Friday, June 29, 2018

"The Dead Husband Project"

I'm not in a good frame of mind these days, so will not bore you here for long. The world is dire, and I'm giving up on human nature, at least for now, as we slide into a time resembling the brutal, heartless, xenophobic 30's. Watching what's going on in the world is making me ill. And this is before Doug Ford begins to smash things in Ontario.

So what's the solution, since the world is not going to go away? Stop reading the news and FB and Twitter? Sure. As if. I'm a news junkie like everyone else. What has he done NOW? And then I watch Sam Bee, Bill Maher, and John Oliver for sarcastic commentary on it all. It's corroding my soul.

I'm in a bad mood generally; yesterday I alienated someone who'd spent a few hours helping me in the garden who has now quit, that's how crabby. I am deeply irritated at just about everything, in my mind justifiably so. And it's breath-suckingly hot out there, that doesn't help.

First world problems, I know, whining whining whining.

On the other hand, a treat on Wednesday, for the second last class of the Ryerson term: a student from at least 14 years ago, Sarah Meehan Sirk, came to speak about her book and her journey, and to give us a workshop on defeating the negative inner voices. She told us that my True to Life was the first writing class she'd ever taken; she took it 2 or 3 times and was so inspired she took other courses, ending up doing fiction at Humber, where a writer took her work to his agent who took it to publishers, who fought over who'd get to publish her; one gave her a two book deal. Her book of stories, "The Dead Husband Project," received rave reviews. I started it last night; the writing is superb. A two book deal. It is to dream.

I told the class, Sarah was not immediately the best writer in the class. There was another writer who was extremely gifted and had an extraordinary story to tell. But she didn't do the work; Sarah did. So talent is great, but perseverance - focus, confidence, dedication - are more than half the struggle.

Eli graduated from kindergarten this week. There was a ceremony, his class a heartening assortment of sizes, shapes, and colours.

And last night, the last home class of term, we sat outside on the deck listening to beautiful writing and powerful true stories, one of my favourite things to do. I know, I have nothing, nothing, nothing to complain about, except the state of the world, that people keep electing fascists.

Please read my friend Kerry Clare's powerful diatribe about the anti-choice movement, to the left. She finishes, "Abortion is the tip of the iceberg. It’s never been about fetuses—don’t you know that? It’s about controlling women, and limiting their freedom to make choices about their bodies and their lives. It’s the same impulse that tears a baby from her mother, and takes her away on a bus to a migrant camp. And I hope you will join me in resisting it at every single step."

I celebrate her fire and courage. Kerry will not for one minute give up the fight. 

The raspberries are coming in. The roses are nearly done. The veggies are magnificent. And today, unlike Sarah, unlike Kerry, I am small and bent.

A picture of a cobra about to devour a mongoose:

Monday, June 25, 2018

Magnetic Fields: 50 song memoir

Everybody on earth sent me the Macca video - thanks to you all, dear friends, for thinking of me! Chris from Gabriola brought me great joy when he wrote, "I’ve never cared much about the Beatles or any one of them. I didn’t have the gene, but that carpool karaoke thing was so moving and wonderful. I was just smitten with your Paul thought the whole thing. It was a wonderful bit. I loved loved loved it."

It makes me happy that the world is finally discovering the worth of this brilliant, unknown musician who deserves attention.


And, more happiness, the roses and clematis are showing off again.
All in all, Anna's young guests completed 11 gorgeous pictures to send to immigrant children held in Texas - and then she persuaded her own kids to part with some of their stuffies to send too. The news continues to be mesmerizing in its hideousness; have we ever spent so much time checking to see if the planet is going to explode? A combination of Trump and social media. What a team.

Too bad it was grey and wet all weekend for the mad Pride celebrations, and today is glorious again - sweet and mild. Oh well, my gay brothers and sisters know how to party, rain or no rain.

But I myself, on the wet weekend, was fraught. Sometimes it's like I'm in a small boat, a fragile coracle on the high seas, and I'm hanging on for dear life. There was a huge battle about the renovation plans between the woman who did the original designs and the man who's doing the official plan to take to the city. She went berserk when she saw what he'd done, accusing him of undercutting and humiliating her because he didn't do exactly what she intended. He said her work was not to code. I was caught in the middle as the emails flew - she is a dear friend of my dear friend John, and the guy is an expensive professional whom I don't know, so I sided with her.

Wrong. Her work was not to code.

A whole day in a frenzy, with angry upper case messages going back and forth and me feeling sick and confused. This reno won't start for months and already it has worn me out. More today - John came over and we sawed and smashed something to see if it supports a beam or if we can remove it. Sawing and smashing - not how I usually spend my days. And we still don't know.

In the middle of all this, Auntie Do landed in hospital. Apparently she had a bladder infection, didn't take her meds and didn't eat properly, was taken to hospital by a friend, and there she remains. They have now discovered she has a fracture of her vertebrae of which she was unaware. 98 and not going quite so strong. It was good to talk to her today and remind her that Wimbledon is starting; I hope she can get it on her TV, it will keep her alive.

More Luminato the other night - "Magnetic Fields, A 50 song memoir." Stephin Merritt is a singer/songwriter who has written a song for each year of his life, sounded like my kind of show. I should have done some research before going - it turns out he's a cult figure, an underground musician of sorts, and the audience was full of adoring fans. I found a terrific set, a kind of memory palace jammed with old toys and interesting things and surrounded by musicians with myriad instruments ...
...but in the middle Stephin, a lugubrious fellow singing the most depressing songs. And hard to understand, when the whole point was the lyrics. Perhaps his fans already knew the words. He was so low-key and withdrawn, I left at intermission, but at home, found a fabulous song of his (with lyrics) that made me laugh out loud. Do listen - I'm sure you'll love it too. A good laugh is SO needed these days.

And finally, my son was visiting a young friend attending Rosedale Heights School of the Arts, Sam's alma mater, and when he flipped through this year's yearbook, he found moi.
I gave a talk there last year on an anniversary of the school, and I'm in the yearbook with the principal. Freaked out my poor son. Boychik, yo mama in her little coracle is everywhere!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

pictures for children in cages in Texas

Anna is hosting a group of kids at her house this dark, rainy morning. She told them what is happening to children just like them at the U.S. southern border, the cages and separation from parents, and asked them to draw pictures to send to the imprisoned children.

And they did.

This is how young people learn to think about others, to be aware of the bigger picture and of just how lucky they are. No more valuable lesson possible. It is a drop in the bucket, but to me, it is a very, very big drop.

Nos querimos mucho a ustedes. We feel super bad for you. We love you guys. Sincerely Noah.

Happy Pride weekend to all my gay friends. Sorry about the weather, but I know your festivities will be joyful nonetheless. We love you guys.  

Friday, June 22, 2018

Carpool karaoke with Macca

Weeping with joy. So jealous of those lucky people who were there. Check out the size of the rooms in his childhood home! Love love love.

Burning Doors - Belarus Free Theatre

8 a.m. and the sweet garden air wafting into the kitchen makes me swoon. The whole city, as I bike around, smells like jasmine. Beautiful days, sunny but not too hot with a cool breeze.

So it was hard to leave the pleasures of the garden and go to the theatre last night, especially as I had an inkling of what awaited at "Burning Doors", a Luminato show from Russia. Well, no, performed in Russian but from Belarus - the Belarus Free Theatre, "the only theatre company in Europe banned by its government on political grounds." This, not surprisingly, is a play about repression and imprisonment of artists, about rage and protest and the meaning of freedom. One of the actors was a member of the famed Pussy Riot.

Years ago, I invented the term "theatre of mess" for productions in which, when directors aren't sure what to do, they get actors or designers to toss stuff around and wreak havoc. Last night, we saw a kind of theatre I call "theatre of torture." To show us the horror of having to live under an authoritarian, repressive regime, this director tortured his impressive, incredibly dedicated actors in myriad ways. They were strung up by pulleys, one by her neck, others naked - in fact, they were often naked, both men and women. They wrestled each other into exhaustion, screamed at each other until I was sure their voices were gone. How they survive doing that show after show is incomprehensible.

So fun it was not, on a beautiful June night. It was at once the most physical and the most cerebral of experiences, as only a Russian production could be - long passages quoted from Dostoyevsky or Foucault, or from the interrogation of a dissident artist (after which, we learned, the interrogator quit his job and became a defence lawyer for dissidents!) - long arguments about philosophical or political issues of which I had the barest understanding, followed by more wrestling, leaping, crawling, hanging.

At the end, we were told about the imprisoned Ukrainian filmmaker Sentsov, who is extremely ill after a hunger strike, and learned that one of the musicians who'd composed the brutal score, and journalist Masha Gessen, were in the audience, and there was going to be a discussion. I confess that I escaped into the perfumed night of downtown Toronto, where we have massive problems, but we are not torturing our artists. Or, most of the time, our audiences. I hugely admire this group's ideals and their ferocious, unrelenting commitment.

(And remembered seeing Mikhail Baryshnikov performing the poetry of Brodsky a few months ago; this is the second show I've seen performed in Russian THIS YEAR. What a city.)

Last week another kind of protest, the documentary "Women, Art, Revolution", about the struggles of women artists in the U.S. for recognition. It was scattered and overlong, with a narrow focus, not one mention of another country, another set of female artists anywhere else in the world.

On Tuesday, dinner with two great women artists who were not protesting anything - Jessica and Suzette, friends since university days in Ottawa, one a curator and impresario of modern art, the other a successful and very busy screenwriter. Jessica and her photographer husband Geoffrey sold their big Victorian house last year and moved to a modern condo just built a few doors down, with a roof deck that gives a panoramic view of the city and the lake beyond. We ate, drank, and talked under a vista of limitless sky that I, the inner city mole, rarely get to see, as the sun set and light glinted red in distant skyscraper windows.

This week, the news was especially unbearable. My daughter has been distraught, in tears, as more photos emerged of imprisoned children and even babies. She is organizing an event to take place Saturday and will still take place, despite Trump's change of ... can't call it heart since there isn't one ... or mind either, for that matter. Change of direction. She has invited everyone to her house to create art and letters for the children, to send to the detention centres in Texas and elsewhere. Messages of support with words from grownups, pictures from children. I don't know what else to do, she said.

We try to make a difference in our different ways - the Belarus Free Theatre with violent, powerful theatre, my daughter with hospitality, generosity, and love. May you find your way to make a difference today.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Write in the Garden July 22

Out of the blue, received the most wonderful email from a young student reading the 60's memoir. Must share.

I just began All My Loving this evening and had to stop to write to you because of how much I’m enjoying it already. I’m only 10 pages in but I’m laughing so hard I’m on the verge of an asthma attack! I’m not exaggerating. It reminds me of stories my mom would tell me about her love for the Beatles. It also reminds me of my own adolescent obsession with Hanson. I can remember that same moment when my young mind exploded and I was never the same again. You’ve captured that so well. 

Thrilling. Even as I struggle to rewrite the new memoir for the 87th time, it helps to remember that it's all worth it if one person, and maybe even more than one, actually enjoys what we do. And speaking of enjoying what we do, I watched the inimitable David Sedaris being interviewed on Steve Paikin's TVO show last night. He's extraordinary - funny, loveable, yet willing to tell horrible stories about himself. Students, listen to what he says about not being able for years to write about his mother's drinking because he didn't have enough distance. Wounds and scars.

And - further to that - if YOU want to write a memoir that has readers gasping for breath, if YOU want to be witty and warm while being interviewed by Steve Paikin, here's a good place to start! Only a few places left.

Monday, June 18, 2018

one of those days, including the police

A writer friend said recently, if you posted fewer blogs, Beth, you might get more of your own writing done.

Amazing how sensible people can be when they're not you. She's right. So I am trying to hold back JUST A LITTLE here, because I do have lots of work to do. But now I'm behind in the blog. Here goes:

Last week I volunteered to sit at our Creative Nonfiction Collective's table at the annual huge writers' summit at Harbourfront. Wonderful to see and meet so many writers, and that evening, to be given a ticket to hear the marvellous Tomson Highway deliver the keynote address. His talk was hilarious, profound, moving; I hope they publish it. He talked about how little CanLit existed before 1970, and of course nothing from indigenous Canadians, and how quickly that changed. To paraphrase, "Before, people were only getting murdered in London and Paris; afterward, people were getting murdered in Moose Jaw!"

He talked about the vibrancy of the Cree language - how English is a language of the head and French of the heart, but Cree encompasses the whole body and laughter, the same message Lee Maracle gave us last month. I believe them, but still, as a person who speaks English and French but apparently is missing a good part of her body, I am sorry. Because it often feels to me as if I'm all there, but obviously not.

On Saturday night, I was awake for hours with ideas flying, kept jotting cryptic notes in the notebook by my bed. What came to me, among other things, was a new opening for the memoir; the knowledge that I had to call the police about my Little Free Library, and that it was time to sell my parents' solid teak sheet music cabinet, which is bulky and I do not need. So with list in hand, this morning, I began.

Explanation: I have a Little Free Library outside the house, a wonderful community resource, many people a day stopping to put in a book or to take one out. But for months, I'd go by and find it completely empty - denuded. Someone had scooped out every book, including kids' books, computer manuals, everything. And it was also happening to my neighbour Gina's library up the street. Bit by bit we heard a rumour - it was a man who lived in the rooming house up the street. Yesterday, I called the police and left a detailed message. This afternoon, a young couple who live in the rooming house went by with their pitbull (as I was loading the music cabinet into the car of the lovely elderly couple who'd just bought it, yes, it happened that fast) and confirmed that it's indeed a man from their building; they gave me his name and room number, told me his room and the whole landing of the house is piled high with books.

The police got in touch today and went to the house. The man was out, but sure enough, the cop said, there are books everywhere. The guy is violent and abusive, and his dogs were recently taken away by the Humane Society - not a guy we want on Sackville Street. They are going to give him an order not to go near my library and possibly get him evicted as a fire hazard. Hopefully, our libraries can go back to being the fine resources they were.


In the middle of all that, today I had a nearly two hour computer seminar from a fantastic computer guy - if you need a nice expert who makes house calls, let me know. I am in an ongoing battle with the strange fellow who's doing the plans for the renovation. A family member got in touch and blithely said he's arriving tomorrow for a quick visit, let's have dinner Wednesday, he said; I teach Wednesday. It was breath-suckingly hot and there were two monumental downpours that had me outside afterward to make sure my garden had survived.

And more. Yesterday I met Megann Willson who is running to represent this riding municipally; she came to the house to meet me and talk about what I think is needed in the city and the riding, and what she can offer. I liked her a lot. Go Megann! Today I figured out how to send a MailChimp mailing to over 300 former students but sent it out with the wrong title. And that's not to mention what else was coming in via email - requests for writing advice, a misunderstood student, devastating news about children in cages.

On the plus side, today is Macca's 76th birthday.

So. My neck is rigid with tension. Some days, it feels like I'm standing with my bat in front of a pitching machine, and the balls keep coming straight at me, hard. All I can do is try to whack and duck. Today, I have to say, I whacked and ducked like a champ.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Paul Simon: bravo

First, I gather from some of you, who used to automatically receive this blog in your email inbox when I post, that the link no longer works. Not sure why that is; another of life's great mysteries, along with the sound of some rodent creature, I think, gnawing its way through the kitchen ceiling that I heard to my horror yesterday morning and then that vanished. Mysteries! I'm seeing a computer guy about this and many other issues on Monday, so hope to have your posts restored.

As for the mystery rodent - stay tuned.

So - the Paul Simon concert Tuesday night: only superlatives. I understood the term "wall of sound" - he had 15 superb musicians on stage with him, every one of them adept at many things - backup vocals, trumpet, violin, flute, many kinds of guitar, many kinds of keyboards, two drummers. A musical phalanx, supporting this tiny man and his parade of brilliant beloved songs: Homeward bound, Kodachrome, Bridge over troubled water, Graceland, Still crazy after all these years, Me and Julio, 50 ways to leave your lover, The boxer, American tune, Mother and child reunion, Slip slidin' away...

And the sophisticated, lovely, quirky Rene and Georgette Magritte and their dog after the war, which was played with his musicians gathered around him in a kind of string quartet.

The most infectious was Diamonds on the soles of her shoes that segued into Call me Al - two songs that make everyone want to get up and dance. Heaven. He ended the very long night - he sang for 2 1/2 hours and finished by himself, with an acoustic guitar - singing Sounds of Silence. I still have the album, one of my first, still a fave. In my diary, February 1968: "Went to see Simon and Garfinkle (sic) at Carleton." Fifty years later, there he was again.

I compared him, of course, to my Macca, a musical superstar of almost the same advanced age - a year younger, but similar powerful drive and agelessness. Macca has only four guys up there with him, and his songbook is much better known. So Tuesday's Paul can't hold a candle to MY Paul, but still, fabulous.

The Star today calls the pedestrian and cyclist slaughter in this city 'a state of emergency.' We'll see if anything is done, especially now that Doug Ford, Mr. War on the car is over, is in power. What I think will change: absolutely nothing.

Photos for your enjoyment of some of my favourite males on the planet:
 Are they married?

A Sunday drive through the garden.

And ... agreed!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

death on Bloor Street

A horrifying experience today - at noon, I was cycling merrily along Bloor Street on my way to U of T, congratulating the city on the newish bike lanes there, when, only a few hundreds yards from OISE where I teach on Tuesdays, I came upon a ghastly scene: ambulance, police, fire engines screaming in the distance, a crumpled bicycle, a helmet on the ground, a form covered with a yellow cloth, a paramedic unpacking a long canvas bag. A body bag.

I wept with shock and horror. The city and its drivers are slaughtering cyclists and pedestrians - careless driving, texting, speeding, lack of policing, lack of enough safe bicycle infrastructure. After class at 3, Bloor Street was still shut down. All we know is that the cyclist was a middle-aged woman struck by a truck which was turning. She must have been in the bike lane with her helmet on, just as I was. If I'd been there a few minutes earlier, it would have been me.

When I spoke later to a policeman nearby, he said, "It's happening too often." No kidding. "Cars and trucks go too fast," I said, and he nodded, but said, "The truck was turning, so speed may not have been an issue here." As I started to ride off, he said, "Be careful."

The issue here is that a woman got up on June 12 2018, put on her helmet, headed out on her trusty bike into this heavenly late spring day, and was killed. My ride home after class today was extra slow, and I was extra conscious of the sunshine, the smell of flowers and gasoline, the waft of wind, the warmth of sun on my skin, how lucky to still be here on this flawed, extraordinary planet.

The class itself was particularly meaningful, a group of brave students telling their deepest truths. Intense and inspiring.

Tonight, I go to see Paul Simon at the Air Canada Centre. The last tour of one of the best songwriters of his generation, second only to Bob Dylan and You Know Who.

On Sunday, I watched the Tony Awards, grateful to ever have been part of that dazzling world.

The first rose is out, the first (and only) peony, the lavender, the gardenia with seven gorgeous white blossoms wafting scent, the birds filling the garden with song - and I am alive to see and smell and hear and feel.

As the fridge magnet Wayson gave me says, "It doesn't get better than this."

While I celebrate life, I mourn you, dear fellow cyclist, and those who lost you today.

Friday, June 8, 2018


I awoke early this morning, saying to myself, Maybe it was all a dream, or a nightmare, not real at all. But no - there it is on the front page of the Star - "Premier Ford." Not a joke. Real.

So a day of recovery and sorrow for what awaits the people of this province - exactly what we've seen in the U.S., disaster for education, transit, health care, the environment, an endless succession of scandals. As I wrote to Anna, the only upside: Ford does not have any nuclear codes. Great comfort in that.

I feel sick and wounded, and not just because a whole party of cretins - including Mike Harris's son! -  was just elected with a majority, and there are small bloody dots above my eyes. The news of Anthony Bourdain's suicide after the news of Kate Spade's. Somehow, I'm surprised and yet not, that wealthy, creative, outwardly successful people are depressed to the point of suicide. The world is fucked right now. It turns out that human beings are far more limited, tribal, and small-minded than we thought. Such needless chaos out there, it hurts to read the paper. I'd cancel it, except that I don't want to further damage the endangered print media.

There's a documentary on TVO tonight about Fred Rogers. That will make me feel better. Or maybe not. He's dead.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The nightmare begins.

Hideous. Heartbreaking. The polls closed at 9; it's 10, and I've turned off the TV, can't bear to watch any more. We are going to have that gang of goons at Queen's Park. "The war on the car is over!"

At least my riding, which has been Liberal forever, voted in the NDP candidate. In fact, most if not all of downtown is NDP. The suburbs - solid blue. This for a party proudly without a platform headed by a bullying crooked former drug dealer with no provincial experience and facing a major lawsuit.

As my distraught daughter wrote earlier, "People are stupid!" And this is a woman who prides herself on not being judgmental. But sometimes, judgement is called for, and right now, no question, a majority of our fellow Ontarians are fucking stupid.

PS Anna on FB yesterday, telling it like it is to a right-wing nut:
Ford is a white supremacist and neo-nazi-endorsed (fucking literally) ex-drug dealing trust fund baby, bully and total creep tricking STUPID or intellectually lazy people with buzz words. 

That's my girl.

P.S. All you need to know:
The Doug Ford campaign bus parked in an accessible spot reserved for the handicapped.

hope, voting, and eyelids

So this is the crazy up and down about this writing business: I have more or less written off the current draft of my new memoir. The nonfiction conference and my editor friend showed me some of the problems with it, at least in the first section, so I assumed I would have to rewrite at least the first half. And I've been resisting that, or maybe life has handed me so much to do that resistance has been easy. Nothing has happened in the creative writing department for weeks.

Riding my bike to teach at U of T, I saw a familiar face walking nearby - the publisher of a small local publishing house of repute, to whom, months ago, I'd sent the ms. Have heard nothing and assumed they were not interested. As I cycled by, I called a cheery hello, since I sort of know him, and he flagged me down. "Walk with me," he said, "I have to talk to you. How coincidental to see you now."

He told me his acquisitions editor had given him the ms., saying she wasn't interested in acquiring it, and he had started to read it. "I really like it!" he said, and my heart leapt. It turned out he has not read much, doesn't even really know, yet, what it is about. So anything may happen; rejection may still be nigh. But there, suddenly, for this old donkey, was a big fat juicy orange carrot, dangling in front of her nose.

We shall see.

In the meantime, Ontario is voting. Will our very own criminal fathead Trump be elected? Probably, but when I went to vote this morning, the lineup was so long, I decided to come back later. In my three decades of voting there, that has never happened before. Are all those folks voting for the right party? This is a small l and big L liberal riding. I voted NDP. Let us pray.

In the meantime, my eyes hurt. I needed a procedure on my eyelids - a cyst on one and an ingrown eyelash on the other. Had an appt for yesterday at 3, hoping to get out quickly to recover before teaching at 6.30. At 5 I was still sitting in the waiting room, fuming, and had to leave, fuming, to prepare for class. They managed to squeeze me in today, and though I still had to wait nearly an hour, once I was in his chair, the operation took only minutes. I have small bloody dots above both eyes and will be black and blue tomorrow, he says. I told him he's a wonderful surgeon but his time management needs work.

My home class tonight, with a bottle of Prosecco chilling - we'll watch the returns after class. I doubt we'll have anything to celebrate, but a cold bubbly drink might help us feel better. My poor daughter is distraught. But perhaps the voters are not as stupid as we imagine they are. No. They are that stupid. Look at Trump's approval ratings. And remember the damage Mike Harris did to this province ...


Monday, June 4, 2018

Beth's Write in the Garden

An amazing thing has happened in the garden. More than twenty years ago,  I made friends with a British neighbour, Dorothy, who marched into my wreck of a yard and began to teach me what to do. It's Dorothy who started me off with practical advice and encouragement. At one point, she gave me a cutting from a wisteria, which grew like crazy, taking over fences and walls, but frustratingly, never bloomed. Dorothy became ill and had to sell her home and its lovely garden; eventually she moved back to England and died in her twin sister's house, in a bedroom overlooking the garden. Her sister sent me a picture of her gravestone, covered with roses.

After ten years, I cut down the bloody huge trunk of Dorothy's wisteria and hacked at it again only last year, though it's so invasive, there were still bits left.

Today I walked into the garden, and there are purple wisteria blossoms on the fence. They're small, but they're there; it only took them 22 years to grow.
I can see Dorothy smiling down on the garden she helped create. She'd be so proud to see it now.

And to celebrate Dorothy and her lessons to me, I open my garden to ten or so writers every year, to spend the day there digging up stories, planting the seeds of future writing, talking, eating, drinking. It's a wonderful day.

PS Breaking news: Renata Ford, the hopeless Rob Ford's widow, is suing her brother-in-law Doug for various malfeasance issues. Is this what we've been praying for?

And this, from Twitter: people are all wondering why melania trump hasnt been in the news lately, and i have a theory. its because she never does anything. im also not in the news for similar reasons.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Carole's 70 and Beth's a slug

I went to a party last night as an imposter. A catered affair held in an upstairs room at the Y, it was the 70th birthday party of Carole, my runfit instructor, combined with her 25th wedding anniversary. Though there was lots of family from both sides, there were also many Y members, including some who used to come to Carole's class years ago and whom I have not seen in a long time.

And this is the thing: I've been doing Carole's class since about 1993 and am still at the end of the line, but all around me were serious athletes. A 70-ish couple at my table had cycled 100 kilometres that morning; others were competitive runners or even triathletes. Carole herself ran 50 marathons, announced that was enough, and then changed her mind last year and ran one more, finishing just a few minutes off the qualifying time for the most prestigious of them all, Boston. She had a big job in tech along with her athletic career and decades of volunteering at the Y. This grandmother of three adults is as lithe as a teenager, a cheerful good person, a pleasure to know and an inspiration to all.
Her husband Brian was an athlete too - they met during a marathon - but, some years older than Carole, he is declining into dementia. The evening was especially moving because, with a video running in the background of their wedding in 1993, they renewed their vows. I felt privileged to be there, in a roomful of kind, wonderful people, like the old friend, recently retired, who's now organizing volunteers to read to refugee children, to instil a love of books.

I was glad there wasn't a fitness test to attend this event, because I would certainly have failed. Though Jim did remind me that one spring, he accompanied me doing an 8 k. in High Park. I did once do a 10 k. and several 5 k's. But that was decades ago; now after 5 minutes I'm spent. Thank you for inviting me, Carole, for including me in this fleet group. I've said it before - I'll up my fitness game. Just not quite sure when to fit that in.

Today, heaven - the Don Valley Parkway was closed for the Ride for Heart, and as I always do this particular Sunday, I went for a long peaceful ride down the trail beside it. So many birds, such lush greenery, such silence only a few blocks from my inner city home - made me very happy.

But - here's the but - I need to confess. The family crisis on the weekend was caused by me; I accidentally sent a hurtful email, intended for someone else, to a vulnerable family member. As I was bitching about something to John yesterday, he said, "Beth, do you have anything cheerful to say?" Later, I was complaining to my daughter about "the nightmare of the renovation" coming up, and she said, "Well, Mum, if renovating your lovely house is your worst nightmare, you're pretty lucky."

Reality check: I can be careless and crabby and whiney. And I'm a slug. Good to confront one's flaws every once in a while. But at least I'm a good niece, and I do keep my bird feeder filled. And a happy Sunday to you too.

Friday, June 1, 2018

tea at the Chateau with Do

A whirlwind visit, a great success - I'm in Ottawa. Thursday midday at the Toronto island airport I met my cousin Barbara, who had flown in from Washington D.C., and together we journeyed to Ottawa where we rented a car, drove to our hotel, and then on to visit our Aunt Do, whom readers of this blog know well. She is much more frail and forgetful than five months ago. But still, she's extraordinary at 98, not wanting to miss a thing.

We went out for dinner, and my brother and his ten-year old son joined us. My brother recently fell in love with a woman he met in Singapore, who will soon be on her way to visit him here. He wanted us to meet her, so we Facetimed with her at the restaurant. Definitely surreal, chatting on the tiny screen with a woman in Singapore who may be joining our family. Do talked away as if this was something she does every day.

Today, excursions: to The Scottish and Irish Shop, jammed with British biscuits and sweets - Jaffa cakes, ginger nut biscuits, sultana biscuits and much more for Do. And to Ikea, because it's close and fun, to look at cool stuff and buy napkins and dish brushes. By then I expected Do to be exhausted, but no, she was up for high tea at the Chateau Laurier. I'd told them it was her 98th birthday, which was actually a month ago, and they brought a lit candle with a bit of cake.

And then we drove back and talked family. Barbara had brought photos - one of our great-great-grandfather - and Do told stories. After hours, she was still going strong, though fading. For the decades of our growing up, I hardly knew Barbara, and she hardly knew Do - we were in Canada, Barb and her family were in Bethesda, our fathers didn't get along particularly, and Barbara's mother Margaret didn't get along particularly with her younger sister Dorothy. So, after years of a kind of estrangement, a wonderful bond has been made between two cousins and aunt and niece. Barb thanked Do for sticking around long enough that she could get to know her, and we had a good laugh.
But I wonder how much longer my dear aunt can live alone in her apartment and what will happen when she can't.

In the middle of all this, I was assailed with a family crisis - on the sofa with my phone and my computer, I was dealing with Toronto, texts flying back and forth, while listening to my relatives discussing life in the twenties and thirties - the thatched cottage where my mother was born in 1923, which never had an indoor toilet. My grandmother cooking on a stove that burned coke. How they had a fire to heat water for their Saturday night baths, which is where a family of three girls and their mother burned their sanitary napkins. Fascinating stuff.

My cousin and I are very alike - both strong-willed, efficient firstborns with one younger sibling completely unlike us and not close, both of us driven and anxious, she even more anxious than I and that's saying something. I love her a lot. It was a huge gift to see her and Do together, to see the joy on their faces as they hugged goodbye. Family. Blood. Goes deep.