Monday, August 31, 2020

Write like a motherf*cker

I know, it's become an obsession - but the deafening noise continues from Spruce Street. Could I hate these people more? I had to go over on Sunday with my TO noise ordinance - no construction noise allowed on Sunday, which they conveniently ignore. Just a few more minutes, they said, which meant an hour. But then it stopped. The silence is like - like sweet fresh water, like the smell of roses, something blessed and fine. But this morning, here we go again. And now the bellowing boyfriend is there too. Noise cancelling headphones help a bit but only a bit.

I know, this is the price I pay for living in this wonderful 'hood, where many others want to live. There's apparently a ton of renovation going on this summer, because everyone's at home. Enjoying each other's noise and dust.

Jason is coming soon to continue plans for the launch. So far, I've been receiving positive reports from those reading the memoir now. Monique's boyfriend Ron says he's glad I survived my youthful indiscretions. I'm glad too, but I hastened to tell him that my indiscretions were relatively benign compared to those of many of my friends. It was a wild time, the late seventies - feminism, the pill, and tons of drugs had liberated us, and there was no AIDS to slow anyone down.

It's a beautiful day, warm and sunny with a breeze. This ridiculous cat is next to me sleeping all over my work -
and I just received a card from the kids in Nova Scotia and a present from Judy in Vancouver, with a very important message:
Point taken. I promise to start, as soon as this one is out in the world and I can breathe again.

I just got some essential reading from the library and Shopper's Drug Mart:
and am just finishing a fascinating book called Philosophy in the Garden, by Damon Young - how various writers and philosophers, from Jane Austen to Voltaire, think of nature and gardens and how that influences their work. Not sure what my philosophy of the garden is - perhaps, "Whatever can survive my carelessness and lack of skill deserves to survive."

Luckily this was not my philosophy of parenting. Wait - no, maybe it was.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Summertime, and the livin' is ... pretty damn weird

Some days I'm terrified for our world. Yes, things were worse during WW1, the Depression, WW2. And maybe even the Cold War, not to mention the Dark Ages and plague times. But this is another kind of dark age. Perhaps it was happening anyway, the rise of the foul dinosaurs, and Trump simply gave permission for it all to get much, much worse, but watching the rise of neo-fascist authoritarianism is appalling. Turkey - Russia - Brazil - Hungary - led by angry, greedy, heartless men angling for war. And then there's the most greedy and heartless of them all - not just him but his whole disgusting party on display this week, petrifying their follower sheep with lurid tales of violent gangs and lawless mobs and the "destruction of the suburbs" ...

Okay, enough, nothing I can do about it. Bill Maher last night begged his audience not to use the post office in October so as not to impede the flow of ballots through the possibly fatally damaged US postal service. Mind-boggling, as was his interview with a vicious Republican attack dog who went after Hillary relentlessly for Benghazi and yet had nothing to say about Trump's endless law-breaking.

Okay, I'll stop now.

Several nice things to report: one is that - bliss! - I've had a good haircut for the first time since February. My hair had become a wild and lawless mob; Ingrid, my hairdresser for decades, won't come back to work until there's a vaccine, and the nice young woman who did an interim job didn't understand my hair AT ALL. But Ruth's hairdresser Kathleen did, perfectly. What a difference; I feel light-headed and human again. And then another gift from Ruth: the Musical Stage Company offers Porch Concerts; you can book two singers to come to your house for an outdoor, distanced concert. A group of about twenty-five of us brought our own chairs and gathered in the courtyard in front of Ruth's house on a beautiful summer night, and as the light faded and the cicadas kept tune, we listened to a gorgeous young woman, six months pregnant, and her partner sing to us. Thank you, Ruthie!

The nicest thing of all: I sent a hesitant email to my ex-husband, telling him the memoir is now out, that it ends with the ecstatic beginning of our love affair and marriage. There are hints that all might not be well at some point, but mostly we were madly in love. He's a very private person and I was concerned about what he'd say, but he wrote back a warm, generous note supporting my work as a writer and asking me to send him the book. It's always an issue when you're writing about living people, as we memoir writers do - how will they take it? I could not ask for better from him.

My kids, however, have said maybe they won't read this one, dealing as it does with their mother's sex life, among many other things - and in fact, their grandmother's - my own mother's - sex life too! I understand if they don't. But I hope they do.

Summer is fading, but it's still hot, and the market this morning was full of peaches and corn - tho' the first apples have appeared too. I've nearly finished the audiobook - another few hours this coming week - and am sending out invitations to the book launch. I do think, with the number of friends, neighbours, and former students I have, that there might be a nice number of book sales when the book is released on September 9.

It's September 10 I'm worried about.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

killing a garden

Yesterday, the noise from the reno on Spruce Street was so unbearable, I went over to see what was going on. Are they building the @#$#@ Taj Mahal? There was a lone man, covered in stone dust, with a large machine, and I saw: the owners have a nice-sized south-facing backyard, and they have covered it entirely in dark grey slate. Slate slabs from one end to the other, the cutting of which is what I've been listening to all @#$#@ summer. But, said the nice old man who barely spoke English and could barely see out of his dusty eyeglasses, the slate cutting is nearly done. Today, a radio blaring as more work continues, but only hammering and shouting.

I am just glad that Dorothy, my British gardening guru who lived on Spruce two houses east, who inspired me, a total non-gardener, to get started here, who had made her own south- facing yard a gorgeous lush oasis of scent and bloom, is not alive to see - and hear - this. She'd be apoplectic.

Last night, over to Lynn's in Forest Hill, to her sublime pool like a lake - we support ourselves on pool noodles as we float up and down, jabbering the while. And then dinner in her garden, with a beautiful rosé she'd been saving for my birthday, and fresh corn. Happiness is.

But our neighbours to the south are more murderously insane than ever. Here, on the subway yesterday, almost every single person I could see was in the mandatory mask, and the new leader of the Cons, who courted the social conservatives to win, has just said he's pro-choice. More grateful than ever that my father left New York for a life in Canada.

Today, more taping at the studio. Two weeks till launch! Much planning to do.

Some random photographs that make me - and I hope you - glad.
At Ruth's, dining in the drizzle
Happy muddy boys at low tide in Nova Scotia - check out the lower half -
 From the beginning to the end, in only six years - incredible how far they went, how much they changed -
The very beginning! Babies. With Stu and Pete Best.

And so, on into Wednesday - right now, Gina's line dancing class.

Monday, August 24, 2020

home in the heat

Home to a heat warning - 33 degrees feeling like 37. Where's the lake?!

Ruth and I had a wonderful few days. We fell into a rhythm that worked for us both - coffee in the morning sun, reading, discussing politics, reading, internet, swimming, making and eating lunch, reading, aperitif, making and eating dinner, internet, Netflix = perfect. Going down to the lake last night to look at the quarter moon and the electric storm flashing through the clouds on the horizon.

Last night, the last episode of Unbelievable - a terrific Netflix drama, highly recommended. And then I persuaded Ruth to watch the last episode of this season's Endeavour on PBS, a sensible, interesting British cop show which for some reason turned into a gothic melodrama, ending with various shootings in a Venice graveyard with an opera soundtrack. Who hijacked the series? This ridiculous episode was full of events that made no sense. Poor Ruth did not understand my enthusiasm.

We had a leisurely drive back down this morning, stopping, of course, to buy corn and peaches. We drove for many, many miles through farmland, all dedicated to corn. Wondered - is that healthy for the soil? I got back to find my house in great shape thanks to Nicole, but the cat not so much - she has puked twice since my return. As she pukes, she moves steadily backwards so as to leave a nice long trail on the rug. I feel for her. Perhaps it's the heat.

Speaking of puking, I gather some horrible man has been chosen to head the Tories, and he has immediately sworn to kill the CBC. As I just wrote on FB: to those who love to dump on Justin Trudeau and the Liberals, just wait until you find out what the Cons have in mind. Terrifying. And of course, I'm ignoring every moment of the Republican convention. Give me strength.

A long list of things to do, including stuff with the many cucumbers that sprang forth in my absence. But for now - rosé.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

heaven in Muskoka

Reporting in from paradise: Birch Island in Muskoka. Ruth and I have settled into a gruelling regime of reading by the lake, swimming, preparing simple, delicious meals and eating a great deal, drinking also, and then watching terrific TV at night. It's a tough life but someone's ... etc.

We have a companion - Ruth's grand-dog Coco, a beagle with a very busy nose, also enduring this difficult life.
But the greatest treat of all is listening to Ruth read Loose Woman. She laughs and laughs, yesterday, putting down the book and wiping her eyes with laughter. Nothing could give me greater pleasure (except of course world peace, a cure for cancer, and the total disappearance of the orange blowhole). And then she asks questions - what happened to this character? And she reminisces about her own trips to France, her own young love life ... I'm sitting beside her, near the lake, as she delves into my memoir. It's a huge privilege. This feels like the first time I've actually been able to process the fact that the book exists in the world. It has finally been born.
Today, after swimming and reading all day, we kayaked around the island. It's not as tranquil as it was before - it's Saturday and the weekend people are here, zapping back and forth on loud machines. Imagine, you come to one of the most tranquil places on earth, and you spend your time roaring crazily across the water. But it's still heaven. How lucky are we Canucks, to have these incredibly beautiful retreats of water and forest not far from our cities. So many shades of green. The smell of pine. Many creatures, including a heron stalking the water close by, the haunting loons, and apparently a beaver too.

I spent the morning, however, working - sending out emails to friends and colleagues about the book and its launch. And what lovely replies I've been receiving, words of support and encouragement, truly heartening for a person as insecure - as now you know - as I.

Right now, we're having aperitif - rosé and smoked mussels on the deck, with the lapping of waves and the occasional loud marine vessel going by. Tonight, we'll watch more episodes of Unbelievable,  a true life murder mystery. And maybe go look at the sunset. Like yesterday's.


Friday, August 21, 2020

The Democrats nail it

A surreal moment last night - sitting in a rustic living-room in Muskoka, surrounded by woods and water, watching Joe Biden and the Dems save the world. Or at least give it a damn good try. I have hope.

One powerfully moving moment after another, all done on video in isolation yet full of impact. Young Brayden Harrington, daring to appear on screen with his stutter; historian Jon Meacham delivering a heartfelt, eloquent analysis of our current moment; Julia Louis-Dreyfus pulling no punches, as scathing and vicious as her opponent but with a ton more wit. And on and on.

But mostly, it was about Joe - or Joey, as he was often called throughout, and for me, the most moving segment was his four granddaughters saying he called them every day, always took their calls even in the middle of important political events. We learned that despite the tragedies the man suffered, he emerged, not hardened, but full of empathy and kindness. How could he be more different from that loathsome orange-faced troll?

In the meantime, there are woods and lakes on all sides. Ruth and her family have owned this cottage for 50 years, and it's a beauty. And yet, as I wrote last time, with high-speed wifi and flat-screen TV. We have enough food to last us into next year. Perhaps we should just hunker down here until after November, when the world changes for good. For the good.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Goodreads, Amazon, MailChimp, Zoom

Dear blogees, thank you for indulging me. I needed to air my insecurities yesterday and do a bit of moaning; the gremlin of self-pity jumps out every so often. As I say to my students, a certain amount of insecurity is necessary to an artist; it means you'll struggle to improve, to push higher. It's just important that the critical voice isn't so harsh, it shuts you down. As Wayson used to say, "Do not be silenced!"

Yes sir. Wish you were here. You'd have loved all this prep for the book launch.

It was a beautiful summer day, and there was no renovation on any side - just breezes, birdsong, the regular city hum. I did Gina's line dancing class for the first time in ages - good for the brain as well as the bod, where DO these feet go? And then Jason came, we set ourselves up outside and got to work. These are the things a writer needs to do these days: set up a Goodreads page for the new book. Set up an Amazon author page. Discuss how to revise this website and what the Zoom launch will entail. Prepare the email blasts to go out soon. Send out a MailChimp newsletter about the book to nearly 400 former students. And more.

The online planet is more important than ever. Even so, I just can't get the hang of posting constantly on social media. So be it. But if readers want to find me or my work, we made it easier today.

And then I went to buy rosé and groceries for my trip tomorrow with Ruth to her cottage near Gravenhurst. Oh I can't wait to be in that tranquil house on an island, surrounded by trees and water, with my dear friend. I'm bringing a bit of work, yes. But mostly I want to read and sit and digest where I am now and what's next. Last time I was there, I sat under an umbrella by the water and read Middlemarch; it was heaven. Must find a weighty tome to bring this time, along with the usual New Yorkers.

The Democratic convention is barrelling on; the little I've seen feels perfect. The question is - why is it necessary to work so @#$# hard to convince people? As David Sedaris said with his usual humorous brilliance, this election is like a stewardess asking if you want the chicken or the plate of shit filled with ground glass, and some have to take time to decide, hmm, which should I choose? Let me ponder.

While I'm gone, Nicole will be here, taking care of Anna's cat and the house. Here's what my new friend Naan thinks of my busy days, as she flops on my daytimer. I love having a cat around again. She yowls piteously, just like me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

grappling with the demons of doubt

I do not have Covid-19. Found out in 24 hours, thank you very much. Suddenly, when I heard "negative," I felt better. But not a whole lot better.

These last days, as I prepared to sit in a recording studio taping the audiobook of my memoir, I unearthed my inner neurotic actress. Suddenly I felt fragile and unwell. My throat hurt. All I thought about was my voice, my strength - how to prepare? I did vocal exercises all morning, limbering up throat and lips and tongue, as we learned to do in theatre school. I found it hard work, reading into a microphone for 3 hours, then editing the tapes we did the day before. Satisfying, but also scary. I'm recounting my own very personal story, and one of the voices, the negative voice I know so well, kept saying, "Who's going to want to listen to THIS? What a waste of time and money. YOUR time and money."

I'm insecure about my voice and also about my writing. Yes, I get good feedback about my writing from friends and students. But I contacted a publicist in Vancouver who was charming and friendly, willing to take me on. But now she's ghosting me. All publishers but one turned me down. I've never won a prose writing competition, never been included in an anthology. There's something about my work that doesn't work for the industry. Too much telling, Wayson used to say, not enough showing. Whatever it is - it's what I do, it's what the book is. What if it's disappointing readers right now?


And yet - I've taped 145 pages of my book so far, acting my buns off, trying to do the voices, the accents, convey the mood swings of this young woman as she sets off on her odyssey. If no one wants to listen to it, I'll be disappointed, but I won't be surprised. That's our business.

Monique who's reading it said tonight, I thought I knew you but I don't at all! I said, Well for one things, you've never known me to have a sex life. Now she's reading about a time when I had a very active sex life. Not to mention the booze and drugs. Cu, the young technician doing the taping, mostly doesn't listen as I read, but after yesterday's reading, he wanted me to discuss something I knew about that he, cool young dude that he is, did not: cocaine.

In the meantime, Trudeau is struggling at a bad time, and the Democrats seem to be doing a good job at their convention. Please God.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Covid test

I went for a Covid test today. Yes, have a bit of a sore throat and headache, but mostly because I'm invited to go with Ruth to her cottage on Thursday and she sensibly wants to be sure I'm safe. As do I. What an amazing experience. How glad I am to live in Canada. They've taken over a whole separate section of St. Mike's - across the street from the actual hospital, everything white, sterile, enclosed. A short lineup, then registering, being questioned and given instruction, then finally the test itself - half an hour, beginning to end. As I waited to see the doctor, I saw a whiteboard nearby with a list of personnel and names: Greeters, registrars, screeners, scribes, runners, testers, and more, with an exhortation scrawled above: "Tough times don't last, tough people do!"

And then the doctor, who had nice dark eyes above his mask and under his shield, shoved the swab up my nose and I was done. I thanked them all profusely. The results will be emailed in a few days.

However, on the ride there and back along Shuter Street, I was ashamed of my city, province, and country. The army of the homeless has increased enormously over these last months; there are tents and tarp enclosures all over, particularly near the Safe Injection site on Queen which is the bane of my dear John's existence - he lives across the street. It's a difficult situation; the homeless and drug addicted need a place to go, but there is certainly an increase in crime and danger where they are.

At home, I filled in the form to complete my online registration; it gave me a bunch of choices for "Sex: female/male/other/undifferentiated/unknown." Really, is there anyone who has no idea what sex they are? Perhaps. We live in strange times.

The shock of today, though, was listening to the recording we made yesterday. OMG, who is that woman talking so slowly and laboriously? The first half hour, at least, will have to be redone. I realize I was working too hard, overthinking as I always do, and also that the writer had overcome the actor and was insisting on each precious word being heard. NYET. Keep it moving, chatty, and fun, princess. Will have to retape. This will take time and may end up being yet another sinkhole for my money. But it's something I have to do.

Cheery tidings from the Guardian: Literary world overwhelmed by 600 books to be published on one day. That day: Sept. 3, a week before the release of my own tome. Ha!

The good news: the other day my son posted on FB about the murder a year ago of the restauranteur next door, how Sam held the wounded man as he died, how hard he took it, how he was diagnosed with PTSD, and how his community (and his parents) supported him through it. It was eloquent, moving, deeply honest. He has had almost 300 Likes and many kind, loving messages. FB is good for some things. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Beth puts in a workday

Exhausted; it's 6.30 p.m. and I actually WORKED today, worked hard. At least, hard for someone who's usually messing around at home; even teaching is extremely easy in comparison with what most of the world does every day, I'm embarrassed to say.

I spent the morning warning up my body and voice and turning into a neurotic, hypochondriac actress once again, and this afternoon sitting in a studio for 3 1/2 hours, taping the audiobook. In that time we did less than 60 pages of a 230 page book, and I'm a pretty fluent reader. So, lots more to do.

But how lucky I am to have this studio and its technician, a young U of T graduate with a Master's in music technology called, mysteriously, Cu, who is incredibly skilled. He ensconced me in front of a state-of-the-art microphone, fired up his enormous console and we began. Beside me I had: a thermos of tea with lemon and honey, throat lozenges, snacks, sweater and socks in case it was chilly - which it was, those went on and the tea was drunk and the snacks were eaten. Neurosis, thy name is BK.

But it was great. I used to do a lot of radio and voiceover, though have not for years, and was nervous about going back to this part of my life. I don't like listening to myself, as I over-enunciate, sound prissy, like I'm trying too hard. But once I got started, it was as if I'd been doing this all along. Wonderful Jason was there to get me launched, sympathetic about my concerns - this is not only you going back to acting, it's your own words you're reading, he said. And my own life I'm exposing, I said.

But that's the job.

After we stopped, I watched Cu do his editing magic - taking out hesitancies or mistakes, watching the row of vertical lines that is my voice. We have the day off tomorrow to listen to today's tapes and see what worked and didn't, then Monday and Tuesday we're at it again, and then a break till the following week, as I'm invited to Ruth's cottage Thursday and am determined to go; I really need to get out of town for a bit. Nicole is all set to move in here and look after garden and cat.

But tomorrow, also, I have to go and have a Covid test; understandably, Ruth would like to know I'm safe before I arrive on her island. And given my headache and sore throat - neurosis? Covid? - it'll be good to do that. I feel like my body is disintegrating, so many hours sitting with the computer, writing email blasts and MailChimp announcements, taking another webinar on book marketing for writers - terrific - speaking to the publisher, emailing my kids and friends. Somewhere in there, I try to do some exercise with the computer, and I try to cook. But not much. Not enough.

It's all overwhelming, sometimes. Particularly when I actually have to work.

Tonight, vegging.
PS One funny thing: when you're doing audio work, you should try to avoid dairy which creates phlegm. I realized today how much my diet revolves around dairy - milk for breakfast, yogurt, cheese, mayonnaise. Could hardly imagine how to eat without. Nuts. Meat and potatoes. More nuts. Bread. As soon as I got home after taping, I had slabs of my favourite Quebecois cheese, la Sauvagine. Reward. With, of course, wine. Trying to tune out the Bellowing Boyfriend next door. Definitely need to get out of town.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

the greatest blessings

They weren't expected till the end of the month but arrived yesterday. Opening the first box and holding the newborn for the first time is an overwhelming moment for a writer. Joy. I sent a birth announcement to friends: she's here, the perfect size, weight, and colour, so far missing only a comma on page 19.
And, from Nova Scotia:

Wednesday, August 12, 2020


Many thanks to all you kind folk who've sent sympathy for the water explosion here. But here's the thing: it could have been so much worse. John told me about a friend who was away when a tap exploded at his house. He came back a week later to a flood; three stories of drywall had crumbled down to the floor. I was here. John got here.

And ... Beirut. For context.

John came with a new part for the toilet upstairs. This is what broke off: the round plastic bit of this $7.99 part.
And then he spent a couple of hours ripping the sodden carpet from the stairs. Built in 1887 and quite lovely in their worn-out nakedness.

Answering my cry of despair, Lani and Chris wrote to suggest, helpfully, that I move to a smaller community, like Stratford or Niagara-on-the-Lake. Thank you, but no. I'll find a way to stick it out here. Almost everything and everyone I hold dear is in Toronto. Including, on this beautifully cool quiet morning, this:

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

disaster from the water gods

Yesterday, I made the terrible mistake of assuming life was going swimmingly. Jason and I had just had a productive meeting, during which I booked a nearby sound studio, Number 9 on Gerrard, to record an audiobook of the memoir. A big project but one which seemed to fall surprisingly easily into place. Even better, after Jason left, Anna phoned to tell me how much they are all enjoying their Nova Scotia retreat.

I was chatting with her on the phone when suddenly water started squirting - pouring - out of the light socket in the dining room. Terrifying. And then the smoke alarm started shrieking. It was as if the house itself was possessed. I ran upstairs to see water pouring out of the smoke alarm above the stairs and out of the door frame of the nearby bedroom, pooling in inches on the floor. I dashed up to the third floor, thinking that my tenant had left a tap running - water was squirting violently out of the wall in his bathroom, the floor was awash in water. All the alarms in the house screaming, water running down walls everywhere.

Total panic. Drenched, I called John.

15 minutes later he appeared. I'd tried but couldn’t turn off the house's water system in the basement because the shut off valve had been changed, it’s a lever somewhere that I couldn't find. But he turned it off. And though water was still squirting and the alarms were still screaming and the carpeted stairs were soaking wet, we made our way to the third floor where John eventually figured out that the toilet had somehow pulled out of the wall and disconnected from the pipes. He managed to stop the waterfall and disconnect the alarm.

Major clean up - every single towel in the house, every rag, every bucket. Luckily neither tenant was home at that time. Poor Robin upstairs came home and went into shock. The woman in the basement initially was furious about the wet carpet and wet floor and lack of towels, but forgave me.

And then my dear friend Suzette arrived at the door for dinner; though I’d sent her several messages of warning she didn't get them. And despite everything, despite the kitchen being full of the pots and bowls I’d used to catch water and the sodden towels covering the deck, we made a nice dinner and evening. Luckily our food was all made.

In the middle of it all, as I was mopping floors and trying to get ready for my friend, I found the cat on the stove, trying to eat our pasta dinner from the saucepan. 

I drank too much. There was a huge cleanup after. The paint on many walls, from attic to basement, is damp and damaged. Can’t even think about it.

As I've quoted many times, my last handyman Len told me I must have offended the water gods in a previous life. And it certainly seems so, this house a litany of leaking roof and skylights and flooding basement. But - a toilet pulling from the wall and flooding a four-story house - have you ever heard of that? 

In the night, I awoke, feeling as if my body was electrified, currents charging through, zapping me. I thought I was having a heart attack and came down to look it up on my phone. It said something about anxiety, and also about MS, that it might be an early symptom of MS. Put the phone down. Not going there right now. Ate some peanut butter, my soporific of choice, and managed to sleep. When the stores open will ride downtown to buy fresh towels and bath mats for my tenants, as theirs are in garbage bags on the deck. John is arriving at some point with new parts for the toilet upstairs, and then we're going to tear out the carpeting on the stairs, too sodden to save.

What if John hadn't been home yesterday? The thought makes me sick. I wonder, for the millionth time, about a nice little condo somewhere. 

But where? Any ideas? Up for a move. 

PS Just dropped a heavy bottle of maple syrup on my toe. It hurts. Time to give up? Back to bed? Back to the womb? 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Seventy - true or false?

I just looked at myself in the mirror and laughed. "You're 70 fucking years old!" I said to her, that familiar face looking back, the face that could be 33 as far as I'm concerned. It's just surreal, simply not possible, it does not compute. 70 is my grandmothers who were creaking and slow and OLD. It's decrepit and on the way out. Nothing to do with MOI.

But here we are.

The campers in Nova Scotia are happy. Sam is very busy because both the Raptors and the Leafs are playing big games today. The Leafs. In August. Talk about surreal.

Today I was indeed a crabby old lady, however. After a week of listening day in day out to sawing and drilling and hammering, in mid-afternoon I marched, carrying a printout of the Toronto noise ordinance, into the yard on Spruce Street where the construction had been carrying on all day and pointed out that the rules say, NO CONSTRUCTION NOISE ON SUNDAY. It turned out not to be the horrible developers who have wreaked havoc in the 'hood but a nice guy who works during the week and can only build his deck on the weekend. But still, I begged him for myself and the 30 or so other families in the vicinity, especially for those of us without cottages whose gardens are our retreats, to please give us some peace today.

And he did.

I have the feeling that silence, or even relative silence, will soon be one of the great luxuries of life for those of us living in cities. We had silence today, here, at last. I came home and sat outside for the rest of the day, relishing what was not filling my ears. I'm trying to finish Aubrey McKee because I have to go pick up another library book soon. Alex Pugsley is a very good writer, exploding with ideas, words, amazing details, superb dialogue - but again, as often before, this crabby old lady thinks he needs and did not have a good editor. EDIT. CUT. TOO MUCH. Less is more. Etc.

I also mailed a letter to the CBC complaining about a news anchor who stumbles on foreign names, sometimes 2 or 3 times in a row, and sounds as if she barely understands what she's reading. But it's her enunciation that drives me insane; she can't pronounce even simple words, particularly the suffix 'ing.' Talkin seein doin. "Returnin to our top story." On the CBC National News.

I also tried to watch a new TV drama, starring Seth Rogan as a modern day schlub and also as his own great-grandfather who was miraculously preserved for 100 years in pickle brine. I wanted to like this Jewish folk tale, but it was just too stupid.

So yes, crabby, with an occasional finger or leg cramp, some memory gaps, a sometimes achey back, a resigned sense of what I will never get to do in this lifetime. I guess I am 70. Unbelievable as it may seem.

Here's the good news: I did watch Modern Times on TCM by and with Charlie Chaplin, stunning. And it's summer, and that means peaches and other good things. Hooray for the Saturday St. Lawrence Market. Appreciated even by the very old. And very crabby.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Bravo Macron

Went to bed last night with earplugs in because of the raucous party across the street. Unfortunately, removed them in the night, was awakened at 7.15 a.m. by workmen unloading a truck also across the street. They're doing a renovation there, as well as in a house at the end of my garden, hammering, shouting, drilling all day. @#$ city living.

Right now, however, 8.30 a.m., silence. Birdsong. Nan sleeping nearby, as she does 23 1/2 hours of the day.

The family and best friend Holly left in their swish rented van at 7 a.m. yesterday -
and made it to Quebec City by 5. Anna wrote to say the kids were troupers during a ten hour drive with few stops. She'd rented at a motel with a pool, so straight into the water they went. Today, heading for New Brunswick.

Another fearless traveller: President Macron.  My friend Juliet, in the blog to the left, writes that her French friends grumbled about his trip to Beirut, but the world community applauds it and so do I. Leadership, compassion, and courage - not something we see much of, these days. Bill Maher interviewed an army man last night, and they speculated about what the U.S. army would do if Trump loses, refuses to leave, and calls on his rabid followers, with their many millions of guns, to take to the streets. How many neo-Nazis in the American army? they wondered.

What a time of madness. But particularly there, to the south of us.

Thursday was madness around here. The plumber was destroying the basement to get his camera into the pipes to check for trees roots, and much else was going on, when the power went out. A crane had fallen on wires nearby and a small part of Cabbagetown was the only section of the city affected - for most of the day. I had a tenant moving in Friday morning with chaos in the basement and no power, no computer, phone running out of battery. Finally the plumber went to get his noisy generator and finished the job. It cost me $1000 to find out there are hardly any tree roots in my pipes. "Worth it for peace of mind!" he said cheerfully. Perhaps.

But yes, there's a massive Norway maple a few feet from my front door, one of the biggest trees in Cabbagetown, and my basement did flood with sewage twice, a long time ago, because of tree roots in the pipes. A nightmare. So you can understand my anxiety.

So dependent on this little silver Mac - nearly went crazy without it during the blackout. Though the machine itself is driving me crazy in another way: something is wrong with my trackpad's cursor, it leaps about with a mind of its own, jumping many times as I write or deleting at random. Enraging.

Thursday night, I had a ticket to a Music Toronto concert online: the Miró Quartet playing a late Beethoven string quartet, Op. 130. I was able to cast it to my television and lie on the sofa watching a superb quartet play one of the masterpieces of Western civilization. Unfortunately, before the end of the piece, during the famous Grosse Fuge, it cut out; the little circle went round and round, and the concert was over. But it was a treat. They're online playing this piece; I will finish the concert sometime soon.

Will we ever go out again? Or will we spend the rest of our lives in pyjama bottoms, on Zoom?

Yesterday, Day 14 of the Zoom exercise program I signed up for, I finally did a bit of exercise from Day 5. Will try to catch up. I've discovered it's fun not to exercise - more time for sitting around reading. Isobel just sent me this marvellous poem by Barbara Kingsolver. Yes!

Friday, August 7, 2020

mourning Brent Carver

Terrible sadness: the magical performer Brent Carver died on Tuesday at his family home in Cranbrook, B.C. He was only 68.

There was no one else like Brent anywhere, let alone in the theatre business. He did nothing for ambition or success; it was all about the art. And his was a great art, done with a profound sensitivity; he was one of those people who are almost too sensitive for this nasty planet. He was kind, thoughtful, generous. Shy, unassuming, reticent. He was magnificently talented, with superb acting ability and a glorious singing voice - and, lest we forget, a beautiful face and body.
My particular sadness, as I've posted on FB, is that I've written about him in Loose Woman and was looking forward to sending him a copy hot off the presses in a few weeks. I tell about The Club, a musical in 1978 in which I had a big part, and how on preview night, I was consumed with my usual self-deprecating fears. The show did not go well. At the bar afterwards, Brent sought me out, took me to a quiet corner, sat me down, fixed me with his beautiful eyes. "You're so close, Beth," he said, putting his arm around me. "One more big push of confidence, and you're there."

A vote of confidence from one of the best actors on earth, who took the time to deliver this message: it gave me such a boost that I did manage that push of confidence and sailed through the opening to a whole new stage in my career, thanks to Brent.

Many years later, I was at a preview starring a young actor I knew from our Vancouver days together. As I watched, I felt exactly as Brent must have, watching me. I wrote the actor a letter and brought it to the Stage Door the next day to deliver it, telling the story of Brent's gift and saying, I feel that too, with you - you're so close, one more big push of confidence, and you're there.

I hope it helped.

I last met Brent in December 2012 at a Leonard Cohen concert in Toronto; we were both transfixed by the haunting beauty of Cohen's performance. But that's what you do too, Brent, I told him, and reminded him about The Club. Since he was living not far from me, I invited him to lunch or dinner, and he responded with a vague assent which we both knew meant no; he was introverted and deeply private, just not a social animal, so unusual for an actor.

I'm glad I had the chance to remind him of his kindness in person and am trying to find an address for his family so I can send them the book. I'm sure there are countless stories of people Brent helped, but mine is there, on paper, forever.

All my love to you, dear friend. And thank you.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

the cat and the birds

The birds are back! For months, they've ignored my feeder; I scoured it out twice, bought premium black sunflower seed - no birds. I called a bird store; they had no idea what could have driven them away. But now, suddenly, they're back. Of course, because now I'd rather they weren't there for the next month; I am cat-sitting for Anna, and her cat Nan, though old and sick, is a ferocious hunter. So, not going outside, which does not please her. To show how displeased she was, she puked twice last night - not on the hardwood floor, no, she specifically chose both living room rugs.

I love cats and have missed having one - can't have one because of said feeder. But it's nice to have a furry beast sleeping nearby.
Anna and family have rented a van for their trip to Nova Scotia, leaving early tomorrow, driving first to Quebec City. A whole month without seeing my boys. Luckily, I'll be kept busy cleaning up puke.

Tons of noise - the plumber is in the basement. I asked him to come check for tree roots in my pipes, and of course it turned out to be complicated, because - my house. He had to cut the drywall open. A bit later, a piano technician is coming to install a device that will mute my piano, so I'll not be so shy about practicing. Then John comes to repair the cut drywall, Nicole comes to help me clean the apartment downstairs for the new tenant coming tomorrow, Ruth comes so we can go for a walk, and then dinner with Cathy, who has flown back from Newfoundland, and Monique, and Cath to spend the night. At 8.30, I have a Zoom ticket from Music Toronto for a string quartet.

A busy day. Luckily the weather is heavenly; the terrible July heat is gone, and it's a perfect breezy summer day.

In the meantime, I'm trying to get word about my book out there and waiting to hear from various colleagues. And I'm reading a novel called Aubrey McKee by Alex Pugsley, who's the cousin of my high school friend Ron. It's about growing up in Halifax, and so many of the names he mentions take me back there - Mahon's Stationary! Quinpool Road! The Public Gardens. Too bad - I was supposed to be going back to my Maritime roots this summer, but nyet. Next year maybe.

I am watching the birds and trying not to think about the horror that happened in Lebanon.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

report on aging

A quick report - so far, 70 hasn't been great. Immediately, Sunday morning, I wasn't feeling well and of course these days, that's terror. I was achey with a sore throat and did almost nothing, and then one of my fingers went into painful spasm - arthritis? The day after my birthday, just to make a point? I've made the mistake of paying for an online exercise program which arrives every day; I've now not done 11 days of exercises.

Yesterday was not much better, still feeling lousy. The only bright spot, a meeting with Jason about our on-going project to launch this book. And John arrived to fix things, none of which got fixed, because - my house. I watched two episodes on Netflix of "Call My Agent," a French drama about the entertainment industry - good, not great. Lovely to see Paris in the background, though.

The weather has been very strange, too - heavy and very rainy.

Today, feeling better, fingers fine, I guess I'm not dying after all, which is good because it was a busy time - meeting Anna at Sick Kids hospital where Ben was going for a fitting. They'd hoped his club foot would be fixed by now, but it's still turning inward so he has been fitted for a special cast to wear at night. While he and his mama did that, Eli and I toured the Eaton Centre, my first shopping expedition for months, to buy books for their excursion to Nova Scotia and children's Scrabble for here, new sneakers for him - he wanted the gleaming gold ones but we compromised on the ones on sale with a BIT of gold - sandals for his brother, Body Shop body butter for his mother and me. Then a restaurant lunch; Eli and I got there first and played Scrabble while we waited. Anna is organizing a four-week trip starting with a very long drive, with a two-week quarantine when they arrive, so - complicated. If anyone can do it, she can.

Many emails - from the publisher, two new tenants, my boss at U of T. Trying to find a venue for the book launch, almost impossible, no one will commit because everything may shut down again by September. Nobody knows how to navigate this new world.

Watched part of the Trump interview for Axios until I couldn't watch any more. If you put it in a comedy, we'd say, too broad, ridiculous.

Can a zucchini get too big? That's my question for today.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

the new decade begins

The house is silent. It's grey and raining, thank the lord. I have a quiet day to count my blessings and recover from yesterday's celebrations.

As predicted, Sam cooked an extraordinary meal. I picked mint and basil and he made hors d'oeuvres - prosciutto rolled with mozzarella and mint, tomatoes with mozzarella and basil. He made a salad of quinoa and peppers grilled on the barbie and he grilled pears, zucchini, and carrots with the tops on, all divinely tender and sweet. He caramelized onions for the steak and made a platter of grilled mushrooms in balsamic and wine. And then the meat - marinated chicken, pork shish kebabs, huge steaks, and trout on a plank. (Oh, and while he did that, he made an Instagram Story video about the process and posted it.)
In case that weren't enough food, Anna brought her famous leek and bacon dip and an eggplant dip from a Middle Eastern market. And at the end there was double chocolate fudge cake with Pol Roger champagne and a topping: Happy 70th Birthday Ma. Sam said they had trouble with that - don't you want to say Mom or Mum? No, he said. MA.

Incroyable. We were supposed to be eleven but two didn't make it, so all that food for nine adults and two children. Somehow we made a hefty dent.

Tried to distance but it was hard, and I did hug everyone with my face averted. Couldn't not hug. We all sat on the deck and then had two tables in the garden for the meal. The boys disappeared periodically to the end of the garden and later played Sorry with Uncle Sam and did puzzles - and of course, had screen time on various devices to give adults some peace. Even the weather cooperated - clouds emerged, just enough to block the heat and make the afternoon fresh and mild.
Style report: I'm wearing a silk dress bought 20 years ago at Goodwill, usually worn as a nightgown, and Auntie Do's "diamond" necklace.

Throughout, Holly, who brought me a superb bottle of Amarone, was in the kitchen doing dishes. She ran the dishwasher before the end of the soiree. Today, there's chaos, but only a fraction of what there would have been without her efforts.

So lucky. Blessed. Blessing: when she was preparing the boys' meals, Anna asked if I had cucumber since that's the only vegetable Ben eats. I said, Sure, and went to the garden to pick one. Blessing: Anna brought paintings by the boys and an embroidered wall hanging she'd commissioned from an Indigenous craftswoman of Marilyn, my turquoise bicycle. Other welcome gifts: many e-cards and FB greetings and a call from Dustin, Sam's good friend from high school - "Hi Ma!" More good wine, a plant from Cathy in Newfoundland, a journal from Lani in Ingersoll, a donation to Medicins Sans Frontieres from Ken: "In gratitude for the 70 years of Beth Kaplan." LOL.

Blessing: telling a story about seeing a water snake at the cottage, and Ken and I together reciting the beginning and end of a favourite D. H. Lawrence poem: "A snake came to my water trough, and I in pyjamas for the heat, to drink there."

Blessing: to sit with old friends who are like family for us all - Holly my other daughter; Ken, Anne-Marie and Jim, Monique - wonderful interesting people. And we thought of those not there: Wayson who wouldn't miss a party, my parents who'd have relished every minute, far-flung loved ones.

Just read an article in the NYT about how great it is to get old - that though there are certainly problems of the body, the spirit is often stronger than ever before. And so it is. I have health, work, a home, and we have each other. We live in this peaceful country, in one of the great cities of the world, though both flawed, as Anna would be the first to point out. My new book details that I spent many young years confused about my path in life: what should I do? Who should I be?

I know the answers now. See below, plus new book coming out. (Holly took the picture at the end of the night; Ben hates having his picture taken so she paid him $5 cash to smile.)

Heart overflowing. Grateful. Onward.