Sunday, January 29, 2023

A Girl's Story, Stolen Focus, a gratitude letter

Recently, because of the hoo-ha around looking for a new doctor, I thought back to our first family doctor in Toronto when we rented a house in Riverdale; she worked at a clinic on the Danforth and I liked her a lot. Though when we moved to this house we switched to a local clinic, I turned to this doctor when my marriage was falling apart a few years later and asked her to recommend a shrink or counsellor. She gave me the name of a Dr. O'Neil and told me, "You'll like her. She's fast."

Remembering her words made me laugh, as I lay on Dr. O'Neil's couch four times a week for four years and continued consulting her irregularly for decades. Not so fast after all! But extremely effective - a wonderful doctor who helped me survive a tumultuous time and figure myself out, my past, my parents, my ex.

I thought, I should thank that doctor. Googled - oh, the miracles of modern tech. She's now living in rural Ontario; there was an address. So I sent her a letter, saying of course she wouldn't remember me, but I wanted to thank her for giving me a name that changed my life immeasurably for the better. 

Only a few days later, I got this email: It was wonderful to hear from you. Such a thoughtful thing to do. I remember you quite well. I wish you’d been a friend instead of a patient. I see you’ve gone on to do such interesting things.   

I left Toronto in 2003 to work in a rural area.  I’m sitting in my cozy farm house in my little town watching the snow come down today. Different places - different spaces.

So kind of you to remember the tiny input I had to your life. It would be fun to see you if you are ever by this way. Let me know.

Beth - thank you.  

There's a new friend out there. Hope we connect. Always take time for gratitude. 

I'm reading a phenomenal book that also might be life-changing — Stolen Focus: why you can't pay attention - and how to think deeply again, by Johann Hari. I saw him interviewed and immediately ordered the book from the library. It's wonderfully written, vivid and engaging, but with a vitally important message about how social media is colonizing our brains in many ways. I'm only a third of the way through and am riveted. Will report when I've finished. 

Just finished Nobel winner Annie Ernaux's A Girl's Story. She writes with excoriating honesty and clarity about her 17-year-old self, a sheltered convent girl arriving as a counsellor at a camp, subjected to a degrading sexual assault she not only allows willingly but is desperate to repeat. Reading it brought me back to several episodes from my own youth that I've consigned to the junk-heap of memory - frantic obsessions on the least likely candidates, abysmal insecurity and yet loud showing off, oh God, she brings it all to the fore. Gripping writing so candid, it makes a reader uncomfortable — unlike anything I've read before. 

Helena Bonham Carter, asked in a recent interview about her "issues," replied, I’ve got so many issues, but as you get older you go: “Whatever.” The curse of being young is you take your complexes too seriously. Or you take your opinion of yourself too seriously. As soon as you’re older, you tell the demons to shut up because they’re boring.

Absolutely. Whatever. Shut up, YOU'RE BORING! 

A quiet Sunday ahead - snow is falling. Tiggy is sleeping nearby. I'll dance with Nicky and gang at 10, finish this draft of the essay book, clean up my office, edit student work, cook with Eleanor at 3, and sit by the fire to watch PBS at 9. Touchstones. 


Thursday, January 26, 2023

Everything Everywhere — no, not so much

It's 5.30, and I'm drinking a small glass of pinot. Life-threatening, I know, but I like to live dangerously. Will I have another small glass with dinner? Probably not. Because. But maybe I will. 

So, a few disappointing things these days. First, I got the results of recent blood tests. They said I'm pre-diabetic and have moderately high cholesterol levels. WHAT?! I'm more or less the right weight, eat more or less healthily, exercise more or less regularly - so what's going on? I know, I boast about my mayonnaise-based diet, but still, I don't eat much junk food, my sugar is mostly dark chocolate every day... Who knows? Maybe genetics - my uncle Edgar had diabetes. Here are the symptoms of pre-diabetes:

  • unusual thirst, frequent urination, weight change (gain or loss), extreme fatigue or lack of energy, blurred vision, frequent or recurring infections, cuts and bruises that are slow to heal, tingling or numbness in the hands or feet, or trouble getting or maintaining an erection.
  • Well ... None of the above. Though some of the symptoms could also be from Covid or winter. It's true, I do have trouble getting an erection, but that's caused by something other than imminent diabetes. 
Not sure how to fix things, except take another test in awhile and hope things look better.

When I heard about the film Everything Everywhere All at Once, I thought it sounded goofy and not for me. But there's been so much ballyhoo, including a ton of Oscar nominations, I decided to see it. Well - may I announce the minority position? It's goofy, not for me, and not that good. Yes, extremely imaginative, crazy, over the top. Offensively over the top, I thought, including butt plugs that give superpowers - I imagine the two director writers stoned and giggling as they came up with that one. 

I have no idea what it was about except an overloaded immigrant mother raised by a critical father who's too critical with her own daughter, who learns to value herself, to relax, see, and love. An important topic that could have been conveyed without a million speedy special effects and a ton of kung fu fights, endless fights, again, many stoned giggles as they planned. Sophomoric - which means pretentious and juvenile. Ingenious, with marvellous performances from a skilled, courageous Asian cast, wasted on an absurd plot, including a religion that worships bagels. Or something. Let me know please what I don't get. Maybe I'm just too old. 

Incidentally, when I told Anna about pre-diabetes, she said, "Well Mum, you're 75, that's just what happens as you age." Imagine, my own daughter! 
"I'm not 75, I'm only 72!" I shrieked. "And these things do not just happen to me!"


And finally, I followed the recommendation of a friend who had a haircut at the Vidal Sassoon Academy, which trains hairdressers. I knew it would take three hours, so was prepared with editing work, books, and sandwich. Hoped it would be worth it because it cost $27. Well - you get what you pay for. It's the worst haircut I've ever had. Luckily, I don't care what I look like. Much. It'll grow.

And an op-ed essay I sent to the Star about the idiot politicians in this city and province has been rejected. At least, the editor simply did not respond, as he hasn't several times before. Phooey. But perhaps what I wrote is summarized by this person, on Twitter, about violence on the TTC: The TTC isn't the problem. housing is the problem. public washrooms are the problem. lack of mental health supports is the problem. funding the police is the problem. John Tory is the problem.

But — big snowfall yesterday, and I got to sit by the fire. So, lucky. Still coughing, but mostly better. 

Just got a library book I'd ordered: Stolen Focus: Why you can't pay attention and how to think deeply again, by Johann Hari. Heard a terrific interview with him and had to get the book. Maybe my thinking will deepen. Maybe with deeper thinking I'll understand the movie. Stay tuned. 

PS Had a SECOND small glass with dinner. The Evil Knievel of drinkers. Actually, that flirting with danger turned out to be true. I defrosted a small pot of my pesto from the freezer to have with pasta and fish, but as I ate, I felt something hard. And then something else. I found a tiny screw, and then a second, and then a small nail, about ten in all. I remembered that a small, very old picture frame came apart years ago; I must have stored the hardware from it in the jar and then filled it, somehow, much later, with pesto.

I think I swallowed at least one. If this is my last day on earth, at least I had a very nice pinot to go out on. 

Monday, January 23, 2023

Turn Every Page: the adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb: must see

There were four people in the tiny Carlton Cinema viewing room yesterday, including moi. While waiting for the film to start, I asked the woman in front if she was a writer or an editor. She's a retired journalism professor. Of course.

The film is Turn Every Page: the adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb, and it's glorious, I loved every minute. Filmed by Gottlieb's daughter, it's about two giants of the American literary scene, Caro, 87, author of five massive books, almost 5000 pages, his entire life's work — all those books and hundreds more edited by Gottlieb, 91, spry, witty, generous, sharp. The film explores their lives and decades of working together, bitter fights about commas and semi-colons. As Gottlieb says, "A semi-colon is worth fighting a civil war over. We read with our breath. With a semi-colon there's tension; you know something's coming." (Yes, I took extensive notes all through. And I've wrestled with proper use of semi-colons myself; they're important.) (Does that work?)

When Gottlieb undertook to edit Caro's first book, the enormously influential The Power Broker, about Robert Moses, he told the writer they'd have to cut 350,000 words - not because the words were bad, far from it, but because the book was simply too long to be contained within covers. Caro says about the gruelling cutting process, "I don't think anything in my life was harder than that." We see a meticulous man, cautious and stubborn, who must do incredible amounts of research but whose wife is his only research assistant. 

"He does the work, I do the cleanup, then we fight," says Gottlieb. Caro has a marvellous Bronx accent: "I awlways type with a cawbin." (He types on a Smith-Corona and makes a carbon copy.) Lawng, awfice, tawk. (long, office, talk.) 

Gottlieb, who like Caro had an unhappy childhood with an angry, judgemental father - is there an important pattern here? - read as a boy to escape home, and knew he'd be a great editor because he was a great reader. He boasts that he's very fast at his work and tackles new projects immediately. "Not reading a manuscript as soon as it arrives is like cruelty to animals," he says, with his usual twinkle. 

How I loved both these men. I watched as both a writer and an editor, but also as someone familiar with their milieu, the Jewish intellectuals of NYC, which includes some of my family. And I have to say, watching Caro at work brought back my own massive research project, my first book Finding the Jewish Shakespeare about my great-grandfather, which I undertook with absolutely no idea what I was doing. And yet I did what Caro does, interviewed important parties, travelled to dig up raw material, somehow cobbled it together into what I hope is a compelling narrative. 

Most moving is the idealism of both men. Caro wrote his books about the powerful but unelected Moses and the consummate politician Lyndon Johnson so Americans would understand the machinations of political power and be able to make informed choices, Gottlieb because editing is about making books better, helping writers achieve their vision. They're spectacular human beings who both, incidentally, are in happy longterm marriages. 

Anyone interested in words and the creative process, I hope you can see this film. 

 Caro, left, and Gottlieb.

The sun is out! I'm at my south-facing desk absorbing those rays. This weekend, I'm ashamed to say, I barely moved from my kitchen chair except to go to the film. As I listened to CBC's Cross Country Checkup, which was about the evils of drinking, I had a sip of wine. Lynn wrote from France that my last post was wrong, French authorities recommend drinking far less, but that in a country where people still haven't made any obvious link between smoking and lung cancer, even with warnings on cigarette packages and increased prices, there is absolutely no chance  we will ever be advised to drink no more than 2 glasses a week. 

I drink so little now, but something odd: I slept really badly all through my Covid time and the weeks after, my Dry January. Since I started drinking a bit of wine a few days ago, I've been sleeping wonderfully. Hmmmm.

"Every subject is interesting the deeper you get into it," says Gottlieb.

PS Just found out that my cousin, a New York lawyer who specializes in artists, represents both Gottlieb and his daughter the filmmaker. Had no idea. Woo hoo! 

PPS He sent Lizzie, Gottlieb's daughter who made the film, this blog post, and she wrote back, Aw. Thank you for sending this! It makes me so happy to know the film is reaching people and affecting them. Hope you are well! 




Friday, January 20, 2023

Bill Nighy's Living and Beth Kaplan's drinking

I'm sorry, but the new rules about alcohol strike me as absurd overkill. No amount is good for you?! I mean, people in France often drink several glasses of wine with every big meal. Are les français keeling over from cancer at a rate far greater than in North America? Surely we'd have noticed. Despite their regular wine intake, the French are just as healthy and alive as we are, if not more so because generally slimmer and fitter. Or am I wrong?

As someone with a son in recovery, I understand the difficulties and excesses, even sometimes the horrors of alcohol, and I do think emphasizing moderation is a very good thing. I myself have been doing Dry January, started on Dec. 25 because of Covid but continued to give my liver a rest. It's been a month without wine, so tonight I broke the fast and sipped a bit. I'll start again slowly, but a glass of wine just makes the meal more of an occasion.

And I believe in occasions. Today's: seeing the movie Living with Ken. The film is slow, a bit laborious, but that's not a problem because we get lots and lots of Bill Nighy, a closeup in almost every frame. The director was I think in love with Bill's face, and so are we. An actor like no other - incredibly British and restrained, especially in a role like this, when the whole point is British and restrained, but sensitive, open, thoughtful - a beautiful human face, a beautiful human soul. 

A haunting film with many great performances and one spectacular one.

Very good news: Yesterday I went to see my doctor probably for the last time, because, as you know, she dumped me and my daughter, but not my son, randomly from her case load before Xmas. She explained that she'd thought when she took over the practice a large group would jump ship, but almost no one did. She couldn't cope, so she had to throw some of us out. "There's a chronic doctor shortage in Ontario," I said. "Did you really think a lot of patients would leave?" No answer. Nothing to be done. 

But here's the lesson: the receptionist at this family health clinic is a calm, sensible woman with whom I always chat when I'm there; I've thanked her often for her skill at keeping the place functional. This time, I confided my grief at being kicked out after 35 years at the clinic, and when I was getting ready to leave, she told me she'd spoken to the longterm doctor there, who'd agreed to take me on. 

I have a doctor! Incredible relief. Anna still does not, but I think I can help her with that.

Always pay attention to the receptionists, the secretaries, the gatekeepers, who have far more power than we know.

After the doctor, across town to get the boys from school, give them a snack, and read the first three chapters of the marvellous Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, which grabbed them immediately - a boy surviving a plane crash who must survive alone in the bush. We got the bus to their swimming lessons in a nearby high-school — a hot, very noisy room with scores of kids of all ages, Eli in one group doing a good crawl up and down, and Ben in another, mostly cannonballing into the pool. He's compelled to jump. Anna has a fat futon in the middle of the living room floor, so Ben can hurtle and somersault and crash onto it upside down. 

I'm glad that if my boys ever have to swim to safety from a plane crash, they'll be good at it.

To complete my joy, I received a rave review for the essay book from Kathy, one of the beta readers, who noted all my favourite lines because she liked them too. And then my doorbell rang and it was dear Nick with a jar of homemade soup. 

So many mitzvahs. Thank you, Kathy. Thank you, Nick. Thank you, Dr. Davis, and all the very young swimming teachers. Thank you sublime Bill Nighy, and the people who invented wine. 

RIP David Crosby. "Sweet Judy Blue Eyes." "Don't let the past remind us of what we are not now."

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

geeking out over documentaries, and a poem from a friend

Nerd excitement here: OMG! I can't wait. There's a documentary called Turn Every Page: the adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb, about the relationship between the fantastic historian Caro and the best editor of his generation, Gottlieb. It's about two brilliant men fighting over semi-colons and commas. Could anything be more delicious and compelling? I must see it this weekend!

Friday, though, the plan is to see the new Bill Nighy film, Living, with Ken. I'd follow Bill Nighy anywhere. And tomorrow, getting the boys after school and taking them to their swimming lessons; their mother is at work.

It's gloomy and mild again; I rode my bike to the Y, where I was wheezing and coughing, but at least there. I definitely had a bad version of this thing. But more excitement: both U of T classes are launched. Monday night, the first level class, full again with a waiting list, one student in Dublin and another in - yes! - Bali. It was 8 a.m. in Bali, and there she was. Tuesday night, seven writers who've taken my class before coming back for more punishment. 

How I love my work. My daughter who listened to the audiobook of Harry's memoir Spare, which she loved, wonders if I'll get even more students because the entire planet is absorbed in a memoir. But I told her, the classes were already full. Still, it's amazing; apparently his book is the fastest selling of all time. 

Like with Justin T.; we watched these young men grow up and feel invested in them, somehow. At least I do.

Good news today: I want to use nine of the essays I wrote and performed for the CBC in the nineties in my new essay compilation, but there was concern I'd not be able to, that they own copyright. It has taken a month to find out: yes, they do own copyright, but they've arranged to allow me to use them. Thank you, gods that be and CBC rights department.

Back to the drawing board.

I watched a repetitive but still interesting doc on Leonard Cohen and his famous song Hallelujah on Monday, and one last night on Zora Neale Hurston, a powerful writer ahead of her time. More documentaries, give us more! "I'm seventy," growled Cohen at one point, "which is the foothills of old age." I don't have much time to finish these songs, he went on. And write them he did, putting out his last album a month before he died. Inspiring. 

I am in the foothills, Leonard, and must get busy.

My dear friend Nick Rice is also in the foothills. Nick and I were actors together, and ever since, for some reason, we call each other Nickynicknick and Bethy Beth. He's a blog reader who sends me letters and sometimes poems, always connected to Beatle songs, and last month, when I was really sick, I received this. 

Among life's great blessings: work we love, documentaries, and dear creative friends.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

The So True reading event returns

Speaking, as I do in the last blog post, about my dear friend and writing student Ruth, I must tell you Ruth will be reading one of her great stories at So True, the event I began in 2015 so longterm writing students could speak directly to an audience. We did sixteen of these events, emceed by our beloved Jason Allen, with four curated, rehearsed readers in the first half, four in the second, and then moi, at the Social Capital, an intimate warm space on the Danforth with a bar at one end and a stage at the other.

We were regularly getting about seventy people, as much as the room can hold, when Covid shut us down in 2020. But at last, it's time to start again. From now on, I'll probably produce it only once a year, but the show must go on. 

If you live in or near Toronto, hope to see you there! A good time and breathtaking stories guaranteed. Confirmed presenters: Diana Lee Tran, Ruth Miller, Jennifer Venner, Sam Stanley-Paul, Mary DiFrancesco, Peg Evans, Jason Allen, and yours very very truly. 

Here comes the sun and I say, it's all right

Someone tweeted that God made a deal with Toronto: we'd have the mildest January ever, but no sun. And so it came to be — day after day, week after week, overcast grey skies but early spring weather. As if we were living in Vancouver or London, without mountains and ocean or fabulous theatre and history. Just a hypocritical mayor, hideous traffic and development, scores of homeless people in tents, but no snow.

And then, a big snowfall and cold — and SUN pouring in my window right now. If anything will help my frazzled lungs, it's this. I'll take cold and sun over mild gloom any day. Thank you, powers that be. My God that feels good!

Had lunch yesterday with Ruth and Merrijoy. At one point Ruth said, "What's lovely about this gathering is that one of us is in her seventies, one in her eighties, and one in her nineties." And I thought - wait, are you including ME? Not possible. Seventies?! No, sorry, you must mean someone else.

Sigh. So be it. Seventies. But barely. 

Being with Ruth and Merrijoy is always inspiring, phenomenal women full of curiosity and life. Merrijoy is 95, still a beautiful redhead, chic, au courant. Ruth is a mere 83, also a marvel. And I - a youngster, taking notes on how it's done.  

Work continues on the essay book, moving pieces around to find the right order, some rewriting. I sneered reading a review in the Guardian of Love Me Tender, by the controversial French writer Constance Debré, who writes memoir and says it's fiction, as almost all French memoir writers do, including Emmanuel Carrère and Annie Ernaux. I guess it's French to tell excoriating truths about your life but pretend it's not you. CLAIM YOUR TRUTH, I say in class, but am not sure what that would be in French. 

The protagonist and narrator, who is not named, is clearly Debré herself, following in a long French tradition of creative writers who draw closely on real-life events – the most notable being last year’s Nobel laureate Annie Ernaux. Yet though the events are real, Debré firmly considers her work fiction rather than autobiography or memoir, because it relies on the literary art of constructing a narrative, creating a relationship between a character and events. “What makes a novel is its form,” she says.

Phooey, is what I say to that. As if memoir doesn't construct a narrative and create relationships. PHOOEY. Réclamez votre verité!

There's a cat in the sun beside me. 

She follows me around and is to be found nearby almost all the time. I love her. She had to be shut in my bedroom, however, when Bandit came to visit the other day. She's not ready for a big, bouncy, enthusiastic dog. 

Have you ever seen two more handsome creatures? Very good boys, both. 

Hope there's sun on your face, too. 

Thursday, January 12, 2023

The Wonder and Harry

A turning point - yesterday, Wednesday, is the day of the Y class I've been doing, for better or worse, for over three decades; the group of us have been together there so long, they feel like another, sweaty kind of family. I've been too sick to go for a couple of weeks, so wanted to go yesterday. No, I thought, it's cold and wet outside and I'm not well enough.

And then I thought, I'm going! And I went. And there they were, the team, my buddies. How are you? they cried. We missed you! I wasn't able to do much, but I was there, and just seeing their faces was healing. I was never ever a fitness buff, started to go to the Y regularly in 1990 as a divorcee, just to meet people, get out, have an anchor to my day. The place, the class has been a lifesaver, over and over again. Lolita, on her knees centre here in a class last week, had a thermos with her in the gym that was not water but soup, she told me - kale, pumpkin, and carrot soup. She insisted I take more Vitamin C. I assured her I would.

Thanks to everyone. Love you.

Watched Harry interviewed on Colbert. Have to say, he comes across as a sincere, conscientious, traumatized, courageous man with a great sense of humour and a lot of humility. Hard not to like and root for him, especially when you understand the extent of the vileness of the British press and how it has impacted his life. One of the best interviews ever. Colbert going on and on about his frostbitten penis! A rare moment. 

And then I watched The Wonder, from the Emma Donahue novel. Beautifully filmed and acted, though I think Florence Pugh is almost too strong and self-possessed to be realistic in the 1860s, not to mention her perfect teeth, a detail that always makes me smile in historical British movies. A mystery, a psychological thriller, and once again, a powerful condemnation of the Roman Catholic church.

Re work: just got the first comments back on the essay manuscript from friend and student Jennifer. Valuable comments, especially that I have given no thought to chapter titles. Work to do. 

And the latest episode of the podcast has just dropped. Six down, many to go.

This term's teaching starts tonight with the home class, and then next Monday and Tuesday, two U of T classes on Zoom. I hope to have my lungs back by then. The Y will help.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

letter about the J. K. Rowling controversy

I wish I didn't care about certain things so deeply, as I'm sure it's a waste of my time and energy. Today there was a front page article in the Star about how the game quiddich, invented by J.K. Rowling for her Harry Potter series, has taken off in popularity. But they're changing the name to quadball, because they've decided J.K. is a vicious anti-trans activist and want nothing to do with the writer who invented not just the game but the entire world around it.

The article quotes several people excoriating her but offers no opposing viewpoint: i.e., where exactly are these spewings of hatred they're talking about? Could you quote one, please? Like so many others, the journalist accepts the received "wisdom" of the Twitter mob.

So, because I'm a dork, I had to write. Like J.K., I am an absolute supporter of the human rights of trans women. But I do not insist that a woman born as a woman, and a man who makes the often painful, difficult, and much desired transition to becoming a woman, are the same. They are not. That does not make me, or her, a bigot, a terf. It makes us realistic about biological science. That's all.

Dear Janet Hurley:

I cannot let your front page article go by without addressing it. 

            You are a respected senior journalist, so I wonder at your one-sided article on the J. K. Rowling controversy. Her story is a case study in how misinformation is amplified by hysterical social media mobs and then by legacy media, in articles such as yours. 

You quote an incendiary tweet about “TERF wars” without putting it into any kind of context. You quote a millennial ex-fan about Rowling “spewing such hurtful and hateful and … dangerous things.” Then you quote an academic saying she’s behaving “like a complete dick and destroying people’s childhoods.” Really?

Where are the opposite viewpoints any good journalist should include? Have you done any investigating into exactly where Rowling spews hateful things? 

Recently, a gay journalist in England decided to check for herself. She reported that she could find no such hatred.

            Rowling has the audacity to believe that women born as women, and men who become women later in life, are biologically different. To deny this scientific reality is lunacy, but that is what some trans activists and their supporters wish to do. That is why she has drawn such hatred.

            She fiercely objects to the erasure of the word ‘woman,’ as do I. A recent ad for a vibrator states that this object is for “vulva havers.” There are perhaps four billion women or so on the planet, but we are no longer allowed to use the word? 

            As soon J. K. spoke up in defense of biological women and the actual word “women,” she was viciously attacked as a terf. No one stopped to question why a woman who has written a glorious series of books fundamentally about tolerance of the other would suddenly start to spew hatred for a persecuted minority. A woman who has donated a vast portion of her hard-earned fortune to charities for the vulnerable, especially women and children.

            What has happened to her is indefensible. Why would a respected journalist use defamatory quotes without even an attempt to look deeper into the issue?

            Your job is to tell all sides of important stories. This one is important, not because of renaming a game for spurious reasons, but because it’s just one of a series of profound injustices caused by Twitter mobs. J. K. can defend herself. Others cannot.

            I hope you will rectify this.

PS. An early Twitter thread from Rowling: 

The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women—i.e., to male violence—‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences—is a nonsense.”

“I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so."

Amen, sister. But I have to say that even posting this on my blog frightens me.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

a manuscript out in the world

Not much better, but not worse. It's the lungs. I do wonder if I had or have something besides Covid, though it's not bad enough to go to the doctor. Still, short of breath, coughing, wheezing. The lungs hurt.

My cat and I are watching sparrows and juncos in the garden, busy not just at the feeder but in the bushes, pecking, chattering. It's like an early spring day, as it has been all week - gloomy but mild, not like winter at all. Sun was promised for today and is eagerly awaited, but so far, elusive.

The excitement is that I spent all yesterday finishing a draft of the essay book and sent it to four beta readers, all my longterm home class students so fierce critics and wonderful writers themselves. It's thrilling to anticipate that kind of expert feedback. So far no one except my excellent editor Ellie has seen the ms., so I've no idea if it works. Tenterhooks.

What are tenterhooks?

I've been very lucky with Tiggy Stardust. She's a lap cat, so much so that the minute I sit in my favourite chair and pull on the blanket, she's there, keeping me warm. My last cats were neither of them lap cats, although the whole POINT of a cat is to sit in your lap. Tiggy knows that. She's a delight, the perfect companion. So glad we found each other.

My friend Margaret posted this lovely image on FB: 'Breakfast of the Birds', 1934, by Gabriele Münter. It feels like here, except for the absence of cat.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

The US debacle, "Miss Austen Regrets," and health returns, kind of

Apparently Americans can watch the debacle in the US House of Reps on C-Span. Nothing I'd rather less do than watch these kindergarteners fight, except that it is good to know Dems are having such a triumphant moment of solidarity. Who'd have predicted this turn of events, this log-jam of absurdity? Only a few months ago, the Red Wave, the decimation of the left, etc. predicted. But no. Human decency and good sense still exist, though still not much in evidence down there.

Good news up here: It's been eleven days since symptoms started. I just took another home test, and it's negative! Now I can go out and share my germs with the world. I've not been outside in a week — not just quarantine, but because the weather has been impossible, not cold at all, but dark and damp and uninviting to sodden lungs. I'm not feeling much better, ironically, but I'll get there; this thing has moved through, leaving havoc in its wake.

Watched a film called Miss Austen Regrets, about Jane Austen's love life, or lack of it. Nice to see her portrayed as feisty, sarcastic, fiercely independent — a woman who knew love but rejected several suitors because she wanted to write. It's sad in the final scenes; as her brothers' fortunes collapse and she, her mother, and sister risk being ejected from their cottage, her mother accuses her of selfishness for not marrying well and so leaving them all vulnerable. Money is safety! she cries — marrying it being the only way a woman without means could achieve security. 

To think such a genius wasn't recognized by her own family ... but it happens, I'm sure more often than we know. Oh that she had not died so young.

So tomorrow is a new day. I've been stuck in a tunnel since Christmas, getting through but without much pleasure. Have managed to do Nicky's dance party and Gina's Essentrics class on Zoom once or twice, though, so the body wasn't completely stagnant. But mostly. Time to MOVE. I've been working on the essay book manuscript. Getting there? I hope so. Maybe. Maybe not. 

I will call my housemate Tiggy Stardust. Hope David Bowie doesn't mind. He was British, so it's sure he loved cats.

Surveying the estate from afar and keeping an eye on the pace of work in my office.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Life in Squares, and just life

There's life in these old bones. I'm not perky, but definitely better than yesterday. Finally noticed my plants are dying and am getting around to watering. Have kept my cat alive for two days, and myself too. There's hope.

Today I wrote a furious letter to Lisi Tesher at the Star, who's been allowed to take her mother Ellie's place several times a week as an advice columnist. Ellie is sensible; Lisi often gives glib responses, but today's was particularly infuriating. A woman wrote that she and her husband, who have 3 school-age children, are divorcing. "Now what?" Lisi responded with great cheer that no problem, "there's no failure in divorce," "Co-parenting is different than what you're used to," "Think of all the positives."

Co-parenting is different, no question. As someone whose children had to go through the agony of divorce, I wrote to her that, unless the circumstances are exceptional, there's no way to sugarcoat what that family are all about to go through. They will need help, not cheery bromides. Jesus. Divorce, except for cases of abuse or addiction or other violence, is almost certainly disastrous for children. That doesn't mean the problems can't be overcome, but a great deal of work on both sides is needed to do so. Making light of what's ahead is a huge disservice to them all, but particularly to the children.

I'm especially aware of all this now because I'm working on my essay book, which has a number of pieces about divorce and single parenting. The ten or fifteen years after my divorce were in many ways nightmarish, yet I had financial support from my ex that allowed us to stay in our home and to pay for my shrink, who helped me through. Most custodial parents are not so lucky. If there is one thing I would NEVER do, it's downplay the cost of divorce for children.

Speaking of which, I watched the 3-part British TV series Life in Squares, about the Bloomsbury group, particularly Vanessa Bell and her marital arrangements. Her husband Clive moved on after they had two sons, living separately with his own lovers but visiting regularly. She was desperately in love with the gay painter Duncan Grant, who lived with her for most of his life; eventually, in what you gather was their only moment of sexual intimacy, they conceived a daughter. Angelica Bell didn't know until adulthood that Duncan not Clive was her father. Eventually she married David Garnet, who again she didn't find out until later had for years had been her father's lover. 

Can you imagine learning your husband was for a long time your father's lover? Yikes. These people were ahead of their time in defining bisexuality in their own way! Not to mention, of course, Virginia and her passionate affair with Vita Sackville-West, while her dear husband Leonard Woolf tried to guard her sanity and talent. 

Complicated. You gather few actual divorces; people just moved in and out of each other's beds and gorgeous country homes. 

And then I watched my favourite Finding Your Roots. Such a great show, delving into people's pasts, often hundreds of years back. Last night's was about actors Edward Norton and Julia Roberts; at the end we find out that DNA tests revealed they're distantly related. 

How helpful Amazon is. Just discovered my Jewish Shakespeare hardcover is on sale for nearly $90. No wonder the sales are pouring in. 

Here are my animals, new and old:

It's another dark dark dark gloomy day, as it has been for the entire week - mild but oppressive. Another neighbour has just tested positive. A little sunshine would go a long way for us all, Powers That Be. Asking for a friend.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

report from the front lines

Am still so sick today, I called my doctor, who's still my doctor until March, and tonight she called back. Here's something perhaps you didn't know — Paxlovid gives you "rebound symptoms," where Covid symptoms have a resurgence. Well, isn't that a treat! I was wondering about pneumonia, but she said everything I was telling her - coughing, no energy, bad stomach, weak lungs - are resurgence. 

Good to know. Time, she said. Rest and hydration. Okeley dokeley. Am beyond impatient to get my life back, but this thing has other plans. Still, I can read, write, watch Netflix - everything that matters, except getting outside and moving my body.

In the meantime, I may have found a new doctor. Thanks to Toronto Lynn who sent out a call for suggestions, I have an appointment with a young doctor setting up a new practice in March to see if there's a fit. A huge relief, if so. I did tell my current doctor that being dumped two days before Christmas from the clinic I've been part of since 1988 made me cry. She was apologetic, but "it had to be done."


On a more important note, I have a pussycat. After years with an old lady in a small retirement apartment, she's adapting wonderfully to this big house with so very much to sniff and look at. She already winds around my ankles and Robin's too, and is relaxed and interested in everything. I'm so happy to have a cat again, and such a pretty one too.

This is what my daughter had to go through to get her here: Uber or transit with her boys to the island airport car rental, the only one open on New Year's Day. Rent a car and drive it onto the ferry to the mainland, a huge thrill for Ben who loves all vehicles. Drive over an hour to Waterloo. Have lunch, find the place, meet the people, pick up the cat and her many possessions, stuff her in a carrier. She yowled all the way home; Anna said they tried to figure out what she was telling them.

Drop the boys off at home with Thomas. Drive across town, unload everything, try not to catch Covid from her mother who forgot to put on her mask, and go to pick up friends and do a million other things possible with a car. Today they gave her the car for another day free, so she went to Costco. This family knows how to have a good time. 

Very grateful to my girl for going above and beyond. Have to say - I wouldn't have done all that for her. But then, she loves driving and I hate it.

Skyped with Lynn in France for an hour and a half. She's a phenomenon, picking up speed as she gets older, amazing. 

Meet Tiggy. Her name was Twiggy, but that name has negative connotations for me, stick-thin model and all. So, Tiggy. Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, if you're feeling formal. She'd love to meet you. Or, if you're a bird or squirrel, to eat you.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

2023, Day One

It's like being underwater sometimes, submerged in Sickland, unable to surface into real life. Yesterday was okay, with energy, so I wondered if true to form, there'd be a backlash, and sure enough, today was dreadful, sore lungs, coughing, achey body and head, no desire to move. And the weather has been dark and wet - amazingly mild, 12 degrees - but too wet for walking. I've been outside once, briefly, in the last days. My legs twitch in bed at night because I've moved them so little.

But I'm not in hospital. 

It's January 1 2023. 

Robin asked if I was going to make resolutions, and I said, no, I'm perfect. And he said, I am too.

But I like Bob Rae's resolutions on Twitter, so I will try to keep his. Obviously, when I'm better. 

40 minutes exercise, 40 minutes extra reading, 40 minutes extra writing (extra meaning non work non social media) and piano every day. More conscious listening and acts of kindness. Try not to be boring about any of these.

Ruth brought me a quiche and a croissant, and Robin bought some nuts and berries. Thank you, foraging friends.

In the meantime, I do have to report that astoundingly, despite aching head and twitchy body, I've been working. A new, better title for the essay book just came to me, and I've written a new preface and have compiled five or six possible new entries for it. 

It's thrilling, to feel my writing self as a kind of machine that, once kicked into motion, can keep going, no matter what. We'll see if any of this matters to the final manuscript. I'm very attached to so many of these essays, and I do think people will enjoy reading them. But we know, no one reads these days.

Except Bob Rae.