Monday, February 29, 2016

John Oliver on Donald Drumpf

My new great love: John Oliver. This is a must-watch. Stay till the end - it's glorious. Thank you, John!

Oscars and Kaplan, Louisiana

Final thoughts on the Oscars - I was thrilled about "Spotlight." My dear friend and cleaning lady Marisha is here, she's Polish Catholic, and she just told me she doesn't believe all the stories about abuse by priests. I told her to SEE THIS FILM. So glad that "The Revenant" didn't win. Glad about Brie Larsen - Oscar loves actresses who bravely do a role without makeup, and in any case, she was wonderful - about Leo who made a great speech, about most of it except the incessant harping about race.

I propose a revolutionary new hashtag and cause for next year - allowing women to be as comfortably dressed as men. Those poor actresses with their breasts hanging out - what's with that, every single dress with décolleté down to the navel? And of course the shoes, women tottering onto the stage, hanging for dear life onto the guy at their side... #letthemwalk. #letthembreathe. Any takers?

My friends Richard and Jean-Marc are in Louisiana. I asked them to go to the fair town of Kaplan, Louisiana, which I visited once. They didn't get there, but they sent this:
Jean-Marc talked to local people - in French, as there are many descendants of the Acadians, and he's one too - and was told the Kaplans were the only Jews in Kaplan, a town 99% Catholic. But apparently that was not a problem. Nice that somewhere, race and religion were not a problem, though I'd never imagined it would be in Louisiana.

And another note, from a writer who has done it before though not this time, about So True: Once again you have delivered a very moving experience of truth: well written and well told. The stories were all very moving including your first precious experience of the fear and joys of motherhood. I applaud the courage of the writers in expressing their truth and the craft of the teacher/editor who draws out the most important bits and guides the writers to produce the best versions of their story.

Thank you for the forum but especially for the enthusiasm and kindness which allow the writer to feel secure enough to share their most intimate thoughts and experiences.

So very well done!

Definitely - my Oscar. 

So True pix

Chris Hutcheson is a photographer for the Canadian Opera Company - but as a friend of my student Ingrid, who read yesterday, he came to photograph So True. Wonderful photos of everyone but me, as usual - last time we had a group So True shot, I was also lifting my giant chin to look at the sky. However, here's this fabulous bunch of writers and yours truly doing her thing, as we used to say:

Jason, Sam, Bruno, Ingrid, Beth, Grace, Maureen, Wendy, Simone

Sunday, February 28, 2016

So True and Oscars, together at last

Yes, I confess, I am watching the Oscars - WHILE EMAILING AND BLOGGING during the commercials so it's okay. After So True this afternoon, I was a basket case, and this is perfect, mucho schlock and glitter. The nice guy that just won for "Inside Out" told kids that if they feel sad or scared growing up, you can't control that but you can always make stuff. "Make stuff! Make movies, art, write!" YAY! Someone says something meaningful! So far there has been exactly ONE mention of the American election - I thought there would be Trump jokes galore and only Andy Serkin has mentioned him. Enough with the black stuff already - let's talk about loathsome lunatics loose in the world and gaining power.

Now the Weeknd (HATE misspelling it but that's his choice) is on - a talented Toronto boy with his strange clump of hair, like a large Brillo pad on the side of his head, singing in front of 900 million people.

The So True show is always so exhausting that half way through I say to myself, maybe I should stop doing this. I care deeply about the writers, about the show itself, the way it all comes together. This morning one of the writers who has struggled with serious issues in his life dropped out, and I asked our trusty and ultra-charming MC Jason Allen to look in his files for a replacement story, which he did, two hours before the show. The readings were wonderful, the stories rich, funny, achingly true.

And then I stand up and somehow sum it all up and tell a story of my own, and though apparently it doesn't show, I am a nervous wreck. It's hard. But they tell me it works. I'm not sure they're telling the truth, but people say nice things, as did one of my current students who read today.

Thank you so much for today. For your leadership, your intellect, your sensitivity, and your faith in your writers; for your faith in me. I can't begin to explain how my life has changed since I began your class. I remember reviewing the course outlines and the teacher profiles and feeling: hmmm, this looks like a good fit. Little did I know that it would reopen a part of me that had been closed off for years; bring it out into the light of day.

I'm so grateful for the experience, and for your beautiful story of "arrival". No notes, perfect depiction of new motherhood, and spot-on do you do it?

Makes me feel like an Oscar winner myself! I am proud of you all. Thank you for being there, writers and audience alike. 

Now here's Mark Rylance, one of the best actors in the world, and a beautiful, gracious, generous speech. I'd expect no less, though when he won two Tony awards in NYC, he recited weird poems. Not tonight. Louis C.K. is spot on as usual. The head of the Academy, who just happens to be a black woman, quotes Martin Luther King as she begs Hollywood to make films more diverse - as if that's the most important issue facing people of colour in the U.S. today. This whole thing is nuts. If Donald Trump is elected President and the world blows up, who will care what colour film stars are?

Dave Grohl sings one of Macca's masterpieces, very beautiful. Little Jacob Tremblay - what an amazing kid that is. On we go.  Gaga and gang - pretty amazing. Wow! Oscar is dipping into meaning. There's hope.

Friday, February 26, 2016

our first Photo Laureate

I love Toronto! It has named old friend Geoffrey James as its first "Photo Laureate". What a great idea. Bravo, Geoffrey. I won't tell the city fathers how reluctant you were some years ago to leave your beloved Montreal for our fair city, which, it seems to me, has more than made your move worthwhile.

Yesterday, I had a check-up with my doctor, the first in a few years. She checks my blood pressure, palpitates my breasts for abnormalities, inspects in and out, asks piercing questions. And at the end: no problem. No problem for now. Blood tests coming up, more tests in store in future, I'm sure - but I could not be more grateful for the moment when she says, "You're in good shape." Especially because my dad died of cancer when he was exactly the age I am now.

Then I picked 3 new books up from the library, had a telephone chat with my nearly 96-year old aunt, cooked a delicious recipe from the NYT - salmon in a sauce of leeks and tomatoes - and hosted a rehearsal for So True, eight writers, two who've done it before and six new to the process, bringing their best game, their most powerful stories, to practice reading in front of an audience before Sunday's event. I was very proud of them all.

I am going to try to shut the American election out of my field of vision, because it's just too excruciating - and the Oscars too, phooey on you, stupid Revenant, which the New Yorker reviewer called the "Donald Trump of the best picture nominees."

Today was cold but the sun was shining hot. Thank you, thank you to the gods of health, work and sunshine.

a new fan

Linda wrote to me, "There were so many little similarities in the book that I shared - from the TV shows we watched, to disdain for the Dave Clark Five,  to being French kissed for the first time (one gets used to it a few years later!) Thank you for writing this book, Beth….it took me on one hell of a nostalgic ride."

All My Loving: Coming of Age with Paul McCartney in Paris

's review
Feb 25, 16

really liked it
Read from February 10 to 24, 2016

This book was almost like living in a parallel universe with the author. As teenage Beatles fans, author Beth Kaplan and I hold some remarkable similarities. We both loved Paul McCartney, were both daughters of Brit war brides who came to North America -- my mum married a Canadian soldier and ended up in New Brunswick, Beth's mother married a U.S. soldier and ended up living in Halifax, N.S. where her dad taught at Dalhousie U. The father figure made the mother figure cry a lot and was judgmental of the daughter. The family even had a Morris Minor car...which was our first car in Canada. (Piece of merde that it was). The pages are filled with all the teenage angst of unrequited love, actually seeing The Beatles for the first time in person (I flew from Saint John to Toronto for the concert in 1966), the thrill of being at a live concert, sharing magazines and records with girlfriends and so on. A time of first kisses, mixed feelings, thinking you are not popular or might be ugly, and all the other stuff that goes with being a teenage girl who has her swoon-on for a dishy this case Paul McCartney. At one point, Beth's family moved to France for a year and she had to adapt to life in the world of French academia. I moved schools too - between the UK and Canada, not quite as exotic. Memories of buying the first Beatles album, clipping every item out of the newspaper that mentioned their names, writing fantasy letters to the favorite Beatle (so many girls really did that). I actually wasn't one of those...instead I tried to write like John Lennon from his book In His Own Write. Kaplan's description of her teen life with Paul McCartney as the soundtrack was a book I could not put down, because I almost felt as if I had written it! Or should have....if I wasn't so lazy.
 ∙ flag

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

So True this Sunday at 4.30

REMINDER: fabulous storytelling/reading event this Sunday. Eight breathtaking stories and then your hostess will tell a tale. The bar is open, the atmosphere is charged and warm, and there, in front of you, brave, talented people tell you the most important stories of their lives. Unforgettable.

And you'll be home in time for Oscar.

hooray for Michael Coren

My friend Richard just sent me a link to an article by Michael Coren. I've written about him before - previously an intolerant, right-wing blowhard, and now - well, here is my note to him, after reading this heartening article:
Michael, your conversion was so startling and so spectacular, I thought you must have a family member, one of your children or a sibling or at the very least a very close friend who came out to you and forced you to see the brutal intolerance of your and the church’s position. The fact that it was simply human decency that brought you around brings much hope. It reminds me of the extraordinary story of the young women who left the Westboro Baptist Church. 

Let us hope many more follow your path to tolerance, openness and kindness.

He sent back his thanks and spoke about the hate mail he and his family have received. Horrifying.

On a happier note, here, for your viewing pleasure, the children of Downton, twin Georges and a Sibby:
Such heaven on Sunday, the best show yet, exquisite, so rich and full and glorious. Yes, no question, Julian Fellowes is rushing to tie up all the story arcs; for Mary to get married so quickly after holding out for most of the series - hmmm. Her rejected beau just happened to have the license and she just happened to have an ivory wedding-type dress in her tiny wardrobe? No matter. And what we had foreseen for Barrow came to pass, no surprise there. 

But all of it is just so much fun, so beautifully done. The classroom scenes - only a few minutes, yet every detail, even the children's faces, not to mention desks, costumes, props - perfect. Delicious.

Last night I watched Samantha Bee's new show, Full Frontal, for the second time. Sometimes on the Daily Show, Sam was a bit silly and profane, but I love her solo show, full of heart and courage. She actually went to a refugee camp in Jordan and manages to make us and the refugees laugh, even while making powerful points about the injustice of what's happening in the world. Brava, Sam. 

And the winter continues pretty mild. No complaints here.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

"Betroffenheit" and justice on Vinyl Tap

I gather from friends who've emailed and sent messages via Twitter and FB that a letter I wrote to Randy Bachman was read during his Vinyl Tap show last night. I was out at a party but will listen tonight when the show airs again. In a show last fall, Randy talked about the Beatles as "John Lennon's band," and I could not let that pass. So I wrote to respectfully disagree, that it was the perfect balance of Macca and Lennon that made the band what it was, and apparently Randy, after reading my letter on air, said that he agreed. Yay! One more strike for justice in our land.

I have just come back from seeing a great work of art, and I don't say that lightly, just as I do not often jump to my feet applauding wildly. But today I did. Betroffenheit is breathtaking. From the Globe review: 
Betroffenheit is a German word that doesn’t translate well. It means a sort of confluence of shock, speechlessness, emotional stasis and confusion. This sense of ineffability is at the crux of the play, which centres on a man (Young) in the grips of PTSD. He’s tortured by the memory of a horrific accident, reeling with loss, drowning in guilt. We’re catapulted into the disorder of his thoughts and feelings, which find external articulation in electronic sound, light, shadow and text.
One of the key refrains is the protagonist’s attempt to “come to terms” with the tragedy, and the play brilliantly interrogates the illusoriness and desperation of this pursuit. How can you come to something that exists in the past? What terms can possibly mitigate disaster?
The author and star of the play, Jonathon Young, lost his daughter and two of her cousins in a cabin fire; he was asleep nearby. The play, in a mixture of words and dance, explores shock and grief, drug addiction and guilt and at the end, with a slight lift, the music moving for once to a major chord, the dancer almost a kind of lightness, it offers for the first time a sense of hope. The dancing is extraordinary, five of the best dancers I've ever seen anywhere, the choreography by Crystal Pite brilliant. Stunning stunning stunning.
Emotionally intense and unsettling as it often is, this gripping and visually arresting production exemplifies what can happen when theatre and dance combine to achieve what neither could accomplish alone. And, given its provenance in the personal tragedy that changed Jonathon Young’s life forever, it stands as a testament to the redemptive power of art.

the Abigail Thomas Fan Club

It's a glorious day, warmish and bright; I am sitting outside right now to write - February, where are you? This morning I went for a walk on the Don Valley Trail, and on the way back, passed a mother with her two children, a daughter of about 12 and a son of about 9. "Mum! Mum! Look at this!" the boy cried, and when I turned around, he was showing her something on the ground. They were holding hands.

I was overwhelmed, for a brief moment. Once upon a time, that was me, with a 12 year old daughter and a 9 year old son. It was a terrible time in my life, newly divorced, terrified, exhausted, overwhelmed. But somehow, we got through. I visited that daughter yesterday, spent the afternoon with her and Eli's dad Thomas and the boys - those shining boys. Today, she has a special treat - a friend who works for Porter is flying her to Montreal for the day, while her sons spend the day with Thomas and her best friend Holly. "All I want to do is eat smoked meat at Schwartz's," she said, though I'm sure there will be lots of other things to do. Her appetite for life, and, yes, for smoked meat, is immense. She is a generous, capable, strong, contented woman, and her children reflect that.

We got through.

 His skunk bicycle "hemoot"

I have fallen in love with a writer - Abigail Thomas, author of the memoirs "Three Dog Life" and the newer one "What happens next and how to like it," which I have from the library. Her voice is instantly compelling, breathtakingly honest, funny, rueful. You are at her kitchen table as the ups and downs hit her. "Three Dog Life" was voted one of the best books of 2006, and yet when I went to Indigo to buy it - must own this book and the new one too - it was unavailable.  For a moment, I thought - what's the point, if a book of this calibre falls off the radar, why am I bothering to write anything at all? But I got over that, went home and ordered some of her other books from the library, will buy a bunch of them from Amazon, and was cheered to find out that "Life" may be made into a movie. So her day will come. Whether she likes it or not.

And now - as I sit here in a t-shirt marvelling at the sun - more pleasures in store on this Sunday. I will ride my bike to see the dance theatre piece Betroffenheit, which has had rave reviews around the world, and tonight, Wayson is coming with Chinese food and we'll watch the penultimate Downton.

This describes just how I feel.

Doonesbury nails it as usual

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

"the unicorn platform"

I've always blamed Ronald Reagan (and to a slightly lesser degree Margaret Thatcher) for the rightward slide of our world; under their leadership, taxes became the bad word of the century instead of a necessary evil of a fair and just society, and the huge rise in income inequality began. Recently, arguing with a wealthy friend, I heard it all again: I'd gladly pay taxes, he said, if I knew my money was being well spent instead of squandered. That's been the tax avoiding excuse of the rich for decades.

Well, here's the renowned Thomas Piketty in Le Monde, no less, making it all clear. It's not a long article, but it explains what Bernie Sanders really means - the first ray of light in the benighted American system since Reagan slashed taxes and the minimum wage, inviting the rich to get criminally richer and shoving the whole planet far to the right. Son of a bitch.

Though as Paul Krugman stated recently in the NYT:
Even the incremental changes Hillary Clinton is proposing are very unlikely to get through Congress; the radical changes Bernie Sanders is proposing wouldn’t happen even if Democrats retook the House. O’Brien says that the Democratic primary is “like arguing what’s more real: a magical unicorn or a regular unicorn. In either case, you’re still running on a unicorn platform.” 


Thanks to Kerry Clare whose blog of Pickle Me This is on the left, I discovered Laura Vanderkam, a time management guru. She suggests keeping track of your hours to see what actually fills the 168 hours in your week. So I downloaded the "168 Hour time management spreadsheet" from her website and will try to fill it in this week, in 15 minute increments. Unfortunately my time management scribbles for yesterday, when I began, are nearly illegible. But I think it will show me how much time I spend sitting here trolling through FB or reading the NYT or ... or blogging. I used to write personal essays that I sold to the newspapers or the CBC; now I blog for hours, for free. I wonder if it's the best use of my time. YES I DO WONDER THAT. And Laura Vanderkam I'm sure will have something to say about that too. 7 p.m.-7.30: blogging.

We are in deepest winter now, but even after yesterday's pretty snowfall which quickly turned to slush, nothing like Ottawa - more than 51 centimetres of snow, a record. 51 centimetres! I wonder about the poor Syrian refugees who were sent to Ottawa. They must think they're on the moon.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Maybe 3 times a year, I have a dream so powerful that I remember it when I wake up. When that happens, I do my best to write it down before it vanishes. Wrote this this morning:

Dream – packing for a trip, a bit frantic, getting everything into a small suitcase, and Anna is helping me. Though there’s panic, it’s pleasant too, I’m going home and I’m looking at things I love as I put them in the suitcase. But there’s a sadness – I’m packing my teddy bear which has been damaged. The head has been torn off and is all that remains. Anna tries to fix the situation – she finds a hairy bear’s body that will fit and attaches it. But it’s the wrong fur, wrong colour and texture, and I say I’d rather just have the head than have my bear with the wrong body.

I find other things at the last minute – my thick mauve sweater – and yet there’s lots of room to put them in. I’m aware of the pressing deadline of the departure and the fact that Anna will be making the same journey herself later and will have a lot more things to carry, and I won’t be there to help her.

Have been thinking a lot about death recently – read the book “The thing about life is that one day you’ll be dead.” A dear elderly friend has told me he’s got early stage dementia and lots of changes will be in store. I think this dream is connected to that – to my eventual final journey without my daughter.

Sitting here on a quiet Tuesday morning, the snow falling, the furnace rumbling, the coffee warming my belly – my daughter’s new happiness with the father of her son, my son’s adventures, my own - oh I do not want to leave this life.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Downton yes, Vinyl no, John Oliver forever

Record cold on Valentine's Day - the coldest since the 1800's. The kind of cold that when you go out, your eyeballs burn. But luckily, besides buying some groceries for my dinner party, I didn't have to go out. Wayson came over with roses, JM and Richard brought dark chocolate ... love.

How wonderful it is to have friends for dinner on a cold dark winter night. Jean-Marc and Richard, Gretchen and Jack came; I roasted two chickens with lemon, rosemary and veggies, and made my favourite Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, parsnips and sweet potatoes in a caper vinaigrette. Fresh bread, very good red wine, lots of animated talk - G and J are ex-pat Americans and Richard is a politics junkie, so major discussion about the current situation down south.

And then, after dessert - Downton, the most delicious treat of all. So much fun, however clunky it is - didn't we KNOW something was going to go wrong with those cars? Tom's girl has obviously appeared - an editor, no less, a working girl after my own heart for that sweet man. Everyone's plot line is settling into place except poor Barrow, such dark clouds for him. Is he meant to show us that not everything in life resolves neatly? I do hope there's a tiny bit of happiness for Barrow. Only two more shows, how I'll miss our Sunday gatherings.

We watched the new HBO show Vinyl afterwards - directed by Scorsese with input from Mick Jagger, about the rock world in the Seventies. I hated it, despite the great music - loathsome people behaving loathsomely, who needs it? There's enough of that on the news. Won't watch again. And then John Oliver at 11 - another treat to watch him eviscerate Republicans. Never enough of that.

Today two more Valentines - one, I loaded the huge stack of dishes from last night into the new dishwasher and, with trepidation, ran it for the first time. It worked. The dishes were clean, even the cutlery, a treat I haven't enjoyed for a long time. Imagine, a new machine that actually works!

And then a present in the mail from Lynn in France - a bag she ordered for me and a beautiful sparkly necklace. I am feeling the love. It's milder too, not so viciously cold. There are leftovers. There's wine. I played the Bach aria I've been practicing without as many mistakes, and it floods my heart with joy. Family Day today and I'm solitary, talking to no one, not even family. That's good too.

Hope your days, yesterday and today's holiday, were full of warmth and the gifts of friendship. And here's my gift to you - a beautiful song from a beautiful man:

Sunday, February 14, 2016

no mourning for Scalia

I do not often celebrate when someone dies. But Scalia - as the Onion put it,

Justice Scalia Dead Following 30-Year Battle With Social Progress. 

And as I put it, Woo hoo! Here's my heart at the news:
Instead, I felt this:
Like Jon Stewart dancing with basketball friends in Toronto. 

The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead

Woke up this morning to find no water in the taps; the pipes froze overnight. The coldest night of the year - minus 40, someone said, though that's perhaps a bit exaggerated. I have managed to scrabble enough water to brush my teeth, and there was water in the coffee machine so have had coffee. Moved eight boxes in the basement to get to the pipes and rigged up both a heater and a hair dryer aimed at them. More than an hour - still no water. I had plans but have to stay here until there's water - concern that the pipes will burst.

I am not feeling a happy valentinesey feeling. I am feeling very alone in a huge house that I cannot cope with. Yesterday, I spent two hours with my young helper Grace, just going through boxes and boxes of family photographs inherited from my mother and others. There is so much stuff in this house, it's ridiculous; I'm drowning in it, in my to-do lists. A very old four-story house with vast garden is too much for one incompetent woman. There are times that I like being alone very much, and then there are times when I do not like it at all, and this is one of them. It would be nice to share this load occasionally.

Okay, that's enough self-pity. Luckily, both tenants are away today so it's only me inconvenienced. And anyway, I do share the load of this house with my dear handyman and friend John, who unfortunately and so selfishly has his own life and is away today. He was here much of yesterday installing the new dishwasher and fixing the smoke alarm downstairs, which beeped at top volume for an hour because, John discovered when he disconnected it, it was inexplicably full of water.

My former handyman Len once told me I must have offended the water gods in a previous life. I'm sorry, water gods, for whatever I did to offend you - very very sorry.

Jon Stewart is in Toronto! There's some kind of big basketball thingie happening and he was here, in a Toronto at its most inhospitable. Sorry, Jon. Please come back when the weather is tolerable, as it has been all winter until now.

In other news - I finished a wonderful book called "The thing about life is that one day you'll be dead," by David Shields, who's one of the leaders in the world of creative non-fiction. It's a hilarious, fascinating and moving book which combines hard scientific facts about the biology and psychology of living and dying with the personal story of David's extraordinary father, aged 97.

The book thrilled me by mentioning that his Yiddish-speaking dad went to see a production of "Der Vilder Mensch" - the Wild Man, one of my great-grandfather Jacob Gordin's plays. So I looked up David Shields's email address and wrote him a fan note, telling him how much I enjoyed his last book "Reality Hunger" and this one, and about Gordin, and would he like to read my book about him? Less than one minute later, I kid you not, David wrote back. I am sending him my book and the memoir too, since his wife is a Paul McCartney fan. I love the internet.

Here's a few passages from David's book:

Woody Allen: I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen. I would rather live on in my apartment.”

A priest, a minister and a rabbi are discussing what they’d like people to say after they die and their bodies are on display in open caskets.
The priest says, “I’d like someone to say, ‘He was righteous, honest, and generous.’”
The minister says, “I’d like someone to say, ‘He was kind and fair, and he was good to his parishioners.’”
The rabbi says, “I’d want someone to say, ‘Look, he’s moving.’” 

WATER! A sudden burst from the taps! I can wash! I can rinse dishes! I can play with my new dishwasher! Oh the marvels of life! HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

noise bylaw - URGENT!

I could not feel more strongly about this: noise pollution is one of the great crimes of our city lives. Please read and respond immediately, Toronto bloggees. 

The City is about to change the Noise Bylaw — and not in our favour. It proposes to allow noise inside our homes from an outside source (amplified music, construction, clubs, etc.) at 85 dBA from 7 am to 11 pm. That is equal to a snow blower running all day in your home. ( New York City’s dBA limit for homes is 42 dBA.
  Noise SourceDecibel
 Decibel Effect
Boeing 737 or DC-9 aircraft at one nautical mile (6080 ft) before landing (97 dB); power mower (96 dB); motorcycle at 25 ft (90 dB). Newspaper press (97 dB).904 times as loud as 70 dB. Likely damage in 8 hour exposure.
Garbage disposal, dishwasher, average factory, freight train (at 15 meters). Car wash at 20 ft (89 dB); propeller plane flyover at 1000 ft (88 dB); diesel truck 40 mph at 50 ft (84 dB); diesel train at 45 mph at 100 ft (83 dB). Food blender (88 dB); milling machine (85 dB); garbage disposal (80 dB).802 times as loud as 70 dB. Possible damage in 8 hour exposure.
Passenger car at 65 mph at 25 ft (77 dB); freeway at 50 ft from pavement edge 10 a.m. (76 dB). Living room music (76 dB); radio or TV-audio, vacuum cleaner (70 dB).70Arbitrary base of comparison. Upper 70s are annoyingly loud to some people.

The current General Prohibition protecting residents from being disturbed in their homes will be removed, and replaced with very high decibel limits that must be measured by a trained Municipal Licensing and Standards bylaw officer with calibrated equipment.  MLS bylaw officers are few, and never on call. The chances of getting good evidence are extremely low, so that effective reduction of a neighbour’s troubling noise is unlikely to occur.  

Many downtown areas share our problems, mostly from amplified sound and construction noise. We urge you strongly to insist on keeping the old bylaw, which protects residents from being disturbed in their own homes and allows them to present evidence of disturbance. The health effects of this amount of noise are considerable: 85 dBA is on the cusp of where hearing damage can occur, and prolonged noise at this level can affect health and, indeed, longevity. Provincial legislation limits the noise at point of reception — such as your home — to 50 dBA. The City now asks us to live with 85 dBA, which is 12 times the 50 dBA on a calibrated scale!

At present, the General Prohibition (591-1) protects residents from being disturbed in their own homes at all hours, whatever the source or decibel (DBa) level, and allows them to present evidence of disturbance. It should not be replaced by noise measurements which are difficult to obtain and may not protect our peace at home.  We strongly believe that the General Prohibition is an exemplary protection for the public which should stand and not be removed.

You have until Feb. 15, 2016 to add your voice. Here are the City documents:

Feel free to use this content in your protest:
  • I strongly protest the proposed changes to the City Noise Bylaw. I request that the General Prohibition (591-1), which protects residents from being disturbed in their own homes at all hours, and allows them to present evidence of disturbance, remain unchanged.
  • No multiple noise exemptions can be granted to concert venues, but must be granted one by one and be approved by the local city councillor.
Send your email or letter to:
Jessica Walters
Senior Policy and Research Officer
Municipal Licensing and Standards
City Hall, 100 Queen Street West, West Tower, 16th Floor
Toronto, ON, M5H 2N2

Please share this information with others.

You can speak to this issue at the next public meeting by Municipal Licensing and Standards on February 17th, 2016 from 6:30pm to 8:30pm at City Hall, 2nd Floor, Committee Room 1

Thursday, February 11, 2016

being rich

My daughter sent me this:
I agree, though I don't think those are the ONLY two things to fight for. But they both matter. Of course, I get almost all my books from the library, but if there's an expensive book I really want - a Yotam Ottolenghi cookbook, for example, which is both beautiful and useful - I buy it. And since I'm on contract, I go in to work, do my job and leave - almost no meetings, no colleagues, no office politics. Where do I encounter assholes? Through the stories of my students and my children, on-line,  in the neighbourhood, on the streetcar. And then I move right along.

So according to this bon mot, I am rich. Even on this bitterly cold day - minus 20 with the windchill, they said - Wayson came over and drove me around to do errands in his car, and the sun was hot and bright. Rich.

Another sign of vast wealth - my dishwasher broke, and I bought another one, just like that. They say dishwashers last ten years and mine is ten years old, practically to the day. So I spent hours yesterday sitting in my chair reading Consumer Reports online, then checking websites of stores, then more consumer websites - had a notebook full of jottings, got more and more confused. Then, after supper, I saw a sale on a Bosch machine recommended by Consumer Reports, $400 off if I bought by the end of the sale, which was 8 p.m. Done. Today I read the reviews online - almost all negative.

My mother was such a ditherer, took forever to make even the simplest decision, asked the advice of everyone in sight, even complete strangers - What do YOU think? I want to be different, decisive. Sometimes that works out better than other times. But at all times, even if I'm washing a pile of dishes because my asshole of a brand new Bosch dishwasher doesn't work - I am rich.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Robert's photos

As I wrote awhile ago, I have a box of stuff I was given to store when my beloved friend, visionary playwright, director and arts ambassador Robert Handforth died of AIDS in 1988. I have hardly looked at it in all this time, but on the weekend I did, and found, among many theatre programs from the 70's and Bob's scripts, a few strips of 35 millimetre film - no idea of what. So I took it to my photo guy and got a few pix developed. 

Heartbreaking - the very young me, and me and Robert. Around 1969 - we were around 19.

Oh my. I have a cold today, am achey with dripping nose, feeling ugly, old and decrepit, and here's an unrecognizable young woman with beautiful skin and thick shiny hair, with a man who, though gay, loved many strong women and was one of the great loves of her life, and she, it seems, of his ...

Oh well. Life marches on and so do we, friends - like it or lump it, and usually, I like it. But these photos hit hard. I MISS ROBERT SO MUCH! He was beautiful, brilliant, crabby, complicated, prescient. He changed my life and that of many others. I want to talk to him right now. How dare he not be here?

And I know this feeling is going to get worse. These years will start to be about loss. Who else can I bear to lose? NO ONE!

Robert is not here, but Rick Mercer is. I watched his show yesterday, always fun, and his rant was wonderful.
And something else that's wonderful: David Brooks, conservative columnist, writing movingly on what he will miss about Obama. I hope what he says will hold true for our Prime Minister as well.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

judging Jian

This is what I would say were I the Ghomeshi judge - and this is with no knowledge of the laws involved and without having heard any testimony, just on the basis of articles and commentary:

I'd say, there is no question that Mr. Ghomeshi behaved extremely badly, reprehensibly, toward women in a sexual context and perhaps also in a professional one, if the tales coming from CBC are true. That his arrogance and blindness were horrifying and that he deserves the public disgrace he brought on himself.

However. There is also no question that the women involved, despite their surprise at sudden unpleasant treatment, went back for more. This is not about the trauma of abused women, as so many are shouting; these were not helpless women in a longterm relationship with a man who assaulted them. They were intelligent, independent adults very interested in pursuing a man who had a lot of power in their world, and was also, let's face it, then seen as attractive, fun and sexy. So, eyes wide open, they went back again and again, and then, when they finally went public with their complaints, their reports to the police were so full of omissions, collusion with each other and even lies that it made Ms. Henein's job easy.

I would sentence Mr. Ghomeshi to therapy - enforced therapy with someone who specializes in men with violent tendencies - and to 200 hours of work in a battered women's shelter, preferably one for immigrant women who do not know who he is. Let him get to know vulnerable human beings whose lives are irrevocably damaged by male violence.

And then please, let's forget this circus and focus on hunger, child care, poverty.

I've been appalled by what sound like the hounds of hell baying for blood. An FB post states that Marie Henein, his lawyer, is betraying all women by defending her client. I can tell you that if anyone I knew were ever in deep trouble,  male or female, Marie Henein is the first lawyer I'd call. She has done her job in exemplary fashion. Some of the things women I know have said on FB are so near to bloodletting, it makes me glad lynching is illegal. Who does that help, when we are full of hate ourselves?


Here's a fantastic article by Gerry Caplan about something that might change the course of our world: the lunacy of the American political system.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Downton delights

Downton! So many plot points whirring in the air - how does he do it? At least twelve, at last count, both up and downstairs. How long before Mr. Carson ends up with a well-sharpened knife in his heart? Poor Mrs. Hughes. And poor Barrow - is there no love for him? Will Edith and Mary ever stop spitting in each other's faces? Will Mary slut-shame Edith when she discovers the truth about little Marigold? Will Mrs. Crawley get it on with her gentleman caller, now that his vile snobbish son has an inexplicably nice fiancee? (How did THAT happen, Mr. Fellowes?) What happened to adorable Daisy, now a jealous green-eyed bitch?

And so much more. Not to mention the costumes and sets which are more lavish than ever, and that wonderful undercurrent of doom - our days are numbered, they all say both above and below stairs, (why can't I have an under-butler? I could use one!) and they're at least partially right.

Richard thinks there are only 3 more weeks. Botheration! What shall we do? Not just the show, but talking afterwards for hours, Richard, JM, Wayson and I, eating cookies and discussing plot lines both real (Jian, Hillary, Rubio etc.) and televised.

Anna and her family and friends spent yesterday evening gathered around the TV watching football; my daughter for some bizarre reason loves the game. Who cares about sweaty men grunting over a ball? Not I. But wondering how a fabulous Masterpiece series will end - now, that matters.

For your viewing pleasure - and so my children can understand where I learned to dance with such grace and sophistication - here's a vintage clip from the TV show Soul Train. Spectacular. ENJOY!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"45 Years" and "Kiss and Cry"

So little time, so much to see - two things to report on today. I saw the film "45 Years" with friend Ken a few days ago. It's beautiful, haunting, difficult - everything a good film should be. Suzette told me friends of hers went to see it as a treat for their wedding anniversary and regretted that particular choice. Because after it was over, I turned to Ken and said, "Thank God I'm single!"

Which I feel every day, for various reasons. But this - about the joys and pains and the comforting routine of longterm marriage, and what can so easily go wrong - is true and honest and heartbreaking. Charlotte Rampling is stunning, and so is Tom Courtenay; I remember them both vividly from "Georgie Girl" and "The loneliness of the long distance runner." They're just as beautiful now, in a very different way.

Suzette and I went today to see a very odd piece of theatre called "Kiss and Cry," something I would never have attended if she hadn't insisted. And what a treat it was - a kind of ballet, done with film and special effects that you watch being produced on stage in front of you, with hands. Yes, it stars hands - until the last few seconds, we don't see people, we only see hands, dancing, having sex, figure skating, being disappointed, falling in love. Breathtaking - simple yet extremely complex and accomplished, with a gorgeous score veering between Bach and modern music, and a cast of ten people and 20 hands making the magic happen.

Such a bounty in this city - a wealth of stuff to see and do. And eat and buy and watch and enjoy. This morning, a simpler pleasure - I went across town to have brunch with the little family; Daddy made waffles, the boys had a chat and Ben, who missed the waffles, tried instead to eat his foot.

Several friends sent supportive messages about my post last week re: sexual assault, where I discussed my own complex feelings about being more or less raped. This week of Jian's trial has been confusing. Was the Crown completely unaware that his accusers had continued to importune him, even after, sometimes long after, their alleged assaults? It boggles the mind. Various very angry women on FB have been ranting that Jian's lawyer has brought these things up to defame the accusers - but that's her job, for God's sake, the man faces years in prison, her job is to poke holes in the case against him, and his accusers have made that very easy.

And in the meantime, while this event plays out - really, Toronto Star, giant front page headlines? -  hideous abuse of women continues around the world - story in the papers yesterday that the incidence of genital mutilation is many times higher than previously known. I guess this trial is good in throwing more light on what goes on in dark corners, but otherwise, it's excruciating.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Master class! Moi!

Still spring-like here - that is, colder than last week but not nearly as cold as usual and no snow - don't need gloves, coat open. Yes! Hmm - as I write, a few puffy tentative flakes are whispering down. But nothing to speak of. More like fairy dust than snow.

Some interesting events coming up for me. I rearranged my schedule this year so I could attend the April conference in Banff of the Canadian Creative Non-fiction Collective - a mouthful, but my kind of people - and was asked to lead a workshop called Performance for Writers. I was taken aback when it was listed a Master Class, since I consider myself the quintessential Jill of all trades and Master of none. But - a Master Class it is. Here's the info:

Registration for our 2016 Creative Nonfiction Collective member conference, Writing True 12: The Roots of Story, taking place April 21 to 24 in beautiful Banff, Alberta, is underway and we're thrilled with the response thus far!
If you've been holding back from registering until you knew what Master Classes were available, wait no more. As of now, we invite members and non-members alike to register for sessions with noted creative nonfiction writers and editors including John BartonLori A. MayBeth Kaplan, and Trevor Herriot. Get a jump start on your inspiration before the official conference begins! Choose from two concurrent sessions of classes on Friday, April 22. There will be two morning and two afternoon sessions:
9:30am – noon
1:30pm – 4:00pm
The fee for each class is only $25 for members and $40 for non-members. But there's a cap of 25 participants in each, so register soon!


And this morning, I spoke at length with Lisa Roy, who produces events for the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre downtown; she was keen to host an event about my great-grandfather, and so it shall be: Thursday November 17, a talk by me and, we hope, a reading or even scenes in both English and Yiddish by various actors. 

So, much to look forward to, not to mention more mild February weather. And Downton on Sunday - when will the potential partner for Tom Branson appear, a mildly bolshie beautiful young woman who loves children? And before that, Suzette and I are seeing a stage show called Kiss and Cry, which features not actors, but hands. Yes, only hands. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

spring? not quite but almost

The warmest February 3 on record in Toronto - 16 degrees. Heavenly. A friend wrote that he was going for a run in shorts and t-shirt. But back to reality - zero - tomorrow. It sure was nice.

I'm meeting my friend Ken to see a film tomorrow - 45 years - and as I checked the times at the Varsity Cinema, I realized I'd seen nearly all the films and that they were all fabulous. Great great movies these days. (Except The Revenant, which I wouldn't see if you paid me. "Suffering porn," one review called it, and it sure sounds horrible. Who needs that?) Forgot to tell you that on the weekend, I went to see Brooklyn. I hadn't rushed to see it - it looked nice but not that compelling, an immigrant story - but in fact, it's stunning, beautifully written, shot and acted. The lead Saoirse (however that's pronounced) Ronan is glorious, and Julie Walters is in full flight. My only complaint was that almost everyone in the film is so nice, so sweet - if only people and life were really that way. But  as another friend said, I'd gladly spend time with almost every character. Me too, especially the Italian boyfriend then husband, played by young Emory Cohen which does not sound like an Italian name to me. Mmmm, adorable.
The film made me think of Mum, sailing from England to NYC at the age of 24 to see if the wartime romance with her Yank would work out. She brought a big brown suitcase on the boat, just like the character in the film. I have that suitcase in my bedroom now - Cabin Class, the sticker says. I've been thinking of Mum too because the Australian Open was on last week. I do not watch tennis, but Mum did and Auntie Do still does, obsessively. I followed the matches through the Star, was thrilled when Milos Raonic did so well and was reviewed in the Guardian as "the mighty Canadian." He's tough and he does not give up. Go, Milos! I'm sorry Andy Murray lost to the human tank Djokovic, but it didn't matter once Federer was out of the scene. How I miss my mother sometimes. She would have mourned the early defeat of her beloved Fed and celebrated Milos with a little glass of sauvignon blanc. And she would have sobbed all the way through Brooklyn.

Speaking of cabin class - I'm going to Vancouver in March, returning via Calgary, so found what seemed a good price with Air Canada and booked on-line. As I completed the booking, the site asked me to choose a seat for a choice of prices - $25 for a regular seat and $65 for a special seat. So you now book a fare - but a seat is extra! I guess you can always stand in the aisle, or be strapped to the wing. Absurd and dishonest, it seems to me.

I'm trying something as I struggle with my winter insomnia - turning off the computer at 9 p.m. I tried it last night and did sleep better. It's damn hard, though. I kept coming into the kitchen and glancing at the little silver box, but it was asleep. I've so much reading to do, writing, tons of stuff, but this bright little machine keeps me tethered. So now - OFF!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Jian's mother

If there is one woman in the world I feel sorry for these days, it's Mrs. Ghomeshi. Unimaginable - from her golden Persian princeling running every cultural event in this country, to this - fighting for his freedom, the details of his sordid sex life splashed across every newspaper and TV news show. As many of you know, he was my neighbour, he was cheery, kind and friendly and I liked him a lot. Another neighbour who knew and liked him came over tonight to ask - what do you make of all this? What should we think? Particularly today, after the first witness's testimony was shredded?

My take, so far, is this: There's no question that he's arrogant and has dark, twisted views of women, reciprocity, respect and sex; that he was not just stupid but insane to think he could continue to behave in a heedless, abusive way and get away with it. It's good that society is dealing so openly now with violence against women, which I deal with all the time in my memoir classes - assault or abuse by grandfathers, uncles, family friends, leaving lifelong scars.

But there's an article in the NYT today about a man training to be a priest who was arrested for seeking out very small children for violent sexual encounters.
A young seminary student from Ohio flew across the United States on Friday in pursuit of a goal he had spent weeks discussing online in explicit detail: finding a baby, either through adoption or cash purchase, to sexually assault.

In email passages reprinted in the criminal complaint, Mr. Wright discussed his sexual fantasies and said he planned to pay the parents of a baby girl so he could “adopt/own” her. “The cheapest baby girl under 3 would be good,” he wrote.

I try to be a forgiving and open person, but a guy this loathsome - I'd throw him over a cliff.

No question, Jian should not have done what he did - pulling hair, punching, slapping - without making sure that behaviour was consensual, which it sometimes, I gather, is. But there is no comparison, in my mind, between his faults and those who assault children and other innocents. He was dealing with adult women who volunteered to be there.

And I have been a woman like that. Reading my 70's diary recently, I found a passage I'd completely, happily forgotten - that a sort-of boyfriend, one night, faced with me saying no, I was not interested in sex at this time, decided to force the issue. In essence, he raped me. And what I wrote in my diary was, "I loved it."

That is what I wrote. I was thrilled that a man took charge and that I was helpless. I'm ashamed and embarrassed and I find it hard to connect to that 27-year old woman, but there it is in black and white. What goes on between men and women is complicated, and there are flaws on both sides. Let he who is without sin ...

What can we do about sexual madness, though? It seems the internet has lifted up a rock to uncover the vile depths of human behaviour. To those who want to take sex education out of the schools, I say - look around you. See the superb movie "Spotlight." Children need to learn what's going on, what's right and wrong. Because grown ups can be reprehensible.

Okay, enough of that, let's celebrate the fact that it's nearly spring in Toronto. So mild, incredible, I'm riding my bike everywhere and tomorrow - 18 degrees. Unheard of in February. From my back deck and my bike ride on the DVP trail on Sunday, a winter panorama:
 Out my back door
 In winter, we can see the outlines of the trees, the delicacy of colour - beige, grey, brown.
 Oui, Magritte, tout est possible. Ou presque.
Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion bridge in winter.

I celebrate what is good and beautiful and honest and decent, which is everywhere. Because the other side is too. Please, God, let Trump fade into oblivion and let's move right along.