Saturday, May 31, 2014

High Park in the sun

I had a meeting this morning with Don, my publisher, about the writing book. Some work to do, but not much. After Don left, I was going to start when Anna called to ask if I wanted to go to High Park. Yes, I did. A stunning day, my Booboo who is putting words together at a rapid rate, and my girl. Heaven. And ice cream. They had cones, I had a Mmmmm...Magnum.

Friday, May 30, 2014



I am one proud producer, just home from a great, great evening of storytelling in a wonderful venue. I really wasn't sure how the evening would go - would anyone come? Would the readers' stories come across or fall flat? Would the space work?

The answer is yes, God no, yes indeed. It all worked, according to the people who were there - friends, family, students from current classes and way back. It was thrilling, watching writers take flight. Bravo to each and every one of you: from the left, Kate, Chris, Ruth, moi, Carol, Mary Jane, Jason, Sam. Lovely lovely work from all of you, tears, laughs, profound connection. We couldn't ask for more.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tomorrow's So True: Life stories, well written, well told

I'm writing during the break of my Thursday class, which is mostly a rehearsal for tomorrow night's readings. These guys are the BEST, folks - wonderful stories, moving, hilarious, true. If you can make it, you won't regret it. Here's the info. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

the tech genius

Sorry about that - my friend Nicole recorded the book launch talk on my phone, I downloaded to iPhoto and am now trying to upload here in the usual way - but for some reason there's no sound and the clip is two seconds long. I'll have to find out if there's another way. Chuck, are you out there?

In the meantime, my brain is back. This afternoon I was at the St. Mike's Health Clinic to see a doctor about my osteoporosis; the TV was on, of course, and when I sat down to wait, they had a clip about people signing a Get Well card for Rob Ford. A woman was being interviewed. "I hope he gets better," she said. "He's doing a good job, that's the main thing." I nearly screamed at the television. She looked normal, she was speaking in more or less coherent English, and she thinks he's doing a GOOD JOB? Who is living in the alternate universe?

When the doctor saw my chart and I answered all her questions - no to allergies, medication, everything (except too much wine per week) - she said, What are you doing here? Good question - how could I have full-on osteoporosis? But I do. I am in the grey zone for fractures - almost high risk but not quite. She wrote a prescription for medication, and now I remember why I disliked it the short time I took it a few years ago. You have to take it on an empty stomach and wait an hour upright before eating anything. So that means you take it as you get out of bed and then wait an hour before breakfast and coffee.

NO @#$ WAY. Let's try something else.

This is hilarious:
Are You In A Jane Austen Novel?
How to tell if you're currently in a Jane Austen novel.

the launch video: but it doesn't work

people say the nicest things

I said I wouldn't reprint compliments on the book any more, but please allow me a few more - they're so beautiful. And this too shall pass, of course - the world moves on, and I'm left with lots of books wondering how to get them out into the world. In the meantime ...

Oh Beth, this book is so marvelous. I just love it so much. I have only put it down when I really have to - like when I sleep and ugg have to work. You know, I have had the best two nights sleep I've had in a long time and I'm beginning to attribute it to the deeply personal, inner place of innocence and openness that 'All Your Loving' is taking me to. Your voice is like a buddy who allows me to feel like I'm 'in on it' with you in our own club - such a comforting feeling (although what you are going through is sometimes extremely uncomfortable) and that, through your bravery and intelligence, WE are going to get beyond this. 

I am now seeing the book as a terrific movie. 

The writing is crisp and clear, honest and incisive. I really appreciated the detail about life in the 1960s here in Canada and in New York. But the book was also revealing about France and how different it was to go to school in Paris. Very informative and a great analysis. Your family were true leaders in civil rights, as it was then called. I found it very interesting to have these vignettes from the near past and ponder the changes and developments since.

You are a talented writer and memoirist Beth and this is a lovely book.  And it left me wanting more!

After reading All My Loving twice, I feel I have got to know this 13 year old girl very well. Her angst, her confused emotions of hate and love, her sensitivity, her typical teenage self-centeredness, and of course her unfailing love for Paul are so well depicted, I could see the scenes as if they were unfolding on a big screen. (I think it would make a very good movie.) Oh I love Paul's cute French accent too, and many other qualities I had not appreciated before! A la grande écrivaine, mes révérences. Vous souhaitant un succès éclatant.

I am both drawn to, and a little scared of your book, it draws me back to a time I rarely let myself think about, as it was so wonderful and ended so abruptly with the passing of my youth and my last parent. I tried so hard to find that happiness in a family as an adult, and eventually I realized that it was not meant for me; there was other warmth from the winds of the future.  

This last from one of my oldest friends, a businessman. All my friends should be writers! 

And about the launch:

Such a wonderful evening Beth! Great nibbles, great people ... and lots of people I hadn't seen for so long. Congratulations. As we say down home: "Ya done grand, dear, right grand."

Congratulations on a great night at the Gest Beth. Very impressive presentation. I loved your readings and your talk. You're very good. You should be on the CBC. I hope you sold a lot of books. Your son and daughter are most impressive in all ways. I love to watch loving accepting families in action. And that grandson..... holy moly he has a lot of curly hair!

You were glorious, as were all your friends and kids.  You have managed to surround yourself with a marvelous array of lovely and caring humans.  

That's for sure. And they all write lovely, caring emails in beautiful prose. Thank you, thank you. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

book launch report

Will I ever have another day like this, with floods of effusive emails pouring in? My inbox is overflowing right now. I gather that the 90 or so people there had a good time and enjoyed themselves. Many have written about amazing connections - more than 30 years ago, friend Nick the actor was in a TV show with Alanna, who designed the book cover, a show cast by Marsha, a friend and former student who was also there last night. Things like that. Canada has a small population - it's not surprising that artsy folk connect.

People were glad to meet my kids and to see Eli in motion, constant motion. Sam impressed with his moving, honest speech to introduce me, and Anna with her lightning quick but relaxed responses to her speedy son. I've been told the food was great, though I wouldn't know; certainly the Local Gest is an ideal place for something like this, spacious, warm, well-run. We were well-organized ourselves, with great volunteer greeters at the door - JM and Richard, and later Chris and Jason, and Margaret and Carol who stayed near me and helped with the signing. The salespeople Linda and Monique, who never stopped work, and then Gretchen and Holly, sold over $2000 worth of books, including a few of my other ones.

We sold about 90 books, which is an amazing one on one ratio. When it ended, a group of us walked back here to drink Prosecco and eat leftovers from the restaurant and watch Sam entertain us, as is his wont. I did have a heavy moment this morning, postpartum and a bit hungover, borrowing Monique's car to go back and pick up the remaining unsold books - about 120. I'd hoped to sell far more, obviously - as we writers always do. The reality hits now that I have to go on trying to sell this book, when I want it to sell itself so I can get on with the next one. I'll have to figure out how to manage all that.

But in the meantime, a day of recovery - until a few minutes from now, when I have to go to U of T for a class. It has been an odd day, very hot and muggy - like high summer - mixed with dark and thunderous. My gardenia is in bloom, and in the rain, that smell plus the lilacs and jasmine, plus the lilies of the valley I've picked, make sitting here by my back door beyond heavenly. But mostly - I feel lighter. This offspring has flown the coop. Yes, I still have to do some minding. But she's out. Happy trails, kiddo.

PS My publisher, informed of the number of books sold, just wrote "That has to be the best sales ratio of any book I've published. Congratulations!" and sent his first edit of the next book, "True to Life: 50 Steps to help you write your own story." Onward!

a few shots

It's 9 a.m. on a beautiful Tuesday morning, and I'm in a daze. There was a party last night, and it was good. That much I know. This morning I have to borrow my neighbour's car and pick up the boxes of unsold books. That much I also know. 
The event was wonderful. No question. 
 Signing for Richard.
Now that's what I like to see ...
Getting ready to read.
 Signing for Jenny
Some of the crowd in one of the rooms at the Local Gest
Signing for Eleanor, friend since 1975.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Tonight, tonight, won't be just any night ...

Great is the excitement in these here parts: there's a party tonight. And there's a problem, which is that a huge percentage of my favourite people in the universe will be gathered, and I won't be able to sit down with each of them and have a long talk and get caught up. That will be frustrating. But seeing the assembled faces will be a high point of my life.

Pam from Quebec, another old friend whom I have never met, just wrote: I didn't want the day to pass without sending along my best wishes and congratulations for the launch of your book. As a faithful reader of your blog, I have been listening to its labor pains for some time now. Tonight is your big night, and I wish I could be there to listen and applaud your efforts along with your friends and supporters. I still have my ticket stub from when I saw the Beatles in 1964 at the old Montreal Forum. Best of luck tonight, you deserve your hard earned glory. As always, I remain President of your Quebec fan base. 

She's right about listening to the labor pains - I've been groaning on and on about this book for years. What a relief it will be to have it finally, truly, out in the world.

For those of you, like dear friend Nick, who might forget the time and place, here it is. The pub is at Parliament and Spruce, half-way between Carlton and Gerrard, on the west side, lower level. See you.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

"Finding Vivian Maier"

My daughter, a certified lunatic, wants to feed the world. When I arrived at Eli's birthday party, there were at least 14 children under the age of 12 rampaging through a sprinkler in the backyard, with their assorted adults sitting about, and more arriving all the time. And she fed them all and continued to do so all day - salads, hamburgers, treats. An amazing birthday cake made by one of Eli's dad's sisters. Fun. Exhausting.

Some of the multitudes.
Some of the birthday cake.
These people, believe it or not, are closely genetically linked.

Had just got home when the phone rang - Anne-Marie and Jim were off to see the movie "Tru Love" starring dear friend Kate Trotter at the LGBT film festival, did I want to come? I remembered Kate telling me how much she enjoyed making this film, so off we went, down to TIFF in the heart of downtown. But - it was sold out. We saved the day - "Finding Vivian Maier" was on at the same time, and we dashed in. I'd been planning to see it and was happy to have the chance, even if Kate Trotter isn't in it.

It's a very good documentary, much more than I'd expected - about a strange solitary spinster who worked as a nanny and housekeeper and took many thousands of photographs with her Rolleiflex, most of them brilliant. She was a great artist, completely unrecognized in her time until some of her work was bought in a random lot at auction after her death, and her story gradually came to light. The film is a detective story, the filmmaker piecing together, clue by clue, her strange, haunted, obsessive life. The mystery of human personality. Highly recommended.

And that's enough excitement for today.

"My hero Paul McCartney" in the Guardian

Now that I'm outed as a passionate Paul Girl, everyone who sees something related to Macca alerts me. Friend Theresa just sent me this Guardian article by Alan Johnson, a British politician who has just won a major book award for his memoir. A true kindred spirit: a memoir writer, almost exactly my age, who had adored Paul all his life. I'll try to send him my book. How to send a book to a British politician? Any ideas?

I just wrote a note in the response stream at the Guardian, informing readers of my book. Have never done that kind of bald-faced marketing before. But that's how it's done.

A stunning day, at last. The vegetables are growing, I can see them stirring in their soil from here. I awoke to major rustling outside at 6.30, opened my curtains and watched a mama raccoon and 3 babies climbing the ivy after a long night of foraging. A little one almost slipped - Mama caught it around the neck with her teeth and dragged it up with her. Another nearly slipped and hung, swinging, on a branch, but managed to struggle upright and continue the climb. Yesterday, a major explosion of skunk juice filled the air as I watched a variety of people stopping at the Little Free Library outside my house. Oh, it's a busy place, Sackville Street, at any time of the night or day.

Today is Booboo's second birthday party across town. But first, I'll zip down to the market on my bike, and then there's a Sheep Festival at Riverdale Farm. It's not every inner city citizen who can enjoy a Sheep Festival three blocks from home.

Friday, May 23, 2014

spring rhapsody

It's dusk - bedtime in Birdland. All the sparrows are in their nests in the ivy, squawking, chattering, trilling, flapping. I watched a parent shove its beak down the throat of a baby sitting on a telephone wire, two others waiting nearby. Soon, all the noise will stop instantly, and all will be silent until the frantic dawn chorus at 6 - squawking, chattering, trilling, flapping.

The sky is blue-grey with some pinkish clouds. And everywhere below there is green - bright, pale, acid, dark, every shade of green - except for the dead bits of plants and ivy, killed by the winter and crispy brown. The lilac is out and the camellia bush has seven fat buds. Today we planted the garden - carrots arugula lettuce zucchini tomatoes and herbs - and lilac, and some cedars to replace the dead holly tree, and white impatiens in the shade.

I am in love with this garden. Wayson just stopped by to invite me to have dinner with him at a sushi place nearby, but I cannot leave my deck right now, even for Wayson. I need to sit here and look and smell and be.

Later: now it's dark and very, very quiet. I'm inside under a blanket, because the back doors are wide open and it's chilly. I can't get enough of this air.

It's 9.30 and I'm ready for bed.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sean Martindale's planter boxes

Sean Martindale is a young visual artist from Vancouver who was my tenant for awhile. He has gone on to acclaim with several local projects, including the biggest mural in the city on an apartment building on Wellesley, and my favourite, a life-sized cardboard figure of Ai Wei Wei, at once funny, respectful and a very good likeness.

Sean, who does interesting things with the city's neglected planter boxes, has been shortlisted for a $1000 grant for the Neighbourhood Arts Network Seeds Fund. He asked me to "Like" his image, shown below with the others on the shortlist, and to pass this on. With pleasure, and good luck, Sean.

And - to urge artists like Sean and my writing students (and even myself) not ever to give up, here are rejection letters sent to people who luckily did not give up after receiving them. The one to Gertrude Stein is a masterpiece.

10 Painful Rejection Letters To Famous People

And ... Macca is recovering! Rejoice!

The Curious Incident ...

Joys of Toronto, #6742: saw in the paper that the National Theatre stage adaptation of Mark Haddon's brilliant novel "The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime" was going to be showing at Cineplex, in one of those fantastic stage-to-film showings that are so welcome. Hopped on my bike at 6.40 and was there as the curtain rose at 7. An astonishing evening of theatre, beautifully adapted from the book, beautifully directed, designed, conceived, and especially acted with the lead, Luke Treadaway, utterly convincing as a 15-year old boy with Asperger's. I sat, thrilled with the play, thrilled with myself for getting there so easily, for being smart enough to live downtown in the fourth best city to live in, in the world.

And then ... intermission. I love going alone to the theatre, movies, concerts - it's so uncomplicated, zip there, slide into a good solo seat, enjoy. But I do not like intermissions. At the theatre I can get a glass of wine and wander, but here in the wilderness of Cineplex, not possible. I'd forgotten to bring a book, and it was getting dark. So I left and had cycled home by the time the second act began. I'm sure it was fantastic, but I've read the book, and I just did not want to sit for 20 minutes. Forgive me, National Theatre, and thank you for a stunning Act One.

Macca on CBC radio

An article in the "Star" tells us that according to an international poll, Toronto is the fourth best city in the world to live in, after London, New York and Singapore. On this glorious day, as my garden glows and the birds sing and as our grotesque mayor dries out in some distant location far from the public eye, for now, I can believe it.

The CBC radio program "Inside the Music" aired a program last Sunday about the musical genius of ... yes, it's true, our Macca. I missed it but luckily a friend heard it, and CBC sent me the link. It's wonderful, following him into his enormous variety of musical styles, including experimental records he put out anonymously. At the end, a musicologist muses that in 50 years we will acknowledge that McCartney "is a once-in-a-generation genius, a musical renaissance man, a Picasso."


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Eli is two.

The boy is two today.
Last year, post cake.
This year - his new scooter from Glamma, which can stretch and will last for years. And then it's time for ... cake. This year I was too busy to bake and bought one at Daniel and Daniel. Mine, I have to admit, is better. Next year, Glamma will bake. But Booboo did not seem to mind this one.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Macca is sick

I know I said I wouldn't print these nice emails any more - a beauty yesterday from Ruth - but this came today from Ginette with shocking NEWS. I immediately Googled and learned that my dear Beatle is sick and has had to cancel his tour! The indefatigable Macca whose concerts are 3 solid hours of music doesn't feel well.

The only cure: for him to go to bed with a good book. And I know just the book.

From Ginette:
Loved your book!  

Thought you’d like to know how much my learning disabled daughter enjoyed it too.  She doesn’t read much but I read her parts of your book and she laughed so hard.  It reminded her of her own 80s crushes and how she was sure the lead singer of the Romantics was going to marry her.  She plans to  read your book, she has already read all the italics bits, your journal in other words.  Anyway, she wanted me to let you (Mrs Beth McCartney she called you) know, in case you haven’t heard, your boyfriend is sick and has had to cancel his Japan tour!

Your book is timeless, all girls no matter our age can relate to your fantasy life. It is so much more than a girl with a crush though. It gives such insight into your real life at that time, your family, what it was like to be an outsider, etc. Congratulations.     

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Fed Up: don't miss it

Just back from seeing one of the most important films of our time: Fed Up, about how the American food industry is behind the obesity epidemic, a health crisis the like of which the world has never seen. It's a profound documentary that brought me to tears of rage and empathy - rage, with footage of food industry executives openly lying to a toothless Congress - "There is no connection between sugary drinks and obesity," says the food exec with righteous indignation, and the film cross-cuts to a tobacco executive years ago saying the same thing about tobacco and cancer.

Soft drinks and junk food are the tobacco of our time, just as addictive and just as bad for the health, and they are marketed even more viciously to children.

And empathy, because the children in the film are heartbreaking - 11, 12-year olds weighing over 200 pounds, addicted to sugar and fast food, with overweight parents and helpless against the onslaught. Once gas stations only sold gas; now they sell fast food and candy. Even office supply stores sell candy, right there by the cash. The cost to the health care system of the resulting heart disease, diabetes and many other preventable illnesses will be catastrophic. This is the first generation, we learn, that will have a shorter lifespan than its parents, thanks to obesity and related diseases. How can we not rage and grieve?

I saw the film with Anna who's in the front lines, as her son will watch the commercials on TV, will be there in the supermarket clamouring for the products, laden with sugar and fat, that have the superheroes on the boxes and the prizes inside. The schools! The fast food industries run the school lunch programs in the U.S. and have resisted every effort to change that. It even shows how Michelle Obama, who began so fervently to talk about diet change and exercise, has been co-opted by the big food companies and now talks almost exclusively about exercise.

This groundbreaking film is a volley in the war to save our own lives and those of our kids.

My main criticism is that I wish they'd gone to France and shown a country that is changing, yes, which has discovered fast food, but still, children are given three course hot meals in school, families sit together to eat, people buy fresh food and cook. That's the main solution explored in the film - to cook. The key is not to restrict calories and eat low fat and low sugar and to exercise. It's to buy, cook and eat real food. How simple can a message be?

And yet, as Anna said as we left, in most families, both parents are working, and no one wants to come home at six and start cooking a meal.

I have to say this is one area of parenting I do not have to feel guilty about. I started making a list yesterday of my regrets. I thought if I made a list, put all those regrets down on paper, they would stop haunting me at 4 a.m. And as I wrote, I realized that almost all of them concern my kids. I don't have that many regrets about my own life, I was surprised to see, but I have tons about the way I parented my kids. I feel guilty about the divorce, about being a jellyfish parent, not providing enough discipline and structure.

But I never had pop in the house, and they almost always ate real meals. Thanks to my own parents, especially my mother, who grew up in an English village and didn't comprehend, let alone buy, prepared food. Cake mixes? I'd never even held one till I needed to make cupcakes for thirty-five kids for birthday parties at school. My kids are both foodies now, good cooks who appreciate good food. That doesn't mean they don't have issues with food; they live in this crazy world.

But at least I can't blame myself for the way they were fed. Thank you, Lord. One small blessing. Which this film has just shown me is not so small, after all.

Today's messages

Saturday, May 17, 2014

So True: our new reading series Friday May 30

So you come to the book launch on Monday night, have a fab time, and then suddenly it's Friday and you want something else to do. The answer: So True, our new reading series - eight writers, my best students, reading short wonderful pieces about Big Love - parents, dogs, siblings, singing, acting, lovers, and growing up in Toronto during the Depression. A great array, funny, moving, beautifully written stories. For a mere $10 - what a deal. And I will be reading too, briefly, from the memoir. Come join us.  

Book launch reminder, May 26 - eight days away

Macca's new music video - amazing!


The horror, the horror

Friday, May 16, 2014

Beth's Garden Writing Workshop - Sunday July 13

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 20 years and at U of T for 7.

When: Sunday July 13, 10.30 a.m. to 5 p.m

Cost: $160, including food for thought and actual food (and wine). Register early; registration is limited.

Where: Beth’s secret garden in Cabbagetown.

Laughter, camaraderie and insight guaranteed.
For more information -
To register –

“Glorious stories being made, a beautiful setting, great food, a garden to die for.” Kelsey Mason

Just what I needed to get started writing again.”  Pat Broms

“Beth has 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 her and the others. Her garden is magical, and she created a magical day for me.”  Ann C.

oldies but goodies

Another email to gladden my heart. I'll stop posting these now - my longterm students were teasing me last night about posting each bit of praise that comes in. But I did not believe the book worked and so was overjoyed to hear positive things. I'm starting to believe it now.

I've never met the West coast writer Theresa Kishkan, but she feels like a good friend through our on-going mutual admiration and correspondence. She just sent me this:

I thought the book was truly original and lively and so beautifully written. A gift for you (and for your readers) that you had access to not only the material record of that time in your life (journal, letters, etc.) but also that you had access to that girl -- the rich landscape of her heart and her affections. A wonderful accomplishment.

Thank you very much, Theresa. A gift for me, certainly. And thank you for your own writing work, which is precise and profound and beautiful.

And a welcome note from Patsy Ludwick, who's been one of my dearest friends since 1970 and the first major editor of this book. Congratulations on the occasion of the grand launching of your book, the culmination of all these years, decades, of writing, writing, writing. 

No one knows better than she, my wise and patient guide, the many, the endless drafts that were needed before this final product appeared.

There's an article in the Business section of the Star today - Tim Horton's opened in 1964, fifty years ago, so they celebrated with a Sixties event downtown, with actors in 60's clothes and giant cars with fins. There's a photo. Underneath, the caption describes "a retro scene with dancing actors and antique cars..."

Antique. From 1964.

What does that make me?

I can see the caption writer, who's 27. "Wow, look at those antique cars!" Sigh.

The paper is majorly depressing - missing girls in Nigeria, the usual vileness coming from our PM in Ottawa, Alberta selling off important caribou herding grounds, Tim Hudak sounding horrifyingly like Mike Harris, my least favourite politician on Planet Earth. It's good to smile about being an antique.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

story of my life

So here's the list of Things to Do, or at least to Continue Doing, for today:
1. finish rewrite of several pages of my website. We're updating to feature the new book.
2. reread the draft of "True to Life" one last time and find better quotes about writing from my vast collection.
3. edit two student pieces and a piece for a private client who's coming on Monday, and read and comment on a long play sent by my friend Chris, who needs feedback also by Monday.
4. sign books for my friend and student Arlene who has sent me the names of her dozen best friends and is coming on Saturday
5. prepare for class tonight
6. add Miracle-Gro to the watering can to boost the flowering plants
7. prepare for book launch - choose pieces to read and practice in front of class tonight if there's time
8. find a special kind of scooter requested by his mother for Eli's birthday next Wednesday
9. prepare for trip to Ottawa in early June - car rental, place to stay.
10. extensive research needed - I'm thinking of buying a real camera with a zoom lens so I don't have to stick my phone in Eli's face all the time.
11. groceries - long weekend coming up.
12. eat. Sleep.
13. blog right now.
14. and, always, read two library books, five New Yorkers, newspapers, magazines, and the mile-high stack of books.

Otherwise, nothing to do.

This is where I like to be - in my tilting seat by the back door, listening to the birds, watching the plants grow, tapping away. But it's time to get up.

Loved this, from the Style section of the Star today: GET ON YOUR BIKE, is the headline, so of course I was interested. Here's what is says:
With Louis Vuitton's latest spring bags hanging off the handlebars and Hermes bringing out a bike last year, fashion loves to cycle. May 26 is National Bike to Work Day and we can't wait to plan our commuter looks. We'll be rocking leather backpacks on our road bike and channelling Audrey Hepburn with oversized shades. Tweet us your bike looks. 

Okeley dokeley.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

review from Mrs. Big Bird and others

10 a.m. What a treat - I just heard from Dave LaMattina, the producer of "I am Big Bird," the wonderful documentary about Carol Spinney the megastar Muppeteer that Ken and I saw a few weeks ago at Hot Docs. When his wife Deb, a warm, loving woman who's vital to her husband's survival and work, mentioned in the film that the celebrity she'd really like to meet is Paul McCartney, I knew she would enjoy my book. Luckily I happened to have a copy with me that I left with a house manager for her. In the lobby, I ran into the producer, we chatted, he gave me his card, and we wrote back and forth.

He just emailed that Deb Spinney, who does not email, text messaged him the following, and asked for my cellphone number so we can correspond:

"I loved the Paul McCartney book. There were a few parts that I could have sworn I wrote! Kindred spirits!"

10 p.m. Just in from U of T to find a message on my answering machine from Merrijoy, a longterm student and friend in her eighties who still runs an office at U of T. She had just read the book, and these are the words she used (I wrote them down, and also saved the message so I can hear it again): "Enchanting, delicious, witty, touching, significant." Very good words. "It represents so many things young women go through," she said. "A beautiful piece of work."

Okay. I'm starting to believe it now.  I guess it works, at least for some people. At least for kind people who are married to men who make a living wearing a gigantic yellow bird costume, and people who still go into the office daily at the age of 87. In other words, my kind of people. It works for them. And that's all a writer wants really, no?

Happiness is.

a review from a former Mrs. John Lennon

Woke up this rainy morning to find this in my email inbox from my neighbour Virginia, a librarian who is of course an avid reader and about to leave for a long trip to Europe:

I just finished reading All My Loving and I wanted to write to say how very much I enjoyed it. (Too much perhaps.  I should have been cleaning the house before I leave!)  You perfectly captured all the joy and sorrow and angst - so much angst! - of being a teenage girl in the 1960s - or any time.  

It bought back my adolescence so vividly that I plan to order another copy for my friend, Hilary,  but known to me in the summer 1965 as Mrs. George Harrison.  In retrospect it concerns me that I was quite happy to be Mrs. John Lennon and Cynthia be damned. And I still think Paul was a choir boy.  Old loyalties die hard. 

Anyway, well done.  A memoir worth remembering.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

one proud mama

Happy Mother's Day to me

true love

My son, who will be appearing here shortly to eat a vast meal, just sent me a Mother's Day message via Facebook. "Saw this," he wrote, "and thought of you immediately." He knows me well.

Lucky me - I have a true and healthy friend whom I've loved practically since birth, who is always available (except when I'm travelling in Europe and even so, it's now available there if I get desperate, which I do not), always friendly and warm and mucky and delicious and smells like home. A gift.

This Mother's Day is a reward. It's stunning - warm and cloudless. The pergola is set up and the garden furniture is out, so the deck is the new living room. The garden is springing to life as I watch.  I have the binoculars out to look more closely at the cardinals at the feeder - Monsieur is orange, not scarlet. Last night at 11.30 I emailed a draft of the writing book to Don, my publisher, so it's out of my hands for awhile. Soon I'll turn on the radio and start making dinner for my family. My cup runneth etc.

I realized this morning that since childhood I've had a thing for the number 14. It has always been a special number to me - I posit in the memoir because of a neighbour girl called Andrea, who was 14 and whom I idolized. It was a great disappointment when I got to be 14, as detailed in the book, and it was not a very good year.

But maybe the special time wasn't the year I was 14, it's the year 2014. Because this year is turning out to be pretty incredible. I am grateful to the universe. And now it's time to cook.

Friday, May 9, 2014

More reviews

I am so enjoying your book. It brings back such memories of being a teenager, having a crush on a Beatle (John for me), and all of that wonderful angst. Well done!

It's a wonderful book and I hope you sell thousands.

I've read about half of it thus far and I think it's just wonderful. That guileless voice, the details, the authenticity of it. And why wouldn't a publisher take it on and give it the star treatment that seems to be reserved for the current misery memoirs? We need them all, I think, need a literary culture that includes all the voices, all the textures and perspectives and genres. The brief beauty of the novella and the big historical novels and the memoirs about being raised in cults and the sweet stories about the coming of age of a girl in love with Paul.

Well, the key word seems to be "wonderful." I'll take it. And work on believing it. At my meditation group yesterday, they all had read or were reading the book and surrounded me with enthusiasm. What a great - yes, wonderful - feeling. Thank you all. 

I was working on the deck but just came in - it's going to pour any minute. This morning, another big garden cleanup - the daffodils are opening, the spirea is showing its delicate greens and yellows, and the best news - the gorgeous rosebush has a few tiny shoots and might actually pull through. But the twelve-foot high holly was cut down. My gardening helper said Toronto's hollies are almost all dead. 

What joy to look out at green and flashes of yellow, not brown. And flashes of scarlet too, as Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal dine.

Speaking of dining, I did the first of several big shops today in preparation for our Mother's Day dinner. Two mothers this year, several big sons, a lot of stomach to fill.  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

another fan

When I got in from Ryerson tonight - a small but amazing class - an email from an old friend was waiting for me. On the Subject line she wrote: Oh God I'm loving the book.

And underneath it said: 

Just arrived today!
Can't put it down!
Was supposed to be working!
Thank you very much!

I have to tell you, I still don't believe that it works. I assume that maybe people like it at the beginning but then by the end will be disillusioned and disappointed. It doesn't go far enough, deep enough, do its job. Just not quite right.

But maybe not. At least, for old friends.

Next project underway: our reading/storytelling series that starts Friday May 30. Jason has just set up the website. Check it out here:

If you're in Toronto, come hear a group of multitalented readers, including your faithful correspondent, tell the most important stories of their lives around the topic Big Love. And have a nice glass of wine while you do so.

Yesterday was the first real day of spring, heavenly warm sun all day long. My son was visiting, so I enlisted him to help put all the plants that had wintered indoors out on the deck, except for the massive oleander which I left leaning out of the back door. It was like liberating animals that have been caged; I could feel their joy. Last night was cold again; I covered the jasmine with a blanket but brought the others back in. Here they are this morning, lined up, waiting to go out.

I took a picture of the sad forsythia in the front yard and happened to see a picture of last year's. Sigh.

This year's.
Last year's, at the same time. Incredible, eh? Much in the garden has been damaged or killed. But much, too, has survived. 

Class at U of T started last night and Ryerson tonight - back to work, helping people tell their stories. One woman had come from Milton; it took her two hours to get there. I'm honoured that my students care so much to put in the effort. I started teaching at Ryerson in 1994. After 20 years, I still love this work. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

a fan!

Nancy took my Ryerson class two years ago. She published a piece in the Globe about her experiences with the class and organized a group to continue meeting once a month. Last night some of them came over for a tune-up - to read and get feedback on their work. We had a great session - and they all bought a book.

This morning, Nancy sent this most welcome email.
I started your book last night and stayed in bed reading it.  It is wonderful and I couldn't put it down.  It takes me back to so many forgotten teen-aged feelings. I hope someone makes a movie out of your book.
So do I, Nancy. So do I. And thank you.

Monday, May 5, 2014

True to Life at Ryerson a definite go

I spoke too soon. My Ryerson class True to Life, which starts Wednesday at 6.30, is running, and people are still registering. So - go for it! I'm thrilled to have two courses to teach and look forward to meeting you at Ryerson or U of T.

Lesson: don't get discouraged too soon. My U of T class numbers doubled between Friday afternoon and Monday morning. Come one, come all.

the Precariat

The sun is out. Yesterday was heaven, and today almost so - the big yellow thing in the sky makes such a difference. Things look very green and growy today, and the cardinal couple are happy. As am I.

Just read this, and realize that most of the young people I know are in this category, the Precariat - and people my age too. Back to income inequality.

Thirty years ago, a vast majority of Americans identified as members of the middle class. But since 1988, the percentage of Americans who call themselves members of the “have-nots” has doubled. Today’s young people are more likely to believe success is a matter of luck, not effort, than earlier generations.
These pessimistic views bring to mind a concept that’s been floating around Europe: the Precariat. According to the British academic Guy Standing, the Precariat is the growing class of people living with short-term and part-time work with precarious living standards and “without a narrative of occupational development.” They live with multiple forms of insecurity and are liable to join protest movements across the political spectrum.
The American Precariat seems more hunkered down, insecure, risk averse, relying on friends and family but without faith in American possibilities.
Here's a beautiful poem by a truthful young man, who is definitely in the Precariat because he's a poet:

Saturday, May 3, 2014

the writer's family

LIfe Stories at U of T is a go

Dear students, I'm sorry to say that my course at Ryerson has almost definitely been cancelled. For some reason, registration was very low this term. Sometimes there are too many and sometimes not enough - no way to know why. I haven't had the official word, but I'm pretty sure.

HOWEVER - Life Stories, my class at U of T, is definitely a go. It starts this coming Tuesday at 6.30; you can find the link to U of T on this website under Teaching, and the course is under Non-fiction. It's more expensive than Ryerson but the classrooms are way cooler and the classes generally smaller - more individual focus. I hope those of you who want to work with me this term will register.

See you Tuesday.

AND … here's the nightmare, now that a provincial election is underway - that before long, we miserable creatures who live in Toronto will have Ford as Mayor, Hudak as Premier and Harper as PM. Could it get worse than that? The answer is a resounding NO.

we were all lello

Jesus I wish the sun would shine. This constant cloud and drizzle is bleak and oppressive. The day did not turn out as planned: my daughter's life is in some upheaval, and her brother had to go to work and could not make it to lunch. All was not bliss.

Except for some. Who wanted to try on Blamma's boots.

We spent lots of time looking at colours - lello, bloo, ret, wide. So much lello. And there were huge construction machines outside including a backhoe! And then a firetruck! Amazing and wonderful. Lello and ret.

Anna told me that reading my memoir is hard for her because she didn't realize I was so unhappy that year. Well - I got over it, my darling, and then I had you - what could be better? She is outraged that we're wasting time thinking about Rob Ford when there's so much wrong in the world needing our attention. Hundreds of girls kidnapped in Sudan and we're going on about him? she raged.

I could not agree more.

The other day, as I walked past my neighbour's recycling, I saw what had been tossed there:

I could not resist. Now I am the proud owner of a Gucci shopping bag and shoebox. That's as close as I will come, or ever want to come, to a $650 pair of shoes.

A new version for Coldplay:
I came along,
I wrote a song for you,
And all the things you do,
And it was called "Lello".


A special morning in downtown Toronto - the Don Valley Parkway is closed for maintenance all day, so it's mystically quiet. It's grey and raining, of course, as it has been for days - which means that things are coming up in the garden, green things - tulips nearly ready to burst, the willow branches covered with pale yellow. Upstairs in my bedroom, the outdoor plants that winter indoors are also trying to come to life; even the bougainvillea is displaying a few shards of pink.

On this morning of May 3, thirty-three years ago in 1981, I was in bed in St. Mike's Hospital in downtown Vancouver holding a small pink and white bundle. Daughter Anna was born at 2.30 that morning under exceptional and even hilarious circumstances which I will one day recount. Healthy and alert with a squashed nose. Perfect. I was lost in love forever.

This morning I'm going to go for a walk in the neighbourhood in the rain and count my blessings. And then across town, to see the girl and her family and to take my two children and grandson and whoever else is there out to lunch. And then back to work on the next book.

Got out three library books yesterday: "Telling True Stories, a non-fiction writers' guide;" "A Writer's Paris," by Eric Maisel; and Gary Shteyngart's memoir "Little Failure." I look forward to reading them. But I'm also neck deep in "The Goldfinch," which friend Patsy gave me for Christmas and which is as good as they say it is.

Someday soon, here will come the sun. And I say - it's all right.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Alistair McLeod

Here's a great article on Ford - what he meant and how we feel. Very well captured and summarized by Edward Keenan. 

Even though I've been so busy today I've barely been outside the door, I can feel the city's new sense of peace and well-being from my kitchen. Anna called to say that as she walked home from the drop in she heard everyone talking, and that even those who before would have gone on blindly supporting Ford are saying, Too many lies. He should go.

He can't go far enough. How low can the bar be set in our political discourse? He has shown us - about as low as it is possible to go.

As the Jews say - Dayenu. More than enough.

I am sorry that in the flurry of everything else - coming home, the book, the weather - I have not expressed my condolences on the death of the wonderful writer Alistair McLeod. He was one of the teachers at the writer's conference in Siena, Italy, where I met Wayson, and I adored his impish sense of humour, his gentle self-deprecating tone, his ruddy face and twinkling eyes. He was a wise and generous friend and writer. A great loss for the country and for world literature.

Moving on. Had a meeting today with Don, the publisher of my memoir, about our next project which is nearly ready to go. It's a how-to book about writing memoir that I put together years ago for my students. Don seems to like it a lot. He proposes that we edit through May, send it out for layout and design in June, and hold the book in our hands by mid-August, to get it in bookstores before my September courses.

It took 25 years to research, write and bring out "Finding the Jewish Shakespeare." And now it's possible that I'll have two books out in one year. AT 63, I've never been so busy. There was a great quote on a website I was trolling through yesterday, a famous writer whose name I have forgotten asked the meaning of happiness, and she replied, "Meaningful work."