Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Beth is interviewed in New York

 Monday was summer - hot and sunny. Tuesday was fall - cool and drizzly. Today is both - this morning grey, this afternoon lovely and bright, with showers of leaves. Autumn in Canada! 

Let's not talk about the debate. I managed half an hour before my stomach was heaving so badly I had to turn it off. A spectacle like no other. Especially appalling because two days ago I made the mistake of writing to my Trump-loving old friend Dan, in New Jersey, assuming the news about Trump's tax returns would be the coup de grâce for him. Absolutely not - he launched into a fulsome defence and, like his idol, an attack on Hunter Biden. When I wrote back with a tiny list of everything wrong with this man, he replied, "Oh lighten up, Beth. Life is short."

The end of one friendship. It's true. Life is short. 

Just did an Arriba class at the Y - a shadow of its former self, so empty and barren, but at least it's there. Today at 3.35, my interview in French will be on Radio Canada. And yesterday, I was checking out the new search engine Ecosia, entered my name, and an interview I'd never seen, done in New York in 2018, popped up. I'd flown in for a production of one of my great-grandfather's plays, and the director interviewed me beforehand. What a nice jacket - one of my best buys from Doubletake. Check it out for everything you want to know about the Jewish Shakespeare, and to see how many different ways Beth can twist her face!

Monday, September 28, 2020

Pierre Trudeau made me cry again today.

 Pierre Trudeau died on this day twenty years ago. Not long after, I wrote a short essay about his death which I didn't send anywhere, so am posting it here. And in fact, I did cry again, today.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Musing in the heat

A sublime day - 26 degrees feeling like 31. So much more appreciated than summer sun because - we know why.

A perfect day, though I am sad. Went for a bike ride - Safe Streets Toronto closed Yonge Street down to the lake, so I rode down and then along the lake in the sun and wind. 

Yonge Street as it should look
Sugar Beach with a sugar tanker 
Soon all will be aflame

Home to do Jane Ellison's class on Zoom, only she froze after 20 minutes and couldn't get back. Which was a relief, actually, because after yesterday - riding to the market and then line-dancing with Gina in the Sprucecourt playground as we did in April, a great deal of fun - and then the ride today in a stiff wind, my legs are tired. 

This afternoon, listened to Eleanor interview filmmaker Mira Nair while making ratatouille and braised broccoli and leeks to go with marinated market pork chops tonight. And soon, rosé on the deck. Perfect.

But also, even in the hot sun, I'm a bit melancholy. I'm at a crossroads: my book needs me to spend tons of time learning to navigate social media, posting about myself and the book on FB, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn. I gather that's the only chance it has to find an audience. So, spent hours figuring out LinkedIn yesterday. My practical friend Ellen is urging me to do this, make myself a marketing maven; I just need to Like a lot more people, to Follow all the people the people I'm Following Follow - and then engage with them about my book. For someone like me, almost completely unknown in CanLit with no name to speak of, no writing prizes (except for winning the Canadian Jewish Playwriting competition in about 1998 - not a crowded field), no recent essays in magazines (except a short piece about memoir writing last year in Zoomer) which all equals NO PLATFORM - the only chance for my book to thrive is for me to jump through those hoops. 

Is it laziness to resist, to say, it's not me, I just can't do it? Complete lack of discipline? For that matter, I'd rather write here, in this blog, than start my next project. I'm acknowledging my deficits as a writer, coming to terms with the fact that my books may always languish in obscurity. 

C'est la vie. I would not trade ma vie for another. Many things through the years have taken priority over writing. C'est la vie. 

Speaking of la vie - I did do a CBC radio interview about the book the other day. It was Radio Canada, French CBC, an interview in French with my friend Sylvie-Anne Jeanson that will air next Wednesday, she says. Unfortunately, my book is in English, so this will not help sell it. But still, I wrote to Sylvie-Anne and did an interview. That I can do. 

Yesterday was Celebrate Daughters Day. As the mother of a daughter and the daughter of a mother, I posted this, from 2010, on Instagram. That I can also, with great pleasure and another kind of sadness, do.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Our stories are worth telling and worth telling well

Just came home from errands to find a letter in my mailbox from Ann, a former student. Reading it is a great reminder of why we writers do what we do:

Your book practically broke my heart and restored it. I felt so engaged. Your journey, so intimately described, resonated with me down to my bones. I was in Vancouver in '79, attending the Arts Club and other theatres, and you brought back so many memories and made me feel as if I was there, with you. So thank you for sharing your life with us. Kudos, too, for the diligence in getting it published after all your hard work and perseverance. You epitomize the purpose of your "True to Life" teachings, setting an example for us to aspire to, reminding us that our stories are worth telling, and worth telling well.

Thank you so much, Ann. How kind of you to put these warm words on paper and in the mail.  

At the risk of overkill, here's another email from old friend Peter Blais: Loved it all. I laughed, I cried, looked in the mirror and loved again. What a complicated plot told with such effortlessness. The L'Arche stories were fresh and wonderful for me. And Greece.  And of course life in France. Naturally the theatre thread was at times painfully familiar. It's a wonder you survived to achieve the robust age and personality you can rightly claim as a great success story. 

Thank you, Peter. Okay I can retire now since I have achieved writer nirvana. Not. Got scolded by a savvy friend about my laziness on social media, how I should be increasing my twitter followers by following many myself, working LinkedIn and Instagram... I will try, I promise. 

More importantly, it's a stunning day. I gathered all my basil and made a big batch of pesto. (My mother's milk jug is where I keep my garlic.) And then Ruth and I went for a walk in the 'hood.

O Canada.

PS. Just received 50 more copies of the book. The first shipment - 110 books - has gone. A good sign!

Thursday, September 24, 2020

saying goodbye to Lola

Yesterday a very moving experience: a memorial event on Zoom for Lola, who died this year at 98 - my father's cousin, a painter and jewellery maker, born in New York in 1922 two months before Dad. There were perhaps 40 of us, from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv, some of them family I know a bit and others not at all. A rabbi saying Kaddish in Hebrew brought tears to my eyes, that ancient language soft in his mouth. Some reminisced; I told them Lola meant New York to me, the place my father was exiled from by McCarthy, a huge family visited only once a year and gradually shrinking, until at the end there was only Lola, with the energy of a woman half her age. (I didn't mention Cousin Ted, the other NYC relative I visit, since nobody there speaks to him or he to them.) 

"A culture junkie," someone called Lola - museums, galleries, concerts, theatre, the latest books - she was up on them all. "Grow old in a city," I said, "is one important lesson I learned from her." Until last year, she was out and about, seeing, doing, devouring, criticizing, in typical New York fashion. 

Feb. 2018, our last visit. She was 97, still living alone in her rent-controlled art-filled studio on the Upper East Side. I'm wearing a gold and tourmaline ring she made. 

Afterward, Lola's daughter's daughter Becky, a beautiful young woman I've never met, texted that she hoped I'd come back to New York and get in touch with her. I'd love to, I said. New family. Means everything. Not sure when, tho'.

I just found a calendar I'd drawn up in January to organize my late winter travel: March 21, arrive Paris, stay with Lynn. March 25, EasyJet to Venice to meet Bruce. March 30, Trieste. April 2, Vienna. April 7, Budapest. Good Friday April 10, EasyJet to Paris. April 13, home.

Giant sigh. SIGH. In early March, it was clear Venice was out of the question. Lynn said, Come to Paris anyway, you can come back to Montpellier with me. And I considered it! It was March 10 before I cancelled. March 12 I taught my last classes, March 13 everything shut down. 

Seems another world, doesn't it? Hopping around the world. MINGLING. Hugging. Absorbing all those droplets spewing about us with nary a thought. 

And that was when Trump and his team had shown just a fraction of the vileness that was to come. As always, I try to explain things to my father who died in 1988, 32 years before Lola. But with the current world situation, I don't think he wants to know. I'll leave him blessedly ignorant. He's up there arguing with Lola, and everyone else.

Watched some terrific TV on PBS last night - a doc on the alphabet, and another on social media and the mind. "Writing binds humanity together almost more than anything else," said the doc. "It's the most powerful idea humankind has had." Could not agree more! 

And then another doc discussing "confirmation bias" - how we cherrypick evidence, shaping narratives of what we see to fit what we already believe. "We make decisions based on cognitive illusions, the world our mind creates." They talked about the silos we all live in now, where we are right and "they" are evil. That a survey of young people in the States found a majority of them didn't value living in a democracy and thought the military should take over the government.

Dad, please, don't watch, don't listen, these things would appall you. Rest in peace. And Lola - although peace was not something that interested you much - you too.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

on the deck in the sun

They say there are two seasons in Ontario - winter and road work. So today, for some reason beyond comprehension, the city has decided to repair two minuscule patches in my street's sidewalks. This entails ripping them apart and, presumably, putting them back together. Once more, noise cancelling headphones and bitchy thoughts. 

And on this most stunning day, too - so warm and sunny and bright, the perfect time; it's always more delicious in the sun knowing its days around here are numbered. I'm in a patch on the deck, drinking it in. 

Today, I went to the Y for the second time. It's desolate - empty, lacking its usual conviviality, but it's routine. I did an Arriba class with great Latin music - six other people in the gym, the teacher behind a plexiglass panel. But there was music and there was dancing. I'll take it.The women's change room, usually full of chatty naked women.

Somehow I'm busier than ever - Monday an insane day, three Zoom meetings, a face to face meeting with Jason about the book and our next project - a podcast, stay tuned! Editing for several students and writing a piece for the Creative Nonfiction Collective. And then Lynn came for dinner. Sunday, one of my oldest friends, Ron, from Halifax in the early sixties, came. It's a marvellous thing to see faces we've known all our lives. And of course, what we see is the young face, not the old one. Not reality. 

Yesterday, teaching and editing on Zoom for a U of T class which has kept going. I marvel, once again, at the miracle of Zoom that works so well and has kept us all going.

Treats - a silvery-green hummingbird is frequenting the rose of Sharon, darting about, dipping his or her long sharp needle nose into the blooms. The garden at its most beautiful, because soon to fade. Some fading already. As are we all. Went to the little local farmer's market yesterday for a basket of the last Ontario peaches, the dripping taste of summer. Still here! 

The book is now readily available, I'm happy to report. As I was walking by yesterday, my neighbour Karen called, "I love it!" Two good reviews on Amazon and Indigo. Heard from a friend in France, waiting impatiently for the book I mailed to him, who wrote that the character called Alain in the book "has been absolutely raving about it to everyone he meets." And that means a lot, because he's a major figure in the book, and it's not an easy thing, surely, to read about your own young life through someone else's critical if affectionate eyes.

In an hour, I am attending a Zoom celebration of the life of my father's aunt Lola; this would have been her 98th birthday. Many of the Jewish side of my family, my 51%, will be there, and not a single airplane is involved. A new way to live.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

reviews of the book coming in

This is the strange interlude in the life of a writer, when the book is out and people are still reading. But I'm getting wonderful reviews, even from people who haven't finished it yet. And from those who have. From Pat: Today I’m out of sorts because I finished reading your book yesterday! I miss it. Stupendous! Just wrote this review on Indigo:

"Having taken Beth’s memoir-writing course, it’s no surprise to me that she demonstrates all the characteristics of superb memoir: engaging scene-setting, compelling action, major personal change, believable dialogue. Couldn’t put this book down!"

Thank you very much, Pat.
And from my former acting colleague Peter, now a painter in Nova Scotia, whom I've known since university in 1967:
I'm on page 37. WTF and OMG. Know the song so well. Every note is perfect. Arts Club. Wow. Only a couple of evenings in that thick and boozy place. You have so nailed it Beth Kaplan.  AND I'M ONLY ON PAGE 37. Raw Stuff. Like a box of chocolates  - I'll do a few more pages in bed. Hope it doesn't get so scary I can't sleep. (I sleep like a log - not to worry.)  

Peter, if you stop painting, you should write!

And a French friend who's a character in the book: 
I advertise your book saying the author is like Saint Augustine, leading a depraved life and suddenly completely transformed.

I really enjoy reading your book, I am just half way through… Some very good laughs, some disappointment about the immensity of my qualities which do not seem totally acknowledged…

I wrote to reassure him that the immensity of his qualities are in fact acknowledged, he just isn't there yet. So strange that people are out there, reading about themselves. Anyone who's friends with a memoirist should beware!

Just spent an extremely stimulating hour listening to Eleanor Wachtel talk to Zadie Smith - it wasn't an interview, it was a conversation between two brilliant minds. At one point, Smith says she's reading Pride and Prejudice with her daughter; they came to the section about Darcy's magnificent mansion and she said, Ask yourself, how did the family come by that kind of money? Almost definitely through sugar or cotton. And who provided those things?

I've never thought about the origin of Darcy's money. But then, I've never thought about many, many things. Thank you Eleanor, and the amazing Zadie Smith, who is not only brilliant but stunningly beautiful, a married woman with children, an academic career, and a steady stream of books. How is this possible? Inspiring. Intimidating. Slacker alert: I'm sure she doesn't sit around reading nice things her friends say about her books. She'd be halfway through the next by now. 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Mourning RBG, fear for what's next

 NOOOOOOOOOOOO! That was the sound last night from millions of mouths when we heard about RBG. How could such a tiny slip of a woman matter so much to so many? Because she had a giant soul, a great mind, a fierce heart. I saw the documentary about her and came away with even more admiration for her work ethic, her lifelong devotion to her own family as well as to the causes she cared about, chief among them making the world more fair for women. 

And now the hideous situation south of us will grow even more ugly and divided. My only hope is that this galvanizes, more than ever, the Democratic base. Though, yes, it will also galvanize the other side. Someone on Bill Maher last night said, The extreme right doesn't care about Trump's failings because all that really matters to them are 3 things: abortion, guns, and Jesus. And they think Trump is their man. Even though, as was pointed out, the Dems have never said they'd impose severe restrictions on gun ownership or on religious practice, they are pro-abortion, no question, and destroying that is the rightwing cause. 

Hard to believe that a painful issue that's been resolved in just about every other civilized country on earth is still so potent, raw, and explosive in the States. How did that happen? 

As those of you who've read my book know, I write about my own abortion, which happened at a time when I was lost and wild and crazy, and having a child would have been an utter disaster. Thank god - I thank god constantly, whoever he or she may be, for this - that in Canada I was able to have a safe and legal abortion. As I write in the book, It was a grave decision, and one about which I have not one moment of regret. 

There are already millions of hungry children in the world, many in your own country, there are children in cages you fucking hypocritical Republicans - and some rightwing Canadians too. Look after them, for Christ's sake, feed and house and care for them before you destroy your country fighting for the unborn!

Bill Maher pointed out that authoritarian countries pretend to be democracies; they hold elections, but they're meaningless, rigged. And right now the US is headed firmly in that direction, with massive voter suppression and other Republican tactics. Can this benighted country ever recover? Last night Bill and guests thought it's possible it will not. And in a world with an authoritarian China ever rising and Europe ripped apart and in disarray - it's a terrifying thought.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Back to basics

Today things feel joyfully normal - well, not normal, but routine. I went to the Y for the first time since March. They discontinued our membership fees, but I just realized they'd started them again so I'd better get there. It's totally different, of course - you have to book online for very limited spaces, wear a mask except when you're actually working out, there's almost no one there, no water fountains or showers or pool, no coffee and tea and sitting around chatting. But it's the Y. I did a class in the gym and was relieved I wasn't totally winded by the end, after months of sitting in this chair - I guess cycling to the market, line dancing, and gardening have helped. And I saw Margot, Tony, Doris, Art, and my dear friend Lolita, who's the cheerfulest person I know. 

To stay fit, I need someone to order me around in a public place, with music. It really helps.

On the way home, there was no lineup outside Doubletake, so I went in and saw Jasmine, another good friend, a Bengali woman who has worked there for years. My routine is back!

Despair, however: my cousin in Washington ordered the memoir from Barnes and Noble, was told they were out of stock, ordered it from Amazon, was told they were out of stock. As if it's not hard enough to sell books when they're available! My publisher is trying to fix this. Sheesh!!! 

One more thing: I heard back from Ancestry. com, updating my genetic profile with more detail. Still 51% Ashkenazi Jewish, but - on my mother's side - 42% from England and Northwest Europe, 4% Germanic Europe, and 3% Scotland. Her people came from all over, but all from the north. I'm part Scottish!

It's surprisingly chilly - had to cover the gardenia last night, I was afraid she'd freeze. But - I know, here we go again - the garden is as glorious as ever.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

non-starving artist signs book at Ben McNally Books

Big news - the audiobook is now uploaded to Audible; they will take up to 30 days to check it out and release it. More excitement - another launch to come!

Receiving feedback from readers, very gratifying:
Jane Anderson: Finished your book and loved it right to the last page.  I will post a review and have already talked it up with my friends. Congratulations, your best yet!

Curtis Barlow: A beautiful, funny, poignant chronicle of experience. Highly recommended. Great writer, great story.

Nick Rice: I finished the book tonight. I adored it; I didn't want it to end. Tell me more

Rita Davies: I’ve read Loose Woman with great pleasure. The writing is lovely. It’s entertaining, poignant, funny and moving.

Thank you, dear readers, how good to hear! Had a wonderful experience today - I stopped at Ben McNally's new bookstore on Adelaide St. East to pick up Hamnet and Judith. While I was there, he said, "Your book is here - why don't you sign it?" They'd brought it in to send to some lovely person. So I signed my book. Please, support this fantastic store as they struggle to stay alive. And THANK YOU TO THOSE WHO DO AND HAVE!

An article in the new New Yorker: "Starving Artists: how can we pay for creativity in the digital age?" The answer is: We can't. 
"We have arrived at a situation in which it's easier than ever to share your creativity with the world, and harder than ever to make a living doing so. (William Deresiewicz in his book The Death of the Artist) interviewed roughly a hundred and forty writers, musicians, visual artists, and filmmakers about their experiences working in the so-called 'creative economy.' Most spend a disproportionate amount of their time effectively running a small business, focussing on winning the attention war through 'the overlapping trio of self-marketing, self-promotion, and self-branding.'"

Absolutely true, sad to say. That's what I'm doing right now - rather than starting my next book, I'm trying to promote this one, though I am hopeless at all 3 of those things above. As are most of us. Disheartening. 

But just a walk through this city reminds me how incredibly lucky I am. As I wrote a few weeks ago, there are tents everywhere and people lined up at shelters and food banks. My son says they're wondering if their bar, opened not long ago, will have to shut again as the second wave hits.

And yet - there were children going to school today, what a joyful sight, masked and all. It's a perfect mild day, though the nights are getting colder. I made pesto with my garden basil and will have it tonight with the fresh wild sole I just bought at the St. Lawrence Market, a cornucopia of goodness where I also bought peaches and blueberries, hot bagels right out of the wood-burning brick oven, French cheese. 

Should I feel guilty about my extreme good fortune, when others are suffering so? Is it enough that I am grateful every minute and take nothing for granted?

Monday, September 14, 2020

Things I Bitched About That Got Fixed Department

1. The renovation noise: seems to be over. It was a summer when everyone decided it was time to fix up home base, since we were going to spend most of our time there. And they did, relentlessly. But now it seems, for the moment at least, it's done. There's silence. Solid gold silence.

2. The Little Free Library: used to be raided on a regular basis and emptied by a crazy man who lived in city housing up the street. He once threatened to kill my neighbour Jean-Marc who tried to stop him taking out all the books. But he must have moved, because now the library is full all the time - sometimes jammed full. I can't imagine there's a free library more well used than this one; every time I come home, there's someone stopped on the street checking books out. Literally and figuratively.

3. The basement apartment: as those of you who follow this blog know, went through a tenant situation that was a nightmare for months this winter and spring - one of the most painful experiences I've ever undergone, involving an old family friend incapable of making wise choices. As a friend said, once the excruciating situation was finally more or less resolved, "No more wounded birds!"

4. The memoir: took a very long time to make its way into the world. After four years of writing and editing - including paying 3 different excellent editors - I tried for a year and a half to find an agent and what they call a "legacy publisher". No luck. So I did it myself. The joy of self-publishing is that in an extremely short time, it's done, and there's the book, whereas with a legacy publisher it would have taken another year or two. The hard part is marketing, getting the word out: no team, no marketing plan, no reviews. But the book exists, and it's beautiful, everything I'd hoped it would be.

 5. The house with its ragged roof, exploding toilets, flooding basement etc. etc. etc. - over and over, I've threatened to move out and leave behind this old place with its destructive poltergeist(s). But this summer, with the Covid restrictions, never have I been more grateful for the space I have and for the garden. I didn't have to travel or go anywhere, everything I needed was all right here. Well, not everything, I did have to go to the LCBO on a regular basis. But nearly everything. Looking out right now at the last peachy roses, the cardinal couple pecking at the feeder - oh yes, the bird feeder is resolved too, for months, without explanation, the birds ignored it and now they're back - the rudbekia and asters and white mandevilla my son gave me for my birthday last year, the scarlet geraniums and silver sweet autumn clematis and the mauve rose of Sharon - all in full lovely bloom.

So, right now in my little corner, 70 feels pretty good. But as Wayson used to say, when all is going badly, look behind you. When all is going well - look behind you. I'll find interesting new things to bitch about, never fear. And this is of course without mentioning the state of the world - the American wildfires that are choking my friends in B.C., the political situation in the States and in many other countries, the pandemic, climate change, racial injustice.

Here, looking behind, is a dose of hideous reality:

Sunday, September 13, 2020

a perfect day

Another photo from the launch, sent by my editing client Judy, who is writing a book about photographing birds. Here she shot another exotic bird - the happy writer.
People have asked about postpartum depression - a slump after the release of the book. Not here, at least not yet - too much to do. Lots to do to publicize the book, not that I've started - but there's a list. But also, it's heading into autumn, so there are the last veggies to use up - made a peach-rhubarb crumble with the last of my rhubarb, delicious - and of course, the final cucumbers and tomatoes.

Most importantly, time to reconnect with my grandsons, who were away for a month. Eli came yesterday for a sleepover; he rode his bike over with his dad, nearly 11 kms., and then the 3 of us went for another ride on a beautiful afternoon; the city has closed Bayview to cars on the weekends, so we rode on the highway all the way down to Cherry Beach on the lake, where we watched the wind surfers and ate hot dogs and fries and then rode back. Nearly 10 k. His dad took off, and we went, of course, to the two playgrounds near the house, where at one he made a friend and ran and climbed and jumped and shot hoops for an hour. In between, an enormous meal, watering the garden, and 3 games of Snakes and Ladders. Bath, story, and bed at 7.45, by which time Glamma was beyond exhaustion, mostly from just watching him, and was in bed by 9.30! A perfect day, truly.

A boy and his dad
Covid never far from our thoughts

Today, more games, including a version of Scrabble for kids, terrific, and, thank God, a bit of TVO, which I support monthly and am profoundly grateful for every time he comes to visit. There's a new segment with a cheerful mouse talking about Covid and face masks and hand washing.

He and I rode to Joe Fresh to buy him back-to-school pants - he has outgrown everything, according to his mother; we bought him size 10-12, though he's 8. He's attending classes next door with their neighbour Greg, a retired school teacher who has volunteered to spend 90 minutes a day educating this bright young man. Friday, teaching him proper versus common nouns, be still my beating heart.

While we were at Joe Fresh, a voice behind me said, "Beth, I love your book!" It was Sarah, niece of my friend Ken who bought 10 copies for family and friends. Sarah and I were both masked and unrecognizable, but she recognized my voice. Is there anything more welcome for a writer to hear than those words? I think not. Well, perhaps, "You're on the NYT bestseller list!" Or "Here's the latest huge royalty cheque." Those would be welcome too.

A beautiful evening. The garden is particularly lovely because the days are shorter, the nights are colder, we know it's all slowly shutting down. A last explosion of beauty.
I have a million things to do, including beginning again to move my poor moribund body - but for now, a glass of rosé, a moment of peace.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Cabbagetown Short Film Festival triumphs!

What a pleasure! In a fog today, not capable of much, so my great treat was to sit in my kitchen chair and watch the Cabbagetown Short Film Festival. Produced by my friend and neighbour Gina, of line-dancing fame, this feast of films under 20 minutes long been going on for decades and I've rarely missed it. She started it on a shoe-string; now she gets submissions from around the world.

This year, of course, no film festival - no festival at all, as this is usually the weekend of the Cabbagetown Festival, when Parliament Street is closed down and lined with stalls and outdoor dining, and every street is clogged with garage sales and events and thousands of people. Not this year. But Gina found a way for her festival to continue - online.

Fifteen short films, and almost every one of them brilliant. I had tears several times, laughed out loud as well, and that's sitting alone in my kitchen. Especially one about a man in a Muslim country who loses his burqa-clad wife, indistinguishable among all the other women covered in black cloth; Distances, about an encounter we all recognize with an angry mentally ill man on the subway, and how one woman opens to him and affects everyone around - just a stunning little film, my favourite among many favourites; Era Yo, about a teenaged bully who learns a lesson; Polter - amazing special effects, hilarious; Los Bengalos, about Alzheimer's and music. Today You, Tomorrow Me - haunting and beautiful. Two French boys running away and summoning the rain. People filming tragedies on their phones - a comedy.

It's like a banquet of Alice Munro short stories, rich and expertly crafted and full of feeling.

I cannot recommend this online event highly enough. You only have tomorrow to buy your online pass and see these films - and you don't even have to leave your chair. Don't miss them.


Woke up this morning, slightly hungover, to 129 emails in my inbox. Not all from yesterday, of course, though many were. One was from a former student, asking to come buy 8 signed copies later today. Now that's nice.

My friends, it was a wonderful day, spectacular. Everything went smoothly. The Zoom launch - we'd been worried about the screen freezing or other technical problems - none at all. About 35 people joined us; Jason and I bantered, he asked questions and I answered, I read, people sent interesting questions - and at the end, after I read a moving Mary Oliver poem, all were unmuted for a toast. There were the beautiful faces of dear friends from around the world - Nicky from Vancouver Island, Judy in Vancouver, Kathleen in Montreal, Norrey in Halifax, Lynn in Provence, Sheila in New York - what an incredible aid Zoom is. 
Sent by Catherine - one of two screens of familiar faces.

And then the in person event. It was a drizzly morning, but though the day remained overcast, it stopped raining. We were all set up - Debra and Ruth ready to greet people outside, Robin at the door taking names for contact tracing, if needed, Monique at the table to sell books, Sam behind the counter serving wine and cheese and making people laugh, and me outside, signing books.
The giraffe with Ruth, Jason, and Debra
La belle Monique

Incidentally, everyone wore masks in the house, and Curtis wore his lovely Louis Vuitton one outside too.

And then people went into the garden with their books and their wine and sat and chatted. Beautiful to see. There will be more photos soon - my friend Marion shot the whole thing. 
Friend and neighbour Barbara Hall, once Mayor of Toronto, whose younger sister Sheila was my best friend in Grade 4, brought a class picture of us - 1958! Chris came clear across town. Helen and Walter came in from the cottage. Anne-Marie, who doesn't have money to spare, bought 6 books - "For Christmas presents," she said. What a cheering section.

At five, Jason and I did our thing to the crowd in the garden with the mike he'd rented - chatting, me reading, questions. And then it wound down; I ordered gourmet pizzas, Sam went to get them, and the volunteers and core team ate and drank and decompressed. Sam told me Jason is a keeper, he's family now - yes he is - and then left to go to work - Raptors game, a nail-biter. (They won.) And then I was alone.

I wouldn't have changed a thing. Except that I'd imagined - as I always do - far more people. About 25 people came to the house and bought 40 books. I'd planned for people to be lined up outside along the sidewalk. Ridiculous. There was a marvellous crowd - just right, just enough. And this morning, many emails of congrats, others asking where to buy or for me to send. Thank you thank you thank you!

It's dank and gloomy today, but I have work to do, signing and sending books - a big trip to the post office. Leftover pizza for breakfast. And breathing time, to think of what it means to have friends and family who care and who show up, and that this book is at last out, flying on its own in the world. I could not be more grateful.

PS Just realized that the first printing of 100 books is nearly sold out. Will be ordering more today. Woo hoo!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020


A quick word - 9 a.m. on launch day, and it's grey and drizzly. Toronto has entered a sudden cool spell. But they do say it'll be cloudy but warmer later, so fingers crossed, because this whole event is predicated on being mostly outside.

Lots to do when the drizzle stops - got to cut the grass, rake and clean up the yard and put chairs around; sweep and tidy the front yard; finish cleaning the living room and kitchen. That's what happens when you hold an event in your own home - a bit of extra pressure and work! But the timing is good - the garden is still glorious, there are even new roses, the rose of Sharon tree still full, the rudbekia, Mexican sunflowers, and golden glow lush and full. By next week, they'll all be fading. I hope after the guests get their books signed, they'll linger in the garden.

Was planning to wear a bright pink cotton dress bought for Jessica's wedding in France in 2009, but it might not be warm enough, in which case I have no idea what to wear. So we'll see. There's wine and cheese in the fridge, a rented mike and amp, Jason and I have reviewed what we're doing and how.

I'm excited and nervous - took a sleeping pill last night because sleep would have been impossible. But the most marvellous thing happened - I started in my head to write a new essay. MOVING RIGHT ALONG!

People have been sending warm, encouraging messages - Lani just wrote, I'm half-way through Loose Woman and enjoying it even more than the draft I read!  I laughed out loud in a few places and the dog had to come in to see what was going on (it was 2:00am).

And my friend Antoinette, fellow writer, I am so taken with your L’Arche episode, the transformation that occurred in you, the perspective it gave you, the sudden (bodily) revelations you had. Your writing style flows and is completely natural.  I love the descriptions of the country, the food, the atmosphere. I’m right there.

Thank you, friends. It's my pleasure to give you pleasure. 

Why do we do this crazy thing, sitting alone at a desk for countless hours, poking about in our guts, rearranging words on a page, for no money? Because, as I say in the book, we writers need to process life twice - once as we live it, and again as we re-explore it on the page. I cannot imagine living any other way. We do this because we have no choice.

Hooray for writers, for artists generally, really looking at our world, thinking about it, interpreting it in their own way for us, giving us a new way to think and see and even be.

Please wish me luck today. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

September - back to ... to what?

The family are back safely after a two day, one night sprint from Nova Scotia - heroic driving by Anna, but also amazing sitting for many hours by two little boys. Went over to visit today, to be with them while she got groceries and then returned the rental car. She'd brought back fresh oysters and mussels, a collection of rocks, and a deep hankering to return; her friend Ashley has 3 kids, all her neighbours have kids, and they share a huge backyard. The boys were able to go wild, without supervision, playing outside till it was dark. As Anna said, that's what it was like for me, but they've never had that.

Not to mention coves, swimming and beaches, fish and chips, new friends, many adventures. I took them up Roncesvalles to their favourite sushi place and then to a playground, and then, time for Jenga with Dad.
Naan is back with her family. I will miss her lying on my papers as I work, but I won't miss the puking, that's for sure.
Anna brought me a bright watercolour of Pictou, which she told me is the Mi'qmak word for 'fart,' and a chocolate bar from the Syrian family who've made a huge success with their chocolate business. Delicious. I feel so much better now they're back in town. Eli starts tomorrow going to the neighbour, who used to be a teacher, for 90 minutes of learning. Anna's not sending her kids to school. Phooey on Doug Ford, leaving class sizes enormous, endangering kids and teachers.

Tomorrow here, full steam ahead to prepare for the launch Wednesday. There's a big Raptors game that night, but luckily it's on after the launch is over, and anyway, perhaps Beth Kaplan readers and rabid Raptors fans are not necessarily the same demographic.

It's fall. September first came and so did the morning and evening chill; though the days are still warm, I wore jeans today for the first time in months. What will happen to distancing, to the patios that are keeping restaurants and bars - and my son - alive, when it gets cold?

But still, time for aperitif on the deck with Monique, who took this. Cheers!

Saturday, September 5, 2020


I want this shirt!

Labour Day silence

"Don't take my moaning too seriously," I wrote to Jason yesterday. "I'll be like this for the next week or more." I'm watching friends get their books in "Must read this fall" lists, excerpted in major magazines, the writers themselves being interviewed in fine places. That's how it's done and I celebrate every moment of their success. But part of me is as jealous as I was 20 years ago, watching other children win prizes at the end of the school year, a parade of kids going up to accept their awards, and never, not once, did either of my children win anything. "But they're so terrific!" I was thinking. "Not even a tiny bit of public recognition?"

It's like that and will be until this era of book launch settles down. I think the solution would be to start something else right away. But watching my children not win prizes, my first thought wasn't, I'll have another child immediately!

A different scenario, I know. And - I was in fact interviewed by the estimable Esther Arbeid from the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, for a segment they call "Kibbitz with Esther." Fame!

My friend and student Brad has offered to listen to the audiobook, so, before it's uploaded, we can do one final check for glitches. And then it's off to the races.

It's a cool grey Labour Day weekend, and the city is deserted, dead still, wonderful, hardly a car, and certainly no construction. Anna and gang are on their way back from Nova Scotia after what sounds like a restorative vacation. My tall son is coming over for a visit tonight after many weeks. He shared this with me and I'm going to share it with you: a woman in a wheelchair had a meltdown a few weeks ago at his bar; Sam calmed her, got her into a cab, and paid her tab. She came back and left him this note with some money:
Atsa my boy.

This solitary time is a blessing. I went to the market this morning so the fridge is full of corn and peaches and beans - apples next week. After a battle with Rogers yesterday, the TV is fixed, I think. Many books to read. And three new, just picked cucumbers.

In the night - much awake time these days at 4 a.m - I realized what the biggest flaw of this new memoir is. Won't tell you, yet at least, but I know it. Which means I should be able to fix it in the next book. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

musing about the Democrats

I just took a look at last September's posts - seems another planet now, but interesting to see what my impressions of the Dem debates were. I really disliked Kamala Harris and didn't think much of Joe. Fingers crossed all the way now, for them both! On Sept. 13 2019, I posted this:

the Democrats - hope for humanity

A glimmer of light on the horizon - I watched most of the Democratic debate last night, and my hopes for the future of our planet and our benighted species began to flicker again. What an intelligent, compassionate, articulate bunch they are. I don't understand why Biden is the frontrunner, except for name recognition and association with Obama; he's often almost incoherent, and he said something that put me off instantly: when Bernie actually brought Canada and Scandinavia into the health care debate, Joe snapped back,"This is America." As if the experiences of another country are irrelevant to his exceptional country. How stupid is that.

Bernie had a passionately articulate explanation of Democratic Socialism, but tho's wise, he's shouty, irascible, and hoarse. Two definite no's: Castro was vicious, and Kamala Harris seemed to feel she was at a casual lunch with friends and kept laughing at her own jokes, perhaps trying to set herself up as relaxed and open as opposed to Warren, the quivering bundle of intensity next to her. Klobuchar is just not enough. Mayor Pete and Beto are good men, I loved them both, but I can't see either of them with enough momentum or a broad enough appeal to win the Presidency. Corey Booker is amazing and possible.

But at the very top - it's Elizabeth Warren all the way. She's a taut, concentrated fighting machine, fierce and focussed but likeable, on message, with warm, relevant personal anecdotes that didn't seem forced or folksy. Go Elizabeth. Save the world.

The difference, the chasm, the Grand Canyon between even the weakest of these candidates and the man currently running the country, and his party, is so extreme as to be laughable if it weren't so tragic. There is another America full of brilliant principled people desperate for change. It is beyond heartening to be reminded of that.

P.S. My cousin Ted the New York lawyer wrote, about all these Dems I admire, "None of them is electable." My heart sank, but then my spirits rose. I have two words for him, and those words are: BARACK OBAMA.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

reports from "Loose Woman" readers begin to arrive

JOY! First, there's NO NOISE. Could they be finished the reno? Or just torturing me, taking a brief break before returning to drill and slice and blast once more? For today - a cloudy day with rain to come - the air is soft and damp, there's silence, and it's heaven.

But also - I just returned to Doubletake, my favourite second-hand store, for the first time since February. You have to line up outside, they only let in a limited number of masked people, but I got in, saw my friends there, all the ladies from Sri Lanka who've been working there since forever, and meandered. It's not nearly as interesting as it used to be, but still, it's fun for a quick visit; I bought a Uniqlo top for $5.

It felt good to go back to a familiar place. Maybe now I'll venture to the Y. Though I can't imagine the Y in a mask and without the familiar classes, just the machines, or my friends. I miss my Y friends.

The taping of the audiobook finished yesterday with the last two chapters and a repeat of the first, a better job the second time around, I hope, as I'm comfortable with the process now. Still, I was listening to it last night and wrote to Jason, "It's not badly read but it's BORING!" To which he replied, "Lol my friend. You wrote it. You know it. You know what’s coming next. Are you as enthralled with a movie you’ve watched 35 times? Be easier on yourself. xo"

Good point. I forgot how vital it is that someone hold the hand of the nervous writer, even on the release of her fourth book.

Nick is reading it and wrote, "Beth, this book is fabulous! I’m just reading about your parents, and kind of aching to have known them. I can barely tear myself away from the photo of the two of them playing Mozart. À suivre."
Yes, they were something.

And Ken wrote, "I feel very privileged to have a friend who writes with such honesty and gentle kindness."

Thank you, dear friends. A week to go before this baby is officially born. The work isn't over - the job of getting it to readers never ends - but I hope I can begin to clear my desk of 1979 and think about what's next.

In the meantime - busy with writing the press release, going to the post office with stacks of books to mail, and cucumbers.