Friday, December 31, 2021

A joyful NYEve to you all

It's like an early spring day here - mild, no snow. Meanwhile my friends in BC are shivering in the deep freeze and buried in the white stuff. Get used to it, folks; our planet is in turmoil. I watched a doc about the climate crisis, showing what the decimation of the forests and the melting of permafrost means, and was in despair. We are marching toward catastrophe. What else can I do to help? Next morning, instead of turning up my thermostat, I wrapped myself in a shawl. I will try to avoid anything with unnecessary packaging. I know, these are minuscule, pathetic gestures against vast industries spewing poison into the air and water, governments that only care about the next election, billions of consumers desperate to buy more stuff. I guess we just have to do what we can. Get involved. Vote. 

On a cheerier note, I also watched another terrific episode of Bleak House from the BBC and a doc called The Super Bob Einstein Show, about the comedian, which was hilarious. 

Annie and Ruth are coming for dinner. I've often spent NYEve alone but am happy to spend it with dear friends. After our potluck meal we might watch Don't Look Up, which has had very mixed reviews but has a fabulous cast and an important topic. Or maybe we'll have too much to say to each other.

I did both Gina's line-dancing and Nicky's dance party this morning, so I'm better, as perhaps you can tell. Sam is still really sick, but he thinks it's stomach flu. Everyone fine at Anna's house, so far, though they're dropping like flies everywhere. But far fewer hospitalizations with Omicron, which is a huge relief.

The best thing, though, the brightest hope for the new year in my life is that three nights ago, I lay pondering at 4 a.m. as is my wont, when a scene popped into my head, the opening scene of the next book (or long article, not sure which.) I've tried many times, for years, to figure out a way into this story, and now, with that one vision, I think I have it - it's given me a start and a tone, a voice. We'll see; it's early days yet. But I'm happy to have finally embarked on this project. More details when it's a little more solid.

And another nice thing: I replied to the woman who wrote from Virginia to tell me she'd loved the audiobook and just got another letter back from her, mentioning a penpal she had in childhood. I too had a penpal, and it looks like now I have another. A kindred spirit, like the many blog friends I haven't met. 

Just heard about Betty White. I'm sad she didn't make it to a hundred, but what a life!

So much to say, but I need to do a little piano practice, tidy the house for my guests, and make a salad. I am grateful to be here and for much, much more. It has been a brutal year on our planet; how lucky I've been. 

I've ordered a new book from the library about two of my heroes: The Art of Alice and Martin Provensen. What a blessed couple they were, a long life making art together. I have a number of their books, especially their Fireside Book of Folk Songs, from my childhood; Mum used to play from it all the time. Why don't I get it out and have a try? It'll be painful - but what the hell.

May your 2022 be happy and healthy and creative. Sending love to you all, from my heart, here, to wherever yours is. 

The cardinal on my deck. Blessings.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

I'm the one person in North America who doesn't have Covid

Just took another Covid test: for the third time, negative. So - a cold. I'm getting better, energy slowly returning. My son however is very sick with fever, chills, coughing. At Anna's household, she and the boys, luckily, are showing no symptoms. This thing is incredibly powerful. Soon we will all have had it and maybe, at last, herd immunity will kick in. 

In the Star yesterday, there was an article on the new film Don't Look Up, a satire about how humanity is ignoring the urgency of the climate crisis and our need to drastically change our behaviour. Beside the article was a photograph of the blocks-long lineup of shoppers outside the Eaton Centre early on Boxing Day. 

We are doomed. 

It's gloomy out and has been for days. Chilly but not cold, which is of course not normal, with a sparse sprinkling of snow, unlike western Canada, which is frozen solid. On a walk before Xmas I saw buds on a magnolia tree.  

I finished Patchett's Truth and Beauty, which I loved, and am now reading Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, the subject of Ann's book. Last night, watched a doc on Angela Merkel's extraordinary career and life. There is simply something solid, honest, and trustworthy in her face. What other politician can we say that about? Jacinda Ardern, and that's about it. They made the point that Merkel has maintained an amazing level of privacy in this very public world. She has never allowed the press into her home. Her husband is invisible, has never given an interview. Imagine that in America. 

The cardinal on my deck! So beautiful, so very very scarlet. And a bully bluejay at the feeder. Time to fill it again.

I need to go out, need to move this wheezing body and get some air, and yet I don't want to. I want to sit in my kitchen chair with a blanket on my knees forever. As Lynn once said, "You're going to die in that chair." But not yet, surely. Not yet. 

Monday, December 27, 2021

Ann Patchett, Lucy Grealy, Truth and Beauty

Very beautiful out there - fresh snowfall. Happily, I can enjoy the view from my kitchen chair - a bluejay at the feeder - as I have nowhere to go. And even if I did, I would not go, because I'm still not sure of my health status. My friend the public health nurse pointed out that Omicron can take up to 7 days to manifest, so this cold may still turn out to be the dreaded thing. I'm a bit better today, though, so there's hope. I'll test again on Wednesday. Whatever this is, I don't understand how I got it, with all the distancing, masking, hand-washing. How insistent and strong these viruses are. Powerful enough to cripple the entire world. 9400 new cases in Ontario today. Scary! 

In the meantime, I just had some of my turkey soup for lunch; it was so good I stood up and headed to the fridge saying, "Maw soup!" which is what my son used to say as he sat in his highchair pounding his spoon. Maw soup! The fridge is full of food, the house is warm, soon I'll put on the fire. There'll be a nice warm Netflix and many mags and books to keep me stimulated. Sam says I must watch Station Eleven, so I will.

Last night, as I tossed in bed with a stuffed nose, something came to me: the first paragraph of an essay I've been struggling to write for years. It must have been inspired by the Ann Patchett book I'm reading in bed: Truth and Beauty, about her friendship with the writer Lucy Grealy. It's so good, so vividly written, I felt energized and inspired. This morning I wrote out my idea and think it's a good beginning. Now to write all the rest. That's all. Just write all the rest. 

I want to be Ann Patchett when I grow up. Though I've just discovered the controversy she endured after the publication of the book; Grealy's sister wrote a long article in the Guardian accusing her of being less good a writer than Lucy, using the friendship for her own gain, a "grief thief." The problem for all writers of memoir: real live people who don't want their stories out in the world. Well, too bad, I say, at least about this one. Patchett brings Lucy, disfigured, egotistical, voracious, and brilliant, vividly to life. 

Here, yesterday, before the snow, is Lady Cardinal on my deck. Wish you could see her flashes of red - her red beak - her perky crest. She's my favourite. 

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Xmas and Omicron recap

The most important gift for me, this year, is the little yellow line on the Covid test I just took for the second time: again, negative. Robin on the top floor definitely has it, but after my negative test Friday, we decided to go ahead with Xmas. An hour after everyone left that night, my nose started to run; I'd developed a bad cold. A cold, or (dun dun dun - danger music) THE THING?

So, just took a home test again; what a relief. If my symptoms continue I'll find a PCR test, in the meantime keeping away from people, which isn't hard as we're all frightened and burned out. Ruth just wrote, "Everyone's kids and grandkids have it. It's the thing to do." 

I'll sit by the fire and read. Perhaps I'll write in the journal Anna gave me with the beautiful fountain pen from Lynn, wearing my new lambswool scarf from her. Anna also gave me a gorgeous hooked rug from Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, and Sam a special pillow that's supposed to help with sleep - how well they know me. The hamster, now called Little Hamlet the Fearless, was the best present for the boys. When they got home with him in his big plastic house, he was the source of much interest from Naan the cat. "Oh thank you for bringing me this delicious snack!" Sam said in Naan's voice. "Just how do I get the wrapping off?" 

For many years, we always had guests - my parents or other relatives, people we called homeless waifs, who needed a friendly place at Xmas. But recently, just us. Though it was so low-key, I still find it stressful, hoping everyone is content and full. Anna was thrilled with her Christi Belcourt print, and Sam, who loved his visit to Ireland years ago, with his W.B. Yeats framed poem - "Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams." Thomas spent much time assembling a Lego Titanic with a million little pieces - it said "For 6 up," what a joke! - and the Playmobil rescue centre with helicopter and boat. There wasn't a single argument about anything. The boys played quietly for what seemed like hours. The fire made us all overheated. Dinner was wonderful. It was all the best.

Except for Sam, who had another friend in the bar industry commit suicide recently. There's an epidemic, my kids told me, of opiate overdoses and suicides, particularly now, as everything shuts down again and it all seems hopeless. It is a harsh, cruel time for many on our already burdened planet. 

Today, resting, solitary, sneezing, making two big vats of turkey soup. I took poor Robin, isolating in his suite, a plate of our Xmas dinner and today will bring him some soup. I took down almost everything Christmassy; when it's over, I can't wait to put it all away and now there are no children here to object. Thanks to the stars for the James Webb telescope that just launched; for the life of Desmond Tutu. For family. For health. Above all, right now on our battered planet, for hope, and health. 

Before the chaos ... 
Ready for the feast
The chaos - Hamlet's house
Assembling the rescue centre
Little Hamlet the Fearless.

Anna as always had brought two huge loads of laundry, so after everyone else had gone, she stayed behind until it was dry. We sat by the fire as she meticulously folded stacks of t-shirts and pants and rolled countless pairs of socks, and we talked. No, THAT was the best present. We disagree about a few things, largely because I love Canada and though she does too, she will not forgive its sins. "Do you have any idea what people in South America think about Canadian mining companies?" she asked. Yes I do and I prefer not to think about it. 

My daughter has a conscience and a heart as wide as a house. What a blessing.

Friday, December 24, 2021

it's looking a lot like Covid

So - everything here up in the air, right now. My top floor tenant Robin, who came home a week ago from nearly 3 weeks in London, took one of my home Covid tests, and it was positive. He then had a more official PCR test and is awaiting the results. He has no symptoms, and he and I have not been dancing together, no spewing droplets here, but he does live in my house. 

Sam is nervous and does not want to come until we know Robin's status. He was due to come over this afternoon bringing various things we need, including a cage for - yes! - Hamlet the hamster. When I got to the pet store at noon, I learned they'd sold 5 hamsters already this morning, and I bought the last! Thank heavens I got there in time. He's happily ensconced in a temporary cage with seeds, water, a cardboard house, and a toilet roll to chew. 

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse ... except Hamlet.

Anna is sanguine about the risks, as am I - we both assume we'll all get this thing at some point. She was extremely busy yesterday preparing big meals for scores of Indigenous elders. Sam came to help her. I am very proud of my children. 

But I always feel that Christmas is one hell of a hard and exhausting job for women. Name one man who does half of what women do to prepare the day: presents, tree, meal, even setting the table and decorating the house - it's a huge job, and it's done, almost exclusively, by one sex. When I think of what Xmases used to be for me, it's a wonder I survived - buying presents for the kids from me but also from relatives who sent money so I could buy something from them; my demanding gourmet parents and others arriving for the holiday and various meals. To add a little more stress, I produced the pageant on Xmas Eve and was also dealing with divorce, the kids going back and forth from one household to another, perhaps a little more fragile than kids who stayed put. 

None of that, now, and yet there's still stress, many lists, do we have everything we need? Will everyone feel loved and cared for? Should I rush out and get more? It's crazy. No wonder people snap. The city is insane today - a fresh snowfall that's melting already, the roads and stores jam-packed - how is this in any conceivable way a festival celebrating the Prince of Peace? 

And now, here, we may not be celebrating at all. But I will cook the turkey and there will be presents, no matter what. My tree is very small but my heart is big. At this point, I wrap everything. I bought a bag of Thomas's favourite almonds at the market yesterday; they're under the tree. Now time to fill the bird feeder, so everyone, with feathers and without, has enough. At least, everyone around here. How very many, I know and I mourn, will not have enough. 

Maybe one day these boys, in the Christmas pyjamas Holly buys them every year, will realize how lucky they are, to be so loved.

My ex just wrote that because of infected cast members they had to cancel all the Xmas theatre programming he's been working months to produce. I hope against hope no one around you tests positive, except for joyful good spirits. 

Merry Christmas to you all. 

PS: Robin took the home test again: positive. I just took it; it's like waiting for a pregnancy test. Mine was negative. 
Negative! HOORAY! All systems go.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Bletchley Park; Joan Didion

The hamsters have just arrived at the petstore! Tomorrow I'll go to choose Eli's small friend. How will we wrap a hamster in a cage? Carefully. 

I lost my sense of humour briefly today, as have I'm sure many others. This morning I kitted up to ride my bike to the farmer's market, which was open specially: helmet, warm pants, scarves, huge mitts. And then my bike lock would not work; nothing, including WD40, would open it. I took an Uber down instead and loaded up with eggs, bacon, sausages, 3 lbs of coffee beans, 4 lbs of nuts and more. Was intending to walk home but it was cold and the backpack was heavy; John, my saviour (and a fierce anti-vaxxer), picked me up halfway and drove me home. He counselled a hair dryer to warm up the lock. 

Off to No Frills for many necessities, another heavy pack, and then I wanted to ride to Mark the butcher to pick up the turkey. I simply breathed heavily on the bike lock, and it opened! What I don't know about high tech. 

By noon, I was bushed. There was a text exchange with my kids about the food for Saturday, and I simply told them what else is needed. Tomorrow, wine and hamster. And bank. My wallet is empty. 

Reading a fascinating library book, Genius at War: Bletchley Park, Colossus, and the Dawn of the Digital Age, by David Price. Again, I marvel that my mother worked at Bletchley for two years, in Hut 8 which dealt with the German submarine and navy Enigma codes, and she never spoke of it. Thousands of workers were sworn to secrecy, told during the war that if the Nazis invaded, their families could be tortured to obtain information. After the war, there was concern about the Russians finding out what the Brits had been up to. And so almost until the end, she never spoke of it. On her resumé for the war years, it says "Foreign office," which is what they all said their war work was. 

What a story it is - a bunch of brilliant, eccentric Brits, Alan Turing and others, inventing an incredible machine that decrypted German codes, saved the world, and led to our computer age. Over and over, a clash of personalities might have derailed the project but did not. My clever, talented young mother right in the middle of it, and for almost all my life, I knew nothing about it. I did not understand why during my childhood she was restless and often unhappy, why she lived through her children. Now I know she'd had an urgent and important job during the war; after, she worked with refugees in northern Germany. And then she crossed the Atlantic, got married, and had two children, and that was that. 

RIP Joan Didion, a hero to all authors of non-fiction. How many writers are superstars whose death is reported on the national news? She had a tiny, frail body housing a ferocious mind, a probing eye, an indomitable spirit. Almost as soon as her husband dropped dead at their dinner table, she began to chronicle her devastation in beautiful clear prose. An inspiring writer. 

Just looked at my calendar for next week, usually so jammed: almost nothing. Was supposed to see Kathy on Tuesday but her son has just tested positive so she's in quarantine. I'm going to see a movie with Ken and have dinner with Ruth on NYEve. Otherwise, nada. Hooray!

Usual week. 

My neighbours have decorated their giant spruce again this year. It illuminates my nights. 

May your nights, at this cold, busy, often difficult time of year, be illuminated too.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

She has returned for real, with the Silverback Mac

Oh my friends, happiness is this little machine in my lap, purring like a sleek grey pussycat. All my Macs have had names, since the first one, MacZine, and the second, Fleetwood Mac. This one is Silverback Mac. Home, with all new insides, the operation covered by AppleCare. An expensive two-year old machine should not need to have its insides replaced after two years. Wouldn't Steve Jobs be appalled?

I can type quickly with all my fingers, look things up easily, print, work on my hundreds of documents. It's ridiculous; not that long ago we survived extremely well without these machines, and now we cannot live without them.

Someone wrote to me about Loose Woman:

I finished reading Loose Woman last night. Loved it. It was interesting reading about your life, full of change and reflection, achievements and growth, watching you grow up, and mature. And I was simultaneously paying attention to the structure and how you moved the narrative forward - events and reflections. I left you 5 stars.

I heard from Hippocampus, a nonfiction magazine to whom I'd submitted an essay about my childhood friend Penny: the nicest possible no. 

While we're unable to accept Secret, we read this piece carefully and found much to admire in your writing and in this story. We hope you find it reassuring that your work made our shortlist for our current issues-in-progress.

Our readers found this piece to be poignant without being maudlin, rich in detail, risky, and well-written. If you do revise this, however, our readers suggest building out the ending more, and also honing in on which part of the story is most important to you. If it's the present, you could add more reflection, sharing more about yourself and about how this experience affected your life. If it's the childhood experience, reflection would serve us well there, too. What does it mean to be a friend? How did you feel during the various stages of the friendship?

As writers ourselves, we understand the submission process can be just as challenging as it is rewarding. We wish you only the best in your continued work, and we hope to see your name in the queue again soon.

All the best in your future publishing endeavors,

Is that not marvellous? If only all rejections were as generous and thoughtful. 

The next few days: getting wine, going to the market for veg and nuts and to Mark the butcher for our annual turkey - 35 years of buying our turkey from him. The great challenge is finding a hamster for Eli. Anna had already bought the cage and we decided I should get the hamster, only the local pet store is sold out and there are none at the Humane Society. But Menagerie just called; they're getting six new hamsters in tomorrow. PHEW. Reserve one hamster please! 

These are the death-defying issues I need so urgently to share with you. HI FRIENDS! I'M BACK!

Tuesday, December 21, 2021


Anne savage
Winifred petchey marsh
Emily carr and glorious baskets
Rascals on the hill

Garden in the snow


I’m back, sort of

 Omg! Incredible! I tried to post here from my phone but it needed a password that’s on the computer. Today I finally learned how to download my documents to the phone and have access to all those passwords. And here I am, dear bloggees, struggling to write on this tiny rectangle.

I’ve missed you! It’s so automatic for me to process life here, with you, I found it hard to deny myself that pleasure. Not to mention no access to any of my documents and many other things. I am addicted to my computer, no question about it. You don’t realize how much of your life is sewn up in that little machine until suddenly it’s not there anymore.

So just to tell you I am alive and well. This new variant is wreaking havoc, things cancelled right and left, people terrified. Monique was going to cut my hair today but she appeared at the door in an enormous medical mask to say her son has just arrived from the states and she’s not allowed to see anybody for many days. It’s all terrifying and sad. I am careful but less frightened than many people I know. I just assume we are all going to get this at some point.

Luckily it snowed the other day, very beautiful, and the boys came over yesterday with Sam for tobogganing. Joyful excitement, flushed pink cheeks, rolling in the snow, just normal life for an hour or so. Last week I went to the McMichael Gallery in kleinburg with Annie, to see the exhibit uninvited: Canadian women artists in the modern moment. Superb work by women who were ignored in their time. A major exhibition, profoundly stirring. 

More to tell but I’m going to post this and see if it works, and also see if I can upload photos at some point. I feel like a teenager, clinging to my phone. How very quickly technology has addicted us all. But then if it weren’t for technology, there would be no blog and I’d be writing in my lonely diary for another year. So cheers, here’s to sharing words with the world through our machines.

Monday, December 13, 2021

The Chef, Succession, and a sick Mac

 WAAAAAH! Saying goodbye to you for a few days - something is wrong with my MacBook Air which is only two years old. The return key does not work and the shift keys don't either, sporadically. The tech ogre who haunts me has struck again. Have to take in this beloved machine and wait. So I won't be here for a bit. This should be a new paragraph but it isn't because no return key. So just to say I had an amazing day with my son yesterday; he was cooking a complicated squash/carrot/ginger soup in vast quantities to give as a gift to friends and family, and we were talking, the liveliest and most interesting conversation. Then we watched two episodes of The Chef, an amazingly accurate Israeli series about, yes, a chef, the life of restaurants; we had to keep pausing so Sam could tell me stories about his life in restaurants. Mon dieu, I am glad he is considering getting out and finding another business; it's a brutally hard way of life. But a terrific series.                                                                                                                                             And then - I inserted a paragraph with the space bar - after we'd eaten his delicious soup and he went home, I watched the season finale of Succession. Haven't been watching because I just don't want to spend time with disgusting rich people, but have heard so much about the superb writing and acting. And sure enough, superb it was - gripping. And there, as a key character, was my friend Harriet Walter as Logan's second wife, getting married in a sublime spot in Italy, wearing designer clothing and looking incredibly elegant, as rich as can be. She wrote me that the shoots have been a lot of fun. A Guardian article about this phase of her life - she's exactly my age, 71 - says she's getting more work and becoming more high profile than ever before. Go, Harriet! An inspiration to us all. And now I'm off to Riverdale Mac with my sick machine. A bientôt, I hope.  

Sunday, December 12, 2021

PS The Jewish Shakespeare on Jeopardy!

Forgot to mention some excitement from last week: Pam, a friend and blog reader, wrote to let me know that the Yiddish theatre was a subject on Jeopardy last week, and she knew some of the answers because she'd read my Jewish Shakespeare book. 

From an Israeli newspaper: But it was Ed Hashima, a professor of history at American River College in Sacramento, California, who dominated. He correctly responded to four of the five clues, racking up points as he identified one play as the Yiddish “King Lear,” named the Jewish holiday of Purim as being tied to Yiddish theater’s origins and answered that Marlon Brando’s acting teacher was Stella Adler, who grew up in a family of Yiddish theater royalty.

The old man and his Yiddish King Lear on Jeopardy! 

Sam is over and we tried putting my outside Xmas lights on the cedar tree outside, with perhaps limited success - but we tried. Well, he did. Merry Everything. 

"Wakefield" and piles of paper

A plug for a show I've enjoyed immensely: Wakefield, from Australia, the story of a psychiatric nurse of Pakistani origin who is wrestling with past trauma himself. The depiction of the patients at the clinic is extraordinarily sensitive, the casting and acting fantastic; the series incorporates dancing and music, flashbacks and fantasy sequences and lots of grit. Excellent. Well worth your time. 

Yesterday was extremely mild - 14! Like early spring. Today colder but sunny. I'm at my desk with my face in the sun. Happiness is. My young assistant Nishat came over to help with organizing. As I may have mentioned (!), I'm drowning in paper and photographs, the detritus of my past, my parents', my grandparents', all of it has ended up here. 

So I showed Nishat - the two big plastic boxes plus the accordion files of family photographs plus the cardboard box under the spare room bed; the suitcase, big box, and file drawers filled with diaries from 1959 on; the research materials for various books in drawers and boxes; the stacks of letters - a whole box to and from me, several boxes from or to my parents. And more, much more. As my daughter said, sighing in despair as she looked at it all, "Mum, if you don't deal with all this, SOMEONE ELSE will have to." And we both know who that someone else will be.

The problem is that it's useful. I could not have written my memoirs without all this material; the diaries and letters brought back details long forgotten. And for my ongoing writing, there's all this juicy material. I just have to know where it is and be able to access it when needed. Hence, Nishat. We just did a reconnoitre this time, as just looking at it all exhausted me. She suggested we start throwing stuff out, but no, I need to check it first. It will be a long process.

For example, as we dug, I found a photo I'd been looking for, of me with my long lost childhood friend Penny Harris, whose obituary I just found; she died in 2019. I'm writing a story about her, about us. In 1995 I was appearing in a play in Vancouver, my last acting job; she came backstage and we met for coffee. I'd been so stressed I'd lost ten pounds and looked ghastly, and I seem for some reason to be wearing suspenders, but it was joy to meet my old friend again. Memories flooding back, thanks to the photo. Thanks to the piles of the past littering my life.

I have five weeks now with no teaching, though perhaps some editing work for various clients. Almost all the Xmas gifts are hidden in my bedroom, many of them from Doubletake. The poinsettia given to me last December, that lived all year in my office, is blooming again. It's beginning to feel a lot like ...

Thursday, December 9, 2021

a gift from a fan

Received a huge gift yesterday, from a woman in Alexandria, Virginia, who took the time to find my address and send me a small card in the mail. 

She's a kindred spirit — look at that interesting writing! I've had not a single word of feedback about the audiobook, so this is even more meaningful. I'm going to hang it on the wall above my desk, to remind me that you never know where your words — and voice — will land, to whom these things will matter. And I will write back to her today, to tell her how very much her words have meant to me — especially "Your writing is musical." When I read a writer I love, like Helen MacDonald who uses gorgeous metaphors and great luscious swirls of language, I feel like a plain, dull writer. But what I hope works for me is the music of my sentences. And this stranger in Virginia agrees and wrote to tell me so. 

Christmas, early.  

Have also been delving more into my files of old papers and marvelling, yet again, at the writer child I was. At 11, I started The Sunshine Magazine, which had one issue. 

I was writing poems and stories — mostly overwrought, clichéd, and ghastly, sounding like whoever I was reading at the time — Louisa May Alcott, Frances Hodgson Burnett — and many letters. And they're all in a box upstairs.

As many have told me, it's both a gift and a curse to have so much of my past available to me — endless piles of diaries since 1959, hundreds of letters saved by my mother from her life and mine. Now, for example, that I'm trying to write about my best friend in 1962, I have lots of stuff to draw on, some of which completely contradicts my memories. I have a Beatrix Potter book which at age seven I edited in pencil, correcting her prose. Always the bossyboots! Always, and still, and always, obsessed with words. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Tick Tick ... Boom; David Suzuki and Tara Cullis

Yesterday I saw something grey and furry in the yard I thought was a cat, but the birds remained on the ground, unperturbed. Then I saw it's a rabbit, there again today. We've entertained skunks, opossums, an occasional rat, and countless raccoons, but never a rabbit. Should I leave out some carrots? Overhead, a hawk. 

Today was the last U of T class of this term. What a treat; this group was spectacular, every story today evidence of courage and craft. I guess this is one of my contributions to the planet - unleashing many stories that otherwise would not be told. And that should be.

Speaking of stories, yesterday I watched What you won't do for love, a play and film developed by David Suzuki and his wife Tara Cullis in conjunction with two young actors. It's a moving discussion in which we hear about the profound love between these two and have a chance to celebrate the dedication and creativity of Tara as well as her famous husband. She talks about how we need both hemispheres of our brain, the left, the analytic side, and the right, the creative visionary side, but how in our society today, the left is all that matters. 


Deeply grateful to these two extraordinary human beings for their lifetimes of work on behalf of us all. As I wrote to them, I was only sorry not to hear my father's version of events. He always credited himself with introducing Tara to David. But as the film makes clear, they managed extremely well without him. 

After watching, I listed my tiny efforts to help in the fight against climate change: no car, buying local food and second hand clothes, gifts, and products as much as possible, veg garden, tenants to share my house, care with electricity and recycling, even saving water by showering sporadically. But on the con side - travel. Year round avocados from Mexico, blueberries from Peru, tangelos from Florida. Uber! What will we all have to give up to keep our planet safe? 

Another interesting film: Tick Tick ... Boom, the story of Jonathan Larson, the creator of the hit musical Rent, his tortuous journey to success before his tragically early death. It pushes sentiment hard - not a surprise, it was directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, an intensely feeling man - but for anyone interested in show biz, it's a treat.

Went next door last night for aperitif with Monique. She was busy and then away, visiting her family in France for 3 weeks, so it's been a long time since we talked. What a pleasure to sit with her again. One of the great gifts of my upbringing is the ability to speak fluent French, which I hope helps protect my brain against the dementia that afflicted my grandmother. Also piano lessons, which stretch my slow, clumsy brain. ANYTHING that stretches the brain. I have several friends dealing with this vile disease. The horror. 

My grandsons came over on Saturday for dinner and play. They'd just had their vaccines - Eli easily, Ben after an hour of cajoling. But it's done, their first dose. To celebrate, chocolate ice-cream and a game of hangman with Glamma. Eli came up with the word 'emus', which I wouldn't have guessed in years. Ben told us he had no idea how to spell anything so he was just putting down "random letters." Laugh! What joy. 

I've been delving into boxes of old writings and notes, looking for material from and about one of my dearest childhood friends, about whom I've been writing. We invented a world of our own with alter egos and a very complex story. I kept a diary for my alter ego, Helen Foster, and made a photo album for her life with pix cut from the Simpson's catalogue. She was blonde. The best thing, then, was to be sweet and blonde.

This was my imaginary self. Could anyone be less like the actual me, then as now? Sigh. Oh, also, she was selfless and crippled and went to church. 

It's dark most days, gloomy, chilly - the snow has melted but there's frost. The Beatles are back on the charts in Britain; intense discussion continues about the doc. One tweet with which I agree: I’ve never felt so much sympathy for Paul McCartney, trying to get a small flock of extremely sensitive boys with untreated ADHD wearing stinky fur coats to concentrate on coming up with songs on a deadline.

The movie in a nutshell.

Xmas is looming, but so far I've managed to avoid hearing any treacly music. And Benjamin Bunny is in my yard. Magic in the air.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Get Back, Part 3. Human beings gather.

Party! An actual party with human beings. Six members of my home class came over yesterday for our annual Xmas potluck; three more Zoomed in. Those on Zoom were there for it all; we left the computer on the kitchen counter as we stood around eating hors d'oeuvres, on a nearby stool when we moved to the table for the feast, and on a table in the living-room as they read their stories. Peg read her own story and critiqued the others as if she was here with us instead of at home. The miracle of technology. The miracle of human gathering. Of seeing each other in the flesh, not in little boxes, but with LEGS. We know each other so well by now, we're family. My other family was over last night and it was glorious.

Screen shot of the merry band taken by Kathy, who was at home. Sorry, Ruth, you're cut off at the side. What a beautiful bunch: Diana, Curtis, Jennifer, Sam, Rita, Ruth. And at home, Brad, Mary, Kathy, Peg, Helen. Love you all. 

The night before, I watched Get Back, Part 3. Right now I'm listening to Let It Be Naked - the CD of the record the film details, without all the schmaltzy extras added by Phil Spector. Just those voices, guitars, keyboards, drums - sublime. The incredible thing about the film - spoiler alert - is that after watching them hang around schmoozing, joking, eating, smoking, noodling on instruments, arguing, not letting Yoko drive them crazy, trying to figure out what the hell they're doing - they get on the roof and blow the top off the sky. The sheer joy of Paul and John, standing side by side, doing what they've been doing since they were boys - the joy is ours too. And with music they just pulled out of the air the day before. We watch it happen, our mouths hanging open. Genius. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

my boy in the snow, 1997

I mentioned an article in the Globe about my son and snow. Just found it. I like it. Perhaps you will too. Sorry the start is so small; I can't make it bigger, and the second bit is either smaller or the ends of sentences vanish. Infuriating. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Get Back, Part Two, in the snow

Just got an email from a woman who was reading my first memoir All My Loving: coming of age with Paul McCartney in Paris. 

Just finished your wonderful book this morning. Loved, loved, loved your young voice bringing back so many memories of my monkey mind and rollercoaster emotions throughout my teen years. Wonderful, thank you.

Thank you! My dream is that one day, readers will want to know, or to relive, what it was like to hear the Beatles for the first time, to live in a glorious fantasy world with Paul, and to see them live twice in one day. Dream on, writer girl. 

Snow. A lot of snow, and it's snowing still. At 8 a.m. I'm snug inside, in my dressing-gown with a cup of coffee, watching the sparrows and dark-eyed juncos raid the feeder and squabble in the cedars. Yesterday, in the long expanse of white, a flash of scarlet: Mr. Cardinal near the feeder, the only colour in the landscape of white, brown, and dark green. And what a colour.

A lovely moment: in 1996, when Sam was twelve, I had an article in the Globe about a snowy evening when he said to me, "You know what we should do right now, Mum? Have a snowball fight." I wrote in the piece, "Of all the things I'd like to do right now — pour myself a glass of wine while Gabriel Byrne gives me a massage — a snowball fight is not on the list."

But we did, and I lost. On Sunday, Anna came for dinner with Eli, who also proposed a snowball fight. And I lost again. Same garden, same snow, a twenty-five-years older me once more trying to hurl as well as the boy and being showered with snow for my pains. It was a wonderful flashback.

Last night's thrill, Part Two of "Get Back." It's extraordinary to be immersed in their conversations, their rehearsals and arguments and endless cups of tea. I have to say - and you know I am the least prejudiced observer imaginable - that John's constant fooling around gets annoying. There's a vicious undertone periodically to his humour, especially when he's working on one of Paul's songs. George is a sweet man but passive-aggressive. Ringo - how could I have dismissed Ringo all those years? He's patient, open, friendly to all. 

But it's Macca who's working to keep them on track, trying not to be the boss and yet, in a chaotic void of so much talent and ego, having to be so. He just keeps going. The current of energy, the creative tension between him and John is almost sexual; I've long thought that. 

And somehow, out of the chaos and joking and aimless sitting around comes the music, the songs engraved on our hearts. 

From a Rolling Stone magazine review, about Paul: 

He also brings in his girlfriend, rock photographer Linda Eastman. He introduces her to a camera man, then adds, “Linda’s a camera man.” Then he sits at the piano to run through some stunning new tunes: “Golden Slumbers,” “Another Day,” “The Long and Winding Road.” The songs aren’t finished, but he’s just showing off for Linda. He’s determined to dazzle this woman.
(This detail cannot be over-stressed: Paul has already decided Linda is the love of his life. He is correct. They’re inseparable for the next 38 years, until her dying day. At this point, he’s still a young rock star, not to mention the most adored bachelor on earth, but that doesn’t faze him. He has total emotional confidence in this life decision. He is 26 years old. Let’s face it: as a culture, we haven’t even begun to fathom the mysteries of Paul McCartney. The gods made only one of him.)" — ROB SHEFFIELD, Rolling Stone Get Back Review.

How glad it makes me to read that. I've known this since January 1964. 

There's the cardinal again. Welcome, brother bird.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Get Back #1 - be still my beating heart! - and King Richard

Perhaps you can imagine my immense pleasure — I just watched the first episode of the new Beatles' doc Get Back. People are complaining this episode is a bit long, but it won't surprise you to know I was riveted every minute, even when they're bickering endlessly about where their eventual concert should be held. In this episode anyway, Paul is the focussed driving force, the creative energy pushing them all forward. Ringo is the reliable, good-natured backup beat, George the rather sullen, insecure little brother, John a charismatic force of nature with his dark shadow Yoko always beside him; here he's scattered, not pulling his weight.

Judy Steed with whom I watched confirmed, at the end, "Beth, now I understand your love for Paul. His musicality and creativity are incredible. And he's so handsome!" 

Yes. Yes they are, and he is. He never stops. It's beyond thrilling to watch the iconic songs emerge; we watch Get Back, Let it Be, The Long and Winding Road, and other Macca songs take shape. But another joy is to watch THEIR joy, the fun they have, the way they leap into old pieces of their own or old rock 'n' roll and make glorious music, over and over again, while their staff mills about and sweet Mal Evans their friend and roadie hovers, ready to jot down lyrics as they fly by. And then he gets to be the hammer of Maxwell's Silver Hammer. 

Spectacular bliss. And two more episodes of Get Back await.

It's been an amazingly full two days for your faithful correspondent. Yesterday I walked downtown to see King Richard with Ken - the story of the father of Venus and Serena, Richard Williams, heroically courageous and a difficult bully. He had to fight to overcome not only the white establishment disdainful of two black sisters from the Compton ghetto but his own community which tried to destroy him. More than a film about the development of two tennis stars, it's a moving portrait of marriage, parenthood, and blind faith. I loved it. Highly recommended. 

Then Ken and I, after seeing an actual movie, distanced, in a cinema, had dinner in an actual restaurant. Like real life! Then, invited by my oldest friend Ron who is studying jazz piano there, I went on to beautiful Koerner Hall to see an Israeli jazz trio doing a Gershwin program. Again, it was wonderful to sit, masked, in that lovely hall to hear real live music. Have to say, however, it takes a particular kind of chutzpah to be a young musician advertising a Gershwin program and then include some of your own compositions, sung in your own really not good voice. He did however play a spectacular Rhapsody in Blue.

So my friends, two great films and a concert. Life is opening up here, just in time for the new variant. 

For your immense viewing pleasure, I give you six-year old Ben's out of focus school picture. Usually he hates being photographed and hides. I guess this time he decided to give it all he had. 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

furnished basement apartment to rent

Can hardly keep myself awake, and it's 2.30 in the afternoon — one of those drizzly, dark days. Luckily I went to the LCBO before the rain started and bought a good French Côtes du Rhône, though I won't open it for a few more hours. Dark chocolate almonds, stem ginger cookies, and more coffee. 

Celebrating the conviction of the cold-blooded murderers of Ahmaud Arbery. At last, after the disgusting travesty that was the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict, justice. 

I've a new rule: no scrolling on FB or IG before 5 p.m., when I'm having my first glass of wine and my brain starts to melt. Let It Be is on Disney+ today, SCREAM!, but I'm not going to watch the first episode, because I'm going to see it in a cinema on Saturday with a crowd of other Beatle people. I can't wait. 

Two terrific shows I recommend: the Australian series Wakefield on Crave, about a mental hospital in a remote place and the people who work and are treated there; and Sort Of, a CBC show that's well written, clever, entertaining, starring Bilal Baig as a gender fluid East Asian nanny. Yes, you heard that right. Last night, a doc on the immune system in which I learned that massage ups your immune responses. Must take advantage of that. Also that excessive alcohol diminishes those responses. We get to define 'excessive' for ourselves. 

And sorry to have to do this, but I do: my furnished basement apartment is available as of January 1. In a great location, downtown but tranquil, $1700 a month everything included: high speed wifi, utilities, even bedding. Believe me, for Cabbagetown, that's reasonable. This is how a writer whose books are not on the bestseller lists keeps herself solvent. Please get in touch — — if you know anyone who might be right. 

Thank you!

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

I exist! Alice Neel in The New Quarterly

I was just out front raking a mountain of leaves, had a chat with an elderly man on a bike who'd stopped at the Little Free Library. He was a recent widower, obviously lonely, grew up downtown, told me many jokes. "Trump and Giuliani are in a car. Who's driving?" Answer: "The police." 

If only, I said. 

Luckily I'd just gone through the Library. Someone had left a porno DVD about hot Asians, and we're not talking heat wave. I'd just thrown it in the garbage when my nice friend appeared. A vast variety of stuff is left in the Library, including religious tracts of various kinds, but rarely that. Imagine, someone felt they should share it with others. Yuck. 

Happy news today: The New Quarterly has appeared, with my article on Alice Neel. After so many 'no's', seeing a 'yes' in print is a wonderful thing. My writer self exists.

It's a beautiful magazine full of good writing. Hope you can check it out.

Today's U of T class was a triumph of honesty and craft. Brava, mesdames! Yesterday, I worked with a new editing/coaching client on her memoir about a very complicated family. Afterwards, I received this: It was a huge thrill for me to find just what I was hoping for— an empathetic brilliant insightful voice to give me tools to get on track in this massive new undertaking.

I guess my coaching self exists too.

More old family photos: my dad as he was when my mother met him at a Chopin concert in 1944. I can understand the instant attraction. They talked classical music, until they didn't. 

The army pic is from January 1944, the 27th Medical Training Battalion at Camp Grant, Illinois. There are six groups - hundreds of men in this very long shot; I didn't even try to find Dad. 

And yet, amazingly - I did! Dead centre and turned in a slightly different way than the others. He was 21. 

Sam cherishes Dad's army stuff, including his US Army ration book and honourable discharge papers, so he'll get this too. He was only three when Dad died, but he feels a powerful bond. How glad I am for that.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Protest, and a treat

It's a weekend to protest. My daughter, of course, was at a big rally yesterday in support of the Wet'suwet'en that closed down a major street. She posted today that arresting journalists, as the RCMP did at the protest in B.C., is the work of fascists. I would like to talk to her about what real fascists are and do. The Canadian government and its police forces have made many mistakes and will make more; they've done bad things, no question. But fascists they are not.

I won't say that to her, however. No point.

I went to my own protest, much milder. The transit people want to take a portion of the Don Valley Trail and use it as a parking lot for trains. I'm not kidding. As if we have green space to throw away, here in the Big Smoke. I thought there'd only be a few people at a sad little event, but there was a goodly crowd on this lovely afternoon and lots of signs and a chant: NO TRAINS IN PARKS. I chanted and signed the petition and went home. 

A few bicycle police were keeping an eye on this violent crowd, but no one was arrested. No fascists here. There's another protest later today - a march in remembrance of people in Toronto killed by cars. I'd like to be at that one, but it's across town, and one protest a day is enough. At least for me, though perhaps not for another member of my family.

Last night's entertainment: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I fell into it and couldn't turn it off, though it went on and on. Dave Chapelle made a powerful tribute to billionaire musician and entrepreneur Jay-Z: "Being black in America isn't as easy as it looks," he deadpanned to a huge laugh, and spoke about what it means to black Americans to see a man from a Brooklyn housing project achieve what Jay-Z has achieved. I used to hate my kids' rap and hiphop, until I saw that it's made by marginalized young men creating rhyme on the fly. I still don't like it, but I appreciate its value. Great segments on Carole King and Tina Turner, whom I appreciate much more. You've got a friend. What's love got to do with it? And then there was Macca, introducing the Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl was sitting with his little daughter in his lap; he seems like a nice guy. But when he plays, his face is covered with sweaty hair. 

It was a huge spectacle. How I wish we had even remotely comparable noise, star power, and entertainment value in literature. 

Here, with beauty and joy, are four men in a staircase making another kind of music. Don't miss it; it's stunning.

Going through old photos; I'm 19. The hair! I thought I was ugly. 
My family last week - Anna and Sam, my brother Mike and Nancy, Eli and Ben. 

And then this short story, from a town with fresh snow. I love it.

And this cuts VERY close to the bone.
For me, another slice is needed: blogging.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Macca cheers me up, again

Don't know what I can say to make this day better: B.C. is drowning, farm animals are dying in the thousands, people who had to move out because of wildfires have to move out again because of extreme flooding. And yet again, a white vigilante has gone free in the States. I'm reaching the point that I can't read news from there any more, what the Repugs are doing is so reprehensible. Last night Bill Maher talked to Fareed Zakaria who believes that though authoritarian China is moving ahead with incredible rapidity on all fronts, the US has myriad resources and will keep up. Maher doesn't believe it. Neither do I. 

Sick at heart. I guess it's also that it's fall, days are generally gloomy, the trees increasingly bare, the bright colours littering the ground. The real cold is around the corner.

It's also that I've invested in a huge mailing to book club members, trying to entice them to read my memoir and have me as a guest at their clubs. So far, nada. I'm trying, sweet book. And also, that I found out one of my favourite places in all Toronto, the Merchants of Green Coffee coffeeshop not far from here, a wonderful friendly room full of battered furniture and the smell of roasting coffee, has closed and been sold to be renovated. Renovated! Phooey!

I was supposed to go out to two in-person events yesterday - a movie with Ken and a concert in the evening with old friend Ron, the first live cultural events in two years. Cancelled, feeling under the weather, wanted to stay home with my head under a pillow. So I did. 


Really, I'm fine. Judy and I were talking on our weekly Zoom call last week about how it helps to be positive and resilient, and we are. That doesn't mean we don't get hit, periodically, with sadness or fear or a sense that things are pretty dire in the world. Because they are. 

Two dear friends right now are awaiting results of a biopsy.

On a cheerier note, Paul McCartney is everywhere, because the three Let It Be films open on the 25th. As you know, a sighting of him always makes me feel better. Talk about positive and resilient! He was interviewed by the brilliant Terry Gross on NPR, one of the best interviews I have ever heard, not of him, of anyone. She's sharp, direct, insightful; not once does she ask, "And how did that make you feel?"

To really cheer myself up, I read obituaries. The other day, a woman with the last name Smellie. Can you imagine high school? And a man with the last name Jaszczyszyn. Can you imagine how many times he had to spell that, laboriously, over and over? How great to be a simple Kaplan. I just have to shout "K! K!" over and over. But they get the rest.

This morning, riding to the market in a cold wind, loading up — no floods here, no shortages, stacks of produce, everything ticking along - could we be luckier? Except for our lunkhead premier planning to spend billions on a highway to nowhere. My tech assistant Nishat is coming over now to help me with various snafus, and then I'm walking with Ruth. And then I'll light the fire, pour a glass of wine, and read a book. I have nothing, nothing, to complain about, except that occasionally, the world is too much with me.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Penelope Jane Harris, 1948-2019

It's been an intensely emotional day. I was re-reading an essay I've written, sent out, rewritten, about my best friend when I was 12, in Halifax. Penny was older, with thick black hair and very pale skin; she was an only child, had been adopted. We invented a world together, an island where we were fraternal twin orphans. We kept two diaries, one for our real lives and one for our island selves. 

It's too long a story to tell here; you'll have to read the essay. Only now I have to rewrite it. She moved away and she and I lost touch; when we reconnected by chance 32 years later, I learned that she had been severely abused as a child by her adoptive mother. We began to write to each other again and then lost touch again, in unfortunate circumstances. I've tried through the years to Google her, to no avail. Today for the first time, I Googled Penelope instead of Penny. And what came up instantly was her obituary: Penelope Jane Harris, 1948-2019. She died in Vancouver in August 2019. I was shattered. 

Then what came up was an article in the Prince George news. In April 2019, a woman named Penelope Harris gave two parcels of land to a First Nations community near Prince George. She'd bought them as an investment and never used them, wanted to give the land back to the people who owned it first. She was honoured in the community, given a ceremonial jacket. There are pictures, so I was able to see her, with white hair, but it's her. My Penny. 

This is someone I haven't seen since 1995. But it's her. My best friend when I was twelve. 

She died four months later. 

It's a story I've been working on for years that now has a completely different ending. I called the phone number associated with her name; it's disconnected. She had no family. I want to find someone who knew her, who can tell me about her life. 

And then my friend Antoinette, who sends out poems to her meditation group, emailed a poem I'd sent her by my beloved friend Patsy, who died this year. So both Patsy and Penny were with me all day. 

Yesterday my brother came for dinner with his lovely girlfriend and my gang. It's never easy but it was fine. Tonight two of my friends from university, Suzette and Jessica, came for dinner. Jessica is moving to Montreal next year. 

Flux, my friends. Three things we can be sure of: taxes, death, and flux. 

Here's Patsy's poem:

winter light

deep in november, the sea
holds the light for us

beneath heavy cloud cover
the water’s surface is smooth

as polished pewter, slow waves
with a sheen like rippling silk

a luminosity floods the mind
and lingers through the days

in the long nights, when the air
is clear and sharp with cold

the sea becomes a mirror
for stray stars and a waning moon

as darkness descends
a radiance remains