Monday, October 31, 2016

So True true true

Happy Hallowe'en! The weather could not be better for the kids - mild and sunny, amazing, and due to last all week. I myself will not be celebrating - I teach tonight, and in any case, I'm not into this festival. Anyone who has dressed in someone else's clothing for a living doesn't much enjoy doing so for fun. But it's wonderful to see all the costumes on the streets of Toronto today.
A bit dark - but this is Eli with the shield as Captain America - sigh - his friends as Spiderman and some other superhero, and Ben's first Hallowe'en - as a skunk. 

So True, the reading series, yesterday - a great success by all accounts. About 65 audience members, plus 8 fantastic readers, Jason the superb M.C. and me, in the warm space of the Black Swan second floor, telling and hearing the important truths of life on planet earth. One woman came up to me beforehand, said I didn't know her but she loves these events, they make her laugh and cry and feel less alone. How great is that? I'm always beyond exhausted by the end - producing the event itself, encouraging the readers who feel like my children by that point, and then my own talk and reading - it leaves me drained but exhilarated by the response. Onward. The next, on Feb. 26, 2017, is our tenth, and we'll do something special, though not sure what yet.

On the way there, I stopped at Mike's Music on the Danforth, one of the few independent music stores left and a fabulous place, because he had special-ordered for me a great treat: the Macca compilation. FOUR CD'S of Macca's best. Heaven.
Anna and Eli visited yesterday morning. Eli told me about the two girls from school he's going to marry. I read him "Alexander and the terrible horrible no-good very bad day," and at the end he said my favourite words: "Read it again." I understand Alexander, having had a few of those days recently myself. 
Spent this morning on the line with my new BFF, Rogers. Ha. Am getting my new phone line set up, maybe. My new TV channels configured, maybe. Don't hold your breath.

Most importantly - the American election lumbers along on its excruciating path. Curse the FBI and its shocking miscarriage of justice. The world is at the brink. Let us pray. 

And finally - here's a great review of the new/old place Sam is working: Harry's. Inexpensive, unpretentious, lots of fun.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Beatles 50 T.O. exhibit

The city of Toronto has produced a whimsical exhibition: The Beatles 50 T.O., upstairs at St. Lawrence Market, in honour of the fact that the group visited Toronto six times, more often than anywhere else on this side of the pond, the last time 50 years ago. I went this afternoon to see it - lots of artifacts from Beatles' visits, fabulous photographs and slides, and a hilarious recreation of a Sixties rec room in Don Mills:
My friend Piers Hemmingsen, who knows every arcane fact about the Beatles in Canada and has written a vast tome about this very subject, took a large crowd on a tour around the room. I met the curator Jane French, who provided a lot of the actual stuff from her family home, and the Globe critic Deirdre Kelly, another Beatle nut, who knew? I left flyers for my book, in the hope that hordes of fans would seize them and be desperate to read this fine book. Sigh.

It occurred to me, not for the first time, looking at the shots of the screaming girls, the almost terrifying evocation of hysterical passion, that Beatlemania was perhaps the first time in history that female erotic energy was unleashed to this extent. When else had young girls made such an impact, sexually, financially, socially? I wonder if Beatlemania helped push feminism to the forefront - it emerged in full force only a few years later. We already know that Beatles music helped to tear down Communism, as so many young people behind the Iron Curtain were desperate for western music and broke rules to get it. Perhaps those four young men caused more than one worldwide revolution. What do you think?

As I listen to Randy Bachman, it's 8.30 p.m. on October 29th and my back door is wide open to the winds. Long may it last.

defeating Rogers, maybe, and brava to Madeleine Thien

Now, this is the definition of a friend: someone who is willing to spend TWO SOLID HOURS  on the phone with Rogers to help sort out a dizzy friend's cable, cell phone, home phone and internet needs. Yes - last night, friend Lynn - another Lynn, now known as Lin Lin, came here for dinner. She is an extremely efficient and capable person, and when she heard my tale of woe - I'd just spent another frustrating hour on the phone with Rogers and with Bell, trying to sort things out - she said, Let's fix it now, whipped out her phone, and we were off to the races.

It was a learning experience to watch Lin Lin patiently get the representatives to explain the incredibly confusing bundles - if you get this, you don't get this, if you save on this, you might have to pay that, on and on and on. I would have given up after ten minutes; in fact, the reason I was in that mess is because I DID give up after ten minutes, every time. It's so boring and convoluted - and of course, designed to be just that. Lin Lin pointed out to the customer service reps that I was paying for far more cell phone than I needed, that a much cheaper home phone option existed that no one had told me about, that I was paying an exorbitant fee for channels I never watch. We had very good service - a man called Ceta or Seta and then in the fabulous Retention department, Kelly in Ottawa. The best.

And now, if all goes well - and I fully expect it NOT to - I will pay $100 less a month for a service tailored to my specific needs. And if that's not a friend, I don't know what is. In return, I gave her dinner, a bottle of my homemade salad dressing, and a bunch of my just-dug-up garlic with dirt clinging to the roots. I owe her a great deal more.

It's 18 degrees! Fantastic out there - a last gasp of mildness before doom and winter. And the @#$# U.S. election. I do not want to hear the words "Hillary's email" ever again, please God, give us a break and save the planet, let this pass quickly by. Listening to Trump crow makes me want to jump off a bridge.

Meant to say before: congratulations to Madeleine Thien for winning the Governor General's award for her novel "Do not say we have nothing." I met Maddy at a UBC Creative Writing department event where alumnae, including Maddie and I, were invited to speak about the writing life; I liked and admired her instantly. She radiates an intense and enviable calm and focus. Watching her, I was reminded of another acquaintance - the actor Ian Charleson, later one of the stars of "Chariots of Fire" and other movies and plays, whom I met at theatre school in 1971. We could all tell he was the real deal - a superstar, an enormous innate talent. Nothing show-offy about him, just the blazing glow of brilliance. Maddy, in a similarly quiet way, has that too.

While the rest of us are just trying to get our cable TV's to work. Luckily, to cheer us up, there's this:

Friday, October 28, 2016

the Economist loves Canada

The esteemed Economist has written an article about the great success that is Canada. Not perfect, as the article points out, far from it - but tolerant, courageous and measured in a way now enviable to the rest of the world, our sister countries dealing with the frightening spectres of Trump and Marine LePen. Hooray Canada which elected Justin Trudeau, who is still spectacularly high in the polls, and as far as I'm concerned, deserves to be. Another mind-boggling change the other day - appointing nine non-partisan people to the Senate, citizens who are simply smart, knowledgeable and engaged. Imagine that! As I said - mind-boggling.

It's a beautiful day - perhaps you can tell I'm in a better mood. Still no washing machine - now they tell me next Tuesday. I will not hold my breath. The pile of laundry grows. Still no TCM on my Rogers cable, which requires another tedious phone call. But the sun is shining. My garden helper Dan came this morning and we ripped up impatiens, culled the rest of the little tomatoes to ripen inside, washed and pruned the outdoor plants to bring them in - and now it's warm enough to leave them out! Confusing, as fall in this wonderful country always is.

Last night, the rehearsal for the next So True reading event, on Sunday. How proud I am of the eight readers - beautiful stories, beautifully read - and our spectacular host Jason Allen. Tonight, dinner with a dear friend from lo these many years. Tomorrow at 2, my friend Piers Hemmingsen is speaking at the Beatles exhibit at St. Lawrence Market. I'll be there. And right now, I'm going to tackle page one of the Moonlight Sonata.

I thank you god for most this amazing day.

PS My good mood did not last. Spent almost an hour on the phone with Rogers and then almost as much time with Bell - so @#$#@ confusing, and nothing resolved! Then I got a confusing Enbridge bill that makes no sense. My face is more blotchy than ever, with frustration. Time to move to a desert island.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

first world problems and bad bad John Tory

Had one of those days when the world seemed intent on defeating a hapless city woman just trying to get by. The roofers arrived to do $2000 worth of roofing because the crook who repaired the roof not long ago did it so poorly, the tiles were falling off. He also took a $250 deposit for materials and vanished. If you ever hear of Luke's Roofing, please let me know.

Then, a lengthy battle with Home Depot about my washing machine, which was supposed to be delivered tomorrow, so I'd cleared the day to wait for it. When I called to confirm - no, not tomorrow, probably not Friday, maybe next week. I hit the roof. A long call with Rogers about my cable bill and home phone and what's wrong with the TV which shows a "Loading ..." notice on the screen every few days when it's loading nothing. A call to a dermatologist about the red blotches on my face. My iPhone decided on an upgrade and then was all different and confusing. My plants are inside because it's cold out and I haven't had a chance to take them back out to wash the pots and prune them, so there are plants in the way everywhere. The basement is nearly inaccessible with the old washing machine disconnected and laundry in baskets everywhere. It's really cold. Brucie left. I did Carole's class at the Y and I was at the end of the line, as always, and everything hurt.

The world was one giant PHOOEY.

And then, first, my dear friend John came over to do some work; he spent the morning washing and sanding and oiling the butcher block top of the kitchen island, which looks beautiful again.

And then at the Y, I saw again the woman with the bald head and the thinnest body I've ever seen, still exercising, still smiling.

And I was ashamed of myself and my first world problems, my whining. What have I got to complain about? Not a fucking thing.

EXCEPT okay one thing - that City Hall is cutting the library budget. The library - one of the most used, most useful amenities in this city! So much for you, mealy-mouthed John Tory. If I had a shred of respect for you ever, it's gone. And I didn't anyway, not after the vote to KEEP the Gardiner Expressway East, a hunk of rotting concrete.

Oh dear, she's still in a bad mood. No, I'm not. Well, maybe a little bit.

Monday, October 24, 2016

a place in Paris?

Brucie and I just spent two hours here in the kitchen, sitting face to face with our computers, fingers clicking, discussing among other things Paris and airbnb. I will almost certainly return end of March/beginning of April next year, as I usually do, and need to find a place.

IF YOU KNOW ANYONE WHO RENTS IN PARIS, please let me know. I need light and quiet and, if possible, the Latin Quarter, because I know it best and it feels like home. But really, anywhere affordable with light.

AND: at the same time, my comfortable bedroom in this beautiful house will be available for rent. So again, IF YOU KNOW A NICE QUIET PERSON COMING TO TORONTO NEXT MARCH and/or APRIL who needs a place to stay, please let me know.

Okay, business done. Brucie is reading my memoir and giving me feedback as he goes - which is strange and interesting, because it's feedback about my life as well as my writing. My wild and crazy young life.

I have finished Marni Jackson's "Don't I Know You?" for which she told me the way was "paved" by my "All My Loving." Young Beth wrote stories about her life with Paul McCartney - as boyfriend, lover, husband - in which the other Beatles figure, as does Paul's real girlfriend of the time, the hated Jane Asher, who appears most often as a vicious alcoholic. Marni created a novel about a writer with a wry sense of humour very like Marni's who has encounters through her life with extremely famous people, which she treats as ordinary experiences. Some of these work wonderfully - the last chapter of the book, a canoe trip in Algonquin Park with Leonard Cohen, Taylor Swift and writer Karl Ove Knausgaard - hilarious and beautiful. Some to my mind don't work as well - Jimi Hendrix and Agnes Martin as a couple in New Mexico, Keith Richards as a surgeon in his spare time ... But whether you enjoy her quirky pretext or not, Marni is a fabulous, richly imaginative writer.

Here's what she writes about Karl Ove's fixation with his father:
His father again. It's dreadful, how we continue to love our parents regardless of how they treat us. How we keep returning to them, to solve the mystery of who we are. I thought of all the fathers who have turned their sons into writers, compelled to re-create the family on the page. Slowly stacking up the sentences until they resemble a human figure, like a stone inukshuk.

Marni has always been a non-fiction writer; this is her first novel and her first time on the Best Seller list. Whereas I like and appreciate non-fiction which is all I write and which is why my work is nowhere near the Best Seller list. Sigh. The protagonist argues with Karl Ove, at one point. He challenges her to write in her books "the things that matter to you ... personally. The questions or regrets that won't let you sleep."
Her reply: "Is that what you think it takes to write something worthwhile? Just being raw and autobiographical? Exposing the people closest to you to public scrutiny?"

Well - yes, actually, though I wouldn't put it that negative way.

Now I'm reading "The Secret Life of Trees." Not exactly raw and autobiographical but thrilling, about how trees communicate with and protect each other. And after that, there's an 800 page tome about the Beatles. Perhaps I will skim that one.

Bruce just sent me this with the caption The election in a nutshell. Yes indeed.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Krugman on Hillary

Lynn left, and Toronto collapsed - the weather has been unremittingly gloomy and damp after days of brilliant sun. Ah well - Brucie is from Vancouver, so this dark wet is nothing for him.

A bit of boasting, as it's so welcome when a lonely writer receives a pat on the head: two readers have emailed to tell me how much they've enjoyed "All My Loving." The first: It's really terrific, Beth. I love it and have laughed out loud. I figure we're very close in age and sensibility as so many details, such as the brush rollers and what we were taught that girls do, I deeply identify with.

And the second: a student wrote, "I am LOVING your book about Paul," and then sent me a story of her own about Ringo. Yeah yeah yeah!

Yesterday, oh the drama - my eagerly-awaited new washing machine - a Consumer Reports Best Buy, no less - arrived, only it would not fit down the narrow stairs to the basement and went back on the truck. All the appliances in this house are ten years old, bought in 2006 after the big fire here in 2005, and now they are all breaking. The repairman for the washer told me the computers inside are programmed to break after ten years, so I shouldn't be surprised, but still, there I was with an overflowing basket of dirty clothes and no washer. John to the rescue - he came over and hacked off part of the drywall covering the walls to the basement, and soon there was drywall dust everywhere and an inch to spare. But of course, the washer had gone off somewhere and it'll be a week before it comes back. Neighbour Monique let me bring a pile of clothing next door to wash.

First world problems, I know. A bit more importantly - the planet is saved from the giant orange blowhole, who has self-destructed hooray! Again, no surprise, the only surprise being that he was there on the public stage, being taken seriously, to begin with. How did that happen? The Republican Party has some 'splaining to do. In the meantime, Paul Krugman has written a succinct analysis of Hillary's strengths. Thank God someone has finally said it.

When political commentators praise political talent, what they seem to have in mind is the ability of a candidate to match one of a very limited set of archetypes: the heroic leader, the back-slapping regular guy you’d like to have a beer with, the soaring orator. Mrs. Clinton is none of these things: too wonky, not to mention too female, to be a regular guy, a fairly mediocre speechifier; her prepared zingers tend to fall flat.

Yet the person tens of millions of viewers saw in this fall’s debates was hugely impressive all the same: self-possessed, almost preternaturally calm under pressure, deeply prepared, clearly in command of policy issues. And she was also working to a strategic plan: Each debate victory looked much bigger after a couple of days, once the implications had time to sink in, than it may have seemed on the night.

Oh, and the strengths she showed in the debates are also strengths that would serve her well as president. Just thought I should mention that. And maybe ordinary citizens noticed the same thing; maybe obvious competence and poise in stressful situations can add up to a kind of star quality, even if it doesn’t fit conventional notions of charisma.

Furthermore, there’s one thing Mrs. Clinton brought to this campaign that no establishment Republican could have matched: She truly cares about her signature issues, and believes in the solutions she’s pushing.

I know, we’re supposed to see her as coldly ambitious and calculating, and on some issues — like macroeconomics — she does sound a bit bloodless, even when she clearly understands the subject and is talking good sense. But when she’s talking about women’s rights, or racial injustice, or support for families, her commitment, even passion, are obvious. She’s genuine, in a way nobody in the other party can be.

So let’s dispel with this fiction that Hillary Clinton is only where she is through a random stroke of good luck. She’s a formidable figure, and has been all along.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

cuteness alert

The third debate is about to begin; the horror, the horror! But we had a great evening here. Lynn left this morning, sadly, but this afternoon Bruce arrived. And Sam agreed to make a superb dinner for Bruce, Wayson and me, to cheer us up before we watch democracy being smushed once again.

Here, some lovely things to look at before the horror:
Eli has asked to have a "sleepover" with Ben, so last night his mama let them do it. Could I drown in love?
And again - this is my son in Washington D.C., visiting his dad - here he's at his six-year old sister's Grade One class, showing them how basketball is played when your head is on the level with the basket.

And now it begins.

Monday, October 17, 2016

"All but gone" and Chihuly

In 30 years, I have never seen this - my garden without a thick tangle of wires across the sky. Now - just birds and green.

So busy! So little time, so much to do with my best friend visiting from Provence. How the city has opened up to her. On Saturday, the market, a walk with Anne-Marie around Ashbridge's Bay in the hot sun,
then dinner here with old friends from university days.
On Sunday, a Pilates class at the Y and then the matinee of a Beckett play at Canadian Stage - "All but gone," a stunning production, beautifully directed, acted and sung. Lynn judged it "perfect." As soon as I got home, I sent an email reprimanding the Globe's theatre critic Kelly Nestruck, who gave the show a ferociously bad review simply because a bit of it had been mounted a few years before. The house was nearly empty, perhaps because of his review, when it's a very good show that should be seen. Don't miss it! As Lynn says, Beckett is so revered in France that if a production like this were mounted in Paris, it would be sold out.

In the afternoon, listening to Eleanor Wachtel interview Sir Christopher Ricks on his book about Bob Dylan, with excerpts from the songs. Bravo Bob! A hero. I think it's wonderful that the Nobel committee is embracing popular culture and music - albeit the music of a genius.

Last night, "The Hunt of the Wilderpeople" - a New Zealand film about a Maori boy and his foster father on the lam in the woods - very entertaining. Did we do enough for one day? Well, when we got home, I rushed to turn on "Poldark," but Madame Blin did not watch. A little too bodice-ripper for her. I love that show.

This morning - MORE. Off to Chihuly at the ROM with beloved friend Ken, whom I'm grateful to know through Lynn. A gorgeous exhibition of sculptured glass - and the artist's collection of First Nations artifacts.

And then smoked meat for lunch, which Lynn adores because you can't get it in France. She's a cheap date.

She is only here for two more days, and tonight and tomorrow I have to go off to teach, so our non-stop round of cultural activities will have to slow down. I will miss her very much. But luckily, Bruce is arriving a few hours after Lynn leaves, also to stay for a week. The Kaplan Hotel is in full swing, which makes the host very happy.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

best friend

Beautiful days - hot sun, red leaves, Toronto at its best. Which is a special joy because my best friend Lynn is visiting for a week from Provence, a place which is always at its best. A treat to share my fine city with her. Here's what my home town looked like last night:
First, my own great news: THE WIRES ARE DOWN! It only took a year to go through the incredibly complicated process, but it's done, and the sky above my garden is clear.
Thank you!

And ... my friend Piers Hemmingsen, a fellow Beatles nut and author of "The Beatles in Canada" sent me a link - "All My Loving" is listed as one of the library's best books on the Beatles. Believe it or not, I didn't know the book was even in the library. Not only that, but when I took a look, two of the four copies were checked out! Two people reading my book as we speak. I know, to J. K. Rowling, two readers would not cause excitement. But to me, yes yes yes.

Lynn and I went to a book launch - my dear friend Kate Trotter's beautiful daughter Kathleen, fitness trainer to the stars and a star herself, has written a book, "Finding Your Fit: a compassionate trainer's guide to making fitness a lifelong habit." It's a charming book full of practical tips. I've known Kathleen since she was a baby - hard to recognize the stunning and poised young woman speaking to the stellar crowd at her launch - Clayton Ruby, Harriet Sacks, Louise Dennys - friends and clients. Brava!
Lynn is now a fitness buff herself, getting up at 5 every morning to follow an on-line yoga course before starting her day. Yikes. This did not happen when we lived together in 1968. She has recently lost 12 kilos and is even more gorgeous and vibrant than ever, this mother of five and grandmother of eight, on her way to deliver a paper on Lydia Davis to a linguistics conference in Savannah. I know, my friends are the most boring people.

My friend and I took Anna and the boys, and Eli's friend Finn, to their favourite sushi restaurant last night. Chaos of the best kind. But chaos.
That is not a green fascinator on my head.

We also went to see the Juilliard String Quartet play Beethoven and Bartok, thanks to Music Toronto in its 45th year - and a better string quartet I couldn't hope to hear. Moving, rich, powerful. Today, going to St. Lawrence Market and the Beach with Anne-Marie and then our old university friends Jessica, Louise and Suzette are coming for dinner - FUN!

And more fun: I received the following cheery note from an agent I sent a query to.
Thank you for your query, which we read with interest.  While we felt that this project has good potential, we have very reluctantly decided to pass.
Interest! Good potential! Not just reluctantly but very reluctantly!! Obviously, best-seller status is just around the corner.


Onward - into this heavenly day, with my best friend of almost fifty years by my side.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


One of the worst things about the current debacle south of the border is how much time - how incredibly much time - is being wasted on this vile man when there are so many problems to solve. Every day, endless essays about him, articles, YouTube films, songs, cartoons, not to mention the constant, noisy parade of commentary on TV and radio. But this, by the NYT's David Brook, is one of the best articles I've read about the whole sad affair. A new perspective on a human being.

I watched a very good doc the other night - Citizenfour, about the crusade of Edward Snowden. What it makes clear is how idealistic he was - perhaps a bit misguided, my right-wing friend insists his release of classified documents put many secret agents at risk of their lives. Not sure about that, but I do respect his desperate quest to show us what governments are doing illegally, without our knowledge - and what it reveals does tarnish Obama's halo. After watching, I went to Google to read about Snowden now; he's still stuck in Russia, not sure where he can and will land permanently as he has been refused entry by nearly every country on earth. A martyr, in a sense, to his ideals - though making a very good living as a speaker, via Skype. Thanks, at least in part, to American ingenuity.

I was happy to read that Canada is apparently limiting American access to our information. About time.

Just an update, for those of you long-term followers of this blog: you remember that I've been battling Bell and Rogers to get the huge tangle of cable wires that cross my backyard taken down. After a year - a full year - of back and forth and men in orange arriving to do this and that and dealing with neighbours who were not happy with one aspect or another - after all that, I was told that today, the guys would be arriving, at last, to take down the wires.


Maybe tomorrow.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Randy Bachman and "All My Loving"

More re "All My Loving" - it's Sunday evening, and I was just reading the paper with Randy Bachman's show on in the background. He was reading letters from fans when I heard him say “I started listening to your show dancing around the kitchen with…” a name kind of like mine - he mispronounced it slightly. And then he mentioned “All My Loving” - “which I’ve read,” he said, “a girl’s love for Paul McCartney, I knew so many girls like that.” And then he read the rest of the letter. It was from Carol, my friend and tenant, who's at her other home in Ecuador at the moment. 

How thrilling on a quiet Sunday night to hear my name and my book on CBC. Thank you, Carol, thanks Randy. He read my book! (Mind you, I did send it to him. But still - he read it.)

Okay, calm down. No one has written to mention it, so no one else heard it, but I did. 

Speaking of our Macca, he just did a mega-show in California, Desert Trip, where he played at one point with Neil Young. It's marvellous to watch - the two of them in their seventies, full of joyous energy. Talk about inspiring.
Speaking of uninspiring, I know there's another debate tonight, and I should probably watch it, if only to send heartfelt support to Hillary, who may be facing vile accusations about her husband. As the New Yorker wrote, the bar is now officially on the ground. It cannot go lower. But that, in fact, remains to be seen.

Instead, this, from the garden today:
I see this as me, Anna, Eli and Ben. At our various stages of flowering.

And now to dance around the kitchen to Randy Bachman. I may be drooping, but only slightly.

inspiring Marni Jackson

Got a book out of the library yesterday which I'm looking forward to reading: Marni Jackson's "Do I Know You?" It has had lots of publicity and good reviews, which is wonderful; Marni is a friend and neighbour and a very funny, talented, widely-published writer. But I have a special reason for interest in this book. When I read a review of it, a book about a woman who through her life intersects casually with famous heroes of hers like John Updike and Meryl Streep - she goes canoeing with Leonard Cohen - something stirred. Marni came to the book launch of "All My Loving" and emailed me after how much she enjoyed my book - about a young woman who has various kinds of intense imaginary relationships, described in detail, with her Beatle.

Here was Marni's book, with a similar theme, two years after mine. Was it possible, I thought, there's a connection? I wrote to congratulate her on her smash hit and said,"I can only wish my own small book about fantasy bonds with famous people had the heft and draw of yours. Brava."

She replied, "Yes, you paved the way with your book!" She pointed out her book is not about fantasies of love but how "stars invade our psyches even when we don't give a hoot about them."

I'm thrilled if my book in any sense "paved the way" for such a terrific writer, particularly because it was my 14-year old self who wrote the stories that inspired her. "All My Loving," in the end, is about how writers, even very young ones, create fantasies that can save their lives. I have a feeling Marni understands. Now I can read her and find out.

It's Thanksgiving, and it's definitely fall - though the days are hot and beautiful, the nights have turned cold. I'm starting to close windows, and tonight will have to bring the houseplants in from the deck, and then put them out again tomorrow morning. The slide to the cold time has truly begun.

My daughter is cooking her usual ginormous meal for her partner's family today. We are celebrating here on Wednesday, when we can toast not only Thanksgiving but the arrival of my very dear friend Lynn, from Provence via Montreal, to stay for a week, and the 32nd birthday of my giraffey son Sam, who I hope is enjoying his new job at Harry's, which opened on Thursday. He has been too busy to GET IN TOUCH WITH HIS MOTHER and let her know. But I'll find out soon.

Yesterday, heartbreak and celebration - I went to visit a dear friend who has ALS and is the bravest woman I know. Then to a Thanksgiving dinner on the Common, a shared green space behind a row of houses nearby, with tables set up outside, all of us sitting in the sun under huge trees reconnecting with neighbours and watching the next generation, the kids who grew up nearby and are the same age as mine, and their kids, the grandchildren. A wonderful event produced by Gretchen and Jack. Thanks to them.

And then - usually I go nowhere but yesterday was non-stop - to a dinner party, again very close by, at a spectacular mansion on Carlton Street built in 1882, so five years older than my house and utterly amazing. A great gathering, including a reunion with a woman who took my class many years ago.

And now a quiet Sunday to prepare for busyness next week. My fingers work, my legs work. Never before have I been so grateful for the most fundamental of gifts.

Friday, October 7, 2016

the Moth - meh

I've been a fan of the Moth for at least ten years, have managed to catch two Moth events in New York and have bought the recently-published book of their best stories. Founded as a competitive storytelling event in the South, then in New York and L.A., it has grown to encompass the entire U.S., and now involves not just people telling stories without notes, but podcasts and high school storytelling workshops in more than 25 cities. It costs $10 or $15 to spend the evening listening to a bunch of people stand in front of you and tell you a true life story. It's wonderful - what I believe in and work for, the power of story and of telling the truth.

I've long hoped for something like it here in Toronto; there are similar events but nothing quite the same. So when the Moth announced a show in Toronto a few years ago, I was excited to think the format would be brought here - local Canadian storytellers, I assumed, following the Moth format. When I heard the price - $50 - I was outraged and didn't go. But this time, I decided I had to see how they did here, so I and a bunch of my longtime students went last night.

What floored me first was the reception - Massey Hall packed to the rafters with mostly thirty-somethings, rapturously receiving stories from five Americans flown in for the occasion, plus an M.C. The stories weren't bad, not at all; one of them in particular, the last, from a 94-year old survivor of a Russian labour camp, was moving and powerful. And one, from a woman who was David Bowie's hairdresser, was something I'd love to hear at a cocktail party but needed more work for this kind of event. The other three were interesting and entertaining. But from the best-known storytelling organization in the U.S., and for $50, I expected more than five 10-minute stories, a very long intermission that wasn't needed at all, and a lame host. Way more.

I was furious when I left, in fact, despite that brave saga at the end. Because once again, it seemed to me, we Canadians sell ourselves short. The Moth team flies in from the States and is greeted as heroes, the audience paying through the nose and shrieking approval, when here in Toronto we have fabulous storytellers of our own with nowhere to go.

Except - if I may say so, and I probably shouldn't - my class and So True. I think you get a much better deal at So True, which gives you nine or ten good stories for $10. The students who were there last night agreed. But then we're prejudiced.

We've been spoiled for fantastically moving true stories. I'm so used to hearing gripping personal testimonies and great writing that the storytelling bar is set very high for me. And last night the Moth, I'm sorry to say, didn't even come close.

P.S. But then, despite the absolutely stunning weather, I'm crabby today. Finally getting around to the season switch, I put my nine winter sweaters into the washing machine, and it broke. Could not get it to start again. The repairman who's coming tomorrow said, a Whirlpool Duet ten years old? Yes, breaking right on schedule. I spent an hour wringing out nine sopping wet sweaters and draping them about to dry. I'm still wringing. And then I learned my roof needs work. My invaluable handyman is still recovering from a hip replacement and out of service. It's time to move to a condo.

Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids

Dan Misener is a very interesting young man; he does a segment on local CBC radio about social media and technology, and he produces the unforgettable Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids, or GRTTWAK. The event started as a stage show, where grown ups would, indeed, read ... etc. I of course did one with my Paul McCartney love stories before they were in a book, and had a fabulous time. And then they became a CBC radio show, inexplicably cancelled, and then a podcast.

Dan is still producing the shows and has just sent out a new request for readers. Go on - you know you have some brilliantly hilarious poems tucked away somewhere. Go find them.
Hello friends,
Dan here, from Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids. Here in Canada, we’re about to start the Thanksgiving long weekend.
If you happen to visit your childhood or teenage home this weekend, take a few minutes to dig up those diaries, poems, letters from camp, and other juvenilia.
Because we just added a bunch of live events, and we’re looking for readers. In addition to our sold-out Toronto and Ottawa shows this October, we're planning:
Hope to see you soon, and I hope this Thanksgiving finds you happy, well fed, and surrounded by people you love.
We’re thankful for all y’all.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Ann Patchett, comedienne

Saw a woman at the Y today. She's been there for years, a keener, very athletic, and I've assumed she's becoming anorexic because she's been getting thin. The array of bodies on display at the Y is astounding. Today I saw her in the shower with one breast, that terrible scar I know so well from my mother's body on the other side. Another woman last time in the shower had no hair anywhere on her body, so thin she was nearly transparent. The monster stalks us. And yet there they are, at the Y. My friend and mentor there, Carole, is taking a course on aging and the brain; she was told that exercise may be even better for the brain than for the body.


A stunning day today - I didn't want to go inside anywhere, just sit out and bathe in that warmth. Because it won't be here much longer. But I had things to do, and one of them was get this @#$# manuscript off my back. So I did - today it went to my editor in Vancouver and on Monday to my editor friend here. I can't stand it right now. It's terrible. No one will ever want to read such self-indulgent drivel.

Stay tuned.

After tonight, I know who I want to be when I grow up: Ann Patchett. My friend Jacqueline invited me to hear her at the Reference Library - the event was sold out so I was grateful for the invite. When I got there at 6.35, the place was overflowing already; they said people started lining up at 2. By 7, when it started, it was standing room only along both sides of the room. Oh what a joy it must be to speak to a room jam-packed with people who love your words. An obscure writer girl can dream.

No wonder the room was full - she's not only a wonderful writer who achieved success early, she's a fabulous speaker, as funny as a stand-up comedienne.

She said, among many other interesting things, that Hillary Clinton is going to win in November, not because she's the better of two bad candidates, but because she's terrific at her job. Yay! She said she lived the first decades of her life like a Catholic schoolgirl, trying to be good and nice, and was freed from her fear of offending anyone in her books by writing "This is the story of a happy marriage," a non-fiction book which included lots of truths about her family. She says when she found out they didn't care if they were in a book or not, it freed her to tell the stories she needed to tell. Her latest book "Commonwealth" is thinly disguised autobiography. "A writer needs to write what is most frightening," she said, which for her was to tell the truth about her family. "When you turn 50, you cease to care."

She was hilarious about her childhood - her incredible memory - "I have crib memories," she said. She grew up "before the invention of child psychology" - "we were like free range chickens," no one knew or cared where the kids were.

I don't watch TV, she said - TV is only there to sell you something; they keep you in a knot so that's easier to do. I understand to a degree. But I rushed home from hearing this terrific writer to turn on one of the best TV shows ever - "Call the Midwife." Vision TV is showing old seasons that I missed. It's extraordinarily good. I'd love to invite Ann over to watch with me. She is a LOT of fun.

Monday, October 3, 2016

on Lionel Shriver, grievance and the bubble

Spent the weekend stuck to this chair, going over and over the manuscript until finally, my eyes blurring and my body aching and asleep, I said, enough. Today I got this draft printed, two copies, 220 pages, one to go by the end of the week to my editor friend here, and then I'll email the ms. to my editor in Vancouver. Need to review it once more before it goes out. I know this draft is better, but I don't know if it's better ENOUGH. Probably not.


The Francophone group's dinner last night - we started the evening sitting outside on Monique's porch by candlelight, eating delicious fondue, and must have looked so picturesque that several passersby commented on the tableau. And then we went inside for more eating and drinking and arguing. As I've said before, two of our members are right-wing, anti-Obama, pro-Stephen Harper and most of all, pro-Israel and anti-Arabs of all nations. I do appreciate the opportunity to argue with people I like and respect, whose opinions are so very opposed to mine. There's a lot of talk these days about the "bubble" we all live in, that the internet gives us the opportunity just to hear our own opinions echoed back to us without every encountering other points of view. I encounter other points of view every time the Francophone group meets, and though I think those two friends are very, very wrong, I am glad to hear what they have to say.

Speaking of which - there's a huge controversy because the novelist Lionel Shriver, at a writer's conference in Australia, spoke about the issue of cultural appropriation, saying she believes writers should be able to write in whatever voice they want, citing examples like Hallowe'en celebrations closed down because the costumes were from other cultures. She said if the fight for political correctness continues, she'll only be able to write in the voice of a 5'2" white American woman. Apparently she spoke with such force that people were offended, including a writer of colour who walked out and organized a forum against Shriver.

Should Tolstoy not have written his brilliant novels in the voice of a woman? Should Alice Munro or Margaret Atwood not be able to write a male character or a First Nations character or a handicapped character? I understand there's a question of sensitivity, but now I think sensitivity is going way too far. Here's what Carol Shields has to say:
On appropriation of voice: You should be able to write about anything you chose. We need to go outside our own skins. The problems come when experience is falsely conveyed without accuracy and respect.
Accuracy and respect are key. I'm reminded of when the marvellous June Callwood, a woman who spent her entire life making other people's lives better, in a moment of impatience at a meeting told another board member, a woman of colour, to fuck off. She was accused of being racist and expelled from the board of the charitable organization SHE FOUNDED; many former friends turned against her. The politics of grievance is lethal.

I will have to talk about this with my daughter; she understands this issue better than I do. Like June, I tend to be impatient. And I know, I am only a middle-class cis-gender heterosexual (mostly) fully-abled white woman, so utterly suspect in every way.

Saturday, October 1, 2016


May I just say, and I know I'm repeating myself, how proud I am of the loving, hard-working, loyal, funny and kind adults who are my children. I do not understand some of their choices - Sam's tattoos, Anna's soap operas etc. Of course there are concerns. I wish my son would settle down with a nice interesting woman not unlike - let's be honest - me. I wish my daughter were more interested in fitness, just like - let's be honest - HER FIT FAB MOTHER.

But where it matters, in the treatment of their family and friends and the planet, they are gold. They are gold. I've been given many gifts - 66 years of health, a home, a brain, creativity and curiosity and wonder and work I love. But the greatest of these - after my health - is pride in my children.

I was a frightened, exhausted single mother, sure I was making terrible mistakes. And no question, I WAS making terrible mistakes. But they came through; they survived me, their dad, their schooling that was systematically destroyed, as they went through, by Mike Harris. They grew up in the inner city and went to inner city schools; Anna was viciously attacked by a girl in her schoolyard, Sam robbed near our home and beaten up several times.

They survived and they thrived. And now there's a new generation to celebrate.

It's a cold rainy day - it'll be a wet Nuit Blanche tonight, as the city prepares to unfurl hundreds of artistic displays. I may or may not partake - am at my desk, at work. As usual, my bum hurts from sitting here for so long. But my spirit and my heart, right now, are soaring.