Thursday, March 22, 2018

made it

Yes! Yes yes yes yes yes. I'm here. It's dark and raining in Vancouver, of course, but the fruit trees are in bloom. I'm in St. Augustine's, a pub on Commercial Drive, drinking a rather sour craft beer - it's called Jerkface, how could I resist? My friend Margaret with whom I will be staying is at a class and will meet me here in about half an hour. I assumed I'd be late, that it would take me a long time to get here, but a more seamless journey I have never had.

I'd even made my cappuccino the night before, so up at 7.30, heat up coffee, eat cereal, last minute things to do, out the door by 8.10, walk to Parliament Street and the bus came a few minutes later. Bus to the subway, and the subway came a minute later. Subway to Dundas West station, get out, walk a few minutes along Bloor, onto the UP express to the airport, a 7 minute wait. A beautiful swift train, and here we are at Pearson. No lineup, get through security, drink a flat white, eat a breakfast sandwich, board. Plane takes off on time. Watch "The Shape of Water," which I loved - we just flow into this world of imagination, leave our sceptical modern selves behind. We need to do that more often.

I watch some National Film Board shorts which are brilliant and funny, and then listen to Bach and Beethoven while reading "Lincoln in the Bardo," George Saunders's Man Booker-winning novel which I bought at the airport.

Can I tell you the pleasure of this - soaring through the air in a clunky tin bird while reading a magnificently imaginative and moving novel - about the death of President Lincoln's son, narrated by the ghosts around him in the cemetery, if you can believe that - and listening to the greatest music ever written? And then, one more bit of pleasure - I got out my sandwich and ate that. Leftover roast pork with tons of mayonnaise and endive. I know how to make a sandwich.

We land, my bag arrives, the Canada Line train arrives just as I get to at the station, and the Compass card I bought the last time I was here has lots of money left. Tap, get on, get off at Broadway/City Hall, it's raining but my umbrella is right there in one of the outside pockets, and anyway, it's only a few minutes till the 99B arrives. I take it to the end of the line and walk across the street to St. Augustine's pub.

Does it get easier than that? Not a single moment of heart-stopping panic, as is usual during my travels. And all this with - I must confess - a rather large suitcase. Well, I'm gone for a month! And there are gifts.

I am so so relieved to be outside my house, I the most turtle-like of creatures, unwilling to leave the warm protective space I have built for myself and huddled inside for 32 years. It's good to be naked out in the world once in a while. Maybe I'll meet a fishman, like Sally Hawkins did. So here goes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

nearly on her way

Dear God, this is the usual state I'm in before leaving for an extended trip - beyond exhausted, drained like an overcooked noodle. This time my left eye is bright red with a burst blood vessel; as I rode my bike yesterday, I kept that eye closed against the cold, so there was a one-eyed lunatic weaving about. There is sun, but it's cold.

Whereas in Vancouver, where I will land tomorrow, 90% chance of rain Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Hooray.

So - packing the rain boots.

The last Ryerson class on Monday, all of them reading spectacular work, the room infused with a feeling of trust and courage. A new editing client on Tuesday - he read my article in Zoomer and was determined to begin work on his memoir before my departure, so insisted we meet asap. An interesting man with a very interesting life - this will be fun. Today, more tramping about the house with John and Tatiana contemplating the renovation, how to rebuild the staircase, where will the door go, after 15 minutes, I'm ready to give up. I did NOT do Carole's class at the Y, could not even contemplate putting out that much energy - I just went in to say goodbye to everyone and then to have a long hot shower. And then to the dermatologist to learn that the brown patch behind my ear is not ear cancer, it's an age spot. Good news all round.

And then across town to be with my boys - Ben bouncing off the walls - everything he says and does is with enormous gusto. "STEEETCAR!" he screams, his face alight with excitement as if it's the first one he has ever seen, every time one goes by his bedroom window. Eli meanwhile was playing Risk with his dad. He's five. I have never played Risk. He won.

And now - the last minute things, trying not to aggravate my eye; the bag is nearly packed, and out the door I go first thing tomorrow. It is good to get away. It is good to get away. I know that, but each time, at this point, I swear I will never do this again.

Don't listen to her. She'll have forgotten all about it by tomorrow night.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

basement suite to rent May 1

Beautiful furnished basement suite to rent in tranquil, historic Cabbagetown in the heart of Toronto. One big bright room with kitchen, living room, bedroom combined; a dressing room area, and a bathroom with big shower. Reasonably priced, available May 1.

Please get in touch with me if you're interested or know someone who might be.

"If the rocks could talk"

An honour and a blessing: another editing client and former student, Rollande Ruston, has come out with the memoir we worked on together. I blushed to read her dedication: "Special thanks for Beth Kaplan, my creative writing teacher and hero... From the very beginning she was appreciative of my efforts and always had something positive to say about my stories... Without her encouragement and support, this book wouldn't be."

It's called "If the rocks could talk." Rollande has traced her family back to the mid-1600s in France and writes with humour and elegance about her childhood in the Gaspesie. A beautiful book; brava, Rollande, all that hard work was worth it. Take a look.

I'm sitting in the hot sun in the kitchen; it's still chilly outside, but we all feel spring coming. On Saturday I took Eli to the farm where we watched the farmhand grooming a horse with the lovely name Ringo. His horsehair was flying off; he doesn't need that thick protective pelt any more. And then we saw green shoots of daffodils and croci everywhere.

But because I'm an impatient person, I'm leaving on Thursday for a month on the west coast, where spring is far more advanced. Chris writes from Gabriola Island that he is outside in shorts. Of course, he is a crazy person, but still, I am attempting to imagine warm weather as I pack. Or, in fact, as I don't pack, because I haven't started yet, still immersed in Toronto life.

On Friday, my upstairs tenant and friend Carol arrived back from her permanent home in Ecuador to her temporary home in my attic; she's moving out for good mid-June, but will be here while I'm away. There was much talking about her last six months and mine. Then, a sleepover with Eli on Friday night. We spent a great deal of time playing hockey in the kitchen, he with a small puffy hockey stick I'd found - no-one could be hurt with this stick - and I with a broom. Needless to say, the score was 22 to 2 for the youth of today. Wayson came, and the three of us had dinner with Carol. I can tell you that the young man dislikes a lot of foodstuffs, but he really really likes salmon.

This visit, for the first time, he was immersed in Lego, spending hours putting together a boat-like creation and then filling the sink to the brim to see if it would float. It did, and so he took it into the bathtub with him. The night was a bit rough - he missed his mother at 3 a.m. so I got into bed with him for a bit, and then he came into my bed at about 5.30. But I forgive him everything. The best moment, lying side by side on the sofa with me starting to read "Charlotte's Web," a favourite book by my favourite writer, to him.

He told me he can count to a million by tens. "Really?!" I asked. "Sure," he said. "10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 a million. Easy peasy."

He has his grandmother's math skills. Mind you, she's 67, and he's 5.

His family came to get him; now that his mother can drive, she rents cars and zips all over town, and for March Break, brilliantly, she had rented a room in a hotel with a big pool and play area for a one night staycation. A good time was had by all.

Now I am cooking a last winter Sunday night roast for Carol, Wayson, and our friend Judy Steed. Next week, the last Ry class, a conference committee meeting which I'm chairing, a visit to the dermatologist to be sure I don't have ear cancer. It'll be spring on Tuesday, but I'm not waiting around to see if she decides to come. I know she takes her time getting to Toronto. So I'm going to look for her.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

celebrating Diana

The astounding adventure of life continues. Last term, I was privileged to meet a lively new student, Diana, who as a child came to Canada as a refugee from Vietnam. Diana grew up as Jimm, a boy who secretly enjoyed putting on women's clothes, finally came out, and found a beloved partner with whom he lived for 14 years. But underneath, Jimm had another secret, a female self longing to emerge - Diana. He wanted to transition, and a few years ago, the journey to Diana began.

Diana is open, vivacious, and the most feminine woman I know. She read at So True dressed in skintight leather pants, a low-cut blouse, diamant√© earrings, and at one dramatic point, pulled the clips out of her hair so it tumbled down to her waist. As we worked on the piece beforehand, Diana spoke of being "a career girl", and I asked what career. She said, laughing, "Insurance!" Just about the last kind of employment I would have imagined. Her company has fully supported her through her transition, she said. I noted that her insurance company is also mine.

And this week, I needed advice on insurance. I'm someone who went through a fire, thought my life was over, and instead got close to a brand new house, so I understand the vital importance of insurance, but I'm not happy with my agent, my premiums are high, and there are complications with the possibility of a renovation. I needed a seminar in insurance, and who to give it but Diana? She came over last night and we drank wine and went through my policy line by line as she explained what the confusing terms meant. She pointed out, with another great laugh, that I get the "Mature Market Discount" because old people don't wreck things as often as young ones.

And then, more importantly, we discovered that our feet are exactly the same size and I was able to give her a pair of high-heeled pointy-toed suede boots from my own former life, when I wore such things. Win/win. Thank you, Diana! (Incidentally, she has given me permission to write this.)

On Friday, my upstairs tenant Carol comes back from her home in Ecuador to spend her last three months here, and next Thursday, I fly out west for a month in Vancouver and on Gabriola Island. So there is much rushing right now - to try to get the reno at least comprehensible and possible, the downstairs apartment rented again, income tax underway, goodbyes said - Eli coming for a sleepover Friday night - the Beatles talk in May organized, the house fixed and ready for Carol - John came over yesterday, fixed the always-broken doorbell and replaced the innards of the downstairs toilet, my hero, that man. The last Ryerson class Monday, the last non-fiction conference meeting Tuesday, Wednesday seeing the dermatologist about the brown patch above my ear.

Thursday, get the hell out of here.