Saturday, January 21, 2017

marching for love

My ex-husband and my son are in the living room, riveted to CNN, as people discuss how appalling the behaviour of the President of the United States was today. A bit earlier, the 3 of us watched Florence Foster Jenkins, a lovely film about a woman of good will but utterly without talent, who somehow is convinced that she should sing. There are similarities, certainly, between the vile incompetent sworn in yesterday and Mrs. Jenkins, except the good will part.

We marched today. We discovered it's not easy to march in a huge crowd with a restless four-year old on a scooter and an 18-month old who totters along like a drunken sailor and does not want to be carried. All around us, thousands and thousands of people, young and old, every colour, every faith - and talk about good will! Such a joyful crowd, peaceful, friendly, open, a heartening number of teenagers and young adults. People gathering to be heard, to be seen. It started on the College streetcar which Edgar and I got to Queen's Park. I didn't expect any crowds on the streetcar, but it was packed with women, and some men, in pink hats, people with signs, everyone talking about Trump and the election. The car had to go by most stops because we couldn't let anyone else on. I talked to a woman not much younger than I who told me it was her first march. "I thought, this is the one to start with." I couldn't imagine never having marched before - perhaps she didn't live in Toronto when Mike Harris was Premier, when there were many vital marches, though none anywhere near this size - but was glad, yes, she is starting now.

When we got to Queen's Park, the streetcar driver shouted, "Everybody out, folks. And give 'em hell!" And there we were, in a roiling sea of humanity in pink hats, with signs, great signs. "Free Melania!" one said. "Get your tiny hands off my human rights." "This pussy grabs back." "March like a girl." "A woman's place is in the resistance." "Babies against bullshit." And one of my favourites, "Worst reality show ever!"

We couldn't hear the speeches, they were too far away, but we cheered when the people close to the speakers cheered, and then finally we started to march. Thousands - I've heard 60,000, though maybe more - streaming down University Avenue, both sides, in an endless flood, with some drumming and chanting. Thrilling and beautiful. Even the weather was on our side - it was mild and almost sunny.

It was two hours after the start by the time we got to City Hall, and at that point the little guys were tired and hungry, so rather than not be able to hear more speeches, we went home to an exhausting evening with two very busy, relentless young men. The level of their energy is overwhelming. We ordered Chinese food for supper and finally they went home, and Sam, Edgar and I could go back to watching, with our jaws hanging open, as Trump's behaviour was debated on TV, and reports came in from around the world about the marches everywhere, everywhere. Humanity has arisen en masse. This is a historic moment. May this spirit of joyful protest last.
Anna didn't quite get the sign finished - it was supposed to say, "This is what a feminist looks like." But love is enough.
My immediate family and my human family.

What haunts me, as the chaos unfolds, is thinking about exactly how much there is to fix in the world, while we debate how big the crowd was at the inauguration. It's surreal. And I imagine Vladimir Putin, grinning.

surviving El Trumpo en famille

Sitting in the kitchen, looking at the garden where there is not a hint of snow - so far, a surprisingly mild and lovely January - while the father of my children reads the Globe beside me. He is here from Washington D.C., fleeing the inauguration and visiting his children and grandchildren, and what a blessing it is to have him here. Last night Eli's dad Thomas stayed with the two boys while Anna, Sam, Edgar and I went out for dinner. Ed and I were married for ten years and have been divorced for twenty-five, and we are closer now as a family, in some ways, than we have ever been. He spent yesterday afternoon teaching Eli to skate - he's a superb skater - and wrestling and playing with both grandsons, and is exhausted today.

Especially meaningful, this time of togetherness and love and play, while the world disintegrates. Just the words "President Trump" make me sick. We tried to avoid the news yesterday, the TV, the radio - but it was impossible, we heard bits of the loathsome bombastic Mussolini-like speech, we saw pictures - it's too horrifying to contemplate, but there he is, nastier, more vile than ever. The picture of Michelle Obama's face says it all. Imagine, him shouting those vicious, incendiary lies about the debasement of America with a row of its past presidents, including an eight-year Republican one, sitting behind him.

Okay, let it go. Edgar and I are soon getting ready to go to the march here, in support of the women's march in Washington. Anna and Sam are coming with the boys; Anna wants to make a sign for Eli that says, "This is what a feminist looks like." So on this mild January day, our family will march with thousands of others, hundreds of thousands worldwide, to say, "Here we are. The world is a far, far better place than you can even imagine, and it will survive even you."

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


My friend and student Ruth has written to amend something I wrote yesterday; apparently, Jordan Peterson is a rather creepy rightwing guy who sees everything as a Marxist conspiracy. I didn't look deeply enough into the whole story, was just using his case - of a hypersensitive person overreacting to a perceived insult - to bolster my own. Look more closely, Kaplan, before you shoot off your mouth. Always something new to learn.

And a disappointment I forgot to tell you about: the last episode of this season's Sherlock on Sunday night. I used to adore this brilliant, always surprising show, but it has become stranger, and Sunday's episode was absolutely horrible, ridiculously far-fetched and grotesquely violent, not remotely like the Sherlock I've come to know and love. That's what success can do to writers. Then Jean-Marc, Richard and I watched Victoria, and that too was disappointing - not bad, certainly entertaining, but not in any way comparable to the sharp, profound excellence of The Crown, though featuring a most beautiful actor with stunning cheekbones, Rufus Sewell, shining through it all.

And something else I forgot to tell you about, on Saturday the National Theatre Live production on screen of No Man's Land, the Pinter play starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. I left at the intermission. These theatre-on-film shows have to be really good to keep me hanging around for twenty minutes in the middle. This one was very Pinter - cryptic, menacing and nearly incomprehensible, and I decided I'd seen enough. I admire Pinter, played the cryptic, menacing Ruth in The Caretaker and directed the cryptic, menacing The Dumbwaiter in university, but sometimes he is like a parody of himself, and this play was like that.

It's good to know that I don't rhapsodize in ecstasy about everything, isn't it? I can be whiny and critical. And it's gloomy outside too.

But it's mild and there's no snow and I'm on my bike. Life is $@#$@ good.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Beth is ageist. Sigh.

A new term began last night at Ryerson - a full class, 18 writers on an evening so mild, I rode my bike to work. How I love the challenge of a classroom full of potential. Here we go.

On another note, however - I got a call this morning from a friend who also goes to the Y, to tell me she'd run into a fellow member having a meltdown. A few days ago, I put up the following notice on the bulletin board in the Women's Health Club.

LOOKING FOR MAC/IPHONE/SOCIAL MEDIA TECH SUPPORT. Probably someone 22 years old, but could be anyone who understands these things. I function on these machines and on FB but would like a coach to teach me how to function better and how to fix the glitches that drive me insane. If you know someone, please give them my coordinates.

My friend said the woman was furious about this terrible notice. She made an official complaint to the Y, and it was taken down. Because it was ageist.

Holy @#$, Batman. Can you imagine living with absolutely no sense of humour but all antennae quivering to detect a hint of incorrectness at every turn? It's like the people accusing Jordan Peterson, the U of T professor who refuses to use "ze" or "they" for a transgender person, as "fostering hate". I just read an article in the NYT saying it's the extreme absurdities of political correctness that elected Trump - "People are sick and tired of hearing about liberals' damn bathrooms" - and faced with my accuser, I understand what that means. In a world full of major issues, with so many more to come after Friday, we are giving far too much time and energy to people obsessed with the unbelievably minor.

I can't help but think - yes, I'm still sensitive - of the student last term who told my boss I needed sensitivity training because I made a joke to the one man in the class about representing half the planet. Ye gods, the world is disintegrating around us; my ex-husband who lives in Washington just wrote, "The Visigoths are already arriving." And people are fixated on such petty things.

Oh well.

It's busy around here. Late tonight, my upstairs tenant Carol arrives back from her other home in Ecuador. Thursday, my home students and I are having a huge potluck meal to celebrate the beginning of our winter term, and later THAT night, my ex arrives to spend four days under my roof, that used to be his roof, visiting our children and grandchildren.

He is also avoiding the inauguration. With its seven Rockettes and nineteen Mormon Tabernacle singers. Hard to believe that is actually going to happen, that such a horrendous human being will be in the White House. The world shudders.

Time for a big, big glass of wine.

And incidentally, If you know someone, could be 38 or 43 or 56 or 68 or 75 or 81 or 103, if they're good at Mac tech stuff and social media, please give them my coordinates. But frankly, the chances are that they'll be 22. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

L'Arche and good habits

I love email and the surprises it brings. Yesterday, a note from a woman at a JCC near Washington D.C., who'd learned of my recent talk about my great-grandfather at the JCC here and wondered if I'd give a talk at hers. By this morning, it was more or less set: Thursday October 19 at 1.30 p.m in Fairfax, Virginia. The fee they're paying will nearly cover the cost of my flight, and I'll stay with my two cousins who live in Washington and visit other relatives, including my ex-husband, as well - people I see far too rarely. Thank you, email.

On Wednesday night, a truly wonderful experience - I had dinner at a L'Arche community in Riverdale. I'd asked a former student who works at L'Arche if he could arrange this, because I wanted a clearer memory of my time there in 1979. L'Arche, as I'm sure you know, is now a worldwide network of houses where mentally and physically handicapped people live and work with assistants, in an atmosphere as like a normal home as is possible. My time at my friend Denis's L'Arche community in Provence changed my life.

There were five handicapped people at dinner, and as we sat and talked, what came back immediately is that the disadvantaged in mind and body have no defences, no disguises, no subterfuge. They are what they are, and they expect you to be too. There's a profound honesty in these dealings; you can't pretend to be what you're not, because they are looking straight at you and through you with clear eyes devoid of guile or judgement. As in those months in France, I could feel my heart growing bigger as the meal progressed. There was one particularly beautiful man who has been at L'Arche since 1980, his hands and body crooked and his face full of vulnerability, kindness and wisdom.

I arrived at the community in France in 1979 confused, lost, in some anguish. When I left four months later, I was a different person, because I had learned something vital about my own value: just being myself, paying attention, caring, loving and working, I had contributed something worthwhile. This is what I'm writing about now - one of those times when by some miracle you end up in exactly the right place at the right time. Lucky and blessed, indeed.

Also lucky and blessed: I just finished Gretchen Rubin's Better than before: mastering the habits of our everyday lives, and like L'Arche, this was exactly the book I needed just when I needed it. Yes, Rubin is perky, and living with her would be hell; she's a driven, rigidly organized, rather self-righteous American woman who won't eat a single carb and disapproves of drinking wine, so I could just have slammed the book shut. But she's also funny and honest, and the book was valuable in helping pinpoint what I was doing wrong in my attempts to set up a work routine. Her section on loopholes, the excuses we use to get out of doing what we should be doing, made me laugh. I am a grand master of loopholes.

But I can report that for the last five mornings, I've followed a routine. Won't elaborate until more time has passed, don't want to jinx this or FIND A LOOPHOLE - but it's a New Year's transformation that makes me happy.

In the meantime, the tsunami of horror south of the border continues to gather steam. And then there's this:
How fabulous. My Macca, of course! Just a tiny message to El Trumpo about those artists who support him - the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, at least those who have not quit in protest - and the artists, above, who do not. What a lineup. Hooray for musicians. Hooray for Alec Baldwin and his absurd creation. Please God make that vile man go away. And we thought Stephen Harper was bad.