Thursday, February 27, 2020

Brian Doyle, my new hero

Major snowfall - it was spring on Sunday and now it's winter again. We'll continue to seesaw for some time. But the daffodils Ken brought me last week remind me - there's hope.

Yesterday, sitting in my dressing gown in the kitchen when I looked out to see these brave souls, in the falling snow, pruning a neighbour's very tall tree. We waved to each other. I was more grateful than ever for my warm, sedentary - and did I say warm? -  job.

Through it's been a difficult time - arguing with my relentless social justice warrior daughter about various political issues over text and email. Of all the things I have been through as a single parent to two shall we say stubborn, strong-willed offspring, and there have been many, I never thought what would crash Anna and me on the rocks would be differing opinions about Indigenous land claims. Of course I know there has been devastating injustice through the centuries. But I also think resolution of these issues is enormously complicated, and I think Trudeau, in his politician's way, is doing his best to balance hugely different viewpoints and needs. My daughter disagrees. Vehemently. I have pointed out that if she doesn't like him, wait till the Conservatives get in. But that doesn't change the outrage she feels now.

So I have a great deal of reading to do; Anna has sent me a lifetime's worth of articles, plus, coincidentally, someone just left in my Little Free Library 21 things you may not know about the Indian act: helping Canadians make reconciliation with Indigenous peoples a reality. When I've finished all else, including student essays, my own work, two library books, and the depressing newspapers, I will dig in on the Indian act.

Live and learn. Anna is way ahead of me on this one.

One of those library books is a joy, a true gem; I've been reading one of the essays from it to my classes, and when I read it to Ken, he went out and bought the book. I read a review of these posthumously published essays in the NYT Book Review and ordered the book immediately from the library. It's called One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder, by Brian Doyle (not the Canadian writer by the same name, the Irish-American one, born in 1956), and it's stunning. Why did I never hear of this wise, spiritual writer, who won a number of prizes during his too-short lifetime but was never well-known? Doyle died in 2017 at sixty of a brain tumour. A tragedy.

This is a luminous, achingly moving book of essays - and yet some are also extremely funny. Here is a paragraph of an interview he did with himself about reading great books, after a rant about Marcel Proust, whom he calls a "sickly bastard" and his famous book "neurasthenic bullshit":

Well, any other writers you think, uh, overrated?

I'm stuck on Proust at the moment. To think of all the hours wasted on his interminable salon comedy, my God. To all those readers who think Proust is the greatest thing since sliced bread, I say go read a real writer. Read the first 100 pages of War and Peace. That's how you can take a salon comedy and make it work. Not seven volumes of twitches and repressed longing, for Christ's sake. Get back under the covers, you wheezing pervert.

I will never think of Proust the same way again. Thank you, Brian. And for the essay called Two Hearts which is one of the most beautiful I've ever read.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

the Bermuda Triangle of publishing

Here's one thing I'm grateful for re the Vanier revelations: my book is not yet published. Imagine if it was on its way to publication or already out, with its fulsome praise of the charismatic, warm, quasi-saint Jean Vanier. Which, of course, he was, for legions of admirers; no one knew about his secret life except the women he assaulted.  I do detail in the book the lack of guidance around sexual feelings at L'Arche, sections which I will now go back to and look at again. Rewrites needed.

The op-ed piece about this I sent to the Star remains unacknowledged, so I have sent it somewhere else. Publishing is like the Bermuda Triangle - you send stuff out and it vanishes into a black hole. As I've told you, my manuscript went out in July to six publishers and I have heard back, a no, from exactly one. From the others, not even an acknowledgement of receipt of the material. Maybe the stuff I send out is sucked instantly into oblivion.

Maybe I do not exist.

No no, I know I do, because I can feel my stomach telling me it's lunchtime. Just had a long bike ride, as I did yesterday, which was mild and sunny, like spring. But they tell us a snowstorm is coming. Still, it's been an easy winter so far, no complaints. Though a week in Mexico helped. Speaking of which, I spent an hour yesterday with my new media assistant Sophie sending a long, complicated application to teach two workshops at the 2021 San Miguel Writers' Conference. May that not be a black hole too.

Sunday night, the end of Sanditon, which was a huge disappointment, many fans furious, I read online. A lovely young woman with two admirable and very handsome men to choose from and she ends up with neither? Jane Austen would not approve. Mind you, though almost all the casting was perfect, I thought the adorable actress playing the heroine Charlotte was too uni-dimensional, dewy, and young. The Vienna Blood finale was awkward and flawed yet very enjoyable. Followed by John Oliver with an exposé of the authoritarian and racist Modi, Prime Minister of India, much loved by Trump.

Speaking of which - I do not envy our Prime Minister this impossible situation of the Indigenous blockades and the hereditary chiefs — on the one hand screamed at from the right for being too weak, on the other, by the left for being too harsh, from the middle for being too slow. A cartoon yesterday showed him crushed between a rock and a hard place: the environment and indigenous rights, and the economy. I can no longer speak to my daughter about these things, we are so far apart. It's the first time, and it makes me sad.

Monday night, a first rate class at Ryerson; the depth and quality of the listening, not to mention the writing, was thrilling.

And today, an hour with my friend Kathleen Trotter, a fitness guru, to find out what I'm doing right and wrong to keep my limbs limber. I left realizing I do not focus enough on my butt. Focus on engaging the butt, and you will spare your knees. That's what I learned today. Invaluable.

And now, lunch then rewrites. Onward.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Jean Vanier: shocked and appalled

A horrible revelation in today's Globe: Ian Brown reports that the saintly Jean Vanier, adored founder of the L'Arche communities for the intellectually disabled, was a serial sexual abuser of at least six women who came to work there.

I worked at a L'Arche community in France in 1979, a powerful, inspiring, life-changing experience which is the subject of my latest memoir.

The truth came out some years ago about Père Thomas, the long-dead priest who inspired Vanier to found L'Arche - that he was a sexual abuser. That was shocking enough. But it was felt by everyone I spoke to, especially my friends who worked at L'Arche for many years and knew Jean well, that he might have suspected or even known and turned a blind eye but was not implicated himself. There was not a hint of accusation against him.

But recently, there were accusations. Apparently his affairs began as far back as 1970, in the first years of L'Arche, but of course then women had no rights, no way to be heard. It took decades before the accusations surfaced.

It's alleged Jean made sexual advances to a nun and told her, "It is Jesus who loves you through me."


I do remember, several times, especially after the revelations about Père Thomas, asking about Vanier's sexuality which seemed to be non-existent. Is he gay? I asked, and was assured no, he'd had no relationships, was simply a spiritual man busy doing vital work.


This does not take away from the tremendous good L'Arche has done and will continue to do throughout the world. But it must be shattering to the many hundreds of idealistic people who've devoted their lives to the work of a man they revered, who turns out to have been a sham.

And selfishly, this is devastating news for me, with a manuscript about my time working at L'Arche trying to find a publisher. I write in the book about the time I met Jean, his charisma and warmth. And the fact is, no matter who he was underneath, he had tremendous, magical charisma and warmth.

But I do also write about how the community I worked in, and I assume all the others at that time, did not deal with sexuality, they simply ignored the risks. I was a young woman living and working with men who might have had intellectual disabilities but who had the bodies and needs of men. There was little direction on how to deal with any situations that might arise, and arise they did.

My daughter just wrote, "Ugh. Fucking men." I am angry when men are lumped together as a category, and I defend them. But not today.

Friday, February 21, 2020

the joy of produce and producing

Have been so busy since my return home to an empty fridge, I've been subsisting on random bits and pieces from the freezer. Finally made a quick trip to the No Frills on the corner. How spoiled we are in winter! I emerged with souvenirs of Mexico: 2 containers of grape tomatoes, 2 bananas, 3 mangoes,  3 avocados, and some asparagus, all from that sunny place. Also 5 divine Tangelo oranges from Florida, plus spinach and 2 tubs of tsatsiki from Ontario - all for $20. Spoiled AND lucky.

The teachers closed down the inner core of the city today, many thousands out marching in the cold, I'm embarrassed I was not with them. The Indigenous protests continue to paralyze the country. The vileness to the south continues. The world is too much with me.

However - two inspiring classes yesterday, and a ride to the Y on my bike today despite the cold. This weekend is going to be warm and sunny - relatively. I have so much to do, I'm hyperventilating, but today I interviewed a young woman who might be able to assist me with social media and some of the other stuff on my to do list. Very welcome indeed.

And best of all, I received a beautiful present in the mail today, a handmade book created by my blog friend, writer Theresa Kishkan, and her husband the poet John Pass - "hand stitched by the author and published in an edition of 65 copies in celebration of her 65th birthday." Just the way books used to be, a thing of beauty and thoughtfulness. A treasure. Thank you, Theresa. I'd better get busy thinking about what I'll create for my 70th! You've set the bar high.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

note from a writer fan

Just have to say - because I learned at the conference that self-promotion is not only acceptable, it's necessary for us starving artists - that I brought three books to the conference and sold them all, will hope to sell more in future.

I was leaving a workshop when a woman came up to me and said, "Are you Beth Kaplan? I bought True to Life yesterday and couldn't put it down, sat up late reading it. What an inspiring book."

Let me tell you, if there's anything that brings joy to a writer's heart, it's "I couldn't put it down." She emailed later:

I found the book so helpful that I sped through it and will undoubtedly refer to it often as I continue to work on my memoir. Thank you for offering such a helpful reference for those of us venturing for the first time into memoir writing.

Thank you! I will carry your words around for awhile, like the sunlight that's missing right now.

Wanted to go to the Met at Cineplex this afternoon to see Philip Glass's apparently unforgettable opera Akhnaten, but just could not justify an afternoon of passive pleasure so soon after re-entry. Got to get myself in gear and hope the opera will come back sometime when I'm less swamped. 

What joy it was last week to be out of the loop, not constantly checking up on the discouraging news. But now I'm back, and here we go.

San Miguel pix

click to enlarge
The conference provided mats outside the workshop tents for people to lie down and rest. Thoughtful, no?
 Streetscape. Everyone must have a hat.
Colour and doors, magnificent old doors everywhere.
Funnily enough, when I looked back at my blog posts from August 2015, when I was here with my friend Annie, I found this exact shot. Unchanged.

Silver, inexpensive silver everywhere, so difficult to choose. I bought a pair of simple earrings from this lovely couple. Later I bought a pair, silver backed with malachite, which I now learn has mystical properties. Works for me.
The courtyard of the Instituto Allende.
And now for something completely different - the Aeromexico flight back. A movie theatre shaped like a silver tube. Surreal.

I'm happy to be home, rich with all I heard and learned. Am talking to two possible social media advisors on Friday, am editing madly for my class tomorrow - back to work! - and am beginning the long complex process of applying to the conference as possible staff next year, much documentation needed.

Toronto is cold, but I have a warm coat, and the house is warm. And now time for the six o'clock news and wine and dinner. Contented sigh.

But - an argument with my daughter about the Wet'suwet'en protest. She thinks, because I disagree with it, that I'm borderline racist and wrong. I think, because she believes that Indigenous Canadians should have unquestioned control over many thousands of acres of Canadian land, that she's unrealistic and self-righteous. So I'm feeling old. But home.

Monday, February 17, 2020

hasta la vista San Miguel

Posting from bed on my last night in San Miguel, after a great dinner with Cathy and Richard at the little restaurant where Curtis, Kristen and I ate the other night, my new favourite place. We sat in a courtyard under the stars and decompressed. Much needed, after this intense experience. Including, last night, an interview between Canadian Hal Wake, interviewer extraordinaire, and Delia Owens, a wildlife scientist whose first novel, Where the Crawdads Sing, is a worldwide bestseller. One of the best author interviews I've ever heard, stimulating and very funny, will give you details next time.

I've been transcribing my extensive notes to try to hang onto what I heard and learned, as workshop blended into workshop and the wise words flew by. This morning, my new friend Edd, a young Mexican writer and teacher who came up to me after one workshop and offered to help me with social media, met me at breakfast and gave me a seminar on Instagram. And selfies. (I'm wearing wool turtleneck, jacket, and scarf. It was morning.)
I still barely understand the site, but I made my first post, the picture below of me here, and immediately my cousin in New York, whom I see once every 15 years or so, wrote to say she has lots of friends in San Miguel, why didn't I let her know I was going?

I have lists of things to do at home, long lists: to upgrade my website, learn more about Insta and the other platforms, read various useful books, get some personal essays out there, look at my work from the point of view of suspense, etc. I feel energized. Hope it lasts once real life hits me on the head very late tomorrow night. In the snow.

This is a beautiful historic town overrun with elderly American hippies - today, a man with a grey ponytail wearing a t-shirt that said "Portland Juggling Festival" - and Canadian retirees, but there's nothing wrong with that. They have created an arts mecca, with music, art, writing, dance - a great deal of stuff going on all the time, while Mexico flows by around them. I could not live here longterm, but short term - absolutely. Especially in February.

Today after my seminar with Edd I walked about - well, truthfully, I had a goal. Kristin had told me about the best place to buy silver jewelry, so I went there, not on the street or in the artisanal market but in an arcade out of the hot sun, where I tried on a hundred pairs of earrings and bought two pairs for me and one for Anna, for very little money. Walked and looked some more as it grew hotter, ended up buying the requisite Panama straw hat in the market - everyone has one here, only now I have to get mine back to Canada in my small suitcase unscathed. Was in the office of the shuttle from San Miguel to Mexico City when a woman said, "Aren't you Ruth Miller's friend Beth? I met you at her cottage last summer." Toronto journalist Cathy Dunphy, here with a friend. That's the kind of town it is.
Re-entry to cold will be a shock. People have complained of the cold here, and yes, it was so chilly one morning, they distributed blankets to those of us taking workshops in tents. (Much of this conference took place outside, with classes in big tents and reading sessions en plein air. Imagine trying to do that in Canada!) But with layers the chill really didn't bother me. What was extraordinary was the swing from really cold in the morning to very hot in the afternoon to cold again at night. But cold is relative to us Canucks. So many Canucks at this conference.

As always, I'll be happy to be back in my own bed. But this has been a very rich experience all round. One poor workshop, one not great, and five terrific, plus great keynotes and readings - almost too much to take in.
PS If you want more detail about Mexico and San Miguel in particular, and more pictures, please click on 2015 in the blog history to the left, and then August. I was here with my friend Annie and wrote rapturously, including that I'd like to come back one February.


Sunday, February 16, 2020


I just met a young writer from Vancouver who said, "I feel overstuffed with both food and words." I think a lot of us agree. It has been an intense experience, and I didn't even do the full amount. The people who took two three-hour intensives yesterday are really bushed.

So now sitting by the pool, wincing to the loud explosions of firecrackers nearby; I'm winding down, though yesterday I did almost nothing related to writing. Except for the afternoon, a seminar about an organization called Narrative 4, founded by the Irish novelist Colum McCann who brought his charming self here to tell us about it. It brings together teenagers from vastly different cultures, to learn each others' stories and thus learn empathy and bridge divides. He had the audience do what the kids do, to show us how it's done: he had each person in the crowd find a stranger, sit with him or her, and tell each other a personal story.

I sat with Stephen, originally from England now based in the States, who told me stories from his childhood, starting with quite a funny adventure and ending with a tale about one of his brothers who was killed on his bicycle a week before Stephen was born. A ghost haunting you, I said. Yes, he said, and told me about it. By the end, we were besties, Stephen and I. The few who shared with us what they learned stood and said, "My name is..." using the name of the other, and then told the story in that person's voice. It was truly wonderful, one of my favourite events here.

Dinner that night with Curtis and his Montreal friend Kristen who has lived here in the winters for years, a wonderful meal at a small local place, grilled fish and vegetables and lots and lots of wine. Perhaps a bit too much wine - I'm a bit woozy today. Especially as the two last workshops were this morning at 9 and 11. Then the last lunch, and tonight the last party. And we're done. Today I learned about the business of publishing, and then about the generosity of personal essays. I'm glad I took a mix of craft and practical business workshops.

Mistakes: I only brought 3 books to sell because of suitcase weight and sold all of them, so could have sold lots more. Next time, if there is one. I'm going to think about applying, not to attend, but to teach here; I have as much experience as some of the teachers here, and in some cases more. It has been fantastic. I too am stuffed and will need time and distance to sort out what I learned about both craft and business. But I'm already looking for a tech assistant to help me up my social media game, have ideas about my books that are already out and ideas for what's next, how to approach the material. Really terrific.

Lots of banging and loud music - went to see - a funeral again passing by the hotel, the coffin carried high through the streets followed by the crowd and musicians playing bouncy music, one with tuba. A public celebration of death. Should I ask my kids to carry my ashes through the streets of Toronto playing loud songs by the Beatles, the Travelling Wilburys, and Bach?

Clanging of church bells, all day, all the time. Love that.

My photographs are very slow to download so will post when I get home. This is definitely a paradise, at least for us gringos. But it's a pretty good place to live for many Mexicans too. Do have to say: our CNFC organization has been talking about how to diversify our demographic from older white women, who make up the majority of our members. Well, the writers here are about 88% older white women. And hooray for them, too, or this amazing festival would not exist. Over and out for today, from this OWW. (If I called myself an older white lady, I'd be an OWL. But I'm no lady.)

Saturday, February 15, 2020

San Miguel writers' conference Day Four

Saturday - a day of rest, more or less. Some have signed up for two intensive three hour workshops, but Curtis and I did not. So today, we set out with a driver for Las Grutas, a hot springs with a grotto about 12 minutes from the hotel. It was not what we expected; we were almost the only gringos there and there was little in English, so we wandered about trying to figure out where you changed and how it all worked. We did figure it out, but Curtis decided he did not want to walk around in his bathing suit, particularly as the morning was chilly. So he found a comfortable rock to perch on, and I plunged into the hot springs pool.

To find many floating Mexican families and couples, most with cellphones, some holding them above their heads, some with them in plastic cases, snapping endless selfies and pix of each other. One huge family, 3 or 4 generations including great-grandma, gathered in the pool for a portrait up to the neck in hot water. It was hilarious. I had a delicious float and then Curtis and I had coffee and gossiped, as is our wont, I admiring these beautiful people with their gorgeous cappuccino skin and black eyes and hair. This is a people that believes in public displays of affection.

Incidentally, I've seen two funerals, men carrying a coffin through the narrow streets, followed by a big crowd of mourners with flowers. Day of the Dead artefacts are everywhere here, many skulls and skeletons. Death is more a daily presence in this society than in any I've encountered.

Yesterday, two good workshops, one on being a "marketable author," something about which I know very little, and the next on creating suspense in literary memoir and fiction, ditto. Very technical, full of valuable facts. Before and after, the usual enormous meals. At 3.45, readings by the Canadian faculty here, some terrific, some not so much, IMHO. And at 8, a big party. This is a huge conference; they'd built a stage outside, put long rows of tables, and an entire kitchen area - drinks, food, many interesting people. I met a couple from Sausolito, another from the Yukon, a third from Regina, a young Mexican woman and her mother, a photographer from Vancouver. We were treated to traditional Mexican dances, and then a solemn group of ten musicians played for a long time; unfortunately, we couldn't hear them well, and it was getting colder and darker as we waited for the dancing to begin. But first, there was an unfortunately very long tableau of the Quinceanera, the traditional celebration for a girl's 15th birthday, to celebrate the 15th anniversary of this festival. Only here it was a woman from the festival dressed up in glittering satin and a long hoop skirt like Cinderella at the ball, waltzing around the stage with the musicians for a long time, waving gaily to us and beaming. While we waited, and it got colder.

But then the music started, and the dancing. That was wonderful. Just to move my body is wonderful - it feels like I've been sitting, listening, thinking, and eating eating eating, for days. And in fact, I have. The mornings and evenings are very cold; everyone complains, especially the Mexican woman at dinner last night - until the man from the Yukon turned around and told us about two weeks at minus 57. Perspective, people.

Now a walk to town with Curtis, then an event I'll write about later, and dinner. That's the gruelling day. Tomorrow - back to work.

Friday, February 14, 2020

pretty nice

Images today. I've taken very few photos so far - too busy, also not wanting to intrude.
Okay, this is the only one that will download - very slow 'net here. This is the view from my bedroom door. More anon.

Sorry, Toronto, which is far colder than Antarctica apparently, to show you this. I feel for you. Tonight I was at a party here and dancing madly, but I was still feeling for you.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

San Miguel Writers' Conference Day Two, the Canada connection

Definitely surreal, juggling the delights of sunshine and this fine country with the reason I'm here - to sit listening to people talk about writing. Each morning at breakfast, I am the only person who takes the food outside; today I took my lunch plate outside too. Every chance I get, face in the sun. Got to absorb as much as possible because the deep freeze awaits.

Last night, Madeleine Thien gave an extraordinary keynote talk about her new novel-in-progress that made me, and I think the whole audience, feel a bit stupid and dull; she spoke about the space/time continuum, Spinoza, and Hannah Arendt. So you see, not light and chatty, but fascinating. Before she spoke, we heard from one of the founders of this festival, now celebrating its 15th anniversary, and then from a woman from the Canadian embassy, because the festival is deeply connected to Canada, many Canadians attend, and the embassy donates money. The cultural aide spoke beautifully in English, Spanish, and French about our country's support for the arts while also mentioning that our prime minister is a feminist and that a good way to stem the tide of populism infecting the world is through the arts. She made me proud. Yes, we Canucks have lots to fix, but in comparison with many countries - one in particular comes to mind - we have a lot to celebrate.
The all-female mariachi band that played before the talk.

After Madeleine there was an opening reception that I was not invited to; Curtis and I took the Writer's Package, much cheaper than the Whole Enchilada package but with many exclusions. I am starting to wonder if that was a mistake - we are missing a lot of things, could buy individual tickets but they're extremely expensive. However, I'm now sitting in the shade by the pool again while others are inside listening, so nothing to complain about.

This morning a workshop on social media, very interesting - I seriously need to up my game. And then a rather infuriating workshop entitled "Bring your scenes to life with cinematic flair," instruction I really could use because I'm not good at scenes. But the first hour was the nice young teacher reading long passages from novels and then showing the scene in the subsequent movie - not a valuable use of time. The last half hour, she gave us the six elements of scene and had us write from fiction prompts that I simply turned to memoir. So something gained in the end but a lot of time wasted. BK does not like to waste time. Even with the cheap Writer's Package.

Set out to go for a walk this afternoon but it was too hot (too hot!) and the exhaust fumes were overpowering, so I went for a swim. Soon Curtis and I will have a glass of wine and then the next keynote, by Colum McCann. Tomorrow a full day, from 9 right through to a big party at 8 that I bought an expensive ticket for; there's going to be music, can't miss that.

A lot of people are here to network and schmooze. I'm hopeless at it. The place is crawling with interesting writers talking madly, and I'm happy sitting here, writing to you.

PS And now, 5 p.m., I'm in jeans and a sweater. The weather turns quickly. Wine time.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Vive Mexico.

Let it never be said that I am not a lucky woman. At this moment I am sitting by the pool of the Hotel Real de Minas in San Miguel, listening to the hooting of the doves and the distant chatter of writers here for the conference, squinting in the sun as I gaze at the scarlet poinsettia trees and trying to digest yet another huge meal. Muy bien, gracias.

Had to get up at six a.m. and out the door by 6.45 - was that only yesterday? The six hour Aeromexico flight left early and was marvellous; though the flight was full, there was an empty seat next to me and next to that an interesting guy with lots of opinions I didn't necessarily agree with, so we talked all the way to Mexico City. The flight arrived 3/4 of an hour early but I waltzed right out with my small carryon and there was Curtis, who'd come in a few days before from Puerta Vallarta where he spends the winter, waiting with the driver of our car. A four hour drive jabbering the whole way, with me sticking my face in the sun as much as possible and eating the delicious sandwich he'd brought for me.

The hotel where we're staying and the conference is happening is huge. I was thrilled to have exactly the right room, with a sliding door out to the pool and courtyard. We got our bearings and walked to the centre of town to have a margarita and some enchiladas con mole, while watching the town walk by: yes.

Today a huge breakfast - scrambled eggs with fried plantains. refried beans, papaya, pineapple, and a Mexican sugar doughnut. Registered, got my badges, put my books for sale in the bookstore here, and took a walk with Curtis through town again, buying necessities, including a bottle of wine for aperitif and some of those vibrantly coloured paper decorations Mexico is famous for. The shopping has begun.

And then a big lunch. Breakfast and lunch are included which means I will eat a lot. Perhaps I'll be able to go easy at dinner though that's unlikely, so they'll have to roll me off the plane home. Dinty Moore is here; he spoke at our CNFC conference in Toronto in 2018, it's good to meet him again. Have met a bunch of writers from all over already.

It all starts in an hour or so with the first workshop, and tonight a keynote from Madeleine Thien. I'll write again soon. Right now - maybe time for a swim. Or a nap.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Arriba y adelante to San Miguel

The title means: Onward and upward.

Woke up this morning to this, on the deck - an army of little paw prints, the raccoons checking to be sure I haven't flung the contents of my fridge out for them. Good luck with that, banditos.
A busy weekend - Eli over Saturday to Sunday afternoon. At one point I laughed, thinking of the fond feminist time when we tried to insist the sexes are basically the same, just conditioned differently - ha! After a long busy day at several anti-pipeline protests with his mother, a very long walk, and a huge dinner, he wanted to go to his favourite playground. It felt like the coldest day of the year - minus 12 with wind - but off we went. He brought along his favourite stick, that he'd packed in his backpack with other necessities; he jumped on and into every snowbank we passed, kicked a ton of snow into the street, stopped to whack icicles wherever he could see them, and at one point, threw the stick ahead and ran to pounce on it, like a puppy. And then he wanted to play tag. Just about the last thing on earth this freezing Glamma wanted to do.

We did play Monopoly - I for the first time in decades - and he made a risky gamble involving houses on Boardwalk which allowed him, with one unlucky throw for me, to wipe me out with $1400 in rent. I wrote to his grandfather that happily there's at least one savvy money manager in the family. And then we read more Alice in Wonderland in bed. What joy to revisit these beloved books.

Anna had spent her free time cleaning and organizing, and the place was gleaming. Thomas has made her a new bookshelf and she's colour-coded all her books. Beautiful.

Then the streetcar up Roncesvalles to visit the other offspring at his workplace, hearing from the lovely young women sitting next to me how much they, and the whole neighbourhood, care for him. Such a nice guy, they said, gazing fondly, perhaps a bit too fondly, as he's a seriously single guy right now. We went nearby for a great talk and a delicious meal. At the end, he ordered a pizza for his colleagues at the bar and took it back to watch the Oscars with them. On his night off.

And so home, with the best feeling a mother can have - that despite some natural concerns, I could not be more proud of these human beings and the lives they have created. A blessing. A mitzvah.

Watched a bit of Oscar but flipped to Sanditon and Vienna Blood on PBS. Can't help, though, being drawn to the glitzy spectacle. Have been meaning to see Parasite for months, but I guess after yesterday it'll be around for some time.

And now I'm packing for Mexico before teaching tonight, leaving at dawn tomorrow for a long travel day - a six hour flight and a four hour bus ride to San Miguel de Allende, for a week at their annual writer's festival. Apparently it's hot there during the day and cold morning and night, but I can't comprehend what that actually means, except layers.

I'll let you know. Happy February to you all.

Friday, February 7, 2020

a phenomenal community organizer

Anna has organized a "strike camp" at a local community centre - she and a bunch of high school volunteers are looking after kids whose parents can't afford child care during the strike. Today, the leader of the NDP Jagmeet Singh came to the camp, and the local MPP Bhutila Karpoche introduced Anna to him as "a phenomenal community organizer."

She is chuffed, and so are her parents. 'Community' and 'organize' are among her favourite words, words she acts on.
Inaya's poster says "I love my school and cuts hurt me." Eli's says "How will I learn math with 30+ kids in my class?" That's Paul Taylor in the middle, Anna's friend from high school, who ran for the NDP recently and came a close second to the Lib.

Before that news came in, I spent the morning in a depressive funk. It's just unbearable to see evil triumphant in the States, to witness a disgusting lunatic in charge with a team of craven lickspittles beneath him. How do the Dems fight a man and a party who have not a shred of ethics? How do they figure out the rules when there are no rules? And here, our teachers are on strike against another disgusting government. Is the world collapsing, or just democracy and decency?

So. Depressed and sad for a bit. Plus a ton of fresh snow.

And then I went out to shovel the snow and saw the mail had arrived and there was a parcel for me. I have established a strong bond over the internet with Antoinette in Edmonton, who was a good friend of Mum's and her piano teacher. She has knitted me a cowl, a beautiful pink scarf in a silk blend from a cooperative in Peru; it's soft and warm and perfect, and it made me cry. As I wrote to her, she reminded me that people do care for each other, and also that there are lots of kind people who care for me. Easy to forget during the down times. Thank you, Antoi.

Last night was the dance party with a fabulous DJ. I arrived as it kicked off at 7, and danced, almost without stopping, until departing at 9.45, grateful for a ride home in the snow from friend and student Sam and her husband Michael. Not a big crowd but bigger than the last time, and Gina is hoping to produce it 4 times a year. Nothing better for the soul than dancing your brains out.

At least some of us, unlike others of us, including 49% of the U.S. who approve of Trump, still have brains.

PS. Just had this email from a former student. More cheering up. Thank you! Onward.
I just wanted to tell you that your blog brings me great joy and I appreciated all the movies you recommend! I too saw and loved 63UP, Little Women, and the Dr. Ruth documentary, which surprised and enchanted me. I've admired Siphe November when I've seen him on stage at the ballet--I can't wait to see this documentary. I appreciate your curiosity and wide-ranging interests--it's inspiring.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Beyond Moving : a must see documentary

I know, I'm always rhapsodizing - I even rhapsodize about rhapsodizing. But now there's another must see film. My dear friend Marilyn took me to the Hot Docs cinema last night to see a new documentary, Beyond Moving. And it is.

It's about Siphe November, a young boy in one of South Africa's desolate township villages who takes dance classes with Fiona, a fierce British ballet teacher, is noticed by a Canadian family visiting there, and ends up at Canada's National Ballet School - described in the film, and now I believe it, as the best ballet school in the world.

Partly the film is simply a celebration of his magnificent human body, its expressive twists and turns, the boy, the young man soaring, flinging, leaping, all fluid legs and arms. He's small of build, which is a disadvantage for a ballet dancer, and he is of course the only black face on stage. And he's spectacular. Amazingly, his older brother is also a star dancer, in London. The scene where the older sits weeping in the audience, watching for the first time his kid brother dance a lead role with the National Ballet, a role choreographed for Baryshnikov - unforgettable. As are the scenes where Siphe goes home — to a village, a country, where everyone dances all the time.

But the story is also about the dedicated Fiona, how hard for her that her star pupil flew away. His extraordinary life, his success, is due to her; she's still in the dusty township, at the end with terminal cancer, while he and his brother are achieving their dreams on the other side of the world.

The director, Vikram Dasgupta, and Siphe himself, now twenty years old, were there last night to answer questions. It was thrilling. Dasgupta was asked how he chose the material to include, because he'd been following the story for so many years. He told us it took him two years to edit the film, that he had to decide what the core story was - not race, but love of dance and the drive to succeed. Siphe was asked if it was hard for him to be so far from home, so young. He said yes, but "Dance is my home."

Hope you have a chance to see this beautiful documentary.

PS Eleanor just called to ask if I'm free to go to the opera tonight; the person she was going with is sick, as was the person supposed to go to the film with Marilyn. Another advantage of singledom: I am regularly offered the chance to fill in, giving me a feast of options — too many, in fact. First world problems. In any case, I'm not free tonight, it's the dance party. I may not dance like Siphe, but I'll dance. The feast continues.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Rosie: must see

A superb film today, with Ken - Rosie, an Irish film written and produced by the fantastic, admirable Roddy Doyle. Heart-rending in all the right ways, it shows a working class Irish family, four children, father a hardworking dishwasher in a restaurant, who are evicted from their rented home because the landlord wants to sell it. They can't find another place they can afford, and now are reduced to living in their car, spending the day phoning hotels that accept families paid for by the government, one night at a time. The children, beautifully brought to life by child actors who are so real, we can hardly believe they're actors, are deeply affected in one way or another. The only thing I'd criticize is that the parents are so wonderful, so loving and attentive despite their circumstances - it's hard to believe they wouldn't disintegrate. The mother, played with ferocious passion by the superb Sarah Greene, isn't a flawless character; she's proud and stubborn, and her sweet husband is beaten down and a bit feckless. But we love them, and we suffer with them.

Ken and I emerged from the Carlton Cinema with a whole new understanding of what it is to be homeless, to see a cavalcade of private school girls - from Havergal and other very expensive, exclusive schools in Toronto - who'd been having a sports tournament nearby. Their faces were painted with streaks of "Indian paint" as they giggled and shrieked and climbed into their vast new busses - or into the waiting Lexus, as a few did while we watched. I thought, they should all be forced to watch Rosie.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Doyle wrote “Rosie” after hearing a radio news report about how Dublin’s acute shortage of rental properties means even people with steady jobs have difficulty finding places to live. Unlike other writers who’ve taken on stories like this, Doyle has the gift of creating characters in extreme situations without hitting you over the head with their plight.                                       
We know this situation is taking place, in one way or another, all over this city. If you have the chance, please see it. It's the kind of film that will root in your gut and stay there. In all the right ways.

It's the State of the Union right now, the last thing on earth I want to see. Pete Buttigieg (is that how you spell it?) all the way! Please God may the orange curse be lifted from the earth.

As an antidote, I offer this, my beloved grandsons and their friend Inaya scribbling on the paper tablecloth at the restaurant we ate at before Beethoven. May they have a sane, safe world to grow up in. May they always, always, have a home.

Monday, February 3, 2020

51% Jewish

There was a sale at in December - imagine, a sale on your DNA information! - so I decided to do it. I thought maybe long lost family might emerge, or even an interesting secret, though I was pretty sure of my ancestry - 50% Ashkenazi Jew, 50% British peasant. The results came in: "51% European Jewish, 45% England, Wales and Northwest Europe, and 4% Germanic Europe."

Interesting that the Jewish genes predominate. No surprise there. No long lost relatives - 1000+ distant cousins I've never heard of, but "no starred matches." I met someone who found her birth mother through this process. But I knew my birth mother quite well.

Spent lots of time at Roy Thomson Hall this weekend, thanks to Robin, my upstairs tenant, and the marvellous tickets he gave me: the Dvorak cello concerto on Saturday night and "Beethoven Lives Upstairs" with Eli and his friend Inaya on Sunday afternoon. The Dvorak - played by the TSO's principal cellist Joe Johnson, a sandy-haired guy who looks like a baseball player and played in shirtsleeves - was sublime, just glorious. Dvorak wrote about it, "I have also written a cello concerto, but am sorry to this day that I did so, and I never intend to write another." Sometimes artists are so very wrong.

The energetic conductor Aziz Shokhakimov is from Uzbekistan. What a wonderful world. They also played Smetana and Mendelssohn, so a 19th century romantic program. Jean-Marc and I did not fall in love, however.

How hard to try to help young kids understand classical music. The Beethoven show is an attempt - the story of a boy whose mother rents an upstairs room to Ludwig, and how the boy comes to know and understand the crazy deaf composer, who has the legs cut off his pianos so he can feel the vibrations through his body. Throughout, as actors play the boy and his uncle, the orchestra plays Beethoven's greatest hits. And I could listen to those forever.

As we sat before the concert in the magnificent room, I was explaining what a concert hall is, how it has sound baffles to make sure we hear all the notes. Inaya looked around and said, "Are there any code violations?" She's 7. Going to be a lawyer or city planner, I guess. The kids were engaged, though not overly. But I do feel one of my Glamma jobs is underway.

A grandson story: during the Florida trip, Holly said to Ben, "We're going to Miami." He thought she said, "We're going to my ami." He still says, "We went to Holly's ami." CUTENESS.

Sunday night, before the 3-hour feast of PBS, I watched an interview on 60 Minutes with John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars, a hugely successful writer, married with 2 kids, who has suffered all his life from acute anxiety and OCD, has been on meds for years. He is forthright about his condition, wants to show the world it's possible to live a happy, successful life with mental illness. Hooray for him! Writers rule.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Pythons: The All-England Summarise Proust Competition

Bill Maher was so apocalyptic last night, it was almost unbearable, as I'd expected after the
Repulsives voted no to new witnesses in the impeachment process. "We're now living in a dictatorship," Maher said, pointing out that places like Russia and North Korea have fake "senates" too, where the actions of the dear leader are rubber-stamped. Scary times, my friends. Not to mention the hideous tragedy of Brexit. Read Ian McEwan's take in the Guardian. A long dark tunnel of current events, right now, with a little coronavirus hysteria thrown in to cheer us up. On the streetcar this morning, there was an Asian mother beside her young son, faces buried to the eyes behind masks, gazing at their phones. Soon the niqab won't be an issue; we'll all have hidden faces.

Oh come on, it's not all gloom and doom. January's over.

Yesterday, across town to see the family, the boys back in the cold - when I left they were playing hockey in the backyard with their dad which you can't do in Florida, so take that, boring old beach.

This morning I bought Daniel Levitin's Successful Aging. After all, I'll be 70 this year. Yikes. So far, I'm lucky enough to be getting through aging all right. 'So far' being the operative words. I will pass the book on to whoever feels the need for inspiration when it's finished. One quote: "The age that comes up most often as the happiest time of one's life is eighty-two." I have a way to go!

Tonight's treat - Robin my tenant got me the tickets I requested to Dvorak's Cello Concerto, one of my favourite pieces of music. Jean-Marc and I will have dinner and go to the symphony. Hooray!

Have been reading about Terry Jones, the latest Python to vanish. A lovely, brilliant man. God, if ever Pythons and their savage humour were needed, it's now. Please watch the "All-England Summarise Proust Competition" if you want an antidote to the news.