Blame it on Glenda

Blame Glenda Jackson. I reserved tickets for Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women (he always has the name before and above the title) for Easter weekend.

New York is always extremes. The highs of theatre-going to the frequent degradation of the subway and elsewhere.

Subways aren’t for sleeping: meet “Brimstone” a subway gospel rapper. (Check Youtube). “Jesus loves you” in white letters on his black shirt, front and back, a large cross slung around his neck, made of palm leaves (it was Easter Sunday). Then a sermon for his subway ministry.

A young pianist plays electronic keyboard on the platform. Classical, then Pop: The Heart Does Go On, Theme from Love Story, The Sting (Scott Joplin)… he’s dressed to kill in a soft blue pastel suit. His father (?) sits on a bucket off to the the side. The most memorable aspect? He appears to be playing a video game on his phone at the same time as playing, without missing a note, (or a point.)

Subway peddlars are endless. Candy, clothes, and just plain panhandling, from all ages (a Vietnam vet, teenagers, and younger). A raging boom-box announces a dancer whose parting words are “I’m not homeless but I do better if I look it.”

Another low-point: mistaking a scalper in Times Square as staff for the TKTS half-price ticket booth. When it became clear to him I only wanted to know if I could get Sunday matinee tickets on Saturday, he told me I was wasting his time.

The last straw: a strategically placed snow storm right when my flight was to leave. Then it cleared up. But not before I had to take a much later flight home.

I prefer to dwell on the positive: the revival of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties (I understand a lot more than when I saw it in high school but still am mystified by parts); the transforming set of Afterglow (more than the titillating plot of an open relationship); and, best for last- Glenda Jackson, 81 (!) in Albee’s third Pulitzer Prize winner. I go on and on in my drama class about voice on stage. It was all she needed to be a Tall Woman. Actually got to meet her afterwards as she greeted fans, having her after-show cigarette (!). “Let the lady have her moment”, Security warned us. We did. She seemed not to be bothered by the question about returning to the stage after 23 years in politics. “It’s what I did,” she said between drags. Of course she can still do it.

I blame Glenda Jackson for another hectic, harried and totally worth-it Easter weekend jaunt in the Big Apple. Thanks Glenda.


Quote Me By Your Name

Just finished the novel Call Me By Your Name, by Andre Aciman. I’ve already seen the film. It’s a beautiful adaptation.
The book contains more than one meeting between Oliver and Elio after Oliver’s departure (as depicted in the movie). Beyond that, the story is mostly inside Elio’s head, so the novel is probably better suited to tell it.

There are too many quotable lines, so I’ll just choose this:
Towards the end, when Elio visits Oliver years later, Oliver invites him to meet his wife and children. Elio finds a way to tell him why he can’t.
“The ‘can’t’ did not mean I wasn’t free to visit him but that I couldn’t bring myself to do it…
And then it came out of me: ‘The truth is I’m not sure I can feel nothing. And if I am to meet your family, I don’t want to feel anything.'”

I won’t quote the final paragraph of the story, but I don’t remember the last time, reading a novel on the bus, I had to contain tears as I closed the book.

Approaching Perfection

A couple of thoughts on perfection. The first is about perfection in education; the second is about perfection in writing.

If you’ve read the blog, of late, as a teacher, I am trying to lessen the emphasis on marks. (Reducing the Emphasis.) More than once, I’ve had students start discussion about assessment with words to the effect, “Where did I lose marks?” “How can I get 10 out of 10?” “How can I get perfect?”

I try to shape the discussion around being “close to perfection”, due to the subjective quality of English.

Which brings me to the second aspect: perfect writing. In a previous blog,Whole Separate Language, my favourite quote appears:
“There ought to be a whole separate language for words that are truer than other words- for perfect absolute truth.”

Apart from the quote itself being about words and truth being perfect, there is the perfection of the syntax. How many drafts did it take Anne Tyler to perfect the construction of that sentence? Was it instantaneous? Did it come to her all at once?

Maybe sentences like this can be held up to students as an example of writing that is close to perfection. The fact that it is about perfection and words themselves only makes it more perfect.

Reading- just finished, current and waiting

Just finished the plays:

The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe

Outside by Paul Dunn


Other People: Takes & Mistakes By David Shields

Current fiction:
Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

The Man Who Loved Children By Christina Stead (an Anne Tyler favourite, apparently)

Testing the Current by William McPherson

Current Non-fiction:

World Class Learners by Yong Zhao

Waiting their turn…

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John LeCarre

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill





Other People: Takes & Mistakes

Finished David Shield’s Other People: Takes and Mistakes. Finished is not entirely truthful. I read his latest essay collection selectively. Skipped some of the sports stuff (though I love the idiom-listing of “Words Can’t Describe What I’m Feeling”. The same works well in “Life Story”.)

That I skipped passages that didn’t keep my interest in favour of those that did is, I think, the kind of reading Shields respects. I hope so.

I respect, and enjoy, his writing. Reality Hunger. I Think You’re Totally Wrong. And a title any writer, teacher, or actor would be drawn to: How Literature Saved My Life.

Shields is eminently quotable. I’ll let him have the last word:

“Food, they say, is a substitute for love; so, they should say, is everything else.”

One Bookstore’s Treasure…

Yesterday, I took some books to BMV, the thriving second-hand bookstore chain in Toronto. 

I didn’t want to burden myself too much, so I only took as much as I could get into a knapsack.

My titles were as follows:


Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (the latest movie tie-in edition)

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle

The Left Hand of Darkness By Ursula K. LeGuin

Young Renny by Mazo De LaRoche

Stories by Reynolds Price

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Practical Jean by Trevor Cole

If Morning Ever Comes by Anne Tyler

The History of Emily Montague by Frances Brook


Mount Pleasant by Don Gillmor

Two CDs:

The Madmen Soundtrack

1959 Greatest Hits

The first store took only the Christie. Said he’d give me $3.00 for the whole collection, or I can just leave the Orient Express. I was surprised the two First Editions (the Cole and the Gillmor) didn’t entice. I left the locomotive murder mystery, and boarded the city underground locomotive to try my luck at the next store.

The next one took a careful look at the collection and rejected all of them. Even the signed First Editions?

“If they’re a big name, maybe.”  First Editions didn’t matter here as much as with book collectors. These stores are trying to move product, and mine would only move in my knapsack out the door.

The chain had one more location. There is something slightly intimate about leaving your well-worn books to be perused and judged by the second-hand bookseller. It feels like taking my clothes off at the doctor’s office. I turned my back as he inspected each item. I perused books on the table nearby, books someone else had brought in for judgement.

“$5.00 for just these.”  He judiciously separated the chosen from the rejected.

He took the L’Engle, the Conrad, and the Price. Maybe more? Why can’t I recall the titles of the others he took? I guess they weren’t that important to me. Which is why they  ended up in a used bookstore. Before ending up in someone else’s home, I hope.

Actually, I didn’t care. I kind of wished I’d left the lot at the first store, for $3, rather than having to lug them around.

Near the last location is one of those Little Free Libraries that have sprouted up- they look like birdhouses from a distance, but contain books, not birds. I dropped off the Tyler and the De la Roche. And the CDs (which may not play after being out in the frigid cold).

I trudged home the Austen, Cole, Le Guin, Brooke, and Gillmor.

I will say one thing for all three stores. Genuinely polite. The Used Bookstore of yore was often overseen by a curmudgeon, who made you feel they were doing you a favour to even deign to look at your precious cargo.

All in all, a pleasant venture. Made $8. More to the point, I culled my collection a bit.

I didn’t buy anything, or trade one title for another.

I’ll be back.

#Writing in front of the #TV

Does anyone else write in front of the TV? I don’t watch a show for plot inspiration, but I do get inspiration from the emotion of the scene. It kind of plays in the background while my own dialogue, or story, comes to life.

Or, my budding idea forms the background to the emotion I see being played out on the screen in front of me.