Wednesday, February 22, 2017

women's English conversation circle

I spent my morning talking to Nurun, Foyzun, Yung, Fahmidi, Seema, Touria and others, at the first Regent Park English Conversation Group - nine women, six from Bangladesh, one each from Casablanca, Eritrea and Hong Kong. One brought two small children and her mother with her, her mum who speaks no English at all. The point of the group is to give immigrant women a chance to chat in English with native English speakers, that's all, and every so often, to give them a gentle grammar correction and/or to try to help with things they might need to know. Margot, who came to help me, suggested to them that they watch children's television shows with described audio, which I think is a great idea.

We were getting to know each other not just through language but as women - talking about our children and grandchildren, our work, our lives. We laughed about winter, how desolate they find it, and they talked about how hard it was to leave family behind, though many of them, it seems, now have most family here with them. They were almost all in hijab, two in full niqab face veils which they removed in the room because we are women only, and have immense dignity and humour. One said she has already started digging her garden and will soon plant coriander and mustard seeds. I am going to learn a lot. They asked where I lived and were interested in how much my house is now worth. Very savvy.

If this works, I hope to create a template we can send across the city and the country, so that other English speakers can link with community centres and do the same thing. All it takes is a few of us who speak slowly and clearly and want to make a difference. I'm proud this idea of mine is taking shape! It's a good to feel that one's creative efforts might provide a pinprick of light during these dark days of our planet.

Believe it or not, my lungs still hurt and my energy is still low. Hard to comprehend. I went to the Y and could do very little. It makes me realize how much energy it takes to live life - I've let things go around here, have barely kept up with watering the plants, just don't have the energy. But I'm still alive, the house is running, the lungs are improving slowly. Several people at the Y told me the only cure for the winter sicknesses - Jamaica, Barbados, Cuba. Get into the hot sun. If only.

One interesting thing for me is - wine. I've hardly had a drink for more than two weeks - wine just tastes terrible and that's all I drink. I thought maybe that's because I drink such cheap wine, and yesterday I opened a good bottle. Better, definitely, but still, only one glass when I usually drink 2 or 3. I'm not complaining. It does amaze me, though, that a habit I've had for decades can be broken in two weeks. Mind you, when my lungs and tastebuds return, I'm pretty sure my wine habit will too. Maybe not quite as much, though, which would be good.

Drinking a little glass right now. Another mild lovely day, though misty. The weather is a gift. Making new friends from far far away is too.

Monday, February 20, 2017

So True: Sunday Feb. 26

It's our tenth, so a "Special Hits" show, with our favourite regulars returning with their best stories, reworked and re-rehearsed. Hope to see you there.

Women's English Conversation Circle

Seinfeld and my two Beatles

Gorgeous record-breaking weather, heaven - sun, mild winds, snow almost gone - it's beautiful out there, not like Toronto in February at all. This may be - undoubtedly is - global warming, but it's hard to complain. We needed this. Especially my dear daughter needed this on a long weekend with her two boys - she can just push them outside, without a giant bundle of clothing. They were over yesterday for a visit, and I was reminded, again, how much energy they take. I'm recovering still, quite feeble with sore lungs, and wasn't my perky Glamma self. But it was joy to see them, even as they destroyed my house. We went to the nearby playground and sat in the sun for an hour while they bounced.

The night before, Seinfeld with my tall son. Many laughs - the man is very skilled at his job. A bit of it was fairly ordinary comic riffing - on doughnut holes, for example - but some was genuinely brilliant existential stuff - one long bit about how human beings are never satisfied, always wanting to be somewhere else, how we'd all ended up in the audience and how quickly we'd want to leave. He was funny and dark about his 17-year marriage, but, as Sam said, "He's a New Yorker, Jewish and a comedian, of course he's dark about marriage." "I married at 45, married late. I had issues. They were great issues. I enjoyed my issues."
"You unmarried guys are just playing Whiffleball," he said. "I'm in Afghanistan with serious weapons."

Afterward I quickly took a cab home, just as Seinfeld had predicted, but my son met all the friends he'd connected with on his phone who were there too, and they went to C'est What and had a grand night of it, playing Whiffleball. As they so often do.

This week the English conversation group I'm hoping to get going at the CRC in Regent Park starts, and on Sunday, it's our tenth So True. On Thursday, a Beatles event at the Arts and Letters Club, and on Saturday morning, I'm seeing Paw Patrol Live with Eli. Paw Patrol Live! My thrilling life resumes. In the meantime, my friend Stella, who is my writer's group, came over last night, and we read each other pages of work. I was nearly ready to give up - MY BEGINNING IS STILL NOT WORKING. But it will. But it will. But it will. Sigh.

Sheer joy: apparently yesterday, Ringo was recording and asked Paul to come play drums on one track, and then Paul offered to sing harmony on another. Oh my beloved boys.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Stuart McLean, a minority view

Stuart McLean. A born storyteller, a man who loved and did honour to his country and its people. About ten years ago, I was in Florida visiting my snowbird mother and aunt. So dull, nothing to do in the evenings, when I saw an ad in the local paper - Stuart McLean and his show would be performing nearby a few days hence. Off we went to a huge auditorium in Bradenton packed with pale-faced elderly Canadians, overjoyed to be assembled in all their Canadian-ness on a mild January night. It was a lovely show, warm, hilarious, with music by Dan Hill. Mum and Auntie Do were thrilled. It could not have been a better event for them.

I loved that Stuart McLean was doing what he was doing with stories. But though I respected him hugely, I have to say that I did not, could not listen to his show the Vinyl Café. In fact, I leapt for the radio to turn it off when it started. It was the voice - that singsong delivery, the almost preachery cadence, what felt to me like a forced folksiness - I couldn't take it. I've listened with the greatest admiration to the outpouring of love and grief, as everyone in the country, it seems, remembers him fondly. He meant a great deal to a great many people. So it pains me to say that though there's no question he was a lovely man and a great, great asset to this country, I could not listen to his show on the radio. In person, as I found out in Florida, no problem at all, and of course his work with Peter Gzowski was fabulous. The cricket - the best radio ever.

I was at a writers' party once, lots of artsy folks, wonderful music, lots going on including dancing. Stuart was there alone, his lanky body folded into a chair. At one point he was watching the dancing and so was I, and the music was so fabulous, I threw caution to the winds and went over to him. "Do you want to dance?" I asked. He looked at me with absolute horror. "Oh my God no!" he said.

I guess he was a man who did his dancing with words. Millions will miss you, Stuart. Thank you for keeping storytelling front and centre on the radio and on stage in this country, and that one too. Bravo.

May all storytellers be so lauded by their listeners.

PS I Googled Stuart to find out about his family life and found to my amazement that he was married for years and then divorced, and has two biological sons and an adopted son from his wife's first marriage. Isn't it bizarre that there doesn't seem to be a single photo of Stuart with his sons - or even with one of them? None of the three has been interviewed, at least so far, for a single article about their father. What happened?