Thursday, July 20, 2017


Two things I'm going to print and hang on my wall. First, from an article in the Star:

The Pope has posted a red-and-white sign in Italian on the door of his frugal suite in a Vatican residence. Adorned with the international symbol for ‘no’, a backslash in a circle, it was given to him by an Italian psychologist and self-help guru. This is what it says, in translation:


Violators are subject to a syndrome of always feeling like a victim and the consequent reduction of your sense of humour and capacity to solve problems.

The penalty is doubled if the violation takes place in the presence of children.

To get the best out of yourself, concentrate on your potential and not on your limitations.

Stop complaining and take steps to improve your life.

What a fine man. Yes, I should take it to heart, me going on and on about a COLD. Get a life, woman. 

The other is a saying the courageous writer Rachel Carson adopted from Thoreau's "Walden" after finding out she had breast cancer, to spur on her writing of "Silent Spring."

If thou art a writer, write as if the time were short, for it is indeed short at the longest.

Now you know what will be inspiring me next week. At least, until I fly off to New York on Wednesday.

FYI, I am taking a break from the memoir. That doesn't mean I'm not writing as if the time were short, I am - I'm writing the NEXT memoir. This does make sense, believe it or not; I'm stuck, unsure how to proceed, so I need to keep going on something that will help break the logjam, until I can see clearly. That's the plan. I ran it by the very wise Rosemary Shipton, editor extraordinaire, and she agreed it was a good idea. I know. Time is short at the longest.

Just watched the next in a great BBC doc series, "Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds" - it's online, if you want to catch it yourself - in which the young host, Dr. James Fox, takes us to 3 great cities in 3 great years: last week, 1908, the Vienna of Klimpt and Freud, among many others. Today, the time and place I've always wanted most to be if I weren't here now - Paris in 1928 - surrealism, Mondrian, Hemingway, Le Corbusier, Cole Porter, jazz, Shakespeare and Company bookstore, and so much more.

Next week, New York in 1951 - Brando, the Beats, Jackson Pollock. And I was there, almost - we left New York in November 1950. Yes, I was a newborn, unable to fully appreciate Brando, Pollock, and the Beats, but I was there. And next week - I'll be there again.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

thank God for Jane Jacobs and David Sedaris

Still sick. I spoke to my doctor, who's sympathetic but can offer no explanation or cure. And in fact, though I had a dreadful night of coughing, I am getting better. It's ridiculous to have a bad cold in July, but there it is. My doctor did say the frequency of illness might have something to do with consorting with pre-schoolers. IT'S ALL THEIR FAULT, those adorable boys. So I might as well resign myself to years of coming down with something.

A long conference call - a Skype call with five participants, a first for me - a few days ago; I'm on the conference committee for the next Creative Non-fiction Conference to take place for the first time in beautiful downtown Toronto next May. We had to negotiate time and place and other issues, including sensitive ones about programming and activities to recommend to our attendees. I wonder if I'm becoming a crabby right-wing old woman, or if I'm just sensible. One member suggested organizing a tour for our members to an out-of-town indigenous museum which has preserved a residential school, to show people what this horrendous experience was like. "Save the Evidence," is the museum's campaign. I had to speak as someone who will not watch a movie about the Holocaust or go to a Holocaust museum: I know it happened and it was unimaginably horrific. It was also decades ago and I do not wish to relive it. What good comes of immersing yourself in human vileness? Increased sensitivity and empathy, I suppose is the goal. I feel sensitive and empathetic enough without travelling for a day to witness the monstrous cruelty inflicted years ago on indigenous children. I just can't imagine offering this to our members as opposed to the cultural treasures of this fabulous city. But perhaps I am in the minority.

The issue of bending-over-backwards political correctness and the politics of grievance are rampant. I remember when June Callwood, that magnificent woman responsible for so much good in the world, was fired from a charitable organization SHE FOUNDED and was co-running and fundraising for because she spoke impatiently to a woman of colour and was accused of being racist. No one, not one of her colleagues, came to her defence. So these issues require very careful handling. Like June, in the interests of getting things done, I have a tendency to be impatient. A mistake for a white middle-class middle-aged cisgender woman of privilege. Guilty as charged.

Okay, that's my rant for today.

Saw a documentary on another magnificent woman - "Citizen Jane," about Jane Jacob's campaigns to save cities from Robert Moses and his ilk, who smashed through communities to build expressways and tore down poor enclaves to build soulless high-rise jungles, actions which were imitated all over America and in Toronto - just down the street, as a matter of fact, is the former high-rise jungle of Regents Park. The doc shows the disastrous result of these decisions made by bureaucrats theorizing in offices, whereas Jane was on the ground, in the streets, watching and listening to human beings as they walked and sat, shopped and played. How proud I am that she moved to Toronto and stayed here for the rest of her life. Brava.

Last night when I couldn't sleep, I stayed up till 1.30 reading David Sedaris's diaries. It's still an odd book, skipping through little snippets of his life, but it gets stronger and funnier after he and Hugh go to France. He writes about his French class, Today I turned in a paper about social customs. In it I wrote that on the eve of an American man's wedding, it is customary for his parents to cut off two of his fingers and bury them near the parking lot. The groom has eight hours in which to find them, and if he does, it means the marriage will last.

I'd tried to buy some bandaids at a pharmacy last year, but my French was so bad I couldn't even describe them. In the end I drew a picture and the woman looked at it, responding with what I guessed was "This is a drugstore. We have no surfboards here."

Today the teacher called me a sadist. I tried to say that was like the pot calling the kettle black but came out with something closer to "That is like a pan saying to a dark pan, 'You are a pan.'

A year ago I would have begged Hugh to accompany me to the hardware store, but now I go on my own. Yesterday I said to the clerk, in French, "Hello. Sometimes my clothes are wrinkled. I bought a machine anti-wrinkle, and now I search a table. Have you such a table?"
The fellow said, "An ironing board?"

Thank you, David, I needed that. We all need that. B.C. is burning, Trump and his family, incomprehensibly, are still there, select Conservatives have been churning up rightwing American airwaves protesting Omar Khadr's settlement, it's 30 degrees but feels like 38. I'm in here, eyes damp, laughing.

Wayson, who is healthy if getting frail at 78, came over for lunch today and at one point said, "I'm going to die soon. And I'm fine with that."
"Not if I have anything to do with it, you're not," was my reply.

Monday, July 17, 2017


I had a sharp note decrying my use of the mammogram image in the most recent post. I guess this person thought showing the image was the height of self-absorption, which it surely is - as is the blog itself. What I was hoping to show, however, is how easy it is to panic - to share with you, the readers, the sight of the round black mark I was convinced was something bad, which turned out, according to my doctor, to be nothing dangerous, at least not yet. I was left deeply relieved. An experience perhaps you all can relate to.

This blog is an attempt to transcribe anecdotes, thoughts, reviews, ideas, and a travelogue, from my fuddled brain out into the world. I do not have a huge following as some do for their musings, but a few hundred do follow me, and I'm grateful to them. For five decades, I kept a diary, page after page for myself alone, and now you are there. Thank you for coming along, and if sometimes you think I share too much, you have only to click me away.

And since I'm here, I'd like to say that "Grantchester" last night was one of the best hours of TV I've ever seen. Yes, it's a high-class soap opera, but it's also delving deeply into the meaning of faith, the good of religion versus its petty, narrow, destructive side, love versus lust, and other important issues. And all of this with the usual glorious cast, sets, writing, and direction, plus the sublime James Norton, who was more beautiful last night than ever. Spectacular. You know where I'll be next Sunday at nine.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Ben is two

It's been days since I blogged. Days vanish, I don't know where. This week, though, I was felled - yet again - by a cold. How is this possible? Pneumonia in January, a kind of flu in Vancouver in April, and now just a running-nose-sore-throat cold. I consulted Dr. Google: "Why am I susceptible to colds?" There were many suggestions to avoid getting sick, but most of them I could dismiss - get sleep, eat well, exercise, God knows I'm pretty good at those; though sleep is not my forte, I at least lie tranquilly in bed and make lists. My new resolution is to wash my hands endlessly and to try not to touch my face and see if that helps. Enough is enough.

Last week was also mammogram time - they gave me an ultrasound too, and when the technician left the room, I photographed the screen - surely, that's something there, a round black mark they've surrounded with blue dots, terrifying.
However - it's nothing, apparently. I don't even need to go back in six months, as I did last year. Merci mille fois, to the gods.

When I checked in to the breast imaging clinic at Women's College, I noticed this sign. You can receive translation into 20 languages, including Armenian and Hmong. Pretty impressive.
Last Ryerson class Wednesday night - a wonderful bunch, including one woman with some of the most powerful and tragic stories I've ever heard - and I've heard a lot of stories - and a man who tried to convert me to his love of "Star Trek." I watched the episode he recommended on Netflix and did enjoy it, yes, but a Trekkie I will not become. Thanks to another fine class. Love to you all.

This morning, I watched the last ten minutes of Wimbledon, the spectacular Roger Federer, once more, crowned king, the first man to win eight times, and he's an old man in tennis. My mother in heaven is ecstatic - she adored Fed, as she called him. Do has been glued to her TV screen for weeks, can now breathe again. Imagine, 35, nearly 36, is old. He's a Leo, I feel obligated to point out. One of mine.

And then today - well, tomorrow actually but the party was today - a Cancer baby turned two. Anna decided to hold this party at the park down by the lake, even though thunderstorms were predicted. And despite a few sprinkles and glowering clouds, no storm came and the party was, as always, a hit, crowded with cousins and friends, though none of Ben's own just yet. Two large pizza boxes arrived, delivered right to the park. Here is Ben gazing in wonder at his cake with his cousin Liam; out of view are many other small people lined up for their piece.
 Big brother Eli with his best friend Pema from school
Uncle Sam, who is not a Trekkie either, with his very small nephew.

I am reading "Theft by Finding," David Sedaris's diaries, and I must say it's a strange and sometimes infuriating read. He explains nothing and expresses almost no emotion. His mother dies and he expends as much emotional energy and lines of prose on that event as he does on seeing strange people in the street. Suddenly he has a boyfriend, they're moving in together, they're in France, he has a hit play, he has a book out, no context, no titles, no explanation - it drives me crazy. But he is wonderful at noticing and commenting on human absurdity and at transcribing dialogue, a true skill I'd like to cultivate - remembering how people actually speak. "That's what I was tolt," one person says to him, and I can see the guy through that perfect word. And it's good to remember that for years, the renowned David Sedaris cleaned houses for a living. Lots of material in that.

Randy Bachman was on his second radio program devoted to boogie music and what fun that was. And now, in half an hour, "Grantchester." How will Sidney resolve being a minister with the consummation of his love for a woman to whom he is not married? Will Geordie give up his girlfriend or his family? Delicious. This woman will lie on the sofa under a comforter and relish every minute. A whole hour when I don't have to think about the destruction and dismemberment of the planet.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Pam McConnell RIP

I was very sorry to hear about Councillor Pam McConnell's death at the age of 71. Pam was elected to Toronto city council in 1994 and represented this ward from 2000 until her death - so she was my representative at city hall for decades, and how glad I was of that. She was indefatigable in support of social justice, equality, education, the arts - everything good. She told me once how Regents Park came to have its state-of-the-art swimming pool - she made a concession to Donald Trump that his Toronto Trump tower could have two extra stories - if he agreed to pay for the swimming pool. Pam may be the only person on earth to have elicited something good from Trump. And if anyone could do that, she could. And then there was the time our insane bully of a mayor, Rob Ford, shoved past and pushed her over - the one and only time Pam was a pushover.

Thank you,  Councillor McConnell, for your years of service to Toronto and to Cabbagetown specifically. We owe you a great deal. I can't imagine this city without you.

We are having an odd, heavy, wet summer, wonderful for the garden - my raspberries and tomatoes are happy - but not so great for farmers, I gather. Very few of those muggy Toronto days so far, which is wonderful. Tonight is my last Ryerson class, and then, except for my garden workshop next weekend, I'm done teaching till September. I love my day job, but it's good to get a break, for sure.

Finished a terrific book yesterday: The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson, an extraordinary hybrid, part philosophical treatise, part intimate, very personal memoir that delves into the mind of a brilliant, extremely well-educated, interestingly kinky person. Nelson has a fascinating life, married to an artist who is, as she says, "neither male nor female," once called Becky, now Harry, bearded and with surgically removed breasts. They have a child, Iggy, whose birth she describes in powerful detail, along with the death of Harry's mother. Bits of the book, her deep dives into philosophy, were hard to wade through; I don't often read work that dense. But what's amazing is her combination of philosophical critiques and enquiries with the intensely personal story of her love life and her embracing of coupledom and motherhood - a riveting section on biology and hormones, when she is pregnant, and Harry is taking testosterone, both of their bodies transforming daily. Engaging and beautifully written.

Thanks to my blog friend Theresa Kishkan, who urged me to stick with the book when, at the beginning of my reading, I was about to give up. Well worth the effort.

And now from the sublime to the more sublime: Sunday night's Grantchester - OMG! Sydney finally breaks, grabs his adored Amanda and wow - SPOILER ALERT - they do it on the stairs. Uncomfortable but passionate. It's too bad the actress who plays Amanda just isn't at James Norton's level, either physically or emotionally; I don't understand why this incredibly handsome, sensitive man adores this remote woman so. When, if he but knew it, he could have ME. James, James, just get in touch.

And then I watched a fab documentary on James Brown. I don't watch much TV, but when I do, it's love.