Wednesday, April 29, 2020

TRUE TO LIFE: Chapter One.

Dear friends, I've heard that many people are becoming interested in writing during this pandemic, which makes perfect sense to me. I'd like to let those people know about my book True to Life: 50 steps to help you tell your story, which is a concise guidebook to personal writing: getting started, letting the stories out, keeping going.

I'm posting the first chapter here. Let me know if you'd be interested in more. If you're blocked from replying to this blog - some are, and I can't seem to fix that - please get in touch via the email address on the Contact page here. I'm available for coaching, editing, consulting, encouraging, teaching. Hooray for Zoom.

Believe in your stories
and your right to tell them
Everyone has a story worth telling, a saga worth listening to. Have you ever been bored somewhere when the dull-looking stranger nearby opened up and began to talk? I can still hear the man beside me on the plane who’d just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and was afraid for his children; the woman at a party who dressed heterosexual men in women’s clothing for a living. (“They all think they have great legs,” she told me.) Flannery O’Connor famously said that anyone who gets through childhood has enough to write about for the rest of time. We all contain a universe of stories.
But which ones to write down and which to share with others? And who would be interested in your stories? Who cares if you write or not? Don’t you have something more useful to do than fiddle around in your own head? Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?
I remember a young student, Grace, who worked hard to write well but every week read us pieces swimming in sweetness. She wrote nothing personal or risky, just generalizations about togetherness and, one week, a homily about 9/11. We could not convince her to speak in her own voice and be honest about her own truths.
On the last day of class, she rushed in, breathless and apologetic. She hadn’t had time to write that week, she said, and so had just dashed something off. She was sure it was stupid and mundane.
And then she read. She told us her older sister was a drug addict whose two small children were about to be taken away and put up for adoption. Grace wanted to adopt them. She had found a job in day care, and the summer before she’d volunteered at an orphanage in Romania, a gruelling experience. She hoped her dedication and expertise would convince the authorities she’d be a responsible caretaker for her nephews.
“I’m going in front of the judge tomorrow,” she said. “I’d pass out from fear, except that I love those kids so much.”
We were so surprised and moved that for a moment no one knew what to say.
Crestfallen, Grace said, “I knew it was terrible. I’m, like, the most boring person on earth.”
And we rushed to tell her how riveted we’d been by her treatise on the power of blood ties. I hope she believed us. I hope the judge believed her.
When we tell of the things we care about most deeply, when we dare to write with courage and honesty in our own clear voices, we can mesmerize an audience, as Grace did. We all have powerful, important stories. But sometimes we don’t know what they are, and we don’t know how to tell them.
What stories do you tell the stranger sitting next to you on the plane? What are the big stories stored in your head and heart? Is it time to write them down?

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
mary oliver

Monday, April 27, 2020

note from a fan

In the Blowing Own Horn department, may I share this email that I received yesterday? Last December, during a trip to New York, I reunited with a friend from Vancouver days I hadn't seen in decades. She'd had a fascinating career working all over the world for the United Nations and now lives in Brooklyn. She told me she was interested in Jewish genealogy, so I brought her my book about my great-grandfather.

She wrote, I wanted to let you know I have been passing the time in lockdown reading Finding the Jewish Shakespeare. What impressive work you have done - the research is incredible and your wonderful writing is a delight to read. In addition to the story of your great grandfather and family, it is also a fascinating portrait of turn of the century Lower East Side. It is most interesting reading it while living here.

Thank you so much for giving it to me - it has been a great companion and distraction from the horrific daily toll of death and suffering here in NYC and has certainly provided some historical perspective.

So good to read at a time when I most needed a boost. Thank you, old friend.

Stronger Together: hooray for Canada!

Watched the Stronger Together benefit concert last night and cried a bunch, extremely proud to be Canadian. It was magnificent - technically flawless though put together with clips from people's living rooms - in English, French, Cree. How they did it, I don't know, though I know from my friend Tara that David Suzuki was filmed on a cellphone at his country place with very spotty internet, yet there he was, along with Justin Bieber (hugging a pillow), Shania Twain, Ryan Reynolds, Mike Myers, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and many more, ending with a rather portentous Drake. The clips of front line workers, children - an amazing kid who has designed earpieces for masks so they don't hurt and prints them on his 3-D printer - plus acknowledgement of the mourning in Nova Scotia - the sense of a country pulling together...It was very moving. Especially when viewed after clips of the demonstrations in the States, encouraged by their president, screaming about ending the lockdown.

Otherwise, not much to tell you. Yesterday at 5 for aperitif Monique and Cathy were sitting under umbrellas in the drizzle so I invited them in; we sat distanced in my kitchen and jabbered for over an hour, as we do. It may be ill-advised but it's a godsend.

I spent time today looking out photos, because my actor friend Allan Gray had a birthday and his husband Larry posted a series of elegant pictures of his very handsome self. I wanted to show all sides of the talented Mr. Gray with these shots of us from 1979:

After I posted them, Allan wrote, "I can find out where you live!" But then he shared them, well, at least the top one, so I hope he doesn't mind.

While I was delving into the theatre box, I found this one of yours truly in a musical called The Club, where all the men were played by women. My brief time as a sex symbol - as a man with a moustache painted on with eyeliner, an experience described in my new memoir. It's been suggested that I should post short excerpts from the book here on the blog. Would you be interested?
And here's Ben this morning turning into his grandmother, seriously at work with a notebook. Nothing could make me happier.
It's a beautiful day. The forsythia in front of my house is glorious; here it is with Robin, my friend and upstairs tenant, taking a break from work on the steps.
My stomach is slowly getting better as the stress lessens. Life goes on. The sun shines. We're alive, my friends. Praise be.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Waiting for Guffman - thank you Christopher Guest

Friends have been calling and writing - are you okay? No blog since Thursday! Sorry to those of you keeping tabs, did not mean to cause concern. Before the pandemic I didn't blog every day, but since it started I've been doing so. Need some kind of record, chronicle, the sanity of being in touch with myself, with you.

Just now I was listening to Eleanor Wachtel on this grey rainy day - she played a clip of the cultured voice of Virginia Woolf. Yet again, thank God for the CBC, the voices floating out into my silent kitchen much of the day. Being in touch. Even with Virginia Woolf.

The usual: walkabout with Ruth and alone, Zoom meetings - a wonderful get-together Friday with old friends Jessica and Suzette, drinking glasses of wine together and laughing in our separate homes. Aperitif every day with Monique and Cathy and yesterday Monique's boyfriend Ron in the hot sun of late afternoon. Yesterday's weather was glorious.

And the unusual - my great stress. I'm not equipped for conflict and actually lost two pounds over the last few days. The Landlady Diet - I do not recommend it. However, things are resolving; my stomach heaving is diminished.

Yesterday's treat - I received my first box from FoodShare Toronto. Magnificent - there on my doorstep was a large cardboard box with fresh produce, some of it local: celery, baking potatoes, sprouts, lettuce, cucumber, and more, plus the exotic: oranges and a pineapple ready to eat. For $16. Amazing! It means figuring out what to cook with what arrives. There will be cheese and veg stuffed baked potatoes, for sure.

Enjoying very much reading Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - her tone gets a bit arch sometimes but it's a fine book full of important facts and information. Makes me more determined to raise my own veg - but this year, perhaps not.

Last night's treat - Waiting for Guffman, Christopher Guest's hilarious tribute to amateur theatre in small towns, with Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara among others. But it's Guest himself as the fey Corky who steals the show. What's so good is that though we are laughing at these people, it's affectionate, gentle laughter, not mocking and cruel, as with Sasha Baron Cohen. It's a loving tribute to what community theatre means to those who watch it and those who do it. The last minutes, Corky in his shop that sells show biz memorabilia, ends with him proudly showing us two little doll men in glasses sitting at a table - these are, he says, the "My Dinner With André action figures." Oh thank you for that, I so needed that laugh!

An even better laugh, someday: must watch This is Spinal Tap again.

I need a book. I need to read Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, have been wanting to read it for a long time. I hate to order it because apparently the post office is swamped, but soon I will. Perhaps I miss the library most of all. No, I miss the boys most. I miss the movies and seeing my far-flung friends.

But - nothing to complain about. As I was lying on the floor stretching with my Zoom exercise class today - coming live from Vancouver - through the back door I saw geese flying north in formation. The geese are coming home. It's spring.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

"True to Life": how to tell your story

How happy it makes me to have times listed in my day-timer, small as the events are. It helps me feel that real life is still, somehow, happening.

The best, the absolutely best thing happened out of the blue: I got an email from a friend who'd been suicidal two months ago, so a friend and I got involved, had her over here to talk at length, to insist she go to a clinic and get meds, start taking them, we'd check up on her. And we did. Today she wrote: I wanted to let you know that I have started to feel better so wanted to THANK YOU so much for being there for me when I was feeling so dark. It was extremely loving and generous of you. 

Thrilling to know she's coming back to herself. I needed especially to hear someone say something nice about me, because stress was still swirling about due to the difficult issue I've been dealing with, that continued swirling today. 

I spent the morning doing stuff for the nonfiction collective, including sending in an ad for the newsletter about my writing book. People in isolation apparently want to write, and I need to find a way to let them know about my valuable book. Any suggestions gratefully received.
My new garden helper came at noon. I love working in the garden but it's a lot for me and I need expert advice and help, periodically, with pruning and location. So we pruned and talked location. It's a peaceful way to spend time.

At two I met Debra for a walkabout; she made me a beautiful face mask a few days ago and today gave me the one I'd requested for Monique, who before had two masks, one made from paper towel and one from aluminum foil - yes, foil, held on with rubber bands. Now she has a beautiful cotton mask, black with pink high heeled shoes all over - Debra's pyjama material.

At three, a Zoom coaching session with Ann, a former student who is writing the stories of her life. At four, an important phone call with my friend the retired lawyer. At five-thirty, aperitif with Monique and Cathy who sold her house yesterday, so we toasted and talked about our past lives, especially a particularly wild time the two friends had in Newfoundland, where Cathy will be moving soon.

And tonight, some of a doc about the kids of 9/11, the ones who were there in the classroom when Bush got the news. It's funny, the affection I regard him with now, knowing how very very very much worse a president can be.

In between, emails, radio, eating, general maintenance. Sitting. Sitting some more. Tomorrow, five events in my day-timer: two Zoom catchups, a walkabout, line dancing, and of course aperitif. So busy. How the time flies.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Earth Day: David Attenborough tells it like it is

It's Earth Day, but still, dear God, it was a mistake to watch David Attenborough's heartbreaking, sick-making PBS doc about climate change in the middle of a pandemic. One horror after another - the destruction of coral, of the world's forests, of species. The projections into the future, if the planet warms another degree or two, as it is projected to do if we do not change our ways: the potentially lethal release of the methane gas currently trapped beneath arctic lakes; the drowning end of all coastal communities, not to mention drought, wildfires, hurricanes and other extreme weather catastrophes.

He finishes, yes, with Greta Thunberg and the environmental rallies of children around the world, and a list of a few things individuals can do to help: do not waste food and buy locally grown. Insulate your house. Reduce consumption of stuff - buy quality and keep it - and of meat and dairy.

But I heard an interview on CBC today, a pundit talking about how marvellous it is right now that the air is fresh and clean. Will it last when the pandemic is over? he was asked. No, he replied. I'm sorry to say, I think we'll just go right back to our old ways.

I should not have watched something that would make me sad. I'd had a stressful day with ongoing landlady issues, very difficult ones that ended up painfully involving my family too. So my heart was already heavy. A Nonfiction Collective Zoom board meeting at 4 and meeting Monique in the sun at 5.30 helped, but I was still hurting, and then I watched David Attenborough.

And though again it was sunny, it was cold. But the good news: in the new quiet, wild animals are exploring our cities. Beautiful pictures of a mother fox and her kits playing at the Beach.

Last night I started reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, about growing your own food. Just in time. I'll do my best to reduce my footprint. Yes, no car, and even before isolation, reduced consumption and not much meat. But I can and will do better.

And then there's this: "Art is the highest form of hope."
- Gerhard Richter.

It's the strangest thing - it's so quiet, we're in our own homes, and yet it also feels like we're at war.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Is this Tuesday?

Another day, another dollar. LOL.

Dealing with difficult landlady issues today, requiring some hours of figuring out. One of my least favourite but most necessary jobs.

A Zoom piano lesson - remarkably successful. The computer perched on a stool next to the piano - there's Peter's face taking it all in - and I play for him. I can even show him the music if there's an issue. And I much prefer playing my piano to his. Another win for Zoom.

Spent some time trying to clear the detritus from my desk and ending up, of course, reading old letters and diary entries. Sent a screenshot to my friend and writing student Curtis - my daytimer from February 1979, when I went to see him about a professional matter and noted it. Sent a diary excerpt to old friend David, with ensuing correspondence. Had a long Skype with Lynn in Provence. The French are much stricter than Canadians about isolating. She and Denis are worried about their far-flung family, including a daughter-in-law who has Covid and has been weeks recovering. But L and D themselves are well, and she is baking. Mmm.

Then a quick walk around the 'hood, aperitif with Monique and Kathy, and dinner - leftover steak and potatoes.

Otherwise, one of those days - maybe it was the cold, the hailstorm this afternoon - when I didn't want to do much, except eat chocolate and drink wine and troll online and marvel at this strange new world we all inhabit.

I have not mentioned the tragedy in Nova Scotia. What to say? Another angry white male lunatic causing unimaginable pain. Horrifying and incomprehensible.

And I have not mentioned that yesterday was my friend Wayson's 81st birthday. Would that he were here to celebrate it. Except that with his lungs, he probably would not have been.

The New Yorker says it all, as usual:

Monday, April 20, 2020

just like normal, only not

Very sunny but a chill wind. Many daffodils. The 'hood is extremely quiet. I feel guilty that I am not chronicling this new world in articles, only here. But then I read this and it made me feel better:
We read a lot about writers who have a “butt in chair” philosophy, who crank out a minimum of 1,000 words every day rain or shine. If you are one of them, I am genuinely happy for you — and for me, because I get to read your books on a regular basis. But I’m also here to reassure people who don’t work this way that they are not alone. Sometimes it’s impossible to get writing done, especially for those of us who have other work to do, including care work for our children or parents. And sometimes, like now, the world is so in flux that our brains are filled with static and we can’t hear our own thoughts. At these times, surviving daily life is enough to occupy every corner of our consciousness.
No kidding.
Sam came over yesterday. Last week when he wanted to come I said yes but he'd have to stay outside. This week, I wanted very much to see him; he lives alone, misses work and friends, walks the city. We maintained distance as best we could. He cooked a fabulous meal - grilled steak with smashed potatoes infused with roasted garlic, grilled cucumbers - I didn't think they were a thing, but they are - and onions caramelized with red wine. Am I a lucky woman? The kitchen smelled like heaven. We ate outside like normal people in a normal world. My neighbour Jean-Marc is condemning me right now, I'm sure. 
How to balance caution with good sense? How to balance our most basic human need for contact and communication with our need to survive a hideous unseen menace? 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

One World

Hard to believe that now the most interesting things I have to tell you are about death-defying trips to the grocery store. BOUGHT CHEESE! STILL ALIVE! So far so good.

Bill Maher seems to be shrinking steadily, as he does his Friday night show from his garden and house. A moving discussion with Andrew Sullivan, author and pundit, who told us he's been HIV positive for 18 years and has bad lungs as well, so this virus would be a death sentence for him. He lives alone, hasn't left his apartment for months, and is facing what might be another year of total isolation. Hard to imagine.

Because my ventures outside feel like a necessity of life - yesterday, a walk in the fresh air to Riverdale Hill and back, and then aperitif with Monique and her friend Kathy, who now drives over from the Beach every day at 5.30 to have a drink with us. Human contact. What's so brutal about this is that everything we are and do as social animals has to be put aside for survival. Even walking on the sidewalk, going to great lengths, literally, to avoid my fellow walkers, feels wrong.

Interesting news: I'd written last week to a hybrid publisher, a longtime publishing professional who will only accept certain manuscripts and will then take the book through the publishing process, with editing, design, and distribution that the writer mostly pays for (and of course gets most of the profits. Profits - LOL!) He'd expressed interest in seeing the ms. but then I sent it to another publisher. Yesterday, I saw the first guy had included a P.S. I hadn't seen - that he thought my face and name were familiar, perhaps we'd met in Vancouver. I wrote back I'd been an actress there from 1975 to 1980, perhaps he'd seen me in a show. He replied that he'd been living in Vancouver then, married to an actress, and had gone to lots of theatre, so yes. At this point we felt like buddies so I decided what the hell and sent him the ms.

One hour later he wrote back that he'd skimmed it and wanted very much to publish it, would reduce his fee to make that possible.

Much to finalize, so nothing is set yet. He needs to read the whole thing, and I need to study the contract. But it was the first time in the long journey of this manuscript that a publishing professional said yes, an enthusiastic yes at that. What a welcome change. So - we'll see.

Then I watched Cypress Avenue from the Royal Court Theatre. What a treat to be able to see great theatre from around the world on my laptop. A brilliant, hilarious, horrifying play - highly recommended.

Last night, the One World concert, musicians in their homes playing for us in a fundraising tribute to essential workers. How they produced such a complex show without a hitch - phenomenal. Keith Urban sitting with his guitar singing for us, and then another Keith Urban walks into the room playing another kind of guitar and joins the first, and then a third. The Rolling Stones, from their separate homes, playing our oldest new anthem, "You can't always get what you want." I sang the choir harmony.

And my Macca - impeccable as always in a black vest - how I love that he always wears vests as I do too. Not his best night - "Lady Madonna" a challenge for his solo voice and played with a strange new rhythm. But he delivered a heartfelt talk beforehand about his mother Mary, a nurse and midwife, how we should urge our politicians to support health care everywhere. The whole show was a rebuke of Trump, of course, with much mention of the vital work of the WHO.

It's Barbara's birthday today; she would have been 70. She was my penpal from 1962 until her death in 1966, after heart surgery to repair the hole in her heart with which she was born. When my family visited England on the way to and from our year in France in 1964, I went to visit her several times. She was always upbeat, curious, lively. Her death when she was 16 and I was a few months younger devastated me. She has never left me. 11 years ago, I reconnected with her family, and now her younger sister Penny is a good friend. You're missed always, Barbara, or Babs, as she wanted to be called.
Babs when we first met
In hospital, wearing the wig she loved, with a fashionable flip.

It's also Auntie Do's birthday. She would have been 100. We hoped to celebrate with her and receive a letter from the Queen. She nearly made it.

A gloomy Sunday morning turned into a sunny afternoon. Worked all morning on a long manuscript sent to me by a former student. Soon, a movement class, and later maybe a distanced visit from my son. He is a hugger, as am I, and we cannot hug. It hurts, physically and psychically. I miss my family and friends, as do we all. But - c'est la vie.

Friday, April 17, 2020

covid day 4,672,918: my drag queen life

Today, up at 6, out to NoFrills at 8 - almost empty - for a few essentials like milk. Couldn't resist - though I don't need it, I added a pack of toilet paper to my cart. If a large gang of incontinent people come to stay, I'm ready.

Nap, already exhausted, at 9. At 11, Gina's line dancing, and at 2, meeting Debra for a walk around the 'hood. She has sewn me a mask, a snazzy mask made of blue Marimekko material with pipe cleaner inside that you can bend to follow the lines of the face. So cool!

The rest of the day, editing. Eating chocolate, drinking wine, editing, and then the ms. went out one last time. The second the last 'no' comes in, it's going to a hybrid publisher who's lined up. Enough already.

Started to watch National Theatre Live's Treasure Island, but it was just too noisy. Have to say that sometimes, having women play male roles doesn't work. Here, I found those poor actresses howling their lines to be heard; it hurt me to listen to their high strained voices. So instead, I'm going to try to clear some of the 85 emails in my inbox.

To close, a family album: Anna took the first shot at the lake this morning, where she goes early each day with her two puppies and one of their friends, to run them:
My sources tell me that Linda McCartney died on this day, April 17. She was an interesting woman, a nice Jewish girl from New York who had a great life and was much loved by her husband and children. She's holding baby Mary and Paul has his arm around Heather, Linda's daughter by her first marriage, whom Paul adopted. Mary is a photographer who was recently asked to photograph the Queen; Heather is a potter, and daughter Stella is a famous fashion designer. Not bad for a bunch of kids raised on a farm in Scotland.
And this one was sent today by Lani, who's in the middle, between me, the tall one, and Annabel, the other one, with Al, Andy and Simon behind us. El Grande de Coca Cola was an extremely goofy show about an indigent family from Central America who put on an absurd circus act to try to make money. These were taken as we were on our way to pose for publicity shots. I know, I look like a drag queen. But - look at those gams. I was 26. Sigh.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

hooray for Zoom

Taught my home class on Zoom tonight, and it worked perfectly. Six student friends and moi - as we do when we meet here, we chatted first and got caught up, then they read and we critiqued, as always. The big difference - I didn't have to clean the house beforehand, and though I actually put on a bra and respectable top, on the bottom half were sweatpants and my hideous fluffy slippers that no one can see. Good to work with you all again, my friends.

My bum is as ever asleep after an entire day of editing and then teaching. I barely moved. Not healthy, but I want to get this manuscript out so nothing else matters till it's gone on its way once again. Talked on the phone with Chris, my editor, having a profound philosophical discussion about colons, semi colons, and commas, followed by a meeting with the CNFC group on Zoom.

No, I'm forgetting that I did venture out, in my mask, to the Epicure deli for 2 loaves of sourdough bread and some cheese - my favourite creamy delicious Quebecois cheeses, comfort food - and then when I passed NoFrills there was no lineup so I dashed in for essentials - Tangelo oranges, lettuce, onions, endive, a big bag of avocados. That's my daring adventure for today. Still alive, so far.

It's funny how extreme things can be - from days floundering around on FB, Twitter, and YouTube to sitting all day getting a manuscript in shape. I look forward to some floundering time soon, but more importantly to moving this poor body, which has had too much chocolate and wine and bread and cheese. But also sunshine - it was cold but sunny today, so my computer and I followed the sun around the house.

As a dear friend of mine once said, Here comes the sun. And I say, it's all right.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Notre Dame rings her bell

Today's adventure: the procurement of wine. Crisis - nearly empty wine rack! Of course I have a secret stash of a few good bottles, gifts saved for a special occasion that I do not want to drink by myself tho' would if necessary. But Monique got organized, ordered 2 dozen bottles of red for us and another friend, made sure it was ready, and drove us there. She waited in the car while I, wearing my mask, lined up outside for ten minutes as the security guard let us in one by one. Inside, a quick grab of a few other bottles (including a Prosecco for the next time I need to celebrate something and a rosé in case it gets hot, LOL), getting the cases, everyone in a mask, the store nearly empty.

It's surreal, all of this, how fast society changed. Bizarre.

Now I have lots of wine. Thomas arrived today with more chocolate from Anna, canned peaches, tangerines, cheese, cookies. I will not starve. Though tomorrow, a new crisis: bread. Unlike most of my peers, it seems, I will not deal with sourdough starter. I'm a busy woman and wish to purchase my bread.

I did Jane Ellison's exercise class via Zoom, and then edited all afternoon. Chris and I often disagree about commas and semi-colons; I spend a lot of time arguing with him in my head. It's sunny but surprisingly cold; spring is everywhere, but slow, as always. B.C. is way ahead of us. Aperitif with Monique was cold but fun; her old friend Kathy now drives from the Beach to join us for Happy Hour, as she calls it, sitting six feet away apart on Monique's deck while I loom above and look down on them like a reigning monarch. Kathy is a public health nurse and knows a lot about viruses, though we end up, as we drink, talking woman to woman - men, marriage, life. It's a gift. Even in the cold.

I wept at one point today. Jane always puts on music for us to dance to, and as I danced alone in my kitchen, with the sun shining through the skylights, I wept for our past life, how carelessly we lived, how much we took for granted, how limited we are now. I'm not sad, not at all, but startled and moved at how quickly life can be completely rearranged.

It's one year since Notre Dame burned. Last year on April 15 I was in Paris with Lynn, went the next day to see Our beautiful Lady and to mourn, the smell of smoke in the air, hundreds standing around in tears. Today her last remaining bell rang to honour the anniversary. Last year a monument to Western civilization burned. Today the whole world is paralyzed and terrified. What lies ahead? No one knows.

the gene

Tuesday: I've always tried to keep my email inbox at 30 or less. At the moment, there are 92, many of them demanding to be read at length. Help! Of course, read some news, so I see that Obama and Sanders have endorsed Biden. Please God may it help. And that the orange blowhole is disintegrating daily. When will they pull the plug? How terrifying that a vindictive lunatic has such power, that his party will not stop him.

Truly, the days fly by and I can hardly remember a time when I went out, shopped, went to the Y on the streetcar - the streetcar! Met friends and family, went to movies - movies! And plays and concerts, with all those people, all those germs. Heedless, we all were, of the infinite danger on all sides.

Today, most of the day sitting in a chair going over edits - a very long process, as each one has to assessed and accepted or rejected. I got through one pass and am now going through again. Hardly moved all day. Not healthy, just sitting.

Tomorrow, crisis - wine is needed. Monique and I decided to try some kind of communal wine run, though I hear the lineups are massive.

Last night, after Jane Eyre, it was My Brilliant Friend, only I'm not enjoying it as much - the passions of these young women are getting repetitious. But I will stick with it.

My bum has gone to sleep.

Wednesday morning: 99 emails. Like bottles of beer on the wall.

Last night, the second half of the show about genes on PBS - riveting. They spoke about the work of two French biologists, Jacob and Monod, and I swelled with pride - my dad worked at the Institut Pasteur in Paris several times, working with Jacob, and loved it. How he would have marvelled at the human genome project, genetic engineering, and most of all, the cures they are finding for genetic diseases. How I wish I could tell him.


Monday, April 13, 2020

Must see: National Theatre Live, Jane Eyre

Cannot wait until tomorrow to tell you - I just spent the evening entranced, watching one of the most brilliant pieces of theatre in my long history of theatre-going: Jane Eyre, produced by the National Theatre, directed by Sally Cookson. Extraordinary, the best kind of theatre, done imaginatively on a simple set - those poor actors, like squirrels, racing up and down ladders and ramps - with musicians on the stage and a small cast playing multiple parts, including, unforgettably, Mr. Rochester's dog.

What a gothic story, first of all, to come out of the imagination of the isolated Charlotte Brontë. What a desolate path she creates for her passionate, steadfast heroine.

The scene in the play, before she knows he loves her and before he knows she loves him, when she cries out her pain and grief and desperate love - she thinks he is sworn to another - took my breath away. And the final moment ... I burst into sobs.

It's that good. And it's free, on YouTube. Such pure artistic treasure doesn't come often, and you get to watch it free, in your own home. Incredible. Don't miss it.

As someone wrote on the comments, If there's a silver lining to this pandemic, it's the opportunity to see wonderful productions like this that people wouldn't otherwise experience. Thank you. Watching this lifted my weary spirit.

Mine too. Yes - thank you.

robins galore

You know who is really enjoying life, as humans withdraw? Robins. Huge fat robins everywhere, beaks stuffed with nesting material and worms. My guess is a bumper crop of robins this year.

Just now my tenant, whose name happens to be Robin, was in his office, aka the spare room, as I headed to my office, aka my office, and he asked if I had a nice Easter. What to say? Sure. I ate down to the midriff of my solid chocolate bunny. Made a big chicken stew using my last veggies and stuff from the freezer. We did our first family Zoom meeting - my kids in their separate Parkdale apartments, their father in Washington D.C., and me, the little boys popping in and out, amazed to see all those faces on the screen at once. Amazed for a second or two, but then off outside for more exertion. Anna spoke wistfully of a friend with 2 little girls who love to sit and read. Sigh.
Last night, the usual Sunday overload on TV with a difficult choice - Call the Midwife or the last episode of Prime Suspect. I chose Jane Tennison, to watch her battle alcoholism and her usual mistakes, as she alienated her family and befriended a tough young girl who turned out ... I won't say, in case you get to see it. People have been asking about it; if you have Rogers, they've given us free movie channels 487, 8 and 9, for now. Some good stuff there. I started to watch a new drama on PBS but in the first five minutes there was a ghastly murder and then another, so I turned it off. Not in the mood for Romanian psychopaths. Instead watched some of a remarkable 3-hour doc on TVO - a boat cruising the Rideau Canal from start to finish, no voices, just scenery and birds with an occasional animation of how that section looked 100 or more years ago. Lovely and tranquil, much needed.

Though I can imagine my kids saying, "You watched WHAT?!"

And then not tranquil - John Oliver. The way these hosts have simply kept going from their living rooms with almost no staff - admirable.

Today is exciting; I received the edits from my editor, friend, and former student Christopher Cameron, a very fine writer himself. He is extremely picky about things, which is just what you want in an editor, even if occasionally I am a little bit miffed by his notes. I was SURE that was right, and it turns out it was not. Or, occasionally, it was. We debate things like should capital letters in French have an accent, did e.e. cummings actually want his name in lower case, and other issues riveting only to writers and their editors.

And so, to work, on this mild, drizzly day. May you all be safe and well with lots of worms and nesting material, wherever you are.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

all good

The best thing I can tell you about today is that I'm still alive and so is everyone I know, at least, of the people who were alive last week. They're all still alive. That's really good news. Also, the sun was shining. My daffodils are up, bunches of them in the garden, bless their yellow heads. There's a pot of pink tulips and a vase of blazing forsythia in my kitchen. The chocolate is very good, including the solid chocolate bunny that was delivered by Soul, the small local place, whose ears I have devoured.

The peanut butter is very good. I eat it by the teaspoon.

Covid routine: an hour walking around the 'hood with Ruth, six feet apart, mostly with me in the middle of the street and her on the sidewalk. Luckily there aren't many cars. I gave her a pot of homemade jam, and she gave me some homemade soup. We discussed recommendations for movies to watch. She recommends Paddington, not just for children, she says, it's clever and charming, I'll love it. I'm sure I will and it's on my list, as soon as I get through Inspector Jane Tennison, who takes up much of my evening. Tonight, she was relentless in exposing a Bosnian mass murderer working for the British government. The government and the bosses are almost always stupid and wrong in this show. She also sleeps regularly and without apology with someone on her team. She's prickly and stubborn and rarely wrong, except about men. Mesmerizing.

Deck to deck aperitif with Monique at 5.30, the CBC radio news at 6. Dinner. Television.

My ex-husband's birthday tomorrow. Poor man, running a huge theatre complex in the States, 3 theatres, hundreds of staff, no idea when things will start again, a wife with serious health issues and a young daughter home from school. Not his best birthday. We will try to Zoom tomorrow with our two kids here - see if it works.

My GST rebate arrived today. I donated it to FoodShare Toronto. I wish I could do more.

I'm sorry, this is dull. But what matters is - I'm alive to write this, and you to read it. Onward.

Friday, April 10, 2020

a good Good Friday

Just had my huge Good Friday lunch -  a heap of my creamy veg gratin with asparagus and sausage, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and the newspaper. I may start having a glass of vino at midday. Why not? Except that it makes me sleepy. Well, why not nap? What is stopping me except my sense that I have to GET THINGS DONE? A sense that has so far not done much good, I can tell you.

Today I began work, yes, a MailChimp newsletter to former students started, not finished. Did Gina's line dancing and went to Riverdale Hill to walk down and up. It's sunny but windy and cold today. And then a very big lunch, followed by an excessive quantity of superb dark chocolate.

Last night, another episode about Inspector Jane Tennison, such marvellous television. As I said, I'm sure I've seen them all but I don't remember and am happy to watch them again. She's spectacular, Helen Mirren, one tough broad, but so is the supporting cast.

Today's daring plan was to get to the LCBO, but I have enough wine to tide me over till Tuesday, and I think everywhere will be crazy because of the long weekend. Long weekend - what a joke. Our lives are now one long weekend.

My doorbell just rang - it was John and his daughter Emilie delivering more jam, a cake, and the pack of leaf bags I'd requested. Angels!

It's so warm and quiet in here, and I'm so very full. I think I will have that nap. Is your life more exciting than mine? Do tell.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

peanut butter crisis

I don't know about you, but I'm overloaded with things to do. People's creativity and generosity are overflowing my inbox - so much to read, watch, listen to, absorb! Let alone all the rest pouring in, the radio, TV, magazines, newspapers, and of course the trusty and not-so-trusty websites. Not to mention, buried in there somewhere, books. Jane Eyre on National Theatre Live! The documentary Babies on Rogers On Demand! The NYT, Guardian, WashPost, endless articles, music, films, all on my list. Amazing, wonderful, overwhelming.

At some point, hard choices need to be made.  I find myself deleting far more quickly than I used to, just to try to keep on top of it all.

Crisis today: peanut butter almost gone, and not just any pb, my special kind, only available at the big Loblaws, plus other luxurious necessities - ginger cookies, almonds, Tangelos. So I bravely rode there in the sun today, to find a very long lineup. Turned around and rode home, put on mask and gloves and walked to Lenny's, the local healthfood store, for a pot of their pb. So I'm safe pb wise. And then the emergency chocolate was delivered from Stratford. My cup runneth etc. Must check my wine stash. Another crisis looms.
At Lenny's, there was a tall plexiglass shield in front of the cash register. I in my mask and gloves faced the cashier behind glass who didn't touch any of my things, just asked me to turn them so she could see the prices. Then I tapped and was gone, steering my way home as far from other humans as possible. It goes against everything I hold dear, this rigid avoidance of my fellows. But here we are.

It's Easter weekend, not that that ever meant much to me. We did celebrate as a family with a big meal, but that's because we loved any opportunity to gather and feast, nothing to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus. But to those of you out there who celebrate Easter, or Passover, my love and best wishes to you for what will surely be the strangest celebration yet. My cousin and his husband in NYC, who usually host 20 or more, ordered a take-out seder dinner; the company would only deliver an order for 8, so Ted and Henry will celebrate Passover for the next week.

Last night, two fabulous women: Inspector Jane Tennison in reruns - I'm sure I saw them all, but Helen Mirren and all the actors are so good, I love to watch them work. And then Sam Bee, still broadcasting from a field somewhere. All the comedians, such good sports, keeping the flame of comedy and outrage alive.

May this experience show us how little we actually need: health, food, a roof, family, and friends. And really, not much more. Okay, some of us - well, I - also need dark chocolate, peanut butter, wine, and some good reading material and entertainment. And a computer and internet, so I can write to you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Zoom wrestling

It was a glorious day, the best yet, though tomorrow rain and it may yet snow again, who knows? But recently we've had some gorgeous weather.

Covid controversy continues: A friend told me I shouldn't socialize even outside six feet apart with my own glass because the dreaded droplets could be carried by the wind. Ye gods, truly, it's a horror movie with an invisible monster lurking everywhere.

Today, spent hour after frustrating hour getting up to speed on Zoom Pro, which I bought yesterday. Sent a friend a meeting request but it didn't work. Wrestled with the app, getting more tense by the minute, because technology hates me and wants to drive me mad, like the horses I rode the one summer I went to camp who knew how afraid of them I was and would refuse to move. I even took a half hour webinar, along with, the perky teacher told us, 700 other people.

If only we'd all bought shares in Zoom 3 weeks ago!

Finally, with Matt's help and that of my tenant Robin, it's figured out. We are going to Zoom the home class next Thursday. And if that works, I hope to get more teaching, coaching, and editing work via Zoom. And during a long talk with writer friend Isabel Huggan today, she suggested that, since isolated millions have started to keep journals and write stories, now would be a good time to try to get my cheerful, concise writing textbook into their hands. How to do that? Marketing, my great great skill. LOL.

The New Rituals: Did Gina's line dancing class, which has gone from 18 participants to 3. Went for a 10-minute jogette, slower than ever; ran into director Ron Singer and his wife Yvonne, who live nearby. Have known Ron since he adjudicated a play I was in in 1969. He cast me in my second professional acting job in 1970. It's amazing to run into your past as you wander the 'hood. For him, perhaps, also.

Had aperitif with Monique. This is her view, poor soul. Please don't look at the arm flap.
Last night, made a gratin of leeks, broccoli, and spinach in a very rich cheese sauce - comfort food of the best sort. Covid casserole!
Then an excellent Ken Burns/PBS documentary on genes. My dad the geneticist told me that in 1953 he read an article by Watson and Crick about their discovery of the double helix, but he had no idea how important that discovery was. The show pointed out the dangers of genetic engineering, but also that they're coming up with cures for terrible genetic diseases because of gene research.

Improving the mind, Covid style.

Somewhere, I have to admit - I hesitate to even say this in light of so much appalling suffering world wide - but I do not mind this new life in my silent house. There's pleasure in the fact that I don't have to go anywhere or do anything, that the day stretches out filled with silent possibility and no expectation. Though I'm embarrassed to say so, from my perch of privilege and comfort and luck.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

heated Covid controversy, and One Man, Two Guvnors

Two more things to report today: I just had a phone call from Jean-Marc following up on our recent conversation on the street; he wanted to tell me how irresponsible he thinks I am to go out as much as I do, like having a drink once on Monique's deck, even six feet apart and bringing my own glass. "You're touching things, bringing that back to the house - what about your tenant?" he said. "The rule is: you stay home alone in your house and you do not go out."

But we have to survive this longterm, I said. We can't go through the day seeing nothing but disease everywhere. I wash my hands all the time, wear gloves, am careful what I touch, keep apart from others. As for the 'rule', there's nary a rule I don't look at to see how far it can be stretched.

But this is different, he said. This is life and death. He think I'm encouraging my blog readers to go out and do irresponsible things. Is that so, dear readers?

I appreciate his call. He and I have clashed before about obeying versus breaking rules, but I would have made a similar call if I felt a friend were putting herself or others at risk. I happen not to think I am, but it's true that I could be more careful. So my message to all of you is: DO NOT DO ANYTHING IRRESPONSIBLE! And don't listen to me!


Yesterday, I watched the National Theatre Live's presentation of the comedy One Man, Two Guvnors, which was the breakout role for James Corden. I saw it on stage in London just after he left and enjoyed it a lot. Well, it must have shrunk in the transition to my computer, because I found it exhausting, forced, and silly. Even Corden. Tiresome British jokes and mugging, and you know that British stuff generally sends me into ecstasy. Not this.

Tonight, Monique and I are meeting at our usual time, 5.30, from our two far apart decks. This is acceptable. As for the 'rule' - I'll have to figure out how far I will follow and when I will not.

PS Just heard from a friend: Jean-Marc’s rule doesn’t exist. The rule is stay in and, when you must go out, keep the 6 foot rule. I believe what he refers to is applied to those who have been in known contact with or are themselves symptomatic or sick with CoVid and/or returning travellers.

PPS. Lots of comments are flooding in via email and Anonymous writing below, some siding with me, and some with JM. As we sat on different levels chatting tonight, I told Monique about it. "What about people with dogs? They're out all the time. No one is telling them to stay home," she said. I think my dear friend JM exaggerates my level of irresponsibility. Sitting once six feet apart on a friend's deck is not a mad flouting of rules. But he still thinks I'm wild and crazy and leading you all astray.

Please do not be led astray.

Penny just wrote beautifully from Liverpool: Time is a strange deep river. It seems slow moving and bottomless yet it also passes too quickly to do anything useful. All those tasks I brought with me to Liverpool and suddenly they seem unimportant yet I know when life cranks up again I will wish I had used my down time more usefully.

I think we all feel that way, Penny. And now, back to Facebook.

chocolate will save the day

Sitting on the deck in the hot sun - a heavenly day. And I'm wearing jeans, aka hard pants, and underneath my t-shirt an actual brassiere, because I'm a respectable grownup woman. Occasionally. Earlier this morning, I ordered $130 worth of dark chocolate to be delivered from two local chocolatiers - Soul, a tiny place just down the street on Gerrard, and Rheo Thompson in Stratford. If I were forced to choose between dark chocolate, peanut butter, and red wine - I'd have to shoot myself before deciding.

That much chocolate should keep me going for a few days.

Today's adventure: riding my bike to University Avenue, in the heart of the financial district, to leave my tax forms for my friend John, one of the nicest guys I know, Vice President of a big finance firm who years ago offered to do my taxes for free. He has done so every year, and then Sam's as well. I'm not sure why we deserve this kindness; I know he does the taxes for his extended family, but us too? Of course, Sam did create a special cocktail for him called the Taxman, and offered to create another, the Rebate.

Downtown is a desert, a ghost town - almost no cars, air clean, quiet, John's 14-story office building empty except for a cleaner and a receptionist. I've never had such an easy time on the bike, never been more grateful for my trusty steed, the best way to get around. Never more grateful for my garden, my house and friends. That my family is healthy on the other side of town.

A superb article by the invaluable Bruce Arthur in the Star today, about "America's radioactive instability" - "And above it all, above the 40 years of anti-government, anti-science, anti-working-class, anti-poor, anti-public state - it is obvious to anybody who watches Donald Trump for 5 minutes that he is essentially a wicked, lying child who bluffed his way into being in charge of an aircraft carrier and has no idea what to do now." It ends, "We all know it's going to get worse, south of us. We remain locked in a cage with a feverish gorilla, and it's getting sicker by the day."

Much discussion among friends - will we learn anything from this? Will our new appreciation not just of clean air and water, but strong government intervention, carry over when this ends? Or will we just go right back to where we were, heedless of the planet and each other?

Last night, My Brilliant Friend. It's slow, an intricate deconstruction of these two young women and their world. Fascinating, extraordinary actors, and Italy. A healthy Italy.

How I would like a haircut. How I miss visiting my family, the Y, Doubletake. But now I'm going down the street to buy a pot of tulips. Just had a talk with Jean-Marc, I on the sidewalk, he on his steps. He thinks I'm far too careless, even to go to Monique's deck for a six foot apart aperitif. He hardly touches anything. I understand. But I think I'm careful without being overly fearful. Will I regret this?

Was just looking back at last month, how fast things changed - one advantage of a blog. This is March 1. Move apart! I want to shout. Danger! Danger!
People are leaving helpful messages all over the place.

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Windermere Children

Just Googled "artisanal chocolate near me" hoping to find a place that delivers - I'm feeling a powerful need for good chocolate. The thrill of this moment is that Mrs. Cardinal, with her orange beak and soft brown feathers, is perched on the clematis just outside. I keep a ceramic plant base filled with water on the fence, in which the birds drink and bathe. Hope she will try it. So far, no luck with chocolate. The dark chocolate bikkies will have to keep me going. Can I get some Easter treats somehow?

Here's what a very nice rejection looks like:
Thanks for your submission. Unfortunately, we are unable to accept it for consideration as Invisible Publishing’s non-fiction list has a rather narrow focus and we do not currently publish memoirs. 

I wish you all the best in finding a good home for your work.

Very grateful, as I wrote to them, to have received their no so fast. Yesterday, I heard the publisher of the small press Biblioasis being interviewed on CBC, saying he feared the press would go under, but also that he still hoped to find new voices. Though I'd sent a submission to them late last year, I sent another on the spot, saying New voices? Here I am. But am going ahead speedily with self-publishing. Want to get this book out by my birthday in August. What a present that will be.

Another great gift: Sol Hermolin, who produces the Yiddish event I spoke at a few months ago, sent me a link to God, Man and Devil, the movie of my great-grandfather's play. When writing my book, I spent a year tracking down a video copy, and now here it is on my computer. Sol told me his family will be celebrating Passover this year in their separate houses, by Zoom. Not quite the same, but wonderful nonetheless.

Last night, Call the Midwife, then a drama about the Second World War I didn't like very much so left to read, though one of its points was particularly relevant right now - that just before the war, in 1939, ignoring the warnings of journalists, Europeans west and east were determined to pay no attention to the advance of the Nazis and danced on as usual, until their lives were smashed to bits.

And then The Windermere Children, a harrowing drama about 300 orphaned Jewish children rescued from the camps and sent to be housed in England, in an attempt to rehabilitate and heal them. Again, like Unorthodox which was largely in Yiddish, this was mainly in Polish with talented young Polish actors. It was heart-wrenching and deeply moving, especially at the end when it showed a few of the boys whose stories had been dramatized returning to the same place as old men and telling us what they'd achieved in their lives - one had been knighted. We saw that despite the kind efforts of the adults around them, what made the children better was the lush green beauty of the Lake District where they were housed, and the support and love they gave each other.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

surreal planet, Day 6,713: The Museum of My Clothes

This morning I went into what I call The Museum of My Clothes - my walk-in closet - and laughed. There they are, lined up neatly on their hangers, jackets and skirts and shirts and dresses. And every morning I put on the same sweatpants, t-shirt, and sweater, and occasionally, if I'm going to be seeing someone respectable, a bra. Or not even. And then it's farewell to the Museum of My Clothes. Yet another surreal element of this alternate universe we are all inhabiting.

But you know who's happy about all this? Animals and birds. On my walk yesterday with Ruth - six feet apart of course - we saw six big robins in a small patch of grass near Riverdale Farm. The birds in my garden are loud with song. Perhaps the clean air, the lack of much auto noise, the fact that humans aren't tramping about getting in the way will be a huge boon to our avian neighbours, and the animal ones too. Silver Lining Department. I've heard that pets are appreciating the extra contact with owners stuck at home.

Today I will write a letter to my grandsons and mail it. Maybe do that regularly through this shutdown, just to keep in touch, though of course FaceTime does it better. And today, I really must do my taxes. Have been saying that for quite some time.

Last night, the last two episodes of Unorthodox, a very fine Netflix drama. It presents a fairly balanced view of the extreme orthodox Hasidic sect the heroine Esty has to flee; a rabbi tells of all the massacres Jews have had to survive, intimating that the strict isolation and endless rules of this group are their way to survive. We get it. But it's marvellous that the city providing liberation, escape, and a future to Esty is Berlin. That was then, this is now, the film says. The world has changed, and certainly Germany has changed. Let's move on.

Today's treat, besides my taxes: the woman who leads the fabulous dance movement class I take in Vancouver whenever I'm there is offering it on Zoom. She's a trained dancer and leads a warmup, then puts on 3 or 4 fantastic songs and we dance, and then she does a cool down. Hard, again, to imagine this alone in my kitchen, but I'll be there.

Another long silent day. So much to do - my email inbox is overflowing, not to mention the Sunday papers, the New Yorkers, the books and music and films and TV, my own work, and a year's worth of sorting and culling I could start any time. So - onward.

FYI, just getting to the March 9 New Yorker, with the hideous pic of Trump on the front with the mask over his eyes. There is ONE short article inside about the virus, a few paragraphs wondering how serious it was going to be. March 9! Ye gods, that fast. By the time the magazine came out, the situation could not have been more different.

Visual escape for today: fields of tulips in Holland.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

defying death at the St. Lawrence Market

Sam texted that the friend of a friend in the know warns that our premier is going to shut down the entire province for 2 weeks, everything. Not sure if that's so. But - I'm ready.

Because I took my life in my hands this morning. Something amazing happened that never happens - I went to bed at 11:15 and woke up at 6:45. Unbelievable. No waking in the middle of the night to make lists on the notepad always by my bed. No flailing about from 3:00 to 5:30 and then sleeping in till 10. No, real efficiency, to bed, to sleep, wake up early. Thank you, body and mind. For once.

So I jumped on my bike and went to the St. Lawrence farmer's market, as I usually do on Saturday mornings, though never remotely this early - 7:30 a.m. Everyone advised against this daring venture. I may regret taking the risk. It feels like we have to juggle living life versus safety, and sometimes, life wins. I was overjoyed to be on the bike early on a mild morning, the city mostly asleep and stuck inside in any case.

At the market, there were crosses on the sidewalk six feet apart as we waited to get in. That was new. Inside, some vendors were missing, like the marvellous Polish nut lady. But the Mennonite butchers, the Merchants of Green Coffee guy, the sourdough bread people, the Empire apple guy, the leeks and asparagus people - all there. I was happy to support our local farmers and stock up. Wore gloves as much as possible, tried not to touch my face, was in and out quickly, washed my hands as soon as I got home. Imagine - a death-defying, life on the edge trip to the market.
 Waiting to get in - a first
My booty and bounty, the spoils of my raid.

Last night, after sending off the manuscript - and today I regret that I bothered as a complete waste of time and energy, like all the other submissions, but what the hell - I watched two episodes of Unorthodox on my TV rather than my computer for the first time. Thanks, Brad, for hooking me up to the 21st century. What a terrific show - showing us the (absurdly) ritualistic lifestyle of the ultra-Orthodox Hasids of Williamsburg, a "lunatic fringe" of Judaism as one character says, while keeping our hearts pounding for the safety and future of the heroine. Can't wait to watch the rest, and then James Corden at the National Theatre, and then so much more. Just listened while making a huge spaghetti sauce to a podcast via the NYT, Cheryl Strayed - Dear Sugar - chatting with the superb George Saunders about this particularly difficult era of life on earth.

I wrote an article about a writing colleague for the CNFC newsletter, and later, today's excitement - taxes! Time flies when you're having fun. The sun is coming out, the croci are dark mauve and the daffs are nearly here, Mrs. Cardinal has twigs in her beak for her nest somewhere above. I know, the cost of this pandemic is incalculable. All we can do is cherish each good moment as it arises. Time now for a fresh cup of coffee and another slab of sourdough bread: this is mine.

Friday, April 3, 2020

falling down, standing up

For your joy, today: Anna and the boys made these and put them in front of their building, where they can be seen by passersby on foot, in cars, in streetcars. So beautiful.

An hour ago I noticed that the forsythia in the front yard was in bud, ready to bloom, so got my secateurs and stepped onto my front porch. My neighbour's little girl was just coming home with their dog Harley, whom I adore, so I greeted Harley and fell over. Simply toppled onto the porch, I guess tripping over my own feet. And thought, as I went down, NOT NOW YOU IDIOT!

Not hurt. Was concerned I might have sprained wrist or ankle - a bit sore but no, perhaps because I'm pretty spry for an old bird. Thank God. Can you imagine going to Emerg right now with a sprained ankle? You'd sit there for two days and end up not just with Covid but everything else that's going. Be careful out there, folks.

I was feeling especially spry because I did Gina's line dancing online, again. On the one hand, it's absurd; it's called LINE dancing because you're in a line, not alone in your kitchen with your computer. On the other hand, why not? It's dancing, there's music, and I'm getting better, not totally two left feet any more. It's an appointment in my calendar - 11 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Something to hang onto.

Otherwise, I have no idea where the time goes. There's a long list of things to watch - yes, I know, many have written to tell me about Unorthodox, I promise to watch soon, but first, James Corden at the National Theatre, when I can get there. What else am I doing? Had a session with a coaching client on Skype yesterday, a former student wanting advice on her writing. Went for a jogette and met several people, including a father from Anna's high school days who works in sustainability - a very interesting discussion about how to change society, six feet apart, on the stairs at Riverdale Hill. I've bought a new printer and, with the help of my tech guy Matt on the phone, got it working. (I was furious my old one stopped working - "It's only two years old!" I told Matt, remembering the trip to Staples with Wayson to buy it. And then found the bill. I bought it in 2013. Thus, time, when you're my age.)

Celebrated neighbour Monique's birthday with crémeux, apart on her deck in the chilly sun. Tonight, we'll meet for aperitif as usual, my deck above hers.
Read Ben a bedtime story. God, it's not the same through a cellphone, but then, nothing is the same, is it? Watched Sam Bee, broadcasting her show from a field somewhere. Watched something else that I don't remember.

Mostly - a friend mentioned a small press in her neck of the woods, rural Ontario, she admires a lot, and I decided - to use a cliché - one last kick at the can. No, at the football - like the hapless Charley Brown, I'm going to try again and fall on my ass, once more, when the football is whisked away. So I've spent the last two days getting the ms. ready to submit for the last time, incorporating the edits friends have sent. Hope to send it out tonight and will continue in any case to prepare to self-publish.

I need things I usually buy at the farmer's market - nuts, apples, eggs, coffee, bread. It opens tomorrow at 5. How early can I get there? Anna has forbidden me to go out; Doug Ford says the death toll in Ontario could reach between 3000 and 15,000 deaths. "Stay at home, woman!" she says. But I'm not 70 yet, and we're allowed out once a week to get food, so I want to go. My daughter will not be pleased.

Have our roles switched already? Isn't it a bit soon?

Here's a slender vase of hope.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

my "break-through" book

Today the sun was shining. Let's just stop right there. What a difference!

The other night I called one of my oldest friends, who lives in B.C. She was diagnosed last year with a degenerative disease, but talking to her, all I heard was her energy and humour, her vital attention to the world. We laughed and laughed. At one point, I asked if she could get outside for a walk, and she said, "Beth, I can't walk." That was the only mention of what is happening to her body. Otherwise, just laughter and intense talk and discussion of her favourite cat memes on the internet; she is a crazy cat lady. We have been friends since 1970. I could not admire her more.

And yesterday, I interviewed a writer who suffered the worst blow imaginable, the death, by an extremely rare disease, of her only child, her 16-year old daughter.

What human beings endure, with courage and grace and understandable rage, stuns me. My writer friend said that she is now on one side of the river, and those without a terrible loss are on the other.

I write to you from my side of the river.

Last night, I watched a doc on polio, which pointed out that this hideous disease struck mostly children. The only blessing of Covid is that it leaves children alone. My father nearly died of polio in 1951; my mother thought my one-year old self had it but got over it. Think of what might have been, before Jonas Salk saved the world.

Today, I pruned the roses and hydrangeas in the sunshine. From the outside, it might have looked like I was someone who knew what she was doing. I didn't, but did it anyway. Before that, Gina taught line-dancing on Zoom. Not quite the same, but it was fun to be dancing with the 14 other women onscreen, still stumbling around.

The best thing about today is that my longterm students and friends who've been reading the memoir manuscript have been telling me what they think. For example, from one who's a university professor:
What a pleasure this was - so clever, funny, engaging, moving. I was astonished by your descriptions of landscapes—you have a particular gift there. They are transcendent. Such lovely, lovely descriptions that immerse us in the scene. I just can’t get over how you deftly describe complex people and complicated relationships with such a light touch. And, BTW, I am JUST shaking my head over why no publisher is picking this up. It reads to me like your “break-through” book. 

Thank you so much. Unfortunately, publishers do not agree.

The best thing about yesterday was that Anna arrived with four bags of groceries, a pot of her homemade seafood soup, and a face mask someone had made. We even hugged, though we were not supposed to. But I couldn't stop myself, thinking of my writer friend. My daughter and I, on the same side of the river, blessed and grateful.