Saturday, December 31, 2016

Loss and gain

Besides the obvious losses, Leonard Cohen, Bowie, Prince et al, there were many vital Canadians we lost this year, all but Ursula artists - and Ursula, scientist and peace activist, was an artist in her own way:
Jerry Franken
Ursula Franklin
Ellen Seligman
Mel Hurtig
Janet Wright
Austin Clarke
Iris Turcott
Dave Broadfoot

And other artists lost:
Dario Fo
George Martin
Bill Cunningham
Harper Lee
Fyvush Finkel
Edward Albee
Elie Wiesel

the beautiful Alan Rickman.

Thank you, thank you for what you gave to us all. And let's pray for those of us still breathing and moving on into the world of Presidents Trump and Putin.

P.S. Just did a loose calculation, based on the titles of this blog: in 2016, I saw at least 15 plays, 12 films and 6 documentaries, including two by friends, and went to hear five writers speak and one global superstar sing - Macca. Not to mention the superb TV shows I watched (Downton! The Crown! Sherlock!) and books and articles I read. WHAT A RICH RICH LIFE. Thank you again to artists, for so enriching our troubled, bewildered and bewildering world.

happy and yappy

Had brunch today with one of my oldest friends - Nick Rice, a wonderful actor - and his ladylove, Beth-Anne Cole, another wonderful actor and musician. Nick and I met in Vancouver in 1975 in the first show I did there, along with an ambitious actress who moved to L.A. and did quite well - Kim Cattrall of Sex in the City. Nick and I did a number of shows together, most notably a very difficult Three Sisters in 1979 about which I am writing in my current memoir. Before the performances, to cheer ourselves up, we would go on stage and sing at the top of our lungs, calling ourselves the Nice Rice Band. Nick is still an actor, and a sweeter person you could not hope to find. He and Beth-Anne live in the Performing Arts Lodge, a haven for actors and musicians. Sometimes our world does the right thing.

Took two library books back: a book of Christmas stories by Jeanette Winterson, from which this quote: We had noticed everything once – the water collecting on the berried ivy, the mistletoe in the dark-armed oak, the barn where the owl sat under the tiles, the smoke like a message curling up from forest-burnt fires, the ancientness of time and us part of it.

Why had we learned to hurry through every day when every day was all we had? … Why are the real things, the important things, so easily misled underneath the things that hardly matter at all?

My resolution for this next year - not to hurry through every day, when it's all I have.

And "All the Single Ladies" by Rebecca Traister, a treatise about the growth in importance and numbers of single women in our world; where once unmarried women were an anomaly, now they are everywhere. We are everywhere.

Soon I'm going to a neighbourhood bash, and then home to get into my jammies and go to sleep. No frantic festivities in this house. Tomorrow night a great treat - Sherlock's back.

I am so heartened by the act of resistance from musicians and performers in the U.S., who are refusing to perform at Trump's inauguration - including the woman who left the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which I think is the only confirmed act, rather than sing for him. There's a joke invitation online, a woman in a bikini inviting you to enjoy, at his inauguration, Kid Rock, Ted Nugent, two Rockettes, and karaoke. That's what his presidency will be - Ted Nugent, two Rockettes and karaoke. But there will be resistance all down the line. It may actually be an exciting and revolutionary time. Let us pray.

Yes, it was a bad year in politics and for loss. But - I am still here. If you are reading, you are still here. My loved ones are still here, and I hope yours are too - most of them, anyway. And Justin Trudeau is still there. Onward. That's all there is, every day, the road ahead, one foot in front of the other, on into 2017. When I first wrote those numbers, I stopped - couldn't be, that must be wrong. 2017? But yes, that's where we are, you and I.

So. Onward.

For your enjoyment, a few final pictures of a nice man who's a great love, but first, an ambitious album that did not quite make it:

These are NYEve wishes from Jacques Brel almost 50 years ago. At the end he says, in my clumsy translation: I wish you to never give up searching, adventure, life, love, because life is a magnificent adventure and no reasonable person should renounce it without a fight. I wish you most of all to be you, proud to be you and happy, because happiness is our true destiny.

Me too, I wish that for you too, and for me. Happy New Year, my dear friends. See you next year.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Things To Come with Isabelle Huppert

Spent yesterday battling a bug, determined not to go under - my grandson is due to come for a sleepover. His brother is going off for the day so if Eli comes to me, their mother will get a break. I cannot deny her that. So - lots of C and zinc lozenges, to the Y for a steam and sauna, tea, water, tons of turkey soup. And then early to bed with a sleeping pill. I think I've beaten it. I'm not feeling great, but I'm not incapacitated either.

In the afternoon, near the Y, I went to a well-reviewed film, Things to come - L'Avenir, the future, in French, written and directed by a 35-year old woman, with the fantastic Isabelle Huppert. It made me laugh; life in France is like another planet sometimes. Huppert plays a high school or college philosophy professor, and the classes of polite, beautifully dressed young people seriously pondering philosophical issues, discussing Rousseau and the Rights of Man - what world is this? It's set maybe six or seven years ago - Sarko is President - but there are no cell phones, only intense and constant philosophical discussion, not just in the classroom, but at the dinner table. Someone gives a slim book about Plato as a gift to a newborn baby. "Never too early," Huppert says. So French!

But it's a haunting film, showing this capable woman's world being dismantled, bit by bit, and yet she does not go under. Her husband leaves her, her neurotic mother dies, other things happen, but on she goes, teaching her students and parenting her two children. In fact, she shows hardly any emotion about the end of her marriage, but bursts into sobs after an argument with a favourite former student who criticizes her bourgeois lifestyle. We see her wistfully visiting him and his anarchist band, as if trying to connect to her idealistic communist youth, now long gone.

Much to think about. Two criticisms: the pace of this film, like so many French films and plays, is glacial. Long long shots, including, at the end, five motionless minutes of the empty corner of a room. Drives me mad! But the scene just before is beautiful - she has definitively shut out her husband, who's hanging around, she cooks a superb meal for her children, and at the end, she is holding and singing a lullaby to her grandson. She takes care of everyone. As women, even philosophy professors, do.

I also wondered why she has no female friends. As MY friends know, the minute something happens in my life, I need to convey it to at least five of my closest friends. But this woman has none. Is that possible? No friends?

Anyway, it's a fascinating movie, if too slow, good for an afternoon when I was battling aching bones. So many more films on my list - I'm way behind. Must get better and get out there. But first - across town to get the young man. He and I are scheduled to see ... a movie.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Caitlin Moran - surprise! - speaks her mind

The fierce and feisty Caitlin Moran has a new book called Moranifesto. In an interview in Elle, she speaks her forthright mind, insisting that in the face of all that was horrible about 2016, we need to be more cheerful and pro-active than ever. That things change quickly and each of us can do our bit.
As humans, we take ashes and make them into things. At the point where we're on the brink, we turn around and say something incredible or do something heroic or we fall in love or invent something. 

So I have to believe that 2017 will be the best year ever. We've never had more ashes and rubble and hopelessness. All the asshats have had their say, and hopefully on New Year's Eve, they'll just collapse, exhausted, and go "This was the year we ruled! We did stuff we didn't even believe we could do, we were unbelievably stupid and evil and now we must rest!"

Then on New Year's Day, all the lovely, clever and reasonable people will stand up and go "Right, there's a big cleanup job to be done here; you get the broom, I'll get the mop and let's start making 2017 better. I've got an idea, and it just might work."

Okay, a tiny bit simplistic. A bit Pollyanna-ish, and I don't agree that we've NEVER had more hopelessness, that's absurd - what about world war and the Bubonic Plague? Surely worse than El Trumpo, though perhaps he'll manage to get us both. But what else have we got, as we face next year, but each other, good cheer, faith in humanity and the need to do some good in our small corner of the planet?

Had a long talk today with my ex who's in the eye of the storm, running a huge theatre company in Washington, D.C. I told him I spent last evening watching the Kennedy Centre Arts Awards, the Obamas, looking like gods of reason, intelligence and beauty, sitting with the honourees James Taylor, Al Pacino, pianist Martha Argerich, Mavis Staples, and the Eagles. All kinds of magnificent artists saluted them from the stage, including Ringo, Yo Yo Ma and Itzak Perlman in his power wheelchair. White singers sang Staples and black singers sang James Taylor. They showed a doc of President Kennedy insisting that the arts are vital to American society. The camera kept panning to the Obamas, solemn and engaged, nodding their heads, singing along to the songs.

And throughout, I'm sure every single person in the hall and in the audience was thinking, what the @#@$# will happen next year? Which artists will be celebrated? Ted Nugent? A Nazi marching band?

My ex told me - perhaps it hasn't hit the news here yet, or there's so much else to digest that we just haven't noticed - that Trump had decided who should head the National Endowment for the Arts, a major granting body. It's Sylvester Stallone. Yes. You laugh, but it's true. And - get this - Stallone turned him down. What alternate universe are we living in? The NYT:

Sylvester Stallone Suggests He Would Decline Trump Arts Role

No, stop. As Moran says, "Being pessimistic is a luxury we cannot afford. If you started complaining about something three minutes ago, two minutes ago you should have started doing something about it. This is the best time ever to be alive, whoever you are, and we have infinitely more resources than we've ever had."

I'm with her.

PS. Friend Gretchen just read this and sent the following article, so wise and heartening - from Alabama, no less! Onward into 2017, my friends. We'll make it better.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

wonderful Christmastime, done and done

The dust settles. Yesterday evening, while I watched CNN's "Obama's Legacy," I took the ornaments off the tree, and soon it will come down. Xmas is over.

It was the best we've ever had. After a mere 35 Christmasses en famille, I know, finally, how to do this. First, make the stuffing in advance. Then, make almost everything else in advance. When Anna and gang arrived midday, the turkey was in the oven, the veggies were cooked, the table was set. All that remained to do was to peel, cook and mash the potatoes, which is Sam's job, and the sweet potatoes, which is Anna's, and mine - get the turkey out on time and make gravy. Piece of cake. (That too, only later.)

At lunch, we ate bagels with my brother's La Boucanerie de Chelsea superb, soft as butter smoked salmon, and then unwrapped gifts, Eli in a frenzy, not looking at what he'd received until everything was opened, and Ben happily smacking paper. And then - the great treat - Eli and his mother had a nap on the sofa while the rest of us looked after Ben, who was busy marching about. Eli, exhausted with a cold, slept for HOURS. Which gave us an afternoon of extraordinary, blessed tranquillity.

Wayson and Holly arrived and we had a divine dinner with laughter and good feelings. The turkey was perfect. There was not a single moment of tension the entire day. A first! I read aloud notes I'd written and left in our decorations box after various past Xmasses, and in 1986, Uncle Edgar had said to me, "One day you'll think back and say to yourself, who was that silly girl getting so upset over nothing?" That was me at Xmas, the frantic mother of two young children in a decrepit house, desperately wanting everything to be perfect. Oddly, it was not.

But this year, I didn't desperately want anything, and it was. There's a lesson there.

Here's the note my socialist, feminist daughter left for Santa in 1992; she was 11.
Dear Santa. Hope you like Coke and Oreo's and bananas. The clementines and apples are for your reindeer, the extra one is for your wife. I hope that as you make presents for the chrildren you don't forget your wife and elves. If you don't have anything, you can give my present to her. Do you feel as I do that Christmas is becoming more and more commercialized, even your self.
Love from Anna. P.S. I still belive in you. A.D.

And here was the reply from Santa, strangely in Anna's father's handwriting. We were newly divorced; it was our second Christmas in separate homes. What torture that was.
Dearest Anna Elizabeth:
Thank you so much for the coke and cookies. My doctor wants me to drink Diet Coke so I didn't drink it all and left one cookie. Thank you too for thinking of my dear reindeer. They had some oats on the roof, but did not eat the oranges as fruit does not agree with their tummies. Gives them gas, which is not pleasant for me sitting behind them in the sleigh. Don't worry about Mrs. Claus. We always go on a long holiday right after Christmas.
Christmas is never too commercialized with wonderful caring people in the world like you. Merry Merry Christmas. Love Santa.

A moist eye or two.

After the others left, Sam opened another bottle of wine and began to talk, and we had an amazingly frank and revelatory discussion. He told me truths about his childhood and adolescence I wish I'd known decades ago. But now I know. Some of it hurts to know. I am deeply grateful for his openness, for the trust between us. At 11.30, I went up to bed, and he went out to play pool with an old girlfriend who'd just texted that she was home for the holidays.

Boxing Day, gloomy and wet, was recovery, leftovers, immersion in the sauna at the Y, and catching up with the newspaper - and that was enough. Another blessing.

From my house to yours - it's over. Up next - New Year's Eve. And then we can just get on with it.

Sunday, December 25, 2016


Merry Christmas!

It's 10 a.m. and not a creature is stirring. This is the first time in 36 years I've had a silent Xmas morning. My large son is upstairs asleep, and Anna and her family are across town opening presents; they'll come at lunchtime. Eli just called; when he was last here, I bought him, at his request, a little tree of his own. "Santa watered my tree," he told me, "and put on candy canes!" That Santa, what a nice guy. Anna told me how proud she was of her older son. She'd told him Santa would leave a present at the foot of his bed that he could open by himself so his parents could have a bit more sleep. But when she got up, she found him sitting patiently on the sofa with the wrapped present in his lap. He was afraid, he told her, opening it would make too much noise.

Be still my beating heart.

I am so profoundly grateful to be alive. Yes, there is much horror in the world, a newly darkened place. But we're here. We're here with open, thankful hearts.

Last evening, I lit the menorah candle and then went to Riverdale Farm to help produce the annual Babe in the Barn pageant, which was its usual rocky and wonderful self. As we were helping the cast to dress, one of the other producers cried, "There's a bag of halos missing!" Several angel wings also. We had a polite argument about location with the farm manager, lost, and ended up standing on the back of a small green tractor for the beginning segment. It worked - why not? At another point, the choir of two, which was supposed to launch the crowd of over 200 into "The First Noel," was not there - they'd already moved on to the next stage. I found out at 5.30 that the woman who was going to be the orator, reading the bible passages, had dropped out. So the orator and the narrator were me and my neighbour Gina, both of us half-Jewish. One of the wise men is not only Jewish but a Conservative candidate for local government. And yet there we all are together, singing carols, admiring the beautiful baby surrounded in the barn stalls by sheep, goats and cows, and loving our neighbours.

A blessing. Or as the Chosen People say, a mitzvah. There's an elderly oriental woman who comes every year, perhaps homeless or nearly, poorly dressed and mentally ill. She stands as close to the speakers as she can, and she sings, her eyes glowing. If for nothing else, the pageant is worth it, for her. But no, there in the crowd, standing just behind our greatest fan, I see another of my neighbours, a wealthy businessman who has never been particularly friendly, his eyes soft, singing.

Okay, enough of this merriment. Time to get dressed and start to cook. There's a turkey to stuff, brussels and green beans to prepare, potatoes to peel, a table to set. It's white out there, a lot of snow, but mild - perfect weather.

I wish you and yours, whatever you celebrate, a day of peace.
P.S. With thanks to Lani, who read my blog post from a few days ago and wrote, "Beth got Knotten for Christmas!"
Listening to the Messiah. "How beautiful are the feet of them who preach the gospel of peace." Oh my God, yes. More citizens with beautiful feet, please.
And now giving thanks to brother turkey, who gave up his life that we might feast.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Hannah Arendt on Trump voters

It's mild - a blessing, though there's lots of snow, but also sun and warm wind. Today Wayson came over and drove me around C'town to get the heavy groceries - a 16 pound turkey and much, much more. The fridge is full, the tree is surrounded, I'm nearly ready. One big hurdle, always - the Babe in the Barn pageant tomorrow evening.

In the meantime, the horror continues. A man who rumour has it will become the president of the United States is revving up the nuclear arms race on TWITTER. If you wrote it in a play or screenplay, we would not believe it. Dr. Strangelove lives. Our poor, poor world. We must love it even more than before.

Good news: The U.S. finally took on Israel's horrendous settlement policy at the U.N. and won. A glimmer of good news.

However - in the scary/true department ...
Tonight, the RSC on television celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. A moment of bliss in the madness.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

my new Knotten

I'm standing as I write this - standing at my Christmas present to myself, Ikea's Knotten stand-up desk. My young friend Cole just came over to assemble it. I've tried to create this sort of desk for myself - put boxes on top of a regular desk. Just not the same. This is so nifty and just the right size. I complain a lot about how much I sit at the computer. Now I can complain about how much I stand.
Before. How I love that wall of glass, which in winter shows me just where I am not - shivering in the dark.
Now - a Knotten right by the back door, in the light, with a yellow hibiscus right next door.

My other young assistant came today too - Grace, who helps me with social media. We wrestled with Google analytics, which has been invaded by Russian hackers, and with my iPhone, which receives incoming emails and dumps them in the trash. That took two hours, with very little resolution in either case. But it's always nice to see Grace.

And now my friend Norrey is coming for tea. So that's the day.

I will have to stand properly and wear good shoes.

Facebook just produced this: eight years ago today, visiting my mother in Ottawa. Now she is no more, I'm grey, Anna's the mother of two, and Sam is just the same. Maybe a titch less perky. Aren't we all?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

So Sad Today

Okay, not quite sure where I got the recommendation for Melissa Broder's book of personal essays So Sad Today. It's a mixed bag, to say the least - it turns out she is stunningly neurotic and very open about her neuroses, which are endless. Some of the essays are full of lurid, I mean really lurid details about her sex and private life. I skipped quickly through the parts where the words 'pussy,' 'cum' and 'dick' predominated. TMI, IMHO. Why, why do women comics like Amy Schumer and Broder - whose writing is in the comic vein - feel the need to be so vulgar about their bodies and hearts and sex? Or am I just old?

And then the book settles down and is provocative in a skilful way, making us feel this clever, funny, crazy woman is, yes, sharing intimate details of her life, but important ones, ones that matter instead of just shock. She writes movingly about her husband who has a chronic illness; she writes in a way that resonated powerfully with me about her penchant for hopeless love, something in which I specialized for many years - and am chronicling right now. She writes:
One form of romantic obsession is to become infatuated with someone who actually exists. With this type of romantic obsession, you project your entire fantasy narrative onto a person in your life and attempt to get them to comply. You take a living, breathing human being and try to stuff them into the insatiable holes inside you. These holes are in no way shaped like that person (or any person). But you believe this fantasy person will fill you, because he or she possesses all the imaginary qualities you seek in a lover. And how do you know he or she possesses all these qualities? You put them there.

         Another form of romantic obsession is to fall in fake love with a person who doesn’t exist at all… You fall in love with a magic hologram of a person you create based on a distant image … a dead person … a famous person, a cartoon … The longing is hope. It keeps you alive.

God knows, I understand that, I who lived with the magic hologram of Paul McCartney for quite some time, which kept me alive. At another point, she says, "I have the brain of an addict and the heart of a sixteen-year-old girl."

That I get, as I read my diaries from when I was sixteen, page after page of romantic obsession. I get the insatiable hole inside. I don't have it any more. But it was there for a very long time, and I tried to fill it with drugs, drink, food, and unsuitable men - oh those poor guys, with a frantically amorous young woman hounding them! Thank God for the love of the invisible Macca. 

Thank God, I grew up. And Broder did too. I think.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Book report

Today I took back to the library a wonderful book I'd barely begun: Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett. When I went to hear her talk at the library a few months ago, she said this is the most autobiographical of her books so far. So I got it out and started to read. She's a terrific writer, vivid and imaginative, and I marvelled as I read the few pages I read about the depth of her research, how she came to know all those arcane facts - the jargon of policemen in L.A., for example. And how richly she inhabits the inner lives of her characters.

But then I realized - I am just not interested in a fictionalization of her true life experience. In how a writer takes her own life and transforms it, weaves it fancifully into fiction. Life is too short; there isn't time for me to follow the made-up journey of her made-up characters, no matter how well they're written. I want to read the truth, written as the truth.

So I took it back and instead got out the two books the library was holding for me: All the single ladies, by Rebecca Traister, and So Sad Today, essays by Melissa Broder. I don't know if I'll finish these either, but they're my speed. My thing. A voice speaking directly to me, as herself, about her life and thoughts. If I don't finish these, and even if I do, I'll also finish The Hidden Life of Trees and wait for two more compilations of essays I've ordered from the library that are on their way - Upstream, by the wonderful Mary Oliver, and a Christmas book by Jeanette Winterson - plus the others below.

 TitlePositionPickup atExpiresStatus
Select All
300 reasons to love New York1 of 6Parliament Street1/12/2018Active
Frantumaglia : a writer's journey123 of 131Parliament Street1/12/2018Active
Hot milk46 of 74Parliament Street1/12/2018Active
The lonely city : adventures in the art of being alone85 of 121Parliament Street11/12/2018Active
Medical medium life-changing foods : save yourself and the ones you love with the hidden healing powers of fruits and vegetables58 of 63Parliament Street12/12/2018Active
Moonglow100 of 334Par

Treasure, no?

Spent my morning delving into my diaries for material for my own truth. As I've written before, it's a kind of horrifying gift to be able to hear and see your own very young self so clearly. When I was 16, I was raging because I hated how my father, whom I called Generalissimo, ordered me around and was condescending and authoritarian. And then I read how, at 24, I hate the director I'm working for because he orders me around and is condescending and authoritarian.

Could it be any clearer?

Very cold and icy here. Hunkering is called for, and hunkering I shall do. With books.

Doing the dishes two Christmasses ago:
P.S. I just opened today's mail, to find that one of my oldest friends, Patsy, just sent me an article from the Guardian, "Fiction v non: an English affliction?" - about how there is no division between fiction and non-fiction,  for example, in Bosnian. In German, book are classified according to style: literary work - belles lettres - and work to convey information, fact-based. 

Why does such an arbitrary division between true and imagined matter so much to me? I don't know. But I read once a non-fiction aficionado (say that quickly!) like myself diving into a novel, reading a line like, "Charles smiled to himself as he jogged down the road," and thinking, "No he didn't! There's no Charles, no smile, no road. You made that up." And that's how I feel about fiction. Though I know there's always an element of fiction in memoir. 

This is confusing. More wine is needed.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

the election, torpedoing us all

Another theory - it's the election that has upended my writing and that of many others. A great piece I just read in LitHub confirmed this. Ever since that horrible November day, I've had a sinking feeling that creative work is pointless, we're all doomed, the bad guys won, and the rest of us should give up. I won't continue to believe that, for sure. But it will take a while for the despair to wear off.

As writer Lauren Groff wrote:
I haven’t been writing well, at all. I’ve been deeply depressed, probably because you have to be a bit of a utopian to be a writer and we can hear all around us the sound of our most deeply held ideals crashing down. The narratives we used to tell ourselves in hard time have been proven false—that people are essentially good, that Americans are deeply generous, that truth matters and liars get what is coming for them, that democracy matters and the arc of history is toward progress, that morality and kindness are rewarded, that our elections are fair and un-stealable—on and on, these have all been proven wrong. When you make your living in narrative, to see that false, incoherent, deeply destructive and cynical narratives are winning out makes you feel as though your faith in the essential goodness of humans has been obliterated.

These wise words are from this article:

However! Life goes on. Wayson is here on a bitterly cold night; I made chicken stew, we ate and laughed about his memory impairment and mine; we watched Episode Eight of "The Crown," SO INCREDIBLY GOOD, and now we're about to watch, on my actual TV, the next episode of "The Hollow Crown" which stars the divine Benedict Cumberbatch. Life goes on, and realizing just how profound an impact that election had on me has been a strange kind of comfort.

In other news: Anna put a little video of Eli's first Christmas concert on-line. Five kindergarten classes all singing at the top of their lungs, and, as she points out, my grandson not participating. He sang the song to her over and over at home, but on the night, decided to keep his mouth closed. Interesting. She said he was surrounded by his best friends: Pema, Yontin, Jahzavion, and Stacy, the girl he intends to marry. How happy that list of names makes me. Except - I still need to check out Stacy.

And ... still feeling the sting from the negative comments on my teacher assessment a few weeks ago, I was very glad to receive a note from a former student whose memoir I've edited over several years. Now it's at the copy editor's, ready for publication. "You have been the best coach a tentative writer could wish for," she wrote. Okay then. Good to hear.

I have tried not to think about Aleppo - it's too unbearable. But two young people arrived at my door last night, soliciting donations. There are so many at this time of year, I was about to say a gentle no, but they were from the U.N. Refugee Association, so I couldn't wait to sign up. Not only to do my minuscule bit to help refugees, but because my mother worked for UNRA after the war. So, as we head to the anniversary of her death on Christmas Day, I hope I'm honouring her, too.

P.S. Two hours later: Just had to turn off "The Hollow Crown" - watched Henry VI, part I but not part II. It was even worse in terms of slaughter and horror than last week. The rivers of blood certainly put the slaughter in "King Lear" and "Hamlet" into perspective. Funny, that tonight we watched the modern crown and then the barbarism that led to it. Enough crowns for now, thank you very much.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Nicole Breit's advice

Lots and lots of snow. There's a particular kind of silence in a snowy Toronto - you can hardly hear the cars, the sirens, everything is muffled. Even at night, with the lights off, the house is illuminated through the windows by all that silver white. Very pretty. For now.

Gifts. Yesterday I wrote to Nicole Breit, whom I met at the Canadian Creative Non-fiction Conference at Banff this spring. She took my workshop on public speaking for writers and did a great job, and then I learned that she'd won our writing prize for this year. She has since won several other prizes - a fantastic writer, focussed, powerful, haunting.

I wrote to her yesterday after reading her interview for "Room" magazine that I posted on my writing Facebook page, Borntoblogbybethkaplan. It was inspiring, and I wanted to read the essay that won the prize. She wrote back and sent me the essay, which I can't wait to read. We also discussed writing blocks - I confessed I'm still struggling to get back to work on the memoir. She gave me a great suggestion: write down what is blocking you.

So I did. For those of you interested in the writing process of a scattered writer, here it is:


Why I’m stuck

1.    Because Act One needs more intimate family material, which means figuring out what it should be, which means going back to diaries and letters to dredge up what should be included. The necessity for research paralyses me always. I look at the stack of material, don't know where to start, give up, find something else to do.

What to do about it:
Give yourself a set time to go through the material – a week or two. Keep moving through the pages  – and then pick something and go with it.

2.    Because this latest round of edits makes me feel like a lousy writer. I know it doesn’t help, I always nag my students who say generic self-deprecating things like that, but when I feel this negative, it also paralyses me. I feel – as usual – that I’m shallow and hasty, rushing through, not giving the story and the writing the depth of thought it requires. So what’s the point of doing more?

Putting yourself and your work down doesn’t help anyone, certainly not you. You are who you are as a person and a writer. You have not accomplished great things but you’ve accomplished a hell of a lot more than many. Stop dwelling on defeat and get on with the work. It’s the only way forward. You’ve done so much work on this book already; people who’ve read it say they’ve enjoyed it, and that’s just an early draft. There’s great potential there. Listen to that voice, not the other.

3.    Because the work still to be done requires the unpacking of family unhappiness. That’s what’s needed to give the book context – the dysfunction that created the young woman who’s narrating, i.e. me. It’s a positive story in the end, redemptive, but it needs to start in a dark place, and I’m resisting going there.

Do your job. It’s your job to go there, because your readers can’t and don’t. What to do with what you’ve been given: write about it.

4.    Because Facebook, email, reading, Christmas, the house, the Y, reading, the family, even this blog and now Netflix and, always, reading - all these feel more important, immediate, satisfying, compelling.

Do your job. First thing after breakfast as many mornings in the week as you can. Use the pomidoro method if you need to – set the timer for 25 minutes to start. This is your key writing time, between teaching terms. Go.

Okay, let's see if that works. And if that doesn't, this might: