For those non-essential workers now isolating at home:
Yes, we binge. We eat*. We read.
We create, but only if the instinct to do so calls. Ignore the rush demands of others. Age has taught me one lesson: to truly absorb change, most of us need time. Few of us have that time or take it. Now maybe you do.
Help. Don’t know how? Start with your own circles. One of mine dropped some tulips off for me on my doorstop and it made my whole week. Here are a few places that need your help. Please consider them all:
Tonight, check out a virtual celebration of one of Ontario’s most vibrant community theatres. Wavestage is celebrating 25 years and those of us who love and support this talented troupe of performers will be toasting their success at a special gala. Okay, so we were meant to throw our wild applause with roses at the stage and hug these performers in person at the stage entrance. I’ve witnessed years of spectacular magic from Wavestage, some of which you, readers, have heard about here, and here.
Instead, we can tune in at 7 pm to watch over a dozen revival performances and give them giant virtual hugs.
Artists are bleeding now in every sector across every artistic discipline. Instead of being overwhelmed, pick one a week to lend a hand. Take a cue from some of this country’s most celebrated performers pitching in to do their part. Along with Canadian Opera Company, Shaw Festival, Soulpepper, Young People’s Theatre, Canadian Stage and Luminato, the National Ballet of Canada shop is donating personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks while their wardrobe staff is sewing caps and masks from home for our front-line healthcare workers in hospitals to help keep them safe.
Got kids who love playing detective? Consider signing up for a customized narrative experience with a week’s worth of short daily phone calls from The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries, presented by Outside the March Theatre Company. Designed for the whole family (kids under 12 can pair up with a parent for no charge) 100% of the funds collected will go directly to employ actors from the community who have recently lost income due to the CO-VID crisis. For more info, read here.
If you cannot help others, help yourself. Spend some time dreaming of your favourite places. Maybe this madness will result in all of us being experts at cherishing. Here’s one of my cherished spots in Algonquin Park, Ontario. Where are your favourites?
No virus can rob us of dreaming. Last time I checked, dreams come free of charge.
Something has shifted. The earth has struck back. Exacting breathlessness, it has asserted its demand to breathe. From animal to human the virus jumps, as if to demonstrate the indivisibility of life and death on a small planet. The technology perfected for the rich to globalize their advantages has also created the perfect mechanism for globalizing the panic that sends portfolios into a free fall. Do things differently at the other end of this scourge, some mystic voice murmurs, do them more equitably, more ecologically, with greater respect for the environment, or you will be smitten again. Next time the internet will collapse. The passage from real world to virtual world to no world will then be complete. It is not easy to resist such thoughts, and perhaps they should not be resisted, for that would be to learn nothing.
So, perhaps we have lost anticipation in this pandemic. Perhaps we have lost the everyday juice we drink to map out wants and desires? I’m ready, aren’t I?
Prior to any lockdowns,visiting my mother in longterm care in the past few months had given me some facility in grasping the moment at hand. There is nothing else there on offer. There is no tomorrow with dementia. There is only now. Mom and I share a peanut butter cup I scooped up at the volunteer-run tuck shop downstairs, and together watch an old black and white film. We agree there are few better combos than peanut butter and chocolate. I stroke her hair—still fine, now bone-straight grey— tucked back in a borrowed hairband instead of her signature blonde backcomb. She responds well to this touch, beams a silent thank-you to me. In the end, she doesn’t speak much. Smiles. Listens. Responds with one or two-word answers. Hugging is its own language; indeed my first language, my most fluent language even as I have learned over time to converse with those with lukewarm settings who do not share my mother tongue. When the attendants come to manoeuver her walker to dinner, I help her to stand, and then wrap my arms around her. It is all. It has to be enough.
If there are no longer anticipatory twinges, I can cope. With Mom, there are no days of the week either. There is just now. I’m used to this. I am ready.
Except now I cannot hold her.
All human touch is now governed (by necessity) by pandemic rules. Like all of us, Mom and all her peers in long term care can no longer have visitors. The exhausted workers there have unimaginable limits on their time but have worked out a schedule where they will assist residents to come to the window. All we have is a ten-minute window to wave at Mom. Is this part of ambiguous loss? We have lost so much already.
Yes, I can walk with a friend. Our voices carry across the mandatory divides. Yes, I can organize neighbourhood driveway hangouts. We smile and offer solace— and try to discern if any neighbour needs help with anything—and while it is all a strange and new kind of togetherness, we find our usual jocularity. Yes, I can accept a series of invitations to see faces in boxes on my screen for work, for fitness, for family meetings. I started up a new Facebook group: Bakers in a Dangerous Time, and other new creative collaborations with neighbours and friends because Let’s Make Up a Story is my password and it’s better than the one we’re living with now.
I am grumpy about technology hugs even as I adapt as human beings have done since we stood up. Who says I want to become facile at Zoom? I am not ready.
Being inside my home for hours and hours doesn’t scare me.
Housekeeping does not daunt me either. Once I ran a household and grew some kids up and out. Now I am tucking bedsheet corners in, with my guy who, in a previous life, was surely a royal housekeeper, if sarongs were allowed as a uniform. Or a jester. We are rich in quips, if nothing else, and cookbooks I refused to throw out in House Purges 1 through 11. His setting is always set to Hug. High up there, alongside his laundry pile of neatly folded clothes, is a deep sense of reward in the work we’ve put into this, this life now threatened by an invisible enemy. This is the payoff. We get to stick this out together and he is learning (finally) what I do all day, just as I am listening to his frequent work calls now on our walks together. Somedays, we are short with one another, and long on many others. We are sad and then we laugh. We know how to do this. There is never a bad time to keep learning.
Our kids are away from us, one in another city, and the other, in another continent. All of our plans to be together are no longer possible in the near future, in the imminent future, in the…what is the future?
I miss my dad even as I know he would have suffered surely in this terrible chaos. I miss my lucid mom who would have laughed along with me at the two red cardinals dancing around my yard. I miss my father-in-law who never ran out of soap. Our days fold into one another and some days are this: Husband and Wife sitting on the couch and saying: we miss our people. Every day. Sadness is a new houseguest… and now this? Dreams now are wild and fanciful and I have lost sense of weekdays and weekends…they have just slipped into a March puddle. Stars on my calendar to mark spectacular achievements have been removed. My watch broke. The little latch fell off although it is still running. I looked at the thing and screamed: you motherfucker, that is a poor joke.
I’m not ready. We are not ready.
The playgrounds and dog parks have yellow tape around them. Every day, small deaths.
I’m not ready.
It’s easy to reject some mindsets: my stress is the only stress. I have it worse than you.
Instead, it’s an easy yes to any and all of the initiatives to form communities of compassion (my film nerd heart bleeds for artists); to applaud the heroic essential workers who are keeping us alive, keeping us fed, keeping us in our cocoons of civility. I marvel at the daily communication briefs delivered by government officials with a calm I can barely muster in my relative safety. In a previous chapter in a television newsroom, I learned how fast news cycles work. This Big Germ now is supersonic speed and yet, there they are, doing their jobs with persistent professionalism. Don’t listen to the news, say, well-meaning friends. Who needs it? I’ve given up on it. It’s all bad news. I don’t listen to it, I can find it all on Twitter, on SNL, on Colbert, by myself. Really? Journalism, like healthcare, has never been more crucial. Learn which ones to trust and never stop following their reasoned threads, even if it’s in smaller, tolerable doses.
While working as a producer in that newsroom, I was a longtime member of the company’s pay equity committee where we examined each sector of our operation and how responsibility and stress were measured. That experience has never left me and afforded me precious insight into systems I never see from the quiet of my writing perch. There, mostly invisible from all the clamor, I try to make sense of it all, occasionally pacing, always pondering.
Like you, Anxiety sits at our breakfast table. Will our daughters be okay? Will they get sick? Parenting adult children is another setting on the dial.
Can we pay our bills? The echo rings around the world.
It really is hard to imagine something you can’t see.
Greta Gerwig, writer/director, Little Women
68% male. 84% white. That’s how these Oscar 2020 nominations went down; that is the group who nominates and votes. That is how films like The Farewell are ignored.
Diversity will only happen when that body of membership changes.
To become an Academy member, artists need professional credits.
To build credits, they need to find work. To find work, they need someone to give them a chance and look past gender, skin colour (and boob size) and see human potential.
Change starts at the gate marked Enter Here.
Change is also only possible when critical bodies stop echoing bad choices from one another sounworthy, boring and utterly non-essential films cease receiving recognition, no matter how relentless a marketing campaign. Yes, I’m looking at you, The Irishman.
We see you and we hear you, Old White Guys of the Academy. We get it. You don’t want to be forgotten. We will always have your stories. They are burned forever in our collective consciousness. Your 2020 choices reflect your panic. But you still have the chance to do the right thing. Vote for Parasite.
The future is here. You can open the gate or you can just watch it being crashed by exciting new mediums and storytellers from every corner of the planet.
Elusive as ever, joy was still ours to be had in Toronto yesterday. It took a sporting match to make that happen and one other key ingredient in that mass celebration on parade through the downtown core: accessibility. Over and over again, fans were to be heard gushing over “our team.” It was the story of our neighbourhood streets and that neighbourhood is global. Everyone owned a piece of the Raptor’s championship. We felt close to it, felt it was ours. Millions of fans had access to refracted glory.
I was a point guard in Scarborough growing up. All the children of immigrants- Vietnamese, Asians, Black, Brown, we all played religiously so it is really special to now be with my fellow Canadians and be celebrating together. Everyone in Canada knows each other. We are one big family.
Omer Aziz, author
I played basketball too —badly—for a brief inglorious spell in high school and don’t pretend any grasp of the sport’s mechanics. Nor did I watch it much until these championships lit up and I began to peer closely at this group of talented athletes. Such power! Such poise! And for this hockey fan, such spectacular restraint under the most intense stress. I was won over by the manner in how this Raptors winning team played the sport, rather than the sport itself. So yes, I too sped downtown last Thursday night and high-fived in the wee hours with my daughter (who played basketball for years) and my other half, a fan since the origin of the Raptors. That’s him in the grainy photo, playing in the streets of Kensington Market. They were both there yesterday here in Toronto, making their way through those happy throngs. We were all there in spirit. Communal moments are as rare as perfect sleeps in this digital era.
Our collective glory held the day until some thieves tried to steal it with a gunshot scattering through a sea of peaceful humans. For those injured, a horrific moment. For those in the stampede, a panic sure to cause future sleepless nights. But these criminals were apprehended by quick thinking cops. Most of the crowd were not affected; thousands and thousands of fans dancing down the streets still turned their faces to the sun.
Fleeting as it is, joy can not be stolen. It was ours. We would do well to mark it. Bring our joy globes out to marvel and remember. There will be shadows again, but that moment is now embedded in our collective history. Age affords us this wisdom or why else are all the old folks grinning their wrinkled smiles to themselves? Someday that will be me, remembering the boys with their cigars and champagne splashing out in a spray over all of us. For the briefest moment, turning us all into bubbles.
Next Sunday’s Game of Thrones episode, known by those who made it as The Long Night, took 11 weeks to shoot, all at night and will be the longest episode in Game of Thrones history. According to Collider, it will also feature the longest continuous battle sequence ever put to film. I will need fortification to watch it, unlike last night, where I nursed my sadness over my favourite hockey team’s playoff loss, with a belly full of mini chocolate eggs.
Next week is Greek Easter where my inlaws and their relations will eat (delicious) lamb. Wine will be my main course if I am going to watch beloved characters fall to the White Walkers.
I loved this past Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones. It was epic without all the touted violence to come, epic because Brienne was knighted and her smile that followed was the best thing on the small screen this week even if you lined up all the hats in the Easter Parade movie I watch every year. There just isn’t that kind of moment on what is increasingly garden variety Netflix. Sorry binge watchers. That moment comes after deep investment by millions of fans and all those HBO creatives who make magic. Epic because Sam and his sword hand over, giving question to the fan theory that he will survive the battle at Winterfell and be the scribe who captures all of this story for future generations. Epic because little Arya finally got some (nookie). Epic because characters sitting around a fire musing about their death offers chances for scriptwriters to bring powerful poignant pauses to what has always been a horrifying violent series. Epic because it ended with Florence and The Machine’s Florence Welch singing over closing credits.
Who is your favourite character? How do you see the show ending?
Drop yourself anywhere in Paris and your immediate view is a film set lit avecplaisir for even the weariest heart. Each step forward, backward, and around a fabled corner and still the same miraculous mise en scène. How can we not stop and embrace right there in the middle of the street? Are we not directed to by this very stage? How can we not revisit those leaner frames we inhabited once? We were here decades ago when I ignored parental protests and scampered about these very streets with my Sorbonne student-boyfriend and considered (with great sobriety) never returning home. Paris does that to you.
The pastry shops do that to you. The chocolatiers are no mere extras either but take their proud place centre stage. There are hundreds and hundreds of food artisans in Paris and patience will get you a taste test in the middle of a charming square while your traveling companion (crazed wife) drags you from neighbourhood to neighbourhood for sinful samples. (Check back later this week in this space for my favourites)
Dining in this city is notorious for a few things: snippy service (I experienced nothing but gracious welcomes), beaucoup wine (who needs water?) and status as a UNESCO world intangible heritage. In 2010, the UN cultural organization singled out French gastronomy worthy of the same kind of protection as historically significant sites or natural wonders. Certainly, the foie gras ravioli I experienced at the historic Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie in Les Halles (‘tasting’ is too boring. Here we “experience” the food) was worthy of some kind of protection from overeager dining companions. As was the grilled duck and asparagus cooked for us another evening by our host; dear friends whose idea of hospitality was champagne and strawberries as evening starters to set the mood at sparkling and fluffy warm croissants with coffee and melon from their local market waiting for our sleepy morning kitchen entrances. I’m in, merci beaucoup and Ooh La La and that’s all the French I can remember until you pour me another glass.
Paris in spring means Paris and people. All of them wearing les baskets that are not the runners you are wearing right now to walk the dog.
Every kind of tourist is here along with us but the city holds these players with grace. We joined a few in a pastry class as we learned how to fold the dough encased in blocks of butter. Huge blocks of butter. Did I say yet that I love this city?
We mingled among them as we oogled the Impressionist Masters and wondered how we could go back in time (okay this was just me wondering) and warn these models in painters studios that someday their bodies would be out of fashion and tell them that’s just one way the world has lost its way.
We walked by them splayed out on lawns with their wine glasses the night we came to see the Eiffel Tower do its hourly dazzle. (Paris by night. Yup. It’s all true).
We joined them in the procession into Notre Dame, and formed a hushed collective as we stared up into the glorious soaring space. No one is tacky here: we are all immediately humbled, whatever our belief systems, for this iconic cathedral has always been a living monument, one revitalized by writer Victor Hugo.
The greatest products of architecture are less the works of individuals than of society; rather the offspring of a nation’s effort, than the inspired flash of a man in genius…
Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
That any of it would ever be gone wasn’t even a whisper. That I tried my hardest to ignore the rules about photography but failed when I saw this Joan of Arc statue…well I’m glad I did today as I look at those stunning images of flames and mourn along with the rest of the world as this spectacular mise en scène is blackened with smoke.
Paris, like my home town, has other smudges. On our first day of many walkabouts (my calves are as tight as my beltlines) we were stopped and searched and not permitted to walk along her most glamorous avenue thanks to recent rioting by the “Yellow Vest” protestors: their outcry continues as it highlights problems France has wrestled with for many years. That their protests involve violence is sure to affect Parisians and tourists alike. Parisians are not tilted by any of it. Today at least, there is solidarity and support over a landmark known around the world.
We flew to Paris en route to London. Along the way, we met up with these two, who are currently students in all things Euro, and proceeded to explore that ancient city for days on end. Check back in this space for my Best of London when I’ve recovered.
PS: Je t’aime, Mark. Je t’aime, Kazumi. Je t’aime Connor (and of course, Buddy!) Forget the boulevards, the Arc, the museums and the Art Fair. Forget the tower. Forget the artisanal wonders. You guys are the best in the city.
Wolfgang Puck is in charge of Oscar sweets this Sunday. I propose this one, a classic combination if there ever was one. This is for the chocolate orange fans. The rest of you can go play with the other kids in the playground. Read More
Is there ever a time you can’t muster a high? When you scoff at such a list; mind blank and steeped in bleak forecasts?
Are you screaming YES?
This was a year maybe a high might be hard to find.
A year to confront aging. A unknown father rushes in moments before a school holiday concert and mouthes “sorry” to his annoyed wife. As he brushed past me (proud aunt in the front row) to take his seat down the row, I found myself breathless-he was so very very young, this tardy father. Suddenly I was seized with panic. I was that wife, when? Yesterday, wasn’t it? We were the parents with little ones in concerts we never missed. Now I’m…what? Old?
NEVER. Have you seen me do my ab exercises? MOVE ON, NOW.
I was silly and stern and strong this year. Sad and deliriously happy. Woeful and wonderstruck both. Age is my friend after all, even if nobody gave me Time for Christmas. Hint for Santa: I only want TIME and you can bring it without wrapping as our blue bin is full.
A funny thing happened on this adventure in adulthood: there’s always a high. We go high when they go low, says Michelle Obama.
What makes me high? (My lawyer has advised me to refrain from the truth when crossing the border). Here is the secret: stories.
Here are some stories on page, stage and screen that shone for me in 2018 and maybe a few from my own story. Read More