Sunday, October 30, 2022

shining on, with coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 27, 2022

and the autumn weather/turns the leaves to flame

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

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

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

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

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

Stop, blood pressure rising.

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

Monday, October 24, 2022

Codename Sally: bravo PEN!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 22, 2022

reaching October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Pina Bausch and Rite of Spring; winter prep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's enough.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

The opera Carmen, George Saunders on empathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, October 13, 2022

Learning to Speak: new essay on the Brevity Blog

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 10, 2022

Thankful on Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

What she looked like, then.

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

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

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

In the Necropolis cemetery yesterday.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Cabbagetown apartment for rent

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

Annie Ernaux and Karin Wells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

The Shark is Broken, and Where You End and I Begin

This is a very busy house. Late Saturday night, Carol arrived from Ecuador. Carol lived on my top floor for years but, after her mother finally died here, she moved back to her other home in South America and has not been back for 3 years. She spent two days in the spare room and moved to the basement suite when Sheldon Elter moved out on Monday, after his run at Soulpepper, during which he won a Dora award. Bravo, Sheldon! A terrific actor who will go far. 

Immediately, Anna arrived from Stratford to take Carol's place in the spare room for her usual Monday stay. Late tomorrow her friend Janet, who is now my friend, arrives from Vancouver for a night; on Thursday, Anna's husband Tom comes for his Thursday stay. And last night, Robin who has lived on the top floor for 3 years came back from a month in Italy with many stories to tell. I live alone — ha! 

It's that strange in-between season — moving out the cotton and moving in the wool. The furnace has been on for more than a week, early, usually it's not on till Thanksgiving. But the deck plants are still outside; no frost yet. Many green tomatoes to use up. Many scarlet leaves on the ground. Apples. 

On Sunday, for his birthday present, I took Sam to see The Shark is Broken, a play at the Royal Alex, starring and written by Ian Shaw, son and doppelganger of famed British actor Robert Shaw. It's a clever, entertaining play about the making of the film Jaws, which Sam, film buff that he is, has seen so many times, he can quote chunks of dialogue by heart. It's about being an actor, an alcoholic, a man, a son, and what men do when they're stuck on a boat waiting endlessly for a mechanical shark to be fixed. Terrific. Sam wants to see it again. 

I finished Where you end and I begin, the memoir by Leah McLaren. I think it was Anne Lamott who said, Believe me, no one in your family is happy you're writing a memoir, and I'm sure Leah's mother Cecily Ross is deeply unhappy with this one. It's about how "enmeshed" they were, the girl and her irresponsible, fascinating mother, to a profoundly unhealthy degree. Cecily was sexually abused for years in childhood, and Leah's thesis is that the damage inflicted on her mother was passed down to her daughter. Enmeshment = "emotional incest," a continual violation of boundaries. 

I speak in class about "wounds and scars," how important it is that you've dealt with your wounds before you write, because otherwise you're settling scores and airing grievances instead of telling a story. Leah McLaren is a very good writer, and it's a compelling, well-written book. But I felt that beneath the skill of the writing and the bright, engaging voice, there are wounds on display.

I'm still delving into the massive pile of clippings of Dad's speeches and achievements and letters to the editor. Two obsessive women there — the one delving, and the one who cut out and stored all those bits of paper. Scores, hundreds of them.

Photo unearthed: Dad soaked, in bare feet, balancing or dancing on a brick wall with an attractive young woman. The circumstances? Who knows? Perhaps my mother would have liked to know. 

My neighbour's massive Hallowe'en display with fifteen-foot-high monster is up already. Slow down! It's coming soon enough!