Saturday, December 31, 2011
My son called from work this afternoon to wish me a happy new year. I told him I was on my way to a theatre matinee. "With a friend?" he asked.
"On my own," I said. "You get great tickets for one."
There was a pause. "All by your lonesome?" he asked.
Oh my beloved boy. There is nothing lonesome about going to the theatre by yourself. I got ready and left when I wanted, enjoyed every minute of a superb play - Parfumerie, a jewel of a production directed and designed by my friends Morris Panych and Ken MacDonald, and a more talented pair would be hard to find anywhere in the world - and bicycled home on a mild, spring-like afternoon. It's now New Year's Eve, and I am, indeed, all on my lonesome. Tonight I won't even turn on the TV to watch the ball fall. There's so much reading to do, let alone writing, let alone everything else. I did rent a DVD, "Of Gods and Men," in case I feel like vegging out. I've had a glass and a half of red already, and it's not even six.
And I've had a little weep already, too. The Globe had an article about a kindergarten class that is bussed regularly to an old folk's home, where the children flourish under the attention of the elderly. It works partially because so few of the kids have regular contact with a grandparent.
It hit me hard - next year I am going, I pray, to be a grandparent, one with regular contact. I want to be with this child, to read stories and put together puzzles and go to Riverdale Farm to look at cows. It's hard to believe that someone as incredibly young as I will have a grandchild, but it seems it will be so. I can't wait. I can't wait. I'm waiting.
I was an impatient distracted floundering mother, and then a single mother, going mad. The kids were given love, no question about that, and I did squeeze in time for stories and puzzles, but on the verge of exhaustion and hysteria. I decided once that we should all make a gingerbread house for Xmas, that could be a wonderful family tradition - and ended up screaming at a nine-year old Anna because she wasn't doing it right.
I realize that I was almost exactly as pregnant with Anna on New Year's Eve 1980 as she is tonight with her boychild, thirty-one years later. Next year, I will hold that small person in my arms. Nothing matters more. The child of my child.
It's silent in my beautiful house. I'm not putting on sparkling clothes to go out and get drunk, as I did at one time on this night. I'm not preparing a family meal or taking care of anyone's needs but my own. All on my lonesome.
Happy New Year to you all, dear friends and readers. May you find great joy in 2012.
P.S. Here's Randy Bachman playing "Rock around the clock"! Dancin' time. Joy. "Tutti frutti"!
Wop bop a lop mop a lop bop bom!
The Star tells me, "'Nesting' key trend for New Year." I'm already all over that.
PACE Jack Layton. We miss you so very, very much.
Friday, December 30, 2011
Thursday, December 29, 2011
A great New Year's message, from me to you, or rather from Pico Iyer to me, to you:
OPINION | January 01, 2012
Opinion: The Joy of Quiet
By PICO IYER
Trying to escape the constant stream of too much information.
Opinion: The Joy of Quiet
By PICO IYER
Trying to escape the constant stream of too much information.
And a dramatic bit of advice from an on-line writer, about writing:
Writing a first draft is like hitting the beach on D-Day. You don't stop to tend the wounded or mourn the dead. If you don't get off the beach, you'll die there. Which means: the point of the first draft is not to get it right, but to get it written. Don't go back and rewrite the first chapter until you've finished the last. Get off the beach. Otherwise, you may never get past page twenty.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Received this happy note today from a student and friend:
I just wanted to share the news that a story I wrote about making soft boiled eggs with my grandfather has been selected for publication by the CBC as part of their Edible Nonfiction challenge. I came up with that story in your garden last summer!!! Thanks Beth!
If you check the Canada Writes page at cbc.ca, you'll be able to read her piece.
Just watched the Quebecois movie "Les Invasions Barbares" again, on TV - what a superb film. I saw it when it came out in 2003, but its exploration of the meaning of life and death, love and friendship, means much more now, only 8 years later. Haunting and rich.
Spent much of the day reading "Rewriting Russia: Jacob Gordin's Yiddish Drama," by an American "Associate professor of Russian literature and Jewish studies." I've been asked to review her book for an American academic journal. It's an odd assignment, because the author is not only writing about a once-famous Yiddish playwright, but about my blood, my family. The lucky woman went to Russia to dig through Gordin files there, which has not been done before.
She thanks six different fellowships and granting agencies for their help in funding her work; I thank my ex-husband who provided enough child support that I could spend time reading and writing. It's a miracle my book ever emerged from my cluttered life, that's for sure.
As I sit here, very late on this cold, snowy day, there's a furry beast squeezed in beside me, and when I put my hand on her back, lo, a faint rumbling deep inside. Amazing. My daughter cooked poached salmon for my mum and auntie in Ottawa this evening, and all is right with the world.
There's nothing better than lying safe and warm in bed, watching snow swirling through the sky a few feet away. As I lay looking out the window this morning, I thought about life and work. My tombstone, I thought, will read "Published Little but Lived Well."
And then I thought - wait a minute, I'm only 61! I'm just getting started, with a manuscript taking shape and lots more ideas in the wings. The years to come will produce a flood of material, and I will have a smaller tombstone.
Today's most important job - to make sure the bird-feeder is full. And, of course, read, edit, write. The joy and pain of the self-employed - while there is no rigid timetable to get to work, there is also no time off. Carol's class at the Y, check in at Doubletake, talk to the folks in Ottawa. Tonight - the wonderful British series "Doc Martin" returns. Martin Clunes is my new favourite British actor - well, at least some competition for Ewan McGregor - and last night, I watched his great series about horses. He travelled round the world, exploring various facets of our relationship with these most trusting, valuable, companionate, beautiful beasts. Wonderful to see the real face of this fine actor, because he's so distorted - and hilarious - as the autistic doctor.
So tonight, full of yet more turkey and stuffing, I'll watch the show with one eye, while stripping the tree. Moving right along.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
We didn't have a white Christmas, but we do have a white Night after Boxing Day. The first snow of the season tonight, very wet, turning to slush. I just went for a sloppy walk under a big umbrella, to take in the profusion of Xmas lights twinkling through the falling snow - very pretty. My own house, with its measly row of LED lights around the eves, looks pretty drab in comparison with some. I'm proud of the wreath on my door, though - a circle of pinecones, decorated with anything I could find to cover the gaps where some cones have fallen off, and a blue Star of David hanging in the middle. A woman asked me yesterday what I celebrate.
"I celebrate everything," I said, "if there's food and music involved."
My daughter went to Ottawa today to visit her grandmother. "I just saw the picture of the baby, and I nearly cried," said Mum over the phone an hour ago. She says she wants to live long enough to hold this child in her arms. And then much longer, says her family.
A very quiet day, not moving much, eating leftovers - how the hell did I end up with that much chocolate? Thank you, my friends. And getting caught up with reading - I have a stack two feet high of magazines, six library books, twelve - yes, count them, twelve - NYT Book Reviews, and much else. My friend Annie gave me a long summary of a conference she organized recently for the Jesuit Forum, entitled "Cry of the Poor, Cry of the Earth: What has spirituality got to do with social justice and ecology?" The conference attempted, really well according to what I've read, to answer that question. One member quoted a priest called Thomas Berry, who described himself as an "ecotheologian or Earth scholar," as saying that we are now living in an age which is the transition from the Technozoic to the Ecozoic era. Love that.
If the planet is to survive, he says, three kinds of "turning" are necessary - cultural or spiritual turning, which means a fundamental transformation of values and priorities; political turning, to an emphasis on 'participation, diversity, sustainability and rational power'; and economic turning, to "an eco-economy which presents new models for extracting resources, producing products and transporting goods and people, with priority on equity and sustainability."
Yes yes yes. If only.
Another friend, hearing about my daughter's pregnancy, said, "I'd hesitate to bring a child into this planet now. We're so @#$#ed." True, we are.
But also, we are not.
Monday, December 26, 2011
Wretched excess. That's a real living blue spruce in a pot. Now to put it somewhere outside and hope it survives.
Sister fell asleep with a pillow over her face, and little brother wrote "I am a butt brain" on it. Some things never change. Luckily.
MY best Xmas present. A very very small
and silent person, who made his presence
felt - his mother could hardly eat
her Xmas dinner. That's enough, young man - enough with the hormones. Let your mama eat.
It's finished; back to sanity. An amazingly mild Boxing Day today, with leftovers piled high in the fridge, turkey soup simmering on the stove, recycling bin stuffed with paper and ribbon, and the poor traumatized cat hiding upstairs. This morning, I went to the Y to sweat off a bit of the festivities, and then came back to share the meal all over again with friends Gretchen and Jack. That's the best repast, the first enormous meal that requires only the effort of lifting the food from container to plate and into microwave. Love that meal.
Beware expectations, is my mantra with my children, so I didn't mind when things did not pan out quite as planned. The plan was for both kids and my near-daughter Holly to come over Xmas Eve afternoon; we'd enjoy each others' company and then go to Mary and Malcolm's marvellous annual Xmas Eve party. They'd stay the night here and we'd get a fresh, early start to Xmas. Ha.
Reality: Sam came over late afternoon Xmas Eve exhausted, made himself a big plate of spaghetti and did not want to go out. Anna worked till late and vanished; her phone was not working. Holly decided to visit her family in Belleville and not come back till late Xmas afternoon. I went to Mary's and sat in front of her fire chatting with neighbours while
eating the best smoked salmon, Stilton cheese and baked brie in all Toronto.
When I got back, Sam went out with his friends. Xmas morning, there were shoes in the hall; I could tell he'd come in very late - or rather, early that morning - because the newspaper was inside. Anna arrived at 10, we forced Sam to get up at noon, my oldest friend Ron arrived for our traditional smoked salmon at 12.30, we finished opening presents by 3, Holly arrived at 5, we ate at 7 and then watched home movies and Harry Potter on TV. It was perfect - the most relaxed Xmas we've ever had, the first ever without a big crowd. We've made a point of always having homeless waifs at our table, and of course we will again, but this year, it was just us, and it was great.
The home movies were a treat, my father as a child, me as a child, my children as children. Such a rich sociological study, to watch what was going on back then. At the end of the long day, the kids went off in different directions and I went gladly to bed.
Now the recovery begins, putting things back and away. The new year is coming up. Time for some self improvement lists.
Friday, December 23, 2011
I'm enjoying a Sluggard's Christmas. Oh the shame of my sloth. Today, two presents were hand-delivered to my door; I will give these dear friends a present back sometime in 2012. Cards pour in, and I will reply ... sometime in 2012. Last week, every time the television was on, I kept one eye on it while decorating the tree, stuffing stockings and wrapping gifts. Now the twinkly tree is floating above boxes and bags, almost every single one of which contains something second-hand. Thoughtful, I hope, but second-hand. YAY!
Because I heard an interview Jian did with the author of a book called "To Die For," about the immoral slavery involved in the fast fashion industry. So that's why those clothes are so cheap. I'm glad they're not under our tree.
It's all done. Yesterday Wayson drove me to buy a huge load of groceries and even to pick up the turkey, which usually has to be heaved onto my back. Today, I did the final grocery and wine shop and wrapped the last gifts. I'm sure tomorrow I'll remember something, but so far ... everything is in readiness, even a can of turkey and giblets cat food for You Know Who. And that's all she gets, the ungrateful wretch.
I'm a lucky self-employed and single person, able to do all this on the off-hours. Pity the poor souls who have to hit the malls and grocery stores tomorrow. The pungent man today in No Frills, pretty close to homeless, I'd say, buying three small boxes of chocolates. Never have I felt so fortunate, with so many folks feeling the pinch of recession. And today, though sunny, it was very cold. Hunkering down time.
Yesterday's thrill - my mother had given me a box of my grandfather's 16 millimetre home movies, and last week I finally took them to be transferred to DVD. Yesterday, I brought the DVD home to watch. So marvellous - my father and his brother in Central Park in 1928, my dad six and Edgar three, then various summer vacations as the boys get bigger, other relatives dancing in and out of the frames, my dad so handsome and vigorous. Then a big leap through the Forties to 1952, there's my beautiful young mother, aged 29, and Moi, aged two, at Lawrencetown Beach in Nova Scotia, my grandmother weeping with laughter. And then, 1955, my baby brother appears, and finally, from 1960, a little segment I did for CBC television, talking about the show Razzle-Dazzle. A family treasure to share with my kids on Xmas Day, with another copy to send to Ottawa for the folks there.
On Tuesday my oldest friend Ron had an an open house in the chichi apartment he shares with his partner Gary, for friends to meet his daughter and her husband and two-year old twin girls. I brought them a gift - "I Know Here," Laurel Croza's beautiful, prize-winning book that was inspired by an assignment in a writing class she took with me. It's aimed at kids much older than two, and yet at one point, in the chaos, Ron sat with little blonde Emily on his knee, reading her the book, both of them engrossed. What a lovely sight.
Speaking of lovely sights - my daughter has posted her latest ultrasound picture on Facebook. This babe is four months old in utero and already has a Facebook page. I watched an extraordinary documentary the other night called "What Darwin didn't know," about thrilling new advances in DNA research and genetics; they showed how to a certain point, all embryos - humans, chickens, frogs - look more or less the same. But ours now looks like a real human baby. I thought of my father, a physiologist and geneticist, who would have been overjoyed at what is happening in science now, and even more so at the advent of a great-grandson, bearing his genes into the future.
This might be our last Xmas without a brand new small person in attendance, who'll remind us of what it's really about. I'll be rushing about buying Lego and assembling castles or trains. Back to the old busy Christmasses.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Excitement on this bleak, rainy day: the 2012 catalogue arrived from Syracuse University Press. And listed there is the paperback of my book, with a few of the good reviews. Quelle joie! Kvell with me. Here's the link:
That's the boring old author's bio, by the way. I'm rewriting it as we speak.
Yesterday's excitement, the writerly kind - reading a wonderful book called "The Art of Time in Memoir" by Sven Birkerts. There are so many little Post-its now stuck in this library book that it's bristling; I'll go through and type out all the wise bits I want to save. His thesis affected me deeply. He writes that memoir must have a double track - the experience THEN that the writer is bringing to life, and the current voice NOW, guiding the reader through, making sense of it all. I realized that my memoir, as it stood, was all the first part, none of the second - because I was writing it all in the voice of the actual teenager in 1964, not the adult. The usual questions haunted me: Who is telling this story? Where? Why? I'd known there was a problem but hadn't known exactly what it was or how to address it.
As I wracked my brains, I did what I always do in times of stress - I called a friend. This time, my brilliant friend Patsy on Gabriola Island, who has edited a number of my essays and read and critiqued countless manuscripts. As she always does, she cut through my confusion, quoting from Michael Ondaatje's new book that she's reading right now, in which he writes as an adult using the simplified language of his 11-year old protagonist.
"What is the question at the heart of your story?" she said. "Let the question lead you. Your book is about an adult looking for meaning in the past. You're discovering as you tell. That quest lets the reader in.
"Let the reader be comfortable," she said, "knowing they're not following a 13-year old, but a grown-up recreating and making discoveries, with sensual details and flashbacks advancing the story."
Whew! For a heart-stopping minute there, I looked at my 194 page manuscript and thought, Do I have to toss all this? But no - I need a Foreword. A Prologue, setting up the voice and explaining my quest. And then just a few modifications, I hope, to the voice I've been using. I immediately cut the first five pages and put them somewhere else. Now the book begins quite differently, with a different journey.
This is the fun stuff of my business - scary as it is to suddenly say, Have I been going down the wrong road all this time? Can I ditch this and still keep the core intact? Dangerous fun, for a writer. We sure know how to have a good time.
Monday, December 19, 2011
What a guy! He never stops.
Paul McCartney has collaborated with Diana Krall, Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder on an album of standards to be released in time for Valentine's Day. McCartney announced the project Monday, as he released the first of two original songs on the album to fans on his website. There are only two new songs on the album – My Valentine and Only Our Hearts.