Saturday, June 30, 2012

Happy Canada Day weekend

I'm looking forward to a quiet weekend in the nearly empty city. 
Here's some adorableness for your viewing pleasure. Nearly six weeks old! Too bad he doesn't have more personality. 

Went to the market this morning and couldn't resist dropping into the Sally Ann on the way back. The fruits of my labours - actual fruits, veggies, eggs, a new translation of "Don Quixote" and a little red leather purse from France. My kind of shopping.

Happy Canada Day to you all! 
Enjoy this version of O Canada using Molson Canadian beer products.

Also - I just read Leah McLaren's "Globe" column about a new book called "Single: Arguments for the uncoupled," which shows just how couple-centric our culture is. Hooray for the power of one! This morning, getting ready to go to the market, I thought about calling my dear friend and neighbour who also loves to go to the market, to see if she wanted to come too. But then I thought, that'd mean being with her, talking, sharing. Why? I love going to the market alone, doing what I have to do, and going home. Bicycling home, alone. I am a profoundly single person and very happy that way. Glad there's a book about us weirdos.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

a cottage swim, and Nora E. redux

I went to a friend's cottage today, had a very refreshing swim in the little lake, wandered in the woods, and then we had lunch by the water. And the great thing was - I got there by subway.

In fact, my friend lives downtown in Forest Hill, at St. Clair and Spadina. This is her unique and beautiful garden oasis. Hard to believe you're in the heart of the city. Now I'm looking at my own turf and thinking, could I squeeze a little lake in there somewhere?

Excitement this morning - up at 6.30, I opened my email to find a note from an editor at the London Evening Standard. Could I write 100-200 words on Nora Ephron for a special page they were preparing about her? I Googled to check - he was real, must have happened upon that brief mention in yesterday's post. Stopping only to make a necessary cup of coffee, I got to work immediately and sent it off half an hour later. Only after banging it out did I stop to calculate. He needed the copy by 10 a.m. London time. 7 a.m. Toronto time is noon London time. So much for my brief moment in the London Evening Standard.

Here's what I wrote, a quick riff on what I'd already written in the blog:

Only Nora Ephron could turn our universal irritation about the aging process – the growing list of things we can no longer be, do or remember - into not one best-selling book, but two. Reading her latest acerbic pieces, and listening to her rant with comedic fury in interviews, I wondered if she was truly that angry about something as inevitable as getting old, or if her snit about aging was a highly successful schtick she was using to keep us entertained. Her mother urged her to view everything in life as potential comic material, and she did.

Though Ephron wrote with bitter and fluid wit about many important things, it’s her rueful take on aging, the fuss about bad hair and drooping neck, that’s being quoted in obituaries. And yet, despite her public complaints about wattles and wrinkles, Nora Ephron remained strikingly beautiful. A woman who got enormous comic mileage out of the pains of aging was herself ageless, until the end.

There's a great outpouring about her, as there should be. I myself can't add much, because I was not the huge fan that many women writers are. Absolutely, I admired her courage and phenomenal energy and had many great laughs, thanks to her wit. I admired how she got the perfect revenge on a bad husband, skewering him in both a book and a film. Apparently she was generous and kind. But I disliked what I thought was the shallow, sloppy sentimentality of "Love, Loss and What I Wore," and I really thought she should shut up about her neck. She said the good thing about dying was that you don't have to wash your hair any more. And I thought, Nora, get a wig. Get a buzz cut. Let it go. What a lot of time you must have wasted in salons. 

Though God knows, she produced more in a week than I have in a lifetime, so I should shut up too. And I will. The best line is a tweet from Denis Leary: "Nora Ephron died. Christopher Hitchens is about to find out just how bleeping funny women really are." 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

my first pepper

Had to pick it this small to save it from squirrels. Had it for lunch in an omelette.
And that is not an inflated belly button sticking out at my waist, it's the tie to my gardening pants, thank you very much.

Nora Ephron and getting old

Tonight is the last Ryerson class of the spring term, so tomorrow, except for my one day garden workshop and various editing jobs, that's it for paid employment until September. So I'll have lots of time and absolutely no money - the ironies of the freelance life. As I wrote a few days ago, a writer is always at work, though the actual making of money is in a separate and mostly distant realm. No wonder my business-type friends cannot comprehend how we survive. And neither, sometimes, can I. And yet here I am, a freelance pauper in the most beautiful garden in Toronto. If not the world.

Speaking of writers - what a shock to hear about Nora Ephron, that witty writer dead at 71. It's a shame that the two obits I've read so far have chosen to quote from her latest material, about aging, rather than the sharp, funny, bitter stuff she wrote earlier. I wished she'd stop going on about the wattles on her neck and how much time it took to get her hair done - First World problems, as my daughter would say, particularly New York problems. Her musings obviously struck a chord because those rueful books were bestsellers, but I hoped she'd move on. Instead, of all the many wonderfully clever things she wrote, those words about old necks and bad hair are what people will remember her by. Not fair.

I guess, though, it was groundbreaking for a wealthy female artist to write so honestly about the pains of aging. This morning it was hard, as it has now become, to get the rings onto my swelling fingers. There's a new hideous mole on my upper chest that's worryingly dark - should I call the doctor? My ankle and knees have more or less healed after my fall, but they creak, they ache, they mutter ominously.

No! I will not go on about getting old. It's Wednesday, Carol's class, I'll run around the gym with my friends. My hair, to which I pay as little attention as possible, is emerging from the pale brown mist as a stern and steely grey, and my neck is pretty damn fine. It's true that in those pictures Anna took of me holding baby Eli, below, all I could see, at first, were the deep wrinkles on my cheeks and, yes, the shrivelly state of my neck. C'est la vie. Time to go into the garden and smell the roses - literally - and pick some lettuce and a tomato - yesterday, harvested my first very small pepper! - then off to the Y to puff and pant and celebrate being 61. And the proud grandmother of a baby boy who is now not only smiling but smiling EARLY, as his proud mother points out.

Peace to you, Nora. You were a brave and beautiful woman, and an inspiration as a strong, successful writer. Your acerbic honesty will be missed.

Friday, June 22, 2012

writing workshop only 3 weeks away!

Dear writers: I have cancelled the August writing workshop, so this is the only one I'll be running this summer. I ask that you please let me know now if you are planning to attend. 
Many thanks, and I look forward to seeing you there.
best, beth

A one-day writing adventure.

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

Spend a summer day learning to trust your voice and tell your stories. Listen to your creative self. Gain confidence and perspective from friendly 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 18 years and at U of T for 6.

When: Sunday July 15, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m
Cost: $165 for the day, including food for thought and actual food (and wine). Register early; limited to 10.

Where: Beth’s secret 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.

summertime and the livin' is busy

I've been taking a break, bloggees. Perhaps a needed break for you too, from the endless daily exposé of BK's life. Things have seemed very busy, though I'm not sure if anything was accomplished.

Well, I did write a long essay to send to the "Modern Love" column at the NYTimes. After 28 drafts, I thought it was pretty damn good, and then made the mistake of showing it to Wayson. Who, of course, hacked at it with his pencil and said to me exactly the things I say to my students - animate! More detail. Risk more. Go deeper. "Easy for me to say," he said easily, which is exactly what I say to my students - and, I'm sure, what his editor says to him.

So - drafts 29 to 43, coming up.

On Monday, I went to see John Fleming, an accent coach and wonderful young man who helped me get my mouth around the wide flat cadences of Liverpool. Hard; much work to be done. From Tuesday through yesterday night was a record-breaking heat wave; your correspondent somehow survived struggling through the wall of smog to two writing classes and the Y, once, though not much else.

Yesterday, the hottest yet, I rented an AutoShare car for the whole day, to go across town to pick up Anna and Eli, then take them to the far north of the city for Eli's circumcision. I know, many disapprove, and tempers run high about this subject. As I have stated before, my father worked in the MASH units during the war; one of the things they did most was to circumcise soldiers in agony, who in difficult circumstances had been unable to keep themselves clean. That, plus the powerful statistics about the incidence of AIDS infections being halved with men who are circumcised, plus undoubtedly a residue of atavistic Jewish sentiment, and there you go. The office was full of baby boys, many from Muslim parents. These days, it's done with anaesthetic. It's still rough, and I can understand why people forego it for their sons. Eli slept through it, however.

Driving home, we were stuck in traffic with a hungry baby in a heat wave, and then we couldn't get the car seat out of the car. I was too distraught to take my usual 197 pictures of my grandson, and by the time I got back to my place in rush hour, was completely drained. I so rarely drive these days that I'm nervous in thousands of pounds of steel, plus feeling the pressure, now, of driving the most precious cargo in the world. Terrifying.

Off to Riverdale Farm for their fundraising picnic, and then home for my Thursday home class, seeing this wonderful, inspiring group for the first time in ages. Today, my salad at lunch was lettuce and tomatoes from my own garden, thrilling. Tonight, a RunFit fundraiser at the Y, tomorrow, my dear friend Annie's daughter's wedding in the country. So much fundraising and celebrating going on! It must be summer.

Monday, June 18, 2012

cute pussycats from FB

My friend Bruce has taught me how to download stuff from Facebook. Now I'll never need to write anything ever again. Just lots of cute pictures. I love this one.


Paul McCartney does my math homework

It's Paul McCartney's 70th birthday today. Talk about redefining age. When Paul and I were young, being 70 meant you were on the verge of death. And now it means that on his world tours, during his nearly three-hour long 36 song sets, he wobbles a bit on the high notes.

Dearest Paul, I have loved you since January 1964 - with a few breaks, yes, the late seventies and eighties when I was busy with my life and you were busy with Wings. Though I did not approve of Linda singing with your band, I didn't mind her as your wife by then, wasn't insanely jealous as I was of poor Jane Asher, who appears in all my stories as a vicious alcoholic. (Once, she threw herself into the lap of my then boyfriend as we all sat in a night club. "Thish guy," she slurred, "knowsh how to shatisfy a woman!" Heartbroken Paul apologized and drove me home; we fell in love and got married. Which was how many of the stories ended.)

In the nineties, Paul, you sang your way back into my life, where you belong. It's a fine sweet love now, comforting, based on music and our shared past. Truly, our relationship has been so rich and intimate, it feels as if we've known each other since childhood. It's hard to believe there's someone so vital to my existence whom I've never met.

As I said, I wrote lots of stories about you in 1964 that I'm thinking of turning into a storytelling evening of some kind. To that end, I have an appointment today at 1 with an accent coach. For some reason, I can do a passable Irish accent and Scottish and others, but I cannot do a Liverpuddlian accent. And you talk a lot in my stories.

As in the one below, which I wrote in March 1964, when I was 13 years old and you, my dear Paul, were 21 and sitting at the desk beside me in my tiny green bedroom in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I wish you the happiest of birthdays, old friend. Thanks for helping me get through my young life, my old one too, and for a lifetime of joy.


            “Oh, I can’t,” I groaned. “I just can’t!” 
            Paul looked up from the mag he was reading while waiting for me to finish my homnework so we could take a walk. 
            “What’s up?” (‘Oop’ in Liverpuddlian.) 
            “Homework. Look at it. I’ll go nuts,” I wailed. He marched over and took me by the shoulders.
            “Now, listen. Homework is there, it’s got to be done. Even dreamy minds like yours ‘ave got to do homework.” He looked at my books, then grimaced. “I’ll ‘elp.”
            I shoved my History at him and for the next ten minutes he gently and patiently went over all the facts and dates, making me repeat them till I knew them by heart. The time flew by and I nearly forgot all my History when I saw him sitting there, so seriously bent over my book, his hair falling into his eyes. And then he’d look up, pretending to be severe and scoled when I forgot, or send me into convulsions of laughter imitating the teachers, or sit gazing at me, as I recited, with his dark, velvety, merry eyes.
            We finished it, and began Math. Here he too was weak and so we learned together. We puzzeled through problems, argued through axioms and decided, through diameters, that it was time for our walk. When we’d returned (he had several smudges of lipstick on his face) we continued the math. Again my heart missed a beat as I watched him. He sat in the chair with both long legs sprawled out before him, holding the pen in one hand, a ruler in the other. His hair, tousled and gleaming, again flopped into his eyes, so he kept pushing it away distractedly. He read the problems aloud in his soft voice, and then sat back in the chair sunk in thought. Suddenly he’d sit bolt upright, grin triumphantly, do a few complicated things with the ruler, and then, proud to bursting, he’d explain the mass of lines on the page, looking seriously at me. But his eyes danced – oh, how they laughed!
            I’ve never done my homework so quickly or pleasantly, and my Math and History marks have been high ever since, for as I do them, I can see him – Paul, the mathematician and Paul the historian and Paul the scholar, Paul the boy, and Paul, the boy I love.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The emperor has nothing to say: "Spades" by Robert Lepage

My fellow theatre-goers are still in the theatre, while I'm already at home writing to you. I just walked out of Robert Lepage's "Spades." Three hours without an intermission, so that means there's still ten minutes to go. I don't understand. The man has an incredible imagination, there's no doubt about that. He knows how to do magic tricks on stage, this time with a phenomenal set like a spaceship with bits all over the place that rise and fall - we're in a casino, we're in a tent in the desert, we're in a swimming pool, all evocatively portrayed by this amazing set. The actors, too, incredible, playing myriad roles.

So why am I here and not there? Because to me, this play is saying nothing. At least, nothing I don't know. It's saying lots of important things: war is hell, war is about power and control, and being a gay soldier makes things worse. Gambling is addictive and destructive. Being an illegal worker in the States is harsh if you're sick. Hmmm, what else? Things whiz by about string theory and George Bush as a villain - I'm okay with that. But all of that flash and dazzle - all those doors rising up out of nowhere, just so someone can knock on them and then they vanish again - in aid of a script that says absolutely nothing we don't know. This is a play about a very clever set and the director's very clever use of it. And I say phooey.

Some of the reviewers are saying this is a simple show in comparison with Lepage's others. Simple! Pity the poor stage manager, there must be a thousand cues or more. Cue door rising, door falling, cue smoke for the swimming pool. There's one brief scene where the illegal maid is having a meal and arguing with a co-worker; for that tiny scene, tables were put up, chairs, a huge counter covered with real food - insane. I remember the first time I saw this man's work and was stunned - the fluidity and inventiveness of his staging was breathtaking. But it was in aid of saying something. I'd rather imagine a door and hear words that feed my soul.

$65, to see a set. Sometimes I think it would be better not to have such a critical mind - I'd be happier. But dumber. Well, at least I saw one Luminato show. The show I should have seen, I couldn't get a ticket for - the tribute Friday night to Kate McGarrigle. By the time my life settled enough that I realized I wanted to go, it was sold out. It sounds wonderful, including not only her family but Emmylou Harris, Bruce Cockburn, Peggy Seeger and others. My kind of show - saying something about music and joy and a full, rich life.

It's Father's Day, and the baby boy is with his mother and his father. Happy day to them all. I'm at home, muttering to myself about sound and fury signifying nothing. Time for a glass of wine. Oh yes - alcoholism is not good for you, the play says that too.

If any of you who've seen it disagree with me, please let me know. I'd love to hear why - convince me. And please - tell me how it ends. In a minute or less.

P.S. And then my basement tenant called to say she'd just got home to find water dripping through her ceiling and soaking the rug. Water water always with the water in my life - one disaster after another. This one wasn't as drastic as others - the tube that connects the ice-maker in my fridge to the water pipes under the sink had developed a hole and was spraying everywhere. Luckily, my handyman John was home and he talked me through turning off the connection. Half an hour of mopping up.

Back to work.

Friday, June 15, 2012


 Beginning a preoccupation that will last, perhaps, until the end of his life
Where all goodness comes from
All goodness - my Madonna.

one of my favourite words: bookish

My friends, I am making a serious effort not to accumulate any more possessions, particularly books. As God is my witness - IS God my witness? - I am trying. Yet today, I was walking innocently along Gerrard Street toward home when kids waved a sign in my face: "GIANT BOOK GIVE AWAY." "There are thousands!" they cried. "Go on in!"

I swear that this is true. I'd seen the book giveaway when it started a few days before and assumed it was for my poorer neighbours. Now I thought, well, what can be the harm, they've taken all the good books, I'll just stay a sec.

Half an hour later, I staggered out. Under the limit, which was 25 books, but still, loaded down, some to give away to students, and a few books - hardcovers! - I'd wanted myself. "Stet," by Diana Athill, about her career as an editor. "The Paris Wife," about Hemingway and his first wife Hadley living in the Latin Quarter, just down the street from my own Paris flat. "The Hare with Amber Eyes" by Edmund de Waal, a classic memoir I'd taken from the library but am thrilled to own. And "Favorite Garden Tips" by Marjorie Nichol, among many others. How could I resist? And now to find time to read them, along with the newspapers and the "New Yorker" and all the other books stacked up everywhere. Oh for a desert isle.

When I was assaulted with free books, I was on my way back from across town, my weekly visit with the delicious Eli. I was hungry to hug and squeeze and smell and watch him, and had my wish, for this time he was awake nearly my whole visit. He was asleep in his stroller when Anna and I met at a pretty café on Sorauren, so we had lunch mostly in peace until he woke and we took turns holding him. But then he was hungry, even though he'd eaten before leaving home, and we had to hustle back. I gave him a bottle of pumped breast milk and then we played bouncy; he's very strong, his legs and neck amazingly sturdy considering that he's only 3 1/2 weeks old. Is that possible? Surely he's been part of our lives for much longer than that.

And his mother, so very beautiful she takes my breath away. So confident and loving. You are the best mother, I told her today, in the history of the world. This is entirely objective. I absolutely think it's true.

We are having a heavenly spring, not too hot yet. And all the anxiety-producing matters in my own small life have settled down for now, she said, touching wood. Baby could not be better, and my mother is reluctantly settling into a great new life. The roofer spent days fixing the roof and now I can sleep in my own bed, without bucket. The front steps are newly painted, and though my toes are still purple, my ankle is much better, and I have moved things around in the hall, so if I tumble down the stairs again, I'll have more room and a little mat at the bottom to land on. Both classes are blooming into honesty and craft. I received a call informing me that a polyp that had been removed was benign. My bank manager Dave's team won the competition, though the other team did too - it was a tie, but Dave was the star. Riverdale Farm is saved, for now. Luminato, the wonderful arts festival, is blazing through the city, and in some kind of record-breaking feat, this year I may manage to catch not a single bit of it.

I'm working on essays.  I love essays - so manageable. One big disappointment - I've only just realized that Monday is Paul McCartney's 70th birthday. I should have written something to be published or aired that day, but was too disorganized. Paul, I'll be ready for the 75th. Friends just came back from the States with a present for me - a special edition of "Time", all about my Beatle: "The legend rocks on at 70." Pictures and stories. Be still my beating heart.

If only I do not think about politics - an article in this week's "New Yorker," about a vicious Southern pastor from the far right of the Tea Party, dedicated to defeating Obama, and he just may succeed; the sound of Harper's vile voice on the radio; the news from Syria, from Greece. And then the news that the Ontario Government has enshrined the rights of transgendered people in our constitution. A tiny justice. We'll take it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

News and a call for submissions

Sad: a little piece in the paper about a man who's hitchhiking across the U.S. for a memoir entitled "The Kindness of America." He was sitting on a highway in Montana waiting for a ride "when a man drove up, rolled down his window, shot him in the arm and drove off."

Sadder: to be a Canadian right now, as this loathsome government forces through their omnibus bill, containing some of the most retrograde, repressive, repulsive legislation this country has ever seen. Shame shame shame!

Glad: okay, calm down, let's focus on the good news. Heard a great new word today: banksters. How apt. And - featured in my supper salad tonight - my own fresh-picked lettuce, and better lettuce I've never had. For dessert, stewed rhubarb from the same patch. Some of the other veggies are struggling; the swiss chard is wilted and black. But the lettuce - all good.

Thunderstorms predicted; the roofer had to cover everything with a tarp again. But so far, nothing but sweet, fresh breezes.

My bank manager is on "Canada Sings" tonight at 10, with his group "The Bank Notes." Don't miss it.

And, for you writers ...
We accept submissions in all forms, all genres, all pitches, all ideas, all year long: essays, stories, poems, audio, video, basket-weaving, reportage, philosophication, etc.
So send us some work! Half the magazines in the country might be on hiatus for the summer, but we aren't, and if you submit by July 15 we promise you'll hear back from us before the new semester starts and/or the threat of winter fills you with an insurmountable melancholy sometime in mid-August.
Better's length guidelines are loose—see the categories for a ballpark on how much to send—but in general, please be kind to your editors and we will be kind to you: if you send us your suite of four novels or your shot-by-shot claymation interpretation of Ingmar Bergman's whole filmography, we might not be enthusiastic in our response.
Our first issue is due out in September. In the meantime, click the images at left to read more about what we want from the worldview slides of the magazine's grotesque birthlaugh at your pretentious self until you crysubmit to us, or follow us on Facebook.
Your editors at large,
Sean Bishop, Laura Eve Engel,
Rachael Morrison, & Sophie Rosenblum /

P.S. Sorry, it's sliding off the page and I can't pull it back. Well, you get the idea.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

the beach in Cabbagetown

Now this is true beauty - I'm on a beach by the sea, watching the sun disappear below the horizon as the waves roll in and splash against the rocks. Love that rhythmic roar and the raucous, sad cry of the gulls.

No, I'm sitting in front of a cosy fire, listening to the hiss and splatter of wood as it burns, comforting and familiar, if not aromatic.

No, I'm watching an aquarium, elegant tropical fish, pink, turquoise, rich royal blue, floating in and out of green mossy crevices ...

Actually, I'm watching channels 574, 575 and 576 on my High Definition TV. I'm back to the sunset by the beach now. Who knew that one day I'd actually find something worth watching on TV?

Today, as you may have gathered, I finally got around to calling Rogers, to find out why I suddenly wasn't getting certain channels. Apparently they'd sent out letters and warnings about a change at the end of May, but some of us weren't paying attention. Everything has to be digital now, not analogue, whatever that means. Ironically, I've had a Rogers digital box for ages now and have never used it. Wasn't using the high def function on my TV either. Just keep it simple, turn it on, watch Jon Stewart or Downton Abbey or Sherlock Holmes, turn it off.

But today the Rogers guy had to come and fix things. So now I'm using the cable box and the high def - and it's true, the colours are brighter, the wrinkles are wrinklier, the makeup is so much more evident - way better! And I can go right up to Channel 576 and watch a sunset. But what I don't get any more without paying extra, I discovered after the guy left, are Channels 30 to 60, which includes Bravo and ... wipe the tears from my eyes - the Comedy Channel. Jon Stewart. NOOOOOO.

What will she do, folks? Will she suck it up and call Rogers and pay even MORE per month to get her beloved Jon? Or will she make do with the sunset and watching Jon a week late on her computer? Stay tuned. Literally.

Last night, before all this TV hoo-ha, Mr. Choy and I watched the Tony Awards. So much better than the Oscars - those people are real actors. Half of them seemed to be weeping about dead parents and waving their Tonys at the ceiling. So theatrical. Boos to the idiot who said that the scene from "Jesus Christ Superstar" came from the Stanford Shakespeare Festival, instead of Stratford. A lot of teeth grinding up here over that one.

One producer made a beautiful speech about the people who create the magic of theatre, including the audience. Yes yes yes, I thought. When it works, there's nothing like the theatre. It's just that it doesn't work that often. So many components to go wrong.

The sun getting pretty low now, the sky hot pink, palm fronds waving in the evening breeze.

Made dinner tonight for old friend Suzette who's in the film biz and knows the most amazing people. We discussed film, TV, fashion, travel, mutual friends, health, children, my book, her work ... didn't shut up once, except to put in a bite of food. A delicious friendship. Now it's pouring, and you'll be happy to know that the leaky roof above my bed is almost fixed. There's a new coating that's not dry yet, so the poor roofer came back in the pouring rain to nail a tarp down. I will sleep in my own bed tonight for the first time in a week. But there'll be a bucket nearby, just in case.

My mother has encountered an elderly man (90?) in her new residence who has Parkinson's, but who also loves watching tennis and likes Nadal and Federer. I sense the beginning of a beautiful friendship. And the baby, 21 days old, had his first playdate today with a four-month old just a bit longer and heavier. And the puffy bits below my ankle are now a pleasant shade of pale grey with a tinge of eggplant.

The sun just dipped below the horizon, and suddenly we're on another beach and the sun is once again high and going down. The Sisyphean sunset. Time to watch the fish. I'll save the crackling fire till winter. Oh, modern life is packed with marvels, is it not?

Friday, June 8, 2012

save these dates

On July 11th, I am going to be part of an event called Raconteurs, which is a storytelling evening something like the Moth in the States. It's at Nobody Writes to the Colonel at Bathurst and College, and the topic is Music. If you can guess what I will be talking about during my seven minutes on-stage, you win a dime! The evening is cheap and fun. Bring a date.

And of course I wouldn't miss this, in support of my beloved farm:

Join us to celebrate the Summer Solstice with a
Picnic in the Paddock
A Fundraiser for Riverdale Farm

Date:             June 21, 2012
Time:            5:30 PM to 10:00 PM
Location:     Riverdale Farm (201 Winchester Street)

We are celebrating the Summer Solstice with a picnic in the paddock at Riverdale Farm.
Bring your own picnic or purchase barbecue on site. There will be games and programs for the kids, tables for dining, music, wine, beer and cheer!

Please buy your tickets or make a donation now. The Riverdale Farm Coalition will be presenting their Business Plan to City Council on Tuesday June 12, and we want to be able to report on how much money has been raised, to demonstrate support for the Farm. Tickets for this fundraising event are fully tax receiptable.

To buy tickets on-line, please visit:

For more information on the event, and the status of the Riverdale Farm Coalition's work to support the future of the Riverdale Farm, please visit:


 Drunk bee on a rose - he clung to a petal and stayed all day...
 ... and yet had lots of choice. But no, it was that one, in the upper left corner, that he loved with all his little bee heart.
 Today's bouquet from the garden.
My grandson,  Eli Churchill.

wisdom and plastic bags

Our mayor. How is it possible for a man to have spent so many years in the public eye and still be so very limited and dumb? The plastic bag hooha is unbelievable. I remember my British grandmother setting out for the shops; as she left the flat, automatically over her arm went the sturdy market basket, into which went all her purchases. For bigger shops, she towed her shopping cart. The bag whiners need a British grandmother and a reality check.

On the other hand, the blogger whined ... what will we do with our wet waste? And the kitty litter? This evening I opened my compost bucket, lined, as always, with a plastic bag, and there inside were strange items - three tiny diapers. Oh yes. I'm a grandmother now, and a very small person was visiting today, a person whose bowels make more noise than a gassy grown-up's. Explosive. Ear-splitting. He eats with great gusto; Anna made a tape of the noises he makes when breastfeeding - smacking, grunting, mmmmmmm - and it is now her ringtone. He poos with gusto, too. He will be a happy man.

So mother and baby doing really well, and great-grandmother in Ottawa also. And the roses and vegetables. And the foot is getting better, though the puffy dark grey part under the ankle bone is a bit off-putting. I can limp, but I cannot run. Isn't that a song?

Went the other night to the Word Sisters, a gathering of women who freelance in the word business - editors, agents, publicists, publishers and a lone writer - a fascinating and accomplished group of women, sitting in a sophisticated downtown apartment with raw concrete walls and floor and an array of good food. A delicious evening of talking and munching - I could have taped our eating noises and turned them into MY ringtone, if I knew how to do such a thing. As always, there was much talk about the survival of the old-fashioned book business in this electronic age. But there we all were, having survived. So far.

Just read a library book called "Courage and Craft: Turning your life into story," by Barbara Abercrombie, looking, as always, for new ideas on teaching the writing of memoir (and the writing of it, too). It's a charming little book, containing nothing I didn't know already. Here's a good bit:

What keeps memoir from being a long, slow gaze at your own belly button is that the experience is crafted by language and structure, and you came out on the other side. You didn't stay stuck in that period of your life; you moved on - either literally or figuratively, in your head and heart or in concrete ways. You learned something in your experience that the reader can connect to. As Vivian Gornick says, it's the movement toward wisdom that counts. 

The memoir, more than any other form of writing, takes a difficult personal experience and shapes it into some kind of meaning. All forms of creative writing do this to some extent, of course, but fiction and poetry wear more veils and masks then the memoir. The memoir is your experience, your truth, pretty much naked. 

The best memoir reads like a good story - the author's experience shaped into dramatic form that creates a powerful experience for the reader. We read to figure out how to live our own lives. Or how to deal with them or find humor. We read to know, as C. S. Lewis said, that we're not alone.

Love the line "It's the movement toward wisdom that counts."

Our mayor does not move toward wisdom. He moves toward doughnuts.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

cartoon, with a bit of effort

My infuriating incompetence: I want to post this great editorial cartoon about the priorities of our government and cannot find a way to do it. So here it is, with my apologies - the pasting is up to you.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

just me and my sexy bandage

This is when it's a relief not to be an actress any more; if I were in a show tonight, this little limp would be a disaster. As it is, to teach tonight, I'll just bandage my foot and get a cab. It's only a torn or stretched ligament, my friend John reassures me; basketball players do this all the time. Still, as I made my painfully slow way downstairs this morning, assisted by my great-grandfather's wooden cane, I thought, this is how it's going to be one day. If I'm lucky enough to live that long.

It's Wednesday, and I will not be at Carol's Runfit class at the Y. But my accident makes me realize, more than ever, the importance of fitness, agility, flexibility, muscle tone.

A perfect spring day, sunny and mild - 19 degrees though rain possible later - and I'm sitting on the deck with my foot up, about to start work. What happened was just a little wake up call. It could have been so much worse. And luckily, I'd just had a pedicure, so the toes below the bandage are gleaming red.

Speaking of worse - I was very, very sorry to hear about the re-election of the vile governor of Wisconsin. I guess if you have seven times the funds to pour into an election - go, Koch Brothers, go! - you're pretty much guaranteed a win. Very, very frightening, trying to imagine Mitt Romney as President of the United States.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

of Jubilees and ankles

The Queen just arrived on my television set, waving to the adoring millions in front of Buck Palace and looking a bit tentative. I don't blame her. Yes, I'm on the sofa, watching the endless and out of tune 60th Jubilee Concert. Well, of course I am, you know who's singing last - Macca himself. My friend Lynn, who watched the concert last night on French TV, was not particularly impressed by PMc but loved Annie Lennox and her angel wings, as did I a few minutes ago. Lynn told me Paul sings "Magical Mystery Tour" which is not my favourite, that whole period, a bit weird, a bit off.

But I am particularly grateful that this long concert is on TV this evening, because there are particular circumstances around this night spent in front of the screen. About 90 minutes ago, I was carrying an awkward box downstairs when I tripped. I have no idea how it happened, but I skipped two stairs and crashed into the bicycle in the hall at the bottom. And then there was pain.

Not broken pain, just pain. I managed to get up and into the kitchen and filled a cloth with ice cubes to wrap around the large lump on my foot. But I realized that I needed help, and got to the phone to call my neighbour Monique, who herself is just getting over a broken arm.

Oh my, here's Andrew Lloyd Webber and another of his little tunes. Banal as it may be, he does know how to jerk the tears, that man. The African Childrens' Choir alone is worth the price of admission.

Luckily, for once, my neighbour the social butterfly was home. "Monique, j'ai tombé," I said, and she said, "J'arrive." In seven seconds, she was at my front door. She got me onto the sofa, found my Advil, brought me water and blankets and the phone, went away with the key and came back with bandages she wrapped carefully around my foot and ankle. On her way home, she ran into my sweet downstairs tenant Heather, who just called to find out if I need anything.

I am feeling like a queen myself.  The blessing of friends. And pain killers.

One reason I was upstairs in the first place was to try to see the Transit of Venus, the planet passing in front of the sun, as happens, apparently, only once every century. But the sun was too bright; you need special glasses. Missed Venus, decided to carry a bit of furniture downstairs, and voila, mortality looms in a very small way, with a throbbing lump on the ankle.

Elton, in sparkly pink. He's adorable.

I'm hungry.

Later: Oh my Paul. The voice is not what it was. But the spirit is there, as always. An odd selection of songs for a Queen's Jubilee, to be sure - "Obladi Oblada"?! A bit painful, perhaps. But Macca is not going gently into no good night, and neither are Annie Lennox or Stevie Wonder or Elton or Tom Jones. And neither, for that matter, is Her Majesty. There she is, Mummy, looking tired and tense, and no wonder, with all this noisy hooha and her man in hospital.

Boy, I thought the Americans were patriotic and overdid the flag and anthem! Ah well. Long Live the Queen. Onward.

Now to hobble into the kitchen for a snack.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Beth's two Summer Garden Workshops

A one-day writing adventure.

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

Spend a summer day learning to trust your voice and tell your stories. Listen to your creative self. Gain confidence and perspective from friendly 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 18 years and at U of T for 6.

When: Sunday July 15, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m
              Sunday August 24, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: $165 for the day, including food for thought and actual food (and wine). Register early; limited to 10.

Where: Beth’s secret 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.

Malahat Review competition

2012 Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize

Deadline: August 1, 2012(postmarked)
Prize: $1000 CAD
Entry fee:
$35 CAD for Canadian entries
$40 USD for entries from the USA
$45 USD for entries from elsewhere
(entry fee includes a one-year subscription to The Malahat Review)
Submit 2,000 to 3,000 words of personal essay, memoir, literary journalism, or something so cutting edge no one's thought of it yet.

Sunday jubilee

Yesterday's pleasures: an hour-long morning bike ride on the DV trail with the DVP closed, enjoying an outpouring of birdsong in a green world of red-wing blackbirds and woodpeckers, the air smelling of wet earth and flowering trees. Then across town to visit the babe, where I lay on the sofa for 2 hours crooning Beatle songs - "She loves you, yeah yeah yeah," - as he lay sleeping on my belly. Never too early to inculcate an appreciation of the best music.

His mother is thinking about what hockey team he'll support: if he's not a Leafs fan, she can live with that, as long as he doesn't support the Ottawa Senators. That she could not bear. Whereas Glamma is wondering what instrument he'll play. And where she'll take him first. New York? Paris? London? I'm thinking Vancouver, because there are so many dear friends on the west coast who'll want to meet him.

And then, after a dinner of salmon and quinoa with old friend Jessica, who played classical music - Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan - as we ate, I came home and booked my ticket for the Leonard Cohen concert in December. Missed the last time he was here, the concert of the year; don't want to miss him again, rumbly national treasure that he is.

My British mother is happily ensconced in the recovery wing of an assisted living facility, spending her days watching the Royals. I didn't realize that we were in London visiting her parents during the Coronation in June 1952, but she told me about it today - that my father went off with Percy, her father, to watch the celebration and parade, while Mum stayed at home with her mother Marion and her baby, me, nearly two. Missed it! But won't miss Leonard.

My son called after the shooting at the Eaton's Centre, to be sure I was okay. "The chances of me being in the Food Court at the Eaton's Centre," I said, "are zero to nil." Still, shocking. My daughter and I will find some way to link this latest gang-related horror to Mike Harris.

Weather still lousy, dark and wet, but no complaints. Leonard Cohen and the Queen and Eli and I are dancing to the end of love.

Sunday walk

A twenty-five minute bike ride from Bloor and Y onge.
Twenty minutes.
The Don Valley Parkway just the way I like it.

preppy baby

 This was his Uncle Sam's sweater - but Sam, who is now six foot eight, was three months old when he wore it. This baby is two weeks old. How tall will he be?!
 Could I munch on this bit of perfection forever? Yes.
Too bad - such a scrawny, sickly, miserable child.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

tidy for the heart

The sun just came out in the garden, after two days of darkness and rain - it was like watching a film go from black and white to technicolour. Speaking of which, there's an article about the invention of technicolour in the "Star" this morning. It's easy to forget that everything we use has had to be invented, developed, designed, by someone. My old handyman, Len, asked for a step stool once, and when I brought it out, he said, "I designed that." He'd worked at one point for an industrial design company. Len died in 2006 and the step stool is rusty and falling apart, but I keep it to remember and honour him.

Though soon, knowing that I'll remember and honour Len anyway, I will allow myself to throw it out. Yesterday I finished reading "The hoarder in you: how to live a happier, healthier, uncluttered life" and arose with a new light in my eyes. The book made clear that I'm not an obsessive hoarder but a clutterer. It runs through the reasons we clutterers give for not getting rid of stuff: I paid good money for it so should keep it; it was given to me by someone I love or it reminds me of someone; it might come in handy one day; it might come back into fashion; the minute I get rid of it, I'll need it; it was free; because it's there.

Recognize any or all of those? So do I.

I decided to tackle my office, which has been haunting me for months, and the bathroom, where the clutter is hidden but still oppressive. I did not realize just how many travel-sized tubes of moisturizer I'd accumulated, but I could travel for the rest of a long life and still die with a well-moisturized face. I didn't throw them out - I do travel, after all - but organized them and will use them up, tube by tiny tube, before I buy any new non-travel-sized products.

But then, the office - my long desk covered with papers, clippings, books, the shelves overloaded and chaotic. Before I could tackle that, I'd realized I'd have to clear space on the overstuffed bookshelves in the spare room. Books - my nemesis. But, inspired, I managed to get rid of TWO BOXES of books, mostly out-of-date tomes for writers on markets, agents etc. And then I organized the shelves, something I've wanted to do for years, into labelled sections: Memoir; Autobiography; Diaries; Writing (technical); Written by Family; by Friends; Theatre; Travel etc. A small section marked Fun, with a few Agatha Christies. One of the most important, a long shelf: To Read. And above, a much smaller shelf, because so much of my reading is from the library: Have Read, where "Wolf Hall" resides.

Back to the office. Heart light, full of energy, I listened to "Sgt. Pepper's" (Happy 45th birthday, gorgeous record) while I tackled the office, sorting, throwing out, yes throwing out, and filing. I hate filing, which is one reason the office is always a jumble, but from now on, I will file. My desk began to emerge, the bookshelves, and the chairs - because my clothes are stored in the office too, so there are always piles of sweaters, t-shirts and jeans on the office chairs.

This morning, after a long refreshing sleep (in the spare room with its labelled shelves, the drips still splashing into the bucket in my bedroom, no word from the elusive roofer) I went straight into my office to make sure it wasn't just a dream - and there it was, all tidy. The surfaces are clear.

Now to USE it.

But first, one of the treats of the year - a walk on the Don Valley Trail, beside the Don Valley itself which is filled not with roaring vehicles but with bicycles for Bike for Heart. The neighbourhood is quiet, and down in the valley, without the rush of cars, it's almost like being in the country.

And then back to the office, and later today, across town to see the best baby in the world, and dinner with friends. Bliss. But - what's this? As I wrote, the garden moved back into black and white. The thunderclouds are dense across the sky, it's dark, and rain is predicted. Instead of the walk, I'll go do some more filing. Woo hoo!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

the Fludde

Le déluge here yesterday, positively Biblical - lashing winds and chilly rain, darkness all day long. Very worrying, in an old house given to flooding - I sat straining to hear the beloved sump pump in the basement, please, gracious lord, keep it working. Union Station flooded, I saw on the news, and poor commuters had to get busses because trains and the subway were shut down. But the basement here, so far touch wood - not a drop.

Not so the ceiling in my bedroom, however, where I knew there was a problem and have been waiting for the roofer. When I went to bed last night, large droplets were splattering my bed, which was drenched. I put a bucket underneath and slept in the spare room. The roofer was supposed to be here at 8 a.m. and it's now 9; perhaps it's still too damp and threatening to work. The bucket is half full.

Because of the disruption or just because it's life, I spent a very restless night and at 3.30 a.m. was immersed in a flood of anxieties and resentments. You see the sunny side, here; my public persona focusses on all that is well. The other side who's scared and angry, petty and confused, you don't see so much. That side often involves other people whom I won't drag into this public forum. But the hurts and angers are there, despite the just-begun meditation practice which urges me to sit beside my worries and then let them go; despite years of yoga and psychoanalysis and my own marvellously serene and loving nature. More work to be done before perfection is achieved. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, my friend Richard the Royalist is in full-on orgasmic mode with the Jubilee, royals royals everywhere. Though I could not care less about the fuss, the Queen, it's true, is a grand old bird. I watched "The Iron Lady" yesterday, which made me impatient - luckily it was rented so I could fast-forward through many indulgent shots of Meryl Streep tottering around earning her Oscar. The film couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to say about the grocer's daughter who eviscerated Britain. A friend of mine was teaching in a poor section of Liverpool when Thatcher, just after being elected, immediately cancelled the free milk distributed to schools. Overnight, my friend's charges were left hungry. How sad that the first woman elected to lead a Western nation should be blind and heartless.

It's really dark out there at 9.15 a.m. Last week it was mid-summer, 34 degrees, sweltering in tank tops. Now, 11 degrees and ready to pour. We need an Ark. And I decide who gets on. The roofer will be allowed on, if he appears.

5 p.m. He does not get on. No roofer, and the drips continue.

Cancel the moaning; it was just a misunderstanding and my stupid mind, making much of nothing in the middle of the night. When will I learn? Shut off that neurotic brain, woman, stop wasting your valuable, limited time, and go back to sleep.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Lots of stuff for non-fiction writers: competitions etc.

Call for Submissions: Monologues by Toronto Writers and Artists for a New Book

We are currently accepting submissions for “City Voices: A Book of Monologues by Toronto Artists”, a book that will be published in both hard copy and electronic formats later this year.  “City Voices” will be a collection of monologues by Toronto writers and artists that will represent the diversity and vibrancy of voices that populate this dynamic city.
There is no fee to submit.
Deadline to submit is June 30th, 2012 at 5pm.
Check the website at

Creative Non-Fiction Contest
Topic:  Places That Shape Us
Prize:  $250 and publication in Issue #8 of LAKE: A Journal of Arts and Environment
Deadline:  EXTENDED TO JULY 15, 2012
Length:  2500 words maximum
Entry Fee:  $20, includes a one year subscription to LAKE starting with issue #7
LAKE invites submissions of creative non-fiction on the topic of “Places That Shape Us.”  Creative non-fiction forms include personal essay, lyric essay, narrative essay, and memoir.

Deadline: July 31, 2012

Creative Nonfiction and the Oxford Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference & Workshop are looking for essays that capture the South in all its steamy sinfulness. Confess your own wrongdoings, gossip about your neighbor's depravity, or tell us about your personal connection to a famous Southerner headed down the broad road to Hell. 

Usually the wages of sin is death, but this time we're making an exception. The best essays will be published in Creative Nonfiction #47, and CNF and Oxford will be awarding $5,000 for Best Essay.

Full details and submission guidelines here.

A wonderful little film about writing:

Various articles on Creative Non-Fiction:

And, from Creative Non-Fiction magazine, 

CNF ONLINE: Brevity magazine's newly redesigned website is not only beautiful, but has a bounty of brilliant writing for all to enjoy; everyone's favorite advice columnist (and CNF#42 contributor), Dear Sugar returns.

MORE MOORE: Brevity editor, and longtime CNF friend and board member, Dinty W. Moore has a new book, "The Mindful Writer," and is featured in several interviews--one at Inside Higher Edand another over at Bill and Dave's Cocktail Hour