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?
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?
Our dog is ten today. Lucy was an Obama puppy, born on that lucky day of the 2008 US presidential elections. Since then, we celebrate her benchmarks outside of political calendars, which seems especially prescient given the extreme anxiety surrounding this week’s American mid-term elections. It feels wrong to celebrate anything with so much at stake, unless of course sense prevails in the ballot box. Still, celebrate our pup we will. All good parties start with a toast, no?
She forgives easily. That Lucy is displeased from time to time is one of the easier lessons, as she droops her head over her chaise lounge, in a funk only teenager moping can compete with. #beentheredonethat! They’re young adults now and I’m battle worn and ready. Like them, forgive me she does, and it’s swift: a rub of the tum and she’s my BFF once more. Here’s to forgiveness.
She boasts a discriminating palate. Lucy likes bacon, green apples (sliced please, and if you could, remove the peel first, and spread a little peanut butter on it, oh aren’t you a dear?), bacon, grilled cheese, bacon, cauliflower, scrambled eggs, and is that bacon I smell? She doesn’t eat these things often thanks to a prescribed vet diet but when they’re on offer, she’s no fool. Not for her everything that falls to the ground, choosy pooch she is. That we could all be so disciplined, especially with stale Halloween candy bars.
She is gentle with kids, especially the exuberant variety that take Her Highness of All Things Fluffy under their wings, dragging her to and fro. Here’s to tolerance. She sniffs out loneliness and lends her charm to seniors. Here’s to compassion.
She loves the seasons as much as I do and is no wuss about weather. Here’s to resilience.
She knows when to duck out of divisive debate, scooting out of the room and up the stairs when the volume goes up, a skill I’m only good at with a wine glass in hand. She has grasped that silent staring is more effective than any noisy arguments. Here’s to diplomacy.
She guards her family with ferocity. Visitors, no matter how benign, are all the same to Lucy: announced first. No surprise visits for us. That’s a bonus for this writer in sweat pants.
She remains game for any kind of outing, anywhere, anytime. Lucy is my kind of party girl. Just call me ready.
She loves all humans but being with the girls is always her jam.
9. She can sleep anywhere, on anything, or anyone with soft enough centres.
10. She’s our best welcome. Here’s to love.
* birthday photos courtesy of Bow Wow Walkers
For more on a dog’s life, read:
As Summer offers up her breezy welcome, I salute the Spring that was, the Spring that sprung me loose, for a time, among olive groves. Did I manage to catch enough? Moments, not olives. Here follows a few that sustained me before the days became long and sunny:
Watching the sweet new documentary about Mister Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbour with my guy, both our faces stained with tears, all of us there in that theatre suddenly children again, we agreed we were the lucky ones who grew up with this gentle spirit leader, even if the experience was again peering at the snowglobe: the world will never be like this again. Go see this film, out now in theatres, my favourite from Hot Docs 2018. .
Fun Home. What a theatrical masterpiece, featuring three actors playing a character at different stages of her life; the production we saw received rapturous applause. Mine was mostly for Sara Farb for her solo, I’m changing my major to Joan. Who doesn’t remember that first thrill of amazing sex, no matter what your orientation? Here’s the Toronto cast:
Other theatrical highs for me this past spring include the exuberant cast of Wavestage’s Beauty and the Beast. I’ve rarely seen that show done with such joy, helped along with the mad skills of a young choreographer who juggles gorgeous wedding photography on the side. More reason than ever to admire these hustling millennials. Yup. I said millennials. They are more than a trend colour.
Every social gathering is now lined with small screen binging currency. What have you seen? What are you watching? My answer this spring is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Yes, it is marvellous, and reason enough, along with Mozart in the Jungle, to keep an eye on Prime. Both are antidotes to The Handmaid’s Tale. Yes, I’m watching that too and who could not as it is beautiful execution at every turn, even as it is harrowing.
To rid myself of too much angst, I go to a handful of NHL hockey games every season. Let’s leave stats and scores for the whiz kids like my nephew John but here’s a confession: it’s mostly about the collective experience for me. Are there any left? Where hollering and whooping with the rest of the crazies is better than…just better? We may be shouting Go Leafs Go but here’s a handy translation: Fuck Gloom. We’re for Glory. World Cup mania is about to hit. I’m ready.
Driving my youngest kid home after her university year wraps up and she has to say goodbye so of course there’s tears, and me maintaining control of the wheel on the 401 when there is a sudden cry in the car: she’s looking at her phone as an email just came in from her school with her marks. And her smile is as wide as the road ahead. I turn up the radio and we’re rocking all the way home now.
Hearing my father express his enduring love for our mother on their 61st anniversary with this simple grace note, when I wake up in the night and reach over, she’s there, warm beside me.
Two months later, they were together at University of Toronto, where Mom showed off her medal received, along with other classmates, for their 65th reunion from Victoria College. I sat beside Mom as she smiled at her two old chums across from her, all of them singing their school song there in Burwash Hall, and she told me she didn’t want to leave quite yet; there was strawberry shortcake after all. Memory isn’t like my ten year old dog, Lucy; she our faithful door butler/surest secret keeper. Memory flirts ferociously, flutter here, flutter there, where did I put my keys? I don’t know how to find my way there anymore… But old friends and school songs and holding hands like college coeds? That’s the there there.When my young nephew Henry came over to muck about with our dollhouse, his current set-up for the miniatures that inhabit our children’s library were configured as a band surrounded by fans. He was hearing music in his head when he set this up. Imagination just needs a door.
Then came Greece. Leaving for a spell is easy when you have people. Not rows of uniformed help. Rather, friends. A certain kind of friend who says yes when asked if she can be your surrogate caregiver while you are away. You know there’s work to be done and people in need, and without a back-up, your absence would produce challenges too hard to bear. So you ask. Her response, I would be honoured. Every day I was gone, she was here, quietly offering up intuitive leadership with efficiency of which I can only dream. My siblings cleared a way for me to travel. My friend Eva made it easy for my soul to fly.
Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.
-Mary Oliver, To Begin With, the Sweet Grass
No Coat Stroll
Rhubarb Upside Down Cake
Cherry Blossom Countdown Start-up
Judy Garland/ Fred Astaire approved Easter bonnets
Early rising becoming a thing of pleasure
Easter peace to all my readers.
Enjoy the long weekend wherever you are.
Things that caught my eyes and ears this week:
Emma González’s political expression:Joan of Arc and the Passion of Emma González (New Yorker)
The Obama Library brouhaha (Globe and Mail)
Are we living in a computer simulation? This radio interview hurt my brain but wow, just give it a listen.
What makes a great film director? One who wears his enthusiasm as brightly as he did when he snuck in on a film lot as a kid. Here’s Steven Spielberg on a tour of the Universal lot.
Millennials love this appliance: the mini Kitchen Aid.
I have a secret (no longer) crush on CBC Q host Tom Power, who handles artistic egos with a deft touch and still manages to deliver depth. Here is his Juno pre-show interview with Shania Twain.
By the time March arrives, the Canadian landscape out my writing window offers little inspiration. Bleak skies begone! Behold a bevy of bougainvillea!
Wrap me in it and set me alight on a frisky wave. A strawberry daiquiri to go? Surely you jest? I like your style, and yes, I’ll have another.
Sun, sand, salt: how I love thee! Friendly winds whipping up waves for those unfazed by losing a bathing suit in the fray…this is the stuff of winter daydreams. An invitation to join my sister on vacation in Captiva, Florida, was an easy yes for this writer.
While in this charming corner of the planet, I had occasion to taste two delicious desserts. You know already what the next part is, don’t you? Read More
It’s that time. You know it. I know it. Time for some softness in the twilight of winter (just go with me, winter whiners. Spring is closer than you think). Every year about this time, I fall for a new love poem. Here’s one for those of you needing inspiration in the romance department:
by Matthew Rohrer
She sends me a text
she’s coming home
the train emerges
I light the fire under
the pot, I pour her
a glass of wine
I fold a napkin under
a little fork
the wind blows the rain
into the windows
the emperor himself
is not this happy
You might also enjoy:
Four years ago this month, for poetry fans: speak sweetly my love & a flame in two cupped hands
Five years ago this month: Cole Porter wrote the story of us
Twenty eight years ago this month:
Valentines week begins today. Spread the love.
Today’s guest blog is written by actor/writer/producer Stacey Bernstein.
I met Stacey when we worked together at Global Television in the newsroom. I include her story this week, when love is in the zeitgeist. There are all kinds of love. This one touched me. I hope you love it as much as I did.
by Stacey Bernstein
Thirty years ago my Mom started this needlepoint project after she left my Dad. I always said my mother, a talented interior designer, could knit a building; she was an incredible crafts person. She could refinish furniture, reupholster furniture, draw, cook...she was a wonder woman to me and everything became more beautiful with her expert eye, skill and magical touch. A decision to return to school and balancing work left her little time to continue with this massive project of which she only got a sixth of it done.
About ten years ago, when I downsized Mom from one apartment to another, I found the needlepoint tapestry in a drawer and was wowed by the potential: there was no design on the canvas. It was something she was copying from a book. I loved it instantly and I begged her to finish it but she felt she just didn’t have the the time to work on it anymore. She gave me her blessing to take it and if I could ever find someone who could continue the work then she would be most happy to pass it on. Read More
It’s the last day of January, a month named after Janus, the god of two faces—one looking to the past, one to the future. I was born in this month and that duality can pose a blessing and a curse. Writers, do you hear me? We mine the past for gems to light our future, and sometimes, stay longer than we should. Nostalgia is an indulgent pool. A plunge from time to time is necessary. So is getting out, shaking it off, and moving on.
So Janus, ye of doorways in and out, I see you off with these worthy words from author Courtney Martin.
“This is your assignment.
Feel all the things. Feel the hard things. The inexplicable things, the things that make you disavow humanity’s capacity for redemption. Feel all the maddening paradoxes. Feel overwhelmed, crazy. Feel uncertain. Feel angry. Feel afraid. Feel powerless. Feel frozen. And then FOCUS.
Pick up your pen. Pick up your paintbrush. Pick up your damn chin. Put your two calloused hands on the turntables, in the clay, on the strings. Get behind the camera. Look for that pinprick of light. Look for the truth (yes, it is a thing—it still exists.)
Focus on that light. Enlarge it. Reveal the fierce urgency of now. Reveal how shattered we are, how capable of being repaired. But don’t lament the break. Nothing new would be built if things were never broken. A wise man once said: there’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. Get after that light. This is your assignment.“
Perhaps you’ve seen this before, in poster form here. It’s worthwhile to order as proceeds go to Hedgebrook, a writing residency for women.
February, I see you and your focus coming, and chocolate too. January Detox with a wise food wizard friend has not left me pining— all the lovely green welcoming me as I open the fridge! —but chocolate and I go way back. Readers enjoying lean New Year menus, I’m with you in pursuit of the Holy Grail of health. Turns out it can include chocolate, the darker the better. Check back soon, chocolate peeps.
I’m staying in tonight. Spending the last day of the year with my main squeeze, my only squeeze, who has mopped the floor three times this holiday season and knows how to make a bed better than any hotel maid. He has many tricks but these are two you appreciate after a long marriage. That he makes me laugh daily is why this party girl is content with our plans to cook up Nigella’s champagne risotto and tick off happy moments in our cosy abode. I promised him chocolate mocha creme brûlée. I too have other tricks but that’s one of them.
Last day of a very rich year. Rich in lessons. Rich in moments. Rich in howling at the moon or the tv screen. A year I almost threw my phone in the toilet for surely nothing good was worth reading on it, or in my still-delivered-daily newspapers.
On the first day of this year, I made a toast with my family present, a toast to buoyancy in heavy times. I’m thrilled to say I think we made it. The world is not broken. Aim for the light.
Here is my Best of 2017: or what I can remember after the holiday coma.
Favourite moments on the page:
In a year rocked by revelations of terrible deeds, one author’s words screamed at me from the page. Of course it was Alice Munro (Lives of Girls and Women). “There is no protection, unless it is in the knowing.”
from Felicity by poet Mary Oliver, this line from her poem Moments: “There is nothing more pathetic than caution, when headlong might save a life, even, possibly, your own.”
from The Girls by Emma Cline: “That was our mistake, I think. One of many mistakes. To believe that boys were acting with a logic that we could someday understand. To believe that their actions had any meaning beyond thoughtless impulse. We were like conspiracy theorists, seeing portent and intention in every detail, wishing desperately that we mattered enough to be the object of planning and speculation. But they were just boys. Silly and young and straightforward; they weren’t hiding anything.”
from Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips: “She doesn’t picture them as Arabic—she has been wondering, of course. But they do not sound like that kind of terrorist. They sound like young, obnoxious white men—aren’t they always young white men?—and she is not sure whether this makes them more or less dangerous than fanatics on a jihad.”
Canadian poet/novelist Steven Price wrote the kind of big fat novel you want to hide out by the fire with and speak to no one but the characters on the page. I loved it, and read it in the moody month of March and I wish to return to exactly that sensation every time I read. By Gaslight was my favourite read of 2017.
Favourite moments on the stage:
Come from Away was the first show I saw early January 2017. What a start to my year of theatrical highs, thanks to an early birthday present from my sister. My 2017 personal theme of buoyancy was shared by those actors on that stage delivering the most heartfelt piece of Canadian theatre I have seen in years. Come from Away later opened on Broadway and scored seven Tony nominations, and won for best direction of a musical.
The Shaw Festival’s Michael Therriault as Bill Snibson in a note perfect production of Me and My Girl
The brilliant new musical Life After featuring a sensitive and intelligent performance by lead actor Ellen Denny who brought me to tears. “If you grow, then you know it was worth a little bruising. And it’s alright, as long as your height gains in inches what you’re losing.” I’ll be watching everything playwright Britta Johnson does now.
Kristen Thomson made me howl in The Crow’s Theatre production of A Wedding Party
In the lobby of the small but mighty Coal Mine theatre, following a fantastic production of Superior Donuts, I was introduced to Sarah Polley (there, along with many other actors, to wish the cast well following the show). Polley has zero airs. That she penned a brilliant piece in the New York Times later this year made me even prouder of this true Canadian gem.
The entire cast of Soulpepper/Bad Hats Theatre coproduction of Peter Pan lifted me high into the rafters of imagination. I felt blessed to have seen it, alongside my nine-year old nephew who told me after the play he wished he could learn swordplay to take on Captain Hook. I’m with you, Henry.
the kids of the youth programme at Wavestage theatre who truly nailed my favourite Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol, in particular the mature performance of young Lucas Guesebroek as Marley
Is it cheating to say I loved a performance on ice? A stage of sorts, no? My six-year old niece Charlotte sparkled and held her own in a year end skating show that also featured dazzling performances by Canadian Olympians. Made me itch to get my old skates out. See you on the ice this Saturday.
Favourites on screen: A near impossible task for this film nerd as you regular readers will know by now. Best place to start is my Scrumptious Films list from TIFF 2017 for my favourites, many now released in theatres.
In addition, these films all impressed and moved me in some way:
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
The Big Sick
I, Daniel Blake
Land of Mine
The Man who Invented Christmas
Favourite moments lived (in no particular order because memory doesn’t work like that!)
Moving was an unwelcome theme this year. Moving kids from residence to home, and back to university and out of apartments; then to another country… and my own belongings to pack up while my house was under repair from a flood(!) and then unpack when it was done…Through all of it, the kindness of family and friends who didn’t know they saved me from myself with their extra arms (my godson Ben who responded so swiftly when we asked for help moving heavy stuff — surely, he deserves a medal; my sister Mary who arrived, flood-ready with rubber boots and towels in the middle of the night; friends who offered houses and food and come sit in my garden).
My entire wedding party gathered at the start of the year, here in our home, and recreated our wedding photo from 25 years ago. One of my bridesmaids brought a surprise. She unzipped her winter coat and there underneath was the dark red velvet dress made, along with all the others by my mom; back when women did these kinds of heroic domestic duties. We all shared laughing fits when she told me it didn’t zip up quite as readily in the back. Still, she wore it with panache. Later that night, my other bridesmaids brought out letters I had written about this crazy man-child I adored, way back when taking a pen to paper and gushing about love was still in fashion. Both my girls were there to listen to it all. When I showed a movie I made about our wedding to my mom, who sometimes forgets, she said, weren’t we lucky to have that talented man to make your sparkly dress? That man was a talented couture designer and having a dress made by him was her gift to me all those years ago. I won the lottery that night. Yes indeed.
My eldest graduated from University of Toronto this year (Victoria College) and was able to celebrate this with her grandparents, who graduated themselves from this very institution six decades ago, and other cherished family members who attended the university. After a glorious day on the lovely campus, as we drove away, came this from our newly minted graduate: I learned a lot here. This was a good place for me. Later, my daughter told me her beloved Pappou, who hasn’t been well and was unable to attend her ceremony, gave a long diatribe about having no mother or sisters (he grew up an orphan, and was raised by his four older brothers) and then told her, our family needed more women. You were born and you are a smart woman. We need more like this.
I will be in a bad mood if you don’t come. Blessed are you if you get that kind of text from your sister.
Barenaked laps in a lake that time forgot in Algonquin late summer. I was there for a solo retreat courtesy of my brother John who joined me on the first night for a beer. Did he himself deliver that perfect sunset? Or the autumn Ontario heat wave that made warm water that felt like a hug? Who knew I needed it that badly that moment?
Dancing in the aisles to Earth,Wind& Fire with Peter and the girls. Best moment of the summer, second only to a spectacular weekend of wine, theatre, friends and gorgeous weather in Niagara over the Canada Day weekend.
Attending McGill Homecoming and I get to sit in a dazzling new Montreal resto (Jatoba) and hear my own McGill kid tell me, over the course of a fantastic meal, about the hardest paper she’s ever written, and did I say yet it is likely the best I’ve written too?
A three-way tie between the absolute glee when we sat down together in my dining room for our annual Christmas book club table with all our wee trinkets for one another- you’d think we were opening diamonds; when my pal Jo went to dig her dish gloves out of her purse to do all the dishes and everyone pitched in to dry; the recitation of A Night Before Christmas by another member Jill, complete with perfect eyebrow punctuation.
Sitting beside my folks at Christmas dinner. My dad clinks a spoon to his wine glass; we all stop talking. “Let’s remember this is a good country. And I’m lucky to have my wife.”
Picking up my kids in the airport following their six week Summer of 17 Sisters backpack trip. There is no better moment than seeing my kids in that airport. Not by a mile.
There are things that, as a parent, you cannot do for your children, as much as you might wish to. You cannot make them happy (if you try too hard they become whiners); you cannot give them self-esteem and confidence (those come from their own accomplishments); you cannot pick friends for them and micro-manage their social lives, and finally you cannot give them independence. The only way children can grow into independence is to have their parents open the door and let them walk out.
-Michael Thompson, Homesick and Happy