Wednesday, January 18, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Beth is ageist. Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh well.

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

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

Time for a big, big glass of wine.

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

Friday, January 13, 2017

L'Arche and good habits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

another student in the Globe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Gwen Setterfield and Julieta

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

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

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

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

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