Tuesday, January 31, 2017

new date for So True - Sunday March 5

Okay, it has happened, I've entered the obsessive phase when I don't want to do anything except cradle my lovely little book in my arms and sing it songs. Pat it on the head and dress it in pretty clothes and take it for walks. Feed it ... oh shut up, kill that metaphor, as the New Yorker says. Suffice to say - work on the manuscript is progressing slowly but far more steadily than usual. I'm at the "sitting so long my bum's asleep" stage. Lots more to be done, but there's hope. I'm in love.

Today I realized one of the chapters would work for a magazine; it's about the Summer of Love, 1967, and this is fifty years later. But it would need to run this summer, so it needs to be accepted for publication, like, now. So I wrote to a well-connected successful writer friend, asking if she'd consider helping me get the piece somewhere, at least to be seen. Otherwise it's hopeless, it takes forever to get something read and published, if it ever is. So we'll see.

Speaking of professional discouragement, I heard from the publisher of the writing book that soon he'll be sending me a royalty cheque - for the 12 books he has sold. A whopping $58.40. Sigh. I know, I sell it myself to students and keep almost all the profits; the book has paid for itself. But still ... twelve books, and even fewer of the Sixties memoir. And then I heard from a first rate agent I know, whom I'd contacted about this memoir and who'd indicated interest, that now she's too busy and her roster is full.

This business is a series of closed doors, and one of our jobs is to keep knocking. Keep writing, and keep knocking. To tell you the truth, I don't know which is harder.

Another issue, however, was quickly resolved. We always hold our So True events at the Social Capital, which is the second floor of the Black Swan on the Danforth, on the final Sunday of February, May and October. But now, it turns out, the bar on the main floor has decided to hire a band for the last Sunday of every month, to play at exactly the same time as our show. The noise upstairs would be deafening.

An immediate solution - a change of date. Our shows will now be on the FIRST Sunday of March, June and November, starting on Sunday March 5. Hope to see you there - it's our tenth event, and there will be a celebration.

And - our country still reels from yesterday's events, the murder of six men in a Quebec mosque, as the world reels from the heedless brutality of the incoming U.S. administration. But though the police thought so at first, there was no one named Mohamed involved in Quebec, only one young right-wing fanatic. What to say, as I look out at the snow falling and covering the garden? The world right now is terrifying. 

All I can say is what I always say, the only thing we can say: Onward.

Monday, January 30, 2017

terrorism in Quebec

A shooting at a mosque in Quebec City - men at their prayers, gunned down in cold blood. One of the shooters, apparently, was named Mohamed, which makes this hate crime even more incomprehensible. There is no question in my mind that this is linked to the vile xenophobic intolerance unleashed south of the border. We are hurtling backwards as a planet, back to a new Dark Ages. Soon we'll be burning witches. It makes me heartsick.

Which I was anyway because of sad news, yesterday - a dear friend called from the west to tell me that his nephew, whom I'd met once but whose slightly older brother was my boarder for two years, had died at the age of 37. Both boys were born with cystic fibrosis, a hideous, relentless disease; it was something of a modern miracle that the two of them were thriving well into their thirties, both married. The younger caught an infection and died suddenly. His brother must be desolate. I am deeply saddened.

The strange thing is that I had just been talking about my boarder friend. Yesterday afternoon, I was at a concert at Peter Mose's, my piano teacher's house, a lovely event with a husband and wife, both pianists and music teachers who have just moved here from Montreal and who specialize in accompanying others and in playing four hand piano. Which they did, because Peter, happily, has two pianos in his living room. Sometimes they played together, sometimes with their backs to each other on different pianos; it was delightful. Afterward I told them about my friend from the west, who's an accompanist on piano, and his nephew, who grew up to do exactly the same work, wondering if there's a "piano accompanist gene". As I walked in the door afterwards, the phone rang, and I learned of my young friend's brother's death. And then of terrorist slaughter in what we like to think of as our peaceful, tolerant nation.

The world dishes out so much sorrow, so much pain and grief without being asked. Why do we human beings go out of our way to create more?

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Best Worst Thing That Could Have Happened

Yesterday, another of those days when I'm so happy to live in this crazy city overflowing with things to see and do. Lani and I went to see The Best Worst Thing That Could Have Happened, a documentary at the Bloor about a musical called Merrily We Roll Along, written in 1980 by Stephen Sondheim and directed by Hal Prince, an unbeatable combination with a string of huge successes behind them, until this musical came along. The film shows us the very young cast - all between 16 and 25 - auditioning for their idols, the thrill of getting their first Broadway job, rehearsals, and then the shock and sadness of bad reviews and the end - the show ran only 16 nights.

What's so moving is seeing them now. The only one who made it big in show biz is Jason Alexander, George on Seinfeld, and even he spent nine years playing a character that made him virtually unemployable in anything else. They all indicate that the failure of something that meant so much to them marked their lives in one way or another. But there's a reunion concert at the end, deeply joyful and redemptive.

It was especially meaningful to see this doc with Lani by my side. We were 24-year old actresses when we met, as idealistic and open as the faces on the screen as we made our own kind of theatre and found our own way to survive life's disappointments. We both loved the film. I will try to see it again.

Lani took the train back to Ingersoll; we had a great visit, though she came partly to see Anna and her sons - she was Anna's first babysitter in 1981 - and could not because both boys are sick. But otherwise - there we still are, forty years later, cackling with laughter.

And then, another supreme pleasure - friends Gretchen and Jack had tickets to the symphony but were double booked so gave those tickets to me; I invited Ron, whose friendship goes back to our Halifax days. The seats were fantastic - centre orchestra, all the better to watch the musicians closely, and, the greatest thrill of all, focus on the hands of Stewart Goodyear, a diminutive Toronto-born pianist with some Trinidadian blood, as he played Tchaikovsky's romantic, sweeping Piano Concerto #1 with such speed and power, he literally several times took my breath away. Ron has recently moved to Cabbagetown, bought himself a second-hand Steinway, and also has started piano lessons with my teacher Peter, just up the street; he told me he'd loved the Tchaikovsky as a boy and hadn't heard it for 50 years. We were also treated to a Dvorak symphony and two modern pieces with both young composers in the audience. I must go to the TSO more often, and I will go to hear Stewart Goodyear when and wherever I can.

Out into the traffic chaos of Toronto's downtown at 11 on a Saturday night - a million people spilling out from theatres and other venues. Living in the beeg ceety has its problems, but most of the time, there's nowhere I'd rather be.

Friday, January 27, 2017

20th century women, and the end of the impasse

Another dear old friend visiting - Lani saw me in my first Vancouver show in early 1975 and immediately hired me for her company; we all wrote a revue to tour through the Kootenays. And so I befriended a most interesting, quirky woman, as we sat on camp chairs beneath those glorious mountains, drinking martinis she'd made for us while the men in the company argued about where to park the bus. We went on to have many adventures together, both personal and professional, including mutual boyfriends and many more shows - she tiny and fierce, I tall and genial, apparently a hilarious team, especially our Helena (tall) and Hermia (short) in their fight scene from Midsummer Night's Dream.

She has lived for years in Stratford, recently moved with her husband Maurice to Ingersoll, and has come to the big city for a few days. Today we went to see 20th century women. What a fine film - as original as Lan. It's autobiographical, the story of director and writer Mike Mills and his unconventional, empathetic mother in Santa Barbara in 1979. Since I'm writing about that very year, I had my notebook ready to jot down insights about that time.

But what hit me most about this lovely film, the coming of age story of a boy surrounded by women trying to help him grow to be a good man, was how hard it is to be the single mother of a male of the species. My God, I identified with that, as Annette Bening's character struggles to cope with the mysterious creature she has brought into the world, and the boy tries to understand the various fascinating women in his life, at a time in the world when feminism had taken hold and the clitoris and menstruation were dinner table topics. I loved the scenes where his mother tries to tolerate the violent punk music her son likes, as I reacted with incomprehension when Sam started to listen to rap and hiphop, "motherfucker music," as I called it, since that seemed to be the only word the musicians knew.

The film is thoughtful, a bit slow, a bit too careful, politically correct and sentimental, perhaps, but special - human beings in all their complex, marvellous glory. All the actors are wonderful, but Greta Gerwig is spectacular.

As important to me is the fact that - drum roll! - I've moved past the logjam with the book. Suddenly, after weeks of me diddling about with no idea how to fix a central problem, a solution broke open. The opening scene started to come together, and it all started to flow. Yes, flow. I read some of the new material to Lani, and at two points she had tears in her eyes, so I take that as a good sign. I have renewed purpose and energy and will soon enter the obsessive phase, I fear, when all that matters is the book.

In the meantime - sometimes it seems criminal to have a life, to care about anything else when the world is disintegrating and a lunatic is running the most powerful country on earth into the ground. How is it possible to have someone so wrong about every single thing right there, in our faces, and not go mad?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

La La Land and the blog's tenth anniversary

The mild gloom of this strange January continues - no sun but no snow either, just an icing sugar frosting today. I did a yoga class on Monday which I guess was tougher than I realized - had a great class at Ryerson but couldn't sleep afterwards for hip pain and was hobbling like an old lady today. Still, went to meet my good friend and fellow writer Stella Walker, both of us bringing pages of current writing to discuss - invaluable, her eye on my work, and, I hope, mine on hers. Much more rewriting to be done. Stella is perhaps the only person on earth who has laboriously learned both Yiddish and Cree. She is not only a writer but an actress, a singer, a singing teacher and a painter. Extraordinary.

And then off to cheer myself up - with one horror after another coming from the States and the sky a constant slate grey, I needed a good movie, and boy, did I see one - La La Land. LOVED IT. Absolutely delightful. Yes, they are not Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, but Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are charming and skilled, the story had a twist at the end that brings an ache to the heart, and the music is glorious. All in all, the perfect movie for January. Or any other month, for that matter. I had a rapturous chat with one of the young ushers at Cineplex as I was leaving - he saw my dewy eyes and grinned and we nearly clutched each other while going on about how much fun it was.

Give yourself a treat. And remember that Ryan Gosling learned to play the piano for the film, and he is Canadian and a superstar. And adorable, even if his eyes are a bit too close together. They're both adorable. Thanks guys, I needed that.

And finally, a thrill: received the email below from my friend George Hume. Ten years! Ten years of my blabbing. I love this blog. It takes lots of time and it pays nothing, but here I am, and here I shall remain. Onward!

If I am not mistaken, today marks 10 years of blogging.

Monday, January 23, 2017

family and football

Blessings, great blessings. My ex-husband just went across town after four nights here, to spend a last day with his children and grandsons before flying back to Washington tonight. We hugged tightly when he left. "Thank you for a great visit," he said. "This feels like home." And of course it was his home for four years; we bought this house together in 1986. But then our marriage ended; he moved out, and there were difficult years, and now we are together again. He is one of my best friends. And in May, he's planning to drive back with his wife and their seven-year old daughter, our children's sister, for a visit with us all, as they did last year. I have to say, I'm proud of these things. In healing a painful rift and creating a new template for close family, we have done something pretty rare and immensely important.

Yesterday was football. In the afternoon, Edgar and Eli went to Sam's current place of work which is a sports bar, with giant TV's turned to the game, some big game apparently, and with foosball, basketball and all manner of fun things for a young man who had a ball, literally and figuratively. Then they came back to Anna's where the next game, the big one, started and Anna had prepared a grand feast for all, as is her wont. It was Pittsburg Steelers versus New England Patriots and my family was split, Ed and Sam for the latter and Anna for the former. Thomas and I don't care at all, so I played with the boys and read many stories and put Eli to bed while the adults cheered and groaned. It felt so normal, something normal families do, not people like me. I would never in a million years watch a football game on my own; my parents never did. But it was fun. Once.
Twins and buddies. Eli's glasses are for play (he's in his Steelers sweatshirt), his grandpa's are not.

Now life resumes. I have not worked or exercised or done anything except talk and play with little boys and eat for four days. Time to re-establish my routine.

It was also wonderful that Edgar was here during this especially fraught time, watching the truly mind-boggling spectacles south of the border, his new home - the biggest march in the country's history versus the invention of "alternate facts." What a ride this is going to be.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

marching for love

My ex-husband and my son are in the living room, riveted to CNN, as people discuss how appalling the behaviour of the President of the United States was today. A bit earlier, the 3 of us watched Florence Foster Jenkins, a lovely film about a woman of good will but utterly without talent, who somehow is convinced that she should sing. There are similarities, certainly, between the vile incompetent sworn in yesterday and Mrs. Jenkins, except the good will part.

We marched today. We discovered it's not easy to march in a huge crowd with a restless four-year old on a scooter and an 18-month old who totters along like a drunken sailor and does not want to be carried. All around us, thousands and thousands of people, young and old, every colour, every faith - and talk about good will! Such a joyful crowd, peaceful, friendly, open, a heartening number of teenagers and young adults. People gathering to be heard, to be seen. It started on the College streetcar which Edgar and I got to Queen's Park. I didn't expect any crowds on the streetcar, but it was packed with women, and some men, in pink hats, people with signs, everyone talking about Trump and the election. The car had to go by most stops because we couldn't let anyone else on. I talked to a woman not much younger than I who told me it was her first march. "I thought, this is the one to start with." I couldn't imagine never having marched before - perhaps she didn't live in Toronto when Mike Harris was Premier, when there were many vital marches, though none anywhere near this size - but was glad, yes, she is starting now.

When we got to Queen's Park, the streetcar driver shouted, "Everybody out, folks. And give 'em hell!" And there we were, in a roiling sea of humanity in pink hats, with signs, great signs. "Free Melania!" one said. "Get your tiny hands off my human rights." "This pussy grabs back." "March like a girl." "A woman's place is in the resistance." "Babies against bullshit." And one of my favourites, "Worst reality show ever!"

We couldn't hear the speeches, they were too far away, but we cheered when the people close to the speakers cheered, and then finally we started to march. Thousands - I've heard 60,000, though maybe more - streaming down University Avenue, both sides, in an endless flood, with some drumming and chanting. Thrilling and beautiful. Even the weather was on our side - it was mild and almost sunny.

It was two hours after the start by the time we got to City Hall, and at that point the little guys were tired and hungry, so rather than not be able to hear more speeches, we went home to an exhausting evening with two very busy, relentless young men. The level of their energy is overwhelming. We ordered Chinese food for supper and finally they went home, and Sam, Edgar and I could go back to watching, with our jaws hanging open, as Trump's behaviour was debated on TV, and reports came in from around the world about the marches everywhere, everywhere. Humanity has arisen en masse. This is a historic moment. May this spirit of joyful protest last.
Anna didn't quite get the sign finished - it was supposed to say, "This is what a feminist looks like." But love is enough.
My immediate family and my human family.

What haunts me, as the chaos unfolds, is thinking about exactly how much there is to fix in the world, while we debate how big the crowd was at the inauguration. It's surreal. And I imagine Vladimir Putin, grinning.

surviving El Trumpo en famille

Sitting in the kitchen, looking at the garden where there is not a hint of snow - so far, a surprisingly mild and lovely January - while the father of my children reads the Globe beside me. He is here from Washington D.C., fleeing the inauguration and visiting his children and grandchildren, and what a blessing it is to have him here. Last night Eli's dad Thomas stayed with the two boys while Anna, Sam, Edgar and I went out for dinner. Ed and I were married for ten years and have been divorced for twenty-five, and we are closer now as a family, in some ways, than we have ever been. He spent yesterday afternoon teaching Eli to skate - he's a superb skater - and wrestling and playing with both grandsons, and is exhausted today.

Especially meaningful, this time of togetherness and love and play, while the world disintegrates. Just the words "President Trump" make me sick. We tried to avoid the news yesterday, the TV, the radio - but it was impossible, we heard bits of the loathsome bombastic Mussolini-like speech, we saw pictures - it's too horrifying to contemplate, but there he is, nastier, more vile than ever. The picture of Michelle Obama's face says it all. Imagine, him shouting those vicious, incendiary lies about the debasement of America with a row of its past presidents, including an eight-year Republican one, sitting behind him.

Okay, let it go. Edgar and I are soon getting ready to go to the march here, in support of the women's march in Washington. Anna and Sam are coming with the boys; Anna wants to make a sign for Eli that says, "This is what a feminist looks like." So on this mild January day, our family will march with thousands of others, hundreds of thousands worldwide, to say, "Here we are. The world is a far, far better place than you can even imagine, and it will survive even you."

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


My friend and student Ruth has written to amend something I wrote yesterday; apparently, Jordan Peterson is a rather creepy rightwing guy who sees everything as a Marxist conspiracy. I didn't look deeply enough into the whole story, was just using his case - of a hypersensitive person overreacting to a perceived insult - to bolster my own. Look more closely, Kaplan, before you shoot off your mouth. Always something new to learn.

And a disappointment I forgot to tell you about: the last episode of this season's Sherlock on Sunday night. I used to adore this brilliant, always surprising show, but it has become stranger, and Sunday's episode was absolutely horrible, ridiculously far-fetched and grotesquely violent, not remotely like the Sherlock I've come to know and love. That's what success can do to writers. Then Jean-Marc, Richard and I watched Victoria, and that too was disappointing - not bad, certainly entertaining, but not in any way comparable to the sharp, profound excellence of The Crown, though featuring a most beautiful actor with stunning cheekbones, Rufus Sewell, shining through it all.

And something else I forgot to tell you about, on Saturday the National Theatre Live production on screen of No Man's Land, the Pinter play starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. I left at the intermission. These theatre-on-film shows have to be really good to keep me hanging around for twenty minutes in the middle. This one was very Pinter - cryptic, menacing and nearly incomprehensible, and I decided I'd seen enough. I admire Pinter, played the cryptic, menacing Ruth in The Caretaker and directed the cryptic, menacing The Dumbwaiter in university, but sometimes he is like a parody of himself, and this play was like that.

It's good to know that I don't rhapsodize in ecstasy about everything, isn't it? I can be whiny and critical. And it's gloomy outside too.

But it's mild and there's no snow and I'm on my bike. Life is $@#$@ good.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Beth is ageist. Sigh.

A new term began last night at Ryerson - a full class, 18 writers on an evening so mild, I rode my bike to work. How I love the challenge of a classroom full of potential. Here we go.

On another note, however - I got a call this morning from a friend who also goes to the Y, to tell me she'd run into a fellow member having a meltdown. A few days ago, I put up the following notice on the bulletin board in the Women's Health Club.

LOOKING FOR MAC/IPHONE/SOCIAL MEDIA TECH SUPPORT. Probably someone 22 years old, but could be anyone who understands these things. I function on these machines and on FB but would like a coach to teach me how to function better and how to fix the glitches that drive me insane. If you know someone, please give them my coordinates.

My friend said the woman was furious about this terrible notice. She made an official complaint to the Y, and it was taken down. Because it was ageist.

Holy @#$, Batman. Can you imagine living with absolutely no sense of humour but all antennae quivering to detect a hint of incorrectness at every turn? It's like the people accusing Jordan Peterson, the U of T professor who refuses to use "ze" or "they" for a transgender person, as "fostering hate". I just read an article in the NYT saying it's the extreme absurdities of political correctness that elected Trump - "People are sick and tired of hearing about liberals' damn bathrooms" - and faced with my accuser, I understand what that means. In a world full of major issues, with so many more to come after Friday, we are giving far too much time and energy to people obsessed with the unbelievably minor.

I can't help but think - yes, I'm still sensitive - of the student last term who told my boss I needed sensitivity training because I made a joke to the one man in the class about representing half the planet. Ye gods, the world is disintegrating around us; my ex-husband who lives in Washington just wrote, "The Visigoths are already arriving." And people are fixated on such petty things.

Oh well.

It's busy around here. Late tonight, my upstairs tenant Carol arrives back from her other home in Ecuador. Thursday, my home students and I are having a huge potluck meal to celebrate the beginning of our winter term, and later THAT night, my ex arrives to spend four days under my roof, that used to be his roof, visiting our children and grandchildren.

He is also avoiding the inauguration. With its seven Rockettes and nineteen Mormon Tabernacle singers. Hard to believe that is actually going to happen, that such a horrendous human being will be in the White House. The world shudders.

Time for a big, big glass of wine.

And incidentally, If you know someone, could be 38 or 43 or 56 or 68 or 75 or 81 or 103, if they're good at Mac tech stuff and social media, please give them my coordinates. But frankly, the chances are that they'll be 22. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

L'Arche and good habits

I love email and the surprises it brings. Yesterday, a note from a woman at a JCC near Washington D.C., who'd learned of my recent talk about my great-grandfather at the JCC here and wondered if I'd give a talk at hers. By this morning, it was more or less set: Thursday October 19 at 1.30 p.m in Fairfax, Virginia. The fee they're paying will nearly cover the cost of my flight, and I'll stay with my two cousins who live in Washington and visit other relatives, including my ex-husband, as well - people I see far too rarely. Thank you, email.

On Wednesday night, a truly wonderful experience - I had dinner at a L'Arche community in Riverdale. I'd asked a former student who works at L'Arche if he could arrange this, because I wanted a clearer memory of my time there in 1979. L'Arche, as I'm sure you know, is now a worldwide network of houses where mentally and physically handicapped people live and work with assistants, in an atmosphere as like a normal home as is possible. My time at my friend Denis's L'Arche community in Provence changed my life.

There were five handicapped people at dinner, and as we sat and talked, what came back immediately is that the disadvantaged in mind and body have no defences, no disguises, no subterfuge. They are what they are, and they expect you to be too. There's a profound honesty in these dealings; you can't pretend to be what you're not, because they are looking straight at you and through you with clear eyes devoid of guile or judgement. As in those months in France, I could feel my heart growing bigger as the meal progressed. There was one particularly beautiful man who has been at L'Arche since 1980, his hands and body crooked and his face full of vulnerability, kindness and wisdom.

I arrived at the community in France in 1979 confused, lost, in some anguish. When I left four months later, I was a different person, because I had learned something vital about my own value: just being myself, paying attention, caring, loving and working, I had contributed something worthwhile. This is what I'm writing about now - one of those times when by some miracle you end up in exactly the right place at the right time. Lucky and blessed, indeed.

Also lucky and blessed: I just finished Gretchen Rubin's Better than before: mastering the habits of our everyday lives, and like L'Arche, this was exactly the book I needed just when I needed it. Yes, Rubin is perky, and living with her would be hell; she's a driven, rigidly organized, rather self-righteous American woman who won't eat a single carb and disapproves of drinking wine, so I could just have slammed the book shut. But she's also funny and honest, and the book was valuable in helping pinpoint what I was doing wrong in my attempts to set up a work routine. Her section on loopholes, the excuses we use to get out of doing what we should be doing, made me laugh. I am a grand master of loopholes.

But I can report that for the last five mornings, I've followed a routine. Won't elaborate until more time has passed, don't want to jinx this or FIND A LOOPHOLE - but it's a New Year's transformation that makes me happy.

In the meantime, the tsunami of horror south of the border continues to gather steam. And then there's this:
How fabulous. My Macca, of course! Just a tiny message to El Trumpo about those artists who support him - the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, at least those who have not quit in protest - and the artists, above, who do not. What a lineup. Hooray for musicians. Hooray for Alec Baldwin and his absurd creation. Please God make that vile man go away. And we thought Stephen Harper was bad.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

another student in the Globe

It's funny that the very week the U of T course was cancelled, my students keep popping up in the Globe and Mail. Today, another glorious essay that I remember clearly from class last year. It hits hard, so beautifully written by Martha ter Kuile. Don't miss it.

Lynn, who co-wrote the Lives Lived for Gwen Setterfield, read yesterday's blog post about the article and emailed me:
Taking your class was an important moment in my life. I will always be grateful for your leadership. It set the tone for the group and the friendships that grew from it. 

Thank you very much, Lynn, I needed that, and I'm looking forward to meeting a whole new group of writers next Monday.

P.S. I just wrote to Martha to congratulate her, and she wrote back, "Yes, what a thrill to have it there. But the real thing was the writing. I cannot thank you enough for the encouragement and laughter of that class last year. It has meant so much!"

I'm beginning to think I might, just might, be good at this. 

PS. The current New Yorker just arrived, with its stunning cover. This magazine is food for the soul.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Gwen Setterfield and Julieta

It's a horrible winter night, rain turning fresh snow to sloppy mush, but I am warmed by something that happened today. 13 years ago, after taking my Ryerson course, a group of women from the class formed a writing group. I urge all my classes to do so, but this surely is the most longterm and successful. They have continued to meet once a month, year after year, critiquing each other's work, supporting each other as writers and as friends. When one member, Liz, died suddenly awaiting a kidney transplant, the others asked her husband's permission to access her computer. They took her best stories, founded a press, and published a book of Liz's stories. It was profoundly moving to be at the book launch - all proceeds of the sales went to kidney research - and see Liz's family holding the beautiful book of her words, produced with such love by her writing group.

Now the group has honoured another member - Gwenlyn Setterfield, an influential mover and shaker in the arts community in this country, died last year at the age of 82, and two members of the group, Rose and Lynn, wrote a Lives Lived which was in today's Globe. Gwen was important to me not just as an accomplished writer and interesting, vital person, but because her brother George, a biologist, was one of my father's closest friends. She and I had a bond that was deeper than most I have with my students, and I was saddened by her death. But glad, today, that she was so touchingly remembered by her longterm writing friends. I love the ending. Brava, Gwen. Way to go.
She died after a week in Stratford, Ont., visiting one of her daughters. She saw four plays, ate great meals, bought some stylish clothes and enjoyed a spa day.


Last night, I watched a documentary called Risky Drinking, which turned my hair even more grey. It took four case studies of alcoholics or binge drinkers and followed them on their paths to destruction. Several tried rehab, stopped drinking for a bit, reclaimed their lives, and then plunged back down again. It was horrifying, cautionary. I will keep a closer eye on my own consumption, though I think two glasses of red wine a day don't quite qualify me as a case study for this film. But still.

Today, met Ken at TIFF to see Almadovar's Julieta, based on 3 Alice Munro stories. I couldn't imagine turning the WASPS of rural Ontario into the passionate citizens of Spain, and sure enough, it didn't really work. But I didn't regret seeing it - it's about the grief of a mother whose daughter turns away from her and disappears for many years, and I realized, again, how unbelievably grateful I am that my daughter lives on the other side of town, and though we only see each other once a week, if that, we talk or text almost daily. One of the greatest gifts of my life.

Afterwards, Ken and I had a bite to eat in the cosy TIFF bar, as the rain splattered the dark streets outside. I had one glass of wine. It was so good.

Monday, January 9, 2017

re: Beth's winter classes; Life, Animated; Moonlight; Meryl

News on the teaching front: My Ryerson course starts in a week and right now, on Monday evening, has one spot left, so by tomorrow it will be full. If you're interested, you should register this instant.

On the other hand, my U of T advanced course was cancelled today because of low registration. This hasn't happened in years, and I don't understand why it came to be this term. Yes, when you check the U of T creative writing calendar, there are 7 other memoir courses that sound like mine and are running at the same time. I'm sure that doesn't help. But there you go, that's life. The cancellation means not trucking through the snow, that's a blessing. More time in my cosy home doing my own work, yay.

Less income.

I'll survive. For any disappointed students, you know where to find me - it all starts again in May.
And to cheer myself up, I'll read this lovely note I recently received from a longterm student:
I wanted to let you know that your constant encouragement works wonders to those who are keen at heart and slow to task. You keep a steady stream of motivation flowing through sharing your own journey, ups and downs and the sage advice of others. I need these!

Saturday night on TV, a beautiful documentary, "Life, Animated," about Owen, a severely autistic boy who comes to process, understand and control his world through Disney animated films. Profoundly moving as it shows his parents realizing - he's in there, his mind is alive, through his imitation of voices in the films, specifically, fascinatingly, all the sidekick characters. By the end, the boy who couldn't talk or function is a young man in his own assisted living apartment, speaking at a conference in France about being autistic and proud. He got a standing ovation. I'd read the article written by his father, Ron Suskind, in the New Yorker, which led to the film, a tribute not just to Owen but, so very much, to his mother and father for their infinite patience and love. And also, to the creative genius of Disney and his teams, who didn't just entertain millions but saved one small boy's life.

Yesterday, to see Moonlight with friend Ron. It won the Golden Globe that night. Though it is a very good film, I have to say, I found it slow and the dialogue and storyline sometimes hard to follow. Its story of a disadvantaged gay man of colour in the south, bullied as a boy, abandoned by his drug-addicted mother, bullied in adolescence, then unrecognizably bulked up as an adult and a drug dealer like the man who rescued him in childhood - it's a great relief that there's sweet redemption at the end. Haunting. But I wish there'd been more subtitles.

Then a Sri Lankan dinner with Ron, a childhood friend who recently moved to my neighbourhood, and then home for Sherlock. Ridiculous and sublime, and again, needs subtitles - the dialogue moves so fast! And then a bit of the Golden Globes, but I missed Meryl Streep last night, caught her again, a million times, on FB today. What a magnificent woman. I drank in her words like cold water in the desert - an actor speaking a wise and difficult truth to the nation and to her peers. I am in awe. Brava!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Come From Away and the end of the Trump Slump

The wealth of our new connected lives: I am listening to Chuck Berry, the first choice of Keith Richards who's being interviewed on BBC's "Desert Island Discs" - famous Brits for decades have been invited onto the radio to talk about their lives and choose their favourite music - and I'm listening on the internet, after reading an article about the show in the Guardian. And while I listened, for a bit I was on FB watching Laurel and Hardy dancing, exactly to the beat. Isn't this a marvel?

Keef's next choice: Hank Williams. Ooo that's sad.

This afternoon, glorious - I was smart enough to get one of the last tickets to Come From Away, the Mirvish-produced musical that closes tomorrow and opens on Broadway in February. It's about what happened in Gander, Newfoundland, on 9/11, when 38 international flights were grounded in Nfld. on their way to NYC. The tiny community leapt into action, feeding and sheltering almost 7000 people from around the world for days. A fantastic story, all true, joyful, magical, and now a joyful, magical musical about human generosity and kindness in desperate times. I wonder what cynical NYC will make of it. Surely the timing is perfect - in this time of Trump, the world needs to be reminded, as often as possible, of the goodness possible in the human soul. My guess is that half the audience will want to move to Newfoundland. And they'd be right.

Aaron Neville, with Keef playing in the background. "My True Story." What a sweet sweet voice.

This morning, I instituted my new "habits" routine, thanks to Gretchen Rubin's book. I won't write too much about it yet.

"Sugar on the Floor." Etta James. The world is full of glory. I am officially over what I call the Trump Slump - weeks there when it seemed hopeless, the world was doomed, human beings are hopeless, hopeless, petty, vicious, stupid, racist, blind and selfish. But - what's the point of that? There have been dire situations before, and on we go.

"Solid R and B," says Keef. "Freddy Scott." Whom I've never heard of. Gorgeous. "Are you lonely for me, baby?"

Music. What would the world be without music?

Gregory Isaacs. "One of the best songwriters from Jamaica." "Extra Classic." Which at the end he chooses as his favourite of all.

"Mozart is my man, basically," says Keef, but as his classical choice, he has plumped for the only composer Mozart spoke highly of, apparently - Vivaldi. "Spring" from his Four Seasons.

His final piece: "Top of the line R and B - 'Key to the highway,' Muddy Waters. Because if I'm on a desert island - where's the highway?"

Celebrate that Keith Richards is alive in 2017. Now that's a miracle. Listen for yourself. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06kb0fw

PS An ad in the Globe today: "Considering renouncing your US citizenship? Make sure you renounce the right way." A seminar is being offered by tax law firm Moody Gartner.

Can you imagine? The Decline and Fall. We are watching it happen.

Friday, January 6, 2017

writer Rita Davies in the Globe

Proud that my longterm writing student Rita Davies has a lovely piece in the Globe today, a piece she started in class, as she continues to explore her exotic childhood. Brava, Rita.

And remember, registration is open but will soon be closed for my courses, Life Stories II at U of T and True to Life at Ryerson, so if you're interested, you need to register now. Please get in touch or check my website if you need more information.

I'm in bed, still battling the bug. The sun is shining and it's bitterly cold; I see a student editing client this afternoon but otherwise can take it easy.

For your viewing pleasure: Here's a famous musician embracing a famous fashion designer who happens to be his daughter. I know from my Macca websites that he and his wife and daughter Stella and her husband are vacationing on St. Barts. I hate that people take pictures of them, but this is a beautiful series, as he wraps her in a towel, hugs her and gives her a kiss. Is there a better feeling than your father enfolding you and keeping you warm?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

conversation, music and habit: "Better Than Before"

Some interesting things to report on today, which isn't bad considering I'm still stuffed up and achey.

As many of you know, I shop regularly at Doubletake, the secondhand store run by the Yonge St. Mission and staffed almost entirely by recent immigrants from Bangladesh. They're friendly warm women, and as I chatted with them through the years, I realized they were hungry for conversation in English and to know more about Canada. I decided to start a conversation circle and invited Jasmine and Rani, the ones I knew best, to my house for tea. It was a nice encounter but a bit awkward, perhaps too intimidating in my personal space - they brought a magnificent azalea and a pile of desserts that must have cost them a lot.

Talking recently with a good friend at the Y, Linda, I told her about my idea, and she knew just whom to go to. Linda has volunteered for years at CRC, the resource centre in Regent Park, where many new immigrants live. And so this morning, I had a meeting with Linda and Ashrafi, who runs programs at CRC and, it turns out, has wanted for a long time to set up a conversation circle.

We're starting mid-February. I will assemble a group of English-speaking volunteers, she'll make a flyer and assemble women who want to speak English, and we'll meet once a week to drink tea and coffee and talk. The goal is to help immigrants from all over the world feel comfortable and safe and to give them the opportunity to speak English, to learn about Canada from Canadians, and to talk about their own homelands. With perhaps, at certain points, some simple elements of grammar and English composition.

I'm thrilled this is coming together right now, as the world watches in horror and disbelief while the appalling spectacle continues south of the border. One way we citizens can defeat or at least diminish the forces of darkness is to try to make our own neighbourhood a kinder place. Stay tuned.

Then, in the afternoon, my first post-Xmas piano lesson. At the end of each class, as I disintegrate, fumble and bang, I remember the mantra to prevent brain loss in old age: DO SOMETHING HARD. Done and done. My fingers forget, my mind forgets, I get nervous and frustrated and it's all excruciatingly slow, but it's also one of the most thrilling adventures of my aging life. Tonight there was a short doc on Glenn Gould on TV, and they showed him playing the Aria from the Goldbergs. I also play it, at least, the first, very simple part, before it gets fast and impossible. You will not be surprised to learn that Beth Kaplan's version does not sound one iota like Glenn Gould's. And yet - it's recognizable. It's clumsy and halting but it's music, with my fingers on the keyboard. A gift.

There were three books waiting for me at the library yesterday; today I'm reading Gretchen Rubin's Better than before: Mastering the habits of our everyday lives. She's a bit perky, but she's honest and charming and has done a lot of research on habit. She divides people into four Tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. (Even all those caps are too damn perky.) I thought I was a Questioner but I'm an Obliger, which means I need external motivation, accountability, to accomplish anything. It's true - I exercise at the Y (once or twice a week) because it's a regular class and friends like Linda know if I'm there or not; I practice the piano (a little) because my teacher is waiting. But I often put off getting to my desk, finding other important things to do, because - who cares? Who is waiting for my words? My need to write is often superseded by other needs.

Which Tendency are you?

I have tried for years to find or create a writing group of peers to whom I'd be accountable, without success, though my beloved home students have tried. Anyway, I'm only halfway through Rubin's book, but I think it'll be an important one for me.

More important, though, right now, is regaining my own perkiness. Any day now.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

a message from Honolulu

Just heard from one of last term's young students, telling me how much she enjoyed the class.
I'm so glad I took your course. Digging up those stories from the past was really important for me. It also led me to have some very honest conversations with my parents. Our relationship is a lot better for it now. 

Glad to hear that! Thank you for letting me know. 

And I received a beautiful letter from Harriet in Honolulu, my friend Penny's friend who last December lent us her condo in Kauai and later an apartment in Honolulu too - a kind and generous friend indeed. She had asked to read my books so I brought them to her. She wrote that she has read the "Jewish Shakespeare" twice "and enjoyed learning about early Jewish culture and their theatre and about your family. I contacted the Jewish community here in Honolulu. They said they would like to add the book to their library so I took it to their office. Wouldn't it be exciting to find a connection to someone here?"

Yes it certainly would. Yes right about now, as I get over this cold and look out at the frozen wasteland that is Toronto in January, discovering a relative in Hawaii that I need to go and visit would be very fine. But in the meantime, I have a good friend there, which is just as important. Thank you, Harriet, for the calendar you sent with pictures of your hot bright homeland. Makes me want to get on a plane right now. 

I'm human today, actually got dressed and went out into the bitter cold briefly and then did some editing work. Must not overdo it or it'll hit again, so now it's back to bed. A hard life - but someone's got to live it, and it will just have to be me.

P.S. FYI, below, the NYT just listed the places you MUST VISIT next year, and the #1 place is - yes, it is - #1 is Canada! So those of you who have not visited this glorious country yet, please come. Only not in January. Or February. Or March. And April's not so great either. Anytime between May and November, fabulous. See you soon.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Beth's classes starting mid-January

Re the winter term classes coming up:

At Ryerson, the evening class, True to Life, which starts Monday Jan. 16 at 6.30, is filling up, only a few spots left, so if you're interested, act quickly.

For those who've taken my course before or have a great deal of writing experience, consider Life Stories II, the advanced section of my course at U of T, in the afternoon starting at 12.30 Tuesday Jan. 17. There is room.

What a good day to stay in bed - it's forbidding out there, dark and wet. My poor daughter, with two little boys, stuck inside all day. She suggested a trip to Allen Gardens and then a visit here, but not today, my darling, definitely not today, I'm in bed with my nose, my throat and my head. Luckily my dear cleaning lady and friend, Marisha, is here. I lay in clean sheets while she mopped the floor around me and felt like a queen.

I have all I need: humidifier, Kleenex, water, computer and a stack of books. Someone left Samantha Bee's memoir I know I am, but what are you? in the Little Free Library, so I'm reading that - funny and horrifying - plus two big wonderful tomes: Lynda Barry's book about creativity, What it is, and the gorgeous Letters of Note: correspondence deserving of a wider audience, a magnificent book of letters from writers famous and unknown, ancient and modern, given to me a few Christmasses ago by Patsy and revisited with enormous pleasure today.

I must find my copies of John Berger's books and add them to the stack, if I'm going to be lying here for awhile. It's hard for me to confess that though I know he was a fantastic man and mind, though I've seen a play based on his principles and read many interviews, still, because I am a SHALLOW, SPEEDY PERSON, I have not finished a single one of his books. Must change that. If I could lie here for a week, I'd get a lot of reading done. But my restless legs would go mad. They already are twitching away. Time for tea and snack. Had to cancel a date with Ken to see Almadovar's Julieta. So behind in my films - at least four must-sees on right now.

Last night, I turned on CBC's Ideas - it was Michael Enright repeating important interviews from his Sunday show, all of them spectacular, one a woman from Glasgow, once the murder capital of Europe, who has hugely diminished the crime and gang culture there by paying attention to early childhood and even animal cruelty - making vets aware that violence against women and children often begins against animals. Brilliant. A woman who worked in NYC to transform transportation, hugely increasing the importance of pedestrian walkways, parks, open space and bike paths. LOVED it. A Finn who told Michael about the Finnish education system, which emphasizes play and happiness over performance and testing.

Does radio get better than that? I don't think so and wrote them afterward to say so.

Over and out. May you keep warm with a clear nose and head: my wish for all of you today.

Oh, one more thing - writers, consider entering this.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Aga Khan, Sherlock, and Macca on St. Bart's

She is greeting this glorious new year with a cold, folks - sore throat and runny nose, but otherwise hale. Many have been much sicker this holiday period, and this bug is no surprise, it has been incubating for days. So - no movies, no Y, just taking it easy - thank God I don't have to teach. Tangelos - fruit of the gods - leftover turkey soup, a newly-made ratatouille, and just a bit of wine to wash it all down.

Yesterday, a huge treat - to the Aga Khan Museum of Islamic Art with Nick and Beth-Anne. It's a brand new museum in the northern reaches of the city, hard to get to without a car, but with the 3 of us sharing transit costs the trip was fast and easy. What a spectacular place - a gorgeous building flooded with light, just the right size for a museum, with a stunning but not overwhelming collection of artifacts. There's a special exhibition now about the ancient art of Syria, particularly heartbreaking because we know so much of the country and its art has been obliterated. And there's a permanent collection of such fine objects, some from many centuries B.C. It's hard to link the delicacy and beauty of the art with the murderous extremists we associate with Islam today. And what's made so clear is the confluence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, all originating from the same part of the world with many similarities and even some of the same founders - Abraham et al. And yet today, all so very far apart.
 Photography was forbidden - this is from a book. It's the skeleton of a leaf covered with gold calligraphy, incredibly intricate.
An art project done with immigrant kids - to take a box and create what 'home' meant to them. Very stirring.

From the sublime to another kind of sublime - Wayson came for dinner and we watched Sherlock together, I trying to explain, quickly, who was who, as he'd never seen one before, and it all whizzes by at such speed. So much fun! Spoiler alert: I was sorry Mary had to go, though she did have a death scene worthy of Shakespeare. I did wonder, in the swimming pool fight scene, how Sherlock had the muscle to take on a trained assassin; we have never seen him working out yet suddenly there he is, James Bond-style, wrestling in the pool. I was waiting for the wet shirt moment, like Mr. Darcy's, but no, we just hurtled on to the next nearly-incomprehensible scene - I mean, that key confrontation with Mary about her past, where were they, in an office Sherlock has created in a walk-in tomb in a cemetery? Did I miss something?Yes, undoubtedly. Can't wait for next week, when Toby Jones leers onstage as the next arch-villain.

More sad news: writer, art critic and all round wise man John Berger has died at the age of 90. From a Guardian article:
In a conversation with Susan Sontag, he once said: “A story is always a rescuing operation.” And he has also said: “If I’m a storyteller it’s because I listen. For me, a storyteller is like a passeur who gets contraband across a frontier.”
What a great way to look at storytelling - smuggling stories.

To cheer you up, if you need cheering, please go to YouTube and enter Paul McCartney St. Bart's the Killers. Macca is vacationing on the island of St. Barts with his wife and daughter Stella, and on New Year's Eve was apparently at a big party at the home of some Russian oligarch who had hired the band the Killers to play. They invited Paul on stage and launched into an impromptu version of that sweet old-fashioned ballad Helter Skelter, and Paul just rocks like a teenager. If I have half that energy when I'm 74 - or even tomorrow - I will be a happy woman. Frisky, that's what he is, damn frisky.