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 — beth@bethkaplan.ca — 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

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Paul McCartney's triumphs and Dan Aykroyd's music

As if the man doesn't have enough honours and success, he's #1 on the NYT Bestseller list! Honestly, could you just slow down for once, Paul? I've asked for his book for Christmas, hope Santa is listening. And excitement is building because Peter Jackson's three-part Get Back film launches Nov. 25. I know some of my friends laugh at my adolescent fan girl enthusiasm, but there are many, many millions of Beatle lovers just like me. It's a fine club to belong to.

Even louder sigh. #1 on the NYT Bestseller list. Sigh sigh sigh sigh sigh. 

Yesterday, Ken and I were going to see Dune, our first movie in a theatre in nearly two years. But it was such a stunning day, I called his cell, and both of us had had the same thought - this might be the last lovely day of the year, let's see a film when it's dark and raining. We met at Queen's Park instead and sat people-watching in the warm sun under a shower of gold, orange, and scarlet leaves, then rode along Harbord and stopped for lunch at a restaurant with a patio until a sudden rainstorm had us hustling inside. While waiting for the rain to stop, which it soon did, we FaceTimed our dear friend Lynn in Provence - how surreal is the technology, that there on the little phone in my hand was our laughing friend in southern France. She and I meet regularly now on the Zoom screen; I sent her the link to Nicky Guadagni's fabulous daily dance party, so Lynn and I now dance together several times a week, as we did when we were teenaged roommates, when Danny Aykroyd used to come to parties at our apartment with his favourite record, the music from the film Psycho. Yes. We danced to the screechy stabbing music. That was Dan.

It's a gloomy day - perfect for Dune. Let's make another date, Ken.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Remembrance Day

Amazing news: I got my booster shot today. My doctor's office emailed that all their patients over 70 could apply, so I did, though it's been a bit less than six months since my second shot. They said that was okay. As well, I'm a real mixed bag, since I've had AstraZeneca and Moderna — and now Pfizer. That vaccine smorgasbord also is okay, apparently. 

How grateful, yet again, to live in Canada! The appointment was at Women's College, a ten minute bike ride from home; the line-up of us old folks was orderly and moved fast. A very old couple, she with a walker, were behind me. "My wife goes first," he said. "My mother said so." Made me laugh.

My arm is a bit sore but my spirits are high. I know, we should not be getting boosters when the rest of the world is waiting for their first shots. But I was not going to say no. 

Before that, I went with Ruth and Jean-Marc to the first Cabbagetown remembrance day event, at Carlton and Parliament. There were readings including, of course, In Flanders Fields, and a talented young trumpeter played the Last Post; I talked to him after, he just graduated and is looking for a trumpet job, please let me know if you hear of anything, he's really good with a pure, sure sound. There were two minutes of silence, and we finished by singing O Canada. I cried, as is my wont. Singing O Canada at a joyful event makes me cry, let alone when we are thinking about those killed in the vileness that is war. Today we remembered Corporal Ainsworth Dyer, a 25-year old soldier originally from Jamaica who grew up in Regent Park and was killed by an American drone in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan. In case death in war isn't tragic enough. 

Much chatting before and after with neighbours who've been friends for over three decades. And then on this lovely mild day, Ruth and I did another walkabout in our favourite place, the Necropolis, where the young solider is buried. Glad to be alive, even as the leaves tumble and the light fades, and remembrance makes us thoughtful and sad. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Ruth takes on corporal punishment

Incredible as it seems, the corporal punishment of children is still legal in Canada, protected under an archaic law. But not if my dear friend and longtime writing student Ruth Miller has anything to do with it. Here's her editorial in the Star today. Hope you can access it.  


My dad believed in whacking — slapping his kids on the side of the head when anything annoyed him. I know he was beaten by his father. I never hit my kids, though I can tell you, I was pretty close on occasion. Once my daughter pushed me so to the brink of rage that I raised my hand. She looked at me cooly and said, "If you touch me, I'm calling a lawyer." She was 13. 

In fact, as Ruth points out, thanks to Canada's dreadful law, her lawyer would have had nothing to go on.

Parenting is the hardest job, and doing it as a single parent, as so many do, is 100 times harder. But still, there's no excuse for hitting. None.

Dad was a veteran of WWII and as a Jewish medic in the American army had seen close up the horrors of the Holocaust. He made mistakes as a father, but he was a great man. However, if hitting us had been illegal, as Ruth suggests, he would have been even greater.

Tomorrow I will be remembering him, and my mother, who spent the war working on farms in the Land Army and cracking codes at Bletchley Park, with love and respect.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

praise for "Loose Woman" and writers in general

We have been blessed with a few of those marvellous late fall days, the special last days of heat before the cold comes in for good. Yesterday people were out in shorts and tank tops and will be today too. Heaven, especially because it's so short-lived.

I received a most welcome email today, from the eldest daughter of my friends who are called in the memoir Gail and Alain. She wrote about having read Loose Woman, which contains an account, in honest, intimate, and sometimes unflattering detail, of her family's long ago life. I'd wondered if any of their five kids, three of whom actually appear in the book as small children, would read it and if so, what they'd think. 

She wrote: I loved your account of a free - not just loose but curious and alive person who has seen l'Arche and my family's craziness for real. I cannot count the times I thought I did not have the words to describe what that life has been. Your book does this in wonderful and touching ways. And for all the times that pre-date l'Arche in your story, you tell of moments that we can all relate to, as we grow and discover life and the world. Your description of Gail and Alain is so sensitive and brings objectivity to my lived experience. Finally, it's incredibly funny. 

So thank you for this book, I loved it - and good luck for the next one.
I wrote back to assure her that her parents were sent the manuscript to vet before any attempt at publication was made. The travails of the memoirist: writing about people who are very much alive; the great relief when they appreciate what's on the page. I've known this fiercely idealistic, lovely, hilarious young woman, now a mother of three herself, all her life. How glad I am to have her stamp of approval. 

What I want to write next is about my fascinating and appalling parents, who are not here to complain or object. I just re-read last year's attempt at embarking on the story — 38,000 words, half a book, I'd say — and was chagrined to conclude that it doesn't really work. The problem is voice — tone. Finding the right tone and POV helps find the way to start, and I'm off. But finding tone and voice and starting place can take years, at least, for me. 

I take heart as a floundering writer from the words above, and also from the words of the first reader of Loose Woman for the Whistler competition, who chose it as a finalist and whose review spoke of "the author's distinctive personal voice — smart, insightful, and humorous. She consistently engages the reader with her authenticity and candor." And more nice things. 

The reviewer concludes: The story will resonate with folks who listen too attentively to the voice of the inner critic. It's a beacon of encouragement to stay open to the epiphanies of the soul, trust their innate wisdom, and show the same love and respect to themselves that they offer to the world.

I may have written that, but when my inner critic takes over, as she so often does, I need to be reminded of it on a regular basis. I will try to trust my "innate wisdom." Hard as that is, sometimes. 

Thanks to all who write to writers and give them, in their solitary endeavour, a boost!

A surprise inclusion in the Writers' Union of Canada newsletter:

Speaking of giving writers a boost, I watched the Giller awards last night. The maxim goes, If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. So I will not say anything, except that the event is a welcome celebration of the craft of writing fiction.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Stonehenge and fame

Females! They do everything together. Talk about teamwork.

What an amazing picture. A bush book club. A kaffeeklatsch with snacks. Pass the brie, girls. 

I was briefly famous today. In the letters to the Editor in the Star, one writer began, "Letter writer Beth Kaplan was wondering who's buying all those expensive condos downtown..." and proceeded to answer. (Developers.) So at least one nice person read my letter! And then later, on Instagram, to my amazement, I saw this: 

In the immortal words of! Fun. Alas, such fame, though welcome, is fleeting and does not pay the bills. 

Last night I watched a doc about Stonehenge. How they discovered the quarry in the Welsh Preseli Hills where the bluestones came from, and then, laboriously, how they tried to figure out the method of dragging them - perhaps on sledges - and that they were erected closer to Wales first and then four hundred years later moved to Salisbury Plane. All research done with various complex pieces of scientific equipment. Riveting. From 2300 BC! 

I've been there twice, once at fourteen with my parents, and in 2012 with a British friend. In 1964 we could walk around the stones and actually touch them; now you're kept back by barriers. They're just as awe-inspiring, though. Memorials to the dead, they think, to the ancestors. Stones, like the ancestors, are eternal. 

Documentaries forever. 

The tourist.

It was a stunning day and is going to be so all weekend - warm and bright. The leaves are gorgeous, a cavalcade of red, orange, yellow. This is right outside my house:
The city looks good, for once. Even if the developers are buying all the condos.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Letter to the Editor and Shuggie Bain

It's November of the Year That Vanished. Frost tonight, they say. My son is in mourning; the other day, a good friend of his, a young woman, had a relapse with drugs and alcohol and committed suicide. I just found out that a friend from the Y, a fit woman younger than I am, has Alzheimer's; she got lost driving in the summer and totalled her car. If the vote in Virginia was a referendum on Biden, as everyone wants to make it out to be, then things look bad for the embattled Dems, and thus the world. 

So, given all that, I am going to stop reading the novel Shuggie Bain. It won the Booker this year, was described by Lynn in France as perfect, and is indeed beautiful, stunningly well written with immense sensitivity. It's a devastating portrait of life in Glasgow under Maggie Thatcher - blasted lives, dire poverty, damaged, brutal people, a mother sunk by alcohol and bad choices, and a dear good child desperately trying to save her and survive. I've read 100 pages, and that's enough. Not that I am looking for light or fluffy or cheery. But that desolate I cannot take in the early days of November, as the light grows dimmer, the days grow colder, the government of the United States flounders, and its monsters loom. As well as our own: suicide. Alzheimer's. Homelessness. 

Yesterday, the Star printed my letter to the Editor. It was originally three times as long, about several things; they reduced it by many words and issues. But it makes its point. (Last week, as the billionaire Rogers family battled for control of their company, we learned Mayor Tory is paid $100,000 a year to sit on their board in his "spare time.")  

The city I love feels dangerously out of control.

For the first time in a while, I took a bike trip through downtown. What I encountered is a hellscape: high-rise buildings going up on almost every corner, overwhelming noise and dirt, concrete trucks and other huge pieces of equipment blocking sidewalks and streets.

Who are these thousands of expensive new units for? Our parks are home to desperate people living in tents, yet luxury buildings are going up with no provision for affordable units.

This metropolis is being battered by a pandemic leading to unemployment and business failure, by gun violence, drug addiction, snarled streets, unaffordable housing, hunger, and homelessness, overseen by a tone-deaf premier who has eyes only for the suburbs.

Perhaps our dull, decent, admittedly hard-working mayor should not be devoting his spare time to a company board. The citizens of this once-liveable city deserve undivided focus.

Allen Gardens, serene city park, where there are many tents, as there are in every city park. Winter is coming. 

Today, back to the Y, where they've decreed that though we must wear masks in the halls and change rooms, we don't have to wear them any longer as we exercise. We could understand Carole as she told us what to do; we could breathe. Though the place is still nearly deserted, it started, barely, to feel like old times. Now I ache from head to foot, not from the flu vaccine that I got on Monday, but from Carole. That's why I go to the Y - because I never push myself the way she pushes me. 

Skyped with Lynn for an hour this weekend. And thought, again, is there anything as heartening as getting caught up with an old friend? We laugh and laugh. She sent me a recent photograph of her in her wedding dress; considering that it's fifty years and five children later, it fitted amazingly well. Brava, my beloved friend. Be well. Promise! 

I won't be moving much for the rest of the day. Naptime. 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Hallowe'en's been

Hallowe'en: the usual madness in C'town, many hundreds of kids swarming the streets, especially on such a lovely mild night. Annie came for dinner and we went for a walkabout. The vulture with a red head on the tree is cackling and shrieking, as are the ghouls in the driveway. Loved the man accompanying his kids - a unicorn and Batman - dressed as Sriracha Hot Sauce.  

Across town, Ben, who is crazy for anything to do with transit, was an airplane. His brother was Homer Simpson, with pingpong ball eyes. Afterwards, the spoils were inspected and categorized with surgical precision.
Treats for days. 

Saturday, a huge treat for me - lunch with two dear friends; Ruth is still in my home writing class and I'm hoping to lure Merrijoy back. Merrijoy is nearly 94, Ruth is 82, and the two of them are magnificent and inspiring - vibrant, beautiful, energetic. They put me to shame as they talked about the operas they've watched and the courses they've taken on Zoom, the recent in person trips to the art gallery, the films and books and ... I'd done none of it. May we all age with the verve and grace of these two marvellous women. 

May we all have as good a sense of humour, of being game for anything, as Mr. Sriracha Hot Sauce.

Saturday, October 30, 2021


My friend Judy is in Lake Louise right now and sent this. Wanted to share it immediately to lift whatever spirits need lifting on this gloomy wet morning. O Canada. How lucky we are. 

Friday, October 29, 2021

found found found

My engagement bracelet, back where it belongs, where it has lived since March 1980.

Age spots. Swollen fingers - some of my rings barely fit any more. But the fingers are still typing. I will be typing on my deathbed. With, I hope, this bracelet still on my wrist.

It's 5.30 p.m., getting dark, and there's silence. I'm used to silence, to a house that's empty except for little old me and a tenant or two. Annie who's a recent widow finds the evenings very difficult; during the day she and her husband were busy and separate, but the evenings were together. Now she's alone and the evenings are long and silent. I'm used to being alone. But still, the advent of the cold dark season is hard. Luckily, my gas fire now works. So I'll hunker. There will be much hunkering in this house from now till next May.

Just as I'm always too early for flights, I like to be more or less prepared for Xmas by mid-November, so I'm getting ready now. Ben wants anything to do with the Titanic, and Eli wants a Fitbit. He's 9 and he wants to track his heart rate and footsteps. Maybe I should get one too - matching Fitbits for my grandson and me. Do I want to know that much about my inner workings? Maybe not. 

Anna loves the Métis artist Christi Belcourt who recently had a sale of her prints. I'm getting her one. Don't tell; luckily she never reads this blog. One way to get through the long dark days of winter is looking at the joyful colours of Christi Belcourt. 

Among the really great gifts I will not be considering for my grandsons: Tim Hortons hockey-playing Barbie. Well, you've gotta admit, they're trying. 

Thursday, October 28, 2021

finding lost things

So many annoyances resolved. On Sunday, when the kids were here, we wanted to start the gas fire stove but I could not find the remote. The stove doesn't work without it. I searched, increasingly frustrated - where the hell did I put it when I turned off the pilot in May? No idea. I finally called the company that installed it and asked if I could buy a replacement. And then I found it, in a logical place, just tucked a bit further back in the cabinet and thoughtfully wrapped in a plastic bag that made it invisible. 

While I was looking for it, I found a few other things I'd spent ages looking for. Aren't there estimates about how much time we waste over our lifetimes looking for things? 

On Wednesday I went to the Y for a class, and afterward, rushing back for a haircut, I realized I'd left my gold bangle in the locker. This famous bangle is in the memoir. After Edgar asked me to marry him, we went to an antique store on Rue Royale in New Orleans; we couldn't afford a ring so he bought an antique gold bangle. It has GLY engraved inside; I decided it was for Gladys Louise Young. Or maybe God Loves You. I've worn it for 41 years. When I cycled at top speed back to the Y to get it, it wasn't there. 

I thought, It's just a thing. It can be replaced. You have health and hearth; it doesn't matter. But of course, it does. It's a symbol of my marriage, of my love for a man, for what we created together. We've been divorced for 30 years, but the man, and our love for each other and our children, matters deeply. 

I reported it, and today Doris who runs the health club phoned to say she was holding it. A staff member had found it on the floor and put it away for safekeeping. 

It's only a thing. But it is a beautiful thing that's been on my wrist for four decades, I'm happy it's found. I will have a good ride to the Y tomorrow.

Unlike the one I had on Wednesday. Downtown Toronto right now is a hellscape. For the first time, I thought, Can I go on living here? There's construction everywhere, overwhelming noise, huge trucks revving and speeding, jackhammers, cranes, concrete trucks taking over streets and sidewalks. Why do they have the right to squeeze out pedestrians and drivers so developers can get richer? 

And the Y itself is, as one friend said, a ghost town. I went to the class Carole is struggling to bring back to life, once about 30 old friends sweating together. Wednesday there were 5 of us, spread over half the gym, wearing masks, barely able to understand a word she said. I hope the Y, like countless other businesses, recovers from Covid. 

Have watched fabulous documentaries on Helen Keller, Oscar Peterson, and last night on PBS, the universe. Brilliant.

More Hallowe'en in Cabbagetown. I will ignore the event myself. But the 'hood goes mad.

Monday, October 25, 2021

celebrating: Jerri's life, autumn, new phone, family

Gloomy and wet today; fall is here in full force. All the wintering-over plants are inside, dropping their leaves and begging for water. Everything is shutting down. Several friends are sick with colds. And this neighbourhood is littered with severed plastic hands and legs and heads, ghouls, monsters, giant spiders. They go big for Hallowe'en around here.

On Sunday I went to a wake for friend and neighbour Jerri Johnson; our children were exactly the same age and went through school together. Jerri was a phenomenally lively and energetic single mother, artist, and art teacher. All I know about her sudden death was that she had a "heart condition" but seemed in fine shape when she dropped dead of a massive heart attack last week. People gathered at her bright Cabbagetown home to remember her, how much she loved colour and fun, how much she gave to the 'hood, her students and family. Her children are devastated. I barely recognized Jesse, her son, who's now a man with a moustache. Sienna looks exactly the same as she did in childhood. They have children of their own. 

I guess we can't say Carpe Diem enough times, can we?

And then I came back home to be surrounded by my family; we were celebrating Thanksgiving and Thomas's birthday with a big feast, also attended by our non-blood family members Anne-Marie, Holly, and Nicole. Ben made us all laugh, over and over. I could not have been more glad that my own heart, so far, has held out.

Meant to post this shot from my visit to Anna's earlier in the week: her special laundry, the kids' masks for the week. Covid motherhood.

On Friday I decided I'd had enough of my failing iPhone 6, ancient at - what - six or seven years old. I called Rogers and arranged for a new phone, and the next day a technician appeared at my door with the phone and did all the transferring. I don't understand how he put my old phone and my new phone side by side but unconnected physically, and in half an hour, everything from one had migrated into the other, including thousands of photos. Then, of course, Apple hit me with all the extras, the case, the screen cover, and the new plug, because of course the old plug does not fit. Brilliant. 

Here I'm testing the portrait feature, which blurs the background. The nice young Rogers man is actually studying police procedure. 

I had a 'no' from the NYT Modern Love section, for an essay that means a great deal to me. Sigh. But my good new friend Abigail Thomas wrote, Your book is wonderful, I began it today, you are a terrific writer, Beth. I am so impressed. And what a life. God.  I LOVED the prologue. 

Music music music to my ears. She sent me a recent essay of hers, I sent back a few editorial comments, and eventually she made the changes and wrote that she was grateful. Perhaps I should stop writing and just edit.

This came up in my FB feed today from a few years ago, and I'm posting it again. Because Roz Chast is a genius. None better. Makes me laugh until the tears come. 

Sad. But true. 

Friday, October 22, 2021

R.I.P., Dame Martha Henry

What an extraordinary artist and woman was Martha Henry. I didn't know her well; I worked as a writer on a proposed television series she would have starred in that didn't get off the ground, and after that, we corresponded a bit. I wrote to tell her how very much I admired her exquisite, definitive production of Three Sisters at Stratford, and she sent back a sweet, humble note. I'll never forget her incandescent performance in Long Day's Journey into Night in 1994. She was both a powerhouse and delicate, ladylike, seemingly fragile. And yet not. Imagine, she died just a few weeks after her final performance in Albee's Three Tall Women. My friend Tom saw the show and said she was incredible. She was near death from cancer, and incredible. 

Martha expressed interest in my writing book, since she thought she'd write her memoirs, and it was my joy to send it to her. When Loose Woman came out, I offered to send the new one to her too but she wouldn't hear of it, she insisted on buying a copy, and then gave it a rave review, her words displayed proudly and prominently wherever I can display them. 

Someone wrote on Twitter, I hope Martha Henry is catching up with Christopher Plummer, Timothy Findley, Brian Bedford, and William Hutt. I hope they’re having the best time…raising glasses or whiskey and telling stories and meeting Shakespeare.

We should have a knighthood for our great artists. Martha should have been a Dame. Dame Martha Henry. She will be that forever in my books.

On another note, and sorry to bring you down, but last night I watched one of the most appalling documentary spectacles I've ever seen. Four Hours at the Capital is about the January 6 insurrection; I read a glowing review or I would not have turned it on. And then I could not turn it off. It's a brilliant piece of filmmaking, taking you from beginning to end of that disgusting event, right inside the mob as it smashes windows, howling for blood. There are interviews with staff people and politicians who were terrified, hiding inside the building, and, horrifyingly, with police officers who were trapped, one who had to beg for his life by yelling at the murderous mob, "I have kids." 

Worst, though, are the Trumpers who were part of the insurrection; they look like normal people until they open their mouths. One says, "Trump was chosen by God to lead this country." Another says, "800,000 children a year are being kidnapped, tortured, and killed. I had to do this for the children." And another, "I was proud of the American spirit shown that day," as we see hooligans in helmets and cammo gear rampaging with hammers, spears, and baseball bats, and listen to the wives of policemen who died. Four committed suicide afterwards. 

If I'd confronted the loathsome face of hell presented by those violent mindless rampaging fuckwads, I'd have felt suicidal too. And behind it all, goading them on, the despicable Trump and his many enablers. 

As it is, I can't wait to renounce my American citizenship. It will take years and cost a lot of money, but it will be worth it. Last night I watched the failure of a society - the epic, abject failure of its education system, of its media, of any kind of social control - of the remotest glimmer of common sense. Angry white men out of control - they all looked like Nazis on Kristallnacht to me.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

home, with Deborah Levy's pointed words

Oh the push/pull of home. I walk in the front door and drop the suitcase, filled with the pleasure of familiarity: MY HOUSE. My kitchen my fridge my bathroom my bed. And then, instantly, reality piles in and familiarity gives way to the weight of responsibility: bills not paid, garden overgrown, the broken light, the broken mirror, the roof that needs repair, the malfunctioning coffee grinder, the needs of the tenants, classes starting ... and the piles and piles of books, magazines, and newspapers on the coffee table, overflowing, falling onto the floor.

It feels like too much. It feels like I'll never get through. But I will. And if I don't, so what? 

Luckily my first two days back were sunny and warm; I did lots of garden work and had a walkabout with Ruth. Today is a Vancouver day, bleak and wet. But soon I'm going across town to see my boys, the very tall one and the two small ones, for the first time in ages. On days Anna is working, because Sam is currently not, he often picks the boys up from school, plays with them, and gives them dinner before she gets home. How happy that makes me.

Yesterday was the first day of the U of T class on Zoom, a full class, my screen filled with eager faces anxious to begin - no one from Azerbaijan this term, but Winnipeg, Saskatoon, northern Ontario ... Thank you Zoom for making this possible.

I got home late on Sunday. When I walked outside on Monday morning, I was greeted by these:

I miss the ocean; as someone who grew up in Nova Scotia, I will always miss the sound and smell and vista of the ocean. What we city folk miss: a vista. But William Morris heritage roses confer a blessing too.

Here is a passionate piece of writing by Deborah Levy that speaks directly to my past experience and my heart. Maybe it will to yours too.

To strip the wallpaper off the fairytale of The Family House in which the comfort and happiness of men and children has been the priority is to find behind it an unthanked, unloved, neglected, exhausted woman. It requires skill, time, dedication and empathy to create a home that everyone enjoys and that functions well. This task is still mostly perceived as women’s work. Consequently, there are all kinds of words used to belittle this huge endeavour.


Saturday, October 16, 2021

last night reflections

This is definitely the smallest room in the Sylvia Hotel, but it has everything I need: wifi, bed, window that opens. I've just had dinner downstairs with my dear friend Margaret, who's living a nightmare right now; her beloved husband of many years, afflicted with Alzheimer's, is now in hospital and not understanding why he is there. Many decisions to be made, and she with her own health issues. Luckily their sons live close by and help. She showed me phone video of her granddaughter, who's just learned to walk. "It was worth it, having kids, wasn't it?" I cried, and we both laughed. She and I were pregnant with our first together, lumbering around downtown trying to imagine what it would be like to be a mother, to have an actual child. Not to mention two. 

And yet, we did it, and now they are - sometimes - there for us.

It was pouring so hard today, it was hard to see a few feet in front at times. Shari went for a swim in the heated outdoor pool at the lodge, so I took up the challenge and went too - a few minutes in the pouring rain, in the pool and hot tub. But getting wet both in body and on head was too much wet for me.

We listened to nonfiction readers read on Zoom this morning, and this afternoon went to an in person workshop by kind, warm Darrel McLeod, a Cree teacher and writer from northern Alberta. Again, nothing he said was new to me - in fact, some of the exercises he gave are ones I give my own students - and yet hearing it all from his lips made it new again.

As we left, I was given the envelope with critiques of my memoir from the initial reader and the two finalist judges, which I read to Shari as we sped down the mountain in the downpour. The first reader got it, totally; I love what s/he said. The other two had praise and some legitimate concerns which is why, I guess, it didn't win. 

Also that I'm sure dog sledding in the north, on the frontier, is more exciting than eating cheese in Provence. 

I don't care. It's been a powerful journey for me, here; despite the bad weather of the last few days, I'm so very glad I came. I will be so very glad to walk in my front door and drop my bag and get into my own bed. And for the first time in many days, make my own coffee in the morning. Shari has a special method to make her fabulous coffee. But time for me to make my own. 

One of the most transcendent memories of the trip for me was sitting on Chris's deck in the sun, watching on my computer a video made by Lynn's children to commemorate her and Denis's 50th wedding anniversary. One daughter lives with her family in Mauritius, another in Australia, another in Marseille. One appeared at their door as a surprise with her 3 children, and their son participated in the Zoom call secretly from Heathrow, on his way to join them as well - all of them there on the screen, telling stories. Fifty years. I was there at the start, at the wedding. Hard to imagine we're that old. But we are. 

I don't feel old tonight though, I feel rejuvenated - by trees, air, water, mountains, book talk, and most of all, the joy of friendships begun long ago. 

Thank God I bought waterproof hiking boots and a down vest in Whistler; kept me alive here. Here's upcoming Toronto weather. I am so ready.

Mainly sunny


Mainly sunny

Friday, October 15, 2021

not this time

Dear friends, Yellowknife author Fran Hurcomb's memoir about dog sledding, Breaking Trail, is the winner of the 2021 Whistler Independent Book Award.  She has had an extremely adventurous life in the north; I was freezing just listening to her read last night about breaking trails in minus 30 degree weather. Brava to her.

Thanks to everyone who sent their thoughts and best wishes. Save them for next time. 

It's over, and that's a relief. Of course it's disappointing. But I do not for one minute regret coming, mostly because of the bond I've made with Shari. We've known each other for decades, but this is the first time we realized how very compatible we are, with similar lifestyles, goals, and even grievances; she hates vocal fry and uptalk as much as I do. 

I've visited good friends, I've seen a lot of trees and @#$ mountains, I've met some nice people. I didn't win a prize, but I did, too. 

Fran's dogs
Consolation prize - framed
An avenue this afternoon

So - a few workshops tomorrow that I do not have to participate in, and we're off. I'm in front of the fire in my pjs, with - you guessed it - a glass of wine. Happy camper. Onward.