Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Academy Awards

Rob is nominated for an Oscar My Birthday The Free Ticket

Tonight is the 79th Academy Awards and though easy enough to sloth off as Hollywood glitz and fantasy, I remember the real excitement - Rob's, mine and the stars - fourteen years ago. I have never before or since experienced such glamour and luxury. Rob and I stayed at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills along with Morgan Freeman, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, and Stephen Rea. I had my hair done at a salon on Rodeo Drive along with Elizabeth Taylor and Cathy Bates. (I don't often give in to name dropping but on this occasion, it's difficult not to.) We drove to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in a limousine with Morgan Freeman and his sister-in-law and walked into the building behind Jane Fonda. I had met Clint Eastwood, Richard Harris and Gene Hackman (touched him with Helen's borrowed jacket per her request) at a party a few nights earlier at the home of the president of Warner Bros. And at another party after the Governor's Ball, I sat in a booth, next to the one where Emma Thompson sat, and listened to her describe her excitement at winning a Oscar.

Rob says that this was the only time during his near forty years in the film industry that the making movies was truly glamourous. News crews came to our home and interviewed him. One even landed at his mother's doorstep in Sussex, New Brunswick. Radio stations called our hotel. And Rob, who calls himself shy and has always appeared immune to the hype of Hollywood and big names, was in his element. And looking back it was no small thing to be nominated for this coveted award.

Leslie said that it wasn't fair that I should be the one accompanying Rob. I rarely watched movies. I wouldn't know the labels of the designer fashion. Every year, she sat clued to the television watching the stars walk the red carpet. I seldom did. And this friend, who I miss, helped me find dresses, shoes, jewelery, to wear for the four ceremonies Rob and I attended. I felt like a princess and, for some vain reason felt especially honoured as the ceremony that year fell on my birthday.

This year I will spend my birthday in the south of France. I leave in a week and a half and will return in seven weeks. I am looking forward to the quiet amid the construction or deconstruction of our house, and to the hours on end of only my own company. At first, it will be difficult and then I will settle in and force myself to work.

Since Rob's mother died, I have been thinking of death or rather realize in a deeper sense that my time on this earth is limited. And since my mother has been visiting, I see too in a deeper sense that old age slows one down and if I want to do something and die a good death, I better get moving. I read somewhere that the greatest aging happens between sixty and seventy. (I imagine that there are exceptions.) And although Carolyn Heilbrun noted that women usually come to writing later in life, this isn't an excuse to linger any longer or let fear of being ostracized or ridiculed stop me from going where I want to go with my imagination, writing, even my life. (As I write this my monkey mind just came up with the refrain "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.") (And once again I am reminded of my Adrienne Rich quote: "there comes a time, perhaps this is one of them...) Somehow I have to find the courage to believe in myself and my writing and not worry about applause, recognition, or even of being read. Somehow I have to find the place in myself where I feel myself worth the bother of doing something solely for myself. I am hoping that I will find this place in France.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Yesterday I felt helpless. My mother has been staying with me for three weeks and, for the most part, I've put my life on hold to be with her, to give her back some of the TLC she's given me. The loving part has been easy. I pay attention (my definition of love.) I serve her tea and coffee. I make meals. I do her laundry. I help her on her computer. I take her shopping - wherever and whenever she desires - and she has bought enough clothes to fill up a second suitcase. I follow her up stairs and come down before her when she is descending. She moves slowly but that's okay: I'm learning to leave lots of time when we have to be somewhere.

But last week, when she was staying with a sister and tried to manoeuvre the stairs with too much in her hands, she fell and bumped her head. Blood came gushing out. Thank heavens there is a doctor in this house and he tended to her wound. She appeared to be healing but three days later, in the morning, she called out to me. I could hear the helplessness in her voice. She had knocked her glasses off. I retrieved them. She asked me to get her teeth. I retrieved them, shuddering, and handed her the container with foamy liquid, saying I couldn't wash them for her. She said that's alright though she felt dizzy, nauseous.

I am not good around sick people. I am not good at telling another to take medication or assisting with personal hygiene. I shy away. I feel helpless so, in this instance, I called my sister. She said that we had to get mum to her doctor. I made an appointment and a hour later, this sister met me downtown at the doctor's office. He examined mum and said that she had a slight concussion from the fall, prescribed baby gravol for the nausea, and said that she couldn't fly Wednesday - her scheduled date of departure.

I felt overwhelmed and, I admit, frustrated; and unhappy with my frustration and me. I am a person who needs time alone - lots of time - and I do not do my own work well when there is someone around even when that person is as special as my mother. So one sister is taking mum to care for her this evening and will watch over her for two days, and another is taking her this weekend so I can get down to work and do the company books before I leave for France on March 6th.

But that's another story. And the saga of trying to move my son's car from a friend's carport that I promised to have done by tomorrow is yet another story of frustration. But what is one to do when one hires a tow truck to move the vehicle and the sad vehicle has sat too long and refuses to budge?

Oh dear, do I sound like a whiner and complainer? All of the above are small frustrations at self and others. Is it possible I wonder, on this sweet earth, to find serenity and time to create one's dreams?

Thursday, February 15, 2007


My Famous Chocolate Cake

On Valentine Day morning, my love and I exchanged chocolates and cards. In the afternoon, I baked a chocolate cake, glazed it with dark chocolate and topped it with grapes and strawberries, cutting the three centre strawberries into the shape of hearts - pure whimsy - for a dinner party.

The hostess prepared mashed yams, topped with heart-shaped beets, and oven-roasted potatoes. Another guest served roast lamb, and yet another, a Greek salad. And so I sat, groaning with pleasure - though my love sat at the far end of the table - as each forkload entered my mouth. (This reminds me of my friend Susan who says the two best things in the world are food and sex and people do not talk about them enough or enjoy them enough.)

I am usually shy in the company of strangers and all at dinner, except my man and the host and hostess, were unknown to me; but, when the stranger beside me spoke about books and quoted Frances Mayes "I want to surprise my life," I told him about Leonard Wolf saying "Whenever you are saying or doing something that is too familiar to you, that does not let you surprise yourself, you should rethink your situation." The conversation flowed for the rest of the evening.

Usually, after several hours at such an event, I am anxious to leave but this was such a sweet evening, I lasted to beyond midnight. And the next day and today, I woke up thinking about ways to surprise myself - not what I should be doing but what I'd like to do, what would bring a smile to my face.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

I have just read my daughter's blog - Confessions of a Young Woman - that describes a day grocery shopping in Toronto's ethnic areas. (She is such a delight, this child/woman of mine though, I know, she does not belong to me. Still a part of me is proud, joyous even, that I/we are responsible for her being here. She is such a sensualist, such a good writer, such a glutton when it comes to good food - more like her father than me in this area.) Rob and I had a thought that we might like to resettle in the heart of Toronto where there is so much colour and variety, so much art and theatre, so much that is accessible to older people. I am speaking of the future, of retiring...

It's strange for me to think of retiring from work when I feel as if I have worked too little at a regular job, one that demands exact hours and pays by cheque. And yet I don't believe that I have been idle. I have just not done work that pays well since I became a mother. Oh yes, I worked twelve years - on and off - at the store but it was never able to pay me a living wage. I am struggling at the moment (still) with what I want, need even, to make me like myself more. Would finding - if it is possible - a full time regular job that would give me some financial independence make me feel good? Or would saying to hell with it and concentrating on my novel bring me greater satisfaction- no matter that it would probably turn out to be a work of love without financial gain?

In the chapter "Your Only Wage will be the Truth" (in "The Treehouse") I am informed by Leonard via Naomi that one's relationship to one's creative work is most important: "The imperative is to keep doing it in the face of never being perfect. Or having a wide audience."

Leonard speaks from experience. His book "The Glass Mountain", that he believes is his best work, took over thirty years to find a publisher. He never doubted its value. I googled it: A review by Eric Burns in the NY Times says "Imitating the pattern and voice of classic fairytales, Mr. Wolf lends heavy psychological overtones to mysterious symbols as he weaves a layered and often compelling narrative that is as much about the tricks of storytelling as it is about love, guilt and redemption."

"The worst thing," Leonard believes, "is to come to the moment of death and discover that you've wasted your life."

The man attracts me. His daughter says that he was fascinated by human imperfection: "He spent the 1980s intrigued with the very darkest parts of human nature" and his resulting work appalled his mother and daughter. When Naomi questioned him, he said that his father had twelve siblings, six of whom were killed "in the ovens": "How can you pretend to be a humanist unless you are willing to look at everything the human soul is capable of? Milton knew that you had to sketch out Hell as well as Heaven to give the reader a true moral compass, to really engage his free will."

A paragraph down, Naomi reminds me of Marion Woodman, in speaking about her students who refuse to acknowledge their own dark side and in so doing, undermine their creativity: "Their denial of their imperfection, their potential for darkness as well as for light, would paradoxically, block the light they had to work with./ The same, of course, was true for me."

And me too...

I took a break from writing this blog and went into the "big" house. Rob said that he'd woken in the middle of night and hadn't been able to get back to sleep because he was worried... and he asked why is it always in the dark that worries, problems are magnified, appear most menacing, threatening, and when one wakes, one laughs at oneself?

I wandered into the kitchen and my mother was making herself porridge. I feel a little guilty spending so much time in my house this morning but she says she's happy enough to putter, to play on her computer for hours on end. This week we went to Seattle or rather Lynnwood and Bellingham so she could shop. My mother is passionate about shopping. She loves a bargain. I am not so keen though I did find a pair of jeans that fit me, finally, for 20 USD. Most of the time, I sat, outside the store, reading while my mum searched for a list of items.

Last night we went to my baby sister's for dinner and interestingly, Sarah Cheever's name came up in reference to her song "Botox." My sister's doctor husband who has just opened a new cosmetic dermatology clinic downtown that offers botox treatment, was angry at her song, said she was misinformed, and plans to write her. A few lyrics that probably disturbed him are "Get the botox out, baby, because we are going to kill history", "Are false faces more value than our wisdom". He noted that there are many medically sound reasons for using botox - i.e. migraines, muscle spasms, etc.; and furthermore, we have our teeth whitened to look better, why is botox any different? I did not know how to respond because, in many ways, he is right. I do my hair, wear makeup, have my teeth cleaned, and like the way I look better with these vanities. Wikipedia's article (link above) says that side affects occur when the drug is not administered properly: "At the extremely low doses used medicinally, botulinum toxin has a very low degree of toxicity."


enough for now... I have gone on much longer than I intended

Saturday, February 03, 2007

My Mother is Visiting

Mother and Child

I picked my mother up at the airport on Tuesday. She is a little fragile - walks with a cane - and is a little forgetful but, at 78 years, she is still passionate about life and loves to be spoiled. Before she came, she asked for some TLC and I'm doing my best to provide it. She brought her Christmas gift from her children - a new Toshiba laptop - and after a few problems getting online were solved, she's happy to spend her mornings reading her favourite news websites.

My family is a little crazy - perhaps it's our Irish blood - and we all love surprising each other so Mum did not tell my sisters that she was coming for a visit. On Thursday evening, we dropped in at my baby sister's house and while Rob and I talked to Bev, Mum snuck in and hid under a blanket on the sofa. Bev thought it was her eldest son at first and squealed when she took off the blanket; her three children were so happy to see their Nanny that they climbed all over her, hugging and kissing her.

After a short visit, Rob and Mum and I left for a show on Granville Island where my sister Madonna (Maggie or Donna) and her husband were joining us. They too loved the surprise of seeing Mum.

And so we all sat in the Backstage Lounge of the Arts Club theatre and were entertained by the talented Sarah Cheevers.

Sarah Cheevers

I adore Sarah. I've known her since she was a little girl, the older sister of Phil who was Brendan's buddy in kindergarten. After a time, the Cheever, Jamieson (Visit Jenn's website - another extraordinary young woman) and the Young families would get together for feasts and fun. And so I have watched this young woman grow up. Funny thing, as I sat this evening listening to her play and sing with the five other talented musicians in her band, I could still see the playful, goofy, loveable little girl, now a lot taller and more bewitching. She's as natural and lovely as she ever was. Rob - who has a great ear - says that if luck is with her, she will be discovered and be big in the music industry: she has the look, the talent.


I continue to read Naomi Wolf's "The Treehouse" and must admit that reading Chapter Six "Do Nothing Without Passion" made me pensive, a little sad, and feel like a failure. Though his daughter labels her father a scoundrel and womanizer, she says her parents' marriage - even with its rough times - is "now like a four-decade-long third date." Leonard does not believe that marriage has to erode passion: "It is not enough to feel the spark; it is your responsibility to tend it as well. The care and maintenance of your passion - in love, in work [a double whammy to me] should be... your highest priority."

So tell me, someone please, why have so many married couples relinquished their most precious gift, their passion? I see it everywhere. Couples sitting across from each other in restaurants not saying a word. Or couples slinging arrows - criticism, complaints, unreasonable requests - at the other in the company of others. The other night, I was sitting with my sister talking of my dream house in the south of France when my man told me to stop whining: I have a house in France. I didn't think to say that I'm not whining, I'm dreaming. The moment it left his mouth, I felt stung. It bit me in my most vulnerable spot - my lack of independence. And though I love this man fiercely, and I know this moment was a slip of the tongue, times like this erode passion.

Leonard refrained from scolding his mate. Naomi says that the rule in their house was that no one was allowed to "guilt-provoke." Her father quoted the "I Ching": "No Blame" noting that he would rather be happy than right.

I know that no one, even Leonard Wolf, is perfect and two people living together is not always sweet and we all carry our own baggage (sorry about the cliche) and often one does not understand why some innocent remark injures another. Where does one go from here? How do we transform thoughtlessness to lovingness?

Leonard would perhaps say by using your imagination. This is necessary not only to see your beloved in a romantic light, but yourself as well. "Men, dad believes, do well to remember that the minute Dulcinea is just a middle-aged housewife, Quixote is no longer Quixote."

One of my favourite lines in Wolf's chapter is "My father decided that my mother was going to be eternally beautiful, and he told her so, so my mother somehow grew older in this way."

to be continued...