radio to hear Randy Bachman - welcome home! He's playing a Red Hot Chili Pepper's song called "Music is my airplane."

Seymour Bernstein started playing the piano as a little boy, and by the time he turned 15 he was teaching it to others. He enjoyed a long and illustrious career as a performer before he gave it up to devote himself to helping others develop their own gifts. While Ethan Hawke's gentle, meditative study is a warm and lucid portrait of Bernstein and his exceptional life and work, it's also a love letter to the study of music itself, and a film about the patience, concentration, and devotion that are fundamental to the practice of art. Seymour: An Introduction allows us to spend time with a generous human being who has found balance and harmony through his love of music.

good times

Supreme bliss: the garden on a quiet, sunny afternoon. Cardinals, blue jays and a pair of robins at the feeder as well as the usual flocks of finches and sparrows. Daffodils pushing through. The delicate plants - the oleander, bougainvillea, mandevilla, geraniums et al - that wintered in my bedroom are exploring the outside once again, though they still come in at night. My timing could not have been better - spring has arrived full blast and the whole city is opening wide to the warmth. I hear - a distant siren and airplane; much twittering; my neighbour sanding something. I smell - leaves, grass, spring. A breeze on my face. I see green.

Rode my bike to the market this morning - hot bagels and smoked salmon, apples, sausages, for tomorrow's brunch. My ex is in town with his family, and tomorrow is our pregnant daughter's 34th birthday. So much to celebrate. Anna's Dad Edgar, his wife Tracy and daughter Greta Lee, her brother Sam and his new girlfriend CJ and various others - Anna's best friend Holly, perhaps Thomas, Eli's father - are coming here for brunch. It's the local Forsythia Festival five minutes away in Wellesley Park, ideal for a 4 year old and nearly 3 year old. So we will be hanging out all day in Cabbagetown.

I could not be more grateful for the haven of my garden and home, for this city not prone to earthquakes, for this country which, though it's been going in 100% the wrong direction of late, is still relatively decent, stable and peace-loving. I am grateful to know what's in my fridge, to know what I'm going to do today and tomorrow and next week. Ran into a friend at the market who, when she found out I was just back from Europe, said, "I bet you didn't want to come home!" and I looked at her as if she was insane.

Jet lag is finally leaving - have been waking at 5.30 and 6 a.m. since my return, getting woozy after supper - and I'm getting out summer clothes, sandals, putting away the heavy sweaters, buying new perennials, opening windows that have been sealed since November. Let the sunshine in, as they sang in Hair. The suuun shine in.

I also spent time yesterday reading the draft of the memoir I wrote in Paris - and I'm happy to say that living in the cold drizzle without the internet or friends or family or a garden or any of my countless distractions was worthwhile. It's a solid second draft. Much much more is needed, but I did good work.

I think.

RIP Ben E. King.