Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Alice Neel and my father, Kappy

My life has been immeasurably improved this last month by one small  addition — a pussycat. My Tiggy is the most marvellous, indeed the perfect cat. She follows me around, is always nearby; when I'm in my office, she curls up in the extra chair near mine, and at night, she sleeps on a cushion outside my closed door, meowing in the morning to be let in. Just looking at her relaxes me. I'm worried how she'll take my being away for two weeks. Robin will take care of her, but it's not the same. My sweet Tiggy. Grateful for her arrival. 

Good reports still flowing in from So True, including from those who participated. This was my first public reading of creative writing and a deeply personal piece. It was the right community for it - so warm, open, kind. Friends who have been to a lot of these things commented on just how strong every single piece was - perfectly curated by our fierce leader.

And: After hearing yesterday's stories, I had a craving for more, so I just listened to a The Moth podcast. The stories there came nowhere near the quality and delivery of those we heard yesterday. So now I'm spoiled!

YAY! May we go on spoiling you all. 

Now I have to gear up for travel, always so much to do, to leave house, tenants, kids, students, and now cat in good shape and haul myself overseas. Lists are blossoming. 

The other day I was showing an art book about Alice Neel to Monique who was enquiring about her portrait of Dad. And what fell out but a biography of Alice, signed and dedicated in 1980 to my father, whom she called Kappy. She must have sent it to him, or else he visited her in NYC; 1980 is the year I visited her too. Mum always said Alice was a friend of them both, but it was obviously Dad she was interested in; she didn't offer to paint Mum. Or me, for that matter; we met several times when I was a toddler. Wouldn't that have been something! Too bad. 

Sunday, February 26, 2023

So True triumph

A quick update, if I can ever do something quickly on this blog ... First, my remarkably resilient son is upbeat, full of cheer, with a minor head injury, abrasions to the face, pain in the chest, and the issues with his wrist. But he's cheerful, and his workplace will welcome him back when he can get there, which he says will be soon.

Second, So True: we were expecting a small house, after over three years of pandemic hiatus. But it was packed, almost standing room only, almost eighty people. The readers triumphed. Tears sprang to my eyes over and over again as I listened. How we need stories! I read a story of my own about being briefly in the Brownies and invited the audience to join me in the Brownie chants like "To whit to whoo." Many enthusiastic joiners.

Here are some responses to the event. Thanks to all the people who came out in the snow to hear writers tell the most important tales of their lives.

Truly a brilliant afternoon.  Thank you for all the guidance and encouragement you must give them. 

My friends and family so enjoyed the event, especially the young people who appreciate that this is culture at its best. They were delighted with the variety and intrigue of the presentations. Thank you dear writer, mentor, editor, teacher, friend. So many hours of work and a brilliant story of your own .

Beth, nothing is more true than what you said about how we need to be in one another's presence, "in real life" (as the kids say) to share the beautiful experience of listening and being heard. Thank you for carrying on this wonderful tradition, and bringing beautiful stories into the spotlight. 

And from Ruth: 
To whit to whoo, my sentiments too.
Magnificent stories and all of them true,
And shepherded skillfully, lovingly through
By our talented, sensitive you-know-who. 

So glad it worked for you all. Here's Diana whose moving but also hilarious story about some difficulties with her trans identity brought down the house. There will be another So True in the fall. I assume both the beautiful woman and the old bag will be there.

Saturday, February 25, 2023


Fresh snow, lots of new snow. Will soon go and try to make myself look respectable for So True.

Never take tranquillity for granted. My son had a fall down some stairs yesterday and slammed into a wall - probably pulled by his very strong dog, though he has not said so. He managed to get home to leave Bandit and called me as the ambulance was on its way. Our medical system came through; they dealt with him amazingly fast. He was bleeding from the head though no concussion, but has damaged ligaments in his wrist, has a cast and will need an operation. 

He was due to start his new job that night. 

I'd just been talking by Zoom to my friend Judy in Vancouver about how our anxieties as mothers never end, and then we have grandchildren, so brand new anxieties. 

Brand new anxieties.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Annie Ernaux's The Years, Things I Know to be True, and Angela Davis's surprise

Too much good stuff going on. I've just read a superb book and watched great TV and now am just in from a stupendous piece of theatre. 

Let me tell you about the least of these, one of my favourite programs, Finding Your Roots, with Henry Louis Gates; his researchers delve far into the backgrounds of all kinds of famous people, and often surprising things turn up. But this week's was astonishing; one of his guests was Angela Davis, black revolutionary and Communist, leader of or connected to various far-left movements including the Black Panthers

Well, it turned out that the biological father of Angela Davis's adopted mother was white. Not only that, but going further back, one of Davis's ancestors came from Britain to America on the Mayflower! By this time, Davis could hardly speak for surprise. In the end, they always show the DNA pie chart of heritage, and Angela Davis is 48.5% European. The other guest, an American politician who also identified as 100% black, also discovered a white grandfather and is 53% European. 

Why do we call Barack Obama the first black president when he is 50% white? I am particularly sensitive to this as a 50/50 split myself. Hybrid vigour, as my dad said. Henry Louis Gates, who always identifies wholeheartedly with his black guests, told us at one point he's 50% white. As I've always said, the more cappuccino babies there are in the world, the better off we'll be. 

I had to rush to finish Annie Ernaux's The Years to get it back to the library today. I've never read anything like it, brilliantly original — a history not so much of her life but of her times, from her birth in 1941 to 2006, French politics, international politics, what's happening in the world, everything — consumption, conversation, young people and old, what was changing as the world changed. It's not an easy read but it's fascinating and eventually you're swirling along on the ride — because by the end, she is us, we are her, no longer a provincial French schoolgirl but a grandmother trying to figure out this new age and what her children and grandchildren are talking about. Riveting.

Then today I went to see a matinée of Things I Know to be True, recommended by my friend Julia. I'm so glad she urged me to go see a marvellous production of a marvellous play. It looks on the surface like a kitchen sink drama, and it is, literally — the kitchen sink figures. But it's really about how complicated families are, the dynamics, marriage, siblings, each one struggling to figure out how to live. What matters is that in the end, this screwed up histrionic crew come together when it matters most. The cast is perfect. I could not recommend it more highly. 

My happy place: the theatre. After seeing Un Beau Matin a few days ago, I'm drowning in complex family dynamics and extra-marital agony. Bring it on. Oh, and I spent the intermission chatting with the woman sitting behind me, who turned out to be Veronica Tennant, for decades Canada's prima ballerina, seeing the play for the second time. I asked if she still dances and she said, No, I can hardly move. I should have told her about Nicky's dance party.

We had a big dump of snow after several spring-like weeks, so it was a slushy day. But I am richly filled with art. And now, the next library book, brand new. Time to go sit by the fire with a glass of wine. A small glass of wine. 

My cup runneth. Etc. 

Monday, February 20, 2023

A Beautiful Morning - Un Beau Matin - wonderful film

Family day today, so I went to see a fantastic film about family. Usually I am leery of French films, often overly intellectual, labored, tedious, and slow. But this one, Un Beau Matin - A Beautiful Morning - written and directed by Mia Hansen-Løve, is spectacular. It's the opposite of Tàr, about an exceptionally rare kind of ambitious woman. This is about an ordinary woman with an ordinary life, and yet I think the point is that there is nothing ordinary about her. 

Sandra, a translator and a widow raising a young daughter and tending her ill father, spends her life taking care of others. One of my only criticisms is that though she betrays exhaustion and grief, she never loses her temper or shows the slightest impatience or annoyance, qualifying her for sainthood. But she’s not a saint, she’s a dutiful, loving woman whose father, once a respected philosophy professor, has a devastating degenerative disease that requires his family to move him from his light-filled apartment to a series of assisted care places of varying quality. There’s one particularly moving scene where they have to clear out his hundreds of much-loved books. Sandra says the books represent her father to her more than the man she goes to see in the care home, who barely knows her. 

One day, I thought with tears, my children will have to clear out my books.

She meets an old friend and they become lovers, so a dormant part of her is brought back to glowing life. But he’s unhappily married, so it’s complicated. Again, he’s perfect: tender, thoughtful, smart, honest. Her whole family, in fact, is perfect, her mother or stepmother, her sister, her father’s partner – all of them patient and attentive. 

It’s a film about profound love, about the infinite number of tasks good people perform every day to care for children, the ill, the elderly. A lot of the film is Sandra endlessly on the metro, going to work, to visit her father, to get her daughter at school. There are countless powerful short scenes that fly by; the writing is brilliant.  

At the end I felt raw, as if layers had been scraped off and my heart had opened. The story made me deeply grateful my own father, who feared the Alzheimer’s that afflicted his mother, died on his own terms. That my mother, at 89, was losing memory and agency but didn’t descend too far before the end. I hope our government allows us to sign a form permitting our children to make difficult decisions for their elders if we degenerate. Sandra makes her lover promise he’ll take her to a Swiss clinic if the disease her father has begins to affect her. I hope Canadians with degenerative diseases don’t need to go to Switzerland to end their days. I do not want my children to have to go through what Sandra goes through.

Though I have no doubt that if they had to, they would, and that is the greatest comfort of all. 

Sunday, February 19, 2023

So True, Saturday Feb. 25, 1-3, be there or be square

The wrong day for So True went out yesterday. I'm so used to it being on a Sunday that I wrote Sunday in the blog, but it's next SATURDAY, Feb. 25, from 1 to 3, for anyone in or near Toronto. A good time guaranteed; the stories are fabulous - moving, powerful, funny. Starring: Ruth Miller, Sam Heffer, Diana Lee Tran, Jennifer Venner, Valerie Ouellette, Mary diFrancesco, Louise Binder, and Peg Evans. MC'd to perfection by Jason Allen. Followed by moi, with a talk and a story. All for a mere $10. Best value in town.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Joseph and his Dreamcoat, and Parliament Street's world cuisine

A fine moment yesterday: my grandsons stop by the table where the printed versions of my blog are laid out - six fat books, from 2007 to 2020. Ben picks up the one from 2015 and finds the many pictures of his birth day that July, and Eli finds himself in May 2012. There they both are, their newborn selves immortalized in their grandmother's books. They gaze for a moment - perhaps they think all grandchildren's pictures turn up in books - and move on. They play soccer in the living room and somehow, despite using a soft cloth ball, smash a bowl that belonged to my mother. They play hide and seek in the kitchen and overturn the cat's dishes, breaking one. 

And yet it was one of the best visits ever. Their mother perhaps put the fear of Glamma into them. Sometimes they beg for a bit of TV; this time there was no mention, they just played. They spent nearly an hour playing boats in the bathtub, with resulting splashes, and Eli kept beating me at x's and o's - fairly, I never saw his coming victories. I'm so bad at games, I bore him. They only fought 3 or 4 times, ate what was offered - the huge challenge of pasta with tomato sauce or pesto - and as they always do, commandeered my post-its and pens to write their names many many times.

Ben told a joke. What do you call a can opener that doesn't work? A can't opener.

TWO sets of my mother's binoculars. They stared at each other for ages. Ben does not want his hair cut, so it's not being cut. 

At 7 we took the streetcar and subway - ecstasy for Ben, for whom every kind of transit is exhilarating - to see Joseph and his amazing technicolour dreamcoat. Anna wanted them to see it. Her father worked for many years with Andrew Lloyd Webber, and she and her brother saw the show, starring Donny Osmond, several times. When Mirvish announced a special deal for tickets, I pounced.

The production did not disappoint. Flashy, loud - sometimes too loud - and absurd, with clever, catchy pastiches of just about every kind of popular music, it had lots for grown-ups to enjoy but held the kids, even Ben, who with his ADHD cannot sit still. The second act was hard for him and he writhed, but he watched. The lead, a talented Welsh actor, looked startlingly like Justin Trudeau. 

It was a bitterly cold night, and I was dreading the long subway/streetcar ride home for me in one direction and for them in another. Instead, when we left the theatre, there was a line of cabs waiting. I put Anna's gang in one and jumped in a second and was whisked home. A great luxury. 

I'm in that limbo state, waiting for the essay book edits to arrive. Must clear that book's detritus out of the office and begin to think about the next one. In the meantime, I'm editing for several writers and for a thrilling So True next Saturday. 

Made a list of the restaurants nearby on Parliament Street, many of them new: Halal Noor, Webliye, Angithi Biryani, Haldi, Shalom, Masala Guys, Chachu's, Cumin Kitchen, Hakka Bistro, Gushi, La Gloria, El Nahual, and Poutine Delight. 

All just five or ten minutes from my front door! Let's get some dinner. Whic country would you like to dine in today?

Despite all this pleasure, my heart aches. The Guardian review of the Vermeer exhibit: "One of the most thrilling exhibitions ever conceived." And the first time I checked the Rijksmuseum site, there were tickets available. How could I not have realized how quickly they'd sell out? My favourite painter in the world. Ah well. Paris will have to do. 

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Paris in the springtime, and Tàr

It feels like time in the long dark tunnel of the last three years is ending. We know it's not; the pandemic isn't over and there are more looming, not to mention a million other problems on our planet. But right now, despite all, I feel life stirring in these old bones.

Of course, we all know: if you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans. 

First, the relief that Solo Woman: Writing through the storm has found a home and we hope will come out by the end of the year. Of course, I can hear God laughing. But that's the plan.

Second, I just booked a trip to Paris entirely on travel points, because my neighbour Monique's sister made me an offer I could not refuse: her apartment in central Paris for two weeks at an incredible price. Tourists are perhaps hesitating to go because of serious unrest there, and I almost didn't go either; Lynn wrote that, due to Macron's attempt at pension reform, things will get worse in March, with air traffic control, trains, universities, and more in upheaval and often on strike. 

So I decided, rather than trying to get anywhere from Paris - I used to go south to Montpellier and/or north to England - I'll relieve the stress by staying put. Two weeks in Paris, in such a central location that if transit is on strike, I can walk. The main stress will be getting from and to the airport. I'll just assume things will be unsettled and do my best to roll with the punches. 

I'll visit the giant cherry tree in le Jardin des Plantes, where I scattered my father's ashes. I'll visit Michèle, a family friend who lives in a suburb of the city, whose husband died last fall and who wants to show me where he's buried. Her husband was once my mother's lover but that's another story. Maybe another day trip to Monet's glorious garden in Giverny. I will walk and eat and look and appreciate, as I always do in France. Cheese. And more cheese. Sunday March 20 - Monday April 3. Incroyable!

My application to renounce my American citizenship, with complicated paperwork I waited a year for them to send me, has now been sent back, and I'm awaiting a date. Fingers crossed. 

Today I went to see my friend Kathleen Trotter, the best fitness trainer, who ascertained that my left side is weaker than my right and I need to stand on my left leg as often as possible, stork position. However, my right side, she said, is "perfect." Funny - I think of the left as the best side of me. 

The teacher assessments came back from one U of T class and they seem to be enjoying themselves. The cat is happy eating cat food mashed together with sardines or tuna; she won't eat just cat food, not good enough for her sensitive palate. Tomorrow is a PD day and I'm spending it with my grandsons and daughter, including seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the evening. In 1972, as described in Loose Woman, my father and I took a trip to the Edinburgh Festival, and that musical by an unknown Andrew Lloyd Webber is one play we saw. 

Oh, and a few days ago, I watched Tàr. A tour de force of course for Cate Blanchett, a powerful mysterious film with lots of bits unexplained. Mostly, I felt it explores a thesis I put forward in my book about my great-grandfather Jacob Gordin, a man destroyed by the very things that made him great - his stubborn intransigence and single-mindedness. I think Lydia Tàr, née Linda Tarr, could not have become who she was without her excesses, and in the end, like Gordin, they do her in. A Greek tragedy. Magnificent. 

Today, my cup runneth etc. Thank you, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Great news: Solo Woman goes to Mosaic Press

Well, you've been hearing about the essay book for quite a long time. As usual, something I thought would be fairly easy turned out not to be so. I mean, most of the contents of this book had already been published! And yet had to be rewritten and rearranged over and over, new material found, some new stuff written. So what I thought would be an easy project, a compilation of mostly published essays, turned into two years of work. No complaints. 

BUT on to the next phase for Solo Woman: writing through the storm. Yesterday I signed a contract with the small but doughty Mosaic Press. There's hope the book will come out before the end of the year. The draft has gone to their editor, so the back and forth of final editing will begin, and soon cover discussion. SO MUCH FUN! (The subtitle has changed. It's now Midlife in Essays. Much better, no?)

And then I'll do my best to market it, which as you know is definitely my great strength, selling myself and my work, BUY THIS NOW. (Ha.) But most importantly, on to the next book. Another guaranteed bestseller. 


It's 14 degrees today; on my way to the Y I saw three people in shorts. It's February. Hard to knock it, but it's profoundly wrong. 

Yesterday, a nice repair guy came to check my fridge and the fridge in the flat downstairs, which weren't operating optimally, and my dishwasher, which seemed to be unbalanced. He checked everything, vacuumed the backs of the fridges which were very dusty, screwed the dishwasher in more securely, and charged me $700. 

Don't buy. Rent.

Tonight, Monique and Kathy are coming for dinner. We could almost eat outside. What a world.

PS Without question, sleazy John Tory will weasel out of resigning, just watch. The right is already terrified that a progressive mayor who might actually accomplish something would be elected in his place. Can't have that. Our poor city, doomed. 

Saturday, February 11, 2023

The John Tory story

Amazing how things can change on a dime: last night I watched a documentary about a British artist trying to paint the Mona Lisa as Leonardo would have, using the same techniques and type of paint. Just look at the folds in her sleeves! he kept exclaiming. At 11, though my computer is usually off by then, I took a quick look at Twitter before bed. And discovered our boring, hypocritical mayor had just resigned after being outed about an affair with a young staffer. There were lots of funny tweets, including the Beaverton: John Tory's career cut short by his raw, unstoppable sexual magnetism. 

If you want to know why that's funny, Google John Tory. And a fresh scandal is brewing around Doug Ford and his developer buddies, no surprise there. So now we have no mayor and more dirt on our premier. Maybe there's hope for fresh energy for this poor benighted city. 

Another lesson: when you want to see a blockbuster, book immediately. The huge Vermeer exhibit in Amsterdam just opened yesterday, and even though I hadn't set dates for travel, I thought I'd better book a ticket for the date in late March when I'd probably be there. 

Sold out until May, on the first day. So much for that.

It simplifies my life, however. Lynn is warning me of the dire unrest in France, constant strikes, especially trains and the Paris metro. So perhaps not going anywhere special is best while travel there is so unsettled. Though of course this is France, there are always strikes; any issue is discussed by striking or marching in the street. 

My neighbour Monique solved another problem. She said, absolutely, I should go and rent her sister's apartment if it was available. Yes, the flat, in an incredible location in the 6th opposite the Louvre, is available, and I can rent it for 200 euros off the usual price. And Lynn is free to come up from Montpellier at that time. 

So a trip to Paris is probably going to happen, folks. Woo hoo! The thought of time in my happy place is making me happy. Something to get me through February.

I tell students, when the thought of reading a manuscript one more time makes me want to throw up, it's time to shove it out. The last step for me as a writer, before writing goes out into the world, is to have it printed for one last go-over. My wonderful printer Ramy this time cerlox bound it as a gift, so it looks like a book. I spent the whole day yesterday going over Solo Woman: Writing through the storm, mostly to be sure it flows. It flows. I didn't throw up, but it's definitely time for an outside eye to tell me what's wrong. Inshallah. 

There's sun today. And here's more sun for Valentine's Day: my daughter with some of the Indigenous elders she cooks and cares for. 

Love is.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Joe Biden triumphs; Beth and Chris design her blue commemorative plaque

Sleepy Joe no more! I was teaching during the first half of Biden's State of the Union address but caught the second. Thank God for a sane, empathetic man and skilled politician at this lunatic time. The divisions of the country were in stark relief — his loud call to ban assault weapons to a standing ovation from the Dems, the entire Repug side motionless. 

If only he were sixty instead of eighty. Or even my age, a mere seventy-two. If only he'd pick a successor and remain in the background as a trusted, invaluable advisor. I keep swearing I won't get involved in American politics, but it's like Greek tragedy playing out in front of us. And speaking of tragedy - Turkey and Syria, from one moment to the next, such horrendous suffering. 

I lay in bed last night, fantasizing that human beings changed fundamentally, that we became peaceful, generous creatures who used all our resources to feed, house, and heal our neighbours. Imagine if all the money flooding into war were invested instead in humanitarian causes. And then I thought, no, somebody would emerge who'd want more of the resources and start plotting against the others and there we'd be, again. That's who we are: a flawed species, marvellous but greedy. 

Speaking of greed, an outraged friend emailed me a link; years ago she and her husband sold their warm, friendly home in a family-oriented neighbourhood. It's now back on the market for well over two million dollars, renovated to death, marble, stark white, showy Italian fixtures, a huge covered deck with built-in speakers in the small backyard — a monstrosity, designed not for comfort and living but for showing off and prestige. Highlighted in the magazine as something praiseworthy. Made me sick. 

On another note, I had a mad thought yesterday. A huge Vermeer exhibit is opening in Amsterdam soon, running till June. Why, I thought, don't I go to visit my favourite painter? And friends in France too? It has been three almost travel-less years, I have a ton of travel points, I'm aching for Paris. But I've been hesitant to travel, with the world as it is. Maybe it won't happen. Maybe it will. Stay tuned. 

I'd have to put on a bra and fix this haircut and take off the sweatpants. Yikes. 

Walked in the 'hood the other day and was happy to see more of those lovely blue plaques honouring artists who lived here. Paris and London are full of them, but we're catching up. Both of these are new. Writer Richard Gwyn lived just up the street. Varley the painter lived where a friend used to. 

One day a blue plaque will go up in front of my house. "Beth Kaplan. 1950-2070. Blathered in a blog for decades, testing the patience of her readers."

I'd like to test you further by sharing, once again, the welcome words of another fan: 
I read All My Loving  and Loose Woman in quick succession and loved both of them--they were so compelling to read. Your childhood reminded me of my own--though I am a few years younger, I was also Beatles obsessed and I also kept a diary. I loved the way you balance a "quest pattern" with evocative descriptions and thoughtful reflections in both. The L'Arche section felt very religious to me. Given the unfortunate revelations about Jean Vanier, I was glad to read your postscript. I think you handled it with great sensitivity. People aren't only "one thing." 

She's a former writing student and current editing client who has given me a name: "Bracha." It means "blessing," in Hebrew. 

I'll take it. Put that on the plaque too. 

PS Chris the genius just sent this. My dream come true. LOL!!

Sunday, February 5, 2023

A fan gets in touch

Woke up this morning to find this in my email inbox, from someone I don't know: I loved everything about Loose Woman. It was readable, relatable, informative, authentic and a page-turner. The details were impeccable.

I normally get bored during books and give up reading them or slog through. Not the case here. So well done Beth! You will make a reader of me yet. I am also tapped into your blog and the True to Life book, which I ordered from Amazon. I am really enjoying getting to know you through your work and accomplishments. You are an amazing woman. Thank you for the work you do. 

I look forward to learning more about you and your life, and I hope to find the words and courage to tell my own stories. 

I hope you find the words and courage too, dear reader. Thank you for your generous note, a balm to my writerly soul. 

I was going to watch Tàr last night, but instead, in the final stages of this draft of the essay book, which is entitled Solo Woman: Writing through the storm, I spent most of the day going over and over it, changing one word then changing it back, cutting here, adding a line there. This stage is like a craftsman carpenter polishing a newly-made chair, making sure it's perfect. Though the next stage for him is for someone to enjoy sitting in his chair, whereas for me, it's the work off to an editor who'll rip it to pieces. Diff'rent strokes.

It's milder but gloomy; we seem to be able to have only gloom and tolerable temperatures, or extreme cold and sun. Is there not middle ground, O powers that be, mild and sunny sometimes, even in February? Hmmm?

Today, danced at 10 with Nicky and gang, a blessing. Now, cleaning, cooking with Eleanor, much TV tonight. Forcing myself to leave the manuscript alone. But she needs me! No, she needs a break, and so do you. Johann Hari recommends going for a walk. So I shall.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Stolen Focus, by Johann Hari: a superb must-read

January was something else - mild and gloomy - but now a polar vortex has descended. Yesterday Ruth and I went for lunch at Annie's in the Beach and walked down to the lake only a stone's throw away. It was minus 27 with wind chill; the cold and wind burned our skin, and we nearly froze. Today much milder and snowing. It's winter. 

The sparrows are busy at the feeder, though. The cat is washing herself, as usual. I am sitting here looking out there, as always. 

Finished a most excellent, important, and, I hope, life-changing book by Johann Hari, Stolen Focus: why you can't pay attention - and how to think deeply again. His premise is that democracy is in danger because the tech giants have thrown all their resources into keeping us distracted and unfocussed. Citizens who can't focus can't think deeply about anything and instead turn to simplistic authoritarian answers. That the ethos of economic growth above all leads to a culture of frantic overwork and lack of sleep, again, destroying our brains. 

He spends a great deal of time on the future of children in this environment, not just the attacks on kids' focus with phones and video games but the degradation of food, the rigidity of the school system, the lack of essential free play time. We diagnose a huge number of kids with ADHD and treat them with drugs instead of looking at why they might be restless and distracted. (Though my grandson with ADHD was that way from birth, moving constantly even in the womb. When he emerged, he'd somersaulted so much, there was a double knot in the umbilical cord; amazing he survived. Some ADHD is genetic. But much, Hari shows, is simply children whose needs are not being met.)

He points out that we blame ourselves for the splintering of our energy and focus - for wasting time on FB and IG, eating junk, being tired. But there are enormous forces beyond our control pushing these things on us. Thousands of engineers are designing ways to make sure we don't put down our phones; the longer we stay on them, the more money they make. The food industry, like drug dealers, pushes ultra-processed food full of dyes, sugar, and chemicals. His final chapter is on how we must band together to fight these forces, that citizen armies — environmentalists, feminists, those struggling for civil right and gay rights — have brought huge changes in how we treat women, people of colour, gay people. We banned lead paint and smoking in many places; we used to smoke on airplanes! We need to regulate tech giants to work for us rather than allowing them to colonize us. It can be done. 

Of course, after finishing the book and swearing I'd regulate my social media time, I did a "quick check" of FB and Twitter and other sites this morning and surfaced after an hour. Will not blame myself but will work to change that. It's not that we must disconnect completely; we need to learn how to use these tools rather than being used by them. And to join organizations fighting for change.

Gearing up for So True: eight powerful storytellers plus me. Very proud of the group and their work. It will be a blast of warmth in the midst of our frigid season. 

Here is how I intend to spend at least some of today: by the fire, cat on lap, focussed. It doesn't get better than that.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Jean Vanier and L'Arche

 So lots of people are getting in touch with me, because L'Arche has released its report on Jean Vanier, and they know of my bond with L'Arche. The report could not be much worse. Well, it could. It seems he did not actually rape any of the twenty-five or more women he lured into sexual activity in the guise of spiritual communion. None of the women was handicapped. Mostly I guess they were devout souls, some of them married and some nuns, all vulnerable, who bought into his cover story, the saintly man who simply wanted a naked dalliance because they were like Jesus and Mary, as he said. Or something. 

It's deeply disturbing, in fact, heartbreaking, that a humanitarian organization that does such vital work - providing a home-like safe haven for those with disabilities - is now tarnished by this profoundly fucked up man, and his mentor, an even worse monster, the priest Père Thomas, revered when I worked at L'Arche as founder and spiritual father. 

But then, these men were acolytes of a religion that has as one of its most powerful symbols a woman who's supposed to have been impregnated not by her husband but by a ghost and who gives birth as a virgin, a physical impossibility. A complete denial and repression of sexuality, one of the most fundamental aspects of being alive for our species and all the others. Why? Anglican priests can marry; Jews delight in carnal pleasures. Only Catholics hate and condemn the sexual needs of the body. No? 

And yet, a student writing a book about her past in Quebec's Gaspé told us that if two years went by between pregnancies, a priest would appear in her home to ask her overloaded mother, who had nine children, what was the delay. Criminal. Endless children, but no sexual pleasure. And a centuries-old cover up of pedophilia and perversion. 

Okay, that's my rant for today. It's very cold. Yesterday, my third grandson Bandit had an important operation. The priest can ask in vain where Bandit's babies are, there will be none. He's a bit miserable today, with his floppy collar, but his dad is on the case. Does he know what's missing, I wonder?

My little grey friend, on the other hand, is slowly taking over this house. She meows outside my door early in the morning, lonely little cries - Why O why, heartless one, are you shutting me out? So then I let her in and she settles on my legs and cuts off circulation. I love it. 

I am trying to change my life as a result of the marvellous book Stolen Focus, though I'm only half-way through. TURN OFF THE SCREENS that are colonizing your mind and destroying your concentration! 

Easy to say when I write and look up everything and watch films on one and text my family and check transit on the other. But I'll try. You try too, and let's check in and see how we do.