Tuesday, August 31, 2021

sparking joy, spreading gloom

I'm reading a New Yorker article by the brilliant, incisive Jane Mayer, about the countless millions in dark money funding Republicans these days, especially their anti-voting initiatives. She points out that in fact, the Trumpers are right; Donald Trump WAS elected president - of white America. The Repubs are determined to suppress voting by minorities, especially black voters, by any means, and they've so far been extremely successful. It's the death of democracy.

And here we have anti-vax lunatics screaming at Trudeau, following him around. Who are these people? What has happened to the human brain, that people violently reject drugs that will save their lives? It's Fox News, other right wing media, and the internet to blame, surely, for the flood of anti-science stupidity, paranoia, and misinformation that's killing informed analysis and has encouraged the viciousness of discourse. 

I'm wondering what world we are living in now, what world our grandchildren will inherit. It's profoundly frightening. Let's not even think, for now, about fires and floods and what they mean.

There was a family crisis late last night, just to let you know that this woman's sunny ways are sometimes tested. But we got through. 

On a brighter note, I spent two solid days moving files around, creating new folders, renaming files to drag into the new folders, opening old stuff to see if it should be stored or transferred to the trash, which makes such a satisfying sound as it sucks in detritus. I feel SO ORGANIZED! However, the work also depressed me, since it showed, again, just how much writing I did for years and years without sending any of it out. In the nineties, I had lots of essays published, and then I stopped, thought if I was working on books, I didn't have time for essays. I started them anyway and left them littered about in bits and pieces in Documents. Now they're in a folder, and the challenge is to do something with them. 

This should take me till the end of my days. 

Loved this cartoon drawn by a Finnish woman, Anna Harmala, a single mother who drew about her experience. (Click to enlarge.)

What she draws here happened to me; the instant my husband and I separated, I was no longer invited to dinner parties. Ever. Not once. I guess I made wives uncomfortable, or just the table arrangement awkward and unbalanced. So I started to invite people often for dinner here, so I'd have an adult to talk to, and my children could hear grownups conversing. Now they're both in the world of hospitality and food, and neither is a vaccine sceptic or a rightwing blowhard. Because they learned to argue and listen and think. 

There's a story there. But I won't write it, at least not yet. I'm too busy excavating files. 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

hooray, Queen's Quarterly, and let's dance!

You know I'm generally a cheerful person, in part because I've been lucky in life, so far, and I take nothing for granted. This morning, I was exceptionally, nauseatingly cheerful. (Many sparrows crowded in the public bath on my deck. I should charge.)

Today's email brought me a welcome surprise: another essay has been accepted, barely a week after I submitted it, a miracle - in August! This essay, about my childhood pen pal who died in 1966 and what her death has meant to me ever since, matters more to me than almost anything I've ever written. I was devastated a few years ago when I submitted it to the CNFC nonfiction competition, and it didn't even make the long list. I know, some competitions are a non-objective question of taste, but still, it hit hard. I hung onto the piece until finally, encouraged by the wonderful Susan Scott who's the editor of my forthcoming piece in TNQ, I submitted it to Queen's Quarterly. The editor James Carson wrote today:

I’m writing to say that we would be happy to accept “Correspondence” for publication in the Queen's Quarterly. It is an engaging and professional work of memoir that hits just the right wavelength for what we look to publish. It also prompted our associate editor to recall the time she met Paul McCartney at a party in London.

It's like someone saying, I see you. I hear you. You exist. 

I wrote back to say, wonderful, and please let your associate editor know I want to hear ALL ABOUT IT, and that I have a memoir she might enjoy. 

Then I Zoomed into the dance party Nicky Guadagni runs every day. I'd sent her a playlist of dance songs, and today she used nearly all of them. So I not only danced on Zoom with her group of friends but to some of my own favourites, while looking out at the garden, which has recovered from the recent drought and looks newly fresh and green because - of course, because I watered like crazy yesterday - it poured overnight. 

So, bliss. Here's the playlist from today if you want to create your own dance party, but I warn you - you'll be winded.

Now, I'm going to cook while listening to Eleanor, and then I'll go back to work. It's thrilling: I've at last discovered how to create folders for Documents on my Mac, and the chaos of my Documents file, thousands of snippets, essay starts, inspiring quotes, and a ton of other things from decades of scribbling online, are starting to be renamed and PUT INTO THE RIGHT FILE. Oh God, it feels good. 

Much to be grateful for today. I hope you have a list too. Let's dance. 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

finding a champion

An image to keep you cool - a friend sent this from the Alaska highway. It's chilly here, she said. 

Hours of gardening today - everything is overgrown or falling over or invading something else. It's so dry, I had to drag my filthy garden hose through the house to water the parched plants at the front. The water line at the front exploded one winter years ago and I've not replaced it, not had to, until now. No rain for ages! And yet it poured across town the other day - here a five-minute sprinkle.

Watching six sparrows bathe and drink in the big saucer on the deck rail, such fluttering, splashing, and squawking. They don't mind bathing and then sipping the same water. I am about to join them, take my grubby self up to the shower. But then I will drink rosé.

On Thursday, to my new friend Ron, who's a vigorous 88, and his partner Babs. Ron has kind of adopted me; he believes I'm as good a writer as Alice Munro and M. Atwood, and though I beg, vehemently, to differ, I cannot shake his faith in me. He told me, "You need a champion as a writer." And for a writer as self-deprecating as I, he's right. It is a very good thing to have a champion. Babs is a fellow Beatlemaniac, so after a glass of wine, we put on Sgt. Pepper's and danced. 

Yesterday's pleasure - on the way to a swim and dinner at Lynn's, I took the TTC to Rosedale subway, then walked up Yonge St. to St. Clair, stopping at the Paperie, full of lovely things, and Book City where I bought Lauren Hough's memoir in essays Leaving isn't the hardest thing; trying to keep up with what's current is one of the hardest things. I'm interested in essay collections, since that's what I may aim for - a guaranteed bestseller, as are of course all my books. 


In bookstores I always look longingly at the Ks in the nonfiction section, where this writer as good as Alice and Peggy is not. I once found Finding The Jewish Shakespeare in a Barnes and Noble at Times Square, and several copies of All My Loving in a Book City here. But not recently. 

But what joy to go into shops and shop! And then to float up and down Lynn's grotto-like pool and have dinner on the deck with her partner Nick. I'd brought a fine bottle someone gave me years ago that I'd forgotten about and was sure had gone bad - a 2003 chardonnay, to be drunk by 2008. Lynn and Nick were game to give it a try, and amazingly, it was wonderfully rich and complex! Only 13 years after its best before date. 

Lynn and I looking at the little red squirrel on the telephone wires.
May we all be so lucky and last long after OUR best before date.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

a lesson in Instagram

Received a nice rejection this morning from a magazine I'd sent an essay to: Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, we don’t see a place for it at this time. We did, however, enjoy reading your pitch, and we would welcome submissions from you again. 

It's still a no, but the door is open a crack. Believe me, in this business, that's a win. 

Another win: according to the eye doctor yesterday, I do not have glaucoma. My dad and others in the family had it, but so far the eyes are good, for me — a huge relief because reading is my life. Still waiting for CT scan results. Still alive to tell the tale.

My son came to visit yesterday and gave me a lesson in posting on social media, specifically Instagram. I've taken workshops and webinars and read many articles on marketing, struggling to make sense of it, and I learned more in ten minutes from Sam than from all of it. I need to post regularly on IG, and it's not vain and self-serving to do so. Well, no, it IS, but it's what's necessary to get yourself and your work out into the world. So I will try to overcome my reluctance. It feels like boasting. It is boasting. But he gave me ideas on how to make it fun for readers. I've been looking for years for a social media assistant, and there he was, eating, as usual. "Just buy me a steak," he said, "and I'm happy to help." 

This is the pic I posted today: Lennon and McCartney arm-wrestling, with a note about my sixties memoir All My Loving. 

There's something primal here. The intense, mostly friendly competition between these two geniuses is what made their music so brilliant. Luckily George, with his own quiet genius, was content to remain in the background for the first years, and easy-going Ringo was the steady backbeat for them all. 

As was the great Charlie Watts for the Stones, RIP. 

Watched a doc yesterday on the history of elephants: the first, according to fossils thousands of years old, was as big as a rabbit. They posit the trunk grew because the tusks appeared first, and the beast needed a way to get past them to put food to its mouth. Talk about brilliant! Also, that elephants as they ate brush cleared land in Africa, allowing the first primates to move about freely and flourish. So we owe it all to the elephants. I signed a petition against the importation of ivory this morning - does that even still need to be an issue? We are such barbarians. 


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Chair

This country is going through an election, and I'll have to stop listening to the news. The sniping and insulting and boasting and absurd promises that can never be kept - they make me sick. I fear calling the election early, with the 4th wave crashing in and the Afghan rescue mission in chaos, is a mistake Trudeau will regret. And if we end up with a Conservative government, that this country will regret.

Okay, let's move on. I just watched The Chair, an excellent six-part Netflix series. Sandra Oh stars as a professor who has made history by becoming the first female and Asian Chair of the English department of a small American university. My father was Chair of Biology at the University of Ottawa, and this, from a Washington Post review of the show, resonated: 

That's what I think Dad found, too. I thought the show was scattered in focus and tone, with slapstick humour, a critique of the naive and destructive excesses of student political correctness and yet also of the sexist, racist hierarchy of the university, and more. But it's also about the good that good teachers do, the actors are terrific, and it's fun. I enjoyed it. 

What was not so much fun was my CT scan yesterday; you have to drink a lot of liquid and wait. When my time came, the doctor said I was getting "the Cadillac machine," as he slid me into a huge round white maw. Results as yet unknown. Tomorrow morning, another eye exam. I do know that as I age, doctor's appointments are going to take more time. The alternative, however, is not so good. 

When my brother was here, his son pointed out that he and I have the same condition, trigger finger, in which one finger remains stuck in a bent position, in exactly the same finger, the ring finger of the right hand. Genetic trigger finger, who knew? Apparently I can get a cortisone shot to alleviate it. Add another doctor's appointment. There's another little lump on my head; they keep appearing, not to mention the brown spots. One day I'm going to write an ode to my tweezers, my most important beauty aide. I spend time each day depilating my poor bristly chin and upper lip and eyebrows. Oh, it's not pretty, this stuff. 

But the alternative is not so good.

What I think of as one of my best essays has never found a home, so I sent it to an editor I know for feedback. She replied, I adore the essay and have read it over and over, trying to decode the hesitation on the receiving end when you've sent it out. The vitality is what I love about your writing.

So, grateful for the support, I just sent it out again. A woman who has registered for the U of T class in October just wrote: True to Life is on its way, as is All My Loving. Loose Woman I've finished a few moments ago with tears of love for the exuberant woman that you are.

So nice! I guess this exuberant, hairy old bag will just keep going.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

"a gentle joy"

I think the word for the air is 'soupy'. I have been running the AC for the first time this summer, for survival. Time to go out to water and pick some chard for dinner. But first, listening to Macca on Spotify and checking in with you. 

Some lovely things happening. My brother came to visit with his 14-year-old son Jake. The last time he was here two years ago, he'd just returned from Israel, of which he is an ardent supporter; in his view Israel, like my parents, can do no wrong. As you can imagine, one person in particular at the table objected vehemently to this view; there was a violent argument, and we have not seen him, or spoken much, since. There's a long history of us not getting along, so I just let it be. 

But he came and we all had dinner and a really great visit. Apparently he apologized to Anna for provoking the argument. He took her boys swimming in the pool at his hotel and they adored Jake, who's a sweetheart. I have very few relatives left in the world, only one sibling and one nephew. It's a source of great pleasure that peace was made. 

He expressed interest so I send him a few excerpts of the letters I've been transcribing between our parents after their separation in the mid-fifties, which to my mind explain why he and I have never been able to be friends. What I found in the letters made me weep. They both adored my chubby blonde brother, who was, indeed, adorable, but for some reason they both denigrated me. It's there in the letters, including, as I quoted a few months ago, my dad writing to Mum, "I'd almost forgotten what a bitch Beth can be, but your letter reminded me." I was seven. I hope my brother sees why I hated him, that we really didn't have a chance. We have not been able to fix it in all these years. But maybe we can now. 

Last night, the Word Sisters, an impressive group of women in publishing, came for a potluck dinner on the deck. One is a writers' agent with one of the best agencies in the country, another is a publicist with one of the best publishing houses. I want to shout, "LET ME IN!" We disagreed about the term "vanity publishing" which they still use and which I say is dead as a term; now we say "indie publishing." There's no vanity in our struggle to get our words out into the world.

Occasionally I wonder if this blog is worth the time and focus it takes to keep it going, and then, out of the blue, comes a boost, a gift. Someone wrote this on the blog. Thank you, Ellen! I needed that.

Less than a week ago a few of your blog readers (fans) and I were discussing how much we enjoy your blog for the beauty of the words and thoughts, the spirit of kindness that always radiates, the optimism and the gentle, reasonable, and positive approach to life. Even when you discuss more serious personal matters (e.g., your recent health challenges, your friend Patsy, your worries for the well-being of those you love), you do so with warmth, honesty and courage, and from that we all learn and grow. I follow, and am grateful for, your suggestions on books that you recommend, for the music you discuss, and for the films/documentaries/tv shows that you discuss. For all world issues I rely on mainstream news, but am interested in other's opinions when discussed. Your blog is a gentle joy and I thank you for that.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Cabbagetown apartment to rent

Friends, my basement flat will soon be available again. A friend moving from Vancouver has taken it for a month, but it's empty as of Nov. 1 or even possibly mid-October. Please forward to anyone you think might be interested. Many thanks.


Spacious one-bedroom basement apartment in Cabbagetown, steps from streetcar and Parliament St. yet startlingly tranquil. Private entrance through a beautiful garden, high-ceilinged living-room with dining space and kitchen, dressing-room, bathroom with huge shower, washer/dryer, bedroom. Fully furnished. 

$1700 a month, including utilities and high-speed wifi. Someone quiet and reliable with references, please; prefer longterm but short-term also possible, two month minimum. 


Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Ingersoll visit, book club heaven

It's summer and busy — visiting time. On Monday we rented a car and drove with the boys to Ingersoll, Ontario, the small town where my old friend Lani (featured several times in Loose Woman) and her partner Maurice live. Both have had significant health crises but are doing fine now, thank you very much. In the course of the day, the boys nearly wore them out, especially Mau who gave a vigorous frisbee lesson and nearly killed himself in the process. Lani wrote, Mau just came upstairs and said, and I quote, "Oh god I can't tell you how happy I am from today!"

And next day, "Mau says even his face is sore from having so much fun yesterday." I know how he feels.

Love the Paris motif in Mau's crowded and fascinating garage workshop.

Later we drove to Woodstock to stay at a Holiday Inn with a pool; after a full day of activity, the boys spent another hour diving and splashing, and then, the best game of all, trampolining on the two queen beds, flinging themselves from one to the other, and piling all the pillows on the floor and jumping onto them. They did eventually sleep, I think.

Today my brother Mike and his son Jake are in town from Ottawa and coming for dinner with Anna and the boys. Though he's double vaxxed, Sam isn't well with symptoms that sound suspiciously Covid-like. Let's pray not. 

Yesterday, a huge treat: I was again invited to a book club that had read Loose Woman. Six great readers with many good questions and thoughts - we talked for hours. What pleasure for a writer, who works in isolation, to make contact with an audience. One said, "This story of a woman's journey - I could relate to all of it." The hostess wrote this morning, Thank-you so much for sharing yourself with us last night - your wisdom, your humour and your humanity overflowed. 

Very kind; many thanks. And they bought a bunch of books! Another reader sent me the review she posted on Amazon: Nostalgic, touching and often humorous memoir of a talented, yet self-doubting, actress finding her way at the height of the woman’s lib era. Great evocation of the 70s ... Made me laugh, cry and want to punch some of her men friends in the face ... Just a great read! 

On another note, I and other bloggers have been scolded by a fellow blog writer for focussing on petty things like gardens and television programs rather than the disaster in Afghanistan and other world issues. 

So yes, all this is totally self-serving as half the world burns, the other half floods, and murderous lunatics take over as Covid variants prowl. Believe me, I'm aware the world is falling apart. I fear in my bones for our planet. But what good does it do to wring my hands here? 

The garden is a symbol of hope and beauty and constantly renewed life. Great TV, films, and books prove that creative people are still doing what they do, despite all. More hope. We need hope right now. I do, at least. 

Here in the peaceable land of the very lucky and grateful, the birds are at the feeder and I'm cooking for company. Onward.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

garden love

Be still my beating heart. What a welcome sight this is!

I was away five days, and since getting back, it's taken two days to wrestle the garden to order - pruning, staking, cutting the grass, filling the bird feeder, watering. I even for the first time used the leaf blower John returned to me. It may be that like a person with a needy pet, I can't leave my garden for long in summer. But it's worth it.

It's hard to believe that with some help, I created that profusion of colour, haven for bugs, bees, butterflies. If only my expert gardener mother and aunt were here to see it, they wouldn't believe it. I had zero interest in gardening and knew nothing about it until about 25 years ago. 

Yesterday to the market - many peaches, blueberries, strawberries. Oh summer, you bless us. Very lucky with the weather - apparently last week it was steamy in the city, but now it's mild and fresh and even cool in the evening, aka perfect. Another excursion tomorrow, just for a day and night — Anna, the boys, and I off to the very small town of Ingersoll to visit Lani and Maurice, one of the boys' favourite grownups. Mau showed Eli how to make a loud whistle with an acorn cap and then brought out his homemade skateboards = friends forever. 

I've watched two good films - finally saw Nomadland, an amazing achievement for the young woman who wrote, directed, and produced it. Frances McDormand is mesmerizing, unique among American actresses in allowing her naked, un-carved up face on the screen, and what a lovely, expressive face it is. Was surprised to enjoy Percy, about the Saskatchewan farmer who was sued by Monsanto for growing seed that had blown onto his land. It's infuriating that all the leads are played by Americans, and Canada is barely mentioned, but it's a good David and Goliath film.

Have not been once into my office with its long clean desk. But my fingers are itching. It will soon be time.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Sky Ladder and goodbye

After a gloomy morning, yesterday turned into the most beautiful day of all. I'm hanging onto every moment because I go home soon. What's especially magical here is that we are on an 18-acre island with two cottages, Ruth's and that of a reclusive elderly man on the other side. We do hear the people across the lake with their crowded lakefronts and big modern cottages, and the sound of boats going by, but otherwise, the loud rustling of trees and lapping of water, our own noise, the chittering of birds and chipmunks, the whir of hummingbird wings as they sip at the feeder hanging near the window. 

This cottage is nearly invisible from the water, hidden in the trees. Because it's on a point of land, we can sit in chairs positioned to see the sun rise to the east and set to the west, with the swimming place facing south. Last night we went down to the dock to try to see the Perseid meteor shower. We missed it, but I lay on the dock and Ruth leaned back in a chair to take in the Milky Way and the stars. How much we need to see the stars, to remind us what minuscule specks we are. I see the night sky once or twice a year, when I get out of town.

Yesterday, a flock of small birds that Ruth identified as red-breasted nuthatches swarmed the oak and pine trees near the deck, gossiping to each other. The chipmunk by the lake is always busy. The heron lands and stalks gracefully, and the loons give out their quavering cry. Beavers have done a lot of damage to the trees here but are otherwise invisible. No raccoons this year, Ruth says, but apparently otters, sometimes. Inside, she's battling mice and ants. "We don't belong here," said her son once, as he set a mouse trap. This is their home. But luckily for me, it's Ruth's too.

Last night we watched another amazing doc, Sky Ladder, about brilliant, crazy Chinese artist Cai Gui-qiang who makes spectacular art with fireworks. It's about the obsessive nature of art making, and what happens when an idealistic artist achieves fame and financial success - how to hang onto the spirit that made his career. And it deals with Cai's compromises in working for the Chinese government, creating the fireworks display for the Beijing Olympics and other events. Brilliant but crazy and compromised.

I finished Other People's Letters, a fascinating read. "Had lunch with Balanchine," she writes, and later, she visits Vita and Harold at Sissinghurst and many other famous people, many princes and counts. Now I'm reading a book I picked from Ruth's shelves, Best Canadian Essays 2019. Yum. 

For our last night's dessert, Ruth made blueberry peach pie.

And at dusk we watched the sun go down.

Thank you, universe. Thank you, Ruth.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

My Happy Family - highly recommended

Last day in paradise. After two days of threatening warnings of thunderstorms that never came, leaving us with perfect sunny weather, today is grey and drizzly. We may not be tromping through the forest or diving into the lake with such alacrity. But then again, the weather may turn in an instant. And a day inside with books and music and a full fridge is not a hardship. 

I've never been a swimmer. I blame the Waeg, the club in Halifax that wouldn't let us join because my father's Jewish; all my non-Jewish friends learned to swim there. I taught myself the crawl in my twenties. But in any case, I'm not fond of being cold and wet. So even on the hottest days, I usually just get in, flail around, get out.

Here, I've done some actual swimming, staying in for an actual ten minutes. A new experience. And a special treat - Ruth gave me permission to go in without a suit. I wait until no boats are passing and get in and out quickly. Even more delicious.

So four days have passed reading, tapping on the computer, cooking, eating, drinking, forest bathing, dancing or line dancing online, doing a bit of work, and much jabbering. Our politics align, our taste in films and many other things, and despite two strong, opinionated, independent women navigating the kitchen, and the fact that Ruth has been running this place for over 50 years and here comes Betty Bossyboots, we've not had one disagreement. Well, yes - over which direction to put the knives in the dish drainer - blades up or down - and how much water to use to soak pots in the sink. Otherwise, nyet.

In the evening, terrific movies on Netflix. Tuesday night, a stunning film from Georgia, "My Happy Family," highly recommended if a tich long. In Georgia, many generations live together. A long-suffering woman who lives with her husband and two grown children, her nagging mother and very old father and the various partners of her kids, decides to rent an apartment and live alone. We cheer for her as she struggles to find herself in the chaos. An amazing film, very well acted, written, directed, with the added treat that every so often, a group of men break into song with gorgeous Georgian polyphonic harmonies, and our heroine sings as well.

Last night, an extraordinary, very quirky documentary, "Dick Johnson is dead," about facing the death of a loved one head on. The filmmaker celebrates her kind, gentle father, whom we all fall in love with through the film, as his daughter stages various silly ways he might die, and his memory fades. The ending is tremendously moving. Ruth and I wept, the best kind of empathetic tears.

Tomorrow, we take the boat across the lake, possibly in the rain, and I will wait for the bus home - a long bus ride back to the steamy city, where Robin has been keeping the plant running. I will miss this, and my friend, very much. But - onward.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

making friends with white pine

Ruth and I have founded the Kahshe Lake Amateur Naturalists Society; she is president and I am secretary of KLANS. (Ignore please the negative connotation of that word. We are benign.) Yesterday I said, I don't know what all these trees are - which are pines, which firs, which hemlocks? She got out her books, and we did some research; today on our walk, we gathered specimens of needles and took photographs of trunks. 

Our conclusions: lots of gorgeous white pine with their long soft needles, with some red pine, red oak, Eastern cedar, Eastern hemlock, and balsam fir. And one we can't figure out. Many kinds of mushrooms - another day's research. And some beautiful lacy fungus. On the walk, it felt like we were saying hello to friends, now we know their names. Most of them are enormous, growing out of sheer granite. How do they anchor themselves and begin to grow? What do their roots attach to? 

My trusty leader and president:

We've had a gift today; severe thunderstorms were predicted from morning till night. It's now nearly 4 of a lovely day, periodically clouding over but not a spot of rain. We've been outside nearly all day; I've swum twice, we've done our naturalists' walk and sat at our office table. I did some work, she's nearly at page 100 of Tom Stoppard. Tonight's dinner: trout with local green beans and corn. 

Last night we watched Rachel Maddow for a dose of hideous reality - the Americans deliberately, willingly slaughtering themselves with Covid. The family of a dear friend in Europe has Covid - her husband, who's fully vaccinated, and two grandsons are ill with fevers and coughs and will have to socially isolate for weeks. Yet Americans are willing to die for the freedom to ignore what the government and scientists recommend. Beyond comprehension. 

At noon, while Ruth was attending her Pandemic University course, I sat outside with my earbuds looking at the trees whose names I now know, the lake, the rock, sky, bluejays and hummingbirds, waterlilies, loons, chipmunks, moss, lichen, shrubs, Ruth's herbs and annuals in pots. I listened to Bach's Concerto for Oboe and Violin, so exquisitely beautiful, and - you know what's coming - wept with gratitude, that I am here to listen and see and smell. And relish.

Monday, August 9, 2021

greetings from paradise, Ontario

Just received this lovely thing:

Your faithful correspondent writes to you today from paradise: my friend Ruth's cottage on an island in Muskoka. We drove up yesterday morning, loaded the boat with our many supplies, drove the boat across, unloaded, had lunch, had a nap, walked around the island - "Forest bathing," said  Ruth - read, talked. It was supposed to rain but held off till night. I had a swim. We ate exotic Persian food brought from Cabbagetown for dinner - chicken stew with walnuts and pomegranates on saffron rice - watched the first episode of a Turkish series, Fatma, then the gripping Unforgotten on PBS; after Ruth went to bed I watched Professor T

Paradise! She and her husband bought this cottage more than 50 years ago, with an outhouse and propane heat. Now it has many mod cons including high-speed internet and cable TV. How that's possible on an island in the middle of the Muskoka forests, I don't understand. Nothing nearby, the only noise boats on the lake, birds, the lapping of waves, the wind in hundreds of huge trees. Hummingbirds at the feeder, chipmunks chattering, Ruth and I talking, talking.

It'll be hot and sunny today but thunderstorms are predicted for the rest of the week. She'll take me to the bus home on Thursday. Today she's watching her Pandemic University at midday, while I dance with Nicky online. She's reading a massive biography of Tom Stoppard. I'm reading a magnificent book, Other People's Letters, by Mina Curtiss, a fascinating woman who seventy years ago knew everyone who was anyone. I had to special order the out-of-print book, interested because she's dealing with letters and a diary written years before, as I will do in my next pieces - how does she make it work? She does, she really does.

I was invited here last year, too; the journey to this cottage is the only travelling I've done in a year and a half. Being in this place of such beauty and tranquilly and comfort and friendship is a feast for the soul. 

Here we are sharing an office yesterday:

Friday, August 6, 2021

the terror of the empty desk

Brava to the Canadian women's soccer team and all the others battling Japanese heat!

Summer is whipping by. Time makes no sense any more. It's August?! I never know what day it is. But things are good. I've an appointment in two weeks for a CT scan; then we'll know what needs to be done. 

Second, of vital importance: I at last, laboriously, cleaned off my desk. It was snowed under with papers and files and clippings and magazines - New Yorkers I need to keep for one reason or another. But now - pristine. Now I need to sit here and do something. As in - write something.

Look at that long empty expanse. Terrifying. Quick, some comforting clutter!

In the meantime, I sent another essay to an American online magazine. So now 3 essays are circulating, awaiting the inevitable no. At least, I hope they at least say no, and don't just ignore the work completely the way many places do. This part of being a writer, figuring out where a piece should go and submitting and waiting waiting waiting, then probably sending out again — this is not fun. 

But my desk is clear. That's fun.

Have been watching a doc about Obama. He's like a mirage, an intelligent, gentle, sensitive, thoughtful, highly educated American president. Watching him at the funeral of the pastor murdered by white supremacist Dylann Roof, in a church filled with African-Americans, begin to sing "Amazing Grace" - watching everyone stand up and join in, hands in the air - so deeply right, so wise and brave. As someone said, He represents the best of America.

Followed, incomprehensibly, by the absolute worst. Still out there, in all his greedy, vulgar, racist, vile malevolence. 

City Life: Last night, in the heat, a group of young neighbours returned at 1 a.m. and stood in the street exclaiming happily at top volume to each other. Who does that in the middle of the night? At about 3, I heard what were unmistakably gunshots. At 7, below my bedroom window, my neighbour's daughter was picked up by a very noisy woman chatting at top volume. 

On Sunday, I'm going to Ruth's cottage for a few days. It will be good to get out of summer in the city, even this city that I love. Robin will be here, watering and guarding. 

A message that resonated with me:

And this one too, from the Toronto Star. I don't know who those people are who share my birthday. I know Momoa is a big hairy man, but Tempest Bledsoe?! But otherwise, it's not wrong.

August 1st


With a sharp and studious mind, you make an excellent problem-solver, writer or idea -person. You not only see the vision, but you can also see the steps needed to make that vision come to life. People trust you. They often seek you out for words of advice, as they know that you're going to give them practical wisdom. You're also going to give them the truth. This is not only because you're smart, but because you pride yourself on a strong moral code. Expect your smart decision-making to pay off this year in your career as well as in love.


Jason Momoa, actor/producer; Tempest Bledsoe, actress; Chuck D, rapper/author.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

having her cake and eating it too

Today I worked on Zoom with a fine student writer, who said, "I won't ask you how you are - I read your blog." It's funny to meet people who know far too much about my life. She said, "I couldn't do it." Reveal herself, as I do. I guess it comes easily to me because - I'm not sure why. Having been an actress? Keeping a diary since I was 9? Maybe earning my living convincing writers to reveal themselves?

I don't teach again all month. A welcome break. 

Not much to reveal today, except that I had a wonderful birthday party. My happy, demonstrative personal chef came over to barbecue ... 

Anna came with the boys, my other daughters Holly and Nicole, my dear best friends Ken and Annie. Sam and I had made and cooked all the food in advance, so it was very relaxed, we just had to heat it all up. Even so, I was exhausted by the end. But very happy.  Hope my guests were too. 

Today, a beautiful day, working on an essay, watering, eating leftover chocolate mousse cake, and taking my first piano lesson in months. He made me play the first, easy movement of the Moonlight Sonata twice. I know it by heart but forget passages, my fingers forget, and then it comes back. Somehow, despite my clumsiness, it feels like a piece of my soul, the best of me, flows through those fingers.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Leos roar on their day

71 years ago my mother gave birth alone at the Polyclinic on West 50th in Manhattan. She laboured without anesthetic and then when she was ready to push they put her to sleep, so it was hours before we met. And then, British peasant that she was, she wanted to breastfeed, to the horror of the other women in the ward and the nurses; in 1950's America, breastfeeding was vulgar, for animals. 

We made it through. Thank you, Mum. I'm sure part of my lifelong good health is due to your cooking good healthy foods through my childhood. Your homemade brown bread, devoured warm with melting butter, your apple pie, your mac and cheese - MMM. 

A blessed quiet day with treats already - the usual cavalcade of good wishes on FB from friends near and far, some very far, another reason it's hard to consider giving up this guilty pleasure. John came by to fix things. The cardinals are at the feeder. Someone left a gorgeous book in the Little Free Library; anything by those great souls Alice and Martin Provensen is a glory. 

I danced. Actor Nicky Guadagni almost every day produces an hour of dance music for her friends; we dance with each other on the Zoom screen. August 1st is her birthday too. She played Macca singing that fabulous rocker, "Birthday." A present from him, too. 

Lynn sent a picture from Provence - our mutual friend Isabel with some light reading. It's thanks to Isabel the book exists; working at L'Arche in 1979, she took time off that summer, provoking the need for a new assistant. Moi. 

Lani sent this marvellous card:

LOL. So true. For my daughter. For myself.

Happy birthday, Nicky. Here's to magnificent Leos everywhere!