Sunday, February 27, 2022

marching for Ukraine

Proud of this city, this country, and so grateful we live here and not in a place where my family is rushing to escape, or sending young men to fight, a vicious psychopathic invader. So when Anna learned there'd be a gathering in support of Ukraine downtown at 2, we decided to meet there. In an hour, she got both her kids to write signs and attached them to a pole and got on the streetcar. I just had a 20 minute walk.

It was incredible; the crowd was vast, thousands, with more pouring in, yellow and blue flags everywhere, wonderful signs, chanting in Ukrainian. We eventually marched to Nathan Phillips Square and then - it was snowing and very cold and very very crowded. We felt we'd done our bit and got the subway north, they to head west and me east. 

Have you seen the video of Zelensky on the Ukrainian version of Dancing with the Stars? He also has a law degree. What a spectacular man. At last, an inspiring hero, just when our planet is most in need of one. 

Something good has come of this hideous war: the western world, with the exception of Donald Trump and Fox "News", is united against Putin. Perhaps he thought this invasion would simply slip our notice, as so much else has. Perhaps he should think again. 

Friday, February 25, 2022

David Sedaris: Carnival of Snackery

After that last gloomy post, here's something to cheer you up. I just finished Carnival of Snackery, David Sedaris's diary excerpts, which had me chuckling before bed for a few weeks. Here's a typical anecdote:

April 2, 2009, Pittsburgh

On Wednesday afternoon, I was met at the airport by the dean of students, Felicity, and her departmental colleague, a fellow in his late forties named Conner. The guy wore a sports coat with a forest-green sweater, and, for no reason in particular and every reason in general, I immediately identified him as gay. On the ride into town he mentioned a remodelling project. "We've just had hardwood floors put into the living room," he said, "and now we've started expanding the kitchen."
    The following morning Felicity came by herself and drove me back to the airport. Conner, she explained, had taken the day off and was meeting with a contractor. She mentioned the headache of his renovation, and I asked how long he and his boyfriend had owned the house. 

"His what?"

"He said, 'We had new floors put in,' so I just assumed he meant him and his boyfriend. But, what, does he live with his parents or something?"

"Conner's married," Felicity told me.

"To a woman?"

"Well, of course," she said. "Not only that, but they have two kids."

There are times I've been wrong about this sort of thing, but as far as Conner's concerned, there's really no debate. "He's gay," I told her. 

"Impossible," Felicity said. "His family aside, when would he have the time?"

She said this as if being a homosexual took hours of practice, not just at the start but every day of your life. Keeping your walk up, maintaining your little outfits — people think it's easy, but it's not.

"On top of the event planning, Conner works with the drama department," Felicity told me. "Then he's got glee club and another chorus he sings with on weekends."

To her, this made sense, the perfect defense of his heterosexuality. To me it was like saying, How can he be a vampire when he's shut up in that coffin all day?

my Ukrainian family

More snow, and looming world war. What a winter. A student who's lived in Russia says Putin is Hitler and things will get much worse, that the brainwashed Russian people have no idea what's going on and no possibility of protest. I was just shovelling out front, got into conversation with a woman passing by, heard her accent and asked where she was from. Ukraine, she said, and we discussed the situation. She asked what my country was. Canada, I said. No, she said, further back, where did they come from?

I paused. Ukraine, I said. My father's grandparents came from Ukraine, the Pale of Settlement, it was called, where all Russian Jews were forced to live. Today I saw a map of places the Russians are attacking, including Myrhorod, where my great-grandfather was born, and Melitopol, where his sisters later lived. We undoubtedly have family there, if any of them survived the Nazis and Stalin. Was ever a people so cursed, to go from the Tsars to Stalin and the Soviets to Putin, the oligarchs, and the Mafia? Could it be worse?

This morning I wanted to check if there were old essays I'd forgotten about for the compilation, so I pulled out the box marked "Mum's collection of my work." I knew she'd kept clippings of my published writing. I didn't know she'd kept scores of each one, sometimes large colour xeroxes or reductions, stacks of them. People sent them to her, too: "Another essay by Beth!!" In an article about my love of peanut butter, I mentioned there was none available when we lived in England; four letters were published in the Globe refuting that claim and listing different kinds of English pb. Mum cut out all the letters, stuck them to paper, xeroxed it many times. 

I don't know what she thought I'd do with seventeen copies of the same essay and will throw most of them out. But it's nice to know she was thinking of me.

And I did find one essay I'd forgotten about that's going into the collection. Thank you, Mum. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Parallel Mothers at TIFF

Monday, for a bit, felt like life returning: a movie and dinner downtown for the first time in, what, a year or more? No, Ken and I saw a movie some months ago and dined afterwards. But that's twice in a very long time. 

Annie, her older son Nick, and I saw the new Almodovar film Parallel Mothers at TIFF and then Sam joined us. It's a moving film full of very bright, colourful Spanish interiors and greenery and of course the most beautiful woman in the world, Penelope Cruz; it's really unfair she's also a good actress. It's about motherhood but also coming to terms with the past, in this case, the massacres by Franco's fascists in the thirties that Spain has only recently begun to deal with. There's an actual Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory. Powerful stuff. 

Coming out after to the cold grey murk of once-lively King Street, where many restaurants have closed because of Covid, was sad, though we did eventually find an open place for dinner. The young men share an interest in the beer business and know lots of people in common in the restaurant world. I was just stunned to be out.

There was a roving band of anti-vaxxers downtown waving Canadian flags, chanting about freedom, disrupting traffic. A pundit on Steve Paikin's show tonight made clear it's what she called "an astroturf movement" as opposed to a grassroots movement - that is, not arising from the people at all, but heavily funded by libertarian, quasi-fascist forces that want to abolish government or at least severely limit its power. Makes sense.

And Putin - what to say? A monster.

Mostly, on these cold days, I put my head down and work. Got the essay manuscript into shape and sent it to Ellie tonight for a final edit. And then it will go out into the world, somewhere, and I can move on. 

Tomorrow I see my family doctor for a checkup for the last time; though considerably younger than I, she's retiring. I have a very long list of things to run by her, the disintegrating bits of my body. Fun times.

Something pretty for you after this rather gloomy screed: Christi Belcourt's latest. Beauty.

Sunday, February 20, 2022


Two friends who read "Correspondence" wrote to say I'd made them cry. Not sure that's something to be proud of! But this does make me proud, a reader who posted on the Full Grown People website after reading the other essay, "Secret,": Beth, I immediately picked up the phone and called my best friend since grade 2, after reading your beautiful essay. Our lives have diverged and I can't remember the last time we saw each other, but the memories and bond we formed sixty years ago is unbreakable. Your friendship with Pen reminded me how important these ties are. Love your writing.

So glad to have helped effect a reunion.

Full steam ahead (steam - there's a good word for a Wordle start) on the new book, the essay compilation. Put the title of the 41 mostly short essays on cards - blue for family, pink for neighbourhood, purple for personal, yellow for divorce, green for childhood. And spent two days rearranging - there are timeline issues, tone and structure issues, balancing light and dark, long and short. Perhaps there's something that works. Now to go over and fix and rewrite and edit. A way to go.

Last night, Annie and I went to Ruth's elegant home for dinner, sitting by the fire, then at her beautifully laid table, with conversation and laughter. I realized how long it has been since this enormous pleasure: dinner with friends. How much missed, how welcome to be there again. We talked about Wordle, which we all enjoy and have different methods to get through. And of course about the goings-on in Ottawa, what it all means for the future of this country. How horrifying that the American far right has adopted the convoy, and their hatred of Trudeau, as a cause for their vile rhetoric. 

Friday, to Anna's for dinner with the boys and Holly. Watching Ben is a marvel; he is never still, jumping constantly on the furniture as he talks non-stop. He's interested in everything. At one point, he solemnly told me New Brunswick had attacked Russia. Ah, I said, really? He's an expert in lots of things, geography among them. Eli was for once being beaten at Monopoly by Holly. He mostly wins. He's a strategist, very canny. Ben refuses to be photographed and hides when the phones come out. By moving quickly I got this shot, a rare pic of the elusive Ben bird. 

Friends of Anna's were taking the red eye that night from Halifax to Hamilton, so, after returning at 6 from her workday, she'd arranged to walk through the bitter cold with the boys at 12.30 a.m. to pick up her carshare car, drive to Hamilton, pick up her friends, and bring them back to stay at her place, in her bed. She texted me at 3.30 a.m. that they were home safely. 

I'm in awe.

Friday, February 18, 2022

the PDF of "Correspondence"

Fresh snow. It's so beautiful at first, nothing lovelier than a tree coated with a delicate layer of white. Before disgusting human beings go out with their dogs and garbage and befoul it all. 

Police action in Ottawa at last, advancing slowly. Canadian restraint. Yes, we all remember demonstrations where police advanced with batons swinging, cracking heads and making violent arrests, but I think they're right to move slowly here. There's a core group in huge trucks primed for violence, and there are children. Can you imagine subjecting children to this? What a gulf in our world, in our country. 

The issues don't end here, this is class warfare, I think, deathly serious. But at least, perhaps, if they can clear them out, this won't be front page news around the world, and the poor citizens of Ottawa can get back to work. Freedom, they cry, like children throwing themselves in fury on the ground. Don't want it! they cry. My way! they howl. But underneath the tantrum, there's something much deeper, the rage of the white working class that's affecting the whole Western world and that may never be resolved. 

The feedback about the Penny essay has been more than gratifying. Unfortunately, the other, of which I'm also extremely proud, is behind the Queen's Quarterly paywall and will not be allowed out. Of course, there's the option of subscribing to such a fine literary magazine. It's also available free from a Canadian library website, but for those of you who are interested in reading it, if you let me know, I'd be happy, as we did once before, to email you the PDF. 

Thursday, February 17, 2022

"Secret" essay in Full Grown People

Okay, more tears. It's 8 a.m. on one of the most miserable days of the winter, surely - dark and raining, the ground covered with filthy snow. But I am warm in my kitchen, with wet eyes. The second essay came out this morning, another about a vital childhood bond. I've carried both these beloved friends, Penny and Barbara, with me for sixty years; I worked on both essays for many years and finally have shared their stories with the world. I think Barbara's will be behind the Queen's Quarterly paywall, but here's Penny, for all to read.

I've already had feedback; someone wrote me, "What a moving, harrowing, lovely essay."

How much it means that Penny's story has moved a reader somewhere, a stranger. 

In the night, I was thinking about this blog, and this morning, I was going to write an apology. Recently there has been a lot of "blowing own horn," boasting about the good stuff and rarely telling about the bad, the things that keep me up at night. Well, as I said, suddenly as a writer, I've been on a roll. There have been so many years when all I heard was "no" that experiencing one "yes" after another is a wondrous thing. Much of what was holding me back was - me. My own insecurities, self-deprecation, doubts. And for some reason, I've put that, mostly, behind me. I think. 

Doesn't mean it's all easy from here on; there will still be doubt. But I hope it means that despite it, I will move forward. 

Penny, dearest friend, how I wish you were here. How close I came to getting back in touch with you. But now your story, the magic of our marvellous secret world, is in the open. Thank you for all you gave. I love you. 

Another tear in the coffee. 

PS. And another! I just heard from the other Penny, Barbara's sister. More than four decades after Barbara's death in 1966, when I got back in touch with her family, Penny and I became good friends long distance, and our new bond brought Barbara back for her. This is what our work can do: tell the stories for those who do not. Barbara, too, will live again for strangers. How grateful I am for this gift: writing people back to life. 

Thank you, thank you Beth - for giving me back my sister.  

I have only read the first page - then I had to stop - fearful of the emotion that will come and reluctant to waste it mid day when I am in the midst of other fuss. I will save it till I have time and space to give to this precious read.

But I can say that although I had a shadowy image of you visiting our Wimbledon home in 1964, my own memories of my big sister and playmate were fast fading black and white, and it was not until I started writing to you that the colour and the detail returned.

I have to go out now - and do not want to waste the moment by rushing your words. But I know that what you have done is very special and I am so glad that your work is being recognized.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

yes, suffering from graphomania

I don't know how to explain my current burst of energy and even - dare I say it? - confidence. Maybe it's winter, nothing else to do. Or being 71 and seeing time vanish. Some days I get up quite early and still am not too tired to read by the fire till 11 (though today I was worn out by doing Carole's class at the Y for the first time in months and needed a nap. Poor aching unused muscles, not to mention the excess poundage winter has packed on around my middle... Yes, the Y is open again, with masks.)

The essay manuscript is coming together remarkably fast - a few more revisions to do, and even a few more pieces found in my files that might go in. And then I'll get it out to beta readers to give me feedback. 

In the meantime, Queen's Quarterly just sent their layout of "Correspondence," the essay that's coming out soon. It's beautiful; they've done such a lovely job, it made me cry. The story of Barbara, my penpal from the early sixties who died at the age of sixteen, has haunted me all my life; finally, I've told her story and introduced her to the world. Thanks to the team, particularly Stephen, at the magazine. Stunning work.

Another essay that means a lot, about another dear childhood friend, is coming out any minute in the online nonfiction magazine Full Grown People. I'll post when it does. As a result of the interview that went up last week, writers have been getting in touch about editing, and one just got a mentorship grant from the Writer's Union to work with me. The U of T term ends in two weeks, so I'm glad I'll have ongoing work.

I think I'm afflicted with this and have been all my life: GRAPHOMANIA

PRONUNCIATION: (graf-oh-MAY-nee-uh) 

MEANING: noun: An obsessive inclination to write.
ETYMOLOGY: From Greek grapho- (writing) + -mania (obsession). Earliest documented use: 1827.
Can't explain it. Since learning how to hold a pencil and draw letters on paper at about six, I've not stopped. Writing=life.

Not going to talk about the truckers. Andrew Coyne in the Globe may be right, for once: just wait them out. What would happen if everyone just paid absolutely no attention? 

Monday, February 14, 2022

trying to talk to an anti-vaxxer - sigh

Blowing own horn department: feedback from the master class week was wonderful. Nice to be a "lovely lady"!

The essay book went to a printer this morning, so I can edit it on paper. And then, on to beta-readers, to give me feedback before it goes out to find a publisher. Interested? 

Last night, Annie and I listened to the magnetic Hal Wake interview Omar El Akkad, an Egyptian-Canadian writer whose novel about the lives of immigrants won the Giller this year. Both men are thoughtful, clever, learned; a mesmerizing hour. Then we watched Around the World and All Creatures on PBS. All Creatures is delicious, so utterly sweet and beautiful, I want to crawl inside my TV set and live on the Yorkshire dales. If the lead actor's there with me, so much the better. 

The Covid mandate battle gets worse, Canada flailing, humiliated on the world stage. I tried writing to a rabid anti-vax conspiracy theorist whose husband is, or was, a dear friend of mine. I don't want to lose his friendship, but perhaps it's hopeless. I wrote her that I understood there are ordinary people in Ottawa simply concerned about this particular vaccine, but that hiding beneath is the violent, dangerous far right out to destroy Canadian democracy. 

I got back a long screed: They are ALL ordinary people. The few "others", 'agent provocateurs' were reported to the police and removed. Of course, leave it to the legacy media to give it another spin and turn it into lies. They have a constitutional right to protest peacefully, which they are doing. Trudeau is using our tax dollars to weaponize our police force against us, trying to provoke the protesters. Still, they remain peaceful. 

Trying to provoke the protesters - when exactly was that? If only! 

I wrote, Their hatred for law and order is a cancer doing incalculable harm to our country. 

She replied, I don't believe it's a hatred of law and order that is the cancer. It is the tyrannical authoritarian mentality that seems to be pushing out democracy. That is the cancer. 

I told her that in Paris, at an anti-vaccine passport demonstration on Saturday, the police came in with tear gas, arresting protesters with handcuffs and towing vehicles. End of story. The French don't play nice. And Canada is tyrannical and authoritarian! It is to laugh. 

As a final word, I sent her this, from Twitter: Dr. Faisal Moola@faisal_moola

Just got off the phone w my elderly dad who fought in resistance against Apartheid in S. Africa. He asked me what freedoms have #FluTruxKlan lost? - are they banned from public places because of their skin colour? arrested & tortured in prison? homes raided? loved ones murdered?

Good questions.

Another anti-vax acquaintance told me that at a demonstration in Winnipeg, the demonstrators were really police officers disguised as protesters, to give the cause a bad name. OH yes, right. For the first time, I see Fox "News" is available not on cable but on a local channel. This is all terrifying. The US far right, the Trumpers, are here. Their money is here. Let's not even think about Ukraine and the thousand other things politicians should be dealing with, as these bullies throw a tantrum that paralyzes our country. How sad that, speaking of weaponizing, they've weaponized our flag.

A smart friend told me she doesn't think the protests are about mandates at all, but about income inequality, by a group in society who feel unjustly marginalized and rudderless. A good point; I can see that. 

The sun is shining. It's bitterly cold, but the sun is shining. Let me hang onto the feeling of that warmth on my face, as the world disintegrates.

Just picked up the manuscript. 116 pages. Now, full of trepidation, to read. Thank God for work, and words. 

Friday, February 11, 2022

News flash: Rally cancelled because of state of emergency


Good morning

These are amazing days. Suddenly I have so much focus and energy, I go to bed late and wake up early (though usually do have a nap after lunch). How to explain it?  

The essay book helps, the miracle of producing a 50,000 word book in a month. Ellie and I had a long Zoom meeting about the second draft, what works, what doesn't. I've work to do, combining some, cutting others, some rewrites. But it's getting into shape. I'm taking one essay from it to send to the CBC nonfiction competition. In the nineties, when I was writing essays, I was long listed several times but have not entered since. Now - why not? 

Yesterday I received a PDF of the essay appearing soon in Queen's Quarterly. It looks gorgeous; the layout is beautiful. It's a piece that means a great deal to me and that I've worked on for years, blooming on the page at last. 

I mentioned the piece to Ellie, the fact that I entered it in a writing competition a few years ago and it wasn't even on the long list of ten, yet the editor at QQ loved it. I told her how discouraged I get sometimes, how I was sure Loose Woman would find a publisher and didn't. She said, I think you gave up looking for a publisher too soon. You only had 13 rejections. 

She might be right. 

Yesterday also my interview with Traci Skuse, the organizer of the week of free master classes, went up, and already I've heard from several people interested in working with me. Now it's a question of time. 

Not sure if you can open this, but here it is.

Sorry if I sound smug. I take none of this for granted. For years, many many years, I struggled to overcome a resistance to getting to the desk. Though I did manage, somehow, to produce, many things got in the way of sustained creative work. Maybe now it's being 71, knowing I don't have time to waste, I don't know. 

And believe me, there are things I don't tell you about, family problems, my own fears and concerns. Not to mention the disintegration of the world as we know it - right now, rightwing Canadian fools energizing rightwing fools around the world, how did that happen? 

And it's still - what a good expression this is - the dead of winter. A few days ago it was six degrees and felt like summer, despite the mountains of snow. Tomorrow, back to minus 18. A tough winter, the first in a long time. But that helps the writing too; the great outdoors is certainly not calling.

Time for breakfast. 

Sent this to Anna. She could have written it for her boys. Maybe she did. 

Monday, February 7, 2022

The Great Reset nonsense

The great news today: Eli and Ben insisted on going back to school this morning, and their friends and teachers were overjoyed to see them. Their mother is nervous about the lack of proper preparedness at the school but cannot deny the value of a quiet, briefly empty apartment. Life returns. Slowly. Thank you lord. 

Saturday night's magic: Annie and Ruth over for dinner and to listen to my Mike Nichols and Elaine May double album. What a pleasure to be with two dear friends, get out a record, wipe it off carefully, put it on the turntable, and laugh till the tears run. I have a ton of wonderful records, classical and otherwise, and don't listen to them often enough. Must rectify that. 

My son came over to cook me a delicious dinner last night. "Are you okay here all on your own all day?" he asked, as he left. So sweet. I could not be better, dear heart. I'm used to silence, and in any case, there's Zoom and music, teaching and dance parties, CBC radio, Robin the tenant going in and out, TV and Netflix, and writing. The days vanish. What more could I need? 

A week in Barbados, you reply? Right. Yes. It was milder today, but there are still mountains of black crusty snow everywhere. 

The pleasure of Sunday night PBS: Around the world in 80 days and All creatures great and small, so well done, both. At 10.30, Somebody Somewhere. I care about and feel connected to a lot of interesting people on Sunday nights. 

Rosemary just sent an article by someone breaking down what the truckers in Ottawa are hot and bothered about - apparently not really Covid mandates, it's "The Great Reset." They think a global cabal of billionaires and their corporations, and/or political leaders, planned and executed Covid in order to take over the world. They think Trudeau is the Canadian leader of this plot. The truckers are massed to prevent being turned into economic slaves by dictators. 

The charming Poilievre has circulated a petition to "Stop the Reset" and of course the American far right are up to their necks in this. 

Ye gods, where to start? As I've tried to tell my conspiracy-minded acquaintances, if they think billionaires can agree on anything, let alone a complex global plot, they're crazy. But then of course, they ARE crazy. One of the key difference between left and right, I think, is that many on the right want simple sound bite answers to very complex questions. Drain the swamp. The great reset. They feel they're in the know, and those of us out here, struggling to understand massive economic and social shifts and problems, are sheep. 

Okay, enough about them. 

If I look half as good at 95 - 95! - as this grand old dame, and am still working, I'll be happy. 

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Free online writing seminars next week

Exciting and free writing program next week! 

A writing entrepreneur called Traci Skuce has organized an entire week, from Feb. 7 - 11, of online writing seminars, on various topics with many interesting writers, all for free. I was invited to participate and spoke with Traci last month about writing memoir and dealing with sensitive topics; our talk was taped and will air all day Thursday of next week, Feb. 10.

Click on the link for more info and sign up. You can't lose! 

Friday, February 4, 2022

lawless brutes bellowing

Imagine, Canada's now famous - for the hideousness of the trucker tantrum in Ottawa, which may spread worldwide. Of course, the real inspiration is January 6 in Washington - violent lawless brutes, bellowing. The policing has been abysmal. You can imagine what my far left daughter says about this, she who was at a demonstration with Indigenous people at Queen's Park when a woman draped a red flag on a statue and was arrested and handcuffed. Almost nothing has happened to the thugs in Ottawa. Surreal. Disgusting.

Is it because the police are sympathetic to the cause? Partly, perhaps. Of course, Anna thinks it's because the "protesters," aka terrorists, are white. And she may be right. It's also true this is an armed, angry bunch aching for trouble, to make themselves martyrs and provoke more trouble. And now this weekend, it has spread to this city and many others. People screaming about freedom, who live in one of the freest and safest countries on the planet. It is to weep. 

Next, the Conservative party will probably elect a sympathizer, a far right cretin, as leader. We are sinking into the abyss. 

To cheer us up, there's fresh snow, tons of snow, and it's very cold. We are deep inside the tunnel of winter here; I haven't left the house in days. But in fact, that's because I've been working like mad on the essay book. The latest draft went off tonight to my editor Ellie. It may be - as I wrote to her - like tapas, light snacks, not like the rich, heavy duty essays I love. Maybe not worth much. We'll see.

Tomorrow - dancing with Nicky and a date with Ruth, who's coming over to listen to my Mike Nichols and Elaine May record. Otherwise, blank. Luckily I have work, work, work, to fill my days and my soul. 

I read the most superb essay about the Beatles' "Get Back" by British writer Ian Leslie. I've written him a fan note before, after reading his "64 reasons to celebrate Paul McCartney." I just sent him another. What a kindred spirit. He wrote back, Beth - what a wonderful, heartening note for a writer to receive, thank you so much for writing it! Yours appreciatively, Ian 

More good news: I got a royalty statement for my audiobook from Audible: $19.72. I sent this info to Jason who helped me produce the book. "That villa in Mykonos is just around the corner!" he wrote back. Yes, Jason. Any day now. 

Paul Kelman died last week. We met in 1966 when he played Mr. Frank in our high school production of The Diary of Anne Frank. We became professional actors in 1969 when we were brought to Toronto, with four actor friends, to do a Young People's Theatre school tour and all rented a house in Kensington Market together. Here we are in the house in 1970 - Lynn, Suzette, Karin, Paul, me, Peter. 

All still friends, Lynn a linguist in the south of France, Suzette a screenwriter in L.A., Karin a journalist with CBC, Peter a visual artist in Nova Scotia. But now, Paul, handsome moody Paul the actor, has gone.