Saturday, May 29, 2021

on not watching the big game

It's dusk; I was just outside checking the garden when I heard neighbours on all sides shrieking and groaning. Ah yes - it's the big game tonight between the Leafs and the Habs. It matters deeply, apparently. I wonder what character flaw has allowed me to escape any interest in any team, except, at one point, the Blue Jays when they were winning the World Series. For some reason it was 1 a.m. when they won; the kids and I were huddled in my bed with the TV, and we cheered and listened to the whole city erupt - honking for hours. It was wonderful. My daughter follows favourite teams and cares, which is a good thing, because her sons do too. My own son, however, does not. 

I do not understand why these sports events matter so much but they do, if not to me. Now, Alice Munro winning the Nobel Prize - there should have been thousands dancing in the streets and a ticker tape parade. 

I guess they don't have ticker tape parades any more. I'm dating myself. Again.

Today was sunny but with a chill undertone - tonight down to 5, tomorrow up to 19. Bizarre, as the weather has been for months. Tomorrow, three of my oldest friends are coming for a get-together. Long ago, Nancy White pointed out that someone - Nietzsche? - once said that women go through 3 stages: virgin, mother, and crone. Since at that point none of us were either virgins or mothers, we must be crones. Thus, Crone Power was born. Tomorrow, three Crones will be here. Nancy I've known since childhood in Nova Scotia, Terry and Annie since the early seventies when we all worked at the Canadian Conference of the Arts. We are all a tiny bit older now, and much much wiser. 

I doubt they're watching the game either, have to say. I'm reading "A swim in a pond in the rain." What a thrilling book. George Saunders for the win. He shoots, he scores!

And it's possible Anna also isn't watching. She is in deep mourning, consumed with grief and rage, with the announcement of the bodies of over 200 children found near a residential school in B.C. It's hard to countenance the extent of the murderous injustice done to Indigenous children in this country. How do we atone?

Thursday, May 27, 2021

shopping with gun

If you want a picture of the criminal insanity in the country to the south of us, look no further. 

Okay - it's a picture of a nice blonde woman in a green t-shirt grocery shopping, looking at loaves of bread, with an enormous revolver strapped to her side. Blogger won't allow me to upload it. "Sorry! An unexpected error occurred while processing your selection. Please try again later." I wonder why.

It's chilly! Beautiful in the sun by day, going down to 7 tonight. I've changed the bed covers three times, from a very light one back to winter weight. Not a problem, not complaining, oh no, nothing to complain about. Canada in spring. 

I'm going to a dinner party tonight - so exciting. Mind you, it's next door at Monique's, and it'll be outside, so I'll be bundled up in sweater and jeans. But ... people! Conversation! Food cooked by someone else! Can life be more exciting? 

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

not dead yet

I read the obits these days; what an old person thing to do. So interesting, what those writing choose to focus on and remember, the life we try to spy through the flowery prose. But today, something else: I found a death certificate with my name on it. 

My aunt Betty - my uncle Edgar's wife - born in Hungary in 1914, was, after marriage, Elizabeth Kaplan, as am I. I have a badge she wore at bridge tournaments: "Elizabeth Kaplan, Press." My husband once was also Edgar; we marvelled there were two married Edgars and Elizabeths. I was pregnant in 1984 when I went to New York to visit Edgar and Betty; when I saw her, we both recoiled in shock. Her swollen belly looked the same as mine, only mine was a baby, and hers was uterine cancer. She was 72 when she died in 1985. 

I am digging into the boxes about my uncle. Much dust. And what is wonderful about the dust on my fingers is that it shows that I'm alive. My fingers are dusty and so I'm not dead yet. Also planting - today planted Swiss chard and spinach, more parsley, and a pumpkin seedling John gave me. I'm looking out now at a forest of green. The garden is life.

And I'm reading George Saunders' "A swim in a pond in the rain," his analysis of the short stories of Russian masters Tolstoy, Chekhov, Turgenev, Gogol, and from that, a deliberation on writing. Beautiful. 

After getting trimly through the past year, I have recently gained five or six pounds. There's a belly. Perhaps a little too much life.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Victoria Day breezes

More nice words: from Lina, I just finished reading your book. I think it’s the best you’ve ever written. 

From Nicky, an actress: I've enjoyed the book very very much. It was unsettling and engrossing for how similar our paths have been.  

Many thanks to you both, faithful readers!

And two longterm students, Brad and Sam, had pieces published. Sam wrote, I wouldn’t write if it weren’t for your encouragement and feedback, Beth, as well as the inspiration you share in class.

Glad to celebrate your successes, friends, but I'm happy not to be teaching today. It's Victoria Day - people have the day off to celebrate one of Britain's queens, many fireworks popping until late last night. What a strange country we are. Another lovely day - the oppressive heat has gone and it's fresh and sunny, lilacs wafting in. The birds are noisy and everything's growing like mad. 

Especially my grandson Eli, who just turned nine but wears a size twelve. He's a shrewd planner who holds his cards close to his chest figuratively and literally - one of his birthday events was an evening poker party with his godmother Holly and his Uncle Sam. He won. I'm 70 and have never played poker. Eli has to laboriously teach me card games, even Go Fish, when he visits. 

On Saturday was his other party in the backyard with many of his friends. Anna, as you know from this blog, looks after a lot of children, including some who regularly arrive to spend the night due to parents' work schedules or crises. There is always room for one more. Eli and Ben are growing up in a very big extended family, almost none of whom are blood relatives.

Along with all the parents, Eli's friend and tutor Greg came from next door with his partner John and a cold bottle of rosé. The many children jumped on the trampoline and chased each other with the bows and arrows I'd brought - with a well-padded tip, you'll be relieved to know. There was of course - because Anna - a ton of food and TWO spectacular cakes made by Finn's mother Kat, cake-maker extraordinaire. 

When I left, exhausted, Uncle Sam was in the laneway behind the yard throwing a football to 6 thrilled, grubby little boys who'd scramble to catch and throw it back. He'd been doing this steadily for 20 minutes. And I thought, what many little boys need most is a kind, patient, funny person to throw a ball to them and then throw it back. Endlessly. Sam himself as a boy missed out on that, since his father was in another country and his mother was not, definitely not, that person. Now, reading stories - yes. 

Nothing much planned today beyond some work in the garden - lots to clean up since my helper, Bill, died last year and so it's all up to me. I just counted - it's 66 steps from my kitchen to the end of my yard. That's a lot of clean up. 

Have to say that as a half-Jew who has little to do with her Jewish heritage, still, the events of the past weeks made me sick. Devastating that a country created because of a murderous holocaust should be so utterly without conscience or humanity. As my friend Ruth points out, like in the US, the fanatical religious right has gained far too much power. How did our planet regress so? What kind of world will our beloved young ones grow into?

Friday, May 21, 2021


It's Friday morning, fresh out still but soon will be hot, far too hot for mid-May, record breaking heat. I brought the plants that winter indoors outside and then was afraid they'd shrivel in the relentless sun and set up umbrellas to protect them, especially the 9 foot tall oleander that's like a big green bushy friend. I'm smelling the lilacs and listening to the birds and gradually recovering from last week. 

Patsy is gone; there's an empty space where she used to be. My friend who had cancer surgery is recovering. The reports on the conference were all raves. I've seen my beloved Annie, had a glass of wine on the deck with Monique, called Ken, Skyped with Lynn, taught three classes. I began to deal with a complicated legal issue I'll tell you about sometime and spent much of Wednesday planting tomatoes, peas, cukes of course, lettuce, spices, and three dahlias that were a gift from my tenant Robin's mother - and really felt it in my grubby body at the end of the day. 

It's gradually draining away, the grief and shock and stress. As the earth moves on from winter and blooms under the sun, we recover too, I guess, and keep going. It is a gift to your friends to die in the spring, when the world as it opens is unbearably beautiful, and as the pandemic at last wanes and we begin to sense some kind of normal life may soon start again.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

writing "a magnificent story"

This is our new world - boiling hot in mid-May. It's already muggy and feels like July. Too weird. 

Things are easing off a bit now; it's been an overwhelming week, with Patsy's death overshadowing everything, but also my other friend's cancer surgery, the four-day CNFC conference with my various responsibilities, and then teaching yesterday and the start of the U of T term today. Plus the smoke alarm went off at 5 a.m. Monday morning for no apparent reason - no smoke, no smell, nothing, just the bloody thing beeping and flashing, my downstairs tenant standing outside in his dressing gown, me in my nightgown running around frantically, finally opening the front door and fanning in fresh air, which turned the thing off.

I HATE smoke alarms.

So I've been fried, literally, in the hot sun, and figuratively, with stress.  

Now a few days to get caught up, buy some groceries, catch my breath. Another class Thursday evening, and on Saturday, Eli's ninth birthday party. Luckily his mother has taken care of my gifts to him - a safe bow and arrow set with one for Ben too and very snazzy sneakers coming in from somewhere, and a diary he can lock. Now that I really approve of.

Importantly it's time to get the garden underway - have planted on the deck but not in the veg garden yet. It only started to be over 10 degrees at night on Sunday. Yet 30 during the day! Lunatic.

The conference was superb - beautifully organized and fascinating. Wonderful craft workshops: on archives, on "the rolling now" - situating the narrator in time and then rolling into flashback and flash forward - Carrie Snyder on relaxing into creativity, freeing ourselves - she had us draw a giraffe and ourselves with our eyes closed - the obligatory practical seminar on brand and platform that was terrific even so - and more. On Sunday, the AGM, and then I hosted eight writers reading from their new books, followed by profound discussion. Marvellous. 

But most of all, on Saturday night the keynote was by Harold Johnson, a writer and lawyer from northern Saskatchewan who's Cree with Swedish blood. He's a man of great dignity with two thin braids, and when he began to talk on Zoom, we all felt as if we were sitting at his feet. Someone wrote in the Chat she could smell the campfire smoke. His subject was "The Power of Story." Everything is story, he said - you, me. We used to tell ourselves stories of dragons and unicorns. Now it's 'market forces'. The economy demands human sacrifice. 

You edit your life as you edit your writing, he said. Change the words you use to describe what happened. Tell yourself a new and better story. About the relations between Indigenous people and settlers, he said, "We adopted the Queen's children as our cousins." 

He finished, When you look back on your life at the end, if you can say, Every day was the best day I could make it, you've written a magnificent story. 

He had a bunch of us in tears. I felt especially vulnerable because Patsy had died only a few hours before. What an intense experience it all was. 

So now, I need to sit and smell the lilacs, which have never been more bountiful. 

One more point of tension - there was a fledgling robin on the ground at the back of the garden. I kept everyone away from it; it was terrified but couldn't fly. I gather that baby robins often land on the ground and have to learn to fly. I was worried about the grey cat that invades sometimes, about whether the parents were feeding and guarding the tiny thing. Today I went back to see - and with a mad flapping of wings it flew up to the top of the fence and then off into the trees. 

Very proud of that little creature. May you make a great story of your life, little robin. 

Monday, May 17, 2021

honouring and missing Patricia Jane Ludwick

So much to tell, it's hard to know where to begin. I will talk about the CNFC conference, which was a stunning success, tomorrow. Today I want to talk about Patsy.

Patricia Ludwick, whom I met at Halifax's Neptune Theatre in the summer of 1970, who became my housemate in Dead Man's Cove, who threw my 20th birthday there. Who remained a passionate friend and correspondent despite living eventually on the other side of the country. She and I started in the same place, tall, dark-haired, well-read, fiercely opinionated actresses in Toronto and Vancouver. I ended up a divorced writer, teacher, and editor with two kids in downtown Toronto. She ended up a single poet, editor, dramatist, and script doctor in a small house on Gabriola Island. We went in different directions but also the same direction. The bond, despite bumps, endured for 51 years. 

Patsy was diagnosed with ALS a few years ago. She died at 11 a.m. her time on Saturday May 15. 

For months before, she prepared in her serene Buddhist way. She talked and laughed at length with everyone who called, and there were many. She sent packages back to friends; I received two big envelopes with writing and photographs I'd sent her, of her and us but also of my kids - she was godmother to my son Sam. I looked at my Patsy file on this computer to find not just long personal emails between us but very long and intense edits she did of drafts of my books and essays, which would have been far poorer without her valuable input. The world is far poorer without Patsy in it.

On Saturday afternoon, I received this from the friends who were with her at the end. I share it with you because I want you to get a sense of who she was, of what we who knew her are missing now. 

Patsy died peacefully in her home this morning, and asked that we send the message below along to you after she was gone. Jane & Jessie

dear friends


this is just to say thank you for being my friends, through all the seasons of our 

lives, in so many places in this wondrous world, on the rollercoaster and the 

roundabouts, in all kinds of weather.


Friendships have supported me all the way to the end of this particular road,

lucky me! It’s a glorious spring day outside my little house that friends helped

me build, and friends are coming to see me off. 


if you would like to do something to honour our friendship, plant a tree  a tree

native to the place in which it is planted so it has a decent chance of surviving, 

and to continue to nourish the Earth with its marvellous gifts – photosynthesis! 

carbon sequestration! flowers, fruits, leaves, communication through mycelium, 

and such rooted presence. 


It’s easy to die 

just give your breath back

to the trees and the wind


I’ll be sending you loving kindness through all forms of life but no more emails!




from gabriola island in the Salish Sea, May 15, 2021

In "The Donnellys"
With Jerry Franken, the love of her life
I called her Tudwell, I no longer remember why, and she called me Bee. 

A photo I took on Chesterman Beach, Patsy with, of course, notebook. Loved and missed forever, dearest friend.

Friday, May 14, 2021

last day

There will be weeping today. It's my friend's last day on earth. One of her oldest friends wrote to say she and her husband and daughter are going to the island today, to spend the day with her, and will be organizing a kind of shiva. Someone else wrote that another friend, who makes costumes for films, has made her a beautiful shroud.

Her doctor and a nurse will come to her house at 11 a.m. tomorrow. 

I am trying to imagine — they give you this exercise as a psychological tool, but I never thought it could actually be real — what it would be like to know this is my last day on earth. It's stunning here today, hot and bright. I sat outside, taking in the lilac which has just come into full bloom, above the viburnum which scents the air. The cardinal came to check out the deck for the water dish but I've moved it nearer the feeder. The holly for the first time has clumps of yellow sweet-smelling blossoms. The mock orange glows bright yellow-green. It is paradise. 

Another dear friend is having breast cancer surgery today. 

Last night for the first time Uncle Sam had the two boys for a sleepover at his small apartment. His dad wrote that his theatre-turned-medical clinic has just issued its 10,000th vaccination. 

And yet, as the virus still rampages, people filled with hatred are slaughtering each other. 

Last night was the first event of the CNFC conference, a talk by two journalists at the top of their game, Johanna Schneller and Ian Brown, who are married, on "writing about other people." They were hilarious and informative. "Sometimes your take on the story IS the story," said Ian, talking about flashes of discovery. "There's a difference between confession and candour," he said. "Trust the physical and the concrete," he said. It was fascinating and beautifully run, not a glitch in sight. Today, our first long day, from noon to 8.30, 3 workshops, including one moderated by me, and a big panel tonight. 

Looking at my garden, I said, if I were to know I'd die tomorrow, what would I ask myself today? And the answer came instantly. Have I given enough? 

Have I loved enough? 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

in the midst of grief, a great blessing

A last word before I go under for a few days: the CNFC conference starts tonight. I'm moderating two presentations and an event where a group of eight writers read from their new books. Have tried to stock my fridge with food so I won't have to think about much else till Sunday night, and Monique just sat me down next to the bird feeder and cut my shaggy hair again.

Yesterday was a vitally important day. I am already devastated by the upcoming death, on Saturday, of a beloved longterm friend, who is using MAID to take her ALS-ravaged body from this earth. She's the most efficient person; I just received a second packages from her with printouts of our correspondence, photographs and writing I'd sent her through the years, a poem she wrote about me. 

Then I got an email from another close longterm friend, saying she has breast cancer and is being operated on tomorrow. They've only just discovered it and are operating already, so my guess is there's some urgency. 

I remember a writer, I think Jane Smiley, writing about "arriving at the age of grief." Here we are.

I realized I had friendships to mend, no time to waste. My friend with ALS and I used to exchange long emails and phone calls regularly; about 6 or 7 years ago, I felt her pulling away, and our correspondence and bond dwindled. I never asked her why. Yesterday I wrote to say, I must have done or said something that caused offence, and for that, I'm sorry. I know I can be condescending, impatient, dismissive. Whatever caused the gulf, I'm sorry.

She sent back the most beautiful note, saying no matter, in any case we'd simply been moving in different directions. And then she wrote, I’m nearly home now, and one day you’ll come to this place, too 

 As Ram Dass, or someone wise once said: We’re all just walking each other home.

Or, as Dr. Bonnie Henry would say: Be Kind. Keep calm. Stay safe.

As John O’Donohue would say: May you be blessed with good friends and may you be good to them

It’s spring, amazingly, once again, despite covid, and all the flowers are blooming, though the garden has gone a little feral, and all the birds are singing - enjoy your time on this astonishing Earth

Such beauty and serenity. May we all feel so, dear readers, when our time comes to go home. 

So then I wrote to two other once-close friends with whom I'd lost touch, one because we're busy and preoccupied and the other through a misunderstanding that has gone unresolved. Both sent back kind, warm notes. So much was fixed. I went to bed feeling I'd done very important work that day.

I know it could not be more of a cliché, but ... life is short. Love is long. Get in touch. Tell them you love them. 

It's hot out there; I just got out the sunscreen and am going to work in the garden. May you all be blessed with good friends and may you be good to them. 

May you enjoy your time on this astonishing Earth.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

venting is good for the soul

Busy week: gearing up for the CNFC conference that starts Thursday evening and goes till Sunday late afternoon. My last hurrah with the organization - after 2 years on the board and 4 on the programming committee, I'm leaving Sunday. I'm glad. It's about time, in more ways than one. I love the CNFC and will be happy not to feel responsible for it. 

Mother's Day was a joyous gathering and feast at Anna's, just us and my daughter-by-another-mother Holly who bought me a sumptuous bouquet and bottle of wine. From my children, promises of lovely things, just as good. How incredibly blessed I am to have my family near; to be able, at this time of isolation, to spend a day with my children and grandsons. Below: much-loved Uncle Sam and nephew.

I was throwing out an old teaching notebook when I noticed some writing: I'd given an in class writing exercise, to write a piece in the voice of someone you detest or have had great difficulty with. I did it too. In Grade 5, in 1960, I'd skipped a grade so was a year younger and a stranger, having recently returned from living in England where I attended a terrific local school. At Tower Road in Halifax, we had a very old teacher with yellow teeth and yellow-grey hair who hated me. Miss Hewitt was so vile to me that my parents were concerned about my mental health and sent me to a child psychiatrist. Dad was convinced she was motivated by anti-Semitism. Here's what I wrote:

It's impossible. They give me far too much work. Thirty Grade 5 children, sometimes more! And some of them dirty and ill-bred, barely able to speak the English language! They say I have a favourite. Well of course I do. I like to reward the good children with treats, like helping me. I know it's a thrill for them, being allowed to clean off the blackboard or come in early from recess to plug in my kettle. They deserve it. They're no trouble.

And then there are the others. In every class, the troublemakers. And in this class, that little smartaleck girl. Thinks she's so smart. Of course, she's Jewish, with a smartaleck professor father who on top of everything is an American. And he waltzes in here to complain about what I'm teaching his precious daughter. Just because he founded a school - a private boy's school where all the fancy people of Halifax can pay lots of money to send their sons - he thinks he knows how children learn, and he wants to complain about me, I who've been teaching for 40 years. 40 years! I know how to teach, I know what children need. 

And what little smartaleck Jewish girls do not need is their important professor father waltzing in to complain about their teacher. I have to teach her a lesson. She needs to understand how the world works - that she's just like everybody else. Take her down a peg. I can see her looking at me as if I'm some sort of dishrag. Who does she think she is? Little brat. Little smartaleck Jewish brat. And so what's their solution? To send her to a child psychiatrist! What nonsense. I'm glad to be rid of her. I don't want her sort in my classroom. 

Do you think I captured her sweet voice? I did try to see the world through her eyes. That's the point of the exercise: villains do not see themselves as villains. Hitler, I like to tell the class, was a vegetarian. 

It was an interesting school, Tower Road, with a startling socio-economic mix of kids, though not of race - some really poor, some okay, some fairly well-off, but all white. I look back now and see which kids could barely afford clothes and shoes for school. I see Mabel, who was so savvy about sex at such a young age, with such a haunted, too-old face, I'm sure she was being abused. Of course I didn't realize any of that then. Miss Hewitt savaged them all, with a special edge for me. 

But I win. Miss Hewitt is dead, and I'm telling my truth about her. Dad got his revenge, too; the school he founded, the fantastic Halifax Grammar School - co-ed since 1963 - years ago bought and incorporated Tower Road. 

One thing we half-Jewish brats are good at it is humour.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Two Old Guys Talking to Beth

My old friend John Wade - a genius with dogs who tried to help with the two crazy out of control canines who lived in this house when the kids were young - and his friend Paul have a podcast called Two Old Guys Talking. They both read my memoir and set up an interview with me. It lasted an hour and was a great deal of fun. So far friend Lani and student Paula have watched and reported: I loved this interview. I was engrossed from the beginning. John and Paul asked great question and Beth, I could listen to you for hours. Your openness and honesty and wisdom shine through like a halo!

And: So glad to have listened to your chat with the not so old guys. Thanks for promoting your authentic self and your wonderful acceptance of personal journeys, big and small. 

Thank you, friends. I think it's the first time I've been mentioned in the context of a halo. Well, if not now, when?

A truly unpleasant experience today: I sat through a webinar from a finance firm called Moody's. The speaker was like a human shark, terrifyingly aggressive and fear mongering, touting himself continuously as the only possible saviour from ruin. Truly horrible; I realize how lucky I am that I almost never encounter hard sell human beings like that guy. 

A lovely day otherwise - chilly at the market in the morning easing into hot sun in the afternoon. Yesterday was delicious. I had a scheduled call from Dr. Lawless, the doctor at St. Mike's who oversaw my appendix crisis and got me out of there in two days. I told him how extremely impressed I was and delivered my only complaint - about "doctorese," jargon incomprehensible to laypeople. He was open, warm, sensible - this in a vast hospital in the middle of a pandemic. Grateful!

And then my son came over and made a delicious dinner and we talked and talked and watched Stanley Tucci extoll Italian food. Grateful AND lucky. All that and spring too.

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.