Friday, November 27, 2020

Loose Woman in Zurich

Fun - just got this from my blog friend Alan Millen, a fellow mad Beatle lover and musician I've never met who lives in Zurich and sent this from the Odeon, a legendary artists' café there. 

I guess Zurich isn't in lockdown. Thanks for the plug, Alan!

I do understand the people who are so frustrated by our current lockdown that they break the rules. It must be unbearable for a small business owner to lock the doors just before the Xmas shopping season. It's shocking even for me, who all year rarely shopped, to go out and find almost everything closed. The best business these days: delivery trucks. That's how we'll save Xmas. Well, at least I won't be moaning about the saccharine music in stores. 

But it feels hard, especially as now the days are shorter and colder and darkness is descending. We need lots of inner resources to stay afloat. Like my friend Chris, in the blog to the left, who never stops doing stuff. He has been like that his whole life; where we see nothing, he creates something, often laboriously. But most of us do not have that drive and creativity. The winter will be very long. 

I started to read a book praised by my blog friend Theresa, also to the left: Undying: Pain, Vulnerability, Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time, Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Cancer, and Care, by Anne Boyer, an "extraordinary and furious new memoir," says the NYT, of her diagnosis with an aggressive breast cancer and the horrible chemo ordeals she went through. I couldn't finish it and returned it early to the library; I'll try another time. Right now, I'm sorry, I just can't read rage, I can't read disease. Not that I'll be turning to fluff, but something with a bit more bearable. So, two books - the wonderful 150 Glimpses of the Beatles, a beautifully written tour from the beginning with wry snippets about their lives, their fans, their enemies, like Noel Coward, who loathed them but insisted on meeting them. The book just won a big nonfiction award in England. 

And Sarah Manguso's Ongoingness: the end of a diary, which explores her 25 years of diary-keeping, a subject close to my own heart. She kept her diaries online though. Mine are in boxes under the bed, muttering away down there. What to do with them? A bonfire? Over my dead body. Which is quite literally what my children might do. 

Tuesday was my beloved friend Ken's 85th birthday; his family gave him the Cubii he requested so he can exercise through the winter. And yesterday was my Dad's 98th. Last night I read the short Prologue of the new book about him and Mum to my home class; they liked it a lot. Much-needed encouragement early in the journey.

Yesterday, there was a disappointment; the Vancouver publicist told me happily last month that a local CBC host asked for the book and wanted to interview me. Great! She booked a tentative time for the interview: yesterday at 1.30. But as time went by there was no word from the host; she didn't reply to emails, and the day went by sans interview. We were ghosted. So far, the media coverage of the memoir has been a short Radio Canada interview in French. 

C'est la vie. 

Today, another disappointment: a guy came to see if I can have a gas fire stove installed and the answer was almost definitely not for various reasons. Later, I'm giving Debra a lesson in voice and comportment for a Zoom webinar. And then maybe as a special treat a few more episodes of The Crown. Delicious. Yesterday was startlingly warm and lovely, a good day for raking; I saw a guy in shorts. Today again is very mild but grey. We'll take mild.

Go Joe. 

Two images from Chris's blog, the first something I'd like in my backyard:

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Toronto's second best bartender and Ian Brown, first best CNFC speaker

So Toronto is locked down again as of Monday. Sam's bar will only be able to sell take-out bottles. Thomas's work will probably continue, and so will mine. But how lucky I am; unlike many I have a roof, work, health. 

I also have pinkeye. And, well, a small complaint: the fireplace guy who was supposed to come Friday to make sure I can install a gas fire stove and then to order it, so I can keep warm this long cold winter, just called to cancel because of the lockdown. He says he'll come in February. It's the fireplace channel for me. 

Eli came for a sleepover (before I realized about my eye - hope he's okay.) The boy is a merciless player of games. I'd prefer to read him stories. But we played a long game of Monopoly in which he absolutely crushed me. Hotels everywhere. We played last night, left it set up at bedtime, he woke at 7.30 a.m. raring to get back to it, plotting his purchases. I managed to get him to watch a bit of TVO so I could have a cup of coffee before my total evisceration. And then Go Fish too - he won every game.

He has just learned to sign his name in cursive! Beneath the portrait of me painted in 1959 by a Hungarian friend of my American grandmother's that I've always hated. Love the signature, though. 

A triumph on Thursday: our first CNFC webinar with Ian Brown went fantastically. He was superb - very funny, chatty, full of fascinating stories about people we wished we knew - Calvin Trillin! He was inspiring about writing and generally warm and open. It was recorded and will be uploaded on the CNFC website for all members.

Then an even greater triumph: Sam Dobie the runner-up in the Best Bartender competition. He is the second best of the hundreds of bartenders in all Toronto, and in one of the smallest bars in the city! Bravo my son. Too bad you're now not able to do what you do.

Friday I had a telephone interview with Vancouver book podcaster Joseph Planta about the memoir. "I don't often finish the books," he said, "but yours I whizzed through. I enjoyed it very much, it was a pleasure to read. I got a lot out of it." He told me the scene with the Vermeer was moving and unforgettable. Lovely to hear. We talked for almost an hour. 

On the other hand, has once more sent back our audiobook files with a petty complaint; this time, our engineer said it was as if they themselves had damaged the files. It's like sabotage. Infuriating. 

Yesterday was beautiful, but I think that was the last nice day. Today, chilly and grey. My grandson and my eyeball have worn me out. Luckily Anna sent over piles of food - soup, stew, homemade hummus. Fed by my daughter, it's "The Crown" with wine tonight.

Anna sent me this of Ben. Be still my beating heart.

Monday, November 16, 2020

more nice words about the memoir, and French onion soup

Cheer on a dull day: 

From Ian: It's a terrific read. Quite the story, quite a life, to date; I wonder what your next "part" will bring. I'm amazed at the rich detail in your recollection. I hope the book receives lots of favourable attention. And somewhere along the way, I hope you were charmed by an uncircumcised penis. 

You'll have to read the book to understand the reference!

From my dear friend, sublime musician Shari Ulrich, on Sorry, the print is either too small and fits or doesn't quite fit and you can't read every word. Hope you get the gist. 

And from Lila

Yesterday's treat: the giraffeman came to cook a huge vat of French onion soup. Four bags of onions caramelizing - divine. Soul food.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

notes about taking notes

Only a writer perhaps will understand what this means: last night, as I watched a documentary, Monterey Pop, I got up, scrabbled around for paper, and started taking notes.

I used to take notes all the time, because I was an essay writer. Everything that happened could lead to an essay, so the neurons were firing constantly. What's the story here? What does it mean? Throughout the nineties, partially because as a single mother and teacher my time was limited, I produced a stream of short personal essays: 24 in the Globe in ten years and nearly as many written and read for the CBC, plus other newspapers and a few magazines. One year, I had six essays in the Globe and a friend said, "I enjoy reading your column." Finally, I published a compilation called Back Page Stories - my first book. 

And then the Globe stopped paying even a measly $100 for half a page of work, and a producer at CBC's Fresh Air told me my writing was "not edgy enough" for the program. I started focussing on books. A mentor talked once about the breath in writing needed for a sprint and for a marathon. I hadn't the breath for both sprints and marathons.

But recently, as I struggle to get my latest marathon Loose Woman into the world, I finally took heed: very often when nonfiction books are published, it says at the back, "Excerpts from this book appeared in - ..." with a list of magazines in print or online. Even if you're working on a book, it's a good idea to get excerpts out there as you write. So that's my new plan: essays and excerpts. Sprints. A job in itself, not just the writing, but figuring out what should go where - unlike in the nineties, there are now hundreds of online places. So -  which? 

I don't have much to say about Monterey Pop - one observation, that the young audience was absorbed in the music, focussed on the stage with eyes and ears rather than taking pictures or filming or scrolling, because there were no @#$# cellphones in 1967. How did we survive, communicate, photograph, check in obsessively with each other? One thing was clear: we really listened to the music. 

Also, that the film is a paean to the talented sixties icons who died so young: Jimi, Janis, Keith Moon, Otis Redding, Mama Cass - even Brian Jones there in the audience. Who knew it was so dangerous to be a rock star? And what was with the smashing and burning of guitars? It looks ridiculous - infantile - now.

But those observations do not an essay make. Though can I point out that even this post is a kind of essay about essay-writing? That even as I was jotting notes last night, wondering about an essay, I realized it could be a blog post. In some ways, I just realized, I've never stopped writing essays. 

Yesterday was lovely and bright; Ruth and I had a long masked walkabout in the 'hood. Today is dark, wet, and drear. But there is work to be done, not to mention The Crown on Netflix. (Have I mentioned The Queen's Gambit? Just the most fun, and the last five minutes spectacular. No pat clichéd ending here. Marvellous.) My cold is nearly gone. Never have I been so glad to have a mere cold. As another friend used to say, It's all good. 

Here's today's only mention of the orange blowhole, still trying to smash the planet:

And here's what I'm contemplating for my living room, if it's possible, which it may not be. A perfect inspiration for note-taking.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020


At five to eleven on yet another glorious day, four old planes flew high above in formation. I listened to the Memorial Day events from Parliament Hill, thought of my family members who served to defeat evil, and posted Dad (on the right) and his brother Edgar in 1944 on FB.

But Anna did much better. She and Ben created this. On one poppy, my mother and her sisters, on another my father and his brother, on another my in-laws, and then a soldier of colour who died under difficult circumstances and an Indigenous WW1 nurse. 

Lest we forget.

Such a heavenly day, even with a head cold it's hard to stay inside - easier to work when the weather's lousy. Did errands on the bike - I can carry six bottles of wine in a backpack! Success. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

a fascist coup?

Just so glorious - 23 degrees today! I'm convinced the heavens were agreeing with us about the end of the orange blowhole and shining their delighted approval.

Except that he's still there. Jason said today a pundit he follows has been tweeting for months about the possibility of a "fascist coup," Bill Maher has been talking about it too, and that's what has begun. I actually thought the Repulsives, seeing the multitudes against their guy and the dancing in the streets at his defeat, would decide it's in their best interests to cut him loose. But I forgot - 71 million people voted for him, most of those people are fanatics with guns, and his party is without either backbone or human decency. They've all drunk the Kool-Aid of Fox News and QAnon. Let's not forget that hundreds of people drank poisoned Kool-Aid and committed suicide at the behest of a lunatic. 

I've been overestimating humanity again.

No, surely the democratic machinery will hold, and he'll be vanquished. But he'll destroy a great deal before that happens. So - depressed again.

Also, Jason found out today that the reason the audiobook of the memoir, taped in September, has not yet been uploaded by Audible is because there were arcane things we neglected to do - the "The End" that they demanded I say needs to be in a SEPARATE FILE, and it was not. Stuff like that. After waiting 8 weeks and hearing nothing, we now have to wait for a list of our deficiencies, fix them, and send to them again, where we'll be put at the end of the line. Sick-making.

Also re-thinking the new book I've started about my spectacular, dreadful parents - do I really want to go through this again, spending years writing a book to find out no one wants to publish it? I should send queries to publishers now. If no one wants it, I'll know I should bang it out fast for my family and move on. Brutal reality. The business side of this lit business is not fun. But no, I won't complain, I'm so lucky to do what I love in the comfort of my own home. I just wish more people wanted to read it. 

Last night, Cinderella sat in the living room in sweatpants watching the Giller awards for, what, the 20th year? Only fiction writers need apply, PHOOEY. I'd met Shani Motoo briefly at U of T since she taught there too, but didn't know any of the others. It seems like a worthy writer won; I hope to read her book one day. Wonderful that an immigrant who at the age of nine didn't know how to pronounce English can become the winner of Canada's biggest literary prize!

Tomorrow, not so hot, not so bright - rain forecast and 11 degrees. I have a cold. No idea how that happened, in this time of frantic handwashing, but I have a cold. So I'll be staying in. My, that'll be a change. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

the first day of the rest of your life

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, as we used to say. It really does feel as if everything has changed. After the street celebrations all over the States and the world, people dancing wildly with joy, it's hard to imagine the Repulsives will try to pull tricks to keep Trump in power. Surely it must have shocked them to see how much and how universally he's hated. If even the Murdoch media has backed off, the game is over. Soon he'll be charged for tax evasion in New York, no? There was a funny pic on FB: Hillary visiting Trump, who's in an orange jumpsuit behind bars. "I've brought you some emails to read," she says.

In the meantime, these glorious sunny days continue, at least until Thursday - 20 degrees again today. I decided to go for a long bike ride. As sometimes happens, I felt a twinge of of self-pity that I'd be doing this alone; surely it's more fun à deux. Then I thought about fitting someone else's rhythm and needs into my own and was glad I could just go at my own pace, wherever and whenever I wanted.

I rode down to the lake and then east to the Leslie Street Spit, a long finger of land jutting into Lake Ontario, a good place to see birds and wildlife - coyotes, apparently, though there are coyotes in Cabbagetown too, now - and crowded today. The intense pleasure of the quiet, the sound of the lake and the almost silent rotation of the wheels beneath me - what a magnificent machine the bicycle is! - and above, the big blue sky. Sitting on a beach to eat my ham sandwich. And then a slow journey home, feeling every bounce on my too-hard bike seat. Aching legs now. 

Okay, life resumes. More nice things about the book: 

Anna Ruth: Thank you for the amazing story of a segment of your life. So beautifully, honestly, and insightfully told. I was very disappointed that it was over last night on my Kindle.

Gina: I so admire your honesty, memory and your wild experience! Who knew?!!!! Great read.

Thank you friends. 

Picnic. That's a tugboat on the horizon.

Below, swans in the lake and the metropolis on the horizon. Nice to be far from it, for a bit.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Van Jones weeps with relief and so do we all

 It's HOT. 20 degrees, heavenly. And Joe Biden is President of the United States. 

I'm sitting on the little deck outside my office, basking in the sun and feeling four years worth of tension oozing out of my body. Of course it's not over, he's going to fight every step of the way, and his terrifying armed militia will fight with and for him. But the joy and relief today! Van Jones on CNN, beginning to talk about what this victory means to people of colour, to his own sons, was so overcome he could hardly speak; a tear trickled down his cheek. 

And then Rick Santorum said the Republican Party does not think the election is over, the final decision has not been made, there are still counts to come in and legal battles to be won. 

So hunker down, friends. And there's the senate race in Georgia to fight.

Last night, as I scrolled through Twitter, I saw someone criticizing the Lincoln Project, the Never Trump Republican activist group who did such a relentless, fantastic job of critiquing the President. He said they had millions in donations and should give it all to BLM organizers who he was sure were struggling to pay rent. 

And I thought - the fight isn't even over, and already the left is attacking itself! I do not envy Biden and Pelosi. But if anyone can handle this complex, fraught time, those two can. 

Last night Bill Maher had on the man who produced the film The Social Dilemma, about how we are all being colonized and exploited by social media, the algorithms that dictate what we see and what we know. I must watch it, though it's aimed at younger people; I'm not on my phone enough to be colonized. Before that, I watched the start of Suzuki's 60th season on The Nature of Things, about the climate rebellion, interviews with fierce young climate activists inspired by Greta Thunberg and not being exploited by any algorithm. It was beautiful television, inspiring and uplifting, just when we needed it most.

Today is a new day on our planet. And the heavens agree with us. 

PS What's making ME weep is the outpouring from all over the world on FB and Twitter: Lynn and Denis in Provence lifting champagne glasses; the church bells in Paris ringing; even messages of support from former Republican presidents. Something evil has been vanquished. Not completely; hard as it is to comprehend, nearly 70 million people voted for him! They have to be placated, somehow. But for today, we'll take it. 

History says, don't hope On this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime The longed-for tidal wave Of justice can rise up, And hope and history rhyme.

Friday, November 6, 2020

the nightmare is ending

11 a.m. Who knew that one day the whole world would be watching Pennsylvania? Breath held. Go Scranton!

Anna just texted, it's over. One panel has declared a Biden victory. CNN, the NYT and the Wapo haven't yet. But it's clear - it's President Biden. And it's also clear we're going to have to watch a tantrum to beat all tantrums. 

I have things to do on this glorious sunny day, but can't until it's final, until it's declared officially. The nightmare isn't over; he's still there, he's still got months to make trouble, his vile enablers are still very much in evidence. 

But basic human decency won. Biden is no dream candidate; he's dull, he debates badly, he's from the right wing of the party. But he's a decent man and has been his whole life, we know that from how he has lived and who he is now. An almost unimaginable difference from the person now in the office.

Almost. But not quite. Let's imagine, folks. 

PS 1 p.m. on this glorious day with hot sun shining: Anna has just written that she wants to get the paperwork in order in case her father and his family need to fly from their home in Washington DC to Canada quickly. That's my girl - looking ahead, being realistic, taking care of her loved ones. Let's hope this level of care is not necessary, however.

Time to go kick some leaves. The Prosecco is back in the fridge. I took it out and put it away Tuesday night while cursing humanity. But now there's light and warmth and hope; there will be celebrating. Just saw a video of people dancing wildly in the streets of Philadelphia. I want to dance too. A filthy suffocating black cloud is lifting from our planet.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

body blow

My body hurts, as if I've been pummelled, kicked in the gut, in the head. Well, maybe that also has to do with chasing my grandsons around the playground, growling loudly. That's our game - I'm the wolf, trying to eat them. At one point I growled so fiercely that a little girl nearby started to cry, so we had to temper our game.

It was a balm for the soul to be at a playground, a place of fantasy and fun, in High Park which was shining gold today.

After a sprinkling of snow a few days ago, today was almost hot - well, it was hot in the sun, though windy. A beautiful day in which to reflect on the fact that this planet is fucked.

Excuse me, but it's true. If millions of citizens cannot tell the difference between decency and gross, unspeakable evil, or, worse, they can tell the difference and they don't care, then we are fucked as a species and as a planet. As Anna said today, we'll be okay, it's Eli and Ben and their children who will really suffer. And it's true. 

I still cannot believe it. As Frank Bruni wrote in the NYT today, it's soul-shredding. It's a body blow. Even if Biden wins, it will be impossible for him to accomplish anything; they've been emboldened. My god, even the disgusting Susan Collins got back in. 

Anyway, I did get a break from it all, growling in the park. I've been joking about slitting my wrists. But the sun was shining and the boys were grinning and running and I got through. Now to go drink wine with Monique. And maybe cry a little for poor stupid, unbelievably stupid, greedy, selfish, blind, appalling humanity. My species disgusts me today.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

11 p.m. wanting to puke

Had to turn it off, hours ago. I put on the (Dixie) Chicks and then watched another episode of The Queen's Gambit. I turned it off when Mitch and Lindsay won and then the QAnon woman. Unbearable. Unfuckingbearable. How is it possible? I want to throw up. 

So, to bed, to read for hours perhaps, to try to release the tension in my shoulders and stomach and heart.

Profound sadness. People are so fucking much more stupid than is comprehensible. 

Election night

7 p.m. I know as soon as I turn on the TV I'll be flung into the pit of wondering and fretting, so I'll wait a bit longer to turn it on. Because we probably won't know for sure for a long time. But the indications are clear - millions and millions of Americans have had enough. 

May the nightmare end. May decency return to that benighted land. And even so, poor Biden - as a NYT columnist wrote today, Why does he want that job??

However, let's make sure he gets it first. 

Monique and her American boyfriend Ron are coming at 8. I'll turn on then. In the meantime ...

Monday, November 2, 2020

Mayor Pete slays the Fox dragons

I can't stand it any more! My eyeballs are roasting in my head! Let's survive tomorrow somehow, and then Wednesday will be a major detox day, no social media, nothing, no no no. Got to stop this obsessive scrolling!!

Wait - who am I kidding? Think he and his goons are going to slink quietly into the night? How will they try to throttle democracy? Jesus, does it not feel as if we've been enduring this election battle for years? In the middle of a pandemic? Enough, the entire planet cries. MAKE HIM GO AWAY. ALL OF THEM. 

What cheered me up today was Mayor Pete. His appearances on Fox have been going viral, one after the other - they set 'em up, he knocks 'em down. Phenomenal - all done smoothly, with prime articulacy and not a hint of condescension. Here's a short bit. Do yourself a favour and find some of the others.

Today's treat, besides a long visit and a bowl of my just-made leek and potato soup with my dear friend Jason: an hour and a half Zoom call with Trevor, now living in a town near Copenhagen, whom I met a few times in the seventies. He was a post-doc of my father's and spoke at his memorial event in 1988. He has ordered my books and is apparently reading them all, when they arrive in Denmark. We got caught up about our lives and talked about my mother and father, who were, he said, like parents to him. Did you know that biochemists are supposed to be boring? Trevor told me there's a true story about a woman who put a personal ad in the paper "seeking an educated, intelligent man. No biochemists." 

"But your dad was trained as a biochemist," he said, "and could not have been less boring." 

Trevor is an immunologist, a growth profession these days. I hope some day he'll explain a few scientific things to me, like what exactly a biochemist and an immunologist are and do. Next time, we're going to Zoom in Pam, who lives in Amsterdam, another former student of Dad's, the woman who did not have his baby and whom I've never met. What an adventure! Trevor told me it has meant the world to him, because of my call getting in touch with his own past. He has been contacting old friends and remembering. 

That's something else we do, we memoirists — in our search for our own story, we reconnect people with theirs. 

Trevor sent this picture of my parents — a new favourite. Dad mixing drinks, I assume, Mum in one of her 46 white blouses. How happy this image makes me.