Saturday, July 31, 2021

pre-birthday rant

More from my favourite Blowing Own Horn department: U of T sends anonymous assessment forms to students when the term ends, and then forwards them to the teachers. Mine included this:

What recommendations do you have for improving this course to enrich the learning experience for future students?

None whatsoever. Beth Kaplan is an outstanding instructor who is an expert in her subject matter and is able to communicate it masterfully to the various learning levels of the students.

Suggest more strongly purchase of the tutor's book on writing which I just now obtained and which is very valuable

So kind! Thank you. Especially appreciate the suggestion about the textbook "True to Life." 

Turned on the Olympics by accident the other day and saw the one race I feel remotely connected to, women's rowing, because one of the eight powerful young Canadians is from Cabbagetown. It was thrilling; I was shouting, Go girls go! You can do it! as they pulled ahead and stayed ahead the whole way. Gold! It's surprising how much a gold medal matters at a moment like that, when it really does not. 

I turn 71 tomorrow. I know, impossible to believe in one so young. But something is happening; I am turning into a crabby person. I see things all the time that infuriate me, big things and small things, and I've upped my "crabby complaint letters" game. I've always believed in writing letters of complaint and also of praise. But I fired off 3 last week, one about the constant drag racing at 3 a.m. on the Don Valley Parkway, the racers unimpeded by the slightest attention from police, and two about truly stupid articles in the Star. I'd write a letter to the BC Health agency that awarded people who got the second vaccine a big yellow star, but what's the point? Or to register my disbelief that recently a new store opened in Toronto, a luxury vegan clothing store — for dogs. May I puke politely? 

I find this New Balance ad offensive, do you? The sexualizing of a very young girl, giving her a closed, almost surly face and a provocative off-shoulder shirt - in what way does this ad sell children's running shoes? Especially in our age of #MeToo and Jeffrey Epstein?

I tried to complain to New Balance but can find no way to get through. So I'm complaining to you.

Focussing on these small things is a way of avoiding the big things - the physical and moral disintegration of our planet. I started reading a book highly recommended by Judy: The Industry of Souls, by Martin Booth. The writing is wonderful, but it's about the gulag. I don't think I can bear it.

Change of plans. Tomorrow, 80% chance of thunderstorms, 0% chance on Monday, so my Sunday birthday party with family and a few friends has been deferred a day. I will spend my birthday in blessed solitude. A day to contemplate my over seven decades, try not to be crabby, and maybe actually do some work.

PS In case you're a very young reader who doesn't understand the significance of the yellow star, here's one that was torn off an overcoat and given to my American soldier father after the liberation of Paris from the Nazis. 

Thursday, July 29, 2021

fan mail

Proud mama here - I'm watching the young male cardinal who fledged in my garden as he inspects the offerings. The bird feeder is full but he just checked out my spices on the deck, landing with no trepidation a few feet from the kitchen door. He's soft brown streaked with flame, with a bright orange beak - gorgeous.

And more proud mama - for any of you worried about keeping the bee population alive and flourishing, I have 3 words for you: rose of Sharon. I have two big trees, and they're stuffed with bees rolling around or splayed out on those long exposed pistils, coating themselves with pollen in such a languidly sexual way, they almost make me blush. 

So much going on. Still no word on a CT scan, so my health is in limbo, but I'm feeling better. Watched a doc on Chuck Berry and another on Buddy Guy, a brilliant but shy musician finally getting his due. It's interesting that he first found acclaim in Britain in the sixties - the Beatles, Stones, and other Brit bands revered black American music in a way the Americans did not. 

Yesterday, a busy day: I went up the street for a therapeutic massage with Laura, because she's leaving the business. So skilled, those fingers! Then a few blocks west to get my hair cut with Dianne, my first cut with a professional since last January - so skilled, those fingers! And then next door to a restaurant called Noushe to get Persian takeout: chicken-pomegranate stew with saffron rice, sublime. All within a few blocks of home. I love my 'hood.

When I got back, I tried a selfie - slightly retouched, I confess. The magic wand, wiping out a few of those tiny lines. If only we had one in real life. If only my chin were a little smaller, my eyes not so hooded, the lines beside my nose not quite so engraved. But - as Dianne said - enjoy what you have now, because in five years, you'll miss it. Wise words.

In the nice words department, Ruth just wrote, I finished All My Loving, and loved it. So much going on in your young life, and so well depicted in just the right voice. And of course, your rich vocabulary and your imagination at that young age is "awesome", even "gear". 

And Anne wrote,  re my fervent recommendation of Late Migrations a few days ago, "In case you don’t realize what an influencer you are, I put a hold on this book within a day or two of your recommending it.  At that time, there were no other holds. Today there are nine for the ten copies. Good job!!"

OMG, I'm, like, an influencer, just like all those 18-year olds on Instagram and TikTok! The big bucks will soon be rolling in! 


Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Hooray for beautiful Mary Simon our new gg.

I turned on CBC yesterday morning by chance and realized it was the investiture of our new governor-general, so went to my computer to watch as well as listen. It was extraordinary. Mary Simon is an inspiring, beautiful Inuit woman who gave an inspiring, beautiful talk. Imagine, she said among many other things that working to de-stigmatize mental illness will be one of her priorities! She spoke in lyrical English, fluent Inuktitut, and brave French about her childhood in the Arctic; "Canada is an Arctic nation," she said, and went on at length about the crisis of climate change. She spoke about the generous hard unsung work being done by Canadians in communities across the land and specifically thanked frontline health care workers. And of course, most importantly, she spoke about reconciliation with the Indigenous first people of this country. 

Such a warm, welcome presence in our land. Long may she reign!

I was invited out for lunch yesterday - another first after many months - by Ron Hume, a member of the men-only book club who are such vociferous fans of "Loose Woman." Ron, who's in his eighties, was an entrepreneur who once marketed books and had marketing ideas for me; he said the memoir is so good, it should be much more widely known and wants to try to help me get it into book clubs. "A superb writer like you shouldn't waste a minute on marketing, you should be writing," he said, music to my ears, but unfortunately not possible. His ideas are interesting but do involve time and effort and are a long shot, so we'll see if anything works. 

It does make me sad that although the reviews have been uniformly positive, my book, without any media coverage, is relatively unknown. But not sad enough to make me spend hours a day burbling on social media, which is the job. 

At lunch, during which lively Ron, his interesting poet wife Babs, and I consumed a bottle of Pinot Grigio and delicious lobster ravioli, he told me their Covid ritual; at 5 every day for an hour they both have a glass of single malt Scotch and listen to jazz. He curates his favourites for her with the help of Spotify. She has learned to love jazz too though she grew up in Liverpool and is a huge Beatles fan and invited me over to their house to dance. 

Also heard a fascinating CBC interview with James Nestor, author of a book called "Breath," about the importance of breathing through your nose and other facts about breathing which should be self-evident but aren't. 

Today, I've another podcast interview on Zoom. I will be breathing through my nose.

Yesterday evening a walk in the 'hood with my neighbour Gretchen, our first face to face encounter in many months. I spotted something in the grass: an angel mushroom. Not sure if it grew this way or is a regular mushroom damaged, but it's a magical thing, don't you think?

Sunday, July 25, 2021

definitely not my Salinger year

Had a disturbing email yesterday from the director of the Whistler prize: she'd heard from the other finalists but not from me so was trying from a different address. It turned out that 2 weeks ago, her first email had for some unknown reason gone to my Yahoo spam file. She'd asked if I'd send 3 books immediately to B.C., plus a bio, a picture, the book cover etc. It was all supposed to have been done by last week.

Panic. In my haste I addressed the heavy parcel of books with the wrong address - the Whistler Writers' Festival not the Whistler Book Awards, they're different, who knew? When I got home and found out my mistake I rushed back to the post office to rewrite the address, to be told that because I'd sent the parcel Express - at a cost of $50 - I could neither take it back nor change it. 

Panic. However, luckily, once the books arrive at the wrong address, the director will get them forwarded in time for the judges to read. And judge. 

Do we need a little more stress in our lives? Emphatically no, and yet, there it is. A few months ago, I sent an essay to a friend who's an editor at a literary magazine. After a few weeks, I wrote, sorry you didn't like it, I'll try again with another. She wrote back, Didn't you get my email? I love it and want to run it!

That email, and the one from the competition, are the only ones that have gone to my Yahoo spam folder; I checked. Weird!

If possible, the awards people would like us to be there in October when the winner is announced. I can get there on points and am considering doing so. Any excuse to visit dear friends, including the mountains and the ocean. 

The other evening I started to watch "My Salinger Year," about a wannabe writer who quits university to work for an eccentric, old-fashioned literary agent who handles J. D. Salinger. Sounded great. However, within 15 minutes, I'd given up; the heroine, a dewy 20-year old without a single interesting feature, tells the agent that her poems have won a literary prize and been printed in "The Paris Review." Oh sure. And I'm Imelda Marcos. 

I went through an obsessive Salinger period in Grade 13, read everything, wanted to sound like Holden - finished every sentence with "and all" - revered the Glass family. Don't do it, Seymour! But nowadays, Jerry has been tarred with the #MeToo brush. 

Saturday was shopping day - at the market, corn and peaches are in, hooray! And then to Doubletake, a shadow of its former self. However, I saw something in a bin and fished it out: a red leather wallet from Liberty of London, fabric by William Morris, for $1. I'm a simple woman. It takes so little to make me happy.

Friday, July 23, 2021

celebrating a good book, a good writer

This is as close to perfection as any experience can be: on the deck on a perfect summer afternoon - a lone cicada, a cabbage butterfly and a bee nuzzling the lavender, a cardinal fledgling alighting briefly in the lilac, and here, a wonderful book that I've just finished. It was a joy from beginning to end. Here are a few bits of Margaret Renkl's writing:

(She's writing about how despite cruelty, human beings are an empathetic species.)

In 1988, during one stop on our honeymoon, my husband and I visited the San Diego Museum of Man. On display at the time was an exhibit of ancient clay figures. The human figures were all visibly different in some way: people with dwarfism, people missing a limb, people with severely curved spines or extra fingers. An informational placard explained that these figures had been fashioned by members of a tribe who revered physical difference. What we call a disability they had considered a blessing: God had entrusted to the care of their community a rare treasure, and even in their art they strove to be worthy of that trust.

That is at least partially what Loose Woman is about. 

Another, from a chapter called "While I Slept":

I stood at the window in the dim kitchen and watched the snow pour from the sky. I don't know how long I stood there before something just outside the window began to take shape in the dawn light, something alive with movement and still somehow immobile. Finally a bird feeder untangled itself from the limb of a hackaberry tree, and all around it cardinals were jostling for space. The snow was falling, and they were falling too, and rising again — a blur of movement within movement against the still backdrop of fallen snow and black branches, a scarlet tumult reeling from feeder to spilled seeds and back, again and again and again. I stood in the window and watched. I watched until I knew I could keep them with me, until I believed I would dream that night of wings.

And one more, writing about her sorrow as her sons grow up and leave home:

And yet I sometimes let myself imagine what a gift it would be to start all over again with this man, with these children, to go back to the beginning and feel less restless this time, less eager to hurry my babies along. Why did I spend so much time watching for the next milestone when the next milestone never meant the freedom I expected? There will be years and years to sleep, I now know, but only the briefest weeks to smell a baby's neck as he nestles against my shoulder in the deepest night. 

That one brought tears to my eyes. I have one word for her: grandbabies. 

I feel newly inspired. Her writing is, as one editor said dismissively about Loose Woman, "beautiful but tender." Very beautiful, very tender, in the simplest prose, clear, vivid, haunting. Something to aim for.

More treats: yesterday, a day in the Beach with Annie. We rode our bikes to her secret place in Ashbridge's Bay for a swim but it was too cold. And then we did something I haven't done since last March - we went out for lunch! We sat on a patio on Queen St. East and someone brought us food and beer! It was miraculous. And then I rode my bike home. Was ready for a swim by the time I got there. 

Today, for those of you following my travails, I saw the doctor at St. Mike's and am not much further ahead. He is ordering another CT scan and then we'll discuss. This may take up to 6 weeks. 

Yesterday my friend Jannette who helps in the garden said, "I hope when you sell this place, you find someone who's also a gardener." It jolted me. Someone else? Really? Yes, perhaps, one day. But not yet. Not now. Not today.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

In love with Margaret Renkl

A quick note because I share everything with you, almost, to say that I am partway through the most exquisite book. I discovered Margaret Renkl through her op-ed columns in the NYT, so ordered her memoir, "Late Migrations: a natural history of love and loss," from the library. I've read 100 pages and find myself making a noise as I finish another short, gripping chapter, a sigh of wonder at yet another gorgeous piece of writing and thought. The chapters are quick snapshots of her childhood, blended with essays about her life now seen with a naturalist's eye, as she writes about the birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and snakes that populate her garden. With beautiful illustrations by her brother Billy.

It's rich and filling - a banquet.    

Yesterday's treat: the book club, six men who all LOVED MY MEMOIR. They wanted to talk about paths to publication, about what it was really like at L'Arche, about why I reveal so much of myself so bravely in the book. "Because that's the job of a memoirist," is always my answer, but we also discussed how doing such a thing is easier for women than for men, generally. We laughed and talked for an hour and a half. It was grand. And they say their wives also loved the book and want it for their book clubs. Wouldn't that be amazing? We'll see. Let us hope. 

Today's treat: on a perfect day, sunny but not too hot, I went swimming in my friend Toronto Lynn's pool, which is like a grotto. She has created a lovely garden which also has a small pond which, while we were eating on the deck, a young raccoon came to visit. We watched a father cardinal feed his youngster on one of her trees. And then we plunged into the cool water - my first swim of the year. She has been going through radiation treatment for breast cancer, but you wouldn't know it; her energy and cheer are unchanged. 

Blessings, all round, today. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

celebrating human creativity - Macca and my friend John

Bliss is ... hours of programming about Paul McCartney. Can you imagine, for an über-fan like moi? Six half-hour episodes of Macca being interviewed by producer Rick Rubin about his composing methods, how they with George Martin put together the tracks in the studio, and of course his band mates. I watched 3 last night, will watch the rest tonight. Simply hearing the man's music is heaven enough - Blackbird, And I love her, Back in the USSR, Lady Madonna, Hey Jude, Let It Be - let alone the songs of those genius others - George's While my guitar gently weeps, John's Dear Prudence, et al. 

Sublime. It's too bad the series is shot in murky semi-darkness, sometimes making the speakers hard to see, and Paul, wearing a ragged jean jacket, is chewing gum for much of it. And some of his stories we have heard many times before. But the relaxed nature of the banter and the extensive musical knowledge of Rubin make it a spectacular interview. 

Yesterday I saw the first of two doctors this week, this one at Mt. Sinai. She told me the doctor I'm seeing Friday at St. Mike's was her professor in med school, so that answered the question of which one to go with. She told me I need an appendectomy, and I assume Dr. Lawless will say the same thing. It was not fun being inside a hospital again.  Get me out of here, I thought. Keep me out of here. Please.

A quick book report: JoAnn Beard's new collection "Festival Days." Her essay "The Fourth State of Matter" is a brilliant classic, as is the whole book it comes from, "Boys of my Youth." But this one is problematic. There's no question she's an extraordinarily gifted writer. But her style - the tumble of words and ideas, seeming to go in all directions before she pulls them together, sort of - plus a really weird horror-type story in imitation of George Saunders - put me off. There's a sameness to the voice that I found got tiresome. Once again, I longed for a good editor to curb the excesses of this fabulous writer.

Yesterday another thrilling hit of creativity: I told my friend and handyman John about a problem with my bed. Two years ago I found the Ikea frame on the street, put out by some neighbours, and assembled it for myself. It's a platform bed, no box spring, just a mattress, which means it's low - not only for a body heaving herself up and out in the morning, but also no room underneath for storage. I've been looking at new bed frames, expensive and ugly. John took measurements and appeared the next day with four wooden risers. We slid them into place and voila, I'm eight inches higher off the ground and can store suitcases below the bed, solving a storage problem. Human creativity at its finest - as is usual with John. Genius. 

Today I have a Zoom meeting with a book club, all men. I'm delighted to report that men like my book as much as women do, at least according to the ones I've heard from. Max Beck, a book club member who happens to be the husband of Barbara Hall, former mayor of Toronto, emailed, "I loved your book!" 

We'll see what the others say.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

a Zoom memorial for Patsy

An extremely moving event yesterday: a Zoom memorial for Patsy Ludwick, who died with the help of MAID in May. We were almost 50 people from Australia to California - a great many from Nova Scotia, where she spent her early career, and B.C., from her later life. It was wonderful to see her brother and sisters at last - she was the eldest of 7, and many of her sibs were there, people I'd heard about for 50 years. Her sister Julie, a dancer who lives in New York, had put together a slide show of Patsy's life from childhood to the end, reminding us of how spectacularly beautiful she was - sharp cheekbones, flashing eyes, regal stance. 

One of her friends said, "She gave us a master class in how to live and how to die." 

Julie said, "She never gave up on wonder," and told us that one year, Aunt Patsy gave Julie's 15-year old son a membership in "The Cloud Appreciation Society." "How many people even know there IS a cloud appreciation society, let alone give a membership?" she asked. 

As one of the speakers I read an excerpt of a letter of hers to me, pulled at random from the hundreds I've kept on paper and online - so powerfully written. She was both a magnificent actor and a magnificent writer. And friend too. And aunt. 

She would have been overjoyed to see so many beloved faces, including a friend from when she was two, all the way to her caregiver in her last days on Gabriola. Jane Heyman, who organized and stage managed the event, was with her as Patsy died and was buried the next day. Throughout the green burial, she said, an eagle sat on a nearby tree, watching. It gave a cry at the beginning and at the end of the ceremony, and then flew away. Patsy always made sure things were done correctly. 

Here's another kind of gathering: Ben's birthday. He asked as his special birthday treat for McDonald's, so the usual cavalcade of children enjoyed the treat. And Ben with a small friend.

Friday, July 16, 2021

controversially in praise of Facebook

Sometimes Facebook is a wonderful place. I know Zuck's creation is reprehensible in many ways. But yesterday I posted about my finalist status, and before day's end there were over 50 messages of support. Such a diversity of people, from high school, the neighbourhood, family, people I've never met, former colleagues, fellow writers - friends from all phases of my life, saying Congrats! Used that way, FB does what it's intended to do: create a warm community in the ether of the internet. Let's not, for now, think about all the other horrible things it does.

Chris is having a pacemaker installed today and will be going home tonight. He's got the fantastic Gabriola community supporting him; apparently, people have cleaned his house - the door was not locked - cleaned the old stuff out of his fridge and put in a lasagna and salad for his homecoming. He will weep, I'm sure, especially when he holds Sheba in his arms once more.  

I'm always alert for absurdities of language. Was reading about a new kind of vibrator today; the company CEO said, We always seek to provide pleasure for vulva-havers, and for people of all sexualities and those with varied familiarity with sex toys.”

Vulva havers. That's us, girls. Like "menstruating persons." I do understand there are trans men with uteruses who give birth or menstruate. But I wonder if it's worth twisting our language into such preposterous knots to avoid acknowledging billions of women, in order to accommodate that incredibly small population. If I wrote this on Twitter, I would be besieged with hate mail as a TERF. My daughter would say, Who is hurt by being more inclusive with language? I'm excluding or hurting no one, I just wonder about excluding the word 'women.' It's a fine old word, better I think than 'vulva havers.' How do we solve these dilemmas - inclusive versus ridiculous? 

My good news: John drove me to Home Depot today. Haven't been there for 18 months or so. Thrilling. Barbecue briquets! Sheep manure! Dustpan! I went nuts. Later today - Ben's sixth birthday party; Glamma will be bringing Hot Wheels. And more good news: the rose of Sharon came out last night. Yesterday, just buds; this morning, covered with pinky-mauve blooms. Beauty. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021


The six finalists have just been announced for the Whistler Independent Book Award, three fiction, three nonfiction.

I'm thrilled to say that "Loose Woman" is one of the finalists. Very exciting! It means so much to be seen, to be read, to be recognized. 

The non-fiction finalists are:

Elke Babicki for Identity: From Holocaust to Home
Fran Hurcomb for Breaking Trail: Northern Stories from a Simpler Time
Beth Kaplan for Loose Woman: My odyssey from lost to found

The other two finalists look like fascinating and important books, one a Holocaust journey, the other about living off the grid in the far north. I congratulate both writers. 

To celebrate, I was picking dead leaves from my favourite geranium, an incredible colour I can't find the right word for. Crimson? Ruby? 

No name does its incandescent vividness justice. Anyway, somehow, to my horror, I knocked it off the wide railing where it lived and watched it smash on the basement stairs below. I've repotted as best I can and am praying it survives.

Win some, lose some. Sigh. 

However, happily, I will soon be a millionaire.Yes! This kind stranger is giving me a wonderful gift. 


I'm Charles W. Jackson Jr, the mega winner of $ 344.6 million dollars
Is donating $1,000,000 Dollars to 20 lucky person's
And your email was randomly picked.
For your claim contact: 

Lucky moi! Mr. Jackson Jr. could use a lesson or two in grammar, but am I going to look this generous gift horse in the mouth?

Well, actually, unfortunately, yes. 

Spoke to Chris in hospital yesterday and will call again today. He's just waiting to get home but is in pretty good spirits, his rude, absurd sense of humour intact. We laughed a lot. I told him we miss his blog! 

Here's another possible photograph of Dad and me for The New Quarterly article. My eighteenth birthday, August 1 1968. Oh the unlined skin, the glossy hair, the adorable dachshund! Double sigh. (It looks like I have a chin rash but it's something on the print we can photoshop out.) Love Dad's face. He must be looking at my brother. LOL.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

status update

First, most importantly, I spoke to Chris today, in hospital in Nanaimo. He was not perky, but he was okay. They checked his heart; his arteries, he says, are beautifully clear, so no stent. It's the electric impulses that make his heart beat that are wonky. On Friday he goes to Victoria by ambulance to have a pacemaker put in and then he goes home. In the meantime, a neighbour couple have been taking it in turns to sleep at his house and care for his pets. What good friends!

I conveyed to him the best wishes of the many fans he has made through my blog, from England, Sechelt, Paris, Nova Scotia, and more. What a year so far - Patsy, me, Toronto Lynn, Chris, all of us stricken, not one of us with Covid.

Spent most of today right here in this chair, which eventually will grow around and envelop me so I can never leave it again. Taught the last class of the U of T term, a wonderfully positive group, a real pleasure. Spent time before and after cutting 175 precious but expendable words from an essay I'm considering for a competition with a 3000 word maximum. Yesterday, after a mammogram that took all of ten minutes and then teaching the seniors group, I spent the rest of the day dealing with an edit of the piece that'll go in The New Quarterly in the fall. How I love the work of fiddling with each word, with rhythm and spacing and pace, colons and semi-colons and commas. Much more fun than the actual writing, for sure. My last pass at it involved inspecting the sentence "She had just said the same things" and cutting the 's' from 'things.' And then it was done. 

Today the estate of Alice Neel in NYC gave me permission to use Alice's portrait of my father in the essay. That will make a huge difference. The magazine has asked for photos of Dad at that time and a pic of me and him, so now I have to go through the mountain of family shots. More fun. 

One possibility:

My most urgent task, though, is to find a present for Ben's sixth birthday on Friday. The stores are open. I can go shopping! The most fun!

Monday, July 12, 2021

my essay about Chris

 My essay about Chris appeared in the Globe and Mail, August 15, 1997

Sunday, July 11, 2021

news of Chris of the Chris Walks blog

Oh the miracle of our wired world: I just heard from Carole, one of my blog readers who lives in England. She wrote to ask what has happened to my friend Chris, whose blog appears here to the left. I follow his blog through yours and he hasn’t posted since last week, as he was feeling unwell and he posts every day I am fearing the worst. I’ve never met him or yourself, but I feel I know you both. The connectivity of social media. I do hope Chris is okay.

Isn't this a wonderful thing? A stranger across the ocean feels connected enough to two strangers in Canada to write an anxious note. 

I too was worried about Chris. I called but he didn't answer his phone, so I called our mutual friend Bruce in B.C. and asked him to contact Chris's friends on Gabriola to find out what was up. First, he tried Chris's home number again. It was answered by Shelley, one of Chris's neighbours, who must have been there to see to the pets; she told Bruce that Chris is in hospital in Nanaimo. He went on Thursday to his local doctor, who insisted on getting him into hospital on the mainland immediately. They thought he was having a stroke, but that turned out thankfully not to be the case. He will soon be taken by ambulance to Victoria for more tests and probably to have a pacemaker installed. Bruce talked to him briefly; he doesn't want to talk to anyone but knows we are thinking of him and sending love.

Another advantage of a blog for people who live alone: readers notice if suddenly you're not there burbling about your life, and they care. 

I don't know anyone who has had more disastrous life experiences or health issues than Chris, including three heart attacks, HIV, and a nervous breakdown that led to muteness. A most dramatic man, the most creative person I've ever met, every nerve end quivering without stopping. I just tried to upload an essay I wrote about him in the Globe in 1997, but it won't work; I'll try again later. It's a fascinating, unparalleled story. We are thinking of you, Chris, you amazing man. Get well. Come home. We need to read more about your adventures in island living at Pinecone Park. 

Nothing new here in the metropolis, except the good weather has gone for the week, a cloudy grey day. Anna's cat Naan is here beside me. It's so difficult; she has a tumour or something that causes her to throw up her food regularly or attempt to, with much heaving; sometimes it seems the end is nigh. But her fur is luxurious, her eyes are clear, and she is fierce in her relentless concentration on acquiring more food. According to her purring, she enjoys life a great deal. What to do?

Luckily, for once, it's not my decision.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

confessions of a cheese junkie

A stunningly perfect day after a week of extreme heat and then constant rain, with a week of rain forecast for next week. So everyone was out today. I walked around the 'hood, marvelling as I always do at our diversity; the park by Riverdale Farm was packed with families originally from all the nations of the earth, picnicking under the big trees, couples, old people, children, in one corner a big party of gay men... 

And then I walked in the tranquil Necropolis among the old dead and the recent dead, every gravestone a story. Stopped at the spot where I scattered the ashes of my parents and Uncle Edgar and told them I'm fine for now and glad to be alive. Very glad to be alive, walking in the sun and under the trees.

Had a great talk last night with my friend Stella Walker of the bright red hair, a most interesting woman, comedienne, singer, and artist who speaks Yiddish and Cree and is about to discover if she has Métis status. We've often helped each other with our work, though we rarely get together in person because she lives to the west and north of the city. At one point, I was telling her about my appendix and how vulnerable the hospital stay made me feel, how old I feel sometimes. And she said, "Stop that right now. People start talking about how old they are and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can talk about how old you are when you're 95 and not before!"

How right she is! Thank you, Stella. It's just, as my same-age friend Judy and I were saying today, that 70 sounds so old. It simply does not compute that we are that age. And it's true things have started to go wrong in a way they did not when I was 69. But then, as Stella pointed out, lots of young people have appendix attacks. It's not because I'm old. 

I'm not old. 

On the other hand, I'm not yet my usual energetic self, have lost a lot of muscle, can feel it when I take a simple walk. Important work to be done to regain strength. Have not touched the piano for months, haven't been at my desk for weeks, everything ground to a halt. Time - gradually - to gear up again. 

Brad sent me this, from Twitter, that I read as I nibbled a nice Brie: A 2015 study found that cheese can trigger a response in the same brain receptors activated by heroin. 

I knew it! A cheese junkie, that's me.

Friday, July 9, 2021

The Summer of Soul

Received a note this morning from the Executive Director of my union. "On behalf of the Writers' Union of Canada, I am writing to congratulate you on your nomination for the 2021 Whistler Independent Book Awards for your book Loose Woman: my odyssey from lost to found. It is a great thing in a writer's life to receive such recognition. May it be an unforgettable boost to your spirit. Again, congratulations and best wishes for your future successes." 

Isn't that lovely? How kind. Yes, the nomination is a most definite boost to my spirit, and I hope to be able to boost that spirit right back to my desk soon. 

It's amazing how much better you feel when the shadow of a cancer diagnosis passes you by. Also amazing, just how many people know about that particularly intimate procedure yesterday and have sent congratulatory messages. No secrets here! 

So, feeling almost myself again - not quite, but getting there. This afternoon Anna, Thomas and gang are going to my neighbour Monique's cottage for the weekend, so I went over this morning to help Anna get ready. Which mostly meant keeping Ben out of her hair. Ben has received an informal diagnosis of ADHD from his pediatrician, which will, Anna hopes, get him some extra help when he goes back to school. Today, he wanted to play hockey with me in the laneway. And Glamma did spend some time whapping a tennis ball back and forth with a hockey stick. Ben was San José and I was Montreal, he dictated, and before playing, we had to skate to centre ice to receive applause while our names were called. He is always saying, "Imagine ..." At lunch, he said, "Imagine the floor is covered with bird-eating spiders!" 

Yikes. Where do these things come from?

How happy I was to be able to play with this soon-to-be six-year old. She's coming back to life, folks. For those who are interested: I see two doctors, one on the 19th and another on the 23rd, to get two opinions on the future of my gut and its exploding appendix. Stay tuned.

Last night, still dopey from the sedative, I watched "The Summer of Soul," a documentary about a fabulous music festival put on in a Harlem park in 1969, with footage ignored until now. What a huge treat, this celebration of black music and of black culture generally. When early in the film the Fifth Dimension started to sing "Let the Sunshine In" - one of the anthems of my youth - my tears started and kept going. The showstopper is the magnificent Mahalia Jackson singing gospel with a very young Mavis Staples; if there'd been a roof on the park, they would have blown it right off. The power of those voices is deeply moving. Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, B.B. King, Gladys Knight and the gliding, finger-snapping Pips! And the clothes - so much dripping fringe and psychedelic colours, spectacular. Highly recommended. 

It's gloomy and damp for the third day in a row. I went to the back and lo, for the first time ever, a lot of raspberries. I first planted these raspberry bushes decades ago with a cutting from my mother's bushes in Edmonton. Voila, after at least 25 years: the triumph of Farmer Beth. 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

health report: all good

Dear friends, those of you of a certain age - my age - will remember the TV show Laugh In, which had many clever features, one of which was the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate. It's a concept I've never forgotten. It hovers, ready to point. YOU. 

Today, the FFF of F passed me by.

Colonoscopy done - all clear, no problems at all. Incredible relief. There was concern about something they'd seen on the scans, and in the back of my mind, I thought of my dear Uncle Edgar, diagnosed with colon cancer at my age, 70, and dead two years later after a terrible struggle. 

But no. Not me. Not today. 

It was funny; as I entered the operating room, the nurse said, "Hi Beth, I'm Suzanne, a neighbour, I've met you a few times at Mary and Malcolm's." I recognized her behind the mask and we had a great chat. And then the doctor doing the op came in and said,"Hi Beth, I'm your neighbour, I live three houses down from you. You say hello to my wife all the time." 

Old home week at St. Mike's! 

Sam met me, got me home in the rain, installed me on the sofa and brought me tea and quiche, and I felt human again. Will take it easy today; because of the sedatives, the hospital instructed me not to operate heavy machinery or sign any legal documents. Done. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you, powers that be. This might have been a very different post. But the finger of fate has been busy pointing at my appendix and left the rest alone, for now. 

Yesterday was torture - fasting and glugging vast quantities of that disgusting stuff. Luckily there were some good documentaries to take my mind off it all: one about "The architecture of Fogo Island," the woman who developed the famous hotel and art studios there - how I'd love to visit it. And "Cheese: a love story," in Greece eating mountains of feta as I glugged. I weighed myself this morning, after a day of fasting and clearing myself out: four pounds down! Not a recommended diet, no. 

I also passed the time yesterday reading a long encyclopedia excerpt about my great-grandfather that someone sent me. Here's a page of his writing in Yiddish, an excerpt of a one-act play.

Delicate swirls and slashes, like hieroglyphics.

Here's my handsome son, wearing a rain jacket and hat his dad left here by mistake and now his:

And here is an unfortunately close to the bone exposé of my working method:

Tuesday, July 6, 2021


July 6 is the yahrzeit, the anniversary, of my father's death in 1988, thirty-three years ago. Almost my son's entire lifetime; Anna remembers him but Sam does not. Though I'm in no way a religious person, I love the Jewish tradition of burning a special yahrzeit candle on these days; I think the myth is that while the candle is burning, the person is with you. This one is burning for Dad, and he's here. He's always here.

In fact, I'm trying to place a 2500-word essay about writing to the FBI for his files and them sending me 60 unbelievable pages detailing every time he was followed and reported on through the fifties and early sixties. The Walrus, the ideal spot, said no without even reading it. The weekend editor at the Globe said, "The writing is great, it’s just not a fit." 

Any ideas where I should try next?

I finished Susan Olding's book of essays Big Reader yesterday, a huge pleasure. I now know a great deal about Keats, blood, Tolstoy, and many other things, as Susan's curious mind ranges freely and delves deep. Now another kind of pleasure: someone left John le Carré's A Most Wanted Man in the little free library; I read the first line and was hooked. Lying on the deck with a cold drink and a clever, snappy mystery = heaven. 

All peaceful on the home front. I'm hanging in there but still with roiling belly and not much pep. How much energy it takes just to keep the body alive with food! I have no interest in this particular chore so am surviving on sandwiches or ready-made; just bought a lasagna. Cannot stomach the thought of cooking or interesting fare. Plain and there, that's how I like it.

For tomorrow I fast. Yuck.

My furry companion is never far away from the source of food, aka moi. She thinks the footstool was created for her. 

A blog friend, after reading about our family crises last week, wrote this, and I agree 100%: I subscribe to the Calvin Trillin definition of successful parenting – my children never did jail time.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

roses and thorns

It's not every blogger who divulges an upcoming colonoscopy, I'm sure. But you, faithful bloggees, know how much this one means to me: it's the beginning of a solution to my appendix problem. They can't decide how to fix me before they know what's going on, and in early June, on the scheduled date of a colonoscopy, I'd landed back in hospital. I can feel the infection is still there, am still shaky, just hoping nothing erupts before next Thursday. 

There. Now you know.

Also, I can report with the greatest relief that the family crisis has abated for now. Not crisis, crisES. It's been a hell of a few weeks. All that stress did not help my poor quivering gut. 

How glorious that the city empties on the weekend. I know, it's heaven to have a cottage on a lake, swimming, canoeing, listening to the loons. But you have to get there, packing up and driving for hours in heavy traffic. Whereas I sit here with no lake or loons but blessed miraculous silence and cardinals. Hard to believe, right now, that I'm at the centre of a metropolis. 

Today, perhaps I'll try to get back to my desk for the first time in what feels like months. More reading: two library books, Colum McCann's Apeirogon, and my CNFC colleague Susan Olding's new collection of essays, Big Reader. Enjoying both. 

Ben learned from somewhere to ask people, at the end of the day, "What was your rose and what was your thorn?" The best and the worst. My thorn, when my grandsons were here, was hearing myself saying, NO, not now. Be careful! Not so much noise! Only one cookie! Like an old grump. Which, on occasion — impossible to believe, for sure — I am.

In an animated film we watched, Luca, about sea monsters in Italy - hard to explain but it's a sweet story - they eat pasta with pesto, and both kids wanted to make some. We harvested basil, made pesto, coated some rigatoni. It was GREEN, so I assumed they wouldn't touch it, they don't eat much green. But they devoured it. "I'm eating the heck out of this!" said Ben. 

That was my rose.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

a muted but beautiful Canada Day

It's Canada Day, and how lucky we are, the weather is perfect - breezy and a bit grey. The papers are full of Indigenous stories; we all wore orange today, as did much of the country. Canada, no question, has come to a turning point. 

Anna's boys have gone off with a friend till Saturday; she is at an Indigenous event and will go somewhere else afterwards. Her cat and some things are here for the next while, but after being full to bursting for days, my house is once again silent and nearly empty. Me, two tenants, a cat. Where am I?! 

No longer in the eye of a hurricane.

A friend who has two children about the same age as mine told me, "If I could do it over again, I would not have children." That knocked me speechless. Unimaginable. My adult children are immensely complicated, interesting human beings. I was just chatting with Cabbagetown neighbours, a writer and a painter, who said they don't understand why their children are "so conservative," meaning conventional, quiet, married, with regular jobs. And I don't understand why my children are so utterly complicated and interesting, so radical. But there you go. I think parents never do understand the human beings under their care. 

Raising children is incredibly hard work. But raising two very different yet similarly relentless young boys is another category of difficult altogether. My son was not like them. If I fed him enough spaghetti, he did sit down sometimes. 

Meanwhile he has made a huge and important change and will work out his new life. So will my daughter.

And I am sitting in the relative silence, listening to the swallows twitter, a neighbour a few yards over laughing with friends, the pop bang of distant fireworks, and the breeze in the trees, the wonderful huge Cabbagetown trees. Alive alive o. 

I was a note-writer - always left notes in the kitchen for my parents when they were out at night. Sam is a fervent note writer. Found this on my desk this morning, from Eli. It's genetic. (PS: cursive! Joy!)