Saturday, January 30, 2016

celebrating Mike Nichols

Sometimes I am so enthralled by something on television, I think of my friends who proudly live without it and shake my head. Tonight, on PBS's American Masters series, a portrait of the director, producer, writer and actor Mike Nichols that was so good, moving, interesting, I took notes all the way through. Unforgettable. (Directed, I found out later, by his longterm improv partner Elaine May.)

I learned years ago, to my surprise, that Nichols was Jewish, but didn't know he was actually born a German Jew and was seven when he arrived in America as a refugee, knowing no English. And all the way through his life, I proudly note, he was surrounded by incredibly talented Jews, Elaine May, Neil Simon and the New York theatre set, and the Hollywood moguls who produced his films. (May herself debuted as a small child in the Yiddish theatre and so almost certainly performed in the plays of my great-grandfather. Should I send her my book?)

Nicols was both brilliant intellectually and extremely funny, two qualities that don't necessarily go together. He was a very nice man, adored by his actors, which also is not that common for directors. After years as an actor and improvisor, he said that as soon as he started directing, he knew this was what he was meant to do. "Directing is what, without knowing it, I'd been getting ready to do all along."

That really struck me. I thought, perhaps that's what teaching memoir writing was for me. Because from the start, it did feel like exactly the right place to be. Though Nicols had a tiny bit more success than I in his chosen profession, with a string of Broadway and Hollywood hits, wealth and fame, Tonys and Oscars and White House honours. However.

He talked about humour. "Funny," he quoted May as saying, "is where stuff goes into your heart."
And he talked of realizing, as he directed the movie Silkwood, that it was actually about himself. "It was about someone who's asleep who wakes up. And I realized that was me. All my work was, finally, about me."

And finally, in an overview of his work, he said, "People say, about a work of theatre or film, Why are you telling me this? And one answer is, 'Because it's funny.' But that's not enough; it doesn't fill the gaps between laughs. The second answer is, Because it's about you."

I have an old record of his work with May and will put it on tonight and toast them both, groundbreaking, brave, brilliant artists who made us laugh but more, showed us ourselves. With thanks.

Friday, January 29, 2016

today's favourite things

Vancouver, where soon I'm going to spend a month - you can practically see Bruce's apartment, which he'd lending me, right on the inlet in the lower left. Lived there 8 1/2 years, from 1975 to 1983, want to revisit old friends and haunts, and my younger self. And drink in sea and mountains and a little bit of rain. Lucky me.
An avuncular Seinfeld on the Daily Show. Trevor Noah is hitting his stride; I'm back to watching when I can. A much-needed voice of sanity.
 Speaking of which ... Still deeply deeply missed, our Jon.
Hilarious! For writers and English majors, at least.

Thursday, January 28, 2016


Here's a gorgeous small girl who learned to dance from the internet - amazing.

And here's a gorgeous woman who visited today with her two children and a very welcome Wayson:
Love that t-shirt: #HUNK. All fourteen pounds of him.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

So True Sunday Feb. 28

All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography. 
-Federico Fellini, film director, and writer (20 Jan 1920-1993) 

This is a month away. Mon dieu, I have a lot of work to do! Mark your calendars now. Check our website for previous stories and information. Many pearls and a good time guaranteed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tuesday, January, keeping warm, onward

These are a few of my favourite things:
This handsome bartender is a close relative.
The adorable James Norton, who plays Prince Andrey in the BBC's "War and Peace," is unfortunately not a close relative but I'd love to change that. It's a beautiful series, though showing on AandE and so crammed with commercials as to be virtually unwatchable. But so well done, I'm sticking with it. That Tolstoy guy sure could write. Thrilling. They sing a lot in Russian, haunting minor-key melodies which make me shiver. I guess it's my Russian blood. But not as much as Mr. Norton makes Natasha and me shiver. 
 Two cute guys. Talk about yin and yang - even more than John and Paul are Keef and Paul.
Yikes! The ghastly stories about these two never stop.

And this, which make me shriek with laughter because it's me: I spent an hour yesterday on the phone with Hewlett-Packard when my two-year old printer suddenly, out of the blue, for no @## reason, stopped working:

Went with friend Gretchen to "Big Mouth" on Sunday at the Panasonic - what fascinating stuff Mr. Mirvish is bringing in for our delectation. This is a Belgian actor's one man show, spouting speeches from Pericles to Ann Coulter to show how orators through the millennia have used words to move us. Flawed but always interesting.

And then Downton. Perfection! Wonderful to see my friend Dame Harriet Walter back on as Lady Shackleton, sparring with Dame Maggie. (I wonder if the actors who played Matthew and Sybil and who left this series have come to regret what seems a rash decision. Where are they now?)

Yesterday, Monday, a meeting with the brand new Ontario chapter of the Creative Non-fiction Collective, a small, select group. Much discussion of how little money there is in our profession, but also laughs and encouragement. Good to meet other crazy people.

Heard from a former student today, a beautiful note that meant a great deal.
Every step of this journey has taught me so much; but I found the most valuable thing of all in your classes, readings, and summer writing workshop — my voice!

You helped give me the courage to dig deep and to write ‘true’. Without your support and encouragement, I’d likely still be looking at a blank piece of paper instead of over 200 garbled, incoherent pages that I now hope to wrestle into some kind of readable form.

Keep on teaching and writing — you have a passion and a gift for both

Thank you, dear friend. I don't know about the gift but I do know, for sure, about the passion.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

"Pierre Trudeau made me cry again today"

I did find Mozart's Requiem and will listen at some point, but right now, as I listen to Randy Bachman, I'm going through my Documents file on the Mac, starting when it does, in 2001. How much I wrote, how many good pieces polished and sent out to one place, at most two, and then, when they were not accepted, just abandoned. It seems unfair that to succeed at this business, we have to be good not just at writing and editing, which is hard enough, but at accepting inevitable rejection and getting stuff out into the world. Which can be harder.

I found this short piece which never found a home and thought, in light of recent events in Canada, that you might enjoy it. I wrote it in 2004.

Pierre Trudeau made me cry again today. Like many Canadians I was surprised at the time of his death, and many days after, by how moved I was; how much I missed him. I cried a lot. Some of my friends out west did not feel the same way and were disgusted by all the emotion. But I’ve never felt as Canadian as I did watching Trudeau’s funeral, when Sacha and Justin, the boys we’d watched grow from infancy to manhood, spoke before an illustrious audience in perfect French and English, and in poetry, about their extraordinary father.

But today came another hit of grief – a picture of Margaret Trudeau, looking haggard, above an article about an interview she did on TVO. She apparently talked openly, with her usual alarming candour, about the last days of her ex-husband. I was heartened to hear that Pierre Trudeau accepted death unafraid and head-on, as he seemed to deal with everything in life; that, she said, he was ‘resigned.’ It was painful to read that on the morning of his death, he woke with tears rolling down his face: Trudeau the Don Juan, the twirler, wealthy, brilliant and sleek, weeping, at death’s door. But I burst into my own tears when she spoke of his main concern about dying - that he would be unable to watch his nine-year old daughter grow up. 

Through the years, I came to admire Pierre Trudeau not just as a politician but as a man. I was lucky enough, once, to be dazzled in person by his wit and physical prowess; through the evening at a big party at the National Arts Centre, I felt every female in the room, old and young, including me, pointed in his direction, like compasses to the Magnetic North. But what really appealed to me about him was the fact that this famous world leader had become, more than anything else, a single father. A single parent too, I was aware that despite his spectacular affairs, Pierre Trudeau lived alone for almost all of his divorced years, focussed on raising his sons. Raising engaged, open-hearted young men more or less by himself, because Margaret was with her own new family, in another city. How connected he was to his sons was visible at the funeral of his youngest, Michel. The blind devastation on his face was unbearable. I wasn’t surprised to hear, not long after, of his own mortal illness. 

And at the end, he died, accompanied not only by his two surviving sons, but with his still-adoring ex-wife at his bedside. Margaret, once his nemesis, was there to care for him when it mattered most. Those are his greatest successes, as far as I’m concerned: that despite his very busy life he was a generous, available, committed father; that he made peace with the one person it might have been most difficult to forgive; and that he gave the greatest of gifts to his little girl: he left her knowing how greatly, how deeply she was loved.

Happy National Handwriting Day

It's NationalHandwritingDay! Hooray, any excuse for a celebration. Check out the Twitter hashtag #NationalHandwritingDay and see what people have posted, wonderful stuff. Though it's very cold, it was a beautiful sunny bright day here in Trawna, as opposed to NYC and Washington which have been slammed with a huge storm. I wrote to my New York cousin, who said he and his partner are holed up in their country place with enough food for a week, hoping the power doesn't go out, eighteen inches of snow so far.

And here - not one snowflake. And we have Justin and they have Sarah Palin and Donald Trump. I told him if he and Henry want to come to Canada as refugees, I'd sponsor them.

I just pulled a suitcase from under my bed, containing a pile of journals from decades past - talk about handwriting, enough already. Today, riding my bike around town - yes, a bit chilly, but refreshing in the sun, doing errands, including going to Roy Thomson Hall to try to get one tiny ticket to tonight's Mozart Requiem - completely sold out, sadly, just as I'd feared and as the computer had indicated. Well, it was worth trying. So tonight, I'll be watching an episode of Borgen on the computer, listening to Randy Bachman, more work, and perhaps I'll find a CD or record of the Requiem, I'm sure I have it somewhere, and put it on.

Yesterday my neighbour Monique and I had dinner and went to watch the Peggy Baker Dance Project; I'm a longtime fan of this amazing solo dancer with the longest, loosest limbs in the world - even her fingers are long and loose, I know because she used to work out at the Y. This wasn't her, it was her troupe, dancing ... just like Peggy.

Last week Trevor Noah featured a young British singer called Jess Glynne singing her hit Don't be so hard on yourself. I LOVE IT! My new anthem!   And a beautiful video to go with it.

And another treat a friend just sent me, a young Japanese group singing "All My Loving." Very funny.  Spotify reports that since the Beatles catalogue was put online at Xmas, their music has been downloaded 250 million times. Yes. And that most of the fans are young. Isn't that fantastic?

Why don't those young people buy a certain MEMOIR about the early days of the Beatles, hmmm? Just a thought.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Lady Braindead Looselips

Just when we thought the bar could not be set lower on the Republican side of the Presidential race, along comes the queen of mangled thought and grammar, Mrs. Malaprop herself. Trevor Noah did a wonderful deconstruction last night of her garbled, hideously embarrassing endorsement of Trump, pointing out that for years, North Americans have made condescending fun of African speech and manners; now Africans can enjoy this spectacle.

It's a really fascinating spectacle, for sure, watching a crypto-Fascist blowhard know-nothing on one side and Bernie Sanders, an impractical, honest man of enormous heart, on the other. Talk about two solitudes, a nation divided in twain, the red and the blue, and never the two shall meet. Fascinating, but also terrifying. Especially after the re-appearance of Lady Braindead Looselips.

Nobody has died so far this week. At least, nobody who matters to moi. That's the good news.

And in more good news, my U of T and Ryerson classes are launched and I love them - the first level at Ry, leading beginning writers into the thicket of their own lives and past and present stories, and the advanced at U of T, digging deeper. Tonight is my home class, people who've been working with me for years, and, on-going, I'm receiving essays former and current students are submitting for the So True reading Feb. 28. I'm buried in stories, and that's exactly how I like it.

There's also my own, somewhere in there - still reading my diaries and letters from the Seventies, wishing I could jump back and take that young woman's hand and tell her everything will be all right. It'll take a few decades, honey, I'd say, but things will sort themselves out and you'll end up just where you want to be - in a big old house in downtown Toronto, with two children and two grandchildren and work you love and friends you love and a blog.

And she'd say, she in 1977 with her long glossy brown hair and smooth unlined face, who thinks she's ugly because she's ten pounds overweight, "What's a blog?!" she'd say. Unimaginable, then, what is to come, the interconnectedness of us all via our glowing, tapping machines. Just heard from a former student who's down south for the winter. I am very much enjoying keeping up with you through your blogs, which are informative, amusing, provocative and engaging. I am always disappointed to go to your blog page and discover that you haven’t written anything since last I checked - which is twice a day. And of course, I am always delighted when you have written.

So here I am again, for the 2637th time, my blog info informs me. More good news: "All My Loving's" FB page received a 1000% bump! Yes! 11 people went to the page last week, as opposed to 1 the week before! And my Likes have gone WAAY up, from 67 to 68! Can fame and vast wealth be far behind?

It's January, very cold and snowy, but the sun is shining. I'm going out for fresh air on a hunting expedition to Doubletake, which, unlike our local Goodwills which have all - sadly and suspiciously - been shut down, is still open and full of interesting things. A piano lesson at 3. I'm reading a very entertaining book by David Shields: "The thing about life is that one day you'll be dead," and the excellent Elena Ferrante at night. Trying to squeeze in more work time - not enough, never never enough, because I am so easily distracted. By blogging, for example. Eating chocolate drinking wine dinner last night with a dear friend from my teen years. Living, in other words.

BUT the incredible Diana Athill just published another book at the age of 98. Yes, 98. So what's my rush? There's lots of time.


One last thing - just watched a beautiful short clip on FB - David Bowie at the 9/11 concert, singing the Simon and Garfunkle song about America. Brought tears to my eyes, not just because his interpretation is so haunting, but because it's about an America that was a beacon to the world for many years, an America that seems to be vanishing.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Branson is back!

Downton! So delicious. I would go on and on about it, but a NYT writer has done it much better, in a laugh out loud article:
He's right, the scene with the decaying aristocrat in his crumbling house, sniffing about playing host to royalty as he sits in chaos before Barrow's incredulous eyes, was worth the price of admission, let alone Mrs. Hughes standing her ground, the wonderful wedding scene (though cut too short), Edith perhaps finding not just a beau but a man who understands publishing (!) and admires an ambitious woman, and more. Sinfully luscious, like thick clotted cream.

After that, I watched a bit of the new series Billions, with the phenomenal Damien Lewis, and regretted that this fine actor is wasting his time with such stuff. You could see the gears of plot grinding clumsily. A series about horrible people doing appalling things - if I want that, I'll watch Game of Thrones.

And then, from the ridiculous to the sublime, I watched the last half hour of the Democratic debate. First, as several pundits have said, even the weakest of the three, the governor, is mountains above the strongest Republican candidate. So much substance, so much sense. And second, couldn't we have both Bernie and Hilary? A one-two punch? I didn't see her attack him, as apparently she did, but I did see him explain why he doesn't attack her. Imagine, a decent human being in politics! We Canucks have one or two of those too.

Spent yesterday alone with my thoughts. I was going to go to the Y and/or the movies and tried to get a ticket for a Mozart concert which was sold out - so I stayed home and mulled, did some work, listened to Eleanor Wachtel interview a fascinating writer - David Constantine, whose short story is the basis for the movie "45 years" coming out soon, a wonderful interview, check it out in the Writers and Company podcast - while making ribollita, which is delicious. A long day watching snow fall and talking to nobody, ending with good soup and stimulating television - la vie est belle.

And tonight, teaching starts at Ryerson - my course almost full - tomorrow the advanced course at U of T, and Thursday my home class. My cup runneth etc.

From my daughter:
I couldn't agree more.
And as your final treat, here's my grandson on Saturday, eating hot chocolate with a spoon. Love is.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Cousin George Gordin

This dreadful January continues to cut a cruel swath through the world. I found out earlier today about the death of an old friend, Jerry Franken - and I've just received a phone call to tell me that my first cousin once removed, George Gordin, has died in Washington D. C. I had not seen Jerry in some time, but I remember vividly the summer of 1970 when we met in Halifax, he a talented, fiercely idealistic young American actor and I, 19, working backstage at Neptune Theatre. Though the subsequent years were hard on Jerry, the last years particularly, he had many friends and admirers, including some of my closest friends, who loved him deeply, always.

I am devastated at the loss of George, even though he was in his late eighties; he was in great shape until recently, and his twin sister Caryl, who called me, is still going strong. As far as I know, Caryl and George were the last remaining grandchildren of Jacob Gordin, my great-grandfather the "Jewish Shakespeare," the subject of my first book. George was a lawyer, a man of erudition and taste with a beautifully decorated apartment full of great art, including a small sculpture by Rodin. He travelled extensively and once a year took his sister on a trip or a cruise somewhere in the world. I visited him twice in Washington, when he took me to several museums and good restaurants, and was going to try to get down there again. It comforted me to know that such a gentleman, an old man wise in the ways of the world, was somewhere out there and cared about me. He avidly followed my travels and read all my articles and books with succinct comments on each; but he was not a fan of his grandfather, and when I spoke in Washington about my book on our mutual relative, he did not attend. We became true friends with great mutual respect - at least, my respect for him was enormous. A huge loss for Caryl, for his extended American family and his friends, and for me.
George in September 2008, taking me and two of his nephews for dinner in Washington. This is as wide a smile as he ever gave.

Just in time, as I'm contemplating all the losses of this brutal month - and my friend Wayson, mourning one of his dearest friends - and my friend Lynn, whose daughter just moved to Burkina Faso to work, having to wait hours to learn that she was not harmed in the terrorist attacks that just took place there - a world spiralling out of control, it seems, and it's January, forlorn and bitterly cold - I found this moving film on Facebook, an interview with Maurice Sendak. "I'm in love with the world," he says. "It's a blessing to get old, to find the time to read books and listen to music. I cry a lot because I miss people. They leave me and I love them more. There are so many beautiful things in the world I'll have to leave when I die. Live your life. Live your life. Live your life."

I will try, Maurice. Today, talking to Eli about one of his friends, Finn, who's a bit rough, which upsets my grandson. "But Finn is already four," I said, "older than you, so maybe that's why he's a bit stronger," and we discussed how age makes a difference. "And how old am I, Eli?" I asked.
"Four and a half," he said.

Fine by me.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Bowie gets it

Now I am feeling profound regret that I didn't appreciate this fine man earlier. Here's an interview David Bowie did with a British journalist in 1999 - brilliant! He understands the internet in a way the man he's talking to obviously does not. "It's just a delivery system," says the guy. "It's an alien life form," says Bowie, going on to say we haven't even begun to understand the changes it will bring to our society. He's funny, clever, thoughtful - wonderful. Stay till the end when he talks about meeting Tony Blair.

My grandson is here, asleep upstairs. His baby brother was sick yesterday, his mama and his dad were dealing with a lot, so Eli is welcome here. My house is upside down and my heart is full. We spent a good deal of time, after his bath, playing with Giraffey and Hippo in bed; Giraffey likes bananas and Hippo likes grass. We played with the double-decker bus and the London taxi; the big car and the big backhoe he'd taken into the bathtub with him were wrapped in a towel by the bed.  I told him that his Uncle Sam used to sleep in this very same room when he was only three; Eli's eyes widened. "Were you an adult then too?" he asked. "Barely," I wanted to reply, but didn't.

Speaking about people who are barely adult, my friend Gretchen just sent an article from a website called Rightwing Watch in which the loathsome Ann Coulter is quoted as saying that God has sent Donald Trump to save America and therefore the world. I'm sure it's just a joke. LOL, as they say. LOL, Ann Coulter. LMFAO.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Alan Rickman

Oh no! As I wrote, I was sorry to hear about David Bowie's death but not profoundly moved. I was sorry to hear about the deaths of William Needles and Brian Bedford, two wonderful actors who graced the stage at Stratford for many years.

But this death makes me deeply sad. There was a time I wanted to marry this man and Googled to find out his marital status. He was already married, darn it. To a woman he'd been with for nearly 50 years. In show business, that is more than a record, it's a miracle.
Alan Rickman, only 69, such a wonderful sense of humour, so sublimely unforgettable in Sense and Sensibility, and particularly as the malevolent and sly Snape in Harry Potter. Too sad.

What's going on, January? Enough already!

fab gear

I cannot help sharing this - to show what success as a writer looks like. LOL. FB just sent this about the page set up for All My Loving, my memoir. Imagine, my page visits are down 100%! My weekly total reach down 50%. And someone Un-liked the page. My poor sweet book. Oh well. Only one word for this: sigh.
nsights For Your Page
See All Insights
Page Visits01↓100.0%
Weekly Total Reach12↓50.0%
People Engaged00↑0.0%
Total Page Likes6768↓1.5%
The Facebook team

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


What a State of the Union address - so eloquent. Yes, some bullshit, but his call to the essential decency of Americans, for the engagement of citizens in its democratic process - inspiring. Now the Republican is responding and I have to turn off the TV - though while dissing Obama, she does also seem to be refuting Trump... Hmm. Amazing. A tiny ray of hope.

As someone tweeted:
I love . We were so lucky that someone this intelligent, elegant, down to earth and self aware wanted this job at all.

ROOM FOR RENT - pass it on

A gorgeous snowfall out there - I can appreciate it because I don't have to fly or drive anywhere. So I'll go for a walk and enjoy the thick white blanket.

I'm posting this in case someone out there can help: this year I am going to go away for my usual five week writing/eating/escaping winter retreat, not to Europe, but to Vancouver. I want to attend the Creative Non-Fiction Collective's AGM, which this year is in Banff at the end of April - I'll stop in on my way back. And I'm beginning to make a point of checking out other places I might consider, eventually, spending the winter, like Victoria and Vancouver. My dear Brucie has offered me his apartment in the West End, so I'll be gone from about March 24 to about April 26. Carol, my tenant and friend, will be here in her attic room, holding down the fort.

But I would like to rent out my room, if possible. Here's a huge, beautiful house in a great location, perfect for someone making a jaunt to Toronto who needs a temporary downtown place. Carol is kind, easy-going and private.

So: ROOM FOR RENT IN BEAUTIFUL CABBAGETOWN HOUSE, WEEKLY, MARCH 24 TO APRIL 26. Private bathroom, sole use of living room, shared kitchen. High-speed wifi, flat screen TV with cable etc.

Please let me know if you know someone who might be interested. I will send pictures and details.

And if you want to depress yourself on this snowy day, here's Gerry Caplan's article about Trump. Horrifying.
The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country. -Hermann Göring, Nazi military leader (12 Jan 1893-1946) 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Monday visit, Globes, Jobs and Bowie

Newly learned game with my grandson: He knocks on my back. "Knock knock," he says. "Who's there?" I say. "Eli," he says. "Eli who?" I say. Slight pause. "Eli," he says. We played that for quite a while.

"There's seals under my bed," he says. "They only come out when it's bedtime."
Lucky lucky Glamma. The hurricane family came to visit today, and though my house was trashed when they left, it was beyond wonderful to see them.

Here's another kind of beauty that tugs at my heart:
Brad and Ryan - little old Canadian Ryan, more than holding his own with a superstar - at the Golden Globes. Mmmm - Mr. Pitt is getting better looking as he ages, as some men and almost no women, SO UNFAIRLY, do. (Has he had work? Is not that brow supremely smooth for a father of six or however many they have? Gosling is nearly 20 years younger and looks the same age!) A crowd gathered here last night to watch Downton and some of the Globes before and after. After an hour or so of awards, I was thrilled to turn it off and go to bed, grateful the show has saved me hours of time - after last night, I've resolved never to watch the Oscars again. I thought Ricky Gervais was horrible (though sometimes funny), the speeches mostly inane, the whole thing lame, self-serving and faintly disgusting. Except for an occasional glimpse of a beautiful man or two, like these two and classy Brits like Eddie Redmayne and Mark Rylance - and beautiful Helen Mirren - it was a complete waste of time. And anyway, I disagreed with most of the awards and hadn't seen or heard of the others, maybe that's why I was so crabby. Anyway, enough. Who cares? Hollywood, just do your job and shut up.

The other night, a documentary on Apple's Steve Jobs - I didn't see it all but what I did see was shocking. I'd heard rumours before but hadn't heard details of what an unpleasant human being he could be - a brilliant, overbearing bully who was worth millions when he reluctantly agreed to pay $500 a month child support for his daughter - and worse, the devious, tax-evading corporate citizen that Apple, unlike Microsoft, continues to be. Almost made me want to trade in my Mac. Almost. But not quite. Please don't make me do it - I love this thing. It can't help who its father was. Jobs did do good in the world, creating this fantastic stuff, even if he was flawed. And aren't we all. But the tax avoidance is unforgivable, especially when compared with what Bill Gates has done with his billions.

I thought I'd be preparing for my first class at Ryerson tonight and at U of T tomorrow, but not till next week. A whole week more to sort out my life and get my own work done: a gift from the universe, which also provided a mighty cold day today. I'm grateful I don't have to go anywhere tonight. But the cold didn't bother a small young man this afternoon, who went outside joyfully to eat snow.

P.S. I feel I should comment about David Bowie, who died this morning, but I'm not sure what to say. The immediate outpouring of love and respect has shown me that I missed something important, but the fact is, I was not a fan. I wasn't a NON-fan, but his chameleon style, his androgyny and costumes just never hooked me, not remotely. Perhaps it's because he came into prominence in the Seventies when I was an actor unsure of my career and eventually trying to get out, trying to become my honest and real self rather than wearing costumes and makeup, so I just was not interested in a musician, however talented, who was constantly trying on new personae.

He was amazingly good at what he did, and I just saw his last video, Lazarus, which is mesmerizing and very brave. He was always mesmerizing and very brave, and I'm sorry I didn't open to him.

So young - 69. And so very well read.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

"Carol" and "The Danish Girl"

A day of pure self-indulgence - it was very mild but dark and gloomy, and I'm suffering from my usual January insomnia. It hits every year, I guess having to do with the lack of light, maybe thinking about the past year and the one to come - who knows? It means hours in the night, flipping from side to side. So I'm not much good till it passes. Luckily this morning, I had a haircut booked with my beloved Ingrid, like having coffee with a best friend who just happens to be cutting your hair really well as you chat and doesn't mind your bleary bloodshot eyes.

And then I decided to make a big push to get caught up with my movies, and rode my bike to the Varsity, where for free, thanks to the accumulated points on my Scene card, I saw Carol at 1.10 and then snuck into The Danish Girl at 3.10. I haven't done that before - I like to savour a good movie after I leave - but I'm so far behind in my films, the day called for emergency measures. And what excellent movies, both, beautifully shot and stunningly acted. What actors these mortals be! Rooney Mara, Alicia Vikander and the incredible Cate Blanchett and Eddie Redmayne - these people were born to be on camera, so natural are they as they work, so talented and so beautiful, all of them. I spent a gloomy afternoon in the movie theatre watching four gorgeous women make eyes at each other, only one of them was Eddie Redmayne.

Both highly recommended, but if I had to choose, I'd pick Carol - grittier, more powerful. And I was in New York in the Fifties myself, I was born there in 1950 and we visited often, so I wondered which of those atmospheric scenes I'd actually experienced though too young, of course, to remember. Both films about gender identity, the agony of swimming against the social current. The Danish Girl, wonderful as it is, feels like a crusader movie, pointing out and teaching with a bit too much weeping on the pretty sets, whereas Carol is a human story about love, which happens to be between two women at a time when that was not permitted.

I will carry them both with me - but I'd be surprised if either of them haunt me the way Room still haunts me. One of the things I think about at 4.30 a.m. is Room, the details, the unforgettable story. It will live in me for a long time. How lucky we are to have such phenomenal artistry on view a few blocks away, for just a few dollars. I LOVE GOOD MOVIES!

And now cooking and cleaning to Randy Bachman's music.

Here's an inspiring story for writers: Dr. Seuss' First Book Was Rejected By 27 Publishers. On His Way Home To Burn It, His Life Changed Forever

Thursday, January 7, 2016

New York Times loves Toronto

The New York Times has listed 50 places you should visit in 2016 - and Toronto is #7. Come one, come all. We're fun we're fab we're ... we're Hogtown no more. And the beautiful Gulf Islands off the coast of B.C. are there too. I guess I'll just have to visit them in 2016, if the New York Times tells me to.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

a note from a former student

I am immersed in the past - spent the morning connecting to myself in 1974 via stories, diaries and letters, and had the pleasure of tea this afternoon with an old friend whom I have not seen since about that year. What struck me most was how extremely glad I am to be more than 40 years older. Almost everything is so much better - except my skin and hair, my memory and my joints. But otherwise - WAAAAY BETTER.

Just got this email, below - heartening on a sunny but cold January day.
I took your course back in the winter of 2012 - which seems approximately forever ago - and during that semester you introduced us to the Globe and Mail's "Facts and Arguments" column, encouraging us to send in pieces. 

I finally sent in a short essay this past fall, and it is running on Monday, January 11th. I wanted to let you know and say thank you once again for teaching and encouraging and affirming me (and the others in our class). As I was writing and rewriting this piece, I often thought of different tidbits from the class - I cut out a runway, avoided unnecessary luggage I didn't have time to unpack, and limited my adverbs as much as I could. 

Your course continues to be a highlight in my creative history, and I hope I'm able to take another class with you in the future.

I'm glad it worked for her.

And here's a beautiful note from my dear friend Lani:
I see your vacation from blogging is over.You tried that once before, did you not?  And it didn't last long either. I wonder if it's like quitting smoking? I'm glad you're back at it - I love to know what's going on with you without having to bore you with what's going on with me - these one-way conversations with you are like an anchor for me.

Yes, it seems to be as hard as quitting smoking, except that blogging isn't quite as bad for the health. I love that this is an anchor for you, my Lan. The thing is - it's an anchor for me too. That's why I do it. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


I've mentioned that friends have started a Facebook page in the name of our beautiful, brilliant friend Robert Handforth, who died of AIDS in 1989. It has brought joy and profound sadness to remember him on-line with many others, as we all honour his memory. Yesterday I sent Constance, one of the women who founded the site, the article I wrote in the Globe about Robert, and she posted it on the site.

Beth Kaplan article about Robert 
Globe and Mail, March 23 2005

As I tell my students, you never know where your words will end up and what they will mean to the world.

Speaking of which, I saw another fine film today, another honouring a writer: Trumbo, about Dalton Trumbo, one of the screenwriters who survived the devastating blacklist in the Fifties in Hollywood and won two Oscars under an assumed name until the blacklist was broken. Not a perfect film, a bit plodding, but a great story, one I'm particularly interested in because of my family history - my father was a left-wing Jew in New York in the late Forties and wisely took a job in Canada rather than live through the hysteria. I have his files from the FBI, a huge stack of documents showing the amount of time and money wasted on just this one man - gumshoes, under the supervision of J. Edgar Hoover, interviewed everyone who might have known my dad including his high school teachers and the doormen and neighbours in the apartment buildings where his family lived during his teens. They continued to supervise every visit he made to the States in the early Fifties, at one point noting that he has grown a beard and is a supporter of the British National Health Service. Obviously an extremely dangerous radical. So absurd. A horrible time.

So, an important film about an important writer, which highlights those who buckled, like Edward G. Robinson, and those who did not, including one of the film's heroes, Kirk Douglas, who saw it recently at the age of 98 and was miffed that the director didn't cast him as himself. (He was joking). What matters in these kinds of films is not just understanding a vital piece of history but also forcing yourself to ask - what would I have done? Who knows?

correct dates of Beth's upcoming writing courses

The next term is nearly ready to begin - exciting! I've just realized, however, that I had the starting dates of both courses wrong in my own calendar, or perhaps both schools changed the dates, because I am sure I wrote down exactly what I was told. In any case, I hope this won't confuse or inconvenience any of you.

At U of T, my advanced course, Life Stories II (2288-008), starts Tuesday January 19 from 12.30 to 3 in Room 108 of the Continuing Studies building at 158 St. George St., and continues for eight weeks. This is a course for writers who have taken at least one course from me in the past, or who have sent samples of their work and received an okay from me personally.

At Ryerson, True to Life CWWR 336-IJO (4935) starts Monday January 18, from 6.30 to 9.15 p.m. and runs in Room 209 of the Victoria building right next to the Chang Centre on Victoria Street every Monday, except for Family Day, for nine weeks until Monday March 21.

Both courses are a definite go; neither is full yet, though the Ryerson course is filling fast.

I've thought for months that I start work next Monday and Tuesday, and now discover there's a whole extra week to tend to my own garden, before I start working with what others are planting. Kill that metaphor! I spent the morning beginning to go through stacks of my writing from the 70's and early 80's - fascinating. How grateful I am, once more, to the crazy woman who kept so many scraps of paper. I'd forgotten a great deal about her, but with her help, I see so much more clearly now who she was then. And, definitely, who she is no longer.

Though still sometimes, it seems, confused.

Monday, January 4, 2016

favourite male persons

First day of preschool - three mornings a week! With his best friend Marcus.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

"Room" - another must see

More treats - I'll have to stop seeing things or I'll burst with pleasure. Just went to see "Room." I'd avoided it - I read Emma Donohue's book quickly with the breath squeezed in my chest, the thought of seeing the story played out on the big screen was unbearable. But I've heard over and over how wonderful it is - and it is, absolutely beautiful, first rate. The story of a young woman imprisoned for seven years in a garden shed, who gives birth to a son and raises him there - and then what happens  to them next - is told with restraint and honesty, as was "Spotlight." Great acting - the child, played by Jacob Tremblay, is hauntingly good - and direction, great script by Donohue, all of it unforgettable. And shot in Toronto, with a small but important role for the great Tom McCamus and his kind, rumpled face.

As I rode my bike home, I felt as never before the fresh cold wind in my face, saw the bright sky above my head. Walking in my door - my home, safe and warm. What people survive is a miracle. I want to go across town and hug my daughter and her children and never let them go.

But they're busy. And so am I. Last night, "Adaptation" on television, the hilarious torture of being a writer - and tonight, a Downton party. Jean-Marc has cooked a feast from my favourite cookbook "Jerusalem" by Yotam Ottolenghi and his Palestinian partner; we'll dine there and then come here to watch Maggie Smith tear up the carpet.

Now, an hour or two to do some work. Oh yes - work. Time to get in gear. Onward.

new review of "All My Loving"

Wonderful review of the memoir on Goodreads from a Canadian writer living in Rome - thank you, Veronica Bell. Let's have a cappuccino next time I'm there.

Veronica Bell's Reviews > All My Loving: Coming of Age with Paul McCartney in Paris

's review
Jan 03, 16

it was amazing
Read in January, 2016

Lovely memoir! Anyone who was ever a teenage girl would enjoy this (and the author is a fellow Canadian). Being a Beatles fan might help, but it isn't necessary for one to be able to relate to this charming and honest look back. 
 ∙ flag

Saturday, January 2, 2016


Nothing but treats so far in 2016. Every year my Xmas present to my handyman and dear friend John and his wife Sylvie and young daughter Emilie is to take them to a show; today we went to Traces, at the Panasonic. It's spectacular, non-stop action, seven incredible young performers who all can bend in two backwards, play the piano, skateboard, throw basketballs, throw themselves through flimsy hoops and suspend themselves upside-down in midair. What's different is that they're in street clothes, not in fanciful Cirque du Soleil gear - so they look like ordinary people, only they're athletes-acrobats-dancers made of rubber and steel. A wonderful show, funny too. We all loved it.

They each tell us their name and weight and later there are even baby pictures, so we come to know them individually. One is Chinese, two Australian, one American and one French; the other two are Quebecois, as is the troupe itself. No Anglo-Canadians. Why are the Quebecois so good at circus acts and feats of acrobatics? An article in the Globe today about Canadian directors making good in Hollywood - Denis Villeneuve, Xavier Dolan (who directed the evocative video for Adele's Hello), Jean-Marc Vallee - French-Canadians working at the highest level. Makes me want to move to Montreal. I salute our Quebecois countrymen, so uniquely talented.

I went afterwards to the Y and tried to move my ancient limbs in an approximation ... no go. Ah well. It was great to watch. It's cold out there - but luckily there's art to keep us warm.



Sherlock! What heaven - a new show last night. Rave review today in the Guardian."Sherlock's back and it's fast, fun, flashy, fantastic." Such good writing, acting, production - funny, too, with lots of insider references, particularly to the fact that Conan Doyle wrote very little for women and the writers of this series have had to swell the female parts.

"I’m telling you – 2016 television is downhill from here on." Said the Guardian, and I agree. How can it get better than this? Except - Downton on Sunday! Viewing party planned with Jean-Marc and Richard. When TV is good, it's so good. The episode airs again on PBS, Sunday Jan. 10 at 10.
Here's the Sherlock review: 

Friday, January 1, 2016

"Al Purdy was here"

My tenant and friend Carol asked me, this morning, if I'd missed blogging, and I stared blankly at her. She had read my resolution to stop for two weeks, believed it and stopped reading! Ah well. I did try.

Today's treat: a thoughtful, moving, funny, beautifully made documentary at the Bloor, "Al Purdy was here," about one of Canada's great poets, and about a time in our young country when Can lit was beginning to bloom and poetry mattered. A time when there were great hairy priapic poets like Irving Layton, Leonard Cohen and the young Michael Ondaatje, and wild-haired eccentrics like Milton Acorn and Purdy - and a few courageous women like Margaret Atwood, who appears often in the film showing off her very dry wit (telling a story about Purdy peeing on her car, among other tales). The doc shows how Purdy nurtured young male poets in a way he could not care for his own two sons, one by his long-suffering, heroic wife with the magnificent name Eurithe, the living star of this film, and the other by a woman he left Eurithe for and married briefly. In a telling moment, Steve Heighton, a poet, tells of bringing his baby to visit Purdy and trying to put the babe in Purdy's arms. "Get that thing away from me!" was his response. Not a good dad, no, or husband, I'm sure, in many ways. But a cultural icon, a  hard-working, brave and crazy man of words at a time when writers could easily starve. As, hard-working, brave and crazy as ever, they still can.

There's lots of music in the film, weaving in the story of how Purdy's life and work continues to inspire young musicians and writers. Part of the tale is about his famous A-frame house on a lake in Prince Edward Country, and the successful effort to turn it into a writer's retreat. And a wonderful on-going bit: there's a bronze statue of Purdy in Queen's Park that has a mysterious Twitter handle - @statueofalpurdy - and tweets regularly, though the doc does not tell us who the posts come from.

I had thought, when I arrived at the Hot Docs Cinema, that a 2 p.m. New Year's day documentary about a dead Canadian poet would have an audience of seven people. But there was a huge crowd, many of them writers and artists - I saw playwrights, a biographer, an essayist and a novelist - though no poets, perhaps because I know very few and wouldn't recognize them. It made me proud to be a small part of that world, Canlit today in its many forms. In one of the last moments of the film, Purdy asks why people waste time building skyscrapers when they could be writing poetry. And at the end of this powerful documentary, we understand what he means. All I wanted to do, as I left, was to go home and write a poem. Instead, here I am, blogging to you.

If you're interested in writing, in Canada, in a fascinating life well lived, see this film.

Here's an excerpt of the poem by Milton Acorn, Al Purdy's good friend, that appears at the beginning of my book about writing, True to Life:

Nevertheless I'm a gift
Offered with no conditions
To you. Since I damn well exist
You do too.

Before I leave you - the last night for Christmas leftovers, and then a PBS special showing of Sherlock, what joy, set in the 1890's - I'd like to go on a bit about last year. About what, in the spirit of Oliver Sacks, I'm grateful for. So much. So much.
Family: busy healthy children, busy healthy older grandson, a new grandson who's healthy - yes, a wonky foot, soon fixed by our free health care system. I could not be more grateful for this.
Health: finding out I do not have osteoporosis any more. Amazing. More cheese please.
Friends: visiting all my nearest and dearest this year, not just the dear ones in Toronto, but Lynn and Denis in France, Penny in England and Hawaii, Patsy and Shari visiting here from B.C., Margaret and Chris in Vancouver, Bruce in Vancouver and Italy - thank you, brilliant fellow traveller - Lani here for my birthday. Wonderful friends.
Travel - Europe, Vancouver, Hawaii. Next year Vancouver, maybe New York, who knows?
Politics - in the madness that is our world, the election of a decent, sane, kind-hearted man. It seems a miracle and I know difficult times will come. But for now, my country beams.
Art - film, painting, dance, music - and words. Words words words. For all I've absorbed this year of the inspiring and beautiful work of my fellow artists, especially writers - thank you.

Thank you. And now this non-blogger is going to have a glass of wine and put her feet up for the night.

the wisdom of Oliver Sacks

A book of essays by the beautiful doctor Oliver Sacks, "Gratitude," has recently been published. He's contemplating his life in light of his terminal cancer diagnosis. Here's an excerpt, as your New Year's day present. My sentiments exactly, Dr. Sacks. Thank you for everything you were and gave.

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 travelled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

The special intercourse of writers and readers - how well put. And here we are, you and I. Onward into 2016, my dear friends.