Thursday, September 30, 2010


Dear any of my former students who follow this blog:

I've held an evening writing class in my home for at least a decade, strictly for people who've taken one of my courses at Ryerson or U of T. Some have been coming for years and are like family by now. There's a special joy to a home class, more informal and comfortable than one in a classroom, with the possibility of beverages, snacks and soft cushions, and in the mild weather, sitting in the garden.

I've decided to set up a day class for this term, to see what the demand is. 3 writers are already registered. It will run Tuesdays from 12.30 to 3, starting this coming Tuesday, October 5th, and continuing for 8 weeks, in my home in Cabbagetown.

This is a class that I hope to open to students who cannot, because of travel or work commitments, make a full eight week term, and yet want the structure and feedback of a class. Once I have enough people who are registered for the full term, I'll leave space for those who want to come when they can and pay as they go.

Please let me know if you'd like more information.

evening rhapsody, early fall

It's dusk - the sun is fading, the air is filled with birdsong, and I am eating cheese, drinking wine and looking out at the garden, still valiantly blooming, the gardenia like a white cream-puff stuck to a bush, the Rose of Sharon, impatiens and cosmos, the little pink roses and buddleia still going strong, and the geraniums (gerania? Bruce?) sturdy and bright. Some of the hostas are yellow and withered, and the maple trees in the city are turning, some now half blazing scarlet and half green. But the weather, now the rain has passed, is mild and sweet, and my ginger-gold apples are the best ever. What a glorious time of year.

I just left the house for my jogette - literally, five minutes around the block - and there, right at my gate, was a couple walking home with groceries, he with the little round cap and long top favoured by Muslim men, and she shrouded head to toe in black with dark eyes barely showing. I stood there in my sneakers, tank top and Spandex bottoms looking at her, she looking back at me from the 17th century. The wonders of our city.

I was going to go to a mayoral debate on the arts at the Art Gallery yesterday, mostly to have something fun to report to you. My guess is that I would have said that Smitherman knew more or less what he was talking about and Ford did not, and as for the others, who cares? But I stayed in and worked instead. And then watched Jon at 10, and simultaneously, the new "Law and Order - L.A." Phooey is what I say. I loved the old one with those weather-beaten New York cops and sets. Who wants to see more L.A.? Boring.

Another report from Ottawa, where my mother is still wrestling with her conflicts - on the one hand, the many advantages and safety of a residence, on the other, the misery of having to make decisions about and pack up five thousand pounds of stuff. We are no nearer a resolution, and so I continue to worry, long-distance, as she continues to live alone and not eat well.

The great thing about this crisis is that it's bringing me closer to my brother. He and I have never been close, for reasons having to do with our childhoods and temperaments and physical distance. But these days, we are talking often about our mother, and thus are also getting to know each other. Today he said that Mum recently showed him a huge packet of letters from a lover she'd had in the Fifties; she'd left my father for a while to live with the other man, and my brother and I stayed with Dad. I remember that horrible family crisis, as I was 6; he was only 3, a playful little boy with blonde curls. I told him that once, during that difficult, sad time, he set out to cheer me up, and he did so, making me laugh, over and over again. I've never forgotten the tears of laughter on my cheeks, thanks to my little brother.

That was one of the first times he and I have ever talked about our past. It was a joy to paint such a glad picture for him.

And there, overhead - the honking of a flock of Canada geese, going south.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

a juicy reward

Another urgent petition against the special concessions demanded by Fox News North: please sign!

An exciting day: when I checked my sad little bank balance on line, what a nice surprise; the government of Canada has deposited $185.82 in there, as a reward simply for staying alive. I've spent it already, but no matter - there'll be another juicy $185.82 next month. Ah, the advantages of old age.

And another happy number: on the website for Jon Stewart's October rally in Washington, it says that so far, 167,981 people have confirmed that they'll attend. Oh how I wish I could join them. Last night, nasty Bill O'Reilly came on Jon's show to promote his new so-called book. I've seen him strutting onto the program before, like the arrogant blowhard that he is - but last night, the balance of power had shifted. Jon, completely relaxed and chuckling, just let the man be his horrible self. Jon Stewart has status now, huge status. Imagine.

And it looks like Smitherman just might snatch us from the jaws of Ford. At least there's hope.

Last night, after class, I watched the last half of "Away from her," Sarah Polley's directorial debut. How sorry I am that I hadn't seen this stunning movie before. How wonderful to watch Julie Christie again, with an aging and beautifully real face.

My arm still itches. But on the deck, there's a gardenia blooming that's just about the loveliest thing on earth.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Word on the Street

A most satisfactory day, and it's not over yet. Yes, there is still a big red itchy lump on my arm thanks to my waspy friend. It's there to remind me that even the best days have their pains.

This morning, I listened to my friend Laurel's speech over the phone. Laurel is a former student who won the City of Boston Award for her first children's book, "I know here," which came out of an exercise for my class. I'm so very proud of her and the book, which is set in northern Saskatchewan and amazed everyone by winning a prestigious American prize. Next week, after the ceremony, this first-time author will be sitting on a panel with several of the best-known children's book writers in the world. But first, she has to deliver a speech.

It's beautifully written, thoughtful and very moving, as you'd expect from a writer of Laurel's caliber. She just has to relax, breathe, slow down - and enjoy speaking it, enjoy being there on a stage, sharing herself with the audience. "They've given you the gift of the award," I said to her, "now your gift back to them is this speech." Easier said than done - hard for a shy writer, usually alone with thoughts and words, to stand and deliver in front of a large crowd. She'll be wonderful.

Then, off on my bike to Word on the Street, one of my favourite Toronto events of the year - Queen's Park packed with readers and writers, publishers and editors, magazines and booksellers and crazy people. I who am drowning in more reading material I can get through in this lifetime brought home a backpack loaded with more - Canadian literary magazines Brick, the New Quarterly and Prism, several children's books for my nephew, Toronto bicycle magazine Dandyhorse, "Grammar to Go: a portable A-Zed guide to Canadian usage," by Rob Colter, for my students, a magnificent blank notebook, two pairs of reading glasses (for $5) and several paperbacks. Not to mention a stack of flyers and bookmarks. I listened to Linda McQuaig speak about her new book on Canada's billionaires, I went to say hello to Wayson just before his talk on memoir, though I didn't stay as I think I know it all by heart, I ran into several old friends including former students Pearl and Irene, and Catherine, a children's book publisher. ("I don't need to ask what you're doing these days," said Pearl. "I follow your blog.") I brought home information on how to get a writer's grant from the Canada Council, how to join the Periodical Writer's Association of Canada, and other stuff that was thrust at me from Buddhists, Mensa etc. Happily swamped in words.

Home with a heavy load, to spend a busy literary hour cooking while listening to Eleanor Wachtel on her "Writers and Company" interview a Norwegian novelist. Now there's some grilled chicken, a pot of ratatouille and a big potato salad in the fridge, and this jotted note from the program: "When you make art, always move towards the pain. That's what makes art meaningful."

That's what I tell my students, though they look at me as if I'm trying to torture them when I ask for their pieces to go deeper. That's what I have to learn myself, in my own work. How brave it is, to be involved in this business which demands so much and pays so little. I salute every one of the hundreds working there today, including lawyer Clayton Ruby, volunteering in the PEN booth. Though he's the sensible one, with a day job.

Later: To cap this fine day, the 22nd season of "The Simpsons" was launched tonight with a show about the importance of the arts - Lisa going to Performing Arts Camp and meeting those two wacky Kiwi guitarist guys, who end up singing, "Artists are the most useless people on earth; don't become an artist." Only it was funny when they did it. And after that, a program on Bravo about the importance of the arts - Robert Lepage performing with his troupe in Moscow, where they were the toast of the town. The only sour note was when Lepage said that he felt a powerful bond between the nations of Quebec and Russia.

Nyet, Robert. Quebec is not a nation.

And then I read the article in "New York" magazine with "The decade of Jon Stewart" on the cover, and plunged into my new grammar book, finally learning the right name for "dangling modifiers." Does life get better than this?

My arm itches.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

sunny Saturday, with sting

The word is out: the people who lost their homes in the big fire yesterday are in need, and neighbourhood fundraising has already begun. That's the neighbourhood I know and love. And it will continue to be, even if Ford wins.

Yesterday was not just hot, it was record-breaking hot, the hottest Sept. 24 on record; Toronto was the hottest place in all of Canada. And there I was, at the new beach, getting stung. The arm, by the way, blew up and is still puffy, red, painful and itching like crazy. That was quite the bee.

Yesterday on YouTube, I watched Jon Stewart's recent turn on Oprah - so graceful and funny, that dear, dear man. His wife was in the front row, and at one point, he said he had to get his own TV show even to have the courage to approach her, because she's so far out of his league. What big star could say something like that without sounding nauseatingly sucky or insincere? But he (sounded like he) meant it.

He talked about his Bring Back Sanity rally on Oct. 30. The political discourse is in the hands of extremists, he said, because the rest of us are too busy and tired to get involved. This rally is for the busy and tired - those who, for example, don't particularly like paying taxes but really appreciate having sewers.

Well put, my friend. I love how Jon is always subtly, sweetly reminding us that he's Jewish. It's as if he has made one of his causes, as well as all the others, to be the public face of moderate but proud American Jewishness. Well, I decided I MUST go to Washington for the rally. My tired, busy cousin Barbara who lives there is going with her husband and invited me to join them. But then I called first cousin once-removed George, my other Washington relative who's in his mid-eighties - and he'll be in Shanghai on Oct. 30. He travels non-stop, so I'm not surprised he won't be there. But I don't want to go all the way to Washington, D.C. and not see George. So I won't go.

A disappointment, yes, but a relief too, because I'll be heading to Ottawa again around then. Much to do there - the ladies are getting more confused and indecisive about retirement homes. A huge decision is getting more onerous by the day.

This morning, with friend Annie at the St. Lawrence Market, I didn't have to make any decisions - I just bought everything in sight. The cauliflower - so vast that Annie and I bought one and divided it - a big basket of tomatoes for $5, my new favourite apples - ginger golds, sublime - leeks, zucchini, Bartlett pears, still luscious strawberries, broccoli, peppers, flowers ... oh be still my heart. The market was packed; we all know, it's sunny now and not for long, stock up, stock up! Lots of cooking to do, this next while.

Listening to Randy Bachman's oldies show on CBC show as I write. Must get up and dance.

Friday, September 24, 2010

later that same beautiful day ...

An incredible day - thirty degrees! Impossible to stay inside, let alone write - I worked in the garden in the morning, and later, rode my bike down Jarvis Street to check out the new Sugar Beach, on the lake. It's pretty great, for a man-made beach in the middle of an industrial wasteland - lots of golden sand, umbrellas and Muskoka chairs, though no swimming. But how great that we've salvaged a bit more of our hidden lake for public enjoyment. I sat basking in the breeze from the water and got stung by a wasp. It still hurts, hours later, despite ice and baking soda.

Such is life. Beach and sun. Wasp sting. The sour and the sweet.

Whapping of helicopters and howling of sirens - my first thought is terror attack. Luckily Channel 24 is on the case; it's a high-rise fire not far from here. Scary, to look at those flames on TV - brings back memories of this very house, five years ago.

I also went to check out the new Royal Bank just put up nearby as part of the redeveloped Regent's Park, and went into the Presentation Centre next door. Well, now I have an idea what I'll be doing when I'm finally ready to downsize - I'll find a a condo or townhouse just south of here, in the new development. The buildings are environmentally friendly and beautifully designed, and there'll be an Aquatic Centre, a large park and an Arts Centre in the middle of it all. Amazingly enlightened. Luckily they got it through before Rob Ford the neanderthal took over.

PS Two hours later, helicopters still whapping. CP 24 was interviewing a fire-fighter, who suggested that anyone still in the building "should self-evacuate themselves." Gosh. Sounds like a good idea to me.

Praising Jon, once again. Let's go to Washington Oct. 30.

The writing workshop could also be Sunday Oct. 24 if the 17th is too soon. Let me know.

So, yesterday - serenity, hah! One thing hit after another, a long morning battling Roger's - getting bamboozled by a smooth-talking salesman into a package I don't want or need - then calling about my enormous Hydro bill, and then I got very upset about something here and so upset other people. Luckily a good friend got wind of my mood and told me I was overreacting, which I can very, very occasionally, do. Yes, it does happen that I deviate from my customary serenity and get upset. That's when good friends are needed to inject a little sanity into the situation.

Which is what Jon Stewart is trying to do on October 30 in Washington.

Notice that segue from my own silliness to Jon? Artfully done, madame.

But the day was saved - my home students came for an in-class writing session, and there was honesty and laughter and there were tears; they always amaze me, this bunch which feels more like a group of best friends than a class. And then Jon Stewart, now at the perfect hour of 10, was even more spectacular than usual, holding a serious, respectful interview with the King of Jordan. I was expecting someone in long white robes and fiery speech; instead he's an articulate, soft-spoken man in a suit. Their talk was one of the most important, along with anything David Suzuki says, that I've ever heard. Literally, they talked of how to save the world. How much depends on these current Palestine-Israel talks - and specifically, let's be frank, on Netanyahu making concessions about the settlements.

If Israel doesn't budge, the King was saying in so many words, the world will never stop fighting and we will all be swept into the conflagration. These two men were speaking directly to world leaders - at least, Jon was giving the king a forum to do so. How incredible that at a time when political parties are in a morass - the ones of the right unspeakably vicious, manipulative and hysterical, appealing deliberately to the worst in human nature, and the ones on the left appallingly lost and spineless - that a comedian, carrying our moral compass, has ridden in to save the day.

I want to go to Washington Oct. 30. The best people will be there. I checked Air Canada - more than $500. Time to check travel points.

one last garden workshop, because the garden is still so beautiful

Just before winter … come


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 non-judgmental contact with other writers. Write in the garden and enjoy positive feedback, bushy perennials and lunch.

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

When: Sunday October 17, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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

Where: Beth’s garden in Cabbagetown.

Laughter, camaraderie and insight guaranteed.

For more information - To register –

“I’d like to express my deep appreciation to you, Beth, for making your garden workshop so memorable. You have a special gift for creating a safe learning environment, with a well of positive things to say without passing judgment. It was a joy to be there with you and the others. Your garden is magical, and you created a magical day for me. Ann C.”

Thursday, September 23, 2010

blowing own horn #4763

Woke up humming the Sixties song, "Up, up and away, in my beautiful, my beautiful, balloooooon..." OMG, I'm turning into an effervescent Pollyanna. No, not - but right now, with the fall sun shining, I feel great. Not radiantly happy, it's impossible to feel 100% happy in a world in which Rob Ford may be the next mayor of Toronto and Stephen Harper is the Prime Minister of this country, not to mention the disasters, unfairnesses and cruelties out there.

But ... today's saying is this: "Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is. -Thomas Szasz"

And that's how I feel - busy and serene.

Especially because I've recently received two extremely nice notes from students. Which if you will forgive my swelled-headedness, I'd like to share with you. One wrote, "My daughter asked me what my writing teacher was like. I told her that you are very smart, very kind and very funny."

Can't ask for better than that, except she could have mentioned my total gorgeousness, lustrous brunette hair and sparkling white teeth.

And another wrote, "Thank you for guiding each of us in the direction we needed to go, to tell our stories in the best way we possibly could. I told all my friends that you had that 'Jesus' vibe I enjoy so much - really it just means that you made us all feel safe, and made us know that while our stories were critiqued, they were never judged. You are a great teacher."

Jesus vibe! That's something new. Let's not follow that to its logical conclusion. Right now, my sweaters are all hanging outside in the sun to get rid of the mothball smell; I've just received a shockingly high Hydro bill, because of all the dehumidifying during the summer; the wind is rustling the trees and there's a huge butterfly on the buddleia. I and my Jesus vibe are going grocery shopping. Life is good right now, and that, I think, is all we can ask.

P.S. It's mid-afternoon, and I've had a dreadful day so far - hours of hassles with Roger's, Hydro and tenants. Stress churning the stomach. However - the sun is still shining through the haze, and Marcus Gee, a right-wing columnist in the "Globe," just came out with a stinging evisceration of Rob Ford. There's a ratatouille on the stove, and my home students are coming soon. I think I'll go outside and look for more butterflies.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

on the body

You know that I'm the biggest sap around, always ready to burst into tears at parades and concerts. Today I had a big sappy burst of gratefulness to ... my body. It's Wednesday, so of course I was at Carol's runfit class at the Y. No matter how lousy I feel at the start, I always feel fabulous by the end. And today, as we were stretching, I felt so fond of this efficient machine beneath my head. I was a bookish kid who did no sports; it wasn't until my forties that I started to get fit - to attach my body to my brain. And now here she is, sixty years old, this lovely body I criticized all my life - breasts too small, belly too big, oh the misery of the giant feet and bunions, the herniated disc, the pimples, the too-big chin and nose and ...

Etc. etc.

Now - how I love her, as she carts me about in style. She has not afflicted me, yet, with something terrible. She just gets on with her jobs - walking, running, biking, lifting, cleaning, sitting - a lot. Thank you for the past 60 years, healthy body of mine. Let's keep on trucking, shall we?

These positive feelings come particularly on Wednesdays, because I've been looking at Carol. Carol is 62 and looks 30, lithe and cheerful, a grandmother of 3 who has just returned from doing a marathon in the Bordeaux region of France. She described it for us, a fun event with many runners in costume, including Christ on the cross, a gorilla, and several Snow Whites, all men, she said. She didn't know how the gorilla managed to run over 26 miles in 80 degree heat. The run went from chateau to chateau in the wine region - from Margaux to Rothschild and on and on - with a glass of wine for the runners at each place and lots more at the end. My kind of marathon! Carol, of course, didn't drink, because she's a serious runner. But then she gave me shocking news - that was her last marathon. "I've run fifty," she said. "That's enough." She'll still run races, but not marathons.

Such an inspiration. Her granddaughters are runners too. In her spare time, she volunteers at the museum. Carol will never get old.

I've had lots of mail from people who understand the stress of looking for retirement residences for their parents - that post certainly touched a chord. Lots of phone calls are going back and forth between Ottawa and Toronto, as issues are discussed. Progress is being made, though. This move may actually happen.

And speaking of things actually happening, I've heard from several people who also can't bear the idea of a Rob Ford Toronto. Just today in the "Star," there was an article on who would be his team - all the right-wing idiots in city council we'd hoped would just go away. If all this actually happens, the next four years will be gruelling, my friends. The self-righteous narrow hate-filled minds of the Tea Party take over Toronto - the revolt of those who can't understand gay marriage, the importance of immigrants and taxes and sex education in schools - anything that keeps our society moving forward rather than back.

Friends, we'll just keep each other company and get through. And celebrate our wonderful bodies, and that we're still alive, and that even stupid right-wing mayors and their councils eventually disappear.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


My friend Laurel has just written in indignation. "I'm a 905 suburbanite and I would NEVER vote for the likes of Ford or Harper or Harris," she wrote. And I realize that I've been judgmental and closed-minded. My apologies to the seventeen sentient people in the 905 region.

No, I didn't mean that. I just cannot imagine living in one of those communities, with hundreds of identical houses. But then, I was lucky enough to buy a house in the inner-city 24 years ago. We paid $l80,000 for this big semi-detached. I know people with families want some land. But why - why do people want simple answers to complex questions? How can they support - at the moment, by 46% - a loud-mouthed blowhard whose only platform is to cut free trips to the zoo by city counsellors?

Sorry, Laurel.

On a cheerier note, even Sweden is moving to the right. Nearly 6% of the population - the SWEDISH population, one of the most enlightened on the planet - recently voted for a far-right racist anti-immigrant party, led by a 31-year old.

No, no, truly on a cheerier note - I just rode my bike, in the incredibly mild glorious sunshine, to the little market by the Farm. I bought fresh lake trout, meat raised on a small farm, oak leaf lettuce, a huge bag of tomatoes, two loaves of fresh bread, an ear of corn and a stack of dark chocolate. I got my secaturs sharpened, chatted with many neighbours, and rode home.

Neighbourhood. Can't beat that.

The city hijacked by 905? Forget it, eat a peach

My absolutely favourite time of year, these warm days of fall, with the last peaches and nectarines and the cornucopia of apples too. Like a squirrel, I am storing sunlight and warmth, relishing every moment. The garden has started to fade, but only just. Time to dig out the sweaters from their summer spot in a box beneath my bed.

I've decided that for my sanity, I have to ignore Toronto's mayoral election. The thought of seeing Rob Ford's angry, beefy face in the newspapers for the next 4 years makes me ill, not to mention the thought what what this heedless dinosaur can do to my city. But it's a city, not a province or a country. Yes, he will damage what I love, but let's face it - the alternatives are not so great. George Smitherman simply has not come through.

Surely Ford can't smash Toronto as Mike Harris and his boys did; he can't try to destroy the very soul of my nation, as Harper does. He's just a right-wing bully, not a cold-eyed timber wolf with many devious plans. Ford's plans are horrible, but not devious. My hope is that he's such a foul, foot-in-the-mouth idiot, he'll become a laughing-stock, like Mel, and the city will return to sanity.

That's all I can come up with right now for comfort, as the 905 suburbanites hijack my city.


Many phone calls to Ottawa yesterday - more questions for the residence, more reassuring talk with Mum. She is seeing the plus side now. One thing about this place that really perked her up is that 40% of the residents are men. My mother has been a beauty all her life and is still stunning; there has never been a time, both during her marriage and after my father's death, when there wasn't some besotted guy hanging around to catch a glimpse. Well, with over 100 housemates, she'd have at least 40 men to meet every lunch and dinner. This will give her a sparkle for years to come. So - she's still weighing pro's and con's, but the pro's list is growing. And how grateful I am that we can contemplate this expense, the luxury of 24 hour nursing care and a grand piano in the salon.

I find it hard to spend too long in Mum's condo without getting cabin fever - (what'll it be like in the minuscule apartment we're considering?) - but it helps that we spend the evenings watching movies. Well, Mum begins to watch and then wakes often enough to keep vague track of what's going on. We watched "A Beautiful Mind," which I thought I'd seen but hadn't and found moving - and Russell Crowe as a Nobel Prize-winning mathematician almost believable. Mum told me about a film she'd watched and loved, so I ordered it delivered from Amazon: "Love and pain and the whole damn thing," a quirky little film starring a very young Maggie Smith as a sharp spinster touring Spain, who falls in love with a younger man. It is classic chick flick, and we had a wonderful sappy time watching it.

And best of all, we watched Laurence Olivier's "Hamlet" on PBS. Mum stayed awake for almost the whole thing; what pleasure, the two of us side by side, enjoying two of the greatest theatrical geniuses of all time. If you want a primer on how to speak Shakespeare so that every word is clear and understandable, that's it. It's stately, magnificently acted and beautiful, with a few flaws, like Ophelia's silly braided wig and a moment or two when Larry enunciates just too damn well. But that's my picky side.

Now, back to work. I've sent a draft of the article to the Ottawa editor, and the second Ryerson class was last night, brave souls all - our stories have begun. As I said to them, after listening to tales from all over the world - I love my job. I get to tour hundreds of inner and outer worlds from a desk in downtown Toronto.

Which is a city I know and love, for the next few weeks, at least.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

home, with stuff

Well, how's this for serendipity? On the plane home from Ottawa, I began to talk to the woman in the seat next to mine, and told her about my search for a retirement home for my mother and aunt. She, it turned out, is the editor of an Ottawa magazine and has commissioned an article about this very topic for her November issue. I wrote most of the first draft in the shuttle bus to the Royal York.

Because it's a topic pressing on my heart. What a difficult decision we face, as do most families of seniors. I thought about the old days, when generations lived together and people just grew old and died in their own homes, cared for by their children and grandchildren. My mother and aunt, at 87 and 90, should not be living alone - not just because with their health problems and frailty, it's unsafe, but because they should be out and about while they still can.

So I am pushing for a massive change for them both. "The move might kill us," said my aunt. "Yes, but it might save your lives," I replied. We've found an assisted living facility with all meals prepared, outings and activities planned and laid on; it's downtown, near cultural amenities, and it's on the Ottawa River with great views and big bright windows. The residents look cheery, well-treated and well-fed.

The sacrifices of the move for my mother and aunt would be great, no doubt about it - their autonomy, their cars and their ability to cook for themselves - the units do not have kitchens, only bar fridges and microwaves. They'd have to give away or sell many of their possessions. But in return, they'd get peace of mind, and so would their families. There's nursing 24-hours a day, a pull cord on the wall to summon help, and a doctor who comes in twice a week.

So we discussed back and forth, and while we did, squawking Canada geese flew by the window on their way south, and the trees of the Gatineau began to turn red. The condo my mother lives in now has a spectacular view of the sailboats on the Ottawa River and the nearby forests, and most of all, the sky. I love the elegance and spaciousness of the place. But I'm frightened for her health and safety there, alone.

When I left, the sisters were not sure, and I understand that. So we'll see. I did my best.

And was overjoyed, as always, to get back to this bright house with its too-many rooms. One day my world, too, will shrink, and - if I'm lucky enough to live that long - my children will have this discussion about me. Perhaps, for their sake and mine, I should stop accumulating stuff now.

P.S. Friend Penny in England just responded to this morning's post, me kvetching about Mum and her repetitions at breakfast:

Your mother's offer of breakfast toast reminds me of my much missed mum who greeted my arrival after a five hour drive with "Now I know you're a vegetarian so I've cooked you a nice rabbit stew".

If she would be there to open the door to me now I would eat it ten times over.

Got it, Penny. Thank you for reminding me.

old and not quite so old

This is the longest I've gone without writing a new post in years. At the back of my mind, day after day ... "must write blog." But I'm in Ottawa, dealing with the issues of the elderly - have spent the last four days finding a terrific "assisted living facility" and touring it, twice, with my mother and her older sister. This is difficult work, sad, yes, a time of change is coming - but a time of renewal too.

Anyway, I'll be home later today and able, as I re-enter my own life, to think again. I knew this morning, when my dear mother asked, as she does every morning, if I wanted some toast, and I nearly shouted, "I don't eat toast at breakfast! I haven't for years! You know that! Stop asking me the same thing every single bloody morning!" that it's time to go home.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


A reader called Moira responded to my post about David Suzuki's film with a suggestion: to watch this little clip. It gives a taste of what he talks about in the film. Please watch. And you can also see longer clips from the actual film, I think, on the NFB site.

I am awash in wonder at the world these days, more so after seeing the film. Last night, after teaching, I watched some of the stunning documentary "Winged Migration" on PBS, and the beauty, strength and humour of those birds was deeply moving and marvellous. And today - just the wonder of my garden, a new little orangey-pink rose just opened, the swarms of wasps who will soon vanish, my own cavalcade of birds, the sky and air changing from minute to minute - I feel so profoundly grateful to be alive, to be part of all this.

And that I live a life that allows me this time and tranquillity. I am not rushing off on the subway or the highways to work 9 to 5, then rushing back to feed a family. I live near my work which is part time anyway, and my family feed themselves (except the crabby cat). I know, it's all very well for me to stand around in my garden rhapsodizing, when most of the world is working like crazy to keep food on the table.

Perhaps, in sharing my joy, I can help pass a bit of it on? I don't know. I can't feel guilty for having time and space in a way that many people do not. So all I know to do with the gifts I've been given is to use them to write.

Like this.

nature girl

Late summer happiness, part 1: my garden

Late summer happiness, part 2: in my garden

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cabbfest continued

As I write, little white MacZine my computer is being upgraded with sparkly new bits. My personal genius Chuck came over today to install a new Mac operating system, Snow leopard. A more romantic name than, say, Mac Operating System XB579421P. Those clever Mac folks.

A great day today at the Cabbagetown Festival, riding my bike around - up Parliament Street, still closed to traffic and packed with people, all the restaurants with tables on the street, and lots of other street food (I had a fantastic Thai meal for $6); music on every corner, booths selling stuff, service organizations and politicians hawking their wares. I stuck my tongue out at the Conservative booth, yes I did, because I am not mature.

My favourite sight of the day was the Filipino Line Dancing club, a group of shy middle-aged to elderly Filipinos doing their foot-slappin' thing on the street to recorded country western music. What an array of people throughout the neighbourhood - two women in niqab with their children, a large Caribbean family, a large Sri Lankan family, a woman with a shaved head except for a very very long blonde ponytail at the back, a crazy man in camouflage flailing wildly to a rock and roll band, four skinny well-dressed gay couples walking hand in hand, an elderly African man in a cap, looking as if he'd just stepped off the plane from Dar es Salaam, two aggressive lesbians covered with tattoos, two sweet young mothers covered with tattoos ... my neighbourhood, as diverse as it gets.

I had the pancake fundraising breakfast at the Farm - two pancakes, two sausages and coffee for $5, plus all the farm and four million visiting children for free. And then wandered through the crafts fair, where I could not resist the young woman who takes old books, uses the covers and sometimes a few inside pages and turns them into blank notebooks. Had to buy a few of those as gifts. (One for Chuck and one ... for myself.) And a tub of succulent watermelon, already cut up. Still waiting for my Senior Women's 4th Prize.

Forgot to mention that I saw another TIFF film the other day, these tickets a gift from my friend Suzette - "The Way," with Martin Sheen, directed by his son Emilio Estevez - which is actually Sheen's last name. It's the story of an American who goes to Spain to recover his son's body, and ends up walking the Camino in his son's name and rediscovering his own humanity. Very moving, a beautiful film. I've been very lucky in my TIFF freebies this year - gorgeous and meaningful movies. This one too, highly recommended. It was great to see such a tight bond between father and son on stage, as they answered questions, and on the screen, as Emilio actually played Sheen's son. The resemblance is uncanny.

Spent a bit of time tonight beginning the Great Shift - putting all the flimsy summer things away, getting out the solid wooly things. Work starts tomorrow night at Ryerson. Work! Paycheques! Sensible clothing! That means no more peaches, but lots of good apple eating. And MacZine will be so spiffy.

Both of us, moving on into fall.

P.S. Among the many riveting things that David Suzuki says in his film, one of them is this: that the most powerful words anyone can say are, "I'm staying." I'm staying. He is talking about the Native relationship to the land, to people who aren't thinking about what the land will provide next year, but many years from now.

I've said those words myself, in Cabbagetown, on several occasions when there were good reasons to move on. And here I am. A friend calls this part of Toronto "Cabbageland." I call it home.

PPS. It's hours later, and MacZine is still hard at work, backing up - get this - "618,339 items." That's how much data I have stored on her. Did we ever live without these machines? Surely not.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"A Force of Nature" starring David Suzuki

Friends, I've had one of the most exhausting and exhilarating days of my entire life, and before I drop into a stupor, I'll tell you a bit about it. Especially about this afternoon, when I went to see a movie that's showing in the Toronto International Film Festival. It's called "Force of Nature," and it's about David Suzuki.

David and my father were good friends for decades, fellow activists for science, peace and justice in the 70's and 80's. During my Vancouver days, I kept up with David and his wonderful, brilliant wife Tara and did a little work for his radio show. I smoked a joint with him once, a high point, I can tell you, literally and figuratively. What a mind.

But, though Tara and I have touched base regularly, there have been few opportunities to connect through the years. So it was thrilling to receive an invitation to the opening of this documentary about David. There was a huge crowd lined up outside the Ryerson theatre, and I was able to sweep right by, with Tara, onto the RED CARPET. There was one, and I was on it.

And there I ran into Laszlo Barna, whom I also used to know in Vancouver in the 70's. Laszlo was a film director and producer, whose first movie, in about 1977, was a short about unionizing banks, starring me and my friend Lani as bank tellers learning about the union. We shot at 6 a.m. in a small bank in south Vancouver. And now Laszlo is a big-time Toronto film and TV producer, and this was his film.

And it's a beauty, directed by Sturla Gunnerson. It's not perfect; I wish there had been less about the early days and more about David's recent vital work with the Suzuki Foundation and in the jungles of South America; more about Tara's work. But the film lets you watch David so closely, and especially to hear his message about saving our planet. What he says is so articulate, so personal and profound and moving - every school child in this country should see this film. And so, I hope, will you. He speaks about the air we breathe, how in fact every breath we take in contains particles of Joan of Arc, the dinosaurs, Jesus Christ. We ARE the air, he says, we are the planet, the trees - which is why he admires the culture of native Canadians, because they understand this. At the end, we see that his daughter Severn has married into a Haida family, and there's David, in a simple house in the woods with his in-laws, finally at home.

Afterwards, I said to Laszlo, All you can think, seeing this film, is - why hasn't someone made a film about this extraordinary man before?

After the schmoozing, Tara and her daughter Sarika walked to my house, past the Cabbagetown Festival festivities. Because today is my neighbourhood's festival, one of my favourite times of the year. Parliament Street is shut down, there are activities, street food, a parade, every second house has a garage sale, there's a beautiful art and craft fair and a corn roast at the farm ... but I digress. We had a drink and talked, and then they went off for dinner and took me with them. We joined the whole crew involved with the film at a Japanese restaurant downtown, where I ended up sitting next to the star of the movie. My hero. I have now officially added him to my list of the best men on earth: Barack Obama, Paul McCartney, Jon Stewart, and David Suzuki. And Nelson Mandela. Oh, what a dinner party I'm imagining. A lot of laughter.

And now I'm home. Moving a bit slowly - because my day started with the Cabbagetown Mini-Marathon at 9.30 a.m. I do it every year - it's a fundraiser for the Youth Centre, 3 kilometres winding through the local streets, great fun. It has been especially fun since I entered a new category of racer - Senior Woman, aged 55 and up. The first year, I found out much later in the day that I'd won. Unbelievable - I'd stopped to tie my shoelace, and still had won! I won again the next year, still at my same glacial pace.

But after that, those 55 year olds were too speedy. This year, I just kept going in my steady way, looking at the dust of the younger folk way, way up ahead, and puffing along. I was fourth in the category. Again, it was only later in the day that I found out that even fourth wins a prize. So at some point, I will get my prize.

Rushed home after the race, because my friends Penny and Alan were setting up a sale booth outside my house. They used to live down the street but moved, and came back to sell Penny's beautiful jewelry and Alan's great photograph cards of Toronto at the festival. So I hung up some clothes I wanted to get rid of, and dear Penny sold most of them for me through the day. I couldn't sit there myself ... because I was rushing off to a funeral.

Cynthia Brouse, a gifted writer and editor who was only 53, died in June of breast cancer. There was a celebration of her life this afternoon. Unbearably sad, the loss of someone so young, so rarely talented, honest, and brave.

And from there, to listen to Suzuki talk about this fantastic species, creative and curious, with the unique powers of memory, self-consciousness and foresight, which is heedlessly destroying its own habitat. How close we are to the abyss.

See the film. It will change you. And this is the end of Beth's Awesome Day.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

an early date with Jon

A new way of life dawns: Jon Stewart at 10 p.m. instead of 11. "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a woman healthy, wealthy and wise." Since I'm already so very wise and healthy, that means the shekels will start rolling in at any time now.

I don't think I've ever seen Jon as impatient and sharp as he was last night - and with good reason. He was talking to the head of the Democrats, who brought along his party's idea of how to regain the trust of voters: a keychain imprinted with the words "Don't give them back the keys." I mean, how feeble and pathetic is that? What is wrong with them?

Jon kept saying, you have a communication problem, your word is not getting out. And the guy just kept cheerfully repeating all the great things the party has accomplished, as if oblivious that the Republican pit-bulls, slavering for blood, will make mincemeat of them. Are we living in such brutish times that only the bullies can be heard? If Rob Ford wins as mayor of Toronto, I'll know it's true.

Jon and his team seem a bit lost these days - there was a particularly silly bit last night on the burning of the Koran in Florida - as if the situation is so dire and absurd that even the "Daily Show"'s skilled team can't find a way to make light of it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

mouthing off for today

On Monday, while waiting for a new class to start at the Y - "circuit blast," fabulous and deadly - I couldn't help but overhear the conversation next to me. The class had been moved because the Premier was giving a speech in the building, and a man was using the occasion to vent his spleen, loudly, about taxes, the disgrace of them, the vile new HST, the unfairness, crippling, big government, etc. Glenn Beck would love this guy.

You know me, dear readers - only the fact that the class began stopped me from jumping down his throat. What I would have said is this: My mother, dear sir, just woke in the night terrified because her heart is at risk and her heartrate was so high. She called 911, was taken to the nearest Emergency in Ottawa, and in her report, "It was absolutely fantastic - the nurses were marvellous, they swept me right in, they did everything to make me comfortable, gave me a choice, used the paddles to normalize my heart rate, I had a lovely cup of tea, hugged all the nurses and went home."

She was incredibly grateful, and so am I. "Thank you kind sir," I wanted to say to my grouchy classmate, "your taxes kept my mother alive. They paid for my children's education, smashed into oblivion as it was by your ideological mate Mike Harris. Taxes pay for our civilized society. And by the way, looking at your well-fed form, it doesn't look like you're suffering all that much."

But I didn't. I circuit blasted instead. Forgive me.

Last night - crisis! I turned on the Comedy channel at 11 p.m. as always, and ... no Jon Stewart! Devastated, I turned to Bravo as I sometimes do to watch "Law and Order" instead - no "Law and Order." All was not lost - I watched a bit of the mayoral debate with Steve Paikin on TVO, until it got too depressing. This is not a great crop of candidates, to say the least. I'm supporting Pantalone, who's adorable. Doesn't have a chance in hell, but he's wonderful, positive, the leftest of the bunch. His sign will be on my fence. George is trying to please everyone - doesn't he have core beliefs of his own? And let's not even talk about the beefy-faced guy. Steve asked them all what their strengths and weaknesses as a candidate were; none had trouble addressing the strengths, but when Ford was asked about his weaknesses - three times, because he wouldn't answer - his only reply was that he needs to lose 50 pounds. This from a guy who has said incredibly offensive things over and over again and who is hated by almost everyone, except stupid voters.

But don't listen to me. What do I know?

I looked in the TV Guide. Jon Stewart is at 10 p.m. now. And "Law and Order" is at midnight. Life changes overnight. I can be in bed at 11 and still see one of my favourite men on earth. There is a god.

today's geography lesson

Happened to be flipping today through a deeply intellectual American magazine called "Life and Style" - well, they're equally important, aren't they, your life and your style? A girl has to know what the stars are wearing, doesn't she? - and came upon a feature on Katie Holmes, who was recently shooting a Kennedy bio-pic in Toronto. Of course, Toronto looks just like both Washington and Dallas.

We Torontonians are all aware that one day, Ms. Holmes, as if she were a normal parent like you and me, took her daughter Suri to Centre Island. Well, there's a several page spread on this fantastic event in the magazine, entitled "Katie and Suri take a cruise." "They took a ferry to Centre Island," the article explains, "off the coast of Toronto."

Centre Island, off the coast of Toronto. Well ... I guess it is. It reminds me of one of Rick Mercer's marvellous "Talking to Americans" bits, when he asked Americans, "Since Canada is landlocked with no coastline, no access to the ocean and therefore no navy, do you think the American navy would mind sharing some of its boats with Canada?"

The people he interviewed were heartily in favour of this neighbourly idea.

Just hopping on my bike to go to the Y. Off the coast of Yonge Street.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Arcade Fire nails it

Phenomenal. I just read in the "Star" about the new Arcade Fire music video and went straight to my computer. It's at Before the start, it asked me to enter the address of my childhood home, so I entered 816 Young Avenue, Halifax, Nova Scotia. It begins with a hooded man running, and suddenly, there is Young Avenue, in an aerial view and a streetscape, the street where I lived from 1958 to 1965. The music plays, the man runs, and there's that street, there's the house. It's absolutely amazing. And then at the end, they ask you to do something very moving. I won't tell you what. Just try it and fly.

Labour Day and compliments

Had a great encounter the other day. I was cycling home on Gerrard, stopped at a red light near the beer store; a poorly-dressed man with very long hair, clutching a beer bottle, was crossing the street. He stopped and said, "Not only are you lovely, but I bet you're intelligent."

It took me a moment to register that I'd just received a very fine compliment. "You'd be right," I laughed.

"I was at the Society of Economists conference once," he said, and I noticed that he, too, though bleary and not too clean, looked intelligent, "and they asked, 'How many fortune-tellers are there in the United States?' My answer was thirty thousand minus ten percent, and that is still the standard." (Or maybe he said three hundred thousand. Sorry, I forget.)

"Wow," I said. "That's amazing." The light changed. "See you!" I called, and pedalled off.

The world is full of stories.

It's fall, but still summer. That chilly snap in the air - sometimes. Never sure, when you leave the house, if you're going to boil or freeze. This morning, I wore my winter housecoat for a bit, and socks, and last night, going to bed, I actually thought of my heating pad for the first time in months. But I'm still looking out at full summer colour in the garden - hard to believe it will soon all be white and grey. I remember that guy who came not long ago to see the basement apartment. He looked at the astounding beauty of the garden. "Does all this die in winter?" was all he said. I knew then that he did not belong here.

Happy Labour Day to you all. I'm going to labour and have fun: work, go to the Y, work some more, eat, go for a walk in the rain, maybe watch a French movie I've rented, drink some wine and eat some more, and read, and write. I will have a productive day. Because not only am I lovely, but intelligent. The man said so.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

"the sheer wonder of a successful workshop" - "a very specific type of joy"

This is A.L. Kennedy in the "Guardian," a piece on writing workshops. I urge you to read this and then to REGISTER FOR ONE OF MY SUCCESSFUL WORKSHOPS! See this website under "Teaching."

The article was titled The Real Thing, and headed, "At their best, writing workshops can show us the magic of inspiration taking shape." Yes, they sure can.

"...the sheer wonder of a successful workshop... Apart from anything else a good workshop can allow us to see – as near as we ever will – writers writing, writing happening, the thing itself. There are few things better than sitting in a room that is suddenly united in action, that suddenly has that tingly, ozone-y feeling of something on its way – of inspiration taking shape, of words struggling or plummeting or bubbling through. When we work ourselves, we're too engrossed in the process to really be aware of it. When we see it in others – perhaps as part of group authorship, perhaps in a series of solo contributions – then there are moments when we can actually grasp the ungraspable, when we can see a very specific type of joy: the way a face clears and becomes beautiful when it is absolutely focused; completely itself and yet open to something other than itself, touched.

... It occurred to me that when we write fully and honestly, when we speak from who we are, mortal human being to mortal human being, it comes down to this – that we sustain each other with music and dreams of motion, that we say who we are, that we reach out to the friend that is beyond us, out of sight – and this is perhaps defiant in the deepest possible way and is perhaps a type of love and is certainly very much alive and – I think it bears repeating – beautiful."


@ home

I feel so @#$#% lucky to be alive sometimes, it makes me want to weep.

Okay okay, you've heard this before, though mostly in Paris. But now I'm home, and it's a perfect evening after a few stormy days, mild and sunny with a breeze. I just went for a walk in the soft dusk light, around the neighbourhood and through the Necropolis cemetery, where I saw an amazing number of robins, at least eight in one patch, plus a beautiful nuthatch, a small striped woodpecker, and a wild huntress, a sleek tabby with a white belly hunting for dinner. Not to mention my dead friends - this time I thought about Adeline and Norman, more lost names, and the tiny gravestone of John, who died in 1877 at the age of 3 months four days. All there under a canopy of huge, more than a century old trees.

Came home through the tranquil streets - on a holiday Sunday, even the distant Don Valley Parkway is quiet - and at home, I bit into a new kind of apple bought at the St. Lawrence Market yesterday, a ginger gold - my God, it's divine. And so I just had to write to you.

My son was just over for a bit. He is such a fine man, struggling, yes, at 25, to find his place in the world, as most of us did at 25. But a good, good man. He wants to set up a catering/party planning business. If any of you out there needs help with an upcoming party, he's your man. He's funny, relaxed yet focussed, brilliant at animating a room, with years of experience serving drinks and making food - plus his friend Doug who wants to do this too has taken hospitality courses, and you'd probably get Anna thrown into the deal, also an amazing cook and party planner. A highly recommended team. From an only slightly prejudiced source.

Sam and I had a take-out Indian lunch from Rashnaa on Wellesley Street, one of our favourite traditions, and then started to watch a movie I'd rented, "Cairo." But he was texting the entire time and just couldn't take it - it's a slow, sweet chick flick. Off he went, taking all that humour and energy back to the other side of town. And I went for a walk.

Last night I got free tickets so took my neighbour Monique to see "Love, Loss and What I Wore," the show Nora Ephron and her sister put together. I wasn't expecting much, and to tell you the truth - and when have I ever done otherwise? - it was even more flimsy and shallow than expected. A bunch of tidbits, not a meal - a lazy evening of writing, made possible by the energy and commitment of a bunch of talented actresses. Especially offensive was the fact that they'd made almost no effort to make the show relevant to Canadian audiences, with references to American stores and traditions that are meaningless here, and suddenly a confusing mention of the Habs thrown in to make us feel good. At home after, I wrote to all my friends in the theatre - Why aren't we rich? Let's put together a show about our favourite underpants and get rich.


Time for more apple, a glass of wine, a piece of corn from the market. No one is hammering or sawing right now, only the sparrows twittering their evening twitter in the ivy and the neighbours playing with little Juliette, who's 2. Earlier today, the crabby cat actually climbed into my lap and stayed there for a few minutes; it's as if she's practising how to be a cat.

Praise be, praise be for small mercies, and for home.

PS. These blog posts are now being spammed. I keep thinking a faithful reader is writing to share some comment, but it's spam. I'll have to figure out how to keep them out. In the meantime, let's just ignore the creeps.

Friday, September 3, 2010

good muggy Friday

I don't know why I'm feeling so bloody cheerful. The day is dank and overcast, and earlier it poured. I've just done my finances, and am as usual far in the red. How to make more money, is the question, along with how, thrifty as I am, to avoid spending as much ... The basement suite is now occupied, someone is moving in upstairs on Nov. 1, so my job as a landlady is on again. But ye gods, a freelance teacher has almost no income all summer long. I could use a good, solid paycheque. No, royalties or an advance from the great new book I've finished.

Which I have not, not even close.

So to cheer myself up in my destitution, I went shopping - to Shopper's, where I bought a new lipstick for $10.99. That always does the trick. Then, I met my dear friend Penny. Penny makes beautiful necklaces, and she made two for me, for $20 each. They're supposed to be presents for my friends, but I confess they're so lovely ...

So here's the woman who's moaning about being broke spending $50 instantly on lipstick and necklaces. 'Twas ever thus. And yesterday I had a haircut, much needed but expensive - except that my long-term hairdresser Ingrid gave it to me as a birthday present. I realized today that the friend who does my taxes has not yet sent his bill. How grateful I am to the friends who help me through.

Highly recommended, as mentioned before: Jane Mayer's superb article in last week's "New Yorker" about the reclusive Koch brothers, the billionaires who have funded many secretive far right-wing organizations, disguised under generic, nice-sounding names. "Citizens for Prosperity," and others like it, have as their main job to undermine everything Obama tries to do, to smear the left, and to trumpet the Koch agenda, which is anti-corporate income tax, of course, but also anti any environmental protection, since the Koch's industries are among the country's biggest polluters.

And all those idiot Tea Partyers, who don't realize they're being manipulated by some of the richest men in the country, the Kochs and Rupert Murdoch - it is to weep.

But I won't weep, because I'm cheerful today, with a haircut, a new lipstick and two new necklaces. And I had a nice chat with the man who sits in a little golfcart with a long elephant hose nose, sucking up garbage. I thanked him for the job he does on my street, cleaning up after the people who toss their detritus about. He was cheerful too.

And last, I went to the Y, not to my usual lunchtime Runfit class but to the earlier one, Muscleworks, because of my schedule today. At the end of the class, I thanked the teacher for a great class. She peered at me. "You're Runfit, right?" she said, and I laughed. "Yes, I'm Runfit," I said.

Beth "Runfit" Kaplan, poor but happy today.

P.S. And there are peaches.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

sign the petition against Fox News North

Well, guys, it doesn't get much more important than this. If you have an inkling of the vileness of Fox News, the level of hatred and vitriol routinely spewed at anyone who doesn't follow their extremely right-wing fundamentalist party line - recently Glenn Beck, aka the scum of the earth, imitated and made vicious fun of Obama's 11-year old daughter Malia - if you know how far that "news" station, funded by billionaire Rupert Murdoch, has debased and skewed discourse in the United States - then you too will sign this petition to stop the importation of a similar channel to Canada. Our dear Prime Minister is working hard to bring it here. Quelle surprise.

We must stop him. This is a letter from, which is spearheading this fight. Please please please please sign, and forward the petition to everyone you know. Thank you.

Dear friends,

Prime Minister Harper is trying to push American-style hate media onto our airwaves, and make us all pay for it.

His plan is to create a "Fox News North" to mimic the kind of hate-filled propaganda with which Fox News has poisoned U.S. politics. The channel will be run by Harper’s former top aide and will be funded with money from our cable TV fees!

One man stands in the way of this nightmare -- the Chairman of Canada's Radio and Telecommunications Commission Konrad von Finckenstein. He's rejected the plan as a violation of CRTC policies, so now Harper is trying to get him out of the job. Let's urgently send a massive wave of public support to von Finckenstein, with 100,000 Canadians encouraging him to keep standing up for Canada, and standing firm against Harper's pressure. Sign the petition below and forward this email to everyone -- we'll publish full page ads in Canadian papers when we reach 100,000:

Harper hatched his scheme in a secret lunch last year with media-mogul Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News. Harper's top aide Kory Teneycke also came to the lunch, and then left the government to head up Suncor Newspapers and the new "Fox News North".

Fox News fuels hate. While constantly claiming to be “fair” and “balanced”, it allows hysterical anchors like Glenn Beck to compare Obama to "Lucifer" and "Hitler". Bill O’Reilly, another anchor, has threatened to boycott Canada, and Anne Coulter says Canada is “lucky the US allows it to exist on the same continent.” The network has calculatingly spawned the tea party movement in the US, a mobilisation of the fringe right which threatens violence upon its opponents and wears guns to political rallies.

This is a fight for the soul of Canadian democracy. Our media is not perfect, but a ‘news’ network that slavishly serves a political agenda through mass manipulation and fear threatens the fabric of our democratic society.

The CRTC is part of our democracy -- it was made an independent commission precisely in order to protect against this kind of government manipulation of the media. Harper knows that he must bully his way through this institution in order to create Fox News North. And there are dark rumours in Ottawa that if von Finckenstein will not leave his job, Harper will simply force him to give in. Von Finckenstein is upholding the best tradition of Canadian democracy and civil service in the face of a full scale attack on that tradition. Let's show him, and Harper, that Canada stands with him.

"Fox News North" is Harper's long term strategy to make radical conservatism the political centre in Canada, tearing down the country we love to make us look like the U.S. Thankfully, Konrad von Finckenstein and the CRTC are standing in his way -- let's stand with them.

With hope,

Ricken, Emma, Iain, Laryn and the rest of the Avaaz team