Wednesday, May 5, 2021

anticipating a terrible loss

Just went for a stroll on this lovely mild evening - the magnolia, the tulips, the chartreuse buds on the trees - and stopped at one of the 'hood's Little Free Libraries, of which there are many, mine being one. There inside was my book "All My Loving." Looked like the donor hadn't even opened it - phooey. I just had to re-read it for a copyright issue and have to say, as objectively as possible which isn't very, I liked it a lot. It's a humorous but also serious exploration of the world in the early sixties from a 14-year old point of view, with a particular focus on that teen's huge, life-saving love for Paul McCartney and the Beatles. 

I left the book there for the next reader. May it bring you pleasure - and perhaps a memory of a distant time. Or not so distant - it's my hope that young people would pick up the book to know what it was like to discover that brand new English group for the first time. But as usual, in the absence of marketing, no one knows the book exists. Except whoever up the street opens the door of the little library. 

Yesterday, as I sat here looking at the garden, Madame Cardinal flew down to the big plant base filled with water I've put on the deck. She sipped and then bathed, splashing about, ruffling her feathers. Monsieur Cardinal flew over with something in his beak, fed it to her, and flew away. She went on bathing and he returned to feed her another treat. It was like watching a pretty lady at the spa being fed chocolates. Since they were both out and about - they're inseparable - I assume the eggs aren't laid yet. Unless they hired a babysitter for their big night out. More cardinals please!

It's the Hot Docs festival, a scintillating presentation of documentaries from around the world. I've watched a few, the most interesting so far "Dirty Tricks," about cheating in the world of bridge, especially absorbing because of my uncle the famous bridge player, about whom I want to write next. It turned out one of the players interviewed is the son of my friend Ruth's friend. We arranged to talk today; he was in Las Vegas where he said it was nearly 100 degrees. Edgar Kaplan, he said, was one of his heroes from an early age. He met and played with him several times at the end of Edgar's life, as he was dying of cancer at age 72. "He was one of a kind," he said. "There was no one else like him." I agreed, as I wept to remember him. To work!

Have been busy with other things, however, as is my wont. The Creative Nonfiction Collective's conference is coming up on May 13 and there's stuff to be done. Teaching is gearing up again, two classes Thursday, a new term starting next week and another the week after. 

And always - life. Something unusual and very difficult this week: one of my oldest and dearest friends has a fatal disease and has picked the date she will use MAID - medically assisted dying. With her doctor's help, she will die on May 15. Everything is arranged, though she says the timing is not ideal as her friends can't gather in large numbers because of Covid. She lives on the other side of the country; what can I do to say goodbye? I wrote her a letter about what her 51 years of friendship have meant to me. Her courage and grace are extraordinary. More weeping. 

This is something new in our world, picking the date you will, with the help of medical science, die. What a gift for her, a fiercely independent woman who did not want to become helpless and dependent. She will remain in control of her destiny until the end. 

It's hard, though, to feel that date approaching, with its terrible, unimaginable loss for the rest of us.

Monday, May 3, 2021

my baby turns forty

Today my daughter, Anna Elizabeth, turns 40. She was born at 2.30 a.m. May 3 1981 in Vancouver's St. Paul's Hospital. Her father and I arrived there May 2 at 9.30 p.m., telling the staff that since it was three days before her due date, what I was feeling was false labour. It was not. We were ushered into the brand new birthing room which looked, said Ed, "like an imitation Holiday Inn." And there the hard but amazingly fast work began.

Someone posted this on FB: the ten stages of dilation during childbirth. As my friend Hal Wake wrote in reply, "Yikes!" What a @#$ miracle is the female body!

And so 40 years ago today I became someone's mother, and next Sunday and again in 3 weeks, that someone will celebrate her own motherhood, her first son born May 21 nine years ago with his grandmother - me - in attendance. And on and on goes the human race.

I spent yesterday afternoon admiring the energy of my grandsons. After supper they both slowed down briefly, Ben for a picture book and Eli for a few pages of Harry Potter, before careening out the door again. Thank God for the trampoline, the basketball net, the hockey net, the trillion bicycles and balls, and the alleyway outside their yard that provides yet another avenue to exercise lungs and legs. 

Memory lane: Anna aged 1 1/2, 13, 16, and 23. A certain force of personality evident, always. 

2004. About to separate, to the relief of us both - she to her own home, leaving me to mine. This picture was taken to go with an article about intergenerational marijuana smoking which featured us both, only the older of us tentative.  

One of Anna's friends posted on FB: "I hope you truly understand how important you are to so many people - the generosity, empathy, and kindness you show to literally everyone you meet is unmatched. You are a wonderful human and I am sooooo grateful to have you in my life!!!"

Me too, my love. Me too.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

finding Alice Neel

I KNEW there was a reason it'd be good to keep old address books! Diving into the mountains of dusty papers in my office, I found the box with my old travel notes and address books and began a search. As I've written, my parents' dear friend Alice Neel the painter is having a huge moment in the limelight with a prestigious retrospective at the Met in NYC, and I've written an essay about my visit to her in 1980. It bothered me that I couldn't remember her apartment number and wondered if I'd jotted it down somewhere. And now in my address book from that time, I've found both that and her phone number. Hooray!

I just made the mistake of opening two big boxes of my father's papers and am swamped with admiration for this man. He was a scientist and professor, not a writer, but he never stopped writing - articles, letters to the editor, telegrams of protest, petitions. My mother even kept his City College essays from the early forties. Yet again, overwhelming.

I sent this shot to my kids, saying, Isn't this what Eli will look like in 10 or 12 years? In some pictures, the resemblance between great-grandfather and one of his great-grandsons is startling. 

Boxes of papers - on top on the right, Dad's article in Weekend magazine in 1958 about the dangers of nuclear fallout residue in food, with a picture of us eating Strontium 90-laced corn. 

Last week in an attempt to get a handle on all this, I ordered $140 worth of file folders from Staples, rode yesterday to pick them up, and spent the afternoon filling them with letters, which are now better organized. One file, for example, is marked "Mum's others," letters from men and one woman who adored her but with whom, I think, she did not have an affair except by mail, like a man named Gene who wrote passionate letters to her in March 1949, five months before she married my father. Interesting. 

At least I now have some idea where things are. Efficient writers must be good at organizing research material. I'm doing my best but feel like I'm floundering most of the time. But there's so much paper. And that's not to mention the many boxes of photographs! 

It's been grey and chilly the last few days but today the sun is out and cheer returns. Must leave behind these dusty piles and refresh my lungs outside. But first, another lovely review to share: Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your book. I could relate as I worked at an intensive camp for autistic kids in the summer of 1979. Your story really was great and I did not want it to end.

Now that is what a writer with dusty hands is glad to hear. Thank you.