Wednesday, June 21, 2023

new website up

All right, Little Miss Impatient - all things come to pass. My new website is up, I think, or nearly. Check it out. Exciting. Lots more me, what more could you possibly ask for? 

And the final re-copyedited draft went off to the publisher. 

And the cancellation of my U of T course I'll look on as - more writing time! Hooray! 

The air is so perfumed, so sweet, it's glorious, even with the smell from the sewer work. So all's well. More or less. 


My course at the U of T summer school, along with several others, was just cancelled for low enrolment. Our boss thinks students are reluctant to return to in-person classes. But also, I think there's an explosion of online writing courses and seminars and books and podcasts and Substack newsletters about writing ... Every writer and her brother is an expert in how to write and get published, a huge cottage industry. Why venture out to receive the expert guidance of yours truly when information is flooding in? 

Not a great sign for those of us who depend on teaching income.

My website launch has also been delayed, an issue with back issues of the blog that needs to be fixed. 

And the book is delayed because we are checking copyediting issues. 

I hate being stuck like this; I like things to be orderly and done. LISTS. But life is not like that. 

The city is doing something to the sewers in the street outside, there's noise and fuss and we can't use the water today. I'm going to shower at the Y. And I am going to eat carbs. And smell the roses. Frustration!

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

U of T Summer Writing School July 10-14

Exciting — my revamped website launches tomorrow. Inkling Design's Andrea and Kelley have been fantastic to work with, creative, responsive, professional, prompt. I'll have to get used to the shiny new site — as will you! 

A crazy day here — the city is doing sewer work that was supposed to start at 7 a.m. today, and we were asked to let water run down all our drains just before work began, so I was up at 6 to be ready. Just went to talk to the guys, however, with their giant machines roaring outside, and they said they're starting tomorrow instead. Yay.

And the piano tuner is here now; mon dieu, the poor thing was so out of tune. Sounding better already. Too bad it's only me who plays it, and sporadically at that.

A reminder for any of you in or near Toronto: I'm teaching at U of T's Summer Writing School. An amazing week,  July10-14, intense workshopping and contact with fellow writers and writing instructors — readings, panels, discussion. Let me know if you have questions.

My downstairs tenant just brought me up some lentil soup. Blessings. The roses are blooming their peachy heads off. My pants are covered with cat hair. The neighbours to the north have a new puppy; what a pleasure to listen to young Juliet play with her. Life is complicated, but summer is sweet. Onward.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Father's Day

I don't celebrate Father's Day; there are no fathers around here. I did send a text to the fathers of my grandsons and a long email to my ex-husband, father of my children. My son came over to help me, with his very long body and arms, reach things I cannot reach. So it was another Mother's Day, really.

But I will post this in honour of my father, who cared deeply about the planet where we all live, and fought, daily, to make it a better place. How proud I am that he was a "ban-bomb apostle."

His granddaughter Anna is the same.

And Happy Father's Day to another fine father, Sir Paul, loving dad to his children and grandchildren and to John's son Julian. It's his 81st birthday today. So Happy Birthday too, Macca!

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Eleanor Wachtel's last show

Here's a blessing to bestow: May you have interesting friends. It's my great good fortune that I do. And one of the most interesting is Eleanor Wachtel, whom I've known since Vancouver in the seventies. Of all the friends from the past, few have found exactly the right job and done it superbly for over three decades, as Eleanor did. 

Yesterday, the CBC celebrated her 33 years with and retirement from Writers&Company with a live broadcast of her last show, which will be on air in a few weeks. The Glenn Gould Studio was packed with fans to hear Matt Galloway interview the sublime interviewer, for a change, and then to hear Eleanor do what she does so very well, interview writers, this time Gary Shteyngart and Brandon Taylor, both witty Americans who had a great deal of good to say about Canada and Canadian writers Mavis Gallant and Mordecai Richler. But especially about Eleanor herself, as did many taped writers shown through the evening, telling her what she meant to them and to literature. One said she's the best interviewer in the world. He's right.

Every Sunday, when I've listened from 3 to 4, I write to tell her how much I enjoyed the show and what I cooked while listening. She joked, when offering me a ticket for last night, that she wondered if I'd be able to listen without utensils. I told her, after the show goes off the air, I'll go to the website on Sundays at 3, find an interview I haven't heard, listen, and cook. How she will be missed. 

Because El is all about books, here's a shot of my Little Free Library yesterday - sometimes it's empty, and sometimes it's full of fascinating stuff. An eclectic bunch of readers around here.

I'm on the deck; there's a tiny bright green bug circumnavigating the computer that I hope finds a more suitable path soon. It's a heavenly day, and there's a lot of gardening to do, but it's break time. Last week was busy, with several new editing clients, back and forth about the new book, advertising my Write in the Garden workshop on July 23 and the U of T class July 10-14 (lots of room in both!). There was a gathering at Hemingway's bar with the former members of the Nonfiction Collective's conference committee, to exchange tips for surviving as a writer and get caught up. Thursday the last of my home classes until the fall, our potluck dinner and reading, always a huge treat. And tonight, dinner with Ron Singer, who gave me a Best Performance award at the Canadian University Drama League competition in 1969 and directed the tour of Under Milk Wood in 1971, and his wife Yvonne. Ron speaks Yiddish and is a fan of my Jewish Shakespeare book. A lively evening anticipated. A bond going back 54 years. Sheesh. 

Several friends have been having serious health problems. I read the blog of Hanif Kureshi, who had a catastrophic fall in Rome that left him paralyzed. Who knows what's coming? So I am going to go out and smell the roses, literally. And the honeysuckle that's just beginning, and the mint and lavender. As poet Lorna Crozier said, the garden going on without us. 

Or, if we're lucky, with us. For now. 

Monday, June 12, 2023

Midlife Solo at the finish line

Have been rooted to my favourite kitchen chair for days now, or to my office chair upstairs. But at last, I think the manuscript is done. I'm hoping for one last Zoom with my editor Ellie today, to check a few things, but then it goes off to Mosaic Press, and my life can start again. 

It's the strangest relationship, that of a writer with a nearly-ready manuscript, like the bond one has with nearly-adult children — great love, desire to protect and nurture them, and yet also the overwhelming need for them to get the @#$ out of the house and on with their own lives. Of course, both with children and books, the work never ends. The marketing of this book has to start now, my least favourite part of the process, but one of the most necessary.


Luckily, the weather has mostly been terrible, which helps a lot when the work is inside. 

On Friday, neighbour John arranged an event for a bunch of us in his garden to meet Olivia Chow, leading progressive candidate for mayor. I went as an undecided and left 100% sold. She's terrific, extremely canny yet idealistic, knows the game which she has played both municipally and federally for many years. She has my vote. 

Saturday the Crosbies came to visit - Heather who lives locally and her brother Max visiting from Ottawa, who was also in the drama club at Carleton University in the late sixties and whom I've not seen since. I directed him and Peter Blais in Pinter's The Dumbwaiter, which won an award, and later he and I were both in Pinter's The Homecoming. Even very young, Max was skilled at playing crabby old men. We got caught up on more than fifty years.

Last night, the Tony Awards, always a pleasure, and what an incredibly diverse list of winners. Not surprised Leopoldstadt and Tom Stoppard won, or Jodie Comer. It's strange, I was in NYC last fall and did not go to the theatre once. Not like me, and I regret it now, will not make that mistake again.

It's dark and rainy, hooray, because I don't have to go anywhere. Today I will send MIDLIFE SOLO: Writing through chaos to a new place in the world out into the world (though I'm still unsure about the subtitle) and CLEAN OFF MY DESK!

The chaos

Tiggy checks out some peonies. I had to buy them, as my three peony bushes yet again produced nothing. I have a serious case of peony envy as I walk the 'hood. But the suddenly blooming wisteria have shown me — patience is key in gardens. Maybe next year. 

Friday, June 9, 2023

Little Amal comes to visit

It does feel like we're getting close to the apocalypse here, with the smoke warnings. Yesterday was gloomy; today is dark and damp, more like the end of October than the beginning of June. I've turned on the heat! Will this forest fire crisis lead us to take climate change seriously, to understand the destruction and danger on our doorstep? Don't hold your breath. No, on second thought — hold your breath.

But yesterday, in the middle of my editing which continued until midnight, a joyful interlude: Little Amal came to visit Regent Park. What a marvel — some incredible person came up with the idea for this eleven-foot-tall puppet of a girl-child refugee, to travel around the world illuminating the life of the displaced. She was sponsored by the arts festival Luminato and is appearing all over Toronto this week. We gathered to await her and then there she was. You can see the smiling young man inside her chest who controls her face — she can smile and close her eyes — and walks for her, and the two young women who move her arms, yet she is completely human and vulnerable, sensitive and real. A small boy in the crowd had a soccer ball that they kicked back and forth until he picked it up and walked away, and she turned and continued her walk, surrounded of course by a thicket of phones. Her long hair floats in the wind. 

The idea of this particular visit was that she'd learn about residential schools. Accompanied by an Indigenous woman in a jingle dress, she stopped at trees covered with yellow ribbons and touched them thoughtfully, then at a women's drum circle, where she danced. She finished her walk dancing to a children's band and choir. Her visit was brief — three-quarters of an hour or so. Not much happened. She is of course silent. But powerful and very beautiful.

A much needed reminder of our common humanity at this dire time on our planet, with more horror in Kherson, the corruption in our province unchecked, the human heart, it sometimes seems, shrinking. 

Playing soccer
You can see the puppeteers
With the drum circle, behind her.

In 2009 I saw the play War Horse in London before it became famous and was stunned by the sensitivity, skill, and imagination of the puppeteers. Sometimes puppets say what we cannot. Thank you, once again, to artists, who come up with crazy ideas and make them happen and change our hearts and minds. Never more needed than now.

Wiki: The name Amal means "hope" in Arabic. Little Amal represents a nine-year-old Syrian refugee girl who, in The Walk project, travels alone across Europe to find her mother. "Dozens" of designers and craftspeople combined to create the puppet, which is controlled by at least three puppeteers: two to move the hands, and one interior puppeteer who walks on heavily-weighted stilts, and controls the head, eyes and mouth by hand via a mechanism called the harp.

In some areas, Little Amal's reception was mixed, with some racist or even violent responses, but in most towns the performance was a joyful occasion. On the South Bank in London, she walked side by side with Handspring's Joey the War Horse.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

smoke gets in your eyes, and Matisse gets you in the gut

The funny thing is that though scores of wildfires are burning in northern Ontario and Quebec, the air quality, while not good here, is far worse in the States. My cousin in New York wrote, "It's disgusting down here!" The smoke is floating south. Our city smells like a campfire, but it could be worse. 

Still, horrifying. 

I, unbelievably, have spent two days once more rearranging the essays in my new collection. Yes, like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, perhaps. But my editor Ellie had some good ideas, so I've been ripping the thing apart for the hundredth time, moving stuff around, cutting one piece, jamming two together. Here's another funny thing, as I've said before: the essays in this compilation were already written, so I thought the book would be relatively easy, done in no time. NYET! Harder than the others, in some ways, because smooshing already existing material into some kind of shape turns out to be extremely difficult. As my friend Toronto Lynn said, It's always harder to renovate than to build new. 


The garden and everything else has been neglected as I sit here for hours. As soon as it's done and sent off to the publisher, I'll get my life back. I did notice, today, that the wisteria is having a bumper year. My friend Dorothy, who's in the book, helped me plant the wisteria at least twenty years ago, and this is the first year it has really produced a lot of fat purple blooms. 

I promise, garden, I'll get to you. Luckily I scooted over to the little farmer's market outside the Farm yesterday, and bought pakoras and samosas and all kinds of delicious prepared food so I didn't have to cook for a day or two. 85 messages in my email inbox, when usually I try to keep them to under 30.

But soon it'll be done. Enough is enough; MIDLIFE SOLO has taken a lot of my time. Hope it's worth it. Hope you get to read it and that you like it, that it brings you something. 

Hope it's worth it. 

Here, showing me how much she cares, is my Tig, asleep a foot away, as she always is. No matter where I am in the house, she's nearby, sleeping. 

My friend Margaret posted this gorgeousness on FB and I had to reprint. Matisse, as always, for the win! Why does his work stop my heart? I can't explain it, but he does. Just sheer beauty. 

Monday, June 5, 2023

community and friendship through the years: a celebration

Yesterday, the joy of community and continuity: Bodgefest!

Many years ago, some of the children in this 'hood took pottery lessons with Bodge, who had a kiln in her basement. They sculpted and painted joyously and came home proud of their creations, which, dutifully, all of us kept, though gradually the collection of these heavy pieces diminished considerably. But I kept a few favourites, and so did all the other parents. 

Gina and Paul organized Bodgefest in their home and asked us to bring our Bodgeware to celebrate her. She, finally, was too shy to attend. But there we were with our offerings all over the house, on all shelves and surfaces. The parents there have known each other for decades, have watched each other's children grow up and give birth to the next generation. 

My Sam was the only sculptor to appear in person. I'm especially proud of his plate of spaghetti and meatballs, with two large lumps of green broccoli at the top that he said he put in especially for me. He was nine. Now he's nearly thirty-nine. I also love Anna's three musicians - well, two musicians and someone. 


Today, all day, work on my new website with Patrick my tech helper and by myself — rewriting, re-imagining. It's good, clear, sharp. Tomorrow, work all day on the copy edit of the manuscript. This past Saturday, however, playtime: lunch at Ruthie's with two of her dear friends who knew my parents, and dinner with Toronto Lynn who brought, as usual, a superb bottle of wine. 

As I was going through pictures for the website, this one turned up: Provence Lynn and I at my wedding party in August 1981. Anna was three months old; Edgar and I married in May when she was a week old but celebrated later. We commandeered a wealthy friend's enormous estate near UBC, and our guests spent the day swimming in their pool, playing tennis, dining, and dancing to a hot jazz band. Lynn and Denis came especially, as I'd been there for their wedding in northern France nearly a decade before. Despite the thousands of miles between us, she has been a dear friend for 56 years. 

Another picture, from a few years later — well, nearly forty years later — in a Greek restaurant with our friend Ken.
In this shot, Lynn looks like her mother Theresa and I look like mine, Sylvia. I didn't know Ken's parents so don't know whom he resembles. But someone in his genetic pool, no doubt. 

We are all healthy and alive to honour our bond. There is no greater blessing than that. 

Friday, June 2, 2023

hot but here

I thought I couldn't post here until the new website goes up, maybe next week or in two weeks, and was in a state, twitching — things to say! Stories to tell! But happily I can. 

Sweltering: 31 degrees, feeling like 35. On June 2! But it's going down soon. Too hot too early, but at least no fires here yet. Several friends of friends have lost their homes in Nova Scotia, and the Waegwoltic Club that I took a look at but was barred entry to a few days ago has burned. Can't say I care too much about that. 

We must get used to this. Heat and fires are how it's going to be.

Overwhelmed since getting back from Halifax, trying to get life back in order: a massive amount of pruning and watering, still switching winter for summer clothes and bedding, trying to get some groceries into the empty fridge, with limited success. Today, though, a trip to the LCBO to buy rosé. Yay, rosé.

I received the copyedit from my editor Ellie Barton. With her usual incisive mind and sharp eye, she has targeted a list of inconsistencies, a ton of hyphen mistakes and spelling errors— realiZe, organiZe — and words that have two Ls, like shovelled, and words that have one, tranquility. She also has a suggestion for a complete re-arranging of the manuscript. So we'll see. 

And the first iteration of the new website also arrived today — much brighter and clearer, but is it ... TOO bright and clear? 

So lots of work to be done on this very hot weekend. 

Received a note about Elizabeth Marsh, an older longterm student from some years ago, who died recently. She apparently mentioned me in the foreword of her book, so her granddaughter wrote to ask if I remembered her and could write something about her to the family. I certainly remember her; she wrote beautifully about her childhood on a farm in the Ottawa Valley. Her granddaughter wrote, She was a storyteller through and through, and even just from the citation from her book, I can tell that you were a driving force towards her writing during her golden years.

Very happy to learn she went on writing. Elizabeth was a born writer. 

I'm having a fascinating correspondence with Harriet Walter about the Succession finale, which was, of course, brilliant. Harriet wanted her character Lady Caroline to be more like she was at the beginning of the series, loose and a bit wild, but the writers wouldn't have it, she had to spend the episode trying to contain her three wild and crazy offspring. Johanna Schneller wrote a good article in the Globe about the marginalization of Shiv, the only sister with three brothers, shoved aside because of her sex. Again. Always. Brilliant. 

And today's good news: I went to the dentist, and the dental hygienist told me, "You have beautiful gums." Hooray! As the world burns, I'll take it.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

bloggus interruptus

Lots to tell but no time now, very busy. BUT this is to let you know that two skilled women have been working on an upgrade for my website that involves transferring this blog to a new system. So it may be a few days before I can post again. Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Halifax fires, and the sacred fire of David Suzuki

7 a.m., a silent house, another sweet day dawning, my cat gazing out the back door at squirrels. I'm home, with so much on my To Do list and so much to process, where to begin?

After the conference ended — triumphantly, with a banquet, many connections made, many fine writers re-energized — I spent Sunday morning on Norrey's bike riding along the waterfront, a long boardwalk with lots of informational panels and fun things to look at and do, especially for kids. Halifax has done much that's right — open space, waterfront, parks — for both citizens and tourists. I mourn again the @#$@# dinosaurs who are wrecking our city and our province with their appalling, criminal policies. 

A word about weather: for days in Halifax it was so cold, I wore all my layers, five or six, and was still shivering. And then Sunday, it was instantly 30 degrees, scorching hot, everyone in the province flooding to the beach. Monday, 10 degrees again. Very confusing! I'm proud to have managed such huge temperature changes with what was in my carry-on. 

Midday Sunday Kevin came to pick me up at King's and take me along the south shore to St. Margaret's Bay, where he and his wife Donna have lived for many years. With little money they've managed to travel widely, locally in their camper, and to acquire more acres. Kevin counted 500 trees on their sprawling property before the latest hurricane took out more a hundred of them. 

I've known Kevin all my life. His mother Dorothy — Dee — was the receptionist of Dr. Wiswell, our paediatrician. Dee was British and had complaints in her marriage, as was and did my mother; they became best friends. 

On a blazing hot day, we drove to Bayswater Beach, walked by the water, had a picnic. We drove past many a cove, including this one. I told them about my American grandparents, who'd drive up from New York to visit us in Halifax. One Sunday my father proposed a drive. "No, Gordie," said my grandmother. "Too many coves."

But as we drove, we noticed a thick plume of smoke, growing bigger, and when we got home, found out about the fires not that far from K and D's place. Very worrying, engulfing homes and woods. Climate change. Devastating. 

So far, they're okay. Friends who knew your parents, whose parents you knew — priceless.

In Donna's hat at Bayswater. Not exactly dressed for the beach, but I did my best. 

Kev drove me to the airport Monday morning. Tiggy and the garden are in fine shape thanks to Robin. So much work to be done, a very long list. 

But first, last night, a grand celebration. As you may know, David Suzuki and my father were great friends and colleagues, and David and Tara are now friends of mine. I was honoured to be invited to a celebration at the CBC last night of David's 44 years with The Nature of Things; my plus one was Anna, thrilled to see one of her great heroes, the Indigenous activist Autumn Pelletier. There was music and delicious food and an amazingly diverse crowd; Tara spoke about her life with David — 50 years of marriage — and then David spoke, with his usual eloquence and passion, about saving our planet and the importance of public broadcasting. He is 87, and his fire is undimmed. 

David and Tara's accomplished and beautiful daughters Severn and Sarika, and David's family from his first marrage. 
A hero. Love Earth.

Here I am, a tiny person on a tiny planet, head filled with words and thoughts about writing and activism. Where to begin? One thing: recently I've been feeling just a bit old. But after watching David last night, no more. 

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Halifax, Day Three, feels like Week Three

The conference was triumphant, though today was so beautiful — until now, it's been really cold and drizzly — I played hookey and rode Norrey's bike around town, to the Public Gardens, the gorgeous new library, and Point Pleasant Park. Riding a bike around Halifax for the first time since 1960. 

Too much to say, too tired to say it. Pictures instead, for now.

Last night, walked down to the Arm, and there was the Waeg, the boating/tennis/sailing club we were not allowed to join in the late fifties because Dad was Jewish. I wanted to take a look, but there was a gatekeeper who told me, Sorry, this club is for members only. Excluded again! However, the gatekeeper was a young black woman, so things have changed.
The Halifax Public Gardens is one of the oldest public gardens in North America. It's stunning — serene, full of colour. My mother used to take me there in my pram when I was a baby. 
Behind the bandstand is a little house which used to sell ice cream cones. I loved that place. A groundskeeper told me it was recently attacked and burned twice by arson, and the same people also slashed some of the trees with axes. Incomprehensible. 
The new library is a glorious celebration of books, reading, light, and community — people everywhere, many young people using computers, lots of comfortable chairs, just an amazing and welcoming space
There was a children's violin recital in a performance space at the back
Could not help it, looked myself up — and my first memoir All My Loving is in the system! It's the one with the most Halifax. 
One of the reading lounges. 
The green and pink cover on the bottom - MINE. Next to Thomas King. 
There's even a window where you can watch the staff sorting books for reshelving. 
From there down to Point Pleasant Park where I used sometimes to spend the whole day riding my bike by myself or with my friend Penny
And then back to the conference, which was terrific. Here are some of my peeps, the row of shining white heads. There were lots of young people with us, however. 

So much to process, the workshops and seminars and lectures, the bath in nostalgia and memory. Today, again, riding past the places I lived for years of my young life. When people ask me where I'm from, I always say, Cabbagetown, because I don't feel rooted anywhere else. But I found out, this trip, I'm also, definitely, from Halifax. 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Old home week in Halifax

Overwhelmed. I do have to ask myself, why am I living in the smoky hellhole that is Toronto right now when I could be in Halifax, a human-sized city with fresh fishy air, rows of beautiful multicoloured old shingled and clapboard houses, and an ocean around every corner? 

 I grew up here. Street names are resonant - Jubilee Road, that's where Berna lived! There's the church where I went to Brownies. That's where we lived from 1950 to 1956, torn down for apartments but across the street, just the same. 

And then there are old old friends. Chris Banks picked me up at the airport, friend since 1968, long story. He and his longtime partner Cathy Smalley and I know about a million people in common, from the theatre and the arts generally. I asked him to take me to Duncan's Cove, where we both lived the summer of 1970 when we were working at Neptune Theatre, before I moved to a cottage in Dead Man's Cove with Patsy Ludwick who'd become one of my closest lifelong friends. Duncan's Cove is still remote, wild and very beautiful. Of course, Chris ran into people he knew and we ended up visiting Beverley, the wife of the man who originally bought the cove and its houses, in her own extraordinary home on the water, with a wood stove out of a fairytale. 

Chris and Cathy invited for dinner Tim Leary, with whom I toured in a musical version of Under Milk Wood in 1972, and his wonderful wife Martha. "You and I dropped acid one time in a used car lot," she stated with assurance, but I am equally assured we did not, I would not forget something like that. We had a delicious fish dinner filled with reminiscence about the million people we all know. Many laughs — the two couples are best friends. 

Next morning, off to check in to my dorm room at King's, which is reasonable but certainly basic, a single bed, a desk, the bathroom down the hall. Ah well. Lunch with Norrey, from whom we bought our Toronto house in 1986. Norrey moved to Halifax in 2019 - one of her daughters lives here - and is very happy in a condo. She has lent me her bicycle for the duration of my stay. So I set off in the cold drizzle — today was dreadful — for the Halifax Grammar School. 

This school, started by my father in 1958, has now done a ten million dollar expansion and has nearly 600 students. Standing outside the new building with its giant sign, I burst into tears. If only my parents were here to see this. It's extraordinary, a wonderful school; the principal Steven Laffoley gave me a grand tour, and I gave him a scrapbook Mum left behind full of HGS memorabilia. 

Cycled home for a rest before dinner with Ian Thompson, a good friend the one year I spent at HGS myself, 1965-66, and his wife Donna. He gave me a tour too, down to Point Pleasant Park and along the industrial waterfront with its giant cranes for unloading tankers. Downtown has exploded, but much of the rest of the city is beautifully the same, with rows of old clapboard houses painted bright colours. So small, in comparison, so easy to get around. The air so fresh. 


My throat is very sore, from my cold but also from talking nonstop. Just bought lozenges, because tomorrow the conference begins. How will I see the rest of the city, the famous new library, and take a walk in the Public Gardens and Point Pleasant Park? I'll play hooky at some point. And I'll have to come back sooner rather than later, and for longer.

The famous clock tower overlooking the old city, ocean beyond. 

A typical house. There are so many, beautifully painted and restored. 

Beverley's kitchen in Duncan's Cove
I lived in this house, but it was much smaller then.
The Cove. Just rocks, trees, and windblown houses. It was very foggy.
Tim, Cathy, Martha, Chris. The best. 

So impressive. Bravo, Dad, what an amazing legacy. The school started in a small old house in 1958, bought by a handful of parents who got second mortgages to afford the thousand dollars they each put in. They rustled up desks and blackboards, and voila, a school. I passed by, and it's still there, a yoga centre now.

Tomorrow, many writers. The fun has just begun. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Word on the Street and a new title

A quick word. I'm off to Halifax first thing tomorrow, and I have a bit of a cold. Yes, another cold. But let's hope it passes quickly with the excitement of travel, because I have a busy schedule ahead that I hope to share with you. I grew up in Halifax and just seeing the names of the streets takes me back many years. Many memories. It will be a powerful experience and I need all my strength.  

Robin will be holding the fort on the home front, and Sam too sometimes. Tiggy and the garden will be well cared for. I will miss them. 

But first, today's excitement: the Word on the Street webinar about memoir. Last year, Helen Humphreys did it with me; this year, Laura Calder, who writes and speaks about food and France, so we have lots in common. Her book Kitchen Bliss is charming, a series of snapshots - postcards, she said - of times in her life connected to cooking and food, with recipes interspersed. It was again a great conversation, and I hope the nearly fifty people attending were inspired.

I look so serious because I was concentrating on how to take a screenshot in the middle of a conversation. But there it is. 

About Sunday night's Succession - again, truly one of the most brilliant shows I've ever seen on TV. The writing! The acting! The sets! Quite amazing, but an added thrill was seeing Dame Harriet as the mother of three of the Roys at Logan's funeral. She brought so much, such depth, to a character who should have much more screen time. Brilliant. She wrote to me it's hard for her that so many dismiss Caroline as hard and cold, because for Harriet, inside her, bringing her to life, she's not at all. 

For us, though, warm is not the word we'd use...

And finally, THE TITLE. Thanks to all who wrote with suggestions. But now we're heading in a completely different direction. I am not, truth be told, a late bloomer. So right now, we're going with this, on the understanding that it STILL NEEDS WORK: 

                                        MIDLIFE SOLO:

       Writing my way through raising kids, growing old, and finding my place in the world.

I think the subtitle needs umph and a serious indication of what the book is really about. This is getting there. What do you think? Not subtle, I know, but then is subtlety needed in a title? Particularly in a book of essays about a ton of different things? 

Stay tuned. The book is being copy-edited right now and may actually appear. I'll believe it when I see it. 

A bientôt!

Saturday, May 20, 2023

birthday boy, and the hunt for a title

Dark and wet but not cold. Big day today: tomorrow Elijah is eleven years old, and today Holly and I are taking him shopping in the rain. We decided on a Blue Jays jersey and new sneakers for the growing feet of this baseball player who's on his school's team. And lunch. 

I watched some of comedian Marc Maron's comedy special last night. He talked about how people who have children have a more visceral connection to death. "Happy 17th birthday, son. That means ... I'm going to die!" Seeing this tall handsome boy brings joy but, yes, also melancholy — how much of his life will be able to see? I remember his mother coming to tell me she was pregnant, the father perhaps not very auspicious as a longterm partner, and although he has really stepped up as a dad, that has turned out to be her reality. And yet she was determined to go ahead. I was with her at the first ultrasound when we discovered her baby was a boy, and throughout his birth on Victoria Day, 2012. And now he is nearly taller than his mother and lives in an extremely complicated world. Unlike most of his friends, he still is not getting the cellphone he wants. But when he does, the entire planet, for good and bad, is there at his fingertips.

A surprise: my U of T class was cancelled. There were seven, two had to drop out, so I wrote to the remaining five about how the class would proceed, and two more dropped out. So we cancelled. Last term there were too many, this term too few. It's a financial hit, but it's also a welcome break. So be it. I'm teaching at U of T's weeklong summer writing school in July, and Life Stories I starts up again in October. 

On my list this weekend is to hunt for burrows in my garden. Yesterday to my amazement I watched a fat groundhog scampering across my grass. We have raccoons galore, skunks, the occasional opossum and coyote and fox, but a groundhog is something new. They dig, and they chew, so I hope this guy has not taken up residence chez moi.

Asking for help here: I am nearing the end of the hunt for a title for my new book, difficult to pin down because it's a bunch of essays about many different things and from different phases of my life. Now we have a title: MIDLIFE SOLO. Which I hope gives the sense of a middle-aged writer (most of the essays were written in my late forties and fifties) who's single, but also - perhaps - singing. 

But the subtitle is CHRONICLES OF A ... LATE BLOOMER. I'd like to add an adjective there. I had "thoughtful," CHRONICLES OF A THOUGHTFUL LATE BLOOMER", but a writer friend said, It may be true but it's not compelling, doesn't sound like fun or make me want to find out what happens in the book. I asked ChatGPT, which, with its usual originality, suggested "eclectic." Phooey. Curious? Nosy? Cheeky? 

Can you think of an adjective that describes me, the writer of a disparate bunch of essays, and that's compelling and succinct? Going nuts here. Over to you. Thanks!

The view from my kitchen chair yesterday: 

P.S. Just back from a successful sortie with the young man: black Nikes size 6 1/2, his favourite sushi for lunch, a big ice cream cone, and off he went with Holly for a Jays jersey. I escaped from the crowded capitalist hellscape that is the Eaton's Centre on the Saturday of a holiday weekend — if you want to see why humankind is doomed, it's right there — and it just came to me. What about candid? 

Chronicles of a candid late bloomer


Beth Kaplan

What do you think?

PPS. Well - Chris just called from Gabriola. He says it's still not compelling or fun. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

A star is born.

Opera is a marvel — those tiny people making that enormous sound. But the Sunday matinee of Verdi's Macbeth gave us an extra treat. When we heard the soprano singing Lady Macbeth was sick and the lady-in-waiting was substituting, we all groaned inwardly. And then she opened her mouth and blasted us all to kingdom come. Tracy Cantin was spectacular, a gorgeous voice. Very lucky to have seen and heard her big moment. 

My favourite seats, the singles along the side, where you can see the orchestra as well as the stage. 

But it was a lovely day and a very unpleasant story, so I left at intermission to get across town for Anna's Mother's Day barbecue. How have she and I arranged things that we end up doing all the work on Mother's Day? That's how it is — first it was me and now it's her. Fun, as always. There was much baseball. 

Anna told me a horrifying story about a new disgusting word: simp. It is used by males to insult other males who are nice to women. Eli has a friend at school who's a girl, and a group of boys gathered to taunt him as a simp. He came home in tears. He's ten, eleven on Sunday.

Again, it's as if these last few years, the incredibly vile words and behaviour of Trump and his party have ripped off the bandaid of civility from our world. Hatred of women, minorities, the Other — the rise of actual Fascism — who could have predicted these hideous things would return with a vengeance? 

Sunday night's Succession was almost unbearable to watch, a Fox "news" type debacle of corruption and greed. Powerful, horrible television. I'll be glued to it next Sunday, again, because my theatre school colleague Harriet is appearing as the mother of three of the appalling Roys.  

On another note, Monday was the anniversary — the yahrzeit — of the death of one of my oldest friends, former actress, poet, and editor Patsy Ludwick. She had ALS and chose the date and time of her death at her home on Gabriola Island: May 15 at 11 a.m. Everything was organized and arranged. It was surreal to be in Toronto at 2 my time and know that at one moment my friend was there in the world and the next moment, she was not. Much missed, dearest Tudwell (my nickname for her, for a reason neither of us remembered.)


The days are lovely but last night was really cold, had to bring all the plants in from the deck. There's a reason the rule says no planting till May 24. The weekend will be busy. 

Sunday, May 14, 2023

a celebration of aunts on Mother's Day

We don't do much for Mother's Day, calling it a Hallmark Card day. Anna is having a barbecue with her boys, as usual, and I'll go over after a matinee at the opera. My longtime student Peg is in the chorus and let me in on a special ticket deal for this afternoon - $50 for Verdi's Macbeth. A cheery way to spend the afternoon.

A big raccoon is making his sleepy way home along the fence. A scarlet cardinal at the feeder, lilac in full bloom, sparrows drinking from the pan nearby. How blessed is this fine morning. 

I could dwell on being a mother, what it has meant to me, which is the world. But instead, I'd like to talk about the importance of women who are not mothers, but who provide invaluable love and support anyway: aunts or honorary aunts. 

My Auntie Do was a constant in our family life. She was there in Oxford in 1944 when my mother met my father, and she was there in Edmonton in 1988 when Dad died. Dorothy was the middle daughter of three; my mother Sylvia and oldest sister Margaret denigrated her, but Mum relied totally on Do, who never failed to be there. She came to stay with us in Halifax in 1954 when my brother was born, and stayed nearly a year, providing childcare and much more. She went off to work in Goose Bay, Labrador — she was a superb personal assistant — and eventually married and divorced; she never had children. But she never missed a birthday or Xmas. Cards always arrived, usually apologizing for something. Do was always apologizing. 

I figured out why. Sylvia and Margaret were both beautiful, very good at school, athletic. Mum was also musical and artistic. Do, it seemed, was none of those things. She was bright but not academic, not as strong and competitive as Mum, not musical. Mum was her father's favourite, and Margaret was her mother's. Do was no one's favourite. 

She told me a story once. She was working as personal secretary to Mr. Booth, who was himself the secretary to the head of the huge J. Lyons and Company, a vast enterprise in England. It was a big job and she fulfilled it with her usual excellence, even going on weekends, driven by his chauffeur, to Mr. Booth's country house to work for him. One day, he told her he admired and needed her, and proposed. He said he would demand nothing of her but was desperate to marry her, to keep her close. He was a very wealthy man, and elderly. 

She turned him down. What would his children have thought of me? she asked me.  Who cares? I said. 

Her life was not unhappy, but it was not happy. Her marriage did not work out, but he made sure she had enough to live on, and in any case, she was so thrifty, her needs were few. She ended up living in a small sunny apartment on the outskirts of Ottawa; my widowed mother eventually bought a condo, of course much bigger, in the next building. There was an underground passage between the two, much used, almost entirely by Do. Every time my mother had a health event, which was often,  usually in the middle of the night, Do came to the hospital with her. 

After Mum died, I went 3 or 4 times a year to Ottawa; Anna came several times with the boys. I weep now as I think of her. Fiercely independent, she lived alone with no help until just a few months before she died, at the age of 98. After her death, as I was clearing out her apartment, I found a suitcase full of books about how to paint, and some lovely drawings she'd made. She obviously wanted to draw and paint, but my mother was the artist. 

Auntie Do was a vital part of our family. I honour her today, and all those superb women, including for us our dear Holly, who are so important to us all. Who was/is that woman in your family life?

Do as a young woman.
Admiring the painting Eli made for her. Much of her furniture went to Anna and Sam.
With my Cousin Barbara who'd flown up from Washington; she's holding Do's teddy bear, Edward Bruin Green, outfitted in clothes Do knitted for him when very young. She knitted and sewed clothes for me too, for my dolls, for Anna's dolls.
We took her to the Chateau Laurier for high tea. As you can see, she almost never took off that t-shirt.
Meeting Ben for the first time.

You don't have to be a mother to matter deeply. Thank you for everything in our nearly fifty years together, beloved Do.