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. 

Saturday, May 13, 2023

In which people say nice things again and I admire tulips

I've sometimes despaired of this blog, as perhaps you know, because it takes time — somehow I'm always writing to you in my head, as life goes by — for a relatively small audience, which has never really grown in all my years of writing here. Today I ran into a friend from the neighbourhood, whom I haven't seen in many months. She rushed to hug me. "Your blog has been a lifesaver!" she cried. 

I have no idea why, but ... how nice is that?

And then a former student wrote about the last post, about my many rejections: I appreciate your honesty as I’m sure many of your readers do. You are presenting the daily slog of an already published author and award-winning experienced  teacher who is juggling writing, editing, teaching, the ups and downs of family relationships, overcoming illness, trying to stay fit, enjoying cultural events, overcoming self-doubt, railing against municipal, federal and global injustices and atrocities while creating beauty around you that you share with your readers.

Wow — this blogger sure spreads herself thin! 

And then a longtime student and friend, who'd read the Epilogue of my new book, an update on where I am now, wrote, You did not  mention the thing about you that fascinates me most, which is that  you explore the most varied and current cultural works and events of anyone I have ever known. I marvel at how you keep up with the information and the schedule to attend to them all. You are tirelessly feeding your creativity and intellect as you engage both in person, and virtually. 

So that also is good to hear, although I did write back to say there's someone who attends far more cultural events than I, and that's our mutual friend, the incredible Ruth. 

But still, as someone whose books have sold so poorly, I'm grateful to know the words mean something.

A perfect day today, very busy in the sun. Rode to the market, later to St. James Park to see the stunning profusion of tulips, then to the wonderful Ben McNally Bookstore, then more errands. And all along I kept running into old friends to chat with. Another told me she is moving out of the 'hood, selling her beautiful but difficult old house to move to a condo. Made me sad. More and more of us will be doing that. I pray I can hold out. But we'll see. 

Here's St. James Park:

What I bought at Ben McNally. I'm doing a memoir workshop with Laura Calder at Word on the Street next week, so will read her current book which is full of recipes, and look forward to Elizabeth Hay's latest novel, about an actress.
The first crop from the garden - sorrel and mint. Will make a salsa verde for the first time. Hooray for green!

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

a writer's reality - and spring beauty

Last week I sent out an essay for consideration to the writer's union magazine, and, blessedly, heard back quickly. They rejected it, but so fast, no long wait. Today, I sent another, longer essay to a literary journal and while there, checked my Submissable account, which writers use to submit material for publication. 

Since November 2012, I've sent 25 essays or book manuscripts through Submissable. Four are marked "received," which means pending. One piece was accepted by an online magazine which published it and has since vanished; the same one was withdrawn from another magazine because it had been accepted elsewhere. 19 were rejected. 

One accepted out of twenty-five: This is not a great batting average.

What can you do? Sam Beckett: "Try again. Fail again. Fail better." 

First garden bouquet of the year: mint, lilac, viburnum, bleeding heart, a daff, and lilac that actually survived the winter. As, apparently, did we. Impossible to work on such a glorious day. It'll be 26 degrees tmw. I will think about that and not about rejection.


Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Tom Allen's kind words, but another friendship lost

A stellar day yesterday, beautiful warm weather, spring bursting open. Opening my email first thing, I found a note from CBC host Tom Allen. In the nineties, I wrote a number of essays for Fresh Air, the show Tom was then hosting, and some of those pieces are in my new book, so I asked Tom if he'd consider writing a blurb. He's a busy man, with his daily radio work and both a film and a stage show he has produced to see to, but he immediately agreed, so I sent him the manuscript. 

Yesterday he sent this: It is such a joy to read your words again. I hear your voice saying them and your warmth and honesty. It really is lovely, and the story never disappoints. Congratulations - again, you're an inspiration.

Will this do as a blurb? "There is a thread of gentle truth woven through Beth Kaplan's writing. Clear and strong through calamity and reflection, it winds around us and draws us in." 

Does it get better than that? Beautiful! Thank you very much, Tom. I'm waiting to hear from the publisher, so the manuscript is languishing, as manuscripts do. But I hope soon we'll "get the show on the road," as my mother used to say. 

I had my sixth Covid vaccine yesterday, which made me think, again, of an encounter the day before, when I stopped to greet an acquaintance, an amusing singer of old rock and roll who works a lot locally with his band. We were bantering, as we have for years, when Covid came up. And suddenly the expression on his face darkened, and he began to rant. "You're an anti-vaxxer!" I exclaimed in shock, because I'd thought in my foolishness that all artists, at least the ones I know, would think the way I do.

That unleashed a tirade, linking the word anti-vaxxer with anti-Semitism, how people used to call him a dirty Jew and now they call him an anti-vaxxer. I said, "Anti-Semitism is hatred; vaccines are science," and a fresh tirade ensued about how Dr. Fauci was wrong about everything. I said, "My father nearly died of polio. The day the polio vaccine was invented was one of the best days of his life." 

"This has nothing to do with polio," he retorted. 

"But it's about the life-saving effectiveness of vaccines!" I said. He turned away, saying, "We have nothing more to say to each other."

Another one down. What I found most shocking was the level of resentment and paranoia, the instant assumption, as he told me, that I was condemning and mocking him. I am absolutely open to an intelligent discussion, but not a furious rant. 

To me, this was another sighting of the vast, nearly limitless well of white male (and sometimes female) grievance that has opened up and is threatening us all. It was there all along, bubbling underneath, but has been brought to the surface by Trump, Fox News, and the Republican party. The sense that the world is out to get you, that minorities and immigrants, women, gays, trans people, and especially the government, are the enemy — it's toxic and incredibly dangerous, and it's everywhere. News outlets have discovered that anger fuels interest, which is why we constantly hear so much of PP's voice. Anything they disagree with is "fake news," because only they are in possession of the truth, and the rest of us are sheep being led to slaughter. I've been told so. There's no way through this impenetrable wall of complaint, misinformation, and fury. 

The only consolation is that in this country there are fewer guns. To the south, these men are randomly slaughtering fellow citizens. The world has never felt so precarious, though I did live through the Cuban missile crisis, which was close. The thought of this once friendly, funny musician, his face twisted with rage — makes me sad but also frightened.  

On a cheerier note, I've just read The Wind in the Willows, inspired by the program Wonderland, about children's books, that I'm watching on Monday nights. To my surprise, this novel is definitely more for adults than children, full of long lyrical passages about nature but with the funny exploits of the egotistical Mr. Toad and his friends Ratty, Badger, and Mole, to provoke laughter. A lovely book that, as the program pointed out last night, is also about the power and solace of male friendships, its author Kenneth Grahame a closeted gay man. 

My parents gave it to me for Xmas 1958, when I was seven. I finally read it sixty-five years later.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Paddington 2 and the coronation

Two welcome days of brilliant sunshine Friday and Saturday, perfect for us. Sam and the boys arrived late Friday afternoon, and we went straight to the schoolyard nearby to play baseball. It used to be basketball but now it's baseball; they've been several times to watch the Blue Jays play, and Eli's on his school's team. They'd brought their mitts and I have a bat and tennis ball, so we were all set for vigorous play. And then over to the playground for our game of Monster, which involves me chasing them around the climbing structure making growling noises. 

Eventually: exhausted Glamma. I assure you, my own dignified grandmothers did not pitch baseballs or play Monster. 

I'd made meat sauce WITH NO VEGETABLES even cut up very small, because they can detect a vegetable a mile away. Much spaghetti was devoured and then ice cream. And then a great treat: we put on the film Paddington 2. I'd heard great things about it and so had Sam, but it exceeded all expectations. Could not recommend it more highly, with or without children to watch with you; it's charming, warm-hearted, beautifully made, and hilarious, with of course a cast of many of the best actors in Britain. Seeing Brendan Gleeson, after his melancholy turn in Banshees, playing a loony, psychotic but adorable prison chef, is a marvel. And Hugh Grant playing the villain, having the time of his life. 

Saturday morning we watched a bit of the coronation; Ben asked, why are they giving him all those things to touch? God knows. Still, it's an amazing spectacle, so much pomp and glitter; the boys kept talking about how many billions the things were worth. Ben said, I wouldn't want to be king; everyone would want to steal my jewels. 

Good thinking, kid. 

We made a chocolate cake for Anna's birthday, with icing, the boys very helpful keeping beaters and mixing bowls licked clean. 

More baseball. And then home across town, an endless tortuous journey on the TTC. 

Coming back, I despaired even more for my city. So many TTC routes diverted or shut down due to limitless construction. The King St. bus I was on stopped dead at Spadina; a streetcar was stuck ahead and nothing could move. I got out, intending to walk up to Dundas to get the streetcar, but there was a huge Falun Gong demonstration clogging all the streets around, fuming cars lined up for blocks. I walked 2 1/2 miles home, passing various notices alerting us that perfectly good buildings are about to be torn down to put up bigger ones. Traffic out of control, poverty, homelessness, garbage, noise abundant. Nobody in charge. 

However, that evening, a delight: Ron Hume's 90th birthday just up the street, in his garden, with Babs, his great love, by his side. Ron published his first book, How I lost 25 million dollars and found true happiness, at 89. He wrote the story of Babs's life next, and now will work on a book about being old. He said somebody once told him the secret of longevity: Choose the right parents. Ron certainly did. 

We should all be so lucky. 

About the coronation: I know it's ridiculous, a king and queen in sparkly crowns, in a gilded carriage, in the 21st century. I know they're expensive and some of them are useless. But some of them work very hard, especially Anne, have real class and worth and mean a great deal to the people they meet. And it's moving to see centuries of tradition adhered to so faithfully, in a magnificent abbey where kings and queens have been crowned since 1066. The monarchy is not something I condemn, though I don't defend it either. It's there, and we're not going to get rid of it anytime soon, so let's put them to work, and let's enjoy the spectacle. Those Brits certainly know how to put on a fine show. 

It's raining.

Friday, May 5, 2023

It's spring. With worries.

It does feel like the real thing, at last — spring. The city gardens are gorgeous with tulips, hyacinth, daffs, trees in bloom — redbud, my favourite. 

But the city is a mess. Construction everywhere, cars jammed even more than usual, and our city fathers in their wisdom are cutting back on TTC routes, to make things even worse. The homeless encampment in Allen Gardens has grown; it's a village now, with pets, suitcases, and camping chairs outside the many tents. Yesterday, walking on Parliament Street, I was accosted for change five times in a few blocks, and this is a relatively tranquil neighbourhood; my kids in Parkdale live with far worse. 

And the level of discourse — I leap up to turn off the news on the radio when PP begins to speak; just hearing his nasty relentless voice causes me to break out in hives. Scream about every little thing, rile up the base, provoke people into fury, and then pretend surprise when raging men wreak havoc. I'm sorry Trudeau has announced he will run again, although it was predictable; he likes a good fight. But the hatred for him personally, however misplaced and misguided, is so polarizing and intense. 

The thought of PP as Prime Minister makes me want to vomit. Imagine a man that small and limited and aggressive on the world stage, a man without a platform, just hatred and accusations. 

So on this beautiful fresh day, worries about my city, my country, the world. But at least I am better; the bug has moved on. Luckily, because I need my energy today; this afternoon Sam and Bandit are getting the boys after school and coming here for a sleepover. It was Anna's birthday on Wednesday, and her gift is a night off. Tiggy is having a sleepover of her own in my tenant Robin's room, because she and Bandit, as you can imagine, are not friends. 

Sam took this recently - his happy dog. 

How lucky I am. On Saturday I'm going to a 90th birthday party, and yesterday I spent time with my friend and tech assistant Patrick, who's 20. Tonight with a 7-year-old, a 10-year-old, and a 38-year-old. It is a good thing to know people at all stages of life, to find out how they see the world. 

How old are you, and how do you see the world? 

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

all kinds of nice things today

A cup runneth over day. Though rainy and grey, yet again, and the world still a dumpster fire, lots of good things happening around here.

In response to my last post, Ruth wrote, You may be a loner but one who has more friends than anyone, all over the world and of all ages.

Including you, dear friend.

I wrote to several former students to ask if I could use what they'd said about their class with me on my new website. Ali, an IT consultant, wrote back, I have always been thinking about you and the wonderful experience I had with your classes. It is my honour if you put that note in your web site. It was very honest and from the bottom of my heart. Once you told me “You are a man with a big heart”. That was one of the best and most encouraging feedback I ever had, not just because of the words and the sentence, rather because of its connection to my inner layers instead of usual compliments that stay on the surface. 

I meant it, Ali. You are.

And another student, a former sportswriter, replied, For sure, use my quote. Happy to help you, since you've helped me so much! He sent me the title of his book, to be published next year by McClelland & Stewart, that he credits me with helping him begin. 

Happy to be contributing something, however small, to this sorry world. 

Speaking of which, U of T term began last night, a smaller class than usual which means each student gets more individual time. A fascinating bunch, as always. 

And I went back to the Y today for the first time in nearly two weeks. I'm still not back to health and have been more or less motionless with this bug, so expected Carole's class to be disaster. But it was not, I got through. I owe so much to the Y and to Carole, who works to make every class different, different routines and music, just superb. 

I'm back, baby! Sort of. More or less. Life returns. 

Yesterday, went to a free Hot Docs screening for seniors of The Last Relic, about the difficulties and dangers of trying to protest in Russia — idealistic, extremely brave people arrested for holding a sign at a rally, going through a Kafka-esque trial, time in jail, much time arguing with each other, in Yekaterinburg, a city where many are yearning to go back to Stalin's Soviets or even the Tsars. We in Canada have no idea how lucky we are. My daughter — even Ruth and I, probably, incorrigible lefties like those in the film — would last ten minutes in Putin's fascistic Russia. But — God, I love documentaries; yesterday I spent two hours in Yekaterinburg! This fabulous festival is 30 years old. Bravo. 

Someone left a Vanity Fair in the Little Free Library; it's just a series of articles and ads about phenomenally expensive clothing and watches and everything else. I sent this to Sam with a note: found your look for spring.
I mean. Really? I won't look at the Met Gala pictures, have no interest in the criminally absurd 1%.

And - the whole country mourns. Got out my records, thinking of young BK with her long hair and her Goya nylon string guitar, trying to learn "Early Morning Rain." Canadians musicians rule.
He was a difficult man in youth, if you really listen to songs like "That's what you get for loving me" or "Sundown" ("Sundown, you'd better take care/If I find you've been creeping down my back stairs" - as awful as John Lennon's menacing "Run for your life"). But mostly — melancholy sweetness, stunning music, and later, a fine man supporting many good causes. Thanks for all you gave us, Gord. You made us proud. 

Monday, May 1, 2023

On being alone versus loneliness

I just read a long essay by well-known Canadian memoirist Sharon Butala, reprinted from The Walrus, about loneliness. She writes that she has been a loner since childhood and is now lonely as an elderly widow living far from her son and her good friends. 

Surely being a loner is a prerequisite to being a writer. You can be an extroverted writer, but you still need to like being alone for long periods. You need to enjoy your own company.

 I should be lonelier than I am, considering how alone I am much of the time. Lucky to have tenants with whom to chat briefly, dear neighbours, children not far away, friends, students, a vast vibrant city outside my door. Also - this buzzing machine and its instant connections bringing the planet and its stories and histories into my kitchen. The television, the radio. The garden. The cat. Books, newspapers, magazines. The Y. 

And most of all, I guess, that since I've always been something of a solitary extrovert who started a diary at the age of nine, I'm used to having my own thoughts and feelings keep me company. Shouldn't I be sick of myself by now, after seventy-two years of listening to my @#$#@ brain yammer? Well, no, I guess not. I guess that's a good thing, since here I am, yammering these thoughts out to lucky you. 

 The world continues to terrify: more articles about how AI is going to destroy us; a man in Texas who slaughters his neighbours for requesting quiet so a baby can sleep - how is that even possible? Here, more grey drizzle every day, good for the plants, not for the spirits. Whatever this bug in my lungs is is hanging on, though diminishing. But still there. PHOOEY.

I've been working on material for a revamp of my website, making lists of the nice things people have said about my teaching and books. Quite heartening, if I say so myself, and of course I must say so myself since no one else will. There will be a few quotes of fulsome praise. Since that's what websites are for, at least partly, sez this extroverted introvert. 

In a few minutes, I'l watch Wonderland about children's books and then A Small Light about Miep Gies. Last night, Call the Midwife made me weep, as it always, always does — Sister Monica Joan, come back to us! — and then a new version of Tom Jones which I resisted because the Albert Finney version was so glorious. But this one is good too, strangely getting into the British involvement in the slave trade, as Sanditon did too. Obviously, national guilt emerging, even in revamps of centuries' old texts. I taped Succession but didn't watch it, read the summary today instead, enough vile machinations for me. 

It's silent here, sitting in this chair where I spend most of my days. There was sleet, briefly, batting on the skylights; the fridge is chugging. That's it, right now. I can hear the rushing of blood in my ears. 

Much, much better than NOT hearing the rushing of blood in my ears.  

Heard an interesting interview on Tom Power today, a jazz pianist, Brad Mehidan, who has made a beautiful album of Beatles' songs. Almost entirely, I note, Macca songs. Can't play him without Spotify, but even better is the exquisite original. Cheer of the day, to keep you company, in case you're lonely. Sing along.