Friday, May 31, 2019

spring yes it is

Last night, my home class sat outside on the deck for the first time, with birdsong and the scent of lilac. John and I had spent much of the afternoon on house projects, including an hour putting up the pergola in anticipation of the hot sun which will surely arrive - and stay arrived - any day now. Bill spent much of Wednesday cleaning windows and scouring out the very full eavestroughs, and Dan finished painting the front porch and door. The garden is coming together slowly, though the guy who usually helps me with it has vanished, so I'm on my own. My mother used to talk about the "little men" who helped her. "I've found a little man to do that," she'd say; though he often was six foot tall weighing 250 pounds, he was always little. I too am utterly dependent on my raft of little men, without whom I would not be living here. Many thanks to you all, guys. Gardening helper needed, asap! 

Anna texted me yesterday: What time was Ben born, do you remember? I knew it was very early in the morning but not exactly - it's a blur, for some strange reason - so went to my blog. There, in July 2015, all the details - just after 2 a.m., 6 pounds 10 ounces. It's a wonderful thing to have your life's chronicle at your fingertips.

I'm gearing up for three big events: the Wayson memorial on Sunday, getting the house ready for a family who are moving in Wednesday to stay while I'm away, and my departure to Anna's Wednesday night and to Vancouver Thursday morning. Right now, getting the garden in shape for the memorial attendees and going over the many hundreds of emails I have from Wayson to pick a few to read, to share his voice. People who can't attend have been sending me beautiful notes to read. I gather that the main event for him will be at the International Authors' Festival in October. I'm glad we're gathering to celebrate and remember now.

Looking out - the hot pink bleeding heart showering its delicate beauty, the mauve lilac, the shining white lilies of the valley and dogwood in full bloom, and mostly the million shades of green, the birds at the feeder, a few veggies planted, Wayson's gardenia in bud, getting ready to flower - and l am profoundly glad and grateful to live here still, in my own paradise. Yes, a paradise that is constantly disintegrating, time-consuming, enraging sometimes, but thanks to my little men, is standing. More than that, is beautiful. As the world gets uglier, incomprehensibly more filled with hatred - just read an article about the rise of the far-right worldwide - it's more important than ever to try to find and relish beauty and neighborhood and kindness. My daughter is spending today renting and driving a U-Haul to help a friend, a woman who left an abusive husband and spent 3 weeks living at Anna's with her son, to move. She puts her time where her heart is.

The other day, as I rode the Dundas streetcar to Ryerson, there was a father with a little boy in a wheelchair. Two stops later, another family got on with an older boy in a power wheelchair. The first dad flipped up the side bank of seats to make a space for the new chair, and the dads chatted about Sick Kids - "What an awesome place," about their boys' surgeries there. Eventually, everyone around them was chatting and smiling. We're watching Toronto bond, too, over the Raptors - a fantastic picture in the Star of the crowd outside the arena last night, every colour under the sun.
It's good to take heart, because it's easy to lose heart, too.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

So very True

A glorious Sunday evening, mild and quiet - no sounds but birds and scattered neighbour voices, and the background rush of the city, of course. I'm feeling my shoulders start to lower from around my ears and my stomach to unclench. So True is a small event, but it's my event, my baby and responsibility; I care for every writer who's reading, whom I've edited and tried to guide through the process, and then I have my own talk and reading to do. So, a tiny bit of stress, small as it all may be.

In fact, this time I was really concerned about the size of the audience. Our last event was seven months ago instead of three or four, and as we know, I am the worst marketer in the world. It was due to start at 2, and by 1.45 there were not many there. And then they streamed in, so by the end we had a respectable 55 or so - not as many as we have had, but a great crowd.

And it was fabulous, eight beautiful well read true stories, including two that, even after all this time, brought me to tears. The crowd was happy, the readers were happy, and I the producer was happy it was over and I could go home and sit in my garden and veg.

While looking at the million things I have to do out there. Ah well. Manana.

Yesterday, a day of intermittent thunderstorms and hot sun, Anna was desperate to get the kids out of the house, so we met midtown, discovered a great playground where my grandsons' antics made the elderly Chinese couple sitting nearby laugh out loud. We went to Open Doors, an event where for a weekend, many usually closed buildings are open to the public. So we opened the doors to the Native Child and Family Services building on College, where there's a long house for meetings and smudge ceremonies on the ground floor and an actual sweat lodge on the green roof along with traditional plantings of sweetgrass, sage, tobacco. Amazing - in the heart of downtown Toronto. Very glad to know it's there.

My grandsons are what you call a handful. Ben is a climber and a talker, never stops moving his body or his jaws, and Eli is stubborn and ferociously determined. Adorable, both of them, but I do feel for their mother. Luckily, despite annoyances and arguments, they love each other a lot.

The ride home on the streetcar:
On Friday, a great treat - I'd been offered a facial at Sweetgrass Spa by my friends John and Sylvie; Sylvie works there. I arrived early and had a swim in the lovely pool and a soak in the hot tub, and then Natasha worked on my face until it glowed. Much needed after renovation and winter. Too bad about all the wrinkles, but a little glow goes a long way.

I'm reading an article in the New Yorker about the mortal dangers of noise pollution, so feel doubly grateful for this tranquil garden. Even though it keeps reminding me there is so much, so very much, to do.

Oh - and in my peripheral vision, I understand there was a big basketball event in this town yesterday. Go Raptors go. I guess. Sorry, it's just not of much interest, tall millionaires bouncing basketballs. Now the success of Toronto writers and storytellers - there's something that matters.

And now I'm going to go cut my very small lawn.

Friday, May 24, 2019

So True

Wednesday was the electricians; Thursday was the termite guys, drilling into the foundations of my house all around the perimeter and injecting poison to keep the vile beasties out. They told me they saw a termite tubule climbing up from my neighbour Monique's basement, so she'd better get her perimeter poisoned too, asap. There are also rats now, living somewhere nearby, and always, raccoons, mice, skunks, and, yes, possums.

At the same time, the stove repairman came, a snappy Israeli who took one look at the interior of my oven and opened his bag. He'd brought the part and for a mere $417, my stove is like new. I asked him to listen to the weird noise my fridge makes, but of course, while he was here, the blessed appliance purred silently.

In the afternoon, a Creative Nonfiction meeting with 7 other committee members via Zoom; our conference is coming right up, and next year's, back in Toronto in May 2020, is already underway. Judy has asked me to be on the board. Of course I will.

Yesterday morning it was the same chilly spring we've been having throughout May. And then, at 2.15, it was summer. Suddenly it was hot, and everyone sprang inside to change clothes. Time to plant. Though it's still cold at night, for a few more days.

Last night, our rehearsal for So True on Sunday. How privileged I am to hear the stories, to help shape them so they hit hard. Six of the eight readers were here for a final edit and to hone their reading skills. I cried twice - such powerful words, beautiful tales. What joy.
Don't miss it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Harry Potter in Parkdale

Sitting here just now, home after teaching at Ry tonight, glass of wine in hand, when an enormous raccoon sidled up to my back door and peered at me through the glass. I wonder if he's feeling the cold too. What a strange spring it has been - cold and hot and cold. Or, as a friend said, "This is what spring is!"

Sunday I went for a walk/jogette down the Don Valley Trail, where the trees are the freshest green and things are just starting to grow. Walked back up through the Farm which is as beautiful as it has ever been, thousands of tulips, daffodils, narcissus - just stunning.
That night, to my piano teacher Peter Mose, who'd invited the fascinating Alan Gasser to speak about his life and his singing and choir work, specifically, his interest in Georgian music, strange atonal music from the Caucasus Mountains. He distributed song sheets and we ended up singing some. Now that's a unique experience, singing atonal Georgian music on a rainy Sunday night in Cabbagetown.

Monday was Eli's seventh birthday party, and luckily the sun was out. When I got there, I asked him how many kids he was expecting. "Oh, about a hundred," he said casually - and seriously. "I have a hundred friends."

I thought, this kid is seven and he has a hundred friends; he's set for life.

In fact, there were only about 20. That is, 20 kids around the age of seven, plus Ben at 3 who wants to be part of everything his big brother is part of. And with the miracle of my daughter's organization and Eli's dad Thomas's keeping an eye on things, much was the joy. They tore through the back yard and ended up in the laneway behind, rocketing up and down on bikes, skateboards, scooters, and a wagon, screaming with pleasure, while the parents sat with a beer in the yard and Anna prepared the usual mountain of food in the kitchen. It was the best yet, she said after, and I believe her.

What was marvellous, as always, was the multicultural nature of the group, from every corner on earth. One of the guests was a young woman Eli describes as his girlfriend, so I checked her out with a critical eye. Cute, very cute. But is she good enough for my grandson? Stay tuned.

I gave Eli, among other things, a Harry Potter wand and glasses. Big hit. "He and Ben are waving the wand and turning each other into lions," Anna told me next day.
Today, Mr. Wu the electrician arrived to try to ascertain what was wrong with the dead kitchen outlet and the stove. After much inspection, they concluded that the outlet is broken and will require a great deal of destruction of drywall to fix, so - not happening for now. The stove, which stopped working at exactly the same time, is not a result of the broken outlet, it simply broke all on its own. Of course it did. A repairman arriving tomorrow. And so it goes. On and on into the broken reality of 308.

But despite this chilly spring with so much rain, despite the fact that I might have to buy a new stove, maybe a new fridge, the ongoing crippling expense of this ridiculous house - despite all that, I am newly strong and cheerful. I know where things are. After a long chaotic winter, I'm organized and together.

Lucky lucky lucky. And I will not forget it.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

celebrating green

Allen Gardens - a mass of colour. Better late than never.

As my friend Ken said yesterday, I love long weekends in the city in the summer, so quiet and empty - everyone's at the cottage. Today, this stunning Sunday morning of the long weekend, my garden, though so far almost untouched after winter, is beautiful, forty-six different shades of green with my own splashes of colour - daffs, tulips, a snowball viburnum with shining white puffs of bloom, further back a flowering dogwood, and on the deck, two bright red geraniums that survived the winter and the reno and are in bloom.

I slept soundly and woke to my sunny, tidy, renewed bedroom. Yes, a few electrical glitches perhaps in the house, a broken appliance or two - Lani wrote yesterday to offer me a gas stove she never uses! -  but things, more than ever before around here, are fixed and in their place. It's astounding.

And it's a relief, after months of waiting, to know what's happening with the memoir. I realize now I was overstepping to send it to the most successful editor in Canada (currently), whose taste, I see in the things he works on, is the opposite of mine. His wording says it all: "beautiful but gentle," as if these two things cancel each other out. I'm going to reread, see what I can rework, and send out to small presses. I've worked on it for 3 or 4 years - what's another? Onward.

Ken got in touch to say he was sorry to read about the rejection and the on-going struggles in the house and could he take me to lunch? He certainly could. So yesterday, we had our favourite date, a documentary and food. The Biggest Little Farm is about an idealistic couple in California who move from the city to an abandoned 200 acre farm, determined to farm the old way in harmony with nature. As they find out, nature is not harmonious - coyotes massacre their chickens, snails and birds attack the fruit trees, mastitis threatens their prized pig Emma. And then come the wildfires. But they prevail. The husband, who shot and directed, was a wildlife photographer before this venture, so the photography of plants and animals is gorgeous. But there's an unpleasant air of self-congratulation hanging over the film. Through all the stress, we never see the couple argue, never find out where they get the funds for the massive investments or where the young people who pour in to help them are housed and fed. Many lyrical shots of ladybugs, dogs, pigs, leaves in the sun. But - I am very fond of these things too.

And then lunch with one of my dearest old friends and a bike ride home to work in my own back 40. Happy Victoria Day weekend to you - I hope it's beautiful but gentle where you are, too.

Friday, May 17, 2019

So True: next Sunday May 26 2 p.m.

Coming right up. I've been editing the pieces - seven beautiful essays with one more to come in, plus mine, which will be a surprise. Which is good since that's the topic. A fabulous time guaranteed.

It's Friday night and I'm waiting to watch Bill Maher at 10; just watched the last episode of "Big Bang Theory," taped last night. It's one of the only sitcoms I watched - every so often, anyway - and I found it delightful, a celebration of geeks. This one stretched belief too far, but still, it was fun.

As I sit here, two things are going on: one is a thrilling culinary experience, eating a new peanut butter on toast. Yes, I, a fanatical p.b. aficionado since birth, have just discovered Adams Natural Crunchy. God it's good.

AND - I know you won't believe this - and I know you've heard that before recently - but as I sit here in my kitchen, where recently an outlet stopped working and then the stove and the fan vent above the stove stopped working, now as I sit here, I am listening to my fridge make really funny noises. Quite loud, strange, banging type noises.

My appliances were all bought after the fire in 2005 and the rebuilding after, so in 2006. The dishwasher broke first, then the washing machine. The Bosch stove and LG fridge arrived at the same time 13 years ago. Perhaps that's the limit, now, for appliances. After 13 years they explode. It seems to be happening.

On the other hand, the sun came out with a vengeance today, so I am filled with cheer. And now to go watch Bill Maher and get depressed all over again.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

rejection dejection

The sun is shining; my heart is heavy. Four months ago, I emailed my memoir, the memoir I've been working on for 3 years or possibly longer and have paid to have professionally edited several times, to a successful, well-known editor I'd met socially, who was friendly and nice and said he'd be happy to take a look.

So then you wait, and of course, you fantasize. He's one of the most high profile editors in the country, but maybe this small book will appeal, you think. So, hardly daring to dream but doing so anyway, you wait some more.

You know what's coming, don't you? Today, he wrote. "You do write very well," he said. He called the ms. "well-crafted," "enjoyable," "readable." Well, "readable" - talk about damning with faint praise. BUT he cannot market a book with "its beautiful but gentle import," he said, "and your modest profile. This is not about the worth of your memoir, but more the sales mandate I have to reach with every title."

What that means is: Sweet little book, but who the hell are you? How can I sell this gentle little story by an unknown author? Thanks but no thanks.

Which was what I was expecting, but still, it hurts.

But there's sun today.

Further to my letter of the other day, some funny fallout - I got a reply almost immediately from a name I recognized. He wrote that he'd been a student of mine some years ago, had loved my course and gone on writing. He is also the partner of the man who bought my neighbour's house and evicted her tenant, and so is co-owner. And he went on in a much more unpleasant tone with his take on events, which was very different, as you can imagine, from mine. Fake news, I'd call it, a deliberate obfuscation of what actually happened, to let him, his partner, and the landlady off the hook from admitting their heartless behaviour. Amazingly, the 3 of them are blaming and demonizing another party entirely! However, we ended agreeing to disagree.

He was a nice person, as I recall, and a good writer. Too bad.

And, I've been told, I am a nice person and a good writer. Some days it doesn't help.

What is happening in this province defies belief. At least, it would defy belief if we hadn't lived through the past few years with the vile buffoon to the south. Now we have the vile buffoon of the north, destroying everything decent, every single thing. Including speed limits.

More importantly, the rise in fascism worldwide. I remember many summers ago walking home along Carlton Street and coming upon a meeting in the basement of a house. There was a big black and red flag looking like a swastika and 7 or 8 white men in on a roomful of chairs listening to someone speak. I realized, this is the house of Ernst Zundel, Canada's most famous Nazi. These people are Nazis.

The scene was almost laughable if it weren't so creepy. But last night I realized - Ernst Zundel would be in his element now. There are fresh new Nazis everywhere.

Heartsick today. But there's sun.

PS. A few hours later: no more sun and increasing drizzle.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


I know you will find it hard to believe that after Mr. Wu the electrician and his gang spent many, many days this winter at my house ripping walls and floors apart to fix the electrics, that he would be back here so soon. But yes, today he was. I too find it hard to believe, even after all these years of chaos and crumbling, that my house is determined to disintegrate. But it is.

The other day, I noticed the green light on my computer power link wasn't lit. I tested the wall socket it was plugged into; it didn't work. Contacted my tenant about access to the panel, went down, flipped various breakers, nothing. Okay, not urgent, I plugged my computer in somewhere else and moved other appliances around until the outlet could get fixed.

Last night, my Vancouver friend Judy was coming for dinner so I turned on the oven to cook a chicken. After 15 minutes, I realized it was hardly heating at all. The oven, I thought, must somehow be connected to the damaged plug. Without panicking, I coolly shoved the chicken into a small dish and squeezed it into the toaster oven, where it cooked - slowly, but it cooked. I was able eventually to feed my friend, though not the potatoes that would have baked in the oven at the same time.

Down to check the panel again - no change. This time I pushed a thingie that said Test, and realized that not only had it not brought power back, it had somehow disconnected power to another part of the kitchen, and even more outlets didn't work. Luckily, the divine Mr. Wu happened to be nearby and agreed to stop in. After flipping and checking, he told me the dead kitchen plug must mean a dead or snapped wire. This means, he said, to go from the panel at the front of the house to this plug at the back, we need to cut a trench through the drywall the length of two bedroom walls downstairs, through the bathroom, the storage room, the living room, and then up to the plug in my kitchen.

No. No. Shani has just settled in with her small child and I am still recovering from the utter chaos of a reno. NO. If possible, I will live without that plug.

We tackled the stove, which he finally concluded was a separate issue entirely; my oven has broken, I merely need a new stove. Wonderful! But also, the wiring behind the stove, done after the fire in 2005, is appalling and dangerous, he said. And then we discovered the overhead hood fan and light don't work, so, attached to the nonworking plug.

Mr. Wu and his men fixed the basement wiring, the second floor, the third floor, not the main floor. Now - a whole new job opens up. Will I ever dig myself out of debt? Probably not.

But the sun came out, so I went out to make myself feel better by raking and sweeping and talking to neighbours I haven't seen since we turned into moles last December.

The elderly woman I wrote about in the letter yesterday, despite the fact that her circumstances have not changed, sounds stronger and happier today. Someone stood up for her. It matters.

Monday, May 13, 2019

bearing witness, taking sides

I am trembling. I spent some time yesterday writing and rewriting an email, read it to friends, left it 24 hours, read it to my daughter, just sent it.

There's been a huge injustice in my neighbourhood; a vulnerable elderly woman is being evicted from her longterm basement suite, which she'd been promised she could stay in until her landlady's death. The whole house was recently bought by a new landlord, who is allowing the former owner to stay but has evicted my friend; she was given a few months to find another place and get out. She used to help her landlady with her dogs and her garden; they were friends, until the landlady, a difficult woman, turned against her. I've been involved in trying to help her find a new place she can afford, which in this city, as we all know, is almost impossible. She is a cancer survivor, has a cat, no family, very little money, has been frantic for months. It's heartrending.

And then I discovered that the man who bought the landlady's house and threw out her tenant advertises himself on his work website as a committed social activist, proud of taking care of the elderly and vulnerable among the city's LGBT community. Fury boiled.

So despite some trepidation, I wrote and sent this, names excised here:

I am a longtime friend of X and once, though no longer, of Y. I have followed the appalling way X has been treated by you both with horror and sorrow. It says on your company website that you are "reaching out to Canada’s aging LGBT community to create a safe environment to assess the needs of this under-served population and bringing homophobia, gay-friendly housing and outreach to the forefront of social activism.”

This is 100% admirable. Bravo. Yet this same admirable activist has bought the home of an ill and aging woman with little income and few resources and evicted her. She is being thrown out onto the street. 

How do you rationalize your acute social concern with your disregard for this one human being? If she were a member of "Canada’s aging LGBT community," would you have treated her better? It seems to me utter hypocrisy to care so deeply - so publicly - for one aging segment of society while behaving with heartlessness and in secret toward another. I do not understand. 

I know this letter will change nothing; I just need to bear witness, to let you know that many are aware of what you and Y have done to X. I've copied this to the company because your profile as a proud social activist appears on their website. I will be following up with a letter to the city about this situation and the loophole that allows landlords to evict longterm tenants, no matter the circumstances. 

Incidentally, X does not know I have written this and I’m sure would be even more terrified than she already is, if she knew. 

I am writing to you because I believe this: "Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
Elie Wiesel, Nobel prize winner, writer, professor, activist, Holocaust survivor.

Beth Kaplan

P.S. Much shit has hit the fan; several emails have come burning back, and I've replied. This has taken the better part of a day. But I really don't think I had a choice. Do you?

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mother's Day?!

Do not ever remember a colder, more wet and miserable Mother's Day. We always complain that in Toronto, we go directly from winter to summer, with a temperate spring that lasts about three hours. But this year - much spring. We've had two hot days and then back to the chilly damp. Ed is supposed to come finish repairing my front door but we're waiting for a dry day; have been waiting a week.

My family doesn't really celebrate Mother's Day which we call a Hallmark card event. In any case, today in Toronto there was a marathon and two major sports events, which means getting across town would have been madness. I opted to stay here, alone. My kids called and that was nice; friends sent messages, also nice. I went to the Y and floated for ages in the hot tub, really nice. And now there's some great Sunday night TV. That's a happy day.

Last night I watched a documentary about Dorothea Lange, the groundbreaking photographer born in 1895, who wrestled, as women always have and perhaps always will, with her love of her craft versus the needs of her children and stepchildren - even though her second marriage was to a social activist who was her most ardent supporter. One anecdote particularly resonated with me: she worked for FDR's government during the Depression, chronicling the brutal life of migrant workers in camps. Driving home after a long day, she saw a sign for another camp, drove by, tired, but then did a U turn and went back to explore the camp with her camera. It's there she took the photo she called Migrant Mother, a desperate woman with her two children, which became one of the most iconic images of the Depression and in fact of all American photography.

Inspiring. I thought - I myself would have been hungry for dinner and thirsty for a glass of wine and perhaps worried about my family. I would have said, I've done enough for today and kept right on going.

A lesson. Not that I expect to change, but a lesson nonetheless.

Here are some faces: Migrant Mother
my own non-migrant mother, aged 89, doing a crossword just two months before she died; 
and my dear Wayson, in a notice taken out by his publisher that appeared on the weekend in the big daily papers. He'd have been tickled. "You're spoiling me," he used to say. "Don't stop." When I came in yesterday the light on my phone was blinking, a message for me; my heart stopped. The only person who left me messages, and many of them, was Wayson. But this was a welcome call from Anna who actually telephoned, a rare event for the texting generation. 


Saturday, May 11, 2019

"Amazing Grace" - Aretha in concert, a must see

I sobbed all the way through and thought of my daughter, gazing at the glorious rose window of Notre Dame cathedral and saying, "If I ever believe in god, it will be because of this place."

If I ever believe in god, it will be because of the power of Aretha Franklin's voice and the purity and power of her own belief.

Just came from seeing the documentary "Amazing Grace," which was shot over two nights in 1972 in a Baptist church in L.A., as she recorded her first gospel album. The record became her best seller, but the film had technical complications and was not released until modern technology made fixing the problems possible. And so here it is. I began to weep at the beginning and continued dabbing my eyes and tapping my feet in rhythm until the end. There were moments of such intensity I could hardly breathe; hours later my eyes are still puffy and swollen. It's transcendent, overwhelming, that voice ranging from a soft clear bell to a soaring clarion, a wave of sound, the sky opening, a universe from that throat. Behind her, a full gospel choir. In front of her, an audience of believers who 'witness,' shouting back to the stage, clapping and dancing. Also in the audience, on the second night, Mick Jagger and Charley Watts and the Reverend C. L. Franklin, Aretha's father, who jumps up at one point, while she's singing, to mop her brow.

What a gift. She is subdued throughout, as if gathering her forces, preserving her strength for when her mouth opens and the music flows out, going straight to heaven.

How grateful I felt to be there, to have the chance to spend a few hours on a Saturday afternoon in a black gospel church in 1972. I rode my bike to the Sherbourne subway station, jumped on the subway, was there in no time, watched the previews of all the documentaries I want to see. After the concert, mopping my sodden eyes, I rode back to get my bike and stopped at the library, where I returned two books - Middlemarch, because I've found my copy, and The Dakota Winters, which I'd skimmed (charming, lightweight, with a tragic premise, that the protagonist was going to help bring the Beatles back together just before John was murdered) - and picked up the one waiting for me: Dreyer's English, an utterly correct guide to clarity and style, which is on the NYT bestseller list. The hideous premier has cut the inter-library service for rural communities but not yet in Toronto, which means I can still order any book I want and have it delivered to my local branch.

Then I stopped at St. Jamestown Steak and Chops to buy a chicken from Mark; Judy is flying in from Vancouver and is coming to dinner on Monday. I've been going to Mark's shop for 32 years, knew his father Terry, his mother Doris, his brother Santo, wrote their obituaries for the Globe.

In a bit, Cyril will appear at my door with a jar of his $8 soup for my dinner. Last night the Spring Fling, a fundraiser for the Cabbagetown Youth Centre, dancing to a live band with my friend Jean-Marc, who loves to dance as much as I do. I've been going to this event for decades, on and off. Danced there with Terry the butcher, as Doris sat nearby and beamed.

Despite the battering, the brutal smashing Toronto is enduring right now from the provincial thugs, despite the things I hate about living in the city - the construction, the noise and dirt, the constant confrontation with devastating mental illness and appalling poverty - still, I am glad to live in this ever-stimulating metropolis where there is so much going on, so much to do, so much challenge, and where I am surrounded by friends and decades-long acquaintances.

Behind Aretha, as she sang, was a painting of Jesus being baptized; he's a white dude with long brown hair. It's ironic to see that image in a church filled with devout faces of colour singing praise to the lord. Now I have absolutely no doubt that Jesus was black.

Watch the preview in this review, and then I hope you can see the whole thing for yourself.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

with a little help from my friends

A thoughtful, kind email from Lani brought warmth and light, especially as, after two glorious days, we are back to chilly rain - the slowest coldest spring I can remember, though my memory is not what it used to be, perhaps this is normal.

Just read your latest blog and so admire your strength amid all the chaos and loss. You will be pining for Wayson for many years but the last sentence of your blog was wrong ... he IS there. Just not physically. Every time you think of him he lives again. I know that sounds ludicrous from an anti-religion excommunicated catholic but I found that out eventually with my mom. She is constantly with me. Same with Charlie. Occasionally with Redg. People who mean that much to you never go away. Like me, my pal. I'll never leave you either.
Love, Lani

Made me laugh and cry; I have no doubt Lani will be with me forever, as she will be with my kids, who adore her. Charlie was her older sister, Redg her first husband who worked often as a stage manager in shows I was in - I knew them both.

Nick made a donation in Wayson's name to the Toronto Food Bank. Several people dropped off cards.

And John, who started as my handyman and is now one of my dearest friends, appeared at my door yesterday with a gift from his wife Sylvie, an indefatigable baker and crafts maker. Sylvie works as a massage therapist at Sweetgrass Spa, and I'd enquired about having a facial there; after a long dusty renovation and winter, my face is battered and could use a polish. But the spa is too expensive for me. John arrived yesterday with a pretty gift bag full of homemade sweet treats and a gift certificate for a facial at Sweetgrass Spa.

As I wrote to them, what did I do to deserve such good friends?

It turns out I am indeed organizing a memorial event for Wayson. I know what HE did to deserve such good friends: he was hilarious, wise, fascinating, unique. His friends have been writing to tell me so, in case I forgot. As Mary Jo, one of his best friends who unfortunately can't be with us that day, wrote, I hope that the people you gather to celebrate him remember, not only what a good writer he was, and his gift for saying exactly the right things to people who were troubled, but also how much fun he was. I will never stop missing him.

Me either, Mary Jo. I should send you Lani's words.

Jean Vanier also gone - a good man who did a lot of good in the world, as detailed in my unforgettable gripping powerful new memoir which is still seeking a home. Hope you get to read it one day.

Anna shared on FB a post about nicknames for Trump. There were a number of marvellous ones, but my favourite, besides Blotus, was Trumplethinskin. Desperation does bring out brilliance. And we - we the world's people - are desperate.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

spring, rain

The gorgeous days over for now - two days of hot sun, and now back to grey drizzle - but it's mild. Yesterday, I watched two sparrows mating on my fence. It was brief and I would think not much fun, but I guess it got the job done, because after he'd climbed on her a few times for a few fluttery seconds, they flew away in separate directions. Ah, the rites of spring.

I go out to ogle the buds, the bursting of green - the miracle of renewal, especially after such a long hard winter.

I am feeling it too, slowly - budding, coming out of months of chaos, then travel, then loss. The house is settling; though the work isn't quite finished, the repairs and purchases still needed are minor, and I no longer need the long lists that I carried everywhere. Yesterday I actually made it to a yoga class at the Y, first time in ages. Today U of T starts, Ryerson tomorrow night, on Friday back to my piano teacher after months of very little practice - that'll be painful. The joy of routine. And yet every time I climb the stairs into the airy bright hall or step into my shining bedroom and closet, it feels like a brand new spring inside, here.

I finished Sally Rooney's Normal People, the hot novel of the season, though confess I skipped some bits. She's an extremely talented writer but I was just not that interested in the obsessive detail, however beautifully and cleverly written, of these young people's lives. Plus the book was due back. Now I'm reading Middlemarch, at last, for a book club at the end of the month. With my B.A. in English, I've always felt guilty not to have read Middlemarch, so am happy to have been pushed to do so. And I'm also reading The Dakota Winters by Tom Barbash, which recreates New York in 1980 and imagines John Lennon as a main character - delightful.

Last night, something horrible and then a treat: I watched, with jaw dropped, a bit of the coverage of the Met Gala, an obscene gathering of the world's celebrities wearing the most preposterous clothes, accompanied by fawning discussion. Utterly nauseating; talk about fiddling while Rome burns. But then Gentleman Jack, a terrific British drama on PBS, the adventures of a fiercely independent landowner and lesbian in 1832. Bonus - it's based on the diaries of the actual Anne Lister. From an interview with Sally Wainwright, the showrunner:
Reading between the lines of the journal, I believe she had very robust mental health. And I think she had an enviably healthy opinion of herself, and though that's often an insult, I don't mean it as an insult. I wish I had a healthier opinion of myself, I'm sure I'd be a lot happier. She believed her sexuality was God-given, she believed it would be against God if she slept with a man because God made her like this. And she seemed able to live with that in a very healthy way.
I find that really uplifting that for someone 200 years ago to have the courage and intelligence to be able to navigate her way through society, not to be ostracized from society, and to be truthful to who she was is why we should celebrate her. That's why the story is unique, because it's about this unique human being who was capable of being like this. I think that's a beautiful message for anyone, no matter what gender or sexuality they are.
Speaking of unabashedly being who you are, Wayson was like that too. These days, despite spring, my heart feels muted, maimed, diminished. Something key is missing. I had not realized how automatically I thought of Wayson, called him, invited him over. The impulse is there all day, but he is not.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Life Stories coming up at U of T

Wonderful article in the Guardian about how the memoirs of real people, as opposed to celebrities, are the new hits on the best seller lists. Great great news. 

So - if you are considering writing about your life, the Guardian is offering encouragement, and so am I. My course at U of T, Life Stories, begins Tuesday, though right now it's so small, they might cancel it - so please, if you want to write, considering signing up. There's also still room in the Ryerson class True to Life, which started last Wednesday.

I can be a guide on your way to telling the truth with craft.

Cabbagetown's Forsythia Festival, meeting John Tory

Le tout Toronto is out today - a gorgeous day, hot and sunny, at last. Someone did say that in typical Toronto fashion, we'd probably go straight from winter to summer, and so it is.

I've been busy with Mr. Elijah - going across town to get him yesterday, keeping him busy, taking him back across town this afternoon - his mother's birthday present. We spent many hours at the Regent Park playground, which is just the best, the most multicultural group of kids, every colour of skin, running and leaping and climbing. Eli is very big on climbing and hanging from monkey bars and even bigger on jumping, from everything.
And then - Lego. Much much Lego. Luckily I got a big container at Doubletake so have lots on hand, and it kept him happily busy for hours. He took last night's creation into the bath and then into bed with him. And then more Charlotte's Web. The new bed in the new spare room, for its inaugural sleep, was a success.
He rose at 6, however, hungry for breakfast, which did not make a tired Glamma happy. We were at the playground by 9 a.m., and then off to the Forsythia Festival, a neighbourhood celebration of spring this family has been attending for 33 years. Eli even consented to walk in the parade,
and then up to Wellesley Sreet for face painting and other festivities.
It's a wonderful event, getting bigger all the time - now filled not just with young families but with grandparents - saw many old friends with their grandchildren. I ran into John Tory, Toronto's mayor (as well as Barbara Hall, a former mayor who lives in Cabbagetown) and went to talk to him, to commiserate with what the city is enduring from the cretins running the province. I went on about how we now have our own Trump, and he said he hoped the decent people in Ford's cabinet would wake up. Some chance. Please keep up the good fight, I said, but have to say, he's not a fighter, he's a wimp or just a nice polite man, so we're doomed.

Then, at last, the TTC back to the west side of town, to leave my beloved older grandson with his family. On the streetcar home, I saw a million Torontonians out in the streets, soaking it up. I was reading C. S. Lewis's A Grief Observed which someone left in the Free Library, about the death of his wife. I have not lost a spouse but grief is there, nonetheless.

Now in my messy Lego- and crumb-strewn house, alone, with the hot sun pouring in through the back door.  Sam comes tonight to watch Game of Thrones. I'm grateful for my family when they're here, and also grateful for the solitude when they are not.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Wayson in the NYT and a possible memorial for him

I have a mail file on my computer where I've saved the most precious emails from or about Wayson. But last night I opened my Trash file and typed "Wayson Choy." There were 5,329 matches.

From a former student, one of many emails I've received about my friend which are now expanding the above file:
I must thank you for introducing me to Wayson, which unexpectedly (to me) led to a truly joyful connection. I feel blessed by his kindness & generosity to include me as a friend. He made himself available to meet with me the times when he could, & provided me with his words of wisdom.

And also many thanks to you that I became part of a small but warm & committed Writing Group - 6 of us who were your students at Ryerson a few years ago continue to meet & spur each other on with our writing. And some of us made it to your wonderful story sharing evenings at Black Swan.

People have been asking about a memorial event for Wayson. It seems the family will hold a private one in the summer and his agent Denise Bukowski will organize a formal one later. But lots of people have contacted me asking about it; people want to celebrate him now. I am thinking of holding an informal "gathering of remembrance" here at my house on a Sunday afternoon in early June. I'll let you know. 

In the meantime, there was a big article in the NYT. How he would have loved it! And a great photo. 

Yesterday was Anna's birthday; we had lunch with the boys at Rol San, her favourite Chinese restaurant. Today as her present I'm going to get Eli who'll be here till tomorrow. She gets a well-deserved break. 

Guess what? It's grey and gloomy and raining. 

Friday, May 3, 2019


Those moments when the heart seizes and the pain is physical: yesterday, marinating chicken breasts, realizing that every week, I cooked a large meal or two because Wayson would come to share it. Now I have to cook for myself or find another hungry single non-cooking friend.

Anna just sent this photograph. It's her birthday today, Eli is home from school, and we're meeting for lunch. Usually, I'd forward this immediately to my friend and he'd write back some rhapsodic lines about family and love and youth, about the boys as heartbreakers. Not today.
So - the heart hurts and then gradually not so much. As Theresa said, now I will come to know my friend in a different way.

Friend Gretchen just emailed, "Your blog continues to shine a light Into a completely unfamiliar world. The saying 'there are no words to express' or 'words fail to express,' simply are not true to me anymore. Because I am taking notice of very powerful and deeply meaningful words to express all sorts of loss, grief, sadness, rage, as well as joy, love, appreciation, delight, memory. Your community of writers, journalists, biographers, photo journalists (writers from the eye), are all becoming an essential tank of oxygen for humanity. Every person has a story, a narrative that rolls along, from birth to death. Keep writing. It does help to heal for the reader as well."

It is raining again. It has been raining for the last six months. One day it will stop raining.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Wayson in the Globe and Blackbird in Mi'kmaq

Marsha Lederman has written a beautiful tribute to Wayson, published today, capturing his quirky warmth. She wrote me to say she was sorry so much of our conversation got cut. But that means I can tell those stories in my own time.

And for something goosebump haunting - Paul McCartney's glorious "Blackbird" in Mi'kmaq. It's a wonderful world.

protesting in the cold

People have been incredibly kind. The notes on FB and the emails keep coming, including from students I've not heard from in many years, who met Wayson in my class or know what he meant to me. Nick Rice sent a letter, and this morning, Margot, a dear friend from the Y, dropped a card through my front door. Blogger friend Theresa Kishkan sent this beautiful thought: You will miss him and no doubt the grief is raw and painful right now. Any person who has become an intimate friend and who is interwoven in the daily fabric of our lives never leaves us, though. We learn to know them differently. It's a bit lonely, not having the physical person there to laugh with and talk to and share writing with, but everything he has meant to you will continue. And you will know him differently as you adjust to both his physical absence and his deep presence. I have a few dear souls who remain with me years after their physical deaths and learning to know them in a new way has been both sad and also kind of exhilarating.

I love the idea of our dead with us, us 'knowing them differently'.

The thoughtfulness of these friends gives me the feeling of a pair of arms holding me tight, at a time of grief. Wayson was one of the only people who telephoned me on my landline, so every time the phone rings, I think it's him. He'd call almost every day to check in, to ask if I needed to use his car for something; I almost never did but he called anyway, to make sure I knew he was thinking of me. I miss that.

I'm waiting to hear about a memorial event; apparently Denise, Wayson's agent, is organizing something but there has been no word. A number of people have written to me asking; I will post here as soon as I know.

Meanwhile, the usual. The weather has been appalling, the worst spring I can remember, protracted cold and wet, and that's after a cold, wet stay in Paris - not lucky with the weather this year. Work has not finished in the house. The other day I used the new small washing machine for the first time; disaster, during the spin cycle, it rocked so hard, it nearly spun out of control and was unbelievably noisy. I was in knots. An hour of exploration later, Kevin and Ed discovered they'd installed it with the feet needed only for transport still on, so no wonder it went off balance. One crisis averted. Matt my computer guy came to fix some bugs and upgrade me to Mohave. I got my bike fixed up for spring and some of the garden cleared and pruned. The window guys are coming, the termite guys. Today Ed is fixing the front door, which is about as old as the house - at least a hundred - and falling apart. Like me, some days.

But yesterday, I went to an anti-Doug Ford rally at Queen's Park, met friends there plus Anna and Ben. It was bitterly cold and we didn't stay long - long enough to register our disgust for this premier and his repulsive gang. It was good to be with a group of kindred spirits, fighting the good fight despite the odds. Despite the fact  that here we go again. Got to try.

 Ben with his sign, and, below, me holding Eli's.

And then Ryerson started last night - back at work, an interesting new group of student writers. Home class tonight, U of T next Tuesday. Normal life returns. Sort of.