Monday, November 30, 2015

Lotusland bliss

A perfect day in beautiful downtown Vancouver. I am almost fully recovered from whatever hit me yesterday - nerves? exhaustion? or as friend Gretchen suggested, the flora in my stomach readjusting to a new ecosystem and time zone? Anyway, I had a great sleep, the sun was shining, out into the world.

But first, to recap last night - Chris and I have been best friends since we met at the Arts Club Theatre in 1975, I an actress, he a stage manager, both of us voluble, bright, neurotic, funny and slightly manic - a friendship made in heaven. We went through a cocaine period together, our various romances and eventual marriages. After my family moved away in 1983, he and I have communicated across the country, through both our divorces, his HIV diagnosis and other health issues, and all the rest. Now we communicate largely through our blogs. How great it is when we are face to face.

He prepared a spectacular meal in his spectacular small apartment. Here we are, toasting him, a group of some of my dearest West Coast friends who are all in some way also connected to Chris and some also to each other:
Tara Cullis, environmental activist, who went to high school with Chris; Shari Ulrich, musician, who knows Chris and Bruce slightly through the theatre and knows Tara through benefit concerts for ecological issues; Bruce Kellett, music director for the Arts Club, a dearest friend to both Chris and me for years who knows Nicky through theatre work; Nicola Cavendish, actress, friend of Bruce and Chris from the Arts Club and also because many years ago, Chris wrote a play she starred in. Our host lavished champagne, the only alcohol he drinks, upon us, and then the meal itself appeared at his exquisite table. He has posted photos and description on his own blog, to the left; I urge you to check it out and salivate.

The evening was unforgettable - even more than food and surroundings, it was the company; the conversation was scintillating all night long, and there were many laughs. Thank you, dear Mr. Tyrell Loranger, for the many hours of hard work it took to pull this off. It was a triumph.

So - back to today, the sun, walking up Robson Street, a major shopping artery, had to stop at Lululemon which originated here in Vancouver and buy some yoga pants, poked about in other shops, and met friend Margaret at the art gallery for lunch. In the early 80's Margie and I were pregnant at the same time, twice; our kids are almost exactly the same age, so we always have a great deal to discuss. A wonderful lunch. Then a long walk around False Creek with Chris, stopping for a divine gelato and for Chris to take close up photographs for his blog. And I to take a few too, of him and this fabulous city, for mine.

We had a great time checking out the craft stores on Granville Island - Chris appreciates beauty and craftsmanship like no one I know - took the False Creek ferry across the water back to the West End, and ended the day talking for hours in his living room, while his gorgeous cat Leon sat purring in my lap. My friend and I are storytellers, and we have so, so much to say, always. Even without cocaine.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


A rocky start to my journey, but all is well. The flight was fine except that an elderly woman a few rows back had a medical emergency - she was unconscious, every flight attendant was in attendance plus a doctor and a nurse from the passengers. If it had happened earlier, whatever it was, we might have had to land in Calgary. As it was, we waited on the ground in Vancouver until medical personnel came on board. I wish her well and hope she recovers.

My dear Chris was at the airport to meet me and escort me via the great new transit system to downtown. My hotel is near the park and is, shall we say, humble, very plain and smelling musty but cheap, can't complain. But I had a terrible night with stomach cramps, wondering if I was sick or just hungry - had not had dinner and for once, didn't have my usual bag of snacks. Also somewhere en route I lost my beautiful colourful scarf and my phone cord. So in the morning, I was feeling terrible and my phone was dead. The chaos of travel. One of those mornings.

But though it's cold here, colder than Toronto, the sun was shining and I went for a walk, using a scarf I'd brought as a gift for Penny - sorry, Penny, it'll be slightly used. The beach was heavenly - wish I could have taken pictures. I bought a download cord and walked along the water and over the Burrard Bridge to my friend Tara's as arranged, a gathering before today's Climate Change march, to find out that she'd texted not to come, she's on crutches and can't move. We had a visit in any case, I was glad to make her lunch and went back over the Burrard Bridge to meet Bruce at the rally. We took a coffee break during the speeches and went to use the bathroom in the snazzy new Nordstroms store where people were happily buying expensive consumer goods while the march went on a block away. And then we marched again. It felt good to be with a large crowd of like-minded people and my dear friend Bruce.

We left the march and went to visit Chris, who lives in a high-rise nearby and was cooking our gourmet dinner. In his beautiful apartment, Bruce bonded with Chris's cat Leon, and we watched the march going down Davie Street from the 8th floor windows.

After much much walking (and marching) today, I'm in bed for a rest before going back for a big dinner Chris has been cooking all day, for me and a bunch of our mutual friends. I know this city well and it's good to be here, passed the site of the Arts Club Theatre, my workplace for years; walked by the apartment building where my ex and I first lived, where we brought our newborn daughter home from nearby St. Paul's Hospital which I also passed today. Such powerful memories.

Still, I have that feeling - what am I doing here in an ugly hotel room so far from home? This too shall pass. It's shocking, for a creature of routine, to be somewhere else doing something different. Important to get out of one's rut, and that I certainly am. Onward.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

up and at 'em

In the airless Neverland of the departure lounge, at the Italian restaurant near my gate, drinking red wine, natch, and eating a very good grilled veggie salad. I got it all done, folks - one tenant out, the next tenant in, returned four books to the library, ate all the leftovers, closed the suitcase, got out. Had a wonderful chat with a woman at the Parliament Street bus stop about Trudeau and the joy our country is feeling right now. Noticed that in my subway car, there were 3 Caucasians, including myself and a man with his black wife and their baby, and the rest were originally, perhaps recently, perhaps a long time ago, from elsewhere - the Orient, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, the Far East. How proud I am of my country.

I think people in this bar are watching the Grey Cup - is that what the football game is that's preoccupying people? I really wouldn't know. It's tied, I can see. As if I cared. Which I don't. No, just asked - it's another cup. The Grey Cup is tomorrow. The bald guy is clapping - I guess it does matter to him.
I have a small suitcase within a big suitcase - can leave all my stuff for the cold in the big one and fly off to Hawaii with the small one. In my backpack is a book and seven New Yorkers, more to read, as usual, than I can possibly deal with, not to mention both of today's newspapers.
I won't see my babies for 2 weeks! Called to say goodbye to Anna. As we talked, she kept interrupting - "Eli! Are you doing a poo? Are you? Tell me!" Oh it's hard work. But she is up for it as no one I know. My son was incommunicado, asleep before his endless shift. And I am wide awake before my adventure. Into the skies. There will be pineapples. Onward.

And in the really good news department:

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi has sentence suspended: Swiss official

Friday, November 27, 2015

Woman of the Year

I was riding my bike down Parliament Street this afternoon when my neighbour Gretchen and I caught sight of each other, and she started to hula, hips swaying and arms waving like a madwoman. So I guess people know I'm off to Hawaii. (Though Torontonians have nothing to complain about - the weather once again is extraordinarily mild for November. It's been an amazing month.)

Madness - it's at this point that I regret travelling, having ever travelled; all that matters is to stay home and not move. However, this too shall pass. Laundry, watering plants, leaving lists for Carol who'll keep the place running, trying to figure out what to pack for Vancouver which is much colder than here, strangely, and Hawaii which is much warmer. I keep reminding myself - it's not Kuala Lumpur. If you forget something, it can be replaced.

Here's a photo from the Raffi concert which shows you the energy level of all concerned, - one perky, one not - and from yesterday's visit; we went to the farm, where the goats were nesting in their hay feeder and the pigs were one large clump of bristly reddish pink. So grateful to live nearby.

Last night - "Woman of the year" on TCM with Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn, their first movie together, and that is some chemistry. He is my new hero. In life he was troubled and an alcoholic, which is too bad, but on screen, he's the ideal man - funny, open, generous, kind - and manly, in the best sense of that tricky word.

Tomorrow before I leave for the airport, my basement tenant Leonie moves out and the new guy, Hadi, moves in. I need to take back four library books - "Hold Still," a memoir, an autobiography really, by the American photographer Sally Mann - interesting because she includes so many photos and other artifacts, but far too long and a bit annoying - she's a big believer in five dollar words; "The Art of Memoir" by Mary Karr, successful memoirist, which has some interesting stuff but boy, she sounds like a crabby person; "The true secret of writing," by the famed Natalie Goldberg, which on my cursory look-through is, once more, far too new-agey for me and seems like an advertisement for the courses she runs at her home in New Mexico; and a novel called "Beatlebone," by Kevin Barry, which I couldn't of course resist, but which is a weird weird imaginary journey with John Lennon, not my thing at all.

This is when I'm glad to have a library card, so I can check out - literally and figuratively - new interesting books but don't have to commit to having them forever in my library. God knows, there are enough books there already. So tonight - finishing as much reading as I can, once I've finished the chores and decided what to put into my suitcase. And then ... onward. Luau, lei, hula, whatever those things mean, I'm about to find out.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Haida Gwaii"

It's winter now, cold - frost on the grass this morning, for the first time. All a Canadian body wants to do at a time like this is eat large quantities of carbohydrates and drink alcoholic beverages and doze in a cave. Not, however, an option.

Friday, lunch with a group of old and dear friends at the home of our mutual friend who was diagnosed a few years ago with ALS. She is brave and beautiful, still working hard as a writer. We bring food and cheer and the cold air of outdoors, and love, we bring all the love in our hearts for our friend.

Sunday's extravagance: taking Anna and Eli, and Ben in the Snugli, to see famous performer for children Raffi at Roy Thomson Hall. It seemed a good idea at the time. When my ex-husband got a job at the National Arts Centre, we packed up our lives and drove from Vancouver to Ottawa with Anna, who was two, in the back seat. And all the way, all the @##@ way, we listened to Baby Beluga. Baby Beluga is engraved in my brain and that of countless other parents, many of them in the audience on Sunday. It was wonderful to be there with an original fan and, more than 30 years later, her son, who listens to other Raffi records when he's here - though for some reason, I have neglected to include Baby Beluga among my possessions.

But it didn't work. Roy Thomson Hall is vast, and Raffi was one small man very far away, singing very slowly and quietly, telling corny jokes (one about the yellow pages - this to an audience of kids who have never seen a rotary phone.) These kids are used to screens a foot from their faces, loud and bright and full of action; Raffi needs to up his game, slow and sweet doesn't cut it. The noise in the hall grew increasingly loud as kids writhed and chatted. Eli was completely uninterested throughout, his only observation that the arms of the seats didn't have a hole for our drinks; we explained that a concert hall is different from a movie theatre. We stayed most of the way through until Raffi sang Baby Beluga and we got out of there.

Went across the street to a local pizzeria for a bite; already there was a table of fellow escapees from the concert - four adults and a two year old. The adults were chatting and drinking wine, and the child sat riveted to an iPad screen showing cartoons. I know these devices mean peace for adults, but their use fills me with concern - for the child's imagination, brain, vision and hearing. However. I'm just a fogie. I had brought a book to keep Eli busy, but mostly he wanted to play with the knives.

Monday night's treat, seeing the glorious documentary "Haida Gwaii" with friend Lynn. A magnificent wild island I've always wanted to visit - the only place in the world under the complete control of indigenous people, someone explained. It showed the courage of the First Nations people battling the logging companies, fighting for their forests, their land, their rights. The star of the film, beside the place itself, is Severn Cullis-Suzuki, who is married to a Haida and lives on Haida Gwaii. Not surprisingly, considering her upbringing, she speaks with profound eloquence about the responsibility we all have to try to fix our planet. When I got home, I Googled her talk to the Rio Climate Change conference when she was twelve years ago. A phenomenal woman, beautiful, calm and wise.

And speaking of phenomenal women, today was the last U of T class and we had our last class feast. This group has bonded like no other - a band of sisters. They gave me a lei to see me off to Hawaii - yellow flowers around my neck, as I said goodbye.

Teaching over for the term. Also today, I emailed the current draft of the memoir to my editor friend Chris - it suddenly seemed like self-indulgent nonsense and I need some feedback. So, a break from that. My son had the flu and came home to Mama for a few days, which was wonderful and also messy, my God that man can eat.

Now to sort out my life. I have much to do to get ready to leave town, though right now, I'd rather just curl up in a big furry ball and go to sleep.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Paradise, here I come

Several blog readers have asked about my impending trip to Hawaii. I've not mentioned it before because it seemed barely real even to me - but it must be real, because there's a flight on my calendar next Saturday. My British friend Penny wrote in the spring to tell me an old school friend of hers, Harriet, who has lived for many years in Honolulu, had offered her time in a two-bedroom timeshare apartment Harriet owns on the island of Kauai. Penny is an intrepid, savvy traveller; she put together one of my most memorable trips, around the Cotswolds in her little car, some years ago. But she's not that comfortable on the right side of the road and sent me an irresistible offer - if I rented the car and drove, would I like to share her free apartment?

Well - a week free on Kauai - how could I say no? I decided at the same time to coordinate a visit to Vancouver, where live several of my dearest friends whom I see far too rarely. I used travel points to get to Vancouver where I'll spend four and a half days, then on to Hawaii, overnight with Penny in Honolulu, both of us flying on the next morning to Kauai for a week, then back for a few days, courtesy of her friend, in Honolulu. Home Dec. 17, just in time for Christmas madness.

Wheee! Everyone speaks of Hawaii as paradise on earth and Kauai is the garden island, apparently. Can't wait. But also, Penny and I have a possible writing project to discuss about her sister Barbara, who was my childhood penpal. Barbara died in 1966; she had just turned 16. Her death affected me profoundly, and of course, even more profoundly, the loss of her affected her family and younger sister. I have all Barbara's letters to me and my letters to her, and, more than 30 years later, the start of the on-going connection between Penny and me. Is there a book in Barbara's short yet resonant life? Penny and I will have time, amidst the pineapples and the beaches, to discuss.

Yesterday was wondrously mild, again, but now our idyll is over - it's much more seasonal out there, 7 or so, but still sunny. It's a relief, in fact; out in a light jacket in November, I couldn't help thinking about polar bears.

And further to global warming - I am coming closer to becoming vegetarian like my Macca. Yes, though I've been inching in that direction for years, the final step actually was because of Paul. He was featured in a FB clip about Meat-free Mondays that gave a warning about graphic material and started to show shots of cows on their way to slaughter, so I immediately turned it off. I don't want to see animals suffer, but I don't mind eating them - is there hypocrisy in that? I have not eaten veal for many years and only eat pork if I know it comes from a small local farm - but still, that's not enough. I won't become one of those rigid vegetarians who are hard to feed; my family eat far too much meat for that - and at the moment, I'll continue to eat chicken and turkey and fish. Have to figure this out. I've never been that keen on tofu, but here goes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

bits and pieces

Here's the main difference between France and the U.S.: After 9/11, Americans were urged to defy the terrorists by going shopping. In Paris, the French are being urged to celebrate their freedom from fear by going to cafes and bars and eating and drinking and making merry. And of course, they're going.

Oh to be in Paris now that November is here. If I could, I'd go right now and sit in a cafe all day and night. However. I have work to do, miles to go before I sleep, and anyway, I'm off to Vancouver and Hawaii next weekend. Poor me.

Good news today - I went to see my osteoporosis doctor who says I am now at low risk for fractures, to stop taking the medication and not to come back. What a relief! Now I can fling my body about with abandon. Not.

More good news: it was amazingly mild still, but cold is coming. Still, in the lovely sunshine, the roofers finally came. The first guy I called had told me the repair would cost only $500; he asked for $235 for materials and vanished off the face of the earth. A second guy came and estimated $8000; he was nice and highly recommended by a friend but, as my handyman John pointed out, he came, he saw a woman alone in a big house, he estimated high. The third roofer, Marcel, charged one third of what the previous guy estimated and did a fantastic job. Highly recommended: Marcel Prevost and his team, who are his two brothers and a son-in-law. Please look him up if you need a really good reliable honest roofer. Marcel Prevost Roofing.

And more: after wrestling with Rogers twice and getting nowhere, I insisted on talking to someone more senior, who gave me HBO free for six months. Now there just has to be something good to watch - so far, no luck. Where is Jon Stewart? Come back, Jon, we need you more than those cows do!

My ten seconds of fame: a woman came up to me at the Y. "Were you at the McCartney concert?" she asked. I was, I said. "I knew I recognized you from the giant screens. I saw you several times, dancing away."
"Was that not the best concert ever?" I said.
"It was," she said. A new BFF.

I may take the money I save on my expensive osteoporosis medicine and buy some noise-cancelling headphones to wear around the city. Doubletake and other stores are already playing Silver Bells and the @#$# Little Drummer Boy. I think it's worth investing in sanity, don't you?

re: the island airport and Marcus Gee

Following the photo of Paul Newman, which makes me feel so good, here's one of the most beautiful poems in the English language, about surviving the insanity of modern life:

And further to the insanity of modern life and the importance of "the presence of still water" - Marcus Gee in the Globe wrote a column attacking Trudeau's government for announcing the death of the island airport extension. I sent him what's below. Wish I'd quoted Berry's poem.
Mr. Gee, I know there’s no point responding to your angry column about the island airport, but I cannot help myself. The city does not need it, and we do not want it. Our lake is already overwhelmed with endless condos and hideous crumbling highway. Those of us who do not have cottages go to the waterfront, at least, the few bits left for public use, for a vista, the kind of calm that water provides, and instead we see Porter planes constantly arriving and departing, dawn to dusk. The last thing we need is even more traffic from a series of jets. Let international business travellers use the fine resources of Pearson. That’s what it’s there for. Hooray to Marc Garneau for setting our minds at rest, and to Adam Vaughn too.

Have not heard from him, which is not a surprise. I often write back to columnists when I agree or disagree vehemently, and I urge you to do the same. In the meantime, the group I belong to, NOJETSTO, has sent this. Nice to have something to celebrate - though remaining vigilant.
Hi Beth,
Our new federal government has been clear – no Island Airport expansion. Now let’s celebrate our victory! On Monday, November 23, join NoJetsTO supporters and endorsers to enjoy a toast to our waterfront.
NoJetsTO Victory PartyMonday, November 23, 7 – 9 PMStudio Bar824 Dundas Street West (near Bathurst) 
Please RSVP today and spread the word. Cake and appetizers will be served.
This hard-fought victory is the result of 2.5 years of citizen-led action. Let’s mark the occasion together as we open a new chapter for a Toronto waterfront for all. 
See you on Monday,
Norman Di Pasquale
NoJetsTO Chair

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A ++ for everyone

Last Ry class last night. How lucky we've been with the weather this term - still amazingly mild. Yesterday there was a man on my street in a tank top and jean shorts, and just down from him, the Korean store owners were unloading Christmas trees. Anyway, the Ry group was fascinating and diverse, and we had a great term. Mark brought his camera with a timer. I swore to myself that I would not let my face twist into some ridiculous pose just as the shutter clicked - but of course it did. A gorgeous shot of everyone except moi. Sigh.
Today I had an email from someone in the class:
I wanted to thank you again for a very inspiring course ... I came home from class with many ideas for future projects and spent several hours today roughly spinning out those ideas onto paper. I have about six story ideas now.

Most importantly, as someone who had terrible writers' block for several years, I feel liberated to write. This is really a gift as creative writing has long been my dream. Your advice and comments are helpful and provocative in the best sense of the word. I have never understood blogging, in particular, and your comments now have me very interested in starting my own blog as a way to experiment and keep the writing flowing.

Hooray! And another student wrote, You provided a warm and safe environment for us all to share our truths. I really enjoyed the class, it's really helped me focus and find my voice.

Second last at U of T today, a spectacular group of women many of whom have already registered for the next level in January. They're so comfortable and honest with each other, they may all move in together eventually. Then I went across town to Anna's; Eli has a fever so she is stuck indoors with a sick child and a fussy baby who likes to be carried at all times. I don't know how she keeps it all together, but she does; her loyal friends help a lot, just as she helps them. So I read stories and dandled the baby and did my best to make life a bit easier for her, for a few hours at least.

All this with a heavy heart as the world explodes. All that matters is family and love - and, for some of us at least, writing. And for others of us - beauty. Here's one of my own favourite beauties, a picture Chris posted on his blog yesterday. One look at that face and I'm more cheerful already.

Monday, November 16, 2015

John Oliver nails it, as usual

Here is the brilliant John Oliver speaking with his usual clarity and wit about the recent events in France, quoted in the New Yorker:

“So here is where things stand. First, as of now, we know that this attack was carried out by gigantic fucking assholes, unconscionable, flaming assholes, possibly, possibly working with other fucking assholes, definitely working in service of an ideology of pure assholery,” he said. His audience began to laugh. “Second, and this goes almost without saying, Fuck these assholes!” The audience began to cheer. “Fuck them, if I may say, sideways!” He made some definitive hand gestures. Third, he said, nothing these assholes attempt is going to work. “France is going to endure. And I’ll tell you why. If you are in a war of culture and life style with France, good fucking luck!” More cheering. “Go ahead, go ahead. Bring your bankrupt ideology. They’ll bring Jean-Paul Sartre, Edith Piaf, fine wine, Gauloises cigarettes, Camus, Camembert, madeleines, macarons”—images of these appeared behind him as he spoke—“Marcel Proust, and the fucking croquembouche!” An image of what looked like a glazed-cream-puff Christmas tree popped up. He waved his hands and pointed at it. “The croquembouche! You just brought a philosophy of rigorous self-abnegation to a pastry fight, my friends. You are fucked! That is a French freedom tower!” The crowd howled with delight.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

for my students ...

What I want for my bicycle...

Seminar: superb

November 15, and there were people out in flip-flops and shorts. Warm, sunny, beautiful; we'll take every minute, thank you very much, especially with such black clouds on the horizon. I ran into a cheerful neighbour who said she thought ISIS was going to start the 3rd world war. I replied by quoting the Gwnne Dyer article in which he says many more people die in car accidents than by terrorism, the horror of which is pumped up by the media; we've got to maintain a perspective. Perspective, people!

Moving right along. I've heard from all the Parisian friends I wrote to. Daniel wrote back that this is a "war of attrition" and we just have to have patience. Not a word much loved by governments. And in the meantime, our government has been in office all of two weeks and is plunged already into international chaos.

Back here, Wayson came for lunch and we strolled in the hot sun to Yonge St. to see "Seminar," by the American playwright Theresa Rebick about a writing teacher and his battered students. It was superb; highly recommended, though I will say that I thought the production was better than the play; the play is pretty good, but the production is fantastic. Especially if you're a writing teacher in the audience watching a writing teacher on stage, but even if you're not.

At one point the writer, the superb Tom McCamus, says, "This is how you learn to write - you have an editor go through your work word by word, figuring out what you were getting at." As an editor myself, I agree. And as a writer always in need of a good editor, I agree even more. Thank you again, David Mirvish, for granting Toronto audiences the chance to see another superb small play in an exemplary production.

And then we strolled back in the sun. Missed the Santa Claus parade. Darn.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Toronto, in solidarity with Paris

Just back from Nathan Phillips Square, where hundreds of people gathered at 2 today to commemorate and honour the victims of the Paris attacks and their families, who are also victims, and their country. There was spontaneous singing of La Marseilleise, twice. The Toronto sign was red, white and blue today, there were French flags and Canadian flags, and everyone who spoke, spoke French as well as English, even our Mayor, whose French is not very good. But he tried, and he spoke beautifully about our own city, its bonds with Paris, how we will not be terrorized. Carolyn Bennett spoke on behalf of the federal government, and how grateful I was to have that government, and not the last one, to speak for us. At the end, there was a moment of silence - the huge crowd, the speakers, silent and motionless.

One person was missing: a member of the Muslim community. I wish there had been a representative there to denounce, a haut voix, these horrendous acts done in the name of Islam.

Friday, November 13, 2015

all love sent to Paris

More terrifying news from Paris. I think of my friends Paolo and Annie, Parisian Jews who last year, after the Charlie Hebdo murders, were thinking about leaving France. Will they stay now?

When will it end? Too terrible, too horrible, too hideous.

This is happy??

I'm turning into a crabby reader in my old age. Last week I skimmed "The Folded Clock," by Heidi Julavits, which is an odd, interesting diary, filled with her day to day activities and musings. She's intriguing with a very rich life, and she's a marvellous, intelligent writer, but still, I found it episodic and unsatisfying, too quirky, like a platter of delicious hors d'oeuvres; I didn't think it was enough. But then, I thought Julavits's friend and colleague Sheila Heti's book "How should a person be?" was self-indulgent and silly, and then it was reviewed at length, favourably, in nothing less than the New Yorker. So what do I know?

Now I am reading Camilla Gibb's popular "This is happy," the memoir about her extremely painful childhood and adulthood, her years of depression and attempts at suicide, and then happiness with her lesbian partner (who we all know, though she's given a pseudonym in the book, is Heather Conway, a top level poohbah at the CBC.) As soon as she becomes pregnant in her early forties, however, her partner dumps her. She cries every day for months, all through her pregnancy. Yet somehow - how? She's a writer! - she buys a downtown house (the price of single family homes in Toronto is through the roof) and renovates it completely, including putting in an incredible garden that had me drooling, and she hires a live-in nanny who's on site and ready when the baby is born. All this while sobbing. She gives birth, has the nanny, faithful friends and her mother to help her, but is desperately waiting for her lover, who wants to co-parent, to return. And then she finds out her lover has found someone else, and she collapses in rage and grief.

She stands watching the nanny play with her child. "It should be my daughter's other parent playing peek-a-boo in this moment, me watching her lose all inhibition - becoming innocent and childlike - and welling up with love for them both. It should be my partner seeing me anew, at greater depth, as a mother, moved by the brave extent of what we are capable of as humans ..."


And I think to myself, you're beautiful, rich, and a successful and talented writer, you own a house and a Jeep, you live with a fabulous nanny who's like a best friend, you have a perfect, healthy child - and you're going to whine about being without a partner? My daughter is the single mother of not one but two young children. She lives in a small rented apartment and she does every single thing by herself. And I have never, not once, heard her complain. Well, maybe once. I know, she wasn't heartbroken, she chose her life - though she did hope things would turn out differently with both fathers. But Anna is brave and strong, resolute and resilient, beyond anyone I know.

So right now, I have little patience for Camilla Gibb's ceaseless suffering. I know this sounds intolerant and judgemental. Well, it is. And yes, as the writer of a memoir read by a few hundred people, I'm jealous that hers has received such a lot of attention. But mostly, I think she's a very good writer, and her editor should have reigned in the self-pity flowing like a torrent through this book.

I'm only on Page 159. Maybe there's a big change by the end. I do hope she stops referring to her daughter as "the egg."

Her nanny goes off to her own friends on the weekend. "I dread the long and lonely weekends, the boredom, the hours, the exhaustion, the early mornings. The weekends are for families... I cry too much when it's just the two of us. I cry and count the hours." Oh for God's sake.

"I want to be in my pyjamas and parenting with someone together. I want to be a family. I want to be years into a relationship, in that place where you are known and knowing and loving and loved - the place I thought I was."

You know what? I wanted that too, after my divorce. My gay friend Chris who's adopted and an orphan wants that. Tons of people want that. In the end, we all want to be known and loved. No news there.

This is what Anna just wrote on FB, the closest to a complaint I've ever heard from her:
She has to have four arms, four legs, four eyes, two hearts, and double the love. There is nothing single about being a single mum. 
This one hit me in the feels tonight.

My heart is with her. 

And while I'm lauding my kids, Sam's bar Gaslight was just voted Now Magazine's Runner Up for Best Bar in Toronto. The winner is a long-established place, where Gaslight is only a year old. Woo hoo! 

Okay, I'll stop grousing now. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Seminar the play

Just booked a ticket to see this with Wayson - the story of an angry, abusive writing teacher, fascinating, and played by the wonderful Tom McCamus. Sent a recommendation about it to my longterm students, and got this back from Chris:
I saw this on Broadway a couple of years ago with Alan Rickman in the lead role, and it was very entertaining. Coming away from it you will realize that the instructor is about as different from Beth as one can get. Also the students pay thousands of dollars to work with him and each one is a bit of a case. In the production I saw, one of the women whipped her T-shirt off in the first scene.
Other than that it could be Beth's class.
ESTAGE || Mirvish Productions Newsletter
SEMINAR is a class in wit, brains and guts
See it early & save! Tickets From $19

$19/$49 Sat Nov 14, 8PM & Sun Nov 15, 2PM
$19/$59 Nov 17-Dec 4, Tue to Fri 8PM

Or call 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333
Use code SEM59

Remember that grade 9 report on the Mayan civilizations that you had to read out in social studies class? We've all been in situations where we've had our work judged by others. It even happens in our adult work life.

Imagine being a young writer desperate to improve your craft and looking to a "genius" novelist for advice and insights.

How much would you pay for such an opportunity? What if the cost was $5,000 and you were one of only four students?

And what would happen if that genius also turned out to be malicious, self-involved and sex-obsessed? What if your career's success depended on his approval?

SEMINAR is a hilarious comedy about such a writing workshop. It opened on Broadway a few seasons ago and was an instant success.

Now it is finally getting its Canadian premiere. Starring the brilliant Tom McCamus, arguably one of the country's finest actors, SEMINAR recently started performances at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg. This is what the critics had to say:

"A SNAPPY, SOPHISTICATED COMEDY with a bright, tight ensemble. Tom McCamus brings his considerable stage presence to bear as the shaggy, oversexed instructor." - Winnipeg Free Press

"SHARPLY FUNNY AND CONSISTENTLY ENTERTAINING! Playwright Teresa Rebeck has a knack for smart dialogue and writing scathing one-liners, producing moments that are simultaneously cringeworthy and laugh-out-loud funny. Tom McCamus gives a devastatingly good performance." - Joff Schmidt, CBC Winnipeg


$19/$49 Sat Nov 14, 8PM & Sun Nov 15, 2PM
$19/$59 Nov 17-Dec 4, Tue to Fri 8PM

Or call 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333
Use code SEM59

On stage Nov 14-Dec 6
Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge Street
Recommended Age: 14+
Strong language, partial nudity, mature content

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

the perfect family


It's mild with a soft breeze on Remembrance Day, after a damp morning. Anna usually takes Eli to his much-loved swimming class at the Y on Wednesdays, but today, instead, she took him to the Remembrance Day ceremonies and explained to him what it means. I never took my kids to Remembrance Day ceremonies. Or to the Ex or to the Santa Claus parade either, which Anna also does. No question, she is a hundred times a better parent than I was.

And yet, I must admit - she turned out so well how? Perhaps I did something right.

Today I remember my father, who got through WW2 in the American Army MASH units, and my mother, with her fascinating stint at Bletchley Park, and my British grandfather Percy, who was rejected for the British army in WW1 because of bad knees from soccer, but who spent the war repairing engines and leather for the horses. Thank you. Thank you to all who in WW2 helped liberate our world from the vilest of monsters.

*                 *                       *                     *

Many treats yesterday, including a spectacular class at U of T - wow, is all I can say. And the Ryerson one on Monday was wonderful too. The term is winding down - last class next week at Ry and the week after at U of T, and once again, I'm profoundly grateful to have such satisfying work, work I hope makes a tiny difference on the planet.

Then home to greet my family - Sam had arranged for a photo shoot with his lovely friend Brilynne, a freelance photographer who's 6 foot 2 - much discussion about being a tall woman, a subject I know well from my mother who was a mere 6 foot, and then to work, trying to get three adults and two small children looking in the same direction at once. I don't know how we did, but she has already given Sam the picture she took when Ben discovered that his uncle's thumb tasted really really good.
That's a cheetah's face he has on his hand, and the word LAMB. The word WOLF on his other hand. Don't ask; I have no idea. Brilynne met him because she is photographing tattoos in the restaurant world, of which there are many. She told me she's fascinated by them because of the stories behind them. A kindred spirit.

And then I watched the end of the Gillers, as always feeling like Cinderella, not just that I'm at home in my rags looking at the glitterati drinking champagne, but because I write NON-FICTION and this hugely generous prize is for fiction. At least there is a big non-fiction prize now, thanks to Hilary Weston. But it's not on television yet. We can but dream. Congratulations Andre Alexis! BIG bucks and big sales. Way to go.

Until we get Brilynne's shots, here's one of mine, from my visit across town on Sunday:

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

old but feisty

A terrible thing happened to me yesterday. A very nice student, a gay man in his early fifties, said to me after class, "Do you mind if I ask you a very personal question?"
"Of course not," I said.
"Did I hear you mention that you're 76 years old?"

Only a slight pause for sharp intake of breath.
"Heavens no," I laughed gamely. "I'm only 65!"
"Well, I thought you looked awfully good for 76."

76. He thought I might conceivably be 76! I know I've been looking pale and drawn these days, as winter comes in. But not THAT bad. Oh well. It's just that my son, for my birthday present, has arranged for a portrait photographer girlfriend of his come and try to get a decent shot of all five of us - me, daughter, son, two grandbabies. The chances of that are slim - I am the least photogenic person on earth, Eli refuses to smile on cue and Ben grizzles a lot. Luckily my children are extremely good-looking.

But this is happening after I teach today, and I look 76.

No wonder - I spent the most aggravating hour and a half, yesterday and today, with Rogers. First world problems. Jon Stewart has announced he will do stuff on HBO and so I decided I should at last get that channel. Great stuff on HBO - Bill Maher too. But I refuse to pay more than the king's ransom I'm paying Rogers already, could they make that happen? A friendly guy yesterday, another today, absolutely, they would change my package from the VIP package to the Extra Lifestyle Package. I 'd like some Extra Lifestyle, we 76 year olds could use it. However, after much trying and unplugging the cable box and waiting endlessly on hold while the hideous music plays, it turns out that no, I will not be able to get HBO without paying even more of a king's ransom and getting all kinds of other channels I don't want.

So my dear Jon - I hope you will also appear on the internet.

And now this ancient crone will hobble out into her day. Cackling.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Nine Canucks nom'd for Dublin IMPAC prize!

Of course, I'm sorry there's no non-fiction included here - as usual - but still, this is cause for celebration.
9 Canadian novels are among 160 titles that have been nominated by libraries worldwide for the €100,000 International DUBLIN Literary Award, the world’s most valuable annual literary prize for a single work of fiction published in English. Nominations include 53 novels in translation with works by 44 American, 25 British, 10 Australian,  7 Irish, 6 German and 3 South African authors.
Organised by Dublin City Council, the 2016 Award was launched today [9th November] by The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Críona Ní Dhálaigh, Patron of the Award, who commented “the Award, now in its 21st year, has made a fantastic contribution to the literary life of Dublin and brings significant benefits to the City. It’s right that, as the Award is now entirely a City initiative, sponsored by the City Council, it should be called the International DUBLIN Literary Award”.
The Canadian titles are:
Sweetland by Michael Crummy Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel Us Conductors by Sean Michaels The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill Who by Fire by Fred Stenson All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews Will Starling by Ian Weir The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner Outline by Rachel Cusk

And PLEASE, as Xmas approaches, consider giving books and buying them in an independent bookstore. To help you with this, the beautiful Ben McNally bookstore has organized this:
Books in
45 Minutes

Come one, come all for a festive celebration of the season’s finest titles! Find the perfect read for a loved one, or for your own stolen moment of peace beside the fire.
Ben McNally & Lynn Thomson will recommend 45 books in 45 minutes, fiction and non-fiction on Wednesday, Dec. 2nd and Thursday, Dec. 3rd at 6:30 pm, at Ben McNally Books. Space is limited, so please call us at (416) 361-0032 to book seats.

Admission is free. Refreshments will be served.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Cumberbatch's Hamlet

Luckily, the sky darkened and I did go to Hamlet, though I would have gone anyway because I am what is known as a Cumberbitch. I think he's fantastic. At one time, an actor that odd-looking, clever and eccentric would have played the witty sidekick forever; he would never have become a leading man and a sex symbol. How marvellous that he has.

And he's a marvel as Hamlet in a messy production - interestingly, directed, designed and gorgeously lit by women. There's rather too much howling and heaving, weeping and panting, everything at top volume, a lot of melodrama, Gertrude's nose running from both nostrils as she emoted. (Did they have no handkerchiefs in Elsinore?) (This was not helped by the fact that I got there close to curtain time and had to sit in the second row, a few feet from the screen.) Many of the actors, while excellent, did not come close to Cumberbatch's burning brilliance. Horatio for some reason seemed to have a bit of a neurological disorder. Claudius was too villainous from the start. Interesting ideas: for example, that Ophelia is disturbingly fragile right off the top. Some marvels - the gravedigger scene, particularly. I was dismayed when, after the intermission, the stage was littered with overturned furniture and the floor covered with detritus. "Theatre of mess," I call it, when directors don't know what to do next except throw stuff around. The junk and litter were a complete distraction; we know the kingdom is going downhill, you don't need to fling it in our faces. But it worked when Ophelia ran barefoot over a pile of rubble to die, and in the gravedigger scene, surrounded on all sides by what looked like dirt.

But mostly - what a play. What words. The beautiful rich glorious marvellous poetry of the words, more than 400 years old, that stir us still.

Throughout, Cumberbatch was a magnificent Hamlet, vulnerable, angry and tender, muscular and visceral, so terribly conflicted, alone and hard on himself. Hamlet, I wanted to say, stop beating yourself up already, cut yourself some slack! The actor threw his entire being into the role even when he was directed to do stuff that didn't work, and there was a lot of concept stuff that didn't work - like making him wear a tin soldier costume and fire toy guns, and then appear in a David Bowie t-shirt. What?

I was immensely entertained but unmoved until "The readiness is all" - delivered so simply - an intelligent man confronting his imminent death with clarity, in unforgettable prose - that tears came. William Shakespeare, your empathetic genius is unparalleled.

It's a flawed production but worthwhile. Highly recommended. Even if you're not a Cumberbitch.

my favourite day

An extremely mild Saturday. I really like this global warming business - let's keep it.

Here's a photo my friend John sent of his daughter on a beach on the Toronto Islands in July.
Only kidding - this was the day before yesterday. November!

No island jets, no Keystone pipeline, the promise of more money for the arts and the CBC, more information coming out about our extraordinary cabinet ministers - I keep running into neighbours and we stand chatting, incredulous, gleeful, filled with joy about our country. It has been a long dark cold time, my friends.

Yesterday, after getting my flu shot at the free clinic at the Y, I rode my bike to King St. and got my jewellery back. "You are a very sentimental person," said Cynthia, who was gracious about the whole thing and has, yes, a fabulously interesting store full of tempting things. (Cynthia Findlay Antiques, King St. West next to the Princess of Wales Theatre, check it out, she's got just about everything.) Yes, I'm sentimental. There's still some of it I don't want and will try to sell or give away, but some of it suddenly looked beautiful. My mother's cameos! My grandmother's garnet bracelet! Here's the picture I took after selling, before I realized that I'd made a huge mistake and lying awake for hours.
The tiny black art deco watch I bought on Portobello Road in 1971! Useless. Adorable.

Speaking of adorable, my daughter has just sent me this picture of the new bookshelf in her living room:
That is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, I wrote back. Christmas is coming and I'm reading the book reviews to see what books need to be acquired. It's serious work, shaping the readers of the future; one of my key jobs. First on my list: "Elephant Journey," recommended by my friend and fellow blogger Kerry Clare, to the left. Moving non-fiction about the fate of three Toronto Zoo elephants whom Eli has visited - perfect.

Now into the day. The treat: Benedict Cumberbatch's "Hamlet" at Cineplex this afternoon. Consulting with John about my leaky roof. Staring out the back door at the scarlet and gold maple leaves showering down. Doing errands in the warm sun. As one of my favourite writers once said:

An hour later - I'm just back from my usual swing through Doubletake. An elderly woman was there,  perhaps in her early 80's with a beautiful calm face and a cloud of grey hair. She was coming up to everyone in the store, including me and the woman in niqab trying on shoes, and saying a breathless, "HI!" right to our faces, as if she'd known us for years. And then she said to everyone, "Good for you! Good for you!"

And I thought, imagine if every ambassador in the U.N., for example, came up to all the others and shouted warmly, "Hello! Good for you! Good for you!" What a peaceful world it would be.

In a way, she encapsulated my work as a teacher. That's what I do too. I say, "Good for you!" 

I don't want to go to "Hamlet." It's too beautiful out there. Not often a Canadian says that in November.