Monday, November 28, 2022

nice words for this writer, and disgust for Bill 23

Haven't boasted about kind words recently, so ... today's the day, hooray. 

Nice words about the Star article: Thanks for sharing Beth’s excellent and thoughtful article. Having been apartment dwellers for years when our kids were growing up, I agree it can be an excellent place for kids to live. Almost everyone on our floor had kids and our doors were always open for them to run back and forth visiting their friends. It was a wonderful time of friendship and sharing.

And this from a writer friend: THANK YOU for that wonderful piece you wrote in Brevity. I read it at JUST the right time, before my lectures started and I was fretting about not being an expert & getting imposter syndrome & reading your piece & recognizing that the lectures are an opportunity to share what I DO Know, and that it's a gift, really put things into perspective. (I did the lectures, learned a ton, would do some things differently, but ultimately it was all great!) Also loved your piece in the Star about apartment living. 

Thank you both!

Today's one of those days I wish Mum and Auntie Do, tennis lovers, were here to see Canada's triumph at the Davis Cup. Though she loved her life here, Mum was a bit condescending about Canada, but I'm sure that would have changed with all these hot young Canadian tennis stars. 

Today's thrill: a fat little ovenbird pecking away on my deck. I'm concerned; he should be flying south with his team. Instead, he's hanging around my back door, with his spotted thrush breast and a lovely orange stripe on his bean. He's a warbler but I have not heard him warble. Honoured to host you, little friend. 
Today's disgust: the passing of Bill 23, the decimation of the Greenbelt for more sprawl. Let's hope there's lots of civil disobedience for this hateful government. If the brave souls in Iran and China can take on their loathsome leaders, we can too. 

Just tell me where and when. 

Sunday, November 27, 2022

"It's okay to raise kids in apartments" : Toronto Star op-ed

This article is in the Star today. It's a subject that matters deeply to me, as we battle the dinosaur premier and his henchmen, a pack which now unfortunately seems to include our mayor.

My friend in Vancouver tells me the new B.C. premier started moving instantly on housing; he has proposed a city-provincial partnership to buy old hotels and turn them into housing for marginalized people. Brilliant! He also wants to create a safe space for people who are too mentally ill to be abandoned to the streets. That's the kind of positive, progressive thinking we need. Instead, we in Ontario have: let's turn farmland into expensive houses and make our developer friends, who by the sheerest coincidence have bought those particular plots of land, even richer. 

(Oh, and let's send a $200 cheque as a bribe to families with children, to show them how much we care. My daughter, who could use the bucks, sent her kids to school with the cash to give to their teachers for supplies in the classroom.) 

An assistant Star editor got in touch about the piece. I thought I recognized his name, and we ascertained that his mother once took my course at Ryerson. Feeling old much, Beth? 

Gave myself a Covid test yesterday; it's negative, just a cold and not even much of one. But I cancelled seeing The Fabelmans with Ken and am masking more diligently than usual. Yesterday, riding my bike to the market in the sun, the snow gone, such pleasure. Monique came over to sit by the fire and toast Dad's hundredth birthday with me, Chateauneuf-du-Pape in $1 Rosenthal crystal. Today, the skilful Kingston editor Ellie Barton whom I hire to edit all my work, including this essay, and whom I've never met, comes for coffee, and later, Anna and the boys are here for dinner, to celebrate their great-grandfather who died decades before they were born.

So much of writing is sitting alone with the words, struggling to get them right, then trying to find a place where others can see them too. Especially with books, it's a tortuous process that can take years, and sometimes result in nothing, closed doors, no readers, no outside eyes. I'm grateful another short piece has found its way out into the world. 

And to blog subscribers: this new way of emailing the blog, I now see, means ads are attached. I dislike that but am not sure there's a way to avoid it. We'll try. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Friday, November 25, 2022

toasting a hundredth birthday

My bloggee friends — many of you subscribed to this blog and received it automatically in your inbox via email. And then suddenly, in July, that for some incomprehensible reason stopped, tho' it took ages before I found out. Now my tech whiz Patrick has figured out how to fix it, we think. So I hope this is once more going out to you all. We'll see.

Tonight I'm drinking a special toast. Tomorrow is my father's 100th birthday; he was born Nov. 26 1922. A friend gave me a Chateauneuf du Pape a few years ago, and I just opened it. Normally I'd never drink such a good wine alone, I'd wait for a festive communal occasion, but tonight, tomorrow night, and the next, I'll drink toasts to my dad. 

And in a special glass. I buy my wineglasses at Doubletake for $2 each; this week they had a bunch for $1, and I saw a few nice ones, managed to find three matching. At home I discovered they're Rosenthal crystal, worth $25 each. 

So — a toast to my father's 100th, with a good wine in a nice new glass. And on a nice new tablecloth, which was a $5 remnant at Doubletake.

Yesterday was constant busyness. Patrick came in the morning to work out various tech issues. Robin the roofer came to clear the eavestroughs. I taught a two-hour home class on Zoom at midday and a three hour one in the evening; seven writers came here, two beamed in on Zoom, and eight of them read. Exhausting and marvellous. 

I was recuperating from the day at 10 when the front door opened and Tom arrived; I'd forgotten Tom sleeps here on Thursday nights. We always sit and chat. So I did more talking yesterday than I usually do in a week. My throat hurt and I thought I might be sick. But I think it's a bit of a cold and a lot of talk. 

Just finished Elizabeth McCracken's The Hero of This Book, enjoyed it immensely. It's a memoir about her mother but she has to call it a novel because her mother didn't want her daughter the writer to write about her. Vivid, funny, honest, moving. Recommended.

Every day, when I walk into my house, I think of my brothers and sisters in Ukraine and am flooded with gratefulness for heat, light, water. Their courage and fortitude is unfathomable. 

Monday, November 21, 2022

Tom Stoppard's Leopoldstadt - and So True returns

I knew we'd have to suffer for the glorious warm days we had in October - but not this much! It's bitterly cold here. The sun is shining but the wind is cruel; I was nearly blown off my bike. Luckily, however, I have new lined pants from Uniqlo. So a warm tush.

Thrill on Sunday: the National Theatre Live production of Tom Stoppard's Leopoldstadt, at Cineplex. Stoppard, raised as a proper Brit, was unaware until late in life of the extent of his Jewish roots and that much of his family died in the Holocaust. He has painted a portrait of an upper-middle class Jewish family in Vienna, from 1899 to 1955. You can imagine what happens to them, nearly all. 

The beginning of the play is bewildering, the usual Stoppard flow of dense facts and pithy statements, exposition disguised as dialogue, as we struggle to keep up not only with the river of talk but with the huge 30-person cast - who's that again?  

The play centres around identity, belonging, prejudice, and blood - some characters desperate to assimilate, others to remain true to their cultural and religious heritage. I thought once more of my dad, who rejected everything to do with the religion he was born into yet was most relaxed and himself with Jewish friends and family. 

The last act is devastating. A callow young Englishman, Stoppard's obvious doppelganger, comes to terms with the fate of his ancestors as he hears the litany at the end: "Auschwitz, suicide, death march, Auschwitz, Auschwitz ... " as the cast assembles and stands behind him, like an old family photograph in sepia light - unforgettable. Stunning. Many tears. I hope National Theatre Live puts it on again. 

A seder, early in the play. Even the lighting was sublime. 

Good news for me today: an essay about housing in big cities, and our vile premier's plan to pave over the Greenbelt, was accepted by the Star. I've had a series of no's from various mags and newspapers, so a yes at last meant a great deal. I know, you just have to keep sending out, over and over again, but sometimes there's the impulse to shout, Why bother?! And then someone says yes. 

And more good news - after these long Covid years, I'm getting some of my mojo back and have decided to run another of the So True reading events - where writer student friends read their best work in front of an audience. I'd thought the venue - the Social Capital, above the Black Swan on the Danforth - had closed down, but no, it's running full tilt again. So we will run with it, sometime in February, eight wonderful true stories plus our cheerful and adorable Jason as MC and something from moi. Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

the magic of Jacob Collier

And now for something completely different: do yourself a favour, put down your chores or the newspaper or paintbrush or cleaver or whatever. And watch this doc about one of life's blessed, the immensely talented, joyful young musician Jacob Collier. His mother and two sisters are also radiant and beautiful. 

Sometimes life's lucky ones are those who just know, very early, what they are and what they must do. One of my son's high-school friends was expelled from several schools for constantly drawing graffiti on the walls. He went to art school and now is a wealthy and successful film animator. He just knew. Often young writers just know. I did, though I also wanted to act and was good enough at it, had to get that out of my system first. 

But ye gods, the positive energy of this young man could illuminate a large city. 

Enjoy. Be inspired. "Creative infinity syndrome.""The music will always give me the answers that I need." May that never stop, Jacob. May that never stop.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

So many motherf*ckers!

 Realized in the night – I have to stop scrolling. I have to shut the door to the addictive madness of American politics, which has wasted countless of my precious hours. Ontario politics are bad enough these days, and I can’t shut those out completely, especially with the disgusting, profoundly undemocratic Bill 23 going through and a CUPE school strike coming Monday. 

           But I do not want to read another word about Trump or DeSantis or Mitch or MTG or any of that parade of truly vile human beings. It is sullying my life. To quote the pithy words of my friend Janet, who says often on Twitter, "So many motherfuckers!" 

            I read the Star in the morning and listen to CBC news on the radio and will continue to do so, and later in the day, I check the NYT and sometimes the Globe or the Guardian. I can’t stop finding out briefly what’s going on in the world. But I’ve given reprehensible people too much space in my head. 

            Perhaps this retrenchment is provoked by the snow. Suddenly, in seconds, our beautiful hot autumn ended and it's winter here, lots of snow, trees in the yard bent over with ice. It’s here already, the long dark time, and so it’s harder to countenance the cold darkness of the human heart. 

            In the meantime, however, the little refugee family has moved in downstairs, glad to have space to unpack and be at home, if only for two and a half weeks. How I wish I could offer more. She left everything behind in Kyiv, home, work, her son’s father, to flee an unforgivably unjust war that her mother here supports. And yet she’s cheerful and beautiful, going to English classes every day. Her resilience and stubborn courage, an example to us all. 

                And now, to cheer you up, the wise, lovely face of my third grandson, the hairy one. Turn off those machines, my friends, and go play with a dog.


Tuesday, November 15, 2022

My will is in the file drawer marked "Life"

Wow, that was fast! A few days ago Torontonians were wearing shorts, and today, there's a thick blanket of heavy wet snow. As a woman said to me, walking where I'd just shovelled, "Heart attack snow!" Let's hope not.

Though in the spirit of that, I just sent my daughter a list of where all my valuable documents are stored, including my will, the printout of my computer passwords, and all the files on the house, and that after I die I'd like a big party in the garden with lots of music and people saying nice things about me. l'm not intending to die anytime soon, but this is, after all, heart attack snow.

I teach tonight so am about to have my pre-teacherly nap. But first - the joys of Sunday night TV. 60 Minutes had a segment on the YIVO, the centre for Jewish research which was my go-to in New York for the Jewish Shakespeare. YIVO started its archives in Vilna; during the war, Nazis tried to obliterate the collection, but much was hidden and preserved, at great personal risk, by Jews there and even by a Catholic priest. Hooray for archives, archivists, librarians! What would we writers do without them?

Then a doc on the brilliant Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite's new work with the National Ballet, Angels' Ashes, and then back to trusty PBS for Magpie Murders and Annika, both terrific. Magpie is particularly fun, about an editor who becomes embroiled in investigating the murder of a best-selling author whose characters, almost all based on real people in his life, come alive for her. 

At 11, if I have the energy, I watch John Oliver's Last Week Tonight, though often he's just too vehement and it's too late for me. It was about the Royal Family, their abject ignoring of their colonial sins. 

For we who live alone, good television is a companion. I am so old that I pay for the TV guide and go through it with a pen. Yes. A dinosaur. 

Happy to report that tomorrow, when current tenant Carol moves out of my basement apartment, I'm able to offer it to Ukrainian refugees for two and a half weeks, until the next tenant moves in. Natalie and her ten-year old son fled Kiev early in the war; her mother lives here and is a friend of Monique's next door. But her mother supports Putin and lives in a small apartment, so Natalie needs to find somewhere for herself and her boy. I wish I could offer more, but at least they'll have autonomy for a bit. They will however have to listen to me butchering the Moonlight Sonata on the piano, but then everyone who lives downstairs has to put up with that.

Sam just texted that as he walked home from work, twice he passed old ladies pushing snow with a broom, and borrowed a shovel to do their walks for them. My good deeds boy. I sent him this picture, saying, since he's now a teetotaller, obviously he'll have luck with the ladies.

Have to say, objectively, that my handsome son has always had lots and lots of luck with the ladies. Though definitely not ones as stern as these. 

Nap time.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

celebrating Joe Biden

The weather has turned, at last, after those miraculous weeks of heat. It's fall. I turned on my gas fire yesterday and am switching to a warmer coat.

 Where I will spend the next six months.

On Thursday, Anna left her phone on the bus. All her passwords were on her phone; she had no access to her computer or anything else, and we had no access to her. She borrowed a friend's phone for a few hours and asked me to get the boys after school, as on top of everything a colleague was sick and she'd have to work late. So Sam and Bandit and I did. Only these boys are monosyllabic. "How was school?" "Good." I tried to engage - managed to find a book that interested them for a bit - 

- the wolf is listening too, the cats were hiding in the bedroom - 

We had take-out pasta for dinner, and then - video games. It made me sad. I sat on the sofa while Ben was in his room and Eli in Anna's, playing their games.

I understand, they'd had a busy day of school and playing. I could have dragged them into a board game or even watching a movie together but just left them to it. Anna was furious when she got home; they're not allowed to play video games during the week. 

Our machines are addicting. Phones, computers, video games. On my way home I wanted to tell Anna something and realized - I can't! No phone. How will we get in touch, how will we talk? Desperate. Luckily, her phone was turned in to the TTC lost and found, and next day, she was texting again. So glad to hear from her. We are all addicted. 

Addicted to watching Elon Musk implode, along with the orange blowhole and the entire Republican party. What a hugely important week for our planet. Has there ever been a politician as underestimated as Joe Biden? A huge weight has been lifted. Democracy survives to fight another day. A semblance of sanity is returning to that country. At least, for now, but perhaps this signals a shift, not a descent further into violence and madness, but a return to something resembling civilization - decency and good sense. Perhaps? 

Bravo, Joe. Thank you. 

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Report from the American front lines

My cousin Barbara was at a Bethesda, Maryland, polling station much of Tuesday; her husband Dan was there all day. Here's what she wrote, giving more hope for civil society and democracy. Yes indeed, thank you to the volunteers who keep things like this going!

We had a really good experience working at the polls yesterday. The system is struggling with a shortage of volunteers, so we had a skeleton team and only one chief judge (instead of the usual two) to man 3 electronic pollbooks checking people into the system, two ballot marking devices, the ballot issuing table and two scanners, also doing same day registration of new voters and handling provisional voting (mostly of people who lost their mailed ballots or just thought it would be easier to come in person - a paperwork headache for everyone to ensure that they couldn't vote twice).   

The only bad moment was when a woman Dan checked in said (when he offered her a pen to sign her voter affirmation card) "You probably don't want me to use your pen - I have covid!"  Eeek.

But our team of 7 did a great job with a high voter turnout - almost 900 voters in a continuous stream of people all day long.  I only had to work from 6 am to 3 pm before my reliever came in, but Dan was there from 6 am to 9 pm.  

It was surprisingly inspiring to see how a group of 7 complete strangers could work together seamlessly, stepping in to help each other wherever backlogs started to appear - no prima donnas. All managed by a great chief judge (a remarkably calm, funny, and competent, Republican, middle-aged Catholic woman who had home-schooled her 3 college-age children). It gives you faith in the system.  Many people thanked us profusely for volunteering - a heart-warming, though utterly draining day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

PHEW! Could have been worse.

I didn't watch the US returns, couldn't bear it. Instead, I watched a recent film of The Secret Garden, one of my favourite children's books, largely because Colin Firth is in it, and because I love Frances Hodgson Burnett. It's hard for modern audiences to process the Victorian sentimentality in her work, though, and the screenwriter here updated in ridiculous ways, including changing the era and aspects of the plot - I mean, a giant fire right out of Jane Eyre! Silly. 

But it got me through the evening. I checked the results quickly before bed and it didn't look as bad as expected, and this morning - what a relief. I hope Bill Maher apologizes on Friday for writing off American democracy last week. Mind you, it's still horrifying; hundreds of thousands of Georgia's Evangelicals voted for a barely literate Republican who has several unacknowledged children and has paid for abortions, over a pastor who's devoted his life to Jesus H. Christ. If anything points out the madness of this current political moment, it's that. But then we knew all about the hypocrisy of those folks, who love the vileness that is Trump.

If only they could spend a bit of time in a "socialist" country like Canada, or England, or France, with public health care and public schools - all, mind you, under threat from right-wing politicos. It's incomprehensible the way they go on with their terror of socialism when much of the world lives under it. But they're so blinkered, and so ignorant and so arrogant. 

Sad for Stacey Abrams and Beto, and others. The horrible J. D. Vance is in. The horrible Sarah Palin is not. All in all, it's good news, though Repugs will try to do everything they can to impede any kind of progress, the country be damned. But the world can breathe once again, for awhile, and focus instead of the climate, and Ukraine, and the growth of fascism, and a few other tiny issues. 

I just rode through Allen Gardens, which used to be a park and is now a campground, with maybe thirty tents. We are failing as a society. But at least we're not swamped, yet, with Republican poison.

Monday night, I watched the Giller Prize broadcast, of course, as always miffed this huge CanLit night is only for fiction and there's no equivalent for non. And as always, mortified at the lame jokes. The event is a celebration of excellent writing, yet the writing of the show itself is excruciating. And don't get me started on Rupi Kaur. 

However, kudos to the wonderful writers and their work, and to the winner whose acceptance speech was powerful and moving. Words will save the day. We hope.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Here comes the sun, and I say, it's all right

I'm in a t-shirt. On November 7, just swept the thousands of leaves from my front path yet again, in a t-shirt, in the heat. It's terrible and wrong. And wonderful. I know, we'll pay. 

It's so strange. The world is on tenterhooks, waiting for the dumpster fire of American politics to explode tomorrow. My cousin Barbara in Washington D.C., a stalwart Democrat, will be working at a polling station with her husband, despite her compromised immune system and the fact that almost nobody except them will be wearing masks. She's endangering herself to do her bit for their endangered democracy. 

A segment on 60 Minutes last night about how the algorithms of social media encourage and feed on anger and outrage, without any need for objectivity and truth - that it will be necessary to regulate and restrict those dangerous sites, like cigarettes.

The hideous war in Ukraine, the roiling in China, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela - another segment on 60 Minutes -  such excellent journalism - about the plight of the thousands of Venezuelan refugees fleeing to find safety in the States, only to be left in limbo if not sent back. Not to mention countless natural disasters around the world and in our own country. Schools on strike here today, with our lying incompetent premier just now making empty promises on the radio. 

Yet all that matters here, for a brief moment, is this:


Mainly sunny
Mainly sunny

Mainly sunny

Friday, November 4, 2022

a protest in Toronto and a powerful encounter

A big day in Ontario. A huge rally at Queen's Park, CUPE workers and their supporters rallying to protest the government's imposition of the Notwithstanding Clause and refusal to increase worker pay. These are essential workers in schools, mostly women, immigrants — custodians, lunchroom supervisors, educational assistants like people who work with kids with disabilities, making too little to support themselves. 

It was a glorious day and a strangely joyful gathering, a sense of solidarity, fighting together for justice, marching around the government building with signs, chanting. I have a terrible feeling about this job action, that parents have been so battered by years of Covid, kids already home from school for so long — will they turn on the workers? That's what Ford and Lecce are banking on. 

And in other news, while we're distracted, the government announced they want to take 7500 hectares from the Green Belt "to build housing." That's the farmland that feeds this city and that they promised not to touch.

So tired of fighting these same fights over and over. Nearly 20 years ago, my kids and I were marching in the same place about education cuts by another vile stupid Conservative government. Here we go again.

I missed Anna, who spent the morning with her strike camp making signs and then brought the whole brood to Queen's Park — my hero, that woman. 

The best thing about today, as well as the hot sun and the warmth of the crowd, was my awareness that unlike the protesters in Iran, Russia, and many other countries, we did not have to fear the police swooping in with tear gas and billy clubs, beating and gassing and hauling us off to jail. The usual groups were there — Communists, Socialists pushing their broadsheets, other unions. All of us disagreeing with the government, safely.

The children's craft table

On the way there, riding along Richmond Street on my way to City Hall, where I was mistakenly headed instead of Queen's Park further to the north, I saw a woman lying in the middle of the street flailing and howling. It's a busy one-way street; speeding cars were navigating around her, but I thought it'd be only a matter of time before she got hit. I stopped, a woman passerby stopped too, and we decided we had to do something. I parked my bike and we walked into the street to try to get her to the sidewalk. Cars stopped for us. She didn't want to move, cried and shouted — she was both physically and mentally disabled and in great distress. Finally we got her to the sidewalk. "Just listen to me," she kept insisting. And so we did.

Though it was hard to understand her, she told us today, November 4, is her birthday, and her beloved husband of 20 years died on September 1st. She wailed. We listened. She calmed down. In the end, though she said she wanted "pop, not money," I gave her $20, saying Happy Birthday, go have a good breakfast and some hot coffee. And she said, "Thank you for hearing my pain." When we left, she was sitting on some steps, quiet. 

Riding away, I wept. She was desperate for someone just to hear her. What profound loneliness and grief and despair. There's so much. 

I didn't ask her name. I wish I'd asked her name. 

Why did I take the wrong route to the wrong destination? It ensured I was in the right place at the right time, for once. I think it's an encounter the three of us will not forget. 

It'll be 21 degrees tomorrow. I leave you with more local trees — a ginko and a Japanese maple. I know their names, at least.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

celebrating the YMCA and the weather

Another glorious day. It'll go up to 17 degrees and be sunny for the next week. I know, it's weird we're wearing shorts in November. No, not weird, profoundly wrong. But still, even as the planet disintegrates, it's hard to complain about sun and heat. I rode home today through an alley of bright golden trees I've never noticed before. 

For the first time in ages, I went to the Y twice this week. Am trying regain muscles that were never that strong but got much weaker over these past 3 years, as so many people's did. And once again, I give thanks for the Y, that I found this place. I was never a fitness buff or a gym rat, but at the Y I found a group of the nicest people anywhere, and while I made friends, I got fitter. We've been following each other around the gym for decades now: Tina, Art, David, Rick, Debra, Alanna, John, Margot, Elisabeth, Tony, and many more, plus of course our trusty leader Carole. And as I've written before, what I especially appreciate is that most of them have 9 to 5 jobs in the civil service or banks or companies. Normal people! I realized today that Carole, who's 74, is both the fittest and the oldest person in the gym, and I'm probably the second oldest (and one of the least fit. A venerable puffing elder, that's moi.)

A blog reader sent me this:

Hey Beth thought of you when I read this.
I continue to enjoy your posts…it has become my bedtime ritual….just before lights out.
She sent a meme about the brain agonizing at 4 a.m. A kindred spirit! Glad my posts help put her to sleep.

The sort of thing that drives me and J.K. Rowling crazy:

"The partner with eggs," that's us, half the planet. "Vulva havers." "Menstruating people." Feh.  

Looks like Ontario is headed for another school strike, this benighted government leading us back to the good old days of Mike Harris, who did his best to destroy this city, its medical system and especially its schools. What is it that Conservatives have against schools? Don't answer that. I think we know why. 

Instead of fuming, here's an autumn beauty, showing off for you:


Sunday, October 30, 2022

shining on, with coffee

Some mornings are more blessed than others. Especially those when I've slept through the night. Often I wake at 3 or 4 and lie fretting for hours over things that cannot be changed; there's a pad and pen by my bed so I can jot down things to do without turning on the light, often waking in the morning, late, to incomprehensible scribbles. 

But last night bed at 11.30, waking at 6, like a normal person. What a difference. If sleep always came like that, I'd have written ten more books.

Another reason to rise early: a coffee machine. What amazing technology - why hasn't anyone told me about this? You set it up, you push a button, and you have coffee! I've been using Melitta or a french press for years, with a little espresso machine for a treat. But when there was a coffee machine recommendation in the NYT's Wirecutter section, I went for it. I trust Wirecutter, have bought their recommended bike helmet and coffee grinder. There's hot coffee in the pot right now, should another cup be needed. So convenient! What will they think of next?

Just checked my IG messages and found the loveliest note (abridged here) from a reader who read my essay Learning To Speak:  I just read your post on Brevity and thank you, thank you, thank you for it. I felt as though you were speaking only to me. I needed those words today. Bless you ... It’s amazing what can happen when we get out of our own way. I am buoyed by your story and am going to buy your memoir... 

I'm able to write that pitch now that I’ve been putting off. Happy to know you are out there, Beth. Take good care, and keep shining on,

Thank you, dear reader. So happy you found the piece inspirational. We'll both do our best to shine on, yes?

More heartening news - the play Indecent about the Yiddish theatre is on here - I saw it in NYC - and my dear friend Nick Rice is in it. A friend sent this note to Ruth: By the way Ruthie, there is a Q& A post performance. In ours Nicolas Rice who plays Otto & others recommended Beth Kaplan's book Finding the Jewish Shakespeare: The Life and Legacy of Jacob Gordin to the audience...

Thank you so much, Nick! There's a stampede already to buy the book! LOL. 

Yesterday, I did a 3-hour webinar in writing family history that will give me courage to tackle my family history again. Yet again. Stay tuned. 

It's Hallowe'en. As your faithful correspondent has said before, those of us who used to dress in other people's clothing for a living aren't crazy about Hallowe'en, though how great it's such fun for others. My 'hood goes crazy; many hundreds of children jam the streets, it's a wonderful sight. My neighbours across the street are now in friendly competition as to who can put on the most extravagant display. 

Aha! A friend wrote, The fall colours this year are brighter than they have been in a few years, thanks, apparently, to a cold snap in September and a bit of rain.

So - 8.30 Sunday morning. Just had a real breakfast with of course hot coffee and the papers, listening to Schubert's haunting Quintet, as light gradually illuminated the windows. The garden is lovelier in autumn than in high summer.

As are we, my friends. As are we. Keep shining on.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

and the autumn weather/turns the leaves to flame

After several gorgeous days, it was dark and wet yesterday, but glorious again today. Do I say every year that I don't remember a fall as beautiful as this one? Maybe I do. But it is. The trees are - cliché alert - a symphony of amber and gold, scarlet, russet, tangerine ... I just had to get out, went for a walk to the Farm, met a friendly goat who tried to chew on my scarf. (Click to enlarge.)

I'm read for my closeup, Mr. DeMille.

Earlier today, a sparrow hawk landed just outside the window on the pergola frame. Look at those claws!

I awoke in the night, thinking about World War 3. That the lunatics have taken over the asylum, that calm, sensible governance seems further away than ever. David Suzuki was just on the radio, still bravely fighting for the environment; how can he not have lost heart by now? But he says he fights on for his grandchildren, and we must do the same for ours. 

We've had a municipal election; our dull, right-wing mayor was re-elected, no surprise, but there are a number of new progressive faces on council. Of course, they have to deal with the power of our ghastly provincial government. So we'll see if anything, anything progressive at all can get past those bozos, who are planning to hand the Green Belt over to their rich developer friends. 

Stop, blood pressure rising.

This is better. In the garden, one brave rosebush is blooming still. And my home class students are coming tonight. There will be stories. Delicious. 

Monday, October 24, 2022

Codename Sally: bravo PEN!

We are enjoying heaven - twenty degrees today. Showers of scarlet and gold leaves, the trees more spectacular than usual this year. Everyone is out soaking up sun, storing those D's for the dark days ahead. Hard to sit inside. 

So on Sunday afternoon, I almost didn't go to an event I'd booked a ticket for, it was too beautiful. Luckily I decided to go because I could ride there and back, getting an hour of sun on the bike. It was an event put on by PEN Canada - the stellar organization that defends writers and journalists persecuted for their writing - with a film about Salman Rushdie and a discussion afterwards about freedom of expression.

It was thrilling. The documentary, Codename Sally, was about Rushdie's surprise appearance at a PEN event in Toronto, the first public show of support to a writer condemned to death by fatwa, because the mullahs of Iran disapproved of his novel. The courageous organizers, who took enormous risks with this event - a bookseller had been murdered for selling Rushdie's books - gathered a large group of Canadian artists, put them on stage at a fundraising event, and promised them a special guest. Introduced by Margaret Atwood, Rushdie, who'd been kept in darkest secrecy for his own safety and everyone else's, walked out to gasps, a roar of approval, a standing ovation. 

People like Louise Dennys, his Canadian editor, and Bob Rae, then premier of Ontario and the first politician in the world to publicly embrace Rushdie, spoke about the experience, and Rushdie himself on film told us what it meant to him. They took him to Ottawa where he met Canada's Foreign Minister. Days later, the Canadian delegation at the UN brought a motion to condemn Iran for the fatwa.

The film was followed by a discussion about freedom of expression with Dennys, Rae, filmmaker Deepa Mehta, John Ralston Saul, Adrienne Clarkson and others. At one point, they agreed that the most dangerous job in the world right now is to be a writer or a journalist. The threats to free speech now come from both the right and the left. The violent authoritarian right, besides twisting and cancelling the truth, continues to murder writers. The left is cancelling and condemning any point of view they disagree with. 

I rode home proud to be Canadian and a writer. But sad - to think of the premier we have now, who wouldn't recognize a novel if it smacked him in the face. Clarkson told us that all the people involved had grown up in the time of Lester B. Pearson, when Canada played an important role on the international stage and was known for its peacekeepers. My thoughts echoed Deepa Mehta, who asked, What happened? How did these horrible people end up taking over? Why are we losing so much ground? 

The news, more dire every day, it seems - China, Ukraine, the US, the climate. It did my heart good to be reminded of a time of almost heroic idealism. Bravo to all concerned. 

You can watch the film online by going to the PEN website here. 

Saturday, October 22, 2022

reaching October

This morning, riding back from the market in the glorious sunshine, my backpack heavy with Empire apples and a huge cauliflower, I started out of the blue to sing the September Song. As an actress, I had sometimes to sing in shows, so took singing lessons. The teacher worked with me on this one, and now I realize, I was 26, had no idea what it was about. Now I know.  

Oh, it's a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn't got time for the waiting game

Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few
September, November
And these few precious days I'll spend with you
These precious days I'll spend with you

When the weather is this beautiful, they do feel like especially precious days, and they do feel short. There's so much abject misery in this city on full display, poverty, addiction, homelessness, mental illness, I feel I should not celebrate my good fortune, my precious days, my few precious days. Yet I do. And I'm spending them with you. 

Blowing Own Horn department: my boss at U of T wrote to say that though my course is full and has started, there's a waiting list of seven, shall we start another class? We decided it's too late, but we'll run a new first level course in January. Not sure why so many people are suddenly so keen on memoir, but hooray! 

And a lovely note from a longtime blog reader who read Learning to Speak, my short essay on how nervous I was before delivering a lecture about my great-grandfather and my book about him. 

Your memoir piece about your experience presenting your book was so warm, and filled with humility and insight. To see you describe that experience I had followed on borntoblog, fleshed out so tenderly, was lovely. Somewhere, your ancestors are dancing! Take a bow, for the book and the memoir piece, and of course the lecture. 

Thank you! Love to imagine the Jewish Shakespeare dancing. Unfortunately, I suspect he never did.

Then my young techie Patrick put my podcast up on Spotify. Not quite ready yet. I'll let you know.

Sam and Bandit came again, this time to get heavy bags of birdseed for me. My handsome hairy grandson is gorgeous but a handful. As are my other two less hairy grandsons, for that matter. 

Dear friend Isabel Huggan came for tea and we shared a lemon tart and despair over the state of the world. And then I walked with Ruthie. They say the trees are especially beautiful this year. I have to agree. Perhaps you do too.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Pina Bausch and Rite of Spring; winter prep

Winter is a job. It's taking days: switching clothes, including seeing which sweaters now have moth holes, which can be fixed; shutting windows, getting the furnace checked, hours in the garden pruning, composting, washing potted plants to come indoors. Today, digging out the dahlias, washing off the tubers to dry for a week before storing them in the basement for the winter. Sam came to visit with Bandit to carry in my biggest plants. I put away tables, umbrellas, chairs, tablecloths. Putting away warmth. 

It feels colder than usual for mid-October, but maybe that's just me. The bite always surprises. 

Monique is hosting in her spare room her Ukrainian cleaning lady's daughter and grandson who fled their country and are trying to learn English and figure out their future. The problem is that the cleaning lady, unbelievably, supports Russia and Putin 100%. Another victim of propaganda and misinformation, another vaccine divide. What's happening in Ukraine is so vile, so appallingly heartless and destructive, it defies belief. What's the point of taking over a country you've smashed into oblivion? But that's the way of war, at least, of this war.

At the same time, we're watching the rise of far-right female leaders - in Italy, Alberta, England. Echoes of Margaret Thatcher. More tragedies, more stupidity, more waste. Danielle Smith - ye gods! 

However, on Saturday I went to see 36 dancers from a cross-section of African countries performing Pina Bausch's choreography to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. It was especially powerful because the first half of the program was such a dud, I'm sorry to say so but it was — two older women, one white, one black, apparently beloved dancers and choreographers themselves, floating about dreamily, meaninglessly. We could hardly see them in moody lighting and at one point they spoke to each other and we couldn't hear; then they got out buckets and put their feet in them. It was the kind of pretentious, arrogant art I dislike, with the implication — if you don't understand our sensitivity and brilliance, you're just not smart enough. 

And then after a long intermission, during which the the stage was covered with peat, whammo! True brilliance, incredible energy and passion and commitment, overwhelming - that music still shocking and modern more a hundred years later, and the power and strength of the bodies, incredible. Wept for joy at the end. As I do.

Sunday morning I joined Nicky's dance party, women on the Zoom screen dancing with each other, and wished I could move like the bodies I'd just seen. But we do what we can. 

Writer Rachel Laverdiere included my recent essay in her own blog. Much appreciated, Rachel, thanks.

  1. Most of us experience imposter syndrome. In her Brevity blog post "Learning to Speak," Beth Kaplan shares her thoughts on owning what we have to offer. She writes, "I’m offering them something of value, I think, giving the gift of my thoughts and words and work. And standing in the hotel room, I open my arms, palms up. Here it is, my gift to you." I think everyone should read her words of wisdom. All of us could benefit from reading her post.

My U of T class started on Zoom yesterday, students from all over Canada and one from Phoenix. The basement suite is rented as of Dec. 15, a huge relief. Somehow the days are very full but I go to bed unsure of what I've accomplished. Except have kept up with email, read the newspaper, and just got the next two books of the blog printed and winterized my life. 

It's enough.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

The opera Carmen, George Saunders on empathy

First — Episode 3 of my podcast about writing memoir is up. I'd love to hear what you think. 

An embarrassment of riches. Last night, I was Eleanor's guest at the opera: Bizet's Carmen. Centre orchestra seats for this gorgeous opera, passion, obsession, drama, death, glorious music, huge cast. Rich rich rich.

  Got the streetcar there and walked the downtown streets: tents on the sidewalks, a woman flailing and screaming on an office building step, and then, inside the opera house, glittering lights, a woman in a ballgown, artists who've trained for decades to make spectacular sounds - the contrast is surreal and haunting. Life in the big city.

    And tonight, again - going to see an African dance troupe dance Pina Bausch's choreography of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Talk about riches! 

    I've had lovely feedback for the Brevity essay. At the same time - here's the Beth moan - when I told you about reading old posts for the next bound blog book and being horrified by all I've forgotten, I was also horrified by this: in October 2020 I wrote about opening a box of clippings about my father, being excited by what I found there, looking forward to the next book which would be about my parents.

    That was exactly two years ago, and I am no further ahead. Yes, my memoir was published in 2020 and a lot of time went into trying to get it noticed, without much success. And yes, this year I spent a lot of time re-editing and sending out an essay compilation, with no success at all. What I did in 2021, I have no idea. Guess I'll have to check the blog and find out. 

    Lest I get too discouraged, am reading about the talented Rick Barton, an artist almost unknown in his lifetime. Bizet died before knowing how popular his work would be, and so did Barton. I intended to see the exhibit about him in NYC and regret I did not. If I were ever to try to draw, it would be like this.

    Read an article in the Guardian, "I used to be ashamed of being a fangirl. Now I see how joyous and creative it was." She talks about her love for Lady Gaga, her friends' for various boy bands, and her new appreciation of that time in her life. I got out my Sixties memoir, All My Loving, started to re-read for the first time in years, and am laughing out loud. I was an obsessive fangirl, channeling my love for the Beatles and Paul into stories about our life together, sagas that saved my life at a lonely, difficult time. I'm proud of this little book that delves into the mind and heart of a passionate 14-year-old fangirl. Moi.

    When it's reprinted, I'm going to change the subtitle. Before, Coming of age with Paul McCartney in Paris, which is clunky. It will be Paul Beatle, Paris, and me. Better? 

    George Saunders has written a wonderful article about the power of empathy we feel when reading fiction. And George, may I add, as I always do, nonfiction and memoir.

    The garden is shutting down - but the anemones shine bright. As do artists, always. 


Thursday, October 13, 2022

Learning to Speak: new essay on the Brevity Blog

A new essay out in the world today, another that means a great deal to me, about an important event. I tell students to focus their writing on the most vital moments in their lives, when something changed forever. This is about one of those moments. Short as it is, I'm proud of this one.

Someone has been formatting my blog to publish in book form - so far there are four thick books, from 2007 to 2017, only for me, as they're expensive to produce and no one would want to read them anyway. Now the latest files have come in: 2017-2020. I've been checking thousands of words, over 600 pages, and also reading, reliving those years not far in the past and yet on the other side of the pandemic wall — trips to the States, the west coast, Europe; the lengthy and excruciating renovation. 

Yes, this woman is lively, with many interests. What horrifies me, though, is how much I've forgotten - plays, films, books, no memory of them. I was especially appalled to see that in 2018 I'd read a book called The Empathy Exams, and thought, I just re-read that with no recollection of having read it before! Just checked. The book I read recently is The Empathy Diaries, a completely different book. So my brain has not disintegrated yet. Phew. 

It's a dark day, mild but gloomy and dank. But I have words, my own and those of many others, to keep me company. Also lots of leftover Thanksgiving dinner. We're in good shape in here.

P.S. It turned into a heavenly day with bright sun - Sam's 38th birthday. It was an exciting day, with the piece up on FB and IG, and Episode 3 of my podcast going up on this blog. Then I went out to visit my favourite tree. Wish a camera could capture its glow. 

Monday, October 10, 2022

Thankful on Thanksgiving

10 a.m. on Thanksgiving Monday, and there are tears. I'm awash in gratefulness for this life. Yesterday, 60 Minutes showed the devastation of Hurricane Ian in Florida, homes smashed and washed away. "Everyone on Sanibel Island is now homeless," said one woman, who'd returned by boat - the road washed out - to pick through what was left of her house. 

The planet is burning and drowning, and as Adam MacKay showed us with biting humour in Don't Look Up, we are paying no attention. At least, the people who should make a difference aren't.

More horror coming from Ukraine. Another kind of horror coming from the States about its debased political climate. Here, front page story of Trudeau and Poilievre sniping viciously at each other. It's getting colder out there. 

In here, I'm still in my dressing gown. Spent yesterday afternoon listening to CBC and cooking, as I do on Sundays. Stuffing, creamed spinach, sautéd Brussels with garlic and lemon (does anyone have a good Brussels recipe? I still have not found one), and braised leeks are ready, plus pesto pasta for the kids who don't eat mashed potatoes. (Really?!) I used my mother's long-handled silver stuffing spoon, the one described in my recent Globe essay, to stuff the turkey; it's in the oven with the sweet potatoes. Sam will make the mashed, Anna the sweet. The kitchen already smells wonderful. I'm hungry again. 

As I worked, Matt Galloway was interviewing a man who discovered the almost perfectly preserved body of a 30,000 year old baby wooly mammoth in the Yukon this summer. He was overcome with emotion as he spoke, and I too, as I listened. He spoke of the reverence and respect his team were taught about the discovery by the local First Nation. Good people out there, doing good things. 

What she looked like, then.

My friend Lynn and her husband Denis celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary yesterday. I was at their wedding 51 years ago. Lynn and I have been best friends for 55 years, and yet we are both just the same. Only better. A little crankier, wrinklier, but better. 

Here in the warm, scented, silent kitchen, one small woman is overwhelmed with gratefulness for her mostly peaceful little life, for this house that has sheltered so many for decades, for the friends and family and boys and dog who will be here soon. For trees, which tolerate us. 

For what we are about to receive, may we be truly, truly thankful. 

In the Necropolis cemetery yesterday.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Cabbagetown apartment for rent

For rent: one bedroom basement apartment in prime Cabbagetown location, close to everything. Private entrance through a beautiful garden; living room with high ceiling, full kitchen, and original Vermeer (LOL); bathroom with large shower; full-sized washer/dryer; bedroom. $1750, everything included: heat, hydro, hi-speed wifi. Available mid-November or Dec. 1. Quiet reliable tenant with references.

Annie Ernaux and Karin Wells

These days, bringing plants in at night, the ones I can carry, and taking them back out by day. Spent hours the other day pruning and planting bulbs. Shutting it all down, anticipating joy six months from now. 

My father's cousin Caryl has just died, in her late nineties. She was, as far as I know, the last grandchild alive of Jacob Gordin, my famous great-grandfather. Her twin brother George, who was helpful with my research on Gordin though relentlessly negative about him, died a few years ago. On her deathbed, her daughter Peggy wrote me, Caryl said, I'm going to George.

She lived in Virginia so I only met her once. But recently her daughters sent me exquisite family miniatures. A bond, over the miles and the years.

Speaking of Gordin, was thrilled to receive this note from Ron Singer, a director who gave me an acting award in 1969, is still a good friend and was reading Finding the Jewish Shakespeare: I LOVE your book!!!

I’m biased, yes, and thus found your book of particular interest, because I speak Yiddish fluently and grew up with a copy of the Forward, daily, in our house. And, I remember regularly hearing my family referencing Yiddish plays. Thank you, Beth, for reminding me of things past, many of which I had sadly forgotten. 

Thank you, Ron, for reading with attention and care and letting me know the good news.

Good news from Sweden - as I'm sure you've heard, Annie Ernaux, a woman who writes intensely personal memoir has won the Nobel. And then the peace prize to human rights activists from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. Take that, Putin! Take that, fiction!

Only kidding. I love fiction, only I love non-fiction more. Much, much more. Have just ordered Ernaux's The Years from the library - 225 holds already. I bet there were only a few yesterday - if any. 

Went across to Anna's yesterday - Eli was sick. Anna had to go to work; someone had killed a moose and donated it to her Indigenous group, so they brought in a butcher handy with such work and spent the day dealing with a great deal of moose. I was briefly with my grandson, who was perfectly happy without me, lying in bed with his iPad playing video games. Not interested in the stories I brought. The screens are taking over. It scares me. 

But Anna's cats the grey brothers Sam and Dean are very cute. I have five grandsons; 3 of them are hairy, with tails. 

I was supposed to go to my friend Karin Well's book launch: More than a Footnote, Canadian women you should know, telling the stories of some of our amazing countrywomen. Didn't get there, unfortunately. But I've heard that at the end she dedicates the book to two young women doing important work in Canada now - and one of them is my daughter Anna. I will be buying this book, you may be sure.

Weeks fly by and my own work does not progress. I have been delving more into the Dad box but not writing. Much editing of other writers' big projects, taping another episode of my podcast - a new one going up any minute, check it out on this site - plus winterizing, house guests, and - now it's October. How did that happen? 

Thanksgiving on Monday - family, extended family, turkey. Once more, thanks to the gods that the homicidal maniacs have not wiped us out yet.