Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Karl Ove and Gratitude, yay, Cafe Society boo

MMMM. Here is one of the world's most attractive men, Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgaard, talking about his writing. I could listen to him all day. Be still my beating heart.

And speaking of attractive men, here are two more. Only one of them closely related to me, but both of whom I've watched grow up.
Still incredibly mild. A gift from the gods, this beautiful autumn. John came over to help in the garden today, built a cage to contain my toppling goldenglow for next year and another to stake my raspberries; we spent hours outside on Nov. 30, without gloves or hat or even coat. A marvel.

I got Gratitude by Jenny Diski from the library today, a memoir from columns written as she was dying of cancer, aged only 68 - a whirlwind of words, am enjoying it. Did not enjoy last night's offering - the latest Woody Allen, CafĂ© Society, which Sam, who was visiting, and I ordered from Rogers On Demand. What a terrible movie, though stunningly beautiful to look at, gorgeous lighting, sets, costumes. I'm sick of Woody's absurd, even nauseating fantasies of young twiglet women in love with much older men. His writing here is lazy and weak; subplots and characters are there and then vanish, Jews, of course, take over for a bit and then disappear; lots of the actors are miscast. It's a mess. What happened to the powerhouse auteur of before? Woody, you shouldn't make a film a year, just make a film when you have a really good script and something to say. And maybe, I suggest politely, someone should edit you.

Who edits Woody Allen? That's a big part of the problem.

Not a big part of my problem. Tomorrow the latest edit of the memoir comes from Colin Thomas in Vancouver. There’s so much that’s really lovely in this draft, Beth. At this point, it’s almost all about figuring out what you have to do and how you can do it in Act 1. 

Music to my ears "really lovely,", except that, of course, he's also saying, there's stuff that works and stuff that doesn't that you have to fix. Which I knew already.


Oh well. It's really lovely out there, that's what counts right now.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Arrival and niqab

It's a grand sight - Torontonians stumbling about in the warm air, blinking with astonishment. 13 degrees on Nov. 29th! It's minus 13 in Britain, apparently. Here, people out in shirtsleeves and shorts. It's a first. "It'll come," people say gloomily, but in the meantime, let's get out there, into the warm bath of November air. And try not to think about the polar bears.

I have completely regained my equilibrium, though it hurts still to read the papers, hard to do so without raging. But I'm trying not to rage. What's the point? History will judge this vile, intolerant, childish, dishonest, reprehensible man and his friends.

Several things to tell you. First, went yesterday to see Arrival, the new Denis Villeneuve movie that's about a linguist meeting and translating for aliens in Montana - but which was shot entirely in Montreal, as the long list of French-Canadian names in the credits attests. It's a wonderful movie, though I did have to check reviews when I got home to be sure I got it all. Thoughtful, dense and complex, with a big twist at the end. Excellent - about so much more than aliens. Though I do hope when aliens land in Montpellier, they call my linguist friend Lynn to come and translate.

Second, I have asked permission of one of last term's students to write about her. When the classroom door opened and she walked in, I wondered how this would work - my first student wearing a niqab, completely covering her face and head, her eyes behind glasses, in a memoir class about being nakedly honest and telling the truth. I have always felt - as those of you reading here know - that the niqab is a medieval horror, a denial, ordained by men, of a woman's most basic right, to have a face in the world.

My student turned out to be warm, honest and open, friendly and smart and a good writer. At the end of term, I wrote telling her that she had countered my prejudice. She wrote back, "I started wearing the niqab 14 years ago, at age 22, much to the consternation of my husband and both sides of our families as no one covers to this extent. I felt and still feel that it makes me closer to Allah. I find the niqab liberating and dignifying. It gives me a sense of strength; I choose what you see. 

At times I do waiver in my fervour, specially when it hinders on some activities. But never when faced with anger or contempt from perfect strangers who equate my niqab with extremism. 

I have urged her to write about this in more detail - especially important in our new age of explosive intolerance. I hope she does, and I thank her for what I have learned about mine. 

I've also just had some extremely nice notes from friends and students, which I'm reprinting either because I'm an impossibly vain person, or, on the other hand, an impossibly insecure person. Your choice.

From a student whose THIRD book will appear next year: It took years to write the stories for this book and you helped me immensely, you read/edited them first and gave me the encouragement and, more important, the courage to send them out into the world. My books wouldn't exist without you. Truly. Thank you, Beth.

A spectacular success story, this student. I am one proud teacher.

From someone reading my book about my great-grandfather:
I just wanted to let you know that I am LOVING your book on Jacob Gordin. Not only is it a fascinating portrait of a great man, but it is also such a rich tapestry of his world. It is such an exciting and gratifying read. So thank you so much!

Thank you, dear reader. If it weren't for you, our work would not be worth it.

Tonight - November 29, a mild sweet evening - I rode my bike to the U of T Faculty Club for the retirement party of my boss, Marilyn Booth, Dean of Continuing Studies, for whom I worked first at Ryerson and then at U of T. A spectacular woman. Honoured to be there to honour her. And on MY BIKE on November 29! As Lynn said, if the weather continues like this, everyone on earth will want to live in Canada. But it won't. "It's coming." Take my word for it.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Quebec my country mon pays

It's November 26th - my father's birthday; he would have been 94 today. Perhaps that's one reason for my sadness of late. I have much to be grateful for today, especially that my friends are such generous, thoughtful people. After the mewling of the last post, boo hoo, I'm so sad,  kind readers responded. A student friend wrote, I hope you know how much you have enriched my life as a writer and as a retired person searching for purpose. And you have given me that, by being the strong, gifted, eloquent and inspirational teacher that you are.

Oh thank you, CB, I needed that! And dear Lynn wrote from Montpellier, First of all, you know that you are a fabulous writer- so that should be one less reason to be depressed. The fact that you can't get your memoir to work like you'd like to is just normal writer's slump. And you know that too. So that's another reason not to be depressed. Unfortunately I cannot offer any relief from Donald Trump being the president elect. I cannot do anything about the Canadian winter either. Too bad you're not here. We could go shopping together. Then we could go for a nice dinner at the Entrecote and go to a movie. Also it is the Fete des Vignes here- so you'd get to do a lot of wine tasting.

Bella, I'm on my way.

So really, I just mewl periodically so people have to write me nice things. And it works. On the other hand, there's Ken, with whom I saw a documentary yesterday. Afterwards, over dinner at Paupers Pub across the street (half-price entrees before six!) I told him I was depressed because I'm a lousy writer and should just quit. He beamed at me. "Oh I just love it, " he said, "when I go on a depressing tear like that. And how's it working out for you?"

No pity there, just an old friend's honesty and good cheer, which will simply have to do. We saw the excellent Quebec, My Country, Mon Pays, an anglo's story of his family's deep roots in Quebec and how torn they feel about the hostile political environment, so many anglo's leaving, the difficulties and loyalties of those that stay. It recapped the terrible years of the FLQ, the death of Pierre Laporte - and when I got home, I watched two of CNN's documentaries The Seventies, including one about the terrorism of that time. We forget how much there was then, most of it on the left - the Baader-Meinhoff gang, the Red Brigade, the IRA, the absurd Symbionese Liberation Army and its famous heiress ... Angry young people wanting to smash things, like today. But the most chilling, still, was a young Iranian woman telling the cameras that she was willing to face death with pleasure because there is no death in Islam; Muslim martyrs do not die. That was in 1979.

The sun came out this morning, and I did my favourite Saturday morning jaunt by bike to the market, for Empire apples, coffee, sourdough bread, a roast for tonight - my grandson is coming for a sleepover, let's eat! Got 12 bottles of good red on sale at the LCBO and managed to carry them home on my back or in my arms. I'm stocked up for winter, but it's really mild out there today.

So gloom over, all is well chez moi, and I will try not to think, for awhile, about the state of the world. Thank you again for your words of encouragement. For a final jolt of joy, here are the grandkids on their last visit, and the Xmas celebrations in Cabbagetown which were launched today.

Merry November 26th.

PS. A friend just stopped by - I'd sent him a note of gratitude last week for all he does for the neighbourhood, and he brought me flowers. "I remembered that you like ranunculus," he said. And I do.

My cup runneth etc.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Wrestling Jerusalem

Still sad. Still scared. Yes, the man had a meeting with the NYT, trying to win them over with his charm and wit. Ha. Yes, there's magnificent analytical writing pouring out from newspapers, magazines, on-line, and perhaps this horror will galvanize lefties young and old to re-engage with the political process in a serious way. That would be good.

But in the meantime, what damage will be done to the planet? Unimaginable.

Also, it's November, true November now, grey and chilly, leaves showering down not to mention the rain, plants fading. Nature closing down for now, and my soul feels like doing the same. It won't, but still... My daughter and grandsons were over all day yesterday - their apartment was being sprayed for cockroaches - and I realize, they too, these beloved boys, like their mother and uncle, will grow up to be grown-ups whose choices I hardly understand.

Also - it's the memoir, this next draft, the problems, the issues, what's wrong, why doesn't it work, maybe it's just that I'm a lousy writer and should give up. Yesterday, talking to my colleague, prize-winning novelist Cordelia Strube, at the Ryerson open house - we were both there to meet potential students - listening to her complain about the Writer's Trust Gala, a fancy dinner she had to attend, sitting at a table with rich people anxious to meet and talk to a writer, she all dressed up eating filet mignon. She hated it. It sounds like heaven to me. I have never been invited and probably never will be - yo, Cinderella here, sitting in my rags, dreaming of the Writer's Trust Gala.


Okay, snap out of it. Here's something great to share with you: Wrestling Jerusalem, at the Berkeley - a thrilling one man show about a Jewish writer, Aaron Davidman, going to Israel to try to figure out the situation and offer a balanced report. He talks to many people there, both Jewish and Palestinian, whom he brings to life for us. The play shows the depth of passion, the fear and resentment, the enormous love its people have for the place, the intractability of the problem on both sides. It's stirring and beautifully acted - his accents and body changes are instantaneous and bring all his interlocutors vividly to life. An excellent piece of theatre. If only Trump and Pence could see it. Trump apparently told the NYT he'll bring peace to the Middle East. This show would elucidate him about a few of the centuries-old problems.

But then, elucidation is not his thing.

Off this afternoon to meet Ken to see a documentary, Quebec my country mon pays, about the changes in Quebec, and then dinner. If anything can cheer me up in today's gloom, it's Ken's sunny smile.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Bingo with Stella and other joys

It finally came, the cold. Until mid-November, our weather was unbelievable, sunny, almost hot - people out on Nov. 19 in shirtsleeves. But then on Nov. 20, it came. It's so cosy in the kitchen when there's white outside.
I couldn't write here, because I was trying to finish the next draft of the memoir for a Monday deadline - yesterday - with lots else going on. And also - truthfully - I was feeling depressed and gloomy about the fate of the world, about the stupidity and blindness of my fellow human beings. I know, very wrong to judge. And yet how not to judge people who decided, through their own heedless discontent and misinformation, to smash everything and unleash chaos and horror upon the world?

Let it go. We'll get through. Or we won't. In any case, there's nothing you can do. Though somehow I felt guilty, surely I could have done something to stop this terrifying train wreck. No, it seems not. Let it go.

My talk at the JCC went really well. The room was full, including some of the Yiddishists I met while researching the book decades ago. The sad thing about Yiddish is that most of the fluent speakers are very old. But they are brave and feisty and helpful. Jack Newman read excerpts of Gordin's plays in both Yiddish and English, which was very moving. Thanks to all involved. I sold five books!

And met a second cousin for the first time - Michael Shore, whose grandmother was my grandmother's sister, though I think for decades they had nothing to do with each other, in that family where many were estranged. I went to Montreal long ago to meet Michael's mother; her son then lived in Vancouver but recently moved to Toronto. He is, no surprise, an actor and a teacher of acting. With my American father and British mother, I've never had cousins in Canada, only in the U.S. and England, so having one in my own city is new and welcome.

That night, the last of my home classes with the wonderful writers who are so dear and close, they're like adopted cousins. Today, my last class at U of T and then, except for editing and coaching, I'm off till January 16! Even though that means no teaching income, hooray. More time for my own work.

And for my family. Saturday, I went across town. Eli had come home from school with head lice which Anna caught - so now he has a crew cut, and after treatment, she had to go to a clinic to be sure hers were gone. Thomas stayed with Ben while I took Eli for sushi, to the library and to check out the local toystore, pre Santa. I asked who his best friend was at school. "Stacey," he said. "I'm going to marry her." "Does she know that?" I asked. "I told her," he said. "Does she think that's a good idea?" "When we're seven or eleven," he said firmly.

I need to check her out. Will go spy on the playground. IS SHE GOOD ENOUGH FOR MY BOY?

Here's Thomas making pumpkin pie under the watchful eye of much of the family.
On Sunday, in the new thin sheet of snow and fighting the Santa Claus parade, I went to a legion to play bingo. Yes. My dear friend Stella Walker, a hilarious comedienne, musician and painter with endless talent, kindness and craziness, was shooting a music video about bingo, wearing a dress made of bingo cards, and invited a group of her friends to play the game behind her. I've not played in years - if ever. It was thrilling. I won once. BINGO! I shouted. My prize was a mandela colouring book. Awesome.
Then a meeting with Stephen and Lesia about Babe in the Barn, the Christmas pageant we produce every Xmas Eve. Panic - we don't have shepherds this year, need to find two shepherds, speaking roles. But we do have one family with a baby who are willing to sit in the straw for an hour, and a possible backup. Need to talk to the Farm about making sure more animals are in the barn for the show. Oh, it's a complicated affair.

Sunday night, Monique came over to drink wine and watch TV with me - the Durrells in Corfu and Poldark. I had to explain who everyone was, and there are a lot of people. Much fun.

All day Monday, finishing the rewrite, sitting until my bum was numb - a poem - except for a yoga class midday, delightful, the first time I've done yoga in years. Much missed. Will start again. Mailed the draft late last night. Mailed another draft, with a few last minute rewrites, early this morning. Let it go. And now, out to class.

So that's it. Here's a bouquet a friend gave me as thanks for a favour. White as snow.