Sunday, June 28, 2020

saying goodbye to Michael Enright

11.45 a.m. Is there a more Canadian experience than this – listening to all 3 hours of CBC radio’s Sunday Morning, with occasional tears in my eyes, as people famous and unknown pay tribute to its extraordinary host? After twenty years on the program, Michael Enright is leaving. I don’t think his departure is voluntary, I think he has been eased out - made redundant, though they're giving him an hour somewhere else. The fact that he’s a superb interviewer and journalist, empathetic, erudite – no. Out. 

I understand perfectly the need to foster new talent and to listen to diverse voices. But to throw out an expert in his prime – IMHO, stupid and short-sighted once again. If it ain't broke, let's break it!

Now I'm laughing as he and Robert Harris sing a Frank Sinatra song, with just the right mix of self-deprecation and absurd courage. So good. He makes it sound so easy. Like Peter Gzowski - one of the last great voices from the golden age of radio. 

I have had to find things to do while listening – I cleaned out a kitchen drawer and the fridge, then moved to the bedroom radio and folded t-shirts and stowed winter stuff, then moved to the office radio and sorted the pile of notebooks and file folders. And now, just sitting listening. But soon I’ll chop the red cabbage and start cooking it, while being informed, entertained, educated, enlightened, inspired. Kept company. That’s what good radio does, and how vital it is, especially now, in lockdown.

Thanks to all involved.

 10.30 p.m. Good news: the sparkling basement apartment is rented for the month of July! A great help. The coreopsis bought and planted not long ago is blooming, but something relentless is devouring the buddleia. More green beans today - soon enough for a meal, along with the delicious red cabbage. At one I did Jane's class from Vancouver, thinking - this pandemic has hurt many. But for me, there have been small blessings, like Jane's class on Zoom; foregoing the hairdresser and learning that I actually like my hair longer; the daily bond with Monique; gardening more; slowing down. No shopping, no gallivanting, just hunkering. Appreciating beyond measure my house and garden to hunker in. 

Watched a bit of Hard Day's Night yesterday for perhaps the twelfth time; it was on TCM. I channelled my 14-year old self while marvelling again at how much they loved each other, how their exuberance and joy bounces right off the screen, how funny they were. "The place is surging with girls!" complains their road manager. "Please sir, can I have one to surge with, please sir?" says John. 

And then I watched I am Not Your Negro, James Baldwin, excoriating about American racism, eloquent and unforgettable. 

This is what I saw first thing this morning. Sending love to you too.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Furnished apartment to rent in Cabbagetown


Spacious one-bedroom basement apartment in Cabbagetown, in the heart of central Toronto, steps from the streetcar and the shops and restaurants of Parliament St., an easy distance to Ryerson, U of T, inner-city hospitals, and downtown, yet startlingly tranquil. The apartment has a private entrance through a gorgeous garden, a high-ceilinged living-room with dining space and kitchen, dressing-room, bathroom with huge shower and washer/dryer, and a bedroom. Fully furnished.

Rent reduced to $1650 a month including all utilities and hi-speed wifi. Someone quiet and reliable with references, please.

If you know someone coming to Toronto who needs a lovely central place to stay, please let them or me know. More info and pictures available.

hooray for the Nova Scotia Department of Tourism

Busy days, Zooming: Wednesday a CNFC board meeting, uniting us from Nova Scotia to Vancouver, including our new West Coast board members originally from Eritrea and Bangladesh. CNFC is really picking up steam, I'm thrilled to report. Taught a Zoom class on Thursday, had the usual Friday talk with Judy in Vancouver - many writers writing.

Speaking of which - I woke up at 5 a.m. the other morning with a word in my head, and I think that word is the title of the book. It's a bit cryptic, as one word titles can be, so a good subtitle in needed; that's what was preoccupying me at 5 a.m. this morning. I had to get up, go downstairs, lie down on the little daybed in the kitchen, fall asleep again. Still nothing. Stay tuned.

Speaking of which - former student Margaret Lynch goes from strength to strength; in conjunction with Kings College where she did the MFA in nonfiction, she has won the Random House Best Book Proposal award. Brava!

Speaking of triumphs - Anna just helped organize a march against racism in Swansea, on the west side of Toronto. She told me they were hoping for 50 people; the estimates were 300-400. Just saw my grandsons' backs on CP24 news. Another brava! She just sent this, Ben's first sentence:
Last night's thrill: Monique and I have a friend, Jacqueline Swartz, a travel writer - such a great gig! - who won a prize from the Nova Scotia Department of Tourism: a food package of two cooked lobsters, a lot of mussels and tender smoked salmon, plus bib and nutcracker. Monique ripped apart the lobster and cooked the mussels in garlic, parsley, and white wine, and we feasted. What lucky women are we!

Today's thrill: the first GREEN BEANS! There's been lettuce, too much, I'm having to chomp on lots of salads, but now, 8 perfect green beans, the first of many to come. How I wish my mother and aunt the champion British gardeners were alive to celebrate my urban garden.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Toni Morrison

Another heavenly day, mild, sweet. Here's my list for today: 11.15, walk with Ruth. Plant astilbe. Fertilize. Fill bird feeder. Tidy chaos in office. Call about new day-timer. Listen to Toni Morrison radio interview.  Cook something with the tomatoes. Cook the red cabbage. Check in with Monique about her important doctor's appointment and for aperitif. Catch last night's Sam Bee and Colbert with Jon Stewart that I actually PVR'd.

(PS, added later - I completely forgot I'm teaching a Zoom class at 6.30! This is why I need a new daytimer. See below.)

Exciting, no? In between, many emails, blogging, stuff. Endless stuff. It's nearly the end of June! Most of the year so far has been a fog.

But the fog is lifting; was just on Parliament Street, which was bustling, though with lots of masks. Still blessedly quiet, though not as blessed as it was in April, when nothing was moving. Sam started work yesterday, am waiting to hear how it went; he texted, "It's a weird new world," at 10.

Before our Father's Day feast, incidentally, Sam and I had the following text exchange:
Me: I’m not doing anything to the steak or chicken or salmon, assuming we can put something on after barbecuing?

Sam: I don’t know! It’s never been done before, but by god we’ll try. We shall be at the forefront of food exploration. Drizzling sauces on cooked food for the first time, laughing in the face of traditional marinade. Laughing I say!

What a smartass. A bit of respect for your lazy old mum, I say.

Have to confess, I'm grappling a serious new addiction - the garden. I now know how people turn into those boring gardening fanatics, droning on. I go out every morning to inspect, tie up, prune. Smell the roses. Tie up raspberries. And then water, weed, spray bugs, worry. Admire. Fuss.

Watched to the end of Normal People last night, largely because of the young star Paul Mescal, who turned in a phenomenal performance as confused, loving, honest, infuriatingly tongue-tied Conner. The show left me depressed, as did the book, which eventually I skimmed rather than reading. If Maryann and Conner, so obviously soulmates who adore each other and are meant to be together, cannot make it work, what chance is there for the planet? No wonder there will never be peace in the Middle East; human beings are so blind and damaged, they can't see fellowship when it's blooming right under their noses.

But it's the writing that's at fault, and it's what drives me crazy about fiction - the author torturing her characters. So many of the plot turns, driving the two apart, were not credible, were in fact absurd. Oh give them a break, I kept thinking. Two people who love each other that much would break up in ten seconds over a tiny misunderstanding? Really? I don't think so. S and M: the writer put her female character into bondage, but also made us all suffer.

The filmmaking was superb, though, and as I said, talented young Paul reminded me of what it's like to be young and in love. Sigh.
Also saw a fine PBS documentary about Toni Morrison. What an extraordinarily powerful, self-determined woman, from poverty to a Nobel Prize. At one point, she had a full-time job as a New York editor while also teaching at a university and raising two sons as a single mother. Oh yes - and writing a few little books. Now that's a woman who knows how to use her time wisely. Inspiring in every way. Oh yes - and doing all this as an African-American woman, the lowest on the totem pole in those days. Not any more!

She talked about teaching writing, how she'd say to her students, But where are you in this? What were you feeling? Go deeper. Hmmm, I thought. Sounds familiar.

Another confession: I have never read her. On my list.

It's nearly 1. Time's wingèd chariot. Etc.

PS Laywine's, the wonderful pen and paper store, is open, and they have the Quo Vadis Academic Daytimer for 2020-21 in a choice of five colours! I can't live without my daytimer, and the current one is nearly done. Hopping on the bike. My day is made.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Father's Day feast

Yesterday late afternoon I thought, in my melodramatic way, if I die now, I'll die happy.

Did Jane Ellison's marvellous class on Zoom at 1, and by 3.30 my family arrived, Thomas and Eli by bicycle right across town - he's just 8, and at the end of the day he rode back with his dad, whereas I would never make it both ways! - and the others by Uber, bearing gifts. I'd asked Thomas for any leftovers from his garden to replace my chewed up Swiss chard, and they brought two big baskets with lettuce, tomatoes, marigolds, peppers, and other things he wasn't sure about that I'll need to look up - maybe a turnip and maybe a watermelon?

There was merriment and two boys wrestling like puppies on the grass and then Sam barbecued steak, chicken, salmon on a plank, Portobello mushrooms, and mixed vegetables. I made pomegranate/cucumber salad, green salad with garden lettuce, baked potatoes - a big fave of the boys and their father - and asparagus.
We FaceTimed for ages with their dad in Washington, who is suffering - after a heroic years-long successful struggle to get his massive theatre out of debt, now everything's shut down until there's a vaccine. And now his and other theatres are being attacked by BLM as "white theatres." I feel for him.

Thomas rode back here today to help put my upstairs tenant's heavy air conditioning unit in. I told him, If there's one thing I'll say to myself on my deathbed, it's that I helped create a family of people who like each other and get along.
And he said, laughing, Even during a Covid-19 lockdown.
Yes, even then.

After they left, I had work to do - final decisions on the photos going into the book, as the ms. had to go to the publisher this morning, though I took a break for Grantchester, which is not as good without the hunky James Norton, but good nonetheless.

So it has gone, beginning the next stage of its journey.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Merb'ys of Newfoundland - Happy Father's Day

For Father's Day, here is a beautiful short film about what it is to be a man: the Merb'ys of Newfoundland.


The creation of the 3rd annual Merb'ys photography project - a cultural phenomenon in Newfoundland featuring male people in sparkly custom mermaid outfits all in the name of charity and breaking down barriers.

This made me cry. Please enjoy.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Normal People

Watched some of the summer solstice live from Stonehenge. No crazies, no druids, just a camera and a hundred thousand people from around the world. What an amazing thing, another unforeseen benefit of this pandemic. Here's a screenshot:
Though to tell the truth, it was a bit dull, just watching the light dim very slowly behind these magnificent structures. The first time I saw them, with my family in 1964, we wandered around touching them, and even at thirteen, I was moved. The most recent visit, in 2009, no touching, but they're still formidable and haunting. What must it have been like, thousands of years ago in prehistoric times, to see them loom above?

A very hot Saturday - what I wouldn't give for a little swimming pool!

Yesterday, the window guys arrived, two Ukrainian men who had a very tough job removing the old windows from the swollen old wood around them. It took them hours longer than they'd imagined. But now I have two, count them, two bedroom windows that open wide, with screens, and Robin upstairs has a lovely new window too. It is VERY hot in the attic room.

Last night I watched three episodes of Normal People. Sally Rooney is one of those writers who took off to the stratosphere instantly. I liked her first book, was unmoved by this one, her second. But the series is fabulous - two superb young actors, so committed to the work it's painful, almost intrusive to watch them. OH my God the agonies of adolescent love, its unbearable urgencies and insecurities and lusts and fears. They are bringing it all back, back to when I was 15 and 16 and a bit older and wasting my energy on one impossible boy after another, writhing in pain. Does he like me? Where is he right now? Is he looking at HER? Thank GOD for being old and calm and wise. I wouldn't go back there for anything. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series, bit by bit.

We are still in this surreal world, my friends, where we can sort of go out and sort of not, where the United States is disintegrating in excruciating slowmo before our eyes, where the world is coming to us through the little boxes we hold in our hands or on our desks. But - roses. Wisteria. Hydrangea. Lettuce. Butterflies and bees and birds. The world carries on, ignoring us to the best of its ability. Wise move, world.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Macca's birthday, and Radical Acts of Love

A quick word, have to write today, because IT'S MACCA'S 78th BIRTHDAY! Thank you, dear man, for all you've given to our world, and to this one Canadian in particular, who has loved you faithfully since February 1964. 56 years. Ye gods. Here he is singing his fabulous birthday song on the Plains of Abraham in 2008. I was there, renewing my vows, along with hundreds of thousands of others. Can you see me? I'm the one dancing.

And ... I have discovered the name of my rosebush! I Googled "peach-coloured double rose" and what came up: the William Morris heritage English rose. I could not be happier, as a huge fan of Mr. Morris and of English heritage roses, of whom my mother was one.
One of my William Morris roses, this morning.

I am reading a vitally important book given to me by Isabel Huggan, who's a friend of the author: Radical Acts of Love: how we find hope at the end of life, by Janie Brown, a nurse who started a kind of hospice in Vancouver that provides counselling and support to those who are dying and their loved ones. The book shows that facing death with calm acceptance is the greatest gift we can give not only ourselves but our loved ones. It's not an easy read but it's a very important one. It makes me sorry that when my family and I were dealing with my dying father in Edmonton in 1988, we had not a clue what to do. We didn't ask him what he wanted, we didn't once use the word 'dying'. But we were there, and we surrounded him with love as best we could. At the end, he'd had enough; he went upstairs alone and took the morphine he'd been stockpiling. I honour his courage, and I urge you, particularly if you are facing your own ill health or that of someone you care about, and even if you're not, to read this book.

Before that I skimmed a nonfiction library book - When Time Stopped. An interesting premise destroyed, in my opinion, by being far, far too long. Where are the editors? she cries.

Cooling down after a hot one, it's 7 pm and another day has passed when I've not a clue what I did. Well, I went for our usual Thursday walk with Ruth; I went to the LCBO and bought 7, count them, 7 different kinds of rosé; I fertilized the garden and will now water; I read the Star and many websites and emails and of course had aperitif with Monique and breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What else, during the eleven hours since 8 when I got up? I have no idea. Oh - a tiny nap. And I found out the name of my roses.

So - not nothing. Not a new book started, not a vigorous exercise regime begun, but not nothing. Still alive. That's something.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

listing the garden and missing the Kinks

PlantNet has changed my life. It reminds me of that fantastic scene in The Miracle Worker, as Annie Sullivan desperately tries to get Helen Keller to understand: "It has a NAME!" And at last the girl's face lights up. I am that girl. Now I know the names of almost all the plants in the garden, because the app told me so. Though not my beautiful roses.

So I made a list from one end of the garden to the other and counted. There are at least 47 different kinds of plants and flowers in the garden, including several different varieties of the same genus (that are only counted once.) There are 11 kinds of trees, including 12 cedars. 15 kinds of vegetables and spices, and 2 kinds of fruit.

And I know almost all their names! Come over and I'll introduce you to spiderwort, mandevilla, bugbane, comfrey, allium, goutweed, coreopsis. Aren't those beautiful names? 

But one name eludes me, infuriatingly, and that's the title for my book. More searching today. Too bad there isn't an app for book titles. Ah well - something will come.

I make lists every day. For days now, my list has included finishing the course, Marketing for Creatives, that I started weeks ago and abandoned. It includes clearing out the fridge and cooking what needs to be cooked. Spraying the plants that have bugs or are at risk and fertilizing them all. Not to mention cleaning and clearing and laundry.

Did I do a single one of those things today? Nyet. I did however list all the plants in my garden and do Jane Ellison's exercise class and have aperitif with Monique, and I did spend an hour rooting through a vast box of family photos looking for a shot of my parents in the seventies to use in the book. And I found one - not good quality, a Polaroid, but wonderful nonetheless.
They were at a cottage they'd rented; my mother had not yet quit the cello. She found it too hard but she played piano and recorder beautifully. And Dad, as you can see, the violin.

And I found one of my favourite shots of me, my 18th birthday.
That summer, I was working as a waitress at the New Parkway Motor Hotel in Cornwall, Ontario, which was run by my uncle Loris. But the weekend of my birthday, I'd come home to celebrate with my parents in Ottawa. THAT VERY WEEKEND, The Kinks - THE KINKS - came through Cornwall and stayed overnight at the New Parkway Motor Hotel. They ate in the restaurant. When I got back, all the waitresses were giggling, and stories were told. I missed it all.

Perhaps just as well.

PS I forgot to count the wisteria! 48!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

lovely friends

Last night Cathy's Dom Perignon 2000 was a tiny bit old, so Monique suggested we add a touch of her favourite liqueur, cassis. Delicious. A lovely time on her deck, the champagne followed by Chateauneuf du Pape - this woman does not fool around with wine. For the last few months, as we weathered isolation with each other over aperitifs, Cathy, who's known Monique for decades, has become a good friend to me too. She's off to Newfoundland tomorrow and will be missed.
This morning, a long walk down the Don Valley Trail with Lynn, who's very fit and has an app which not only told her how many steps we took and kms. we walked - about 7 - but also how much of the time we walked briskly. Answer: quite a bit. Talking all the way.
She also showed me an app, PlantNet, that I've since downloaded for myself. It's like facial recognition technology for plants and flowers; she took a shot of a wildflower on our walk and looked up its name and provenance. She did the same for a few mysterious things in my garden. But to my disappointment, the app was not able to identify this gorgeous beauty. Too many roses. Any ideas out there? This rose bush has been in my garden for at least 15 years, and it's sheer joy every year. I counted 100 buds. What did human beings do to deserve roses?
Watched a documentary this evening about Mae West. What fabulous lines she had, often written by herself. When Cary Grant tries to take her hand and she pulls it away, he says, "Don't you want me to hold your hand?" "It's not heavy," she says. "I can hold it myself." 

I think this is a Mae West rose, don't you? There. Named.

Monday, June 15, 2020

sweet peace

Blessings, blessings, gifts, these days. The weather is perfect, 20 degrees with a light wind. My neighbours went away and there was silence here and in the 'hood, such extraordinary silence for downtown. When it's quiet and sunny with a breeze, there is nowhere on the planet I'd rather be than in my garden - on my deck in the shade with a glass of rosé and a book or this computer. And thou.

Have been gardening - trying to keep on top of the ferocious growth, not just of the good things, but of weeds and plant-destroying bugs. But the roses, the wisteria, the hydrangea - and this year an explosion of honeysuckle. The bleeding heart, the beans and squash, the lettuce. The only sad story is the ... almost completely devoured.

My brain is going. I am forgetting names. It's scary. People's names, the names of things. The name of the devoured veg - it came! Swiss chard.

Why is it Swiss? In any case, a bug has destroyed it.

No idea how the days have passed, but they have. Today, errands, going to pick up another library book, FaceTiming with Lynn in France, tonight a big dinner with Monique and Cathy, who is leaving for Newfoundland on Wednesday, to our sorrow. She has brought a bottle of Dom Perignon for tonight's celebration of how we three supported each other almost daily through this strange time.

Lynn said how much she has enjoyed it, being stuck in Provence with books and the internet, cooking, doing her exercise classes, reading, walking. Now France is opening up, and her daughter Sarah and 3 grandchildren have arrived from Kathmandu because Sarah, a single mother, needs help with the kids. So Lynn's vacation is over.

Canada is opening up too, though more slowly. Just picking up a library book - the library isn't open but holds are coming through - you stand in the parking lot while they spray the table, then put your library card on the table and stand way back, then they bring the book in a brown paper bag and spray again. Definitely overkill. But they want people to feel safe.

Time to sit on the deck with my new library book - When Time Stopped - and drink in the peace. Too early still for rosé. Or Dom Perignon. But time - some days, it sure does feel as if time has stopped.
The boys and their friend Amani at the march.
This is the entrance path to the basement suite through my garden. Please pass on the word. Ready for renting! Fully furnished, wonderful location, absolutely fabulous landlady!

Friday, June 12, 2020

Anne Frank's birthday

It's Anne Frank's birthday today. She would have been 91. She should have been 91. Imagine, with her wisdom and sensitivity and drive, what she would have written during her lifetime, if she'd been given the chance.

Makes me weep.

Okay, let's not, there's too much to weep about out there. So, the good news: Greg, the publisher at Iguana Press, came over today. We sat distanced enough on the deck, talked shop, discussed the cover and photos, liked each other a lot - and SIGNED THE CONTRACT. We're moving ahead, folks. Incredible. I first began to pitch this book in the fall of 2017, and that was after a few years of writing and editing, which continue still. Endless.

BTW, however, Greg says there's a problem with We Are All Broken. It's the inspirational bon mot on the cover of many journals sold on Amazon, and so, he says, when those words are Googled, that's what comes up; my book would be way down the page. Not good; people don't want to scroll down the page. So, believe it or not, we're rethinking.

Today my neighbour power-washed something extremely dirty for hours, on what had been a gorgeous tranquil afternoon. In case the noise wasn't deafening enough, they had the radio on too. First world etc. But God, I do treasure, relish, need, and adore quiet. Chris says I should buy a second-hand accordion, and the next time the neighbours are dining outside, I should go out and teach myself to play it. LOL.

Yesterday, I went across town to the anti-racism demonstration at Queen Victoria school, to protest a scandal involving a racist letter that was not handled well by the principal or the TDSB. At least 75 people marched with signs, ending in the playground for a press conference. Among those who spoke was Anna, representing the parent council; she spoke with clarity and force. I was very proud of her. And I remembered going to rallies against the Vietnam war through the sixties, listening to my activist dad speak with clarity and force. He would have been very proud of her too.

Later, I found a photo of her at 16, when we were visiting family in Vernon. My in-laws had a son with cerebral palsy and were involved in issues for the local handicapped community. And, during that visit, so was Anna.

This rare and beautiful soul is named for my great-grandmother Anna Gordin, but as well for one of my heroes, Anne Frank, also sometimes called Anna.

And finally, speaking of rare and beautiful: the first rose came out this morning.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

We Are All Broken

It's early on a fresh Thursday morning; after a hot few days, there was a violent ten-minute downpour last night, and it's cooled down a lot. Miraculously nothing was destroyed in the garden, including the fragile bean plants. I've had several salads from my lush lettuce, tho' that's all from the garden so far.

I dreamed last night about going back to the Y, the first Covid dream that I remember. I was nervous and kept asking people if I should wear a mask or not. But it was the showers I wanted most, being relaxed and naked in a room full of other naked women standing under hot water. Without masks.

Maybe time for me to do a bit of exercise. I dread finding out how much muscle I've lost. But then - there's been a lot of strenuous cleaning. That counts.

However, good news: the contract for the book is done. Tomorrow I'm going to meet the publisher to talk about cover and interior images. After months searching for the right title, it was suggested by Judy; it's a chapter title, a quote from Vanier, but also a famous saying. And the subtitle, after more flailing, came to me at 4 a.m. the night before last. TA DA:

We Are All Broken:

losing myself in theatre
finding myself at L'Arche

a memoir

Order your copies today!

And the apartment is nearly done; pictures went up on the walls yesterday and more repairs. John told me his bill, for stuff he has bought for me and for his time, will be $1000. Makes me wince, but worth every penny.

So after extreme stress for months, two issues are resolved simultaneously. Of course, I have to get the book out and into the hands of readers, an uphill task, and I have to find a nice quiet person to live downstairs. But we're on our way.

Last night I watched another Hot Docs doc - There's No Place like This Place Anyplace, a wistful elegy to Honest Ed's and Mirvish Village on Markham St., a whole city block sold to a developer and torn down. Ed's was a vital resource for low-income people, and the Village housed many artists and galleries, bookstores, centres. Gone, though there will be some affordable housing and green space. I lived just below the Village on Markham Street in 1973-74, in a second-floor room with a kitchen shared with friends. When I was leaving for B.C., we had a farewell dinner party in the backyard, eating around a pingpong table lit with candles stuck in wine bottles. I was 23. Sigh.

I also watched John Oliver rage about the police: systemic, acceptable, even encouraged racism going back more than a century, a shocking story. Today my daughter is helping to organize an anti-racism protest at her kids' school, and I will be there. I know, people say we're all distancing and then we're gathering in the hundreds or even thousands at protests, it doesn't make sense. But I will be there. In a mask. Fully clothed.

Yesterday at 5, a walk with Monique instead of an aperitif: here's a Purple Robe Black Locust in the tranquil Necropolis. Beauty.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

9.30 a.m. and all's well

In bed, at 4 a.m., I thought: in the world right now there's a murderous pandemic, there are race riots and millions of people demonstrating about appalling systemic injustice, and you're moaning about having to clean your basement apartment.

I apologize. A little perspective here. My world has shrunk a great deal, as yours has, and so the importance of this house, which always looms huge in my saga, is bigger than ever. As you may know, I have no work pension and only a small government pension. My children are certainly not going to be able to support me in old age. This house is my security, my future, my health plan, my retirement residence, my nursing home. Not to mention providing comfort and memories going back 34 years. And vital income from tenants, who have almost aways been reliable and sane.

But still - perspective.

It's a beautiful tranquil Tuesday morning; there's a distant steady murmur of traffic, more than last month though still nowhere near normal level. Just birds in the trees and an overwhelming profusion of green. Today - joy! - two library books I've had on hold since the winter will be waiting for me in the parking lot of the building at precisely 11.30; I gather a librarian will be there, though I'm not sure exactly how this works. At 2, a Zoom talk with Judy about our books - BTW, all is not in any way resolved with the publisher, unbelievable as that may be. At 3, a Writer's Union webinar on maintaining a digital presence, and at 6.45, a surprise birthday party on Zoom for a writer colleague who's turning 70.

Oh - and I'm happy to report that the doc First We Eat was voted one of the top five audience favourites after the Hot Docs festival. Though a mutual friend, I wrote to the producer/director/star in the Yukon, Suzanne Crocker, and we've been corresponding. She says it meant a lot to hear from a super-fan in Toronto. Poor filmmakers, so much work on their films, and then no premiere gathering, no applause as feedback, just a silent audience at home on their computers or phones. Brutal.

It's an amazingly full life from right here, in my kitchen. Nothing, nothing to complain about.

Monday, June 8, 2020


It was as I forced myself to wash out the toilet plunger used in the basement apartment that I thought, here I am, for hours on this glorious day, doing these vile things. This is punishment. I was bad in a past life. Or I am being punished for my good fortune in living here, having my life.

I know, silly and apocalyptic. But it's not quite over, the penance of downstairs. I just opened the bathroom cabinet and found - splashes of blood? Whatever it is, it doesn't want to come off. Who sprays blood, or something else that's red and more or less permanent, on the inside of a bathroom cabinet?

I know you don't want to hear any more about this. So I'll stop. It's almost over. But there are surprises.

On Saturday, Sam cooked a stir fry for me while entertaining my aperitif partners Monique and Cathy. Very good to see him, even if we can't hug. Here's a shot he posted on Instagram, of his solemn past self at work.

Yesterday, I rode to visit Isabel Huggan, here from France though soon going back to sell her home there, now taking care of the pretty house of a dear friend of hers who died recently, which will also soon be for sale. It has a lovely small garden and a sunny artist's studio - I wish I'd met her friend. For a moment I thought, this house is a more manageable size and I wouldn't have to be a landlady, I could sell mine and buy this! But no, I'm stuck here, I love this place and my neighbourhood too much, despite everything. It was fun to contemplate a move, though.

Isabel and I had a great catch-up over much rosé. And when I got home, Monique asked me over for another glass, so I was roséd out. Good thing I didn't have any energetic plans for the evening, just watched a bit of a PBS special honouring Joni Mitchell. I didn't know Graham Nash wrote one of my favourite songs, "Our House," for her when they were a couple. What a life she's had. Oh, and Isabel's friend was also a lover of Leonard Cohen's. These lucky women.

Friday, June 5, 2020

First We Eat

Today I feel as if I've crawled up out of a deep hole or out from under a heavy rock: light and air, a huge weight lifted. The two issues that were weighing me down are resolving at a rapid pace. The basement apartment - I'm sure you're sick of hearing about it - has been miraculously transformed into somewhere livable. The divine Holly finished off yesterday by washing the appallingly dirty floors. John has repaired the broken chairs and doors and other broken things. I washed the windows and freezer, the stained cushions and rugs. And today Dan the painter came to freshen the whole place, fill the holes in the walls, make it pretty again. Standing down there, it feels as if I've scoured my soul and come up clean and clear. I will not think about the cost.

So - very soon, a lovely fresh fully furnished one-bedroom basement apartment in a fabulous location with an adorable landlady will be available for rent. If you know anyone suitable, please let me know.

And at the same time, today, the contract for the book has been finalized. Soon I'll meet with the publisher/editor about cover and internal images, and we'll be underway. Another incredible relief. Today I spoke to a book publicist who might be interested in taking me on. I've done no writing for ages, have been buried in Pinesol and vacuum cleaners and Windex and stain remover. But soon - soon - my writer life will begin again.

This morning it was very hot; John brought me a new fan which went on right away, a blessing. Then a downpour. And right now, the sun is out again on the wet grass and trees, the smell sublime, everything glistening.

I know, my friends, that everything I've described over these past weeks - the destruction of my basement apartment, my anxieties about the book - are first world problems. I own a house and can pay for the publication of my book since no one else wants to publish it. I do not take any of these privileges, my great good luck, for granted. Grateful to the tips of my toes.

The other day I bought a ticket for the Hot Docs Festival and sat in my kitchen watching a doc called First We Eat, by and about a woman in Dawson City, in the Yukon, who decides that for a whole year her family should eat only what is grown or produced locally. This means not just no imported vegetables and fruit but no salt, no sugar, no coffee or tea - no bread, even, because there's little local wheat. Brutal. It's beautifully shot in this gorgeous wild part of the country, with full acknowledgement of the hard work of the local farmers and the wisdom of the local Indigenous people.

This is real pioneer stuff, people who need to kill a moose to have meat for the winter. It made me think carefully about the food I eat - the mangoes and avocados trucked all the way from Mexico, and other exotic fare. Doubly so because I have just finished Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, about the same thing - eating local food, growing your own. But even she didn't ban salt, sugar, coffee. The Yukon filmmaker's charming children are hilarious as they endure her foraging in the bush and producing inedible wilted greens or rock hard bread from some strange grain - but they get through with grace and learn a vital lesson about our world, and some of the food looked delicious. Well worth watching. And how great that I could sit in my kitchen and experience the beauty of the Yukon through a year of seasons.

All this, as people all over the world, and of course my daughter and her family, protest police brutality and systemic racism. And then the NYT convulses after publishing a Republican op-ed advocating harsh military intervention. And my right-wing friend writes to say he looks forward to visiting me in November after Trump wins again.

I was about to say, over my dead body. But between riots and the pandemic, perhaps that's a bit too literal.

There's a sparrow perched on the gardenia on the deck, where one glorious flower is just opening. It's Wayson, come to visit, to say, Onward. I hear you, my beloved friend.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

kind words about my memoir

On a cheerier note - just came up from the basement and found an email from my friend Judy, to whom I'd sent the memoir manuscript last week:

I read your book in one great rush and really enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed the long section of your time at L'Arche. Very moving and wonderful writing! You've got a story very worth telling and you tell it very well. 

I hope you find a way to get the publicity this book deserves.

Thank you! Perhaps, at this time of global pandemic, rising fascism, and race riots, the world will not welcome this memoir of personal epiphany and change, called "beautiful but tender" by one editor. Perhaps this is the worst possible time to release such a book. What choice do I have, though, but to send it out into the world to make its way?

Trump the fascist

An editorial in the Washington Post today: "Is it time to call Trump the 'f' word?" I wondered - fucker? failure? But of course, it's fascist. And yes, yes it is. As we've been saying for years, just when you think he can't go lower, the situation cannot get worse, he does, it does, deep into a pit of unimaginable vileness.

This does feel like a turning point, though. Surely the spotlight on police actions will never again be turned off. Another article today about police officers fired yesterday for relatively minor offences - a racist FB post, pushing a peaceful protestor to the ground. Enough. Enough. Enough.

My daughter is quick to say that racism in Canada is alive and well, and I know it is. But we do not bear the deep wound of slavery here - in fact, the reverse, we welcomed freed and escaping slaves. Our racism was directed more to our Indigenous peoples. But I know it's very much still here. How tragic that human beings have historically been insular, intolerant, tribal.

Before we moved to Ottawa in 1983, I was there looking for a house for us to rent; my dear aunt Do drove me to meet the couple who might sublet their house to us. On the way, she said, "When you introduce yourself, use your married name, not your maiden name. It'll just be easier, won't it?" It took me a moment to realize - she meant I'd be more acceptable if I didn't use my own Jewish last name. She would never have called herself racist, and yet she was. I carry it too. My children don't understand why I used to feel the need to say, "I met an interesting black writer." They're offended by that, because they don't register race the way I do. Growing up in Halifax, I did meet Haligonians of colour, because my parents were involved in the civil rights movement; they helped the Freedom Singers come to town. But my schoolmates were all white, and I had not a single friend of another race; my most exotic friend was adopted. My grandsons' schoolmates come from every background on earth. Colour is invisible to them.

Year by year, we are learning a different way to be with each other. But obviously, it's not happening fast enough.

In the meantime, today I'd like to post pictures of my heroes - my friends Nicole and Holly, who spent yesterday downstairs in the filthy basement apartment cleaning - washing walls, shelves, cupboards, floors, doors. Holly spent hours just scouring the fridge and scraping off the smiley face scrawled in crayon on the wall. They chatted and sang as they worked on a beautiful afternoon. Grateful. Onward.

Monday, June 1, 2020

gettin' 'er done

Big day here, as those of you who follow this blog will attest: the basement apartment has finally, after many weeks of turmoil, been cleared. The tenant came back with a helper and a big truck provided by a family member, and they packed the truck with bags and boxes. I just filled my garbage bin with the garbage they kindly left behind - a broken drawer, a broken mirror.

Now the cleanup and repairs begin. Just the unspeakable fridge will take many hours, not to mention the walls and floors, the broken things, the hole punched in the bedroom wall, and so much more.

I spent the day with my dear friend and handyman John, who faced a list of 16 chores when he arrived, and we got through most of them. We put up the canopy of the pergola, under which, on this hot sunny day, I am sitting right now in blessed shade, with a glass of rosé already though it is only 4.30.
Some jobs were small - my bike basket bent out of shape so unusable, the front door not closing properly, a door in the apartment off its hinges. And some big, especially the RootX treatment we have to put down the basement drain once a year in I hope a successful effort to keep the roots of the vast maple out front out of my sewer pipes. They invaded once and believe me, you don't want to hear about it. The sink upstairs was plugged, the toilet handle in the apartment was broken. Etc.

While John did his chores, I started power-washing the deck with the noisy machine he'd brought. I hate them, but I guess it's the only way to clean outdoor, mossy wood. In an hour of noise and spray, I got less than half done. Why, why exactly, do we own houses?

I know, first world, rich white people problems. America is consuming itself. As someone wrote cynically and truthfully on Twitter, if it was Putin's goal in 2016 to destroy the U.S., he is getting the best return on investment of anyone ever.

But the garden is green and gorgeous and growing, and yesterday, I walked in the Necropolis, which after being closed for weeks is open limited hours now. It's beautiful and peaceful there, and I commune with my former neighbours - this time, a man who is buried with both his sons, one who died at a year old in 1896, the other who died in battle in 1917, age 20. Heartbreaking.
The book contract is under negotiation, two sparrows are mating in the tree in front of me right now, as I write, and we are still alive, my friends. It has been beyond fraught, this spring, and is getting worse. What a brutal year 2020 has been so far.