Thursday, February 28, 2019


Unbelievable. Pathetic. A tiny scandal is gripping our country - the first ten pages of the Star this morning about nothing else, not one other subject than the Wilson-Raybould debacle from Ottawa.  Yes, it seems our boy king behaved inappropriately in urging - even, possibly, insistently urging his attorney general to do something she was loath to do. Imagine that - insistently urging! The country writhes in agony.

And in the meantime, on the same day to the south, as Michael Cohen testified, we were privy to a breathtaking portrait of corruption, treason, lying, cheating, stealing, vile cynicism of the most appalling, abject kind - and at the centre, a flawed man struggling to become a human being again, truly a Greek tragedy in the playing.

Let's weigh these two things and find balance, shall we? And shall we also look at the alternatives to the Liberals, who, let's not forget, have achieved some pretty remarkable things and failed, no question, at others. My daughter is relentless about their failures toward Indigenous peoples, for example. But look at what's on offer on the other side of the aisle - the disgusting Scheer, who recently met with the racist, xenophobic convoy from Alberta to cheer them on. Please, I beg my friends on the left, let's not tear our own side apart as we always do, as Bill Maher loves to point out we always do. And in the meantime, the right gets on with its job of rewarding wealth and destroying everything else. As our premier and his party are doing right now in Ontario.

Perhaps as an outsider, an Indigenous woman, the Attorney General refused to play the old boy's game as it is usually played. Trudeau has found out the flip side of his policy of selecting former outsiders - women and formerly marginalized people - for his cabinet. Boy, has he found out. But if this small mess leads to the election of the Conservatives ...

Unthinkable. Cannot go there. Okay, rant over for today.

Meanwhile, in renoland:
 the handles for the old doors which are starting to go in upstairs - sorting, fixing, and installing these will be a hell of a job for Ed
 living room decorated with handsome uncheesy trim
new hallway with new light and old doors
beginnings of walk in closet, using recycled bits of furniture 
  Hallway facing east, toward my bedroom. Light.
Yesterday's snowfall - a record for this day in February, apparently. My most important job today: to get to the birdfeeder.

But I'm in my office in the sun - the new old door installed, without handle, shut against the noise. I'm not working on my own stuff, but I'm editing for So True and U of T. I'm in my office, as if everything is normal. As one day, undoubtedly, it will again be. But then - what's normal?

PS Anna just sent me a terrific article about Raybould et al. She pointed out that we shouldn't lower our standards just because the other side is so much worse.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Sam's memoir in cocktails

This blog is keeping me sane. Something happens, an absurdity or a triumph or simply something I want to share - and there you are.

Upstairs, four men a'measuring. Five golden rings, six French hens. Now it's Kevin with Ed who's just back from another job plus Evan to help plus JM to command - plus right now Joe the painter to pick up piles of stuff he left here. Ed discovered the wide opening for the doors they were hoping to hang today is not wide enough - two and a half crucial inches. Do they re-cut the opening or trim the doors? Half an hour of a four-man discussion, with me checking Ikea for the size of the shelving we'd intended to put near the doors. In the end, they're cutting an inch off each door.
My lovely, dignified front hall and living room - on the right, a complete wooden Ikea bed-frame that Kevin found on the street on garbage day, and the two of us rescued. It will go on the top floor.
Three men a'measuring
The spare room
My tranquil bedroom - a reclaimed Habitat for Humanity door which is going to be cut into pieces and support the shelving in the closet.

The day is young and already my stress level is high.

Yesterday's triumph, though - my son used to work at Gaslight, an unpretentious, warm little bar on Bloor that became a local for many, particularly once my welcoming, funny son started there. He was invited back last night and sent out word to his legions of followers on Instagram and FB. Anna, the boys, and I went at 5 last night to say hello, eat pizza, and drink cocktails before the crowds, which started to pile in not long after, young people who'd been regulars when he worked there and now came with their babies and small children, followed by the after-work crowd. Many hugs and laughs, Sam greeting everyone and shaking cocktails. He'd made a small card which he handed out:
The mother writes memoir; the son made a memoir in cocktails, a drink for each of the jobs he's held since leaving Gaslight. While we were there, Vince, his best friend and former flat-mate, arrived with a gift in a pretty bag for him. It was a pile of about 30 black socks Sam left behind when he moved. "They're clean," said Vince.

When we left, the place was already packed with only Sam welcoming, taking orders, making people laugh, making drinks, preparing and serving food, and clearing. He sent a text to his dad and me at 5.30 this morning that he netted nearly triple the amount the bar usually makes on a Monday night. "Plus," he wrote, "I cleaned the place top to bottom after everyone left. So happy and tired."

So proud. This young man needs his own place. That's the plan, eventually.

Just as long as wherever it is, it doesn't need to be renovated.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

parsing The Blue Flower

Violent windstorm just beginning. They've warned us the power might go out, so Wayson is not coming for Sunday dinner as usual. Which is good, because it means I don't have to watch the Oscars with him and can liberate my evening. PBS is showing My passion for trees with Judi Dench, which sounds like more fun than a parade of fancy dresses. Though I will undoubtedly peek.

Went to a class at the Y this morning; the instructor has fabulous music, including lots of inspiring gospel, unusual for an exercise class. "O Happy Day" - such limited lyrics, such glorious, rich, passionate vocals.
(Oh, happy day
(oh, happy day)
Oh, happy day
(oh, happy day)
When jesus washed
(when jesus washed)
oh, when he washed
(when jesus washed)
when jesus washed
(when jesus washed)
he washed my sins away!
(oh, happy day)
Ah, happy day
(oh, happy day)
Oh, happy day
(oh, happy day)
oh, happy day
(oh, happy day)
It made my heart, if not my feet, soar. How grateful I am to African-Americans who have graced us with so much magnificent music.

Yesterday, my friend Wendy O'Brian's book club, Books and Bourbon, to discuss Penelope Fitzgerald's The Blue Flower, a difficult, maddeningly obtuse, marvellous novel about the 18th century German Romantic poet Novalis, his life and family and his chaste love for an ordinary 12-year old girl. The meaning of the blue flower, mentioned several times in a story Novalis writes and reads to others, is never made clear, but it's thought to symbolize yearning - the longing we all have for the divine. Or else, as one member said, it's "the myth we need to believe in, that makes life work for us." Hmmm - I wonder what myth that is for me. And for you?

I love Fitzgerald particularly because she started writing late in life - her mid-sixties - and achieved great success. Here's a typical paragraph of her writing - with phenomenal research and recreation of a distant time, gorgeous descriptives, subtle, sly humour.
Both girls were in white, run up by the same dressmaker, but Sidonie seemed to be moving in flight or in a drift of whiteness, delicate, weightless, strange to the onlookers, while Louise could only hope not to hear, at least for this summer, the suggestion that it was perhaps time Fraulein Brachmann should give up wearing white altogether.

Listening to Tapestry on CBC, a young woman being interviewed about millenials burning out - and I have to turn it off, because she uses 'vocal fry' - that gravelly catch in the back of the throat, the words drawn out and creaked as if the speaker can't quite make the effort to push the sound out. Can't stand listening to it, or to 'up talk', each sentence sounding like a question. Like my friend Chris to the left, I'm officially an intolerant crabby old fart.


Saturday, February 23, 2019

reno woe #6749

Saturday morning, 9.30 a.m., Jean-Marc and Kevin are already upstairs arguing about the spiral staircase, the open wooden staircase to the third floor which will be a bitch to fix. The central job of this renovation is to improve the small steps and then enclose that staircase, so there's an actual door to the third floor, to make the attic room more private. But how to do it with an awkward creation dangling in space?

Yesterday's frustration: my handyman John and I set out with a shopping list, headed to a far-away wood store to buy trim for the baseboards, doors, and windows. But we stopped at Home Depot, only ten minutes away, to get a few things first and while there discovered their trim. Why not buy it here? So after an hour of measuring and looking and stacking, we did and brought it home triumphantly - it's already primed! saving time and money! - to hear cries of horror from JM. It's generic, cheesy, horrible, he hates it. What we need is interesting real wood trim, which is only available from the store miles away.

My choice - to say, @#$#@ you, I don't mind generic trim, or to arrange to take it all back and start again, thereby cancelling a day and spending far more.

Trim. Who notices trim? And yet, if it's wrong, somehow it registers, I guess. So I guess this time, JM is right. We have to start again.

And once more I ask myself, what was in my mind when I set out on this renovation adventure? A breezy notion of fixing things that had always bothered me in my 32 years in this house. Home improvements - were ever two words more chilling? I now know why people joke about the Money Pit. My thrifty self, buying second hand and re-using everything, now tossing money blithely out the window - here, take some! Help yourself! We must have the artisanal trim!

Once you start, you have to keep going; there is no turning back. Lady Bountiful here is keeping lots of nice men employed through this long hard winter.

When I walk upstairs into the light, the new light from the freshly-liberated skylight that used to be trapped in a closet and now illuminates the entire floor, I sigh with pleasure. And then I look at what remains to be done and my ever-swelling line of credit, and I feel sick.

A quote I copied from the Montaigne book feels very apt here:
Only part of us is sane: only part of us loves pleasure and the longer day of happiness, wants to live to our nineties and die in peace, in a house that we build, that shall shelter those who come after us. The other half of us is nearly mad. It prefers the disagreeable to the agreeable, loves pain and its darker night despair, and wants to die in a catastrophe that will set back life to its beginnings and leave nothing of our house save its blackened foundations.
Rebecca West

I'm dealing with disagreeable, despair, and blackened foundations - plunged into, as my father called it, the human search for beshitment. But ... there will, too, be shelter for those who come after me, and it will be full of light. This endless turmoil will be worth it, after all. I'm sure of it.

I think.

PS. Two hours later: proposed solution, partial mock-up. Hooray.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Michel de Montaigne, my new hero

OMG could she be more boring? I apologize, dear bloggees, for the tedium of paint colours. I did get a bit obsessive there for awhile. The firstest of first world problems. Onward.

In the midst of my "wind's breath" trauma, I've been reading (skimming a bit, I confess) two library books that need to go back today: Sarah Bakewell's How to Live: or a life of Montaigne, which is wonderfully dense, and Patricia Hampl's The Art of the Wasted Day, which also deals, partially, with Montaigne. Grief-stricken after the death of her husband, Hampl wanders in the book a bit too much but ends up in France, visiting Montaigne's tower near Bordeaux, where he retired in 1571 to write his Essais - the essays that, 450 years ago, began the art of autobiographical non-fiction.

Now it's on my list, to go to Montaigne's tower. To pay homage to the man who fired up the love of essays. Here's how Sarah introduces him:

This idea – writing about oneself to create a mirror in which other people recognize their own humanity – has not existed for ever. It had to be invented. And, unlike many other cultural inventions, it can be traced to a single person: Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, a nobleman, government official and wine-grower who lived in the Perigord area of south-western France from 1533 to 1592.

He wrote 107 essays: Of Friendship; Of Cannibals: Of the Custom of Wearing Clothes; Of Names; Of Cruelty; Of Thumbs; Of Experience … They rarely offer to explain or teach anything. Montaigne presents himself as someone who jotted down whatever was going through his head when he picked up his pen, capturing encounters and states of mind as they happened. He used these experiences as the basis for asking himself questions, above all the big question that fascinated him… How to live?

How to live, indeed.

And here's Hampl: The great contract of literature consists in this: you tell me your story and somehow I get my story. If we are looking for another reason to explain the strangely powerful grip of the first-person voice on contemporary writing, perhaps we need look no further than the power of Anne Frank's equation: that to write one's life enables the world to preserve and, more, to comprehend its history.

Now I need to read Montaigne's essays myself. And especially to write a few; my work has been interrupted by reno trauma. Perhaps that's what I'll write about: Of Paint Chips.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

discovering greige

A cold but sunny day, and I'm trapped inside by the painters, who've been here all day doing the priming coat - I needed to be around to supervise. Have barely moved my sluggish bod, just sitting here enjoying the paint fumes.

Or perhaps not.

A great treat, though - on the recommendation of my old friend Duncan Fremlin, who is a banjo-playing real estate agent, no, a banjo player who makes a living selling real estate, Lucie Brand came today to consult on paint colours. She doesn't charge a lot and she came with a huge briefcase bulging with swatches; we spent an hour making decisions. The cool grey I chose for the hall is too much of a contrast with the soft beigey-yellow of my living-room - who'da thunk it? We chose a "greige" - a grey-beige, instead. "Wind's breath," it's called, how can I resist? My hall will be the breath of the wind! I will breeze through it like a swallow. The other colours I'd chosen, a yellow and a blue, she liked; I just needed an expert's approval. And then we chose a slightly darker greige, Revere pewter, for the chimney brick. Obviously, somebody makes a living coming up with these names; what a fun job. Or perhaps not. I can see eventually going mad.

Ridiculous to need a hand to hold through such a simple process, but it was a great help. Because - 158 different shades of grey.

There are 3 guys still upstairs at 5.30; we'd hoped they'd be finished priming today and be ready for colour tomorrow, but not even close. Of course.

My dear Wayson came for our usual Sunday night dinner last night, bearing 11 red roses. He can be my Valentine anytime. And then we watched Steve Paikin interview Anna Porter and Barry Callaghan about their careers in CanLit. Barry was particularly apt when he talked about how he hates Stephen Harper so much, he can hardly bear to mention his name. Me either.

Please be careful, Canada. There's a bit of a scandal swirling around Trudeau, yes, though it's not something appalling by any means, and I'm sorry he's had to lose his closest advisor because of it; that's not good for any of us. And just look at the alternative, the leering hyena Scheer, made in the Harper mold. Please God, no.

Monday, February 18, 2019

superb Oslo

Tell someone you're going to see a play about failed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and watch their brows wrinkle. That's the thrilling plot of Oslo, a powerful, important play about what it takes to be a peacemaker. A Norwegian couple with links to the government took it upon themselves, in 1992-93, to bring Palestinian and Israeli negotiators to the table in neutral Oslo, to try to find common ground, gambling that when these men came to see each other as human beings and not as monstrous enemies, progress would ensue. And that is what happens. The characterizations - in the script and on the stage - are superb, the tension mounts; one Israeli is arrogant and the next is worse, one of the Palestinians is a surly hardline Communist who hates everyone, surely nothing can happen here.

And yet it does, inch by inch, as you hold your breath. At one point, two of the men find out they have daughters with the same name, a tiny moment with vast repercussions. They manage to make a deal. Tragically, it did not last, but for a brief moment on our embattled planet, peace broke out. A deeply moving play in a fantastic production.

In the spirit of letter writing mentioned last post, I just emailed Mirvish Productions to thank them for making this town so rich with theatre. At Oslo, I talked to the couple sitting in front who are from Timmins; they fly into Toronto regularly to see theatre and eat at good restaurants. They'd seen the new Sting show,  then The Father, a great new production of a French play about Alzheimers by a very small theatre company, and Oslo. The woman sitting next to me, with whom by the end I exchanged email addresses - we will, it turned out, be in Paris at exactly the same time in April - goes often to the theatre alone, like me. What a richness of choice we have, with so much on offer. Grateful.

And grateful to former students who write to tell me their news; just got this: Just wanted to send you a note that I have finally completed a memoir that was sparked in your class. I’ll be self publishing in June. I would love to invite you to the book launch in Toronto in mid August. Thanks for your class.

It's Family Day, a holiday, and all is still. No one here, no banging, no drilling, mudding, or sanding. There's beautiful fresh snow to shovel, a house in chaos to sort out, a Wayson to invite for dinner. We are alive, my friends. It doesn't get better than that.

PS Wish I could show you - there's a cardinal at the feeder, flashing scarlet against the snow, in the sun. Winter is brutal but with moments of great beauty, even more appreciated because ... rare.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Margaret walks the Camino

First, most importantly, friend and student Margaret Lynch wrote a beautiful essay for my home class on walking the Camino and now has read it on CBC radio's The Sunday Edition; it will air tomorrow but she sent us a copy. It brought tears to my eyes, not just for the fine writing and thought, but because Margaret has come so far as a brave and honest writer with a powerful story to tell. She has just begun; you'll be hearing more from her. Brava! 

And while I'm in celebration mode - I got a moving email yesterday from one of the greatest stars of the Canadian stage, Martha Henry, to whom I'd written ten years ago about a Stratford production she directed that I loved. The note speaks for itself - a blessing.
My dear Beth - I’m clearing out some old papers today and came across an email from you from 2009 which I had printed! - talking about our production of Three Sisters. I read it again and nearly wept, I was so happy at what you said and so proud. Thank you. I may keep this for yet another ten years......! How thoughtful and kind of you to write this. It meant a lot to me. Clearly!   

I've made a lifelong habit - sometimes to the amusement and even scorn of my friends - of sending letters of both complaint and praise. How great that this one made a difference. A mitzvah. When someone impresses you, let them know!

It's Saturday, but Kevin and Ed are here. They need to finish mudding, patching, sanding now, because Monday is a holiday and the painters come in Tuesday. Yes, the painters - we still have no doors, tons to do at a basic level, but it seems like a good time to paint.

So I am going mad. JM suggested I hire someone to advise about colours, but a request to a local tastemaker let me know he charges $700 for a "colour consultation." We won't be having that, thank you very much. "How hard can it be?" I said blithely. And now have been to Home Hardware twice for sample colours, until they ran out of sample size pots, so this morning I went down to a paint store on Queen Street East and came back with one pot that's almost identical to one I already had.

$700 for an expert eye is starting to look more like a good investment. (Joke!)

I have found a beautiful yellow for the spare bedroom; done. But I would like a soft grey-blue for my bedroom and a soft grey for the hall. What I now know is that the paint chips do not in any way resemble what goes on the wall. My first attempts at being Mark Rothko - a grey that's too white, so next, a grey that's too dark, like concrete. 

First world problems.

The sun is shining but it's cold, and the sidewalks are icy. Today's note in the Annals of Aging - as I walked carefully along Queen Street this morning, wearing my maroon velvet hat and scarf, I passed a woman not dressed for the weather and high on a drug of some kind, crack or an opiate. She said something, and then passed me and said, "Oh I'm sorry, I thought you were a man." And then she went on, "My mother taught me to always be polite to elderly people, so I'm really sorry."

A knife in the heart! I'm hopeless at choosing colours, and I look mannish and ... elderly! Elderly! I, a mere, a youthful 68! The only thing that will make me feel better about that is chocolate. And remembering that I did a tiny thing that made the magnificent Martha Henry happy.

And thinking about my family. Since Anna and fam will not be going away for Family Day, she decided to spring for a treat - she, her best friend Holly, and the boys are all staying in one room at the Delta Chelsea down the road, where there's a swimming pool, games room, playroom, self-serve restaurant... I took them for dinner there last night and then we went to the playroom, where my grandsons were bounding leaping falling throwing whirling dashing bouncing building sliding joking crashing chatting vrooming. Non-stop.

Went home to recover and watch The Philadelphia Story. I've seen bits of it but never the whole thing. A wonderful film. Imagine working with Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart, talk about the dream team.

My dream team is sanding outside my office door. Happy Family Day to you all. This elderly person - NOT! - is off to eat a lot of chocolate and fuss about paint chips.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

one-bedroom basement suite for rent

My basement apartment will be available May 1 - now not a bachelor but a furnished one-bedroom apartment with washer/dryer. At least, that's the hope - that I'll have moved out of that bedroom myself by then. If you know a quiet someone who needs a nice place downtown and can be flexible about time - because who knows when you're @#$@#$ renovating? - please get in touch.

Re Reno-land: Ed just said, if we let any more people up here, we'll have to charge admission. Not only are he and Kevin up high on ladders, mudding and sanding, but today, four Ukrainian window installers are here, plus, for a bit, their very hefty boss. TAK, I am hearing. The old windows dated from 1980 and several no longer closed. Now they're better insulated too. I hope my heating bills reflect that.
 middle bedroom
 my bedroom

Moving right along. We will paint next week, apparently. Still tons to do, however, including the entire third floor which has not even been started yet - big electrician holes in the walls with insulation pellets spilling out. Joy.

But it's sunny, bright hot sun; after the last two wretched days, it's bliss, and thank god, because the windows are out but it's not nearly as cold as it was. Yesterday was particularly appalling - it had rained on the snow, and the streets were awash with slush. (Say that fast.) I got to the Y for Carole's class, but barely, and then came home to shovel. And shovel. Why go to the Y for exercise when you live in Canada, the great northland?

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

eye of the storm

Mother Nature hit us hard today - tons of snow and then sleet, hard sleet that slashed the face, and high winds, so bad, the schools were cancelled for the first time in years, to the joy of a small boy of my acquaintance. His mother posted on FB that she'd be happy to take any kids whose parents were suddenly strapped for childcare; once more her generosity amazes me.

The roads first were clogged with heavy snow and then dangerously icy; the trees are coated with ice and some places in the city have lost power. And of course, today, rather than huddling at home as usual, I had to be out and about, first for a welcome visit with my beloved psych - wait, she told me she is not a psychiatrist, she's a psychologist and psychoanalyst. All that matters is the psyche part - she understands mine. After today, I may not go back for a long time; the crises have passed, I'm calmer about the reno and other things. But still, there's such comfort in that bright small room with a small, quiet, wise woman sitting in it. Listening.

A bit later, slogging through the snow up the street to a piano lesson. I haven't practiced often because the men are here all day, I won't play while they are, and by the time they leave I'm ready for my wine. But still, I've managed to get every so often to the Moonlight and a few other things, and for some reason was unleashed at my lesson - he was impressed, or at least he said he was, though it's his job to be encouraging, of course. I think I decided to stop feeling apologetic for not being Glenn Gould and just play the hell out of stuff. It was fun.

Home to shovel and shovel and shovel some more, then to a memorial event at the Y, no easy feat - the streetcar ended up not moving because the wires were frozen so I went to find a cab. Last year my dear Carole, the Wednesday runfit instructor, and her husband Brian, 17 years older and already afflicted with Alzheimer's, celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary at the Y. Tonight we honoured Brian, who died at 87 two weeks ago in his sleep with Carole at his side. I learned a lot I didn't know about him - that in his childhood during the Depression, his mother left the family and his father was forced to put Brian and his younger brother into an orphanage. In his first marriage, Brian had six children and was determined to provide them with everything he didn't have as a child, and obviously did; they were all there tonight, with their children and grandchildren. Brian belonged to the Y for 60 years; it's where he and Carole met. They continued their athletic life, their running, together. A member stood up tonight to speak about him and asked Carole about his best marathon time: 3 hours 34 minutes, to a muttering of appreciation from the crowd. She was asked about his worst marathon and told a funny story about ending up at the wrong start location in Atlanta.

I thought, another reason I love the Y - what other memorial event would be fixated on the dead man's marathon times? The room was full of lovely fit people. I'm the bottom of the barrel in comparison, but I was there. And then friend John, the best of the best, gave me a ride home.

You've gotta be tough to be Canadian. Kindness helps a lot. We get through, and we help each other through.

PS Was just on a writer's site on FB and found a few words there about the topic from Abigail Thomas, one of my favourite memoirists. So I wrote her a message, and she wrote one back. I know Zuckerberg is creepy and our privacy is gone. But there are pleasures to be had on FB.
Abigail Thomas  thanks so much. really nice of you to say. 
12 February 20:52
Comment history
Beth Kaplan  Abigail Thomas it's thrilling to read your advice here. I am a huge fan of your wise and beautiful writing and truth telling. Thank you for weighing in on this vital issue. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

moody blues on a Monday morning

AAAGH! Going mad. If I do not make a change to my Aeroplan account by this weekend, I will lose my points. So I have to buy something through that account, and let me tell you, they could not make it more complicated and infuriating. I have spent the morning trying to find something I actually need and then trying to figure out how to buy it and then calling the Aeroplan number to get assistance, all of which have led me exactly nowhere. I consider myself a sentient, even fairly intelligent human being, but they've got me bamboozled. Phooey.

Monday morning, and there's a sprinkling of fresh snow inside and outside - outside it's white and cold, inside it's plaster dust showering down from on high; sanding has begun.
The hall without bannister
Kevin in my bedroom

Ed on high. This is part of the hallway cathedral space newly created. Light!

A quiet weekend. I went to see The play that goes wrong which was indeed hilarious, full of theatre-going-wrong jokes - mugging actors or ones who forget lines, doors that won't open, falling down set etc. It was the kind of British comedy that's delightful and vanishes instantly. No heft at all, but sometimes, particularly on a February day, a good belly laugh is more than okay.

Wayson came for dinner last night and we watched more Pride and Prejudice - go Darcy! - and a bit of the induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - go Moody Blues, these aging British rockers are invincible - and the Grammys, but it was just too too for us fogeys.
Speaking of fogeys, I think I will start a regular section here called Annals of Aging - not just the minuses but the plusses too. But mostly minuses. For example, the Y has installed, in the women's health club bathroom, a cruel device - a vast and powerful magnifying mirror. A horrifying sight awaits me each time I venture to take a peek - each line and crevice, each mole and blotch and sag and sprouting hair - sigh. However. I am far wiser now than when my skin was firm and clear. It's worth it. Without question.

Today in the Star there was an article about a new tech firm; the founder is quoted as saying, "I've even got grandmothers learning to do it!" The premise being that there is no creature on earth more backward or harder to teach than a grandmother. If I had that young man here, I would bonk him on the head with a frying pan. No, I would crack the Y's magnifying mirror over his head, thereby killing two birds, so to speak.

On the plus side in the Annals of Aging, my best friend Lynn and I Skyped for an hour on Sunday, from Montpellier to Toronto, much to catch up on, including our children and grandchildren, her work and mine, their renovation which is stalled by French bureaucracy and mine which is steaming ahead, and the quality of cashmere she gets at a certain store at sale time. We have known each other 51 years - almost as long as the Moody Blues have been together. Pure gold.

Friday, February 8, 2019

dining with the fam

A blessing tonight. The restaurant where Sam has worked for a few years, the Emerson, is closing soon for a renovation, and he has found another job. We love the place and will miss it, so tonight, we all met there for dinner, Anna, her boys, and I. We know all the waitstaff and they know us, know the boys, who are right at home there. Ben immediately sat on a bar stool colouring and chatting with one of the waiters, while Uncle Sam mixed cocktails.
We had a delicious meal with the best service imaginable. One lovely thing - I'd found out that my friend from the Y, Karim, a young man from Jordan, lives nearby and urged him to drop in sometime, look for the tall tattooed guy, say hello. After many months, he chose by chance to do so tonight, so I was able to introduce him to everyone. A new waiter there, one I'd not met, came up to me and said, "I have to tell you how much I've enjoyed working with your son."
"I'm glad," I said. "He's a good guy." And he is.

And then Ben turned to the nice young couple at the table next to us and said, "I have to go pee now." He often greets strangers on the street - "HI GUYS!" which is such a cheery way to go through life. As we left tonight, he turned at the door and bellowed, "BYE UNCLE SAM!"

It was a freezing, bleak night, but I was warm warm warm as I rode home, noticing, at one point, that I was the only person in the subway car with pale pasty skin. I pity the poor souls who've come from warm climates to make their homes here, at least, on a February day like this. But with the right coat and boots and hat and scarf and mitts, we'll all survive.

Came home to a note from my dear friend Lani, to whom I'd sent the manuscript of the memoir - she was there for a lot of the stories it describes and even appears several times in the book, with her own name. She told me she was glad I'd used her real name, not a pseudonym, because she took so many drugs back then, she might not have known which character she was.

She wrote how much she'd enjoyed the book. I was thoroughly engrossed in this woman's journey. There was a lot of humour (so glad you kept in the cheese tray story), a lot of angst, a lot of joy. The character grew and evolved. She was loveable and I cheered for her. 

Now that's good news! Let's hope one day a publisher agrees. I'm working on the Uncle Edgar story - now have 14,000 words. What it'll end up being, a long article or a chapter in a book of essays, I'm not sure. I need to do research, but that means being in my office, which is nearly uninhabitable with junk and dust, almost all my materials in stacked boxes. But I still have lots of resource material I've been able to unearth.

Tomorrow, another treat: The Play That Goes Wrong, which I missed in both London and New York. I could use a good belly laugh right about now. In five minutes - Bill Maher on HBO. His sarcastic comedy keeps me sane.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

back to the garden

A day of extreme vileness - freezing rain, sleet, pouring onto the snow already heaped about the city streets. The TTC more than useless. Kevin was called in once more to snowplow duty, leaving Ed working alone for the day. It was very quiet here for once. Ed covered the new floors upstairs with paper and cardboard and began mudding the walls. There is a lot of mudding to do. I'm learning so much.

Truly, this has been one of the strangest winters of my long, strange trip of a life. Even as I go through the trauma of the reno, the fraught anxiety about money and the myriad decisions and arguments with various partners in the project, I am getting more work done than I have in ages. Normally, I am blithely unencumbered with lots of time to work, and yet manage to fritter time away. But now, with chaos on all sides, I sit here and write. Or revise, which is the secret - I can't start new writing, that would be too challenging. But I've pulled up old essays and realized there's a ton of work nearly done. Two essays have been worked on and sent out, and one put aside for now to ripen. The other day, I realized it was time to write about my uncle Edgar Kaplan, who for years was one of the most famous bridge players in the world. I started opening my old Documents files - and discovered I'd already written a more than 10,000 word essay about him. And it wasn't half bad. IMHO.

Yesterday, Kevin and Ed were working elsewhere, there were no electricians or floor guys, just an hour-long meeting with JM. I still was feeling low. So I spent the entire day sitting here working on my uncle, hardly moved except to eat, with a bit of TV - a fave, Doc Martin, at 8. At 11, I had to force myself to stop fiddling and go to bed. I am madly in love with this piece, as happens when you're in the middle and it's coming together. The beginning and the end are hard. The middle, so hopeful, is fun. I am enjoying every minute, can't wait to introduce you to my fascinating and marvellous uncle. It helps that I'm not teaching much this term.

In the midst of my pleasure, there is sadness in the lives of my friends. My dear Carole, leader of the Wednesday class at the Y, lost her husband Brian on Friday night. He was considerably older than she and had for a few years been suffering from increasing memory loss, but his death was unexpected. There's a memorial event for him next Tuesday at the Y, in the same room where we celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary not long ago.

And yet - the definition of a trouper - there she was to teach her RunFit class at noon today. She looked tired and battered, but she was there, and so were many of us, to support and hug her.

And a friend in Vancouver, Cathy McKeehan, an arts administrator and producer, suffered a brain aneurysm while visiting her son recently in Spain. My friend Chris was deeply wounded by her loss; when he lived in Vancouver, he and Cathy often had coffee and gossiped.

"We are fragile. We are older." Sung to the tune of "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves, back to the garden," by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Who ain't no spring chickens either.

Please take care, friends. It's slippery out there, in more ways than one.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

recovery and Mr. delicious Darcy

I know you are all breathless with anticipation, one mesmerizing question dangling in the air: "How are your floors?!"

To which I reply, "Fine. Just fine. We have survived the Great Floor Upheaval of 2019, and the floors are a soft, pretty, brown, Canadian hardwood."
After all that. Ye gods, what a drama queen I am! Embarrassing. Well, in small bits, it looked dull. But all put together, it's soft and interesting.

As am I.


Yesterday morning, much going on in the old homestead. The tireless electricians were back to finish various jobs and the floor guys were hammering and banging upstairs, so the cacophony was extraordinary - Cantonese on the ground floor and Hungarian on the second. One thing this reno has reminded me, though I did know it already: the value of good men who are good at their jobs. The electrician Weili Wu and his team could not have been better through a difficult, lengthy, complex process. If you need an electrician in Toronto, do not hesitate to get in touch with him, I could not recommend him more highly.

And the floor guys also: Zoltan and his men were fast, skilful, a pleasure to deal with. At the end, he told me, Bad news, we don't have quite enough wood. We thought he'd have to buy some more and come back. But in the end, he had just enough to finish in one day, used every scrap. A beautiful job. Highly recommended also. Zoltan Zsibok.

In the middle of all that, yesterday morning, while I was still suffering about the floor, I got an email from my downstairs tenant, who had told me, to my great relief, that he wanted to stay till next summer; he's decided to move out in April instead. The joys of landlady-dom. I won't complain; it's what keeps me solvent here.

Sunday, Anna came with the boys. The high point was playing Snakes and Ladders not just with Eli, who loves the game, but with Ben, who has no understanding of throwing the dice and moving that number of spaces. He wanted to go right down to there and up to there and over here - so in the end, they abandoned all the rules and scampered about the board. Ben won. Small for his age, he is fiercely opinionated and has no hesitation about making his wants and opinions known. His tall brother is funny and clever and a bit sly, especially about torturing his mother. And it won't surprise you to know that they are the finest, handsomest young men in the entire world. I'm sure if you meet them, you'll think the same.

Speaking of fine, handsome men, Sunday night, a huge pleasure: PBS is replaying BBC's renowned "Pride and Prejudice" one hour at a time, and that night was the best hour of all: the wet white shirt scene which has become so famous, there was a sculpture put up somewhere in England of Colin Firth wearing his wet white shirt. It's simply one of the best scenes ever shot - Elizabeth Bennett visiting Pemberley, hearing to her shock what a good, kind man Darcy is and seeing the magnificence of his estate, realizing what she has turned down, and he, a proper, proud aristocrat suffering for love, plunging into his lake, then arriving home dishevelled, hair tousled and damp, his puffy white shirt sticking to his manly chest - INCREDIBLY HANDSOME - and they meet face to face, to their confusion and dismay.
He is inarticulate, rushes in to change, and then out again properly dressed to escort her and her relatives about. We sense his enormous care and love for her, his longing, her changing feelings about him. Will we ever see a better Darcy than Colin Firth? Unimaginable. He is strong, vulnerable, intelligent, besotted - perfect. A dreamboat. Would Jane Austen have been pleased? Maybe she'd have had a crush on him too.
Cinderella, still not feeling well, was at home in her rags, lying on the sofa under a blanket in the plaster dust and rubble, relishing every heavenly moment. Delicious.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

apologies - and student success story

Please forgive my obsessive whiny posts about brown floors. Am not taking them down so you can see how a mind can torture itself, how decisions can drive a person crazy. How a renovation can reduce a nice, ordinary woman to a snivelling idiot. Sharing it all with you helps preserve my sanity, but I'm not sure what it's doing to yours.

Anna and family coming over today for fish and chips. The reality of small boys. Thank God.

Watched "Three Identical Strangers" last night. What a fascinating, tragic story. Scientific enquiry, gone too far.

Good news today - a student from last year, a marvellous young doctor, recently appeared on CBC's White Coat, Black Art. So articulate and thoughtful.

Another student from the class wrote me this note on FB. Thank you Venetia.
Venetia Butler With your thoughtful encouragement. 
I think four people from our Ryerson Life Stories class have been published thanks to you Beth Kaplan!

Saturday, February 2, 2019

absolutely final floor finale

I couldn't sleep last night for worrying, spent the day fretting, putting down pieces of the hardwood flooring, looking, walking around them. I thought, it's nice wood but perhaps it's just not right for ME. It's matte, absorbs light. It's a funny muddy brown. But pretty. I think it's lovely, my daughter wrote, which eased my heart for a few moments.

Then my old friend Ron, a businessman who has bought and sold a bunch of houses, came to see. Absolutely not, he said. The ground floor is pale wood, and flow is vital, continuity; the second floor should be the same. You should return it and get the light wood. I agreed. I am a light wood person. How did I not know that? I knew that but thought I'd try something new and different.

I thought of the poor floor guys who'd hauled in twenty - twenty! - heavy boxes of this brown wood, and of the delay and complications in changing my mind. And then I talked to JM about what I'd like to do.

Surprise! Because we bought remaindered wood, there's no returning it. I did not know that. Surprise! So either I live with it, or I throw away $2000.

All righty then.

It's fine. Yes, there will be no flow between the ground floor and the second floor. So what? Who needs flow? It's not ugly, it's just not light. It's possible I will get used to it and even grow to like it. And if I don't - one word - rugs.

What stress. What pounding of the heart for such a First World Problem. And yet, this floor is something I'm going to live with possibly for the rest of my life. So let's hope it works out.

Again, friends have come to my aid, offering advice long distance, though unfortunately, in the end, it didn't help. Chris wrote, you're the most opinionated person I know, how can you not have an opinion about your own floors? But this reno, as I've written before, has brought out all my insecurities. In this instance I had no idea what to do and floundered, and made possibly the wrong choice. Possibly the right one. I guess I'll find out when I move back upstairs and live with it.

Carole, a blog friend in England whom I've never met, wrote that she is going through exactly the same thing with her reno - that after the floor guys had hauled in all the boxes through the snow, she realized she hated what she'd chosen and wanted to send it back. She had bought retail and so had the luxury of changing her mind. But her floor guy was unhappy, and mine, Zoltan, will be thrilled, Monday morning, to get to work.

Onward. There are many more important things to think about. Nuclear proliferation is starting again. I'll try to get my mind off the floor.

Friday, February 1, 2019

floor finale

Dear friends, many of you have kindly written with your recommendations for my flooring choice, for which I thank you. You were all overwhelmingly for the light shade, not the dark. I have to tell you - TOO LATE. I chose the darker for a few reasons, the first of which is that it's made from Canadian trees, and though I don't approve necessarily of cutting down Canadian trees, at least my planks created a few Canadian jobs. But I also thought it's a warm colour which would be good in bedrooms, and that it would not show the dirt as much as the light one. The light one was very shiny and I thought more conventional. So I chose the dark.

And now that the many boxes of the wood have arrived and I've had a chance to look at more than one small piece, I will share this with you: you were probably right and I PROBABLY MADE A @#$#@ MISTAKE.

No no, I'm sure it'll look fine. And if it does not, I'll get rugs. At the moment, it looks like dull mud-brown laminate to me.

The house was particularly insane today, with Kevin and Ed working around four Hungarian floor finishers, who arrived first with vast slabs of plywood to lay the subfloor, and then many boxes of the wood. They have a nail gun thingie that they use to nail down everything. There was a huge amount of noise and much loud consultation, not in Cantonese today, but in Hungarian. In the middle of it all Grace arrived to give me another seminar in social media, but I was just not up for it, just not up for much at all. Under the weather, I think they call it. I am under really a lot of weather.

Though my dear Chris just called to say - Buck up, your floors will be fine. No one has ever come to your house, he pointed out, and said, Ugh, look at these ugly dark floors, let's leave. You're making yourself sick with stress, he said, and I think he may be right.

I have spent two months wearing more or less the same clothes - some kind of turtleneck and warm wooly apres-ski pants from MEC, of which I have 3 pairs. Most days I don't even bother putting on a bra. TMI? It's such chaos, I can't be bothered to find other clothes and it's cold, and who cares anyway? A certain nihilism enters the scene, and even red wine doesn't help. What the hell is going on?

Winter, renovation, being 68. What's it all about, Alfie?

As I type, I'm looking at the diamond ring Auntie Do gave me - an engagement ring that she never wore. It's so pretty, such flash and fire, red, blue, pink, green, all contained in that little stone. With it I wear my mother's wedding ring, and on the other hand, a Victorian ring with tiny sapphires that belonged to my great-grandmother's best friend Hattie Cumberpatch, in Northampton, and a green tourmaline ring made by Cousin Lola, an artist and jeweller in New York. I am carrying the love of my family on my fingers. And now I feel much better.

learning something new

I am testing to see if I can post longer sections of writing and give you the choice to open or not. This is from a new essay on my dad and the FBI.

Here's a test: