Tuesday, October 29, 2019

So True Sunday Nov. 24

Will post this a few more times before the day. We've got a fabulous lineup for you, folks — hope to see you in the audience. Be there or be square.

fall forward

Aching left shoulder - got my flu shot today, the booster for old folks. A demographic which somehow, for some bizarre reason, includes me.

Sunday, walked across town - an hour - to Christie and Bloor, to take Stella to dinner for her 60th birthday. We went to the Indian restaurant Banjara, next to Christie Pits Park. I wandered in the park beforehand; the trees were beautiful, even in the fading light of dusk, and the whole place smelled divinely of curry. The weather, still, is warm and soft and heavenly. (click to enlarge)

Yesterday, most of the day on the computer for CNFC, though also had an important discussion with my beloved friend Chris. It turned out that something I'd done, or not done, had irritated him, and something he had done, or not done, had done the same for me; we had it out, both explaining ourselves and coming to an understanding of each other. Oh human beings are complicated. As he wrote at the end, "Friends forever!" We are and will be.

Speaking of complicated human beings, that night, the most difficult assignment for my Ryerson class, an emotional truth-telling that demands everything. And they aced it, all of them. Luckily one of them had brought Kleenex. I say, chuckling, how much I love to torture writers, but really it's about forcing them to dig deep, and they do. I pointed out that only a few weeks ago, they were a group of complete strangers, and now they're telling each other their most powerful, important, and often painful stories. The air in the room is transformed afterwards. It's remarkable.

Also had my early assessment from the U of T class: they seem to like what's happening. One wrote, Great instructor. I count days for the next session and listen to every word Beth says, with such an amazing personality and depth of experience and knowledge she has. 

Thank you, but if my children read that, they'd laugh out loud at the concept of listening to every word I say, they who learned to tune me out at birth.

Stopped my bike on the way back from the doctor's office to photograph a magnificent sky through the buildings. Toronto is growing so fast, soon it'll be like NYC, we'll be grabbing desperately for the bits of sky we can actually see. But not yet.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Wayson's memorial

Drained tonight. Today was Wayson's memorial event at Harbourfront. There was a lot of laughter, of course, and many tears. I still find it hard to believe he's not here; that he doesn't want to hear how my classes are going and give me advice, that he won't be here for Sunday dinner tomorrow, with lots of meat. The Fleck Theatre was full of his friends and admirers. I was there with friend Anna who drove in from Stratford; she'd once optioned All That Matters as a film but was ahead of her time, the world was ready only a few years ago for an all-Asian film, but not then.

My heart ached with missing him, but it was wonderful how many of us there were, aching. So many thought of him as family. How did he manage to make so many people love him so very much? And not just adults but children. He was a child himself, in a way, with his joyful enthusiasms and the toys he loved to buy and distribute. The stuff - I'm sure everyone there, those who knew him, have Wayson memorabilia in their homes. Eli now has a heavy dragon paperweight Wayson gave me. Eli loved him too.

He would of course have adored every minute of this event, would have made self-deprecating jokes about people being forced to be there and pretending to love him. But he knew how much we really did. How could we not?

I took a few notes for those of you who could not be there.

People remarked on his: beautiful calligraphic handwriting; love for dim sum; envy of Francoise Sagan’s youthful fame and her red Ferrari; belief in ghosts, symbols, and omens; origami butterflies; countless collections - hundreds of rubber stamps, pens, books, watches. Vanity. Spirituality. Many families. 

His sayings: Onward. You matter. Family is who loves you. Bravo! The heart knows no rules. You’re lucky to be queer; there is beauty in being different and in choosing your family. Be guided by love. Too many rhinestones. Hot bits.

His editor said he started to write about his first serious health crisis, when a combined heart and asthma attack put him in a medically induced coma for 12 days. He said he couldn't remember anything so had another heart attack and wrote Not Yet. 

People said: He spoke for the marginalized; he was the champion of the underdog. A brilliant teacher. He looked healthier and younger than he was and dressed like an undergrad, in jeans and sweatshirts. He was a charismatic drama queen, scripting his life. He had a gentle stubbornness. More than a prose writer, he was a dramatist, loved the theatre, musicals, films. He taught racialized and queer writers that they mattered. He took us all seriously; he let us claim him, and in return, he claimed us. He was a great, patient listener and made everyone feel special, noticed, valued. He felt he’d been very lucky all his life. Wanton kindness. Insanely generous. Wise beyond words. A great man.

Family is who loves you. You are missed and loved, my dear friend. More tears.

Lani just sent this: 
All day I thought about Wayson. I even went to a book sale full of people everywhere. And you know me and crowds. But there were kids. Kids who were picking out books for their parents to buy for them. One little girl who could not have been 2 years old yet wanted her dad to buy her every book she recognized.  She recognized them because she already had them at home.  When her dad pointed that out she said, "Daddy, you can never have too many books."
I bought 5 kids books to give to the little kids on our block.
Thank you, Wayson, for books. Thank you, Beth, for books. Hope it was a marvellous celebration.
Love, Lani

Thursday, October 24, 2019

pleasure and colour

These fall days - with sun and wind and whirling orange, red, and yellow leaves showering down - are the best of the year. This must be why older people are the happiest: because we know to appreciate every bit of what we're soon going to lose. There is nothing as welcome and beautiful as a sunny Canadian autumn day. A red maple leaf is our flag for a reason.

The electricians have finished part of the job, after digging a trench across my ceiling and decimating the room.
But now there's light, including a vital motion sensor light above the little deck outside the door. When this room was my bedroom, a man jumped up there once in the middle of the night and terrified me, though my screams also terrified him and he jumped down and ran away. Now the light will make me feel safe. The other part of the job, decimating part of the kitchen, remains to be done at some later date. Hooray.

A stellar class today at U of T - such good good stories! - and a CNFC board meeting via the miracle of Zoom. Now I'm cutting 400 or 500 words out of an already short piece to send it somewhere. Hope springs etc.

Wanted to share something with you, something I mentioned a few weeks ago, a miraculous discovery at this late stage of life. And that something is Adams 100% Natural Peanut Butter. Adams is an American company, I just Googled, founded in 1922. You all know my addictions include red wine, dark chocolate, anything printed on paper, and the Internet. And now - Adams Peanut Butter. I eat it by the tablespoonful. It's got no preservatives or sugar but a tiny bit of salt makes all the difference. As someone who hated all food until the age of 18 and survived on this stuff, the discovery of a fabulous new peanut butter is something of a miracle.

It's Diwali, and my daughter celebrated with the entire South Asian community of her sons' school, which is a lot of saris. Nooo, I want to say. Don't hold this fabulous festival of colour now, when we're buried in colour. Defer it to February, when we'll really need to see something warm and bright!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

a stress zombie

One of those days - a beautiful crisp bright day, too - when I'm screaming with frustration. Haven't felt this knot of tension in my stomach since the renovation last winter, which makes sense because the electricians were back today, shouting at each other in Cantonese as they ripped apart my office to fix what should have been a simple wiring issue. Of course it's not. They were here all day, my office is dust and rubble, and they'll be back tomorrow. The old wires in walls and ceiling are dangerous, they say, showing me a blackened wire; all of them need to be replaced.

Oh hooray.

And tomorrow, they also need to explore why a central plug in my kitchen went dead last year, which will mean cutting into my kitchen wall. More hooray.

Plus the plumber who was supposed to come last week to fix a leak has not come, the woman I work with on social media stuff is supposed to be doing something and has vanished, and there's a ton of CNFC work to be done and confusing signals about what and how, leaving us dangling. Plus all kinds of reports in the world papers today on Trudeau's weakness and how this government may only last a short time. And of course, always, the ongoing limbo of the memoir out with publishers who are silent. NO ONE CARES!

Except John. In the middle of the chaos, John appeared. One of my dining room chairs, which along with the table was a lovely gift from Suzette years ago, was broken, the leg splayed at what looked like an unfixable angle. John took it away and brought it back this afternoon, glued to perfection. I couldn't survive here without him.

Many heartfelt thanks to the handymen of this world - and handywomen - who fix things and keep us helpless klutzes going. And, yes, the electricians - because those blackened wires could lead to something we don't even want to think about. So - good news.

It's 5.30. Wine Time. And here's a good laugh - you've probably seen it before, but just in case ...

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

win some/lose some

I'm sorry my daughter is sad and angry today. She's fiercely idealistic, a social justice warrior whose friend from grade school was running for the NDP in her riding; she worked hard for his campaign. He was a terrific candidate, tho' the Liberal who won is a great guy also. But nothing will console her today.

I think it was a victory for Canada and Canadians. We sent the far right party packing, and the nearly as far right Cons, though they made gains, did not win. SNC, "blackfacegate," all the stuff they threw at Trudeau did not deter people from picking a leader who is flawed but progressive. Pundits are saying the Libs didn't so much win as the Cons lost. Fine. I'll take it. Trudeau will be able to pass legislation with the backing of the NDP, which ensures an even more progressive direction in the future.

The CBC's map showed how divided this country is - the prairies solidly Con, the urban areas solidly Liberal or NDP, Quebec solidly Bloc Quebecois which focuses only on Quebec issues and is ominously separatist, the north NDP, and other provinces splatterings of all. A poor showing for the Greens, once again, not because Canucks don't care about the environment, but because they also care about other things and want a party that can address several issues at once.

There's nothing I can say to make my daughter feel better. She wants Canada to move far to the left and especially to fix Indigenous issues immediately. I agree with her, that would be ideal. But let's remember the millions of people who voted Conservative, who oppose any climate policy and want pipelines built immediately, who even opposed Trudeau's apologies for the injustices done by previous governments and want Alberta to separate. Somehow, he now has to govern them too.

Incredible relief that Andrew Scheer was sent to the corner to sulk. As my friend the playwright Paul Ledoux wrote about him on FB,
The zombie-eyed dimple-machine’s whole campaign was rife with lies, stupidity and Neanderthal pleas to return to the golden era of Stephen Harper. What a small-minded, petty creep. I think to a great extent people saw beyond the smile. Unfortunately the west bought his snake oil and chugged it down assuring they will have no place at the table when the big conversations about the future of the country are taking place. This is a tragedy for us all and will make it very hard for the Liberals to move the national agenda forward.

True. But let's worry about that later. And on the other hand, Michael Coren on Twitter:
Lower turnout than 2015, nasty campaign,
lost seats,
failed to win what should have been their race,
didn't break through. Bad night for democracy and the major parties. Only victor was Bloc.

Okay, I swore to go on a social media diet today, but ... it's gloomy and damp and I'm interested in the commentary and ... Tomorrow. I promise.

Monday, October 21, 2019

we'll be fine, she said with fingers crossed

Thank you Jesus, it's nearly over. I am trying desperately to have faith in my fellow Canadians, even though they elected Stephen Harper twice and even worse, Mike Harris and Doug Ford. YUCK! Listened to Cross Country Checkup yesterday about pipelines - and what a problem it is, people desperate for jobs, people desperate to stop oil from flowing. Who would think the word 'carbon' would be one of the most spoken words in our election? I still barely know what carbon is.

Luckily I teach tonight, so will be unable to hang around TV and computer biting my nails till I get home at 9.30 or so. But despite other polls that have the Libs and Cons neck and neck, the amazing pundit Anna told me to watch on TVO, Erin Kelly, predicted a Lib minority and I'm going with that until further notice.

Saturday night was my friend Stella Walker's 60th birthday party - Stella, as I've written before, is an operatic singer and singing teacher, a comedic actor, a visual artist, a non-Jewish Yiddish speaker who has worked as a cantor, and a non-Indigenous teacher of Cree = an extraordinary person. A treat to know. Had a discussion with one of her friends, who has a 13-year old son, about TicToc, how his son had flown with friends to L.A. to meet their favourite young YouTube stars, some of whom are now millionaires. "Blogs are so ten years ago," he said. Soon our world will be run by pre-teens.

Sunday I listened to Michael Enright interview the brilliant Harold Bloom, who kept calling him 'dear'. The interview was from some years ago. At one point, as they discuss death, Bloom tells Michael that 3 different gypsies in Europe predicted that he, Harold, would die in October 2019. He died in October 2019. Pretty strange and marvellous. I don't want to meet those gypsies.

Bloom quoted William James: "Wisdom consists in learning what to overlook." Very wise.

Today - being completely honest with you - I saw my shrink about the letters I've been reading. I needed someone to affirm what I was seeing, and she did, pointing out that my parents were fascinating people but not very good parents, unable to put their own voracious needs aside to deal with the two small people in their care. That yes, it's clear that very early, they stigmatized me and idolized my brother, which harmed us both. That in different ways, for some reason, I was threatening to both my parents.

I knew all that, but the letters show it, prove it, and I needed to hear a wise woman affirm it. My family was not the family of Educated with horrendous abuse and neglect, not at all. But still, there was harm by adults to children, and this former child needs to process and figure it out.

Came back to heartening notes from former students, welcome words for my sometimes vulnerable self and for this ancient, old-fashioned dinosaur of a blog:
A quick email to tell you how much I love reading your blog and how much I deeply echo your feelings about the election and the attending madness... Thanks for writing it and also for celebrating the light (familial and otherwise) constantly creeping in. In spite of it all. 

I read your blog all the time and want you to know how much you inspire me and no doubt others - hope that helps the bummed out feeling you have been having re your writing success. I know it's totally not the same thing but still.

Thanks to you both. Yes, it does help. The city was brutal today - incessant noise, ambulances, dump trucks, revving cars, a tow truck spewing exhaust that nearly shoved me off my bike. But it's not too cold, the sun comes and goes, the garden is still green - fading, but green. I'm alive, you're alive, and Andrew Scheer is almost certainly not going to run this country. That's the good news, for today, and it'll do just fine. 

PS. Just took an online biological age test. YAY!
Well done your Biological Age is 32.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

the Balenciaga ballgown

Just back from the market - the last raspberries, tons of apples, multi-coloured cauliflower, sourdough raison oat bread, freshly roasted almonds, Merchants of Green Coffee beans, spinach - my backpack full. (No meat - I'm going to try to eat even less of it. Thanks, Greta.)

On this most heavenly day. This may be the very best day of the year - bright sun, fresh - because it is probably the last before everything shuts down. The feeder is full, some wonderful bird is twittering madly. Enjoy enjoy my friends.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about young Amelia Purdy, known as Mia, my dear friend Anne-Marie's daughter who has a photography business on the side, coming to take some headshots of me. I wanted to learn how to pose for the camera, because I regularly look hideous, my face grimacing when I think I'm smiling. I learned to relax my shoulders, to tilt my head, and that I'm better with my mouth closed rather than open.

At the end, before she left, I asked if she'd take a few of me in my ballgown. 20 years ago I walked into the Goodwill on Gerrard Street and there - this moment seared into my memory - on a rack to the right, I saw something glowing dark eggplanty mauve. And then I saw that it was a ballgown, and the tag inside read Balenciaga. I read it again and again - Balenciaga. It was priced at $18. Buying it was, shall we say, an orgasmic experience. I was trembling when I got it home. It fitted me perfectly.

So all these years, I've had a Balenciaga ballgown - with a train and a giant bow at the back - hanging in my closet. For awhile I hoped Stephen Spielberg would adapt my Jewish Shakespeare book into a movie - it'd be wonderful, Steve! - and like my neighbour Michael Ondaatje, I'd go to the Oscars. But that does not seem to be happening. I do not seem to be travelling in circles that require a ballgown. But I'll hang onto it, because YOU NEVER KNOW.

Here are some of Mia's shots: Lady Sackville, at home, in her Balenciaga. (click to enlarge)

Now to go get some sun.

I asked her to crop one shot.
My New York grandmother's necklace. My mother's thin-lipped mouth, my father's down-sloping eyes, my English grandmother's narrow shoulder. And yet somehow - moi. (Minus - keep this a secret! - the deep groove between my eyebrows that Mia kindly erased without even being asked.)

PS On last night's show, Bill Maher offered Trump up to a billion dollars, donated by himself and many other anti-Trump celebrities, if he'd retire. Maher calls his fundraising campaign Prickstarter. I know, dark, but it's good to laugh. Though he was, in fact, serious. And rightly so.

Friday, October 18, 2019

frazzled and fried: election overkill

Please God, let this election be over. No matter the outcome, I'm determined that on Tuesday morning, I will go on a strict media diet, restricting the FB and Twitter calories I've been gorging on for months. Just argued with a high-profile friend who emailed her inner circle that we should show how much we care about the climate by voting Green. I wrote back that I could not disagree more, I am begging everyone to vote strategically, because if the Cons get in, it won't matter how much we care about the climate, big oil and many more horrors will be ascendant.

I was afraid I'd offended her but she wrote back, "I LOVE THIS DEBATE!" And then she agreed and wrote, OK, I revise my advice to: When you don't HAVE to vote strategically, vote for a Climate Champion.

Non-stop coverage online and on the CBC; it's madness out there. But at least it's sane madness, whereas the President to the south of us has gone right off the deep end into true murderous lunacy. Beyond horrifying.

Okay, enough. It feels like garbage is being shovelled in and my head is going to explode.

On the other hand, joy on Wednesday - our late Thanksgiving and Sam's birthday meal - turkey and much else, a huge feast for a small group. No homeless waifs this time, just family. Blessing.

Thursday two classes, powerful stories, and an important discussion at U of T about "trigger warnings." This dinosaur is trying to move into the 21st century, despite sometimes thinking that things are going in entirely the wrong direction. Most of today, a chilly but sunny day, the final closing down of the garden and hours on the phone with CNFC business.

Tonight, on the advice of my very involved daughter, I'll watch Steve Paikin's TVO show featuring a pollster who's always right and whose algorhithm will give us the facts. Then two recently-widowed friends are coming over to watch Bill Maher; I'll make this a regular Friday night salon. It's a relief, in a way, to plunge into American politics and forget our own, even though theirs is beyond belief. These are surreal times, my friends. Hang onto your hats and keep your loved ones safe, because it's ugly out there.

Most importantly, there's sadness, great sadness and grief; one of my oldest friends sent a group email to tell us she has been diagnosed with ALS. She is well-supported in her community, and, she wrote, her doctor is experienced in assisted death; she wants to be outside when she decides the time has come. I've never known anyone so serene and accepting of a brutal fate. She's a Buddhist.

So the world is much too much with me. I'm reading a marvellous fantasy YA novel, His Dark Materials, at night, a great escape from all this. I should re-read Harry Potter, that'd take me away. I'm thrilled my local library has just reopened after being closed for months - but on the other hand, the library is embroiled in a scandal about allowing a woman who opposes transgender rights ...


Monday, October 14, 2019

holiday blessings, and Nuala

A silent Thanksgiving day - nothing open in the city, nothing scheduled here. What a gift. I was sitting on the deck in the sun reading Nuala O'Faolain's Are You Somebody?: the accidental memoir of a Dublin woman when I had to put the book down, I couldn't see the words for tears. Nearby, the cardinal chipchipchipping at the feeder and the last roses, drooping, nearly gone, but not quite.

How grateful I am to belong to this crazy league, in however minimal a way: the writers. How I want to do what she does. She's writing about her Irish past, her parents, schooling, and work, a great swirl of sensations of such vividness and honesty and humour - exactly what I would like to do, what I have tried to do. These days it's harder than ever to get words out there; I realize I have no idea about the new ways it's done, the online zines, the podcasts, the ... whatever they are. It's discouraging. But I will take heart from Nuala's truth.

Lynn just sent pictures of her 70th birthday party this summer. Student Andy just sent an essay for So True. Antoinette, my mother's dear friend and piano teacher, just sent her thoughts on my work with the letters and on her own life. Wendy, a glamorous university professor, and Barry, an actor I've known since 1972, just sent pictures of their surprise wedding in Tofino.
Anna sent me a picture of her just-washed floors gleaming in the sun. Longtime student and friend Mary wrote to say, "I am thankful for you and the gift you bring to my life - friendship, encouragement and your wisdom." And I sent friends this, from yesterday at Sam's bar:
Blessings to you all, on this blessed day. Though it's a far from blessed day in many, many places in the world, I know that. But today I give thanks that here, now, it is.

And now - back to Nuala.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

thanks thanks thanks

The most beautiful imaginable day - I'm sitting on the deck in the hot sun. There are few plants around me, though - yesterday night it went down to 5, so yesterday afternoon was about wrestling the deck plants into the house, at last. Heroic Bill came over and we washed and hauled. Usually they're scattered all over the house and I just hope they survive; this year, because upstairs is now so light and sunny, we had to drag them all up to the second floor. Which is now a jungly plant sanctuary.

Last night, Monique called to say our mutual friend Jacqueline was coming for dinner, did I want to join them? I certainly did. We 3 are perfectly compatible politically and in every other way, including enjoyment of food and wine. We tried to fix the problems of the world, really we did.

Today is my son's 35th birthday. He is of course working - or should I say, receiving his adoring fans throughout the day; when he finishes work at 6, he's staying at the bar to receive more. Yesterday his sister cooked Thanksgiving dinner for Thomas's extended family, including about eight children, 3 of whom, plus of course hers, stayed overnight in her small apartment. I honour her and salute her, the woman who provides family, food, and support to so many.

Went for a walk this morning to the Necropolis, where my parents and uncle are scattered, to give them thanks for my life and heart. Soon I'll go across town to visit, then Eli, Ben, and I will walk up to Sam's bar to celebrate with him. I could ask for no better Thanksgiving. Our feast is on Wednesday. Whenever and whatever you celebrate, I wish you light, I wish you peace, I wish you playtime.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

harsh words

Sitting in the sun before going off into a busy day - class at U of T,  time to kill, then a big CNFC conference committee meeting. A gorgeous warm day with a chilly underbite. Just finishing off the last tomatoes and cucumbers, a little bit of chard left. And then - well, to comfort us as the cold comes, apples.

Yesterday, doing more transcribing of these old letters Mum left when she died, I wept twice. Once when I found a letter Dad wrote to her as she, my brother and I were on the boat from England, returning to Halifax after their painful separation due to my mother's affair. Dad had returned to Canada months before to resume his teaching work and to buy us a house, which he'd done. He sent her the most beautiful letter; I hardly recognize this tender, vulnerable man.

Well my life, such as it is, revolves about you and my children and I seriously doubt that I could survive without you. I need desperately to love, and you’re it and have always been so. I really have always loved you although at times I may have had a strange way of showing it. For this I beg for your forgiveness as I have freely given you mine for whatever required it. Let us try to forget the wounds which we have had inflicted on us by the other from inconsideration, egoism, or insecurity and lack of confidence.

I belong to you, body and soul for the rest of our lives. What I ask in return is a clean break with the past and our absolutely concentration on our lives and children and home. We must keep the doors open between us—we both have so much to learn about the other and try to learn to talk to one another.

I adore you, only you and always you.

He kept that pledge. That is, he had affairs, but discreet ones. Whereas Mum's next one, like her first one, was anything but discreet.

But then I read another letter from him, a few months earlier, responding to a letter of Mum's in which she wrote how difficult I was and how very jealous of my 4-year old brother, who, in all their letters back and forth, is "our adorable little man," precious, funny, so cute they want to eat him up. Whereas their 7-year old daughter is - I'm not sure what I was doing wrong, but obviously something. Dad loved wordplay - hence "mammaries." So, yes, reading this made me cry. Because it's not just that he's saying something so harsh, but that my mother's letter reminded him of it.

Most delicious of creatures – how I miss you and brood. What a marvellous letter from Beth – it almost made me forget what a bitch she often is – but your letter received this morning refreshed my mammaries.  

I want to defend that 7-year old girl. But you know, she grew up, not without some collateral damage, and turned into the marvellous human being I am today. LOL. And also, by the end, Dad and I were close, and he apologized to me once for being cruel. I loved him very much. 

So having access to my parents' intimate messages is both a blessing and a curse. But mostly, for a writer, a gift - help in the solving of mysteries. I did however book another appointment with my shrink. Who's on my side, definitely on my side.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Happy Birthday, Sylvia Mary Leadbeater. R.I.P.

October 8: my mother's birthday. She would have been 96. Yesterday at Ryerson a student wrote about her 90-year old mother with dementia who has turned violent, and I breathed, once more, a sigh of relief and gratitude that Mum died when she did. She was losing memory, getting weak and vague and sometimes strange, but still beautiful and more or less together. It's devastating to imagine your mother as a vicious stranger.

I'm still reading Mum's lover's letters. It's difficult, because I see her in a new light, as a modern woman struggling to sort out her complicated life, but at the same time, she had ensnared a married man with young children who was desperate to ditch his family and run away with her. There is mention of sheep farming in Spain. They were really nutty.

At one point in class last night, as the 13th person read an essay, I cried, once more, "I LOVE MY JOB." A room full of interesting people whom I didn't know a few weeks ago, and now I do. Now we are starting to know each other well. I just sent out a newsletter to former students; after reading it, Aime Wren signed up for my blog and then replied, "I must tell you that your suggested - to look up - book titles, account of seasonal garden closing, and your photo shoot description was heartwarming to read! I could hear your voice and recalled the class I took with you. A few of the women that met in your class about five years ago now are still working together in a writing group. Your warmth and humour united us. 

Currently I am typing from Oxford, on my fourth study abroad spell at the School of Continuing Education here in the UK. One never knows how their teaching efforts inspire others, and might not see the ripple effect of encouragement that impacts their students.

Beth, because you taught me at the University of Toronto, I am now at Oxford. 

I wrote back that it's especially great that she's at Oxford because that's where my parents met. I have an Oxford University sweatshirt from Goodwill that I wear constantly. It does feel good to know the classes have meaning. 

A beautiful day today - sharpness in the air but also hot, hot sun. Blissful. I am happy to report that I missed the debate last night because I was teaching. It sounds appalling, too important to have been handled so badly. I must stop thinking about the election or I'll go crazy. 

Today, my first piano lesson since June and not as excruciating as it could have been. I've managed to squeeze out a bit of time every so often and am hammering through another of the easy Goldberg Variations. How happy I am to write that.

On the other hand, had a sad duty. I'd emailed Lynn in France the lovely words of praise for my memoir friend Allan had written, and she sent back enthusiastic congratulations on finding a publisher so keen on the book. You must be ecstatic! she wrote. I had to tell her that Allan is a friendly fellow writer, not a publisher, and I am not, repeat not, ecstatic. Not yet. Any day now.

Monday, October 7, 2019

much-needed praise

After going on last post about partaking of the cultural riches of this fine city, I missed one of the greatest feasts of all: Nuit Blanche, on Saturday night. It was cold. I was tired. In the past, I've ridden around on my bicycle looking at myriad installations. But this year, after going to the theatre in the afternoon, I was happy to curl up at home with a good book or two.

Finished my friend Jane Silcott's wonderful book of essays, Everything rustles, which is Jane to a T - honest, warm, funny, and clever. One of the perks of being a writer is knowing writers, getting to read their work and seeing their personalities and souls translated into words. I very much enjoyed learning more about Jane's.

And then read a new nonfiction book, I am, I am, I am: seventeen brushes with death, by Maggie O'Farrell, which has been getting rave reviews. It's beautifully written, and one word kept hitting me: urgent. She grabs you with her near death experiences and doesn't let go. But I have to say, by the fifteenth time she nearly died, I was getting a bit tired. Can't you just stay home and knit - carefully? I wanted to ask. Still, it's a good read.

Now, for a palate cleanser, I'm reading Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials in the Golden Compass series. Daemons!

Speaking of a good YA read, my friend Allan Stratton, once a playwright and now a successful writer of YA novels, agreed to read my memoir manuscript. I was interested to know what he thought, because so much is set in the theatre world of Vancouver where he and I met and worked for years. He sent me his critique yesterday and made me a very happy woman.

You write awfully well. I found it compulsive reading, not just because of your prose but also because names like Brent, Nicky, Janet, Bill bring up those theatre days so vividly.

Your manuscript has great flow, and I think it succeeds in dealing with disturbing material in a way that’s affecting without being TMI. Act I has some very funny moments. The L’Arche section, Act II, is very moving. Alain is an interesting character. And your descriptions of the countryside and individuals you lived with are very human.

Your book is a highly readable and entertaining account of your journey to date. Reading it was a pleasure.

How I needed to hear this! Then I got an email from Laura Cameron, whom I've hired on several occasions to edit my stuff, about a few essays and the beginning of the parents book, encouraging on all counts. So yes, I guess I shouldn't quit writing and become a dental hygienist. Onward.

Yesterday, though, no time for writing — a very busy day starting to put the garden to bed. John and I spent hours pruning, putting away garden furniture and sun umbrellas, cleaning and covering the barbecue. Later I put away the tank tops and got out the sweaters. It's warm all this week, but still, we know, we feel, what's coming.

Best of all, Mia, the daughter of my best friend Anne-Marie - Annie - came over midday Sunday. She's a part-time photographer with a website and a great eye and talent. https://www.youbymia.com/

I wanted her to work with me, to help me sit for photographs so I'm not so stiff and awkward, with, often, grotesque results. Often it looks like I'm grimacing or in tears instead of smiling for a camera that terrifies me.
I thought I was smiling.

She was wonderful, showing me how to tilt my head and relax my shoulders. We took a ton of shots, including a series after I'd put on my magnificent maroon Balenciaga ballgown with a train, bought at Goodwill 30 years ago for $18 and as yet never worn. (Oscars, I'm ready!) What fun to parade around in it, including in the garden and shots of me standing at the stove, stirring a pot. Will post. If and only if they're decent.

What I realized, after she left, is that when a camera comes out, instead of shrinking away, I should pretend to be someone else - a woman who's confident in her looks and enjoys being photographed. I'm calling her Angela. If you want to photograph me, I'll turn into Angela. And hopefully, Mr. DeMille, she'll be ready for her closeup.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Downton Abbey and Girl from the North Country

From the sublime to another kind of sublime - yesterday, the film of Downton Abbey, and today, a musical woven from the songs of Bob Dylan, Girl from the North Country. Talk about a contrast!

Downton - glittering, frothy, absurd, yet fabulous, so stunning to look at, costumes, sets, countryside - just the kitchen set alone is worth the price of admission, you've never seen so much gleaming copper. And those actors, every single one perfect for the role: Barrow, Carson, the handsome "republican" Tom Branson, so solid and real, you cannot imagine anyone else playing those characters. Not to mention the very best: Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, Penelope Wilton, and the rest, a master class in acting. It's a delicious treat that does not linger in the gut, but while it's floating by - heaven. (I thought of the two actors who insisted on leaving the TV show early and whose characters had to be killed off, one in childbirth and the other in a car accident; they've hardly been seen since. What could have prompted them to jettison such a phenomenal success? I wonder what they think now.)

I did read one review that, while raving, also mentioned tumbrels and guillotines. Because the wealth on display, the rooms full of silver, the strangling pomp, the scores of servants - no wonder there are revolutions! If all aristocrats were as enlightened and kind as the Crawleys, the world would be a different place. But of course, it's fantasy.

North Country is the opposite, a very dark oddity. The Irish playwright Conor McPherson took the entire catalogue of Dylan's brilliant songs, picked some, and wove a story around them; unlike Mamma Mia!, the songs are not part of a goofy plot, they're just sung, hauntingly, beautifully, by the cast of twenty. But ye gods, it's a gloomy story, set in Dylan's birthplace of Duluth, Minnesota during the Depression, in a boarding house full of misfits. I'd read the Ben Brantley rave in the NYT, so I felt something was off for this cast. Mirvish is selling seats at a discount, that's why I was there, and it felt like they were all working too hard in a half-full house, before they set off for Broadway. The direction by the playwright feels harsh and forced. And yet the music, one incredible song after another sung in a completely new context, is so heavenly, you could listen forever. Dylan the genius, born 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota. Miracles do happen.

And then out into a chilly Saturday afternoon. It was a COLD ride home. I had to take the deck plants in last night, it went down to 2, but it's going up again for a bit, they tell us. I thought, as I peddled madly home, that despite the many downsides to living in a metropolis - noise, traffic, chaos - it's worth it all to partake of the cultural banquet always on offer. One need only choose from myriad options and go. As I so often do. Plus today I got from Cabbagetown to Lee Valley and then the Queen Alex Theatre on King Street West entirely in safe bike lanes. Miracles do happen.

I saw Downton with one of my dearest friends, Suzette, a screenwriter and friend since university days. Afterward we ate piles of halal Lebanese food and talked shop. I confessed that I'm stymied right now, my memoir in limbo, my essays going nowhere, and now a giant pile of family letters - what to do? She reminded me that we should only do the work we're passionate about. And I remembered - oh yes, I care about this stuff. I'd forgotten. Still not sure how to proceed, but it was good to remember - there's no point doing this work that nobody gives a damn about unless we're truly hooked by what we're working on.

While I was downtown, before the theatre, I went to Lee Valley Tools on an urgent mission. This morning, I was horrified; there on the deck was a dead bird with a speckled breast, its neck broken. It must have flown into my sliding glass doors, the first time that's happened. So I went to Lee Valley to get a decal to paste on and make sure it doesn't happen again. Heartbreak - we're reading about millions of birds vanishing from the earth, and there, a tender little life, lost in my garden.

But - as my dear, sorely missed Wayson used to say - onward.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

heat wave

Such a contrast - Saturday, to a memorial celebration for a fine man, Jack Bingham, a neighbour and friend. His widow Gretchen had organized a lovely event outside with a canopy, stand up tables, tons of great food from Daniel and Daniel, a pianist playing, a book of remembrance. Many local people from around here and old friends of theirs from the States, including an elderly couple who flew in for a day and night. Neighbour Stephen, who's about 75, wrote in the book that when he grew up, he wanted to be like Jack, who was thoughtful, kind, meticulous. A great loss.

And then Sunday, bursting with life - I brought the two little boys over here for the afternoon. We went to one playground and then another; at the second one I delighted them both by playing catch, chasing, growling and snarling, as they scampered screaming over the climbing apparatus. As I puffed and panted, I thought, this is why I go to the Y - so I can be the Big Bad Wolf without fainting. It was fun. They destroyed my house and then I took them home for dinner. On the way back I stopped at John's; he and Sylvie drove me to an apartment building not far away where I'd bought a great chest of drawers for $40 on Craigslist for the downstairs apartment. We disassembled it, loaded it into John's van, delivered it, reassembled it, and I was home in time to watch The Durrells in Corfu. 

Yesterday evening, teaching the big class at Ry - a new person came so it's officially full at 18. Today, a day of record-breaking heat - 31 feeling like 37 - I spent in the garden pruning and pulling up. Got rid of the cuke plants, cut back the enormous coleus, the huge branchy cedars, the overgrown jasmine. Friend Jason came for dinner - a student 12 or more years ago, then in my home group, then a best friend who's the MC for So True. We are joined at the hip. He's a peach.

What am I doing during the days? No idea. FB and Twitter. A bit of work. The NYT, trying to keep up with the madness to the south of us. Trying not to pay attention to our own election. Reading. Editing for So True and students. Email. The various sites that send me stuff, overload. Coffee with Monique. Chats with JM, a bit of TV, a quick trip to the Y. And voila - the day has disappeared.

And then, best of all - bedtime. Right now.

Eat more cucumbers. Sorry about the bad grammar, below. But the point is taken