Wednesday, May 30, 2018

neat stuff

Why I stay:
... from the deck, five minutes ago. You can't see that the grass needs cutting and some plants are already wildly out of control. This looks groomed and orderly. As if.
The mid-point. My garden, aka, Vitamin G
As the man says:

And: love is...
Have never seen this beautiful photo before. It must have been fairly late in their time together and yet there they are, the band of brothers.
I was older than this kid and there were no headphones. And that's the American version. But ... yes.

And: LOL
PS. This from Twitter:
In Roseanne’s defense, it’s hard to know the difference between racism that gets you fired versus racism that gets you elected President of the United States.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

the power of plumbers, and Roseanne winning today's Vileness Award

My dear handyman and friend John, his plumber friend Paul, and the plumber's silent assistant Stanley, arrived at my front door this morning at 7.55 a.m. I'd been up since 7 to save them a parking spot out front and gear myself up for 3 men arriving before breakfast. We had to wake my poor downstairs tenant Gabriel, so Paul could check out the leak in his apartment. Is it the hot water tank? Paul thinks not. He thinks it may be a cracked pipe in the storage room next to the tank, which needs to be cleared out to check, and is, of course, jam-packed with stuff - the big Christmas box, the bag of my and my kids' souvenir baby and child clothes, a box of my grandparents' fancy dishes that nobody wants, 46 paint cans, and much, much more. It all needs to be cleared out so we can ascertain if the leak comes from there. And if it doesn't, well, I've probably rid myself of 46 dried up paint cans, if nothing else.

And again, I ask myself, Why am I hanging onto this albatross of a house? Many many hours not writing but dealing with leaks, tenants, garden, maintenance, upkeep. Why not throw in the towel and free myself?

And then I look at the garden. Here's the dilemma, as anyone who has had to make a difficult decision knows: there is no right answer. I love the garden and think of it as sanity, not only for me, but for my family and friends. Right now, I'm sitting on the deck smelling gardenia, jasmine, mint, the fresh green smell of life. The birds chatter, the trees whisper, and it's so lush, it makes me weep with joy and gratitude, the sweet, tender beauty of it all - lilac, bleeding heart, pansies, climbing hydrangea, honeysuckle, gardenia, oleander, geranium, clematis and roses getting ready to reveal themselves, and behind their safety cage, the veggies, growing.

So shut up with the bitching. You are choosing the garden and the kitchen, the big bright kitchen where your guests are happy to congregate. And in doing so, you acknowledge that it will take a lot of time, energy, and effort to sustain life here. Luckily, you have John to help you. So shut the @#$#@ up.

Thanks, I needed that.

(Don't forget the squirrels digging up the grass and the lettuce on the deck, the raccoons who shit everywhere, the grey cat who lurks trying to devour the sparrows at the feeder, the scale that wrecks your deck plants. Nature sweet but also red in tooth etc. You're opting for that too.)


Next week, I'm going to have a cosmetic operation on my eyelids. On the left side, there's a white cyst or lesion, and on the right, an ingrown eyelash. The surgeon said he had never seen one, and there is is, an eyelash poking out and growing up into my lid. if it's not a leak in the basement, it's an ingrown eyelash - isn't life exciting?

And thank you, Roseanne, for today's Vileness Prize. Today, you even beat out Donald Trump, and that takes some doing. Do you think the explosion of vileness liberated by Trump will spew out hatred until there's nothing left and it's spent, like a volcano? Or is there an endless supply of human vileness in the world? These are the thoughts that keep me up at night.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Ripley's Aquarium and Trump at yesterday's debate

It is ridiculously hot - over 30 degrees at midday. It's still May! Maybe there'll be snow in July? Confusing. I usually turn my A.C. on once or twice a summer - and today, it's on already. Scary.

This morning, an adventure - for Eli's sixth birthday, instead of getting him another toy, I offered to get tickets for the aquarium for him, his mama and Ben. Got them for first thing Monday, thinking it would not be crowded. Ha! As Anna said, we forgot to take end-of-school trips into consideration. When I saw the number of tour busses lined up outside, I knew it'd be crazy- and it was, it was mayhem.

It's a marvellous place, with all manner of fascinating sea creatures and a moving walkway with fish, including sharks and manta rays, swimming not only on both sides but overhead. Amazing - stunning anemones, silky jellyfish, gorgeous specimens, big and small, from everywhere. Ben as usual shrieking, Glammaglammaglamma! pointing to every fish, and there were millions. Eli has been there before but even he was excited. But ye gods, the noise was unbearable. We did not last long. Anna suggests we go back on a Tuesday in November.
Hundreds of Nemo's!

Yesterday Ben was sick and his mother was desperate, so I took Eli to a Doors Open place on the waterfront - a fire station that has a rescue boat with giant nozzles for fighting fires at sea, very exciting. And then we played in the sand at the fake beach there and rode our bikes all the way to my house, a long ride for a brand new six-year old. Later, I watched the beginning of the leadership debate at Anna's, and couldn't finish. Excruciating - hearing our own blowhard idiot mini-Trump sing from the Trump playbook: promise them everything with nothing to back up your claims, tell pointed lies about your opponents and your own achievements, et voila, a province for the taking.

I am having trouble getting myself in motion. There's so much to be done, and it's as if I too am floating serenely about in a giant tank. Well, I did do a big talk last week, am teaching and dealing with tenants and floods in my old house, have managed to get the garden in and keep it, so far, alive. I did a fasting blood test that proved I do not have diabetes and finished reading "The Empathy Exams" and took it back to the library on time. So I've managed to slog through the necessaries. But I feel like a lump, thinking of all the things there are to do, including exercise, house clearing, and the next draft of the memoir, and turning instead to FB, or the NYTimes, or a snack.

Maybe it's the heat. Maybe it's this extra kilo or two I seem to have acquired around my belly that makes me uncomfortable.

Maybe I should cut myself some slack.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

the grammar lady

In the Star this morning, a journalist wrote about someone who would "plum the depths."

Plum the depths. What would that look like, I wonder - something to do with jam? And then I got an email about home improvement from the august New York Times, and here is what I read: Add hooks to the back of doors, and see where else you can eek out extra inches.

I hear someone screaming - EEK! EXTRA INCHES! I sent a note to the Times saying EEK about the horrifying lack of copyediting.

And an article - unreal but true - about a parent in South Carolina who ordered a cake for her son with the words "summa cum laude" on it, because that was his status when he graduated. When the cake arrived, the middle word had been replaced with hyphens, because it's a rude word.

Lord. As my father would say, "The barbarians are at the gate."

I can see it now - I'll be a little old lady sitting with a red pen and a disapproving expression, reading newspapers and magazines and slashing through them with my pen. There is no money for copyediting, and the few editors that are working are all 32-year old women, very sweet and well-meaning but without a basic grounding in spelling and grammar, because schools ditched all that boring stuff years ago. Soon, no one but us crabby old grumps will know that eek is actually eke and plumb is the proper spelling.

Focussing on these minor issues keeps my mind off the major ones. All kinds of interesting things in the paper today - a very courageous article by a former friend and colleague of his about the frightening megalomania of Jordan Peterson, "the world's most influential public intellectual" at this time, a U of T professor and a darling of the alt-right. An article about the real Andrea Horvath, who, if we're lucky, will become the new premier of this province. The tide seems to be turning, though it's too terrifying to be complacent yet. But our very own blustering millionaire windbag idiot seems to be fizzling out. I have asked for an NDP sign for my front yard and made a campaign donation. Let us pray.

It's not even June yet, and today felt like mid-July - sweltering and muggy. My left lower eyelid has a twitch, driving me crazy. Exciting: my neighbour to the north is right now up a ladder with his chainsaw, cutting down a dreadful messy tree that was leaning over my yard wreaking havoc.

Or, as someone might write today, reeking havoc. Why not? Who cares?

P.S. Go Ireland!

Friday, May 25, 2018


Another shot, just sent to me, from yesterday. I'm still getting nice emails. Another -
I only laugh a lot when things are hysterically funny and/or witty. Today was your finest hour - a stellar performance! We both loved it. And neither of us knows beans about the Beatles, or indeed the rock idiom. You were captivating, Beth.

Well, good to know and a surprise, truly. My friend Chris wrote that he's wanted me for years to go back to some kind of performance. I think I've found what might work - readings like this, with powerpoint. Just have to figure out who would want it, and where.

It's 29 degrees! Full on summer already. (Tomorrow, 35 degrees with the Humidex.) Just found out the leak in the basement is a broken hot water tank. Water tanks are supposed to last 8 to 12 years - and this one is 7 years old! My poor brand new tenant is going to have to mop until the plumber can come on Tuesday. Thank God for the sun, to dry out the soaked carpet and mop.

So the day has flown. I feel sometimes I am barely keeping my head above water - today, literally as well as figuratively. But somehow, things move along. What would I do without this little machine on which I'm always tapping tapping tapping?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

"She Loves You" - good times

Coming down from the performance high, just like in my acting days - it's not nearly as intense, speaking rather than inhabiting a character with makeup and costume, but still, it's a show and I feel it to my core.

I was convinced, during my talk today to a full house at the Miles Nadal, that people would find it solipsistic, one note, even boring. But I gather that was not the case, for some at least. It went well. I told them it should be called "Beth's Adventures in Beatleland," because I fell down a musical rabbithole in January 1964 and have yet to emerge. Whereas my memoir just tells the beginning of the tale, this was the whole story, up to now. My friend Lisa Roy, who runs programs at the Miles Nadal, was there beside me working the powerpoint, which did have a glitch or two - we had never tried it before. However, no one seemed to mind. I spoke for about an hour, there were questions, and people even bought books afterward, including my other books. So - a success. Exhausting, but wonderful.

One friend - remember, these are dear friends - emailed, "You are an amazing storyteller. Charismatic, hilariously self-deprecating, your writing witty and the delivery triggering big laughs. Very moving too. Love the image of your parents dancing, finally, to the Beatles. Too many other moments to mention here. A rapt audience loving it all. Went to support a friend and left as a fan!"

And another, "I loved loved loved your talk. It was funny and full of history and it resonated with people on many levels. I loved the slide show and memorabilia. You delivered it with warmth and passion which was delightful and made me cry at points. Please take it on the road."

Maybe, after all that work to prepare it, I will.

Selling books and signing, afterward, with Wayson keeping an eye on things.

Take it on the road - any ideas out there?

Yesterday, several people read such beautiful moving stories in class that we all cried. How lucky I am to have work, several kinds, that I love so much.

But I'm glad the talk is over. I came home to an emergency in my downstairs tenant's apartment - a leak, water coming through the walls, disaster. Lest I get too comfortable.

Monday, May 21, 2018

"She Loves You" at Miles Nadal Thursday May 24

Reminder: my talk is this week! There will be music and video and me yammering about being there at the beginning and loving right through to now. Paul McCartney and peanut butter - outside of my family, the two great longterm loves of my life.

the sweetness of the garden and yet another T@#$#mp rant

Body aches, top to toe, but especially the legs, after two solid days of gardening. My haunches, knees, arms - all hurt. It's delicious. All in aid of the miracle called the garden.

Where I am right now, drinking a cold beer and meaning to read - am plowing through Leslie Jamison's book of essays "The Empathy Exams," and what a powerful, interesting writer she is. But I keep getting up to go check on things, clip a little more here and there, despite my aches and pains.

Yesterday, John and I staked the raspberries and I gave them a talking-to: if they don't produce substantial fruit this year, they're outta here. Hours of pruning and staking the whole garden, filling two garbage cans with clippings.

Today, I planted the deck boxes: two types of lettuce, two types of basil and chives, some parsley and dill, and fertilized the gardenia which is ready to bloom, the jasmine, diplodenia, geraniums - all spent the winter in my office and are glad to be released. My new garden helper Richard did the veg garden: eggplant, kale, cukes, cherry tomatoes. Beans and maybe spinach to follow. And then two planter boxes of impatiens, for colour in dark corners.

I do not think of myself as a gardener. I don't know theory - as I don't know music theory either, come to think of it. But somehow, this nourishing, heavenly place keeps going, year after year. A young man from the Kim's plant store on the corner helped me home with heavy bags of fertilizer the other day. We walked through the condo courtyard and up the stairs to the garden door. When he stepped inside, he stopped and blinked. "Wow," he said. "Wow."

It's just not what you expect in the inner city - the length of it, the quiet, the greenness.

Wayson did come yesterday, and so did Sam; he grilled us a meal on the barbie, salmon, many veggies, and pears - he said grilled pears go well with salmon, and we happily took his word for it. Then we watched the end of the "Little Women" series, where I got to weep at the death of Beth all over again - first did so in 1960. Unlike every one of my artsy friends, I did not want to be Jo, the rebel who grew up to be a writer. I wanted to be sweet, loving, self-sacrificial, beautifully dead, and much missed Beth.

Today I took my aching bod to the Y, to sit in the hot tub and the sauna. On the way, I noticed how rude people are, even on a blissfully tranquil national holiday - horns honking, people swearing, not the staid Toronto we used to know. And as ever, I blame Trump for the increasingly rude nastiness of the entire planet. Imagine - people see that you can be an unabashed crook, a despicable human being without a shred of decency or honesty or even sense, and yet not only wheel and deal successfully but assume the most powerful office on earth. Why should we continue to obey social rules, when he has flaunted them all and been rewarded for it?

More beer.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

the man with the bag of books

It's the middle of a long quiet Victoria Day weekend - drizzly yesterday, mild and sunny today. Just spent an hour pruning, then I'll do the soil, and then, today or tomorrow, planting. My new basement tenant, a young man from Quebec, moved in yesterday, and there were visitors. My doorbell rang; a big man, a stranger, was at the door. When I opened it, I saw he had a big bag of books. I assumed they were his and started thanking him.
"I'm a garbageman," he said, "an industrial garbageman, and I found these. I think it's criminal to throw books away, so I brought them to you."

I have renewed faith in humanity. Thanks to this kind man, the Little Free Library is full of nearly new books. Can you imagine the person who threw them away? It's just unthinkable. The activity at the library is ceaseless - including at least one person who, I suspect, regularly takes out every book., who knows why? But then it gradually - or quickly, as yesterday - fills again.

I was in an emotional wedding fog much of the day, reading news reports, pleased that the bride switched to a Stella McCartney gown in the evening. Because I spent the evening working on my next week's talk about her father, the McCartneys were on my mind. And then Jean-Marc and Richard came by for a glass of wine. Richard, a protocol expert who runs every special event at City Hall, is now famous for his CTV appearances any time there's a royal event; he'd had an exhausting weekend of nearly non-stop commentary. I'm always fascinated to know what he thinks. He is fiercely defensive of the royal family, some of whom he knows well, and the most savvy man I know politically, constantly attuned to his Twitter feed. He thought Minister Curry's speech was too long and rambling, and that it was not the young couple but Prince Charles who chose most of the music. And if Richard says it, it must - almost all the time - be true.

Today, planting, sitting, reading, cooking perhaps for Wayson, perhaps my son might drop by, perhaps not. Nothing, nothing on the agenda. The air is still because the city has stopped.

Love is all you need.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

okay, yes, I watched it

By complete chance, I woke at 6.45 a.m. and at 7.15 was in the kitchen drinking coffee. And I thought, oh well, I guess I'll find out about the wedding. I thought it would be over. So I checked the computer and THERE IT WAS, still going on. I came in just as Reverend Curry was finishing his sermon, and I thought, I'm in the wrong place, what is this?? It was amazing, shockingly direct and casual in such a formal place. And then after the vows, a black choir sang a beautiful rendition of Stand by Me, a black cellist played, and it was not at all what I - the world - was expecting.

I turned on the TV and watched till they drove out of sight in their landau, the horses freaking out at the noise, that gorgeous young woman with her bright natural smile that did not fade, that nice young man who looks not unlike another nice young reddish-haired man the same age and closely related to me. Despite my complete indifference to this occasion, I fell under the spell. They do these things well, the Brits, up to and including the weather, the perfect day. The absurd hats, the stuffy royals, and there, with tears in her eyes, was a divorced African-American woman of great dignity, the bride's mother. They all won me over.

The only negative, for me, was that the camera angle kept showing the bride's friends, foremost among them Ben Mulroney, son of an unfortunate Canadian prime minister. Otherwise, it was beautiful to watch, an absurd fairytale brought to theatrical life. Call me a sucker, but there was a tear or two, remembering my own wedding day. Which was in the Vancouver registry office two weeks after the birth of our daughter, attended by the sleeping baby in a borrowed christening robe along with my mother and a dear friend, and that's all. So - not quite the same. But the love and the hope were the same.

This morning, to the plant store on the corner, usually extremely crowded on the May 24 weekend - today, in the rain, empty. I bought basil, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, chives (mine died this winter), parsley, eggplant (trying again), cukes and more. TO LIFE!

'I'm ready for a drink now': What Harry said to Meghan (according to a lip reader). As the carriage pulled away from the crowds into the gated grounds of Windsor Castle, Ms Markle seemed to be in awe of the scenes, lifting her hand to her chest and saying "wow". Harry also seemed to need some help... according to lip reader Tina Lannin, he said to his bride: "I'm ready for a drink now."

My kind of guy.

"Dr. King was right. We must discover love. The redemptive power of love and when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world. My brother, my sister, god love you, god bless you, and may god hold us all in those almighty hands of love."

Friday, May 18, 2018

Now we are six

Often, to get to my daughter's across town, I cycle south to King Street, lock up the bike, and get the King streetcar. I did that this morning at 11.30, on my way to help her prepare for Eli's sixth birthday party. At 7.45 p.m., as I hauled my bones off the streetcar and unlocked my bike, I was about to moan about how tiring it is to go all that way. And then I thought of my friends Lynn and Denis, who recently were needed to babysit three of their grandchildren for a week, and to do so, they had to fly to Nairobi.

A long streetcar ride I can take.

Anna the event producer, as usual, whipped up a phenomenal extravaganza for a ridiculous number of children - maybe 15, ranging from about 9 to Ben at 2. She had huge plates of snacks ready, and, most importantly, buckets of water and sponges to wash the car, their favourite pastime, and chalk paint to paint the pavement and then each other. There was mud and so much noise, it was beyond deafening. Then they found Eli's extensive gun collection and there was war, racing about shooting, pew pew! And spying and rushing up and down the slide and jumping in the mud (Ben). There was teasing about Eli's "girlfriend" Stacey, who is lovely and who scolds him in a voice just like his mother's - "Elijah!" I thought, it's a good sign he's choosing so well, at just six. I heard another girl, when asked if she had a boyfriend, say, "It's not legal for me to have a boyfriend. I'm only eight."

Right on, sister.

At one point, one muddy savage with a huge green and red water gun rushed by shouting, "Let's kill the pig!" At least, I think that's what he said, and I thought, It's getting a little too Lord of the Flies out here. But no, the most amazingly good time was had by all. The downstairs neighbour appeared with superhero capes and ninja headbands he had made out of old t-shirts. After the snacks Thomas grilled piles of hot dogs and hamburgers, and then, best of all, CAKE. The only time they were still - five minutes of devouring cake. And then on their feet and all over the place.

In the midst of this, my daughter finds time to help a small person find something she's lost, help another choose something to eat when he doesn't like what he sees - I don't know how she keeps her calm, but she sails serenely through. The adults were provided with a crockpot of delicious pulled pork and a mere six salads.

I am in awe.

I abandoned ship and rode home, exhausted, on the streetcar, looking out at my city on a Friday night, marvelling at the cultures on display - people from every country on earth strolling the downtown streets. Especially thrilling, the mixed couples producing the cappucino babies who will save the world. Hurry!

On Wednesday, after teaching, I went to a neighbourhood party featuring oysters from the MW fish shop on Parliament Street. Mark the owner was there to shuck and give us much oyster lore. There was also lobster and other goodness from the sea. So, with 3 classes and beginning to get the garden underway, it's been a busy week. I'm bushed.

But at least it didn't require flying to Nairobi.

PS. Thank God, that @#$#@ wedding will soon be over. Let's talk about something else, for God's sake.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

horror in the news

Heartbreaking. Our planet is in flames. The vicious and unnecessary provocation going on in Jerusalem right now is appalling, and the result, the anger of the Palestinians and the violence of the Israeli forces, devastating. Every day, you think that Trump cannot sink any lower, that he has gone as low as he can go. But he keeps surprising. 55 dead at last count, 2500 wounded so far, thanks to his incendiary decision. Not a single Israeli hurt.

My daughter told me she's ashamed of her 1/4 Jewish blood, and I had to remind her, it's not Jews who are the enemy here, it's the state of Israel, more specifically, Israel's far right leaders; plenty of Jews are as affronted as we are. Later, I Skyped with an old friend whose sister-in-law is Palestinian; her parents were exiled and lost their home in 1948 when the Israelis arrived in their village and threw them out. And yes, they hate, not Israelis, but Jews. My friend said recently she was visiting during a festive event, and children were letting balloons loose into the sky. She asked where the balloons were going. The children had fanciful answers, and then one small child said, They're flying to Israel, to kill Jews.

How fundamental that hatred is on both sides, how intractable. In what universe did they think in 1948 that throwing an entire people off their land was a good idea? That there would not be repercussions for decades if not forever? Now, as a result of Trump's embassy, there will be fresh waves of terrorism and violence. To tell you the truth, I feel violent myself. I'd throw rocks if I were there. And get shot.

And all this is going on while spring is blossoming in the most beautiful way, so glorious, the fresh greenness of it all, the scent of life opening up - it's hard to be gloomy with such beauty. And yet it's also hard to be cheerful when so much is going so very wrong all around us.

However, one sight always cheers me up:
They came to visit today and we went to the farm. They love spring too. We saw lambs, kids, even 3 baby turkeys. Or gobblegobbles, as Ben calls them.

May some semblance of sanity return, please God. May the electorate learn the facts and begin to make informed decisions. May my grandsons grow up in a world where there is at least a shred of hope for peace.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

the superb "Sutra" - and mothers

My beautiful mum in early 1985, at 61: musical, generous, and soft, also manipulative, difficult, and demanding. Thank God for mothers, so writers always have something to write about.
Spent the day on the playground with my grandsons yesterday while their mother signed up her soccer team. Constant motion and activity, and with Ben, constant talking and questions. Glammglammaglammaglamma! He's obsessed with transit: busses, subways, trains, trucks, and best of all, streetcars. And also with his uncle Sam, who played foozball with his nephews at his restaurant last night, while we waited for a grand repast.
And then I dashed off, through the choked madness of downtown after a Blue Jays game, to see "Sutra," a dance event featuring 19 Buddhist monks flinging their bodies about on top of 16 huge rectangular boxes. Haunting images - the boxes like coffins, piled like Stonehenge, lined up like sentry boxes, stacked again like shelves for bodies, reminiscent of concentration camps - and the men, all phenomenal at kung fu as part of their religious practice, like Olympic gymnasts mixed with daring parcour kids, doing flips and leaps - amazing.

And now - happy day to all of you who are mothers and all who had mothers. The sun is shining. I'm going out for a bike ride.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Beth analyzes her one and only flaw

A grey drizzly sky this morning but lush green below, lilac tightly closed but getting ready, daffs and tulips nodding, birds rushing about with grass in their beaks - sat in my office yesterday watching sparrows nesting in my downspout. Anna has volunteered to be a soccer coach; today is "Meet the Coach" so I'm going across town to keep Ben busy while she meets her charges. We FaceTimed this morning, Eli telling me about Monopoly with his dad, Ben shouting Glamma glamma glamma! until he got his turn, to exclaim that his dad's cup fell down this morning and made a mess. Everything is exciting to Ben. We are spending the day together, and then all of them and I are going to Sam's restaurant for an early Mother's Day dinner. My celebration today, so Anna can enjoy her celebration tomorrow.

Yesterday, went to see my dear bank manager, who has just become a father at the age of 52, about how I'll pay for the renovation and my next year's salary-less sabbatical. He showed me how we'll manage and then showed me many pictures of his 3-month old daughter. He is very in love. I know how he feels.

So - I mentioned a few days ago that I'd tell you what the CNFC conference taught me about my own work. The irony is that as a writing teacher, I've been saying "Show don't tell" to my students for decades, yet not doing it well myself, at least, in this latest memoir. I already knew that:
- I'm an analytical person, most comfortable standing at a distance, commenting, teaching, expounding, pointing out, rather than plunging into vivid scenes.
- Scenes are hard to write, said Dinty Moore, no wonder we avoid them. And it's true. Scenes usually require dialogue, at which I am extremely bad. I try to listen hard and remember what people say, their rhythms and vocabulary, and forget. My attempts at dialogue, to me, feel clunky and inauthentic. So I avoid it.
- Sensory detail, said Dinty, pulls people into the scene. Something I say all the time to my students, and yet, again, am not good at writing in my own books.

But at the conference I realized - I myself have a poor sense of smell, and I don't have a particularly acute sense of taste either, at least, unless I force myself to concentrate on what's in my mouth. So I thought - no wonder my books don't have much sensory detail, when I don't have much myself.

But here's the key - I realized that my impatience, which has always been a flaw, gets in my way in both life and work. As a writer, I rush into the story and then don't take the time to slow down and unpack - that is, to go deeper, to ponder and explore, to bring the scenes, bit by bit, to life. And I don't do that much in life either. I've always wondered why I don't know the names of trees, why I often don't know the words of pop songs I love, don't even know which wines I really like and why - and I think it's because I'm in a hurry, not stopping to - yes - smell the roses, learn the names, focus on tastes, really listen.

I'm not beating myself up over this, it's just the way I've always been. People exclaim about how much I do, and it's because I'm always doing two or three things at once. I eat reading the newspaper, and taste is the last thing on my mind. I listen to music doing something else. I have a great deal to do running a complicated, busy life, and many things get done in an efficient manner. But there's a depth of experience missing.

Not bad for a writing conference, eh?

So somehow, at the age of 67, I need to learn to slow down, not just for my life but for my work. Slow down and go deep. To really taste and feel and see, to touch and listen and smell for the first time. I don't know how to do this, how to change a lifetime's speedy way of being. But at least I know what I need to change.

Thank you, Dinty Moore, for your wise and powerful words, and to the conference itself, for so much stimulation.

If one day soon you see a grey-haired writer looking like Ferdinand the peaceful bull, sitting in a field gazing at the flowers and sky, I hope that'll be me. If I'm trying to read a newspaper at the same time, please, take it away.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Confessions of a Lifelong Beatlemaniac May 24

My Macca has received another award from Her Majesty:
This is what 76 looks like when you live a good life. (Some of us are thrilled he's finally allowing his rich brown locks to go grey. Looks great on you, Paul. Onward.)

Loving daughter Stella tweeted:
Dad, a proud daughter on every level. What you have achieved as a creative soul on this earth has inspired so many millions and touches your baby girls heart with love and hope. Love is all you need and you got it from all your family today... x Stella

And what I have to say is this:

If you are in need of a major Beatles infusion in your life, and you KNOW you are, then please consider attending this event. A good time guaranteed!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Lee Maracle: walking everyone home

Sitting on the deck, sheltered from the late afternoon sun by the umbrella, thinking, This is why we have gardens, for days like today, when the growth, the vivid green, the sudden appearance of buds and flowers and shoots, is astounding. From grey-brown to bursting with verdant life overnight - miraculous.

Not perfection in the garden - renovation season has begun, and the people next door are doing something noisy to their walls (when they were drilling on our linked wall inside, one of my wine glasses fell off its holder and smashed - thus the reality of semi-detached houses). But still, the loudest noise, when the work next door stops, is birdsong. And the sound of nature waking up and stretching and beginning her work in earnest.
What's missing here? A non-smashed wine glass. Must go rectify that; it's 5 p.m.

The U of T class began today, the Ryerson one tomorrow; I'm back at work, have scraped my mind back from the conference to daily life, though it is still very much with me, in my bones, what was said and what happened. That conference was one of the richest experiences of my life, and you know I am not given to hyperbole. (LOL.) It was so much better than any of us expected.

Here are a few of the sentences I liked best, and next post, I'll tell you the vital truth that I learned about my own work.
"Writing the truth does more good than keeping secrets. Tell the hard truth. The reader always senses when you're holding back."
"In your first pages, what kind of world are you presenting to the reader, so they want to become your narrative voice and live in your shoes?"
"When the brain encounters action words, our vision system in the brain recreates the movement, and our motor system too. Our muscles respond to words. Using vivid description triggers something on the radar. Give them the experience, not just the language. Touch, smell, taste, hearing, sight - make their brains light up."
"Write as if you're talking to someone."
"Don't be kind."
"For your second draft, walk away and then come back and read as if you didn't write it."
Liz Renzetti: "Don't be ashamed of having a commercial impulse. Be practical. It's a job. Writers have to eat."

And so much more, that's just a taste.

But finally, I think the panel that affected us all the most was the conversation between Lee Maracle and Tanya Talaga, two wonderful indigenous writers, one an elder and one a younger reporter. Lee spoke about the horror of residential schools - "taking children from their families and from the land is an act of genocide." She said that because First Nations children were severed from their language, they were cut off from their bodies - that we native English-speakers have the use of our full bodies, but people who are separated from their native tongues, their first language, have their bodies cut in two. A powerful image. "The forever memory is in the body. You need to communicate with that body."

"When you write," she said, "you're talking to a tree. It took one small pine to make that page." And "When you write, you are looking backward and forward at the same time."

My favourite sentence of hers: "A grandmother's job is to walk everyone home. The more grandmothers you have, the more history you have. Then you can be whole."

"There are 167 nations living in this city," she said to us at the end. "You need to get over your British selves."

Will do my best with that, Lee. But in the meantime, this grandmother sure does want to help walk everyone home.

Monday, May 7, 2018


A conference hangover - moving very slowly today. Luckily it's a stunning day so I can move slowly outside, listening to birds. Wayson is here. He has been asking to take me to dinner to repay the meals he's eaten here, and I called him and said, Today's the day.

People have been sending me ecstatic emails about the conference and there are lots of postings on FB. Best of all, we had a fantastic farewell event here last night, a dinner with champagne and lots of toasting and rehashing of key moments. We like each other really a lot; they are just fine fine people, a great group, a pleasure to be with. And we created something powerful and fine for more than a hundred others; that means a lot.

I spent the morning transcribing my notes and will write more about specifics; I'd like to share some of the best thoughts and moments with you. But I'm still digging out after four intense days, and a nice man is waiting to take me to dinner. And then I have to get ready to teach Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. So, for now, some pictures and an email from Mary, who wrote, today, "I so enjoyed it all! It was exhilarating and it was a special bonus to spend more time with you, sharing stories and our craft. Beth, thank you so much for all the work you put into this weekend and mentoring your many students (this one in particular). The confidence to celebrate my efforts by sharing them with others last night was wholly due to the encouragement and guidance you have provided. Grazie mille."

You could not be more welcome, dear friend.
Patty, who took my course years ago, with Margaret and Mary, who are working with me still. This is in the great Hogwarts-like hall where we had dinner and the Saturday cabaret.
The old bag introducing Dinty Moore.

When I got home Friday, completely spent, there was a letter in the mailbox addressed to Glamma. It was from Eli, hoping I'd had a good weekend and asking when he could come over to play. "I love you," it ended. I showed it to my colleagues at dinner here last night, saying, "I just spent four days with some of the most gifted authors in the country, and this is the best piece of writing I've ever read."

Not a sentimental bone in my body.

PS A post on the CNFC website just came in: "Great conference. Exceeded my expectations. Fabulous presenters. Came away thinking about writing, and life, in a very different and inspired way. Thanks everyone!"

U of T and Ryerson courses are both a go.

I will write more about the CNFC conference when I've had time to ponder and process. So very much to process. The main thing for today is that not one single thing went wrong. It all worked and was magical.

But more importantly, right now, I'd like to trumpet this: BOTH COURSES ARE A GO. And there is still room in both.

Life Stories I at U of T starts tomorrow at 12.30 in the OISE building, and True to Life starts Wednesday at 6.30 p.m. in the VIC building at Ryerson. Please get in touch if you have questions. I will be bubbling with excitement because of all I learned this weekend. A good time guaranteed. Hard work, but good.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

conference high

10.15 Saturday night and I feel as if I'm emerging from a long tunnel. A long beautiful stimulating life-changing fabulous exhausting tunnel.

The 14th Annual Canadian Creative Nonfiction Collective's conference is nearly over - my bit IS over, ended an hour ago. Tomorrow morning there's the AGM, then a literary walk around the Annex, and then I've invited the conference committee and board members to my house to decompress - and to drink the bottle of Veuve Cliquot Kirsten kindly bought for us.

It was a triumph. It was fantastic, all of it, the presenters, the venue, the down time, the food - but mostly, what was discussed and the people who discussed it. I don't know how we did it, but the most fascinating warm clever knowledgeable writers, one after the other, came to speak to us. My notebook is so full, I don't know how I'll ever transcribe all I have in there. But I'll try.

Cannot write more or my head will explode. Here's something the wonderful Elizabeth Renzetti said to us today: "The voice is your head is an asshole."

And other words of wisdom.

I connected with loads of former and current students, including Hyacinth, who took my course at least 20 years ago and told me I changed her life. This beautiful woman is a grandmother many times over, believe it or not, and she wrote a story, at least 20 years ago, about making love in an elevator, that is with me still.

On my bucket list.
And now to bed. More anon. It was so so so so so so so so so worth it.

Thursday, May 3, 2018


 A post from a summery Toronto before I vanish into Conferenceland in a few hours:

It's my daughter's 37th birthday today, and I won't see her until next week. I'd considered various presents for this kind, generous woman, but what she wants, especially this birthday, is money. Since getting her driver's license in January she has been happily renting cars on the weekends and scooting about town, so last weekend, when the only vehicle left was a truck, she took it and chauffeured her family to the country. At one point there, she backed up using only the truck's internal camera rather than also looking out the back window. Mistake - there was a storage container behind the truck the camera couldn't see - big crunch. Big big crunch. And it turns out her credit card company "does not cover luxury vehicles or trucks."

So what she's getting this birthday is money.

My son, too, had an accident - playing baseball with his new team on Sunday, he twisted his ankle, which is swollen, black and blue. It's only a sprain but he won't be able to work for a week. Luckily, the last time this happened, about a decade ago, he was given a special crutch for someone 6'8", and I kept it. So his special tall crutch is here waiting for him. The trouble with Swedish death cleaning: it means you probably shouldn't keep your son's special tall crutch for ten years in case he needs it again.

And then, something happened to me. I met with a former student yesterday, who's a successful editor now retired and learning, with trepidation, how to become a writer. I asked if she'd read my memoir and comment, and if she liked it, possibly mention it to a publisher. My fantasy: she'd say, I adore this book, don't touch a word, I have contacted all my friends in publishing and said, you MUST publish this.

You know where this is going, don't you? That is not what she said. She had many things to say, but none of them were about getting the book in its current form published. I have to digest what happened, which will take awhile, because I'm always ready to hear negative things about my work. So now I don't know if she's right and I need to start the book all over again, throwing away two years of work, or if I need to ignore her. Or something else. No idea.

Yesterday, my friend Judy, now Acting President of the Canadian Creative Nonfiction Collective, arrived from Vancouver and came for dinner. We sat outside on the deck, still hot at 7 p.m., and while we ate, I watched a pair of sparrows mating on my neighbour's roof. Every day the garden is more green, more full of life exploding.

We're a bit battered today, here in this corner of the world, but full of life too.

PS I just sent Anna a text: Happy Birthday you wonderful glorious woman.

And she wrote back, "Thank you to the wonderful glorious woman who brought me into the world and survived raising me! I am eternally grateful to you for always being my biggest supporter in literally every way. I love you so much Mum." Heart emoji.

I think I'll make it through the day.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

U of T course Life Stories I is a go!

Good news, students: my U of T course is a go. A small but valiant band will start meeting Tuesday May 8 at 12.30. Please get in touch if you want more information. So far, my Ryerson class is still capped at 12, but I'm hoping they will find us a larger room. If not - if you really want to take my course this term - there's room at U of T! Come on over.

It's incredible outside. As usual, we went from winter to summer in seven and a half minutes. It's 28 degrees out there, stunning, very hot. I just went to the basement to try to find some sandals, and the great wardrobe transfer has begun - woolies out, sleeveless tops in. But it'll get cold again, and then we'll be confused, not knowing what to wear. But then it'll be hot for good.

Right now I'm waiting for my soup to be delivered. This is something new - a Cabbagetown restaurant is experimenting with making two different kinds of soup a week and, for $9, delivering them to your door on Tuesdays and Saturdays. I'm going to try today only and see how it feels. I think it will probably feel pretty damn good to have soup appear magically on my doorstep. Even if 28 degrees is warm for soup.

Yesterday, I took the gentle art of Swedish death cleaning to heart and started. Anna's friend Nicole came to help. She's invaluable - I talk to myself, I pick things up and question whether I need them, and then if I hand them to her, they vanish. If she puts them outside, they disappear in seconds, it's magic. I tidied one small section of the living room, that's all, but it's a start. My GOD there's a lot of stuff in this house. Horrifying. But then, it's not just my lifetime's accumulation, it's my parents' and grandparents' and even a great-aunt or two.

Mostly, these days are about preparing for the conference, which will hit with a vengeance on Thursday and take over until Sunday night - total immersion in creative non-fiction. Many emails are flowing. Much planning is happening. And in the middle of it all, my daughter turns 37. I will not be celebrating with her this year, at least, not on the day. Another day, to honour her 37 years on this earth and my 37 years as her mother.

There's a New Yorker cartoon I love - a woman is watering a couple of little plants and a man is saying, "Do you think we'll ever regret having two plants and a bowl of pebbles instead of children?"

Yes. The answer is yes.

P.S. Curried zucchini soup. To eat outside on the deck in the sun with some fresh Blackbird Bakery sourdough and a salad. The air is full of birdsong and the trees of buds. Yes yes yes.