Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Successful aging

By chance, I turned on TVO's "the Agenda" with Steve Paikin tonight; I rarely watch though it's always interesting - and it was about successful aging. His panel of experts told us that the curve of life satisfaction dips in the thirties and forties and then climbs again, to the happiest time of life in middle and old age. That is, of course, for those who are relatively healthy, not too isolated, not too poor. Who are curious, resilient, resourceful, connected.

I concur. They pointed out that we elders adjust expectations, we have perspective, we've achieved a kind of serenity and acceptance and compassion for others and ourselves, and it's true. A younger self can't imagine the kind of peace and wisdom possible later. The stress of the thirties and forties - when kids are growing up, parents are aging, you're still wrestling with job stress and ambition and sexual needs - all subside, leaving someone who can relax into the smallest moment, grateful to be alive.

He interviewed Daniel Levitan, whose new book "Successful Aging" is now on my must-read list. They showed a quote from Jane Goodall, who, as Steve said, is 89 and "still kicking ass and taking names." She said that as you age, because you have less time to make your mark, you need not to slow down but to speed up. Levitan spoke of his new hero, an American woman who took up competitive running at age 100 and at 103 is breaking records.

HOORAY! When I look back at my fraught years, I feel sorry for that poor overloaded distraught woman. But here she is. Tranquil at last.

Speaking of tranquillity - yesterday we smudged my house. My son has long felt that there's something dark here, and recently a few strange things have happened. I don't feel it myself, but I wanted to do this for him, and a friend of a friend whose husband was Indigenous and is "accredited" to smudge by an Ojibway elder came over with sage, cedar, and sweetgrass. She shredded it into a bowl, we spent some minutes meditating and/or praying, and then she lit the grass and we wafted it about. It was wonderful.

Until my smoke alarms went off, screeching sirens and blinking lights. We had to move the smoking bowl to the deck. Ah well. It was well worth it. My house is cleansed.

In other news: Okay, I was wrong about Billie Eilish, whom I dissed in the last post after she won innumerable Grammys - I just watched James Corden's carpool karaoke with her, and she's adorable, even if she does have a pet tarantula. She and her brother have been writing songs together since she was seven. Extraordinary.

Last night, went with my oldest friend Ron to the Canadian Music Centre, to see a modern composer's concert and CD launch. I was particularly interested because one of his pieces was named something like, "What the wall sees as it watches Rob Ford in his office." Sounded funny and interesting. He's an exponent of "minimalist music," and it was indeed minimalist - as Ron said, where's the melody? There was a great video component that went with each piece, but half-way through, rather than waiting through a half hour intermission, my friend and I escaped. I'm very happy to know composers and videographers and musicians are out there doing their thing. Sometimes with greater success and sometimes, not so much.

There's a problem with the gang in Florida: they don't want to come home. After seeing the pictures, I don't blame them. However, they need hugs from their loved ones, including Glamma, and they need to go back to school. So home it is, tomorrow night. Re-entry might be difficult. Here they are, still suffering, with Greta, my ex their grandfather's daughter, so their ... 9-year old aunt? Too complicated.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Beethoven's piano

A former student with whom I worked for a few years on a memoir, now a beautiful book, gave me a gift certificate to Koerner Hall as a gift. Yesterday afternoon, the first concert: Louis Lortie playing Beethoven piano sonatas, including the Hammerklavier, a virtuoso feat of physical and emotional strength, breathtaking. It's really something to walk off the street into a concert hall to encounter a few of the geniuses of western civilization: the composer, the pianist, the person who invented the piano —according to Google, Bartolomeo Cristofori, around 1700, who said to himself, we could stretch strings across a sounding board and have black and white keys and soft little hammers hitting them at various frequencies. Astounding. And then that a nearly deaf German musician would hear music in his head and translate it into a million little black dots on paper, and more than 200 years later a French-Canadian would work for a trillion hours to translate those dots back into music for us ... It's good to remember, in this time of despair, how magnificent human achievement can be.

Sunday night, a feast of television: three hours on PBS with the Grammys in between. Howard's End, Jane Austen's Sanditon, and Vienna Blood, about the crime-solving friendship between a detective and a Jewish-Viennese medical student - all terrific, though Howard's End is by far the best. How do the British do it, line up these stunning casts, one actor after another perfect for the part?

The Grammys, the little I saw - sheesh. Too bad I missed Bonnie Raitt, the only performance I think I'd have enjoyed; she stood with a guitar and sang the gorgeous "Angel From Montgomery" in a tribute to John Prine. The rest - the costumes, Jesus, the grotesque over-the-topness of everything - I don't get it. Not to mention the incomprehensible lyrics and names: YBN Cordae. H.E.R. FKA Twigs. Lil Nas X. No, he's okay, he's fun, and "Old Town Road" is my grandsons' favourite, it's just the names ... And the young singers, like the prize-winning, weird Billie Eilish, who sing as if they can hardly be bothered to move their lips or push the sound of the throat - hate it. I watch to try to keep up to date on what matters in popular music, but I think it's too late.

What would Beethoven think? Unimaginable. He'd have liked "Angel from Montgomery," though.

In other news, family friend Holly has taken Eli and Ben to Florida for five days. They are having a miserable time, as you can see. In celebration of their short vacation, Anna and Thomas are going to paint the apartment.

A sign held up in Washington: "Come on people now/ Smile on your brother/ Everybody get together/ And impeach the motherfucker right now." Right on. As we used to say.

Continuing this profane mood, a final word, sent by my beloved friend Patsy on Gabriola Island:

Friday, January 24, 2020

getting through

I often think of pioneer women, on the frontier 150 years ago, trying to raise families and feed their children during the long hard winters. How did they survive the isolation, the cold, the deprivation? Incredible fortitude, which helped forge this country.

I'm thinking of them as I do every winter, because it's winter, and I'm feeling it. I, in my centrally-heated house, with electricity and running water and a huge grocery store a block away, with my new winter coat and warm boots, with all the resources keeping me sane - the Y, the TTC, television, films and concerts and galleries easily available, and more - even so, I am feeling the winter. It's just tough, the lack of light and colour, the inability to go outside - at least for those of us who don't ski or skate or even hike in the snow, as does my friend Carole - and for me, the hideousness of the city with its icy sidewalks and filthy snowbanks.

So. That's all; moan over. It's not fun, and we get through. Because we're Canadian, and it's what we do. Reading David Sedaris helps — was in bed last night laughing out loud — and Joan Didion. Wine and soup. The sauna at the Y. Documentaries - just saw one on a controversial sawmill in Nova Scotia, and another, right now, called the Divided Brain, about the work of Dr. Iain McGilchrist. Very interesting - things I've never thought about. Why is our brain divided, why do we have two centres of consciousness?

Busy day yesterday - the first U of T class of term, the advanced class, students coming back for more detailed in depth editing. A nap, then the home class, the usual joy of stories with glasses of wine and piles of cheese - one student returning after 4 or 5 years, bringing back her unique and wonderful voice. Also re work: have been digging into old files and found stories, written 25 years ago, that I think are pretty good. Why didn't I do anything with them then? They're dated now - one mentioning the many AIDS deaths, another about a woman having an affair sneaking out to use a payphone - hard to deal with, though I hate to abandon. What a waste! So much written, so little published. Story of my life.

Today, watched the last ten minutes of the superb Adam Schiff addressing the Senate about the irrefutable reasons for impeachment. At last, an honourable, eloquent politician and a fine man. My God, we need to see that these days. Both sides of my brain salute him.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Anna disses this "vile" government

So despite the cold, my rabble-rousing daughter was on the front lines of the teachers' strike yesterday, at one demonstration and then another, with her boys and two kids she was looking after for the day. She was interviewed for the website. She's articulate, my girl, and eloquent. One proud mama here.

Eli made his own sign. One proud glamma here.
On the other hand, if you want a glimpse of the end of a civilization, look at pictures of Monday's gun-rights protest in Virginia. Beyond belief that lunatics carrying those massive weapons, looking like they're on their way to war, are walking around freely and feeling empowered, egged on by Trump. Terrifying.

Back to civilization, in fact, its pinnacle: Gretchen and I loved the Mozart Requiem. We were on the mezzanine of Roy Thomson Hall, so the full power of the huge Mendelssohn Choir, singing from a level above the stage, blasted right out to us. It was magnificent. I did not weep, but the last chords made every hair on my body stand on end.

That night, I was awake for hours fretting about my organization the CNFC; sometimes problems overwhelm me, my heart races, my mind circles around and around. I almost got up and started emailing at 4 a.m. but was able to wait till 9. And then my colleagues wrote back to say, as my daughter would, CHILL. So I am trying to. I don't apologize for caring too much, but yes, chilling is not in my vocabulary.

Speaking of vocabulary, a student at Ryerson last night told me my writing book, the textbook for the course, is "dope." "You have a good vibe, Miss," he said. Glad to hear it. A thrilling class, travels around the world, from a courtyard in Beijing to a remote community in Newfoundland, where the moose stew was bubbling on the wood stove. How I love my job.

I am trying to find someone to do a smudging ceremony here at the house. Do any of you know how this is done? I'd like to convince whatever it was that lifted the picture off the wall and threw it to the ground, smashing vintage Fiestaware on the way down, that this is bad behaviour and they should go somewhere else.

Today, a true winter Tuesday, cold, snowy, slushy. After a morning emailing and doing class work, I realized I'd spend the day in here alone and instead rushed out to the streetcar and fled to the Y, where I did an Arriba class with my friend Tina - half an hour of Latin music played loud, dance moves, FUN. Just what I needed. Now back to my lovely silent house. Where I must learn to CHILL and write some more dope stuff.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Cabbagetown Youth Centre crisis

10.20 a.m. Saturday morning, and it has just started, the snow, as they predicted. We'll get a lot today, so a hunkering down kind of day; it already feels muffled and shrouded out there, with less than an inch on the ground. Tonight a huge treat - my tenant who works at the symphony has given me tickets for Mozart's Requiem at Roy Thomson Hall. Shovelling, and then Mozart.

Yesterday, a P.D. day, Anna came over with her two boys and three siblings she was looking after for the day, including a tiny preemie sixteen-month old. Here is Ben with his best friend and schoolmate Ian. They are about to make a huge mess with Play Doh.
Eli and Ian's savvy, sensible older sister were building a fort upstairs with ensuing chaos. A great thrill, to see Eli carry the baby around with tenderness and care. And to watch the love my daughter puts into all children, not just her own. I truly do not know where that came from; certainly not from me, I've never had that kind of patience. It's miraculous.

I took the older four to the playground and the Farm; what a resource, this quiet place where animals are chewing. We watched the piglets snarling and snapping at each other, as siblings do. There were lots of eggs in the henhouse, and I remembered with nostalgia when I used to be able to buy them, still warm with feathers. Then the city decided it wasn't safe.

Speaking of unsafe: it looks like our Cabbagetown Youth Centre is going to close for lack of funding - private funding dropped off and provincial funding was slashed by the vicious, stupid, short-sighted, mean-spirited Ford government. A vital after-school place for local at-risk kids, it's at the heart of the community. Our GoFund me campaign isn't nearly enough; I've spoken to our MPP and wrote yesterday to Bill Morneau, our MP, pleading with them both to do something. No one cares. If only I could sic Anna on the case. But she is preoccupied with the school strikes, which will hit her local school Monday. She has offered free child care to anyone who needs to go to work.

As Krugman wrote yesterday in the NYTimes, Why does America hate its children?
Multiple studies have found that safety-net programs for children have big long-term consequences. Children who receive adequate nutrition and health care grow up to become healthier, more productive adults. And in addition to the humanitarian side of these benefits, there’s a monetary payoff: Healthier adults are less likely to need public aid and are likely to pay more in taxes.
It’s probably too much to claim that helping children pays for itself. But it surely comes a lot closer to doing so than tax cuts for the rich.


Speaking of Americans: Bill Maher was back last night after a long break, and his interview guest was Nancy Pelosi. Now that is an admirable woman. "When you enter the arena, as I do," she said, ladylike, in an elegant pant suit and very high heels, "you have to be able to take the blows and also deliver them." And she does. She pointed out with great relish, "Trump is impeached forever. No matter what the Senate decides, he will always be impeached." YES!

And finally, my own two cents: Hooray for Meghan and Harry. It will not be easy to figure out how to break free of centuries of tradition, and for Harry to leave everything he has ever known, to find a new way to live. I salute your courage for trying. Let's leave them alone to make their way, shall we?

If only. As someone said on Twitter, Harry's mum died when he was a little boy. He had to walk behind her coffin and remain composed whilst people in the crowd, who had never even met her, were in hysterics. I am vehemently anti royal, but I hope he has a fucking great time forever with his hot wife.

And now perhaps a good idea to get dressed.

PS From across town: snow is falling, Dad and boys playing board game, cat keeping an eye on things. Luckily, there are lots of places where children are loved.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

advanced class Life Stories II, and dancing

My advanced class, Life Stories II, starts next Thursday at 12.30 at U of T, and there is still room. It's for students who've taken my class at least once and would like to suffer all over again. Please get in touch if you have questions.

And ... I produced a dance party last year, with Gina's help. This year, she is doing it on her own with a little shove from me. We hope if it works, these will be a regular event. It's specifically so anyone can come and dance with or without partner. All that's needed is a desire to move the body to music, and $10.

here comes the sun, and I say, it's all right

The sun is shining, in more ways than one. Yes, it's beaming hot through the window right now, as I sit at my south-facing desk. Barely winter, today.

I just sent the manuscript to another publisher who expressed interest in seeing it and has promised to get back to me by the end of February. I'd already contacted someone who assists with self-publishing, will put that off for a couple of months.

So - onward. I expect nothing; this time, no unrealistic fantasies. But I'll wait.

Yesterday, I sent an essay to an editor I work with - it's time for feedback. I read a fantastic piece of reporting in the Guardian, about the swallowing of affordable housing in Parkdale, in western Toronto, by huge corporations, evicting lower income residents, tearing down smaller buildings and putting up expensive condos. Sent it to Mayor Tory. Today the Mayor's office wrote me back with a long list of what the city is doing to promote affordable housing. Amazing - one day later! Write letters, folks. Sometimes it really works.

However, the Mayor's office wrote that the city had developed a ten-year plan for more affordable housing. I sent it to Anna. She wrote back, in her inimitable way, "Fuck that.  More housing in 10 years? They tore down a tent city a few weeks ago, knowing shelters were at capacity. Shameful."

It's sad this piece appeared in the Guardian, not a Canadian paper. I used to subscribe to the superb Guardian, had let that lapse, re-subscribed yesterday. We must support good journalism, more vital than ever now.

Got a book out of the library recommended by the wonderful Kerry Clare, whose blog Pickle Me This is at left. She usually writes about novels and memoirs, but this book is On Boards by a Canadian food blogger, and it's about how to arrange cheese and meat and veggies on a platter or board to make them look delectable. Life-changing; as I wrote to Kerry, no more sad little piles on a plate, now I will be scattering nuts and spices and making it all look gorgeous.
Penny sent me a belated Xmas present - a calendar of Liverpool, with the statue of the Fab Four on the front. My friends know me well.

Tomorrow is a P.D. day and Anna will come to visit with the boys and three other children she is looking after. Monday elementary school teachers are walking out in Parkdale and she has offered to look after any children whose parents need to go to work, without charge. She and all the kids in her care will go to not one but two demonstrations against school cuts. Atsa my girl.

The sun on my face. Breath in my lungs. About to go down to the kitchen and refill my coffee mug. Impeachment moves ahead. It doesn't get better than this.

P.S. Even better: I just got a royalty payment - $70.17. I'm rich!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

and furthermore ...

Forgive me if I mull over that rejection again. I was awake in the night - well, in fact, I'm awake most nights, this is the time of my January insomnia. I'm never a great sleeper, but for some reason every January, it's much worse - awake at 3 or 4 a.m. for hours. Is it the lack of light? The new year looming? No idea.

I was thinking about what I'd just written here. In some posts, I'm trying to show non-writers and students who come to my blog the life of a writer. We're very lucky in many ways; I spend a lot of time in my pyjamas, for example, as I am right now. But the isolation is also one of the hardest things about my chosen profession. We work alone, sometimes for years, with no idea if what we're working on will appeal to others. A yes from a publisher is in invitation inside, into the warm bright room of acceptance, a acknowledgement that yes, all that solitary effort has been recognized. It's being heard. Being seen.

I know from my own experience and from writer friends that even being published can be a major disappointment, however. We have dreams for our books that most often are not realized. But still, on we go. And we do have the image of J. K. Rowling hanging above our heads - a single mother who worked alone for a long time, spending a grant on babysitting so she could have time to write a novel about a boy wizard, a novel that was rejected many times before it found a publisher. How disheartened she must have been at first. What lunatics we writers be. And yet for her, things panned out rather well.

I say in class - we write for ourselves, because we need to tell our stories. So even if our work never makes it out into the world, we've still done what we needed to do.

And now, to get washed and dressed and to my desk. Because – lunatic writer.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

in which Beth feels briefly sorry for herself - again

Burst into tears earlier tonight, and, this time, not from joy at music or books. An email I'd long awaited finally came in, from an editor at a big publishing house who'd agreed to read the manuscript. Another editor at the same house had already turned it down, but irrationally, very irrationally, I had hope.

The fantasy: the editor says yes, how we love this book! The machine begins to churn - meetings with editors, designers, publicists. Rewrites, plans. The book is launched. It's beautiful. Readers find it moving and truthful.

She said no. She said the publicity department didn't think it'd have a big enough audience.

So I had a cry. I've spent three or four years on this book, though of course while doing many other things. I sent it out to some indie publishers in July - July - and have heard back from one. No.

Ah well. I'm sure you've heard quite enough whining about this, over time. I'll wait a few more weeks for the other publishers, and then do it myself, again. Finally, what matters is to birth the book and move on. I can't do any more for this one.

The weather is amazingly mild for January. Teaching last night - a big and very diverse crowd at Ryerson will be a challenge and a lot of fun. Tomorrow, a student is coming to rehearse a piece she'll be reading at an event for women who've survived terrible things. Which she has - the sudden heart attack death of her young husband when their first son was two and she was six months pregnant with their second - and she has written beautifully about it. I'm proud to have helped her.

I have nothing to complain about. The world is burning. We writers do what we do; we do what we can. That's all.

Maybe a little bit more chocolate right now, however. No, peanut butter. Peanut butter fixes everything.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Grizzlies and the Two Popes

Apocalypse: at 4 p.m. it's pitch dark and has been pouring all day. Apparently we'll get more rain today than is common for the whole month of January. I worry, as usual, about the basement which used to flood, now an apartment occupied by a family of four including a sick five-year old and a newborn. So, fingers crossed for the hardy new sump pump.

Extremely glad I don't have to go anywhere. Unlike yesterday, I did get dressed, barely, in sweats and slippers, tho' will still take it very easy. But I think I've defeated whatever bug it is that was trying to get in.

In fact, it was wonderful to have all yesterday to do almost nothing except read and watch things. I finished the Carrère and started a book by Henry Nouwen, made a vat of chicken soup from Thursday's carcasses and watched not one but two good movies: The Two Popes on Netflix, and The Grizzlies, later, on TV. In the Popes, it's a treat to watch two lions of the British stage grapple with each other, in a film which involves us in an abstruse crisis in the Catholic church. Who the @##@ cares? But by the end, we do, because of the skill of these actors and a good script. Not to mention lots of glimpses of the heavenly Sistine Chapel.

The Grizzlies is set in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, with an almost entirely young, marvellous, Indigenous cast. The film is an appalling indictment of governmental neglect of Inuit communities in the far north, where teen suicide, alcohol and drug abuse and violence are epidemic. All this in a film that's uplifting and even funny, in a "Jamaican bobsled team" kind of way - the "redemption from sports" trope. But it's based on a true story, a teacher who started a lacrosse team and brought teamwork and hope to the community. Highly recommended, not just for the story and acting, but for the stunning icy vistas and exploration of a hidden, dark, Canadian truth.

In between, I actually wrote 500 words, the start of something new that I liked, inspired by Emmanuel Carrère and his kind of truth-telling. Wrote another 1000 today. We'll see. Today, Skyped with Chris in B.C. and Lynn in Montpellier; she ranted about the state of the country - though she emphasizes the huge benefits of French life, including free university, the protest strikes about pension reform have continued, paralyzing Paris and much of France; it took her many hours to make a usually short journey by train. She and I are supposed to meet up in Paris at the end of March; the strikes may still be on. "Good thing we're walkers," she said, because there may be no busses and only the automatic metro lines. Chaos.

The only problem with this sedate life of reading, writing, and Skyping is my legs, twitching from inactivity, two days of sitting here or in the living room, wrapped in a blanket. But this is not a day to go anywhere. When I wrote to my friend Eleanor about Carrère, she sent me her interview with him. So now I'll listen. Please join me. Happiness is.

Friday, January 10, 2020

the brilliant Emmanuel Carrere's "Lives Other Than My Own"

Just wiping away tears, yet again – I just finished the book Lives Other Than My Own, translated by Linda Coverdale, by a stunning writer, Emmanuel Carrère, considered France’s greatest writer of nonfiction. Essential reading. Extraordinary how he is both there and not there on the pages as an authorial presence. It’s personal, the “I” is constantly present, and yet his work is an extreme act of generous exploration of, as the title says, other lives, small lives, yet as big as the world. Wise even as he details his own weakness, blindness, and depression, humble even as he forces himself into others’ worlds to expose them, supremely honest – the book is also about the writing of the book. 

The narrative starts in Indonesia, where he was witness to the tragedies of the tsunami; the reader is pulled in to his story by the force of his skill and purpose as he moves on to the death by cancer of his young sister-in-law. Says a NYT article about him:
Profoundly intimate, historically and philosophically serious but able to cast compulsive narrative spells, Carrère’s books are hybrids, marrying deep reporting to scholarly explorations of theology, philosophy, psychology, personal history and historiography.

The article tells how he could not figure out how to write a story that obsessed him, of a Frenchman who pretended to be a doctor, and who, when his lies were about to be exposed, murdered his entire family to safeguard his secret.

But six years passed, “six years,” Carrère has said, “of my life circling this story like a hyena,” six years during which this very productive writer published only 150 pages. He just couldn’t figure out how to finish the Romand story. Before he put it aside, he wrote himself what he calls a memo about what he tried to do, as a way of getting some closure on the wreck that the project had made of his life and his career. The memo began:

On the Saturday morning of January 9, 1993, while Jean-Claude Romand was killing his wife and children, I was with mine in a parent-teacher meeting at the school attended by Gabriel, our eldest son. He was 5 years old, the same age as Antoine Romand. Then we went to have lunch with my parents, as Jean-Claude Romand did with his, whom he killed after their meal.
“I’m not an idiot,” Carrère has said about the moment after he wrote those lines. “I very quickly realized that this impossible book to write was now becoming possible, that it was practically writing itself, now that I had accepted writing it in the first person. ... Others are a black box, especially someone as enigmatic as Romand. I understood that the only way to approach it was to consent to go into the only black box I do have access to, which is me.”
What a wonderful way to describe the persona of creative nonfiction writer, especially the memoirist: going into the black box which is me. Have ordered his latest book from the library, 97,196 Words: Essays.

I’m in bed today, not actually sick but not well, with a bug of some kind hanging around, am doing my best to head it off. Last night was triumphant, a joyful gathering of writers eating, drinking, reading, telling the truth with skill and commitment. Delving into the black box that is them.

And there are leftovers for lunch.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Beth's classes

Tears pouring - just listened to Dvorak's Cello Concerto on CBC, played by Rostropovich: the swoops and flourishes, the haunting melancholy, the soaring finale - a magnificent piece of music, which I'm lucky enough to be going to see in a few weeks; my upstairs tenant works for the Toronto Symphony and has given me tickets for the Dvorak and before that, for Mozart's Requiem. There will be many tears. Music like this almost makes me believe in humanity again, which is not easy these days, with potential war, catastrophic fires, vile politicians worldwide. Except New Zealand, Portugal and Spain, France, and Canada. Yay.

It's finally full on winter here, cold and white, and I'm fighting a bug, the first of the winter, so far doing okay at keeping the encroaching aches at bay.

BUT - work starts tonight with my home class, ten writers coming for a potluck dinner and, of course, reading and editing. The table is set, the kitchen is clean, I just have to cook chickens and potatoes. And take a nap, so I'm alert.

Monday night, the Ryerson class starts, 12 registered so far, just the right number. I'm looking forward to meeting them all. U of T starts Thursday afternoon Jan. 23; it's the advanced class, for those who've taken my class before, and it's a go. The new work year begins.

The house is warm, the bird feeder has just been filled and so has my belly - pork from the Mennonites at the market in a leek and apple sauce, mmm - and the CBC is now playing Bach: does it get better than this?

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Little Women - five stars

OH so delicious! There is nothing like a good movie, one you carry home with you like something warm and nourishing on a winter day.

I just saw Little Women.

It seems to me not long ago I wrote about another version. This one is so lovely, I can't imagine why it wasn't nominated for a Golden Globe, except, of course, that it's about women, written by, directed by, and starring women. A little woman's story about coming of age, discovering your life's purpose, courage, generosity, death, art, and, yes, being a woman at a time which disparaged and limited almost everything about womanhood. It's very cleverly done, flashing back and forth in time, and turning Jo March into not just the heroine but the author of the book. Jo March becomes Louisa May Alcott. As, in fact, she was.

I read the book when I was eleven and will never forget the devastation of Beth's dying. All women writers apparently have in common that they all identified with rebellious Jo. But that never occurred to me; I wanted to be patient, selfless Beth, loved by everyone. Another book at the time had profoundly influenced me - What Katy Did, about a wild, tempestuous girl who falls off a swing, breaks her back, and learns, while paralyzed, to be patient and good. Why would I fall so hard for these impossible role models? But I did. I wanted to be paralyzed, like Katy, or dead like Beth, and good.

A gorgeous film. I'd see it again. A few flaws - does Marmee have to be so suffocatingly noble? I preferred Laura Dern as the vicious divorce attorney in Marriage Story. Timothee Chalumet is very beautiful but too young and too thin; I never believed in the possibility of him and Jo - absurd. But the sisters are wonderful and so are the supporting actors - Meryl, of course, and the heavenly James Norton and the rest. And the sets, the lighting, exquisite. Thank you, Greta Gerwig.

And now for something completely different: Last night, I watched a PBS documentary about Joe McCarthy, the man who drove my American father out of the States. What a vile, pathetic human being, who used lies and paranoia to manipulate the press and his stupid Republican base and lead a campaign of vicious intimidation that destroyed many lives. Sound familiar? I'm sure PBS made sure the comparisons with now were clear. Thank heavens my father moved to Canada.

On my way to the cinema, I bought a graphic book recommended by my cousin: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse. A beauty. And now for Doc Martin and other good stuff on TV. The banquet!

I spent the morning at my desk trying to figure out what I'm writing now. Because I didn't die or become patient and good, like Beth. I became a writer, like Jo.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

the cartoonist sees all

This horrible New Yorker cartoonist has been spying on me! How does he know? Though the thing is, I suspect I'm not alone in my guilty time-wasting ways. At least I don't have cats.
I rode my bike to the market this morning - it's January! So mild, very strange, not like winter at all. Mind you, it's also that I have this VERY WARM COAT, which makes all the difference, especially on the bike.

Today's excitement was actually making a sale, not of books or a manuscript, unfortunately, but of fur coats I've had for years - a vintage mink bought from the local shoemender, who always had interesting stuff hanging around his shop, and the other a sheared something or other bought by a friend at an estate sale. There's a pop up vintage clothing store now on Parliament Street, so I trundled up there with these heavy coats in a suitcase, and he bought them for the vast sum of $90. The world has now discovered the advantages of second hand and vintage, it seems; the store is full of the kind of stuff I've been buying for decades. I offloaded a ton for almost nothing before the renovation. Ah well. Making money, selling, any kind of business venture, is by definition a losing proposition for me.

Today I made a special trip to the framing shop on Parliament; Mohammed, a kind interesting man, does all my framing, and the other day wanted to discuss the murder in Iran, since he's Iranian. When he found out I'm a writer, he told me he wants to read books in English, could I lend him some? So today I took him a memoir by Kamal al Solaylee. How I love my 'hood.

My Anna is in mourning; an acquaintance, not a close friend but a guy whose wife and 3 young children she knew well, just died of an opioid overdose. She says 12 Canadians a day are dying from these vile drugs. And instead of fixing what needs fixing, we're being set up for WW3. Hard to get through the day, sometimes, for rage and grief at the stupidity of humankind.

But then again, on such a mild day, it's hard to be sad.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Marriage Story

It's like riding a bicycle, I guess - performing. I stand on stage, open my mouth, and know what I'm doing, know how to reach out and touch the audience. It's both an innate talent I've had since childhood - I started acting at the age of 8 - and a skill honed in many years in the theatre. And it's something that brings me enormous pleasure.

There were not many people who came to the Yiddish Vinkl at the Free Times Café today - maybe 12 or 15 intrepid souls who paid $23 for a generous buffet lunch and then a talk, which today was me on the subject of my great-grandfather and my book about him. I wasn't paid but I got lunch, which was terrific, only I couldn't eat much because I was about to speak. Friends Nick, Edward, and Ellen came to support me.

I loved every minute. I spent 25 years researching and writing a book that not many people read, so any chance I get to tell its powerful, moving story is fine by me. Amazingly for such a small audience, afterward I sold the 3 copies of the book I'd brought, one to a Holocaust survivor, another to Bill Gladstone, who gave a great review of the book when it came out in 2007. And then I got on my bicycle in the mild sunshine and rode home.

Was jazzed but tired, as one is after a performance, so after a nap, I watched Marriage Story on Netflix. Devastating. It's a remarkably even-handed depiction of a divorce, where we see, equally from both sides, how pointless and yet how necessary the split is. Anyone who has been through a divorce will relive every excruciating moment; I did as I watched. What's especially tragic is that it's clear the two still love each other - as my ex and I did, and still do. But the need for freedom is great. The more important tragedy is the child in the middle. But luckily, because there's lots of money and success - unrealistic success, let's be frank, a small show going to Broadway, an enormous Genius grant, a T.V. series in L.A., nothing but success here - and many loving family members, their boy is going to be fine. Most divorces are not so photogenic, though some ugliness is portrayed too. The actors are marvellous, especially Adam Driver, and Laura Dern as a vicious divorce attorney who reminds me of the first one I had, until I couldn't bear her combativeness any more and found a nicer human being. The film brought it all back. Thank God it was a long time ago; it all happened to another person.

So - a day plunged into the past, in the story of my ancestor and his extraordinary life, and then a reliving of one unhappy chapter of my own. And in between, a happy bike ride in the sun in my new winter coat that kept me extremely warm.

The new year has begun.