Not writing till after I've seen the display at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe. And so I missed the date. It's tomorrow, and I didn't write yesterday because I waited to report on the display at the Schlesinger. It's called What They Wrote, What They Saved: The Personal Civil War  (SORRY, I can't get out of the italics now) - a fascinating collection of letters, photographs and journals of the women and families in the North concerned about  and involved with the Civil War.  

The handwriting is exquisite, and you can see where the writer dipped the pen to refresh the ink supply, with the exception of one young man whose messy handwriting revealed that he was probably suffering from what we would recognize today as PTSS.  (Are those the right initials to use for Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome?)  There is one whole display case devoted to the communications of the Beecher-Stowe family, and one of the accompanying notes refers to the possibly mythical report of the meeting of Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe. The president is supposed to have greeted the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" with the remark:

"So you're the little lady who inspired a war."

I've never read the book that apparently was an international best-seller and hugely influential. I am  Canadian, of course, and therefore not personally or emotionally involved with this major American historical event, but I have always been fascinated with women's diaries, letters and journals and with their reactions to circumstances in their lives that were affected by public events.  Their personal documents give us insights not otherwise gained. I remember when I was working on my play about Alice James, I was allowed in to the Houghton Library and granted the viewing (and handling)  of Alice's letters to her brother, Henry, and Henry's letters to her.  I wrote that the ink on the letters was blood-warm. I was reminded of that as I read the material in the Schlesinger display.  It makes history so personal. 

Oh, I hope people keep on writing letters and diaries!

where do I leave off?

I mean, where does my book leave off and my blog begin, or maybe where does my blog leave off and my book begin?  I'm spending a lot of time with the book but the blog comes up once a day and I'm seamless.  Sort of.  

I'm trying to keep me separate and not steal my own thunder, but it's hard. I'm me, after all, and I can only spread myself so thin.  I think I finished the book (again) today, that is, the rewrite of the first draft. The danger with rewrites is that if you use material from the first or later drafts as you go along, you are in dreadful danger of repeating yourself and not noticing.  It happened in only one of my books, that I am aware of.  By the time you, and your editor, and your copy editor, have read it so many times, you can't remember where  you last read some of the deathless prose, so that the same paragraph may show up twice in the same draft. Horrors!

So you can see the dangers inherent in writing a daily blog.  More repetition, for one thing. But also coming up with an idea in the blog that I decide I'd like to use for the book.  I read something and I think, "Gee, I wish I'd said that," and I have.  Is it okay to plagiarize one's own writing?  

I hope so.



I made it. I never thought I would, though I hoped.  


After going through a week of scavenger hunting for a means of entering the United States without a passport and without an EDL (Enhanced Driver's License),  I left Toronto by car with a friend in expectation of returning by bus several hours later.  I took a sheaf of documents to prove who I am and to show where my passport is and where my EDL presumably is. And I made it.


I'm here, in Quincy, MA, at my daughter's and son-in-law's home on a lovely rainy, bleak, windy day, in front of a glowing fire, free to write all day while they are at work.


It's nice, to say the least, not to say rare, when things work out the way you hoped. The next four days were unplanned at home because I didn't know where I'd be.  Now I have time granted to me, a gift to myself.



and for my next routine...

Keep laughing.  To set your happiness level higher: keep laughing.

I'm just following up on what I wrote yesterday (really today).   Remember the song from the musical, Camelot, "What Do the Simple Folk Do?"  Arthur asks Guinevere and she tries to suggest something: a song? a dance?  Nothing works.  Dear Oscar Hammerstein; his lyrics are so simple and so wise.   

What do you do?

I make lists. I love lists. Putting things on a list gives them a shape and a finite quality I can cope with.  And checking them off makes me feel better, even if I have to cheat a little. (Putting things down that I've already done makes me feel I'm making progress.)  Some sort of calming mantra helps, even if you don't meditate as such.  Not the OM kind of mantra. I'm not into Eastern meditation, but I believe in the power of repetition.  One imperative has become a mantra and some people don't even know where it comes from:

Be Still.

You'll find it in this short form on  kitschy posters and T-shirts and bracelets and decals and wall-hangings.  It's from the psalms (Psalm 46: 10) and the full sentence goes:  

Be still, and know that I am God.

Go ahead and say it. Your thermostat just went up.

If you want to finish the thought, depending on your tolerance for worship, go ahead: "I will be exalted among the nations,/ I will be exalted in the earth.” I don't think that God belongs to any denomination.




to say nothing of today

I'll fill in the blanks later. I hope there is a lot to fill in.

I really am trying to catch up.

Here I am:   I have a lot of tramlines, not the least of which is worrying about whether or not I am going to gain entry to the States tomorrow. I'm trying to rise above the current fussing and think broader thoughts. ... 

Did you know, for example, that people have a baseline level of happiness?  I like that.  I remember reading a long time ago that some people are born sad and I joked and said that's was because they had blue genes.  But it's nicer to focus on the happiness mind-set, and nicer to think that it's something like a thermostat and you could set it at a higher level. 

I looked it up, of course.  (Google knows everything.) And yes, you can reset your happiness thermostat. You just have to set your mind to it - I guess that's where the term mind-set comes in.  The key phrase now is "mindfulness meditation."  But laughing is good. 

My husband always made me laugh. I never knew what he was going to say next, even after 20 years (not long enough!) with him.  Once, when were all early-marrieds, the question was posed and put to everyone round the room. "Why did you marry?"  Bill's answer was "For laughs."

 I can still get a laugh from a quip he made, lo, these 40-some years ago. I don't mean to put him on a pedestal. It's an uncomfortable position for anyone to maintain for any length of time, or for anyone to emulate.  I mean, how do you follow in the footsteps of someone on a pedestal?  But he was funny and his humour somehow made everything  more bearable. 

I'm trying to recall it now. It helps. 





and now for today

à bientôt..

So another day whooshed by. It's tomorrow now, that is, the 20th, and I'm about to swim.

It's not for lack of thinking. I'll get back to you with several thoughts.  I am so happy to welcome a few more readers, including one relative (grandson - hi, William) and oldest friend, that is, of longest standing.  We have know each other for 78 years!! 

Swim now. 

just one more....

no, can't do it...

It's tomorrow now. I couldn't keep my eyes open last night but they're open now, at 5 a.m., so the date has changed.  I hate to use the cliché, but sometimes there really  aren't enough hours in the day.  I wonder what people do who sleep more than I do. They must be fast workers or else even more behind than I am.  Seems to me there was an expression, the kind of thing "they" used to embroider on samplers or tea towels: "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get." Something like that.  It's a good thing I don't do embroidery.  A paper and  pen work better for me.  

I have sorted out the next two days, I think.  The lists seem to be disparate but the common denominator is me.  I have to have back-up plans as well.  This is where my Pollyanna philosophy comes in handy.  Does anyone remember Polllyanna, the Glad Girl? I think her story has been made into a movie a couple of times, more than a couple. Mary Pickford (1892-1984) starred in one, and the Disney production made a star of Hayley Mills ( b. 1946) who won a special Oscar for her work in it. (the last Juvenile Oscar).   Has anyone read the book? I looked it up and it's older than I thought. Published in 1913, written by Eleanor Porter, it's regarded as a children's classic and Pollyanna and her Glad Game have some pejorative  aspersions.  The purpose of the game is to look on the bright side of things, especially when " "things" are not so good. 

That's what I'm going to do.  I am taking a risk with my documents to attempt entry into the United States before I go away for a long time. If I am turned away at the border I will have to find a bus to take me back to Toronto. That's my back-up plan.  My Glad plan is to enjoy the ride and see the autumn leaves.  i'll let you know. 

hang in there

I'm coming, but I have to re-charge first. Anon, anon.

I see that one 'like' has checked in - but I didn't say anything yet.  

NOW, I have something to say, something nice.  I was busy today, still seeking an EDL (Enhanced Driver's License) to get me into the States next week to see my daughter in Boston (Quincy).  

I talked to a man waiting for the bus, admiring his hat: leather with a big brim and a feather head band. He got it in Australia years ago, he said. Maybe it was kangaroo. I said isn't it nice to be older and own clothes for a long time. So we talked a bit more and wished each other a good day. 

The Bay street bus driver was so cheerful,  greeting passengers as they boarded and thanking them for their fare. I made a point of getting to the front door when I exited so I could thank him and tell him how terrific he was.

The clerk at the main desk of Service Ontario where I have been going for several days was so helpful and sympathetic and went out of his way to get me a phone number to help me track my EDL and made a phone call to his manager to give her a heads-up on me when I call. I thanked him and wished him a blessing. 

The cashier at Loblaw's was so friendly as we discussed Omega 3 in eggs, and  how good they are with the yolk still runny and a bit of salt and pepper. We exchanged some other information about products we like.  She likes garlic, too. 

And I had $30 reward points and redeemed them so that was "rewarding"!  

It was a good day. Aren't people nice?


the blogosphere

Sysomos Inc. is a conduit of social media providing figures and analysis of media use; it reports on who we bloggers are. There are other similar services but I took my information from Sysomos. The blogging 'revolution', as it is called, began only about seven years ago, among young people (21-35 years old) and they remain the biggest percentage (53.3%) of users today.  Older bloggers, those over 50, account for only seven percent.  Interestingly, bloggers are split about half and half between male and female. 

The United States, as you might expect , account for the most bloggers  (29%), followed by the U.K., but Canada is number five (3.93%) in the world. Breaking it down even further, in North America,  they tell us that only one Canadian province is in the top ten of users - Ontario. 

So here we are and there are you: an aging, gender-neutral,  Canadian communicator, for whatever reason,  devoted to techie conversation, albeit mostly one-sided.  How are ya?

Oddly, this information makes me feel better.  No wonder I garner so few likes (but such dedicated ones!) because my audience is small.  Also I don't advertise. If anyone notices me, it's by word-of-blog.   I'm not writing in a vacuum, but I am in a kind of limbo and you are a border-line groupie.  What else?  It's likely you are a communicator as well, therefore with something of your own to say.  Go ahead and say it.  Comments are free for the making, and with impunity, but not without attention.  

Big Brother or Sister is watching. 



That's the title of one of the chapters of my book.  I thought I finished it yesterday, but this morning as I swam, doing my wet meditation, I was thinking about the difference, if any, between real and imagined events as they lock into memory.  Both are real, also evanescent, shimmering in the mind's eye.  

When I was working on my play "The Horsburgh Scandal" with Theatre Passe Muraille, the collective company's method was to improv scenes from material gathered in their research excursions.  For weeks I wasn't allowed to write anything while they worked from my research and theirs and came up with ideas as they played.  And play it was, very amusing and stimulating, but we didn't have a play, a drama, something to present to an audience.  Finally, in desperation, I wrote a synopsis and an outline of a play that didn't exist yet, though opening night was fast approaching. Many of the scenes in my putative play already existed in the actors' memories.  They had already happened, not really happened, nothing you could report as fact, but they existed in these people's memories and that's what I counted on. The actors played from their memories.

Does that make sense?  Whatever gets locked in one's memory becomes real, even if it is acknowledged as fantasy.  It's there. 

I think I have to add something to my chapter on remembering. My blog and my book seem to be blending. My mind to me a playhouse is. 

picking up where I left off

Where did I leave off?  What was I thinking?

Well, I spent the weekend, apart from eating and drinking too much, going through my notes and clippings, trying to arrange my thoughts for the final (penultimate?) assault on my book, and amassing another pile of papers with noodges and follow-ups. 

A lot of follow-ups are to other people's blogs and essays.  I feel very humble in the light of all these illuminations by other thinkers and writers. That's why I haven't made an effort to publicize my "deathless prose".  I'm not quitting, though. I find that, whatever or whomever else I touch, my daily blog is useful to me, not only for the discipline of writing  (one-a-day like vitamins)  but also for the discoveries I make as I plod along. 

Joan Didion once compared her collected errant thoughts to a ball of string, comprised of short strands, stray bits, random opinions without conclusions, useless perhaps but not thrown away, simply  wound up into an imposing mass - like mine,  committed to paper and gathered up, stored somewhere.  One-of-these-days, lick-and-a-promise ideas can be frustrating or stimulating, depending on your approach and timing.  I'll get to them, maybe. Soon, perhaps. At least they make me feel - oddly - productive.  So rich. So promising.  

Back to the drawing board.

let us give thanks

Glory be to God for dappled things 

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

 For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

 Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

 Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

 With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

 He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change.

 Praise him.


 Gerard Manley Hopkins is one of my favourite poets. 


life outside my walls

I've seemed to be very insular the last few days (weeks?).  But  I have been doing things, reading things, thinking things and seeing other things than just my own four walls.  Theatre, for example: Canadian playwright Miichel Marc Bouchard's "Christina, the Boy King", historical play about Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689) that I saw just days after seeing Brecht's "Mother Courage", set in about the same time period, but so different.  Brecht's play was about the stupidity of war and people illustrated in his 'alienating' way through a steadfast survivor blind to everything  but survival.  Bouchard's play was also about survival, of a  pigheaded lesbian woman fighting for her own selfish ends. Courage's worst enemy was herself; Christina's worst enemies were the people she antagonized. 

I saw "Alice Through the Looking Glass", all three of these plays at Stratford. I want to re-read the Alice script by James Reaney because I think it was better than the production. The cast - or director? -couldn't make up its mind whether it was playing to children or adults and the result was unbelievable, not helped by a wild, inter-active, unnecessary, over-done production. The actors didn't believe what they were saying and played down to the audience, except in the opening of the second act when Humpty Dumpty knew what he was talking about.  

This same artificial approach to dialogue spoiled much of "The Sea", an over-praised production of Edward Bond's play, which I love, at the Shaw Festival.   It's a tricky script, darkly humorous but tragic. In the first act the actors played the comedic lines, not believing in what  they were doing or saying. In the second act, Fiona Reid, playing the lead, Mrs. Rafi, a bullying matriarch afraid of old age and retribution, redeemed herself somewhat but her performance had little to do with what she did in the first act. I re-read that play, too, because I was particularly interested in what the old woman (Bond) had to say about age. 

Then I saw an early play by Michel Tremblay, "Past Perfect". I give the title in English but I saw it in French at the Toronto French Theatre. I thought it was an early play but actually it's a prequel to and written after  "Albertine Five Times" (the protagonist from age 30 on) revealing Albertine at age 20 and attempting to explain or illustrate how she became what she turned into later.   I also thought it was an early play because it is too simplistic and breaks a lot of the basic rules of playwriting., e.g., the characters tell each other things they already know in order to inform the audience, and they stand there and talk at each other, too much.  I'm pretty rusty at my French conversation and the accents didn't help (e.g. pronouncing 'soeur', sister, as 'sarr', but I didn't need to analyze any finer points of the characters' arguments because they were not only loudly argumentative but also one-dimensional. 

I had never seen/heard Verdi's "Macbeth" (1847, libretto by Francesco Maria Piave), the composer's tenth opera and the first one of Shakespeare's plays he dramatized musically.  It's easy to see why, for the major set pieces he set to wonderful music. I was blown away.  The plot goes kind of wild at the end, whisking over MacDuff's birth history and ending with a musical outpouring of Italian paisano fervour. Lady Macbeth was very sexy - I always thought that she was the prime catalyst of Macbeth's behaviour - and Macbeth was suitably tortured.  I love the Met on the widescreen!

I was reading, too.  Just finished David Mitchell's newest book, "The Bone Clocks" (more anon) and almost finished Robert Galbraith's (aka JK Rowling) "The Cuckoo's Calling". (I read mysteries/thrillers while I pedal on a recumbent bicycle every afternoon.)  And I just started "Tell" by Frances Itani.  Too soon to tell.  (Sorry). 

And of course,  I'm still working on my book, trying to solve the riddle of life in my last two chapters. 

Well, as Robert Louis Stevenson said, "The world is so full of a number of things/I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings."  

And thankful. 


for what we have received

This time last year I was in Eastend, Saskatchewan, living in Stegner House, courtesy of the Stegner Foundation, working on the first draft of the book I am trying to finish the rewriting of now. I was really alone.  The townspeople, all 527 of them (including children), gallantly ignored me as they had been instructed to do ("Don't bother the writer."), and I had nowhere to go on T-Day.  T is for Turkey and I had trouble finding any in the town's two grocery stores (decreased to one, shortly after I left). I bought a frozen dinner with some turkey in it.  I wasn't daunted or lonely. I'd be more lonely if no one invited me out here in Toronto and now, this weekend.  Fortunately I am invited, on Sunday, for dinner with family, and on Monday for lunch with neighbours in my building. I am grateful. 

But I am dealing with some heavy-duty thoughts that reduce any fuss about T-dinner to its relative insignificance. Or maybe not.  One of the recurrent pieces of advice or wisdom or whatever it passes as, is to cherish the moments.  No matter what tomorrow brings, you have today.  And as some of us are losing memories of yesterday and thoughts of tomorrow, today and its moments are all we have. That makes me think of a line attributed to Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) in her glory days.  Someone said to her in awe and maybe envy: "You have everything, don't you?" And Taylor said, "No, I haven't had tomorrow."

I wish I could remember people's names the way I remember good lines.




First, my comment to  a couple of commenters telling me what their day was like when mine ran to seed - when I ran to seed - and it  is this: I'm impressed. Also humbled.  Your days were far busier and more scattered than mine. I's hard to stay focused, isn't it? Do you find that time goes faster or slower when you have a day like that? For me, it varies. And do you have ups and downs during the day depending on how things are running? Me too. There used to be a popular psycho-babble expression that people said when the pressure was on and things were falling apart, that one experienced an "identity crisis". Not very often. But now, I frequently shift identities and often several times during a fraught day.  It depends, if I'm lucky, on the weather. "Sunshine almost always makes me high". (There goes John Denver again.) That's a good up. But complications that hinder the completion of a task, or gratuitous criticism of a work in progress, or the failure of a new recipe (have you ever cooked bitter melon?  I did, today.) -  any or all of these, plus unforeseen glitches, all, all, all can lead to downers.  Back to the drawing board. Perhaps a new list is in order.  It's a wonder we can keep calm and carry on.

We do though.  Thank you for hanging in there.

now what?

I've reached the end of my day before the end of the day. So what do I do now? Write you, of course. There was no time earlier in the day. After my swim and breakfast I had to go and get some money to pay my cleaning lady, having spent some of her stash foolishly on TTC Tickets. Went through some papers first (always papers) to write the odd note and clip some for later filing and delivering. (I run a clipping service for a number of people.)  Then, since I was going out, anyway, I ran a number of other errands (wine, produce) and enjoyed the weather - beautiful, sunny, crisp fall day. 

Then I finished reading my current book, so close to the end I had to. David Mitchell (latest The Bone Clocks) is a ventriloquist, also a prophet, although that's not hard to be.  Then I  had a nap. then I had a second lunch (last night's leftover dinner, too good to wait any longer). and finally, I wondered what to do now.

Feeling guilty on several different counts, but not guilty enough to spur me into action.  This is where my mixed emotions about my age come into play. I have lived so long and accomplished so little and yet I still have ideas and goals, though they are not what they used to be.  My goals are more personal, having to do with self-discovery and analysis.  What I have done (very little) or not done (even less) doesn't matter much.  How many writers today, accomplished, famous ones, are going to last as long as Shakespeare? So who am I to fuss about it?  But I'm still here, tired right now but I'll do something tomorrow. 

How was your day?


Did  you sleep all right?  No matter how well or badly one sleeps, it's not  usually timor mortis that keeps one awake. I think it's because we mortals can't focus for very long on our mortality and immortality is too difficult a concept to grasp. 

Years ago when I was a bright, far-too-young student of literature, the academic trend was to study the work and not the author, so we knew very little if anything of the private life of the creator of the pieces we were studying.  I was half-way through my Master's year, working on my thesis on W.H. Auden when I discovered by accident that he was gay. At that time, of course, homosexuality was still a taboo and illegal, but still - I should have been told. 

Just recently in the past couple of years two biographies of Aldous Huxley have been published, telling me (just from the reviews; I didn't read the books) more than I ever knew about him. This is not to say I was not influenced by his writing and his thoughts.  I thought he was an iconoclast and frightening and I banned myself from reading him on Sundays.  (Yeah, I know, I was a nerd.)  But I remember something he wrote that has stayed with me for half a century now.  He said, and I can't tell you where,  i.e. in what book - I read all his novels. (As I say, we studied the creation and not the creator.)  But somewhere I read this line and kept it ever since:

"Man's hope is his capacity for irrelevance."

Yup. That's why I can sleep at night even after beginning my assault on the gates of eternity.  (Or whatever.)  Is that all there is?  What next?  Are you ready?  

I'm not, but that's irrelevant, isn't it?

are you still there?

I really hate paper work.  I've already told you some of my problems with officialdom, and I am grateful, complicated as it makes my life,  that I/we are so protected by these barriers, even when they balk us.  Ai me.

But that's surface. The undercurrent I'm working on is the final approach to my rewrite of my book on aging - mine. As you know by this time I'm a glass half-full person, looking on the bright side, hoping for the best.  But I'm going deeper than I have done and I have to think harder about what I'm doing, what I'm saying. I'm not that smart, A lot more brilliant minds than I have tackled the end of life. What can I add to or subtract from what they have said?

Glass half-full, that's ridiculous, as if there were going to be a happy ending now or later. Define happy, though. Who wants to be immortal?   

See, I'm approaching the Departure Lounge on this journey of life I'm dealing with and I have to come up with a boarding pass. Sorry, that's smart ass, pursuing a meaningless metaphor.  

I'll keep thinking. 


I've had a book since 1987 (first published in 1985), that I keep meaning to do something with. It causes ripples in my mind every time I pick it up and some ripples are close to waves. Have you heard of The Book of Questions? (Workman Publishing, New York) It's by Gregory Stock who has a Ph.D. in biophysics, which doesn't explain the kind of questions he poses. 

He warns that his questions are not like Trivial Pursuit.  They have no easy answers, and no right or wrong for simple scoring,  They are designed, instead, to trigger thinking and conversation and more thinking. Stock says they are about "your values, your beliefs, and your life: love, money, sex, integrity generosity, pride and death..." Is that all? You don't have to keep them to yourself. You can start a conversation, preferably with a trusted friend, by asking one or more of the questions. Be prepared for some surprises, though, at least I think so.  I've only got as far as me.  I can pick the book up and open it at any page and get carried away into a conversation with myself. 

Over the years I've owned the book and puzzled over it - no, the puzzle is in me - I find that my increasing age has reworked the questions in my mind and produced some different answers. In some cases the way I have lived my life provides answers, probably not that well thought out, but lived.

I have to tell you that as a playwright and story-teller, I find that some of the questions are worth a play or a movie, in fact, you'll probably recognize some of them as having already been written.  If I can't make you think every once in a while with what I'm writing, then do me a favour and go find the Book of Questions. 


laugh a little

I've been lugubrious lately, sorry. (Not an anagram of Bela Lugosi, but close to it.)  So I was trying to recall something I've read that made me laugh out loud even while reading silently to myself, and I came up with two off the top.

One is a funeral scene from The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984)  by Milan Kundera (b. 1929), the other a weaning party for a child addicted to her soother, in Digging to America (2006) by Anne Tyler (b. 1941).  A man loses his hat and it flies into the open grave and he wonders how to cope with it. The child will not give up her "binky" without an heroic struggle.  Both scenes, as I say, caused me to laugh out loud.  

I used to have a dog and he made me laugh, or at least, smile, every day.  Children do that, too, make you smile, if they and you are lucky,  I've been writing about laughter in my book and I came up with a line that I think is mine:  "Remembered laughter is present laughter."  If it isn't, don't tell me.

Now you tell me one.