Wandering Star*

I recently bought a book, not on Amazon, nor on Chapters Indigo but at a local bookseller: Queen Books (http://queenbooks.ca) in Leslieville, Toronto. I wanted to buy locally.

It took longer to arrive but I was in no rush. I had originally arranged to have it delivered, but I decided to put the delivery fee towards a future purchase, and pick it up myself.

This gave me a destination for a 5 km bike ride in the city’s east end.

Toronto is blessed with a myriad of bike trails and lanes. One I had often seen from a car on the Don Valley Parkway was the parallel bike path winding its way along the Don River. Today was the day for me to pedal, from Eglinton, south to Queen Street.

My entrance to the system was at the Ontario Science Centre, and after double-checking the route with fellow bikers coming north, I set out.

Today was another scorcher of a day. I came equipped with water bottle, and even some freezie packs in my knapsack. It all helped.

Hard to believe I have lived in the east end so long and not done that much of the Don River trail. It’s winding, with bridges, shade, and open spaces.

The statues pictured lay in wait down the trail; I never knew they existed.

I took my time, didn’t get lost (as I am prone to sometimes).

I climbed the steep stairs to Queen Street (though the system has those thoughtful rails for sliding your bike along up or down the staircase, as they have in Amsterdam.)

Eventually, I made my way east to the bookstore at Queen and Logan. Starbucks was also calling, as was Ed’s Ice Cream next door. COVID is never far away: I had to pick up my purchase at the rear lane way to the bookstore; Ed’s Ice Cream didn’t open until 2 pm. Definitely worth the wait.

Did I bike home? In the afternoon heat? No thank you. I put my bike on the front of the bus, wore my mask, boarded, and for the first time since early March- took the subway home.

(*Wandering Stars is the book I purchased. It’s a novel of the Jewish theatre in the early 1900’s, by Sholem Aleichem- whose stories inspired Fiddler on the Roof.)

Mask Evolution

Pictured are some masks I’ve been wearing during the pandemic.

The first two are cloth, homemade from t-shirts. They got replaced once a loved one sent me some medical masks (on the right).

I’m not throwing out the cloth ones. I’m storing them at the back of my white t-shirt drawer, where they’ll stand out , and I won’t forget about them. A tangible memory, once this time we are in is over.

If nothing else, future Halloween masks are ready to go.

Stratford- Black Like Me

This video has gained more and more traction since it was first shown on June 6th.

Stratford Black Like Me

It’s not hard to take this fresh, frank conversation about its specific world (the experience of Black artists at The Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Ontario, Canada),  and apply it to any number of work and life situations, artistic or otherwise.

Kudos for the excellent moderating of the discussion by company member Beck Lloyd.

If you want to understand more, give the video a watch or listen. I am taking away insights and calls to action about racism (both subtle and not so), that I have not heard articulated in quite the same way before.

Observations: A Writer Returns

It was exciting to have a former student return (virtually) and speak to my grade tens about the novel writing and journalism life in NYC: Jordyn Taylor at BVG. 

I don’t usually speak about classroom stuff here but I will make an exception.

In my English classes, I do an exercise called “Observations”. The lesson is that anything and everything is worth writing about. It depends on what you do with it.

A student volunteer leads the class by asking:

  1. Does anyone have any observations? (They can be of anything, as long as it’s school appropriate. A turn of phrase; a physical setting; a memory……)
  2. Would you care to expand on that? (Some observations need clarifying or context for us to know what they mean.)
  3. How can we use this in a piece of writing? (Is it the start to a poem? Is it a setting description? Dialogue? Something thematic? Is there a writing or grammar lesson embedded in the observation? The list goes on.)

And then the class free writes for a few minutes, using the observation as a prompt.

It was gratifying to hear Jordyn make reference to “observations”, and how, fundamentally, she is still using it as a journalist and novelist.

 

Enticement to Paris

Finished this new novel, hot off the press. (I guess because I pre-ordered, I rated an early arrival before last Tuesday’s publishing date.)

Historical romantic fiction for YA readers is not usually my thing. It was this time.

As I like to do with everything I read, I don’t so much as critique here as quote it- and let readers decide if the sample syntax entices.

Herewith, some notable lines:

*************************************

My family’s first language is small talk.

… Gram taught me to appreciate coffee that isn’t pretending.

His voice is like a sip of tea that warms me from the inside out.

One is tall, gangly, and curly-haired, a human dandelion.

It’s like somebody turns off a switch in her head, and she totally powers down.

The bomb is death wrapped in a package you wouldn’t look at twice.

**************************************

And of course, there are more. Just a sample here. Un amuse-bouche, since we are in Paris….

The Resistance. A long abandoned apartment. Family tension, past and present. Told in two viewpoints, past and present… I hope you are enticed.

I am biased. I taught the author high school English.

How many teachers get to sip wine on their balcony and toast new fiction by a former student?

A+, Jordyn.

Mavis or Alice?

The literati among you have already provided the last names of Gallant and Munro.

Mavis Gallant once advised to read a short story, and to put the book down. Switch books. Story collections are not meant to be read like a novel. Stories will wait.

So I’ve been alternating between her collection of early and uncollected stories, The Cost of Living, and Alice Munro’s Open Secrets.

Who wrote the following? Mavis or Alice?

***************************************

“She presented, like griefs of equal value, these two facts.”

“‘Love never dies’… Love dies all the time, or at any rate it becomes distracted, overlaid- it might as well be dead.”

“He heard a humility in her voice, but it was a humility based on some kind of assurance. Surely it was sexual.”

“He could no more describe the feeling he got from her than you could describe a smell. It’s like a scorch of electricity. It’s like burnt kernels of wheat. No, it’s like a bitter orange. I give up.”

To be continued….

Endless Choices

What are you binge watching?

Part of my myriad of choices of entertainment- in addition to Bell Fibe TV, and Amazon Prime- are DVD’s. More than half the titles are available through streaming to be sure, but I have them. (Some I even used to own on VHS.)

Pictured are titles from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. My art house tastes shine through. (Wait until we get to the ’70’s, when I came of age. Then the titles really multiply.)

From the ones above, let’s focus on a title whose quality on which just about everyone agrees. All About Eve (1950).   Check out the linked article, praising the movie that is immersed in a time that may or may not have been way back when, but compared to the lack of any live performance right now, its vision of a bygone world of New York theatre is almost mythical.

Streaming. I just discovered access to videos from the public library with Kanopy. Between Bell, and Amazon (and Kanopy is accessible there), and my own DVDS, choice is truly overwhelming. Like everything else on the web. Or a buffet. You become overly picky. Choices you never even knew you were missing, or titles you’ve been craving- now it’s all there. And so there’s an ever changing pecking order.

Maybe I’ll just spend the evening browsing the endless array of titles, without ever picking one.

Tonight, I’m actually finishing Diabolique. Hope I sleep. Not a movie to watch just before bedtime.

Then it’s on to a choice from Kanopy. Or maybe just browse titles. It’s pretty entertaining all on its own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Redhead by the Side of the Road

Anne Tyler has her supporters (like me) and her detractors. Even she has said about her work, “I know my limitations.”

The story she weaves is a familiar one by now. A loner who is forced to change his life or remain alone- from Macon Leary in The Accidental Tourist back to Jeremy in Celestial Navigation (and they almost always seem to be men), and many others across more than twenty novels. 

Regardless, it’s her simple life observations that catch you off guard. Not because they are unique, necessarily, but because no one has ever bothered to write them down.

Here are some of her most recent observations, as we get to know her latest anti-hero, Micah Mortimer…

****************************************************

.. partially-erased-looking brown leather jacket…

… if you actually noticed the difference you made when you cleaned- the coffee table suddenly shiny, the rug suddenly lint-free- it meant you had waited too long to do it.

(Some might leave them to air-dry but Micah hated the cluttered appearance of dishes sitting out in a draining rack.)

In regards to possibly leaving a relationship: “ You don’t want to seal off your exits.”

(People put their computers in the most outlandish locations. It was as if they didn’t quite grasp that they weren’t still writing with fountain pens.)

She had said she needed mountains around her; she liked how they softened the meeting between the land and the sky.

… even after all these years he still thought of Lorna fondly. Or once again thought of her fondly, was more like it.

The thing about old girlfriends… is that each one subtracts something from you.

That was the trouble with houseguests: they took over a person’s space. They seeped into all the corners.

He disliked weddings; they always felt so crowded.

… she practically never went to visit her brother who lived in California because it was three hours later there and she hated to change her bedtime.

Micah never could get over how his sisters appeared to retain every personal detail about everyone they’d ever met. Shouldn’t they be periodically clearing out their memory caches or something?

As a rule, conversations in this family didn’t so much flow as spray up in bursts here and there, like geysers, and she wasn’t used to this pursuit of a single subject.

You would be the same way if you’d been reared in a household where the cat slept in the roasting pan.

And the dirty dishes piled up in the sink till there weren’t any clean one left; you had to run a used bowl under the faucet when you wanted your morning cornflakes.

He recognized her only because he was looking for her. He wouldn’t have made the connection if he’d merely passed her on the sidewalk.

You know how kids who don’t talk to their parents will spill their souls out once they get in a moving vehicle.

He can summon up a phone number purely by remembering the tones it makes when you dial it.

‘And your folks had just bought their first cordless phone and whenever it rang, everybody went into a flurry trying to find it….’ They were a misplacing kind of family, all right.

… the table was blank and gleaming. The place gave off a kind of hollow sound…

Maybe he was one skipped vacuuming day away from total chaos.

All perkiness and optimism; she was probably still in her twenties.

Elevator music. Dentist music.

Right now he almost feels that losing his own identity would be a plus.

… they have that bunchy, squat, bundled appearance of children dressed by grownups.

I’m a roomful of broken hearts.