Monday, December 31, 2018

recap: 2018, a tough year

It's New Year's Eve, I just poured a nice Chilean cab sauv and am defrosting a rich French onion soup that Sam made for me in the spring. My lunatic daughter is holding her annual party for Eli's friends; the big bunch of 6 year olds were supposed to be outside but it's raining, so they're rampaging through her small apartment. My poor son is working non-stop from the afternoon till 2 a.m. in the frenzy of this night. I can't understand the desperate need to go nuts; I have a vague memory of staying up to celebrate, but not any more. Another year. We've alive, hooray.

All I hope is that 2019 is better for the planet. This was a ghastly year politically, ecologically, in almost every way. Thank you to Christine Blasey Ford for her mesmerizing courage and honesty, for all the good it did her.

I am reflecting back on my own year, its plusses and minuses: two exciting speaking engagements, one in NYC and one here, two successful So Trues, and my dance party, a new venture which needed more marketing. The big non-fiction conference in May, a lot of work and a big hit, thrilling.

A great trip to B.C. in late winter, time in Vancouver and on Gabriola Island with my dear friend Chris. A visit with friends Lynn and Denis, here in the summer from France, especially Montreal with Lynn which included seeing Macca. Seeing Macca - what's better than that! And Coriolanus with Lynn at Stratford.

Two great personal losses - my colleague Ann Ireland, and my dear Aunt Do. Many visits to Ottawa before and after her death, including meeting my cousin Barbara from Washington there and taking Do to tea at the Chateau Laurier. Bless her heart.

Termites and reno - not so great. Student successes, a bunch of books and articles out - wonderful. "My Brilliant Friend." "Calypso" by Sedaris. "Lincoln in the Bardo," George Saunders. Paul Simon. Itzhak Perlman. My great-grandfather's Mirele Efros at Ashkenaz. Nothing Like a Dame, just last week. My memoir out to an editor yesterday. Moving right along.

Dear friends, this NYEve I look at myself in the mirror and see a woman who's drained and grey and pale. But this too shall pass and my perky self will return. Any day now. As soon as I can find some clothes and a bit of makeup. In the meantime, I wish you a glorious NYEve and a joyful, healthy, creative 2019. Do not be silenced.


Sunday, December 30, 2018

Beth is free! Temporarily.

Momentous. I'm sitting here listening to Randy Bachman, feeling somehow empty and exhilarated at the same time. I just emailed the memoir manuscript to the editor who'd expressed an interest in seeing it.

It was just too absurd and difficult to be dealing with this currently catastrophic renovation, still issues with my aunt's estate, everything else, and trying to write too. My office is nearly uninhabitable, and so is the house; it was time to push the thing out. So, after many weeks of work already, I spent the whole weekend on the manuscript, sitting here till the bum fell asleep, as usual. And finally, with trembling hand and heart, I just hit Send.

I am sure - yes, I'm sure - that it's not right for this editor of a big, majorly prestigious mainstream publishing house. But I hope that she'll perhaps help to steer me to the right place. And in the meantime, I can celebrate New Year's Eve without my beloved millstone.

Here is the blurb I sent: 
Loose Woman continues the tradition of Eat Pray Love and Wild, in which a lost young woman sets out to discover the world and finds herself. It’s a celebration of the miracle of Jean Vanier’s humanitarian creation L’Arche - the Ark - which now comprises 147 communities in 35 countries on 5 continents, where men and women with intellectual disabilities live and work with assistants who are not disabled. It explores in depth the intense, nomadic, feast-or-famine life of the theatre. 
As well, the memoir tells a coming-of-age story set in a precise time and place: the western world at the end of the seventies, as feminism and the sexual revolution turn social mores upside down and cocaine is everywhere, and yet a fiercely single feminist realizes just how much she wants a child.
The book illustrates how, with the help of six damaged men, a gifted, insecure, damaged young actress searching for an authentic inner life learns to trust and forgive herself and thus, at last, to accept the love of others. 

Would you buy this book? Keep your fingers crossed for me, friends. 

From my past life, a student just wrote: 
Just busting at the seams to tell you that The Globe and Mail's "First Person" has accepted my submission. Wow, happy happy is me. Thank you for your critique which was a huge help !!! Would have never happened had I not taken your course. 

Last night, I watched a lovely doc, "You are here: the making of Come From Away," about 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland, the incredible generosity and hard work of a small community inundated with thousands of travellers from around the world, grounded by the disaster in NYC. Many tears, of course - at the end, the real heroes from Newfoundland there in New York for the opening of the musical, on stage, being applauded by New Yorkers - what a story. And in the commercials, I turned over to TCM which was showing "A Hard Day's Night." Gosh, those boys have talent. Hope they go far. 

Before that, dear Ken came to take me out to dinner, but we ended up staying here and eating Christmas leftovers. Delicious. 

Tomorrow, work on the house begins again, and we sort out where we are in my skeletal home. I can focus on it now. I AM FREE!

My daughter posted this on FB, telling her brother this sounded like me. Misty eyes.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Ben at the AGO

It's 12 degrees today - like spring! I sailed along on the bicycle, overdressed in mitts and scarf. If only this would last. Hard to hate global warming when it means that winter is actually warm.

I was on my way to the Art Gallery to meet Anna and the boys. The AGO has got a wonderful art room for kids and art stations throughout with great stuff to play with, not to mention the spacious Gehry corridors and staircases, which small boys ran up and down and along. There's delicious mac and cheese in the cafeteria and a fabulous playground in Grange Park round the back. In between, we managed to squeeze in the Anthropocene exhibit - Burtynski's giant photographs of how human beings are destroying the planet. It's epic and depressing but also mesmerizing, as Ben found out in a 20 minute sequence of a train going through a tunnel bored right through the Swiss Alps.

I left the boys screaming with joy down the big slide, kissed their marvellous mother, and hopped on my bike for a spring-like ride home.
Around here, I'm settling into the new normal - men in my house from 8.30 to 4; bangs and crashes from upstairs; me sleeping in the basement. Kevin has repaired some of the damage done on the termite hunt, so the dining room doesn't look quite so destroyed. I can live with this. The past month has been a long trail of tension and concern, really quite terrible for me - I who love routine and who love my house suffering the total disruption of both. I was frightened about money, about decisions, about everything.

First world problems, I know. Anyway, I do feel calmer now. Sort of.

Relax into the blow. I'm getting there.

Thursday, December 27, 2018


I will be running this note regularly to be sure potential students checking this blog know: I AM NOT TEACHING THE WINTER 2019 TERM AT EITHER U OF T OR RYERSON.

My U of T class Life Stories has been cancelled for January through March 2019. At Ryerson, True to Life is being taught by the terrific writer Sarah Sheard.

I WILL RESUME IN MAY AT BOTH UNIVERSITIES: Life Stories Tuesday evenings starting May 7, and True to Life Wednesday evenings starting May 1.

Please write if you have any questions. Thank you and Happy New Year!


Welcome to my world: the first work day after Xmas, and there are five men making a huge noise in my house, two cutting planks upstairs and three drilling holes in the basement floor and injecting termite-killing poison. Kevin and I spent half an hour this morning moving furniture away from the walls so they could do so. I have retired to my office and am wearing my expensive Xmas present from my kids, just what I wanted and asked for: Bose noise-cancelling headphones. They may save my life. Literally.

Xmas was, as my daughter said, "the best yet." Maybe it's because, in the chaos of the house, not much could be expected - no tree, few decorations. I had the whole quiet morning to get the turkey in the oven and everything else ready for the meal, and then they burst in, little boys flushed with excitement, parents surviving, Uncle Sam with lots of energy for tossing nephews in the air. It was so mild, he took them outside in the garden to play with their new toys, including Eli's new remote controlled car from his parents and a skateboard from Glamma. He's six, but it's what he wanted.
The meal, like the day, was calm and bright. Sam's friend Max whose parents are in England came to share it with us; we were a small group with a lot of food.

And then they went home! It was a Christmas miracle. I was overjoyed to be alone to clean up and put things away and sink onto the sofa to watch the "Call the Midwife" Xmas special, sat there with tears rolling - I've known no show like it, how deeply we care about all the characters, and how they manage to evoke tears in every episode. It's gorgeous. I went to bed with red eyes.

Yesterday, recovery, and riding my bike - on Dec. 26, with no discomfort! - to visit my friend the writer Isabel Huggan, here from France visiting her family. I got some of my own work done with no workmen in the house, and otherwise did as little as possible.

Now, all systems go, until it all shuts down again for New Year's. I'm still living in the shell of my house, but I'm grateful for a roof, a furnace, a kitchen, and now the sun, shining briefly through my office window and gone again. Grateful for small mercies, and mercies that are not so small.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry merry merry

11.30 Xmas morning. The turkey is in the oven, the son is on the sofa, the little boys and Wayson will be coming in about an hour for a new flurry of paper and presents. There's no tree this year in the chaos of my ripped-apart house, but I'm sure no one will mind. Anna and I FaceTimed, so I've seen what Santa brought across town. Great excitement.

Last night's pageant at Riverdale Farm was the best yet. It was a mild night, the crowd was enormous, everyone in the cast was in the right place, and so was the choir. My last year, after about 16, as producer and director, and I'm leaving it in good shape. It made me cry, of course. At the start, in the Drive Shed as we start the carols, I turned around; behind me, the huge crowd of 300 or 400, from the very old to babies; right behind, my neighbours Len and Beth with their daughter Janice, who was in nursery school with Sam, with her son, who's Ben's age. I felt such overwhelming gratitude to live in this community, to have lived here for so long, to be so tied to a piece of the earth. Roots. Big strong roots, for us all.

Anna was there with her family, and afterward we went to the party at Mary's, where the fire was burning, the extravagant spread was waiting, and Sam was waiting too. Ben wanted to know which "chimbley" Santa was going to come down; he was worried about the fire. We ate and drank and talked and laughed with old friends and neighbours, and once more, I didn't cry but almost. Sam joked to Gina and Paul how jealous he was of the GT Snowracer sled their son Ryan got one year, and how I made sure he got one a few years later. We talked about times at Riverdale Hill, the very tall sledding hill nearby - going toboganning a few Christmasses ago. No snow at all this very mild year.

Here are some pictures of last night: a house just up the street, the young innkeeper (son of our usual innkeeper) and his wife (who I thought was his sister until I saw them kissing, and kissing some more), the shepherd checking her messages, the holy family of such extreme beauty, and the final tableau.

From my neck of the woods to yours, I wish you joy, peace, health, kindness, friendship. Love. As someone once sang, it's all you need.

 They're wearing sari silks I bought 20 years ago at Goodwill, plus a bathrobe for Joseph and a serape for the babe. Our budget for costumes was $0.00. And yet ...

Monday, December 24, 2018

a voice from heaven

7 a.m. Christmas Eve. All systems go. The Christmas pageant underway - who knows what surprises the evening will bring? But it won't be too cold - or wet, as it was last year - so we might have a big crowd. We've had 400 or more. But cast, baby, costumes, cookies - that we distribute as people leave - are all in place. And afterward we go to Mary's, one of the loveliest houses in Cabbagetown, for a beautiful party.

Miraculously, in the chaos, I've been working on the memoir. I feel like a carpenter, finishing a project by polishing, polishing, sanding, and polishing again. Making each word stronger, if possible. I hope to send it out soon.

The little boys are coming over tonight for the pageant and the party, and then back early tomorrow afternoon for the main event. The ground floor of the house is livable, if not Christmassy. Upstairs, not so much.
But there are presents, and there is turkey.

I've been really worried about my friend Chris, whose blog appears on the left - he blogs nearly every day and suddenly went silent. After two days, after telephoning and Skyping and getting no answer, I wrote to Patsy, another friend on Gabriola, to ask if she knew where he was, and didn't hear from her either. And then I read about the power outage on the coast - days now of no power for many thousands of people. Chris has a generator and a fireplace and Patsy has a fireplace, so I hope they're safe and warm. I miss Chris's daily missives.

Yesterday, my friend Eleanor sent email greetings and included a link to a performance by a singer I hadn't heard of: Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. After listening, I found it hard to believe she's not world-famous, and then I Googled and learned that she began as a violist, didn't start her professional singing career until her thirties, and died at 52 of breast cancer. What a grievous loss for our world. Her voice is as rich and pure, powerful and wise as any I've ever heard. Here, as my Christmas gift to you, is what Eleanor sent to me:

Follow Lieberson's other links, to Bach, to "Deep River." The voice of an angel, literally, straight from god.

And, because this is me talking, here's another treat. My Macca went a few days ago to see the Rockettes and met them afterward. Notice: he's 76, and his leg is higher than theirs.

Merry Christmas Eve to you. May we all high-kick our way into tomorrow's festival and the new year.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

"Nothing like a dame"

Xmas is looming. This chaotic year, I'm doing the minimum, no tree, few decorations, but presents for the kids, of course. That's enough. What a relief. And there's the pageant, of course - a rehearsal tomorrow at the farm. But to celebrate being more or less ready, I went to a wonderful film this afternoon: "Nothing like a dame," four brilliant British actresses, all dames, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, and Eileen Atkins, sitting around talking, telling stories, dishing, gossiping, reminiscing. "Larry" - Laurence Olivier, Plowright's husband and a fellow actor to them all - looms large. I loved this film so much, I'd gladly see it again. They are as funny as standup comediennes, these magnificent actresses. For me, hearing them talk about life in the theatre was like hearing people living in a country where I used to live speak a language I used to speak.

On the Xmas theme, I dug out this essay I wrote and read for "Fresh Air." Here it is, for your pleasure. Merry Everything to you all.

CBC, Fresh Air, December 21, 1997

As this time of togetherness approaches, I think of one Christmas, a long time ago. At the age of twenty-four, I moved across the country to Vancouver where I knew no one, and so found myself alone, on Christmas morning, cat-sitting in someone's apartment. The little box my mother had sent sat under the rubber tree in the living room; opening it, slowly, was my festive activity for the day. Luckily, in the evening, I was invited out for Christmas dinner. Still, it was a long quiet December 25th.

In subsequent years, I had friends to help make an occasion of the day, and then, suddenly, I had a life's partner, someone to spend Christmas with forever and ever. And then, just as suddenly, we were expecting a baby. That year we joined my parents in Edmonton on Christmas Eve. With great ceremony, my father opened the bottle of 1959 Burgundy that he had stored in the cellar for just this occasion – to toast new life in the family.

The following Christmas, there was a busy seven-month-old in residence, and from then on, the holiday was buried under snowdrifts of paper, boxes and ribbons. When the next baby came, a few years later, our Toronto home became the centre of the family. My parents flew east for the celebrations. Auntie Do drove down from Ottawa with my brother and two dozen freshly baked mince pies. After his wife died, my bereaved uncle flew up from New York for his first visit ever, to be with us. The house was really full then – my husband and I, our children, my parents, all those other relatives – one year my in-laws too, from B.C. – and always, in memory of that lonely day in Vancouver, a few people who didn't have anywhere else to go. Homeless waifs, we called them - a fixture, a necessity at our festive table.

After the groaning excess of dinner, my mother would pound out carols on the piano; we'd stand around singing in the paper hats we'd pulled from Christmas crackers, the table behind us strewn with plates, bottles, tangerine skins and nutshells. As he sang, my father loved to offend with his own irreverent lyrics; "Deck your balls with cloves of garlic," was his favourite. Later, the children would settle down to read with him or do a puzzle with Grandma and Auntie Do. It was exhausting, and there was always a familiar family tension under the cheer. But this, I felt, was what Christmas was really meant to be.

The summer my first-born turned seven, my father was diagnosed with stomach cancer. That year, we went to Edmonton for the holidays. Our plates at Christmas dinner were piled high, as usual. In front of him sat a small bowl of turkey broth, which he couldn't finish.

Next year was very hard. There was an unbearable silence at the centre of our gathering, though we were all aware of the irony of our grief – my father, an atheist and a Jew, had never really liked Christmas. At least, the religious, manger part; he loved feasting and giving gifts. The rest of us mourned and drank a good bottle of wine in his honour. After that my uncle, his brother, decided he didn't want to travel at such a difficult time of year.
"If I'm ever in Toronto, though," he deadpanned, "I'll be sure to look you up."

One bleak November not long after, my husband and I separated. Though we struggled, in the end successfully, to remain friends, each year there was a painful tussle over the children at Christmas – who would be where when, for what. My aunt announced she could no longer manage the journey to Toronto; she and her mince pies would stay at home. My brother bought his first house and decided to stay at home too. I was grateful to our homeless waifs for filling out the table.

Last year was a celebration of another sort: the guests included my ex-husband and his girlfriend. It was good to see him at the head of the table again, carving the turkey in his yellow paper hat. This year, though, he's overloaded with work and can't come. My mum has just bought a condo in Florida, so she'll be staying south. This year, on Christmas morning, it's just the kids and me.

They're teenagers now, leaving home before too long. I find myself wondering – will I end up once more alone, with a small present under a large plant? I don't think so. I think these children will keep coming back, if they can. They seem to feel that there's only one place to wait for the feast – at home, even if the dog and I are the only ones here.

One day, our ranks will swell once more. Perhaps I'll marry again, who knows? My kids will find partners. Maybe one day they'll make their own joyful announcements, and with great ceremony I'll open the bottle of 1982 Burgundy I have stored in the cellar, to toast new life in the family. On Christmas Day, the children of my children will settle down to read and do puzzles with their grandma. That'll be me.

And once again, there'll be a big turkey and the best tablecloth covered with debris and bottles and chaos and carols and paper hats. And always, homeless waifs on a solitary leg of their own journey, invited to join us at the ever-changing banquet table of life.

From the ebb and flow of my house, to the ebb and flow of yours – Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2018

"Relax into the blow"

A grey, wet, mild Friday morning in C'town, and you'll be happy to hear that sanity and calm have returned to this fevered brow. I remembered something important at 4 a.m. this morning. When I went to a prestigious British theatre school in 1971, I didn't expect that one of my most important lessons would come from stage fighting class, where we learned to stab and kick and smash heads realistically. We all had to do a choreographed fight in front of the British Board of Stage Fight Directors - the Romeo-Tybalt fight with swords, knives, and feet - and though I was easily one of the clumsiest, I along with everyone else was awarded the Certificate of Proficiency in Stage Fighting, one of my prized possessions, which hangs framed in my downstairs bathroom.

Our marvellous teacher was B.H. Barry, who now works in New York and was recently, I was thrilled to see, the subject of a short profile in the New Yorker. He taught us a lot. And most importantly, he taught us this: Relax into the blow.

If you are rigid and tense when the blow comes, it will hurt much more. If you're loose and relaxed, you'll move with the blow and it will hurt much less, do less damage.

At 4 a.m. this morning, I heard him again: Relax into the blow. What's the point of fretting about what is or what may be, or, for that matter, the mistakes of the past? No point. You're alive, you're fine. Let it go, as someone famously sang. Relax. Put your mind to other tasks.

Friends have been offering retreats - Ruth offered a basement room, my neighbour Monique gave me her key and said come in anytime - and I think in the new year I will take them up on it. Sitting here while the demolition crashes above my head does not help. I will continue to sleep here, to guard my house and to be home. But I will try to get away during the day.

That's when work resumes, which may not, because of the snafus, be for some weeks. But I will not fret. I will relax into the blow and think of other things and keep my gut loose and my mind clear. I am a famously tense, uptight person, always seeing the possible worst. But I will change that. I will.

It wasn't yesterday, it's today the termite guys come to begin the process, which will continue after Xmas and in the spring. I will relax as they poke around in the chewed-up wood of my kitchen. Because how lucky am I - the experts are here to make sure these bugs go away and never come back. I will not think about the cost, because what's the point? It has to be done.

Fifteen minutes ago, I sent a PDF of the memoir to RePrint. I'm going there anyway to get colour xeroxes made - I put together a collage yesterday of photos of my kids when they were small, mostly with their grandfathers, will get that reproduced for them and might as well have a hard copy of the latest draft. I hope to send it in the next week or two to the editor.

There's life in these old bones yet.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

MORE gloom and doom

My friends, I think I used to be perky, setting out cheerily for new adventures, perhaps fun to be with.

Maybe again sometime. Not right now.

It's all too much, right now. The excruciating daily news, the abasement of everything we hold dear - the Ontario government cutting after-school programs for at-risk kids, British politicians screaming abuse at each other as their country disintegrates, as France disintegrates, as the U.S. flops and flounders and makes a disgusting spectacle of itself. As the worst side of humanity flourishes. Is this ALL due to Russian interference, as we're finding out every day? To the internet and the Russians? Just how evil is Putin? It hurts to read or hear. It makes me sick.

But my personal situation is also making me sick. As we renovate, we become embroiled in one snafu after another, blundering about here, making mistakes because we're nice people with no fucking idea what we're doing. A well-meaning mistake today may take months and much, much more money to fix. At the moment, in any case, it's Christmas - really? Christmas? - and everything has ground to a halt. My second floor is a skeleton, my Xmas presents for family are all stored on the third floor and the staircase to that floor has nearly been dismantled, and my Xmas tree is a one foot high Ikea fake I bought for Auntie Do once and carried back in my suitcase last month, in case I needed it. I need it. Christmas is about as far from my thoughts as it's possible to be.

My stomach heaves, my heart pounds. And then I say - well, what's the worst that can happen? It'll take months of chaos and dislocation, you'll be in debt for a long time, and, of course, little will get written. Okay, it happens, you'll survive. But I'll have - eventually, if we ever get there, if we ever can move forward - a renewed house with many problems solved. (And many new ones unearthed by the reno and, perforce, we hope, solved.) The house is worth a lot of money and will be worth more. My children will be very sad when I die, but they will receive generous compensation for the terrible loss of their mother. That is, if I don't sell this place soon and move to Bali and spend all my bucks on martinis.

I'm sad and scared and pissed off at my stupidity, at embarking on this vast project without knowing what I was getting into. But I know I'll pull out of it. Today was a terrible horrible no good very bad day, that's all.

Perspective - talking to a dear friend today whose husband's Alzheimer's is getting worse; on a recent trip to Cuba, they got on on a double-decker bus where she sat him in the handicapped section downstairs and went upstairs to sit. When she came back down, he was gone; he had followed someone off the bus. Her husband, who cannot speak Spanish and doesn't even know his own name, was wandering the streets of Havana. Eventually, he was found, but what a nightmare, ongoing, getting worse for her. A loved friend is awaiting a biopsy. Not to mention countless others with life-threatening problems. And I - a renovation that's gone wrong. Well boo hoo.

My father did a literal translation of the great French term "s'emmerder" - 'beshitment.' He used to talk about "the human search for beshitment," at making life more difficult and complicated. Well Dad, I have chosen quite a little packet of beshitment. Wish you were here to laugh me through it.

Today I got home and left my bike outside while I rushed in to deal with whatever - and an hour later Ed, Kevin's helper, pointed out that I had left the bike unlocked. Yesterday, I left my most loved cashmere scarf at the dentist. Got to get it together. This too shall pass. That's what everyone is telling me, and it's true. So get over it.

My fridge is making strange chugging noises I've never heard before.

Tomorrow, just to lighten the mood around here, the termite treatment begins.

Just got this, from a former student submitting an essay for consideration for So True next year:
On another note, you are a fantastic teacher who is enriching so many lives, in other words – thank you and happy holidays.

Thanks, Jody. I needed that.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

a slump

Voices from upstairs, men figuring out this and that. Measuring negotiating planning. Always problems arising in this old old house. Nightmares for the owner, sleepless nights, upset stomach. Decisions to make.

Let sleeping dogs lie, they say. My house was a very sleepy skinny old Borzoi with many things wrong. Undertaking to fix them has brought forth a whole new array of issues. My hair is grey and soon I think my face will be grey too.

However. No choice now but forward. Tomorrow they say there will be sun. That will help; it's been the greyest fall on record, I understand. Also, a family member recently called to tell me about a cancer diagnosis, that dreaded word: aggressive. Hit me very hard, just when I was feeling raw.

But - two of my oldest friends came for dinner last night, in the rubble - Suzette and Jessica, both of whom have been through renovation hell and were kind and supportive, with great ideas. And then we ate and drank and talked - a lot about aging, how and where will we live, what is happening to us now, how people call us Ma'am and stand for us on the streetcar, and we all, vibrant accomplished working women with lots still to do in this world, can't understand why.

I stepped heedlessly into this project, a good idea to do a little this and that, and now it's huge, carnage, massive destruction. I know it will all be worth it; good things have already come - a major clear out, timely discovery of more termites. But right now, all I see is money flying out the door and noise, mess, disruption, to the horizon.

First world problems.

Need to go for a walk.  And then - just to complete my joy - to the dentist.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Yo Yo, light, "Will You Ever Forgive Me?"

Yo Yo Ma was in Montreal recently with his new Bach project, playing Bach's Unaccompanied - how I would love to have been there. And then he played in a Montreal subway station. When asked why he'd included Canada on his very busy itinerary, he said something like, "Are you kidding? Canada is one of the only liberal democracies left!" Chrystia Freeland was interviewed recently by the NYTimes in Toronto; she rode her bicycle to the interview, and she also said, “I would argue — and I don’t think this is gloating at all — I think Canada is the strongest liberal democracy in the world right now. And if you guys disagree with me, name me one that’s stronger. Right? Truly. We’re standing pretty strong, and that’s great.”


Another weekend - no men in my house. Though today, I put an emergency call through to Kevin at noon, when I found water dripping from the third floor to the second. AAAHG - the angry water gods again! Luckily, Kevin lives a few houses away and came right away; not a hole in the roof, it was a problem with the plumbing he installed yesterday, fixed in an hour.

But as I sat in the sauna at the Y, breathing in the hot still air, I realized one reason this reno has been so difficult for me: yes, of course, it's my house being ripped apart and partially demolished as I live in it, with resulting disruption, dust, and chaos, terrible ripping, crashing sounds of destruction. And yes, it's money, tons of money floating up the chimney, to the great merriment of the Royal Bank of Canada.

But also - I am a woman who lives alone. There are days I talk to almost no-one, as I sit in my house, my sanctuary of peace and solitude. And now my sanctuary is flooded with people daily - Kevin and Ed arrive at 8.30 a.m., JM not long after, the electrician, the termite guys, the roofer, the others, a long procession, all needing to be dealt with. A thousand decisions have to be made, all costing me money and the men time.

So - a tiny bit of stress. A tich of anxiety. JM is very kind and says I'm dealing with it well. You could have fooled me.

Fun yesterday - we need lighting fixtures, and he discovered a high end lighting showroom that has - be still my beating heart - a remainder table with quality stuff vastly reduced. So we went yesterday to check out all the boxes piled on their table. It's a wonderful place: Dark Tools. The owner, Glen, a most personable man, took time from a company lunch he was hosting to show us his wares; he's passionate about lights, and we fell for his honeyed words, and also his offer of sometimes 90% off. I bought an extravagant something that's totally not me, and yet I hope will work in a new very tall space we're creating by taking out a bit of third floor floor, and also a pendant orb for my bedroom. I woke at 4 a.m. in a sweat, wondering if they're ridiculous. You be the judge.
We have the raw materials; that's the finished product. We'll hang individual maple leaves all over the frame and suspend it in a very tall passageway.

I've never bought anything at a high end design store before - but that remainder table made these a possibility. And then Glen drove us back here in his truck and I learned all about his love life. Now that's a great experience in a store!

Today, like last Saturday, I've spent recovering from the week, and from the leak. This mild afternoon, rode my bike to my favourite cinema, the Carlton, to see "Will you ever forgive me?" There seem to be lots of movies about writers these days, this one about Lee Israel, a biographer who fell on hard times, ended up forging author letters fashioned in the voices of famous writers and making very good money selling to dealers - until she was apprehended. And then, of course, she wrote a memoir about her life of crime. It features superb performances by Melissa McCarthy - only a little bit of milking going on - and the always fabulous Richard Grant, doing another version of his dissolute but adorable "Withnail and I" character. Well done and very entertaining.

As in "The Wife," in this film, the writer's life is not enviable. And yet here we are. With our new twinkly lights and our smashed house and a glass of wine in our hand.


Thursday, December 13, 2018

discovering Facebook Messenger

Starting with the big news - Michael Cohen's conviction. Sing, Mike, sing! Nail the giant orange blowhole. Though I wonder with what's going on everywhere else - Brazil, Britain, Ontario, Italy, Hungary et al - will it make any difference? What has happened to our world?! The revenge of the angry white man. Lynn Skyped today from Montpellier, livid at the gilets jaunes, who have paralyzed cities and shops before Xmas, putting lots of people out of work. "We have free education and wonderful health care," she said, "but it's not enough for them."

Major discovery today: Someone sent me a message on FB Messenger, so I replied, and then saw to my amazement that there were all kinds of messages on the left side of the screen. I started scrolling, and realized that they went back to 2008 or so, the year I joined FB! I didn't realize you should check Messenger regularly. People wrote nice notes about liking my books; one woman loved "So True" and wrote offering me a print of an old typewriter; several people wrote after pieces of mine appeared on CBC radio, asking if I was the Beth Kaplan they'd known in the past. I was mortified to realize I'd ignored them all.

So I wrote back to a few, wondering if they'd reply even after years, and one did immediately, a schoolmate from Grades 7- 9 in Halifax, and another a friend from New Brunswick. Crazy.

Yet another way to pass the time. I was about to write "waste time" but changed it. It's so much fun.

Nearly had a meltdown today. Poor JM brings up some new issue or expense and watches my face turn purple with stress. Today the electrician came and told us changing the panel and the new wiring would cost $8000. This is not even an item on the budget; we both forgot changing the wiring would be necessary. These are the kinds of things that turn my face puce. It's terrifying.

However. It's happening. And once it's done, if I survive, it'll all have been worth it. Already there's much more light pouring into the second floor because of the third floor barriers we've removed. But still, it looks pretty dreadful.
The view from my bedroom of the rest of the second floor and the stairs to the third. The skeleton of my house.

But on the plus side, there's this - Eli's Christmas concert yesterday. Just look at that multicoloured band of Grade One's. He's the fourth from the left in the back row - very serious. Looking, once more, exactly like my father as a boy.
Tomorrow JM and I go to look at second-hand light fixtures. Life is full of excitement. Oh, and best of all - I've booked a massage tomorrow at 3. I may just stay there until February.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

saving my sanity

A quiet day here in the battered house, down to its skeletal bones upstairs, and downstairs, cluttered and strewn. It makes me laugh to think how I used to fuss about putting stuff away and now - nowhere to put it, so it's just everywhere. You enter my living room through torn plastic sheeting. Showers of drywall on the stairs. Life is good.
My closet.

"News of fresh disasters." My mother would get the joke, from "Beyond the Fringe," our favourite comedy album. (Feeling like a dinosaur as I type the words "comedy album." Wuh? say the kids. Wuzzat?) Yesterday, fresh disasters, but we figured out a way through. And there was good news: the roofer came at 8 a.m. to inspect my flat roof. Doesn't look damp, he said. No water pooling. Termites must be coming from somewhere else.

I walked to the Y yesterday to take a shower and sit in the silence of the sauna. The place will save my life in the upheaval, as it has so often before. I read once about the importance of the "third place" - not home, not work; in England it's the pub, in France the café. For me, my second place, since I work mostly at home, is the Y.

Some treats: on Monday, dinner here with my friend Stella Walker, who didn't mind picking her way through the rubble, and then the season finale of the breathtaking My Brilliant Friend. Yesterday, getting Calypso by David Sedaris out of the library, laughing out loud on nearly every page. A note from a longterm student, saying he'd had printed the first draft of his memoir, and when he brought it home and showed it to his partner, they both burst into tears. "My whole life in a box," he wrote.
I want to thank you for all your guidance and support in making this stage of my writing journey come true. 

My pleasure, my very great pleasure. Another longterm student and friend wrote to offer me a private suite in her basement, and Monique said I can come next door anytime. Shelter! Thank you, kind neighbours. Jean-Marc and I went to Green's, the local junk/antique store, to pick through her unbelievably cluttered basement for old doors and other things. We now have about 56 possible doors. My friend is still bursting, exploding, with ideas. Sometimes that's wonderful, sometimes not so much.

It's stretching my tiny mind to figure out where things are. I've been in such a routine for so long, and now I turn to go upstairs to bed, but no, my bed is downstairs. I go into the hall to put on my boots, but they're under the piano bench. It's good for the shrivelling brain.

Sparrows on the deck, pecking snow. The other day there was a young hawk hunting in the garden, which is mostly white and brown. Here's something else that will save my sanity: the Conservatory in Allan Gardens, where I dallied yesterday on my way to the Y. Colour and scent and beauty.

Somewhere, in the jumble of furniture and clothing stuffed onto the third floor, are Christmas presents that need to be wrapped. Christmas! The pageant! Let's not think about that right now.

Monday, December 10, 2018

kill dem bugs

These are the words that are music to my ears today: Termidor, which is so toxic it's illegal in Canada, and Altriset, not as toxic and legal. Termite poison. Death to the colonies. Lots has to happen, mostly drilling all around the perimeter of the house, inside and out, to deliver the poison, plus making sure there's no moisture anywhere. They like warm, damp wood. The roofer has to come back to check every bit of my roof. My neighbour Pierre went to the States to get Termidor for his house, but I'm a law-abiding Canadian, so Altriset it is. I hope they'll get to it just after Xmas.

Had to check when the huge infestation was: August 2012. Luckily, it was a hot dry summer.
The ceiling right above my bed, before -
and after.
And rebuilt. My study now was then my bedroom - they ripped the roof and walls right off and remade it all. So this new problem could be much, much worse.

More good news - they chopped a piece of ceiling out of my tenant's apartment and found the beams to be in good shape. There's one possibly chewed beam but it won't bring the house down. YAY!

The heat was off again today so I sat here in coat and boots, stewing internally and freezing externally. Truly, I have the A team; I trust Kevin and Ed implicitly and see now that if JM had been around when the termites first appeared, he would have made sure we did more to keep them from coming back. My modus vivendi: deal with unpleasant things quickly and cheaply and MOVE RIGHT ALONG. Often, it turns out, a mistake.

Intended to get out today, if just for a walk - no. Trying to decide on how to get away during the winter - nearly impossible in this chaos. Thinking about my book? It is to laugh.

The house speaks to me at night, creaking, cracking, and groaning, even banging. Freaked me out at first, as I lie in my basement cubby listening to the mysterious noises above. Kevin said they took a thousand pounds of drywall to the dump today, so the house is feeling its bones for the first time in decades and telling me all about it. And soon, house, we'll make sure you're not being devoured by bugs.

After all this, if this old house doesn't actually kill me, I'll die of old age here and they'll carry me out, out through my bugless front door, feet first.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Wife, and Every Brilliant Thing

Jean-Marc called this morning. "Do you have time for me to pop by with new ideas for the bathroom?" he asked.
"No!" I replied, not meaning to be rude. But, I explained, I was sitting at my desk in a patch of sunlight and absolutely did not want to think about my @#$#@ house for a day. And I didn't, as I picked my way through the dust and rubble. I got a bit of work done, but mostly, I sat around and DID NOT THINK ABOUT MY HOUSE.

What did I actually do Saturday? No idea. More or less nothing but recuperate from Friday, which was a tough day. Oh yes, I went to see the film The Wife, with Glenn Close, not my favourite actress, always a bit over the top, but she was very good in this, the story of married writers and what was traded off for the marriage to survive. In the end it didn't quite ring true, but it was very well done, it was about writing, and I loved the final shot of Glenn fondling a blank piece of paper. Been there, done that. Can't tell you what didn't work for me without spoiling the film which you might see. But - hard to believe that someone could create a huge body of superb written work and not ever be recognized. Just sayin'. I know, times were different. But still. Anyway, I enjoyed it a lot.

At night, a TV film that was supposed to be something else turned into a documentary about Jane Fonda, so I watched. She has been and done a huge amount and is an interesting woman who overcame a wretched childhood, a cold, famous father and a mother who committed suicide. She's a living ad for plastic surgery, that's for sure. She said she wishes she had the courage to live with her real face, but I have to say, I've never seen anyone look as good after so much surgery as our Jane. And she has never stopped fighting the good fight.

Today, Sunday, was busier. After a morning working and ignoring JM, I went first to see Every Brilliant Thing, a very interesting piece of theatre starring solo actress Kristen Thomson, telling a story of growing up with a suicidal mother, like Jane. To remind herself to cherish the good in life, she makes a list of all the things she loves. There was a lot of audience involvement, beautifully handled and very funny, and I liked the idea of a list of things you love, which I must try sometime. In the end again, though, it didn't quite hit the way I expected it to. But it was good.

Off on the Queen streetcar to the Beach, where old friend Jim Sanderson was launching his self-published book Life in Balmy Beach: growing up in Toronto in the 1950's and 60's. I know Jim because he and his family ran Dominion Typewriter, a wonderful old shop on Adelaide St., where I used to go with my typewriters - yes, the Dark Ages! - and then with my first computers. All the Sanderson men looked alike and were calm and nice, and they were all there today for Jim's book launch.

Then I popped across the street to visit my beloved Anne-Marie, only a block away, to meet her granddaughters Arya and Eva, to watch her daughter Amelia, whom I've known since girlhood, as a mother, to applaud the girls dancing in the living room. They wanted to be characters from Paw Patrol - Skye! Chase! - and I was proud to know who those characters were. Hope Annie's girls and my boys meet sometime.

Tonight, The Life-sized City is in Montreal and My Brilliant Friend continues. I have had a whole much needed weekend not thinking about termites and renovations. As so many dear friends have written, this too shall pass.

Not soon enough.

Friday, December 7, 2018


As the Beach Boys so memorably sang, "Help me, Rhonda."

I'm sitting in my overcoat, which is covered with plaster dust, as are my hands and everything else, except this bottle of Argentinian Cab Sauv I just opened. The furnace had to be turned off today because of the major demolition going on upstairs. It's upsetting, yes, to hear my house shattering, even though I know the destruction is voluntary, I brought it on myself, in the interests of making things better.
The second floor hall
My bedroom

But the termite destruction I did not bring on myself. As you may know, there was a huge infestation 7 years ago, which required tens of thousands of dollars and a second mortgage to rip off and rebuild the entire back of my house. And then they came back last year, and instead of doing a full treatment, my thrifty self opted for a partial treatment, which he assured me would be enough, which, it turns out, was a mistake. Because the termite guys came today, and what has to be done is major. Major major major. Drilling holes throughout the basement, cutting into ceilings, three different treatments have to happen, and not just to me but to my neighbours on either side.

Help, help me Rhonda.

As the guys were poking into the termite dust, I was receiving messages from Ottawa, where the move from my aunt's was supposed to be happening - they couldn't get in, the phone wasn't responding. I was trying to make sure all went well in Ottawa while listening to termite horror, and the pounding and smashing continued upstairs.

At this point, my stomach heaved badly. It did last night too. My body is not happy right now. And so I'm not going to drink this cheap wine, I'm going to dig out a good bottle. If there's ever a time to open a good bottle of wine, it's right now.

I know, first world problems, nothing to complain about here. I have a fabulous team. JM handled all the termite stuff, including going to my hysterical neighbour -

We interrupt with this news bulletin: the quote just came in from the termite guys. $4500, and they recommend that a roofer check part of my roof because they suspect there may be damage.

And a Merry Christmas to you too!

Could be worse. As cheery JM says, it's not the foundations, it's not beams. YAY! It's just way more chaos, including chaos for my tenant, whose ceiling will be chopped open and furniture moved. I knew the top half of the house would be crazy, but now every single inch is in upheaval or soon will be. Unlike the unbelievably positive JM, I'm not good with upheaval, and neither is my stomach.

On the plus side, a new New Yorker just arrived, and in the midst of all this, I fulfilled a week's old appointment to get my hair cut. Ingrid remarked on how extremely dry my hair was, and I said, no, that's plaster dust. My stomach has continued to heave, but this nice prize-winning Australian Shiraz - a gift from one of my students - is helping settle it down, and Daniel and Daniel have provided me with an instant dinner. The furnace is back on, and soon I will be able to take my coat off. My first night in my basement bedroom was odd but okay; it's very dark down there, but I think the centipedes have been encouraged to live elsewhere.

And the most fun - this morning JM took me to Habitat for Humanity, full of donated furniture and building materials; the money earned is used to build housing for those in need. Almost all the materials for what we're doing, including new hardwood floors upstairs and several nice old doors, will come from there; all the shelves for my new closet will be recycled planks or flat doors. How perfect for a second-hand junkie like me - we're not only building new things in my habitat, we're helping humanity. If there's one thing I like to do, it's help humanity.

Thank you for listening. You my readers are helping me get through this. I nearly cried twice today but have not yet. I did manage to find clean clothes and my hairbrush, more or less. I got to the Y to have a shower, where I discovered that I've gained a kilo in a few days, despite my iffy stomach, because in times of stress, food is an anchor. As if starvation is imminent, at every opportunity, I stuff anything edible into my mouth.

Now it's the weekend, and my wounded but doughty old house and my wounded but doughty old self will take it easy for a day or two.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

ripped apart

The sound of smashing: they've started upstairs. This morning, there were six men in my house - Kevin and Ed, Jean-Marc explaining exactly what has to be smashed where, the roofer Robin to do a quick repair on three dormer windows that are rotting but I can't bear to replace right now, the air conditioning expert to give us a quote on new AC for the top floor, which becomes an oven in summer, and Bill to help carry out rubble. The doorbell rang - it was a new neighbour with a guy from Roger's, trying to get the internet set up in his house, could they access the cable box in the backyard? The phone rang; it was my new neighbour Pierre to give me his solution to termites.

I thought the top of my head would come off.

Luckily, the Queen is not coming in the near future to tea, because my house is nearly uninhabitable. In fact, JM wants me to move out. Instead, I have set up a bedroom for myself in the basement.
It's a bit chilly down there, but it's home.

Here's the spare bedroom, once Sam's room, yesterday, and today:

And my room - doors and baseboards off,  and soon the west wall smashed. Woo hoo!
It's surreal, I who love order am now living in utter chaos. But what the hell - I have running water in the kitchen now, and soon the bugs eating my walls will be vanquished, I am sure of it. (Though JM thinks we may have to rip more stuff apart to be sure they're gone.)

Now off to lunch with my good friend Rosemary, if I can find some respectable clothes, if I can find my shoes, if I can wash the dust off my hands. Ah, the simple life.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

bad news/great news

Reading an article in the New Yorker about British writer Anthony Powell, who in the Fifties bought a "fixer-upper" country house in Somerset and tried to fix it up himself. I can only imagine what an ancient British "fixer upper" involves, not the least of which is some kind of heat. Anyway, his wife apparently said she wanted an image of the house engraved on her tombstone, because "its inconvenience would be the direct cause of my death."

Today, I felt the same way about my beloved 131-year-old wreck of a house, as Kevin and his helper Ed followed the trail of termite destruction all around my dining room. I had thought the main floor would be spared chaos, but today everything had to be taken down and stored under plastic sheets as they ripped off boards and drywall, to discover the familiar circuitous destructive paths of those hated bugs. Horly, a young man from Zambia whom JM has hired to do our computer drawings, dropped in and understood completely; apparently nothing in Africa is built of wood because of termites.

However, as JM cheerfully points out, thank God we found it when we did. Kevin and Ed also ripped off drywall under the skylights where there's water damage from leaks, no trace of termites there, just rotten because of water. The drywall dust was showering everywhere, I couldn't find my clothes which are stuffed into boxes in the basement, and I felt I'd made a huge mistake, should have moved to a nice clean new tiny tidy condo, before this house was the death of me.
Yesterday, the new steel post holding up my second floor, and the bulkhead about to be demolished
More termite damage all along the edge of the dining room plate-rail
My lovely kitchen today - Kevin and Ed at work.

In fact, I'm lucky to have wonderful help - Kevin is efficient and smart and Ed is delightful. Today Kevin took time to look at my kitchen faucet, which was replaced only about a year ago but which had never worked properly; the trickle of water it emitted was infuriating. After he'd taken it apart, we decided just to go buy a new one, he installed it, and there's water rushing out in a stream! A miracle!

The upstairs is stripped clean, tomorrow my bed goes downstairs and I establish a new way of living.
My office jammed with furniture and boxes
My bedroom jammed with almost nothing, empty tomorrow

THE GOOD NEWS: Yesterday, in the middle of all this, I emailed a query to an editor I'd met socially in the summer, telling her about my nearly-finished memoir and asking if she'd be interested in seeing a bit. I expected to wait three weeks for a tepid reply. Today, as Kevin's power saw was ripping out rotted drywall and dust spewed everywhere, I received a note, telling me she was glad to hear from me and would be happy to see the manuscript when I'm ready to send it.

I haven't even had time to digest what this means - that a major editor wants to see the work. Of course, she may - she almost certainly will - decide it's not right for her house. But what a huge gift that is: an open door. I compare finding a publisher to walking down a long corridor of closed doors, knocking in vain. Well - today, a door opened. I may not be asked to walk through it, but the door opened, and that's a gift. Merry Christmas!

Once we're in a routine here - Kevin and Ed rip my house apart and Jean-Marc comes over to fuss about details - I will make my own routine, which I assume will mean escaping regularly to some quiet, dust-free place, a library or coffee shop, where I can work and think.

So this house may not be the death of me, after all. Just, we hope, the death of a great number of termites, who have been enjoying its juicy deliciousness heretofore.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018


Today the true chaos of renovation begins, and I wish I were on a beach in Tahiti. Today we had to explore the lovely pillar between my dining-room and kitchen.
A few years ago I was sitting in my kitchen when to my horror, I saw termites emerging from the pillar. I sprayed Raid, and my termite man, Richard, came to insert anti-termite plugs all around. Obviously, without much success, because when the wood was pulled off, this is what we saw:
Riddled. Holy. Appalling. Richard is coming back Friday. In the meantime, Kevin is going to install steel beams to hold up my house.

Today I'm supposed to be moving into the basement, but now we're figuring out what's next. My house is upside-down, everything is covered with drop cloths and in boxes, and I don't know where anything is. I'm a tiny bit frantic. But yes, it's very good we discovered this before the ceiling fell in. Curse you termites! A few years ago they devoured the entire back of my house, so I guess a beam isn't too bad. And maybe the ceiling around. And maybe more.


First world problems. Well, no, actually I'm sure termites are second and third world problems too, but at least I have Richard the termite man and the wherewithal to fix this. For good this time!


Monday, December 3, 2018


6.40 a.m. and yours truly is up and breakfasted. I'm even earlier than the Star which has not arrived yet, that's how early this is. Lots going on; I awoke at 5.30 with my head buzzing with lists.

But first, a theatre review: I went Saturday to see "Middletown," a superb Shaw Festival production playing here at Crow's Theatre, a sleek new East End theatre. As you know, if I can ride my bike there, it's my favourite place. "Middletown" is by Will Eno, a hot American playwright, and it's unusual and gripping. The actors mingle with the audience before it starts, it's played in the round, there are dazzling effects, great acting and characters. It's about middle America, a small town, life and death. Though I loved it and was glad I'd seen it, it didn't move me much, the dialogue just a bit too clever, perhaps. But an excellently done, very satisfying piece of theatre.

Yesterday - a lovely warm sunny day - listened to my blog friend Theresa Kishkan being interviewed on CBC's Sunday edition, more packing, arranged for the movers to pick up some of my aunt's stuff in Ottawa, and went across town to help Anna, who's recovering from the flu, with Ben. Who, I decided, will not only be a mountain climber and an Olympic gymnast but a hypnotist. I've never met a child with huge eyes that bore into you like his. He decided he did not like my sneakers and didn't want to see them, but forgave me when we played bash the balloon. A quirky, fascinating individual.

And then Sunday night TV, "The Life-Sized City" and "My Brilliant Friend," both brilliant as ever.

An article in the NYT on hobbies says that journal writing "can boost mindfulness, memory and communication skills...It can aid sleep, build the immune system, boost self-confidence and raise I.Q... It may even help wounds heal faster." I assume that includes blogging. YAY! Watch my confidence and my IQ increase! Wait - surely I'm at capacity by now, after a lifetime of journals and then blogs. Nowhere to go but down.

It is interesting, though, that here I am, very early on a Monday morning with a raft of things to get done, and the first thing I do, after breakfast, is write to you. It's simply a compulsion, a necessity, to take you with me wherever I go, however mundane my day may be.

Ah well. It's now 7 a.m. and I have the whole day in front of me to improve my brain and my confidence. Onward.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

books - feh.

I hate books!

Okay, no, I don't, as you well know, quite the opposite. But right now, I am drowning in books. Tossing them, stacking them, boxing them. Here's the latest cull, by my front door, ready to go out to the Little Free Library, and believe me, this hurts.
At least a hundred, not counting the ones that have already gone out (plus a few bookshelves). And still the boxes pile up.

At the front of an old alphabet book that I am most definitely keeping, I found this:
Love is. Found a few books from my parents, including one when I was four signed "With love from Gordin and Sylvia." Must have been a bad patch.

This culling is immensely valuable, no question. Yesterday I tackled my sock drawer, wherein used to dwell at least 40 pairs of socks, socks of every hue, many with bright stripes bought in European markets, and every day, I'd open the drawer and pull out a black pair. Yesterday, as I walked, I realized my socks were full of holes. Now there are far fewer in the drawer, and I am wearing a dazzling pair I just unearthed. Grey.

Lani wrote to say, what exactly are you doing in the house? Monique came over yesterday with the original plan in mind and was confused by what she saw.  Everything changed a few months ago, when I realized that to establish a whole new apartment on the second and third floor would rip the house apart and cost the earth. So then the plan changed, in a most satisfactory direction.

Now, there's a new bright basement room which used to be my storage space; it will be the bedroom for the basement apartment, hitherto a bachelor, soon a one-bedroom. But as of Tuesday I will be sleeping down there for 2 or 3 months while they rip apart my upstairs. Because the tenant will take over my washer/dryer, we had to create space for an apartment-sized set for me upstairs, and once we started to do that, we - that's Jean-Marc and I - got ambitious. We are now tearing down walls to let in more light and create space for the appliances.

But then JM got the idea to enclose the stairs to the third floor; it's an open spiral staircase, covered with a curtain of heavy material to give a sense of privacy. There couldn't be a door to that floor because the second floor hall is too narrow. But, said JM, what if we smash this wall and move this door? Then there's room. He overcame my natural resistance, and now there will be a door. And once the wall to my bedroom and the spare bedroom started to be smashed, why not, said JM, go all the way and create a new space, a walk-in closet, between the two rooms? So each room will be rebuilt a bit smaller, the walls and doors moved, and in-between - a closet. Where I can stand and admire all my clothes, all in a tidy row. At least, that's the plan.

I will be able to rent the top floor as a more private space and will also put a kitchenette up there with a microwave and toaster oven, so a tenant can make simple meals and not use my kitchen.

This is all in the interests of creating more income from the house, so I can afford to stay here after I finally retire, if I ever do. Plus one day - yes, must think of this - one day a caregiver for my decrepit self could live up there, if necessary. Yes? Who knows?

And while we're ripping everything apart, I'm replacing a few windows that don't open any more, repairing the front door full of cracks that let the wind whistle in, and other necessary repairs. It'll all be disruptive and a great mess, and then it'll be finished and the house will shine. That's the plan. Paid for by the Royal Bank of Canada, God bless their little hearts. With a little help from Auntie Do.

In the middle of all this, I'm going to try to finish the last rewrite of the memoir and get it out.

This mild, grey morning - record gloom in Toronto this November - a burst of joy. I rode to the market and returned with the usual, fresh apples, bread, sausages, Merchants of Green Coffee beans, nuts. Made a big pot of coffee, toasted sourdough for smoked salmon and cream cheese, with the newspapers spread before me, no men hammering in the basement. Wayson is out of hospital and I'm going to visit him soon with a large pot of Sam's shepherd's pie. Then on to the theatre. Listening to Bach.

I could weep with joy and gratitude. We are here.

Here's the poem that came in today from the Poem A Day guy:

Thursday, November 29, 2018


Chris wrote to say, Why do you write about your renovation with such dread? It's exciting, a renewal.

He's right, it IS a renewal. We moved in here in September 1986, but then there was the fire in August 2005 that cleared out the whole house, so the stuff around me has been piling up since then -13 years of Goodwill and Doubletake, plus my mother's death which brought not only her things but the stuff from my grandparents on both sides that she'd stockpiled. It's all here, and it's mostly paper - books, letters, souvenirs, research material for my books. But yesterday and today, I made progress.
These Billy bookshelves in my bedroom used to be full -
- and these too, with kids' books old and new.
The missing books are here, for storage,
or here, going out bit by bit into the Little Free Library. Including a pile of Beatles and Macca books. I was ruthless! Not to say there isn't a great deal more up there. Because there is.

In the middle of all this, Laura Cameron, to whom I'd sent the manuscript for her sharp editorial eye, sent it back with commentary. There's still a bit to do, but to start, she wrote this:
My first and most important comment is that this new draft of your memoir works very well indeed. It’s engaging, it reads smoothly, and most of the themes and questions are clearly presented and effectively integrated. The new opening and swifter ending are great, and the whole presentation of your parents is much stronger and clearer. Brava! I’m confident that it’s nearly ready to go.

Can I believe it? Yes I can. If somehow I can wade through the chaos to deal with the final draft, I will get it out asap. It'll be perfect to have it circulating to find a publisher while my house is being ripped apart, so I have lots to think about that isn't the book.

In other news, Wayson had such a serious asthma attack that he was taken to Emerg and is in St. Mike's. When I visited yesterday, he was his usual impish, gleeful self, even as his lungs crackled. Going back today with a pot of shepherd's pie made by my son. Wayson loves his meat.

I'm looking for movers or strong young people I can pay to cart stuff from Ottawa to Toronto. Do you know any?