Sunday, October 22, 2017

home, still hot

The weather is mind-boggling - have I said that before? Hot hot sun, breezy, sublime - not just in Washington but in Toronto, since I came home this afternoon to the same gorgeous weather.

Friday afternoon I went to visit old old friends Judith and Leon Major - Judith's parents were my parents' great friends in Halifax in the Sixties, and so I've known Leon and Judith all my life. They've lived in Washington for decades, Leon teaching opera production. Judith told me that in 1965 my father called them to ask their advice - his daughter loved the Beatles and not Mozart, what should he do? Poor dad. (And now, Dad, I love both. You needn't have worried.)

That night, a family dinner at Barbara's. Her second husband Dan had two adopted Korean children when he married Barb; their daughter Mia came with her Swedish husband and two sons, just a tich younger than my grandchildren. The air rang with the voices of little boys and new family for me. Heaven.

Saturday Barb, Dan, Barb's younger sister Francey and I went for a hike on the Billy Goat trail at Great Falls, on the most glorious October 21 in memory. (click to enlarge)
 Not that far from the White House.
Cousins squinting in the sun. Matching chins.
My Washington family on my mother's side. After the hike, I said goodbye to Barb and Dan, and Francey drove the two of us to Frederick, a hip town in northern Maryland, full of antique and record stores, where I treated her to lunch - the best crab cakes I've ever had and a local hoppy craft beer - and then we drove to her isolated house in acres of woods on top of a mountain. She's a recluse who has an amazing list of hobbies; she's a master knitter and a harpist and pianist who is teaching herself the viola da gamba; she and her husband raise big dogs, right now a wolfhound and a borzoi, and she is very serious about calligraphy.
A concert on one of her four harps.
Brianna lounging. An enormous wolfhound.
Practicing her letters. I spent the night there in the tranquillity of this mountaintop home where, however, the nearest neighbours are rabid Trump supporters. I myself would not want to live so far away from everything, but it suits Francey. Joe her husband was in Japan receiving an award for his work as a physicist. We sat in tilting leather chairs drinking American champagne and watching their giant TV screen - Francey's favourite program about British people who want to move to the country, and then the first episode of the new American series Mindhunter. Disturbing and terrific.

This morning Francey drove me to Dulles, an hour and a half. Luckily she likes driving. I had bought new sunglasses which have magic lenses - everything looked stunning, the colours much more vibrant than they actually were on another heavenly day, as the leaves slowly turn, a month late. We talked too much about You Know Who. Of course.

At Dulles, in the bookstore, a whole section for religious books and various bibles. They are not like us.
A painless fight home - in fact, wonderful, I sat next to a young red-headed Quebecois man who was deaf and covered with tattoos, wearing an anti-fur-trade t-shirt in French - we wrote messages to each other. He was adorable. Home through the usual traffic jam - maybe Toronto traffic is as bad as Washington's.
My tenant Elodie had left me a gift - she's a florist and had bought and arranged these beauties. So good to be home! Pray I sleep tonight.
Gifts from the trip: Francey did some calligraphy for me,
and Barbara gave me these - part of a tea set belonging to my great-great-grandmother Elizabeth Bates in Northampton. So many gifts from both sides of my family. And then I went for a walk in my 'hood, gearing up for Hallowe'en - this is just up the street. Glad to be home. It was a superb trip.
Randy Bachman is blasting on the radio, the back door is wide open, soon there's great Sunday night TV, and then I'll be in my own bed. And what I'd like to say to that is: YES.

Friday, October 20, 2017

after the talk

 Sasha Olenick, who brought to life some of my great-grandfather's great characters, including the grande dame Mirele Efros.
New family - Becky, Jill, Robert, moi, Peggy, Barbara - I'm loaded with cousins all of a sudden! And behind us, the man himself, great-grandfather to four of us.
At dinner that night - exchanging many family stories. So much pleasure.


Where to start? Well, here - leaving my fair city Tuesday afternoon by the island airport, on a stunning day.
Landing in Dulles Airport, Washington, where my cousin Barbara was waiting. Barbara, who's a year older than I, and her sister Francey, a year younger, are my only cousins, daughters of my mother's oldest sister. We haven't spent much time together, but Barb and I like each other a lot, so it has been a treat to get to know her better. Her hospitality - offering to put me up and chauffeur me around - made my speaking trip here possible.

She lives in Bethesda, a leafy suburb of pretty colonial houses amidst old trees, where the only drawback is that you have to drive everywhere; there are no amenities for miles, and the traffic in Washington, apparently, is worse than Los Angeles. From what I've seen of it, that's true. The only other negative about my trip, so far, is that for some reason my brain decided to go on high alert and refuse to shut down, so my first two nights here were almost sleepless, a kind of torture. I haven't used my sleeping pills for so long that I didn't bring them with me. Mistake. But I got through.

On Wednesday I took the metro downtown and walked to the National Gallery of Art.  Ran right into a protest outside the Trump Tower - NO MUSLIM BAN.

I joined them for a bit - hooray for democracy! - then went on to the museum, which is spectacular - in two parts, classic art and modern art. Bathed in the Italians, saw the Leonardo and all the Madonnas, right up to the Impressionists - Van Gogh's thick cream roses. Glorious. Then down to the concourse for lunch and up to the other side, to bathe in the Rothko's. Enjoyed the blue rooster on the roof.
A long walk to Arena Stage, the theatre run by my ex Edgar. I had no idea it was such an enormous, spectacular, modern place, with 3 theatres and many open spaces designed by Canadian Bing Thom. Part of the inside looks like the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, with totem pole-like panels. Below, the front.
Barbara and Dan met us there, the four of us had a superb dinner together nearby - Edgar has been Executive Director at Arena for 8 years and knows everyone, including all the staff at the restaurant - and then he gave us tickets to see a play, Native Gardens, by Karen Zacarias, a young woman who's their resident playwright. Remember that name, because she's going to go far - the play was hilarious and yet profound, an exploration of current American issues of entitlement, racism, classism, even ageism - not didactic but funny. Very hard to pull off.
Edgar met us afterward and gave us a proud tour of the vast backstage; here we are on the set of the show. It was a perfect visit with an old friend, who happens to be the father and grandfather of four human beings very dear to my heart.

One of the joys of my visit here is mornings - Dan puts on the coffee and we all sit, reading both the NYT and the Washington Post, two of the finest newspapers in the world, bemoaning the latest Trumpian horrors. Today, an unbelievable headline in the Post: "Study ties loose concealed-carry laws to higher gun death rates." Amazing - they needed a study to show that if it's easier to carry guns, more people die! Imagine that! Ils sont fous, ces Americains. 

Off to the Jewish Community Centre of Fairfax, Virginia, for my talk on the Jewish Shakespeare. It was all set up - tables for lunch, which was provided free for me and Barbara and included a smoked meat sandwich and a knish, and I was happy to welcome three first cousins-once-removed, whom I hardly know though our grandparents were siblings. Then I spoke to an audience of about 50 about my great-grandfather and my book. In the middle, a fine actor, Sasha Olenick, read excerpts from Gordin's plays. Sasha, it turns out, is best friends with one of my ex-husband's ex-girlfriends. Small world etc. It went very well, it seems; the organizer was rapturous. Luckily, however, I'd only brought 3 books to sell, because I sold 2 - and gave one to Sasha. People may love a book talk but that does not necessarily lead to the sale of the book. Pictures in the next post.

Home in a traffic jam to rest before dinner in downtown Bethesda with my new relatives, this time not from the British side - my mother's - but the Jewish side of my father - Robert and his new wife Becky, and his sisters Jill and Peggy, who all grew up in Virginia. I have relatives who speak in a Southern drawl, are almost as leftwing as I and very nice. New family. Makes me very happy.

That night ... some actual sleep. I guess it was my talk keeping me awake. And yet I've done it many times before. Neurosis!

Today another perfect hot day; I'd considered going back downtown to more museums, but I often see museums and rarely see my cousin so decided to stick with her. Barb, Dan and I walked to the local Y, not far from their home, for a Y Fusion class Barb had heard good things about. It was tough and fun, a dance class with fab music, the 3 of us stumbling about at the back. Loved it. Back home in a day so hot, it was like July. Lucky lucky lucky.

Monday, October 16, 2017

John Dunsworth RIP

A quick word - tomorrow I'm off to Washington D.C. till the end of the week, leaving quantities of instructions for Elodie, my tenant. Winter is coming, so part of today was washing pots and moving plants inside. And yet it's supposed to be warm all next week - 25 maybe, in Washington, if not more. Confusing.

John Dunsworth has died at age 71. Oh that makes me feel old. He played drunk Mr. Lahey on Trailer Park Boys and was a stalwart, apparently, of the Nova Scotia film scene. I knew him way way back; we lived on the same street in Halifax; his father was a child psychiatrist, and, briefly, when I was 9, MY psychiatrist. I did not like him one bit. He had many children - 11 or 12, and I think John was the oldest. One of our family friends knew the Dunsworths well, and when in high school at 15 I was complaining about not having a date for a dance, she called and asked John if he would go with me. He did. He was charming - he was 19, FOUR YEARS OLDER, impressing everyone. Thank you again, John. I wrote to him a few years ago before a trip to Nova Scotia, reminding him of it and thanking him, wanting to meet, but he didn't remember who I was. Obviously our date was not seared onto his memory as onto mine. When my kids were teens and big fans of Trailer Park Boys, knowing that I had once dated Mr. Lahey was my great claim to fame.

Last night, four good shows were on between 8 and 10. Weeks can pass with nothing worth watching and then everything good comes on at once. The Durrells, so entertaining, but at the same time as Suzuki's Canadian seasons show, magnificent footage of Canada's animals through the year - stunning. And then The Life-Sized City, a fabulous Canadian doc about how cities are changing and adapting, at the same time as another fabulous Canadian doc, very beautiful, Sickboy, about a young man with cystic fibrosis who has started a podcast about illness and is now seen and heard around the world. And somewhere in there was Poldark. Thank god for the channel changer.

So - Washington, home of the looney tunes. Staying with Cousin Barbara, seeing lots of family and speaking about the Jewish Shakespeare. Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

publish a book and grow rich - lol

In two weeks, there's an event in Toronto you won't want to miss. It's called "Publish a book and grow rich." It teaches you, apparently, how to write a book in a month and then reap vast profits. And if ever there's a truth I subscribe to, it's that books are easy to write and lead to easy and incomprehensible wealth. God knows, just look at my own life, my books flowing from publisher to best seller lists, my mansion, my Maserati. So don't miss the ...
Publish A Book & Grow Rich Weekend Bootcamp

On the other hand, here's a humble event coming up on November 5 that will lead to riches for no-one, except to reveal the wealth of the human spirit. Stories that took a great deal of time to write and edit and rehearse, for nothing. Just because - because writing the truth is hard and important, and telling it out loud too. If you're in Toronto, why don't you join us?

celebrating Sam

It's the morning of October 14th. 33 years ago today I was on my way home from the Ottawa Civic Hospital with a blue bundle in my arms, born at 11.30 p.m. the night before -  a baby boy we called Samuel Jacob Edgar: Sam after many men in my family and his father's; Jacob after my father and great-grandfather; Edgar for his dad and his dad's dad. Much history in those names. His 3 1/2 year old sister was waiting at home, impatient to see who would be coming for her to play with.

Last night, there was big sister with her own son, Eli, at Sam's 33rd birthday party, a joyful event Sam organized in the back room of his restaurant for about 30 of us - family, his oldest friends from high school, close friends from his business, and, simply, people who adore him, including Wayson and a middle-aged couple who've adopted him as another son; he's a big brother to their teenaged children.

We sat at long tables, moving around to talk to different people, and the food kept coming - oysters, salads, dips and bread, pasta, small burgers, steak, all gourmet and delectable - and then a decorated chocolate cake made by Eli with a little help from his mama. Sam was his usual open and funny self, moving around to keep company with everyone, including his 5-year old nephew and his high school friend Dustin's 3-year old daughter, imperious and beautiful in her cornrows.

Outside it was mild and grey; inside it was warm and full of love. Every time I pass the Civic Hospital - and I pass it every time I go to Ottawa to visit my aunt - I think of that night, the morning after, the blue bundle taking his place in our lives, the pictures of my parents holding him. And I think of my mother, who died 28 years later in the very same place.
Sam met Matt his first day at Rosedale Heights School of the Arts. Matt and his longtime girlfriend Maxine are like family.
With Amy. Also, already, like family.

Friday, October 13, 2017

moving right along

Not much to tell you but I have to move on from the gloomy last blog. Hit a bad patch there, some worries rearing up, c'est la vie. I make sure to include these things lest you think my life is all ... well, sunshine and roses. There is thunder and rain, there are thorns, there is fear and guilt and grief. But also, there is MOVING RIGHT ALONG. Comme ça...

Had a great conversation circle Wednesday - TEN women, more every week, it's wonderful. Again, a woman came in shrouded in cloth, sat for awhile without removing her veil, and I was concerned, how could we make cheery conversation with someone whose face was completely covered, even her eyes, with glasses? At last she removed her veil, to reveal a lovely, friendly, eager face, and she turned out to be the most interested in what we were talking about, asking questions about vocabulary, jumping in to contribute. It's thrilling to be in that room. In two weeks, Ashrafi has arranged an excursion to the Royal Ontario Museum; we're setting off by bus and streetcar, and will spend some hours at the ROM together. Now that will be an experience.

My friend Wendy, an ESL teacher, came over Wednesday to discuss ESL techniques and ideas, which was valuable, as Linda and I have no idea what we're doing. What we found out is that we're instinctively doing a lot of the right things, but Wendy suggested, for example, a whiteboard to write down hard words. Great idea.

Yesterday, a home class, seven women with nary a veil in sight except perhaps a veiled reference in their wonderful, vivid, accomplished writing. This morning, dragging Wayson to the Y to find him a personal trainer. He needs to move his body and stubbornly prefers not to. We're working on that.

An editor at a publishing house is reading a chapter of my memoir this weekend. I await the inevitable no, but can't resist a tiny glimmer of hope. And then I remind myself - J.K. Rowling was rejected many times. Not that that cheers me up at all.

The world is too much with us, so depressing, so utterly horrifying to see that hideous monstrous man stamping on our planet - and then Harvey Weinstein, depraved, appalling. Must think good thoughts. Must think good thoughts. Here's one:

Today my son is 33, and Wayson and I are going to his party tonight. There will be a lot of food and laughter and many young people. What a journey, my beloved boy, you crazy man. Thank you for being who you are.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


So sometimes I get carried away with the sunshine and roses. And sometimes, life feels like that. And then sometimes, it doesn't. Demons came out yesterday, and what began so well did not end so well. Isn't that life? You think you're out of the woods. But you're not.
A profound unmitigated loneliness is the only truth of life. -R.K. Narayan, novelist (10 Oct 1906-2001)

Monday, October 9, 2017

giving thanks

Happy 77th birthday, John Winston Lennon. Much missed. I can only imagine what songs you'd be writing today in your adopted home, a country more murderous and mad than ever.
And Happy Thanksgiving to all Canadians today. It's warm and wet here in Toronto. Anna and family are on their way back from the country, as four small boys in a field in the the rain is not so much fun. Sam spent yesterday making marinades for fish and meat and preparing a vat of his spectacular French onion soup, which is resting on the stove now.

Yesterday was my mother's birthday; she would have been 94. How I wish she could see her grandchildren and great-grandchildren today, and for that matter, her profoundly grateful daughter. We'll drink a toast tonight to her, to Dad, to Edgar's parents Connie and Edgar Sr. and to his brother Don, to our much-loved ones now gone. And yes, to John Lennon, almost family, too.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Rosedale Heights celebrates

The most beautiful weather - how lucky we are, October and yet warm, like summer. These days are doubly precious because we know what's coming. My daughter and her family, plus Thomas's mother and two nephews, are spending Thanksgiving more or less camping in the country, four little city boys running wild in the grass and woods. Heaven. So we have deferred our dinner till later. Fine with me - I've cooked enough turkeys for a lifetime.

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of Sam's high school, Rosedale Heights School of the Arts; I'd been invited, as one of the founders of the Parents Arts Council and a parent deeply involved with the school, to speak. I wrote and practiced; it's funny, after many public speaking engagements, I'm still nervous about the task. Just walking into the school brought back those years - 1998 to 2003 - when Sam was growing from normal size to 6'8" and I was trying to get a reluctant scholar through high school. We all were. What a wonderful school it was and is, thanks to its indefatigable principal, Barrie Sketchley - a welcoming, warm environment bursting with creativity, an incredible dance and music program - fantastic. Yesterday, when the alumni and the current kids had assembled in the auditorium and Barrie stood up with the mike, he got a long, loud standing ovation. As I said at the beginning of my talk, "Try to imagine any other school on earth where the man who's been principal for 25 years gets a standing ovation."

Okay, hyperbole - I'm sure there are a few. But this school is rare. My main objective during my talk was to make the kids laugh and not to embarrass my son, and I gather I did and didn't. Sam was sitting with his friend Tristan who in 1999 lived in our basement for months and was so skinny and pale, I called him Ratboy. He graduated, went to art school, and now is a phenomenally successful graphic artist about to move to New Zealand to work with one of the world's most famous film directors. He drove me home in his BMW. Ah life, what a mystery.
 Mr. Sketchley with an alumnus
Miss Snider, English teacher, with Tristan aka "Ratboy."

Today, a gorgeous Sunday, I got up at 8 to find my new tenant, the young Frenchwoman, had taken over my kitchen and was busily cooking. Carol, my former tenant, usually uses the kitchen to make meals when I'm not home; I'm not used to sharing my favourite space with such a fervent cook. So I went to the Y, where the mixtape for the class was all oldies, Beatles, Beach Boys, Elvis - loved every minute, singing and loping along. And when I came back, I was given a plate of freshly-baked madeleines. The giant boy is asleep upstairs, will shop today for a grand dinner he's cooking tomorrow for me and for his girlfriend, whom I will meet for the first time. The adventure continues.
Marcel Proust here, over and out.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

a big decision

Swamped. Periodically I have to stop and sit and take a breath, because the world seems to be hurtling at me, at us all, out of control.

First, of course, our neighbours to the south. To think that not long ago, Canada and the U.S. felt like kin, similar English-speaking McDonald's-eating Breaking-Bad-watching Western democracies. Now, increasingly, theirs is a society of maniacs, insane, incomprehensible. A student read a piece in class on Monday which mentioned her father keeping a loaded pistol in his top drawer, so I knew she was American before she clarified that fact. Canadian fathers, with I'm sure a few exceptions, do not keep loaded pistols in their top drawers. Madness madness madness. Then the country's reprehensible vote at the U.N. about capital punishment for homosexuality; Trump, more vile and disgusting day by day, something that seemed impossible to achieve, and yet achieve it he does. Unbearable, watching a country hurtling off a cliff.

Okay, enough of that. I'll go back to the beautiful memory of the Invictus Games. And today - the English-conversation group, so lively, so much chatter. At the end, Razia, small and brown and swathed in colourful cloth, beamed at me. "Thees," she said, waving her hands at the group, "thees group - talk - I LOVE it!" She hugged me, and then she flipped down the veil to completely cover her face and was off. I love it too. Today we talked about holidays and festivals, and they were asked what their favourite holiday is. "Eid," they all to a woman replied. We have a lot more choice in many things. But they are not unhappy women, for sure. It's extraordinary to get to know women who, according to our rules, are so severely limited in dress, in society and work, in choice. And yet they do not seem to feel limited.

On Saturday afternoon, a huge treat - I rode down to Soulpepper in the Distillery District to see their production of "Waiting for Godot." And felt, as I often do, so immensely privileged that I could zip off, ten minutes from home on my bicycle, to see a fine production of perhaps the greatest masterpiece of 20th century drama - for their last minute price of $25. Oh Sam, Sam Beckett, what a dark and yet comic vision you had. At one point, one of the tramps - Vladimir, I think - is spewing a list of insults, and then comes the worst: "CRITIC!" he shouts. I'd seen it in London a few years ago, an all-star cast - Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart - and didn't like their rather jokey interpretation; it seemed to me the actors, described in a NYT review later as "a little too adorable," were having entirely too much fun at the expense of the play. This production was solid, with a haunting Lucky, very tall, ghostly, with a pale face and long white hair.

Some people regularly reread Jane Austen or George Eliot. I think I must see a production of "Waiting for Godot" every decade or so.

That night was Nuit Blanche, the whole downtown packed with young people and many quirky art installations. I stayed home.

Sunday, not one but two new tenants moved in; Hadi who lived downstairs two years ago wanted to move back and now has, and upstairs, Carol's room is now occupied by Elodie, a young French florist who is here for some months to learn English. Carol is at her other home in Ecuador till March. Elodie is paid by the French government to work for a florist here, and in the evening, she goes salsa dancing.

Tuesday, after my U of T class, a long Creative Non-fiction Collective meeting, many decisions to make, and hours later, off with four other non-fiction writers to Hemingway's in Yorkville for drinks and writing talk. Now that's my idea of fun - not art installations, but drinks and writing talk.

However - back to being swamped. This year for the very first time, as I rode off to the first class at Ryerson, I felt tired. And I realized that I've been teaching since 1994 almost without a break - just took two terms off in 2009 to live in France. Perhaps inspired by my friend Chris, who completely transformed his life in a MONTH, I in my more cautious way made a momentous decision: I am going to take 2019 off from teaching. Born in 1950, I always make some kind of switch in the last year of the decade.

It's okay with my bosses at U of T and Ryerson, who have more than a year to find a replacement. How I will pay for this and what I will do that year, I have no idea. Focus on my new book. Travel. All I know is that for one year, I won't have the treadmill - that I love, still love, will always love - of three teaching terms.

Maybe I'll take up salsa dancing.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Obama and Harry in Toronto: swoon

Wednesday, so scorching hot we could hardly breathe. Thursday, temperate. Today, so wet and chilly that I turned on the furnace. That is something of a record, that huge a switch in temperature in 48 hours. Welcome to Canada.

I am so immersed in my volunteer activities, it's a miracle I get any work done at all. And many days, I don't. I'm writing a speech to give next weekend at the 25th anniversary of my son's high school, and another for a talk in October, with Powerpoint, in Fairfax, Virginia, plus arranging that trip. I'm finding speakers for the English conversation group, setting up a meeting about our Xmas Eve pageant Babe in the Barn, and spent the whole morning making lists of possible speakers for next year's Creative Non-fiction conference. I have to stop saying yes. Repeat after me: NO. Sorry. I have work to do.


This is a good time for me to do other stuff, though, with the manuscript floating about in two different places. Waiting for the no. Real writers would be starting their next book. I'm making lists of real writers to invite to our conference. And picking the basil in the garden that has to be cooked now, which is the only time I went outside all day. Didn't move all day. Sat here emailing constantly. Bad.

I did cook a delicious Japanese eggplant with garlic and basil dish, however, and spent a delightful hour delving into the file box of my son's life for material for the talk at his school. Did spend a great hour talking to him and eating a superb omelette he cooked for us both, on a quick visit to his old mum. It's a busy busy life, and I would not change a single thing. Except the presidents of the United States and North Korea - those I would definitely change. Particularly because, as a reminder of what can go wrong on our planet, Hilary Clinton was in town yesterday.

Speaking of being in town - the Invictus Games for wounded veterans have been going on all week here, and for sheer joy, how about this picture of the audience for wheelchair basketball? Two of the most adorable manspreading men on the planet side by side. And I'm not talking about Joe Biden, though he's not bad either. What I would like to say is: good job, mothers of these fine men. You done good. (Though truly, look at room taken up by the women's legs and the men's. Vive la difference!)
P.S If you want a smile, go to YouTube and find "B.C. man politely asks bears to leave his backyard." I've tried to put it here but can't. It's the most Canadian thing you'll see all day. Except for the photograph above, in which not a single audience member is paying the slightest attention to two of the most famous men in the world, seated in front of them.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

some crazy stuff

The weather has turned, praise be - it's normal out there, lovely, sunny with a bite in the air. I just sent the manuscript to an agent. So am feeling that bite in the air more than usual.

For your daily smile, today's absurdities from the internet:

Someone wrote, in a great Harry Potter reference, "This is the Platform 9 3/4 of bicycle lanes."


And best of all ... The Snurds. Where are they now?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

and now for the good news: Macca in NYC

We are living, my friends, through a time surreal with horror, when the base side of human nature is not only disclosed but encouraged and lauded. A time when citizens respond to inevitable change not with interest but with terror, revulsion, and violence. May this time pass quickly and vanish. May we think back on the Trump era, shaking our heads, wondering how it happened. May the dystopian literature that's bursting out not be proven true. In the meantime, I cling to newspaper columnists and sharp-tongued comedians to keep my sanity.

In the meantime, all I can do is tend my garden, not just the plants, but the neighbourhood - this morning, the English conversation group in Regents Park. There was a surreal moment when I saw me and my friend Linda surrounded by brown-skinned women, Jesmin, Razia, Nurun, and the others, wearing yards and yards of beautiful material, huge swaths of multi-coloured cloth enveloping their bodies and heads. Some new women came today, younger ones who did not wear the veil, which made me glad. But still, even those who do wear it, when they flip up that black cloth, I see beautiful lively faces anxious to learn English, full of laughter. It's a joy.

And then they flip the veil back down and go back to their lives, their many children, and Linda and I go to the Y for Carole's class where we met, running around puffing and panting and wearing very little. Not something our new Bengali friends have ever experienced.

And then I come home to my empty quiet house and think about the rest of the day, which somehow goes by, much of it sitting here with my fingers tapping - editing pieces for students, for the next So True, writing to friends, this blog, about next year's conference, preparing talks, reading online and on paper, trying to keep my head above the water of my responsibilities. My own work, buried for now. Cooking cleaning volunteering - when it's so difficult to get to work with only that, however did I do any writing when I had young children? The honest answer: I didn't, not very much.

And the New Yorker, another task, that gorgeous magazine arriving once a week in my mailbox. Impossible to keep up. But flipping through today's, I could not help but see this small mention of one of my greatest loves - yes, a mention in the coolest of the cool in NYC.
The New Yorker, Oct. 2, 2017
Night Life, Rock and Pop

Paul McCartney

McCartney’s “One on One” tour has rumbled into its last week in the tristate area. The tour was advertised with billboards featuring a simple image of his signature Höfner bass, devoid of his likeness – a cryptic campaign few other rock stars could pull off. McCartney has somehow grown from his association with a band that was “bigger than Jesus” to something even larger: a living, breathing time capsule from possibly the richest, most fawned over period in popular music. He’s also become cooler with age, and his infrequent collaborations with artists generations his junior (including his sitting in as a drummer on an upcoming Foo Fighters record) only further stoke his legend.

The writer is wrong in one thing - Macca has not at all "become cooler with age," he is just the same; it's just that cool people have finally recognized how extraordinary he is. Go Macca. Could you please save the world, while you're at it? 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

reasons to drink

Love this press release from the White House:
Melania Trump embarked on her first solo overseas trip as First Lady when she attended the Invictus Games in Toronto on Saturday. 
Melania visits Canada, that great country overseas. I'm not sure exactly which seas - does Lake Ontario count?

I'm listening to CBC's The World at Six, drinking white with ice cubes, wearing as little as possible in the on-going sweltering heat - the last few days indeed record-breaking, 32 degrees feeling nearer to 40 with the humidity. Tomorrow only 38. The news on CBC is  devastating. Do we even remember Barack Obama, his idealism and grace? Yes we can? It seems a lifetime ago.

I am going next month to Washington D.C., for a talk on my great-grandfather near there, in Fairfax, Virginia. I actually wrote yesterday to the woman producing the event to say - if it looks like nuclear war is going to break out, I will not be coming. I had a nightmare of war starting with me stuck in Washington, just the worst place to be. Hard to believe I'm even saying this. My father spent much of his life fighting nuclear proliferation; I grew up with the words "Strontium 90" and "nuclear proliferation" ringing in my ears. And now - two lunatics with their fingers on the button.

Spare us.

Teaching has started, two very full classes full of interesting people - I love my job, though I come home drained. I am not getting enough done. The manuscript is in limbo. Yesterday was Glenn Gould's birthday. Happy birthday, dear genius.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Word on the Street in the heat

Again, I apologize for the blowing-own-horn that follows, but what I received today via email is so beautiful and means so much to my battered writer's heart that I must share it with you. I've been corresponding with a writer who wants me to work as editor or coach on her next book, so I got her last memoir out of the library and loved it, found it powerful and profound. I wrote to tell her so, and she wrote back that she is reading "All My Loving."

Sometimes I read at night if I can’t sleep. I can usually do that without waking my partner who is a sound sleeper. But I’ve been waking him up lately because All My Loving is so damn funny it’s making me laugh out loud. You have drawn such a wonderful portrait and I am so drawn to her and all her trials. I also realize that over time I forgot the details, not just of us, but of our time, and you have brought all of it back to mind so beautifully, with such virtuosity and detail and intelligence. I am in awe. 

I forgot to adore myself at least as much as I adored Paul, and the portrait of your character is so hilariously potent and magnetic that I’ve now remembered how wildly potent I was too! It’s like reading a really smart love letter and the title so perfectly reflects the warmth that I’ve felt reading it. It is a gift to us on so many levels, and I am grateful.

Not as grateful, dear reader, as this author. As I wrote to her - we send our slaved-over, beloved works out into the world like defenceless children, without knowing if they will ever matter to anyone. So to receive something like this means more than I can express.

Okay, though I'd like to linger here ... moving on. The weather, insane, surely record-breaking heat, broiling, brutal, like a mid-summer heatwave only it's nearly October. And unfortunately, today was Word on the Street at Harbourfront, where there's no shade. I heard someone lamenting the past venues for this great festival of the printed word, and I couldn't agree more - I've been going for decades, since it was stretched out along Queen Street, and then in Queen's Park where there were TREES and real grass. And now Harbourfront where it's very crowded, all the little tents packed together, madness in the heat.

I was there first with Eli; we watched a show at the TVO marquee but mostly he wanted to run up and down the wavy wooden street over the water, so when his mother arrived, we sat in the shade and he ran and slid in the sun with a new friend. He is indefatigable and wherever he goes, he makes friends. Yesterday I took him to the Wellesley Street waterpark and he ran screaming through the water for a solid hour with his new BFF who was certainly on the autism spectrum, at one point punching the jets of water and shouting, "I hate you I hate you!" Eli just kept running and jumping and getting wetter. He'd just lost his first tooth, pulled out by his mama with dental floss, as her father did with her's.

And then a sleepover with Glamma. He climbed into my bed at 3 a.m. and proceeded to thrash about and snore, so I got up and carried him back to the spare room. Once I appreciated having a handsome young man in my bed; not so much now.

Later today at WOTS I met up with Kirsten Fogg, who is also on the committee to produce the creative non-fiction conference next year, and we went about listening to possible candidates for our event and then hiding in shady places. Two more days of this blazing heat, apparently, and then it starts to fade, and soon we'll be complaining about the cold. We're Canadians.

Friday, September 22, 2017

hot, with cucumbers and a rant

It's the autumn equinox, first day of fall, and tomorrow there's a heat warning in effect; with the humidity, the temperature will feel like 39 degrees. It's a full-on heatwave in Toronto, after a mild summer with lots of rain. Absolutely perfect timing - it means so much more to feel that warmth blasting your bones when you know what is lurking around the corner. What's hard to comprehend is the citizens of Toronto swanning around in tank tops when half the world, it seems, is under water or on fire, fleeing slaughter, struggling to survive in refugee camps or battered, smashed, destroyed, buried under rubble. Hard to be anything but grateful, and bewildered at our luck. Not to mention the fact that Canadians have, not a giant orange blowhole of a leader who at the U.N. threatens to wipe out a country of many millions of people, but one who speaks with painful, almost embarrassing honesty about the failure of this country to deal fairly with its indigenous population. What a contrast.

Immediately Canadians leapt onto FB and Twitter to bitch, to say it was "just rhetoric." Jesus God, could we not, for a tiny moment, celebrate a courageous generosity of spirit? Just for a minute or two, before piling on to criticize? It's like, if they're not inflamed, they cease to exist. Bitch on, my angry friends.


Yesterday, John came with his helper, Ricky in his gold high-tops, to do the massive job of trimming the dead ivy branches on the south wall and giving a haircut to the overgrown willow. Tons of work, a wonderful workout, much better than the Y. John was cutting back around my vegetable cage and found a giant cucumber growing outside, unfortunately yellow and so inedible. What a waste! But there are still LOTS more. I just made my grandmother Nettie's "cucumbers in sour cream and lemon" recipe, that I loved when I was a kid. Asked for the recipe in the early years of my marriage and never made it. Now's the time. Delicious.

Then, tea with the old friend who gave me my job at Ryerson 23 years ago and then moved to Vancouver, here to visit her son who now lives in TO. How grateful I am to her for a job I still love, after all this time. She gave me the terrible news that her husband, a dignified, very smart arts bureaucrat who was the model of diplomacy, intellect, and articulacy, is now in a nursing home suffering from Parkinson's-related dementia. The most tragic story. God preserve us all.

I took back a library book today, "Do I make myself clear?" by Harold Evans, editor extraordinaire, who rants wonderfully about obscure or needlessly complex language and provides page after page of translation into good plain English. I picked up two other books, but first, a treat - I've received "Euclid's Orchard," the new book of my friend Theresa Kishkan, a dear blog buddy though we have never met. I can't wait. She is a passionate thoughtful very wise writer, and I'm sure the book sounds just like her. And that Harold Evans would think so too.

Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race. -H.G. Wells, writer (21 Sep 1866-1946)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

the reality of real estate

Wow, interesting. Just read my friend Kerry Clare's fascinating post, to the left, under "Pickle Me This"; apparently celebrating not buying a house is a controversial opinion in Toronto and provokes furious reactions. If people travelled more, if they spent time in Europe or southern countries, where a huge percentage of the population rent and could not dream of owning a house, they'd see how much we take for granted here. My father's French friend Jacques, a graphic artist, and his wife Henriette, an office manager, raised 3 sons in a small rented apartment in suburban Paris. But with careful husbanding of their money they managed to buy a tiny apartment and rent it out for many years, until the boys were grown and they sold it to give a small amount to each son toward a down payment. On an apartment.

My children will never own a house in Toronto, at least until I die and they inherit this one, and by then, they'll be so very old, they won't want all these stairs.


As usual I've been relishing my garden, which is my cottage. My neighbour Monique has an actual cottage on a lake, three hours away, so she regularly drives for six hours to sit in tranquillity and swim. I cannot swim here, but an extraordinary green tranquillity is mine in the centre of the city, right outside my kitchen door, and it keeps me sane. Incidentally, 31 years ago my husband and I were able to buy this wreck of a house for $180,000 because I wrote to my childless uncle in New York, who'd told me I was in his will, asking if he would mind giving me the money I'd inherit now rather than later, because after his death I'd be too sad to enjoy it. And he did, providing a good part of the down payment. So I am here gazing at my garden because I was lucky enough to have a generous uncle with no children of his own. And, to be fair, a husband with a good steady job who kept paying our enormous mortgage even after the divorce, so the kids and I could stay here. Otherwise, I'd have been renting too, Kerry, all those years.

Speaking of real estate, those of you who follow the other blogs on this page will know that my beloved Chris has sold his minuscule but perfect Vancouver condo for double what he paid for it ten years ago and is hoping to buy a place on Gabriola Island. So we will follow his adventure into a rural paradise, a man who has lived in Vancouver all his life moving to a remote island two ferry rides away from the city, with lots of interesting people and artists and space and nature - otters! eagles! - but also the isolation of a very small community cut off from the mainland. For me, a recipe for losing my sanity, but for Chris, we hope, the exact opposite, a way to regain his.

My dear neighbour Richard came for dinner last night on the deck, such an interesting man, twitching only occasionally as he reached out to his phone to check Twitter and his various other feeds. We discussed the problem of political correctness; the ridiculous extremes of identity politics was one of the reasons, he said, Trump was elected. I've been dealing with this issue as I work in various ways with millennials, who sometimes, it seems to me, are absurdly over-sensitive to every perceived injustice and slight, bending over backwards to accommodate everyone who might possibly have a grievance. Being white and middle-class and middle-aged makes me a target for their scorn. Obviously the old bag is a dinosaur.

Had my first Ryerson class on Monday, a wonderfully vivid group, as usual. I was glad to see on the class list beforehand that there were 3 men registered, as 2 is usually the maximum; men are rare in my memoir class and very welcome. However, when I got there, I found that one of the men is now a woman in the process of transition. So only 2 official men after all. How interesting life is. How I love my work. It was great to get dressed in my respectable teacher clothes and set off on my bike, riding through the chaotic swirl of Ryerson students packed into the downtown streets. And then to sit in a small room and begin the journey to truth.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

the best tabbouleh recipe

One of those blessed days, rare in a busy life - no obligations, no company, nothing but the sun, the garden, my own little life to tend to. Anna and the boys are still away, Sam is busy and happy on the other side of town, and what I have to do today is fiddle and potter and dither and tidy and edit and, of course, spend just a tiny bit of time right here, plunging into the internet.

Last night, Bill Maher's show, one of the best ever - his guests Salman Rushdie and Fran Lebowitz and later Tim Gunn. Lebowitz, so dry and witty, has no time for Bernie Sanders. "He left New York when he was eighteen!" she said. "Can you imagine being eighteen in New York and saying, no, can't cope with this, and leaving for (she shuddered) Vermont?" She looks like a wise, wizened older lady with badly dyed hair, and I was horrified, after Googling, to discover that she's a few months younger than I am.
This morning I rode to the market fairly early, to find the Mennonite farm butchers were not crowded; they're often overwhelmed with people. They raise their animals without hormones or chemicals, free range, in pens not giant barns, so that's where I try to buy my meat. Though I want to become a vegetarian and try as often as possible to eat meals without meat, I'm not there yet, and today I stocked up on my favourite, pork, most for the freezer - a roast, back bacon, ground for spaghetti sauce, chops, tenderloin. Thank you, brother pig, for the pleasure you will give for weeks to come.

And then both peaches and apples - O happy day, when we can buy both peaches from summer and apples from autumn, the first tart, juicy Macs; raspberries, blueberries, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, new red potatoes, happiness. A heavy load on the back on the uphill ride home.

And so to work - today is cooking day, though I'm working also, editing students for So True, which is almost full already, more than a month early, and of course my own stuff. Just listened to Sheila Rogers while making gazpacho - still using up cukes - then spaghetti sauce, ratatouille, tabbouleh. A tomato based diet this week.

The tabbouleh recipe was given to me by my friend Isabelle in France in 1979. I have made it endless times - it's perfect for pot lucks, for example, particularly as I have so much mint taking over the garden, which is why I made it again today. I realized that the recipe is falling apart.
So I typed it up in my own translated version, and am sharing it with you today. Invaluable. I hope it's useful to you.

Isabelle's Tabbouleh

Prepare 2 hours in advance, for 6 people.

200 grams couscous – 1¼ cups
500 g. tomatoes – approx. 16 oz or 1 lb.
a small onion
a bunch parsley
a bigger bunch mint
6 tablespoons peanut oil (maybe less)
juice of 1 lemon (maybe less, maybe a bit more)
salt, pepper

In a food processor, chop the onion, tomatoes, parsley and mint. In large bowl, mix the couscous with the tomato mixture plus the lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper. Mix well, cover and put in the fridge, stirring from time to time. Add a bit of tomato juice if it's too dry. 

C'est tout. Isabelle says to add mussels, if you want. 

There's a load of laundry drying in the sun, things on the stove, the humming of the fridge and the silence of the city. The tapping of fingers. The gratefulness in my heart. This week, I realized that through the years, I have emailed our beloved family doctor, mine, Anna's and Sam's -  her clinic has a website through which it's possible to reach her by email - with various complaints. So yesterday, I sent her an email, the headline "Nothing's wrong." "We are all well," I wrote, to say that right now, for once, there's nothing to ask or tell her.  

Right now, this minute at dusk on this sweet Saturday in September, nothing is wrong. Except with our dear battered world.

Also discovered my mother's famous recipe for cheesecake, that I have not made for years. Let me know if you'd like me to send it to you.
P.S. Last night, at Madison Square Gardens, Macca had a special guest - Bruce Springsteen. They sang "When I saw her standing there" together. So sorry to have missed that.

Friday, September 15, 2017

nearly there, I think

We're having summer now, in mid-September - hot hot every day, stunning. The roses have decided it's July and are out again in full glory, and so is the fall-blooming clematis, like a swath of white stars climbing up my neighbour's giant pine tree.
Other people are out there busily having lives, especially at TIFF, where Jean-Marc and Richard have undoubtedly seen every soon-to-be-Oscar-nominated film, several a day. The theatre season is revving up, music, art, concerts, even TV. But for this writer, the world is this chair by the back door, the frozen bum on the seat, finishing this opus. Yes, it is nearly finished, at least, I think so. I've written to several friends who might help open doors to publishers and/or an agent. I'm going over and over now, taking out every single word that doesn't belong. Best of all, my home class started last night - wonderful to see those dear writers again - and at the end of class, I read them the first few pages of the last rewrite. They have followed this journey from the start, have heard some of the other beginnings - how many have their been? A dozen, anyway - and so when they said they thought it worked well, that it was much better and ready to go, it was a tremendous relief, a gift. I felt it, though, before they said so. I know it's more solid than it has ever been. Whether that's enough for my "nobody memoir" to interest a publisher, however, in this age of mass confusion in the publishing world, who knows?

In any case, I am hoping to have it finished and out there by the end of the weekend, because on Monday, my Ryerson term begins with a full class, on Wednesday it's the U of T event welcoming instructors, on Sunday it's Word on the Street, and the following week the U of T term begins and the home class continues. I have to tend to the rest of my life. My clothes are in a giant pile in the bedroom, the fridge is nearly empty, the garden is parched, my body is falling apart. Time to put this squalling, demanding baby to bed.

The English conversation group continues with my new friends Nurun, Foyzun, Razia, Delwara, Roshnaza, Rokeya, Moymun, Jesmin, and Neghisti. Our topic this week was things to do in Toronto, and they spoke with great animation about the swim just for women at the Regent Park pool. Twice a week they pull down the blinds so the glass walls of the pool are covered and women can swim in whatever they want. I talked about swimming at Hanlan's Point wearing nothing at all, but I'm not sure they understood, I think that was just too far from their experience. I've been to that women-only swim and many wear t-shirts and leggings, even with only females. However. They're there, that's what matters, and nine of them or so are at our conversation group, chatting, more or less, in English. It's wonderful.

Sam Bee had an extremely moving segment on Wednesday, with the founder of an organization called "Life after Hate," which helps white supremacists overcome their rage and find peace. Magnificent. He said Obama gave them a big grant and Trump immediately rescinded it, of course, but they are crowd-funding. The segment pointed out with statistics how very much more violence in the States comes from white supremacists, not Muslims. But you wouldn't know it from the media. Sam Bee is a lifeline, fearless and full of heart. I adore her.

This is my life, perfectly captured by Roz Chast in this week's New Yorker:

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Cabbagetown Festival

What a weekend. I see that Angelina Jolie is in town at the film festival with all her beautiful children, the wonderful Helen Mirren too and George Clooney and all kinds of other stars. Somewhere over there.

Here, it was the Cabbagetown Festival on the most gorgeous weekend for it I can remember - hot with a touch of chill. The streets were packed with garage sales, music, street food, thousands of people ... today, walking down Parliament Street marvelling at the diversity of the huge crowds, I ran into a firetruck with, sitting on the back bumper, five firemen in a row, relaxing in the sun. What a wonderful day, I said, they concurred, and we talked about the peaceful mixing of people from around the world in this blessed neighbourhood. Need I say these firemen were handsome? A great moment, surpassed only by a moment not long before, sitting outside Riverdale Farm listening to a big band play my favourite song in the world, Macca's "When I'm 64." Hot sun, great music, all around booths with a curated show of artisanal products, jewelry, painting, weaving, food ...
 Fresh oysters on Parliament Street.
A transgender stiltwalker, very popular. Where else, O lord, would there be a transgender stilt walker in sexy frontier clothing walking down the middle of the high street?

So yes, it was a good weekend. At the garage sales I found exactly what I was looking for: a red bicycle for Eli for when he visits here, rubber boots and Crocs also for him when he comes, a giant bag of Fisher Price animals for $10, a set of Paw Patrol sheets, and a glow in the dark skeleton Hallowe'en costume for Ben. (I consulted with their mother, who's in Nova Scotia, before all these purchases by text. "@#$# yeah!" she'd write back.)

Some artisanal dark chocolate with almonds and a notebook, of course, for me, and some pretty cards painted by a local artist. And then I discovered a woman on Gerrard Street selling her own shoes - a big-footed woman who runs drumming classes and whose husband lives in Africa - and bought just what I need for fall, two pairs of boots, for $20 each. Hardly worn. In my enormous size. @#$# yeah!
Just one glitch - I registered, as always, for the fundraising mini-marathon on Sunday morning, a gruelling two kilometre run through the 'hood. Sunday morning, I got ready, stretched, and headed out at 9.40 to run at 10. Couldn't understand why a big crowd was gathered and prizes were being given out beforehand. The race, I discovered, starts at 9. As it has for the last 25 years that I've done it. Oh oh, the brain is toast already. So I missed the run, which meant that my legs didn't hurt for the rest of the day. What a shame. Otherwise, fun.

I know, the rest of the world is in such dire straights, it beggars belief - hurricanes, floods, the Rohingya, North Korea. Here in a little corner of the planet, a weekend of bargains, street food - my fridge full of pad thai, tacos, Chinese noodles, Afghani leek and lentil patties - and fun. Thank you.

My friend Gretchen just came over - she'd read the manuscript and had a few pages of thoughtful commentary, nothing too drastic, places where the timeline or the structure were confusing. After we'd talked about the book, we talked about our young lives, where she was and what she was doing in 1979 when I was having the adventures described in the book. Another great thing about being a writer - when what you write triggers memories in a reader, a need to delve into, explore, and understand his or her own past.

@#$% yeah.