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. 


  1. I got one of those notes, laboriously scrawled on the back of a birthday card (a detailed drawing of a swiss army knife) sent by my 4 year old grandson. I love you, in red marker. A treasure. As is yours.

    1. Yes, aren't we lucky? I have a file with pictures and notes, already stuffed. As I'm sure do you.