Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Paul and Obama and Jon's beard - scream

BIG NEWS - Jon Stewart has a beard! The world is agog. He looks very distinguished. Mind you, he would be adorable with snakes growing from his head.

Tonight, speaking of adorable, I watched Paul McCartney receive his award from President Obama on PBS. Two of the most glorious men in the world, sitting side by side. You can imagine me, the pile of mush, watching Obama grinning at his little girls as Paul launched into "Michelle" - the First Lady and the President swaying and singing along. Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris (who was especially fine) and many others sang Paul's songs, and Jerry Seinfeld, who almost seemed nervous, spoke.

But the best was when the man himself was on stage, with his trusty band. He has never looked better, this nearly-seventy year old rocker. Listening to "Eleanor Rigby," I thought, this is a great work of art, a timeless song that will last forever. Stunning.

Paul was wearing a wedding ring. Hmmm. His girl Nancy was there beside him, looking very pretty (well, maybe the skirt was a little short), and beside her, two good-looking elderly people who perhaps were her parents. How nice for Paul, since his own parents are dead, to have some substitutes. And his children all there, sitting behind the President.

And me, loving, as always, from afar.

The party countdown begins. Today spent all morning finishing up the garden. This evening, Christopher and Cristina arrived from London - my hosts, in their tiny flat near Carnaby Street, when I'm in their city. They're going to Niagara Falls tomorrow, while I run around beginning to stockpile groceries. Friday, I'm renting my AutoShare car and Anna and I will buy hundreds of dollars worth of food and begin the marathon of cooking, and my mum and her sister will arrive, and some of the others. Old friends have been feting me already - my local Lynn arrived with bubbly and peanut butter, my staples, and Suzette had me over for dinner. Anna called today to check in about the music, which she and her DJ friend are compiling. Sam's restaurant has hired someone to replace him on Sunday so he can get away.

Always make sure everyone in your world knows it's your birthday and they have to be really, really nice to you.

And finally - I received a reply from Loblaw's to my complaint about the lack of local produce.

... Aside from the harmful environmental effects of transporting produce over long distances, Loblaws recognizes the importance of supporting the businesses of Canadian Farmers. These are only two of the reasons why we are committed to sourcing from Canada whenever possible. That being said, there are times when local growers, for various reasons, simply cannot fulfill our demands and we have to look outside of Canada for supply.

At least they wrote back - though it's generic and meaningless. I wonder what the "various reasons" are that they could not stock Canadian strawberries or leeks a few days ago. Why does the common noun "farmers" have a capital letter? Is "sourcing" an actual verb? Wouldn't "meet" be a better verb than "fulfill"?

I'll ask the spokeswoman to meet with me to discuss my edit of her letter. And serve her extremely fresh local produce while we work.

Monday, July 26, 2010

unseating Harper, from sea to shining sea

They're sprouting like wildflowers - new citizen's campaigns to get rid of Stephen Harper. I already belong to two: the wonderful "Can this onion ring get more votes than Stephen Harper"? and "Canadians rallying to unseat Stephen Harper." Now there's another, at "" How amazing that a man can provoke such a level of dislike and distrust and continue to rule. The long form census - who would ever have known one tiny thing about it, until the man arbitrarily tried to get rid of it? Because of his deeply conservative, libertarian principles, says Michael Valpy in the "Globe." Big Brother is going to find out everything about you via the long form census and then suck out your brain. And then take away all your guns, leaving you defenceless against the Communist and/or alien hoards.

Wait a minute - what year is this?

Let's dump the bastard! I urge you to join one of these fun groups. Michael Moore would be proud of these democratic Canadian movements. I'm sure Michael Moore IS proud.

I was a citizen activist yesterday, there at my local No Frills. Once again, in the produce department, almost all I could find were fruits and veggies from California and Mexico - at the end of July, in a city surrounded by lush farms. So this time, I spoke to the produce manager, who said he understood but there was nothing he could do, I should speak to the store manager, who said he understood but there was nothing he could do, I should write to Loblaw's - because every decision is made in head office. So I went home with a basket of Canadian peaches like hard rubber balls and wrote to the head office; am waiting for a reply. In the meantime, the peaches have ripened in just a day and are delicious.

The garden is sublime. Last year, my friend Lynn asked me if I enjoyed gardening and I said, not really. What was I, out of my mind? Perhaps it's because I was in her garden in France eating cheese, instead of in my garden in Cabbagetown, eating Canadian peaches. Every moment spent back there amid green and growing things, even if I'm battling black spot and slugs chewing leaves into lace, is bliss.

A dilemma this morning - I was about to sweep a cobweb out of my front window - quite a big one in the upper left hand corner - when I caught sight not only of the spider but of two big white egg sacs. She's a mother, a single mother just trying to make a living until her million babies hatch. Now I need someone to come and trap and carefully move Charlotte and her precious sacs to a better spot. Outside. But safe. Volunteers, please?

E.B. White, this is all your fault.

This is the last week I will write to you in my fifties. I am very busy for a decrepit 59-year old, and am looking forward to being even busier as a decrepit 60-year old. Not long now before the boom falls. Soon my kids will move me, like Charlotte, out onto an ice floe to fend for myself.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

in my life, I loved you more

What a day - heavy, dark, humidity 200% and then the rain, non-stop downpour in the gloom. Made me feel heavy and sad too. I have been enjoying a link my brother sent me to a site that has every song the Beatles ever made, with a commentary on who wrote it and how it was written. With headphones on, going through that catalogue has been bliss. The harmonies! The tunefulness and energy. Today I listened to "In my life," one of the loveliest songs ever written, and tears poured down, like the day.

Then to cheer up (ha), I watched "Capitalism: a love story," Michael Moore's latest. You know, it's easy to dismiss his lumbering style and some of his antics, but he's an amazing man whom I admire greatly, and this is a superb film making some vital points. How is it possible that the American Department of the Treasury is run by honchos from the big banks? He takes us back to the original villain, Reagan, whose policies in favour of the rich began the slide into the abyss.

By contrast, he shows Franklin D. Roosevelt's speech about a second bill of rights, guaranteeing every American a home, an education, a job at decent pay - but the man died before it could be passed. The film takes us through one incomprehensible injustice after another, particularly how the bank bail-out was masterminded and shoved through Congress with no demand for accountability from the banks, at the same time as millions of people were being driven from their homes. Several high-ranking members of the Catholic church support him on camera, saying that capitalism is directly opposed to the teachings of Christ; that capitalism is evil. His point is that it's the opposite of democracy. And then he show us how right he is.

Moore has always presented an unrealistically rosy picture of social justice in Canada. I hope he'll come and make a movie about how all that has changed under Stephen Harper.

And then my beloved W*yson came over with my latest essay. Let's just say, as usual ... back to the drawing board. I'm closer, yes. There's good stuff. But I'm still, he points out, writing an essay, not a story - summarizing, not recreating. "Did writing this make you flinch?" he asked. Well ... not exactly. Not good enough, he says.

"Is it truthful, challenging, disturbing, inspiring, unique, heart-shaking, intensely felt? If none of these, RETHINK, REWRITE, RECREATE," he wrote.

Got it. More flinching.

But first, I think I'll listen to "In my life" again, and cry.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

it's workshop time again, folks!


A one-day writing workshop.

Inspiration, structure and support for those with lots of writing experience and for those with none.

Spend a day learning to trust your voice and tell your stories. Listen to your creative self. Gain confidence and perspective from contact with other writers. Write in the garden and enjoy positive feedback, bushy perennials and lunch.

Who: Writer and teacher Beth Kaplan has taught personal narrative writing at Ryerson for 16 years and at U of T for 4.

When: Sunday August 22, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: $125, including food for thought and actual food.

Where: Beth’s garden in Cabbagetown, in downtown Toronto. If there’s rain, inside the house.

Laughter, camaraderie and insight guaranteed.

For more information -

To register –


Here is a letter sent after a previous workshop:

“Dear Beth: I’d like to express my deep appreciation to you for making July 13 such a memorable day.

You have a special gift for creating a safe learning environment and for supporting all of our efforts. You seem to have an endless well of positive things to say without ever passing judgement.

It was a joy to be there with you and the others. Your garden is magical, and you created a magical day for me. Thank you very much. Ann C.”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The blog book is here!!

How can you tell you're a writer? If, like me, you open your junk email page and find a subject heading that reads, "PERMANENT LARGE SIZE PEN..." with the end of the word cut off, and you think wow, I wonder how big that pen is, you know you're a writer.

You also know you're a hapless member of the literati if you read about a new porn website and can't wait to get home to check it out. I did, today, and it made my heart race with lust. Check it out: Mmmm. I've never seen anything as desire-inducing as what's on those pages. Stacked. Tall and loaded. And some so well hung ... on the wall.

And finally, it helps that writerly feeling if you can hold a brand new book with your name on it. My blog book arrived today!!! It's beautiful! I will take and upload a picture of my new baby so you can see it too.

This amazing and wonderful book, 212 pages of deliciousness, is available for $20 plus postage - I'll have to figure out what that is but not much - from the writer. Who is moi. It's got lots of practical and inspirational stuff about the journey and business of writing, including quotes from Wayson Choy. The rest, for better or worse, is the writer, moi, and her epic life, with pictures. On Page 198, there's even some bookshelf porn. Yes, all this for $20! Special deal: buy two for your friends, and get 3 for $54. A steal!

(Am I getting good at this marketing business? It's exhausting, all those exclamation marks.)

Get it while it's fresh and hot!!!! Okay, enough.

Please contact me here via this blog or better, via the email address on this website: I'll put your book in the mail and wait for your big fat cheque.

And now, excuse me - I have to look for a PERMANENT LARGE SIZE PEN so I can sign it for you.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

missing yoga

Set off at 8.30 Monday morning for the 9 a.m. yoga class at the Y, marvelling - wow, I'm actually out the door and on time, for once. But the day was so incredibly beautiful, I just couldn't bear the thought of sitting in an air-conditioned room, contemplating my navel. Stopped the bike, wrestled with myself for a minute, and turned around toward home. Just too lovely a day to miss a minute, even for yoga.

On the way back, I met a friend I've made only recently, a very nice woman who lives around the corner. We fell into the kind of intense chat you usually only have with old friends, not new ones. And now I'm invited to join her and her husband for dinner tomorrow night. One great plus of not going to the Y.

And another ... I went instead for one of my mini-jogettes around the neighbourhood, and on the way home passed a woman putting stuff out on the curb. I stopped to chat; she and her husband have lived in Cabbagetown for 36 years and are now moving. Help yourself, she said. There was a nice piece of furniture, a sort of kitchen chopping block/storage thing perfect for my basement suite. "Are you sure you're giving this away?" I asked, and she was, so I trundled it home. Benefit # 2.

Then out of the blue, my son phoned to say he was coming over, which was amazing as his sister was coming over too. They're almost never here simultaneously any more, these two who spent two decades squabbling in this house. We went out for lunch, so I could concentrate on these two sublime beings without distractions, and they could eat whatever they want. Truly, my children are so unbelievably different in almost every way that if I hadn't given birth to them myself, and can guarantee that they had the same father, I'd swear they were from different families.

But then, beneath the surface, they do have a lot in common - their thoughtfulness and humour and enjoyment of life; their love of food, cooking, entertaining. Anna was here to begin consulting about the big 60th birthday party coming up the weekend after next. My God, so soon?! Terror strikes. There will be really a lot of people to feed, and we are doing all the cooking. A massive amount of work, but the sort of work my children enjoy.

So all this - a dinner invitation, a useful piece of furniture and a long lunch with the two most wonderful people on the planet, all because I skipped out on yoga. But then, I can't help but wonder ... what might have happened if I'd gone?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"fascist thugs" on a summer Sunday

I had a wonderful discussion with a complete stranger at the Y yesterday - she was reading the "Globe" and we started talking, and she turned out to despise Stephen Harper even more than I do. Imagine! She called him a "fascist thug." Wow - even I haven't gone that far. But she's right.

And someone else who's seeing and telling the truth about our Prime Minister is one of my new heroes - James Travers, chief political columnist in the "Star." I don't know if he has suddenly sharpened his pen or if he has always been that good and I just hadn't noticed - but his columns about Harper and his band are superb. Take a look.

Even James Travers has not called Harper a fascist thug. But that nice middle-aged lady at the Y, with neat blonde hair held back by a headband and big round glasses, spoke the truth today.

There's more great stuff in today's "Star" - an article about our government's new 16 billion dollar without-tender purchase of planes, the wrong planes for our country, chosen by and for the Americans and made there. So appalling I can't bear to think about it. Yesterday as I rode early to the market I passed various shelters on Sherbourne and Dundas, the streets crowded with the detritus of our cities - homeless men and women waiting for a meal. Sixteen billion for stealth fighter planes, on top of the recent nearly 2 billion for "security" - this government has shown its priorities. And they're the priorities of a fascist thug.

The "Star" is also carrying a negative article exploring the controversial hijab ban in France. I understand why people are against the ban, and yet ... I don't think it's possible to be rational about this issue. There is something so profoundly offensive about a woman with her face covered in our western cities in our modern times. It's medieval, cloistered, oppressive. And the argument that if the hijab is banned, they should also ban ski balaclavas or face-covering helmets is absurd - those are worn by everyone, man, woman and child, and not all the time, only for rare particular occasions.

In fact, today on my walk, I saw a family riding bikes and wearing helmets, a couple with their small boy. When I got closer, I saw that she was wearing a headscarf beneath her bicycle helmet. How fantastic that she can move her body as a Canadian woman, out there bike-riding in pants, and still keep to the tenets of her religion. But a woman swathed in cloth from head to toe cannot. I look at the children walking besides their robed and hidden mothers - they see us looking, they know how out of place their mothers are. It must be a difficult juggling act for them.

What do you think? Let's argue!


Saturday morning, I rode my bike to the market, to buy strawberries, salad stuff, blueberries, potatoes ... Produce seems to be more expensive this year - or again, is the cost something I've just noticed? But it's fresh and local. I bit into an apricot thinking it would be a pale imitation of the apricots of Provence - but it's not pale anything, it was delicious. Nothing second rate about that Ontario sun.

Then had lunch with Ben Torchinsky. It's coming up to a year since Sarah died - on my birthday, while I was in France last summer. We went for lunch at Harbourfront, sat by the water enjoying the breeze, and wept, remembering her. As I wrote last year, she and Ben had known each other since early childhood, had been together since adolescence - more than sixty years. She was his companion not only in life but in work. The depth of his loss is unimaginable. But on he goes. Another of my heroes.

It's a stunning morning - fresh and warm, not too hot. This is the weekend of the angry bees - the big road race is roaring away somewhere on the west side of the city, clearly audible here, like a nest of hornets turned upside down. Gerrard Street is shut down for the East Indian food, music and shopping festival; there's also a festival at Harbourfront and another up at St. Clair. But I, boring as ever, am going to miss it all. Went for a walk on the Don Valley Trail, listened to David Suzuki talk about soil on the CBC, and now I'm going to sit in my garden and think.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Danielle Steel and summer

Exciting news for us writing nerds - you can now modify an actual old-fashioned manual typewriter to connect to your computer! Check it out at So you can sound and feel like Hemingway while speeding along with all your modern RAM.

I myself am not crazy enough about Hemingway, or nostalgic enough about the finger strength necessary with a manual typewriter, to do such a thing. But you might.

It's hot. Not that long ago, I hated the inexcusable energy waste of air conditioning so much that I resolved never to have it in my house. Then it occurred to me, one day as I sat in the dark with rivulets of sweat running down my body, that the world was getting hotter, and I work mostly at home. I need to be able to think, at least occasionally. And so, after the fire when my house was being ripped apart in any case, I had A.C. installed. To do my bit for the planet, I keep my blinds and curtains closed, my clothing minimal, and the thermostat high - between 78 and 80 degrees. But how grateful I am for these cooling breezes, right now. I can work, think, write to you without melting. Whereas Wayson, as I said, has to go to the mall.

Also re summer - I was at the local No Frills yesterday, a block away on Parliament Street, where I buy most of my groceries - cheap and handy. But now that I'm trying to buy local produce, I was stunned at what's on offer in the produce department there - almost all the vegetables and fruit, even those in season, were from California or Mexico! Ridiculous. There should be a law. So tomorrow I'll ride my bike to the St. Lawrence farmer's market and load up on local fare. Then I'll be both cool and well fed. I'm drinking a good, cold Ontario rosé as we speak. The treasures of summer.

Finally, I would like to share another kind of treasure with you. As you know, I go regularly to the second-hand store nearby and find wonderful things. Just today, I saw but did not buy a sixties L.P. of Spanish music played on the zither, by a woman who wore an astounding amount of eye makeup and held her zither like a baby. This I did not buy, tempting as it was. But when I saw the book "LOVE - poems by Danielle Steel," (wish I could replicate the ornate font) I could not resist. For 50 cents, I have something that will keep on giving for years to come. I'd like to share one of the wonders inside with you. All the poems are spaced the same way, wiggling across the page. So moving! So honest and true! I am opening at random, and I find ...

Crash into my life

Did you mean
to crash
into my life
this way,
leaving everything
so topsy-turvy
as you left?
Do you mean
to tell me
that you
didn't know
I'd care?
Did you really
think I'd laugh
and walk
How small you must have
thought me,
if even
for a moment
you believed
I could
smell roses
in the air
and taste
and walk
at midnight
to rake
my leaves
and give up
life again.

Thank you, Danielle.
How exquisite the lines:
to rake
my leaves
and give up
life again.


For a moment as I read, yes, I felt a touch of despair. This woman is one of the most successful writers in the history of the world, at least in terms of money and readership. This book was published by a reputable publisher.


I hope it has given pleasure to many women, who also have to rake their leaves and give up life. But enough merriment. I, in the meantime, have some rosé to drink and some writing to do.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Just had a long talk, as I do almost daily, with my mother. She told me the disturbing news that she has dropped about 30 pounds from her adult weight, and we began to discuss strategies to help her eat. In the middle of this discussion, she launched into a diatribe about Larry O'Brien, the current right-wing mayor of Ottawa whom Mum loathes (like mother like daughter, where politics are concerned), and the terrific man who ran against him, Alex Munter, a particular favourite of Mum's who was defeated by O'Brien's wealthy developer friends. "What does this have to do with putting some food in your fridge?" I asked with my customary patient sweetness.

Some minutes later, I found out. Alex Munter, who now runs a social service agency, delivered a valedictory address to an Ottawa high school recently, the transcript of which ran in the local newspaper. Mum so loved this article that she wanted to keep it, but somehow - somehow - it got lost in the mountain of newspaper that threatens to topple over and suffocate her in the living-room. "I spent an hour and a half today going through all those papers, looking for Alex's article," she told me, " and so I didn't have time to eat."

As she talked, I Googled Alex Munter's name, found the article and emailed it to her. "Everything's on Google now, Mum," I said, feeling like my kids when they're trying to show me how Blackberries and iPhones and iPods work. So now Mum has the article, and we were able to go on with a discussion about hiring her friend and cleaning lady to come and cook for her, and/or going to the local deli for some good take-out.

And now, I also have the article and so do you. Because she's right - it's beautiful. Alex Munter talks about gratitude; how lucky we are to have had the chances we have. I hope you enjoy it as much as my mother did, and can eat dinner besides.

Sitting here on the deck after a lovely summer day, I just heard one tentative downtown Toronto cicada. That shrill rasp immediately took me to Provence, last summer, throwing little stones into the trees to try to get the noisy things, like a deafening choir of vuvuzelas, to move somewhere else. Here, one little fella trying out his rubbing technique. So far, there are no mosquitos, no wasps. There were no June bugs this year. I used to be terrified of June bugs, but now, I miss them. Someone told me that there are hardly any snakes left in the world; can that be true? Is that true about June bugs, too?

What there are, everywhere, are tiny spiders with their phenomenal architectural skills. I try to be careful as I water, because I'm just a clumsy giant, lumbering about destroying these stunning habitats. I always apologize if I shred a web, but that doesn't make the task of rebuilding any easier.

As I sit, I'm reading "Writing Life Stories," by Bill Roorbach, one of the best books about writing memoir. I used to own it but must have lent it out, because my copy has gone. This one is from the library and it's new and improved; Bill has brought in a young female writer to help him update it.

He quotes a writer called Mignon McLaughlin. "The time to begin most things is ten years ago."
Hmmm. Sure speaks to me.

He writes about an elderly student whom he asked once if she knew the secret of life. She replied instantly. "Searching," she said.
"Not finding?" he asked.
"No," she said. "Just searching."

I'm here searching for June bugs and inspiration, and my mother is searching for good food and meaningful essays, and you out there - what are you searching for this fine July 14th, as our French friends celebrate the birth of their nation?

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I have watched almost none of the World Cup, but I did watch some this afternoon, and exciting it was. Also exciting was a Met production of "Turandot" on PBS, which I watched at the same time. Talk about high drama, on both channels! Only on one they were running around very fast, and on the other, they were singing. Skill, passion, phenomenal dedication and hard work, on both channels.

I was sorry for the Dutch, but though I know absolutely nothing about sport, it seemed to me that Spain were the better team. Or maybe just handsomer. The end, when they'd finally won, was spectacular - all those incredibly fit and handsome men in little shorts leaping about hugging and kissing each other, and the goalkeeper dissolved in tears. And the poor Dutch, in their brave vibrant orange, so near and yet so far.

Okay, that's over. Enough is enough. As I watched, I just saw little boys in the neighbourhood park, kicking, running, kicking, running, kicking. As here they are skating, passing, skating and passing. There is nothing as beautiful as the male body in motion.

Except the female body in motion.

A dramatic day here, too. A beautiful morning turned into an overcast afternoon, clouds gathering, rumbles of discontent in the sky, darker, darker, clouds boiling, here it comes ... I rushed out to bring in the laundry I had drying in the sun, and soon, yes, there was rain. No. There was a tiny sprinkle of delicate droplets, and then the clouds cleared and it was brilliant sun again. Stormus interruptus - very disappointing, after that melodramatic set-up.

College Street, they say, is impassable, everyone who's Spanish or who has ever been to Spain or who has a crush on someone Spanish or who likes to party is dancing in the streets.

Here in C'town - the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and all is calm. I've had a large glass of rosé, and I am calm too.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

a nice day

Just spent an hour listening to the podcast of Wayson's CBC lecture on multiculturalism, "Are we there yet?" I laughed; I cried. It's a wonderful talk, the essence of Mr. Choy. Highly recommended.

It was the perfect thing to do this evening, because I can hardly move ... spent hours today in the garden. There are bugs and viruses everywhere. The roses have black spot, the bush next to them is lacy with holes, some of the raspberries are blotchy. Blotchy raspberries, imagine. Hours of cutting, staking, spraying, raking. The hibiscus and geranium are not blooming; time for Ultrabloom. Hooray - a new way to avoid writing! Forget memoir. Must spray roses.

My handyman and friend John came over with his family, and we all went - a family outing - to Home Depot, to buy interesting things like solar lights and mulch and river rocks. New Martha Stewart secateurs in pretty two-tone blue. To think, once my joy was toy stores and then clothing and jewellery stores, and now it's hardware and kitchen supply stores. Must be gettin' old.

Except that my perky new Audrey Hepburn haircut makes me feel younger than ever.

Watched "Howard's End" on PBS last night. I'd seen it years ago, but all I remembered of that viewing was my sudden realization that this English story was also my heritage. At the time, I'd been buried in the Jewish Shakespeare for years, learning all about my Jewish side, and here was this very British film featuring a glorious country house, not unlike the one my mother was born in. All that Britishness, properness of behaviour and language, all that repression and tea, this too is mine. One side all Russian-Jewish melodrama; the other, a people who express absolutely nothing except thirst. No wonder I'm confused.

It's a lovely film - Vanessa Redgrave is sublime, and Emma Thompson too, as always.

Oh, and the weather was heavenly today. So there you have it, as the kids say now: nice. Sweeet, they say. And it was.

Friday, July 9, 2010

in the early morning rain

8 a.m. Dark and rainy - a welcome respite. The garden is happy. Wayson the asthmatic has been going every day to the nearby mall to sit and read his research books. Perhaps with this cooler spell, he'll be able to work at home.

I thought a lot about my workshop, the stories that came out. The most unlikely bear-like man, writing about the Christmas he was 7, opening a big box that he hoped concealed a big red fire-truck, and finding a snowsuit. But, he said, it was the happiest Christmas, because his parents were both there, the last Christmas he had them together. A woman wrote about the fact that she'll soon become a grandmother for the first time, and needs to relearn all the skipping and nursery songs of her childhood. "I'm a little teapot ..." she sang. The Native man wrote of sitting by a lake near Sudbury, in a landscape polluted by the smelters, throwing stones into the bush for his mother's dog.

People tell powerful stories in every class, but knowing the difficult life circumstances of these people, the fact that it's a miracle they were there at all, made their stories especially moving.


Wayson and I were discussing tattoos last night, as we watched a parade of them going by on Gerrard Street - every other young person seemed to be heavily decorated, including a young mother, her chest and upper arms completely filled in, holding a new-born baby. "Tattoos help when you have nothing to read," Wayson said. "'Could you turn around, please?' you say. 'I've read the front bit.'" And then he said, "I don't get them myself, but at least tattoos make the world a more colourful place."

He's right. I will say nothing more about my son's. He is making the world a more colourful place. That's for sure.


I gather our mayor is full of praise for the actions of the police during the G20. And so - that's it for my respect for David Miller.

Blowing own horn, #9,543. Have received some very nice notes about classes. Please forgive me if I put them on display. On a dark, rainy day, these are the sun for me.

Thanks for all your encouragement, humour and warmth, Beth, and for inspiring me to write! I enjoyed the experience immensely of hearing everyone's stories --yours included -- they are fantastic. I have learned so much.

The course at Humber was a lot of fun, but I must say, I doubt that there is an instructor anywhere that is as kind, sensitive and encouraging as you are, and I have taken a lot of courses. That certainly is a very special characteristic you have there:)
Thank you again – YOUR class(es) were a great and 100% good experience for me.

Thanks so much for the class Beth - it has meant so much to me in so many ways. It's been challenging, exciting and life giving. I especially have come to really appreciate the editing process. I used to just throw things together, but I'm excited about how much better a piece can get with the proper attention given to it. I've learned what my common defaults and weaknesses as a writer are (some of them, at least), and I'm getting a better sense of my personal rhythm and voice. You've given me the tools I need to take my writing to the next level.

How are you?? I truly miss your wonderful, inspiring writing classes. You are an outstanding teacher, second to none.

I honestly think that you're a brilliant writer Beth. I've been reading your blog with interest every day. I love the way you describe your day-to-day life. Whether you're writing about our politicians, the environment, your lovely garden sprouting in technicolor with life, or the artistic craft of Wayson Choy, the emotion you share with your readers shines through. I also enjoyed reading about the happiness you receive when sharing precious moments with your daughter and son. Your words captivate the reader.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Last night, the last class of the Ryerson term, and this morning, something completely different - a writing workshop with a group of people who are "in transition," as they call it, from the street. A former student, Theresa, was once a crack addict and is now a responsible single mother studying at university and working with an organization which helps street people find homes and jobs. This amazing woman organized a week of life skills seminars for 10 people, and asked me if I'd teach them creative writing.

It's good I've been doing this for 15 years, because I needed every bit of skill today. Our session was exhilarating, moving and exhausting. Here were people who'd been denied what most of us take for granted - a childhood that provided, at the very least, shelter, education, and safety. Some in the group were very shy, others extremely vocal and boisterous; one was transsexual, one Native. Some are battling addiction; many of them, Theresa told me, live in cockroach-infested rooming houses. But they have an address.

We talked about stories, telling stories, and theirs came spilling out. And they wrote - with heart, with increasing courage and honesty just in our 2 1/2 hours. And I felt such sorrow that from birth, some of us have to fight for survival, while others are showered with gifts. Wayson just told me about the documentary "Babies" which he says shows the same thing - there are four adorable babies, all equally bright, but it's clear which ones are going to prosper and which will have a much tougher time.

Anyway, my new friends are on the right road. They gave me a card afterwards that they'd all signed. One had written, "Thank you for the life and writing lesson." I'm not sure what it means, but I like it. And the Native man wrote, "Meegwetch for some guidance of putting pen to paper." I just looked it up; Meegwetch means thank you in Algonquin. What a beautiful word.

Was drained for the rest of the day - I think the end of the teaching term, and this experience, both hit me. And the fact that it's four thousand degrees outside. Was in a catatonic state when my hairdresser phoned - there'd been a cancellation, did I want to come in? I certainly did. What a perfect way to recouperate, an easy afternoon chatting with Ingrid, Donny and Greg and the interesting people sitting in their chairs. It's just the best hair-cutting experience. And this time, Ingrid did surgery - took off a ton. I feel 10 pounds lighter. Perfect for this hot weather, which was turning my already frizzy Afro into Moses's burning bush, an orange-brown fuzzball around my face.

And then Mr. Choy dropped in, and we went to the Pearl Court for wonton soup. And then I watched Jon Stewart, George Strombolopolis and Law and Order simultaneously, and now I'm writing here, and now I'm going to bed. Downstairs the central A.C. works wonderfully; upstairs it doesn't work at all, so now I'm going up to the sauna where I sleep.

There. Up to date.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

okay okay here I am

Got an email today from friend Bruce in B.C., to whom I'd just written a quick note. "Nice to hear from you," he wrote back, "since you haven't blogged since Monday."

I felt guilty. Omigod, he's disappointed in me. And then I thought, Wait a minute here, this is Wednesday morning! I've taken ONE DAY OFF. And that was only because my friend and personal Genius Chuck was here working on my computer all Tuesday evening. Mon dieu. When I started this blog in 2007, I wrote once a month, if that. And now, sometimes, twice a day! I'm taking mental notes all the time - must blog about that. I may one day have to run screaming into the night to escape the monster blog.

But not tonight. Here goes - I have ten minutes till Jon Stewart.

Another steamy day. I thought of my mother and her 90-year old sister Do in Ottawa - the poor things only have about two months of the year when they can go outside. The rest of the time, it's either too hot or too cold. We were huddled inside today, just as if there'd been a blizzard raging outside. But we were sheltered by our air conditioners, not our furnaces. Survival in Canada - a huddling handbook.

Terrible stories emerging about police abuse at the G20. What happened to our trusty boys in blue? First they let the bad guys freely bash in windows and wreak havoc, and then they leapt into action and arrested everything with a pulse. I'm glad they're talking about an investigation into police behaviour. They've got some 'splaining to do.

Two other words before I rush in to the TV: mangoes and Ringo. Ringo is 70 today. Let me state that again - Ringo Starr is seventy years old. That makes me feel incredibly old, too. But then there are mangoes to cheer me up. Somehow I lived many years of my life without this fabulous, luscious fruit. If you start to get depressed about being old, or about police brutality or the weather, just eat a mango and I guarantee, you'll feel better. The world will turn bright gold. Or maybe just your fingers and your mouth, but that's enough.

There, Bruce. HAPPY NOW?

Monday, July 5, 2010

cross one off the chore list

Wow - our first real scorcher. Breathless, muggy, deadly - 32 degrees or more. I closed all the curtains against the sun, shut the doors and windows and turned on my air conditioning. And of course, my air conditioning, that I only turn on when the heat is extreme, did not work.

The solution? Life is about timing. All winter and spring, the chaos in my basement has haunted me - such a mess, things piled up, unmarked boxes of miscellaneous stuff. MUST CLEAN BASEMENT, was my mantra, always ignored. Who wants to go down to a cold clammy space in February?

Today is steamy July - when better to spend time in a nice cool subterranean space? Today I cleaned the basement. Put all the mildewed stuff out in the broiling sun to cook, swept away cobwebs, moved boxes and bags from one side to the other. Now there's a cleaner space, and the huge armchair down there is ready to host a reader with a broken air conditioner.

Tomorrow it's supposed to go to 34 and feel like 45. I'd better get that A.C. repaired, or I'll just have to spend the day at the movies.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

ode to the crabby cat

An even more perfect day, so beautiful it hurts. It will be a hot, proud Pride Parade today. But I can't sit here wallowing in admiration for long - there's watering to do. The garden is like a pet that won't allow me to go away for more than a day. It needs me to be here, tending. And anyway, I need to be here eating raspberries. Every day, after supper, I go out and pick dessert.

Speaking of pets, my ridiculous cat made me laugh so often yesterday. Even though she's most unsatisfactory, not allowing her crabby self to be much petted, not knowing how to purr, still, she's lovely, a tabby with white boots and those amazingly intricate stripes. I realized yesterday how necessary cats are for the blood pressure. Just looking at her calms me down. She has two periods of activity during her gruelling day - first thing in the morning, miaowing and twining herself around my legs until I put down her wet food; and around noon, when it's time for her dry food. She doesn't miaow then, thinking that kind of effort unnecessary. She just stands looking at the spot where her dish should be, and then up at me, with a bewildered stare - it's not there! Where could it be? Is my selfish slave too lazy to get up, thus leaving me to starve? Could that possibly happen to a creature as lovely as I?

So I get up.

Otherwise, she sleeps. Sideways, upside down, paws splayed or tucked under in a wondrous variety of poses. And that's why she's so good for the health. Compared to her, I am the hardest working person on earth. Even if I spent the day lying on the sofa watching TV and eating chocolates, I'd still have accomplished a million times more than my cat. She makes me feel productive, focussed, an admirably disciplined working machine. And just for that, let alone the laughter she evokes and my soft spot for those pretty white boots, she's worth her considerable weight in Meow Mix.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

my diverse city

Just took a bike ride around the neighbourhood on this sublime evening - mild, a bit of breeze, sun fading - the local parks filled mostly with immigrant people and their children, teams of East Indians playing soccer in Riverdale Park, people picnicking on the benches, children running in the grass - and very audible, in the distance, the raucous noise of the Pride celebration on Church Street. A bit surreal - a few blocks west, quite a different scene, overwhelming noise and much gaiety, literally and figuratively.

On my way to do some errands this afternoon, I ran into the Dyke Parade, which is held on Saturday; tomorrow is the big Pride Parade. I stopped to watch. Last week, at this exact time, gangs in black were smashing windows. Today, on the same street, the police were nearby and visible but unobtrusive - doing it right, this time. First came the Dykes on Bikes - assorted lesbians, some surprisingly old, their giant motorcycles vrooming enthusiastically, and one brave, dainty woman on a baby blue Vespa. There's a new flag this year, with the red maple leaf in the middle but instead of the red bands on either side, there are rainbow bands. A gay Canadian flag.

And now came the marchers - including the Gay Elementary School Teachers. In what other city in the world, besides Vancouver and San Francisco, can gay elementary school teachers march together in a parade, openly out? I was proud of my country. Next were the controversial marchers. A group called Queers Against Israeli Apartheid first were excluded, because the march is meant to be apolitical. Then when an outcry was raised, they were let back in. So there were two groups - Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, including several women with banners that said "Jews Against Israel" - and another, smaller group, Gay Jews. "We're gay, we're Jewish!" they chanted. But it all looked peaceful - at least, as peaceful as a crowd of partying lesbians marching down Yonge Street with drummers, music and motorcycles, in front of a crowd of thousands, can be.

On the way home later, I rode my bike along Alexander Street, where there were stalls selling things, including memberships to organizations and teams like the gay choir and the gay vegetarians. What I liked best was the gay hockey team. Only in Canada, you say? They should have a separate Stanley Cup for that league. I'd love to see Stanley.

And of course the diversity of people in strange costumes, leather, spikes, dog collars, g-strings, and ordinary people - many parents this year, two men with their twins, I noticed, and at the Y, where I went to my yoga class, two women with their newborn baby.

I wish them joy, as they celebrate their otherness and their sameness today and tomorrow. I'll be here, in the garden, drinking a glass of rosé to love. To love - in whatever shape and size it comes.

serene Saturday

A pang this morning - opened my front door at 7.15 a.m., to find the "Star" and ... no "Globe." "Already?" I said out loud. I'd thought it'd take them at least a day to get organized, but no. Very efficient, as befits a business-oriented Conservative paper. I will read it this afternoon at the Y, before yoga class.

Hey, I didn't say I wasn't going to READ it, just that I wasn't going to pay for it any more. The suffering we activist revolutionaries endure - no "Globe" waiting on the steps.

My beloved daughter came over for dinner yesterday. I'm finally learning to relax when my adult kids arrive, not to feel that I have, somehow, to jam a bit more learning and information into them. I'd use their brief time with me to unload a few more worries and nags - thinking about going back to school? Finding a more secure job? Stopping with the tattoos? Etc.

I can't completely stop nagging (quit smoking, eat healthily, use sunscreen etc.), but there are fewer; I'm learning at last to shut the #$%%^& up. As she sat at my computer, checking her email and Facebook page, I felt like a bird-watcher gazing at a rare blue-speckled nuthatch nearby. If I'm quiet, if I don't make any sudden movements, if I shut the @#$% up, maybe she'll stay a bit longer.

And she did.


Tooting own horn # 694: Just received this very welcome note. Many thanks, Kathleen.

I am reading your book about your grandfather. It is really so well written. I’m no expert on this, but I’ve read a lot. You manage to merge the telling of a very complex world history, with what you found out about Jacob Gordin specifically (which seems like a lot), with a touch of what you know from the family. Very interesting..!

Kathleen Carll
Associate Director
Judaic Studies Program
Drexel University
33rd and Market Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Friday, July 2, 2010

cancelling the "Globe"

I may have to cancel my subscription to the "Globe." I haven't even read the article accompanying it, but the huge photograph of our prime minister with his usual frozen smile, leaning in to share a giggle with the Queen, is so nauseating that I had to turn it face down in order to be able to eat breakfast.

And the headline: "Queen praises Canada's character and values." "A caring home for its own, a sanctuary for others," she says. This caring home, this sanctuary where only a few days ago, citizens were boxed in by police and kept immobile in a thunderstorm for hours, others chased by cops on horses or beaten, hundreds taken to cages in an improvised prison facility, kept overnight with little food or water, and then released without charge. Sanctuary?

A big photo like that - I guess the "Globe" wants Harper to have his majority. And if that happens, the crackdown events of the G20 will look like a picnic. Our country has already changed so immeasurably under these guys; the Queen is talking about another time, a completely different place. But so many voters, I fear, just accept what they see. They see a smiley face, yes, albeit a strangely cold, emotionless one, but smiley nonetheless, chatting with the Queen, standing beside Obama, and think things look pretty good. Our country is sliding down a precipice, and the "Globe," pandering to those who want to wear rose-coloured glasses, has done us no favours.

Otherwise - what a heavenly Canada Day weekend. The weather could not be better - sunny and mild with a breeze, even a hint of chill in the evenings. My Canadian flag is flying by the front door. I used to love this country with my whole being; now I'm filled with fear about where we're headed. My neighbour Craig, who worked non-stop for months trying to get Bob Rae elected head of the Liberals at the last convention and returned crushed and disillusioned, says that what we have to do is to focus locally - turn our attention away from the country and toward the neighbourhood, where we can actually make a difference.

Okay, focus on the neighbourhood. I just called the "Globe" and cancelled my subscription. Now I live in even more of a liberal bubble than before and can eat breakfast in peace. Love it.