Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020, a reflection

New Year's Eve. To celebrate, I just opened a fine bottle of Spanish cab sauv and took some of my sauce out of the freezer, for a favourite feast of spaghetti and wine - carbs forever! Maybe I'll watch Soul or one of the many other films I haven't seen yet - Bridgerton, Crip Camp, My Octopus Teacher. And I'll read some of the three books I have on the go - "Braiding Sweetgrass," "150 Glimpses of the Beatles," and a library book, procured yesterday, "Writing after dark: envy, fear, distraction, and other dilemmas in the writer's life."

Gosh. Wonder why she's reading THAT?

Good news: my vaccine essay will be in the Globe on Saturday, and the pay is handsome. It means so much! A big yes to my writing and thought after a long series of no's. Though not from readers, who continue to say nice things about "Loose Woman." Like Lori on Goodreads, who gave it five stars:

A fantastic journey of self discovery that all can relate to. Well written, funny, sad, heart warming. I couldn’t put it down!

And Barbara, an actress:

I ordered the audiobook (my first!) thinking it would be nice to hear
your voice
reading your own words,
and I was right! I enjoyed it so much, for many reasons.
There was a lovely flow to the narrative - Big congratulations!

Thank you both!

What a year, overshadowed by two shitshow disasters, Covid and Trump. American politics in general, the endless lead up to the election, the endless rollout of the results, ye gods, this speedy nation is so @$#@ slow at some things! The omnipresent Zoom making so much possible in isolation - the National Theatre Live, Hamilton, board meetings, classes, webinars, exercise classes, friendship - Zoom kept us going. Neighbourhood - all spring, banging pots at 7 for frontline workers. A certain blogger turning 70, yes 70, no, simply not possible, yet it's true. The birth, at last, of "Loose Woman" in its various forms. 

Anna feeding Indigenous elders, heroically keeping two hyperactive boys busy at home almost all year; Sam, the Second Best Bartender in all Toronto. The fact that so far, despite isolation, risk, and paranoia, my loved ones and I are not only alive but relatively sane. And obviously you are too. Congratulations!!

I feel guilty saying it, because countless people have suffered so grievously this year, loss of loved ones, work, security. But for me, I confess, it was not that hard. I missed a lot - travel with Bruce, gathering with family and friends, the Y, movies, plays, shopping. But I'm a single woman and a writer; solitude is in my DNA. The loss of all those things made me focus, hunker down with fewer possibilities for distraction, though of course there's always the long dark rabbit hole of social media, which I fall down on a regular basis. But no question, it's going to be a long winter. I'm sick of it already, and it's barely begun.

I've continued the excavation of the mountains of paper left by my mother and my own lifetime of scribbles; yesterday, I unearthed the bill for my birth from the Polyclinic on West 50th in NYC - $135-$80=$55, a steal! Of course, that's US. 

And more treasures, including this, a portrait  of me by one of my children, who did not like to be awakened in the morning and accused me of torture by cheerfulness. 

 Guilty as charged. 

I hope wherever you are, whatever you're doing, there is joy, and peace, and comfort, and perhaps even a cheerful face smiling at you, with, however, better teeth. My love to you. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2020

remembering Jeffrey Dallas in the silence

Still exploring my new CD player, have started to organize the CDs, just went from Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, a huge favourite, to the Neville Brothers, to Beethoven cello sonatas. I thought at one point, all these Neville Brothers songs sound the same, and then I realized I had inadvertently pressed Repeat. I WAS listening to the same song. 

Yesterday, I did not talk to a single soul. Texts and emails, music and work, Jane's class and tons of leftovers; I did not feel lonely. But it was a quiet day. Today Gina's back and there was line dancing. I am figuring out what to write next. Have not been outside once, but have spent more time in my office in the last few days than for months before. Exploring old files, seeing again how very much I wrote and did nothing with, never sent out essays about divorce and single parenting, poems about AIDS, dated now. If only I'd had more confidence. Regret.

The day before yesterday, I read a snarky, condescending review of Macca's latest album in the New Yorker; furious, I found the critic's Twitter page and discovered a link, posted by another angry reader, to a terrific article about how Macca is still underestimated, why he is, why he should not be. A kindred spirit! I found the writer Ian Leslie's email address and wrote him a letter of appreciation and a few hours later, he wrote back. The miracles of modern technology. 

Newly inspired, I spent yesterday morning writing a letter to editor of the New Yorker complaining about the review. It's fun to send something to the New Yorker, even if there's no chance in hell of it seeing the light of day. In a few weeks, I'll share it with you. 

Those sonatas were just too much Beethoven for me. Now listening to a lovely Canadian group of women: "Quartette." 

New Year's wishes and kind words from a former student, an engineer originally from Iran and a fine, sensitive writer. 

Thanks for all your guidance and support over the last couple of years. I will always have a special appreciation for you, who gave me the courage, direction and the support I needed to step into an unknown and somewhat scary world of writing. You are a very good teacher, an understanding and open minded person, and above all a kind and caring human being.

My thanks to him. Good to read. Teaching starts in two weeks - three different Zoom classes, all different. A new challenge. 

And that's it for today: music, leftovers - Christmas dinner for lunch, turkey soup for supper - melting snow, a neat stack of CDs behind me. A bluegrass banjo. 

Here's my poem from long ago about my friend Jeffrey Dallas, who died of AIDS. What a nightmare time that was - the last truly murderous plague, before this one.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Boxing Day recap: lovely but moving right along

It's a grey Boxing Day and I'm in my office, listening to one of my favourite pieces of music, Borodin's exquisite string quartet No. 2 in D. I'm able to listen here because yesterday my son gave me a portable CD player for my office. He also gave me a small portable Bluetooth speaker that's now remotely connected to my computer, so I can carry music with me wherever I go. AND he gave me Macca's new album, now top of the charts everywhere, which is available on Spotify but nice to have in physical form. 

One of my great regrets, for years, is that I haven't listened to enough music except what's on CBC. Somehow the CDs were always in one room and the player was in another, or I was; the only CD player is also a radio in the kitchen, where CBC is almost always on. And I'm new to Spotify, it just doesn't occur to me to log in and have a selection of anything I want and to cart my computer about the house. But now I will be able go through my many CDs as I work here and then cart a little speaker around the house. 

One thing I learned from my brilliant uncle Edgar in New York is that music is company. Especially after he was widowed, his great, beloved, constant companion was Johann Sebastian Bach. And that may be the case for me also; right now, in my house, it's just me and Borodin. My tastes are more eclectic than my uncle's and include the Everly Brothers who I just listened to while trying to move my body. 

Which is a necessity because of the feast of yesterday and the giant pile of leftovers I just had for lunch. Massive. The brussels, a new recipe with pistachios, were hard and bitter, and the turkey was a bit overcooked, but the gravy was delicious so no one cared. Leftovers went home with the gang and I'll be eating them for days.

It was the best Xmas yet for our merry crew. Perhaps because of lowered expectations, perhaps because we were so aware of how lucky we were to be together, to be well and housed and fed, and also because I the hostess was relaxed, I'd had time to get everything ready, so there was no last minute rush. It snowed overnight so the garden was stunning, with the icy hush of a thick new snowfall. 

A quiet morning listening to the Messiah as I prepared. The gang arrived in the early afternoon, we opened presents, we ate a huge meal...

they had a snowball fight, 

and we lay around in a stupor except of course the boys who rocketed through the house with the walkie-talkies I'd given them, chased by Uncle Sam; we had a long FaceTime talk with my ex their dad in the States and his family, and then they packed a vast amount of stuff into Anna's rented car and went home. I finished the cleanup, though the wonderful Holly had done all the dishes, and watched Call the Midwife's Xmas special, which was sublime as always and made me - as always - cry. One big plot point, beautifully handled, was the grief of miscarriages - how women were encouraged just to move on briskly and never think about that vanished human life again, but that women do. I am grateful to have had a miscarriage in November 1983, because otherwise my Sam, conceived in January 1984, would not be. But those losses do haunt us.

Weeping happily on the sofa - the perfect end to the day. 

Anna gave me framed family portraits that will go up on the wall. Friends had delivered home baked goodies and cards. My cousin and other friends emailed, my brother texted. 

Now I am back in the kitchen late afternoon as it grows dark, drinking the rest of the nice bottle of Amarone from last night, a gift from my tenant Robin, and being kept company by the Bach violin partitas played by Itzhak on the little speaker at my ear. I will read "Braiding Sweetgrass," which I bought to give to Anna and will do so just as soon as I've finished reading it myself. It's a superb and important book, bringing Indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge together in an evaluation of how we live in the world. 

Onward to the next pile-up of merriment, NYEve, and then into the new year with its new president, thank Christ, and its vaccine, ditto. They both can't come soon enough. 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Merry Everything

A quiet Xmas Eve, talking to no one - Monique is busy, Sam is resting, Anna is no doubt going mad preparing for her own Xmas after helping to prepare for 80 others. She and Holly came back yesterday morning to do the packing - we filled 80 containers with the cabbage casserole, she sliced two enormous hams, and somehow, along with 80 gift bags and two pans of mashed potatoes, we got it all into her small rental car. 

You know what I'm going to say: blessings. 

Got the last groceries and our 14-pound turkey from Mark the butcher. Annie came over with my Xmas present: an apron on which is written

As Sam said, "She gets you!" Yes, though there's more - I also run on coffee, peanut butter, bread, and cheese. The essentials. 

Today, still mild but grey and rainy, turning to snow overnight, they say. Did my one final errand, riding to Ben McNally Books for the gifts he brought in for me - the new David Sedaris anthology for Sam, two for Anna: "Braiding Sweetgrass" and the children's book "This is your time" by Ruby Bridges, and for the boys, "The Ickabog," by J.K. Rowling, which just came in this morning. What pleasure not just to give these delicious books, but to buy them from dear Ben, who is such a friend to writers and has managed to keep his bookstore alive. 

Made the stuffing and finished wrapping, and now, 3 p.m., a long quiet day. No Xmas pageant at the Farm tonight. When I think back, I cannot imagine how I did it for years - the whole Xmas thing here, buying and decorating the tree, buying and wrapping the presents, filling the stockings, buying and preparing the feast - and producing the pageant on Xmas Eve as well. Well, I was younger then. 

Had the edits from the Globe, including one scientific fact that was completely wrong - thank the lord for editors! Three audiobooks sold - it's a (very small) start, I worry about that, the fate of my book. More kind words from readers: from Lori, "Your book touched my heart and soul. I loved it. My book club is discussing 'Gilead' and I thought your book with 'Gilead' made a perfect combo for reflecting on one's life." 

Wow - to be linked in any way with Marilynne Robinson is a huge honour. And from Jessica, "I devoured it, honest and courageous, and of course, funny." Thanks to you both.

On my way back from Ben's I rode up Sherbourne, where there are several shelters, homeless encampments, and safe injection sites. And then passed the centre in Regent's Park which distributes food - a long silent lineup. It was a confrontation with human misery at a time of celebration. My friends, this year has been brutal for so many. Some of us have evaded the danger so far; many of us have not. And many of us are so very wounded, pandemic or not. Let us be aware of everything we have to be grateful for - so very much - and think of the needs of our neighbours. 

For the rest of today, I will read as much of "Braiding Sweetgrass" as I can before wrapping it - perhaps watch something later. Solitude is also a gift, particularly as tomorrow there will be noise and paper and much food. Much wine and chocolate. 

Merry Everything to you all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

joy to this little world

These don't come all that often - but this was too good a day not to celebrate with you. 

Anna and Holly came over this morning. In January they'll use a professional kitchen, but everything is booked over Xmas, so they were going to cook for 75 chez Anna, in her cramped kitchen. Come here, I said, my kitchen is bigger. So they did. We spent from 9.30 to 6 peeling, chopping, cooking, cleaning, stirring. Holly peeled, boiled, and mashed 50 pounds of donated potatoes. Anna and I, mostly Anna, chopped I'm sure as many pounds of donated cabbage that was fried, mixed with cooked meat and rice and tomatoes and baked. We had to mix it in a big storage tub, which still wasn't big enough. Most went into Anna's rented car, but there are 3 heavy pans cooling right now which will go into a covered bin and onto the deck for the night, with heavy things on top to discourage raccoons. They'll be back tmw for them and for the pan of maple syrup fudge also cooling on the counter.

Anna went home to cook 3 marinated hams. Tomorrow, she and Holly will deliver and distribute the hot meal with an Xmas gift bag. 

In the middle of the chaos, I heard from the editor at the Globe with edits on my piece. So I was rewriting and sending back to him while giant piles of cabbage and potatoes flowed through my kitchen. It was, in a word, heaven.

If you're interested in what they're doing, here it is:

Last night, solstice drinks on Zoom with two of my oldest friends from university days, a visit with Monique, and then "His Dark Materials" which is thrillingly good. It was mild today, bicycle weather. Peter Jackson has released a short montage from the "Let it be" film that'll come out next summer, the Beatles taping the final album. We've all heard how unhappy and bitter they were at the end. But the fun and sheer joy that pours out from this clip - glorious. Something to look forward to in August 2021.

Macca's new album is out, have only heard snippets so far, including last night at Monique's with our friend Cathy, all of us dancing around the living room. But he has released a gorgeous little film to go with one of them. Merry pre-Christmas to you all. May there be such pleasure in a day for you too.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Getting to yes.

Much to be grateful for today. Friends are sending e-cards or their Xmas newsletters - new grandchildren, beautiful photographs. The lights of Xmas on nearly every house have made our street festive and bright. I'm slightly less bah humbug than usual at this time. 

For me, another bit of good news: on Friday morning I sent that 1200-word essay to the Globe's op-ed editor, and later that day, he replied, "We'll take it." 

"We'll take it." That's a yes. After a long trail of many no's, I needed that. 

And a big yes for my daughter. As I've written here, Anna's volunteer group that makes meals for Indigenous elders and unhoused has received a grant from the city. Her new job combines two of her favourite things: feeding people, and making a difference where it matters. She just sent a list of what they're cooking next week, a massive feast for 75 people - it's mind-boggling. 

Sam is busy - his bar is open just for people to buy bottles, but they come faithfully; he's there to greet his regulars even if they can't sit down and wait for him to make them laugh, and their favourite drink. 

More kind words about the memoir: this from a woman I don't know: so enjoyed your memoir, Loose Woman. You have led quite a life. I particularly loved hearing about the time you spent at L'Arche. Your growing understanding of those you cared for and the empathy you showed was powerful. Your memoir showed the path you followed to become a strong, confident woman. I imagine your students now benefit from the wisdom you have gained on your life's journey.

I hope so!

And from a former student, a middle-aged man: I finished reading your memoir today which I found gripping for two reasons. First, because I know people associated with L’Arche, and have always admired their commitment to the handicapped. When as a kid I passed 278 Bloor St. East in Toronto, the sign said “Home for Incurable Children.” Second, because having taken your writing course a few years ago, it was fascinating to read about your relationships and intimate thoughts. Thank you for your transparency. 

My pleasure. It's the job.
Home for Incurable Children. The charity that used to be called Crippled Civilians. Things do get better, names are chosen more carefully. My gay friend Ken told me today that when he heard Pete Buttigieg had been picked for Biden's cabinet, he cried with joy, for all the gay young people who might move forward with new hope and validation. Things do get better. Yes. 

Finally, an image to which we can all, perhaps, relate:

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Hot fresh audiobook available on Get yours today.

Such good news! After three months of delay, the audiobook I taped in early September is finally available for purchase on If you know someone who likes to listen to books while they jog or commute or work - here's the perfect Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Whatever you celebrate present! Please tell your friends.

And more excitement: I did a live interview this afternoon for Allison Dore's program The Breakdown on SiriusXM167. She's lively, bright, interested in books and much else, and has a 3-hour program every afternoon. Our interview about "Loose Woman" was supposed to last 15-20 minutes, but we talked intensely for close to half an hour. Enjoyed every minute. 

And more - friend and student Ruth Miller wrote a gorgeous essay for class, one of her best, which we insisted she send off to the Globe. They've just accepted it, and it'll appear soon; stay tuned. I myself sent an essay yesterday to the Star about vaccine scepticism and my dad's polio but have not heard, will send it elsewhere if they don't get in touch soon. The nineties was my essays period, when I was sending out constantly with scores of pieces in newspapers and magazines and on CBC. I stopped writing essays to concentrate on books. This is the first time since that I've started in a serious way to write and send essays again. Do-able, as they say. Not the long term grief of books. Short term pain.

And more - Anna has been volunteering with a group making meals for Indigenous elders and the unhoused, often with traditional ingredients. They've just received a big grant from the city, so soon this will be her official job. When Covid is over they will actually welcome people to sit and eat, but in the meantime, they prepare meals for delivery. Both my children, for some strange reason, make their living feeding people, welcoming them, serving them. Proud mama here. 

Last night, flipping around on the TV, a doc on inter-species friendships - a goat who spent his life patiently guiding a blind horse, a deer and a dog who are best friends, greeting each other and frolicking together - very moving. Steve Paikin chatting with musicians about Beethoven, what is it about his music that endures? He showed a YouTube clip - a rapper from the projects listening to a symphony for the first time, the 5th, beginning to cry, saying, in his inimitable way that I cannot imitate, If this is number five, what are numbers one, two, three, and four like? 

My good friend the TV. My good friends FB and Twitter which keep me in touch, despite the stern disapproval of my blog friend Juliet, who reprimanded me after my last post. And then my actual friends - talked to Lynn today on Skype, she in Montpellier having to isolate after a possible exposure to Covid. Monique, of course. And besides that - no one. Not a soul. Just moi. I did go for a walk, do an exercise class on Zoom, practice the piano briefly, sit at my desk all morning. Got embroiled in a controversy about the choice of firm for the next stage of the Regent Park development, sent a flurry of letters of protest, including to the man in charge at Toronto Community Housing who replied within 15 minutes! Beware an articulate woman with a word processor and Google.

Tonight, a reward for good behaviour: the last two episodes of the Crown, and reading. Routine is key. 

From Duncan: Your book is a very compelling read Beth. Wow, such honesty and clarity, something that eludes me in my own writing. Your kids must love this book?

I wonder if they'll ever read it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Giving Voice

Dear friends, here's a "must see" recommendation for you: last night I watched "Giving Voice," a documentary on Netflix, with tears streaming down my face. It's about teenagers of colour from disadvantaged communities who enter a competition to perform a monologue from one of August Wilson's plays. The camera follows some of them home; we see where they live, we hear about their lives and struggles and hopes, and then we see them act. As a former actor, this film about the power of theatre, the love of performance that springs up in a young heart, is beautiful beyond words. And a shout out to the drama and English teachers out there who encourage and foster and push. The ending, the actual competition, is as riveting as anything I've seen on film. Don't miss it.

Another cold grey day. My daytimer, usually jammed with scribbles, is almost entirely blank, and there's a temptation to sink into the comfy chair and spend the day with FB and Twitter. Today I have a CNFC conference committee meeting. Tomorrow and Friday, nothing scheduled. Thursday, great excitement, an interview with SiriusXM's Allison Gore about my memoir. The weekend is blank.

But I'm spending hours at my desk plowing through dusty, nay, filthy boxes of papers and photos as I begin work on an essay, or something, about my uncle Edgar the world bridge expert - tying him to "The Queen's Gambit," the story of another eccentric game-playing competitive obsessive. And then there's Netflix! Walks. Exercising with Zoom. Cooking. Grocery shopping. Feeding the birds. We'll keep busy. 

In the meantime, the vaccine is being injected into the arms of Canadians, and the Electoral College did its job. Things are looking up. 

Kathryn in Vancouver just wrote, "Bravo! I finished reading Loose Woman and enjoyed it so much, not just your excellent writing, but also as it was a real trip down memory lane for me."

Rosemary, who read one of the first drafts, wrote, "I’m enjoying Loose Woman so much. The language is much richer than the earlier drafts, as are your personal insights. Even people with small roles come through so clearly – and I get interested in them." 

And best of all, Eli wrote a note to his mother. We are a note-writing family; I used to write to my kids about their behaviour and their lives, and they'd write back. It's thrilling to see that the tradition continues.

I am sorry I did not do wact was agspexted from me. Can you frgiv me?
I am sooooo sorry about every thing I did today and every othr day.
Love Eli and Ben 
to Mum

Be still my beating heart.

Saturday, December 12, 2020


You think I'm just a terminally cheerful person, don't you? But no, I can be crabby and critical, yes, it's true. I turned on NBC's "Broadway Cares" on Friday, looking forward to seeing Broadway performers in excerpts from their shows, raising money for theatre people out of work for nearly a year, certainly a cause dear to my heart. My poor ex, with his vast building in Washington - three theatres - shuttered, many people laid off, no idea when things will start up again. So I was thrilled to check out this show. But - why do singers yell these days? Everything at 2000 watt energy. Tone it down! There were a few good numbers, but when You Oughta Know from the Alanis Morissette musical came on, a young woman howling in rage at top volume, I turned it off. 

Last night I watched "Let Them All Talk," with a stellar cast, about a famous writer sailing to England on the Queen Mary - what could go wrong? A lot, as it turned out. Partially improvised, it was meandering and more or less pointless, though it did feature three older actresses including the ubiquitous Meryl, so that's good. The major plot point was the author bringing two of her best friends along on the trip, one of whom had had her life ruined by exposure in one of the author's books. But was anything explored or resolved of this fascinating and personally relevant subject? Nyet. Candace Bergen was terrifically authentic as the sour, damaged friend desperate to hook a rich man. 

At the end, I thought, well, there's two hours of my life I won't get back. And then - God, it'd be fun to travel on the gorgeous Queen Mary, especially as a famous author in a luxurious two-story suite. Any day now. From the NYT review, 

By the end the issue isn’t the sluggishness and unseasoned execution, but its moral ambiguity regarding Alice’s use of the unofficial Karl Ove Knausgaard writing method — plucking from loved ones’ lives for inspiration. The question of what stories Alice can own, what’s off-limits and how she herself lives in the writing is more interesting than the film gives it credit for. But I’m done now; can we change the conversation?

A grey gloomy drizzly day. Yesterday was lovely and warmish; while out for a jogette, I ran into Pierre, a nice young man from Paris who lives across the street, and invited him to join Monique and me for apéritif on her porch at 5. Then her nephew Tom and his partner Olivier dropped over and sat nearby, so we had a grand porch party with three handsome young men, in French. Human company - what a rare, much needed treat. Pierre bought on this block without knowing there are six people fluent in French a stone's throw from his front door. 

Today, for the first time in months, I have a piano lesson. It'll be painful, as practicing has been, to put it mildly, sporadic. As in, almost nil. But it'll be good to see Peter, who's coming for tea. Tonight I have not one but two Zoom concerts to choose from, bad planning on my part: James Ehnes, with Stewart Goodyear on piano, playing 3 Beethoven violin sonatas, and the Gryphon Trio performing Beethoven piano trios. Luckily I can spread them out, so I don't overdose on Beethoven today, especially if I've struggled through the Moonlight Sonata for Peter. 

Though as the rain pours through thick pewter clouds, this is a good day for some Ludwig, to be sure. 

Happy Chanukah!

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Christmas through the years, an essay for the CBC

John Lennon, dead forty years yesterday. Much missed. As I do with my friend Bob Handforth, I often wonder what John would make of this or that in the world. Brilliant men with so much to give, gone far too soon. 

Taught two Zoom classes yesterday; the second one ended with us toasting each other and our year together with wine and cheese. Yes, not together, but almost, close enough for now. I'm sure next year, when we've all been vaccinated, we'll get together but still keep the Zoom component for those who can't make it over. Best of both worlds, no? 

I'm going to start a list: What Brought Me Joy This Difficult Year. Stay tuned. But in the meantime, I sent out several Xmas essays to the student writers yesterday and will post them for you too. One is by Truman Capote, one of my favourite pieces of writing ever, one by a former student, ditto, and one by me. 

So on this dark and gloomy day, here's the essay I read on CBC twenty-three years ago. No idea why the two pages are two different sizes. The mysteries of Blogger.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Loose Woman on the march!

Just checked the Toronto Public Library, and there she is, Loose Woman. Not in hard copy, not yet, but two copies of the eBook are there, and there are three holds already! 

Validation. When it's in the library, the book exists. It counts. 

And a nice mention from the Globe arts reporter, Marsha Lederman, in her weekend column recommending books for the holidays: 

Also two lesser-known books by authors I’ve gotten to know by email: Loose Woman by Beth Kaplan, a memoir that begins with her time working as an actor in Vancouver... 

Maybe lesser-known, but with three holds at the library!

An email from my new friend Trevor in Denmark, a scientist and former student of my father's with whom I've been corresponding:

Read your wonderful book, love it, you shine out of it! In line with a comment on your blog, it sent me back in my own memories to those times. I will buy the book for a few friends who I know will appreciate it. As you likely know already it speaks to all of us from the same generation. It is also very well-crafted.

Thank you, Trevor. "You shine out of it" - now that's good to read. As I wrote to you, "it sent me back in my own memories" is one reason memoir matters: we write for those who don't, to escort them into their own pasts. To help open those long-closed doors.

From Kate Braid, one of the writers at the CNFC Zoom event, after I wrote to tell her I enjoyed her reading:

Thank you for your reading too. It offers a fascinating glimpse. I was very curious about L’Arche for years, and have huge respect for the volunteers – like you – who work there. Your answer to the question of the sexual abuse was very well done, and clear. I look forward to reading your book.

An order from Myrna Kostash, esteemed writer and one of the founders of CNFC, for two books to be sent to her and family in Edmonton. 

And word from the publicist in Vancouver: a request for an interview for "The Breakdown" on SiriusXM. 

These kind words may not be the New York Times bestseller list, but they're very welcome just the same. 

Exhausted - spent the day with my grandsons; we went to the High Park castle playground where I played the big bad wolf again, chasing delicious boys to eat them for lunch. GRRRR! It was freezing. What a wonderful place it is, though.

So, a night of recuperation, emailing, and TV - "His Dark Materials" on now, just my speed. Thank you, friends, for following the ups and downs, oh the downs, of my journey. Sending you love.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Lights in the darkness

Oh Zoom, how did we do without you all those years? What an amazing few days - first, the big event from the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass., featuring the descendants of famous Yiddish writers: David Mazower the event producer from the Center, Itzik Gottesman from Austin, Texas, and me. It was wonderful. David and Itzik were interesting and vivid; Itzik lives his entire life, it seems, in and for Yiddish. It was a warm and moving encounter. David told me that over 400 people have so far watched so far, live and on the Center's FB page.

Watching it afterwards I was horrified to see myself nodding and twitching my lips; there seems to be spotlight shining on my jowls, and my eyes are so squinty it looks like I'm blind. Otherwise, hunky dory.

During our talk I mentioned my father's younger brother, Edgar Kaplan the world bridge champion. Itzik said he was most impressed by my connection not just to my great-grandfather, but to Edgar Kaplan. To those who play bridge, he's legendary. It's a story I must tell, what I know of this extraordinary and brilliant man, who became my best friend during the last decade of his life.  

So Saturday I opened the box in my office marked "Uncle Edgar" - stuff I brought back from NYC after his death. A ton of interesting mementoes including two little looseleaf notebooks his wife Betty kept of their favourite recipes, which includes Edgar's cocktails recipes. He invented cocktails and gave them the names of friends, and Betty wrote it all down. What a gift for my son the cocktail maker! Shh, don't tell him.

And then the Creative Nonfiction Collective's Zoom reading of new books - five writers, hosted by Vancouver's Betsy Warland - again, from around the country, a fascinating collection of diverse voices, reading about a schizophrenic artist brother, a father's war connection with an Indigenous scout, a meditation on Lost Lagoon in Vancouver and on being a woman working in construction ... terrific stuff. 

Phenomenal to sit in my kitchen communing with the world. 

Three more episodes of "The Crown." Does life get better? Poor Prince Charles really does not come off well, though the implication is that the Queen, though well-meaning, was so formal and distant, her children are handicapped for life. 

Today, I got out the Xmas box and dove into the decorations - not ready for the tree yet but did get something up outside. People in this 'hood believe strongly in celebratory lights; usually I just have some hanging from my eavestroughs but Bill who puts them up is MIA. (Though he looks like Methuselah, he just turned 65 and got a government pension which may be why he isn't at my door asking for work. I hope it's that.) Today I got out a structure that's for climbing plants like clematis, wound my lights around it, and put it out. It's perhaps hideous, but ingenious, no? I need a star or something for the top. Also, it is locked to my banister with a bike lock, because otherwise ... things vanish. 

It may be dark and cold, but at old 308, there will be light. 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

A bizarre contract from 1948

It's what I call a show day - tonight at 7 I'll be Zooming with the National Yiddish Book Centre in front of possibly a hundred people or more. Teaching days were show days - storing energy for the show, even if that now means just sitting in my kitchen, trying to look smart. 

I wrote here last time that I have a finger that once bent, gets stuck and needs to be snapped out by another finger. Chris wrote to inform me that he has TWO fingers like that. Oh sure, Chris, trying to one-up me as usual! He told me there's a name: stenosing tenosynovitis or trigger finger. It feels good that it has a name. 

So - sometimes rising in the morning with so much back pain that I can hardly walk; swelling knuckles; trigger finger; cracking knees. I think the ears aren't working as well as they could. But when you think of all the moving parts that've been going for 70 years - well, we're doing pretty well, this old bod and I. Not a single complaint.

I have found something bizarre and amazing in my mother's papers: a contract she signed and sent to Dad about their sexual activities, and consent. Have to say, considering it's from 1948, it's amazingly relevant today. It's an official-looking printed document with dotted lines to be filled in - Mum's answers indicated in italics. Barkus was their nickname for Dad's penis (from the line "Barkus is willin'" from David Copperfield) and La Lion(ne) was one of Mum's nicknames. The (more than somewhat) was a joke between them; apparently once Dad said, "I have strong feelings about you," and Mum in her British way replied, "I like you more than somewhat." The Mann Act, originally about prostitution, was used wrongly to prosecute ordinary people for sexual activity. Who knows what else I'll find in these papers?! (Sorry, the ends of sentences are cut off.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Zoom rehearsals

A new kind of day, in a fresh coating of snow - much happening while I sat in my kitchen, one Zoom rehearsal at one and another at two. The first was for the CNFC event on Saturday, five writers from Vancouver to Toronto reading from their recently-released books. And then a preview from the National Yiddish Book Centre in Amherst, Mass., before the event on Thursday evening, a gathering of the descendants of famous Yiddish writers, an impressively august assembly and, for some reason, me. 

While I write, I'm listening to a Paul McCartney concert from Abbey Road. There's a great new interview with him in the NYT, with his customary self-deprecating sense of humour. 

What happened also was, not having much money, when anything came into the house, it was important. It was important when my weekly comic was delivered. Or my penpal — I had a penpal in Spain, Rodrigo — when his letter came through, that was a big event. When they had giveaways in comics with little trinkets, I kept them all. Some people would say that’s a hoarding instinct, but not having anything when I was a kid has stuck with me as far as money. You know, I’m kind of crazy. My wife is not. She knows you can get rid of things you don’t need.

You’re a hoarder? I’m a keeper. If I go somewhere and I get whatever I bought in a nice bag, I will want to keep the bag. My rationale is that I might want to put my sandwiches in it tomorrow. Whereas Nancy says, “We’ll get another bag.” In that way, my attitude toward money hasn’t changed that much. It’s the same instinct to preserve. One of the great things now about money is what you can do with it. Family and friends, if they have any medical problem, I can just say, “I’ll help.” The nicest thing about having money is you can help people with it.

As a fellow keeper, I love this! I too keep the nice bags. Love the thought of the richest musician in the world wrapping his sandwiches in nice saved bags. Last night, I watched another episode of "His Dark Materials," about Lyra and her adventures in other worlds. In her world, everyone has a daemon - an animal who's a manifestion of each person's soul - a beautiful invention, easily produced on film, now, with CGI tech. And at 4 a.m., as I lay mulling, I thought, I know who my daemon is. Not an animal, but Macca. Mr. McCartney is part of my soul. If something happens to him, I will feel as if part of my soul has been ripped out. 

I know you're snickering. What is this pathetic woman, still 13? Yes, part of me, yes. 70 and still all my loving. And proud of it. 

Looking at my hands as I type - one of my knuckles has started to swell a bit, I guess with the beginning of the arthritis that turned my aunt Margaret's hands into claws. One of my fingers gets stuck bent, and I have to snap it straight with another finger. "Welcome to la viellesse," said Monique, laughing.

Real snow today, but not cold. It looks like my fire stove might happen after all. If it arrives, I will plonk myself down in front of it, as my mother used to say, until May. Or maybe June. 


Friday, November 27, 2020

Loose Woman in Zurich

Fun - just got this from my blog friend Alan Millen, a fellow mad Beatle lover and musician I've never met who lives in Zurich and sent this from the Odeon, a legendary artists' café there. 

I guess Zurich isn't in lockdown. Thanks for the plug, Alan!

I do understand the people who are so frustrated by our current lockdown that they break the rules. It must be unbearable for a small business owner to lock the doors just before the Xmas shopping season. It's shocking even for me, who all year rarely shopped, to go out and find almost everything closed. The best business these days: delivery trucks. That's how we'll save Xmas. Well, at least I won't be moaning about the saccharine music in stores. 

But it feels hard, especially as now the days are shorter and colder and darkness is descending. We need lots of inner resources to stay afloat. Like my friend Chris, in the blog to the left, who never stops doing stuff. He has been like that his whole life; where we see nothing, he creates something, often laboriously. But most of us do not have that drive and creativity. The winter will be very long. 

I started to read a book praised by my blog friend Theresa, also to the left: Undying: Pain, Vulnerability, Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time, Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Cancer, and Care, by Anne Boyer, an "extraordinary and furious new memoir," says the NYT, of her diagnosis with an aggressive breast cancer and the horrible chemo ordeals she went through. I couldn't finish it and returned it early to the library; I'll try another time. Right now, I'm sorry, I just can't read rage, I can't read disease. Not that I'll be turning to fluff, but something with a bit more bearable. So, two books - the wonderful 150 Glimpses of the Beatles, a beautifully written tour from the beginning with wry snippets about their lives, their fans, their enemies, like Noel Coward, who loathed them but insisted on meeting them. The book just won a big nonfiction award in England. 

And Sarah Manguso's Ongoingness: the end of a diary, which explores her 25 years of diary-keeping, a subject close to my own heart. She kept her diaries online though. Mine are in boxes under the bed, muttering away down there. What to do with them? A bonfire? Over my dead body. Which is quite literally what my children might do. 

Tuesday was my beloved friend Ken's 85th birthday; his family gave him the Cubii he requested so he can exercise through the winter. And yesterday was my Dad's 98th. Last night I read the short Prologue of the new book about him and Mum to my home class; they liked it a lot. Much-needed encouragement early in the journey.

Yesterday, there was a disappointment; the Vancouver publicist told me happily last month that a local CBC host asked for the book and wanted to interview me. Great! She booked a tentative time for the interview: yesterday at 1.30. But as time went by there was no word from the host; she didn't reply to emails, and the day went by sans interview. We were ghosted. So far, the media coverage of the memoir has been a short Radio Canada interview in French. 

C'est la vie. 

Today, another disappointment: a guy came to see if I can have a gas fire stove installed and the answer was almost definitely not for various reasons. Later, I'm giving Debra a lesson in voice and comportment for a Zoom webinar. And then maybe as a special treat a few more episodes of The Crown. Delicious. Yesterday was startlingly warm and lovely, a good day for raking; I saw a guy in shorts. Today again is very mild but grey. We'll take mild.

Go Joe. 

Two images from Chris's blog, the first something I'd like in my backyard:

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Toronto's second best bartender and Ian Brown, first best CNFC speaker

So Toronto is locked down again as of Monday. Sam's bar will only be able to sell take-out bottles. Thomas's work will probably continue, and so will mine. But how lucky I am; unlike many I have a roof, work, health. 

I also have pinkeye. And, well, a small complaint: the fireplace guy who was supposed to come Friday to make sure I can install a gas fire stove and then to order it, so I can keep warm this long cold winter, just called to cancel because of the lockdown. He says he'll come in February. It's the fireplace channel for me. 

Eli came for a sleepover (before I realized about my eye - hope he's okay.) The boy is a merciless player of games. I'd prefer to read him stories. But we played a long game of Monopoly in which he absolutely crushed me. Hotels everywhere. We played last night, left it set up at bedtime, he woke at 7.30 a.m. raring to get back to it, plotting his purchases. I managed to get him to watch a bit of TVO so I could have a cup of coffee before my total evisceration. And then Go Fish too - he won every game.

He has just learned to sign his name in cursive! Beneath the portrait of me painted in 1959 by a Hungarian friend of my American grandmother's that I've always hated. Love the signature, though. 

A triumph on Thursday: our first CNFC webinar with Ian Brown went fantastically. He was superb - very funny, chatty, full of fascinating stories about people we wished we knew - Calvin Trillin! He was inspiring about writing and generally warm and open. It was recorded and will be uploaded on the CNFC website for all members.

Then an even greater triumph: Sam Dobie the runner-up in the Best Bartender competition. He is the second best of the hundreds of bartenders in all Toronto, and in one of the smallest bars in the city! Bravo my son. Too bad you're now not able to do what you do.

Friday I had a telephone interview with Vancouver book podcaster Joseph Planta about the memoir. "I don't often finish the books," he said, "but yours I whizzed through. I enjoyed it very much, it was a pleasure to read. I got a lot out of it." He told me the scene with the Vermeer was moving and unforgettable. Lovely to hear. We talked for almost an hour. 

On the other hand, has once more sent back our audiobook files with a petty complaint; this time, our engineer said it was as if they themselves had damaged the files. It's like sabotage. Infuriating. 

Yesterday was beautiful, but I think that was the last nice day. Today, chilly and grey. My grandson and my eyeball have worn me out. Luckily Anna sent over piles of food - soup, stew, homemade hummus. Fed by my daughter, it's "The Crown" with wine tonight.

Anna sent me this of Ben. Be still my beating heart.

Monday, November 16, 2020

more nice words about the memoir, and French onion soup

Cheer on a dull day: 

From Ian: It's a terrific read. Quite the story, quite a life, to date; I wonder what your next "part" will bring. I'm amazed at the rich detail in your recollection. I hope the book receives lots of favourable attention. And somewhere along the way, I hope you were charmed by an uncircumcised penis. 

You'll have to read the book to understand the reference!

From my dear friend, sublime musician Shari Ulrich, on Sorry, the print is either too small and fits or doesn't quite fit and you can't read every word. Hope you get the gist. 

And from Lila

Yesterday's treat: the giraffeman came to cook a huge vat of French onion soup. Four bags of onions caramelizing - divine. Soul food.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

notes about taking notes

Only a writer perhaps will understand what this means: last night, as I watched a documentary, Monterey Pop, I got up, scrabbled around for paper, and started taking notes.

I used to take notes all the time, because I was an essay writer. Everything that happened could lead to an essay, so the neurons were firing constantly. What's the story here? What does it mean? Throughout the nineties, partially because as a single mother and teacher my time was limited, I produced a stream of short personal essays: 24 in the Globe in ten years and nearly as many written and read for the CBC, plus other newspapers and a few magazines. One year, I had six essays in the Globe and a friend said, "I enjoy reading your column." Finally, I published a compilation called Back Page Stories - my first book. 

And then the Globe stopped paying even a measly $100 for half a page of work, and a producer at CBC's Fresh Air told me my writing was "not edgy enough" for the program. I started focussing on books. A mentor talked once about the breath in writing needed for a sprint and for a marathon. I hadn't the breath for both sprints and marathons.

But recently, as I struggle to get my latest marathon Loose Woman into the world, I finally took heed: very often when nonfiction books are published, it says at the back, "Excerpts from this book appeared in - ..." with a list of magazines in print or online. Even if you're working on a book, it's a good idea to get excerpts out there as you write. So that's my new plan: essays and excerpts. Sprints. A job in itself, not just the writing, but figuring out what should go where - unlike in the nineties, there are now hundreds of online places. So -  which? 

I don't have much to say about Monterey Pop - one observation, that the young audience was absorbed in the music, focussed on the stage with eyes and ears rather than taking pictures or filming or scrolling, because there were no @#$# cellphones in 1967. How did we survive, communicate, photograph, check in obsessively with each other? One thing was clear: we really listened to the music. 

Also, that the film is a paean to the talented sixties icons who died so young: Jimi, Janis, Keith Moon, Otis Redding, Mama Cass - even Brian Jones there in the audience. Who knew it was so dangerous to be a rock star? And what was with the smashing and burning of guitars? It looks ridiculous - infantile - now.

But those observations do not an essay make. Though can I point out that even this post is a kind of essay about essay-writing? That even as I was jotting notes last night, wondering about an essay, I realized it could be a blog post. In some ways, I just realized, I've never stopped writing essays. 

Yesterday was lovely and bright; Ruth and I had a long masked walkabout in the 'hood. Today is dark, wet, and drear. But there is work to be done, not to mention The Crown on Netflix. (Have I mentioned The Queen's Gambit? Just the most fun, and the last five minutes spectacular. No pat clichéd ending here. Marvellous.) My cold is nearly gone. Never have I been so glad to have a mere cold. As another friend used to say, It's all good. 

Here's today's only mention of the orange blowhole, still trying to smash the planet:

And here's what I'm contemplating for my living room, if it's possible, which it may not be. A perfect inspiration for note-taking.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020


At five to eleven on yet another glorious day, four old planes flew high above in formation. I listened to the Memorial Day events from Parliament Hill, thought of my family members who served to defeat evil, and posted Dad (on the right) and his brother Edgar in 1944 on FB.

But Anna did much better. She and Ben created this. On one poppy, my mother and her sisters, on another my father and his brother, on another my in-laws, and then a soldier of colour who died under difficult circumstances and an Indigenous WW1 nurse. 

Lest we forget.

Such a heavenly day, even with a head cold it's hard to stay inside - easier to work when the weather's lousy. Did errands on the bike - I can carry six bottles of wine in a backpack! Success. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

a fascist coup?

Just so glorious - 23 degrees today! I'm convinced the heavens were agreeing with us about the end of the orange blowhole and shining their delighted approval.

Except that he's still there. Jason said today a pundit he follows has been tweeting for months about the possibility of a "fascist coup," Bill Maher has been talking about it too, and that's what has begun. I actually thought the Repulsives, seeing the multitudes against their guy and the dancing in the streets at his defeat, would decide it's in their best interests to cut him loose. But I forgot - 71 million people voted for him, most of those people are fanatics with guns, and his party is without either backbone or human decency. They've all drunk the Kool-Aid of Fox News and QAnon. Let's not forget that hundreds of people drank poisoned Kool-Aid and committed suicide at the behest of a lunatic. 

I've been overestimating humanity again.

No, surely the democratic machinery will hold, and he'll be vanquished. But he'll destroy a great deal before that happens. So - depressed again.

Also, Jason found out today that the reason the audiobook of the memoir, taped in September, has not yet been uploaded by Audible is because there were arcane things we neglected to do - the "The End" that they demanded I say needs to be in a SEPARATE FILE, and it was not. Stuff like that. After waiting 8 weeks and hearing nothing, we now have to wait for a list of our deficiencies, fix them, and send to them again, where we'll be put at the end of the line. Sick-making.

Also re-thinking the new book I've started about my spectacular, dreadful parents - do I really want to go through this again, spending years writing a book to find out no one wants to publish it? I should send queries to publishers now. If no one wants it, I'll know I should bang it out fast for my family and move on. Brutal reality. The business side of this lit business is not fun. But no, I won't complain, I'm so lucky to do what I love in the comfort of my own home. I just wish more people wanted to read it. 

Last night, Cinderella sat in the living room in sweatpants watching the Giller awards for, what, the 20th year? Only fiction writers need apply, PHOOEY. I'd met Shani Motoo briefly at U of T since she taught there too, but didn't know any of the others. It seems like a worthy writer won; I hope to read her book one day. Wonderful that an immigrant who at the age of nine didn't know how to pronounce English can become the winner of Canada's biggest literary prize!

Tomorrow, not so hot, not so bright - rain forecast and 11 degrees. I have a cold. No idea how that happened, in this time of frantic handwashing, but I have a cold. So I'll be staying in. My, that'll be a change. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

the first day of the rest of your life

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, as we used to say. It really does feel as if everything has changed. After the street celebrations all over the States and the world, people dancing wildly with joy, it's hard to imagine the Repulsives will try to pull tricks to keep Trump in power. Surely it must have shocked them to see how much and how universally he's hated. If even the Murdoch media has backed off, the game is over. Soon he'll be charged for tax evasion in New York, no? There was a funny pic on FB: Hillary visiting Trump, who's in an orange jumpsuit behind bars. "I've brought you some emails to read," she says.

In the meantime, these glorious sunny days continue, at least until Thursday - 20 degrees again today. I decided to go for a long bike ride. As sometimes happens, I felt a twinge of of self-pity that I'd be doing this alone; surely it's more fun à deux. Then I thought about fitting someone else's rhythm and needs into my own and was glad I could just go at my own pace, wherever and whenever I wanted.

I rode down to the lake and then east to the Leslie Street Spit, a long finger of land jutting into Lake Ontario, a good place to see birds and wildlife - coyotes, apparently, though there are coyotes in Cabbagetown too, now - and crowded today. The intense pleasure of the quiet, the sound of the lake and the almost silent rotation of the wheels beneath me - what a magnificent machine the bicycle is! - and above, the big blue sky. Sitting on a beach to eat my ham sandwich. And then a slow journey home, feeling every bounce on my too-hard bike seat. Aching legs now. 

Okay, life resumes. More nice things about the book: 

Anna Ruth: Thank you for the amazing story of a segment of your life. So beautifully, honestly, and insightfully told. I was very disappointed that it was over last night on my Kindle.

Gina: I so admire your honesty, memory and your wild experience! Who knew?!!!! Great read.

Thank you friends. 

Picnic. That's a tugboat on the horizon.

Below, swans in the lake and the metropolis on the horizon. Nice to be far from it, for a bit.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Van Jones weeps with relief and so do we all

 It's HOT. 20 degrees, heavenly. And Joe Biden is President of the United States. 

I'm sitting on the little deck outside my office, basking in the sun and feeling four years worth of tension oozing out of my body. Of course it's not over, he's going to fight every step of the way, and his terrifying armed militia will fight with and for him. But the joy and relief today! Van Jones on CNN, beginning to talk about what this victory means to people of colour, to his own sons, was so overcome he could hardly speak; a tear trickled down his cheek. 

And then Rick Santorum said the Republican Party does not think the election is over, the final decision has not been made, there are still counts to come in and legal battles to be won. 

So hunker down, friends. And there's the senate race in Georgia to fight.

Last night, as I scrolled through Twitter, I saw someone criticizing the Lincoln Project, the Never Trump Republican activist group who did such a relentless, fantastic job of critiquing the President. He said they had millions in donations and should give it all to BLM organizers who he was sure were struggling to pay rent. 

And I thought - the fight isn't even over, and already the left is attacking itself! I do not envy Biden and Pelosi. But if anyone can handle this complex, fraught time, those two can. 

Last night Bill Maher had on the man who produced the film The Social Dilemma, about how we are all being colonized and exploited by social media, the algorithms that dictate what we see and what we know. I must watch it, though it's aimed at younger people; I'm not on my phone enough to be colonized. Before that, I watched the start of Suzuki's 60th season on The Nature of Things, about the climate rebellion, interviews with fierce young climate activists inspired by Greta Thunberg and not being exploited by any algorithm. It was beautiful television, inspiring and uplifting, just when we needed it most.

Today is a new day on our planet. And the heavens agree with us. 

PS What's making ME weep is the outpouring from all over the world on FB and Twitter: Lynn and Denis in Provence lifting champagne glasses; the church bells in Paris ringing; even messages of support from former Republican presidents. Something evil has been vanquished. Not completely; hard as it is to comprehend, nearly 70 million people voted for him! They have to be placated, somehow. But for today, we'll take it. 

History says, don't hope On this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime The longed-for tidal wave Of justice can rise up, And hope and history rhyme.