Tuesday, June 28, 2011

the cold wins

Full-on sick today, folks, with a raspy voice and headache. By the most amazing coincidence - NOT - this is the first Tuesday in months that I do not have a class, as my Tuesday group ended last week. Nothing to do today except lie around coughing and working on my manuscript.


I opened the door to get the paper this morning, and two stunning women in twinkling saris were on the sidewalk, greeting each other in Punjabi or Urdu. How great to live in a Canadian city where I can open my front door and be in Bombay or Bangladesh or Sri Lanka or Lahore. Or Bogata, or Kingston, Jamaica, or whatever a city in Kazakstan is. It's Pride Week coming up too, so the city's gay population is swelling. I do not think the two ladies in saris, like our mayor, will be attending the Gay Pride parade. Maybe one day.

And there, too, was the mailman, back after the strike. I am sorry he and his union didn't get what they wanted; glad that my "New Yorkers" will start arriving again. Always the selfish consumer.

Spent Sunday afternoon, as usual, cooking and listening to Eleanor Wachtel, who was interviewing four fascinating women writers. I just wrote to thank her, and she replied that she's just back from Banff and the Whitehorse Poetry Festival. Such a dull life, has that woman. I also wrote to congratulate my cousin in New York on the passing of the gay marriage bill, and asked if I could be the flower girl at his and Henry's wedding. Apparently, there's quite a list of flower girls already. Can't wait.

My Monday group came for the last class of term; our feast included Sonia's homemade rhubarb cake. I gathered my courage and read them two short excerpts from the memoir, wondering how it would go over. It went over, and most importantly, they laughed at some bits. I was so hoping they would. After they'd gone, I realized I was completely drained from the stress of hope and fear - my soul and years of work on display, awaiting judgement. Ah, the serene life of the writer.

Today there's the farmer's market at Riverdale Farm and a marathon reading of War and Peace at Nathan Phillips Square, neither of which I'll get to, probably. There was just a brief shower, so I don't even have to water the garden. I'll sit sipping lemon and honey and smelling the damp jasmine, camellias, lavender and roses. And then I'll do my best to rip open my insides and smear them all over a piece of paper.

Ah, the serene life of the writer.

PS Just back from the farmer's market - had to go, it's a perfect day and I needed bread. Now I have a loaf of dark Red Fyfe and one of sourdough, fresh oak-leaf lettuce and the first Ontario strawberries, delectable, some sausages from a small family farm, and best of all - the George Brown student chefs were out in force, scores of them in their white aprons and tall hats, selling small portions of a variety of dishes. I brought home a small grilled sandwich - an exotic cheese with caramelized onion and poached pear - !!! And for later, pulled pork on a blini with avocado and salsa. With that, despite my throat and hot head, I'll have a little glass of rosé, or two. I feel better already.

But the War and Peace Marathon, unfortunately - not so much.

A friend sent me this, a survey about PUBLIC LIBRARIES. We need to defend them. Please take a minute to fill it out.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

a few of my favourite things (see post below)

Another rosebush that has suddenly discovered the pleasures of actually blooming.

New shoe on the right. Old shoe, that
suddenly is extremely fashionable,
on the left. After years of pressing my
nose against the window of fashionable shoe-wearing, cursing the fate of size 10 1/2, I now find lots of great shoes in my size. When I was wearing those bright red wonders, a woman asked me where I got my shoes, the first time this has ever happened to me. This is some sort of female rite of passage. At last.

In case you're desperate to see another view.

The BAG.

I call her Zelda.

She stayed in this posture for some time. Airing the belly, I guess.

afternoon in Toronto, "Midnight in Paris"

Yesterday's feast of pleasures: a mild grey-ish day, thank heaven, so it was possible to get things done without the siren call of sunshine luring me hither. The roses more sublime than ever. I remember buying this spindly little rosebush at Loblaw's, at least five years ago - and now, suddenly, it has come into its own. And how.

Decided to go outside despite my sniffles and set off for downtown, steering via the library to return some books, thus forcing me to go into Doubletake on the way. And there ... well, you know I am a shallow person, so I hope you won't mind a muffled scream. Occasionally, in my secondhand adventures, something extremely desirable comes along; yesterday, hanging upon the handbag rack, was a Coach bag. A geniune Coach handbag in all its thick beautifully crafted leather glory, in perfect condition, all zippers working, nothing ripped or stained - who, who, who gave this bag worth hundreds of dollars away? Perhaps the colour is not in fashion; it's beigey-white, not the exciting colour of today's vivid bags, but still gorgeous.

It cost $7.

I was happy.

I transferred everything to my new bag and rode on - I'd been waiting for a cloudy day to go and see Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris." I expected to love it, and I did - it's a confection, delicious. Of course, it features Paris in the most glorious light - the characters are often ALONE as they wander - you are never alone in Paris! There's some clumsy writing that I'm surprised was left in, characters informing each other of things they'd obviously know but we the audience don't, the problem of exposition that we talk about in writing class, carelessly effected by Mr. Allen. It's too bad the glorious Rachel McAdams has to play such a cliché, without a redeeming feature except incredible beauty, and the ending is soppy and predictable. But he has so much fun with his Republican characters, so much fun with Hemingway and Zelda and Gertrude Stein - oh, it's a joy.

Occasionally, as I watched, I patted my new handbag, to make sure she was still there. And then - more consumption. Yes, much as I'd like to leave this out, I am going to tell you the truth - as I left the movie theatre, I saw a sale at Ron White Shoes and could not help going in to look at his big foot section. In fact, I recognized Mr. White, shook his hand and thanked him for being a friend to the big-footed woman. And yes, there was a pair of wonderful comfortable yet elegant teacherly shoes, 70% off, fitted me perfectly. 70% off. Fitted me perfectly. Bore them away in the new handbag.

Then to yoga class at the Y, a wonderful class. Home stretched and serene to the quiet house - my son is away for the weekend and the upstairs tenant has gone back to Berlin, so for the first time in a year I have my house to myself - and to have a long chat with my mother, who was lively and cheerful and told me lots of stories. Another great gift.

And then I put on my new shoes and worked all evening, in the quiet. The greatest gift of all.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

today's show and tell

This is the dinner my son left last night in the fridge for me - salmon in an apricot salsa on crispy noodles with asparagus, tomatoes and pearl onions. Mmmmm.

These are a few of my garden's explosion of roses

This hair has not been washed for two weeks

This is the adorable new helmet

This is the crabby cat sleeping with her foot

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I stand corrected

I have received a stern message from friend Chris, bicyclist extraordinaire, about helmets, plus a vital spelling correction of my last post. His blog is www.lyricycle.blogspot.com.

It is your choice whether or not to wear a helmet. I have no such choice when it comes to paying for your head trauma at the Emergency Room. I believe that with socialized medical care comes socialized responsibility. Call me crazy.

As those two or three enlightened people who read my blog know, I cycle thousands of kilometres a year, and would not think even of riding down my driveway without a helmet. The three major crashes I have had over the years – unplanned as it happens – have all resulted in my head slamming into the pavement with sudden and surprising force. My helmet has saved me, my head and the Ontario health care system a great deal of tsuris.

Affectionately as always,

PS: I think you mean “pedalling” through the city rather than peddling. Depends, I suppose, on what those high-heeled Parisian women are selling...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

on heads and hair

I'm sick! How did THAT happen? A summer cold hit suddenly, before I could fight it off. And now, on this lovely night, I'm aching and tired. I don't believe in getting sick, but this time, even positive vibrations and Cold-FX didn't help. Sometimes it's okay just to give in. And sometimes, you have no choice.

Monday's excitement was riding down to the Urbane Cyclist on John Street, a wonderful "worker cooperative" bike store. At the urging of my children, I gave in and went to buy a bike helmet. I know they're life-saving when your head meets concrete. The trouble is, they're hideous and make you look like a dork, and they just don't fit the image of happy sophisticate peddling through the city in her high heels, hair blowing in the breeze. Parisian women on bicycles do not wear helmets.

Not to mention helmet head. Enough said.

Solution: a Bern helmet, which doesn't have all those overkill stream-lined holes and racing stripes, and doesn't make you like a spaceman. It's just a plain round thing. Mine is orange with a little cloth visor, and it's size extra-large. A bit big. Which means I can wear it in winter with something underneath, but also, it doesn't crush the hair completely.

So if you see a very old brown bike being pedalled by a happy sophisticate in high heels with an orange dome on her head, try not to shriek with laughter. Because one day, her brains, and her children, may be very thankful she's wearing that thing.

Speaking of crushed hair, I read an article recently about not washing your hair nearly as often as recommended. There's a train of thought that shampoo is full of harsh chemicals and does your hair more harm than good. They say the hair maintains itself. In any case, I used to wash mine only once a week, and now I've started to try ... less than that. I haven't washed my hair in two weeks, and I have to tell you, it looks better than usual. Luckily, I don't have greasy hair - but it's just as shiny and stays in place better. Who knew?

Perhaps this is too much information. I do think we're cleanoholic and germphobic in our society. I am a clean person, just not, perhaps, as squeaky clean as you.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

singing the heart out

Be prepared - here come more tedious cries of rapture. It's Sunday morning, a perfect June day. After the May from hell, we have had a heavenly June, fresh mornings and evenings, hot days but not yet too hot - sublime. For some reason - perhaps the rain, perhaps I'm paying more attention - the scarlet peonies have lasted much longer than usual, and the roses are going mad. Two of my big rosebushes were gifts years ago from a friend who was renovating her garden; this is the first year they've exploded with blooms, one sweetheart pink and the other a luscious wine-dark red. The peach roses near the deck are happy, the oleander too, and the creamy white camellia - well, I invite you over for a sniff.

Other pleasures: on Thursday, I went for the massage which was part of my Mother's Day present from my son. Mmmm - only an hour. I wanted more. And on Friday night, I was going to go hear Jeanette Winterson speak as part of Luminato, but ended up staying home to work - work is going well - and then traipsed next door to Monique's weekly Francophone salon. Over our usual wine and food, we discussed, among other things: what exactly is fascism? What is the fundamental difference between left-wing and right-wing? (The terms, according to Jack, came from the French revolution.)

What are the ethics of friendship? Someone said that Heine described a close friendship as a kind of vampirism - did we agree, that you filled yourself up from a friend, as they did from you? Why is Canada such a wishy-washy apologetic place? And is that, though frustrating, a good thing in the end? Why is Canada moving to the right? Why are immigrants now Conservative rather than Liberal?

All this in French. It's intense, and I say that both in French and English. Ahntohnse.
Saturday, again, was such a glorious day, I couldn't go to yoga. Why rush off to find peace when I can sit working in the most peaceful place anywhere? Though yesterday, in fact, my neighbour Rob was having his deck sanded, which made a huge racket all morning. Plus the lunatic guy on the corner never, ever stops puttering noisily around his house, power-washing and sawing and hammering and stapling. I think he builds stuff and then tears it down and builds something else, just to have something to do, because I can't imagine what else he can do to his @#$## house.

So perhaps my yard isn't quite as quiet, always, as could be. But all that eventually stops, and there are birds and breezes, and camellias, roses and jasmin in the air.

Saturday late afternoon, I spent an hour cooking while listening to Beatles - "Help!" since I'm researching 1965. When I listen to Beatles, it's not work, I'm singing and dancing while doing something or other with my hands. Friends and neighbours Mary, Malcolm and Jane came for dinner, and we dashed off - at 6.55 - for a 7 p.m. concert at nearby St. Peter's. The Cabbagetown Community Youth Choir is made up of kids - Filipino, Sri Lankan, Pakistani, Indian, Latino and one or two Caucasians - from Regent's Park and St. Jamestown, receiving classical vocal training from Daniel Eby, whom I know from the Y. The audience filled with parents and siblings, a granny in a sari. We settled into the pews in the stifling space, and I sighed, thinking, we're doing our community duty, I hope it's not too painful - the program daunting, Puccini, Mozart, Gluck.

A Filipina teenager called Faith began to sing Schubert - and we were knocked backwards. She has a pure operatic voice, powerful and sweet, rough on the edges, of course, but extraordinary. Then Dan introduced Ezekiel, telling us that he had only recently lost his soprano - and from a short Filipino boy emerged a powerful bass voice. And then others, including a row of tiny girls in what looked like sparkly ballgowns, as chorus.

Nothing can bring me to tears quicker than a choir, so you can imagine - a community youth choir filled with talented kids singing classics: a tiny eight year old singing Puccini's "O mio babbino caro," Faith and another girl singing Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Pie Jesu," and "Climb Every Mountain" to end, with the assembled group. Tears and cheers. In the corridor outside was a huge feast prepared by the mothers, dishes from around the world to feed the multitudes.

We Cabbagetown grown-ups came back here to eat dessert and discuss where to find a choir, so that we, too, can open our hearts and sing.

PS It has occurred to me that I'm turning into a recluse. Today I was going to go to a talk on "The Power of Story," with some interesting people - and I thought, I know all about the power of story, I'd rather stay here. I'm about a dozen movies behind, including ones I'm desperate to see.

As I wrote above, work is going well. When I read this paragraph in the book about writing by Roger Rosenblatt, I wondered if he's describing what's happening to me:

At the outset of your careers, you will probably enjoy the company of others for a while, up to the point that you know for certain what your life’s subject is, and your craftsmanship has risen to meet it. Then you will notice that you are increasingly disinclined to be in contact with your old friends, even the most beloved. Your husband, wife, partner, whoever, will constitute all the social life you need, and surprisingly little of that. In the end, you will find yourself glorying in that same solitude you sought to avoid at the start.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Just like her"

Yesterday I ran into a former student - literally, as it was Wednesday and so I was running behind Carol, as usual, but outside rather than around the gym. Sometimes Carol takes her class around Queen's Park, where she and the real runners speed ahead, and the feeble few, like me, totter around behind, taking short cuts and stopping to pant. So I was puttering along when I ran into Pearl, who was in my Ryerson class maybe 8 years ago; we've said hello a few times since. She said, "I'm off to Barcelona on the weekend and know from your blog that you were there recently. Any recommendations?"

It's an odd thing to run into a blog follower, who knows almost as much about my life as I do. I was able to give her a tip or two, the Miro Museum and the others in that grand park, but also, because I am a shallow person, that she should go nuts at Zara because it's Spanish and cheaper and better than here. And then, red-faced and sweaty, I jogged on.

Tuesday night, a sad spectacle - fifty damn good actresses in "Tout Comme Elle," a floaty play that certainly makes you think about that most complex of relationships, mothers and daughters. Yes, fifty of the best actresses in Canada, some of them, like Fiona Reid, Barbara Gordon and Kyra Harper, old friends, in a Luminato play out of Quebec. I rode my bike down, not realizing it was opening night, but it was and I immediately ran into friends, theatre people whose daughter is beginning her career in this play and who offered me comps. There were many comps; the play is not selling, despite the cast.

And though there are moving moments, I can see why - it's a poetic, balletic, unfocussed 90 minutes with a great deal of Greek tragedy chorus work and a lot of time spent staring out at the audience. I sat next to a young engineer whose girlfriend is in the show, also just starting out, her first professional part. For young actors, it must be invaluable to work with such pros. But for the pros - women who have spent decades on the stage - to be marching about in wierd costumes speaking in unison, with a few short lines of their own - it made me profoundly sad.

It made me profoundly glad I now make my living doing something else.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

what I bought and what bloomed etc.

A garden peony - as pretty as can be

A Cabbagetown house, around the corner, with a spectacular front garden - Monet would approve

La dame aux out of focus camellias

What I bought second-hand today, please forgive the terrible picture: a laundry basket for my son, a Ted Lapidus shirt for a friend, a white HandM shirt for another friend, a Jones New York baby doll nightgown and a Fila gym top, for me:
cost $24.00; time, 24 minutes. Too slow! Oh, and a Michael Morpurgo young adult book - he wrote "War Horse" and I admire his work enormously.

I am seriously addicted. Help.

Monday, June 13, 2011

business news

I've been asked to be one of the judges of a creative non-fiction writing competition. The newspaper "Good Times Toronto" is running a contest, asking for true life essays on the subject "An encounter that changed your life," with a 450 word limit. Deadline August 15. The writer Bill Belfontaine and I are the judges. Jump in, why don't you?

Here's the info:

And ... I've cancelled my June writing in the garden workshop. I have not advertised it, am just no good at marketing. So I'll focus on the one in August, which will go ahead no matter what. If any of you has a good marketing plan for a garden writing workshop, please let me know. And don't suggest that I post a notice at the Y. We know where that will lead. I'll be arrested and led out in chains.

big fat peonies

Two treats in the garden this morning - my peonies have opened to reveal their frilly crimson extravagance, and I picked the first ripe tomato and popped it right into my mouth. In fact, since I missed yoga on Saturday, I was going to go to the class at 9.30 this morning - but the morning was so utterly still and beautiful that it called me to stay home, sit in the garden, and work. That was zen enough; no need to downward dog.

Work; a productive and rewarding home class; supper with W*son, and the evening reading and messing around on the Internet (checking on the Tony reports, for example) - a great day.

A friend who's a regular reader wrote to tell me that she thought I went too far with my post last Sunday on the woman in the hijab. Maybe I did, and I'm happy my friend wrote to tell me what she thought. But I do feel strongly about the hijab, and about many other things besides. I don't want to be intolerant or narrow-minded or judgmental. But at the same time, better to care too much, to react too strongly, than not enough, no? I don't know. I'm asking.

Here's a quote from a wonderful book I've just finished reading, "Unless It Moves the Human Heart," by Roger Rosenblatt, in which a teacher of creative writing speaks to his students:

For your writing to be great – I mean great, not clever, or even brilliant, or most misleading of all, beautiful – it must be useful to the world. And for that to happen you must form an opinion of the world. And for that to happen you need to observe the world, closely and steadily, with a mind open to change. And for that to happen you have to live in the world, and not pretend that it is someone else’s world you are writing about … You must love the world as it is, because the world, for all its murder and madness, is worth loving. Nothing you write will matter unless it moves the human heart, said the poet A. D. Hope. And the heart that you must move is corrupt, depraved, and desperate for your love.

P.S. I've been thinking about what my friend said - and I think she's right. There on the trail, on that lovely afternoon, I felt rage and intolerance as I saw that couple approach. But how they choose to live, if no one is being harmed, is none of my business. She wasn't walking meekly behind him; they were walking side by side with their baby, and he was telling her about hummingbirds. She has chosen to live with her face covered by a black cloth outside their home, or he has chosen for her. I don't agree with this choice; it offends me. But it is her life, their life, their faith, and I should not judge it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Watching the Tonys

It's Sunday night, and I'm watching the Tony Awards, the best awards show on television. As I watch, I swear I won't bother with the Oscars ever again; these people are real actors, they know how to talk, how to pull in an audience, not just wear giant clothes. The show started with a hilarious song and dance routine by the host, Neal Patrick Harris, entitled, "Broadway's not just for gays (and Jews) any more." And it has gone on from there. My God, talented little Daniel Radcliffe, our favourite wizard, singing and dancing in a zoot suit - spectacular.

What's especially thrilling is that two plays I saw and raved about in London, during my travels in 2009 and 2010, are now on Broadway and up for awards tonight. Those of you who've followed this blog might recall my night watching the magnificent "War Horse" in London, when I was the only person in the reserved British audience to stand at the end, and had my legs smacked from behind by an old woman with a cane. "I can't see!" she complained, as I stood clapping madly and alone. It was an unforgettable night in the theatre, and I'm glad Americans think so too.

And "Jerusalem" by Jez Butterworth, starring Mark Rylance - some of the best writing ever, too bad it was in the running against "War Horse" tonight for Best New Play. There's no question that "Jerusalem" is a far better play, brilliantly brave and ambitious, a torrent of words and ideas, but also far more difficult, even for an English audience, not to mention an American one. So "War Horse" won, not the correct choice, but a worthy one.

The obituaries went by, loud applause for those who've gone, and I am glad and grateful that I was once part of this ragtag brother- and sisterhood, a member of the family. I do not regret that I'm not a full-fledged member any more. But how I honour them and their work.

So to Brucie and Nicky and Kate and Brent and all of you - a kiss for you. And for Mark Rylance, one of the most brilliant actors I've ever seen on stage, who just won "Best Actor in a play" and gave, as my son said, "the best acceptance speech I've ever heard" - about how to walk through walls.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

tectonic plates

What I bought second-hand today - a real sign, heavy, which says "Parking for Golfers Only - Reserved for the 19th Hole." It's a housewarming present for my son, when he moves into his new place. And a tin painted gecko for my daughter, who has two real ones. They took 10 minutes to find and cost $7.00 for both.

A cloudy Saturday. I spent an hour at 6 a.m. listening to the piercing, buzz-saw-like cries of two sparrow hawks right outside my window, one in a tree and one in the ivy, cawing back and forth to each other. A high-level meeting at dawn on a Saturday morning - this must be Toronto.

Great news - my house's water was tested, and we are over the safe level of lead content! Hooray!

Seriously, it is good news - two parts per million over the acceptable level is not enough to be frantic about, but since it is over, the city has put the house on a priority list to replace the old pipes. The city's new pipes will eventually join my new pipes under the big dirt pile in the front, and I can finally start to put the place to rights.

While he was doing the work, my plumber John - and if you need a great, reliable, quirky plumber, just ask me for his info - saw me eating dinner and remarked that he had the same plates - Adams English ironstone with a folky blue and red pattern called Lancaster painted around the rim. We've used these plates since 1983 or 4. "Mine belonged to my parents," said John. "Of course, I had to get new plates because those aren't microwaveable."
"What?" I croaked.
"You have to have plates that are safe in the microwave," he said.

Oh my. I told this to my son. "I've used those plates all my life, Ma," he said. "Countless dishes of spaghetti heated in the microwave. And Pizza Pockets. Oh the Pizza Pockets!"

I have enough to worry about without wondering what residue lives in our bodies from decades of these plates in the microwave. But I set out immediately to look at replacements. This felt like a grand adventure - buying plates, like a newlywed. I didn't find much at Sear's and was on my way to HomeSense when I dropped into the Bay, assuming their stuff would be too high end. Well, it was, but there was a sale on the most beautiful Villeroy and Boch wildflower pattern - at 25% off, still too expensive. But the saleman checked for me and his jaw dropped. "These plates are regularly $37.99," he said, "and now it says $10 each."
"I'll take six," I replied, "and six bowls and six small plates."
The manager had to be called, then HIS manager; the cash register, somehow, had made a mistake. But they couldn't do anything about it, so I have new microwaveable dishes of wildflowery beauty thanks to a mistake at the Bay. How lucky is that?

It's dusk, and I'm sitting watching the light fade with a leash on my arm - friends Lani and Maurice are here overnight from Stratford for an engagement party, and I am babysitting Bourbon, their beautiful Golden/German shepherd cross. We just went for a walk around the neighbourhood, where Bourbon showed me just how interesting are the bases of the lampposts - I'd not realized before. I have the leash on because he wants to make friends with the crabby cat, who does not, I repeat, NOT, want to make friends with him and might take his face off if he gets too close.

Even here, in this tranquil neck of the woods at dusk, there's potential for violence. Sad. I think I'll just seek comfort with a nice snack on one of my new plates. Or two.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

lots of satisfaction and a quibble or two

A car alarm is buzzing up the evening - in case it was just too quiet around here for a bit. I do not understand why car alarms go on for 20 minutes. Do the designers of these things really think a car thief is going to stand around for 20 minutes waiting for the noise to stop? Don't they think he'd take off in, say, the first two seconds, and so the next 19 minutes and 58 seconds are just designed to drive the neighbours mad? Hmmm?

We've had beautiful days, getting hotter - very hot tomorrow - and rain at night. There I was today in the garden, worrying about the health of the roses, fussing about whether this plant is in the right place, that one needs fertilizer ... and I realized that the garden is just another kid.

Monday was staff assembly day at my house: my fantastic cleaning lady Marisha, who comes once a month and pulls me from the mire, arrived, and the two of us were slogging around the house when John, the invaluable handyman arrived, to do various manly chores, and then reliable Dan, the painter, arrived to finish the holes in the basement where the plumber, who did not appear, had put in the new pipes. All I needed was Bill, the homeless guy who cleans the downspouts, and sweet Scott, who helps sometimes in the garden, and I'd have felt like the Queen of England.

At the end of the day, the house was sublime. I left a note for my dear son: "The house is CLEAN." This is not something a 27 year old young man who's six foot eight notices. Things like kitchen counters are too far from his eyeballs. In memory of the old days, he woke me up when he arrived home Tuesday morning, after much celebrating, at 3.30 a.m. My God, it took me back - more than a decade of disturbed sleep, thanks to my children the party animals. But in the end - I was always glad to know they were home. As I was again last night.

The shrieking just stopped. It should be illegal, that kind of blasted noise.

I had to take Keith Richard's "Life" back to the library today, again before I'd finished it. What a surprise - it's a great book. He's honest, vivid, funny, surprisingly generous and sensitive, and it's a lesson in the music of the time, on and on about the blues, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters ... and about the Stones being the anti-Beatles. Which they certainly were. Try to imagine Paul McCartney singing, "I can't get no satisfaction." Paul was getting lots of satisfaction, thank you very much. I didn't get to the part I've heard so much about, where Keith apparently denigrates Mick's private parts. That must be hard on a band.

In other news, I wrote a letter today to the GM of the Y about the bulletin board. I can't help it - it's important to me. There's a nice preamble, and then ...

I wonder if you understand what that bulletin board means to us. As a freelance writer, I go to the Women's Health Club as an oasis of sanity and a place where I have made invaluable contacts through the years, including some that have led to work and others to lasting friendships. The women there are of great interest to me - what they do and who they are. We are a vibrant, fascinating, talented bunch and have a great deal to offer each other.

If you insist on mashing that energy down, squashing it and blanching it and squeezing the life out of it, I, for one, can tell you that the Women's Health Club will have lost what makes it unique and valuable to me. Many of my friends have quit the Y to join trendier clubs, fancier clubs, ones, simply, closer to their homes. Before, I wouldn't consider doing that for the world: I adore the Y and everything it stands for, and have often written about this in my blog and in newspaper and magazine articles. (If you'd like copies, please let me know.) But if the Y is starting to make petty rules that take away our connection to each other - to the community, ironically, that we are - then I too might just as well go somewhere else.

All this for a bulletin board? Yes. I am a firm believer in the messy democracy of bulletin boards. It's an important way to communicate with strangers. With each other.

My parents worked for world peace and I, for free-ranging bulletin boards. It's Tuesday night, the house is still clean and I've done my little bit for humanity. Satisfaction.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sunday in the sun

One of the best days of the year in Cabbagetown, this Sunday when the Ride for Heart fundraising event closes down the nearby Don Valley Parkway. First thing, as I woke up, I could sense the stillness, the absence of gasoline-powered behemoths. I could hear the birds more clearly, smell the sweeter air.

So the important thing to do this Sunday, every year, is to get down to the Don Valley Trail, beside the Parkway which is usually flooded with speeding cars and becomes instead a pathway for bicycles. I walked beside the muddy river, where in past years I've seen deer and beaver - today, only mud. But so many birds chattering, so much green, wildflowers, such quiet in the heart of the metropolis - pure joy.

Many others were also walking (or biking or running) on the trail, including a couple with their baby in a pram - he in cap and long embroidered shirt, and she in a hijab, covered head to toe in black except for a small slit for her eyes, which were beautiful. As I passed, the couple was talking, in English, about hummingbirds.

A Muslim friend of mine was offended not long ago when I wrote here about my objection to the hijab - but I have to tell you, today again, out in the brilliant sunshine and glorious air of June, to see a woman shrouded in black cloth, a woman with no face - again, I found it extremely offensive. I'm sorry if my finding it offensive is offensive. I have absolutely no problem with nuns in habits or women and girls who cover their hair or their bodies. But covering the face goes against everything our society is about, the freedom to communicate and to be who you are. It says, I am the property of this man. He owns me, and he wants to hide me.

I think it's horrible. But then, I think kosher food, too, is ridiculous, and all restrictive archaic rules. Particularly ones which I see as woman-hating.

Okay. Let's let this one go.

I returned home from the walk to find that my son had brought home my favourite meal from his restaurant, a gift from Karen, the chef: meat loaf, mashed potatoes, veg and mushroom gravy. Divine! And then, more food. I took the long streetcar ride out to the Beaches for an Indian lunch with dear old friends Terry and Anne-Marie and a walk on the beach. A heavenly, perfect day, sunny with a breeze, and every single person in Toronto out playing a sport, walking, biking, running, shopping, drinking beer, celebrating Vancouver's win yesterday, mourning Federer's loss this morning - well no, perhaps that was only my mother, such a Fed fan. Anyway, you get the idea - we were all out there, in the sun.

Later, at home, I received a phone call from the woman at the Y who rejected my writing workshop flyer. She's of course very nice - she works at the Y, after all - and explained that there's a new policy preventing solicitation for any "for profit" enterprises. Ads are allowed on the bulletin board only for "community-based and charitable events."

It's not often that I feel like a base capitalist peddling my suspect wares, but I did then.

I suggested a "Wild West" bulletin board, in which those of us struggling to make a minuscule (shudder) profit could at least display our goods. The chances of that, however, are slim.

It's dusk, the birds chatter, my laundry is drying outside, the garden is as lush as can be. Though the Parkway is open again and the vroom of cars competes with the birds, still, I celebrate the community's, and my, morning of blessed peace. I celebrate the woman with the beautiful eyes and hope that one day, she will be allowed, she will claim the right, to walk out into the world with a face.

A perfect Sunday in June

The Don Valley Parkway this morning - it's the Ride for Heart.

Along the Don Valley Trail, ten minutes from my front door.

The Don River, barely visible,
in brown

Toronto's Beach - no swimming allowed but pretty great nonetheless; it was actually packed but I couldn't shoot that direction, into the sun.

My feet, which may be slightly too big but which take me everywhere in their perfect Mephistos, my favourite sandals ever. Thank you, feet.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

boringly normal with a hint of battle

Nice to have a rainy day today - lets the plants relax, and us too, a day to sit inside and vegetate. And hope my very expensive drains and pumps are doing their job.

A most satisfying day yesterday - got up at 6.30, got to work by 7.15, wrote till 10, began to edit the pieces of a student coming later, did Tony's class at the Y midday, bought a book at Doubletake that I can't tell you about because it's the perfect birthday present for a friend who reads this blog. More editing, then the student and I sat in the garden delving into words and thoughts. And then next door to my French friend Monique, who holds a francophone salon on Friday nights. This time, two members brought dinner for us all with them, and we talked and ate till after 10.

We have had, sadly, to consider the distinct possibility that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, despite the fact that his financial savvy apparently saved the euro, is an abuser and crazy man. In the old days, men like Jack Kennedy could have sex with movie stars with no one any the wiser, except, perhaps, his wife. And now, a politician blows his nose and it's all over the Internet in minutes and on Jon Stewart that night.

One of Monique's regulars is a Russian Jew born in the gulag - in a village in Siberia where there were only women, children and the elderly, and Cossacks. "I grew up in the Middle Ages," he says, sleeping on straw in a hut with a dirt floor. Then his family was forced to emigrate, to Germany, Poland, then to Canada, where he became a millionaire and lived on the Bridal Path. He told us that Jewish children were not allowed to attend the Russian schools in his village, which was a blessing because the elderly Jews who taught in the Jewish school were so learned that he received a phenomenal education. He does not understand the modern world, though, the mores of today.

Write your story, I begged, as I always do. He looked dubious. I'll keep nagging.

Then home, to get into bed with Keith Richards and read his "Life," which is fantastic, beautifully written, hilarious, evocative.

No handbags on trains, Parisian goodies, excitement or travel. Just a good, solid, interesting, productive day. Sorry.

PS No, that's not true. I forgot that I had an aggravating encounter at the Y, of all places, where I go for tranquillity. The other day, as I have for years, I brought in a flyer for my garden workshop to post on the bulletin board there; several Y members have been happy participants. Usually, the woman at reception writes on your Y number and posts whatever you want posted. But now, it seems, anything to be posted has to go to the Program Director for approval.

All my bells go off; it's a short jump, for me, from having to have all postings approved to all out repression and fascism. Yes, I'm a bit melodramatic, as you know.

So off went my flyer for approval, and two days later, it came back with a note in the corner: "Can not post." My flyer was turned down for posting at the Y! Why? The receptionist had no answer. A few years ago, I would have melted into a frothing pool of rage. Now, though there were some hot bubbles in my gut, I just asked nicely for the name and number of the woman who had said no. I called and left her a nice message, telling her that I have posted this same flyer for years and that I would like very much, O so very much, to come in and discuss this issue with her. I'll bring another copy of the flyer - "to refresh your memory," I said.

But try to hold myself back as I did, full-scale war was breaking out in my heart. I was imagining rallying all my run-fit buddies for a noisy protest. Because, I realized, I would be unable to post a notice about my grievances on the bulletin board.

I am a huge believer in the messy democracy of bulletin boards. They tried once before to get rid of ours, because, I think the reasoning went, it was an eyesore. I was one of many members up in arms, and our bulletin board came back. People post cards, notes to each other, flyers about art shows, ads for selling stuff - all kinds of mess on that board.

But luckily, so far, members are being saved from the ravages of a dangerous writing workshop. Phew! Good thing that manager is on the case.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

the best so far this year

Sweet sweet heaven, the most perfect place on earth - my garden on June 2, 2011, 5.45 p.m., sunny with a fresh breeze and birdsong. This was the first long work-in-the-garden day - Scott who helps me sometimes came in the morning, and we spent two hours transplanting and planting, tidying and edging and staking up and cutting back - yes, cutting back already, because in the last week, everything has gone mad. The roses are exploding. What's especially wonderful is seeing the plants who survived the dark, boring winter inside thriving in their bright new sky-blue room - the bushy hibiscus and geranium, the oleander now eight feet tall, the jasmine with tentacles reaching out everywhere, and the camellia, my gift from Mr. Choy, covered with buds ready to burst. I'm looking down the vista now at green, green, green with splashes of colour from the impatiens we planted today - and watching as parent birds feed their squawking young, who are hanging onto branches and electric wires.

In the middle of last night, there was a madness of sirens, for hours it seemed, screaming in the night, and so I awake with them. My son has moved in for a month, with his baggage literally and figuratively; he is a joy, he is very tall, he needs and takes a lot of room. There is shaving cream and Old Spice deodorant in the bathroom. How lucky I am to have this time with him, perhaps our last time of living together like this, the sweet young man who cooked me supper last night and cleaned the kitchen today, the very long tattooed person lying in my living room, eating take-out Thai food and watching 17 channels before going to work.

And in 3/4 of an hour, my Thursday class comes, we will sit in the garden and think about words. Last night at Ryerson, a class suddenly leapt into the unknown, took huge risks, one after the other, wrote so bravely and beautifully that we all gasped together.

Who could be luckier than a woman who loves her work, loves her children, has lived to see another June 2, and has a garden to sit in and celebrate her gifts?