Thursday, January 31, 2019

real walls!

Your faithful correspondent was not in good shape today but not actually sick - fighting the good fight. Had to go out to the library and the bank but otherwise, keeping warm and not moving much. Today's treats: THREE library books I'd ordered came in at once, and then the Globe brought by JM, and in the mail, a new New Yorker with spring on the cover and a royalty cheque from my publisher for a big fat $95! How great is that?

JM rented a car, and we were supposed to go to the nether reaches of the city in search of job lots of hardwood; I wasn't well enough to go so he went on his own, and now we're debating the dark versus the light. In the meantime the team of electricians were still here battling the knob and tube - poor guys, I think they've lost a fortune on this contract which is taking far, far longer than they'd thought. That's my house for you. Kevin and Ed have all the drywall up and are taping. Thrilling.
my bedroom south wall
my bedroom east wall - new walk-in closet illuminated
the spare room

Hard to photograph and looks dull - but the excitement is real rooms with walls! Tomorrow the plywood for the new floors goes in, then mid-next week, finishing starts - trim, doors, light fixtures. We're now figuring out paint colours. Miles to go. Have to say - I don't mind so much the chaos, teams of skilful men marching through making mess and noise. A girl can get used to that.

I'm also wrestling with an essay about my dad's thick file with the FBI; my editor pointed out that it's unfocussed. It's true - I don't really know where it's going or what it's about. Need to stand back and figure that out.

Brutal and bitter out there but very sunny, which helps. We're all in survival mode. A roof and a furnace help. Books to read and friends to write to help. Lying on a beach in the sun would also help, but - another time. For now, decisions - the dark or the light? A major consideration: the light is Chinese, the darker is Canadian, so my nationalist loyalties are in play. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

surviving the polar vortex

Surreal days. It's the polar vortex out there, freezing, bitter winds, tons of snow, Torontonians huddled together at the streetcar stop trying to survive. You've gotta be tough to be Canadian, as I reminded my young friend Karim, who's from Jordan, today at the Y. He has been in Toronto for a few years but has never encountered cold like this. But - this is Canada, Karim, I said. For better or worse.

In the meantime, I am not feeling well, just generally dragged down and achey, sat in the sauna at the Y and came home. The house is full but not full enough - though Ed is still faithfully putting up drywall, Kevin has vanished once again to his other job, driving a snow plow. JM is upstairs measuring something meticulously, as he often does, and the electricians are all back because they discovered more old knob and tube wiring which needs to be removed at additional expense - so they are upstairs cutting into the freshly installed drywall. LOL.

Somebody is drilling or sawing with some loud instrument of pain. Between the weather and the renovation, the world is too much with me today. Definitely.

Here's a picture the electrician drew of what he's doing with the wires.
As you can imagine, I understand it perfectly.

But - despite the foot of snow on top of the bird feeder, the sparrows are clustered there. Last night's documentary on two famous American journalists was fascinating. I sent an essay yesterday to my new editor who sent it back today with lots of valuable comments - what a gift that is. I have two books waiting at the library and may venture out to get them, though God knows, there's plenty to read around here. And last night my dear friends Jason and Luis came for dinner and to give paint colour advice; two men with great taste, they brought sample books, and we went around looking at swatches. What do you think about a soft, pale, warm grey for the front hall and stairs? I think we have a winter. I mean winner.

And I got to the liquor store and bought four bottles of red; there's food in the fridge, the furnace works, Kevin just came back, and I have four bottles of wine and an essay to work on. Not to mention Netflix and tonight "Notes from the Inside", a documentary about a musician who takes his grand piano into a mental hospital. No complaints. I'm set.

Monday, January 28, 2019

despite the storm, your inspiration for today

Major snowstorm today - blowing snow, high winds, bitter cold. I was complaining to Ed, a man of few words who was putting up drywall upstairs. "This is Canada," he replied. Nothing more need be said. But how glad I am - usually I teach Monday nights so would be gearing up to plow through to Ryerson. But not tonight, I'm gearing up to pour a glass of wine and practice the piano, which has been sadly neglected for weeks. Months.

But truly, a little snow doesn't bother Canadians. One year I was teaching Tuesday nights at Ryerson and there was a snowstorm worse than this. When I got there, I expected to find almost no one, and instead, the class was almost full, including a woman who drove in from Kleinburg. Hardy souls.

Tonight's treat - a documentary about hard-bitten New York reporters Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill on HBO. Maybe another episode of Harriet's drama on Netflix. Soup. Looking out at the snow and not having to be in it. A roof and a furnace.

Here's a big treat for you: a hilarious piece about memoir from the New Yorker. 

And a joke my friend Lani sent.
And finally, something Harriet sent from Australia. She is shooting a series that also features Eileen Kramer, an actress and a dancer who just wrote and illustrated a book. Oh yes - she's 104.
And if that's not inspiring, I don't know what is. Onward indeed!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Black Earth Rising - and snow

A perfect winter day - bright sun, fresh snow. Went for a walk to the Necropolis, to commune with Toronto's dead and with my own - a few years ago, I scattered most of the ashes of my parents there, though took a bit of Dad to Paris and of Mum to London. Today, I took the rest of my uncle Edgar, most of whose ashes I scattered in Central Park just after his death, to the Necropolis and scattered him near my parents. I told them all how much I love and honour them and that we are fine but the world is insane right now. It was very beautiful there.

This couple Alexander and Jane lost four of their children in infancy and two before the age of thirty. So much to be grateful for, my friends, healthy children and grandchildren more than anything.

Last night, watched the first episode of the British drama Black Earth Rising on Netflix - starring my magnificent friend Dame Harriet Walter as a Louise Arbour-type international prosecutor, with a daughter she adopted after the genocide in Rwanda. A complex drama about war crimes and ethnic identity, beautifully acted of course. I wrote to Harriet to congratulate her; she's in hot Australia filming a six-part series. The interesting life of a very talented woman.

Before that, I finally got to my friend Wendy's book club, Bourbon and Books, to discuss Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, a book I loved, in a chic downtown restaurant. A fascinating discussion - Wendy is a professor of philosophy so brought in Hegel and Kierkegaard, about whom I know almost nothing. We had delicious French fries to keep us going, some of us drinking martinis and some cappucinos. A wonderful time.

And before THAT, a minor trauma  - another fierce argument with my friend and project manager cum designer Jean-Marc. My worries about this reno bring out the worst in me; I think of myself as a nice person, so the person he blew up at, whom he accused of being petty and nasty, is someone I'd prefer not to acknowledge. My friend Chris helped me gain perspective, and I wrote JM later to apologize; the cost of this reno freaks me out, money pouring out, my line of credit swelling, plus the timeline, the constant decisions. So we battle.

But we have made up; our friendship matters more than anything, more than the money or our disagreements about how to get through this experience. We'll get there. And let's hope Mean and Nasty Beth never has to appear again. Onward.

Friday, January 25, 2019

student success story, Russell Baker, Diana Athill

I just had a welcome call from a student who took my course about ten years ago. She phoned to say how much the course meant to her - that it helped her find her voice. She also took my garden workshop where she met Wayson who influenced her greatly. She entered a short story she wrote for class in the Writer’s Union of Canada competition and was a finalist, and eventually received a big Ontario Arts Council grant for a work in progress. 

Her book Philipovna: Daughter of Sorrow, about her mother’s survival of the Ukrainian famine, is being published by Guernica Editions and will be out in a few months. One more thing: Valentina accomplished all this despite being blind.

How nice of her to call so I can celebrate her success. Brava! Heartening news for a frozen day.

Last night was heartening too - my home class, seven superb writers reading, listening, supporting, helping. So fine. And more great news: the shutdown has ended in the U.S. with the defeat of the giant orange blowhole and another arrest of an associate. It's as if he's trembling inside the shelter of a stockade, while gradually the enemy, circling outside with flaming arrows, is poking holes big enough to enter. Have at him, gentlemen. And Nancy. And Alexandra. 

Had a welcome lunch with friend and neighbour Gretchen, whose house is also being rehabilitated, albeit for a more sinister reason too long to go into here. Much commiseration. Drywall still going up, still many decisions to be made and many, many disagreements to be had. 

I've just spent twenty minutes trying to get wonderful quotes from writers Russell Baker and Diana Athill, who both died recently, he at 93 and she at 101, to fit in the blog, which for some reason did not work. So I can't share them with you. Suffice to say that both were marvellous, witty writers who left a grand legacy and will be missed.

As Baker so wisely said once, "Writing a book is quite different from telling amusing anecdotes over the second bottle of Bordeaux, as I discovered."


Last bit of heartening news for today: Non-fiction seems to be good for longevity.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Esi Edugyan and her editors

Last night, a really interesting event produced by the Editors Association and the writing department of U of T: hugely successful novelist Esi Edugyan and four - count them, four - of her editors, with another piping up from the audience, discussing what went into the preparation of her two Giller prize-winning books. What a terrific, if depressing woman Esi is: she's 41, has various degrees, published her first novel in her twenties and is now the only writer to have won back-to-back Gillers, plus being nominated twice for the Man Booker. PLUS she's married with two small children, is pretty and trim and judging by last night, an extremely nice person! Honestly. The nerve.

What we learned, though I'm sure most of us in the sold-out room knew, was how incredibly much behind the scenes thought and care goes into a successful book. We heard from two substantive editors and two copy-editors about things they caught and changed or fixed - one, for example, told us that a scene took place in the 1840's with the sound of clacking typewriters. But, she said, typewriters weren't popularized until the 1870's. Not to mention the substantive stuff, including changing one ending from a character's death to his happy reappearance. And then the rights were sold to London and New York - more big-time editors chiming in. Esi said she welcomed all this input.

She apparently does a huge amount of research on era and place, reading many books. When asked if she had advice for writers starting out, she said, "Try to find a regular time to write. Despite whatever else is going on, I try to keep the five and a half hours when the children are in school as sacred writing time."

Sigh. I have to say that though she was inspirational, I left feeling like a giant slug. I also had two children but did not carve out five and a half hours to write prize-winning books. Mind you, I was a single mother. But to tell you the truth, though my children are long gone, I still don't carve out five and a half hours to write. Most days. A few days, yes, particularly when there's a real deadline or I invent one. But many other things usually take precedence. Which is why I am a giant slug.

Well, it doesn't help to be negative, does it, Beth?

A lull in the reno - Kevin still working somewhere else. It's nice to be alone in the house for a few days but also there's a sense of entropy - the chaotic ruin upstairs and nothing happening. I'll be glad to welcome them back tomorrow and get this thing on the road, so I can one day move out of the basement and clean the dust from my office and begin carving out many many hours at my desk.

Yes we can.

A hideous day - snow yesterday and rain today, so slush and muck. And many arguments online with friends about Covington Catholic schoolboys. Tonight the sharp-tongued Sam Bee is back after a hiatus of a few months; Bill Maher was back last Friday. Perhaps I'm reaching a point where I have to stop reading papers and watching sharp-tongued comedians. Maybe I need to retreat to the page.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Bruce McMouse Show at 20 below

Bitter cold outside. I'm sitting in the unbelievable jumble of my office, until yesterday the desk covered with tablecloths to keep off the dust, which is all over the floor. So much for needing tidy tranquillity to work. What I do need, though, is the heater blasting at my feet. It's cold in here too.

Seven more weeks until we're done here, they say.

The bird feeder is full. That's my most important job - to keep the birds alive till spring.

You'll laugh at me. Yesterday I went to an important cultural event, a special one-time only screening of The Bruce McMouse Show, a goofy film made from clips of live concerts of Paul McCartney and Wings in the early seventies, with a bit of animation, the McMouse stuff, added. My young friend Holly came with me, and we met Jessica there, a friend of Anna's, one of the few people I know as mad about Macca as I am, and she's 32! Yay! The film was silly fun, the music was fabulous, and the fashion was insane - mullets, overalls, hideous clumpy two-toned shoes, pants ending three inches above the ankles - even Macca couldn't carry off those looks. But the music! Maybe I'm amazed.

Went to visit Anna and family on Sunday, where little Ben found he could fit in one of their laundry hampers. Then Eli and I came back here for Beer Batter fish and chips, two of the only things he eats.

As I was leaving Anna's later, after bringing Eli home, a woman and her young son were arriving to spend the night. Anna told me in passing that the woman's husband is abusive, she and her son have to find a new place to live, and so will be sleeping at Anna's for now. In her crowded two-bedroom apartment, my daughter made this distressed family welcome. She'd be embarrassed and even angry if she knew I'm telling you this, but she has never read my blog and never will, so she won't know. As I've written, she is far to the left of me, and we argue about various issues, especially pipelines. But she doesn't just talk the talk, she lives her principles. My dad, a left-wing political animal who spent his life fighting for his principles, would be very proud of her fierce spirit, her huge heart and kindness. As am I.

Want to share with you another great richness: my Holds list at my local library. At some point, these luscious books will arrive and be mine for 3 whole weeks. Does life get better than that?

Hay, Elizabeth, 1951- author.
#85 of 283
(68 copies)
13 Nov 2020
Cover image of The art of the wasted day
Hampl, Patricia, 1946- author.
#10 of 10
(12 copies)
21 Jan 2021
Cover image of Dear Evelyn
Page, Kathy, 1958- author.
#184 of 360
(70 copies)
2 Dec 2020
Cover image of How to live : or, A life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer
Bakewell, Sarah.
#7 of 7
(6 copies)
21 Jan 2021
Cover image of Human voices
Fitzgerald, Penelope.
#5 of 35
(5 copies)
8 Oct 2020
Cover image of Kitchen yarns : notes on life, love, and food
Hood, Ann, 1956- author.
#34 of 66
(14 copies)
6 Jan 2021
Cover image of Normal People
Rooney, Sally

Saturday, January 19, 2019

1979 in the snow

My idea of heaven: listening to Randy Bachman in my warm kitchen on a cold snowy Saturday night, with good TV coming up and an interesting library book waiting. No electricians, no Kevin or Ed or JM, just me in my beat-up house with its new electric lights and its new electric doorbell that's so faint I can hardly hear it, but it's there. At least 3 things on TV coming up at 9. Just had to get up and dance to "Operator" by Manhattan Transfer, an old fave.

This afternoon, I went to see a play called 1979, by Michael Healey. I knew it was about Joe Clark's brief government, but since my memoir takes place mostly in 1979, I thought it might have insights about that time. Well, it was about Joe Clark's brief time in government, and most upsettingly, it features an actor portraying a politician for whom I have a particular loathing, Stephen Harper, as a young man. The play wants to show us that Clark, in some ways, is our Jimmy Carter, a man almost too good to be a politician, with too much decency and integrity to survive the venal corridors of power. It brings back Flora MacDonald, John Crosbie, and Pierre Trudeau and mourns the end of the red Tories, Progressive Conservatives who were probably to the left of many Liberals today. With discussion about the huge recent victory of Margaret Thatcher and the rise of the far-right looming in the distance. Poor Joe - so untelegenic. Remember Diefenbaker? Imagine him being elected these days? I don't think so.

Anyway, rather depressing, especially because even hearing the name of S. Harper makes me want to take a shower. But I walked home in the falling snow, going via the library to return the disappointing Beatles book and getting out one I'd ordered, Out on the Wire: the storytelling secrets of the new masters of radio, by Jessica Abel.

So much to do, so little time. Did not go to the women's march, did no work today at all, just enjoyed being alone in my house in the snow. And that's enough.

Friday, January 18, 2019

protesting the NYT Book Review on behalf of Leonard Cohen

You know I am a kind and serene person. But on Monday I wrote an angry note to the editor of the NYT Book Review, Pamela Paul. They recently printed an appallingly personal and mean-spirited review of a posthumous collection by Leonard Cohen. My note to her:
I’m sending this protest as a Canadian, but also as a music lover, a poetry lover, a writer, and a decades-long reader of the NYT Book Review. 

I’ve rarely read a review that made me as angry as the one by William Logan of a posthumous collection of the work of Leonard Cohen. It was vicious, and it was unforgivable. 

I have not read the book in question, and it may be that this posthumous collection of scribblings is weak. But Logan makes a point of denigrating every facet of the man’s talent. Most of Leonard Cohen’s songs are glorious, musically and lyrically. He was a superb performer; his concerts were unforgettable, magical. He was generous and wise. It's no wonder women adored him, which also is something Logan holds against him. 

I’m surprised you would assign this book to a critic known to be petty and vindictive. But perhaps that was the point? 

Today she sent a nice note in reply: 
Beth, thank you for feedback, even if critical. I will pass along your note to the editor who handled this assignment. Know that you are not alone in your happiness with Logan's review.

Now that's impressive!

You know I'm a good-natured and generous writer. God forbid I say something negative about another writer or her work. Except for this: I heard about a novel published this year called "She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah," about a girl's obsession with the Beatles, specifically Macca, in 1966. So, since this sounds a teeny tiny bit like a certain memoir I know and love, I got it out of the library.

I submitted my memoir "All My Loving: Coming of age with Paul McCartney in Paris" (which is not specifically YA, perhaps to its detriment) to several small publishers and was turned down. This YA novel was published by Penguin Young Readers Group. Penguin! And I have to say, I hated it. Well, I guess I would, wouldn't I? Is it just jealousy? The narrator is annoyingly blinkered, limited, whiny, and the whole scene about American high school and BFFs and cheerleaders and the laboured setup and the denouement - she and her friends meet George Harrison and Paul McCartney outside the hotel where the Beatles are staying in Boston after a concert - oh sure. Paul signs a picture for her that urges her distant father to cherish her. Oh sure.

Okay, yes, I'm jealous. Penguin. My memoir I think is more real and more gritty and more immediate and a hell of a lot funnier, plus you get to go to Paris! It was published by BPS Books, partly paid for by one Beth Kaplan.


Moving right along.

The usual chaos here. The electricians still have not finished, a week after they were supposed to be done. Kevin wants to get to drywall today but all kinds of other things are in the way.
Kevin in my bedroom
The spare bedroom

I am at the moment in the sun in my office, though my desk is covered with dropcloths and dust and soon I will be pushed out. But all this is not making me sick, as it did in December. I'm listening to Bach through my headphones. I'm sitting in the sun. I finished an essay yesterday. May you live in interesting times. Onward.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

working in chaos: it's fun!

Electricians still here, poor souls - I think they're afraid they'll never get out. Always some new complication. That's my house for you.

It's almost comical, the scene here - the chaos upstairs, the shouts and drilling and hammering - today, Kevin and Ed putting in insulation and sound-proofing around the 4 electricians on ladders, JM dashing in and out, and in the middle of it all, two huge boxes from Wayfair with bedside lights I'd ordered a few days ago and hated on sight, needed to be repacked to be returned.

Somehow in the midst of all this, I sit in the kitchen wearing my noise-cancelling headphones, as I am now, and work. I've almost finished one essay and will soon finish another. For some reason, the noise and mess has spurred me on - perhaps because there's nothing else I can do here, not even take a nap, so there's no choice but to work. Hooray!
My bedroom
The second floor landing. Nice furry stuff in the walls, and next, drywall. Oh the excitement of drywall. Can't wait.

And now - 4.55 p.m. - my reward for being alive: Wine Time.

PS Is it POSSIBLE Trump does not know what those things McDonalds sells are actually called? He tweeted about serving "hamberders." Why are we surprised? I have one word for you: covfefe.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

"The Good Place"

Last night was a Monday in January, and I was not teaching. I've been teaching on Monday nights January through March for many years. This term, my course is being taught by the estimable Sarah Sheard. It felt good but odd to be taking a break. I'm back in May.

Still, upstairs, shouts in Cantonese. The job of rewiring my house is, of course, taking much longer than the electricians expected. It's 5 p.m. on the third day and they're still wrestling upstairs, pounding and drilling, with more tomorrow. However, soon I will have the perkiest, prettiest wires of any house in town.
I'm getting used to it now - the disruption, noise, mess, teams of men hither and yon. C'est la vie. C'est la renovation. It'll go on and on - and then, as my friend Valerie assures me, like childbirth, once it's over, I'll forget the pain.

Finished "The Business of Being a Writer," by Jane Friedman. Intimidating. I wonder when younger writers, who are busy building a platform and being visible on social media and being "good literary citizens," have time to write. This is a problem. But I've taken notes and will do my best to be a good literary citizen, ancient scribbler though I am.

On Sunday, I heard an interview on CBC radio's "Tapestry" with Michael Schur, creator of a TV series called "The Good Place," which I'd never heard of. He talked about being positive and uncynical, and the show sounded interesting. Wayson came for dinner, and after, we watched FIVE episodes of "The Good Place" on Netflix. Entertaining and even important - it takes place in heaven (or, I gather, not) and though absurd, it's about what it takes to be a good person, among other things, while making us laugh.

Today - a special treat, my friends. I went to see my beloved psychiatrist, the one person in the world who is always, 100%, on my side. Yes, I pay her for it, but still, she listens and she's there and I thank the great lord in the skies above that she's still practicing and I can see her once or twice a year. A check up. Yes, still sane, relatively. Still functioning, more or less. Onward.

My backyard is surreal - full of insulation. My grandsons would like to bounce on it, I'm sure. See how green, in January?! An amazing winter so far.
The electricians discovered this in the floorboards - part of an Ontario license plate from 1925.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Hannah Gadsby

Have you watched the Australian comedienne Hannah Gadsby's "Nanette" on Netflix? I'd started some months ago, found her amusing but light and a bit one-note, was interrupted after about 15 minutes and didn't think it worth going back to. But friends insisted and so I did - and wow, what a knockout punch she delivers, suddenly veering from amusing anecdotes about being gay in rural New Zealand to telling the truth about how heartrendingly hard it was, and is, to be different in a nasty, judgemental world - and then to find a way to make her story funny. Truth - that's my business, and I loved, just loved watching this brave, intelligent woman deliver hard, honest truths after making us laugh. "I need to tell my story properly," she says. "Stories hold our cure."

Gotcha, Hannah. Highly recommended.

It's Sunday, so there are no men in my house, thank God. The last few days - a horde of electricians chattering, sometimes shouting, in Cantonese, as they attempted to figure out the arcane wiring of this house. I just went upstairs, a bare skeleton with tangles of wires everywhere and holes in the outside walls; at this stage, it's hard to believe anyone will ever live up there again. But Kevin is ordering drywall, and next week, apparently, it'll start to go up.
 My bedroom yesterday
A few of the wires
The second floor looking west

I've been reading this "The business of being a writer" book - and though I am attempting to take it seriously, am putting in sticky notes to go back to, still, I wonder if it's a generational divide. What are Influencers? People with blogs or websites with lots of Likes, I gather. Content strategies? I think that means what you write about. Yes? No? No idea. But I'll try to develop some Content Strategies, though my days of being an Influencer are long gone, now that my children, whom I desperately attempted to influence, have left home.

My current Content Strategy: I am rewriting two essays for literary competitions. Though I was long-listed for one a few times, I've only ever in my writing career won one prize, was co-winner one year, in a not-too-crowded field, of the Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition. I stopped entering competitions years ago, focussing on books but also thinking that my writing was not the kind that shines in competition. Well, that is undoubtedly still true, but a competition provides a deadline and a word count, so I'm off. Yesterday, I took a piece written years ago and cut more than 700 words so it'll fit the 3000 word limit. It hurt and yet was surprisingly satisfying to see how much the piece could lose and still stand. At the moment, it's 2995 juicy, delicious words.

One problem these days, as I join more websites connecting writers and about writing, is that I could spend my entire life reading about writing. And that's not books and articles, just what's pouring out online. Some limits needed.

More coffee and toast and a fried egg needed.

From my little life to yours - Happy Sunday.

Friday, January 11, 2019

men in my bedroom

I'm squeezed into a corner of my sunny office, which is packed to the rafters with stuff. Outside, much going on - four Chinese electricians are here today and will be here tomorrow. Much noise, chatter, drilling, pounding, explaining.

Here is JM explaining the many charts he has posted on every wall:
And yes, this is more men in my bedroom than have been there for many years.

Today, a surreal moment - I asked my neighbour Monique if she would keep my ballgown safe. Years ago, in a transcendent moment I'll never forget, I found a Balenciaga ballgown at Goodwill. It cost $18.50, and it's magnificent, simply and beautifully cut in heavy maroon silk with a long train and a huge detachable bow at the back. It fits me nearly perfectly - a bit big. The occasions to wear a Balenciaga ballgown are few, and so I have never worn it. And now, there is absolutely nowhere safe in my house to keep it; every closet is jammed, and every surface is covered with dust. So today I took it next door where it will be dust-free, until my house is fixed, and then until the Oscars calls. Or perhaps, more realistically, until my 70th birthday, which will be a picnic in the garden. Perhaps I will wear the Balenciaga then.

Can you imagine the person who gave this ballgown to Goodwill?

Last night, I managed to tidy the living room and my home class gathered. Normally I'd be preparing for the term to begin at Ryerson and U of T, but this term, nyet. So it was wonderful to gear up my editing/coaching chops for a class of dear friends and colleagues.

My God, that sun feels good.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Reno-land report and Roma

A moment of peace - 8 a.m. Thursday, a light dusting of snow outside, the ground shining white, but there's lots of green still. An exceptionally easy winter, so far. But we have miles to go...

And so do we here, in Reno-land, but our way is considerably lighter too. Yesterday, the city inspector came to check out our work. I'd been worried about it, because of course, this being my renovation, nothing was being done strictly according to the book. But he was open, thorough, fair. He asked for another beam here and there, more support up there and also there; he checked the sites for plumbing, poked into drywall, saw it all, and said, Fine.

Fine. Full steam ahead. We're on the move. Incalculable relief.

Friday the electrician comes for the huge job of re-wiring four floors, new smoke detectors throughout, a heater or two. Then the drywall starts to go up, and soon, this house will start to look like a home again.

Speaking of home: On Tuesday I went across town to my son's apartment. When the movers came from Ottawa in December, they left 3 suitcases full of Do's things at Sam's, and this is the first opportunity I've had to see what was in them. I packed most myself in a blur after Do's memorial, but Pat, her caregiver, had repacked and added stuff. It gave me joy to see Sam's place - Do's Danish teak sofa, coffee tables, chairs and lamps, her dishes. He has my dad's U.S. army picture on display, lots of other family stuff. And he took the silver - trays, tea pots and creamers and all the rest of Do's silver that no one else wants. It's a wonderful thing to have a son as sentimental about all that old stuff as his mama is.

Then we went to Anna's, where his adoring nephews tumbled about him like puppies
and we all ate dinner on Do's dining-room table. She lives on in Toronto, appreciated and remembered.

I unpacked my own treasures when I got home. Here - a ridiculously delicate glass, carefully wrapped and labeled as was everything of Do's - "1 WINE GLASS - SPIRALLED STEM. G. GRANDMOTHER'S?" I imagine my great-great-grandmother in Northampton, sipping sherry from this glass. Another impractical thing I'll be stuck with and cherish for the rest of my life.
In my kitchen, and across town with my kids, the welcome weight of the past. Upstairs, on the second floor about to be rebuilt, the promise of the future.

Last night, feeling queasy perhaps after the tension of the last few months, I watched the movie Roma on Netflix. It's had major buzz and I've been meaning to go to TIFF to see it, but there it was, on my lap. It's so beautifully shot, it should be seen on the big screen, but on a cold night, with a heaving stomach, it was sheer joy to watch on my own personal screen. I understand the critics - the main character is a cipher without agency - and yet, based on the director's own childhood memories, it's a wondrous film, gloriously filmed, moving and intensely real. Autobiography and memoir rule!

Monday, January 7, 2019

"I think you've been looking for me."

What a difference a few days can make. The reno is progressing; all of us feel the momentum. Today they removed the odd third floor walkway that hung over part of our second floor hall; it was a platform for a loft bed when that room was a teen's bedroom, before we moved in, but it was a useless path that never made sense for us. Today, it was taken down, and the ceiling soared.
From the landing looking west, to the door of my office; the platform was above. The window above will be replaced.
From the door of my office looking east. Space and light.

Again, I feel as if I've moved out from under a dark cloud or emerged from an illness. Though in fact, I felt terrible today and did nothing but sit in my chair with aching bod and work on essays and read websites. Hope that helps head off whatever it is that's trying to get in. I sent an essay to my new editor, Laura Cameron, yesterday, got it back today with helpful comments, rewrote. God I love this.

Last night, I turned on the Golden Globes, but it was so anodyne, so tedious despite Sandra Oh's heartfelt speech about diversity, that I switched channels and ended up watching a Canadian documentary called "I think you've been looking for me." And, to my surprise, I ended up weeping. A tremendously moving story, a young man telling us about his mother, in her seventies, who'd been withdrawn and depressed during much of his childhood and that of his two older siblings. She reveals her secret: as a teen, she'd been a victim of date rape, though, she says, those words did not exist in the Sixties. She'd become pregnant, and as a young Catholic girl, was sent to a home for unwed mothers, where she sat for months in isolation, eventually giving birth alone. Her baby boy was shown to her once and then she was not allowed to see him again. She went home, and the baby was given up for adoption.

She says that as each of her 3 children were born, she felt nothing. It was only when caring for them that she began to feel like a mother. She felt that the terrible pain of losing her first child was punishment for her sins.

O the sins of the church and of that repressive, woman-hating, profoundly dishonest time.

Through the magic of the internet, her son is found, and to the joy I'm sure of the filmmakers, he's handsome, open, and kind; he had a happy childhood but is anxious to meet his birth family. The reunions, the first online Skype conversation of mother and son, their reunion at the airport - oh the strength of that hug - the eventual meeting of all members of the family, the adoptive parents, the son's wife and kids, all the siblings meeting their half-brother for the first time - extremely moving. The power of blood, the desire to know our roots - such a deep-rooted need. The last shot - spoiler alert - the mother holding and gazing at her daughter's firstborn baby boy, blissfully absorbed in his tiny face, all her losses put to rest, her heart at ease. I'm the luckiest person in the universe, she says.

Sometimes, television is a great, great friend.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

coming home

Today was sunny and not too cold, a lovely bike-riding day. I went to the Y to get stoned. Yes - I watched a doc about the body, and one point they made was that exercise produces the same chemicals - cannabinoids - as weed. I texted my weed-smoking daughter that in fact I go to the Y to get high.

And I do.

My friends, I feel I'm returning to myself after an illness. In fact, I have been in the throes of an extended panic attack brought on by the renovation. It terrified me, pushed me into paranoia and resentment. December was a hard month. The fear does feel as if it's fading, though, and I'm regaining perspective and a sense of humour. The reno is an adventure, and I know it'll be worth all this disruption and expense. She said bravely.

Also, the sister of an English friend emailed when she heard about my misery, and she told me hers - she and her husband, with little money and six small sons, bought a wreck to renovate. She raised her boys in a house that had a plastic sheet for a wall and no roof at one point, had no hot water for years, no indoor toilet. When the house was fixed up, they sold it at a great profit and bought another wreck - and then her husband left her. She was left with six boys in a falling down house, and then suffered a life-threatening illness. But she came through it all magnificently, sent a picture of her grown sons visiting with their children - her many grandchildren.

Talk about gaining perspective! Thanks, I needed that.

I've started writing essays again - haven't written in that short form for years, after doing so throughout the early years of my writing career in the 90's. It's fun. Once I started focussing on books, I decided essays were a distraction and I'd have to leave them behind. But now that the memoir is on hiatus, essays are another way to say what I want to say. Or to find out what I want to say, perhaps.

Just came back from having Sunday dinner at Anna's, giving Ben and Eli their baths - well, watching them splash and shriek and squirt bathwater from their mouths - and then, while Anna put Ben to bed, I played Go Fish with Eli. I haven't played Go Fish for decades. I'm happy to say he won, 5 games to 4, but it was close. My daughter's house is a miracle of order and cheer. She had made a warm, safe, stimulating home for her family. She is a homemaker.

Is there any blessing greater than that? No. None.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

apartment for sale in Ottawa

Know anyone who wants to buy an apartment in Ottawa? A bright, convenient, and open but unrenovated two-bed two-bath apartment in a highrise on Regina St. near Britannia Park. New windows, partially furnished with 60's teak shelving. Belonged to my dear aunt Do. Please get in touch if you know someone who might be interested. Many thanks.


It's nearly time for the teaching term to begin, and for once, I'm not checking numbers at the universities and dry-cleaning my teaching jackets. That side of my work won't resume until May.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 3, 2019

the view from here

It snowed in the night. I was up at 4 a.m., and this is what I saw through my kitchen window:
And I thought, that's why I'm going through this @#$@# renovation - so that I can keep looking at that. Or this, a few hours later:
That's why. Also my beloved kitchen. Also my neighbours and the whole neighbourhood. It's good to remember why I'm doing this, because when a fit of despair hits, I forget.

Anna found a place in Muskoka that rents rooms and cabins winter and summer, so she rented a room with two double beds, and she and the family went. They made snow angels, skated, snowshoed, warmed themselves by an outdoor fire - a real Canadian winterland. Rosy cheeks.
Whereas I'm happy to sit in my kitchen with my noise-cancelling headphones on, listening to a Schubert piano sonata. As I did this morning, while the crashes went on above.

Doing errands later, saw these signs that some wag had put all over the fences nearby, outside the Regent Park buildings slated for demolition:

And there were more. Fun.

Otherwise, not much fun over here. But it's nearly wine time. Things are looking up.