Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Mark Rylance and Lucy Kirkwood, bravo, brava

Oh New York New York, you're the best sometimes. Today. One treat after another, of all kinds.

This morning, late after recovering from yesterday - off to my favourite stores a short walk from here - La Maison Keyser, the best bread and croissants outside of Paris, in fact, as good as Paris; The Flying Tiger, chachkas from Copenhagen, just the most fun store, where I went back to buy more $6 leopard and bright turquoise reading glasses and some gifties for the boys; Citarella's for groceries - soups, yogurts, juice; then to Housing Works, a great thrift shop RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET from my cousin's. Nothing. Thank God.

Then to Lex and 77th to get the subway downtown. Just missed a train and then ... inexplicable delay, garbled announcements, something about an accident uptown, nobody knows what to do. I wait 10 or 15 minutes and then decide to get a cab. But then I realize - oh no, everyone else had the same idea and now I'll be battling hordes of New Yorkers for a taxi, my idea of a nightmare. There's a woman with her arm out so I stand near waiting till she gets her cab so I can get mine. And when one stops, she says, "Want to share?"

I get in, and of course, she's wonderful, she rides a bicycle and buys her clothes at thrift shops and is a total kindred spirit. Too bad she got out at Lex and 59th. I continued to 49th and got out to walk around before my matinee at 2. It was freezing today, though, with a bitter wind, and I was underdressed. It's New York, I thought before leaving the apartment, how cold can it be? Plenty. Just in time, in exactly the right place, there was a pop-up Uniqlo store, so I dashed in, bought some of their Heat Tech leggings, went into the change room and put them on under my pants. Comfie for the rest of the day.

The matinee - "Farinelli and the King," by Mark Rylance's wife Claire van Kampen. Gorgeous, beautiful, moving, about the power of music, a magnificent castrati is brought in to save the sanity of the mad king of Spain. Of course, because this is Mark Rylance, it was rich and wise and full. The production was lit with candles, and there was lots of interaction with the audience, and the most exquisite countertenor. Yes, the play is flawed and doesn't really end, but I forgave it everything.
The set before the show.

And of course the woman sitting next to me turned out to be a lyricist for musicals and has finished one based on a short story by Grace Paley about a woman who has an affair with someone from the Yiddish theatre. Yes! What are the chances? By the end of the intermission, we had not only excoriated Trump, we had exchanged email addresses. I love this city.

Out into the cold to 47th - turned a corner and the sight took my breath away, Times Square, so vast and busy and sparkly!
Met Ted, Henry, and cousin Lori, whom I don't know so well but now we're FB friends so getting to know each other better. She lives in the country but has an apartment in town too and sees lots of theatre when she's not skiing. She's vegan so we went to a Japanese place and had a lovely meal. They talk money a lot. Her parents - her father is my father's cousin - are in their 80's and have moved into a kind of hotel where it costs $14,000 a month for them to live. I kid you not, and that's not counting the caregivers who are covered by their insurance. A different world. They discussed bonds. I don't even know what bonds are.

Then Lori went to meet her daughters for one show and we went to the Manhattan Theatre Club to see "The Children," another British play with British actors - not a coincidence that's what I see, if possible, here or anywhere, just the best, the very best. It's by a writer called Lucy Kirkwood and it's one of the best plays ever, yes, I'm in raptures again. About the end of the world and the fragility of the human heart, if you can believe that - a kitchen sink drama after a nuclear disaster. And guess who walked into the audience a few rows down from us at the last minute? Hillary. Yes, Mrs. Clinton, by herself except with two secret service guys with wires in their ears. And the audience went nuts, applause, people standing, shouting We love you Hillary!

She's tiny. After the play, she walked right by us and Ted said a word to her - his brother Robert is a big fundraiser for the Dems, apparently, and Ted has met her. She's quite beautiful. People were so full of love for her. Except the cab driver we got home - when Ted told him she was in the theatre, he said he couldn't stand her and had voted for Trump. "Look at the economy, how great it is!" he said, and I got depressed again, for a moment. At dinner, the TV was on and that face kept appearing. I saw it in the NYTimes this morning, a picture of him with his cronies after the State of the Union, that horrible human being surrounded by fawning white men and Ben Carson, and I said aloud, "A picture of evil."

However. Nothing could wreck this day, not even a picture of evil and seeing a play about the end of the world. It was a banquet of New York today, and I am full full full.

the Angel Orensanz center

A quick word, before I head out into a very cold New York City. First, all is well, my health is fine, the trip was fine; the flight was so seamless I knew something would have to go wrong and sure enough, some problem with the Airtrain, the monorail out of Newark Airport to the train station to the city, a big crowd stuck waiting - but eventually the monorail came, the ancient train came, there's the city in the distance, and then there we are in Penn Station, and cousin Ted had told me - take the E train to 53rd and Lex and then the 6 to 77th, and that is what I did, with my suitcase full of books. Easy peasy. And here's home in NYC, Ted's apartment full of antiquities, Chinese burial statuary, dinosaur eggs, it's like living in a museum. I have said this before.

I rested and got organized and Ted came home from work - the law office founded by his father Leo - had his private yoga lesson, and then we set off for the Lower East Side on the new 2nd Avenue subway. Though it was bitterly cold, I was sorry not to have arrived earlier down there, those hallowed streets of my father's ancestor, Chrystie, Delancey, Hester. We met Ted's husband Henry down there - he came in by train from Northport, where he lives and Ted goes on weekends. And then we found the Angel Orensanz Centre on Norfolk Street. Wow.
A synagogue founded in about 1849, transformed into a performance space - just gorgeous. I met David Serero and learned the setup, and finally it all began.

I'll tell you more about it later. Suffice to say - it's not easy to take a 4 act tragedy and reduce it to an hour and 20 minutes with many songs, including My Yiddishe Mama. There was a young, hard-working, likeable cast, and David is an ambitious, energetic man with a very big voice. It was wonderful to have my family, Ted and Henry, and second cousins and fellow Gordin great-grandchildren Peggy and Jill and great-great-grandson Zack, there beside me. I had a 15 minute speech prepared and rehearsed but finally, when David introduced me, I winged it, cut it way down and figured out what to say.

Afterwards, a man came up with tears in his eyes and told me his great-grandfather had been a cantor at this very synagogue at the time of Gordin. A woman came up to say, "You are saving your great-grandfather. I have huge admiration for people who work to preserve memory." That meant a great deal. And others were very kind. A scowling man asked, "There was no music in the original, right?" Absolutely not, in fact, my great-grandfather's whole career was based on creating serious drama and keeping music and comedy to a minimum. Then, blessedly, Ted got us a cab and we sped home, where he opened a bottle of wine for me, and we debriefed.

I was silly to be so nervous. God knows why I put myself through it. Well - it's New York, it's me standing and speaking from the heart in front of a large group - last night more than 100 - of the most critical people on the face of the earth, New York Jews. Okay to prepare carefully - though despite all that, in the end I had to make it up on the spot - but not to make yourself nearly sick with nerves. Crazy.

Another great thing was that we completely missed the State of the Union address by the orange blowhole. A blessing. Another blessing: the NYTimes, a magnificent newspaper fighting to save this country from itself, delivered to the door. Read it over coffee this morning. The sun is shining, there are actually birds singing out there in the concrete. and New York awaits. I do the whole thing again Thursday, but for now - theatre, all day, and family.

PS Just got an email notice from the theatre where I'm going this afternoon to see my favourite actor, Mark Rylance. There's a list of what's not allowed - drinks and snacks, babies, and then "No weapons are permitted on the premises."

Only in Amurrika.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

off to la Grande Pomme

Big snowstorm last night, but - hooray! - it's over this morning. Lots of pretty snow on the ground, but I gather the flights are moving. So far. I am at the island airport way too early. The bird feeder is full, the plants are watered, the fridge is empty, my son will hold the fort at the house. And I'm off to adventure in the Big Apple. I am not sick. I'm not 100%, but I'm not sick. Many thanks to friends and family for love and support. I am a lucky woman.

Why do I get so anxious? It's crazy, I've done this talk many times before. But there's anxiety, knot in the stomach, fluttering heart. I will do my best to breathe.

My nails are shiny. I had a manicure on Sunday, a rare occurrence because if your fingernails are being filed, you can't read. But now these lovely shiny nails, for Noo Yawk. They should last a day or two.

Hmmm - Boston airport is closed down due to snow and ice, no flights are taking off. Does that mean New York too?

Sunday, January 28, 2018

the big fight

My body is at war with my spirit. A bug or a virus is trying to get in, and I am trying with everything in my power to keep it out: rest, chicken soup, oil of oregano, juice. I've done little for days except work on my speech and on the non-fiction conference, and begin to re-read my book "Finding the Jewish Shakespeare" in preparation for the talk on my great-grandfather and questions afterward. I worked on this material for 25 years, but the book was published in 2007 and since then, I've let all those facts go.

I have to say - I'm impressed by the 250-page book and, yes, by the woman in her thirties and forties who wrote it. When I started, I had no idea how to do a massive research project where most of the material I needed was in New York and in Yiddish or archaic Russian - and I a single mother with no funding or backing and very little confidence. Yet I kept going. At one point, after not finding a publisher, I did give up, and it was Ruth Gay, a New York writer I never met who'd become a colleague and friend, who urged me to keep going. You have a good book, she wrote. Don't stop now. So I took heart and moved ahead.

I really thought a book 25 years in the making about such a titanic figure would ignite the Jewish book reading population, would at least be used, even without footnotes, in university courses on Yiddish theatre or Jewish life in America - in other words, would sell. Ha. As my cousin Ted wrote to me, after an attempt to read it, "Too many details!!" But that's the joy, for a researcher - the bits and pieces of detail that make up a fascinating, accomplished, tumultuous life. So now, rereading it for the first time in years, I discover that yes, I am very proud of the work she did, floundering in her study with toppling piles of paper and two teenagers running riot in the house. The chief expert on the Yiddish theatre, when I called early in the process to introduce myself and ask her advice, told me I was wasting my time - that a book about a Yiddish playwright by someone who didn't speak Yiddish would be worthless. Nevertheless, I persisted.

And, as I like to repeat in moments of doubt, the famous and admirable Tony Kushner did write a blurb that said the book is "a witty, shrewd, elegant book that tells a story of vital importance." So there, chief expert.

And now I'm preparing to leave for New York early Tuesday morning, for two events that will shine a spotlight on the man and his work and my book, and I've got a bug trying to invade. So there's a certain stress here. Nothing more to be done.  I'm in my bathrobe, under a blanket, with the hot sun shining through my study window, and will stay here for much of the day (except for a meeting this afternoon about the Christmas pageant. Yes. We need to get organized for next year. Already.) I will eat soup, I will pack, I will think positive thoughts, perhaps I will keep my fingers crossed. Perhaps you can too.

Here's a beautiful piece of writing to keep you company on a sunny Sunday:

P.S. I just had an uplifting note from Chris on Gabriola, to whom I'd sent my screed of woe: basically saying, ARE YOU A DRAMA QUEEN? Why are you anxious? It'll go well, you're a great speaker with a great story to tell, don't drag yourself down.

And he's right. I AM a drama queen, and I do drag myself down with anxiety. This is a big thing for me, a big talk in New York City, so much of the event a complete unknown, and part of me is understandably nervous. And so ... a bug, and me huddled in the sun like a fading orchid.

Get over yourself, girl. Get on with it. Onward.

Thursday, January 25, 2018


I had to laugh at one point last night, imagining my son at this event - "Baryshnikov/Brodsky" at the Winter Garden. My dear friend Lynn was offered two free tickets and invited me - who could say no to one of the world's great dancers, though at nearly 70 a tiny bit past his prime, doing something with the work of one of the world's great poets, a Nobel laureate?

However. This could not have been a more Russian event, melancholy to the core, steeped in the hopeless blackness of human life, and this on a bleak January night. There's a lovely set, a kind of summer house made of glass; Mikhail enters with suitcase, walks through the house to the stage, sits, takes things out periodically - an alarm clock that rings, a pack of cigs he doesn't smoke, glasses to read with, a cloth to wrap himself in after he takes off his shirt and rolls up his pants to reveal that still-toned body - and then either he or the voice of Brodsky himself recite poetry in gorgeous Russian with surtitles unrolling above.

And that's it. The dancer goes in and out of the summer house, sometimes moving a bit with the words, writhing or galloping or grimacing. Lights go on and off. The poetry is stunning though I realized there's a good reason we need to see poetry on the page, to go back and read lines again to make sense - Brodsky's words are dense and metaphoric and often very difficult to understand, let alone being unfurled on top of a set while a lovely man moves below them. And often, the words are dark dark dark. A poem called Tragedy - by the end I wanted to hurl myself off the balcony. This was a Jewish writer who nearly starved to death during the Siege of Leningrad, later was denounced by Soviet authorities, sent to a mental institution and then to the Gulag. It's all there in his rich work.

So I imagined my son seeing this, an aging dancer hardly moving while an obscure and depressing poem is read in Russian and the translation flies by. And I laughed. It was the only laugh of the evening. But - the presentation was beautiful and I am glad I went. Words, great words, and a beautiful man.

I also laughed today - when I was asked to join the committee to help produce the non-fiction collective's conference in May, I said yes but my participation will be limited because I'm very busy. LOL! This morning I woke up to seven long emails requiring study and answers. It is taking a lot of time. And it will be worth it.

Tuesday night, I went to an event co-produced by my own writing department at U of T and the Editor's Association of Canada: one of the country's foremost editors, Martha Kanya-Forstner, in conversation with prize-winning novelist Michael Redhill, whose novel Bellevue Square she steered to a Giller prize. I went with my fellow conference volunteer Kirsten Fogg and met other friends there. My peeps! It was fascinating. The line I will hang above my desk: "Writers most often regret what they don't cut, not what they do."

And: "The art is in removing everything that isn’t essential."

Yesterday afternoon, Jennifer Turner, the architect of my heavenly kitchen, came by to give me advice on the reno plans. It was very comforting to have her eyes on our ideas - she knows how a house works, how THIS house works. And she thought our ideas were good.

I'm sitting in my study in the sun, fighting a cold. No illness possible - New York next week. Chicken soup, oil of oregano, and mostly, this bright patch of sunshine. And thou. Onward.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

January 20, 2009, a great day

I didn't march today. Last year's march was inspiring and ennobling, and I'm sure today's was too. But I was busy this year.

Just happened to open one of my first books - "Yours Truly, a book of the blog," compiled from the first years of my blog (especially my 5 months in France in 2009,) shaped into a narrative, designed by my friend Chris, and self-published in 2010. My mother called it "the best book I've ever read," but then she did not read much. Reading again, though, I did find lots compelling. From exactly nine years ago:
Tuesday January 20, 2009
Hail to the chief, President Barack Hussein Obama

Dear planet, at last! I can't believe that from now on when we talk about the U.S. and say "the President," we are referring to the superb, the sublime Barack Obama ... It's hard to believe today really happened not only because Barack is black, but because he's intelligent and open, literate and generous, good-hearted, youthful, fine. How is it possible that we have gone from eight years of depraved darkness to this brand new hope and air and light, practically overnight? From the worst of human nature to the best? 

Well, it turns out we didn't know from depraved darkness or the worst of human nature. Who could ever have guessed what, or who, was to come? That we'd look back on the glorious days of George W. Bush?


Oh well. I also found, online, a photo from 1978 - a production called The Shadow Box, about cancer and family, with marvellous actors like Janet Wright, Goldie Semple, Allan Gray with particularly effective pale "I've got cancer" makeup - and a very young Michael J. Fox. Oh, and moi, in a role I had no idea how to play. Here's a shot of our dinnertime between shows on Saturdays.
That's me in a particularly unflattering shot, shrieking at the back, and Mikey at the front. RIP beautiful Goldie and powerful Janet. But Mikey, despite Parkinson's, is going strong. And yours truly, hanging in there.

And celebrating her students, as ever. Kathryn Belicki wrote a lovely piece for the home class, which we encouraged her to send out; it was just published in the United Church Observer. 
When I wrote to congratulate her, she replied:
You have created such a great space for our writing community to grow and flourish—and have a great time while doing it. The word “thanks” just doesn’t cover it.
It does feel good when something goes so right. Like January 20, 2009.

Friday, January 19, 2018

new driver in the family

Great excitement today: Anna passed her driver's test on Wednesday, and today we rented a car together - she can't rent one till she gets a credit card, which is coming - and she drove us across town. She is of course a terrific driver, steady and confident, hilariously quoting her stern driving instructor with his Serbian accent as we glided through the city. We went - where else do you go when you first get a car? - not far from her house to Ikea with the kids, for lunch and a play in the playroom for Eli, candles for me, and blackout blinds and much else for Anna. And then, back across town, not on the streetcar or in a cab, but in a car driven by my competent daughter, who also has just recently been to an optometrist and bought the glasses she has needed for years. So - glasses, a driver's licence and soon a credit card - a grown up, without a doubt.
Last night, my home class annual potluck - what a treat, eight dear friends, like family, who arrive bearing delicious food and great stories. We eat, and then they read. We're off again.

And ... the fabulous architect Jennifer Turner who designed my gorgeous kitchen after the fire has agreed to come next week to take a look at my ideas for the renovation. I went onto her website; last year she brought a photographer over to take shots of her work in this kitchen. They spent ages taking out all the stuff that I have on every shelf, so that the fine bones of Jennifer's work would show. Though it looks glorious, it certainly doesn't look as if I, the stuff collector, live here.

But I do.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Post

On the weekend I went to visit dear friends, a couple who have been swept away by a tide of misfortune - and are fine. He was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo radiation and chemo, and as he was beginning to recover, they discovered that their house had been contaminated by a flood of heating oil from a renovation being done poorly and cheaply next door. And then she broke her pelvis. They lived in a nursing home for awhile while they both got well and now are in a condo downtown; it will be many months, while the contaminated soil under their house is removed, before they can move back home. Not that long ago, all was hunkydory, and then all that slammed them. But they are remarkably resilient and cheerful, and the condo is lovely.

"But it's not home," he said.

Speaking of home, my reno is on. I've had the go-ahead from the bank and met with John and his architectural consultant friend, and we came up with a plan that looks great. It'll be excruciating and expensive and totally disruptive, I'll have to get rid of a ton of stuff and will end up with a bit more than half the house I have now - and that's as it should be. Now looking for a contractor. Please let me know if you have a lead.

Last night, the first class of the Ryerson term - it's always exciting to meet new people, and this time, to find 3 students from past terms back for more, including one from 5 years ago, a sports writer for the Star. And tomorrow night, my home class. The adventure begins.

Tonight, "The Post", how a brave newspaper printed leaked documents despite an injunction, and saved us from the deceitful American government. Wait - what year was that?! Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, superb, but best of all, the smoky newsrooms with their clacking typewriters, lovingly recreated, and closeups of printing presses, oily metal machinery turning, typesetters at work with blocks of type - heaven. A free press could not matter more. A great film at just the right time. Thank you, Steven Spielberg.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

warmest Jan. 11 on record - we'll take it

Toronto weather just broke another record. Jan. 4 was the coldest on record, and today, Jan. 11, was the warmest - over 12 degrees! The temperature jumped 35 degrees in six days - and will be dropping 20 degrees back down on the weekend. Utterly confusing. Today felt like spring, except for the mounds of filthy melting snow.


My U of T class Life Stories II has been cancelled; sorry to anyone who wanted to register, please do so earlier next time. And please write to me if you want advice on what to do instead. As for me - I'm sorry to do without the money, but now I have Tuesday afternoons all to myself. Woo hoo! FYI the Ryerson class True to Life is nearly full.

Tuesday, I went across town to babysit Ben while his mama had her driving lesson. Anyone who's depressed for any reason should spend time with a two-year old. Everything is interesting. Thomas had brought some long cardboard tubes, and guess what, when you put a little car in one end, it runs right through and COMES OUT THE OTHER SIDE! The most exciting thing ever!!! Ben's favourite words: NOLIKEIT. For example, frowning at me when I put on my glasses: NOLIKEITGLASSES. I took them off. No messing around with this kid.

And then we picked up Eli from school and went to his first ball hockey class. Eight five-year old boys with sticks - terrifying. Fun. And - ahem - Eli scored the only goal.


The class was at Parkdale Collegiate, and while we walked through the halls - well, we old folks walked, the boys ran at top speed - I saw this:
Is that not fabulous? What would I have thought if that had been on a washroom door in my last high school, Lisgar Collegiate in Ottawa, in 1966? I'd have had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. Nobody would.

Anna's driving test is next week. Now that's exciting.

Wednesday, a meeting with my bank manager, whom I've known for 15 years and who is like a dear friend - and I'm pretty sure most people, especially freelance writers, don't feel that way about their bank managers. His first baby is due in a few weeks - a girl - and I'm getting a present ready. He told me I can have a big loan to do my renovation with no problem and at a pretty low interest rate. So - we're on. (And incidentally, I've just written and sent a letter to his boss about how helpful and hardworking he is. We writers must use our superpowers for good.)

Today, a long meeting for the Creative Non-fiction conference - what a compatible group we non-fiction-writers-and-conference-organizers are, a pleasure to work with.

I got embroiled in a FB argument about #MeToo. There's a level of feminist vitriol in the air that scares me. An American actress responded to Catherine Deneuve and the other French women's open letter, which says #MeToo is going too far and becoming a witch hunt, by saying their misogynistic self-hatred has taken over their minds. Oh come on.

Now there's a huge hooha about sexual assault in theatres and creative writing departments. As a longtime veteran of both, I have to say - is there something wrong with me that I was never assaulted in either? Yes, I made terrible mistakes sexually during my youth, but with my eyes open. No one ever importuned me in a way I could not handle. Was I just lucky? Was I so plain that lecherous men were just not interested? This doesn't mean I'm not sympathetic to women who have been assaulted, not at all. But as I wrote to a furious correspondent on FB, I guess we have different definitions of 'assault.'

In the good news department, there's this, and that's all I need to buoy me on this springlike day. Don't read it too closely. Just keep the headline close to your heart.
To Improve a Memory, Consider Chocolate
A small study shows that an antioxidant in chocolate appears to improve some memory skills that people lose as they age. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Florida Project

Dear students and writers, if you are considering taking my advanced course at U of T, I ask you to sign up immediately, because a few more are needed for the course to run. The Ryerson course is filling fast and may soon be full, but the U of T class is only for writers who have taken my course before or who've received permission from me, and sometimes is small.

So if you're interested, don't wait.

I just returned from seeing a horror movie: The Florida Project. It's about poor families who live in welfare, slum motels in Florida, and though it's a brilliant film, I found it profoundly upsetting and depressing. The U.S. as a third world country - we know it's so, and here it is, on view - lives so devoid of meaning, unsupervised children running amok, and yet people struggling to make a community and find kindness and decency. Thank God for Willem Dafoe, with his expressive craggy face, as a manager who cares for the hopelessly lost people who live there.

What's exceptional are the children - utterly natural and unforced and real. How the director achieved what he did with these kids, I have no idea; it's breathtaking. But the film made me sad; not a good film to see in January. I came home to my house - my roof, my walls, the unimaginable luxury of my stable, comfortable, functional life.

And this after watching much of the Golden Globes last night, which was the most politically aware awards show I've ever seen, women rising up, wearing black, Oprah fierce and fiery. An important moment, as women struggle to change the world, or at least, their bit of it. But feminist struggles aside, that motel in Florida is as far from the glitter and champagne of Los Angeles as anywhere on earth.

The night before's excitement: watching "2001, a space odyssey" for the first time since it came out in 1968. A very odd movie - yes, a masterpiece, but also odd and very, very slow, long lyrical passages to Zarathustra or Strauss as spaceships float and dock, and then an utterly surreal ending I had to Google to understand. Interesting that Kubrick foresaw many things clearly about the future, but still had women as pretty stewardesses in pink suits and absurd little hats.

And yesterday, I was on the streetcar passing Allen Gardens on Carlton Street when I blinked and swivelled to look closer. It was a hawk, a big hawk on the ground, tearing at something in its talons, probably a pigeon. How often do you see that in the middle of the city? A magnificent raptor having lunch. Red in tooth and claw.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Toronto the filthy but great

Went to the Y this morning. For the 20 minute voyage door to door by streetcar, I wore: long johns under cashmere leggings with thick socks and boots, an undershirt, t-shirt, sweater, and puffy vest under a long puffy coat, also thick wool hat and scarf covering the face and of course, mitts. Warm as toast.

The temp is soon going up - maybe even to minus six! Woo hoo! But the city is its usual hideous self at this time of year - filthy snowbanks covered with garbage. I'm ashamed of it.

And then I read a Guardian list of the top places to visit this year - and there's Toronto. FYI the Bentway has already opened as a long skating trail for people crazy enough to want to go out in this cold. And Rail Deck Park, as far as I know, has not yet found funding. But it's still a great city, except when it's full of filthy snow and garbage. Otherwise, great.


Ontario’s waterfront capital is already known for its multiculturalism (in addition to Chinatown, there’s Little Italy, Little India, Greektown and Koreatown) and festival-packed summer (from the renowned Toronto Jazz Festival to a host of food and craft-beer events). And the list of reasons to visit continues to grow, not least the fact that from 1 May British Airways will fly direct from London Gatwick, as well as Heathrow, with three new flights a week. 

This spring, the Museum of Contemporary Art will reopen, having moved into an industrial space in the Junction Triangle. The city will also be getting a new public space, the Bentway, a mile-long trail under the Gardiner Expressway, which has been transformed into a route for skating as well as art, markets and performances. Other developments, include the Rail Deck Park – a huge green space to be built over a railway corridor in Downtown – and the continued revitalisation of the waterfront.

And then there's this, sent by a friend:

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Friday, January 5, 2018

minus 36

Today was the coldest January 5th here on record. This morning, my daughter had to get her two kids, a cousin, and a neighbour's boy to an outdoor skating rink for skating lessons. With the wind chill, it was minus 36. But she did it. The parents who get their children through these bitters days are heroic - especially as the kids are off school now, during the worst weather imaginable, and the rigamarole just to get out the door, and then inside again - gruelling.

And then they came over here, and by the time they'd left, I was ready to fall over. Though it was wonderful. I got out my old doll's house, a Tudor manor given me when I was six by my English grandparents, that I played with and my kids played with and now my grandsons. I could not help but notice that the little people who live inside had all had their pants removed by the last group of kids. Anna hinted that it might, 30 years ago, have been her. I tried to get the pants back on but the bodies are too small.

Doll's house, making soup in the sink with the wooden vegetables, riding the Plasma car back and forth, playing the piano and drums, jumping on the sofa, snack, books, balls, trucks and cars, and by then, the house is a disaster. So out for dinner. By the time we wrestled the car seats into the taxi home, their mother was a basket case. And then Glamma got to walk home alone, clean up, sit in silence.

The cold is like being under siege, debilitating, unnerving, I just want to curl up and sleep. And drink wine and watch TV and read magazines under a blanket. Nothing is getting done. But we're alive. One more week of freedom before teaching begins. Must make use of it to do something useful. I promise. As soon as the brain kicks back in.

Have not forgotten the rest of the planet - am avidly following the release of the tell-all book about the orange blowhole. How long, O Lord?

Thursday, January 4, 2018

loving Leonard

Here is my image for the new year, the ivy on the south wall of the garden: the intricate beauty of something that might or might not be dead, and there, clinging to the old and bursting into the sun, new growth. If that's not a metaphor for a new year, I don't know what is.

And for all hopeful writers - comme moi, right now, waiting to hear from a publisher about my ms. - here's a lovely sight: J.K. Rowling's synopsis of her manuscript about a boy called Harry Potter, sent to and turned down by many publishers. All we hopefuls can say is: LOL.

Last night's treat - the musical tribute to Leonard Cohen. Halfway through, I posted this on FB:
Sitting in front of the TV, sobbing, watching "The Tower of Song," the tribute concert to Leonard Cohen on CBC. Hearing his son Adam who sounds so like him, k.d lang tearing the roof off with "Hallelujah" - and the man himself with his dignity, his gravitas and sweetness and lust for life - what a mensch. Oh he is missed.
Oh the glory of those songs! Yes you who must leave everything that you cannot control. It begins with your family, but soon it comes around to your soul.Well I've been where you're hanging, I think I can see how you're pinned: When you're not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you've sinned.

Thank you, Leonard.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

great gifts for the new year

Just heard from my longtime friend Suzette, who read a draft of the new memoir. She has given me a great gift: she loved it. It’s absolutely lovely writing, wise and full of heart and heartbreak and, ultimately, hard-won victories of insight and love and, in the end, happiness and fulfillment. An amazing journey of the self, full of insight and humour. beautiful, heartbreaking, heartmending story.

Does it get better than that? She has some critical comments, suggestions for possible changes - but I wrote to her, I'm drinking your words like fine wine. This bizarre business, as we slog alone for months and years, and then send our fragile vessels out into the world to see if they float. I must remember that this reader is a dear friend, on my side, and the editors who'll read the ms., or who won't, are not. Still. A great gift, much needed during these cold dark days.

And another gift: Since my upstairs tenant is moving out in May, I've been trying to decide what to do with my four-story house - which really means, where shall I grow old? As are many of my friends in this neighbourhood of tall, impractical Victorian homes. I was contemplating a huge reno to transform half the house into a separate apartment, completely lost heart when I considered the enormous disruption and cost in money and, more importantly, time - and now am back on track. My old friend Jessica, an artist who has that kind of mind - she can visualize, cost, see where the supporting walls are and what can come down - came today to take a look. We paced and she began to sketch - and voila, something possible. Yes, extremely disruptive and expensive, but at the end, two separate living spaces. I think I can stand it. It will force me to get rid of a ton of stuff, which I need to do anyway, and it will make me continue to be a landlady. But if I find the right tenant - like the one now in the basement suite, quiet, reliable, and often away - it's a great way to support this old bag into retirement.

So I think it's gonna happen. In the fall, maybe. We'll see. My bank manager has said no problem for the dough. The front part of the current living room would be my bedroom, the back part would turn into a library because I'd lose my bookshelf space upstairs, the current dining room would become the TV/living room, a spiral staircase would push through the ceiling at the back - oh it's big. Always interesting, life.

In the meantime, the New York trip is also getting more exciting. I discovered that the best actor in the world, Mark Rylance, is appearing in a show in NYC at that time, and now I have my ticket. I would travel a great distance to see Mark Rylance, whether I'm speaking at an event or not.

We are under siege here, the weather record-breaking cold. It's huddling weather. Thank you powers that be for a functioning furnace and roof. And lots of possibilities, and space to make changes, and generous, wise, supportive friends who have ideas. Onward into the brand new adventure of 2018. It sure has started well.

Here is the always-wise E.B. White on New Year's Eve celebrations. Had to look up orectic. What a valuable word! orectic - of or concerning desire or appetite. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Life Stories II at U of T

Always a lovely day, New Year's Day, quiet. No hangover for this old biddy. I knew it was midnight because the little girl next door, who was outside, shouted Happy New Year! and somewhere, fireworks banged and popped. My treat was watching Monty Don's "Great Gardens of England" - Sissinghurst! - at the same time as the brilliantly acerbic Canadian satire show, the Beaverton. By midnight, I was safe and warm in bed.

And now - moving from the fog of Christmas and free time into the real world. Checking my teaching numbers - Ryerson is filling fast, so if you're interested, please register soon. The U of T class Life Stories II has room. That class, on Tuesdays 12.30 - 3 starting Jan. 16, is for writers who have taken my course before or who have a lot of writing experience. The pieces are longer and emailed out in advance, if possible, for a more in-depth exploration.

If you'd like to take your writing to the next level, please get in touch or sign up at the U of T department of Continuing Studies. 

And begin 2018 with a creative challenge.