Saturday, December 31, 2022

Happy NY!

So many congratulations about the cat pouring in on FB and IG — I feel like a newly-wed. But she ain't here yet. 

My childhood cat was grey, perhaps that's why I responded so immediately to her pic. My father named all our pets after Greek goddesses, so he named her Ariadne, and I named her Wusso. I adored her. We had a rule — if you had a cat in your lap, you didn't have to get up to do chores. You could call, "I have a little grey visitor," and my mother would leave you alone. 

Soon I hope to have a little grey visitor.

I'm almost human today, though it was another dark, wet one. My lungs are less porous and I have a bit of energy. The great excitement today is that Annie came over for dinner! Amazingly, this dear friend got Covid at exactly the same time as I, so we can pass our germs back and forth. We had eggplant parmesan Gretchen brought over from Epicure, and Annie's homemade Xmas cake; we watched Endeavour and a few minutes of the Lizzo concert, which was pretty overwhelming in every way, just so not something I want to watch, admire her chutzpah though I do. 

And now it's 9.20 and another thing I do not want to watch is screaming people in Time's Square. One of the joys of getting old: who gives a shit about NYEve? We've seen a bunch of these. It's one year rolling into another, get over it, move on, shut up. 

Oh oh, sounding like a cranky old lady, m'dear. 

My daughter gave me an exquisite piece of Indigenous art, a medicine shield, for Xmas. It's now on the wall facing my desk. May you too have a medicine shield, to get you through the next year with health, kindness, contentment, friendship. Maybe an adventure or two.

Thanks for coming along for the ride, my friends. Happy New Year. 

Friday, December 30, 2022

a new housemate

A powerful dream last night. I had to have a blood test – perhaps this is because I actually do, at some point soon, and am looking for a new doctor, and because I’m sick. After the test, there was something wrong. I could see the doctor making calculations based on what the test had revealed. I sat watching, thinking, Of course it’s fine, I’m a very healthy person.

And then he told me I have cancer of the blood and the prognosis is not good. I felt despair and serenity at the same time. Determination to live my last days as well as I can. Regret for the books I wanted to have written and had not.

Well, that’s a cheery dream. I told Judy, fellow writer, who laughed, Even in dreams, we’re beating ourselves up for not writing!

A good thing about Covid: detox. No wine, not the tiniest desire for wine. But today, I was feeling dreadful in the morning when I realized I hadn't had coffee. Suffering from caffeine withdrawal! Sure enough, a cup of coffee helped. The NYT reported yesterday that people who drink 1 to 3 cups of coffee a day live substantially longer. Good news, for once. 

Today's excitement: How quickly things can change. A friend of a friend posted a picture of a cat on FB, saying her owner had died and she needs a new home. I got in touch instantly. A match made in heaven, literally: I need a quiet older cat who's used to living inside, and that's who she is, so she won't be clawing to get out and hunt my birds. The owner's niece is going to call me tonight, to make sure I'm a nice person; I am waiting to audition as a cat owner. The cat lives in Kitchener, so Anna has offered to rent a car and go pick her up. The boys are already excited about their two kitties having a cousin across town. 

The house has been without its own pet for far too long. I've been waiting for my next cat to contact me, and she did.

We'll have to negotiate Bandit when the time comes. 

I passed! The arrangement is for Anna to go pick up my little grey friend Monday. I can feel the excitement from above, my mother and aunt, cat-lovers in the extreme.

Feels like I've had a very successful day of internet dating. 

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Kennedy Centre Honours and looking in the mirror

There are days when it hurts to look at myself in the mirror. And this is one of them. 

I've been sleeping well, but last night the coughing hit again - up at 3 to make lemon and honey tea, up at 5 for cough medicine and half a sleeping pill, and to sit up and begin to write a new foreword to my essay book. Haven't read the scribbles yet.

But this morning, feeling fragile and looking old, old, old. I am not a vain woman, but when I looked in the mirror I saw a hag, with lined skin and bleary eyes. I know, that's harsh, and this too shall pass. But it's a reminder that aging is not for sissies. It does not get prettier, though Hollywood struggles desperately, and foolishly, to pretend otherwise. Except for Cher. Cher is completely ageless. But everyone else looks like a zombie. 

I do not look like a zombie, but like a 72-year-old woman with Covid who didn't get enough sleep. The face is not pretty, but it's real. And the good news is: I'm washed and dressed! I changed my sheets, because on top of everything in the night, I knocked over my water glass which soaked my corner of the bed. I just shoved myself over to the other side and closed my eyes. 

People have been incredibly kind in their offers of help, reminding me, once again, that I am not in fact alone, as I sometimes moan about being, I am surrounded by the love and care of generous, good people. This is an advantage of being single - instead of relying on one person to take care of you when you're down, there's a community. There's a community because as a single person I've maintained many vital bonds, not just with friends but with neighbours, current and former students, friends of friends. Although right now, I need nothing, it's heartening to know they are all out there.

Last night, watched the Kennedy Centre Honours - magnificent Gladys Knight with her Pips, glorious George Clooney, Tania Leon, an extraordinary 79-year-old Black female avant-garde composer - imagine how hard life was for her! - and U2. What was notable with both Clooney and U2 was the focus less on their art but more on their tireless work for many social justice causes. The most beautiful moment was Nick Clooney, George's father, a former journalist aged 88, speaking with pride of his son's activism. 

Have to say, looking at the man - incredibly handsome and multi-talented with many friends and a great sense of humour, married to the most brilliant, beautiful, socially engaged woman on the planet, father of twins, on top of everything else, he has a nice father who loves him? What is the thorn in the rosebed of George Clooney's life? 

Yesterday, a huge treat and a great lift - a package from France. It was a scarf bought by Lynn at her favourite haunt, Galeries Lafayette. "This colour always reminds me of you," said the card, and sure enough, these are my colours. The scarf reminded me of an Indian print dress I wore so constantly through the sixties that it disintegrated; perhaps had it on the day I met Lynn in September 1967. I will wear this scarf to bits too, though it's French, so unlike me, it won't wear out.

If only she had the slightest inkling of how pretty she is. Look at that hair, that skin. But she didn't. I'm also admiring my mother's hollyhocks.

It brought tears to my eyes to be reminded of how well my friend knows me. I sent her a shawl and a colourful Lawren Harris calendar, to keep reminding her of her Canadian roots. Maybe she'll come back some day.

No, she won't. 

And incidentally a friend remarked on how often I write in the blog that something makes me weep. Maybe "brought tears to my eyes" would be more accurate, he suggested. That's the first blog critique I've received and have taken it to heart, as you see. 

Wrote this in my daytimer for today. Working on it. Oh, and incidentally, I've lost a kilo. The miracle Covid diet! 

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

hooray for Paxlovid!

Well, if you have to get really sick, the week after Xmas is a good time. Nothing on the calendar, except that I'm supposed to be at my exercise class at the Y right now. Laughing out loud.

I'm better, definitely, though not as better as I'd like. Some have said their bout of Covid was like a bad cold. This is much worse than a bad cold, though I'm sure the Paxlovid is helping; I slept well last night, after two previous nights of coughing. Got up hoping to have some energy. Made oatmeal, ate it, had to lie down for a nap. 

Just had to gather the energy to empty the dishwasher. Managed. Have started to put away Xmas. But getting dressed? Too much effort.

One of the worst things is the tinny metallic taste in my mouth. Everything tastes terrible. 

Yesterday, my dear friend Annie wrote to say she'd been feeling dreadful since Xmas evening. She thought, as I had, it was a bad cold. I told her, test! And sure enough, she too is positive. So I said, come on over, sit by the fire and we can breathe on each other. I hope she will, at some point. Another friend wrote when she read my blog, also just tested positive. It's cutting a wide swath, this thing.

One of our Xmas guests, Ben's Dad, has just tested positive. Merry Christmas, here's a nice virus for you. Sorry! Anna and the boys were going to come Friday for a sleepover. I guess not. 

Had taped the final episodes of His Dark Materials so got to watch them yesterday. It had incredible special effects, particularly the daemons - the animals that are part of human souls, so perfectly portrayed. The angels - surely some of the weirdest and most wonderful British actors ever. Yes, it does deal with the welcome end of a repressive authoritarian life-denying religion, but mostly, it's the love story of two brave, thoughtful young people, played by two spectacular young actors. Stunning. Loved it. 

Today's plan - getting better, managing to eat something, maybe being able to read and concentrate. Lighting the fire. Listening to the CBC. Two people have sent me bits to read and edit, so that's good; that part of my brain always works. MUST EDIT.

Hope to get to my own work. At some point. I'd planned to plunge into work this week. 

It'll happen. Just not today.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

a misery diagnosis: guess what?

 So my dear blogger friend Theresa Kishkan, whom I've never met, suggested that despite my recent negative Covid test, I should take another because my symptoms sounded like hers when she had Covid. And guess what? 

Woo hoo! Bingo! Bull's eye! IT'S COVID!

Well, I've been saying for ages that we're all going to get this thing at some point, so it's my turn. A good time to get it - nothing on the calendar during this long post-Xmas week. I just pray I was not spewing germs at my beloveds on Xmas day. Please may they not get sick. 

Several problems: even my upstairs tenant is away, so I'm on my own. Apparently Paxlovid is available for over-70's but I've been on hold for over an hour with Shopper's and my doctor's office is closed. (I still have a doctor for a few more months.) Plus the recycling has to go out tonight. Many have offered to help, but I don't want to endanger my older friends. Luckily dear Holly, my daughter by another mother, has offered to come over to help. This woman is an angel. 

I have no interest in food; everything tastes terrible. The thought of coffee or wine turns my stomach - imagine, me! Sleeping is disaster. Coughing, aching. Head foggy. I look and feel 100. 

BUT - imagine what this might have been if I weren't triple vaxxed! Thank the blessed scientists of this world for their hard work and brilliance. For the fact that THIS TOO SHALL PASS. That I will not be in hospital on a breathing tube.

The world is a dangerous place. Feeling more so by the minute. 

PS. Less so now. The pharmacist at Shoppers was reluctant to give me Paxlovid until he had a full report about my kidneys. My kidneys are fine! I said. I've never had them tested and the doctor's office, of course, is closed. He asked what drugs I was taking or about allergies - nothing, niente, nada. Finally he gave in and Holly picked it up for me, I've started the course. She took out the recycling and moved on. I want to give away all the food in my fridge except eggs, I think I can handle eggs. 

But at the moment, on the sofa in the living room, with herbal tea in my new CBC Christmas mug and Kleenex box at the ready, in front of the fire. Nap time.

Monday, December 26, 2022


 A few days ago, I wrote, "I'm afraid to write about how calm everything is, because it's asking for trouble."

Et voilà. The next day I got a letter in the mail from my doctor. I've been with a health clinic doctor for decades; she retired recently and a new young one took her place. She wrote that she has too many patients and has to dump some of them, so I'm off her list. Two days before Xmas — great timing, Doc.

It's a scary feeling, being dumped by your doctor. But I know lots of people don't have one. 

And then I got sick, really really sick. Managed to get through yesterday, but today it hit with full force. I think it's bronchitis - endless coughing, headaches, body aches. I wanted to put Xmas away - the living room is still awash in bits of paper and boxes - but couldn't move, was in bed all day. Was going to make turkey soup, and instead, I am defrosting some that was in the freezer. 

Several friends and my children have offered help, but I don't need anything, except to get my lungs back asap. 

So - all not quite so calm, after all. 

You know what really helps? Telling you about it. Thanks for listening. 

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Christmas blessings

Hooray, it's over! But it was a good one.

It pays to get sick at times like this, because then you're forced to relax and let it happen. I have a sore throat with coughing and aching, so have no idea how the food was, couldn't taste anything and didn't really care. I got the turkey stuffed and in the oven with the sweet potatoes, and lay down. Set the table, and had a nap. It was a quiet Xmas morning. 

The gang arrived early afternoon for the ripping and the exclamations and the pile on. My great thrill was that Ben and Eli had made me something; Eli, who does not enjoy reading or writing, did a beautiful book report of one of my favourite books, Charlotte's Web. I'm sure it was a lot of work from his mother to get it done, but it's a treasure.

Best of all was what came next. Thomas, Eli's dad, was here with us as usual, but then Matt, Ben's dad, arrived for dinner. This was the first time Anna's two "baby daddies," as she calls them, were here together. I don't know how she has managed these two, but she has; they both love both boys and now are perfectly comfortable with each other. At one point, the boys were playing a sort of badminton game with Matt with Thomas watching and laughing.


The boys will go with Matt tomorrow to his family, for their third Christmas. Are they lucky or what? 

Thomas with his boys at Anna's.

Sam with his boy here. 

Now I get to put it all away, the tiny tree with its tiny decorations, the cards, the lights, the box of wrapping paper. I'll watch Call the Midwife and go to bed, and get better, and move on. I call Xmas a tsunami every year, but this year it wasn't so much. The tsunami was the weather, the storm, trains and planes cancelled, people stuck for hours. 

What a blessing to gather with loved ones, to feast, to exchange gifts that show we've been thinking of each other, in this house where we've celebrated Christmas thirty-six times. The greatest gift.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

sitting this one out

Covid test negative, thank you God. But I've been hit with something, as I was last Xmas — this time, aches and raw throat. Luckily, as Anna wrote, they've all been hit with something too, so we won't be afraid of transmitting bugs tmw. In the meantime, the city and province are chaos, the roads and airways impassable, power out for thousands. Here the snow has stopped though more may come; the house is warm, the internet works. What more do I need? I might ordinarily have run out for last minute gifts, but that won't be happening.

Made the stuffing and the leeks, need to get the Brussels ready and the broccoli. All else ready for the onslaught.

Last night, Monique and upstairs tenant Robin came to help eat leftovers, and then I watched the last episode of The Crown, with its surprising portrayal of an insecure Prince Charles desperately trying to drag his stuffy, intransigent family into the twenty-first century, and leaving us just as Dodi and Diana are about to meet, with, as we all know, tragic consequences. 

So I'm sitting under a blankie watching the birds at the feeder in the white white landscape. Will do as little as possible today. That's all I've got.

Photo: My mother, 89, at Thanksgiving 2012, with Eli, 5 months, and Anna, 31. Mum died two month later on Christmas day.

Eli's first Christmas. Then, chewing everything. Now, eating nothing healthy, a tall ten-year-old. Ten years. In a flash.

And another celebration of the hairy grandson, posing with sublime gravitas, who has brought much love to our family this year. May there be much love in your family today too, whether hairy or not, or simply in your heart. Merry Everything!

Thursday, December 22, 2022

time out: calm before storm

Never have I been so grateful to be as old as I am. When I think of Christmasses past - as I wrote in the essay posted on FB - there was so much to do, so many people to think of, I was stretched as thin as I've ever been. But now, I'm mostly ready a few days in advance, happily, because a big storm is coming in tonight. Today was like spring, mild and sunny, but tomorrow will apparently be a chaos of snow and freezing rain. 

I think of the women with full-time jobs who were counting on doing last minute shopping and prep tomorrow and Saturday. And everything so much more expensive this year, food and much else. Whereas for my ancient self - the gifts are wrapped, including a bag of chewies for Bandit, almost all the groceries for the dinner are in - will need to schlep out for the turkey and a few more things. I don't bake and have a minuscule fake tree. Sam and Bandit just came over to help wrap lights around the cedar at the front, now a messy tangle of red, yellow, and white. 

Tonight, nine of my home class students are coming for our annual festive gathering. The chickens are cooked, the potatoes are mashed, and they will bring the rest. Grateful for friends like these. Grateful my children live across town so will not be travelling far through a storm, and that Mum and Auntie Do will not have to either. This Christmas, I just realized, will be the tenth anniversary of my mother's death, at 3 a.m. Christmas morning 2012. A yahrzeit candle will burn for her all day. 

I'm afraid to write about how calm everything is, because it's asking for trouble. 

I think of the people living in tents in Allan Gardens. Yesterday they were unpacking a big stack of wooden pallets, I guess to raise the tents off the ground. There's a big central tent with a fire going all the time. It's like something from a refugee camp, in the heart of Canada's biggest metropolis. To our shame. 

Zelenskyy — has there ever been a better example of the right person at the right time? Could he be more perfect for the terrible job he has been assigned? His courage and clarity are saving his country. And his wife too. How the vile little Russian leader must rage, to hear the man he hoped to crush praised to the skies, as he deserves to be. Noble is a good word here. A true mensch. 

Yesterday, in a first, I was invited for dinner by the new tenant in the downstairs suite. Carried my bottle of wine down the basement stairs and knocked on the bedroom door. It's wonderfully cosy there. Someone else's world, beneath kitchen floor. 

That's it - just taking a moment, before the guests arrive, to say a profound thank you for this moment in time. Here's a perfect picture I will send to Sam, because his nickname is Giraffe. And a message for us all. May you take a moment, in the frantic rush of this time, to breathe. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

His Dark Materials

Mostly, wanted to share with you this new picture of the hairy grandson sleeping on his dad's leg. He had a blood pressure test at the vet today; the meds are working, his pressure is down. He still has a bad heart but they're doing what they can. "My baby boy," wrote Sam.

I watched two more episodes of His Dark Materials last night, an extraordinary series; like Atwood's Madaddam you should have read the books to really follow what's going on - what the hell is the dust they're all obsessed with, for God's sake? It's the fight of good and evil, the storyline a relentless attack on the Catholic church or any giant authoritarian religion or cult - the Magisterium, joy and life-denying villains in long black robes. But also, as these stories so often are, at its most basic level it's about the quest to make your parents proud of you. I love that in the series, fabulously realized with CGI, the characters all have a daemon, an animal that's a reflection of their soul, an integral part of them. Bandit is Sam's daemon. 

Yesterday Lyra and Will were ferried to the Land of the Dead, which turned out to be a horrible dank place, like a prison camp. A ghostly woman cried, "We sacrificed during our lives because they told us we'd go to a lovely heaven and instead we're here!" One commentator writes,  The Land of the Dead is a place that makes people forget they were ever alive. It divides them from their memories, their senses, and their pleasures. It isolates them, and its monsters – the harpies – whisper their most destructive inner thoughts back to them from the shadows, with no hope of anything ever changing. In short, it’s one of the greatest literary depictions of depression there’s ever been, and this stripped down version, with its desaturated ghosts and teetering cliffs of old possessions, did it total justice. 

But the two heroes find a way to lead the others out, all saved because they begin to tell stories. One of the horrible harpies is pacified by the stories the heroes and the dead tell each other about their lives. "True stories feed us," it hisses.

True stories feed us. I'd ask my kids to carve that on my gravestone except it seems unlikely there'll be one. 

Speaking of true stories, I posted one about Christmas on FB. If you're on FB, maybe you can access it, since it's too long to put here.

And since I haven't bitched for awhile, here's one. I recently bought theatre tickets for Anna, the boys, and me. On the receipt that was emailed was this so-called "Pledge of Welcome." Sorry the ends are cut off but you get the idea.  

We seek continually to provide a welcoming and comfortable environment for everyone, and pledges to treat all visitors with the utmost respect and dignity. We ask that visitors reciprocate the same in their treatment of our employees, artists, volunteers and other guests, whether in person or online. With this in mind, discrimination or harassment of any kind, whether based on race, colour, national origin, religion, creed, gender identity, age, physical, mental or developmental disability, marital status, sexual orientation, political ideology or any other reason, will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to remove comments and/or any person who demonstrates violent, discriminatory, or harassing language and/or behavior; and to refuse admission or participation to anyone who has violated these conditions during previous activities.


I wrote to them, Really? You think this is necessary? Your audiences, Toronto people who love the theatre, are violent, abusive, insulting, discriminatory harassers? Someone clutching a theatre ticket is going to start screaming at someone else in the lobby because they think they might be developmentally delayed? Divorced? Old? 

This is virtue signalling of the highest order, and it is offensive. 

Cannot help myself. My friend Ruth and I are firing off missives of complaint - and praise - all the time. Not that it helps. But it can't hurt either, no?

Monday, December 19, 2022

a brief encounter on College Street

At noon today I was downtown, rushing as usual - had forced myself to pop into Winners for the annual gift of socks for Sam, also managed to pick up a basketball and gloves, both always needed around here. Was dashing out to unlock my bike on the way to my Monday class at the Y when two older women dressed in black approached me with pleading faces. I was about to brush them off, as we do in the city, thinking they were Jehovah's Witnesses, but stopped. "Please to help?" one said, with a thick Ukrainian accent.

She was a haggard middle-aged woman, the other much older, undoubtedly her mother. Someone had printed instructions for them to get to Women's College Hospital, but they were lost. I pointed them in the right direction, telling them in slow English, over there, then cross, then go left. It was very cold here today, and busy College Street is not a friendly place. I think Toronto right now is not a friendly place. 

I felt the brutality of that war suddenly close, again. Here were two vulnerable older women who should not be in a foreign country, struggling to make their way around in the dead of winter. They should be in their own homes. May they be safe here. May we keep them safe until they can go home. 

Watched part of a documentary on Darwin and evolution and how fervently American evangelicals deny scientific reality, homeschooling their children that God created the world just as in the bible and they must be ready for people to make fun of them for not believing in evolution. Incredible, so many decades after the Scopes trial. Are Americans more gullible than other nationalities? We do see the huge failure of their education system daily. (Though not of their legal system, at least, today. LOCK HIM UP!)

But the doc was fair, also showing that faith brings comfort to the religious, showing a couple at the bedside of their daughter who was made quadriplegic in a car accident. They said with shining faces that God has a plan. 

Incomprehensible to me, but obviously there's something fundamental I'm missing. 

Anna and family are all sick with some kind of flu, which I hope is not God's plan. Sam reported that in the night mice chewed open his big bag of dog food; Bandit helped himself to a great deal and was sick all over the apartment. He wrote later, however, that they play games together and his face hurts sometimes from laughing. What a wonderful image that is. 

I found a place for all Patsy's poems: hanging from the big oleander in the kitchen. She is with us, still. 

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Christmas memories

The Christmas sads have hit. I opened the big Xmas box today. No real tree again this year, since the kids have two at Anna's, the big one in the living room and a small one in their room. Here, a tiny Ikea tree I bought for Auntie Do and took back after she died. I've decorated it and strewn some lights around, and listened to Eleanor while I wrapped. 

At the bottom of the box, I found the pile of handmade Christmas decorations with poems on them that Patsy sent every year, and I am weeping. Did I ever truly appreciate how original and beautiful and thoughtful they are, some with leaves or flowers, or shaped like stars, or including an eggnog recipe? There are eighteen of them, all different, funny, haunting. She sent them to all her good friends; by sheer coincidence, David Ferry just emailed me with a picture of Patsy's decorations on his tree. 

She died by MAID in May 2021, after a few years with increasingly invasive ALS. Last year was the first year without a decoration from Patsy, and now will be the second. 

I'm going to find a way to put all her poems on display, to remind us how lucky we were that she loved us.




                                    here you come again


                                   from the recycling bin

                                to decorate our living rooms

                                  like flocks of small birds

                                that flit and light and swoop

                                    among the winter trees

                            irrepressibly alive and full of cheer

                        such fragile wings to carry so much love



There are also notes from me through the years, trying to hang onto the day. Xmas 86, Sam, who was two, pulled all the decorations he could reach off the tree; Anna got a purple unicorn. My parents and Uncle Edgar were here. Dad died two years later, my uncle in 1997, Mum on Christmas day, 2012. 

In 1992, a note from Sam, now a child of divorce: Dear Santa, I hope you have lots of fun. Please remember to come to my dad's house. Love Sam and Anna. PS They are for you. (a picture of cookies and milk.) 

I think I've posted before, but here it is again, a note that year from Anna, who was eleven: Dear Santa: Hope you like Coke and Oreos and bananas. The clementines and apples are for your reindeer, the one extra is for your wife. I hope that as you make presents for the children, you don't forget your wife. If you don't have anything, you can give my present to her. Do you feel as I do that Christmas is becoming more and more commercialized, even your self.  Love, from Anna Dobie. PS I still believe in you. 

Is there any surprise she grew up to be a social justice warrior? The joy is that Santa wrote back, in her dad's handwriting, saying that oranges do not agree with the deer and not to worry about Mrs. Claus. Christmas is never too commercialized with wonderful caring people in the world like you. Love, Santa

2016, Wayson was with us, as latterly he often was. The other day I saw someone who looked like him and bent over, stabbed with the sharpest of heart pains. He died in 2019. That year, I wrote, Ben, forbidden to touch the hot oven, going over repeatedly to touch it, looking at us with a big smile. 

Another warrior of a different kind. Also no surprise there.

So a few tears, and now, onward. We were expecting a huge snowstorm that didn't come, at least not yet. Unlike much of our battered world, I and all my loved ones, family and friends, are warm and dry. We are relatively safe, though of course danger, of one kind or another, is always around the corner. 

Peace on earth. Let's dream and hold up a light against the dark. As Patsy did. 

Thursday, December 15, 2022

The Crown in the snow

A day to be grateful not to have to go anywhere - slushy rain all day and soon snow. My job involves sitting here thinking and tapping, warm and dry. So that's what I did. 

Watched another episode of The Crown last night, a shocking exposé of BBC journalist Martin Bashir forging documents and lying to convince Diana to be interviewed by him. It all unfurls like a Greek tragedy, the curse of the House of Atreus, being continued now by Harry and Meghan's ill-advised onslaught. Why don't they just shut up? Surely they want to mend relations, at least between the brothers, rather than an endless airing of grievances. I've not watched their new doc, was relieved the first shows were about racism, but now apparently it's a full-on attack on family.

Just shut up. 

I'll watch more The Crown tonight, as the snow falls. My neighbour has draped Xmas lights around the 25 foot spruce in her garden. I'm watching them dance now in the wind. Light in the darkness.

Blowing own horn department: it was a good term at U of T, and students have written to say so. 

Thank all of you for your honesty and trust in sharing some intensely personal stories, in listening deeply, and in giving respectful constructive criticism to us on our writing journey. Thank you, Beth, for encouraging us to go to those dark places,  to experiment with structure, voice, dialogue  and tone, to speak our truths in a safe environment. 

I recall feeling more than a little uncomfortable that first week, yet the courage and vulnerability shown by this group gave me the strength to share my own stories, so thank you all. And thanks, too, to Beth for guiding, supporting and teaching but especially for creating this safe space for everyone to share.

My gratitude to the whole class, able to show immense compassion while providing constructive criticism. I’ve never taken a writing class before but I’m pretty sure this was a unique and special experience. 

Yes, yes it was — a special group of student writers and a most enjoyable term.

Throwback Thursday: my friend Karin Wells and I in a production at Carleton University in 1969. Oh those smooth faces — babies. I just went to Settings on Zoom and turned the feature that makes you look better up to the max. Because looking at myself on Zoom, these days, hurts.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

RIP Andy Rhodes: actor, musician, writer, madman

Lani just called; our dear friend Andy Rhodes has just died in Vancouver, aged about 74. Andy was one of a kind, a writer and musician with a wild sense of humour and enormous talent; an obstreperous guy, too. Lan and I met him in 1975 when we were touring the Kootenays in B.C. with a Vancouver theatre troupe. Andy, a draft dodger, had built himself a geodesic dome near New Denver and was one of the Valhallelujah Rangers, named after the Valhalla mountain range, who wrote skits and played music; they all came to see our show. This tall lanky lunatic and I had a little affair and he invited me back to New Denver to work with the Rangers, which I did in one of the grand adventures of my life. We were a big group living communally above the Legion in a large open space that had no running water; we bathed in Slocan Lake. We put together a show and toured B.C. prisons and old folks homes in a van that had no second gear. Andy and I played a flute duet as two musicians who hated each other and as they played, kept trying to stab each other with their flutes. 

That was as close to hippiedom as I got. Should point out, in passing, that all these troupes were paid with government LIP and OFY grants. In those days, grasshopper, the government paid young people to make art. Impossible to imagine now. 

Andy moved to Vancouver to become an actor. Lani got us yet another grant, and Andy, Lani, and I, with several others, formed Acme Theatre, which mostly wrote its own shows, except for the infamous El Grande de Coca Cola. Andy had a tempestuous affair with Lan for a time, as he did with most of the actresses in Vancouver, though it wasn't a surprise he ended up alone. He had a number of successful gigs, but things eventually got tough for him; he returned to the Kootenays and his dome for some years, and then back to Vancouver, to PAL. Hard to believe such a high octane man developed dementia, but he did, with several good friends, especially Simon Webb, helping to care for him. 

Thank you for your exuberant talent, Andy, your marvellous humour and musicality and mad, mad ideas. You'll be missed. 

Sunday, December 11, 2022

The Hours: Metropolitan Opera in HD, and Lizzo

Quite the week in culture consuming, as a friend pointed out: the ballet, the new Sarah Polley film, and yesterday The Hours, a new opera based on the Michael Cunningham book and subsequent film of the same name, linking Virginia Woolf and her Mrs. Dalloway with one day in the lives of two other women living at different times.

What an impossible thing to make into an opera. And yet it works, as shown in the Met Opera Live in HD production at my local Cineplex. One of the best innovations ever: great theatre and opera in cinemas. Without the excitement of a live show, but a bike ride away with closeups and interviews with the performers and production teams, and much, much cheaper. 

This one stars three of the world's best singers: Renée Fleming, Joyce DiDonato, and Kelli O'Hara, all with superb voices but also excellent acting skills. My criticisms - you knew this was coming, right? - were that it was over-produced, with a vast chorus in the background often flailing about reading books or waving flowers, and more importantly, that the music, especially for the two sopranos (Joyce is a mezzo), sometimes sounded monotonously the same, in the same register. 

But mostly, it was daring and affecting, about the horrors of depression, the struggle to make art, and love of many different kinds. "Here is the world, and you live in it," they sing together at the end, "and you try to be. And you try and you try..."

My friend Curtis thought it was brilliant, a triumph. It succeeded in doing what art is for. Touching our souls and enabling us to feel the bliss of being alive. 

Well put, Curtis. Doesn't get better than that.

I raced home to put the chicken in the oven and mash the potatoes, because two of my oldest friends, Jessica and Suzette, were coming for dinner. We go back fifty-five years. Doesn't get better than that. Incidentally, that's not us, above, that's the sopranos. 

A pretty snowfall today. I shovelled but otherwise stayed in, to devour a fridge full of leftovers. Danced with Nicky, read, worked, wrote to you, and another day vanished.

There's an opera in the too-fast passing of time. Let's sing. 

Speaking of singing, in case you missed it, the spectacular Lizzo did a wonderful thing during the People's Choice Awards, inviting a big group of women activists of all backgrounds and causes onstage with her to be recognized. BRAVA to her and to them all.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Ben McNally's new store, and a Canadian woman you should know about

Yesterday, rode to Ben McNally's new bookstore. His store on Bay Street was elegant and spacious, but he and his wonderful team have been wandering in the desert since before Covid. Now, finally, he's landed on Queen St. East. It's a rough section of town but a lovely tranquil space, unfinished right now but beautiful, perfectly curated, full of deliciousness. 

I was there to pick up my friend Karin Wells's new book, More Than a Footnote: Canadian women you should know. Karin was a roommate in my first apartment in 1968 and in 1970 became a professional actor at the same time. I bought her book not only because I admire her as a broadcaster and writer, but because she dedicated the book to my daughter Anna, among others. She told me she'd heard a great deal about Anna's activism and generosity and wanted to be sure she was included as one of the young "Canadian women you should know." Proud mama here.

Otherwise, discouraged. I received a contract from a magazine, and have to say, it's an appalling piece of work, asking that I sign away everything except my first-born child. As if it's not hard enough to get writing out into the world, we have to deal with greed and bullying in contracts. So — that venue may be gone.

And I'm dealing with the other, where there are issues of copyright. Sometimes I wonder why I didn't go into something solid, like dentistry.

No I don't. But still. 

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Women Talking: a triumph

Yesterday was a very good day that ended with a spectacular treat: a showing of Sarah Polley's film Women Talking at TIFF as a guest of my friend Eleanor, who afterward interviewed Polley and Miriam Toews, the writer of the book. 

The film is a feast, one to see again, a chamber piece set in a hayloft, and it is, yes, women talking — intense, powerful, moving. It's shot in a muted palate, but the performances blaze with truth – phenomenal acting from a fabulous cast, including several stellar Canadian actors among the international superstars. 

It's based on the true story of a Mennonite community in Bolivia where the men drug and rape the women and girls; while the men are briefly away, the women must figure out what to do about their situation. And so they talk. 

So much to love about the film, but I especially appreciated how uncynical and tender is the treatment of the women's faith. They're fervent Christians and often stop to sing hymns together, holding hands. They gather around each other when there's pain or stress. There's a beautiful sequence of boys' faces, the innocent young they hope will not follow the ways of their fathers. The film is stunning. 

Earlier on this terrific day, I had several bits of good news: Toronto Life has accepted an essay to run next spring, and my essay book manuscript may have found a publisher. Substantial rewrites needed for both, particularly the book — how delicious, nothing I love more than editing and rewriting, knowing the words will have a home. It's a rare occurrence. (The key words above are "may have" — nothing definite, nothing signed.)

Midday I was at Carole's class at the Y, where a new exerciser came over to tell me he'd taken my class at Ryerson ten years ago and was thinking of taking it again. And then Sam and Bandit came for a brief visit, so I got to hug my furriest grandson of the floppy ears, who wants to chew everything. He has started his heart medication. 

The negatives — the gridlock, chaos, and congestion of this city downtown, designed to thwart and infuriate its citizens in every conceivable way, just appalling — road work thoughtlessly set up for maximum inconvenience. And then, the victory of Warnock in Georgia was so inconceivably close, when his opponent is barely literate, a profoundly stupid and unethical man, and yet nearly 50% of the voters approved of him. Horrifying.  

But one last treat just before bed - Wordle in two in about a minute. Leapt into a guess of a word using the other vowels with S in the fourth slot, and there it was. Occasionally there are those days when it all works. I relished every moment. 

Monday, December 5, 2022

news re Chris of "Chris Walks," the blog to the left

Some who read my blog also read the blogs to the left, especially those by my dear friend Chris in "Chris Walks." He blogs nearly every day about his astonishing life change from inner-city apartment dweller to lord of half an acre on the Gulf island Gabriola, his beloved pets and garden, his friends, cooking, reading, walks, and new volunteer activities. But he's been silent for days, and we know he has had significant health issues in the past, a cause of great concern.

A few days ago, I wrote to our mutual friend Bruce, who'd also been worried and done some research. There was a power outage on Gabriola a few days ago, and we gather it's still not back on. Internet is out, so no Chris. We assume he'll be back as soon as he can.

A beautiful day yesterday, crisp and bright; Toronto Lynn and I chose a great day to go to Kleinburg for a walk in the woods and then lunch and viewing at the McMichael gallery. A perfect afternoon, in fact: nature, lunch, art, and a little tour through the gift shop.

As lovely in late fall as in summer, no? In its way. We can see the beautiful bones of the deciduous trees. 
In the gallery: an exhibition by Kurelek of Jewish life in Canada - a passover feast in Halifax
A major retrospective of Vancouver's Gathie Falk, associated with ceramic shoes and stacks of lemons, I didn't know she painted - loved this still life bursting with colour
At home, my very own Gathie Falk print, teacups and stars; she donated it as a fundraiser for a Vancouver theatre, my parents bought it, I inherited it. Delicately pretty. 

More sun today. Sam wrote that he just went to pick up his dog's heart medication; on the bottle was printed "Bandit Dobie." The responsibilities of fatherhood. He's learning the hard way. 

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Maddaddam and The Fabelmans

Many disadvantages to living in the inner city, but much pleasure too. I read a great review of the latest National Ballet production, Maddaddam, adapted from the Margaret Atwood dystopian novels. How to turn such a thing into dance?! I rarely go to the ballet, but — let's see this one. Yes, tickets available for closing night, including the cheapest, high up on the side, for $75. Annie and I will give these a try.

What a glorious evening! Stunning dancing, fabulous original music played by a full orchestra, and a completely incomprehensible story, at least to someone who has not read the novels, but it didn't matter. A feast, a production that could be in New York or London but is here, close to home, and in one of the most gorgeous buildings in all Toronto.

And at the end, during the curtain call, a little old lady walked on stage: Madame Atwood herself, tiny in the midst of the willowy dancers, to a rapturous standing ovation. Made me proud to be Canadian. And we loved our view over the orchestra pit and the stage. 

our view before the show started
the chic multi-story lobbies, the entire audience in black (Annie was in red and I, orange...)
The curtain call with the tiny writer in the middle.

On Tuesday, watched my favourite TV show Sort Of, CBC, it's so good. And Friday, to see The Fabelmans with Ken, Spielberg's autobiographical film about his childhood and beginnings as a filmmaker. At the end, Ken turned to me and said, "What 20 minutes would you cut?" I agreed, it's too long and slow, a good film with great performances, but strangely unmoving, I think because this boy is so blessed with two loving if eccentric parents and an innate talent and drive, we don't feel sorry for him as he suffers anti-Semitism and his parents' divorce. He and writer Tony Kushner fell in love with their characters and didn't go nearly deep enough. Don't cry for me, Steven Spielberg. 

So glad to be out and about; it really does feel like emerging from hibernation, even though the viruses are all out there and as virulent as ever. 

Spent today cleaning madly, scrubbing away the detritus of many tenants, including the Ukrainian family, in preparation for the new tenant who just moved in. It's work, landladying.

A friend just sent this: cigarettes named for my great-grandfather. My friend thinks they came out after the old man died in 1909, to capitalize on grief and sentiment. Problem is, Gordin died at age 56 of cancer of the esophagus after a lifetime of smoking. However. Nice to see his name and face, even on cigarettes.

We had bad news this week about Bandit, the beloved and beautiful dog. It turns out he has a serious congenital heart condition, aortic stenosis, apparently not uncommon among large breed dogs. He will need to take blood pressure medication and is at risk of ... well, we won't discuss it. Let's pray not.

Pot of soup on the stove, Bandit coming over with his human. There will be hugs. And bones.