Sunday, February 28, 2021

mourning Kathleen

What a horrifying sight this morning: opening the paper to see a picture of a former memoir writing student, a lovely kind woman, under the headline "Son charged with killing his mother, 69." 

Kathleen took my Ryerson class maybe 15 years ago, maybe more; I liked her and her work so much, she was asked to join my home writing group and came for a while. Her stories haunted me. She was writing about one of her sons who was a violent addict. He'd destroyed things in her home and stolen goods to sell for drugs. Then he was on the streets. She'd make a bag of sandwiches and go trolling the streets of downtown, looking for him. As I recall, he was selling sex for drugs. 

What was so hard to understand was this warm, loving, generous woman with two other seemingly normal children dealing with such horror. She wrote without self-pity, with tremendous courage and honesty. We stayed in touch, and she told me he was clean, off the streets, everything was great. We became FB friends, and I saw her gorgeous quilts, her travels. She wrote to me in the spring of 2019, saying she'd been writing fiction, and though she was still working, she wanted to come back to class, maybe in the fall. I encouraged her to do so. 

I called the police number in the article and left a message; I'm sure I've nothing to contribute, just wanted to tell them this was a long-standing problem that seemed to have been resolved. 

How to understand such a violent fate for such a good human being? 

Friday, February 26, 2021

Celebrating sunshine

 I'm sitting outside on the little deck outside my office with no coat on, and I'm hot! A glorious day. The snow is melting and our spirits are rising. Of course our incompetent provincial government doesn't help; they've at last announced that people over 80 will start to be vaccinated - in the middle of March. People my age maybe May? June? Whatevs, as they say. 

Nice things: I just got my cheque from Public Lending Rights - the library paying us for our books, what a gift. And since the library wrote to let me know they've ordered three hard copies of Loose Woman, the cheque will be bigger next year. Thank you, Canada. 

Then a director wrote from California to say he loved Finding the Jewish Shakespeare and wants to correspond about my work and his. My actor friend Richard Fowler, whom Bruce and I visited in 2014 in his village in the hills above the town of Positano, wrote to say he has downloaded the memoir audiobook. Richard has severely bad eyesight, which is a terrible irony since his house boasts the best view in the world — the whole Amalfi coast high over the Mediterranean. 

Bruce and our host in front of Richard's house. If for no other reason than the fact that Richard is able to access the book that way, I'm glad I made the audiobook. 

Something important last week: as I lay in bed at 4 a.m. doing my fretting thing - professional failures, personal ones too - a voice emerged from the darkness. And that voice said, "LET IT FUCKING GO!" Wise words: Let it fucking go. And I resolved to do that. I printed it out and it's tacked in front of my desk. 

A few days later, I realized that on the nights I lie awake at night, I sleep in, sometimes till 9.30 a.m., and so the morning vanishes. That night I said sternly to myself, No matter how you sleep, you need to wake up at 8.15 tomorrow. And I did. That day, I bought an alarm clock which is permanently set for 8.15. But I have not needed it; I wake automatically. The mind is an amazing tool. 

So I'm getting more done. The article I sent to the Star vanished, so I need to try somewhere else. I'm working on other articles. The classes are wonderful. My kids seem to be thriving. I know, I'm asking for trouble, listing these positive things. Onward.

If you want some joy in your life, find the song "Jerusalema" and learn the dance that goes with it. I suggested it to Gina and now we do it during line dancing; I hope to teach my grandsons and family so we can all do it. People are dancing to it around the world - an easy dance and a fabulous song. There are too many example online to choose one; pick any and off you go. 

Here's the full moon last night through my ceiling skylight, a lamp, a beacon, a friend. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

excavating the past with "Soul" and spirituality

Mon dieu, I have not been here since Thursday. Much to tell! 

Well, not that much actually, but still ... enough. On Saturday, Nicole came to help me excavate the boxes of old family photos - it's a real help on these trips into family lore and memory to have someone else there. Overwhelming, so much from both sides, the American Jews and the British WASPs - I found photos going back to my English great-great-grandparents and perhaps further. It's slow work because I have to stop and look and marvel. Found this, for example, taken on the steps of my American grandfather's high-school (look at that ornate building!) in the Bronx, circa 1912. I thought, since of course I never knew my grandfather as a young man, I'd never find him. But I found him instantly - a face that's my brother's, my daughter's, my grandson's, my own. I have down-sloping eyes. So I see did he.

Second row, second from left with his suit in shadow, looking serious, sad, and tired, as he possibly was, as the second oldest son of seven with the weight of an impoverished immigrant family on his shoulders. Probably like most of the young men pictured. Eventually a successful businessman who put one brother through law school, another through med school, and helped his sisters make advantageous marriages. You helped us all, young Mike. I cannot thank you enough. 

Then, a CNFC webinar on Spiritual Writing with Susan Scott - fascinating and moving. I was in a breakout room with 3 other writers; one told us she'd worked for decades as a palliative care nurse and often knew, as her patients approached death, which were people of faith; they were more peaceful and more accompanied, she said. If there's any reason to be a "person of faith", I thought, it's that. As an atheist, however, I feel I too can approach death peacefully. I have faith in human kindness, in my family, in my own strength. I think.

That night, a Zoom dance party organized by a friend of my friend Gina, a fellow dancing fool. Have to say, it's a bit sad and surreal, scores of people dancing alone on screen, some dressed up or with disco lights in the background. But we take what we can get. I did not last long. In fact, while I danced, I watched Anderson Cooper interview Bill Gates, who has apocalyptic views on climate change. 

And a doc on the houses where Jane Austen lived. What a phenomenal woman. I didn't know her life was so precarious as a single woman with little money and that she was so little acknowledged in her lifetime, dying tragically young. And yet now, one of the best loved writers on earth. 

A big day Sunday - the family came once more to toboggan and to dine. My local butcher was closed last week so I asked John to buy me a good quality roast at the market - he bought a five pound prime rib, better quality than I'd ever have bought myself. I made a crust of garlic and rosemary and baked it rare. While cooking, I looked up some old recipes and found these fave recipes of my mother's, 3 in her writing - much loved as you can see. She made that chocolate cake with sour milk every year for my birthday, and I used to make it for my kids. The cheesecake is mentioned in my memoir; I made it the first time I met my future in-laws. Mum had neglected to mention that it needed nearly an hour in the oven. 

Dinner was delish, with lots of leftovers to go across town for Sam, who was at work. And then we settled in by the fire to watch "Soul," from Pixar, written by Pete Doctor, who wrote the glorious "Up." As was that film, this one is beautiful, wise, and rich - an animated film that's as existential, as metaphysical and philosophical and - yes - spiritual - as anything I've seen for years. I will watch it again at least once; the dialogue flies by and is so clever, it should be savoured, not to mention the fabulous music. Definitely animation aimed more at adults than kids. Highly recommended.

After the kids left, I found this in the kitchen, scribbled on a post-it - Eli loves my stash of post-its. Before going to bed, I used to leave notes in the kitchen for my parents when they were out at night. If Eli is a note writer, all is well with the world. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Chocolate is the answer. Who cares what the question is?

Today was a busy day. Last night I slept instead of waking at 4 to ponder the meaning of life, so bounced out of bed at 7.30. Got so much done! Newspaper, breakfast, emails, FB, Twitter, an excursion to Shoppers and No Frills, all before 10.30 a.m. More excitement: the chocolate I ordered yesterday arrived from Stratford - 3 boxes of dark chocolate peanut butter cups and a large box of dark chocolate mint smoothies. This is how we survive winter. 

And then my new boots arrived. Annie showed me hers and raved, I looked online and found the last pair half price at Sporting Life. A tiny bit too big but I added insoles and - wow. What a difference. They're by Baffin and feature "High-Loft Insulation, Thermaplush lining and Hex-Designed LiteGrip compound." Are you impressed? I am. They're light, waterproof, and warm to minus 30. Bring it on, winter - I am ready!

Off in fresh snow in my new boots to the library to pick up a book I'd ordered: The Spell of the Sensuous, by David Abram. I am reading Patti Smith's memoir M Train that someone left in my Free Library. God, that woman can write. Unfair to have so many talents. 

Speaking of which, I spoke to a new editing client today. She's a nurse who has worked in fascinating third world countries, many stories to tell, today aboard a sailboat in the Caribbean with her new lover. She was tanned and wearing a tanktop. I was a tiny bit jealous. Especially as exactly one year ago I was in San Miguel Mexico, in the hot sun at the writers' festival, and hoping to return this year as a teacher. Not.

Instead, spent an hour today dealing with Ahmed at Rogers. A long complicated story, but he walked me through it, and I think it's fixed. I'd left my TV on mute while I finished chatting with him, and when I walked back into the living room, there was my son's face, enormous, on the screen. Cash Cab was on! Years ago, he and his two best friends got into a cab one night and won over $1000 on this TV show, and they were replaying it, as they do periodically. I must say, a handsome bunch of guys, one in particular. And the joy is, he got the winning answer, which was David Suzuki.

Let's hope Ted Cruz is toast. That utterly loathsome radio guy is gone. Is this the end of a hideous era? Biden continues to amaze. In ordinary times, he would be welcome, but now his basic decency is breathtaking. 

An enormous raccoon just peered through the window of my back door and lumbered off into the night. My Beatle-loving friend Alan in Zurich just sent me a film of Macca walking around his Liverpool high school, talking about his past. He shows us the music room and says, "I didn't learn a thing here. The teacher just played us records we didn't like and didn't tell us anything about music." I'm now going to sit by the fire and watch the fantastic Canadian St. Lawrence string quartet play Beethoven. Free.

How much more excitement can a person take in one day?

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Paris and Belgravia

Juliet, whose blog is to the left, has posted a livestream video of Paris just a few days ago. Watching it made me ache; I knew exactly where the walker was and could smell that Paris smell - urine, pastry, smoke, gasoline, damp plaster. Age. Perfume. River water. Oh please take me there! 

Not this year, sweetheart.

A writer I don't know asked me for a post for her nonfiction Instagram page, so I wrote one for her. Adventures on the internet. 

A major snowfall last night, much shovelling today - great exercise. The busy sparrows and finches at the feeder being pushed aside by the jays. Last night, watching my friend Gina's film compilation: she produces the Cabbagetown Short Film Festival and for Valentine's Day offered twelve short films about love, films from around the world though a disproportionate number from Spain, and terrific they all were. One was about a grandson who spent a lot of time with his grandmother as a small boy, grew distant from her in adolescence, and goes to visit as a young man for the first time in years. She is very old, shaking with Parkinson's, with still a loving smile and touch for him. "I saw her as the survivor of a shipwreck," he narrates, "clinging to the wreckage, isolated and alone, waiting for a visit every few months." He leaves, but runs back to tell her how much he loves her, that she is the best grandmother he could ever have had. And at the end he tells us he learned how to love, how to express love, from her. 

As you can imagine, it made me cry. Many of the films however were hilarious. A huge treat.

Watched the first episode of Belgravia on CBC Gem, another period British drama from Julian Fellowes, beautifully written and shot. My friend Harriet Walter appears as a dowager countess, and there is a truly magnificent scene between her and the actress Tamsin Greig, a master class in acting, so much understated between the two, two mothers in stiff formal dresses mourning their dead children. Brava.

I've sent out an essay, this one about the lockdown and why it has been a positive experience for me. Am working on another, enjoying the return to the essay format. Like Gina's short films - you can say a lot in few words. Oh, and I bought a new pair of snow boots, half price, which will arrive tomorrow. I've never bought footwear online, but welcome to 2021. Just in time, too.

The garden this morning.
Last August. That's under there somewhere. Spring will come.
Tom Stoppard's travel library. Love it. Thank God Wayson never saw it, he would have wanted six.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

The New Corporation: an unfortunately necessary sequel

We singletons pay no attention to this maudlin day - though I did go to the Epicure to buy a ton of sourdough bread, Quebecois cheese, and a Dufflet lemon tart which is simply divine. Treats! And these tulips are a gift from my beloved friend Anne-Marie, glowing in my kitchen.

Saw a terrific if hard to watch doc, The New Corporation: an unfortunately necessary sequel, funded, I'm proud to say, by Telefilm Canada and made partially in B.C. An exposé of what corporations do to our planet and persons. But it ends with many shots of citizen movements worldwide. There is hope.

Last night, by my fire, I watched a truly terrible movie: Made in Italy, starring the wonderful, hulking, broken-nosed Liam Neeson with his actual son Michéal Richardson playing his son. Totally formula, full of clichés, and yet I watched because - Italy! Tuscany - beyond beautiful, even if the film is condescending toward the lively joyful Italians, with, yes, a gorgeous-woman-eating-spaghetti scene. Still, in the absence of travel, I watch Rick Steeves every week, and films like this. Ignore the script, watch the scenery.

It was interesting to see this offshoot of a famous movie star father. He's got a beautiful face and a lovely aura, but I felt he just doesn't have IT - that drive, that phenomenal ego necessary to rise through the slog and shit of show biz. It was also strange to watch a film about the aftermath of the tragic death of the lead characters' mother and wife, knowing that Michéal's mother and Liam's wife Natasha Richardson died tragically. 

I have not mentioned the verdict from the U.S. Senate. No point. Not a surprise. History will judge. 

My joys: a glorious sunny day. The blue jays, newly taking over my bird feeder now that I've upped the quality of the seed - so big and loud, what beautiful bullies. Right now, Eleanor Wachtel and some bread and cheese. Tonight, delicious Sunday night TV. But first, the rest of the lemon tart. Life is good. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

nothing happening - could be worse

Snow drifting down. Friday of a busy week: teaching Monday, Tuesday, and two classes Thursday. Wrestling technology - when you upgrade, some things work better but others cease to function at all, leaving you grinding your teeth in fury. Between my new operating system Big Sur and my new modem, almost nothing works any more without fiddling, driving me mad. Incidentally, never buy a Brother printer. Mine does not work after the modem upgrade, and I've discovered it's utterly impossible to get in touch with the company for tech support. They have cleverly made it 100% impossible. Infuriating. I HATE technology!

Have barely been out all week. What to tell you? The Dems have done an incredible job of condemning Trump in the clearest possible terms, and the Repulsives are just going to ignore it all. History will judge them. Not that they care. Impossible to comprehend such vileness. Let's not try. 

In the meantime, Canadians are gathering tomatoes to throw at Trudeau, because our vaccine rollout is too slow, they say. Yes, we deal with issues other countries do not, including an extremely long porous border, the lack of vaccine manufacturing capabilities so we're dependent on imports which have slowed down, and recalcitrant Conservative provincial governments making it all more difficult. But still, it's all his fault. Patience, I say. They're coming. We'll get there. Jesus, vaccines used to take many years; now we're screaming because we're being vaccinated a few weeks behind other countries. 

Talked to Jason today, and we laughed about how little has changed since we last talked. Nothing happening, but the days fly by. It's a limited, solitary life, and yet it feels rich - rich with interior life, rich with good food and wine and my new fire. I have nothing to complain about. I know, that's dull. Sue me.

But I can report on an article that changed my life. "Why no one will read your book" points out how very few people actually read books, how little time even those people spend reading, and how very many books there are in the world with new ones coming all the time. When you realize this, you see that you, the author of books, should not be sad because your precious works are not best-sellers; you should marvel that anyone has read them at all - and even, it seems, enjoyed them a lot! A whole new way to look at the work. I live in an elite bubble of artsy people who live for books. But most of the world is not like us.

In lieu of something interesting to tell you, I'll attach a few things that caught my eye.

This last is me in my office, as I try to deal with the mountains of paper, just like in the picture. TRUE! 

And now, after two glasses of surprisingly good, very reasonable Argentinian Malbec, time for some delicious TV. I am a lucky human. Hope you are too.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Toronto Little Free Pantries Project

More nice words about the memoir, this from Peter Mose, my piano teacher: Your book is both so vivid and gently insightful that I am deliberately reading it slowly, to make it last longer! Candid and sweet. Brava!

So kind. Last class he gave me a jazzy piece which is helping me learn to navigate the bass clef. 

I'm sitting by my fire. Is there anywhere else I'd rather be? Well - maybe Barbados.

Today was an exciting day - I got my new modem from Rogers, had to install it myself with the long-distance help of Brad, friend, writing student, and tech guru. I hope now my Zoom classes will be more seamless, with no freezing or lags. Have to install a new cable box for the TV but will do that tomorrow - only so many tech challenges a girl can stand in one day.

I'm trying to write an essay about last year. The Star publishes writers' thoughts on Covid times every Saturday, so I thought I'd submit something. But it's hard to write about this without sounding entitled and out-of-touch - because in the midst of such misery and turmoil, I had a startlingly good year. And yet I think there are a lot of people who feel like me. No problem having to stay in my beloved house with so much pouring in from the internet. Cross Country Checkup was about Zoom on Sunday, and I gather many in isolated communities complained about their terrible internet access. Here, no complaints. I did not have to go out to work or worry about loved ones in longterm care or look after young children stuck at home; my work continued almost without pause on Zoom, and I was thrilled with how much easier Zoom made many facets of life. I know, incredibly lucky. How to say that without offending the countless people who suffered terribly last year? 

It may be impossible. Though that hasn't stopped me from trying. For some reason, I spent a whole day last week writing about the mysteries of orgasm, not something I will ever publish. Okay, sometimes we just write. (My first orgasm happened spontaneously when I was seven, at the movies with my dad. I was mystified. Is there a story there?)

An internet friend emailed to say she'd left a bunch of trend-setting new books in my Little Free Library, and I rushed out to get them before they vanished. New work by Deborah Eisenberg, Jenny Offill, Lydia Millet - big names in current American lit. Happy to say, I scanned them all in an afternoon and am going to put them back in the library. Not one of them compelled me to read the whole thing. Skilful writers, but I'm just not interested in the inner lives of L.A. real estate agents or a novel in tiny bite-sized segments. Which is great because as always I already have more than enough to read.

Speaking of the Little Free Library, which is a most marvellous thing, I was walking with Ruth on Friday when I came upon this: Cabbagetown at its best. 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

the Munk Debates: Yuval Harari, Masha Gessen

I watched the Munk Debate with two brilliant gay pundits. Harari is especially articulate, thoughtful, fascinating. I took a few notes that I thought might interest you. 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Canada one of the 5 strongest democracies in the world

There's a vicious cartoon in the Star today, blaming Trudeau for Canada's slow vaccine rollout. There's a lot of personal attack on social media too. It's not his fault Stephen Harper got rid of Canada's only drug-manufacturing site, so we have no capability of making our own vaccine, though that is about to change. It's not his fault European manufacturers are upgrading their facilities and so production and delivery have slowed world-wide. 

I guess we just need to blame someone if we're feeling aggrieved and frightened, is that it? Or am I missing something? Trudeau is far from perfect - but today the Economist listed Canada as one of the five strongest democracies in the world. Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, and Canada. That is truly something to be proud of, particularly in these days of peril for fragile democracies across the world, including the one to the south of us, #25 out of 167. At the bottom, no surprise - North Korea. 

The vile lunatic Marjorie Taylor Greene getting a standing ovation from Republicans - can this democracy be saved?! Maybe not, though Biden sure is giving it a go. As the wise Heather Cox Richardson says today, While Republican lawmakers continue to grab headlines with outrageous behavior and obstructionism, President Biden has been derailing them in the only way no one has tried yet: ignoring them and governing. Only two weeks into his administration, this approach appears to be enormously effective.

More excitement in Cabbagetown: your faithful correspondent has discovered Kanopy, a free movie streaming service from the library. You just enter your library card number and voila, scores of dramas and documentaries free to your device! Incredible. To test it last night, I called up Northanger Abbey, made in 2007, and instantly there I was, ensconced in my living room, communing with Jane Austen. Once again, the library provides incredible service. I have ten books on hold there at the moment, waiting for the magic notification that they're in. 

The sign of a vibrant democracy: a fabulous library system. 

The sun is shining hot through my south-facing office windows. This morning I unfurled my yoga mat in a patch of sun and did some stretches, feeling like I was in Barbados. A girl can dream, no? 

Before I get to work today, and then walk to the big Loblaws this afternoon - death-defying thrills! - I'm writing letters to my grandsons. Got a note from each of them yesterday, through the mail. In silver pen. "I love you. Ben." Be still my beating heart. 

For tonight's entertainment, an embarras de richesse, as the French say - a TVO special debate on democracy with various pundits, at the same time as an Endeavour rerun and Trust me, I'm a doctor, a fascinating British series delving into important medical issues. At 10.30 the divine Upstart Crow, a hilarious re-imagining of Shakespeare's life. But also at 8, it's the Munk debates with two of the most interesting people on earth, Harari Yuval and Masha Gessen. What to do? I may actually have to tape something and watch later, like a true citizen of 2021. 

This old broad, moving right along into the 21st century. Just watch me.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The Dig, Lupin, Call My Agent: Netflix keeping us alive

Got a lovely note today from a current student: Hi Beth, I will break any unwritten contacting the teacher rules to let you know that I ordered a copy of Loose Woman from Book City in Bloor West Village some time ago. They just phoned to say it is ready for curbside pick up. When I asked when I could pick it up, the clerk said, "As soon as I finish reading it.  It looks really interesting." We laughed and I told him to feel free as I can't pick it up today. He laughed and said, "I just have a few pages left!"

Does my battered writer's heart good.

Each day bleeds into the next, with a few highlights - Monday teaching, Tuesday teaching, every other Thursday teaching, an occasional piano lesson or Skype call to France or Zoom with Judy in Vancouver - dates and times to fill the vast blank space in my daytimer. It's cold, and I've barely been out for days. Monique is freaked by the virus mutations and will only meet outside, not distanced by my fire, as before. But when it's really cold, I do not want to sit on her porch, no matter how many blankets she provides. So even our aperitif is off, for now.

My son came over today, though, bringing company and joy. He's in fine form, a happy man despite the chaos of the world. He's growing his hair for the first time in decades - it's nice hair, and I'm glad to see it again. There's a lot of it, though his father teases that might not last. 

So that's it. Somehow the days vanish - eating and sleeping, we lay waste our powers, to paraphrase Wordsworth. I try to move my body, to get to my desk or practice the piano, do some cooking, read something good, and sometimes succeed. I waste far too much time, still, on social media, though the orange blowhole is no longer a horrifying distraction, instead - it's a bird it's a plane no it's SuperBiden! I watch Netflix - The Dig, a lovely British film, reminding me of a visit to the Sutton Hoo treasure at the British Museum; a bit more of the French series Call My Agent and tonight with Sam one episode of another French series, Lupin, terrific but too much tension for me; watched a documentary about Pauline Kael, another about Spielberg, Sunday night PBS dramas. Welcome distractions. It all flows by.

Pandemic Winter, a poem by Beth Kaplan. I'll write it as soon as I stop eating this piece of peanut butter toast and watching the otter pond live streamed from the Vancouver Aquarium. CUTE.

Finally, as a special treat for you, a particularly beautiful picture of someone I often overlook. They were all spectacular. Even, I am forced to admit, in his own special and goofy way, Ringo.