Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Biden time: a new world dawns

My son said it well today. "He wasn't my president, it's not my country," he said, "but it was horrible knowing he was there, with so much power. What a wonderful day today is."

A wonderful day indeed. The entire planet surely feels it - well, except for Putin and millions of American insurrectionists who want to smash the world. The lifting, the sweeping away of the cloud of poison gas we've all been forced to breathe for four years - because you could not avoid breathing in the man and his villainous allies. A scumbag right to the end - pardoning a list of low-lifes including one of the most repulsive humans alive, Steve Bannon. Refusing any courtesy to his successor. Sulking, whining, and boasting, as he has never stopped doing, along with his repulsive wife and family. 

Oh thank God. Thank God for the Democrats today, for that wondrously diverse crowd on stage - Mayor Pete with his husband, Eugene Goodman in a place of honour, faces of all colours including the new senators from Georgia ... All of it, wonderful. I was worried about Biden and everyone else in the cold - it was snowing for God's sake - the women in ridiculous high heels, no one warmly enough dressed except Bernie - giving no truck to formality, old Bernie, in his, as someone wrote on Twitter, "Grampa in Vermont jacket." I love them all - Amy Klobuchar, Dr. Jill, Doug and Kamala and their families, the many Bidens, and of course the beautiful, elegant, dignified Obamas. Just seeing them made me cry; look what we have missed. 

I thought Joe's speech was magnificent, and Amanda Gorman the poet - what kind of miracle was that, a young woman so poised, eloquent, and wise? Extraordinary. At another time, it would have felt like a good if overlong and overblown event, in the American way. So many fanfares! But this time, following what the planet has endured for the last four years, it felt like medicine. Like a miraculous vaccine. The beginning of healing.

The NYT said no president since Lincoln has come into office facing more serious problems - including resistance not just from the right but from the left. My daughter the Bernie bro was ho hum about today except for Gorman and Michelle Obama whom she adores. I'm sad she cannot celebrate what Joe Biden accomplished today - a speech that did not spare blame but spoke of hope and healing. A principled, empathetic man who has suffered mightily finally getting his well-earned due. 

Did little else today; Monique chilled a bottle of champagne and we sat outside under her blankets toasting the new administration. I hope tmw life can begin again without constant checking of news to see the latest outrage. Though the other guy hasn't finished outraging us, you may be sure. 

I did do the TDT Zoom dance class last night, but it's not for me. We did pliés. I have not done a plié since quitting ballet at 11. I thought we'd be flinging ourselves about, but we were doing dancers' structured  warmups. Lovely for some, I'm sure, but for me, it's back to line dancing with Gina, where we're just dancing. No pliés.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

words from the wide world: Ajerbaijan, London, Provence, Zurich

An unusual day today: midday I taught the first class of the U of T term, to students who ranged from Vancouver Island and Nelson, B.C., to Edmonton, Montreal, Bathurst New Brunswick, and of course Toronto, to Athens, Greece, and Azerbaijan! Another huge advantage of Zoom - a student in Azerbaijan! It was a fascinating group; I look forward to this term, sitting in my kitchen.

And soon, tonight, I'm doing a Zoom class with the Toronto Dance Theatre. The company is based a few blocks from here; in 1973, I used to take the streetcar across town, from my room in a communal house on Markham Street, to take a class there. Since moving nearby, I've intended to do the same and never have. Usually by 7.15 p.m. I've had a couple of glasses of wine and dinner. Tonight at 7.15 I'll be dancing in the living room with the TDT. We'll see how that goes.

The world is on tenterhooks; it looks like the man will leave office without blowing up Iran or starting a world war - one of the very few things we have to be thankful for. A recent New Yorker cartoon: two people watching television news; one says, Joe Biden is so boring, and the other says, Yes, isn't it wonderful! Yes it is. An ethical man full of heart, trying to pick up the pieces of his shattered nation. I'll be watching tomorrow, along with a relieved planet.

Some gratifyingly kind words from four men, today, about the book: Sasha, a man of Russian background who is researching the life of my great-grandfather in London, England and writes often with questions or new bits of info, wrote that he enjoyed how "Tolstoyan" Loose Woman is. When I wrote to ask what he meant - my great-grandfather was a follower and admirer of Tolstoy - he replied, "I thought that the combination of humour (my partner complained that I was laughing too loudly while reading in bed), the fact that all the exposition, including the entertaining part, was subordinate to an educational purpose, and the disregard for fiction reflected an influence of early Tolstoy."

Love it, Sasha! That you were laughing so loudly is music to my ears. And thanks, that's the first time anyone has linked my work to that of the man I consider the greatest novelist ever. I'll take it. 

My dear Chris, whose blog is to the left: I liked the bit about l’Arche the best; I found that part absolutely wonderful, kind and honestThere was nothing I didn’t like, but to be truthful, the more introspective part at the end, the long inner dialogue about womanhood, marriage and career, was less compelling - not surprising for a male reader. I liked reading the thoughts of an actor about the profession as I am so, so deeply in love with theatre. That is something we share.

Dan, a writer from the south of France: I was deeply moved by your book. Your honesty, self-awareness, transparency and especially personal courage to strip naked on the public square shone through on every page. A life, any life, is necessarily messy; fiction allows us to arrange things (a polite way to say “lie about them”) so they (appear to) make sense. Telling the solid truth must be hard, but is surely immensely liberating (or so I imagine, I've never tried). Thank-you!

Thank you!

And Alan, a fellow Beatlemaniac and musician who lives in Zurich and whom I've never met, went to a cemetery in the snow to find James Joyce's grave and tell him about my book; he made a lovely little film with a poem about Joyce. What a wonderful thing. Tolstoy and James Joyce - what a dinner party! 

Link: https://1drv.ms/v/s!AuT910F9GbDxmjWr-nsPtXFnV0e-?e=1aMH8X

Alan, Loose Woman, and James Joyce, in the snow: 

Luckily soon my swollen head and I will be stumbling around the living room making a fool of ourselves.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

let there be fire

A new room has opened up. Throughout my 34 years in this house, the living room has been used for big gatherings, for my home classes, and for watching TV. But in a semi-detached house, the part in the middle without windows is the darkest. I've spent all my years here in the kitchen.

Today, planet living room was made possible by my Valor Madrona gas fire stove. It's not quite finished; the 'driftwood' logs have not arrived. But the rest was installed this morning, and now I think I will not sit anywhere else until April. Merry Christmas to me.

Another important event: I sent 33,000 tentative words of the next book to my favourite editor, Laura Cameron, who has a fierce and perceptive eye. Today I received her remarks. Invaluable - what works and what does not. The most important thing: the material is interesting. A ton of work to do to fix what's there let alone move ahead, but there's hope. 

On the other hand, I had another battle of words with Anna today. Bill Maher was back on HBO last night after two months off; he had the temerity to interview Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump's despised press secretaries. It was fascinating to listen to a true believer; she's not an idiot, as she appears, she's smart, and like a cult member, she seems to genuinely believe what she says. But to the woke left, giving her any kind of platform is unforgivable. 

Maher also talked about the woman who was shot during the insurrection, an Iraq vet with a failing small business and huge debts; she'd taken a loan and was paying 165% interest. He pointed out that the Democrats of California are not protecting people from predatory loan sharks. His point was that 74 million people voted for Trump; no matter how wrong they were, we should listen and try to figure out what they wanted and hoped for. Not the violent ones, but so many of the others - ordinary people who for various reasons swallowed the poison. 

But according to the woke left, they're all white supremacists and we should not grant them time. I accused my daughter of being in a bubble just as closed and judgemental as the Trump people's. Fighting words. I adore her and she me. Families disagree. I'm old and she's not. Long may she battle.

Okay, it's so hot in here, I tried to turn off the flames and the remote for the fireplace did not work properly. And so it begins.

Only four more sleeps until President Biden. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

that was the week that was

Who would ever have believed this week? A vicious cavalcade of lies from the most powerful man on earth leading to armed insurrection and murder, the corporate world finally turning on him - Deutsche Bank, for God's sake, when Deutsche Bank turns on you, you're toast. Not to mention a virus killing millions, the entire world confined to quarters ... where am I? Is this planet earth? 

So, since I've been thinking about death, I downloaded a Documents Information sheet from a retirement website and spent a few hours filling it in. Now my kids know where my will and other important documents are; there's a list of my banking info, how to access my passwords. I need to think about cremation and what should happen to my social media after my demise, not to mention the vast quantities of paper I will leave behind. Since death is not - I hope - touch wood - imminent, there's time. But the key thing is done. My kids have Power of Attorney for me for both health and finances, so I hope they continue to be fond of me. My paternal grandmother had Alzheimer's, almost everyone on my father's side died of cancer, and Covid has taken over this province. So who knows what awaits? 

Cheery, I know. But I have no problem talking about my death. It will come. I'll be 110, but it will come, just after, like Diana Athill, I finally become a bestselling author in my nineties. Woo hoo! 

Mourning a favourite filmmaker: Michael Apted, the creator of the "Up" series, documentary filmmaking at its most brilliant. Incredible, to watch those kids grow up, to follow their journeys and compare to our own. A rich odyssey. Thanks to you, Michael. 

It's gloomy again today - not cold, just grey, will be till Saturday, they say. However, there's brightness across town. Anna sent these: the new bed, just finished, with many many stuffies already in place, and a shot of home schooling in progress. Does my heart good. And my heart could use some good these days.


Monday, January 11, 2021

"I was wrong again." The right wing faces reality.

Back to work. Just taught a Zoom class, will teach another Thursday evening; next week, the U of T class too. I was wearing a nice sweater and beads on top, sweatpants and Birkies on the bottom. Zoom works really well, even with a group of strangers meeting for the first time. My internal system is revved up, heart beating faster - showtime! How lucky, after all these years, to love my work so much.

The fallout from Wednesday continues. If my Trump-loving high school friend Dan is an indication, perhaps this is a turning point, a nadir for white supremacists and neo-Nazis and just right wingers like Dan. In 1965 he and I argued bitterly about the Vietnam war, he in favour and I against. Though then we were really parroting our parents, he continued on the right and I on the left; last time he wrote, before the election, crowing about the success of Trump's economic polities and ranting about Hunter Biden, I wrote him off forever. But I got an email Thursday: "You were right. I was wrong again." The invasion of the Capitol was the end for him and his friends. "It made us look like Venezuela." 

He's still hanging on - he wrote subsequently that they still might find election irregularities, and was I not concerned about what the Bidens were doing in Ukraine, and more of the same. I commended him for his humility in admitting he was wrong, but "You've had the Gambino crime family in the White House for 4 years and you're still going on about Hunter Biden! The Kool-Aid is still flowing in your veins." Perhaps it always will, but less than before. That's a start.

What makes me sick, I wrote him, is that their disgusting man behaved abominably and even criminally for years, yet few on their side minded until Wednesday. And many millions still swallow the lies and support him, even support the violent invasion. Way too little, way too late for the Repubs who've finally developed a spine, a conscience, an open pair of eyes. But a start.

My tall handsome son came to visit last night. We hugged. I know, that's taking my life in my hands; I did turn my face away, which is easy because hugging him means my face in his chest. But a hug feels as necessary as food at this point. We had a long deep talk with dinner and watched the first episode of Bridgerton, too fluffy for us both, and the first half of A Life on Our Planet, David Attenborough's life story and a sad chronicle of environmental degradation. A more cheerful rest of the evening for us both - he went to watch football with friends, and I watched All creatures great and small on PBS, about exactly the world Attenborough was celebrating, rural, quiet, in harmony with nature. And a doc on the urbane Alistair Cooke. Grateful for the riches of PBS. 

Excitement across town - the bunkbeds I bought the boys for Xmas have arrived. Luckily Thomas is off this week because it looks like quite a job to put it together. There will be boxes for forts. Onward. 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Radioactive Republicans

Anna wrote today on FB, "The first week of 2021 over. Only 51,000 more to go." 

My daughter-by-another-mother Holly was going to come for a visit today with Eli, for lunch and to go to a playground. But the numbers in Ontario are horrifying; she has just cancelled. I know it's wise, and yet I'm bereft. Those boys are growing up on the other side of town, and I'll hardly see them. I miss them so much. 

Ah well, better safe etc. The hospitals are jammed; anyone getting sick now is in grave trouble, so for me, that's a serious consideration. The kids and I will Zoom at some point. And Sam is coming tomorrow for dinner, I think, so I'll have a family fix. 

Yesterday the sun was shining; what a difference that made. Went for a walkabout with Ruth and sat at my south-facing desk drinking it in. Later, I watched Alex Trebek's last Jeopardy and Radioactive, a drama about Madame Curie, flawed and overwrought but still, a tribute to her courage with a stellar performance by Rosamund Pike. I didn't know that after Pierre Curie's tragic death Marie took their married lab assistant as a lover, and a vicious mob, inflamed by scurrilous accounts in right-wing newspapers, surrounded her home, screaming abuse, including anti-Semitic slurs though she was not Jewish. Does this sound familiar? 

The same types are still out there, screaming untruths, lots of them in Canada too. Have spent these past days listening to the radio, obsessively checking social media and the papers online. Look at the decent, serious face of that policeman who was murdered. And yet more than half of the House Repubs voted not to certify Biden's win. Something is rotten in their political culture, right to the roots. 

So now, for us in Ontario, 51,000 weeks of isolation and winter, with an incompetent provincial government that can't do a single thing right. 

On the other hand, there are still kind words coming in about the article and the book. From a musician friend who knew my father: I loved the piece in last week's Globe & Mail about the polio vaccine. It brought back a vivid image of the way your Dad held the bow. It also inspired me to order Loose Woman and the McCartney book from our local Book City, and I am sure they will be great reads. 

And another: What a poignant, timely and well written piece it was. I’m not surprised that Jane Philpott picked it up – it is such a sensible, yet moving, example of the power of vaccines.  

And I have bought and read LOOSE WOMAN and bravo again. It was so well written, honest, invoking cringeworthy memories for me and I found, especially, the parts of your time with the L’Arche community evocative and moving. 


Thank you! 


And there's this: 

Be still my beating heart.

I've signed up for a virtual dance class from the Toronto Dance Theatre. I'll dance as if no one's watching, because luckily, no one will be. Onward!

Thursday, January 7, 2021

as the dust settles

Just to clarify - yesterday's post was written at 4 p.m., as the mob was just getting started. The rest of the day - where to begin? Where were the police, so powerfully present for Black Lives Matter, smashing heads and arresting? Why was that pathetic little group of cops there, did the authorities not listen to Trump, not follow what was being planned for months, if not years? 

Some good will come of this. The man is toast, first of all - if even some of his weasly, spineless group of supporters have turned on him, if even Mark Zuckerberg has had enough, he's done. We all feared what he'd be capable of in these coming two weeks - starting a war, dropping bombs, God knows - but he won't be able to now. May his enablers be haunted till the end of their days. May Josh Hawley be confronted by that photo of himself with his fist raised, saluting the mob, everywhere he goes, forever.

The optical metaphor was extraordinary. Just as American democracy has been threatened, these last years, by a lawless band of greedy opportunists, so yesterday was the Capitol building itself. Maybe other countries will now take seriously the threat of domestic terrorism, violent white supremacists like the Proud Boys - which, as my daughter just pointed out, was founded by a Canadian. No country is immune.

This is what I wrote on Facebook:

Never did I think I'd spend the evening watching the U.S. Senate! One senator, speaking of the lawless mob, invoked the fall of the Roman Empire. I thought of Caligula, a vilely cruel and insane Roman ruler in power for nearly 4 years until he was assassinated. But the American Caligula and his enablers are still in office. Of course they and Fox News are to blame for today — but also an education system that has not taught people to look at FACTS, to think. Horrifying.

Some of the Dem senators spoke eloquently, and it was heartening to watch Nancy Pelosi stay calm last night under immense pressure and force the vote. Though listening to the backtracking of the monstrous cretins on the other side made my stomach churn. 

It's hard to work, it's hard to do anything today but read the paper and check social media - what's happening? What's the response been? What's next?!

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

watching CNN in disbelief

Holy @#$@#! Are we surprised? I just watched CNN for a bit; one reporter said he spoke to a close confidant of Trump's who confided that the current president is unhinged. Insane, batshit crazy. Of course he has been for years, but now it's evident to everyone except his merry band of violent fellow lunatics. The kings and queens of white grievance.

When you think of the howls about the violence around Black Lives Matter! But now it's stupid, vengeful, heavily armed white people. "Domestic terrorists," they said on CNN, at last. Appalling. A lunatic for two more weeks in the most powerful position on earth. Terrifying. 

I think of my former high school friend the Trump supporter, wonder how he's justifying this. Last time he wrote to me, instead of defending Trump, he continued to attack Hunter Biden. I've written him off forever. No time for that kind of delusional idiocy. 

Ye gods. My poor ex who lives down there - come home, Edgar! Get out of there while you can! My poor cousins in Looneyland. Though let's not forget that a miracle happened today and the Senate is now blue. Hooray for Stacey Abrams! Someone wrote on FB that she might be the most important woman ever in the history of the U.S. Quite possibly. 

Up here in Relative Tranquil-land - life goes on. A student wrote proudly today that an essay of hers is going to be anthologized in a book coming out soon. She was one of the most interesting students ever; as the result of a serious illness, she was suffering from profound amnesia. That was a first - trying to help a person with amnesia write memoir. She was a good writer and obviously continued to get better, because now she's in a book! Good news. Let's hang onto whatever we can today. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

watching Jeopardy, trying to ignore Georgia

Just turned on CNN but I can't watch; the race in Georgia is so close. How is that possible? I have to remember - Georgia is a Confederate state, so with built-in racism. But still! To think, I used to be appalled that people would vote for George Bush! 

Reading what's going on in the world right now is devastating, sick-making. What the outgoing administration is doing to hamstring Biden before he even begins. When will the vile circus to the south be over? Truly, forces of evil newly unleashed, and a pandemic growing worse. The world feels like a dumpster fire. 

I've spent three days trying to write a positive piece about the good things that happened last year, the joys of Zoom, banging pots with neighbours, the pleasure for a writer of being forced to stay home. But it's wrong. It's wrong to write something positive about last year when there was so much suffering not shared by me. Time to throw this one away and start another. Could be worse - only three days wasted. 

Barely moved today. Nothing more to say. Oh yes, tonight I watched "Jeopardy" for the first and perhaps the last time; it's the last week with Alex Trebek, that fine Canadian. He shot this week's shows only ten days before he died and was apparently in pain. It hurts to watch him, unfailingly courteous, walking slowly, with makeup. 

What a world. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

tweeting up a storm

Amazing. So this is how the social media steam train really works: thanks to a friend, I learned that the Globe health writer, André Picard, had retweeted my article, and that Dr. Jane Philpott, former cabinet minister, retweeted it again. I looked them up. By then, Picard's tweet had 27 retweets and 77 likes, Philpott's had 39 and 106. 

These are people who have thousands of Twitter followers. I have 149. A day after I tweeted my article, 11 had liked it and 3 retweeted. It's good to have friends in high places! I thank them both. So many have commented on its timely message, I've written to the Globe to ask if the article could be reprinted in other papers, but have not heard back. 

Oh, and another amazing thing: my psychiatrist called today to say how much she liked it. In all our years together - we began serious work in 1990 but for a very long time we've talked only once or twice a year - she has never contacted me. Strict boundaries. That was a deeply meaningful call. How this article has resonated! You never know.  

In the meantime, reality: I've spent two days working on a new article about this past year with Covid, and it doesn't work. A complete dead end so far. A good reminder that writing never gets easier, it just gets harder in a different way. In the meantime, the audiobook of the memoir, which took a week to record, has sold four copies, and because Audible lets people without a membership get one book free, the amount of royalties I've made is exactly zero. Cheers! 

It's winter. It's cold and grey, and we face at least three more months of cold and grey. Being alone in this silent house may, at some point, feel hard. So far, though, I'm busy and happy, counting tweets.

In the meantime, Anna wrote that Ben joined his JK class online this morning. The teacher, in this classroom with many immigrant children, was talking about families who live far away and asked the class if they have relatives who live far away. Ben put up his hand and she called on him. "My grandma lives on Sackville Street," he said. "That's far away, but I see her lots." 

Many heart emojis.

And Eli's tutor Greg sent this picture of his student with the Saturday Globe, his grandmother's name at the top. They talked about vaccine hesitancy, and Eli said, "If they don't want the vaccine, they should just read the article, how simple is that!" Greg is trying to get Eli to write longer answers, so they counted the words in the essay. Another lesson of writing: you never know what use your readers will make of your work. 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

kind words aplenty

Renewed faith in humanity today: people read newspapers, and they're kind! The reaction to my article, just in one day, has been heartening. At 8 a.m. a group email came in from a Y friend, who sent word to our whole group that they should read the piece. So they did, and they wrote. I heard from Halifax, France, England, Vancouver, the U.S.; from two former university presidents who'd known Dad, one of them writing, "What I remember especially was his advice and kindness to me, twenty-five years younger and a beginner in his world. A nice guy in every respect. A mensch."

They wrote that he would be proud of me. What that means! 

Especially appreciated this note from Anna's neighbour, a retired schoolteacher who's been tutoring Eli every day for an hour and a half since the spring, for free. He told me my essay made him cry, and then, Your wonderful Eli has been a gift to me. He gives me a laugh every day. He’s smart, earnest and kind. All attributes that will serve him well in life. When I challenge him on something he will often say...”true enough.” He is giving me the “grandfather” experience I never thought I would have... and that is a great joy to me. Thank you Covid for that gift.

Many gifts, and I'm grateful for each one. But "smart, earnest and kind" - that means most. 

And another gift — Mary sent word about the memoir: Loose Woman  is marvellous! A beautiful story with its honesty and self reflection. I am sad to have finished it. You, my friend, are in a roll. Stay nimble!

Good advice, dear Mary, though I'm not sure how to do that. But thank you. 

Xmas is over; everything is taken down. In the old days, I'd remove the Xmas lights and shove them with relief into a box; the following year, my husband would have to disentangle a mess of lights, and we'd argue about my carelessness, which drove him insane. I took this photograph of yesterday's work, the lights neatly rolled and tied with ribbon, and sent it to him, saying, "I think I've grown up."

It's about time. 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

vaccine article in today's Globe

What a joyful start to the new year: my article in the Globe about my father's polio, the Salk vaccine, and the issue of vaccine hesitancy, with a plea to anti-vaxxers. Hope it makes a difference. I'm happy it appeared on a Saturday with other vaccine articles. Just sorry they did not print the photograph to go with it. So I'll share it here.

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-my-father-was-thrilled-when-the-polio-vaccine-was-discovered-hed-be/

People have been sending messages since early morning, via email and text and on FB and Twitter. Thanks to you all! As Chris said, There is nothing like scientific experience to gainsay the opinions of those who think they know better through rumour and prejudice. 

I think everyone knows someone who is embracing ignorance and darkness these days. It's a wonderful thing to light candles.

Yes to candles. And as Jason texted, "Great work. Now do more." Yes sir!

Watched a wonderful documentary on NYEve: My Octopus Teacher. How to fall in love with an octopus - turns out it's easy, we viewers do too. Loved it. Highly recommended.

Today, my first piano lesson since March. There will be pain. 

May 2021 bring you health and fulfillment and many steps forward. Much love.