Monday, September 30, 2013

the Don Valley Trail

A bike riding weekend in the sun - on Saturday, after buying apples at the market, off to Corktown Common, a great new park at the foot of River Street - with a great playground, Eli, here we come. And on Sunday morning, a long ride on the Don Valley Trail in t-shirt, jeans and sandals, knowing that soon, oh so soon, this will not be possible.

I know I always say this but I'll say it again - these scenes are a twelve minute bike ride from the financial heart of this great city!

Then straight to a funeral at the Necropolis nearby for neighbour Larry Lake, a musician and musical mentor at the CBC. Our little bit of Sackville Street was heavily represented. Larry's much younger wife died suddenly a few years ago, so their daughter is now an orphan at 15. But, we found out afterwards, very well looked after and doing fine, considering. A collective sigh of relief at this end of Sackville Street.

And last night, yes, I watched the season finale of "Breaking Bad," even though, having not watched more than a few minutes for the entire five seasons it was on, the import of what was happening was lost on me. It was great drama, though - just like Greek tragedy or Shakespeare, the end of a tragically flawed figure amid lots and lots of deaths. For some reason, I can't get involved with most American series - even "Sopranos" or "Mad Men," any of them, except "The West Wing," which was as much an addiction as "Downton" or Jon Stewart. Otherwise, I skew to the Brits.

Class starts at U of T this week - a nice full class, and my home class too. Recently a friend and I were talking about my work and she asked how I was going to fictionalize a certain story. Fictionalize?! I cried, in horror, thinking, how little she knows me if she thinks I'll write fiction.

Onward - to the truth.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


8 a.m., a beautiful, silent Saturday morning; soon I'll go to the market and buy too many apples. Can't wait for apples.

But first ... oh I slept well last night, for the first time in a while. Partly because I finally cleaned up my room, put away the piles of clothes and papers, and felt welcomed in a tidy space. But also because I've left my existential crisis behind. Or whatever it was. A crisis of confidence. As in, I lost a lot of it, for some reason.

And I didn't just go through it, I went through it in front of you.

The wonder of a blog - the blessing, the danger. Should I go back and take all that whiny stuff out? I'm a teacher, after all, I'm not supposed to sound like my students, whimpering with fear about their work. But no, that's the importance of this forum, its immediacy and honesty. So in it stays.

And on I move. I received a report yesterday from my friend Margaret in Vancouver, who has read and edited my work for many years. She had concrete suggestions for improvement. In they will go.

As for immediacy and honesty, boy, has David Gilmour learned a lesson. He tossed off that interview, being facetious, and now - long articles in the papers, the university refuting his words, and yesterday, a rally to denounce him. He is up for a Giller prize, which is now, apparently, in jeopardy. Look, I understand what he was saying - that as a teacher, he feels he has to remain true to what inspires him, and what inspires him is male writers at the top of their game. But he stated it badly, sounded condescending, pompous and sexist, and now the wolves are out for blood.

And in a poll reported yesterday, Mayor Rob Ford received 49% approval. Up from only 44% a few months ago. A parallel universe exists out there, where Mayor Ford is doing a good job. I don't live in that universe, though. I live in Toronto.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

quitting the slough of despond

Wow - did THAT feel like a long dark tunnel. Or maybe a short dark tunnel. In despair yesterday, I called dear friend Chris in Vancouver, and after listening to me babble, he said, "Where's the confident woman I know? The insecure minor partner has taken over the business!"

She did. I forget she's there, sometimes, she who used to have so much more power over me, the one who thinks herself talentless, lazy, undeserving. She's much quieter now, but she's there. Finally, Chris got me to say to myself what I say all the time to my self-deprecating, fearful students: "Who gains when you are silenced? If you don't allow yourself to tell your story, is the world a better place?"

All this because one publisher turned me down? Well, yes, but more, it's this stage of the authorial process that  I've only been through once before and have, like the pain of labour, nearly forgotten. This is a kind of labour - you've gestated this mysterious creature for a long time, in darkness and solitude, and now it's time to bring it forth into the light. But how? Where and when? It can take years. And I'm an impatient person. Plus - when this manuscript is rejected, it's not just my research and my writing, as with my first book. It's my very life, my young self, her thoughts and words.

So, a few days, a week maybe, of feeling fearful and lousy, which I'm sure led my body to follow suit. I get back pain from tension, and my back was killing me. I wrote to friend Laurel, "You'd think after all those years as an actress and then as a writer, that I'd be used to rejection." And she wrote back, "WHO GETS USED TO REJECTION?"

This is what provoked the crisis: Yesterday morning, I found, to my astonishment, that an old friend had just taken a job at the top of the very press I was going to contact.

I didn't want to jeopardize our friendship, but at the same time, it'd be madness not to contact her. I emailed, explaining the coincidence and simply asking for the right name to send the work to. And then I collapsed with anxiety on the phone to Chris. While we were talking, she wrote back, telling me to send the manuscript to her and she'd forward it to the head of the firm. Incredible - exactly what every writer wants, a friend in the right place. Worse crisis. Complete fear. If they don't want it, it's over.

Chris talked me down. I sent her the ms. And then ran across town to help my daughter with Eli, who has a cold. We took his broom and his lawn mower for a walk down some back alleys, stopping to look up inside every drainpipe. I didn't know drainpipes were fascinating, but now I do. Also squirrels, amazingly interesting, and airplanes, and leaves, and shadows, and dirt. Dirt is really interesting.

And came home to say to myself, Oh give it a rest. If they don't want it, I'll incorporate whatever editorial notes they have for me and try another press, or I'll self-publish. What's important now is that I start work on something else. Enough time in this melodramatic place. Onward.

Thank you to the beloved friends who called or wrote. It means so much, when you have stood yourself in a corner and are busy smacking yourself in the face, to hear a calm voice.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

David Gilmour doesn't read women

If you'd like a little controversy with your morning coffee, as well as a very large ego on display, here it is, an interview with the novelist David Gilmour, who teaches literature at U of T and doesn't teach anything by women, because he doesn't like a single female writer except Virginia Woolf. I hope nobody shows this to Alice Munro - our Chekhov - though I'm sure she'd just laugh. Read the comments afterwards, they're much better than the interview. For example:

Imagine a professor in any other field only teaching the stuff s/he loves: first year biology Prof: "I only teach about dolphins, bison, and platypus. Other organisms don't interest me. Ecosystems don't interest me..."

Can he just call his class 'Straight Bro Dude Wankfest Royale' and make it a cage match? At least the outfits might keep it from being totally boring.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"Jane, the fox and me" by Fanny Britt

Ran into my neighbour friend Richard yesterday. "How are you?" he asked, expecting the usual clichés, I'm sure.
"Terrible. My computer's not working, I have a bad cold and my back is killing me," I replied with a scowl.
"A trifecta!" he said. No, there's more, I wanted to say, but didn't - the people in the house attached to mine have acquired an older dog that howls and barks constantly when it's alone. And I'm feeling insecure and sad because I don't know what to do with my book. A cinco-fecta?

Why did such gloom hit a normally cheerful, resilient person? There's a hollow, vulnerable feeling in my gut, and I'm ready to blame myself for everything. Bad writer! Lazy loser! Perhaps it's the changing season, the shorter days, the garden shutting down. Others are feeling something too - my student friend Chris, who was let go from his job a few months ago; fellow blogger Carrie Snyder, who's wondering in today's post about the wisdom of becoming a writer.

But enough. Wayson gave me a fridge magnet that I'm staring at now; it says, "It doesn't get better than this." And it doesn't - I'm alive, my loved ones are alive - most of them, anyway - and it's a stunning sunny day. I have a home and a brain, my teeth and my eyes, what more could I ask for? So shut up.

Rode to Indigo earlier to buy a book for young readers recommended by my friend Laurel: "Jane, the fox and me," a graphic Quebecois book by Fanny Britt, translated into English. Beautiful, haunting - about a bullied girl who lives in fantasy with Jane Eyre, until she finds a friend. A bit like my book, a lonely girl who lives in fantasy with Paul McCartney, until she grows up and discovers real boys. Only this has only a few words and lots of pictures, and mine is the reverse. And this one really is for kids, whereas Laurel, who read my first chapter, feels that mine is in a kid's voice but written for adults. I'd thought, for a while there, that maybe my book was actually Young Adult literature for 14 years olds, like the narrator. But Laurel is hugely successful in literature for young readers, and says no. And she's right. I know nothing about the YA genre, having only read Neil Gaiman. Back to the drawing board.

Back to the drawing board. Whatever that means.

The newspaper has been filled with the most disgusting images - Harper, Flaherty and Mayor Ford, beaming at each other - talk about the axis of evil, or a trifecta of nightmare. I used to scream if I even glimpsed the picture of a spider in the paper; now it's any of those 3, let alone all 3 together. However. Even in their vileness, they're not nearly as vile as the Tea Party Republicans now trying to destroy Obamacare, comparing Obama to Hitler. Good to have perspective.

Tomorrow I'm going to do the switcheroo - put away the little cotton dresses, get out the sweaters and the gloves. It's time, despite the heavenly heat today and for the rest of the week. My cold will get better, and so will my back. Maybe the dog next door will settle down and stop howling. (I spoke to them about it, feeling bad for the dog, but of course, they don't hear him, because he only howls and barks when they're not there. One of the small disadvantages of working at home ...) And after my beloved Mac filled me with despair with a frozen cursor at night and then again the next morning, when I rode to the Mac store on Queen Street East and turned it on, it worked perfectly. "Maybe it just wanted to get out," I said, as the guy smiled and shrugged.

And I'll find a solution for the book.

The wheel turns, and on we go. It's 7.30, and there's a glowing red flush across the sky as the sun departs. "Call the Midwives" is on TV soon, and then of course Jon. And there's a fresh supply of sourdough bread and chocolate.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Word on the Street

Chris, friend, student and blog follower, wrote to me yesterday, I am often surprised by how public you are with all the ups and downs in your life. I guess a blog is a diary in one form—“Up betimes and so to Dr. Grenville’s where we supped amply on mutton and brown ale.”—and meant to be an exercise in sharing, rather than hoarding, our feelings.

Well, yes - sharing. Just now, I was sitting here, feeling lost and sad, and my first thought was, Blog! One of my jobs is to chronicle the life of a writer - right now, a writer who has finished a big draft and wants to get it out into the world, without knowing its worth, its desirability to the planet. Maybe it's completely without value to you out there. One friend who read it wrote to say she liked it because she knew me, but she wasn't sure it would mean anything to anyone who doesn't. Devastating.

But others have written to say how much they enjoyed it and laughed and cried. Who knows? Right now, I'm just trying to figure out how to get it out. Because it's all very well to have written it, but it needs to be read. So this is a hard time, yes. Not hard like tragedy hard, like civil war and disease hard, not remotely. Just insecure and lonely and a bit sad hard.

AKA daily life.

I have a bad cold, which doesn't help. It was a grey and very chilly day, which didn't help. I made it to Word on the Street, where I met my daughter and her son. This is the face that greeted me:

And still, after they left, I was gloomy. Here were a million books and not mine. I passed the publisher that turned me down, and there was one of their authors, signing books. She looked about 18 years old. I hated her.

Okay, now I'm making drama for you, my readers. I didn't hate her. But I was feeling a bit Cinderella-ish. Pre-fairy godmother. And please, no jokes about a glass slipper in size 10 1/2.

Yesterday was heaven, even in the non-stop freezing rain, while I felt sorry for a friend whose son was getting married that afternoon at her home, supposedly outside, under the flowery bower they'd had constructed. I spent the afternoon cooking for friends while listening to the podcast of Eleanor Wachtel interviewing Roddy Doyle, wonderful, and then Sheila Rogers interviewing other writers, and then it was all cooked, and there was a wonderful dinner party in the rain.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Friday, September 20, 2013

I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello

Grumpy today, and the close, gloomy weather to match. My manuscript was turned down yesterday by the publisher - he didn't even want to see more than one chapter. I immediately got a cold and am now all achey and snivvley. These two things are perhaps related.

Of COURSE he didn't take it, they never do, this is a long tedious difficult journey, you thought it was going to be quick and easy? Ha on you. Writing the thing is a snap compared to getting it out into the world. There's always the petty fantasy that when the book has been published by someone else and made you incredibly rich and famous, you'll run into the ones who said no. Perhaps splash them with the wheels of your Rolls, as you sail by. Like the 27 or so publishers who said no to J. K. Rowling, or the guy who heard the Beatles' audition tape and told them no, guitar bands were going out of style.

However, revenge fantasies aside, I am now looking for another publisher. The friend who's helping me recommended one, so I checked their website; they say it takes six to eight MONTHS for them to get back about an unsolicited manuscript. I talked today to a prize-winning former student whose second picture book was bought in March 2011; she told me it's coming out in May of next year. More than 3 years. Talk about glacial.

I will pull whatever strings I can to get the thing on another desk or two, and then either publish it myself or put it online. It does feel as if people are slamming the door in my child's face - not inviting my adorable offspring to the party. But I believe in it, I really do. Occasionally, I don't, but mostly, I do. When down, I look at the note sent by my friend Jim the screenwriter and director, who read the ms.: What a great read and what a wonderful group of people to spend time with, especially Beth - what a character!!

Revising again, now, before it goes out again, I hope, through a connection, early next week.

What makes me hopeful is that though this is a personal memoir - me, my family, my life - it's also about Beatlemania and growing up in the Sixties. It was just announced that CNN has produced a huge series about the Sixties, to air in November, with of course a segment about the Beatles, who have not gone anywhere. Paul is coming out with a new album in a few weeks, and the BBC is bringing out a new album of Beatles' material soon too. Unlike my last book, I am hardly delving into obscure material aimed only at a chosen few here.

So keep your fingers crossed for the fledgling, please, on her next flight out.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"Wave" and niquab

A gorgeous day, hot hinting at the alternative. And I was inundated with good books. The young new tenant of my basement suite arrived to say hello, bringing a gift from his uncle Bruce, one of my best friends: a giant picture book about Paul McCartney. Oh you people know me so well.

Then the library called, two books waiting: "The Crack in the Teacup: the life of an old woman steeped in stories," by Joan Bodger, and "Swimming in the Monsoon Sea" by Shyam Selvadurai, which interests me because he wrote it for adults but it achieved great success aimed at the YA market, which might happen to my book. And then, Doubletake for 50 cents provided a book I've been anxious to read, "Wave", by Sonali Deraniyagala, who lost her entire immediate family, her two young sons, her husband and her parents, in the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004. I immediately sat on the deck in the sun and started reading, and stopped before I broke down. She writes in a white heat, breathtaking and unbearable, the best of creative non-fiction and memoir writing.

Re: the controversial legislation pending in Quebec banning religious symbols: what a waste of time. I'm not in favour of flaunting religion, far from it, but how would they enforce their ban, measuring crucifixes, ripping off yarmulkas? It's crazy. The other day, when I went to Wellesley Park with Eli, there were two mothers already there, a Frenchwoman reading a book while her kids played in the sand, and a woman in niquab, head to toe in black, also with her two children. I said hello to her because we sat near each other, and her eyes, it seemed to me, were friendly, whereas the other mother expressed with her entire face a lack of interest in contact.

I am sorry for women who feel the need, or who are pressured, to shroud themselves in our western society; it must cut them off from making friends with those who are put off by a veil that seems a relic from a repressive time centuries ago. But in that brief encounter, I felt more warmth from a shrouded woman's eyes than from another woman's full face. I used to hate seeing that denial of a woman's mouth and expression, her identity. But I'm used to it now. There are worse things.

There are much more important issues of social justice and human rights, surely, for a government to tackle.

Though I think of one of my favourite lines of poetry, Sylvia Plath writing about loving her children: "It is as if my heart/ put on a face and walked into the world." Women in niquab have to wear their hearts in their eyes, only.

A tiny article in the "Star" - a Quebec woman on a motorcycle was killed "after being struck by a deer as it catapulted through the air following a collision with a car." What are the chances of that, being killed by a falling deer? What are the chances that your entire family will be swept away by a tsunami, leaving you wanting to die yourself? Get out there, my friends, lift your face to the sun, feel that warmth, marvel that we are alive.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

sculptures R us

Wonderful link below to pix of classical sculptures in hipster clothes.

 a link.

It's a heavenly Tuesday, hot sun with a chilly undertone - fall is here. And so was Eli. As soon as we got near Riverdale Farm, he began to moo. An hour checking out animals and then the slides and swings of Wellesley Park. Years ago, I was on the fundraising committee to make improvements to that playground for small children, and now, for the first time, I can enjoy its splendour myself - tons of toys and jungle gyms and great stuff for small hands. Karma karma, as Wayson would say. 

His mother just put this on Facebook. Proud of her.

I cant imagine a worse hell than to be a parent in a war zone. I feel the need to publicly thank whatever powers that be, for the privilege and incredible luck to have been born in a country with economic and political stability. Where the fight for personal freedoms and security was fought for long ago. Where I can disagree with the current gov and not fear military retribution and chemical attacks. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bonnie and Aretha blow your brains out

Big mistake - I recently bought my first pair of good headphones, and now can spend hours just sitting with the computer on my lap, music blasting straight into my brainpan. Fabulous. But a time stealer, that's for sure. For example, this, to take the top of your head off:


Today was the Cabbagetown Tour of Homes, a fundraiser for the C'town Preservation Association, and mostly, for your $30 ticket, you see a series of boringly prissy homes on display. I mean, in one house, it was obvious that there was a young child in residence, because of the gorgeous array of toys pristinely on display and the seven foot high stuffed giraffe overlooking the crib, to go with the Africa "theme" everywhere. I can only imagine this child's tiny safari wardrobe. What makes me marvel in so many expensively decorated homes is that people don't care what's on their walls - tons of money for floors or furniture and crap art. But then one house had an enormously diverse display of modern art on the walls, all of it, IMHO, hideous. The owners, it turned out, own a gallery.

MIAOW.  I LOVE bitching about this stuff.

The best part of the tour was the open house at Spruce Court Co-ops. Spruce Court was built in the early years of the last century to house people without much money; it's a beautifully designed complex, like fake Tudor housing around central courtyards, lots of green space, the living spaces small but bright and open. It's phenomenal that such humble fare was included. And then we went across the street to see the newly renovated Miles Nadal Youth Centre, where hundreds of local kids of all ages go for after school activities - sports, art, computer literacy. Fantastic.

Okay, girl, take those headphones off and get to work. I'm reading a mag put out by "Rolling Stone" - "The Beatles 100 Greatest Hits." And arguing all the way. Can you believe that "When I'm 64" is NOT on the list? What kind of idiots are these? And yet, when I try to see which of the 100 could have been left out to make way for that favourite, it's hard.

Am I a bit obsessive? Getting boring? Sigh.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

an attractive pair

Wayson and I went to the opening last night of our friend Elaine's new jewelry store L.E. Jewellers, on the Lakeshore near Leslie St., in that mall with Canadian Tire. Elaine is a terrific woman who repairs Wayson's collection of many watches and has lovely things on sale which she happily discounts, and we were happy to support her. Way bought a slender silver bangle and I some extravagant earrings. Fun! Seek her out if you need anything sparkly. And then we came back to my house for a stand-up nap. 

"We are the best" is the best

Today's treats - film and food. Lucky me. Friend Ron was offered tickets for a bunch of TIFF films, asked me which one I wanted to see. I picked "We are the best" after reading that it was about 13 year old girls, my area of interest right now. Yes, these are not Canadian girls in the Sixties but Swedish girls in 1982. But still, how different can 13-year old girls be?

Well, the answer is - not much. It's an absolutely delightful film - I hope it gets general release and comes back - funny, moving, never mocking the girls even as they flounder and do absurd things, like creating a punk band though two of them can't play anything. Some of the adults in their lives are inadequate, but some are not; no one is a dupe or a foil or a symbol. They're all real. The 3 girls are stunning. It made me pray that my memoir conveys even a bit of the truth in this fine film.

Then Ron and I rode our bikes in the sun to some snazzy food store in Rosedale where he bought a fantastic meal all made which we ate with a good rosé in his apartment, overlooking the Lawn Tennis Club. A great afternoon.

And more. Advantages to having someone in the family in the food business: sometimes he cooks. Tonight - eggplant coated and baked till crispy in the oven, covered with a long-simmered tomato sauce, with a simple al dente pasta with garden tomatoes and spices. Divine. I've gained a kilo or two this summer. No surprise.

Friday, September 13, 2013

for sale - eight track radio greats

Can you believe no one bought this vintage treasure at our garage sale? Know anyone with an 8 track player? Comedy and radio greats! Rare and delightful! Make me an offer! 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

June Callwood writes to her daughter in 1973

Today I spent 50 minutes talking to a wise older woman - my shrink - about being a parent. She's the mother of 4 and grandmother of 7 or 9, I forget, but a lot, anyway, and she knows a lot about parenting. As I do, when I'm talking to others - but not so much when dealing with my own kids, who, though they are adults, self-supporting and living the other side of town, are still my kids, still pushing my buttons as I push theirs. And because their father lives in the States and is very busy with work and his second family, I'm the primary parent, as I have been for nearly 25 years. Many buttons to push, she sang, paraphrasing Jimmy Cliff's haunting "Many rivers to cross..."

"And I can't seem to find/my way over ..."

It's hard, not to lay your own expectations on your children. My parents had huge expectations for me and my brother, and they made those very clear. As their parents had for them. Whereas we know that children, of whatever age, must be free to become who they are, to follow their own paths no matter how unlike their parents' paths they may be.

So I was thinking about all this tonight as I sorted out the mass of paper on my desk, and found an article I'd clipped out of a magazine - Chatelaine, probably - and sent to my mother in Ottawa in about 1973, when I was 23 and living in Toronto. June Callwood is writing an open letter to her daughter who has just quit university after four months. For readers who don't know, June Callwood is a Canadian icon and hero who died in 2007, a journalist and writer who worked tirelessly to better the world and particularly our city, leaving behind a legacy of books and social justice. But in her letter, she is a mother, afraid for a daughter who's making what seems like an irresponsible choice. She struggles, oh so hard, to be cheery and positive. But she's delivering a stern lecture to a soft-hearted young woman. Toughen up, she's saying. Get real. Get a spine. Go back to school. But in as positive a way as possible.

I'm not sure any more what a career is. In my day, it implied continuity, adhesiveness to one target, hand-over-hand progress to prestige. You, on the other hand, plan to drift, picking up odd jobs but putting relationships ahead of everything else. Maybe that's the finest career I ever heard of. 

I was saying something not unlike that today, to my shrink, about one of my kids.

I don't think marriage is a good idea unless you find someone who can take the weight of the nearly overwhelming amount of love you have to give, someone very strong and unafraid, someone who won't sink in that warm ocean that is you. Keep an eye out for a cork man.

Can you imagine hearing this kind of honesty from your mother - in the pages of a national magazine? That can't have been easy. Anyway, I just Googled - her younger daughter Jesse married and had four children, so she must have found that man of cork.

But though I wrote often about my kids in the "Globe," I will not imitate June and deliver life lectures that way. I go instead to a wise woman in a small room, whom I pay to listen to and care about me and mine. Today after giving me a gentle nudge about something, she laughed, "Now I'm getting too maternal."
"Oh no," I said. "You can never get too maternal."

I'll take all the maternal I can get. While trying not to be too maternal to the people I cannot help but mother. You think life gets simpler as you age. But it does not. Hooray!  

Also: went with a dear friend last night to TIFF. First we had dinner at her house, and I am forbidden to mention her name or location because she feeds a mother and four baby raccoons in her yard. "My neighbours," she said, as she tossed out the food to the little masked faces, waiting, "would kill me."
After a great dinner which we did not share with her raccoons, we went to see "Stay," a Canadian film set in Ireland and Montreal, a May-September love story directed by a talented young woman. "Charming," said my friend. "Ultimately unsatisfying," I could not help but say. "The female character was poorly written and poorly acted, and lots just didn't hang together."

Maybe my last invitation. When will I learn to keep my mouth shut? But at least I did not tell you where she lives.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

hot and wet

Yesterday, the Quran and Jane Austen's "Northanger Abbey," among others, had been left in the Little Free Library. Today they're both gone, replaced with Penelope Lively and Catherine Cookson.

34 degrees yesterday and nearly that today, and Friday, it will be back to 14. Bizarre. My daughter and her son are suffering because all the city pools are closed. It's absurd - the minute school starts, they close everything, even though there are lots of hot little people and their mothers with nowhere to cool off.

My son appeared late last night for some TLC (and because he has no TV at his place and his computer just broke). He has been working 20 hour days at TIFF with a bone chip in his wrist and a sprained thumb. Enjoying the buzz, though - knowing that Brad Pitt and other twinkling luminaries are in the building, if not actually standing beside him.  The city is insane for two weeks, but in a fun way. Tonight I'm going to the premiere of a Canadian film with a friend - the movie starts at 10! I'll have to have a serious nap. I'm usually in my jammies getting ready for Jon Stewart at 10.

Early yesterday evening, a wonderful U of T event, our annual dinner celebrating Continuing Studies. Delicious food, meeting my colleagues, and this year's gift was an umbrella, much needed. My course there is a go already, and it doesn't start till October. Come one come all.

It rained overnight, and this morning my veg garden was steaming with good smells. I picked three fat green peppers, some cherry tomatoes and a big bunch of basil, and felt very good about my minuscule urban farm. Especially when I make spaghetti sauce for the boy, who will probably sleep till mid-afternoon.

Waiting to hear from the publisher. Waiting for the no, wondering where I'll send the book next.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

on-line venue for creative non-fiction

Pithead Chapel is looking for engaging stories told in honest voices. Send them your gutsiest narrative and they’ll do their best to get your voice heard. They’re interested in personal, memoir, lyric, flash (short-shorts), and experimental essays; not to exceed 4,000 words.

"the outward-looking memoir"

Teaching started last night at Ryerson, and once more, I am thankful to enjoy my work so much. A room full of people terrified and eager to begin the journey toward the truths of their own most important stories - a wonderful sight. So it begins, for the 19th year.

Friend Bruce sent me this link to an article on "outward looking memoir," an interesting exploration of why we read them and why we write them. And thank heavens we do, so I can make a living.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Hey Jude as a flow chart

Eli enjoys the Cabbagetown Festival

Saturday at the Cabbagetown Festival - my wonderful neighbours Jean-Marc and Richard, and almost no one else.
TIFF story: Saturday evening, huge crowd outside Holt Renfew. "Who are we waiting for?" I asked, ungrammatically. "No idea," I was told by one of the waiting photographers. A man exited, and many flashbulbs went off. A handsome face. "Who's that?" I asked one of the photographers. "No idea," she said. I think it was Michael Fassbender, and I'm not even sure who that is.
 Sunday morning, 9 a.m., Holly and Nicole ready to do duty at our Cabbagetown Festival garage sale in the SUN.
Eli prepares to shop with his new cart ($5).
 On our wobbly way down the crowded sidewalks.
 NO, I push it myself.
Okay, Mummy push it sometimes.
 Okay, Mummy puts it on top of the stroller while I eat corn.
 Checking out the decorations from Mexico with Uncle Wayson
 My little pirate.
 Our booty from 7.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. - $180 each for the 3 of us - Holly and Nicole did most of the selling, and I provided the stuff for sale. We got rid of most of it, and everyone was happy.
Best of all, at the end of the day - empty box!

non-fiction competition

Saturday, September 7, 2013

happy Cabbagetown Wet Fest

PHOOEY! So much for the Cabbagetown Festival with its parades, street music, street vendors, hundreds of garage sales, arts and crafts by the farm and harvest festival at the farm. It's pouring with rain, thunder predicted.

My garage sale helpers were here at 8, to put things out. My living room looks like this:
Friend Penny arrived too. Yesterday she'd brought over all the jewellry she makes, ready for the sale.
We considered tarps and umbrellas, as many brave fools in the 'hood are doing. Finally, we decided just to do it all again tomorrow - sun predicted, all day. We hope all the eager buyers will come back.

Then, time to decide if I was going to run the 3 k. mini-marathon, as I do every year. It's a fundraiser for the Cabbagetown Youth Centre, but I'd already paid my entry fee, could have just skipped it - last year it was raining, but not this hard. No - can't miss it, it's such a wonderful community event. So, I went. With my camera phone, for the first time.

This is before the race - I am looking a bit frantic. More than a bit, perhaps.
The children from the community centre sang us a joyful song.
And then we ran 3 k. through the puddles of the neighborhood, with lots of wet dogs and children. 
It was fun. Sort of. 
After the race ...
Very very very wet. I had ditched my umbrella en route. Didn't realize my legs looked so skinny and my feet so huge - ridiculous! Went home immediately for a hot hot shower and some coffee. And to nurse my bruised toe. Because yes, I ran with a sore toe. Oh, I am proud of myself today. Time to eat a lot. And later, obviously, get a pedicure. 
Bruised toe of champion runner with skinny legs and giant feet. The photo doesn't quite capture its bruisedness. It's bruised. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Obama and Putin



ST. PETERSBURG (The Borowitz Report)—Hopes for a positive G20 summit crumbled today as President Obama blurted to Russia’s Vladimir Putin at a joint press appearance, “Everyone here thinks you’re a jackass.”
The press corps appeared stunned by the uncharacteristic outburst from Mr. Obama, who then unleashed a ten-minute tirade at the stone-faced Russian President.
“Look, I’m not just talking about Snowden and Syria,” Mr. Obama said. “What about Pussy Riot? What about your anti-gay laws? Total jackass moves, my friend.”
As Mr. Putin narrowed his eyes in frosty silence, Mr. Obama seemed to warm to his topic.
“If you think I’m the only one who feels this way, you’re kidding yourself,” Mr. Obama said, jabbing his finger in the direction of the Russian President’s face. “Ask Angela Merkel. Ask David Cameron. Ask the Turkish guy. Every last one of them thinks you’re a dick.”
Shortly after Mr. Obama’s volcanic performance, Mr. Putin released a terse official statement, reading, “I should be afraid of this skinny man? I wrestle bears.”
After one day of meetings, the G20 nations voted unanimously on a resolution that said maybe everyone should just go home.


How do I know I live on the best street in Toronto? Well - my neighbour Gina, a block up, has just put in place her own Little Free Library. So there are not only two in Cabbagetown, there are two on Sackville Street. Hers is very cute.
And then John my beloved handyman came by to fix something else - he does just about everything around here except the roofing and heavy-duty plumbing, which is done by another John - and I took a picture to show you the man who made this lovely thing.
And thanks also to his talented and craft-loving wife Sylvie, who made the ginger ale can rosettes on the roof, which you can't see, but they're there, adding such class. Sylvie is the kind of person who makes sixteen different kinds of cookies as Christmas presents. Very impressive. Incomprehensible.

Tomorrow is the Cabbagetown Festival, the huge local event of the year, with massive crowds and endless activities, street food, music. Parliament Street is shut down and Riverdale Park West is full of quality arts and crafts. Spent the morning piling up all the stuff for our garage sale tomorrow and pricing it, with my daughter's best friends Holly and Nicole, who are going to run the sale. I've discovered that I'm great at buying and very poor at selling, so they're going to do that and we'll split the take 3 ways. Not great for me financially but wonderful in every other way - I get rid of stuff, they make money, we all - I hope - have fun, though the forecast - NO! - is rain. We Googled stuff to find out what it's selling for on-line, found, for example, that a pair of Italian bird figurines of my mother's that I'd wanted to sell are worth $300. So those will not be going in the "Make me an offer" bin. I swear every year that this year is the LAST, I will not accumulate stuff ... but here we are. Well, some of it is Mum's. But not a lot, really. In fact, almost nothing. Somehow, stuff sticks to me.

My friend Penny will be selling her lovely bead jewelry with us too - so if you're in Toronto, come on by. And if you're not - why aren't you? Hmmm - as I write, the overpowering acrid smell of skunk has wafted in. Someone out there is not happy. But that can't be why you're not in the centre of the universe this exciting weekend.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

the making of "Abbey Road" - acapella

I'm sure you are bored with my sobbing, and perhaps with my Beatles obsession, but below is something so moving, it's hard not to cry. Someone has compiled moments from the recording of "Abbey Road" without the instrumentals - you can hear the instruments bleeding into the vocals, but it's the harmonies, the strong, beautiful voices of this band, and particularly, no doubt about it, one member of this band, you can guess who, that take your breath away and make you cry. At least, if you're me.

Thanks to both my brother and friend Chris for forwarding this link. Heaven, the sun was shining low in the sky and I, Beatles blasting, tears falling - does life get better? Yes. My son ended up at Emerg today, was moving a bar for his boss after working 18 hours preparing for TIFF when he got trapped between two pieces of furniture. He has a chip of bone in his wrist, can't use his right hand, just as TIFF and his greatest time of work begins. He was feeling pretty low, so I invited him over for some TLC, but - his sister, who lives five minutes from the hospital, is making him dinner.

Much better that he go to her, because one day, I won't be here, and she will. "The women in my life are the best," he texted, with his left hand.

P.S. Just spent an hour reading the controversial and negative Francine Prose review of "Blue Jasmine" in the NY Review of Books and then the subsequent series of comments about it - fascinating, insightful, well-written. One reader sums it up (and incidentally, I just looked up 'anhedonic' - unable to feel pleasure):
Here is the thing about Allen and a very few other anhedonic, imaginative artists passionately fascinated by life with its comedy, tragedy and its ironic possibilities for the joys of aesthetic creation (e.g., Goya, Sophocles, Bruegel, Mozart, Austen, Wagner, Proust): they never stop and they are smarter than you.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Macca and Carl Perkins - old documentary

Not sure if this link will work, but if it doesn't, Google and you'll find it. This is a joy, two men who love music and each other. Just gorgeous. Made me - of course - cry. As someone just posted on the website that's playing his new song:
Paul McCartney has no idea how to stop making music. He will make music until his last breath. On this planet there is Air, Water and McCartney music. In the dictionary if you look up the word music his picture should be there. I never tire of the anticipation of his next recording. This man is a gift to all of us.

Paul McCartney with Carl Perkins: My Old Friend [Rare documentary]