Monday, May 30, 2022

worry and good news

Was awake in the night for hours: Ukraine dragging on and the world losing interest, the appalling tragedy of Uvalde and the Repugs coming up with doors as a solution, it beggars belief!, and the election in Ontario, in which the three centre-left parties could not consider a merger of some kind, working together to make sure the disgusting Conservs and our doofus premier will not be re-elected - with a majority! - to decimate our province with highways through farmland, cutting and privatizing health care, slashing education and more. If the Green, NDP, and Lib votes were consolidated, we'd win by a long shot. But no, there's a three-way split on the left, because the egos are unsurmountable. 

Tossing and turning and raging and worrying. 

But then I got good news. A writing student and dear friend was diagnosed with breast cancer and has been writing with force about her journey through the nightmare: operation, chemo, radiation. She's been waiting for a new biopsy. Today she received the news: no further carcinomas. The @#$#@ fickle finger of fate has moved on. BRAVA! 

And a FB friend sent me a message on FB messenger. Something else to brighten my day: 


Hi Beth, Just want you to know how much I'm enjoying your book "Loose Woman." A friend lent it to me, but since it has so many great lines and thoughts I I want to mark in the margins, I just ordered my own copy. Take care, Diane

You sent

Thank you! Glad to receive more good news.

The garden is bursting forth. It's 30 degrees, the humidex 35 today, hotter tmw, but it's a blip, will cool down Wednesday. To brighten your day: a man of my acquaintance and his pup.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

pets, motherhood, art

Finished Helen Humphreys's lovely memoir And a Dog Called Fig, about writing and dogs, not in that order. Made me wonder how I've managed to write without owning a dog; all the walking, she feels, helps her writing greatly. She suggests we should all live the way a dog does, in the moment, filled with curiosity, enthusiasm, and a complete lack of negativity.

I will try. 

Now am reading two library books: Rebecca Solnit's Orwell's Roses, which so far I love, and The Baby on the Fire Escape: creativity, motherhood, and the mind-baby problem, by Julie Phillips. The cover art is by Alice Neel, and the first chapter is about Alice as artist and mother. Phillips also talks about Doris Lessing, Audre Lord, Alice Walker, Ursula LeGuin, and other artist-mothers. 

Somehow, women do it; they just do it, their art, their parenting. It's not easy, though it's easier now, I'm pretty sure, than it was decades or a century ago. I was talking today to Judy in Vancouver about Helen Humphreys, who's eleven years younger than we are and has published NINE novels, six nonfiction books, a ton of poetry collections, and won a bunch of awards. How is it possible? Well, Helen does not have children; she has dogs. It's harder, Judy and I laughed, to put your children in a crate so you can get some work done.  

That's my excuse for not having accomplished more, and I'm sticking to it.

I wrote to Helen that though I do not currently have a pet, my garden provides comfort and companionship, at least for half the year. Not much use on walks, though. 

I had an altercation a few days ago with the neighbourhood cat, a hilarious fat tabby who patrols the block, strolling up and down checking out the activity and making friends. Somehow he ended up in my yard. Because the way out involves steep stairs, I picked up the huge beast to help him down, and he let me know, with his claws in my flesh, what he thought of that. I have 7 or 8 punctures in my arm, one of them badly infected, puffy and red. I assume my body will take care of it and we will not have to amputate. The adventures of life. Who'd think a pet cat could dig so deep?

Sixty Minutes had a segment tonight on the horrific damage AK-47 assault rifles do to the body; one doctor recommends that all Americans carry around emergency packs with tourniquets to stop bleeding, in case of a mass shooting. Insane! How can a country be so wilfully blind? A terrific opinion piece by Omar al Akkad in the Globe said the gun lobby cares not at all about ideology, about freedom and the 2nd amendment, but simply profit. The more guns sold, the more profit, that's all, so it's worth their while to pump vast sums into the Republican party which does its best to terrify the population and stop any efforts at gun control. And they do. 

The definition of evil.

On the other hand, my New York cousin Ted's husband, Henry, went recently with his rabbi and others from his synagogue to Poland, bringing emergency supplies for the Ukrainian refugees there. Henry was interviewed in the local paper on his return, and spoke movingly about the extraordinary welcome the Poles are making for over a million Ukrainians, whom they call, not refugees, but their guests, and treat with dignity and care. It was heartening, much needed, to read good news about human beings, for once. 

Anna and the boys are in Nova Scotia, I gather having a superb time; she posted a picture of herself on a beach with a fresh oyster and a Keith's beer, Anna's definition of heaven. Sam came over yesterday with his Bandit shadow. At one point he went out for a bit and left Bandit with me. The pup pressed himself by the closed door, lifted his head, and howled some puppy howls, showing his wolfy roots: OOOOOOO. Eventually he settled down, lay his head on his water dish, and waited for his human to return. 

Yes, he lives in the moment with curiosity, enthusiasm, and a lack of negativity, but also with loyalty and devotion. We should all be like dogs. 

Not like cats.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Word on the Street panel with BK and Helen Humphreys

The heart breaks. We're living in a surreal time of madness — when children are murdered, slaughtered in their schoolrooms, and American politicians claim their deaths have nothing to do with easy, near limitless access to guns. How to comprehend the faces of pure and total evil, those who benefit from the bribes of the NRA. How to comprehend the abject failure of a country that puts access to guns ahead of the lives of its citizens, especially its children. Madness. Insanity. 

Trump was not the cause but the symptom, sure, but still, it's as if he's the Pandora who opened the box to liberate human vileness of every kind. It's all acceptable now. Here — Victoria Day celebrations marred with violence, teenagers aiming fireworks at celebrants and police. Many arrests. Has never happened before. 

Have to say, if I lived in the States and gun murder happened to a loved one of mine, my first impulse would be to buy a gun and murder a Republican senator.

Wouldn't help, I know. But I'd want to do it. To make a point. 

Okay, moving right along. I cannot do anything, cannot vote there, can only mourn and rage. And mourn. 

I spent Victoria Day with my grandsons. Their mother was working with her Indigenous group of food providers, Dashmaawaan, at a kids' festival at Harbourfront; we went down to see her. Back home, we played basketball and baseball in the alley until they wore me out and then watched Turning Red, such a superb animated film, I highly recommend it for adults even if you don't have a child to watch it with. And it's set in a recognizable Toronto! A beautiful, wise film. Don't miss it.

Excitement: Next Saturday I'm appearing at Word on the Street on a panel about memoir, with the marvellous Helen Humphreys, on Zoom. It's free! I'm thrilled. I'm reading Humphreys's And a dog called Fig right now and loving it; she's a beautiful writer writing about writing and puppies, and these days I'm interested in both. Please share this link with anyone who might be interested.

A much lesser excitement: a small Ikea just opened at Yonge and Gerrard, about ten blocks from me. Never did I imagine I'd be able to ride my bike to Ikea, but today I did. It was packed, of course, but it's surprisingly big for a downtown space. The Ikea designers are brilliant. I bought nothing but watched dazed people filling their carts with cushions, sheets, curtains, shelves, filing boxes, lamps, rugs, frames. Just what we need: more stuff.

Two nights ago, I lay awake thinking of a dear friend of mine, Michèle, in France, saying to myself, I must get in touch with her. A few hours later she called, to tell me her husband Daniel had died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. Daniel, with a head of tangled grizzled curls, was one of a kind, a wild crazy musician, dreamer, idealist; he wanted to change the world. He also at one time had a passionate affair with my mother and after her with many, many other women, yet he and Michèle remained a devoted couple to the end. That's France. It's hard to imagine a world without his lively, joyous, eccentric presence. 

My friends, hold your loved ones close. The monsters are out there.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

celebrating a young life and a vanished life

Two beautiful events this week: a tenth birthday party, and a memorial for a friend. Plus much much gardening.

My older grandson is now ten, wearing size 12. Anna told me, "I have to buy him deodorant. I'm not ready for this!" The party, after school on Friday, was the usual organized yet free-flowing madhouse, a United Nations of children piling into the yard and the laneway behind, for basketball, skateboarding, biking, trampolining, and some game invented by Eli. Anna kept producing food and the kids kept going, while a few parents had a beer in the shade. Anna tells parents if they want to leave their kids and go off to enjoy some quiet time, please do. And they do. 
Choosing music on the iPad
Bandit found some mud to roll in and chased everyone joyfully
Some game Eli invented. 

I know something now about these kids, those on the autism spectrum or with severe anxiety, or who've had to flee an abusive father or rarely see their father or are being raised by grandma because mother is working. Most extraordinarily, I heard two eight-year-olds on the trampoline; one said to the other in response to a question, as they bounced, "I'm non-binary," and they had a discussion about being non-binary. That is indeed a child who's known since sentience the body enclosing the soul was wrong, has always lived and dressed as the other sex. 

What a complex world they're growing up in. How proud I am Anna takes care of them all, including a mother and son there who, in crisis a few years ago, lived with Anna and family for over a month.
Birthday boy and his dad Thomas.

One of Eli's birthday presents from his mama and me is a trip for him, Anna, and Ben to Nova Scotia next week, to visit dear friends there. And from Holly, the thrill of a Jays game for the whole family. 

And a Jay did! The Jays won. Eli was born on Victoria Day; there are fireworks on his birthday every year. 

My friend Annie has been planning for months a memorial event for her husband Jim, who died suddenly a year ago of a heart attack. Jim was a screenwriter, so Annie and her kids invited 150 friends to view Jim's entertaining, quirky first film Destiny to Order at the Fox Cinema in the Beach, and then to gather at a nearby church hall. It was a marvellous assortment of people: Annie's friends from Catholic social activism, filmmakers, actors - Jim ran a TO theatre company for many years - Annie's family from England, Beach neighbours. There were tears not just for Jim but for our beloved friend Patsy, who died with MAID last year, since she'd worked in Jim's company, and many who knew her were there, including the wonderful, reclusive Nancy Beatty. Eating, talking, remembering. 
Miranda, Dorothy, Sue. Through the years I heard so much about beautiful Miranda from Patsy; what joy to meet her at last.

Only a few hours before the event, Ontarians received an emergency notice from the government - a huge thunderstorm heading our way, even possibly a hurricane or tornado. It descended - darkness, violent winds, howling rain. I thought, poor Annie, how can people get through this? About ten minutes later, it was over, and the afternoon was lovely. Apparently, the storm was so powerful, trees were torn up and at least four people died. But there was mild sun when we gathered, as human beings must and do, to celebrate a life. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

"Correspondence" from Queen's Quarterly

 My personal genius Patrick has figured out how to post this. Hover anywhere on the page and you can scroll down to the rest. You can click on the icons at the bottom to enlarge.

Monday, May 16, 2022

learning to say no - but yes to Simu Liu

I've just done something extremely hard - and yet it was not. I just turned down an offer to publish my essay book. Believe me, it was done with a great deal of agonizing. The publishing house publishes good writers, works fast, and would get the book into American and European as well as Canadian markets. But there are very good reasons for saying no. Back to the drawing board. 


I also sent a 9,500 word essay about a relative to another relative, who wrote back, "Read it but feel it's almost too much information..I was not totally captivated and lost my attention as I continued to read it...cant tell you why but that's my honest take."

I know from this blog you think the life of a writer is one of ease, fame, wealth, and lavish helpings of caviar and adulation. I'm letting you know this is often not the case. At least, not in MY case. 

And yet, what do I have to complain about? Nothing. It's spring. Yesterday, raging heat like July, today, cool and wet like April. I just watched a female sparrow being mounted by first one and then another male, quick, in, out, fly away, doesn't look like fun. Unlike the cardinals, so devoted to each other — last night when they came to drink on the deck, he waited behind her, keeping an eye for danger, while she sipped, and then it was his turn. Then I saw the season's first hummingbird, and there, high up in a neighbour's tree, a clump of fur which turned out to be a big raccoon sleeping in the heat. Yesterday was 26 feeling like 31 degrees. I felt like sleeping in a tree too. 

I am filled with wonder and gratefulness for the garden — the miracle that a month ago it was dead and brown and now is bursting with beautiful green life, and home to so many creatures. 

And last night, going to bed, I caught sight of the moon. Half was dark, the other half glowing orange, with shadow gradually encroaching — the super flower blood moon eclipse. I always think about primitive peoples, how confused and frightened they must have been seeing the moon disappear. And then come back. 

I watched a bit of the Junos and for once was mightily impressed. Simu Liu is not only adorable, he's the perfect host, especially with his paean to Canada that ended "Canada is a place where the government is also our drug dealer and we're into snowboarding not waterboarding and where a woman always has the right to choose.

Imagine, daring to say that at an American event! Speaking of which, more massacres there. How to watch a civilization hurtle into self-destruction? Everyone I speak to has given up on the States. Can it be fixed or redeemed? I don't think so. 

I put a great deal of the blame at the feet of Rupert Murdoch. Much much blame. 

For those of you following the saga of my daughter's dying cat — still vibrant but vomiting regularly, probably from an internal cancer — Anna had decided today was the day to take Naan to the vet. She'd done a day of goodbyes, prepared her grief-stricken sons. This morning, Ben had a fever, so the vet visit was cancelled. "She's cashed in another of her 10,000 lives!" Anna wrote.

Some of us are here to see another day. Some of us are not. Bandit, who came to visit this weekend with his favourite stuffy, and made a huge mess everywhere, is.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Yours Truly, a book of the blog

A long chilly spring and then, POUF,  summer in an hour, right now 26 degrees feeling like 29, hot sun, the garden exploding, everyone bewildered and sunburned. C'est la vie canadienne.

Haven't written in a while, just lots going on, though I'm not sure what. Well yes I do — teaching started, U of T on Zoom on Tuesday and the home class on Thursday, IN PERSON, real live human beings on the deck, five of the ten, so wonderful to be together again. Jennifer baked a delicious lemon cake. The stories were as always stellar. Such good writers, thrilling. 

The best!

And more in person events, meeting fellow writers Pamela and Catherine for drinks at Hemingway's and Toronto Lynn at the Gardiner Museum to see the Shari Boyle exhibit (very skilful, very strange), have a coffee, get caught up. Dear friends from university days, Suzette and Jessica, here for a sunny supper in the garden last night - the first time I've drunk hot weather rosé in Toronto in mid-May. 

A social week with actual people. Life returns. Though it's scary still, lots catching this thing, Lynn in France now has it. I am cautious, but it's so good to be with friends again. 

Biking home from the Gardiner, I passed an anti-abortion, anti-reproductive freedom march that was paralyzing University Avenue. I realize this is an extremely emotional and complex issue. But it's utterly incomprehensible to me to see, among the nuns and older women, many young women, all of them white, screaming about the unborn. How did they get co-opted into denying their own sexual freedom, their autonomy? As I read somewhere, "There is a term for living creatures who are not allowed to control their own reproduction. The term is 'livestock.'"

I could not stop myself from asking a group that had splintered off from the march, "What are you doing for living children?" No answer, but a lot of hostility. I pray this issue is not migrating from the US, as so much other angry vileness has. 

Sam is on his way over with Bandit, who's overheated, poor doggie. Sam will help me plant, lots of work to be done, if we can stand the heat. 

Still thrilled with my blog book; I now have all four volumes, with probably four more to come. So much there; what an interesting life that woman had! I got out my first blog book, Yours Truly: a book of the blog, which my friend Chris Loranger designed for me. My mother said it was the best book she'd ever read. 

If you want to find out how to turn a blog into a book with a story arc — and make your mother happy — please let me know. There are a few - more than a few - in a box in the basement.

PS Big Leafs game tonight; if they win they go on to the playoffs. Or something like that. I'm not watching but I heard the shouts of joy from neighbours and checked online: they just tied it one/one. 

Of course we know what happens to the dreams of Leafs fans. But I hope my fellow citizens can celebrate tonight. This city is in such bad shape — homelessness, hunger, excessive construction of monstrous high-rises, hideously snarled traffic, filthy streets,  a stuffy mayor and an anti-city, pro-car suburban premier. A little Leafs victory would go a long way. 

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Happy Caregiver's Day

Bought this sweet piece of kitsch at Goodwill in the early seventies, gave it to my mother, got it back when she died. This is of course what we know all mothers should look like, tranquil, in ballgowns, arranging flowers. 

Happy Caregiver's Day to all who are looking after others!

Friday, May 6, 2022

Jeopardy and the blog as a book

Monsieur Cardinal taking his bath, again:

The cold wing of Covid has brushed close. Had dinner on my deck Wednesday with Cathy and Monique. Cathy had been with her daughter who later tested positive. Cathy had tested negative and felt fine but was careful; we distanced. At midnight, she felt sick and tested positive. Monique and I are hoping the outside air will spare us, but are waiting to see. In the meantime, I cancelled a date today with a friend going through cancer treatment. This thing is so contagious, and still very much with us.

Did go for the usual Friday walkabout with Ruth, who told me about her trip to Stratford with our friend Merrijoy; they got the bus there, saw a matinee of Chicago that she says is fabulous, and got the bus back = a very long day. Ruth is 83 and Merrijoy is 94 1/2. Inspiring, as always! Ruth and I rejoiced in spring - a profusion of daffs and tulips and this magnificent magnolia by the Necropolis. 

I'm watching Jeopardy every night for the first time in my life. How does that young Canadian Mattea Roach know so many arcane facts? One question: In 1864, what Shakespeare play did John Wilkes Booth and his brother perform? She replied Julius Caesar. Correct. Phenomenal! Tonight, I'll have to juggle between Mattea and Upstart Crow, the wonderful satire starring Shakespeare, both at 7.30. 

Exciting news. My friend Jean-Marc said he felt there should be a printed copy of my blog. "In a hundred years," he said, "someone studying middle-class women in Cabbagetown in the twenty-first century will be able to consult your blog." Okay, why not? JM came on as project manager. It has cost more than anticipated but it's worth it; there are four bound books containing one million two hundred and fifty thousand words. That's just for ten years, 2007, the start of the blog, through 2017! Five more years to go. The fourth volume wasn't ready but I picked up three today. Extry extry read all about it - middle-class woman in Cabbagetown won't shut up! 

I've been working obsessively, getting an essay ready to submit by a May 15 deadline. I started with a piece that was 16,000 words, but the limit for this magazine is 10,000, so had to cut over 6000 of my precious, beautiful words. A valuable exercise. CUT.

Too bad I didn't do that for the million-plus-word blog. LOL. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Fuck the hypocritical right wing of the Supreme Court

The happy stuff first: yesterday was my daughter's 41st birthday, so the 41st anniversary of the day my heart was cracked open to include other lives, forever. Anna and I had a thrilling time; she got a carshare car and we drove to Ikea and Costco, places I almost never get to, be still my beating heart. I bought her a huge load of groceries, and then we went home to make dinner for the gang: her family, Thomas, Sam and Bandit, and our extended family Holly and Nicole. 

Eli with Lego; Ben was playing with many cars and Nicole but he runs away whenever the phone comes out. 
The birthday boy, with Holly, is now ten going on fifteen. New haircut which he gels into Mohawk punk. 
Son and furry grandson #3, the joy of all. That's little Nugget's cage behind, Eli's Xmas present the dwarf gerbil, who slept through the celebrations. And luckily for us all, Naan the cat-who-refuses-to-die did not throw up during dinner.

As we drove yesterday, Anna told me that because of the climate crisis, she's resolved almost never to buy new clothing any more, for herself or for the boys. She will go to Value Village instead. She says when the boys are teens and have their own opinions about style, she may have to relent, but until then, it's second hand all the way. Sam too often buys second hand, though it's harder to find clothing for someone six foot eight. Have to say, they did learn this from their old mother, who's been a serious Goodwill shopper for decades; there's an essay about being a GW junkie in my essay collection. 

Proud to have passed the torch. Especially after hearing on CBC about a new firm, Shein, with clothes so cheap, young women buy stuff, put it on to take a selfie for IG, and throw it away. Nauseating. 

At our meal, I thought, this moment is a blessed plateau in our family life. For once, for now, everyone is well, mentally and physically; everyone's life is more or less settled. For now. For now. As for me, I have two great tenants, the house is in good shape, my work is moving along, if glacially as usual, and spring is here. What more can I ask, except our continued good health, and world peace?

I am thinking today, though, of the letter I found in Mum's papers after she died. It's November 1947 and she writes to my father, whom she loves but is not even engaged to, about an abortion she had to arrange after they'd spent a week together in the summer. He's back doing a Master's in New York but had come to Europe in August to study and to see her; she's working with the United Nations in war-ravaged northern Germany. Pregnant, she can't find help from the British sector, her colleagues, who'd be shocked; she can't seek help from a German doctor since the Germans hate the British. I don't know what she did; she doesn't say in the letter and never once mentioned this event to me, even when I told her about my own abortion, coincidentally at exactly the same age, 25. 

But she writes about terrible fear and isolation, days of extreme pain and bleeding afterward during which only one friend knew what was wrong; her colleagues were told she had a terrible flu. She writes she's afraid of permanent damage, though luckily for me and my brother, that was not the case. She hopes my father is not offended by her mentioning this sordid story. Imagine. 

What's happening in the States is beyond grotesque. We all know the Supreme Court cares nothing for the "sanctity of life," has no regard for actual living children, for health care, education, housing or food or even access to birth control. They simply want to impose evangelical control over the bodies of poor women, since women with means will find a way to terminate unwanted pregnancies, as they have since the dawn of time. It's so immoral, to focus on the unborn in a world of almost 8 billion people - 8 billion! - vast numbers of whom are starving and homeless, it makes me physically ill.

I'll be marching. In the meantime, I'll calm my heart by looking out at the delicate green glowing on the trees. Green, growing, flourishing. The sanctity of life. 

Allan Gardens
Kaplan gardens

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Guy Lafleur and Flossie Lewis: masters of their domains

Ruth sent me this, about Flossie Lewis, and it's gorgeous, brought tears to my eyes. The importance of a good teacher with a wise, good soul, of keeping a sense of humour and perspective, and of being able to say thank you before it's too late.

Flossie made me smile. Many have noted that when I'm setting out somewhere in a car as a passenger, I want to know our route and immediately correct it. We should be going THIS way, faster, more direct, better! I've always attributed this trait to my birth in New York; all my relatives there are the same. And now I know it's true. Route-directing bossiness is a Jewish New Yorker gene.

I love that this entire country is in a paroxysm of grief about the great Guy Lafleur's death. As it should be. I'm no hockey fan, but in 1979, I was working at Montreal's Centaur Theatre when the Artistic Director, Maurice Podbrey, told me there was something I had to see. That night he took me to the Forum to watch the Habs, and there I saw a spectacular athlete with blonde hair flowing out behind him - no helmet for Guy - soaring with impossible speed and grace up and down the ice. It was as mesmerizing as the time I watched the prima ballerina Suzanne Farrell in London, clear that here was a master, I would never see better. Unforgettable. Thank you, Maurice, and thank you, Guy.

For today's pleasure - it was so grey and wet today - here's a sleeping pup who already lives in our hearts.