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: