Friday, January 31, 2014

Libraries victorious, except for the brothers who can't read

Late last night, Toronto City Council gave a huge vote of support for our public library!

Council voted to increase the budget for our public library in 2014 and to launch a study to explore opportunities to re-invest in our library!
It was almost unanimous – only the Ford brothers voted against.
Thanks to you and thousands of vocal library supporters, our public library can move forward with confidence and stability and hope for the future.
I am humbled by your support for our public library and delighted with last night’s result!
Thanks to you, we stood up to those who would diminish our public library and we won!
Best regards,
Maureen Signature
Can you imagine, the Fords voted against libraries? Well, yes, of course we can imagine that.

And, in literary news from elsewhere: 
A drunken row over the merits of literary forms in Russia ended in a poetry-lover stabbing a champion of prose to death, investigators say.
A 53-year-old man in Irbit, a town in the Sverdlovsk region of the Urals, has been charged with the murder of another man, 67, said to have been a friend. They were drinking spirits in the friend's flat when he reportedly said only prose was "real literature".
The accused, a former teacher, allegedly stabbed him before fleeing. Police found him hiding at an acquaintance's house in a nearby village.
According to a local police report, the accused has confessed to the murder and faces a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.
The victim of the attack, which took place on 20 January, had had pieces of his own prose published in a local newspaper. He was described as someone who had led an "anti-social lifestyle and abused spirits".
The alleged killer had apparently been lodging with him for several months before the fatal dispute.
In September, in the south Russian town of Rostov-on-Don, a reported argument about the philosopher Immanuel Kant ended in an air pistol being fired and one man being injured.

Someone with an "anti-social lifestyle" who "abused spirits" - hard to imagine a writer like that. Must be specific to Russia. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

skiing without clothing

Suddenly I'm warmer. Not because it actually IS warmer - though it is, a tiny bit, only minus four, minus twelve with the wind chill, practically spring, as my friend Ann said this morning.

No, I'm warmer because I just viewed this film of people skiing in the deep snow of the gorgeous Kootenay mountains.


Suddenly I feel very old.

Last night, pizza with Ken and a Tafelmusic Bach concert. With Ken, I feel very young. He's in his late seventies and has the grin and energy of a 9-year old boy. The Bach was beautiful, but best of all was a modern piece by a Quebecois flutist and composer called Gregoire Jeay, who also played most of the concert. Check him out - he's a nice-looking man and he plays a mean flute. Warmed me up nicely.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

puppies and Pete

Here's one of the famous Superbowl commercials, released early. It's the epitome of saccharine anthropomorphism. And yet … can't beat puppies and big horsies.

More from my hero:
“Once upon a time, wasn’t singing a part of everyday life as much as talking, physical exercise, and religion? Our distant ancestors, wherever they were in this world, sang while pounding grain, paddling canoes, or walking long journeys. Can we begin to make our lives once more all of a piece? Finding the right songs and singing them over and over is a way to start. And when one person taps out a beat, while another leads into the melody, or when three people discover a harmony they never knew existed, or a crowd joins in on a chorus as though to raise the ceiling a few feet higher, then they also know there is hope for the world.” ― Pete Seeger

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

favourite men

This was supposed to be posted yesterday but didn't make it: Paul at the Grammys with Ringo and his band. Paul won 4 Grammys including Best Rock Record, the one he made in just a few hours jamming with Dave Grohl of Nirvana. He is - may I repeat - 72 years old. And he was the only one there not wearing snazzy expensive clothes.
My son at work - there was a crisis on the street nearby, and he brought coffees out to all the firemen. He is 29. And he is wearing a Christmas sweater from his mother.

our beloved Pete Seeger

I call it the mark of a life well lived when strangers burst into tears at word of your demise: Pete Seeger, dead at 94. A profoundly courageous, decent, honourable man who cared about the world and put his music and his very life on the line. I saw a documentary about him a few years ago, and if you were a cynical person, you'd laugh - this lanky folksinger protesting, attending sit-ins, standing up for his beliefs time and time and time again - through song. There was a shot of him protesting - I forget what, maybe the Iraq war? Anyway, he was in his late eighties, standing by the side of the road in a windstorm with a sign to alert motorists: CARE! THIS IS YOUR PLANET. That's not what his sign said, but that's what it meant.

Thank you from us all, Pete, on this wounded planet you worked so hard to fix.

When I lived in the Kootenay Mountains of B.C., the singer Ronnie Gilbert of the Weavers lived there too. Ronnie was royalty. Here's one of the first tunes I learned when I got my Goya nylon string guitar and tried to become a folksinger, like Pete Seeger and the Weavers. Sing along:

Pete Seeger/ Guantanamera

Tonight, with the wind chill, it will be minus 32. This is real pioneer stuff, my friends - what are we made of, we Canadians? Being outside for too long hurts - face, hands, feet. It's a challenge, and we will prevail. My one pleasure in all this is that the vicious cold is killing the pests that are killing our trees. I hope. And in the meantime, more bird seed. There was a tiny frozen bird by the feeder the other day - just not big and strong enough to make it.

Not stringy and tough, like Pete.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"London Road" a must see

Even as the snow falls outside, I sit here in the kitchen beside my skinny cat with her club foot, and I think, This past 24 hours - well, it doesn't get better - family, food, friends, and art.

Yesterday afternoon I went to Anna's where her father was already ensconced, playing with his grandson. So we talked and played and ate a delicious leek and cheese dip Anna had made, until it was time to go to Sam's restaurant the Huntsman, at College and Dovercourt. It's not legally his, you understand, but he has worked there since before it opened and recently was made the manager, a new responsibility that has made him very happy.

So there we were in the narrow, cosy space, Eli charging up and down until the arrival of the French fries, his favourite food, the rest of us taking turns with him, eating delicious dishes that kept arriving and drinking a spectacular Malivoire red from the Niagara Peninsula. A family, we were a family: Ed and I who separated in 1990, and our children and grandchild. We are a family, and there's a wonderful little boy with a terrific mother - and a father who met his son's granddad for the first time, later - and there's a tall tattooed boy who's thriving and has big plans. It felt like a joyful plateau, a place of rest after many years of anxiety and struggle and pain for us all.

After dinner, they went back to Anna's and I went to my Cabbagetown writer's party. Many of the people there I know but have never spent much time with, and what a pleasure it was to do so - such interesting people. All I hope is that this gathering happens again. I drank too much wine and tonight am drinking mint tea, as penance. But it was worth it.

Today, to Zumba class at the C'town Community Centre, taught by a local girl for the cost of two looneys - great music and much fun. And then to the Bluma Appel Theatre for "London Road," a documentary musical. In 2006, five prostitutes were murdered in the British town of Ipswich. The young British writer Alecky Blythe went there to interview the locals about the events, and Adam Cork set the conversations to music. It's directed by Jackie Maxwell with some of the best actors in the land, and it is simply stunning - moving, beautiful and completely original. Thrilling theatre.

The piece began its development in the "Writers and Composers Week" at the National Theatre in London, which apparently consists of putting writers and composers together in a room and seeing what happens. Brilliant. This is what happens: a documentary musical.

Non-fiction is everywhere!

And now for the Grammys. I'm thinking of my friends in Stratford this weekend, gathered for the funeral of Susie Turnbull, a theatre person and kind, much-loved woman, who died suddenly in December.

Friday, January 24, 2014

yo Barbie


Bitter bitter cold out there - a cold that pierces the lungs, a wind that knifes through clothing, no matter how thick - except my vintage mink coat, what a godsend. We haven't had a winter like this for so long, I'd nearly forgotten what it was like. It reminds me of when I was working in Montreal one brutal January and got a taxi one block because I thought I'd die if I walked.

Well, we won't die, but it's challenging out there. I heard two people today say they were sick of winter, and it's only mid-January. We've got a long way to go, folks. Pace yourselves. The Y is one of my salvations - taking off bulky layer after layer, putting on gym clothes, then immersing later in the sauna or the whirlpool - heaven. I just called dear friend Ken and asked him if he wants to hear some Bach - Tafelmusic has an all-Bach program on Wednesday. He does, and we are meeting at a great pizza place first. Pizza, Bach and Ken - I'll float till Wednesday, in anticipation.

But first, the pleasure of the weekend - tomorrow, my ex is flying in to town. He's one of the producers of the new Riverdance show, Heartbeat of Home, so is coming for the Toronto opening on Sunday and to see his kids and grandson. We are all, including Eli of course, having dinner at the restaurant where my son is now the manager. Quel plaisir. And then I'm invited to a party for Cabbagetown writers. That's my idea of thrilling - a room full of Cabbagetown writers.

Sunday, I'm taking friend Ron to the new documentary musical from England, "London Road." How you make a documentary musical, I have no idea. And in the evening - the Grammy awards, with Paul and Ringo doing something TOGETHER. I may scream. There's a huge problem, Downton is on at the same time - I'll just have to watch both episodes next week. Such excitement on a Sunday night.

Kaplan's tips for surviving a hard winter - keep busy, listen to Bach (and Randy Bachman on CBC), exercise, eat pizza with friends, watch good TV, love your family. Drink lots of water, eat oranges and soup, use tons of lotion on your poor desiccated skin. And plan your getaway.

And read. Read read read. Here's a terrific article on memoir from the writer Dani Shapiro:
"Dear Disillusioned Reader": An open letter 
And another on writing memoir from the NYT:
When writers expose the dead 
And the new issue of Brevity, a wonderful on-line mag that prints essays of 750 words or less:
A new issue of Brevity  
There. Now - didn't time just fly by? A guy at the Y today was just inside the door, getting ready to go out as I was coming in. "Is it summer out there yet?" he asked. Almost. It'll be summer in no time. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

remembering "Catcher in the Rye"

Today, the little bit of my face not covered with scarf and hat actually ached. So let's just say it's cold, and leave it at that. I went to CBC this afternoon to tape my piece. Oh the memories - mike and headphones in a big studio. I love radio, used to do a lot of it and miss it. It was good to be back. Karen the producer is hoping to let me know exactly when the piece will air on the Sunday Edition, 99.1 on Feb. 9 - it's a 3-hour program, so it would be good to know.

Two not-very-good viewing experiences - the rented film "Museum Hours" and the documentary "Salinger." Pretty bad, both. "Museum Hours" was recommended by an artist friend, but ye gods, I only lasted half an hour - interminable, pretentious, boring. "Salinger" - well, who can forget the first time they picked up "Catcher" and began to read? I lived with that book in my heart for months, and then the whole Glass family - felt deep and mature, at 16, as I read those beautiful stories about Seymour and his siblings. The documentary makes clear how damaged Salinger was by his experiences during WWII - he was in active combat for too long and was present at the liberation of a concentration camp (and after the war, married a woman who'd been a Nazi, too strange). How obsessed he remained, his whole life long, with very young girls. How difficult and neurotic he was in later life. I was interested in all that, but the doc had danger music, some actor miming typing and standing on a stage in front of giant pictures from Jerry's life, every single person who had an opinion spouting off - it was silly, overdone, much too long.

Thank you, El Critic, for your definitive cultural judgements.

Things are heating up with the book - I'm negotiating with the publisher now, and once the contract is signed, we begin work, finalizing content and discussing design, especially the cover. This is the joy of self-publishing: If I'd gone the regular publishing route, I'd still be waiting to hear back from a publishing house on whether they were interested or, more likely, not. If they were, it would be at least a year and a half before the book appeared.

Whereas I finished receiving the last editing comments in December, will sign a contract in January and hold a book - at least, that's the plan - in May. Stay tuned. In the meantime, with a definite plan in hand, I can start planning my early spring getaway. Paris, Rome and London - here I come!

PS Someone just sent me a video of - yes, it's true - Stephen Harper playing and singing "Hey Jude" to Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife. Mind-boggling in its grotesquerie. He should be forbidden by the highest laws in the land to play Beatle songs. That horrible man, that sublime song - for a moment there, my synapses snapped.

Speaking of synapses, there have been fab shows on TVO about brain plasticity, often featuring an extremely handsome Australian TV guy with a wolf tattooed on his back. Today he tried to throw darts with his left hand and failed, spent a month visualizing doing so successfully - without actually doing it - and when he tried again, had vastly improved his score. Just with his brain.

Too bad our Prime Minister is without one.

Monday, January 20, 2014

how to stop procrastinating

Here's a wonderful article, sent by student Joanne, about how to get on with your writing work. Funny and true, even if your hips work.

It's freezing here and about to get colder. Yesterday, rushing huddled along Spruce Street, I ran into my neighbour Jack. "Why are we living in this hellhole?" I asked him before speeding past. But - we're Canadians, and this is what we're used to. These last few years of mild temperatures and no snow - too weird. Now it feels like Canada - bitter cold and wind, lots of ice and snow and faceless people dressed in bulky shapeless black, who are not necessarily Muslim.

I am working, working. Fun! Getting ready for the first U of T class of term tomorrow. Making plans for a reading/storytelling series on the Danforth, though not till May. Thinking about the next trip. Getting my book about writing out to my favourite critical editors, in preparation for possible self-publishing there too. Oh, and I just heard from the man whose business is to help people self-publish. This is what he wrote about the Beatles manuscript:
What a wonderful book this will make! I love the writing, the story, the diary entries. It's excellent. I would love to be the publisher of this book. 

Now that's what we call music to the ears. Last night, a communal dinner of roast chicken and trout, shared with Wayson, Jean-Marc and Richard, and then - Downton! Two solid hours because I missed last week's. Poor Anna. Poor Branson. Hooray Mrs. Hughes. Fun. I told the boys I want us to have a communal dinner every Sunday night through the winter. It'll get us through.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Harper goes home

This is hilarious and brilliant. And now I promise, I'll stop with the Harper in Israel jokes. Though I leap up to turn off the radio when the news comes on. The story makes me sick.

Israeli Prime Minister Stephen Harper returns after long visit in Canada - The Beaverton - North...
TEL AVIV - After nine long years travelling in Canada to promote his country, Israel’s prime minister Stephen Harper is finally back in his homeland....

a superb article on Harper and Israel, by Gerry Caplan

Harper should see more of Israel than his hosts will show him Add to ...

Israel is an immensely complicated country, and it takes a great deal of time for an outsider to begin grasping its many facets. So when you just pop in for four days for your first-ever visit, as Prime Minister Harper is about to do, your itinerary is critical. Mr. Harper and his team will return confident that they now have a good grasp of Israeli realities. They will be deluded. All they will see is one particular dimension of Israeli reality, the one their Israeli government hosts want them to see and which, as it happens, is also the one they want to see. The entire West Bank and Gaza are to receive a hasty meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Why complicate the Prime Minister’s simple one-dimensional view of Israel by exposing him to the larger picture. 
The real purpose of the trip, of course, is to help Mr. Harper become an even more unconditional advocate for Israel, although that seems quite impossible. But it’s not Israel that he supports. It’s the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Among the great truths the Canadian delegation will not be reminded of is that Mr. Netanyahu represents only one faction of Israel today, just as Mr. Harper represents only a minority of Canadians.
Countless visitors to Israel return kidding themselves they now know the country. Much of this is carefully organized. Birthright Israel, for example, sponsors free, all-expenses paid 10-day trips to Israel for Jewish young adults aged 18-26. The purpose is quite straightforward. As one board member put it, participants are expected to return home “ready and eager to be advocates for Israel.” Since the program began in 1999, a remarkable 350,000 young people from 64 countries have participated, about 80 per cent of them from the United States and Canada.
The young men and women of Birthright see exactly what the Israeli government wants them to see. That means they get to meet exactly none of the many Israelis who disagree passionately with their government and get to see little or nothing of the Palestinians. It appears the same will be largely true this week for Mr. Harper and his entourage.
Mr. Harper’s carefully limited itinerary will not, however, constrain him or his colleagues from returning as experts on all things Israeli – Israel’s secret cache of nuclear weapons, the menace of Iran, the treatment of Israeli Arabs, Israel as an occupying power, the wickedness of labeling Israel an apartheid state, conditions in Gaza and the West Bank, the refugee camps, Palestinian responsibility for failed peace talks, the Israeli-controlled checkpoints for Palestinians, the special roads for Israeli use only, Israeli settlers’ treatment of Palestinians and so many other matters about which they will return with no more personal knowledge than they began.
Never having seen it for themselves – although it’s the easiest thing in the world to do – Mr. Harper and crew will not see how Israeli soldiers at many West Bank checkpoints casually humiliate and torment Palestinians way beyond any legitimate Israeli security needs. Instead, they will join the Netanyahu chorus and dismiss anyone who makes this point, or criticizes virtually any Israeli government policy regarding the Palestinians, as anti-Semitic. The Holocaust is routinely invoked.
I wonder if any of Mr. Harper’s fellow travellers, including the accompanying journalists, might be interested in branching out a bit for themselves. There is, after all, a veritable cornucopia for them to experience. For just one example, the Israeli group Breaking the Silence, founded by disillusioned Israeli Defense Forces soldiers and veterans, collects testimonies from IDF soldiers who can no longer remain silent about the brutal treatment they’ve witnessed by Israelis of Palestinians. About 900 from all ranks have spoken out. Wouldn’t it be vaguely interesting to talk to them?
Breaking the Silence also arranges tours to places that Birthright or the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the official advocacy arm of the Canadian Jewish establishment, would never dream of sending visitors. One is to the small Palestinian city of Hebron, just south of Jerusalem, where fewer than a thousand Israeli extremists, protected by the might of the Israeli army, have been allowed to make life a misery for the city’s 170,000 Palestinians. Hebron is a shameful development that needs to be seen to be believed, and even then it’s barely believable.
But there’s so much else that shouldn’t be missed either. Why not try to meet the past leaders of Shin Bet, Israeli’s renowned anti-terrorist intelligence and security agency, who have publicly and unanimously asserted that it is not the Palestinians but the illegal West Bank settlements that are the major impediment to forging a secure future for Israel?
So much to do, so little time. So why spend it – and all those public funds – just to have your existing biases confirmed?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Margaret Norquay, 1920 - 2014

Margaret came to my Ryerson class over 10 years ago, when she was in her early 80's. I'd never met anyone like her - a minister's widow, still closely involved with the workings of the United Church, she was as open, brave, unconventional, funny and honest as anyone I'd ever taught. I adored her immediately and was thrilled when she took my class again and then joined my home class.

Eventually I had to lay down the law. At 85, she was so busy with her weekly activities - which included volunteering for Out in the Cold, taking improv classes at Ryerson, writing her church's newsletter, tending an enormous garden and the lives of her 3 children and their children, and countless other involvements - that she wasn't making enough time for her writing. And Margaret was a brilliant writer who'd done CBC television and radio work, among many other things, at a time when few women had jobs. But then, she had been raised to believe she could do anything. I asked that she take a few months to focus on her stories and get them out for publication.

And she did. She sent the manuscript to Wilfred Laurier Press's Life Writing department, and they published her book. "Broad is the Way," a memoir about her time as a parson's wife in northern Alberta in the Fifties, appeared when she was 86 years old. It's a superb book, lively and true; her Christmas story, Mr. Kringle's Christmas, is the best of its kind, a classic about the things that mattered most to her - community and kindness. I've read it many times, and I still can't read it without crying.

Shortly after the book came out, Margaret, who'd been living alone for many years, had a fall and lost her short term memory; she moved to assisted living at Christie Gardens. Immediately, she set up a program whereby she read several morning newspapers and then assembled a group to hear her version of the day's news events and discuss. Her daughter told me today that last week, as Margaret was failing, her children took turns reading aloud to her the stories from her book. That made me glad and proud.

I went to her funeral today to honour her not just as a marvellous, unique woman, but as a superb writer. Her book is available on Amazon and for e-readers; I urge you to read it. Thank you for all you gave us, Margaret, in class and with your work and your life. You were a joy. I'm proud of have been a small part of your spectacular journey.

It was uncustomary mild today. I did some walking and some errands, Skyped with Lynn in France for nearly 2 hours, and have wasted a terrible amount of time on the internet. Just watched Amy and Tina and the fashions at the Golden Globes, Bruce and Jimmy do a parody about Chris Christie - oh, it's delicious how many things there are to see on the internet. But I must channel my inner Margaret. She would not have been sitting here watching parodies, she had much too much to do. And so do I.

But had to watch one more thing - this extraordinary film about the Hubble space telescope and its discovery of just how vast our universe is. Good to put our minuscule selves into perspective.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Good news

First, I went to the dentist yesterday, and his hygienist told me I have the gums of a 15-year old. If you ask, I'll show them to you.

Then my client Lucinda, who came to me last year with an idea for a memoir, is self-publishing the manuscript we produced; it's nearly finished. She wrote:

I took all your advice and it shows! With heartfelt thanks for all you did to help me tell my story. You have a wonderful ability to bring out the best in people.

Nice to hear. A wonderful ability to bring out the best in people and the gums of a 15-year old - way to go, Kaplan, you're on a roll! 

And on Monday, I realized that the 50th anniversary of the Beatles arriving in America is upon us - should have thought of it earlier. I decided to try to get an essay on CBC radio's Sunday Edition, where I've read pieces before - spent Tuesday writing it, sent it to friend Margaret for editing, rewrote Wednesday, sent it in last night, and this morning the producer wrote to say she loves it, can we tape next week? She also wrote she's surprised I'm a Paul Girl. She's a Ringo Girl. 

Well, I won't hold that against her. 

It'll air Sunday morning, Feb. 9, which is 50 years to the day after the Beatles sang on Ed Sullivan. And now I realize I have a problem. That weekend, I'm in Ottawa visiting Auntie Do with Anna and Eli, scheduled to fly out at 6.30 pm Sunday Feb. 9. But there's a Beatles special on TV that night at 8. I won't be back in time. 

Can't miss it. Must change flight. Must pay penalty, get home in time. Must see Beatles. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

warm memories

Getting warmer - the winter coat is off, the pants rolled up.
Warm at last! A major architectural project
After the chocolate treat
My dad's cousin David, who looks just like his father and says I look just like mine.
The 3 of us - mother, son and official paparazza

Angels and Insects

So much to do - back into the thick of it and too busy to write to you. But I'd better stop and connect, or I'll get so far behind I'll never write here again.

So - first of all, three hours in a full airplane with tiny seats and a very energetic toddler who does not like to be confined and has just discovered the joy of screaming - not in anger, just for the pleasure of the scream - well, I've had more restful journeys, I can tell you. Anna and I were side by side juggling the boy; I felt sorry for the elderly man next to me, but he was a trouper, offered Eli some liquorice which, as it was crammed in, bought us two minutes of peace. Eli also did an enormous poo; we managed to stand him between us, remove the diaper and stuff it into an air sickness bag. Oh it was fun. The boy, of course, fell into a deep sleep in the last ten minutes of the flight, as his mother had predicted he would.

We landed, got through the rigmarole and into a cab. Eli's dad was waiting on the steps of Anna's place to help them in. I put the baby in his crib, kissed them both goodbye and rushed home. With relief. I adore my grandson, but living with him 24/7 is another matter. What enormous patience and energy it takes. Did I ever have that - with two children? It must have been some other woman.

My tenant Carol had the place shining and a welcome sign up - so good to be home. Toronto was hardly cold at all, though the city looks horrible, covered with filthy snow and ice. But here's the internet, the pussycat, and every bit of my lovely life - hooray. By next day I was drowning in Things To Do, rushing about, the punishment for going away. And then a treat: Wayson came over and we watched a DVD I'd rented, "Angels and Insects" - be still my beating heart. An audience member in NYC recommended it for any fan of Mark Rylance, the best actor alive, and it is indeed a beautiful movie made spectacular by its star. He is utterly believable and beyond gorgeous in the film. Mark Rylance is right up there with Paul McCartney and Jon Stewart in the Best Men on Earth category.

Wayson drove me to the vet to have the cat checked out - she has a huge cyst or tumour on her paw that's growing and she isn't eating properly, but is in no pain. It cost me $84 to find out there's nothing to be done about the paw and nothing wrong inside. She's just getting old. She's 13. Sleeping now with her paw over her furry face. She actually purrs when I stroke her. Mellowing in her old age, as am I. I purr when you stroke me, too.

Tonight, a PBS special on 1964 - my year of specialty! It was very good. I took notes.

It was wonderful to be in the sun, to see a naked boy running on the beach. It was wonderful to do the same things as my mother - for years, she welcomed me and my kids to her place, as I welcomed Anna and Eli - and to realize that I am not her. Not even close. My relationship with my daughter is very different than hers with me, and that is a good thing. Anna and I have love, friendship and respect, and we also have a certain distance. We have boundaries, a concept my mother did not understand. It was heartening to feel that difference, there in the place so filled with what was delightful, too, about my mother - her taste, her generosity.

I thank you, Mum, for all you did and gave. But this past week, I was glad to see for sure that in some ways, I am not at all like you.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

northward ho

Twas ever thus - today is the best day of our vacation - the sun is shining madly through there's still a sharp wind. But there's sun. We went to the beach with a naked Eli, and we jumped and jumped and jumped into the pool. At least, Mama and baby did. Glamma was cold. She's a wimp. We're doing laundry and packing up, and soon we leave for the airport, hopefully with a worn-out babe in tow. 

Thank you for everything, planet. And readers - I know you can't wait to see the hundreds of photos of a sandy bottom on the beach. I'll post a few as soon as I get home. Where there's the internet in every room, so I do not have to drive to the bagel store. What an idiot I was not to hook up my phone. Oh well. I'm old. We don't know how to do those things. 

A bientôt. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014


2014-01-08 Thursday

As I watch my daughter parent her 20-month old son, I realize I have almost no memory of this time in my own life. In fact, I can hardly believe she and I went through her early childhood together. One thing is sure, though – she’s a lot better at this job than I was. I don’t understand many of the choices she has made in her life; though alike in many ways, we are different in many others. But I am immensely proud to watch her handling the most important job in the world.
If only, as I joke to her, I’d had her around to help me parent her – she’d not have gotten away with what she did. But would she be a better parent now, if I’d been one then? Impossible.
She told me that an elderly couple on the plane down frowned with dread as she sat near them with squirmy Eli. As they got off, the old woman told her what a fantastic job she was doing.
But my God, having a little one around is exhausting, it’s relentless, you can’t say, okay I’m really tired now, let’s call this off for a while. There he is charging about inspecting electronics, climbing the dangerous stairs, about to press the elevator Alarm button, which is placed conveniently low. He has a brief nap in the afternoon, but otherwise is on the move from before 7 a.m. till he finally passes out at about 9. He is, as you know, the most wonderful little boy. But he has utterly worn out his Glamma. And I’m not doing the front line stuff, the real parenting, saying no, time outs, following through on threats. She does it. I just get to play and hug. And carry and read stories and dig in the sand and carry and sing and put to bed, if I’m lucky, after he falls asleep on my chest. And I nearly fall asleep too.
An extraordinary event today – the arrival of Tracey, my ex-husband’s wife, and their daughter G., who’s four. Tracey was on her way to visit her mother, who lives on the east coast of Florida, when she decided to come via us. We all spent the afternoon in the condo because it was too cold and rainy to go out, until finally a bit of sun appeared and we dressed warmly and went to the beach. There is nothing better for small people than a beach and a bucket and a little shovel and waves coming in – we could have stayed for hours except that the sun vanished again. Then we went out for dinner. The two kids got impatient so I took them out of the restaurant onto the beach for a good half hour’s run while the two women finished dinner and talked. G. was dressed as a character from the film “Toy Story” and has a vivid imagination; she saw monsters, but we decided they were nice monsters. Eli meanwhile just ran and climbed and kicked sand and tried to hug G., who is his aunt.
It’s a bit surreal, this odd bond, but mostly it’s wonderful, important for the kids to get to know each other and for us all to connect as the family that we are.

2014-01-11 Saturday

Our last full day, a few moments of peace in the morning before Hurricane Eli appears. It’s white outside, mist on the water gradually being burned off by – yes, the sun, which has decided to grace us with its presence. It’s not hot, but it’s warm enough for lots of digging holes on the beach. Yesterday Eli was so energetic, stubborn and restless – terrible two’s, anyone? - that he wore out both his caregivers early in the day; we were thrilled when he passed out at 7.30. The two of us vegged in front of the TV – there’s a channel that shows the old “Law and Order” shows with Lennie, our favourite character. It was Anna introduced me to “Law and Order” long ago, resulting in many happy viewing hours.
Again, thank you to the gods – everyone says our timing was great, as we avoided the worst of the vicious weather up north. I feel my mum sheltering us.

Yesterday, I took Eli to the beach in the late afternoon so his mum could nap. His favourite word is “mowah” – he wants mowah of everything, food, playtime, music. We stood at the edge of the water as the waves came in, and he was open-mouthed with joy because THEY KEPT COMING! Mowah waves, again and again. There’s a little fountain at the entrance to the condo; we stop every time for him to admire it and swish his hand in the water. How wonderful it is to be reminded of the wonder of small things.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

:Ryerson class cancelled

Dear writers, I'm sorry to say that the numbers were low for my Ryerson course, and so it has been cancelled. Yes, it might have filled before the start date, but they can't take that chance, they need the classrooms. So for those of you who've worked with me before, there's my Life Stories II advanced class at U of T, starting Jan. 21 and definitely a go. For others, the Ryerson course will start again in May, and is never cancelled for the spring or fall terms. Only the winter, for some reason. I guess memoir writers like to go where it's warm. I do too. If only it were warm here in Florida! Are you listening up there?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

polar vortex in Florida

How Floridians dress for the cold
 At a restaurant - me, Booboo and Paul McCartney
 at the beach


No time to write - two grown women are coping with a very energetic twenty-month old in the cold. In all my years here, I have never known Florida in true cold, but we are experiencing our own version of the polar vortex, as they call it. Of course, it's not like it is up north - the northern U.S. even worse than Canada, for once. But our living quarters are not set up for a kid, the assumption being that they're wearing themselves out in the pool or on the beach, not huddled inside. We went out today in search of a playground, but then it started to rain. So we stopped for waffles and wifi instead.

Duty calls.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Delicious Downton

Just guessing who lives here ...
A Florida Christmas tree
Crowded beach
Not so crowded beach

And now - get ready, my readers, because tonight, as the song says, Eli's coming! With his mama. So there may be a few photographs of a little boy covered with sand. I hope so, because tonight and tomorrow, it's going to be very cold, Florida-style - 10 celsius or colder. But by Thursday it's supposed to start warming up, and by the weekend, just in time, the sun.

Last night's thrill - the return of Downton. More marvellous than ever - I loved every minute. What superb actors, fabulous sets, costumes, lines. Dame Maggie, relishing every moment. Yes, there are bits that are simply absurd and I wondered why Julian Fellowes has to do that silly stuff - the whole bit with Carson resolving his life's great sorrow in two minutes at the railway station. And why Fellowes would want us to think that Cora and her husband are still so incredibly stupid that they don't know Mr. Barrow is a lying scheming son of a bitch AFTER ALL THIS TIME!

But quibbles aside, it's a rich royal treat; two hours vanished. Today, getting the last of my work done, because soon … Eli's coming!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

once upon a time in America

The sun! What a welcome sight, after two days of thick dark damp cloud. The lack of good weather was good, though, because it encouraged me to work. I’ve been doing lots of work-related chores – sorting out computer files, rewriting my book about writing. Very satisfying in the cool and quiet.
I’ve been reading the local paper, too – the Bradenton Herald, which told me yesterday that the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, intends to go on executing people “at quick pace.” In fact, at nearly record-breaking pace – seven executions in 2012. There are 403 people currently on death row.
I read that Obama is making teeny steps toward gun control by attempting to allow states to provide information about mentally ill people trying to buy guns. I try to imagine any other Western country where this would require a ten second debate – and cannot. But then, no other Western country still executes prisoners either, and at quick pace.
Concurrent to all this was an article stating that three-quarters of white evangelical Protestants in America do not believe in evolution. Below that was a section of the paper called “Worship Directory,” listing the local churches with their address and times of worship. This, remember, is for a very small section of a heavily tourist-inhabited state. And here are the churches listed:
 Bahai (one); Baptist (eleven); Catholic; Christian; Christian Reformed; Community Church; Church of Christ; Episcopal; Evangelical Covenant; Jewish (two – “Pluralistic” and “Reform”); Lutheran; Nazarene; Non Denominational; Presbyterian; Reformed Church in America; Salavation (sic) Army; Science of Mind; Spiritualist; Unitarian Universalist; United Church of Christ; United Methodist.
I might try Salavating – or else Science of Mind, that sounds interesting. But instead, on this Sunday morning, I’ll use my mind to think about this beautiful day.
Normally, there is nothing, zero, nada about Canada in the local paper here. But, my dear Ontarian friends, in yesterday’s paper, a large central article about … guess who? Toronto’s crack-smoking friend-of-gangs mayor, who insists he is the best mayor the city has ever had and is proudly running for re-election. The article quotes the Toronto Star disputing his claims, but ends that he still has the support of a large number of constituents.
Which, unbelievably, seems to be true.
And I bet not a single one of them believes in evolution either.

Now out into the sun.