Monday, August 31, 2015

the McCartney tulip

To mark Paul’s trip to Amsterdam and to honour his “positive contribution to the Netherlands and the world”, the flower growers association Remarkable Tulips is launching an official Paul McCartney tulip - a completely new form of the flower. It is red - a reference to the colour of Liverpool FC – and white, which is said to symbolise “infinite possibilities” (Paul also points out that it stands for peace). He helps to christen the new breed just minutes before taking to the stage at the Ziggo Dome on the first of two nights in Amsterdam. Pouring champagne over the new flower, he declares: “Well, this doesn’t happen every day.”
As Paul leaves the little ceremony to walk to the stage, he asks that all the crew get a tulip each. 
“Paul McCartney electrified the Stade de France. He was irresistible as he took us through his treasures.” Le Parisien, Paris
“An amazing show! Legendary songs, high emotions and an over-excited audience were proof McCartney was in his best form ever.” L’Express
"McCartney and his four fellow musicians played brilliantly. As he constantly shifted around between his iconic Höfner bass, electric and acoustic guitars and keys, there could be no doubt about his great musical talent and his legendary status." Berlingske Tidende, Denmark
"I do not think in the history of Roskilde I’ve seen so many good songs together performed in one set. It was overwhelming to stand in the middle of the audience and be part of such a communal moment.
"Paul McCartney with his insanely tight band gave a historic end to a great concert and festival." Politiken


Life often hands out gifts, and I received a few today. I was forwarded an article in a scholarly journal; a few notable Canadians were asked to write about a university professor who inspired them and changed their life. Dr. Alex MacKenzie, a notable genetics researcher and doctor, winner of the 2013 Champion of Genetics Award, wrote about my dad.

I first encountered the late J. Gordin Kaplan teaching his third-year molecular biology course at the U of O in 1973. An indifferent student meandering indifferently through the undergraduate curriculum with no particular destination in mind, I came late to his second class (having missed the first) to encounter Dr. Kaplan beautifully outlining Jacob and Monod’s then fairly recent work on the bacterial lactose operon – work that established many of the key principles of gene operation.
         An elegant man, Dr. Kaplan had the delivery of a Shakespearean actor, albeit one with a distinctly New York accent, a fierce gaze and a wonderful sense of timing. A lover of all things Gallic and frequently bedecked in a cravat and beret, he gave lectures that were performances. I remember him pausing to stare at the floor mid-sentence for emphasis before delivering the intellectual coup de grace concerning a particular aspect of the operon theory, describing how the genes that make up all forms of life are controlled. Through his eloquent mastery, the elegance and simplicity of the then-nascent world of molecular biology shone forth. He had me from negative repressor.
         I did an honours project with Dr. Kaplan the following year, then shipped off under his guidance to his friend Lou Siminovitch in the U of T medical genetic department, where I completed a doctorate. To this day, I have been, more or less, tilling the same DNA furrow that Dr. Kaplan laid out so beautifully on that September afternoon.

This made me very, very proud - and also laugh, not just the beret and cravat - I never once saw Dad in a cravat and I'd dispute that memory, but the beret was a staple - but because MacKenzie describes the theatrical gene I inherited from him and he from his grandfather the Jewish Shakespeare. One of the things I was most proud of as an actor was my timing. Genes! Bravo, beloved father. Dr. MacKenzie has made a huge difference to the world with his research, and so did you.

Received this from #1 daughter: her older son with his best friend Finn at the Ex, two cool guys in their Jeep. They don't look three, do they? Pre-school Easy Riders. 
Wish his great-grandfather could have met Eli, and vice versa. 

My woodpecker is still at work. When I wake up, he's pecking away at the dead wood of the ivy, and late in the day, he's still there. Alone, working, intent - inspiring, that little guy. I am working too - over 60,000 words on the new memoir; the peaceful month of August has been a huge gift. Chris wrote to ask what my hopes are for this one, and I wrote back, Incredible success, obviously - publishers fighting for it, bestseller lists, becoming rich and famous and buying houses for both my children.

Or - the same as before, 132 discerning readers, most of them my friends and family. I will be sad and disappointed if it doesn't fly out of the nest. And then I'll start to write the next.

As perhaps the last of today's gifts - which included a visit with excellent #1 son, a lot of dark chocolate and rosé, and the smell of gardenia and jasmine - I have become a follower, on Twitter, of the Dalai Lama. How amazing is that? The Dalai Lama has a Twitter feed! What a world.
It's a rough life.

PS And one mixed blessing gift - someone returned my book, Finding the Jewish Shakespeare, to the Little Free Library, obviously untouched, unopened. Well, thank you for giving it back. I didn't leave it there, though. It's now stacked up with all the others - the many others - waiting for eager readers. One day. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Oliver Sacks, RIP

My friend Chris just sent this. What a loss to the world of this brilliant, compassionate doctor, writer and man.
Famed British neurologist and author Oliver Sacks died on Sunday at the age of 82, his assistant told The New York Times. 
The cause of death was cancer. 
In February, Sacks wrote an op-ed revealing that he was in the late stages of terminal cancer, after earlier melanoma in his eye spread to his liver. 
"It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me," he wrote. "I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers."His last book, a memoir, was published in April. On The Move details Sack's childhood, his move to the United States, his sexuality, his professional achievements and his challenges. 
"In this book he studies himself as he has studied others: compassionately, unblinkingly, intelligently, acceptingly and honestly," wrote Colin McGinn at The Wall Street Journal. "There will not be another like him."

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Wolfpack

Being a mother never ends. Hard to believe, but yesterday, both my children lost their phones simultaneously, so there's been no way to get through to either of them, and Sam was very sick. Anna let me know through Facebook IM that her phone was found and she's going to pick it up today. I've just received a call telling me that Sam's also has been found and where it is, but I have no way to let him know because he's at home sick with no phone and his sister doesn't have one either.

Okay Mama, they're grown ups. Back off.


Met Ken yesterday for a fabulous burger with sweet potato fries at Pauper's Pub - I rarely eat like that but God, a burger once in a while is good! Don't listen, Paul - and then across the street to Hot Docs to see "The Wolfpack," the story of six brothers (and their handicapped sister) who are kept prisoner in a small Lower East Side apartment throughout their childhood by their paranoid father. They find freedom by watching countless movies, typing out the scripts for themselves and enacting them, with costumes and lines, in meticulous detail. A tribute to the saving power of fantasy in a child's life, which was partially the point of my memoir.

They are remarkable, haunting young men, sensitive, candid, beautiful with their waist-length black hair. Once the eldest takes his first rebellious steps outside the apartment at the age of 15 (terrified of being seen, he wears a homemade mask, which leads him to be arrested), followed eventually by the others, it's profoundly moving to watch this band of six tall, slender, exotic brothers begin to move into the world, discovering beaches and water and trees - and even going to their first real movie theatre.
This was taken after some of them cut their hair. The thought of all that hair and all that testosterone trapped in a small apartment - it's incredible they're still sane, particularly their mother.

Of course, the filming of the documentary itself was part of their liberation, and I wish the filmmaker had explored that fact with more honesty. The story I've read is that she saw them on the street, was fascinated, made friends and was invited to their home and realized here was a movie. It's amazing they all let her so completely into their lives - even their sweet, befuddled mother and their crazy, sad dad.

It's a very good documentary, and yes, uplifting. Highly recommended.

Now back to worrying about my own little wolfpack across town.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Macca then and now

There will be a certain amount of Macca madness in the days leading up to October 17 ...

Here's a video of the young man and the older man and his song. And a beautiful song it is too. via LittleThings 

Incidentally, it says he wrote it with John Lennon, but as we all know, he wrote it and recorded it completely on his own except for George Martin, thank you very much, and Lennon was quite put out by that too.

love those genes

First, for those biting your nails for me out there - the charge for the Macca ticket has appeared on my Visa bill! Hooray! I get to pay lots of money to see my hero. Not sure why it took 3 days to process, leaving me wondering if I'd stumbled on a fake site or something. But no, the ticket that I've already printed and hidden in a safe place is authentic. I have paid for it. And how.

Summer is on the wane; I need socks. It's still beautiful, there are still roses and tomatoes and beans and two new flowers on the gardenia. But the change has begun. September is on its way.

This morning I received an email from a relative I've only met once. She lives in Illinois but some years ago was in Florida visiting her parents at the same time I was visiting my mother, so we met. Our grandfathers were brothers, hers Harry and mine Mike. She sent this family picture taken in New York in about 1915, of our great-grandparents Yetta and Jacob with their seven children - at the back, Ann, Mike, Sol, Belle, Bill, and in front Harry and little Leo, both seated - and Harry's wife behind him and daughter on his lap. My grandfather Mike is between Harry and their mother. In his face, I see my brother, named for him, but also my own children and of course my dad. The incredible power of genetics. I correspond with Belle's daughter Lola, now 92 in NYC, and granddaughter Patti, with Bill's sons Peter and David, with Leo's Ted and Debbie, and now with Harry's daughter Dottie. But they are all far away in the U.S. We are and have always been the only branch of the family in Canada - thanks to Joseph McCarthy, who forced my dad out of the country. Many thanks to him.

Yetta and Jacob emigrated in the 1880's from a shtetl near Minsk. He was a tailor and she was a battle axe. A few years after this picture, Mike would meet Nettie Gordin in the Pokonos, and 7 1/2 months after their wedding in 1922, my father would appear. Premature! my grandmother always said of the big healthy baby boy. Oh family. What would we have to write about if it weren't for family?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


I am crabby. Petty reasons - I've had a great day. But consumer issues are making me crabby. I just checked my Visa, and the charge for the McCartney ticket is not there. I have actually printed the ticket but the payment has not gone through. This makes my skin prickle. I will call first thing tomorrow. For once, I am anxious, very anxious, to pay.

And - I have been pursuing Cineplex. Anna, Eli and I went to see "Minions" at Cineplex; we tried to buy tickets at the machines, they didn't work, so we lined up and got our tickets from the cashier - $40.48 for the three of us, a hefty fee (this was not Tuesday). When I checked my Visa a few days later, I'd been charged twice. $81 for a senior, an adult and a child to see a film. I made several calls, finally got through to Andrew Johnson (could that be his real name? Maybe he's a robot) who was very polite and said he'd follow through and get in touch. Normally I would not make a fuss about $40.48 - but it seems so unfair to contribute a double portion of my hard-earned cash to Cineplex's vast bottom line.

That was weeks ago. I have emailed Andrew Johnson twice. Nothing.

Okay, first world problems. Here's the pleasure - spent the afternoon with Anna and family. Eli is rangy these days, fierce and demanding. His world has changed and he's testing its limits. But we had sushi for dinner, and his appetite is phenomenal - he ate more than I did, and that's saying something.

And then I walked up Ronces to the Revue for Piers Hemmingsen's event celebrating the 50th anniversary of "Help!" with a showing of a special remastered version. I haven't seen the film for decades, and what fun to sit in a sold out house of Beatle fans. Parts of the film are much as I remembered - all that frantic silly stuff about them being chased gets tired quickly. But the boys themselves are as always fresh, irreverent, natural, terrific. The music is fab gear. And the humour is quite wonderful, full of wit and British satire, things I get much more now as a grown up than I did at 14 in the summer of 1965.

So now with that great music in my head, I will try to relax and go to bed.

If you actually have the ticket, have it printed and put in a very very very safe place, they can't tell you it doesn't exist, can they? So it must just be a glitch that the charge has not gone through. Don't you think?


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Camilla Gibb leads the charge

I am writing an essay on how to get published, especially on self-publishing, for my students, and after reading a draft, Chris Cameron, one of my editors, urged me not to be so negative - not to focus on what kids now call "the big fail." I was writing about my own experiences, both with my first book which was published by a good American university press and got almost no publicity (and which was in fact considered a huge success by them because in five years it sold almost a thousand copies and was re-issued in paperback, translating however into very little remuneration for its author), and with my next two books which were midway between being published and self-published and received even less publicity. A certain despair creeps in.

So in the rewrites, I have tried to be more positive about both self-publishing - creative control and a speedy process - and the regular publishing world. But I have to say that it would not be fair to paint too rosy a picture. It's not rosy. For almost all of us, it's near-starvation.

My friend Piers Hemmingsen, who's producing a Beatles event at the Revue Cinema tomorrow night - it's the 50th anniversary of "Help," so he's got a remastered copy and will speak, and I will be there -  suggested I get in touch with the owner of the wonderful Another Story bookstore nearby on Roncesvalles about carrying my Beatles book. I stopped by there a few weeks ago and left the postcards I've had made about both my books (marketing!), waited for her to get back from vacation, spoke to her today. Would she carry them, even on consignment? "Let me ask this: do you have a sense of who will come in to ask for them?" she said.

Yes, I do have a sense of that - no one. As I write in the essay, marketing is key - and marketing is my downfall. There has been almost none, no one knows my books exist, so the nice lady doesn't want them. Without marketing, you can write a magnificent book, and you're toast. And mine are nowhere near that. Double toast.

So in that vein, I hope Camilla Gibb is happy. As anyone in Canada cannot help but know, she recently brought out a memoir, "This is Happy," about the breakup of her marriage (as we also all know, to Heather Conway, a vice-president at CBC, who walked out on her when she was a few months pregnant - I love it, the revenge of the writer!), about pregnancy and birth and family. As far as I can tell, she has been reviewed in every paper known to Canadians, and I assume this will lead to major readership and sales. I shake my head in wonder and congratulate her. She's beautiful, she's a very talented writer, and she has hit it out of the park with this one. Good for her. It gives us all hope.

It's getting chilly - I'm wearing a sweatshirt. Hard to believe August is nearly over. Where did it go?

Monday, August 24, 2015


Well - yes and no. It's Monday morning 8 a.m. and the Paul McCartney tickets, for his concert here Oct. 17, go on sale in two hours. And I have to say, re the above, that there's no question Macca is an artist, a great one, but he does not seem to have the slightest inclination to hide, if his non-stop international tours to hundreds of thousands of people are any indication.

I on the other hand, sitting silently in my garden with my aching back, my tapping fingers and my thoughts ... communicating and hiding. Blogging so much to you, yet hardly ever leaving my home.

Are you an artistic recluse? A show off? Something in between?

Two hours later: Elizabeth, you're going to Paul McCartney: Out There!

Exhausting - I was ready at the computer the minute the tickets went on sale, as a member of his website getting first dibs - trying to get in, confused, it wasn't working, then I got in, then the seat vanished, then there was a seat but there was a Ticketmaster password, I couldn't remember mine had to get a new one - TREMBLING. But I got a seat. A very good seat. My 65th birthday present to myself, along with the guitar I bought last week that will be delivered soon from Quebec. It's time to stop buying myself birthday presents NOW. Nothing will top this.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

about writing and the perils of this chair

It's the tenth anniversary of the fire in my basement, which happened mid-August 2005. As I gazed at the stinking, smouldering ruins, I thought my life was in ruins too. And then the insurance paid for them to rip out my kitchen and basement and build them again, all beautiful and new. That fire was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Go figure. Of course, all the appliances, which are 9 years old, are starting to break at once. First world problems. Happy anniversary, dear beloved house.

One thing they don't teach you in writing school is how to keep your bum and legs from going to sleep. I've been sitting here for so long today that my lower half has gone numb and my back aches. That's bad. I just can't fathom a walking desk. Too much going on at once for my old brain. No, sitting it is. Must move more tomorrow.

But I've had a wonderful solitary day again. Last night I worked till midnight and was awake at 6, up at 7. Had a tiny jogette, listening to Eleanor Wachtel while cooking, read the newspaper, and otherwise, just worked on the memoir. Oh, and picked some veggies.
Did I talk to anyone? A brief phone call or two. No, only one, and some texting. Oh, and I got milk and avocados at No Frills. Otherwise - 1979.

And this - this motionless silent day with sore back - is heaven for a writer. One of the things I did was to go through old stuff in my Documents file to see if there was anything I could use. Found lots of interesting bits, not useful necessarily but good to read again. I found a file I'd made in 2002 for a conference of UBC Creative Writing graduates that I flew out for, of diary entries I'd written when I was studying with them. I'd forgotten how very self-deprecating I was about writing - how frightened, how convinced I could never do it. Of course, I had a small child and an extremely busy husband, then moved across the country to Ottawa where I worked doing voiceover for documentaries and was doing my Master's long distance. But I still blamed myself for not writing in a disciplined way, I just can't do it, I wrote in my diary. I was 32.

Feb. 14 1983

I feel somewhere I will never be a really good writer – I don’t work hard enough. I’m also wishy-washy, sentimental and vague, and my poor memory is against me. I can’t remember things which would make good comparisons, or facts, or new words. I should give up before I begin. But I do love it.

A year later, I wrote this. Though I didn't know it yet, I was probably just pregnant with my son, who was born October 13.

Jan. 17, 1984

It has just occurred to me and dawned on me and hit me like a beam of light and the blow of a hammer: I do want to be a good writer. I do I do. 

There is something about this process – this sitting alone at a desk with paper and pen – that I love, that feels right, that should be. This I feel respect for, as a craft, a profession, a life’s work. Another futile page of words – a profession overcrowded and underpaid in a world increasingly less literary – but the beauty of writing, the decisions between brain and pen, gut and brain and pen – and then what there is, what is left behind, is something to READ. 

So it is time to DO this. Do it hard and often and with concentration – and with only your own eyes to tell you if it’s working, and only your own need to get you in here and sit you down, and make you bend over this page and get on with it.

You must believe that not only are you meant to be doing this but that it means something to others that you do this – that someone will want to read you. And that what you write, when you eventually learn how to do it well, will move someone, or give someone pleasure, or a new thought.

I want to be a writer when I grow up.

And I did, though it took me a very long time. My first book wasn't published until 23 years later. But I got there eventually. 

And here I am. With numb bum. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Margaret Atwood takes on The Man with the Iron Hair

No one has offered box seats to the McCartney concert yet. Where are you, knight with shining tickets? Never mind - maybe someone will. And if not, I'll just have to line up (on the internet) on Monday morning with everyone else. And you can be sure that I will.

Another absolutely perfect mild sunny day, and again I am aware of my stick-in-the-mudness - hardly ventured from my backyard. I did have to walk to the Y, because yesterday I'd ridden there for a class and left my bike, taken the TTC for the rest of my errands, which included having my right ear blown out with warm water at the doctor's. ("It's completely blocked!" she said, as she peered with her little light. What a relief after.) So today I went to get my bike and while there, discovered the "Green Day" event on the Y roof. Got a new bike map and met a man from The Backyard Urban Farm Company, made an appointment for them to come and give me advice on my veggies, which need help. My tomatoes are out of control and my zucchini are invisible. There must be a happy medium.

I have not made my anti-Harper buttons yet, but Richard appeared at the door yesterday with a great button: October 19, 2015: Harper's Last Day. I wore it all day and had many compliments. Everyone downtown feels the same way. Unfortunately, downtown Toronto does not control the political future of the country. More's the pity.

Speaking of which - the redoubtable Margaret Atwood had a wonderful anti-Harper article in the right-wing National Post, which was taken down from the website only an hour after it was posted. But luckily, thanks to the vigilance of the websters, it is available to us. On this stunning August weekend, please ENJOY!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Macca in T.O.! Ticket info please?

Just trolling on FB - and there it was, the announcement that Macca, our beloved PMc, is coming to the Air Canada Centre on Oct. 17. Yay yay yay. So here's my question - do any of you out there know anyone who knows someone who knows how to get good seats? I'm a member of the Macca website and got a seat through it last time, but even though I started trying just as the site opened for the sale of these particular tickets, my seat was way on the side. How do people get up close? I guess they pay an enormous amount of money or know someone. Anyone, I thought I'd put it out there.

GOOD MACCA TICKETS ... information, please.

I'm immersed in the world of music these day - my dear friend the musician Shari Ulrich was staying with me for a few days, leaving her violin, mandolin and several guitars in the front hall. She practiced on my piano, including the beautiful song "Flying" which I first heard her sing in 1975, the year we became friends, she performing with Pied Pumkin and I with the Valhallelujah Rangers. Forty years ago! She suggested I get a Beatle piano music book, which this afternoon, I did, am already picking out a simple version of Yesterday. She is now performing at Owen Sound's Summerfolk which sounds wonderful - hope to get there next year.

A friend just invited me to her cottage for the weekend, and I said thank you very much, another time. I would love, just love to be at a cottage, to dive into a lake and walk in the woods. But I'm sitting here looking at the dusk light touch the flowers, listening to the sparrows going to sleep, with absolutely nothing on the schedule for the weekend except delving into my writing project, maybe seeing the family across town, maybe not. Eating drinking sleeping reading writing - does it get better than that? So renting a car and driving for two hours, though it would take me to a serene woodland retreat, is not on the agenda. I'm becoming a happy recluse.

Except for on October 17, when I would like to be front row centre, throwing Paul copies of my book.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

cast and crew

Wow, it's hot. Had a group of my friends from the Y over for lunch and we sat on the deck glistening with sweat and devouring large plates of food. Funny how even great heat does not diminish appetite. And eating really a lot doesn't either; after an enormous lunch at 3, I just had a full dinner at 7.30. The amazing stomach. Lunch was because a group of us have met for years in class but had not actually talked outside of the Y, with our clothes on. So we did today. And how.

Eli is off at a cottage with his dad for a few days, so it was only Ben and his mama here last night; they stay here Tuesday nights because of Ben's early morning appointments at Sick Kid's down the road, to change the cast on his leg. Last night, in the absence of a bouncy 3 year old, Anna and I watched a Bill Murray movie, St. Vincent, while Ben expressed his displeasure at the world loudly from his car seat. Loudly; he is a more demanding baby than Eli, who was, of course, two pounds bigger at birth and grew exponentially. I thought again, as we tried to stop the squalling, this is a young woman's job. But Glamma will do her best.

Anna had invited me to come with her to Sick Kids. We left the house at 7.20 a.m., soaked and took off his cast ourselves, then met Barb, the phenomenal woman who does all the casting for club feet there, as the many pictures of turned and then healthy feet on her wall attest. She showed us how very far his foot has turned in only two weeks - quite amazing, it's almost straight. Another few weeks of the cast, then a "procedure," a small operation, and then he wears boots with a bar between them 22 hours a day for a few months, then only at night for a few years. And then - though one leg will always be a bit smaller - he will walk perfectly normally and can do any sport. Barb said the incidence of club feet is one in 800 births. I marvelled - but I've never encountered one before! Oh sure you have, you just didn't know, she said. It used to be a stigma and people didn't talk about it. Now you can get a t-shirt at the hospital that says "Feet under construction."

The wonders of the modern world.

I'll leave you with a rant about something that drives me crazy - the thoughtless denigration of writing classes. There's a book review in the Saturday Star by someone called Andre Van Loon that begins, "The Given World is a debut novel by an American author who has spent several years in formal creative writing education, yet who achieves her best effects through innate honesty." 

YET? YET?!! As if there's something about a writing education that dispels honesty, when in my classes, that is our most important goal. Well, that and craft - skilful writing in the service of telling the truth. Phooey on you, Mr. Loon. I'm so miffed, I need another substantial snack.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


I've dreamed, each election, of having a giant poster in my front yard of Harper's face beside a timber wolf, with their icy eyes - the wolf, however, noble, the other vile. This year, I decided to at least have a button made that I can wear and also give out to anyone else who wants one. Anna found a button making place near her, and this morning, I asked my genius friend Chris, who's extremely adept with images on his computer, to make a specific image. He sent this. Perfect perfect perfect. Please feel free to make buttons of your own, share, get it out there. Thank you, Chris!

Monday, August 17, 2015

seafood ahoy

For those in Toronto seeking good times next Sunday ... my son's restaurant and his cocktail throwdown. Whatever that is. I myself can't stand the thought of all those lobsters in boiling water and will not be there. And I'm a good Nova Scotian too. But you can go.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Oliver Sacks on the Sabbath, and life

Met Anna and her boys to explore "Open Streets" this morning - but it is very hot today and the streets, while open, are very long. Eli is feeling the displacement all first-borns feel after the birth of the second; this most independent and forthright young man is clinging to his mother and anxious about her whereabouts - and just when he needs her most, his mother is exhausted and preoccupied.

Been there, done that - both as a mother myself, dealing with a 3 year old daughter and a newborn son, and as a first-born, painfully displaced from my place in the sun by my new baby brother. One of life's tough transitions, no doubt about it - and no doubt, too, that young Eli will get through it just fine, and so will his mother and brother. But when it's very hot outside, everyone's drained.

Almost nothing gives me greater pleasure than reading an essay that resonates deeply, that's beautifully written and deeply personal and wise. Oliver Sacks is one of my heroes - an extraordinary man and a very good writer, writing with ever more generosity, clarity and depth as he faces death from terminal cancer. Here's a particularly beautiful essay in today's NYT - the same paper with the superb takedown of Stephen Harper. Please read the other articles by Oliver attached to this one, about finding out about his cancer at the age of 81, and a further reaction to it. Stunning, moving, uplifting - as good as personal essay writing gets.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

'nuff said

gold medals

A quiet, solitary day - it's 6.30 p.m. and I have not talked to a single person except the vendors at the market this morning. Riding home with a backpack full of peaches, strawberries, corn, ham and tomatoes, I saw a joyful sight: a large group of people, most of them in wheelchairs, which turned out to be the Colombian team for the Para-Panam games that are ending today. The thrill - that people with disabilities are being celebrated in our city. Ken's great-niece - a "little person," as he calls her, once called a dwarf - has won three gold medals in swimming! What a world.

But on the same ride home, I passed several women wearing the niqab - covered except for a slit for their eyes - and then, for the first time, a woman pushing a stroller, completely covered from head to foot, eyes included, in a floor-length black veil. The strange disconnect - our city celebrating people with disabilities, yesterday drinks with a newly-married gay couple, and here, a woman who looked like a walking black garbage bag. Of course, it's her right to wear what she wants. But I cannot see it as a positive thing, a strike for personal and religious liberty, that she is faceless, shrouded like a black cloud, as she walks the August streets of a big western city. I cannot.

Tonight the Para-Panam closing ceremonies - the streets are closed, much excitement downtown. There's also the Asian night market near Cherry Beach that Jean-Marc and Richard visited yesterday and came to tell me about - full of street food, fish, exotic Asian dishes including a very stinky tofu. Tomorrow there's Open Streets, several of the biggest main streets closed to cars all morning, bringing out bikes and walkers. Toronto has recently been voted by Metropolis magazine the most liveable city in the world, beating out Helsinki, Tokyo, and others. And I believe it. The richness and diversity of life here are extraordinary. And that includes women cloaked head to foot in black.

Yesterday I made my favourite summer dish, ratatouille, with my own tomatoes and a huge zucchini from my daughter's garden. Today I downloaded a yoga class and tried to do it - ye gods it was hard, I'm not nearly as flexible as I'd thought. But mostly I sat in the garden and worked, deeply grateful to that young woman who wrote long letters to her parents in 1979 and to her mother who kept those letters. An incredible resource for a writer.

As you can see, I have given up my attempt not to write here. I need to write here. How could I not tell you these riveting things? Thank you for your patience and for your attention - and please check out friend Juliet's blog, to the left, about the possible narcissism of "lifeblogging." Here's my life: there's a scarlet cardinal on the lilac bush a few metres away, Randy Bachman's show starts at 7 and while I make dinner, I'll be dancing around the kitchen, and here's a new photo of three of my four greatest loves. It does not get better than this. Over and out, for now.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The NYT takes down Harper! And I see "Amy"

So much for giving blogging a rest - two in one day today! But this is too important not to post - an article in the NYT about our vile PM and what he has done to our country. Please read it and also the comments afterward, which are nearly as good.

I just saw a devastating film, Amy, about the life and far too early death of Amy Winehouse. It was research for me because I'm writing about my twenties, my years of sexual excess and substance abuse, so it hurt to watch this extraordinarily talented young woman, bulimic, alcoholic and sometimes drug-addicted, adrift with a callow enabler of a husband and a feckless father, starving and drinking herself to death. Her greatest support, at the end, and one of the most decent people in the film, is her bodyguard. A great tragedy, a haunting film that makes you hate conscienceless paparazzi and merciless late night comedians who have no shame. She was sweet, brilliantly talented and troubled, and dead at 27. As Tony Bennett says, sadly, in the film, "Life teaches you how to live if you can only live long enough." This beautiful soul did not.

But this beautiful soul did. My daughter once dressed as Amy for Hallowe'en.



A strange day - heavy, muggy, rain on and off. A few minutes ago, I was sitting as usual by the back door when there was a rustling in the bushes on the north side of my property - I thought perhaps a giant raccoon, not abed yet. A young man with a shaved head, naked except for a kind of loincloth made from a garbage bag, stepped out from my plants and walked across my grass to the gate. "Excuse me!" was all I could think, stupidly, to say to this apparition only a few metres away.
"Sorry," he said. "No one will help me." And he was gone.

Did he come in earlier and hide there? It's been pouring all day. Did he climb over my neighbour's fence? Did he use the bushes as a toilet? How can someone dressed only in a diaper made from a garbage bag walk around downtown Toronto all day? My heart hurts for him, for the many many lost and damaged souls we city dwellers encounter every day.

My heart no longer hurts, though, for Bill, the nearly toothless long-haired once-homeless guy who makes a living in the 'hood washing windows and doing odd jobs. He makes good steady money from me, and came the other day to do a clean up in the yard, raking and sweeping. Eli was here and rushed out to work with Bill, following him around, jabbering non-stop; it was a wonderful sight, and I think gave Bill, too, a gift - the trust and friendship of a small boy. It's hard to understand a word Bill says, but that didn't bother a 3-year old. Later, after he'd gone and Eli and I discovered that I couldn't get the TV to work, he said, "Glamma, call Bill. Bill will know."

Somehow, I doubt that Bill could advise me on the intricacies of Roger's cable. But Eli has faith.

Last night, after drinks on the deck with neighbours Rob and Alex, who brought a bottle of Veuve Cliquot to celebrate their recent wedding and my birthday, Jean-Marc and Richard and I rode our bikes to Harbourfront. I've wanted for ages to go to Dance on the Pier, which runs every Thursday through the summer, a big band or a Latin band playing outside and people dancing. It was wonderful; we chacha'd and salsa'd and shimmied. There were huge white tents down there, all kinds of music and activities in what is now called Ontario Square, which used to be a parking lot. Sometimes government gets it so very very right. On the way home, we stopped in the Distillery to get ice cream. Mine was lemon meringue.

Went this morning to a dermatologist to get my 65-year old skin checked out - all those moles and skin tags and age spots, but so far, nothing dangerous. I asked about sun - that I want to get vitamin D with a certain amount of sun exposure - and he told me that any sun increases effects of aging and risk of skin cancer, that it's better to get D from supplements and food and to always use sunscreen. That I did not know. I am brown now because I rarely bother to use it. Mistake.

My heart is still pounding from my encounter in the garden. I hope someone helps him.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

the woodpecker posts

Okay, okay, I'm still blogging, just not as often. Suits me, hope it's okay with you. A former student now friend, treating me for my birthday to a sublime meal at Sassafraz, said my blog inspires her because I often write about gratefulness. Despite myriad difficulties, she is trying to be grateful.

Good to hear. Because I am always grateful for the breath in my lungs and need to say so. But then, I have lots to be grateful for, I've been lucky so far in life. It would be much harder were things different; were I not, right now, sitting in my kitchen with the back door open to the flowers and birds and insects, all of us busy on August 13 2015. I was just at the back of the garden with my notebook, thinking of topics, when I saw a small woodpecker - white with magnificent black stripes on the wings and black bands across the head - in a nearby tree, hammering decisively at a branch. And I thought - I'm doing that too. Writers are woodpeckers, drilling for material, for sustenance.

I'm grateful to be a writing woodpecker, with an actual woodpecker exploring her garden.

By the end of yesterday, I was beyond exhaustion. The little family stayed again Tuesday night, with the usual explosion of energy that entails. Wednesday morning, up at 7 - Anna and Ben were off to Sick Kids for Ben's weekly cast change appointment, and Eli and I had the morning to ourselves. Much watering of the already wet garden, much much watering. I even turned on the TV at one point to give myself a break, to discover that it did not work. Despair. The energy of the boy is phenomenal.

Took him to the Y and got him his very own membership, so now we can go together. We messed around and then he had a great time exhausting the people in the babysitting room while I did a bit of a class. Across town a great surprise - his grandfather, my ex, was visiting. He was a very good friend of Robin Phillips, the legendary Stratford director who died a few weeks ago, had gone to the funeral and came to town for an afternoon with us. We played and had dinner and then Grandpa left for the airport and Glamma to collapse at home. And Eli to play with his dad who was arriving. What a day that boy had.

Ben is thriving, now weighs over 8 pounds and his leg is doing better than expected. All systems go.

Back to my own life. Pecking.

Monday, August 10, 2015

acutely missing Jon

It's Monday, but at 11 tonight, there will be no Jon. No Jon, poking holes in absurd people and political parties, giving his all. He was the lynchpin of my evening most nights, except the few times I just couldn't make it till 11 and watched the next day on my computer. Maybe at 11 tonight, I'll log into and just watch anything, as long as there's a Jon in it. Otherwise withdrawal will be too painful.

Loss. Life is made of loss. And now it's cold, dark and raining, as if the world agrees with me.


I seem to be sitting here in front of a blank page from But there's not much to say except that it's a beautiful summer day, fresh and breezy, the garden is bursting with colour, there's fresh fruit in the fridge, friends and family are well. (A conFLUence of F's.) I am getting lots of work done, enjoying every minute of my precious solitude, the pleasure of working on this book. Have meant to go to all kinds of events - Dusk Dances in Withrow Park, for example, what could be more delightful than watching dancers in a nearby park as the light fades? Could not bring myself to leave the house. Just sat and looked at flowers and bees and worked and drank a glass or two of rosé.


Last night, I watched "Borgen" - one of the best television shows I've ever seen. Visited, briefly, the Regent's Park Fair yesterday, marvelling as ever at the mind-boggling ethnic diversity of my neighbours. Went to Jason's birthday party on Saturday and met all kinds of very interesting people, including a cheerful man who had a very happy childhood. Yes, though my jaw dropped - these people do exist. Spent Saturday day across town with Anna and family; Eli has woken up to the fact that this little visitor is not going away, and the stubbornness and strength he inherited from his mother are more in evidence. It will not be easy. But with ice cream, anything is possible.
Anna is going to buy me a tote bag that says "I'm ashamed of my prime minister." Can't wait. But we are at peace, even if our country is being destroyed by this loathsome government. And it's summer. And it's very very good to be sniffing the air.

My lovely downstairs tenant, a Ryerson student from Quebec City whom I met through one of my students, has told me her school year ends soon and, sadly, she will be moving out in December or January. So: here's the pitch:


If you know a nice quiet person coming to Toronto at the end of the year, please let me know, or ask them to get in touch. Thanks.

Friday, August 7, 2015


It was fun to say goodbye to Jon in a crowded cinema full of like-minded people. I was interviewed by CTV news beforehand, because my friend Ken, always an early bird, was first in line when I got there.
We all had popcorn and some had beer and we laughed a lot and mourned even more. It was great to see the assembled brilliance of Jon's team, especially the beloved and brilliant John Oliver and Stephen Colbert - wonderful human beings who care deeply about this crazy planet and can still be funny. A rare skill.

I did feel bereft as I left. How we need him.

Managed to avoid both the Canadian and American debates. I gather, devastatingly, that Harper is still a viable candidate, and, even worse, that Elizabeth May of the Greens did well. It's criminal that the Greens, with their ONE seat in Parliament, have not combined with either of the other parties, thereby further splintering the vote on the left. It all makes me feel sick. On this beautiful shiny morning, sick. Must get out into the day.

Oh God, I forgot that I wasn't going to blog. Well, here I am. Had to tell you I had a meeting with a very nice Bell guy, who said the wires would be moved though it might take up to a year. But still, very slowly, in one department at least, progress is being made.

But despite the garden, the sun, the clear fresh air and light, I am sad today.e alcoholic drinks.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Carrie Snyder on the writing life

Carrie Snyder, whose blog is linked to mine, has just started to answer questions, and here's her first reply. It's a doozie, beautifully written, as always, something I urge anyone interested in writing to read. Check it out on her website, to the left. She has recently put up another post, but the past one is there, dated Thursday Aug. 6.
Q: How do I find a publisher? (a.k.a. How do I make money as a writer?)

preparing to mourn our lost Jon

I'm going to Hot Docs tonight with Ken, to watch Jon's last show on the big screen with hundreds of other mourners - the place is sold out. SOB! I am going to walk there, which means I will not be able to watch the leader's debate on TV tonight. Oh, who am I kidding? I couldn't bear to watch it if it were the last show on earth - just hearing that man's voice makes me want to puke. I pray I pray I pray that Mulcair and Trudeau, or one of them, knocks Stephen Harper clean out of the park. Please. It's not that much to ask.  I know the Republican candidates - or at the New Yorker puts it, the clown car - are having a debate tonight too. Now that would be fun. But I will be busy sobbing for Jon.

OMG. I said I wouldn't write and here I am only a few days later. Sigh. Maybe I just can't live without you.


I know I said I wouldn't write, but these are pictures.
Tuesday: Ben wakes up.
Tuesday: Eli waits for the rain to go away.
Wednesday: Ben now has a tiny cast to correct his club foot. It will be changed every week for a few months, then there are shoes attached in the middle by what looks like a little skateboard that he will wear for years, and eventually a simple operation. When I expressed sympathy, not just for him but for his mother, she reminded me that the second son of her best friend from childhood has life-threatening kidney problems; another friend's child has a serious genetic condition. "This is nothing," she said. "A foot that's easily fixed."

Like I said, she's magnificent. And so, in their very different ways, are her boys.

And so, if I may say so, is MY boy.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Veuve Cliquot and thou

Movin' slow. A perfect summer day in downtown Toronto, and the birthday girl is in recuperation mode. Quite the party!
Saturday - cooking. Chaos.
Sunday - the flowers from my friends at the Y ...
... and from the universe.

When the 20 or so guests arrived, we sat outside on a beautiful afternoon, eating hors d'oeuvres, drinking rosé and thinking about dinner; I'd set up a series of tables on the grass so that we could all sit together.
However, nature had other plans. Just as we were preparing to eat, the sky grew dark and suddenly erupted into a full force storm, almost a hurricane. We had to grab food, wine, tablecloths and especially bring in my mother's antique mahogany table from the lawn. It reminded me that at my 60th birthday party, which was even bigger with 60 people, there was such a big storm in the morning that the house lost power. Now, as then, my capable guests had no problem rearranging everything, setting up new tables and beginning the meal again, inside. My birthday celebrations seem to bring forth apocalyptic weather. Something to remember for next time.
Everything was delicious. And then we had cake and toasts with three bottles of Veuve Cliquot Champagne provided by my ex. Eli played with Emilie, who's eleven and a wonderful babysitter, and many of the other guests, who didn't mind getting down on the floor and making car noises. Ben mostly slept in his carseat but also enjoyed being passed around and fondled by nearly everyone - "He's so SMALL!" It was sheer joy to be surrounded by so many interesting and kind people, who all had a great deal to say to each other. A great moment when I introduced my friend Donny to Lani, who'd taken the train in from Stratford to be there. "I know you," he said immediately; it turned out they grew up on the same Mississauga street and Donny went to school with Lani's younger brother. They spent the next half hour getting caught up on the last fifty-five years.

People had been forbidden to bring gifts, but they did anyway - fine bottles of wine and other wonderful things, and a card from my children with messages that made me - of course - weep. After everyone had gone home, Lani and I sat in the dark kitchen and watched the sky light up with flashes, an eerie light show.

Today Lan went home, Sam left for a cottage, I distributed leftovers to various friends and neighbours - I'd made enough potato salad for an army - and went for a bike ride on this tranquil holiday Monday. Came upon the Panamerican food festival, where people were learning to dance the salsa in the street-
and rode down to the lake, where I sat in the shade and counted my infinite blessings.

And so dear friends, on this note I'm going to leave you for awhile. It will be hard; I am so used to shaping experiences in my head to share instantly with you. It'll be good for me to simply live for a bit. I'll miss you. Back soon. Happy August to you all.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

August 1 horoscopes

IF TODAY IS YOUR BIRTHDAY: This year you often go back and forth between different points of view. This behaviour is unusual for you, as you generally are very clear about what you think and how you feel. [Beth adds: WRONG!] You seem to be gaining more insight into others and their motives. You also see more possibilities than in the past. If you are single, the ability to see past the obvious enhances your dating potential. [Beth adds: YEAH RIGHT.] You have the skills and wisdom to make peace more often and walk away from dissension. PISCES creates some interesting scenarios with his or her imagination.

Birthday Persona Profile 
People born specifically on the 1st of August are believed to be jovial, open and focused with the usual zodiac Lion enjoyment of luxuries. [Beth adds: Luxuries? Who, me?] The ruling astrological planet selected for this particular day is the Sun, the same ruler of your star sign, intensifying your warmth and generosity. If you have this birthday plenty of self esteem, wit and impulsiveness makes you loveable but also occasionally arrogant and thoughtless too. [Surely not.] Assertive and highly persuasive, your warm heart is full of loyalty and you are likely to always stand up for things you believe in. [Throw Harper into the Ottawa River.] You are charming, creative and stylish with an energetic optimism and the determination and ability to bounce back quickly from any setback. Individuals with an August the first birthday are self sufficient but they can sometimes be very demanding and dependant on others emotionally. [God no, I'm so totally independent. Don't you think so? Don't you?] You will usually view the world as it is without any illusions or overly high expectations. [Thanks to Jon Stewart.]

Work and Finances 
A suitably paid and stimulating job may be difficult to a person born on the first of August. [WHY IS THAT?] You can have a competitive element in career choice and will ordinarily go to great lengths to work for an income to facilitate your desire for a luxurious lifestyle. [Really? Are you sure about that?] Your skilled talent of persuasiveness directs you do especially well in sales, marketing and advertising professions. [Could this be more wrong?] Your financial management plans will usually involve the allocation of some saving funds for the future. An impulsive streak in your temperament can once in a while disturb your usual good intentions to save. 

Personal Relationships 
For a Leo, the person born on the first day of August is typically friendly and easily approachable with an idealistic view of romance. Your sociable charm and touch of perfectionism can guide you to be sometimes prone to disillusionment concerning love unions in your youth. [No kiddding!] Loving and naturally protective, you tend to need a partner who is frank, uncritical and understanding of your continual need for affection, appreciation and attention. Despite the confident proud front you normally display, you seem to require frequent emotional reassurance from a soul mate. [Are you listening, soul mates?] Expressive and broad minded sexually, your strong lustiness can prompt the occasional episode of unintentional selfishness in bed. [Let's not even begin to go there.] Passionate, giving and loyal, you are particularly receptive to flattery and can often be flattered into submission by it if your fiery temper surfaces. A perfect partner will keep you calm and quell your primary insecurities. [Eli, this means you.]


Leos born on August 1 have a somewhat haughty personality but are lovable people. They need the validation of others, yet they are not likely to sacrifice their true self to that aim. These people set themselves a goal and go after it with little thought of how much time or effort it will require. [AKA: writing books.]
Friends and Lovers
August 1 natives have a real genius for creating interesting and fulfilling relationships. They have a difficult time finding partners who meet their needs and may need years to "settle down." [File under: NEVER.]
Children and Family
Because of their rebellious nature, August 1 individuals often separate early from their families. They are not greatly interested in becoming parents, since they often have demanding careers. However, if they enter parenthood, they tend to have a liberal attitude. 
You should embrace: High energy, pragmatism, generosity [YES!]
You should avoid: Crass behavior, intolerance, poor personal choices
[Gosh, that's strange.]
I share this birthday with: Dhani Harrison, Yves St. Laurent, Jerry Garcia and Herman Melville. My peeps.