Monday, January 31, 2022

winter schminter

I won't mention the temper tantrum playing out in Ottawa right now, except to say, what a disgusting display. Of course, Trump and gang are in full support. The rise of a culture of angry grievance and blind selfishness is a frightening cancer in our society. 

Okay, already, too many words, too much thought for them. The media are giving them far, far too much air. Is anyone following the money? How much has come from far right hate groups?

No, stop, here I go again. 

Yesterday's joy — the boys came over and Thomas and I took them skating — well, Thomas skated and I cheered. Neighbourhood parents have created a small rink in a local park, meticulously maintained by volunteers; you can book it in half hour increments and have it to yourself and your party. Eli and Ben are already stronger skaters than last week when I watched. The sound of skates rasping on ice, of a puck slapping the boards - the most Canadian sounds I know.

And on Saturday, off to the Beach to walk and lunch with Annie. It was sunny and very cold by the lake - beautiful. 

And then home for dinner with Sam, take out from HOP, boeuf bourgignon for me, rare steak for him. These are the things that'll get us through the winter - rich take out deliciousness, the hyacinths blooming in the kitchen, Nicky's dance party. 

The week ahead is nearly empty: teaching, dancing 3 or 4 times, Gina's Essentrics classes twice, a conversation on the phone with our family doctor who's retiring in a few weeks, Bleak House on TV on Thursday. Working on the essay book and the uncle story, editing for others. Reading: Ann Patchett by the bed, a book about decision making by the fire, the New Yorker in the bathroom, newspapers on the kitchen table. Annie and I talked about going to Mexico together next winter. 


And - GO RAFA! The phenomenal Nadal wins in Australia. I have no fave teams, don't care about the Leafs or the Raptors or whoever. But since my mother and aunt loved tennis, it's the one sport I allow into my consciousness. Federer is our guy, but Rafa is #2. What a guy - 35 years old, ancient for a sportsman at his level, and unstoppable. Inspiring. 

Friday, January 28, 2022

the truckers of the apocalypse

Oh no. I was just sitting by the fire after dinner - watched the last bit of a doc about Margaret Atwood, who writes her first drafts in pen in hard cover books, in case you wondered. Nothing else on, so I started to read my library book, a treasure, Ann Patchett's new book of essays. And then I had to shut the book, as the warmth of the fire and the two glasses of wine with dinner overcame me. Had to shut my eyes for a little kip.

Startled myself awake and thought, This is an old person thing, dozing by the fire. You're old!

Well yes, I guess 71 is old, kind of. To my kids, it's old. To my grandchildren I'm Methuselah, though I do chase them around playgrounds growling like a bear. Actually no, I do not feel old until I fall asleep by the fire, which I hardly ever do. So let's forget that kind of talk.

Bill Maher is on later. I will watch maybe, or maybe I'll have to give him up. He was so offensive and stupid last week, ranting on about Covid restrictions and masks, that I was embarrassed to have watched him for so long. I mean, he has always been something of an asshole, but he does interview fascinating people. But last week he and the self-righteous Bari Weiss, whom I also used, briefly, to admire - just unbearable.

Especially because this week, the convoy of idiots is charging through our country chanting about freedom, freedom to do whatever they want with their bodies. These are the offspring of the people who protested seat belts, cigarette laws, even socialized medicine. They're taking away our freedom! they rage. It's horrifying that they're inspired by and partially funded by the American far-right, white supremacists, racists, anti-Semites. I wonder how my anti-vax acquaintances feel, being in such vile company.

How about they realize they live in a society with other people? Maybe there should be a country, or a desert island, where the freedom-lovers who don't care if they infect others can go and be free, all together. Madagascar? No, they'd endanger the lemurs. Antarctica? No. Penguins. 

Speaking of which, it's so cold here, the most brutal winter in years, very tough. At least today the sun was shining, but it does feel like being held hostage, trapped inside by the weather. Months to go. It seems very cruel to have such a harsh winter this year, when so many are still isolated and trapped by the pandemic. For years we've had hardly any snow. This year - record breaking already. 

However. Had a great session with my new editor Ellie Barton, who'd read my proposed book of essays. She got me right away, my strengths as a writer and, more importantly, my weaknesses. We made a major decision about the book which means cutting a lot out and perhaps adding some different stuff in. We'll see. Maybe after reading Ann Patchett, I'll give up. 

Had a piano lesson today. It amazes me, but there I am, banging away. And now, I will do today's Wordle. So far, I've done 3: one in four lines and two in three. What a genius invention. 

For your pleasure: two cartoons I really like. Happy last Friday in January to you.  

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Covid slump, Hitchens heights, and a big fat yes

Anna managed to squeeze in a call to me as her boys skated in High Park today. She was near tears, my poor beloved daughter. It's overwhelming; because our premier and his team are lying incompetents, she's sure Ontario schools are unsafe, so she's off work, at home with two hyperactive boys during a bitter winter. My heart goes out to her. 

What's the solution? She's trying to find a student to come over after school and take them outside for a few hours, a day or two a week. My in-laws used to talk about "getting the stink blown off you." And that's what Anna needs someone to do for her boys. May she find someone to de-stink her boys and save her sanity. I hope to take them for at least part of Sunday to give her a break. But I cannot take them for a full day on my own; they're too much for me. 

She almost wept again, talking of the latest discovery of the graves of dead children outside a residential school. If you want to watch an evisceration of the Catholic church and its vile apologists, its many centuries of abuse and violence, watch the brilliantly eloquent Christopher Hitchens have at it. Inspiring.

I know, four of my very best friends are practicing Catholics. They are the good Catholics, and there are many. But overall, as Hitchens details, the church has been such a force for evil. In fact, at the moment in the world, most religions are. Islam? Christianity? Insanely murderous. How did religion get co-opted by violent intolerant murderous self-righteous lunatics?

Sorry. Feeling angry today. A convoy of anti-vax truckers is wreaking havoc in our country, as if there isn't enough going on. A nightmarish pissing contest between the disgusting Putin and the rest of the world. The ongoing stalemate in the US - what kind of political system is that? Paralysis. And it's @# cold out there. 

Sam is better. He should be non-contagious by the weekend, so I hope we can see each other. 

Last night's pleasure - the wonderful Henry Louis Gates and Finding Your Roots. Show runner Pamela Adlon, whose heritage is like mine, an English mother and a Jewish-American father, discovered on one hand that the man she thought was her grandfather was not biologically related to her, and when Gates's team found her actual biological grandfather, they also found a half-sister to her mother who's anxious to meet her new relatives. And then the team discovered that a great-grandfather had abandoned his wife and five children in Germany to run off to the States with his neighbour's daughter, 22 years younger, and then a whole branch of the Jewish family tree she knew nothing about, murdered by the Nazis in Ukraine. 

Fascinating, powerful stuff.

Meanwhile, I'm working on my own family tree. Tomorrow I talk to the editor who's read the essay collection, to find out what she thinks. Today I was working on the story of my uncle the world bridge champion. Sitting sitting sitting at the desk - heaven. Grateful, as I've said before, that at this time on the planet I do not have old people to worry about. I worry about my children, though. 

Just as I was signing off, I got an email about a 3100 word essay sent at the end of December to an American online mag called Full Grown People. Somebody's actually reading! Somebody said yes only 3 weeks later. 

Dear Beth, Thanks so much for sending this to Full Grown People. I'd love to accept it.

Thank you, nice new editor. 

Through the years I've submitted 17 times to various sites on Submittable, to be declined 15 times, including this very essay four times before. It was sent to the Canadian lit mag Brick in September; no reply. It's another story that matters deeply and that I've worked on for years. They pay $50 US. Grateful, as I've said before, that I do this merely for the fame and glory, and not for the money.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

the bliss of a Sunday routine

I've often said we are so blessed to live in Canada that if the weather were better, this country would be overrun. For many years, my family and I were lucky; my uncle by marriage owned a small hotel in Barbados that was paradise on earth, and then my mother bought a little condo in Florida. Most years we used to go after Xmas or in the March break; that moment of walking off the plane, embracing the sudden hit of soft warm moist air - bliss. 

But not now. We had a record snowfall last week, still mountains of snow everywhere, it's very cold, the sidewalks are icy. Staying home is the best idea. That's why I am beyond grateful, once again, for my bright house and new gas fire. And routine: today, Nicky's dance party at 10, exercise class from B.C. at 1, at 3 listening to Eleanor while roasting a chicken and making leek and potato soup. I fed the birds, watered the plants, took my bi-weekly (yes, once every 2 weeks) shower, will try to clear my jammed inbox and desk. Big TV night, as always on Sunday: at 7, 60 Minutes then 3 hours of PBS, except at 10.30 I'll watch the next episode of Somebody Somewhere discovered yesterday, very good. 

Do I have anything to complain about? Most definitely nyet. Am I incredibly lucky? Da. Si. Oui. 

The other day, watched the boys stagger with their hockey sticks around a big skating rink, created and maintained by volunteers in a local schoolyard. O Canada. 

Dropped a lot of food off for Sam, who's still very sick, and spent the rest of the day with the boys. I'd bought The Christmas Pig by J.K. Rowling, a lovely book with vivid short chapters, a boy protagonist with difficulties my boys can relate to - that woman can write, hope she gets discovered soon. Sitting with a grandson on each side, Eli with his head on my shoulder, reading them a good book: a first, they've been too restless until now. Nowhere I'd rather be.

Except, perhaps, Barbados. Reading them the book on a beach in Barbados. Yes. 

Thomas helped me put up the hooked rug from Nova Scotia that Anna gave me for Xmas. Some old bag took a photo of it. No idea who she is.

Recently two huge sparrow hawks swept through my yard and perched on a nearby tree. Suddenly my feeder was vacant. Everyone is cold and hungry. A friend wrote from Mexico yesterday about eating huevos rancheros under the hot Mexican sun, and I wrote back, STFU! We don't want to hear about it. We've got months to go.

Finally, a perfect description of the writing life. Happy Sunday routine to you too, my friends. 

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The essay book goes out

The New Quarterly asked for a short blog post about writing the Neel essay; it went up today.

And on Feb. 10, an interview about writing memoir will go live. Letting you know so the excitement builds. I know you CAN'T WAIT! 

Still Snowland out there, and now because the temperature has gone down, the sidewalks are sheets of ice. O Canada.

The big thing to tell is that I emailed a draft of the essay book to my editor today. On Tuesday we had a great Zoom meeting for the first time, editor Ellie Barton in Kingston and I, discussing what the project might entail. I thought it would take longer to get it together, but after days of sitting and sitting and sitting, I just sent it to her. 53 essays, 58,000 words. Maybe not worth the effort. We'll see. 

I need to move my body but have just had dinner and much wine, and soon it's Bleak House. So another day of, as the Jews says, sitzfleisch - sitting meat. Last night my eyes ached from so much screen time. But tomorrow I'm going across town to see the boys; it'll be sunny but minus 12, so my fleisch will not be sitting. Sam has just contracted Covid and has a terrible headache, so I'll be bringing freshly made stew and soup to my poor son who's in desperate need of food. As Anna said, how many women do we know who contracted Covid and had nothing in the fridge? None! Men! 

Last night, the Toronto Public Library sponsored an interview with the writer and intellectual Lydia Davis. Normally I wouldn't have watched; she's obtuse and not of much interest to me. A writer friend wrote a poem called "I hate Lydia Davis." But Lynn in France is studying her, so I watched and took detailed notes for Lynn, who in any case was able to watch the interview today. I was impressed at this beautifully run event with a terrific interviewer. Davis spoke at the end about how much she cares about libraries. Me too, Lydia. I was at my local today.

It's odd, I've spent the past weeks with my younger self, the writer of the essays, a single mother of teenagers gearing up for them to leave home. As I sit here in the silent tranquillity of my kitchen, it seems eons ago, the constant activity, the noise, the pressure and tension of two difficult teens. It's hard enough to parent teenagers, but doing it alone is brutal. I wish I'd been stronger. 

All right, no more regrets and recrimination, soon it'll be time for Bleak House by the fire. WeTransfer just let me know that Ellie has downloaded the document. What a grand life of adventure! Stay tuned. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

Portrait of the Artist: my article on Alice Neel

The New Quarterly is posting my essay on Alice Neel openly for this week only, though without the portrait. Here it is, only this week.

And a short piece on how the essay came about that they've titled "Finding the Form with Beth Kaplan" will be up on the TNQ site on Thursday.

Major snowfall last night, the first this winter. School cancelled. Blessed Thomas shovelled and is now going across town to play in the snow with the boys. The world is muffled; there's not a sound, nothing moving except - how glad I am to see the flurries at the bird-feeder, luckily filled not long ago. Because it would be quite a slog to get out there now.

Grateful Thomas is here!
The trench. They expect between 15 and 25 cms. 

Last night the whole of 60 Minutes was devoted to The Betrayal, a new book by Canada's Rosemary Sullivan about the search for whoever betrayed the 8 inhabitants of the House Behind, Anne Frank and family and friends, all of whom died in the camps except Otto Frank. A retired American FBI agent took on the job with a huge team of experts. Their conclusion, though of course there's no forensic evidence: it was a prominent Jewish businessman who survived the war by giving the Nazis addresses in Amsterdam where Jews were hiding. 

There was concern anti-Semitism might rise as a result of this discovery, but the team hopes it shows how totally the Nazis dehumanized the Jewish people.

Anne has haunted me all my life, as she has everyone who's read her unforgettable Diary. I wonder about this man, how he lived the rest of his life, especially as the Diary became one of the most important books in the world and its author the most famous martyr of the war. How would it feel to know he had condemned her and many others to death?

I spent most of yesterday working on the essay ms., and the evening watching 60 Minutes and PBS while also reading by the fire, to the point that a blood vessel in my right eye exploded. Too much screen and too many words; today I'll read and edit the long essays sent by my Tuesday U of T class. Two treats yesterday: an hour and a half Skype with Lynn in Montpellier, best friend for nearly 55 years and one of the best-read people I know, and, speaking of best-read, Eleanor dropping the new David Sedaris diary compilation with the marvellous title Carnival of Snackery by the house as a gift. 

Deeply grateful there's food in the fridge and freezer, including Christmas dinner. I don't have to go anywhere. It will be a long quiet snow day. Now, back to reading. Forgive me, eyes.

Friday, January 14, 2022

on writing

The most fun! As I've reported here, I decided to explore the possibility of a compilation of my essays through the years. I find writing the first drafts of anything hard, a slog, but editing, cutting, shaping, moving this word here and that paragraph there, is joy. That's what I've been doing, and now I have a manuscript of 56,000 words.

Let me repeat that: in a week, I've compiled a manuscript of 56,000 words. 

That's not to say those are all GOOD words. So far it's 47 diverse personal essays, starting in 1994 when I began to publish in Facts and Arguments in the Globe - about half published or read by me on CBC, the rest dug up from my files. Some I think are good and others probably too weak to include but there for now, aiming for variety in tone and subject. All are the solipsistic reflections of an aging woman. Me me me: that's my subject and I'm sticking to it. Well, me, my children and friends and city and colleagues and loves and distresses and travels and thoughts and realizations. 


Chaos in my office, open file cabinets and paper everywhere. But also I was just asked by Queen's Quarterly to send photographs; this spring they're publishing an essay about my British penpal Babs who died at sixteen in 1966. So there are also photos everywhere. 

Babs on the left, aged 12 in 1962 when we began writing, and her little sister Penny, who is now a good friend and new penpal living in Liverpool. 
Me also 12 in 1962
The letters 1962-1966

Teaching 3 classes this week, stimulating and exciting. It's been really cold; heaven to earn my living sitting in the kitchen in slippers. As always, too much to read. A new library book: Elizabeth McCracken's short stories The Souvenir Museum, wonderful. And of course Macca's two extremely heavy books. Be still my beating heart.

Maybe this will be my winter - compiling old stuff and filling in the gaps with new material, for a book of essays that - with my usual stellar track record - almost nobody will want to read. And what publisher wouldn't be keen to jump at essays by a middle-aged, middle-class white woman, the demographic everyone is most interested in right now? 

But I'm doing it anyway. Because it's easier than writing, for one thing. 

All true.

PS. I just skimmed the manuscript, and it's sure that many of those 56,000 words are repetitious or turgid or boring. Maybe it'll be a SLIM book of essays. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

StoryCorps, Matt Galloway, Macca's "The Lyrics"

First, may Djokovic go home and shut up. I never understood why I instinctively disliked him so much; he's just a tennis player, after all. But Federer and Nadal are clearly fine men, generous, open, honourable. Nothing about Novak is like that. And now we see him clearly. @#% him. 

Second, on the other hand, I'm writing a love letter to Matt Galloway, anchor of CBC's The Current. Does radio get better? The other day, I listened to an in-depth feature about Kazakhstan. Do I know anything about what's going on there, or care? I did not, but now I do. Matt Galloway is one of a kind, the best radio host I've ever listened to except for my beloved Eleanor Wachtel, the best of the best. 

The other day, I was flipping around on the TV when I stumbled on a documentary about Lady Bird Johnson. Like Kazakhstan, nothing could interest me less than this president's wife with her stiff dark helmet of hair, until I was caught by something and watched. It turns out she was a phenomenally strong, empathetic, wise woman who pushed through an enormous number of environmental bills; her husband, who would have been lost without her, was responsible for the most progressive legislation since FDR. Who knew? Thank you, TVO. Brava, Lady Bird. 

Sunday night, thanks to 60 Minutes, I also discovered StoryCorps. I'd heard of them, but was riveted by the piece about a project dedicated to listening to ordinary Americans and recording their stories. Be still my beating heart; listening to and validating stories is what I do, what I did on Tuesday as the U of T term started on Zoom and will do in two more classes tomorrow, what I've done since I started teaching memoir writing in 1994. Story! Tell all the truth but tell it slant. How much it matters. 

Anna is not sending her kids back to school on Monday. She doesn't think the government has done enough to protect kids and teachers, so she's taking time off work to be home with her two. Brutal decisions are being made in the most confusing environment possible. 

But for me, resident old fart, these are good days, interesting, driven. I'm not writing, I'm compiling - going through old files to find and edit essays written but not published for a possible compilation. I have over 45,000 words so far. It all may come to nothing, a document too flimsy, too solipsistic. But I'm giving it a go. And today, I was asked to send photographs for the article dear to my heart coming out this year in the Queen's Quarterly

On this mild day, I rode to Ben McNally's Books on King Street East. It's a wonder, this bookstore jammed with fascinating stuff, but I was there for one reason: Macca's huge bestseller The Lyrics, an expensive two volume collection, his ruminations on his songs, how they came to be, what they meant and mean. My Christmas present to myself. Joy. 

I also bought J.K. Rowling's The Christmas Pig for my young friends, grateful to live in a world with books, and bookstores, and writers. And radio interviewers and story collectors who care. Behind me, as I write, a pot of hyacinths is wafting the sweet smell of spring my way, reminding me that winter will end. This pandemic will end. 


Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Lost Daughter

Thanks to those who asked me to send them the essay and wrote back, including dear Greg, who wrote Your essay about your father and Alice Neel is magnificent. I was captivated by the first sentence and you didn’t let me go until the very end. I loved the second last sentence…a brilliant summary. Thank you for sharing that noble piece of writing. Take a deep bow. You deserve it.  

How to live up to that? If only publishers were so effusive! 

It was mild today, thank God, so I rode my bike to Loblaws to pick up a few luxury items not available at No Frills - Quaker steel-cut oats, Adams crunchy pb, Icelandic wild cod on sale etc. Had a great convo with the man behind me in line, who was buying two cartons of cherry-flavoured water. He thought it would help him lose weight. Yuck. "I'm from New York," he said, after our long chat. "People in Toronto aren't usually so friendly." When I told him I was born in New York, he shouted, "Aha! I knew it!"

Finally watched The Lost Daughter - both compelling and repellant. (Yes, spoiler alert, I think she's dying at the end.) How Olivia Coleman can make us care for a selfish, borderline sicko woman, I don't know, but she does. The film made me replay the many times in my own motherhood years when I wanted to leave and never come back - the time I ran screaming from the house into the snow to avoid strangling someone. But unlike Leda in the film, never in a million years would I actually have left. Inconceivable. 

It's clear in what I think is the most important line in the film, when Leda's desperate husband threatens to send their daughters back to live with her mother and she shouts he can't send them to the "dark shithole" where she grew up, that her relationship with her own mother was not good. Which helps explain, perhaps, her truncated soul. 

After, I thought, I think the thing I can be most proud of in my life - yes, books and teaching and friendships too - but the main thing is that my adult children like and trust and take care of each other, and I like and trust them and they me. I really like them. I do not understand some of their choices and disapprove of others - tattoos! taste in partners and media entertainment! alcohol and food! - but they are fine fine human beings and the love between us all is the best thing in the world. Leda ended up teaching at Harvard, so her gamble for her career worked for her. But, my guess is, not so much for her children. 

I have decided to take a lot of credit for my kids. They nearly drove me, their single mother, mad for 15 years. And yet we all came through. 

Speaking of which, I was over at Anna's yesterday for Sushi Saturday - we ordered sushi for us all which was expensive as Eli can eat most of it all by himself. Sam is the king of uncles, tossing the boys in the air to screams of joy, hauling them around upside down. The day may come when it will be harder for him to do that.

So many people have Covid. In the meantime, one friend is going through chemo and another is waiting for the results of a biopsy, but major surgeries are being cancelled because hospitals are overflowing with the unvaxxed. It's infuriating. Maybe we should be less tolerant. As we saw Joe Biden finally ramp up the rhetoric about Jan. 6 and the attempted coup - maybe the time has come to take the gloves off, both with American fascists and with the anti-vaxxers clogging our health care system. I know, we must take care of them, as we care for chain smokers and people who live on cherry-flavoured water. But sometimes, in fury, I want to run screaming into the snow. 

On the other hand, here's the view over the lake from Anna's front window last evening:

Friday, January 7, 2022

Essayer: to try

Friends, I guess uploading the TNQ essay didn't work after all. I can see it on my computer, but I gather others cannot. Back to the drawing board. 

For now, let's do this the simple way: if you'd like to read the article, please email me at, and I'll simply send you the PDF. Old school! 

The sun is out. I'm at my desk delving into old work, starting with a few essays I wrote in my twenties. Did almost no writing in my thirties - raising kids, moving across the country to Ottawa then Toronto, trying to be a good wife - except the MFA thesis that turned into my first book. 

From 1994 to 2004, I had nearly 60 essays published in the Globe and other newspapers and magazines and read by me on CBC. I thought essay-writing would be my life. But then the Globe stopped paying even the measly $100, $250 for Lives Lived, and I decided I would not write for nothing. Then a new producer at the CBC told me to be on my way, my writing was "not edgy enough." I quit essays to concentrate on books. With incredible success, as you know.


There's some good work in the pile, IMHO, and I'm thinking of a compilation. Another guaranteed bestseller. Especially if I can't find a way to post them anywhere! 

Sharing joy: a New Year's walk with Anna and Eli close to the lake. The boy is nine and will be taller than his mother soon.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Portrait of the Artist: my article in the New Quarterly

My personal genius Nishat has helped me post this. It's long, but I hope you enjoy it. Press the icon on the top right to open the whole PDF.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

non, je ne regrette rien, sort of - well, maybe not, but I'm trying

Another gloomy day, not cold, just dark. But we're alive. Sam got over his flu or whatever it was and has just been offered the job he wants, to start Monday. I got out a library book that will be fun to read. It's almost wine time. Life is okay.

Something recently gave me some bad moments. You perhaps know about the painting of my father by the American artist Alice Neel, described in my article in the New Quarterly last month that I hope to post here when I can figure out how to change a PDF into some uploadable format. After my mother's death, my brother and I owned the painting jointly; since relations between us can be prickly, I thought it best to sell the work asap. It was complicated; I had it refurbished and two good copies made, then got permission for it to leave the country, took it to a New York dealer and then to Sotheby's. He and I were hoping to get a lot for it, I to help my kids with housing. But after two auctions at Sotheby's, it still had not sold. A private buyer offered $27,000 for it. 

Since I didn't want to sell it in the first place, I briefly thought of offering to pay half of that to my brother and taking it back home. It's my father's face! But  it just seemed too complicated. He and I took the deal and after expenses, cleared something like $12,000 each.

Last year, Alice Neel was given a huge retrospective at the Met in New York. She was compared to Van Gogh and named one of the greatest American painters of the 20th century. A friend recently sent me an article, which says, Neel’s reputation has undergone a — well, a “turnaround” doesn’t even begin to describe it. During her life, she was a marginal artist; and now — as evidenced by that massive retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum — she’s considered a master. Accordingly, the value of her works has skyrocketed. A single Alice Neel painting from 1966 — and not a particularly noteworthy painting — recently sold at auction for $2.5 million. 


Ah well. What the @#$# would I do with a million? U.S.? Besides help my kids, both housed in small crumbling apartments, buy a place to live? Say, a bright duplex, Anna and family on one side, Sam on the other, a huge yard ... Oh stop. All that money would be too complicated. I have everything I need, and although my kids do not, they're healthy and well and fine. 

So - after a few minutes of feeling sick, I put away my burning gut and crippling regret. Nothing to be done now.

But still...

No. Don't go there. 

On the other hand, Jean-Marc gave my memoir to a friend for Xmas. She wrote, "I just finished reading Beth Kaplan’s truly wonderful, magnificently written book. Thank you so much for your thoughtful gift. Please tell her that I relished every word!"

So that's better.

I also read two important, depressing articles: one from the Guardian, "Your attention didn't collapse, it was stolen," on how our brains, particularly young people's, are being hijacked by our devices, how we now can't concentrate for more than a few minutes - that this is a new kind of disaster and we have to fight back. Absolutely. I concur. 

And more pressing, this article, one of the most frightening things I've ever read, by Thomas Homer-Dixon, about the rise of fascism in the States: 

If you're briefly feeling good about your day, read it and weep. What a world for our grandchildren - climate change and fascism. What happened? The day Obama was elected, we thought many of the world's problems had just been fixed. 


Time to have a glass of wine and read Alison Bechdel and turn off the brain for today. Thank you for listening. 

Sunday, January 2, 2022

support for Jo Rowling, Don't Look Up, Joan Didion

It's movie week. Outside, snow; I guess it's winter here, after all. Netflix and the fireplace are my companions.

Annie, Ruth, and I had a fabulous New Year's Eve. They are two of the most interesting people on earth, with ideas, insight, travels, fascinating friends. The talk was gripping. Can't wait to do it again. 

We watched Don't Look Up. I enjoyed it a lot and don't understand why it has generated such negativity. Yes, it's broad and even silly sometimes and takes on obvious targets. But the topics are huge: politicians only interested in profit and polls are throwing citizens under the bus, the American media is appallingly shallow, and the world is heading into disaster by ignoring scientists. Adam McKay, director of another satirical film I loved, The Big Short, presents this dire scenario clearly and yet makes us laugh with a parade of great actors, particularly my favourite Mark Rylance as a sociopathic billionaire and an unrecognizable Cate Blanchett as a venal TV anchor. The film haunts me. Terrific.

Last night, I watched The Center Will Not Hold, a doc about Joan Didion. Fascinating. She's terrifyingly thin throughout but particularly skeletal at the end; David Hare who worked on her play speaks about how he wanted most of all to fatten her up. She's almost disturbingly detached about her life. A reporter always, groundbreaking, skilled, courageous.

And then the Hogwarts reunion, a twenty-year anniversary gathering of those involved with the Harry Potter films, came on. I intended to watch just a bit but ended up staying to the end - moving interviews with the young stars, who spent ten years of their young lives making the films, with the directors, with great British actors like Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman, the hilarious Helena Bonham Carter. Finding out the actors who played the diabolical Malfoys are nice people, that Hermione in actuality had a huge crush on Draco ... who knew?  

The doc could hardly have given shorter shrift to the magnificent, now controversial creator of all this magic: writer J. K. Rowling, who appears in a few brief clips. The Star recently printed a half page opinion article by a Torontonian telling us how very much all the books meant to her, but how now she despises the "cruel" "transphobic" JK. If she watches the reunion, she writes in the sweetest bit of virtue signalling, she'll mitigate the "damage" she has done by making a donation to a pro-trans organization. The headline affirmed: "transphobic" Rowling. It's simply accepted as fact.

As if a philanthropic writer who has donated huge amounts to charities particularly for women and children, who's known as extremely open-minded and generous with her time and money, who created a series about the struggles and eventual triumph of a group of outsiders that has meant the world to countless young people - and older people too - is full of vicious hateful blind prejudice. That cast members of the film have parroted this rhetoric must be especially devastating for her, not to mention her near exclusion from a celebration of her extraordinary achievement. 

Has the Twitter mob bothered to read what she actually said? Her thoughtful essay is below. It matters. 

The issue of gender and sexual orientation is incredibly complex; we're still learning and figuring out how to deal with different orientations and biologies. Rather than leaping to condemn, at least a writer who obviously - obviously! - is not a despicable bigot, we on both sides of this and any other issue need to be able to talk to each other without hatred, recrimination, and blame.