Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Karl Ove and Gratitude, yay, Cafe Society boo

MMMM. Here is one of the world's most attractive men, Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgaard, talking about his writing. I could listen to him all day. Be still my beating heart.

And speaking of attractive men, here are two more. Only one of them closely related to me, but both of whom I've watched grow up.
Still incredibly mild. A gift from the gods, this beautiful autumn. John came over to help in the garden today, built a cage to contain my toppling goldenglow for next year and another to stake my raspberries; we spent hours outside on Nov. 30, without gloves or hat or even coat. A marvel.

I got Gratitude by Jenny Diski from the library today, a memoir from columns written as she was dying of cancer, aged only 68 - a whirlwind of words, am enjoying it. Did not enjoy last night's offering - the latest Woody Allen, CafĂ© Society, which Sam, who was visiting, and I ordered from Rogers On Demand. What a terrible movie, though stunningly beautiful to look at, gorgeous lighting, sets, costumes. I'm sick of Woody's absurd, even nauseating fantasies of young twiglet women in love with much older men. His writing here is lazy and weak; subplots and characters are there and then vanish, Jews, of course, take over for a bit and then disappear; lots of the actors are miscast. It's a mess. What happened to the powerhouse auteur of before? Woody, you shouldn't make a film a year, just make a film when you have a really good script and something to say. And maybe, I suggest politely, someone should edit you.

Who edits Woody Allen? That's a big part of the problem.

Not a big part of my problem. Tomorrow the latest edit of the memoir comes from Colin Thomas in Vancouver. There’s so much that’s really lovely in this draft, Beth. At this point, it’s almost all about figuring out what you have to do and how you can do it in Act 1. 

Music to my ears "really lovely,", except that, of course, he's also saying, there's stuff that works and stuff that doesn't that you have to fix. Which I knew already.


Oh well. It's really lovely out there, that's what counts right now.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Arrival and niqab

It's a grand sight - Torontonians stumbling about in the warm air, blinking with astonishment. 13 degrees on Nov. 29th! It's minus 13 in Britain, apparently. Here, people out in shirtsleeves and shorts. It's a first. "It'll come," people say gloomily, but in the meantime, let's get out there, into the warm bath of November air. And try not to think about the polar bears.

I have completely regained my equilibrium, though it hurts still to read the papers, hard to do so without raging. But I'm trying not to rage. What's the point? History will judge this vile, intolerant, childish, dishonest, reprehensible man and his friends.

Several things to tell you. First, went yesterday to see Arrival, the new Denis Villeneuve movie that's about a linguist meeting and translating for aliens in Montana - but which was shot entirely in Montreal, as the long list of French-Canadian names in the credits attests. It's a wonderful movie, though I did have to check reviews when I got home to be sure I got it all. Thoughtful, dense and complex, with a big twist at the end. Excellent - about so much more than aliens. Though I do hope when aliens land in Montpellier, they call my linguist friend Lynn to come and translate.

Second, I have asked permission of one of last term's students to write about her. When the classroom door opened and she walked in, I wondered how this would work - my first student wearing a niqab, completely covering her face and head, her eyes behind glasses, in a memoir class about being nakedly honest and telling the truth. I have always felt - as those of you reading here know - that the niqab is a medieval horror, a denial, ordained by men, of a woman's most basic right, to have a face in the world.

My student turned out to be warm, honest and open, friendly and smart and a good writer. At the end of term, I wrote telling her that she had countered my prejudice. She wrote back, "I started wearing the niqab 14 years ago, at age 22, much to the consternation of my husband and both sides of our families as no one covers to this extent. I felt and still feel that it makes me closer to Allah. I find the niqab liberating and dignifying. It gives me a sense of strength; I choose what you see. 

At times I do waiver in my fervour, specially when it hinders on some activities. But never when faced with anger or contempt from perfect strangers who equate my niqab with extremism. 

I have urged her to write about this in more detail - especially important in our new age of explosive intolerance. I hope she does, and I thank her for what I have learned about mine. 

I've also just had some extremely nice notes from friends and students, which I'm reprinting either because I'm an impossibly vain person, or, on the other hand, an impossibly insecure person. Your choice.

From a student whose THIRD book will appear next year: It took years to write the stories for this book and you helped me immensely, you read/edited them first and gave me the encouragement and, more important, the courage to send them out into the world. My books wouldn't exist without you. Truly. Thank you, Beth.

A spectacular success story, this student. I am one proud teacher.

From someone reading my book about my great-grandfather:
I just wanted to let you know that I am LOVING your book on Jacob Gordin. Not only is it a fascinating portrait of a great man, but it is also such a rich tapestry of his world. It is such an exciting and gratifying read. So thank you so much!

Thank you, dear reader. If it weren't for you, our work would not be worth it.

Tonight - November 29, a mild sweet evening - I rode my bike to the U of T Faculty Club for the retirement party of my boss, Marilyn Booth, Dean of Continuing Studies, for whom I worked first at Ryerson and then at U of T. A spectacular woman. Honoured to be there to honour her. And on MY BIKE on November 29! As Lynn said, if the weather continues like this, everyone on earth will want to live in Canada. But it won't. "It's coming." Take my word for it.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Quebec my country mon pays

It's November 26th - my father's birthday; he would have been 94 today. Perhaps that's one reason for my sadness of late. I have much to be grateful for today, especially that my friends are such generous, thoughtful people. After the mewling of the last post, boo hoo, I'm so sad,  kind readers responded. A student friend wrote, I hope you know how much you have enriched my life as a writer and as a retired person searching for purpose. And you have given me that, by being the strong, gifted, eloquent and inspirational teacher that you are.

Oh thank you, CB, I needed that! And dear Lynn wrote from Montpellier, First of all, you know that you are a fabulous writer- so that should be one less reason to be depressed. The fact that you can't get your memoir to work like you'd like to is just normal writer's slump. And you know that too. So that's another reason not to be depressed. Unfortunately I cannot offer any relief from Donald Trump being the president elect. I cannot do anything about the Canadian winter either. Too bad you're not here. We could go shopping together. Then we could go for a nice dinner at the Entrecote and go to a movie. Also it is the Fete des Vignes here- so you'd get to do a lot of wine tasting.

Bella, I'm on my way.

So really, I just mewl periodically so people have to write me nice things. And it works. On the other hand, there's Ken, with whom I saw a documentary yesterday. Afterwards, over dinner at Paupers Pub across the street (half-price entrees before six!) I told him I was depressed because I'm a lousy writer and should just quit. He beamed at me. "Oh I just love it, " he said, "when I go on a depressing tear like that. And how's it working out for you?"

No pity there, just an old friend's honesty and good cheer, which will simply have to do. We saw the excellent Quebec, My Country, Mon Pays, an anglo's story of his family's deep roots in Quebec and how torn they feel about the hostile political environment, so many anglo's leaving, the difficulties and loyalties of those that stay. It recapped the terrible years of the FLQ, the death of Pierre Laporte - and when I got home, I watched two of CNN's documentaries The Seventies, including one about the terrorism of that time. We forget how much there was then, most of it on the left - the Baader-Meinhoff gang, the Red Brigade, the IRA, the absurd Symbionese Liberation Army and its famous heiress ... Angry young people wanting to smash things, like today. But the most chilling, still, was a young Iranian woman telling the cameras that she was willing to face death with pleasure because there is no death in Islam; Muslim martyrs do not die. That was in 1979.

The sun came out this morning, and I did my favourite Saturday morning jaunt by bike to the market, for Empire apples, coffee, sourdough bread, a roast for tonight - my grandson is coming for a sleepover, let's eat! Got 12 bottles of good red on sale at the LCBO and managed to carry them home on my back or in my arms. I'm stocked up for winter, but it's really mild out there today.

So gloom over, all is well chez moi, and I will try not to think, for awhile, about the state of the world. Thank you again for your words of encouragement. For a final jolt of joy, here are the grandkids on their last visit, and the Xmas celebrations in Cabbagetown which were launched today.

Merry November 26th.

PS. A friend just stopped by - I'd sent him a note of gratitude last week for all he does for the neighbourhood, and he brought me flowers. "I remembered that you like ranunculus," he said. And I do.

My cup runneth etc.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Wrestling Jerusalem

Still sad. Still scared. Yes, the man had a meeting with the NYT, trying to win them over with his charm and wit. Ha. Yes, there's magnificent analytical writing pouring out from newspapers, magazines, on-line, and perhaps this horror will galvanize lefties young and old to re-engage with the political process in a serious way. That would be good.

But in the meantime, what damage will be done to the planet? Unimaginable.

Also, it's November, true November now, grey and chilly, leaves showering down not to mention the rain, plants fading. Nature closing down for now, and my soul feels like doing the same. It won't, but still... My daughter and grandsons were over all day yesterday - their apartment was being sprayed for cockroaches - and I realize, they too, these beloved boys, like their mother and uncle, will grow up to be grown-ups whose choices I hardly understand.

Also - it's the memoir, this next draft, the problems, the issues, what's wrong, why doesn't it work, maybe it's just that I'm a lousy writer and should give up. Yesterday, talking to my colleague, prize-winning novelist Cordelia Strube, at the Ryerson open house - we were both there to meet potential students - listening to her complain about the Writer's Trust Gala, a fancy dinner she had to attend, sitting at a table with rich people anxious to meet and talk to a writer, she all dressed up eating filet mignon. She hated it. It sounds like heaven to me. I have never been invited and probably never will be - yo, Cinderella here, sitting in my rags, dreaming of the Writer's Trust Gala.


Okay, snap out of it. Here's something great to share with you: Wrestling Jerusalem, at the Berkeley - a thrilling one man show about a Jewish writer, Aaron Davidman, going to Israel to try to figure out the situation and offer a balanced report. He talks to many people there, both Jewish and Palestinian, whom he brings to life for us. The play shows the depth of passion, the fear and resentment, the enormous love its people have for the place, the intractability of the problem on both sides. It's stirring and beautifully acted - his accents and body changes are instantaneous and bring all his interlocutors vividly to life. An excellent piece of theatre. If only Trump and Pence could see it. Trump apparently told the NYT he'll bring peace to the Middle East. This show would elucidate him about a few of the centuries-old problems.

But then, elucidation is not his thing.

Off this afternoon to meet Ken to see a documentary, Quebec my country mon pays, about the changes in Quebec, and then dinner. If anything can cheer me up in today's gloom, it's Ken's sunny smile.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Bingo with Stella and other joys

It finally came, the cold. Until mid-November, our weather was unbelievable, sunny, almost hot - people out on Nov. 19 in shirtsleeves. But then on Nov. 20, it came. It's so cosy in the kitchen when there's white outside.
I couldn't write here, because I was trying to finish the next draft of the memoir for a Monday deadline - yesterday - with lots else going on. And also - truthfully - I was feeling depressed and gloomy about the fate of the world, about the stupidity and blindness of my fellow human beings. I know, very wrong to judge. And yet how not to judge people who decided, through their own heedless discontent and misinformation, to smash everything and unleash chaos and horror upon the world?

Let it go. We'll get through. Or we won't. In any case, there's nothing you can do. Though somehow I felt guilty, surely I could have done something to stop this terrifying train wreck. No, it seems not. Let it go.

My talk at the JCC went really well. The room was full, including some of the Yiddishists I met while researching the book decades ago. The sad thing about Yiddish is that most of the fluent speakers are very old. But they are brave and feisty and helpful. Jack Newman read excerpts of Gordin's plays in both Yiddish and English, which was very moving. Thanks to all involved. I sold five books!

And met a second cousin for the first time - Michael Shore, whose grandmother was my grandmother's sister, though I think for decades they had nothing to do with each other, in that family where many were estranged. I went to Montreal long ago to meet Michael's mother; her son then lived in Vancouver but recently moved to Toronto. He is, no surprise, an actor and a teacher of acting. With my American father and British mother, I've never had cousins in Canada, only in the U.S. and England, so having one in my own city is new and welcome.

That night, the last of my home classes with the wonderful writers who are so dear and close, they're like adopted cousins. Today, my last class at U of T and then, except for editing and coaching, I'm off till January 16! Even though that means no teaching income, hooray. More time for my own work.

And for my family. Saturday, I went across town. Eli had come home from school with head lice which Anna caught - so now he has a crew cut, and after treatment, she had to go to a clinic to be sure hers were gone. Thomas stayed with Ben while I took Eli for sushi, to the library and to check out the local toystore, pre Santa. I asked who his best friend was at school. "Stacey," he said. "I'm going to marry her." "Does she know that?" I asked. "I told her," he said. "Does she think that's a good idea?" "When we're seven or eleven," he said firmly.

I need to check her out. Will go spy on the playground. IS SHE GOOD ENOUGH FOR MY BOY?

Here's Thomas making pumpkin pie under the watchful eye of much of the family.
On Sunday, in the new thin sheet of snow and fighting the Santa Claus parade, I went to a legion to play bingo. Yes. My dear friend Stella Walker, a hilarious comedienne, musician and painter with endless talent, kindness and craziness, was shooting a music video about bingo, wearing a dress made of bingo cards, and invited a group of her friends to play the game behind her. I've not played in years - if ever. It was thrilling. I won once. BINGO! I shouted. My prize was a mandela colouring book. Awesome.
Then a meeting with Stephen and Lesia about Babe in the Barn, the Christmas pageant we produce every Xmas Eve. Panic - we don't have shepherds this year, need to find two shepherds, speaking roles. But we do have one family with a baby who are willing to sit in the straw for an hour, and a possible backup. Need to talk to the Farm about making sure more animals are in the barn for the show. Oh, it's a complicated affair.

Sunday night, Monique came over to drink wine and watch TV with me - the Durrells in Corfu and Poldark. I had to explain who everyone was, and there are a lot of people. Much fun.

All day Monday, finishing the rewrite, sitting until my bum was numb - a poem - except for a yoga class midday, delightful, the first time I've done yoga in years. Much missed. Will start again. Mailed the draft late last night. Mailed another draft, with a few last minute rewrites, early this morning. Let it go. And now, out to class.

So that's it. Here's a bouquet a friend gave me as thanks for a favour. White as snow.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

back soon

Have just had an email query from dear Gretchen - are you okay? Sick? I realize - it's been nagging at me - I haven't posted here for a few days. I'm not sick, there's just too much going on. I haven't been able to clear either psychic or actual space and time.

And can't now either.

More anon, dear bloggees!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


Now I remember one reason I'm glad not to be an actress any more: tomorrow I give my talk at the Miles Nadal JCC, and today, I am utterly paranoid about my voice, my health, my throat. I'm getting sick! Must lie down! The actor's paranoia. I have gone over my talk several times and am looking forward to it. And also to it being over. Just got to get through and collapse.

Such a strange time - editor friends for dinner last night, a writer friend for dinner tonight, and guess what we mostly talked about? Not our jobs and lives. No, simply how - if - we and the world are going to survive Tuesday's cataclysm. The horror, the horror. Steve Bannon Rudi Giuliani the KKK the rise of racism and anti-Semitism the horror! Today in the Globe, an article that made me deeply, profoundly sad - about how glad Netanyahu and the Israeli right are about El Trumpo. That Israel should support such a foul, vicious racist ... but there you go, that's the sad, strange world. Apparently David Remnick of the New Yorker destroyed that pompous idiot Conrad Black on TV recently, must find that. Whereas a surprising new Canadian hero has emerged - David Frum, once a darling of the Republicans, now the voice of right-wing decency and sanity. His mother would be proud.

Some good news: paid subscriptions to good newspapers have gone way up. I already pay for the NYT on-line, the Star and the Saturday Globe - but a few days ago I donated 50 pounds to the Guardian, which until now I've read for free. Good newspapers, good reporters like Daniel Dale of the Star, are on the front lines of democracy. We must give them every support!

Teaching winding down. Last class at Ryerson on Monday, one of the best classes ever - a thrilling if very big group who made extraordinary progress. I felt sorry for the woman who dropped out because, as she wrote, "I don't want group therapy, I want to learn to write." The writing in this class was stunning, and the group is already arranging to continue to meet. The U of T class, with one to go, is also a joy. And a student from a few years ago wrote to thank me for what she learned in class and to tell me she now has a two-book deal with a publisher. A two-book deal! So, something's working. Something, in this strange, sad world, is working.

Tonight there's a musical tribute to Leonard Cohen at Christie Pits. I intended to go - people were to bring song sheets and sing along, how wonderful. But I'm not going anywhere, concerned about not getting sick. I am a fragile flower until tomorrow at 3.

And then I'll go nuts.

From the Washington Post - this we know:
North America’s most astonishing warmth this week has focused in Canada, where temperatures have been up to 30 degrees warmer than normal.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

so sad

All very well to write cheerfully that "We shall overcome." Right now, I am overcome. Watching the hundreds of thousands protesting in the States, reading an article on FB that a teacher was overheard telling children their parents would be deported and they would become foster children, then hearing that Trump has confirmed he will begin the process of deportation.

And then listening to and reading about the death of that fine, gentle man, Leonard Cohen, the opposite of Trump and what he represents - how Cohen's death, this very week, brings to the fore an image of the world as it could be, as it should be, a world of art and poetry, kindness, thoughtfulness, honour and grace - and then we will turn on the TV news or open the newspaper and fall into a pit of vileness, greed, prejudice, indifference.

So I sat at the piano to play. It's the first time playing has been a comfort. I am still a beginner and yet there is music in the fingers. I have almost mastered, clumsily, the first page of the Moonlight Sonata and am progressing to the second, and as I played, I wept that there is such music in the world, such composers and musicians, at the same time as such blind, violent, stupid men.

I guess there will be a lot of weeping in the weeks and months to come. We will turn to each other, and to music - to the music of Leonard Cohen, among others - for comfort.

My talk at the Miles Nadal Thurs. Nov. 17 1.30 p.m.

Finding the Jewish Shakespeare: The Life and Legacy of Jacob Gordin

Thursday November 17
Socialize over refreshments: 1:00 pm
Program: 1:30 - 3:00 pm
$4 Drop-In
Writer/actress Beth Kaplan shares an inside look at the life and creative achievements of her great-grandfather, Jacob Gordin, the influential playwright and icon of the Yiddish stage. Includes a dramatic performance by Jack Newman.
Russian-Jewish writer and social activist Jakov Mikhailovich Gordin landed on the Lower East Side of New York at the age of 38. Though he had never before written for the theatre or in Yiddish, within five months, he had written and sold three Yiddish plays. A born teacher and reformer, Gordin was determined to elevate the Yiddish theatre’s operettas and melodramas,
to introduce immigrant audiences to a serious theatre of ideas. A year later came The Jewish King Lear, Gordin’s breakthrough play, a key transformative moment for the Jewish stage.
During his eighteen years in America, Gordin wrote some 70 plays and countless one-acts and stories. He founded newspapers, magazines, theatre workshops and a school for Jewish immigrants. His plays were produced all over the world, including in Prague, where one fan was a writer called Franz Kafka. Many actors, including the great Stella Adler, began their careers in Gordin plays. He was known as the Jewish Shakespeare, Lion of the Jewish stage, and his era as “The Golden Age of the Yiddish Theatre.” Yet as he lay dying, a vicious vendetta by the only man as powerful on the Lower East Side as he destroyed his reputation and his life’s work.
One of Gordin’s eleven children was Beth Kaplan’s grandmother. Kaplan, a Canadian writer, teacher and actress, spent many years tracking down her ancestor’s powerful, inspiring and haunting story for her book, Finding the Jewish Shakespeare:The Life and Legacy of Jacob Gordin, published in 2007. In this presentation, Beth will speak both about her ancestor’s extraordinary life and about her search for him.

Award-winning actress and playwright Beth Kaplan is the author of three books: the memoir All My Loving; True to Life, a textbook about creative writing; and Finding the Jewish Shakespeare: the Life and Legacy of Jacob Gordin, a biography of her great-grandfather (published in 2007 and reissued in paperback in 2012). Beth has lectured on Jacob Gordin, among other places, at the Medem Yiddish Library of Paris, at Oxford University, at the Stella Adler Studio and the 92nd Street Y in New York, and throughout Canada. In 2008, she delivered the Wexler Lecture in Jewish History in Washington, D.C. Beth has taught memoir and personal essay writing at Ryerson University and at the University of Toronto for many years, and she is the winner of
U of T’s Excellence in Teaching award. More information


It is the most heavenly day - crisp and hot, with showers of red, orange and gold leaves; the Japanese maple up the street is incandescent scarlet. There's nowhere in the world I'd rather be than Toronto on a magical fall day like this. I walked through the Farm and then to the Necropolis cemetery where I visited my parents, whose ashes are scattered there. I told them the world is in grave upheaval but their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are safe and well. That their granddaughter and her boys arrived back in Toronto late last night from visiting her best friend in Saskatchewan, and a family friend met them at the airport holding a bag of fresh hot hamburgers from Harry's, Sam's restaurant. Welcome home.

Right next to the spot where my parents are scattered is a headstone from the 1870's for a woman whose infant daughter died at 19 days old, and who died herself only six months later. There are so many stories in those headstones.

I've been reading a lot of analysis - Naomi Klein et al - about the election, about how wrong, blind and intolerant we all were. Valuable lessons. My cousin in Washington is in such despair, she doesn't want to leave the house or do anything. So I wrote to her.
It’s such a beautiful day here, I just went out for a walk to celebrate being alive on the planet. We have had terrible news this week but there’s much to be learned from it. I am taking heart from the fine writers of the New York Times who, even as they express fear and anguish, are analyzing this crisis with thoughtfulness and wisdom. 

The fact is that the political process has always been a pendulum - the United States elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and it elected Richard Nixon. So - Obama and Trump. My consolation is that there was so much poison in the air, Hillary wouldn’t have been able to govern. So let them have their guy, see where it gets them. Let’s just hope the world survives until the pendulum swings the other way. The Democrats have certainly learned a hard lesson and will be different by 2020.  

I only hope you take heart in humanity, remember that half the country did not vote for Trump - and maybe find a cause you can get involved in, that will help you to feel you’re making a contribution to a better America in its hour of need. I certainly hope this debacle fires up young people - in fact, everyone - to volunteer and jump in and do their bit. But yes, what matters most, in the end, is love and kindness, and that, no matter what is happening in Washington or elsewhere in the world, we can do.

So let's. 

Received this lovely note from a student, heartening after a hard week - not just the election and the death of Leonard Cohen, but also after hearing much editorial criticism of the new memoir:

Just before supper, I was reading your Paul memoir. The description of your mother having had to quit school because of the war and not really trusting working women is very powerful. 

When someone reads a writer’s memoir, because it is TRUE, the reader gains genuine insight into the writer’s life. Even though the two people haven’t necessarily conversed, or even met, there is an authentic connection. Very cool.

P.S. Just got out my Leonard Cohen poetry books. Inside "Flowers for Hitler" is written "For Beth, Christmas 1967, Mum and Dad, xx." 

You're still here, Mum and Dad. Still with me. Thank you.

Friday, November 11, 2016

the next world war, Cuisine, Leonard

People at the Y still talking about it. An elderly woman said, "Why should the young always be subjugated to the old and right-wing?" Another said, "We've already seen the world descend into madness with a lunatic dictator. We don't want that again."

No we don't. Here's a superb article giving a historical perspective on where we are now. It's worse than you thought. I spoke this morning to a friend in Washington, who said a friend of his saw a sign in an Atlanta restaurant yesterday: "Whites only."

It's worse than we thought.

I am in a FB battle. It's pointless, I know, but so hard to resist - the friend of a friend posted a nauseating bit about how she was concerned about Trump but couldn't stand Hillary's lies and deceit so voted for Trump and thinks he will be wonderful. My fingers trembled and I tried not to reply, because it's pointless. We will all just stand and shout at each other. I did reply, and just now posted this article. Will she read it? Of course not, just as I won't read the latest vile diatribe from Fox News or wherever she gets her "information."

Oh it's ugly. Worse than anyone thought.

Okay, as I wrote yesterday, to cheer myself up, I took my son for his birthday to dinner and a play, both superb. "Cuisine and Confessions" is extraordinary - nine rubber-bodied Cirque-du-Soleil type performers do incredible feats of athleticism and daring while cooking a meal in front of our eyes, bringing audience members up to help them, and standing at a mike to tell us about their lives. One beautiful moment - a young man tells us about his father, one of the "disappeared" of Argentina, taken away, tortured and murdered when the narrator was eight months old. And then he leaps onto the long pole that spans the height of the stage and does dangerous, almost violent feats. Breath-taking. On for a few more weeks and highly recommended.

My son is a good person, and so is my daughter - caring, thoughtful, generous, loyal. How much, how very much values like that are going to matter in the dark days ahead.

Oh Leonard Cohen, you gave up the ghost at a fraught time; you were ready to go. I spent my entire 17th year obsessively reading your books of poetry and singing "Suzanne" a thousand times with my Goya guitar. What a joy to see you in concert a few years ago, with your haunting gravelly voice, singing quite a few songs on your knees, accompanied by a chorus of angels. A beautiful soul of sublime gravitas. Hallelujah to you, and thank you.

And now, to eat a lot of very good chocolate.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Soma chocolate saves the day

Day Two and the world has not exploded yet. I am doing my best to avoid news outlets - TV, newspapers, anywhere I have to see a picture of the giant orange blowhole who will soon, through some grotesque, incomprehensible error, be POTUS. But avoidance can't last; the media fascination with El Trumpo continues, and I'm sure it won't stop anytime soon. Actually watched a bit of CBC news last night - during the commercials for "Call the Midwife," so good! - and then Peter Mansbridge announced that Ann Coulter was going to be on. Could not switch channels fast enough, to avoid Ann Coulter. A truly nasty woman in every sense of the word, and now she's a pundit on CBC? Heaven help us.

Sigh. I'm still feeling sick and battered, as if I've been kicked in the gut. Just like everyone I know. Do I know one Trump supporter? Not a single one, I think. Proud of that. (Maybe my New York cousin's husband who inherited many millions. But perhaps not even him.)

So - feel good strategy #643: I went to Soma Chocolate in the Distillery and bought $40 worth of good dark chocolate with nuts and ginger. That should keep me going for a week. Tonight I have a date with a handsome young man. Yes, he happens to be closely related to me, which is good because he'll have no choice but to look at my bright red eye. And he won't mind, because I'm taking him to dinner and the theatre for his birthday. "Cuisine and Confessions" - sounds like fun, just up his alley, people leaping about and cooking.

What is marvellous about this political debacle is the outpouring of creativity - the essays, articles, letters, the little films online, and of course, the comedians who have the next 4 years full of rich, rich material.

Yesterday my daughter sent, to comfort me, an audio clip on my phone - how does she do that? - of Eli singing "Bye baby bunting", which is my favourite lullaby, and then saying "I love you, Grandma." Thank you, universe. That's all I need to get by.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

aftermath - a few wise words

I stepped out into the world this morning expecting it to be a far uglier, meaner place; as I rode my bike, it felt like people were driving with more anger, more freedom to be rude and endanger others. At the Y, everyone was talking about only one thing, by the lockers, in the gym, in the sauna, we all joined in with commiseration and genuine grief. I went to speak particularly to my friends of colour there, Annie and Charmaine, who were both in shock. We were all in shock, and sorrow, and horror and despair. And then I talked to a bright young man in my class, a Muslim immigrant from Jordan who said, "Hillary or Trump, they were both just as bad." I jumped down his throat. "But she's just a professional politician and a liar!" he said. When asked what exactly she'd lied about, he couldn't say.

Bravo to Fox News, Julian Assange and Vladimir Putin, who did their smear job extremely well.

But it was my friend Godana who really helped, Godana who's been for decades in political exile from his native Ethiopia. "Being depressed and scared doesn't help," he said. "There's nothing we can do. Yes, when we can do something, we should do it. But here, there's nothing we can do. So we let it go, we go on, we hope for the best." He's right. Despair accomplishes nothing. Even though I feel like I've been pummelled with bricks, there's nothing to do but ...

But wait, how is it possible, everyone kept saying, for a country full of intelligent people to make such an appallingly stupid destructive choice? Stephen Hawking opined that human greed and stupidity are going to destroy the planet; how right he was. Michael Moore knew what was happening. At least 3 weeks ago, he said on the Bill Maher show that Trump was going to win. Nobody believed him because it just was not possible. But Moore understands the soul of the white working class.
Michael Moore
5 hrs
Morning After To-Do List:
1. Take over the Democratic Party and return it to the people. They have failed us miserably.
2. Fire all pundits, predictors, pollst...
See more
But wait - I'm grabbing desperately for a silver lining - had Hillary won, she would have had to deal with such poison and hideous dysfunction, such a blatantly unrealistic vision of America, her job would have been impossible. Maybe half the country's corrosive anger and desire for change, any change, needs to be indulged; it's a festering boil to be lanced and drained, and then we start again. Sorry for the nasty image, but that's surely one of the only possible positives to come from this.

There's nothing we can do except hug the people we love and be kinder to one another. Always, be kinder to one another. And to thank Hillary Clinton for a profoundly moving speech and all her incredible hard work. That poor woman.

Lynn wrote from France that Trump's victory has empowered the vicious fascist Marine LePen. Thinking about the environment, the economy, refugees, the chaos that will ensue, the heart breaks. Nothing to do except let it go. Let it go. Let it go.

Well, maybe a little glass of wine too, though it's early.

8.30 a.m. the day after

Well, the weather is still beautiful and mild. There is still air in my lungs; my right eye is still blazing red. My children and grandchildren are alive and well. There are birds and squirrels in the garden and red and yellow leaves fluttering to the ground. The world will go on, until it won't.

I've offered shelter to my American family.

Today is like the day after 9/11: a profound grief and fear throughout our planet, except in Moscow. Except that 9/11, the scale of that monstrous attack, was a one-time event. This is four years, and possibly eight.

I repeat, here's a great poet to illuminate it all for us.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

We're about to drown in a flood of passionate intensity. Good luck to us all.

Later. Okay, praise be, my son who's six foot eight just posted this on FB. A laugh, much needed, as we sit around staring in a stupor at the wall wondering how the planet will survive.

One step closer to the destruction of society as a whole. Then The Tall shall rule! Hahahahaaaaaa. Basements will be eradicated! Low hanging chandeliers will be torn from ceilings! WE will ask YOU how tall you are with impunity! It has begun.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

11.30 p.m.

Profound sadness. There's still a remote possibility for her - but as a pundit is now saying on the Daily Show, even if she wins, which she won't, the country is far more racist, sexist, uneducated and hate-filled than we had realized. She said she feels sorry for the people who voted for him. "They've traded away their health care and their financial future in order to be a bit more explicit in their racism."

Heartbreaking. Angry white rural voters turned out in force, and here we are.

She says voter suppression worked, and now the Republicans can expand it to ensure the next election. My daughter is tweeting, heartbroken, from Saskatchewan. "What do they see in him?" she asked. "People loved Hitler," I wrote back. "We are a flawed species. But remember, almost half the country voted for her."

I feel sick. What forces of evil have been unleashed?

election night 9 p.m.

Friends Monique, Isabel and I eating cheese, drinking wine, feeling sick. Sick. Sick. Sick. Sick. Too close. Nauseating. Incomprehensible. Horrendous. No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no.

election night 7.30 p.m.

Just turned it on FOR A SECOND. Trump ahead. Turned it off. Turned to Twitter instead and got a whole bunch of pix of "Good dogs for Clinton." Now listening to Macca, Disc 3. Friends are coming over soon. My heart was heavy, then I saw this picture from San Francisco. I love humanity again.

Thanks, Susan B.!

People Wait in Line to Say Thank You and Pay Homage to Voting Rights Activist Susan B Anthony

People in Rochester, New York are waiting in line at the grave of voting rights activist Susan B. Anthony so they can thank her and leave "I voted" stickers on her grave.
People Wait in Line to Say Thank You and Pay Homage to Voting Rights Activist Susan B Anthony
People in Rochester, New York are waiting in line at the grave of voting rights activist Susan B. Anthony so they can thank her and leave “I voted” stickers on her grave.

five p.m. election night

Monique is coming over at 8 "avec du champagne," she says, so she's pretty sure we'll have someone to toast. Richard, the expert in all things political - who just did a CTV commentary on Prince Harry's very stern plea to the media to leave his new girlfriend alone - says we won't know what way the wind is blowing until after 9. Jon Stewart gladdened our hearts by appearing on the Colbert show last night, goof that he is. Thank the good lord for all the brilliant comedians, for Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon on SNL, for the wonderful Samantha Bee and John Oliver and Trevor Noah and all the others, on the air and on the net, trying to get some of us to pay attention, and to help the rest of us get through.

I have faith. I declare this at 5 p.m. on election night; it's already pitch black outside, but still mild and very beautiful. I have faith.

In the meantime, more disintegration, not of the house, for once, but of me - my right eye is bright neon blinding red, absolutely hideous. I turned of course to Dr. Google, who told me it's a broken blood vessel, nothing to be done. A student at Ryerson last night said about my eye, It's Trump, isn't it? Yes, yes it is, it is Trump's fault, as is almost everything bad on earth right now. It's as if he has unleashed the forces of hell, the hidden cesspit of racism, sexism and general vileness dormant in us all. And all this is manifest in my eye.

Ah well, Monique is coming over at 8 with a bottle of champagne. Let's pray we have reason to drink it.

In the meantime, here are some beautiful fall colours for you to enjoy, to take your mind off what's going on in the world right now, to stop you from chewing your nails:
 The corner of Spruce and Sackville, just up the street,
 and just around the corner.
 The last of my tomatoes.
You know where, not looking too bad considering that everything is beginning to fade.

And here, to show the forces of tolerance at work, are pictures I took in the Ryerson women's bathroom last night:

Isn't it amazing how malleable language is? Would we have understood some of these terms five or even two years ago? Humanity marches onward, even if there are some determined to drag us back to the Dark Ages. But we won't let them.

Bring on the champagne. Hooray for President Hillary Clinton!

However. If ever there was a time for this poem, it's now, when a monster with a gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun is loose and powerful in the world:

THE SECOND COMING, William Butler Yeats

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Sunday, November 6, 2016

the heat of November

I've made a decision - with two days left to go before the U.S. election, I am going to ignore it completely. My anxiety, which left me sleepless Friday night, will not change the outcome and only makes me miserable. So I'm going to refuse to watch or listen to anything about it. Especially because I expect some Russian-engineered horror to happen any minute - an attack to attempt to make the orange blowhole look presidential. No, stop, see, there it goes again. I will not think about it.

Instead - this glorious weather. Yesterday was so sublime, it was hard to comprehend - November 5th! I'd hired a friend of Anna's to come help me sort out some of the chaos in the house, especially the basement, but when she arrived, I apologized, gave her $20 as a "consulting fee," and asked her to come back in two weeks when the weather is bad. No way I could spend hours in the basement on such a heavenly day. She was pleased, and I took off for a long bike ride, all afternoon, with Jean-Marc and Richard. We went to the Leslie Street Spit, relishing the hot sun, the birds, the view.
Nine swans a'swimming. In November.

Jean-Marc made a delicious dinner and we lay on their bed to watch the new Netflix series, "The Crown," about the early years of Queen Elizabeth II. A beautiful series, especially interesting to watch with Richard, who was once an assistant to the Lieutenant Governor and is now CTV's official royalty expert. He knows the real story and is outraged by the small changes made, I assume for dramatic effect. Only Richard and the people actually involved know or care that this event actually took place at Balmoral not Sandringham, or "The black dress was on the plane, of course! They didn't carry it on for her. Shocking."

The series shows an intelligent, sensitive, vulnerable young woman thrust into public life long before she wanted to be. As usual with these British series, it's beautifully acted, directed and written. We watched two episodes and as they began to watch a third, I went home. Two solid hours was enough. My first Netflix binge watch; now I understand how much fun that is. There will be more - Rogers is apparently soon giving us Netflix for free. It will be a good winter.

P.S. Listening to "Sunday Morning" on CBC radio right now, Michael Enright with esteemed guests discussing ... guess what? THE #@$#@ ELECTION. And I'm riveted.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

the KKK, the KGB and the FBI all love Trump

At the end of Bill Maher's unfunny comedy news program last night, during which he used the word "fascist" a number of times to describe the possible government of the U.S. after Tuesday, he apologized for the show's negative rhetoric during past elections and remembered fondly the decent human beings of the former Republican party - the previously reviled Mitt Romney and John McCain now look like kindly and smart if a bit misguided gentlemen. George W. Bush looks like a wise elder statesman. Bring them back. And never did I think I'd be saying those words.

As someone pointed out, this is the first time in history that the KKK, the KGB and the FBI are all backing the same candidate. And that could not be worse news for our planet. It's terrifying. Maher went on about this being a far-right-wing coup, engineered in part by Russia in collusion with the Republican party and the FBI. We've just seen what a careless, blind, anger-driven, media-manipulated vote did in England. And now we have to watch again.

At the beginning of the show, Maher showed a clip of an interview he did with the brilliant, thoughtful President Obama at the White House. It is impossible, truly impossible to believe that the nation which elected that man might now elect a giant orange blowhole. What happened? I know, there will be many books written about it all.

Okay, got to move along or I'll sink into depression about mankind, and that's no place to be on a mild fall weekend. Yes, our incredible autumn sunshine continues to give us record-breaking highs. What country am I living in? There is confusion.

Despite the turmoil south of the border, here it feels as if life has finally settled a bit after weeks of chaos, and I will try to focus on the cheer of that. Yes, wires gone in the garden. Yes, functional washing machine. Yes, working home phone. Yes, at last, as of 8.15 a.m. this morning when Edgar from Rogers - originally from north-eastern China - delivered and installed a new PVR cable box, the television brings in the channels I actually watch, including, for a few free months, the Sundance channel and Book TV, which may be the most boring channel ever, watched only by 17 writers. The fact is that after all that, I will still hardly ever watch. But if I want to, I can, and that's what's important.

What's important today is that my daughter and her boys are winging across the country, off to Saskatoon to visit Anna's best friend Ashley from university days; Ashley lives in Lloydminster and has two kids just a little older. There's a plan: after the long flight and for Ashley's kids the long drive to the airport, they'll spend an hour in the airport itself letting them run, then drive an hour to a McDonald's that has a playland where they'll spend another hour, then the rest of the drive home. They know what they're doing, these moms. I went across town to say hello and goodbye and take them to their favourite sushi restaurant. Ben is now walking non-stop; he walked almost the whole way home, crazily, like a drunk, veering as often as possible into the road, while Eli zoomed up every wall and across everyone else's front lawns. Could I love them more? Guess.
And here, after all the ugliness and horror of the news cycle, is a shot taken just up the street - O Canada. I'm so glad to live here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

clean at last

As you all know, I am a simple woman with simple needs. And right now, here's what is simply making me happy: there is a working washing machine in my basement which just washed two large baskets of laundry; my new Macca CD is playing in the kitchen and a large piece of peanut butter on raisin sourdough toast sits beside me. I found out by mail that I do not have colon cancer this year. Yay!

Hallowe'en was its usual extraordinary event in my neighbourhood - hundreds of children and so many houses decorated, ghosts, goblins, gravestones and giant spiders everywhere. After teaching, I went to Jean-Marc and Richard's for a grown-up Hallowe'en party, homemade pizzas, wine and many interesting people, all of whom live within a five house radius. Wonderful.
My neighbour Monique getting ready for the hordes.

So. She's feelin' good. Tho' not so good this morning, a tiny bit hungover. And my new phone sort of works and sort of does not, along with most other things in this house, including me. I have been so immersed in wires, washers, technological decisions, teaching, So True et al, I have not done any writing work for ages, both body and mind disintegrating. Time to get going again. The weather helps - it's glorious out there, incredible for November. For another week, they say. Please. Before reality hits.

The CD attributes a surprising number of the songs to both Paul and Linda McCartney. It's too bad one of my fave songs, "I'm Carrying," isn't on it. Imagine, 67 beautiful, very different songs, and there are still lots more out there. Here's "Early Days," a song about his boyhood friendship with John, his voice rough and old, and brave.

Okay, I'm faithful to my earliest loves, Paul and peanut butter, and really REALLY boring.

Today I heard from a dear friend who is featured in my new memoir. I gave it to her to read. What would I have done if she'd hated the way she was portrayed, when she's in so much of the book? It would have been difficult. But luckily, it seems, she did not. It's one of the difficulties of memoir - that we are writing not just about ourselves, but the people in our lives, whether they like it or not. It is a beautiful piece of writing and one of the most interesting bits of writing on l’Arche I have ever read. Very moving in that it rings so true. I enjoyed reading it immensely. 

This, too, is the sweetest music to my ears. I wonder if Paul could write it into a song.
"And your inspiration, long may it last, may it come to you, time and time again," he sings.