Monday, July 24, 2017

Write in the Garden, summer 2017

It seems they liked it, they really liked it. The day dawned drizzly, everything was wet as usual during this exceptionally wet summer, hard to imagine spending the day in the garden. But we sat first on the deck, sheltered, and then it cleared up and there they were, in the garden, nine writers writing. The sound of minds at work, churning, pens scratching - magical.
It's a lot of work, advertising the event, cleaning the house, getting the garden and garden furniture welcoming and ready, cooking, serving, and clearing away a big lunch, planning the writing prompts, guiding them all through the day. I am spent by the end, and yet exhilarated, because it IS magical, listening to stories that have flowed out just a few minutes before, beautiful work, honest, funny, moving. One said, at the beginning, that she liked the writer inside herself, she just didn't know how to find her. At the end, she said, "She came out to play." One wrote, "Thank you so much for giving me a privileged glimpse into your lives, your stories, into your happiness and pain. I came away a better person for having met you, heard you, spoken with you. Beth, I'm so grateful I was able to participate in this wonderful excursion of the mind in your magical garden which brought us all 'home.'"

Another, "It felt marvellous to use my writing brain again by composing under a time line, and sharing with others on the spot. Felt like a workout! What an interesting, diverse group of women you assembled."

And another, "I am so inspired and feel like I can now write about anything. I will never forget this very special day we shared. Beth, you rock! We all do!"

And a fourth, "When summer winds down, I am sure this day will count among those rare single perfect days. Thank  you Beth. Thank you writers. Magic like that? I’m hoping my lucky streak continues into tomorrow."

So glad it worked. So glad it's over. Now what I'd really like to do is nothing. Instead - New York.

P.S. Happy discovery #629: it's easy to kill slugs in dishes of beer. I finally got around to trying it, as the slimy creatures were munching through the basil. Now I go to the veg garden every morning to count the dead slugs, who died happily slurping Molson's Canadian.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

the big city

Yesterday's plan: a sleepover with Eli; Ben was going somewhere for a sleepover too, so this would be a much-needed night off for Anna. I slogged across town - this city is impassable, especially on a boiling day, with construction and street repair everywhere, and furious drivers. I made it to Eli's day camp to bring him back here but found him in tears - earache. Change of plans - he, his brother and mother are flying on Sunday to Boston, to spend ten days in Rhode Island with Edgar and Tracey, and for Eli to go to day camp for a week with his aunt, Greta Lee, who's three years older. So a cure was urgently needed.

Eli and I went directly to St. Joseph Hospital's "Just for kids" clinic. What a marvel ten minutes from Anna's place - a bright space, the examining tables hippos and other friendly animals, a great staff. Anna joined us as soon as she could, to cuddle her miserable son, who was diagnosed with an ear infection - aka swimmer's ear. He wouldn't take the Advil to take away the pain; that was a 20 minute, very loud struggle. He is as stubborn as his mother was; payback, for sure. I told him when his uncle Sam was a kid and refused to take important medicine, his dad and I sat on him and forced it down his throat. But Eli's mother is more patient than I was. He finally took the Advil, and by the time we got home was bouncing off the walls, demonstrating how he'd learned to somersault and do jumping jacks. He showed me his painting of our planet on a round paper plate. "There's Canada," he pointed out, "and there's Ottawa and there's Rhode Island." The boundaries of his world this month.

So, no sleepover for me, no day off for Mama.

Just as well, as I'm getting ready for my big workshop tomorrow - ten writers for the day in my humble garden, part of which looked, ten minutes ago under a rainy sky, like this:

I love how the rudbeckia unfurl, like tight fingers loosening their grip.

Last night, awake at 4 a.m., I marvelled that I could not hear a single thing - not a distant car or siren, a voice, a dog, nothing. Even this morning, as I sit under the pergola, protected from the drizzle, there's not much - someone is roofing, a dog is barking, the rain is pattering. I just picked two cucumbers and a boatload of cherry tomatoes from the garden. City living at its best.

Speaking of which ...
Woo hoo!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

NO WHINING

Two things I'm going to print and hang on my wall. First, from an article in the Star:

The Pope has posted a red-and-white sign in Italian on the door of his frugal suite in a Vatican residence. Adorned with the international symbol for ‘no’, a backslash in a circle, it was given to him by an Italian psychologist and self-help guru. This is what it says, in translation:

NO WHINING.

Violators are subject to a syndrome of always feeling like a victim and the consequent reduction of your sense of humour and capacity to solve problems.

The penalty is doubled if the violation takes place in the presence of children.

To get the best out of yourself, concentrate on your potential and not on your limitations.

Stop complaining and take steps to improve your life.

What a fine man. Yes, I should take it to heart, me going on and on about a COLD. Get a life, woman. 

The other is a saying the courageous writer Rachel Carson adopted from Thoreau's "Walden" after finding out she had breast cancer, to spur on her writing of "Silent Spring."

If thou art a writer, write as if the time were short, for it is indeed short at the longest.

Now you know what will be inspiring me next week. At least, until I fly off to New York on Wednesday.

FYI, I am taking a break from the memoir. That doesn't mean I'm not writing as if the time were short, I am - I'm writing the NEXT memoir. This does make sense, believe it or not; I'm stuck, unsure how to proceed, so I need to keep going on something that will help break the logjam, until I can see clearly. That's the plan. I ran it by the very wise Rosemary Shipton, editor extraordinaire, and she agreed it was a good idea. I know. Time is short at the longest.

Just watched the next in a great BBC doc series, "Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds" - it's online, if you want to catch it yourself - in which the young host, Dr. James Fox, takes us to 3 great cities in 3 great years: last week, 1908, the Vienna of Klimpt and Freud, among many others. Today, Paris in 1928 - surrealism, Mondrian, Hemingway, Le Corbusier, Cole Porter, jazz, Shakespeare and Company bookstore, and so much more.

Next week, New York in 1951 - Brando, the Beats, Jackson Pollock. And I was there, almost - we left New York in November 1950. Yes, I was a newborn, unable to fully appreciate Brando, Pollock, and the Beats, but I was there. And next week - I'll be there again.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

thank God for Jane Jacobs and David Sedaris

Still sick. I spoke to my doctor, who's sympathetic but can offer no explanation or cure. And in fact, though I had a dreadful night of coughing, I am getting better. It's ridiculous to have a bad cold in July, but there it is. My doctor did say the frequency of illness might have something to do with consorting with pre-schoolers. IT'S ALL THEIR FAULT, those adorable boys. So I might as well resign myself to years of coming down with something.

A long conference call - a Skype call with five participants, a first for me - a few days ago; I'm on the conference committee for the next Creative Non-fiction Conference to take place for the first time in beautiful downtown Toronto next May. We had to negotiate time and place and other issues, including sensitive ones about programming and activities to recommend to our attendees. I wonder if I'm becoming a crabby right-wing old woman, or if I'm just sensible. One member suggested organizing a tour for our members to an out-of-town indigenous museum which has preserved a residential school, to show people what this horrendous experience was like. "Save the Evidence," is the museum's campaign. I had to speak as someone who will not watch a movie about the Holocaust or go to a Holocaust museum: I know it happened and it was unimaginably horrific. It was also decades ago and I do not wish to relive it. What good comes of immersing yourself in human vileness? Increased sensitivity and empathy, I suppose is the goal. I feel sensitive and empathetic enough without travelling for a day to witness the monstrous cruelty inflicted years ago on indigenous children. I just can't imagine offering this to our members as opposed to the cultural treasures of this fabulous city. But perhaps I am in the minority.

The issue of bending-over-backwards political correctness and the politics of grievance are rampant. I remember when June Callwood, that magnificent woman responsible for so much good in the world, was fired from a charitable organization SHE FOUNDED and was co-running and fundraising for because she spoke impatiently to a woman of colour and was accused of being racist. No one, not one of her colleagues, came to her defence. So these issues require very careful handling. Like June, in the interests of getting things done, I have a tendency to be impatient. A mistake for a white middle-class middle-aged cisgender woman of privilege. Guilty as charged.

Okay, that's my rant for today.

Saw a documentary on another magnificent woman - "Citizen Jane," about Jane Jacob's campaigns to save cities from Robert Moses and his ilk, who smashed through communities to build expressways and tore down poor enclaves to build soulless high-rise jungles, actions which were imitated all over America and in Toronto - just down the street, as a matter of fact, is the former high-rise jungle of Regents Park. The doc shows the disastrous result of these decisions made by bureaucrats theorizing in offices, whereas Jane was on the ground, in the streets, watching and listening to human beings as they walked and sat, shopped and played. How proud I am that she moved to Toronto and stayed here for the rest of her life. Brava.

Last night when I couldn't sleep, I stayed up till 1.30 reading David Sedaris's diaries. It's still an odd book, skipping through little snippets of his life, but it gets stronger and funnier after he and Hugh go to France. He writes about his French class, Today I turned in a paper about social customs. In it I wrote that on the eve of an American man's wedding, it is customary for his parents to cut off two of his fingers and bury them near the parking lot. The groom has eight hours in which to find them, and if he does, it means the marriage will last.

I'd tried to buy some bandaids at a pharmacy last year, but my French was so bad I couldn't even describe them. In the end I drew a picture and the woman looked at it, responding with what I guessed was "This is a drugstore. We have no surfboards here."

Today the teacher called me a sadist. I tried to say that was like the pot calling the kettle black but came out with something closer to "That is like a pan saying to a dark pan, 'You are a pan.'

A year ago I would have begged Hugh to accompany me to the hardware store, but now I go on my own. Yesterday I said to the clerk, in French, "Hello. Sometimes my clothes are wrinkled. I bought a machine anti-wrinkle, and now I search a table. Have you such a table?"
The fellow said, "An ironing board?"
"Exactly!"

Thank you, David, I needed that. We all need that. B.C. is burning, Trump and his family, incomprehensibly, are still there, select Conservatives have been churning up rightwing American airwaves protesting Omar Khadr's settlement, it's 30 degrees but feels like 38. I'm in here, eyes damp, laughing.

Wayson, who is healthy if getting frail at 78, came over for lunch today and at one point said, "I'm going to die soon. And I'm fine with that."
"Not if I have anything to do with it, you're not," was my reply.

Monday, July 17, 2017

explanation

I had a sharp note decrying my use of the mammogram image in the most recent post. I guess this person thought showing the image was the height of self-absorption, which it surely is - as is the blog itself. What I was hoping to show, however, is how easy it is to panic - to share with you, the readers, the sight of the round black mark I was convinced was something bad, which turned out, according to my doctor, to be nothing dangerous, at least not yet. I was left deeply relieved. An experience perhaps you all can relate to.

This blog is an attempt to transcribe anecdotes, thoughts, reviews, ideas, and a travelogue, from my fuddled brain out into the world. I do not have a huge following as some do for their musings, but a few hundred do follow me, and I'm grateful to them. For five decades, I kept a diary, page after page for myself alone, and now you are there. Thank you for coming along, and if sometimes you think I share too much, you have only to click me away.

And since I'm here, I'd like to say that "Grantchester" last night was one of the best hours of TV I've ever seen. Yes, it's a high-class soap opera, but it's also delving deeply into the meaning of faith, the good of religion versus its petty, narrow, destructive side, love versus lust, and other important issues. And all of this with the usual glorious cast, sets, writing, and direction, plus the sublime James Norton, who was more beautiful last night than ever. Spectacular. You know where I'll be next Sunday at nine.