Sunday, September 19, 2021

one of my favourite writers gets in touch

This is a cup runneth over kind of night. As I've probably bored you by saying, the weather has been sublime, perfect, sunny but not too hot and the evenings brisk. A gift. The garden is shutting down in its gentle way, though there's great beauty and a few cucumbers and much chard still to come. Made pesto yesterday to finish the basil. 

Anna, Tom, and Willow were wonderful guests. Next week Tom will resume teaching at the Toronto School of Art. He takes the train in from Stratford early Thursday mornings, teaches all day, comes over here late, sleeps in my spare room in the sleeping bag that's always parked under the bed, and leaves early next morning for more classes. A visitor I rarely see. 

The other day I posted a query on one of my Binders groups. It was Mitt Romney, I think, who wanted to prove his feminist bona fides by saying he had "binders full of women" as possible candidates. The Binders groups were subsequently formed on FB to provide mutual support for women writers; I belong to the Binders groups for creative nonfiction, memoir, writing teachers, personal essay, and the Canadian binders. 

I wanted advice on placing an article called "The road to a book," originally published in 3 parts on the CNFC blog and since rewritten, which details for newbie writers the long journey to getting Loose Woman into print. Several people replied, including one of my writing heroes, Abigail Thomas, a superb memoirist and very funny and honest writer who these days has been writing a lot of short essays for online magazines. I wrote back to thank her for her suggestion, and today she replied that she'd been looking for the essay and could not find it. 

Abigail Thomas was looking for an essay by me.

I wrote back, here's my email address, I can send the piece to you although you have a million things to read and anyway, if anyone knows about the difficult road to a book, it's you.

An hour later, there was Abigail in my email inbox. So I sent her a note and the essay. 

I am such an admirer of her work. To me, it's as if I'd sent a letter to E. B. White and he replied instantly. The miracles of the internet.

Also today, there was a note after my last post: Beth, I discovered you through Theresa's blog and love your writing voice - which I suspect is your own real voice ... Wry humour and teasing were part of my upbringing so I recognize myself in your style. I'm enjoying your blog hugely. Thanks! 

Usually we writers send words out into a silent void. Please, readers, when you enjoy what a writer does, write to them and say so. How much it means! 

OMG! A few minutes later - Abigail and I are corresponding, and she has asked me to send her my book. Truly, my cup is spilling all over the floor. 

Your warm fuzzies of the day: here's Willow. I've offered to keep her for them when they travel, and that's quite the offer, considering that she likes to go outside at 5 a.m. 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

the beauty of the fall

It's a stunning day, has been stunning all week but today is prime - very hot. It's so much more delicious when we know it won't last, impossible to stay inside and work when it's like this. I just went for a long bike ride down the Don Valley Trail - well, long for me, an hour and a bit. I have to carry my bike up and down various steep hills to get there and now have legs of rubber. Worth it, as you can see.



Beautiful downtown Toronto!

On Thursday, took my bike on the streetcar out to the Beach, to go for a ride by the lake with Annie. Also glorious. 

Marilyn rides the streetcar.

Not downtown but still, the Beach is in the metropolis. 

Taught my home class on Thursday by Zoom, but in two weeks we'll do a hybrid class, some here, some on the screen. So good to see them after a few months - they're like family; how well we know each other after all this time. 

My dear friends Anna and Tom and their dog Willow are visiting from Stratford, staying in my basement suite which is empty for a bit. With Sam we had a vegetarian feast last night from the local Indian restaurant Haldi - saag paneer masala, vegetable korma, dal tadka, bhindi aloo sabzi, baingan bharta - even saying the names evokes the smell of those fragrant spices. And of course rice, naan, and mango chutney. We were celebrating their first visit to Toronto in some time, and Sam's new job with which he is pleased. 

I'm on a roll work-wise - finishing essays and sending them out. Was I complaining about something a few days ago? I wonder why.

PS I submitted an essay yesterday and had a No thanks good luck elsewhere today! That's a record. I may be on a roll, but perhaps editors are not as impressed with me as I am.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

the joy of praise, and arguing about letters

What a welcome surprise! I was reading Theresa Kishkan's blog to the left of mine, as I always do with the greatest pleasure - she's an exquisite writer whose evocative language and thoughtful attention to detail are astounding - and found this:

Right now it seems to me that the conversation about nonfiction usually means memoir ... I loved Beth Kaplan’s Loose Woman: My Odyssey From Lost to Found, an account of how an aspiring actress finds herself, literally and metaphorically, living with and caring for a community of damaged men in France. It has a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion, a through-line, and it is both heart-felt and well-crafted. 

What can I say except how kind of you to write this, Theresa. I love your work too. May we meet one day. 

On Tuesday I rode down to Ben McNally's bookstore, which is where I'll buy Theresa's new book Blue Portugal next year. The poor man was renovicted from his stunning cathedral-like shop downtown, which turned out to be a blessing when Covid hit as he didn't have to pay a huge rent on a closed shop. He and his staff continued their mail order business and have moved twice, further east each time to my great pleasure; at the moment, they have a small shop on King St. East, due south of my house. They have such taste and such love of writers and their books, it's a balm to enter the space and meander, breathing in the smell of paper and print.

From there I went to another glorious shop - Staples. I needed post-its and bought a lifetime's supply. I use them every day. Happiness is a multi-coloured stack of post-its. 

Skyped for an hour and a half with Lynn in France. We had an interesting discussion about letters. I'd given her back her letters to me through the years, and she said she was going to burn them; she didn't want her children to see the negative things she'd said about them. I disagreed; her five children know she could be crabby and critical, as can we all — shouldn't they also have a chance to know who she was when young, including that she was a vivid, funny writer? But no. Her husband Denis found letters between his parents after their deaths and destroyed them all; he didn't even consider reading them and thinks I should do the same with the stacks of mail I inherited.

But I'm the opposite, I want to read everything. I'm a detective hunting for clues about the mysteries of the past and finding them in those old sheets of paper. To me, those letters are a banquet. Yes, reading the one where my dad called me a bitch when I was seven made me cry. But that series of letters illuminated a family dynamic I couldn't understand or articulate at the time. I am all for delving into whatever documents you unearth from your past. 

My daughter is like Lynn, utterly unsentimental and uninterested in delving. When I'm dead she'll throw it all away. Except if Sam stops her; he's the one who values stuff from the past. So maybe all that paper will live on. Or maybe it won't. I'm going to try, though, to get some of it published before I vanish. 

Here's the memoir writer, spying on the world, taking it in, checking it out.

Monday, September 13, 2021

autumn anxiety chronicle

I should have been in NYC on the weekend, celebrating Cousin Ted's 80th birthday. Instead, let's admire this photo of his Versailles-like birthday cake, meant to celebrate his country garden:


 It turns out, autumn anxiety is a recurring theme here. Perhaps it's the sense of impending winter— time to gather and bury nuts, quick, like the increasingly frantic squirrels. In September 2017, I see I also had an overwhelming list of things to do, including finishing my memoir, preparing various speeches, selecting and editing eight essays for the So True reading series, travelling to Ottawa to visit my aunt, the CNFC conference meetings, and preparing classes and the Xmas Eve pageant at Riverdale Farm.

Also: food clothing housing exercise health reading friends family and writing this blog.

Otherwise, nothing to do.

Did I mention finish the book? No question, the above list is one reason I've produced so few books. Not just that I was an actress for ten years and a stay at home mother for another ten, but that I get involved in so many things and can't imagine not getting involved. So - the output is slow, but the life is pretty damn interesting. Though it's true, last night I couldn't sleep, thinking of all I have to do. What I did on my summer vacation: worry.

What the hell am I complaining about now? No visits to Ottawa, So True, Babe, CNFC, speeches, and the book is done. Yes, still the worry of getting the book into the world and dealing with tenants, and the last line, the same. But much less. So shut the @#$ up. 

Had a long Skype talk with Lynn in Montpellier today - what a miracle that is, a free transatlantic face to face chat for an hour and a half. My friend was wearing a chic dress and pearl earrings; I'd just come in from gardening and was sweaty in a tank top. But we are soulmates, she and I, and have been since September 1967. We laugh, oh we laugh. One of life's greatest gifts - a friend who not only laughs at the same things you do but has done so for over 50 years.

And another note about the book, from someone I knew a long time ago: Have started Loose Woman. Had no idea of your career trajectory, so interesting to see how you have pursued basic human values despite (or perhaps because of) personal obstacles. Very entertaining, well written and with momentum. If I ever get the chance at the age of 77, with whatever good health and time I have left, to consolidate my thoughts into written form and express them as well as you have yours, it will be a miracle.

Go for it, my friend! And thank you.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

in which Beth feels sorry for herself

It's early morning, I was up at 6.45, and I'm going to complain today, for no reason other than sometimes I need to mewl. Sometimes life feels overwhelming. There's the stuff going on out there - the election, which fills me with fear. I have an NDP sign, but after Singh's performance in the debate, his relentless hounding of Trudeau without presenting viable alternatives, I'm ordering a Liberal one too. Brian Chang is a good candidate, but so is the Liberal Marci Ien, and yet again, I want to make sure the Cons do not get in and destroy the country. 

Okay, so there's that. There's the increasing fear of the 4th wave of the pandemic, the heartrending memorials for 9/11, the disgusting Republican party eviscerating democracy, the climate inferno we have unleashed on our planet.

Okay, that too, and so much more.

And then there's my little life. I'm overwhelmed by all I have to do and do not get done. The list of what I've not read or watched or listened to - or travelled to - is endless. What am I doing wrong? 

Sometimes I think: the garden is nearly a full time job; I could spend the day doing nothing but that. I'm looking out right now and seeing everything that needs to be done. Keeping fit and healthy is nearly a full time job, one I've fallen behind in due to the pandemic, though in fact, gardening does help with that; two birds etc. The house, maintaining an old four-story house, keeping the fridge filled and food on the table, is nearly a full time job. Teaching is my actual job. Reading is my job. Being a landlady is my job. Tending my personal life - family and friends - is another vital job. 

But now, I am also spending time working with my dear champion Ron on a marketing campaign for my memoir, fighting my own instincts all the way. Because I hate all that "Buy this!" stuff. I'm trying to post regularly on Instagram and FB. I write here. 

What is last on this list? My own writing. Sitting at my desk thinking and delving and working. Where to fit that in? And ... really, why bother? So few people have read my books. Why do I keep going? 

Because I have no choice. It's what I do. 

I'm 71. How much time do I have left? How can I do all these jobs and still write? There was an essay by Ann Patchett in the NYT yesterday, in which she mentions that she never wanted to have children; she knew she couldn't have a family and write. Unthinkable to me. Some writers do manage families and great success as writers; Carol Shields did. Time management, that must be the key. Being rigorous about how to apportion the hours. 

Rigour is not, has never been, my strong point.

All right, enough mewling, pull back, girl. You've managed to write a few books and articles and keep the bank account steady and the house running. And yourself too, you're in pretty good shape so far for 71, don't forget that. Your daughter wrote from Nova Scotia; she and her kids are in heaven and she thanked you for helping make their joyful voyage possible. People email about the books; not many, but appreciative readers are out there. Your words matter. And your students too seem to enjoy what you offer. 

So it's time to eat some breakfast and make a list of what to get done today. Celebrate what is rather than what isn't. Do what you can. Get on with it. 

You understand that if I had a spouse, I'd be telling all this to him or her. So today you are my spouse. Thank you for listening. Moving right along. 


Friday, September 10, 2021

Brava Leyla Fernandez!

First, a reader sent nice words about the memoir. I had a chance to read Loose Woman via the Toronto Public on ebook - and would like to buy a copy, please. I really enjoyed the book. I think you captured elements of growing up as a woman that really spoke to me and I will be glad to have the book in my hands as a record of a certain time and place, and people/mindsets ... I am so happy I read it.

Thank you, dear reader! 

Second, the dentist yesterday had nice words about my gums. "You have great oral hygiene," he said, after poking about, "your gums are tender and pink. No blood. Amazing."

Good gums! What a triumph. My secrets are: Soft-Picks, every night in bed while I read. And I keep floss in a nice box near the TV and when something long is on, I floss. Never do just one thing when you can do two. 

Thanks, Beth, I hear you say, for sharing your fascinating oral hygiene secrets with us.

Meanwhile, the gut doctor called; he says the CT scan shows the inflammation/ infection has cleared up and his advice is to leave well enough alone. He says, if I lived or were going somewhere isolated, he'd suggest taking the appendix out pre-emptively, but since I live in a city and usually travel to them, if it recurred, I'd be able to get help fast enough. But he does not think it'll recur.

Famous last words?

I went to Toronto Lynn's again for another glorious swim and dinner and got stung on the arm by a wasp. It has lingered for days, swollen and itchy. Those nasty buggers mean business.

Teaching has started on Zoom, so summer is officially over. I don't know where the hot season has gone, but I'm glad to be back at work.

And last night, as if to counter all the dreadful things going on in the world, like this ill-timed and ill-conceived election that threatens to give us O'Toole, a wolf in sheep's clothing, CANADIANS REMEMBER HARPER AND BEWARE! Plus Afghanistan, wildfires, floods, Americans hurtling into Fascism and the 19th century, and of course a tiny virus that is wreaking havoc everywhere - as if to make us forget all that for a few minutes, there's Leyla Fernandez. 

I used to watch tennis only with my mother and Do, who were avid tennis fans as most Brits are, but last night, I had to watch the US Open. That young woman is phenomenal! A sliver of a girl who looks twelve faced an opponent 5 foot 11 with huge arms - and beat her. It was incredible. It was heart-lifting. And afterwards, immediately after playing for nearly two and a half hours, she was interviewed centre court and spoke with generosity and genuine warmth. 

How I wished Mum and Do were watching. Maybe they were. 

I turned to the leaders' debate for seven seconds. No. Watching those guys piling on to each other with blame and angry recrimination - no. I gather Annamie did well, but hers is a lost cause. It's so depressing and scary. 

Here's a fantasy - this is a theatre set I saw in a magazine. I'd like it to be built at the end of my very long backyard and maybe I'd live there one day. 

Tonight I drank red wine, not rosé, and am wearing a fleece. It's getting colder. The garden is beginning to close down, in its gentle way. But still, the sun shines, and we've got a long way to go before it's cold. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

I heart Nova Scotia

Today is the yahrzeit, the anniversary of the death of my beloved uncle Edgar Kaplan. Always missed.

More old people stuff: just talked to my bank manager Dave, an old friend, about the necessity of turning my RRSP into a RIF. B/c old. Also, put the skin tag stuff on. It's like wart remover. Hope it works.

Oh, the indignities of 71. But, as they say, far, far better than the alternative.

What joy this fine morning, a picture of the 2 boys in their home for this month, setting off to find shells. They came running back, their mother wrote me, because they saw a shark. Lots of sharks in the Northumberland Straight! When I found out exactly where they are, my heart constricted; by chance Anna has rented a cabin very near Toney River, where my parents rented a cabin for us every summer when I was very young. The name is mythic to me. It's as if my daughter has been drawn home. Is love of Nova Scotia genetic? Perhaps. 

Monday, September 6, 2021

Labour Day and Canadian tennis stars

Labour Day - brisk no nonsense weather, warm with an undertone of warning = perfect. Friends and family are on the road. Anna spent Saturday packing while the boys and Holly came here to play. I rode to the Eaton Centre to get 9-year old Eli a warm jacket; he's so tall, I bought size 11-12, which only just fits. Ben is interested in money. "How much money do you have, Glamma?" he asked. "Enough to live on, Ben," I said. "You mean, like, $400?" he gasped. It reminded me of when 4-year old Eli told me he was going to marry a girl in his class and I asked him how old he thought he'd be. He considered. "8," he replied.

If only we could hang onto that sweet vagueness about numbers, the world would be a better place.

Anna left extremely early Sunday morning with the boys loaded up in the back and made it by 4 p.m to New Brunswick, to a motel with a pool. For dinner, she found an Indigenous-owned restaurant that served lobster rolls and poutine, and today she made it to Nova Scotia. So we know Anna is in heaven.

My friends Kevin and Donna arrived from Nova Scotia in the midst of all this to spend the weekend; they'd driven the other way to visit one of their sons and his family in Toronto. Kevin's mother became one of my mother's dearest friends in the fifties, so Kevin and I have known each other for decades, though we lost touch for some time as he lives in rural Nova Scotia. We did a lot of talking all weekend. And eating. And drinking. Last night we watched the US Open tennis, the amazing young Canuck Felix Auger Aliassime in a titanic battle with an American. Our boy won, and so did another even younger Canadian girl. Woo hoo! My mother and her sister Do loved tennis and were glued to the set during Wimbledon and every other series. Federer forever.

K and D left this afternoon, and I went to the drugstore for old people stuff - anti-aging serum and skin tag remover. The L'Oréal serum promises that instantly "skin feels more plump, supple, and looks smoother," and in 1 week, "Youthful, bouncy feel returns, skin is visibly refreshed, looks well-rested and glowing with moisture." Stay tuned, my friends. Soon I'll be as youthful and bouncy as Eli and Ben. 

On another front, this from an American magazine to which I'd sent an essay: Thanks for sending us 'Secret.' We're sorry to say this submission isn't right for us. This isn't a reflection on your writing. The selection process is highly subjective, something of a mystery even to us. There's no telling what we'll fall in love with, what we'll let get away.

Writing is hard work, and writers merit some acknowledgment. This note doesn't speak to that need. Please know, however, that we've read your work and appreciate your interest in the magazine.

We wish you the best in placing your writing elsewhere.

Isn't that sweet - "let get away"? Where shall I send it next? 

Here, two iterations of a photo taken on Friday, Beth with one of her great loves - which do you prefer?


Friday, September 3, 2021

Picture a Scientist

I keep saying things like, "He'll back back in September," and people reply, "It IS September." How did it get to be September? I have no idea. But it certainly feels like fall already - the minute the month changed, the weather cooled. It's going to be 8 degrees tonight!

Busy. Today, hours with Rose Napoli, my new social media assistant, taking photographs of yours truly, trying to get a good shot, and then a little film of me talking about the book. Not sure what for, but we'll see.

A bouquet of books.

Last night, watched Picture a Scientist, a fascinating doc about the shocking sexism facing women in science. I thought of my dad, who late in life became a feminist. I Googled and this came up: 

WISEST (Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science & Technology) began in 1982, when Dr. Gordin Kaplan, then University of Alberta Vice-President (Research), noted that of the 150 attendees at a seminar on microprocessors, only one of the participants was a woman. With the help of fellow engineers, educators and academics, Dr. Kaplan formed what is now known as WISEST. And, for more than 35 years, we have continued our commitment to empowering women who are interested or want to seek out opportunities in underrepresented fields, specifically in science, engineering, and technology (STEM).

Bravo Dad! But before that, though he had huge respect for colleagues and friends like Dr. Ursula Franklin, it's possible he was as sexist as all the rest.

Last night, the season finale of The Good Fight. I'm not one for American network series, but this show is provocative and quirky, very enjoyable. I'm reading Leaving is not the hardest thing but may abandon. It's pretty rough going. Many many books on my list.

I'm ready for the long weekend, in that I rode to the LCBO yesterday and bought five bottles of rosé and a white; lots of red already in stock for the colder weather. Anna is leaving at 4 a.m. Sunday to drive to Nova Scotia in a rented car, the boys loaded up in the backseat with headphones, devices, and snacks. So my grandsons are coming over tomorrow to give their mum time to pack. Funny, friends who've driven here from Nova Scotia are coming to stay in the basement suite for the weekend. So it'll be busy. 

Right now, silence. Just me and my rose.