Saturday, August 19, 2017

Menashe, in Yiddish

Saw a deeply moving and highly unusual movie on Thursday with Ken - Menashe, filmed within a Hassidic community with amateur actors and in Yiddish. It's about a schlemiel, a kind but impractical man whose wife has died and who within the strict laws of his faith cannot raise his young son alone - it says in the Torah that children must be raised by two parents, so his son must live with humourless relatives. Our hero wants his child back. It reminded me of I, Daniel Blake, another film about one good man against the universe. But that one was didactic; we knew Daniel Blake would not get anywhere. This film is humane and haunting, goes deep, stays with you. It clarifies the power of religion to provide comfort and community, and at the same time, to restrict and terrorize.

I was at the High Park playground with Eli, Ben and Anna's best friend Holly on Friday, when a large group of Orthodox Jewish women arrived with their children, the women in wigs and demure clothing, the girls too in skirts and long sleeves, and the boys in yarmulkes with payes - sidecurls. I don't understand people's need to shut themselves away in any community, let alone a religious one with hundreds of rules, but at least, after seeing the film, I felt I knew more about who these people are.

We had fun.

Danger Baby, aka Ben, keeps saying the word "up", which means, I want to go as high as my big brother if not higher. Terrifying.

Today, with Wayson to keep me company, I cooked with stuff from the garden, including a mint-yogurt-cuke gazpacho, fresh green in colour and taste. As mentioned, I am drowning in cucumbers and tomatoes. Next week, of course, pesto. This has been a beautiful summer because of the rain - have hardly had to water the garden - and the mild temperatures. Had my AC on a couple of times in early July and not once since.

Mostly, I'm doing two things: scouring my manuscript, going over and over it, line by line, which is giving me joy because it is coming together. Yes it feels good now, like I'm polishing, or deepening, rather than rescuing.

And I'm reading the papers and FB and the NYT and Twitter as part of the "What the @#$# next?" brigade that we all are now. How much worse can things get? Plenty, I guess, as a few weeks ago we thought it couldn't get any worse, and voila, Nazis on the march, and an apologia for "nice people" Nazis, and more attacks in Europe, and tonight an item on the national news about women in South Sudan who are starving, who turn to prostitution to survive and contract AIDS.

To cheer myself up when it seems unbearable, I go out into the garden and watch the bees, covered with pollen, rolling drunkenly around on the pistils of my rose of Sharon. It's nearly pornographic, the way they rub, splaying themselves, sometimes writhing and sometimes motionless, as if exhausted or overwhelmed. It's love.
Saw a documentary about trees; it said that most medicines are plant based and trees exude chemicals that are good for us not just psychically but physically. Get thee into the greenery, the garden, the trees and plants. Sometimes it feels like that's the only sanity left.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

a chuckle in the rain

I could not help myself - "Eight Days a Week," the movie about the Beatles' touring years, was on the movie channel last night, and I had to watch for the third or perhaps fourth time. Each time, I find something new to celebrate. So so joyful at a time when the horror in the news is almost unbearable. A resurgence of fascism, how is this possible? No, let's focus instead on singing along with Carole King and the Beatles. I want to hold your hand.

It just started pouring - this has been the wettest summer on record, nearly, not complaining as it's been good for the cucumbers - and Anna is at the zoo with the usual passel of children. I'm sure they're all huddled in McDonalds.

So here are a few laughs for today, one courtesy of the blog of my dear friend Chris. Who, incidentally, continues to visit Bruce almost every day in the rehab hospital. Our dear Bruce, according to a recent long phone call, is recovering miraculously from his stroke. He went home overnight with his sister and on Thursday will go home for good with no follow up appointments! An absolutely amazing recovery.

 And, below, gluten free art...
Yesterday, the dentist; today a facial - teeth and pores sparkling, spiffing up this old bag of bones. But mostly, I'm in the obsessive stage of writing, not wanting to leave my beloved ms. for long. I'm getting there. Yes I am. So, goodbye, I'm busy.

Five minutes later - rain over, hot sun. What a summer.

Monday, August 14, 2017

a successful student

Can't help blowing my own horn a bit today, especially after the week I've had ... Sarah Meehan Sirk, who took my course some time ago and then took a number of other writing courses, was given a two book deal by a major publisher and has just come out with her first book of short stories, "The Dead Husband Project," given a rave review in the Star yesterday - half a page!

I wrote to ask her if she'd write a blurb for the Ryerson writing school website, and she sent this. Very nice to read. What she says about perseverance is very true. I can't tell in class which students are going to bloom, as she has, and which are not. Talent has little to do with it, because without perseverance, all the talent in the world is useless. So, brava, Sarah, for sticking with it.

In my early twenties, I knew I wanted to write, but I needed help. I needed feedback, I needed direction, I needed deadlines. I needed to know if I was any good. I enrolled in Beth Kaplan's True to Life class at Ryerson's Chang School of Continuing Studies - which became the first of many writing courses I took at the school - and found what I was after and more: the honest feedback, the direction, the deadlines, a writing group, and the help I needed to start becoming a much better writer. I still think of Beth's advice often. She assured me that writers blossom in their own time, at the right time for them. She encouraged me to abandon a flowery, polysyllabic writing style in favour of a clean, honest one. I doubt I showed much promise in those early days but there's something to be said for perseverance, and for great teachers.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


God, a day or two without blogging and already, too much to tell you. A stunning peaceful Sunday here. Time to pick some cucumbers. By September, I won't be able to look a cucumber in the eye.

On Saturday, there were two - two! - reviews in the Star of books by former students - "Dr. Bartolo's Umbrella and other tales from my surprising operatic life," by Chris Cameron, that I'm reading at the moment and thoroughly enjoying - the story of the trajectory of his operatic career, a very funny, beautifully written book - and "The Dead Husband Project" by Sarah Meehan Sirk, another former student who has gone on to fame, glory and good writing. Bravo to you both.

Went Saturday morning to St. Lawrence Market, heaven in summer, came home loaded down with way too much - blueberries, peaches, salad, corn, hot bagels, smoked salmon, cream cheese, other cheeses ... not just for me, but because an old friend was coming to visit. Harriet and I were at theatre school in London together in 1971, and now she's Dame Harriet Walter who had a recurring role in Downton Abbey and has most recently played several male Shakespeare roles, like Prospero. In fact, she told me that not long ago, for some weeks, she was required to do three different Shakespeare plays in one day - one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one at night. The force needed for that seems superhuman, but she did it. We sat and ate bagels and talked shop, the kind of theatre talk I don't get to hear often enough. "My friend Alan Rickman, God rest his soul," she said at one point. "And then there was the time I met Paul McCartney backstage after a show I did with Twiggy's husband, a good friend of his. He came to say hello with Linda, Stella and Mary. I noticed that he has small feet," she said.

Scream. What a treat.

And then work, till 11, and again this morning. It's coming.

This aft, another huge treat - "Beautiful" at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, which used to be the Pantages, the theatre renovated beautifully and with enormous effort by Garth Drabinsky and my ex-husband for "Phantom", which played there for ages. The whole place is filled with bittersweet memories for me. But today, nothing but pleasure - a fabulous musical that tells the story of Carole King's early life and career, from selling her first song at 16, writing hit songs for the Shirelles, and on to the breakup of her marriage to her lyricist and "Tapestry," the album of the decade. The star, Chilena Kennedy, is perfect, simply stunning, the music is glorious, the whole thing spectacular. If you're in Toronto or New York, don't miss it. You make me feel like a natural woman. You're beautiful. You've got a friend.

And now - rosé, corn, gazpacho, cucumber salad. The cicadas are buzzing. Time to water the garden, and Sam may come later to watch "Game of Thrones". It does not get better than this. Except that neo-Nazis and violent white supremacists are newly empowered - have there ever been such reprehensible losers? what exactly do they have to complain about? - and nuclear war is looming between two spoiled lunatics who might destroy the planet, it doesn't get better than this.
Except for this - Madison Square Gardens, 1939.